Thank you for Visiting

This book club provided an opportunity to discuss books with authors from 2009 - 2013. I like to think we were a group of daughters, sisters, wives, mothers, well... women finding time to meet while juggling daily life.

I hope you enjoy exploring The Manic Mommies Book Club Archives. We read 46 books over the years, with audio or written author discussions for each book read documented on this blog.

~ with kindness & gratitude, Mari

January 2011 selection: Helen of Pasadena

Thank you so much to everyone for sending questions ahead of time, we could have kept talking for another hour if time allowed.  If you weren't able to join us you can listen online (player located in the right column) or via iTunes by searching Manic Mommies Book Club.

Lian's Book Recommendation: Pictures of You (Caroline Leavitt)

Click here to listen to our book discussion, with author Lian Dolan.

Synopsis: Helen Fairchild leads a privileged existence. It only bothers her a tiny bit that she has never quite fit in with the proper Pasadena crowd, never finished that graduate degree in Classics, and never had that second baby. But the rigid rules of Pasadena society appeal to Helen, the daughter of Oregon fiber artists, even if she'll never be an insider. A hilarious social commentary about modern upper-middle class life meets a strong story of midlife reinvention.

Author Q&A:
Tell us a little about yourself: I am a mother, sister, wife, friend and daughter. In addition, I write, talk and observe for a living. I’ve spent the last two decades working in media—from TV production to radio to magazines to digital content to novels. I created Satellite Sisters with my four real-life sisters to discuss issues of modern women on the radio and the web. And, I created The Chaos Chronicles to examine issues of modern motherhood with a humorous slant. I’m married, have two boys and a busy life in Pasadena, California.
When you start writing Helen of Pasadena, how much of the story did you have mapped out and how much of it emerged as you were writing? I have always been an outliner, even in high school when I was writing papers about The Catcher in the Rye, so having a detailed road map is an engrained part of my writing process. Especially because Helen of Pasadena was my first fiction, I wanted to know where I was going before I started writing. And the pacing of the book was very important to me; I wanted it to move along briskly, no dawdling! I really approached the format more like the three- act screenplay, than a traditional novel. I identified my key plot points before I every typed a word. I bet I had about 70% of the story mapped out as I started to write. I had cards for every scene, with the characters, the conflict and the resolution outlined. That being said, I was really surprised how many big, fun plot details came to me during the writing process. I think having a strong outline gave me confidence that I had enough “happening” in the book and my imagination just opened up during the day writing. I was so immersed in the story that I thought of almost nothing else. And lots of the extra details, situation and characters that made the book fun to write—and hopefully to read—came to me as I was writing. It’s definitely a writing model I will use again.

In the movie Helen of Pasadena, who would you LOVE to see play the roles of Helen, Patrick and Rochelle?  I am terrible at the casting game. Ter-ri-ble! But, as I was writing the book, I did keep picturing Kate Winslet as Helen and Hugh Jackman as Patrick. I know, neither is American, but I know both could pull off those roles. The Rochelle question is tricky, because all I can see are the faces of actual news anchors in my head, bedecked in bright red jackets and overdone make-up! Maybe Bridget Wilson Sampras could pull off Rochelle! Not that she’s anything like Rochelle, I’m sure.

In the back of the novel you mention that your next novel will be a character spin off from Helen. Have you started the writing it? The second book in this Rose City trilogy is also set in Pasadena and involves a woman from history inspiring a contemporary woman, like Helen of Pasadena. That’s all the details you are getting from me! I am both superstitious and suspicious of revealing too much about a work-in-progress. I live in Holly-wood land where, yes, people steal ideas all day long! I have started the outline, some of the research and really prepping to write. I have do a little more reading and research, but I should be ready to write in February. I am working on clearing my schedule and getting focused.

You don't talk much about what you are reading on the podcast but I know you must read all the time. What is the last book you read? What are you reading now? You’re right; I should talk more about books! But in one hour a week, there are so many things to cover, I don’t often get to books. This fall, I did a series of author interviews on Satellite Sisters, so I was tearing through The Wave by Susan Casey, The Possibility of Everything by Hope Edelman and My Hollywood by Mona Simpson. If left to my own devices, I read mostly fiction and funny non-fiction. I just finished Juliet by Anne Fortier, which I enjoyed. A little history and a little romance. Now, I have the new Nora Ephron book and the new Steve Martin book on my nightstand for the holidays. I LOVE reading books by comedy writers; it’s a sub-genre for me that I consider a specialty. You know why? They are very funny! And I like to laugh.

Upcoming Selections: Jan - June 2011

Can you believe that the Manic Mommies Book Club started two years ago? We have read dozens of books, and have grown from discussing books via email with authors (and online chats) to discussing books with the author on a conference call! Thanks Carol Cassella for being our guinea pig (I’m happy to say she is making another appearance in 2011).

We have read some great books and talked with wonderful authors. Most of the authors were new names to me but I’m honored to say I have discovered some new must read authors. I have read all of the published books by Jennie Shortridge, I think I had an author crush in 2009! I can’t wait for Kim Wright’s next book which is a character spin off from Love in Mid Air. This December we are talking to Kathleen Kent to discuss The Wolves of Andover (the prequel to The Heretic’s Daughter, one of my favorite books read this year) to name a few. 

For the first half of 2011 we will be reading books that explore self discovery, trust and ethics, motherhood and personal dreams, the power of friendship, mixed in with a historical fiction novel set in the seventeenth century, and a cooking novel (with recipes). Four of the books were suggested authors or genre’s from manic mommies listener’s, so I’m please to say this list is truly a collaboration!

Jan – June 2011 Book Selections:

Helen of Pasadena: Helen Fairchild leads a privileged existence. It only bothers her a tiny bit that she has never quite fit in with the proper Pasadena crowd, never finished that graduate degree in Classics, and never had that second baby. But the rigid rules of Pasadena society appeal to Helen, the daughter of Oregon fiber artists, even if she'll never be an insider. A hilarious social commentary about modern upper-middle class life meets a strong story of midlife reinvention.

Healer: Claire is at the start of her medical career when she falls in love with Addison Boehning, a biochemist with blazing genius and big dreams. A complicated pregnancy deflects Claire’s professional path, and she is forced to drop out of her residency. Soon thereafter Addison invents a simple blood test for ovarian cancer, and his biotech start-up lands a fortune. Overnight the Boehnings are catapulted into a financial and social tier they had never anticipated or sought: they move into a gracious Seattle home and buy an old ranch in the high desert mountains of eastern Washington, and Claire drifts away from medicine to become a full-time wife and mother. Then Addison gambles everything on a cutting-edge cancer drug, and when the studies go awry, their comfortable life is swept away. Claire and her daughter, Jory, move to a dilapidated ranch house in rural Hallum, where Claire has to find a job until Addison can salvage his discredited lab. Her only offer for employment comes from a struggling public health clinic, but Claire gets more than a second chance at medicine when she meets Miguela, a bright Nicaraguan immigrant and orphan of the contra war who has come to the United States on a secret quest to find the family she has lost. As their friendship develops, a new mystery unfolds that threatens to destroy Claire’s family and forces her to question what it truly means to heal.

Healer exposes the vulnerabilities of the American family, provoking questions of choice versus fate, desire versus need, and the duplicitous power of money.

Sand in my Eyes: Twenty years ago, Anna Hott thought she could control everything — her crumbling marriage, her demanding children, her hectic life — by quitting her high-placed job in New York City and moving her family to tranquil Sanibel Island, Florida. But she brought her untamed emotions, her rage toward her cheating husband, and her yearning to write a novel with her. When her husband and children left the house for a week, Anna thought at last she would get her household, her novel, and her mind in order. Instead, her elderly neighbor Fedelina Aurelio knocked on her door bearing flowers and homespun wisdom, and when Fedelina's recently divorced son arrived, Anna had a test of passions and a test of truth. Now, at 56 with an empty nest, Anna Holt pulls out the incomplete manuscript she started that memorable week and — to find closure for her life and a conclusion for her novel — travels to Indiana to visit Fedelina who lives in a nursing home.

