I’m Mallory Barnes, a fiction writer living in West Texas.My hope here is to encourage reading and discussion. In the digital age, we often live together so separately. Community and intellectual discussion are harder and harder to come by. I hope that Book Club Bites can help alleviate that by encouraging the birth and growth of book clubs.
*If you are new here, WELCOME! For The Alchemist, I provide your book club with a brief summary, a recipe, and discussion questions in that order!
The Alchemistis a novel that reads like a centuries-old tale, although it was first published in 1988. It is the masterpiece of Paulo Coelho who has written many other great novels. A short book at around 200 pages, it contains a depth of wisdom that has catapulted it to the top of many book clubs’ lists.
The main character, primarily referred to as “the boy,” has a good life at the beginning of the book, but he yearns for more. He longs to travel, to break free of his barriers, and to be more than a shepherd. When he learns of a treasure near the Egyptian pyramids, he takes the chance and begins a long journey towards achieving his dreams.
It sounds like your normal adventure quest story, but Paulo Coelho injects what would be a face-the-obstacles-to-find-the-treasure set of events with timeless wisdom about fate, dreams, God, and personal fulfillment. Riddled with terms such as Personal Legend, Language of the World, Soul of the World and more, Coehlo challenges the reader to examine his own life and consider what comforts he has exchanged for fulfillment.
The Alchemist is a thought-provoking novel that makes a great book club discussion and is definitely worth a read (or two). If your book club hasn’t read it or if it’s been a few years since you have, it might be time to pick up this novel by the brilliant Coehlo. If you have read The Alchemist and aren’t looking to revisit it, consider these other novels where Coehlo tackles equally deep subjects.
*If you are new here, WELCOME! For The Giver of Stars and The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek Comparison, I provide your book club with a brief summary and comparison, a recipe, and discussion questions in that order!
I actually saw The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek long before The Giver of Stars released, but passed it by because I thought the subject might be a little heavy based on the description and I wasn’t in the mood for a heavy book. When The Giver of Stars released, I had no idea by the cover that it was about Pack Horse Librarians, but after reading the description, my interest was peaked and I decided to read it.
The controversy revolves around possible plagiarism on Jojo Moyes part, asserting that parts of The Giver of Stars are too similar to The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek to be a coincidence.
I read The Giver of Stars first, unaware of the controversy. After reading, I was shocked to see the accusations from many readers in reviews, many of them citing the Buzzfeed article where the similarities are outlined. Instead of reading the article, I decided to read The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek next and form my own opinion.
After reading both, I was confused and surprised that so many readers were vehemently choosing one or the other. The books were very different to me and BOTH worth reading. I’ve completed separate posts going into more detail on each. You can check out the posts on The Giver of Stars and The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek for more.
Yes, the topic is Pack Horse Librarians, a Works Progress Administration program enacted by Roosevelt in the 1930s to bring books to rural Kentucky, but both authors created a book on the same subject in very different way. After I finished both books, I did finally read the article and, to me, the similarities outlined were minor.
If you disagree, think about this–this is a new subject to fiction. No other books I can think of have been written on it. Yet, there are hundreds to thousands of novels written about World War II. In those books, we expect to see spies, someone facing starvation, someone being tortured physically or mentally by a Nazi, etc.
It’s not surprising to me that Moyes and Richardson would have studied the time period and the facts and come up with story elements that coincidentally are similar. Including adding colored librarians, because of the times we are in (and it’s just important), placing antagonists along the lonely routes through the mountains, because that seems the most logical way to add tension, and creating love interests, because readers love and expect this. As a writer, I read with that eye. I’m always considering what I would add to a book on the subject, and I have to say I would have added some form of those things myself.
Let me talk a little about how the two novels are very different rather than scrutinizing their similarities.
The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek is a novel about a single woman who faces severe persecution because of her Blue skin. This alone is worth reading about because it’s based on the real-life blue-skinned people of Kentucky, a new subject and fascinating for me. She is also a Pack Horse Librarian who takes books via horseback to her patrons in rural Appalachia. The book is primarily about her inner struggle to accept herself. It is written in a literary style. It does an exceptional job of highlighting the true-to-life details of life in Appalachia. And, it should be on your book club list.
The Giver of Stars is a friendship novel about five Pack Horse Librarians. It centers on two of the women and follows their struggles through love and life. The women fight to find their voices in a time and place where women didn’t have much say. It is a plot-driven novel that will have you cheering, but many of the true-to-life details of life in Appalachia are glossed over or not addressed. Still, any book club would love this book.
