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Chocolat and Other Delicious Things!

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Loveys, it’s almost book club time again! Which I’m thrilled about because the last month has had all kinds of unexpected issues (illness for one) and I feel like I have hardly been a part of humanity! I had all of these great intentions about being super social this year, and then one thing after another has happened, and basically my only social interaction lately has been with Jeff and my three children. SO, fingers crossed nothing else happens, and book club goes as planned next week.

Book club this month is Joanne Harris’s delightful novel Chocolat. I was immediately on board with this since I LOVED the movie so much. I was surprised by how much they changed from book to film–but the more I thought about it, the more I felt that the changes were good changes. They held to the themes while making the story something that worked perfectly in movie form. (This made me think of Julie and Julia. In that case, I loved the movie so much, but when I read the book, I didn’t connect with the author. The book just didn’t move me in any way.) When it came to Chocolat, I ended up loving the book and the movie. (Confession: I liked some of the characters from the movie better, but I liked getting to know Vianne in a deeper way.)

I was also reminded that I’m sort of obsessed with food. I really enjoyed the food/dessert aspects of this novel. I wish I could go to a chocolaterie in France! (This is also why I loved the movie.) I also enjoyed the mystic elements of this book. Whenever there are mystic elements in this kind of story, you end up wondering about how much is meant to be real or imagined, or perhaps the line between reality and otherworldly is intentionally blurry. I like the feeling I get when I read something that makes even the everyday seem like an adventure. The characters involved in the small town–mysterious, sympathetic, frustrating. The wind for Vianne, will it move her again and sweep her away to a new place?

So I get to host book club at my house this month and I’m thinking chocolate is in order. Maybe fondue? Maybe chocolate martinis? Maybe both? Jeff bought me a bottle of chocolate wine because he loves me, so we’ll try that. I’m feeling desperate for grown-up conversation, and book club is the perfect remedy. The only thing better than reading about food in books is drinking wine while talking about food in books!

P.S. I’ve been finishing up the final touches on my compilation book The Romano Family Collection. This compilation project is made up of my three Heartsong Presents novels, Table for Two, Second Chance Café, and Recipe for Love. I am so excited to have those available again! As I’ve been going through proofs, I can see again how much I enjoy food in fiction. Leo’s Lobster Magnifico, Isabella’s Corn Chowder, Alison’s Breakfast Casserole, Jeremy’s Bread Pudding–really, this girl likes to eat. In the Romano Family Collection, there’s a bonus short story called A Southern Belle Road Trip. I’m really thrilled for readers to get this glimpse into Ashley’s life (she’s a character from Table for Two!) It’s just a short story, but I managed to squeeze food scenes in regardless. And there’s a bonus recipe included! The Kindle version should be up and running soon, and I’m hoping the print version will be available within the next two weeks. Stay tuned for an update and possibly a giveaway!

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Dragonfly in Amber Book Club

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Dragonfly in Amber Book Club

Loveys, so Saturday night was book club at the Bruce house and we were talking about all things Dragonfly in Amber. This is book 2 in the Outlander series (which I love!). Honestly, it’s not my favorite book of the series (that would be Voyager), but it’s an important part of the overall story and there’s plenty to discuss. Seriously, we sat in my living room, talking and laughing, till after midnight! This is why I love book club. Book discussion can go in so many directions and you end up learning so much about each other in the process.

Back to the book. Outlander is all about Scotland, and the setting is important to understanding the characters. But in DIA, our setting moves to France, and again, the setting is extremely important to the story (it does reach back to Scotland eventually). So we stuck with France for our book club theme, specifically the spookiness of Master Raymond’s shop. img_4856

Master Raymond is one of the most intriguing new characters in DIA and he’s a favorite of mine. He owns something of an apothecary shop and he’s fascinating on many levels, not to mention the fact that he ends up being a good friend to Claire. I tied our table décor to themes in the book–Master Raymond’s shop, Claire being labeled ‘La Dame Blanche’ (the white witch), Jamie joining the wine business with his cousin Jared, and so on.img_4862

It was fun to tie in the role of wine from the book to our book club night because…um, wine and book club go together like syrup and pancakes. For real. So for our party favors, everyone received little bottles of wine.

I printed off discussion questions, just as a starting off point, but some of the best discussion came organically. There’s a moment early on the book, when Claire is telling her daughter Brianna the truth about who her father is and what happened, and Claire tells Brianna that she hated her for a time. This topic resulted in a lot of interesting discussion. Other topics that I felt were really good included the role of faith/God in the story, whether or not Claire made the right choice in leaving, whether Claire owns that decision or blames Jamie (or even Brianna), and Claire’s marriage to Frank. For literally hours, the girls and I dove deep, talking about the books and sharing about ourselves. Good stuff.

(To be honest, these books are really long. You could have a great discussion on the TV series alone. Though I’d argue the characters are much better in the books and there’s so much more! But still, good discussion.)

So, Outlander book club part 2 was a success! I’m thankful to the girls who came. Friends and wine and snacks and books…all good things. (Jessica and Marina, I missed you girls! Next time for sure!)

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Lizzy and Jane by Katherine Reay

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Loveys, so this was the latest book club read over here! I really love to read so much that I wish I could read a book a month and get together to discuss. But amid the craziness of raising kids and doing life, I have to be careful with how much I take on. After the lovely chaos of the holidays, I started thinking it was time to find a book for book club. As usual, I get all my ideas from my sister Sara. She’s an amazing reader and always has a pile of books she’s reading. She recommended Lizzy and Jane to me a while back, and if Sara recommends it to me, it’s usually a very good read. So I emailed all the girls from book club to see who was up for it, and we got a good group together!

Here’s the scoop on this book (via Amazon):

Lizzy and Jane couldn’t be further from Jane Austen’s famous sisters for whom they are named. Elizabeth left her family’s home in Seattle fifteen years ago to pursue her lifelong dream—chefing her own restaurant in New York City. Jane stayed behind to raise a family. Estranged since their mother’s death many years ago, the circumstances of their lives are about to bring them together once again.

Known for her absolute command of her culinary domain, Elizabeth’s gifts in the kitchen have begun to elude her. And patrons and reviewers are noticing. In need of some rest and an opportunity to recover her passion for cooking, Elizabeth jumps at the excuse to rush to her sister’s bedside when Jane is diagnosed with cancer. After all, Elizabeth did the same for their mother. Perhaps this time, it will make a difference.

As Elizabeth pours her renewed energy into her sister’s care and into her burgeoning interest in Nick, Jane’s handsome coworker, her life begins to evolve from the singular pursuit of her own dream into the beautiful world of family, food, literature, and love that was shattered when she and Jane lost their mother. Will she stay and become Lizzy to her sister’s Jane—and Elizabeth to Nick’s Mr. Darcy—or will she return to the life she has worked so hard to create?

*My thoughts: I really enjoyed this story. It’s full of emotion (though sometimes you want to strangle the sisters!) and there are a lot of layers for discussion. For this reason, especially, I think it works well for book club. There are parts to love and parts to pick apart. I loved the food element woven throughout. One of the sisters is a chef, so food is almost a main character in the book. (Which I love!) When it came time for book club, I decided to host a potluck dinner. Last summer, our book club read 800 Grapes (good choice!) and wine was an important part of the book. So a night of appetizers and wine went well with book discussion. This time, a potluck dinner sounded super fun to me. So we sat around my table and, over pasta and salad and bread, talked about the complicated family relationships in the book, the decisions the sisters made, and more.

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Especially for Austen fans, you’ll enjoy the mentions of Austen’s novels and characters. For people who’ve experienced difficult illness, you’ll appreciate the family dynamics in conjunction with stress and hurt feelings. For foodie’s, you’ll love the ties to food and cooking.

More than anything, what I love about book club is simply coming together to share our perspective and our own stories. I’m very grateful to all the lovely ladies who took part. Good times. Can’t wait till next time!

For my reader friends, check out Lizzy and Jane!

Summer Book Club

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Every now and then, people need a good book party, don’t you think? Hosting a book club can be a little intimidating for some people (maybe people like me with very small children who tend to make a mess every fifteen minutes). When I decided to host book club once this summer, I dived into Pinterest for ideas (hence the book page table runner! Do not think I came up with that on my own, lovey). Now that book club night has passed, I figured I’d share the love on ideas for book clubs.

First off, I picked a book, Eight Hundred Grapes by Laura Dave (I’ll do a review later). I’d seen this title on summer to-read lists and a friend of mine who does book and movie reviews (that’s you, Christa Banister!) recommended it on Twitter, and I trust her taste. Book chosen. Next up, find friends who like to read! (This can be more challenging than it sounds!) Some of us are in regular book clubs so maybe it’s just your turn to host. In that case, you can skip this step. If not, just throw it out there that you want to do a book club–either an ongoing one or a one-time thing and see who responds. Be brave!

Once you’ve got your readers, choose a night to meet. Some people are in clubs that meet weekly or bi-weekly for book club and they discuss as they go through the book. This works well for nonfiction, but for fiction, that format doesn’t work for me. For one thing, when I’m sucked into a good book, I want to read the whole thing and talk about everything. Plus, meeting weekly can be difficult with schedules. Just see what works for you and your friends.

For me, this was a summer read. We took about six weeks to read the book, then landed on a date that worked for most of us (very rarely will you find a date that works for everyone. That’s okay). As we got closer, I sent out an evite. Even though we landed on a date earlier, the evite helped a lot. Guest list, address, time, what to bring–it’s one place where you can give out all the info (and it’s cute. What can I say? I like cute!).

Next up, food. Extremely important. Second only to wine.

Eight Hundred Grapes is about a family who owns a vineyard. So I knew I wanted to serve grapes (of course) and wine. Cheese was a perfect fit. I also made bruschetta, because, well, I love to eat it. Good stuff. Add in some simple chocolate desserts, and you’re good to go. foodI had trouble finding the discussion questions for the book online. True story. So I tweeted the author, who was totally cool and immediately sent me the link to the discussion questions, which I printed off. Excellent.

Obviously I was a crazy woman, cleaning and going nuts the day of the party. This always happens so I assume it’s normal. Finally the Jeffster left with the kids and I was at least able to be crazy by myself. I wanted to play music during the appetizer-part of the party. However, 90s music helps me clean. I was cleaning right until the door rang, which means I didn’t have time to turn it off. Nobody seemed to care. (Really, who doesn’t like Jann Arden’s Insensitive?) (P.S. I did switch the music later.)

Everyone arrived on time. Wine is a great icebreaker. Talking or eating first makes people nervous. Pouring a glass of wine never does. Anyway, so, I had a stack of plain notecards (actually, I couldn’t find mine. So I texted my next-door neighbor who was coming over and she brought some. Thx, Jessica!). The notecards were for people to hold on to and ask around for other book recommendations. The idea was that everyone should go home with three book recommendations (hopefully that they heard while talking to someone new!). This gave people new book ideas and also served as a conversation starter if they needed one.

IMG_2717We mingled and talked and ate for an hour or more before finally sitting down for discussion. Obviously, if time is a factor then you need to have a schedule. However, it was Friday night and all of us moms were finally kid-free and ready to party together!

I was so pleased with the book discussion! Everyone shared and I loved hearing the different opinions. I think it helps to sort of have a moderator because without that, people start only talking to the person next to them. Some of this is okay and to be expected, but if you want to discuss as one group, you have to keep things moving together. Having those discussion questions gave us a jumping off place, but it was totally fine for the conversation to go in all sorts of directions. When four hours and five bottles of wine later, friends are still laughing and talking–you know the night was a success.

Honestly, I loved every minute of book club night at my house. If you’re part of a regular club, don’t be afraid to host! And it doesn’t have to be fancy! This was my one-time hosting for summer, so I decided to make it into a party. There’s just something special about sharing our stories with each other. That’s the best part. We begin by talking about Eight Hundred Grapes, and that segues into sharing about Nancy’s life in Africa, or Ryanne’s time in SoCal, or Heather’s anniversary trip, or Danielle’s dad, and so on. Then we’re sharing pieces of us. When books bring people together, you know that’s a fabulous thing.

Summer book club. Go for it, lovey.