The Four Ms. Bradwell’s: Mia, Laney, Betts, and Ginger, best friends since law school, have reunited for a long weekend as Betts awaits Senate confirmation of her appointment to the Supreme Court. Nicknamed “the Ms. Bradwells” during their first class at the University of Michigan Law School in 1979—when only three women had ever served full Senate terms and none had been appointed to the Court—the four have supported one another through life’s challenges: marriages and divorces, births and deaths, career setbacks and triumphs large and small. Betts was, and still is, the Funny One. Ginger, the Rebel. Laney, the Good Girl. And Mia, the Savant.

But when the Senate hearings uncover a deeply buried skeleton in the friends’ collective closet, the Ms. Bradwell’s retreat to a summer house on the Chesapeake Bay, where they find themselves reliving a much darker period in their past—one that stirs up secrets they’ve kept for, and from, one another, and could change their lives forever.

Exit the Actress: While selling oranges in the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden, sweet and sprightly Ellen "Nell" Gwyn impresses the theater’s proprietors with a wit and sparkle that belie her youth and poverty. She quickly earns a place in the company, narrowly avoiding the life of prostitution to which her sister has already succumbed. As her roles evolve from supporting to starring, the scope of her life broadens as well. Soon Ellen is dressed in the finest fashions, charming the theatrical, literary, and royal luminaries of Restoration England. Ellen grows up on the stage, experiencing first love and heartbreak and eventually becoming the mistress of Charles II. Despite his reputation as a libertine, Ellen wholly captures his heart—and he hers—but even the most powerful love isn’t enough to stave off the gossip and bitter court politics that accompany a royal romance. Telling the story through a collection of vibrant seventeenth-century voices ranging from Ellen’s diary to playbills, letters, gossip columns, and home remedies, Priya Parmar brings to life the story of an endearing and delightful heroine.

The Love Goddess’ Cooking School: Holly Maguire’s grandmother Camilla was the Love Goddess of Blue Crab Island, Maine—a Milanese fortune-teller who could predict the right man for you, and whose Italian cooking was rumored to save marriages. Holly has been waiting years for her unlikely fortune: her true love will like sa cordula, an unappetizing old-world delicacy. But Holly can’t make a decent marinara sauce, let alone sa cordula. Maybe that’s why the man she hopes to marry breaks her heart. So when Holly inherits Camilla’s Cucinotta, she’s determined to forget about fortunes and love and become an Italian cooking teacher worthy of her grandmother’s legacy.

But Holly’s four students are seeking much more than how to make Camilla’s chicken alla Milanese. Simon, a single father, hopes to cook his way back into his daughter’s heart. Juliet, Holly’s childhood friend, hides a painful secret. Tamara, a serial dater, can’t find the love she longs for. And twelve-year-old Mia thinks learning to cook will stop her dad, Liam, from marrying his phony lasagna-queen girlfriend. As the class gathers each week, adding Camilla’s essential ingredients of wishes and memories in every pot and pan, unexpected friendships and romances are formed—and tested. Especially when Holly falls hard for Liam . . . and learns a thing or two about finding her own recipe for happiness.

December 2010 Book Discussion: The Wolves of Andover

If you didn't get a chance to join us when we talked with author Kathleen Kent in December be sure to listen to our discussion.  You can listen online (player located in the right column) or via iTunes.

Synopsis: In the harsh wilderness of colonial Massachusetts, Martha Allen works as a servant in her cousin's household, taking charge and locking wills with everyone. Thomas Carrier labors for the family and is known both for his immense strength and size and mysterious past. The two begin a courtship that suits their independent natures, with Thomas slowly revealing the story of his part in the English Civil War. But in the rugged new world they inhabit, danger is ever present, whether it be from the assassins sent from London to kill the executioner of Charles I or the wolves-in many forms-who hunt for blood. A love story and a tale of courage, The Wolves of Andover confirms Kathleen Kent's ability to craft powerful stories of family from colonial history.

Book Discussion:
Kathleen's book recommendations: Cleopatra: a life (Schiff) and The Suspicions of Mr Whicher (Summerscale)

In addition to the call, we are bringing back the online discussion for those unable to join us - or for anyone who has read the book and would like to participate.

Here are some questions to get the discussion started (answer any/all of them or simply leave a comment about your reading experience):

1. What was your overall view of the book? Did you enjoy it?

2. Kathleen explained to us that she is a descendant to Thomas Carrier, have you researched your family tree?  If yes, do you have any interesting stories to share?

3.  I know we are talking about The Wolves of Andover but we spent just as much time discussing The Heretic's Daughter on our call.  Have you read this book? Did you like it?  If not, have you been to Salem?  It's a haunting piece of American history.

And as I always end this post... what are you reading now?

Author Q&A:
Tell us a little about yourself: I grew up in Texas and attended the University of Texas in Austin. I had always loved writing, but wasn't confident I could make a living at it, so I spent twenty years living and working in New York first in commodities and then as Chief Operating Officer for a US company doing defense conversion work in Russia for the Department of Defense. I travelled extensively through the Former Soviet Union, and greatly enjoyed the career I had built. But always, in the back of my mind, was the thought that someday I would write the book that became The Heretic's Daughter. In 2000 I moved with my husband and son back to Texas and, retiring early from my job, made the conscious decision to begin writing full time. Little did I know it would take 5 years to research and write, but I was fortunate enough to have the support of my family and to find my agent who got me the publishing deal at Little Brown.

What was it like getting your first novel published? What is your writing schedule like? The success of my first novel has been beyond my wildest expectations. The book is now published in over a dozen countries, including such exotic places as Turkey and Taiwan. While writing the book my only expectation was that I get published. I had no academic standing to gain easy entree into research library records and the most ambitious writing project I had ever undertaken was to write short stories and poems for my own pleasure. The things I did have were disciplined work habits, a passion to write, and some wonderful stories that my mother and grandmother had passed down to me about my nine times great grandmother, Martha Carrier. It was a wonderful time of exploration and I travelled to Connecticut and Massachusetts several times to get the feeling of the places that were important to the story. I still do most of my best writing in the morning, and try to write some every day. Every once in a while, the muse will descend and I'll write late at night, or have to pull over while driving to jot down some notes.

When you start writing, how much of the story do you have mapped out and how much is organic? I usually start with a general outline and character development. I spend a lot of time playing with the characters in my head until I feel they're ready to be committed to paper. The outline is just a loose road map, which is often changed during the writing of the first or second draft. The narrative path I've picked may turn out to be not right for the character to take, or the story line may not be interesting enough. There is certainly a lot of organic processing during the first few drafts. After the second draft, though, when I'm polishing the third or fourth draft, the story line and characters are usually set.

If you could interview anyone, who would if be and why? What would you like to ask them? If I could interview anyone who is a writer, it would have to be Annie Dillard. To me she is the most wondrous word crafter in contemporary writing. But, I think she is a very shy, private person and sometimes the alchemy of the writing process is difficult to articulate. If I could interview a non-writer, it would have to be Helen Mirren. She seems to me to be such a fascinating woman (with emphasis on "woman", not "girl"); talented, humourous, well spoken, and at sixty-something totally fearless about wearing a bathing suit in person. Now that is a modern goddess!!

The prequel to The Heretic's Daughter is titled The Wolves of Andover, and will be released on November 8th. It chronicles the life of Martha's husband, Thomas Carrier; his involvement in the English Civil War and the event leading to the execution of King Charles I of England. I hope that you will enjoy reading this next book as well.