The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek tackles two unique subjects in history that you may not be familiar with–the Pack Horse Librarians and the Blue People of Kentucky. The Pack Horse Library was part of Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration in 1930s. The blue-skinned people of Kentucky were a real group of people born with blue skin who lived in the mountains of Appalachia.
Richardson’s main character, Cussy Mary, is both a Pack Horse Librarian and a Blue. The novel follows her as she struggles through the restraints placed on her as a woman at the time and the discrimination she faces as a Blue person, which was considered colored.
The novel, which I would consider literary in style, unapologetically describes both the poverty and the pride of the residents of Appalachia. I originally delayed reading this novel because I knew the subject would be somewhat dark, and it is. But, it is something that I think needed to be written.
In addition to tackling poverty and starvation, Richardson addresses discrimination in a way that will have the reader examining her own heart. Cussy Mary is a Blue, a skin color most of us are unfamiliar with, but as a Blue she faces intense discrimination throughout the story (it is the primary obstacle). Through Cussy’s story, Richardson takes us on a journey of empathy with Cussy’s plight, confusion and anger when others refuse to see her as equal, and, finally, examination of our own lingering prejudices. It is a timely book for readers right now.
*If you are new here, WELCOME! For Where the Crawdads Sing, I provide your book club with a brief summary, a recipe, and discussion questions in that order!
If you haven’t heard of Where the Crawdads Sing yet, I’d be surprised. The book, released in 2018, has already sold 7 million copies as of this writing. Still, it’s a pretty new release, especially for some book clubs who require that a book is readily available through a library before they select it to read. Before now, securing the book via any other means than buying the hard copy would have been difficult.
The book is Delia Owen’s debut novel, although the author has written other non-fiction works. It’s a novel rich with natural history and scientific details of the ocean marsh where its main character, Kya, lives. Delia Owens’ background in zoology adds a significant depth to Kya’s love for the marsh and its creatures, taking the novel beyond a normal love-triangle and murder mystery plot.
The Giver of Stars follows a group of Pack Horse Librarians in Kentucky in the 1930s. Pack Horse Librarians were part of President Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration and a special project of Eleanor Roosevelt. They carried books via horseback to some of the most rural and remote areas of Kentucky.
The novel is permeated with friendship, primarily centered around five librarians and the events that happen to them. If you don’t know, Jojo Moyes is English, but if you do, you might be wondering how she pulled off writing a novel about rural Kentucky. The main character, Alice, is an English-born and bred lady who marries a native Kentuckian and we follow her as she moves to Kentucky and ultimately joins the Pack Horse Librarians.
Since Moyes started out as a romance author, you won’t be surprised to find a good deal of romance in the novel as well. The romance is clean and you won’t find any on-page sex. But romance isn’t the primary driving force of the novel, there are high stakes and some life-threatening situations for almost all of the characters that will keep you turning pages.
I can say I thoroughly enjoyed the book and expect it to be another hit by Moyes on the scale of Me Before You. That said, I cannot continue without addressing the fact that there has been some controversy regarding the similarity to another book about Kentucky Pack Horse Librarians, The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek, which I am also featuring. However, I do not think you should form an opinion before reading both books.
*If you are new here, WELCOME! For A Man Called Ove, I provide your book club with a brief summary, a recipe, and discussion questions in that order!
A Man Called Ove Book Club Questions and Persian Cookies
Have you read A Man Called Ove? It’s a book that book clubs love. Fredrik Backman is a master of the human experience and A Man Called Ove captures his talent, sending the reader through the array of human emotions (which is why book clubs love the book).
This book was released in 2012, so there’s no doubt you’ve probably heard of it if you haven’t already read it. I actually watched the movie before I read the book. Good news if you want an activity for the group–the movie follows the book very closely!
If you have read A Man Called Ove and loved it, perhaps now is the time for the entire group to read it. Or, if you have already done so, check out another book by Fredrik Backman like Beartown or My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry. He’s also got a brand new release coming this fall called Anxious People.
After watching the movie a few years ago, I decided to pick up the book. It’s an amazing story of wrong perceptions, loneliness, and kindness. If you are looking for books like Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, you’ll love A Man Called Ove. If you haven’t checked it out, see my post on Eleanor Oliphant is Completey Fine, which is one of my favorites featured on the blog!
Beyond a good story that kept me intrigued, Backman has a gift for language. I often paused to consider phrases he used to describe sorrow or love which resonated deeply with me. That said, he isn’t verbose and the book was a quick, enjoyable read.
I also enjoyed reading about the Swedish community where Ove lives and his lifestyle there. It was refreshing and interesting to read about modern day Sweden. Even through the eyes of a grumpy old man named Ove!
*If you are new here, WELCOME! For Novels about Texas Your Book Club Will Love, I provide your book club with 10 Novels set in Texas, plus food suggestions, discussion questions and more for your meeting!
As a native Texan, I sometimes forget there’s a sort of obsessive fantasy about the state. It’s a place where laws are meant to be broken, the people are as tough as nails, and everyone rides a horse. Those ideals are only partially true. While most of the people here are a tough breed and I have seen a horse or two ride through a fast food drive-thru (seriously), we aren’t all rebels and renegades and, like anywhere else, there is a diversity of people who call Texas home.
Still, there is some underlying truth to these stereotypes and the next ten books are just a few of the novels that capture the Texas spirit. They aren’t all about cowboys. You’ll find romance, historical, literary, contemporary, and adventure genres among them. If you are looking for something with a little grit, check out these novels about Texas your book club will love.
If your book club has another book in mind, please share in the comments below and be sure to check out the Texas themed food suggestions and discussion questions near the end of the post!
*If you are new here, WELCOME! For News of the World, I provide your book club with a brief summary, a recipe, and discussion questions in that order!
Maybe before now you had not heard of News of the World or its author, Paulette Jiles. News of the World was a finalist for the National Book Award. It’s also slated to become a movie later this year starring Tom Hanks (who doesn’t love Tom Hanks?).
This novel is one of the more literary novels featured on Book Club Bites to date, but like the others (The Goldfinch, Peace Like a River, etc), News of the World has both strong characters and strong plot. Sometimes that is not always true of literary novels, which tend to focus on character development over plot.
*If you are new here, WELCOME! For Breakfast at the Honey Creek Cafe by Jodi Thomas, I provide your book club with a brief summary, a recipe, and book club questions in that order!
Breakfast at the Honey Creek Cafe by Jodi Thomas Book Club Questions and Recipe
Do you love small town romances? If so, then you’ll love Breakfast at the Honey Creek Cafe by Jodi Thomas. The novel is the first in a new series by Jodi Thomas, who, if you don’t know, is the queen of Texas romance.
Her books, set in Texas, range from historical to contemporary, from series to stand alone books. While she primarily writes romance, several of her books also lean towards women’s fiction like The Widows of Wichita County and The Little Teashop on Main. She’s won three RITAs for her romance books, which led to her induction into the Romance Writers of America Hall of Fame (with only 17 other romance writers!).
*If you are new here, WELCOME! For Before We Were Yours, I provide your book club with a brief summary, a recipe, and discussion questions in that order!
Do you love novels based on true life events? If so, you should check out Lisa Wingate’s novel, Before We Were Yours. The novel centers around the true life events that occurred in the early half of the 20th Century at the Tennessee Children’s Home Society. Georgia Tann, who took over the Society in the 1920s, began trafficking children through the organization. She often took children away from their poor mother’s and placed them for adoption with wealthy parents, to her profit. The novel follows a fictional girl as she and her siblings fall into the hands of Georgia Tann.
Before We Were Yours is a dual timeline novel, meaning that half of the book follows the children and the other half follows a young attorney, home on leave, who discovers a hidden secret in her grandmother’s past and works to uncover the truth.
I actually began reading this book about a year ago and set it aside. While this book does deal with a heavy topic, I wish I would have pursued and read it earlier because it is a wonderful story about the question of the meaning of family and the way both main characters’ understanding of family evolves.
If your book club hasn’t read Before We Were Yours, I recommend you consider it for an upcoming pick. Beyond learning about a part of American history that was brushed under the rug for many decades, the novel delves deep into the culture of the people who live on shantyboats along the Mississippi River, which was fascinating to read about.
If you loved books like Where the Crawdads Sing and To Kill a Mockingbird, you will love this story about another fiery young girl fighting the odds in the American South.
If your book club picks Before We Were Yours to read, I’ve provided book club questions and a delicious recipe for your meeting below! So if you are looking for food ideas and more, keep reading!