Guest Post: Book Club Talk by Ann Marie Stewart, author of Out of the Water

Today’s guest is Ann Marie Stewart, author Out of the Water, and she’s here to give us a Book Club Talk.

This is another occasion in which I wish I had more time to read because I love generational stories, especially with family secrets and Irish immigrants.

Check out the book and the guest post, and consider buying this one for a loved one or yourself.

Book Synopsis:

Irish immigrant Siobhan Kildea’s impetuous flight from a Boston lover in 1919 leads her to a new family in an unfamiliar Montana prison town. After a horrific tragedy impacts her children, her land, and her livelihood, Siobhan makes a heart wrenching decision – with consequences that ripple for decades to come.

Mysteriously linked to Siobhan is Genevieve Marchard, a battlefront nurse in France who returns stateside to find the absence of a certain soldier is her greatest loss; Anna Hanson, a music teacher who tucks herself away in a small Washington town, assuming her secrets are safe; and Erin Ellis, who thinks she and her husband won the lottery when they adopted their daughter, Claire.

These interconnected stories, spanning three continents and five generations, begin to unravel in 1981 when Claire Ellis sets out to find her biological mother.

Doesn’t this sound good? Without further ado, please welcome Ann Marie Stewart:

Whether searching for your book club’s next read or writing the next NYT bestseller you hope book clubs love, it helps to know what makes a good book club selection. Not only does a successful choice encourage great discussion, but for the author it guarantees the book is purchased in multiples.

In September 17, 1996, Oprah launched her online book club, with The Deep End of the Ocean, a novel about what happens to an American family when the youngest boy disappears. Jacquelyn Mitchard was a first-time author whose book went on to best-selling fame in what is now termed, “The Oprah Effect.”

A shout out from Oprah would be all any author needs, but even my friend Jacquelyn remarked that a great book club book should have multiple countries. She also added, “It most definitely should include people and situations that readers can DISAGREE about … if everyone likes everything or hates everything, it’s not much fun!”

But what else should spark interest? Ironically, I discovered the greatest draw to my author website was a review for Kristin Hannah’s The Nightingale which also included discussion questions, menus, and recipes. You can check it out here.

I grew to appreciate a comprehensive celebration of discussion over food during my years in That Leesburg Book Club later renamed The Pink Brains (long story and deserving of a separate column). The memoir The Devil in the White City covered a serial killer and the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair which introduced Aunt Jemima pancake mix, brownies, Cracker Jack, chili, hot dogs, Wrigleys Chewing gum, Pabst Blue ribbon beer, and Shredded Wheat. And so, these were included in our evening treats! When we read Water for Elephants, which detailed a traveling circus, someone brought in a cotton candy and popcorn machine. The memoir In the Presence of My Enemies took place in the Philippines so we dined on a catered Filipino dinner of pancit and spring rolls. Another novel told the story of a wedding and so each book club guest wore an old bridesmaid dress from her closet. (Can you tell the Pink Brains had fun?)

But one of our best discussions resulted from a book we actually did not like. Its problems prompted us to Monday morning quarterback as we came up with more realistic solutions for a better ending. That book was great fodder for discussion.

I asked my readers some of their thoughts about what makes a book club selection great, and we came up with these qualities:

Fodder for Discussion
Massive Twists in Plot
Literary Allusions
Setting in Historical Event
Controversial Characters
Characters to Care About
Characters Making Difficult Choices
Author’s Choices prompt discussion
Intriguing Locations
Multiple Countries
Thought Provoking
Meaningful Theme
Central Moral Dilemma

Those qualities feature in the following successful book club reads. In case you’re looking for classic choices, here is a short list. How many have you read? Educated, Where the Crawdads Sing, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, All the Light we Cannot See, The Help, The Glass Castle, The Book Thief, Little Fires Everywhere, A Man Called Ove, Unbroken, The Nightingale, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, Before We Were Yours, The Light Between Oceans, Orphan Train, The Fault in our Stars, The Girl on the Train, A Gentleman in Moscow, Water for Elephants, Cutting for Stone, When Breath Becomes Air, Being Mortal, The Art of Racing in the Rain, The Kite Runner, A Thousand Splendid Suns, Sarah’s Key, The Language of Flowers, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, The Devil in the White City, The Great Alone, The Secret Life of Bees, The Alice Network, Small Great Things, The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, Brain on Fire, Middlesex, The Poisonwood Bible, Lilac Girls.

These stories have complex relationships, a deep moral question, a setting that introduces you to a new world, characters you care about, or a fascinating event in history. Of course, after finishing the read, the reader is propelled into discussion.

My latest novel OUT OF THE WATER is set in Ireland, Italy, France, and both US coasts (I’m covered on all locations). Because two estranged characters remain connected over decades through sharing books, there are over sixty literary references. Set primarily in Boston and the quirky prison town of Deer Lodge, Montana 1919 to 1931, the novel covers the 1918 Pandemic as well as the Great Depression. Five mothers make difficult choices worthy of scrutiny by any book club. When one young woman seeks out her biological mother, it threatens to unravel generations of secrets. The novel asks, is it better to know the truth?

I considered the needs of book clubs when I created my online Book Club Kit featuring potential recipes, menus, invites, and templates for a variety of parties. In addition, I’ve included maps, discussion questions, a music playlist, information about the time periods: 1919, 1931, and 1981, and party ideas.

With that kind of information added to my website, I hope that my website will have as many hits for recipes from MY book, as it did for another author’s and that Out of the Water can be added to the list of classic book club reads.

I’m curious, what are some of YOUR favorite book club reads and what made them great? With the temperatures dropping, we’re curling up by the fire and looking for our next good read! Of course, followed by great discussion with a book club!

Thank you, Ann Marie, for sharing this look at book clubs.

About the Author:

Ann Marie Stewart grew up in Seattle, Washington and am a die-hard UW Husky (and Wolverine) after earning a Masters in Film/Television from University of Michigan. I originated AMG’s Preparing My Heart series, write the column “Ann’s Lovin’ Ewe” for The Country Register. With two recent UVA grads, I’m now a huge HOO basketball fan. When I’m not writing, I’m teaching voice or taking care of the many sheep of Skyemoor Farm.