Small Business Saturday

In all of your hustle and bustle this Black Friday, why not save a few of those errands for tomorrow? And support local businesses in the process!

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Here are some of our favorites from the various places that we read:

Second Chapter Books, Middleburg, VA: This quaint bookstore, run by two of the nicest ladies you could meet, is set in rural Middleburg, VA, a small town bursting full of great restaurants, boutiques, wineries, and even some polo. It is well worth the scenic drive out from the more populated areas of Northern Virginia and Washington, D.C. Check them out on Facebook to keep up to date with new events.

The Town Book Store, Westfield, NJ: Open since 1934, this store has every book that you’re looking for and a few you didn’t even know you needed! Visit them for personal recommendations, staff favorites, and to see the original ledger, dated September 1934 for a piece of literature history. This is the place to go for what they call “good, old-fashioned book selling.”

Main Street Books, St. Charles, MO: Located on historic Main Street amidst charming antique stores, old-fashioned ice cream parlors, and sophisticated restaurants, this bookstore is sure to please literature and history buffs alike. They specialize in local history, Western history (to include Civil War and Lewis & Clark), and Children’s books but have something to discover for every reader. The owners are published authors themselves, so stop by to talk lit with them. Make sure to stop by over the holiday season to engage in some old fashioned carols and chestnuts roasted on an open fire!

Bookends, Kailua, HI: Get lost among piles of new and used books at this lit-lover’s tropical paradise. If you’re searching for an out-of-print book, this is the place to go. Feel free to get lost rummaging through the endless stacks of books or ask the friendly staff where your query might be. They always know!

Collected Works Bookstore & Coffeehouse, Santa Fe, NM: The oldest independently-owned bookstore in Santa Fe, Collected Works serves up an extensive selection of literature alongside a fantastic cup of organic, locally-roasted Aroma Coffee. Bonus: they offer 20% off all coffeehouse purchases between 8:00 and 9:00 am!

Can’t get to the store? It’s okay! The Town Book Store, Main Street Books, and Collected Works ship all over the country. Or check out your local bookstore to support your local community! Where are you planning to shop on Small Business Saturday?

Discussion Questions- Peony in Love

peony-in-love-lisa-seeThis week’s book selection comes from Lisa See, the author of 2005’s popular Snow Flower and the Secret Fan. In Peony in Love, published in 2007, See returns the reader to China, this time in the seventeenth-century. Her heroine, the appropriately named Peony (and yes- she does fall in love) struggles against the ideals she has been brought up to emulate and her own curious and passionate nature. She finds a kindred spirit in a character in her favorite opera, Liniang, whose untimely death and miraculous resurrection are both due to love. Peony’s story begins to parallel her favorite heroine. Set in a time and culture where mysticism is fact and the line between the living and the dead is blurry, See takes the reader on the romantic, passionate, and tragic journey of Peony’s young life and death.

Here are some questions to get you started.

– How does Peony’s concept of love change as she sees more and learns more of the world? Does she love Ren the same way at the end of the book as in the beginning? What does this say about the development of love?

– How is Peony’s relationship with her parents influential to the plot? What actions do her parents take or not take that have consequences later in the story?

– Peony is described as a “hungry ghost.” In what ways is she hungering for something and what could it be? Do you think that she finds it?

– