5 Tips For Keeping Your Book Group On Track.

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Interesting book club choices.

So your book group is a little lax and needs some shaping up, but you are not quite sure what to do.   The meeting dates keep changing and the endless emails to reschedule are cluttering your inbox.  When you finally do meet, all anyone cares about is the food and wine and half the people haven’t even read the book.  Finally, when one person recalls the purpose of the get-together and announces how it is getting late, and maybe you should talk about the book, the momentum shift to intelligent discussion feels like a chore and the book conversation is forced, aimless and short.  From someone who has been in many book clubs over the years, I would like to offer you some advice.

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Assign a leader…someone needs to be in charge.

The leader of the book group is responsible for communications; she should ask the group for book suggestions, evaluate the responses and choose the winning book.  Ask the group for volunteers to host, assign the host, agree on the date with the host and communicate to the members, the host, the date and the book.  The host can then reach out to the group asking what they would like to bring and letting them know the address and where to park.  The leader of the group does the administrative job to keep the group moving forward.

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Pick a date…and stick with it.

The sweet spot for book group meetings is every 6 to 8 weeks.  This gives slower readers a chance to finish in time and everyone has the chance to plan their schedule.  Not everyone will be able to make every date so consistency is helpful.  If you can plan the year’s meetings ahead of time this could work too.  I am in one group that provides all meeting dates and book titles at the beginning of the school year.  Everyone is invited to bring their lunch, cookies are served, a moderator is brought in to help the leader lead discussion, and there is no nonsense.  This group’s focus is more serious, similar to a class due to the learning and enrichment, and the set schedule, in depth content discussion and book choices reflect those values.  This orderly routine works well for this group.

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These books generate good conversation.

Choose the right book…it must satisfy the needs of the group.

All members should suggest several books they want to read and most likely there will be some overlap. The book chosen should meet the needs of the group.  Does your group like to read mainstream, popular fiction that focuses on relationships? Mysteries? Historical fiction?  One of my book groups chooses well known titles (Reese Witherspoon and Oprah picks) and we have had smart discussions.  We have read An American Marriage, Little Fires Everywhere, and most recently we discussed Educated and The Great Alone together, as there is so much to compare and contrast.  Another group I am in read Song of a Captive Bird, a fictional account of a real Iranian poet Forugh Farrokhzad, and most recently, Asymmetry, a debut written in three parts about love, luck, life and art, and both of those discussions were informative and educational. With Asymmetry, so much learning occurred and hidden meaning was revealed at our round table discussion in a Japanese restaurant’s Tatami room one evening…we continued talking about that book for days!  My advice is to choose a book you can sink your teeth into and do some extra research on the topic, author, time period or characters. 

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Size doesn’t matter…agreement on the format does.

Contrary to much publicized book club advice, it is possible to have a successful book group with as many as two dozen people, or even just a few people.  As long as your group has some structure and everyone is respectful and willing to follow the format, great fun can be had.  Smaller groups have an easier time agreeing on a date, finding a place to meet and everyone has more of a chance to speak out.  On the other hand, one of my groups has over 20 members and most of these women have been reading together for 20 years.  For them, the meal on book club night is important as many of them enjoy hosting a dinner party, so we always enjoy a beautiful meal and wine for an hour or so before we get down to business.  We tend to have more emails back and forth about the date, but if everyone can’t make it, that is ok. We still enjoy thoughtful discussion.

Regardless of size, it is important to have a moderator.  The moderator should come to the meeting with discussion questions that usually can be found online;  some local libraries will provide them if you put in a request. The moderator can kick off the meeting with a short summary of the book to get everyone on the same page and then can use the questions to stimulate conversation.  She is in charge of keeping it civilized!  If nobody takes the lead, too many people try to talk at once and the group tends to break up into smaller side conversations.

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My book group meeting Martha Hall Kelly, author of The Lilac Girls, after a speaking engagement.

Go the extra mile…there is added value to be had.

This is where you can make your meetings interesting, and everyone can bring something to the party.  This is what I do. Once the book is picked, I like to follow the author on social media.  This gives me the opportunity to connect and ask questions.  Most authors are excited to hear what you think about their book and I always leave a review on Goodreads and Amazon.  This helps them with their rankings and can impact sales so why not help an author out!  They also could be willing to visit your book club or Skype with your group and that can be really exciting and different. 

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FaceTiming with Fiona Davis, author of The Masterpiece.

One of my book groups FaceTimed with author Fiona Davis when we discussed her third novel, The Masterpiece.  In addition to the book and the writing process we talked about artists that were named in her book, actors who we would want to play her characters if the book were made into a movie, along with the architecture and special floors and rooms of 1920s Grand Central Terminal.  We also had photos one of our members took of places in the current Grand Central Terminal which enriched our discussion and made it oh so much fun! 

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My book group meeting with Heather Frimmer, author of Bedside Manners.

A different group I am in welcomed author of Bedside Manners, Dr. Heather Frimmer to join us and talk about her mother-daughter medical fiction debut.  As a radiologist, she talked to us about the realities of breast cancer and how her medical knowledge helped her write an authentic book.  

And of course, Google is a wonderful thing…I always research the author and the book, and if I am the moderator, I download discussion questions.  When I moderate a group I like to read a short summary of the book to get everyone in the right frame of mind.  Everyone can find something interesting to contribute; it is nice to show a video or pictures (someone showed photos of locations in Spain when we discussed Dan Brown’s Origin), read an interview (I read a transcript of a conversation between author Tara Westover and Bill Gates when discussing Educated), and in another group one of our members referred to her copy of Alice in Wonderland when we examined the writing of Lisa Halliday (at our Asymmetry discussion).  There are so many author interviews on youtube and author websites to share.  Another fun thing to do is to choose a book where you and your group are able to go hear the author speak at a local library or bookstore. If you can, connect with the author on social media and ask to meet for a drink with your book group after the event.  

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Controversial themes and unusual settings make for interesting discussion.

If you want to get together with friends, drink wine and have fun after reading the same book, that can be easy to do.  If you want your book club to be a little more intellectually stimulating, everyone needs to be in agreement and effort must be put in.  Follow my 5 tips for keeping your book group on track, and you should have some success.  I am enjoying each of my many book groups for different reasons, but most of all, I am happy to connect with friends over books and learn something new.  

Assign a leader…someone needs to be in charge.

Pick a date…and stick with it.

Choose the right book…it must satisfy the needs of the group.

Size doesn’t matter…agreement on the format does. (Assign a moderator!)

Go the extra mile…there is added value to be had.

Let me know what your book club is reading and if you need a suggestion, please ask!

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Photos above include:
Delia Owens, author of Where the Crawdads Sing
Jenna Blum, author of The Lost Family
Min Jin Lee, author of Pachinko
Fatima Farheen Mirza, author of A Place For Us
Lynsey Addario, photojournalist and author of Of Love and War
Stephanie Powell Watts, author of No One is Coming to Save Us
Katharine Weber, author of Still Life With Monkey
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Feel Like an Outsider? You Are Not Alone. R.L. Maizes’ characters try to overcome challenges in We Love Anderson Cooper.

Review and Q & A With R.L. Maizes

40236976.jpgMy Review:

I haven’t read a lot of short stories and when the publisher asked me to take a look at We Love Anderson Cooper I was happy to do so…the title made me smile and when the book arrived I was increasingly motivated by the great looking cover!

A teenage boy coming out publicly at his Bar Mitzvah, a cat playing favorites during the Christmas/Hanukah holiday season, the relief of a called off wedding, and the power of a couch…so wonderful getting to know the varied characters and becoming absorbed in their emotional journeys in such a short time.

I really loved all the stories and was thrilled to have the opportunity to chat with author R.L. Maizes about this new short story collection, her writing process and more.

Q & A with R.L. Maizes

Q:  From a reader’s point of view, each of your stories in this wonderful collection stand on its own and is unrelated, with different characters and situations.  Every main character seems to have a problem or obstacle they face and tackle during the short time we are with them and I became invested in each and every one!  Are any of these short stories in We Love Anderson Cooper linked or connected to each other in any way?

Thanks so much for the kind words about the collection. What connects the stories in We Love Anderson Cooper is that the main characters are outsiders. For example, in the story “Tattoo,” a tattoo artist is shunned because of his unusual appearance. In “Collections,” a woman is excluded from her wealthy partner’s upper crust world because of her race and class. In “No Shortage of Birds,” a young girl becomes alienated from her mother and her friends when her father dies. Being outsiders creates challenges for these characters that they try to overcome in the stories.

Q: Did you write each story with the others in mind?  Are there other stories that didn’t make the cut?  Did you always plan on putting these together in a collection?

I wrote the stories over a ten-year period. The pain we all feel at being excluded and our tremendous desire to belong was one of my preoccupations, but I wasn’t thinking of writing a collection during that entire time. Many stories I wrote didn’t make the cut. 

Q: How long did writing each story take?  Have any of them been published on their own prior to this book?

With the exception of one very short one, I spent more than a year writing and revising each of them. Some took many years. A number of the stories were published in magazines before being included in the book. One aired on National Public Radio. Another was dramatized in a production of Stories on Stage. 

Q: From a writing standpoint, how do you gage timing, know how much to reveal in such a short time and do you have to do any work developing the characters or the story arc before the story is written or does it just all come together as you write?

I’m what’s known as a pantser, which means I develop the stories as I write them (“fly by the seat of my pants”) rather than plotting them out beforehand. The stories end up needing more revision this way, but it’s the only way I know how to write. 

Figuring out when to reveal information is one of the great challenges of fiction writing, and each story has its own needs in that regard. In “Ghost Dogs,” for example, the last story in the collection, I intentionally hold back important information until the middle of the story. While in another story, I reveal the end of the story first, allowing the suspense to arise from how the ending comes about.   

Q: What is the editing process like for a short story – do you generally write too much and have to cut, or too little and have to expand?

Both! I have to write too much to discover what the story is really about. Once I know, I cut to the heart of the story. The challenge of the form is compression. At the same time, when I want to go deeper into a character or to slow down a scene for dramatic purposes, I expand parts of the story. 

Q: Would you ever consider expanding any of these stories into a book?

I’m writing a novel now called “Other People’s Pets.” The main character is an animal empath who drops out of veterinary school to become a burglar. Her father’s been arrested and she’s desperate to earn enough to pay his attorney’s fees. It has some similarities with the collection. The main character is an outsider and the book features animals. But it’s not an expansion of any of the stories. I don’t plan to expand any of the stories in the collection because each one feels complete to me as it is.  

Q: How do you get your ideas for your writing?

Stories are everywhere. A news report might trigger an idea for a story. Something that happened to an acquaintance might be the genesis of a story. I might observe something odd in my neighborhood. But the finished stories are always greatly changed from what initially sparked them. 

Q: Are you going on book tour?

It’s a little too soon to know. I’ll be reading at bookstores in Colorado where I live. But I’m not sure where else I’ll tour. 

Q: What are three books you recently read and would recommend?  

I loved Rebecca Makkai’s recent novel, The Great Believers, and her story collection, Music for Wartime. Mad Boy by Nick Arvin is a wonderful book, funny and tender. It’s currently a finalist for a Colorado Book Award. I’m a big fan of Steve Yarbrough’s novels because of the compassion he has for his characters. The Unmade World, which came out this past year, was fantastic. I thought Sigrid Nunez’s The Friend was great. Naturally because of the dog. But also because the structure of that book was marvelous. I guess that’s more than three.

Q: What is on your nightstand to read next?  

I’m looking forward to reading Susan Choi’s Trust Exercise and was lucky enough to pick up an advance reading copy at a conference I recently attended. I’m also about to begin Kali Fajardo-Anstine’s debut story collection, Sabrina & Corina. 

Thank  you to R.L. Maizes for answering some questions!  If you feel like an outsider, you are not alone.  Easy to read, engaging and thought provoking, every step of the way, I highly recommend pre-ordering a copy of  We Love Anderson Cooper today – book will be available in July.

Goodreads Summary

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About the Author:

R.L. Maizes’s short story collection, WE LOVE ANDERSON COOPER, will be published by Celadon Books (Macmillan) in July 2019, with a novel to follow. The stories have aired on National Public Radio and have appeared in Electric Literature’s Recommended Reading. Maizes’s essays have been published in The New York Times, The Washington Post, and elsewhere.

Born and raised in Queens, New York, Maizes currently lives in Boulder, CO, with her husband, Steve, and her muses: Arie, a cat who was dropped in the animal shelter’s night box like an overdue library book, and Rosie, a dog who spent her first year homeless in South Dakota and thinks Colorado is downright balmy.

Want to Avoid FOMO When It Comes To The Best Books?

I’LL READ WHAT SHE’S READING

Just like the lady at the next table in When Harry Met Sally, you may want to experience what others are raving about!

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WHEN IT COMES TO BOOKS…

If YOU feel the need to be informed and want to keep up on GREAT READS I can help.  First, sign up to follow Book Nation by Jen, and then take a look at these links below.

Unknown-1.pngNew York Times Bestsellers,

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Reese Witherspoon picks

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Book Club Central 

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Oprah’s Complete List

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Books in photo are currently participating in the Bedside Reading Program where books are placed at the bedside in luxury hotels, as a complimentary gift to all the guests.

BOOK AWARDS

In addition, there are also many literary awards that recognize talent, and below are some of the latest winners.

The Andrew Carnegie Medals for Excellence in Fiction and Nonfiction published in the United States the previous year.

The Great Believers, Rebecca Makkai Best Fiction 2019

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My Review

*One of my recent favorites!

 

The Audie Award recognizes outstanding audiobooks and spoken word entertainment.

Children of Blood and Bone, Tomi Adeyemi Best Audiobook 2019

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Summary

*chosen for the Jimmy Fallon Book Club on the Tonight Show last summer.

 

The Costa Book Awards recognizes books written by British and Irish authors.

The Cut Out Girl, Bart van Es Book of the Year 2018

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Summary

*This one is new to me.

 

The Edgar Awards, Named after Edgar Allen Poe, honor the best in mystery fiction, non-fiction, television, film, and theater and are presented by the Mystery Writers of America.

Bluebird, Bluebird, Attica Locke Best Novel

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Summary

*Another new one for me.

 

The Indies Choice Award is a literary award inaugurated at BookExpo 2000.

Sing, Unburied, Sing, Jesmyn Ward Adult Fiction Book of the Year

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My Review

* I enjoyed this several years ago.

 

The Man Booker Prize for Fiction is awarded for the best original novel published in the UK.

Milkman, Anna Burns Man Booker Prize Winner

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Goodreads Summary

*This has mixed reviews and is on my list.

 

The National Book Awards celebrates the best in American literature.

The Friend, Sigrid Nunez Fiction Winner

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My Review

*Loved this one and attended an author talk.

 

The National Book Critics Circle Awards are awards to promote “the finest books and reviews published in English”.

Improvement, Joan Silber Best Fiction 2017

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My Review

*I enjoyed this one.

 

The Pulitzer Prize is an award for achievements in newspaper, magazine and online journalism, literature, and musical composition in the US.

Less, Andrew Sean Greer Fiction Winner

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*I did not love this one.

 

The Scotiabank Giller Prize is a literary award given to a Canadian author of a novel or short story collection published in English the previous year.

Washington Black, Esi Edugyan Winner

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My Review

*A great book.

 

The Women’s Prize for Fiction is awarded to a female author for the best original novel published in the UK.

Home Fire, Kamila Shamsie Best Novel

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My Review

*I enjoyed this one.

Partake in the the joy of reading a great book and if you need a personalized recommendation, please feel free to ask me!

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Memories of the Past, a Vision to the Future, and the Power of Music Join Together in this Magical Wartime Love Story.

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In Another Time  by Jillian Cantor is a wonderful historical fiction novel with deep characters who love books, music and each other.

In 1930s Berlin, Max, a German bookshop owner sees Hanna playing what she loves most, the violin.  He is enchanted and in an attempt to get her attention, he brings her what he loves most, a book.  After his dedicated pursuit, he wins her over, and the relationship between the two blossoms. German life during the rise of Hitler is not easy and to make matters worse, because Max is not a Jew, Hanna’s family is not supportive.  Then Max has an unexplained disappearance which causes Hanna to be worried, angry and confused.   She steps back from their relationship for a time, but the love between them is powerful and eventually it draws them back together.  

Antisemitism is increasing in Germany and although Hanna, so focused on her violin playing, does not take much notice, Max worries about her and his Jewish friends.  Hitler and the Nazis are taking over, panic is starting to set in and his longtime Jewish neighbors are in terrible danger.  When Max sees them in distress he reaches out to offer help.  Max has a huge secret that he believes can save those in danger, but when his beloved Hanna is looking the Nazis in the eyes, can he bring her to safety?

In 1946 Hanna finds herself in an open field with her less than pristine violin and no memory of the recent past.  Hitler is dead, the train station has been bombed, she has no idea what happened to Max, and she has lost her memory of the last 10 years of her life.  Hanna’s sister comes to get her and bring her back to her home in London where she searches for opportunities to play her trusted violin in an orchestra.  Her love for music and Max are the only things she remembers and without him she focuses on playing violin to bring peace and joy to her life, and to give her a purpose.  Will Hanna and Max cross paths again?  In Another Time is a heartbreaking story of love, and survival in difficult times, and the ability to learn the truth.

I enjoy narration by two characters alternating chapters as it is easy to read and it compels me to read just one more chapter, and then just one more, always wanting to know what is going to happen next…Jillian Cantor created interesting characters and I get immersed in her writing with the World War ll setting,  appreciative for the research involved in historical fiction.  I adored The Lost Letter published 2017, and I highly recommend In Another Time too!

Q & A With Jillian Cantor

Tell us a little bit about In Another Time.

In Another Time is the story of Max, a German bookshop owner, and Hanna, a Jewish violin prodigy, who fall in love in the 1930s outside of Berlin as Hitler is rising to power. Max narrates the story in the 1930s, before the war, and Hanna narrates beginning in 1946, after the war, when she wakes up in a field with only her violin, no memory of the past ten years, and no idea what happened to Max. Max’s story moves through the 1930s as Hanna’s moves through the 1940s and 50s. I wanted it to be a love story between Max and Hanna but also a love song to books and music in our most trying times.

When I learned about Max’s huge secret, the special closet door in his bookshop, it first made me think of the novel Exit West where Mohsin Hamid wrote about doors people went through to get to other countries.  He mostly used it as a metaphor for immigration, allowing him not to have to focus on the physical journey. In In Another Time, I was unprepared for the magical time travel that happened in the closet but was pleasantly surprised.  Unexplainable, supernatural elements like this are not often used in historical fiction.  How did you come up with the idea?

I really wanted to explore the question of what made people leave, or not leave, Germany during Hitler’s rise to power in the lead up to WWII. I spoke with a Holocaust survivor who’d been a young Jewish girl in Berlin at the time. She said her parents refused to leave, saying it was their country too. They were Germans too. So I thought a lot about what it means to love your country, and feel allegiance to your country even if terrible things start happening. And how hard it would’ve been to fathom how horrible everything would eventually get if you were living there in those years. The question I set out to answer before I even sat down to write the book was, what if you had every way and means possible to leave, even a magical escape, would you still want to stay? 

I just accepted the magic and immersed myself in the lives of the wonderful characters, Hanna and Max.  Did you ever consider explaining more of the details regarding time traveling through the closet?  How did you decide what to explain and what to leave unsaid?

I definitely don’t see this a science fiction novel in any way, even though time travel does play a small role, like you said. So I never wanted to get bogged down in the details of how it worked. And Max is a bookshop owner, a reader, not a scientist, so I didn’t believe as a character he would get bogged down in these details either. My goal was to explain enough to make the plot and Max’s actions make sense, but not too much where the book became more science fiction than historical fiction. 

Your novel has Max’s story and Hanna’s story each from their own perspective. Did you write them alternating chapters like we read them, or did you create each character’s narrative separately?

  I wrote them exactly in the order that you read them, as they appear in the book now, alternating chapters. It did get a little confusing, and at a certain point as I was drafting (about 100 pages in) I stopped, and made a giant chart on the wall of my office to keep track of where each character was in each year, how old each was, etc.! But I felt I needed to write the book the way it would eventually read so I could get the pacing and the story arc right in the first draft. When I went back and revised, however, I did pull each story out and revise each one separately to make sure it was all coherent and made sense in order. 

All the chapters are narrated by Max or Hanna except for one. Why did Elsa have her own chapter?

Elsa is married to Max’s best friend, Johann, and she has a small but important role in the novel. The chapter she narrates allowed me to give the reader information that neither Max nor Hanna could’ve known.

What are you reading now (if you even have time) and what do you recommend?

I’m reading a lot of research for the next novel I’m writing right now! But I have a giant to-read pile sitting on my desk that I plan to get to once I finish drafting my next book: The Lost Girls of Paris by Pam Jenoff, The Things We Cannot Say by Kelly Rimmer, Blood Orange by Harriet Tyce, and The Age of Light by Whitney Scharer, just to name a few. One upcoming historical novel that I got to read early, and that I highly recommend, is The Flight Girls by Noelle Salazar. It’s out in July – look out for it!

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Music did actually keep people safe during World War ll; here is a video that tells a story of a woman who survived Auschwitz.

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If you would like to hear some orchestra music, here is a clip from my teenage son’s most recent concert with the NORWALK YOUTH SYMPHONY .

According to Google:  Listening to music can help reduce stress according to many studies. It can help relieve a person from anxiety, depression, and other emotional and mental problems. Music is also capable of eliminating physical exhaustion as it allows the body and mind to relax.

Goodreads Summary

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About the Author:

Jillian Cantor has a BA in English from Penn State University and an MFA from The University of Arizona. She is the USA Today bestselling author of THE LOST LETTER, THE HOURS COUNT, MARGOT, and, most recently, IN ANOTHER TIME, which is a March 2019 Indie Next pick. Her work has been translated into 10 languages, and has been featured as a Library Reads pick, and in People Magazine, O the Oprah Magazine, Glamour, and PopSugar among others. Born and raised in a suburb of Philadelphia, Jillian currently lives in Arizona with her husband and two sons.

How much would you sacrifice to achieve the American Dream?

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Review of The Farm and Q & A with Joanne Ramos

What could be better than living on sprawling beautiful property in the country, healthy food being served to you, fresh air and exercise, massages and pampering, and a generous, life changing paycheck, while all your needs are being met?  The catch…you must stay on the premises and be separated from your family and friends for nine months while you are pregnant with a baby that doesn’t belong to you.

In this stunning debut novel, The Farm, female-centric and slightly dystopian (will be appealing to fans of  The Handmaid’s Tale), author Joanne Ramos creates Golden Oaks, a secluded, country club atmosphere in Hudson Valley, NY where mostly foreign women are bearing children for elite clients who are not able to get pregnant or who choose not to.

Jane, a young, single Filipina mom with an infant, no husband and no secure place to live, decides to leave her own baby with her cousin, Ate, and take a job at Golden Oaks, where she will make enough money to better her life. She is chosen to be a Host, living in a luxury house in the middle of the countryside where her only job is to rest and keep the baby inside her healthy.  Nine months is a long time to be separated from your family and as time goes on, Jane starts to question the value of that big paycheck versus her sacrifices associated with being away. She is worried about her young daughter and her cousin, and is unsure the money alone is an adequate tradeoff for the painful separation and the missing of milestones.

Joanne Ramos takes a look at class status; what poor women will give up to ultimately improve their lives, and what wealthy women give up to avoid inconvenience. How much is worth sacrificing for the American Dream? This is a thought provoking, emotionally charged novel I highly recommend!  PREORDER TODAY– available May 7, 2019.

The Farm is part of the Bedside Reading program where books are placed on the nightstand at 5 star, luxury and boutique hotels.

Goodreads Summary

Q & A With Joanne Ramos

Q: How did you come up with the idea for a novel centered on a surrogacy farm and do you know anyone that ever worked at one?

A.  When I finally dared to commit to writing a book, a childhood dream I’d deferred for decades, I was already forty. Certain ideas had obsessed me for much of my life but finding a way into them—finding the right story to contain them and, also, allow them room to breathe—was difficult. I spent well over a year writing short stories, flash-fiction pieces and “first chapters” of stillborn novels. It was an exercise in persistence and, also, faith. Then one day, when reading my husband’s Wall Street Journal, I happened upon a snippet of an article about a surrogacy facility in India. The what ifs began swirling in my mind almost immediately, and The Farm began to take shape.   

Q: In this country do you see Filipina women experiencing economic and social challenges and in general struggling more than white women?  And if so, in what way?

A.  I don’t think you can really generalize in this way. I know Filipinas who struggle and those who lead cushy lives, and the same goes for white women. I think new immigrants to this country—and they come in all races and colors—do face challenges that ensconced Americans do not. I think domestic workers occupy a strange netherworld where they work in the intimacy of someone’s home and are often hailed as “part of the family”—but of course, they aren’t. That’s a difficult line to balance every day, and by and large, domestic workers don’t enjoy the protections that other workers in this country do. And of course, racism exists—here and everywhere.

Q: In The Farm we see women of different social classes and even in the same class using each other to get ahead. With the #MeToo movement, it generally seems as if most women are outwardly supporting all women across dividing lines.  Do you think the situation in your novel is closer to reality?  Do you believe women stand by their children first, then other women second? 

A.  Women, like men, have conflicting needs, desires and loyalties which they try their best to balance. Sometimes they need to compromise; some compromises are betrayals, depending on which side you sit on. Even within the #MeToo movement you see divisions—women who feel #MeToo has gone too far, women who feel it has not gone far enough, women who can relate and women who can’t, women who are changing their minds because of it.

Q: The influence men have on the women in The Farm seems nonexistent.  Why did you decide not to include men in the storyline? 

A.  I didn’t exclude men from The Farm consciously. The book started with Jane and Ate. Their voices came first. All the caregivers I happen to know well are women, and almost all of them are raising their children on their own—the fathers are absent. So, in this way, Jane and Ate’s stories reflect the reality I know. Of course, the Hosts are women, and it made sense to me that the person running Golden Oaks would be a woman. The decision was not one made “on-high”, but an organic development.

Q: Female inequality is a subject that is underlying throughout your novel. But the women considered to be the lowest on the totem pole also have the greatest power, the ability to bear a child.  You could have gone a different way in the novel, giving the pregnant women the upper hand.  Why choose to create a world that diminishes the unique and valuable aspect of womanhood?

A.  I don’t think that motherhood or pregnancy is diminished in The Farm at all! In fact, they are central to the book. The reality is, though, that the power dynamics of the world are not built around motherhood and pregnancy. In fact, for most of history, and in many parts of the world still, the opposite is true.

Q: How long did it take you to write this novel?  

A.  If you count the year and a half when I wrote in the dark, trying unsuccessfully to find a way “into” the themes that mattered to me, it took around five years. Once I came upon the idea of setting the action in a luxury surrogacy facility, the book took three and a half years to write and edit.

Q: What are you working on now?

A.  I have some seedlings of ideas for a second book, but nothing coherent enough to discuss.

Q: What are the last three great books you read and what is on your night stand now?

The History of Love, Nicole Krauss

Essential Essays, Adrienne Rich

Hold Still, Sally Mann

On my nightstand: Forest Dark, Nicole Krauss; Citizen: an American Lyric, Claudia Rankine; The Order of Time, Carlo Rovelli; Saltwater, Jessica Andrews

More information about surrogacy below.

Celebrities who have used surrogacy to grow their family

Surrogacy Farms in India

Surrogacy Farms in Ukraine

About the Author:

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Joanne Ramos was born in the Philippines and moved to Wisconsin when she was six.  She graduated with a BA from Princeton University.  After working in investment banking and private-equity investing for several years, she wrote for The Economist as a staff writer.  She lives in New York City with her husband and three children.  The Farm is her first novel.

Living in the Metropol Hotel in Russia Can be Fine…A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles…New Video Interview!

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NEW…

Author Amor Towles recently visited The Metropol Hotel and takes us on a tour!

My Review:

If you missed this one in hardcover, now is the time to grab a copy in paperback!  True to all the hype, Amor Towles has written a masterpiece.  I loved the premise of a Russian aristocrat being under house arrest for life in a fancy hotel due to a controversial poem he supposedly had written when he was younger.  A Gentleman In Moscow is the story of Count Alexander Rostov, and his life in the Metropol Hotel, from the 1920s on. Friendship, connection, loyalty and the ultimate pursuit of how to live, are beautifully explored with Towles’s skillful storytelling; while the elegant aristocrat creates a life for himself inside the hotel, 30 crucial years of Russian history were happening in the outside world.

I was late to the party in taking on this rather large book, but when I recently learned it took place in a hotel I was intrigued.  Initially Thurston Hall at George Washington University (a former hotel turned dorm) came to mind, and then I thought of Zach and Cody (of Disney Channel fame 2005-2008) and their suite life in the Tipton Hotel in Boston.  In A Gentleman In Moscow, Alexander Rostov was not allowed to leave the premises of the fancy hotel across from the Kremlin, but lucky for him there was a restaurant and bar, seamstress and lots of rooms to discover and explore.  The elements of glamour softened the blow of being incarcerated and unable to go outside, yet in my mind I questioned whether Rostov’s sentence was really a punishment or was it protection from the harsh realities of Russia outside the Metropol doors during that time. The pace of the book was on the slower side, not the kind of story you read in a day but rather the kind you savor and reread as you go, as one might do when there is nothing else to tend to and no place to go.  It meandered around the Metropol with wonderful stories, descriptions and character exploration. I felt as if I were actually wandering around the different rooms and stairwells and experiencing life in the elegant Russian hotel myself.  I enjoyed how the Rostov found a way to continually learn, grow and enjoy his life, develop many relationships, and dress, eat and live well, all under a strict, watchful eye and government punishment.  A Gentleman in Moscow was a beautiful combination of a fictional, highly imaginative story paired with important Russian history… and a unexpected surprise at the end!   I highly recommend!

CBS This Morning’s correspondent, Elizabeth Palmer visits the Metropol Hotel with Amor Towles and you can plan a stay there too!

Visit the Metropol Hotel website.

A Gentleman in Moscow available in paperback here.

In April 2018 it was announced there would be a tv production of A Gentleman In Moscow.  No news since then, but here is the article.

If you are interested in living in a hotel like Count Alexander Rostov did, you may want to read this!  I’m not pushing it but there are definitely some benefits… here is more to read!

Goodreads Summary

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About the Author:

Born and raised in the Boston area, Amor Towles graduated from Yale College and received an MA in English from Stanford University. Having worked as an investment professional in Manhattan for over twenty years, he now devotes himself fulltime to writing. His first novel, Rules of Civility, published in 2011, was a New York Times bestseller in both hardcover and paperback and was ranked by the Wall Street Journal as one of the best books of 2011. The book was optioned by Lionsgate to be made into a feature film and its French translation received the 2012 Prix Fitzgerald. His second novel, A Gentleman in Moscow, published in 2016, was also a New York Times bestseller and was ranked as one of the best books of 2016 by the Chicago Tribune, the Miami Herald, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the St. Louis Dispatch, and NPR. Both novels have been translated into over fifteen languages.

Mr. Towles, who lives in Manhattan with his wife and two children, is an ardent fan of early 20th century painting, 1950’s jazz, 1970’s cop shows, rock & roll on vinyl, obsolete accessories, manifestoes, breakfast pastries, pasta, liquor, snow-days, Tuscany, Provence, Disneyland, Hollywood, the cast of Casablanca, 007, Captain Kirk, Bob Dylan (early, mid, and late phases), the wee hours, card games, cafés, and the cookies made by both of his grandmothers.

An Undeniable Spark Between An Unlikely Twosome Creates Serious Heat In The Play, Burn This by Lanford Wilson

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My Review:

In anticipation of the Broadway production of Burn This starring Adam Driver and Keri Russell, I chose to familiarize myself with this emotional story of loss and love, and I am so glad I did!  In the late 1980s, in NYC, a female dancer, Anna, along with her gay roommate, Larry and her rich screenwriter boyfriend, Burton, are together mourning the loss of a friend, Robbie.  The deceased’s brother, Pale, shows up and looks to Anna to learn more about his younger sibling’s recent past, and amidst overwhelming emotions of grief, a physical relationship develops.  Anna ad Pale’s chemistry is undeniable and their relationship grows.  The connection is evident, but timing is not right and she denies them both the opportunity to continue by shutting him out.  To combat the pain of loss, Anna devotes herself to her work as a choreographer, developing a dance that represents this relationship she has turned her back on. 

Thank you to Lanford Wilson, the playwright, for giving Anna’s roommate, Larry, the understanding of the depth of her feelings for Pale…Larry sets them up to be alone in the apartment together without either of them knowing… and it was just what they both needed. I expect this play to be powerful and steamy.  The original cast in 1987 included Joan Allen and John Malkovich, and I think the current cast with Keri Russell and Adam Driver will have equal success.  I cannot wait to see the limited engagement, Broadway production at the Hudson Theatre in May!  

Interview with playwright Lanford Wilson about the writing of the play Burn This.

Goodreads Summary

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About the Playwright:

Lanford Wilson was born in Lebanon, Missouri on April 13, 1937 and died March 24, 2011.  He was an American playwright, considered one of the founders of the Off-Off-Broadway theater movement. He received the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1980, was elected in 2001 to the Theater Hall of Fame, and in 2004 was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

Can Dogs Help Us With Grief? In Sigrid Nunez’s Latest Novel, The Friend, You May Get Some Insight.

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Meeting the Author and My Review:

Fortunate to have had the opportunity to see her speak,  I have not come across many authors who are as impressive, authentic and old school as Sigrid Nunez.  A true, lifelong writer for writing’s sake, not caught up in the business of marketing her work or following her reviews, Nunez seems focused on her craft, and just expressing herself and getting her story out of her head and onto the paper.

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According to the author, her novel, The Friend just flowed and formed itself on its own without an outline or a plan. A while ago she had been asked to do a 10 minute reading so she wrote what turned out to be the beginning of The Friend.  Soon after, she was asked to do a 25 minute reading so she added on and she felt she had something of a novel developing so she just continued to the end.  She did not do much research for this book; most of the story was meditative as the reader is alway in the consciousness of the book’s narrator.  Nunez chose to keep to the tone of a “hushed, intimate voice of someone writing a love letter” but did not write in a letter format.  She enjoyed the freedom of going from thought to thought, and felt this form was liberating and easier to write than in any other way.

Nunez is a big reader, and could never envision herself living a happy life without it.  She likes to write in the morning, at home or in the school library where she is teaching, (currently she is at Syracuse University) and works on only one project at at a time.

A writer her entire life, she is pleased, I am sure to get recognized by The New York Times (they published an article with the headline, “With ‘The Friend’, Sigrid Nunez Becomes an Overnight Literary Sensation, 23 Years and Eight Books Later”).  She is the winner of the National Book Award for Fiction 2018.

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The Friend is an unnamed woman’s story of grief after losing a lifelong friend to suicide and adopting his seemingly forlorn Great Dane, Apollo.  After meeting with her Friend’s 3rd wife who requested she adopt the pet, she agrees even though no dogs are allowed in her small apartment and she runs the risk of eviction.  The relationship with her Friend’s very large, aging companion becomes important to her and even though others believe she needs help to overcome her grief and back away from the unusual commitment to Apollo, she prefers to be with him rather than socialize with other people.  She assumes he misses his master and tries to understand what goes on in his head and his heart.

In the narrator’s voice, the author makes her own thoughts known regarding the writing community; she likens the publishing industry to a sinking ship, and mocks what could be a status builder, (the crazy but not altogether impossible idea of) a naked author calendar.  The narrator doesn’t believe people write for the right reason and interestingly enough, author Sigrid Nunez, through the voice of her narrator, has made her critical opinions known regarding the loss of integrity on the literary scene, and has unexpectedly received media attention with The Friend.

Throughout the story there is a lot to think about:

Philosophical questions and musings about reading and writing; “If reading really does increase empathy, as we are constantly being told that it does, it appears that writing takes some away.”

Publishing, and how literature has lost its quality;  “I recite your various gripes, which were not much different from those heard every day from other teachers: how even students from top schools didn’t know a good sentence from a bad one, how nobody in publishing seemed to care how anything was written anymore, how books were dying, literature was dying, and the prestige of the writer had sunk so low that the biggest mystery of all was why everyone and their grandmother was turning to authorship as just the ticket to glory.”

Dogs and their understanding; “What do dogs think when they see someone cry?”

The narrator talks about her Friend and his feelings about the benefit of walking as it contributes to creativity because it delivers a rhythm.  She tells stories of suicide, blindness, loss of speech, psychosomatic illness, sex trafficking and prostitution.

Does a good book have to deliver what the reader wants or is what makes it good the delivery of what the author wants to communicate?

I enjoyed The Friend and meeting Sigrid Nunez and hearing about her writing process and the inside scoop made me appreciate it even more!

Goodreads Summary

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About the Author:

Sigrid Nunez has published seven novels, including A Feather on the Breath of God, The Last of Her Kind, Salvation City, and, most recently, The Friend. She is also the author of Sempre Susan: A Memoir of Susan Sontag. Among the journals to which she has contributed are The New York Times, The New York Times Book Review, The Paris Review, Threepenny Review, Harper’s, McSweeney’s, Tin House, and The Believer. Her work has also appeared in several anthologies, including four Pushcart Prize volumes and four anthologies of Asian American literature.

Sigrid’s honors and awards include a Whiting Writer’s Award, a Berlin Prize Fellowship, and two awards from the American Academy of Arts and Letters: the Rosenthal Foundation Award and the Rome Prize in Literature. She has taught at Columbia, Princeton, Boston University, and the New School, and has been a visiting writer or writer in residence at Amherst, Smith, Baruch, Vassar, and the University of California, Irvine, among others. In spring, 2019, she will be visiting writer at Syracuse University. Sigrid has also been on the faculty of the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference and of several other writers’ conferences across the country. She lives in New York City.

Combat Bullying – Learn How To Teach Your Children Empathy and Acceptance…The Kindness Advantage by Dr. Dale Atkins and Amanda Salzhauer

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My Review:

The world can often be harsh, and lucky for us, authors Dale Atkins PhD and Amanda Salzhauer, MSW are giving all families a leg up with tips and ideas for how to be kind in their new book, The Kindness Advantage, Cultivating Compassionate and Connected Children.  Based on research, this guide provides ways for adults to nurture kindness in our children, teaching them from a young age to be empathetic, compassionate fulfilled people.

According to authors Atkins and Salzhauer, The 10 Fundamentals of Kindness are:

Acceptance – Commitment – Connection – Empathy – Giving – Interest – Nurturing – Observing – Questioning – (be) Yourself

Each one is described and explained in the book, and applied to real life situations.  Asking our children how they want to be treated leads to a discussion of how to treat others and in the book there are lots of examples and ideas on how to cultivate kinder children.

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I was lucky enough to hear Dr. Dale Atkins speak, and she said, based on research, whether we do an act of kindness, are on the receiving end of an act of kindness, or we merely witness an act of kindness, there are real mental, physical, emotional and spiritual benefits as a result of the increased flow of endorphins.  That is great news because collectively we have the opportunity to make the world a kinder place if we all incorporate more kindness into our family life.

Also included in the book are incredibly helpful tools for breathing, visualization, and meditation for children. Recommended books and apps are listed at the back, as well as journal questions and space for answers and personal notes.   Charity is good and conversation makes the difference so pick up a copy of The Kindness Advantage to help guide you and your family.  It is a perfect gift for everyone in contact with young children… grandparents and teachers too!

Goodreads Summary

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About the Authors:

Dale Atkins, Ph.D.

Dale Atkins is a licensed psychologist with more than forty years of experience as a relationship expert focusing on families, wellness, managing stress, and living a balanced, meaningful life.

Author of seven books and many chapters, articles, and journals for popular and professional audiences, Dale is a featured speaker who lectures and leads seminars worldwide, often about raising financially responsible, charitable children.  Dale is a frequent guest expert in the media and appears regularly on NBC’s TODAYand CNN. Dale has a private psychology practice in New York City and has been a member of and advisor to several nonprofit boards, including Jumpstart for Young Children, from which she recently retired after serving twenty-two years, since its founding. She has two children and six grandchildren, and lives in Connecticut. She can be found on Twitter (@DrDaleAtkins), Facebook, and at drdaleatkins.com.

Amanda Salzhauer, MSW

Amanda Salzhauer has a Master’s degree in social work and has worked as a social worker in clinics and private practice.

She currently serves as secretary of the Horace Mann School board, president of the board of Riverdale Neighborhood House, and sits on the Advisory Council of Child Help Partnership at St John’s University. At Dartmouth College Hillel she helped raise funds for the construction and endowment of the Roth Center for Jewish Life, which is now in its twentieth year. Amanda is an active member of her synagogue, where she developed and instituted the Sharing the Spirit of Shabbat program to give families the opportunity to participate in a community service project. She has three children and lives in Bronx, New York.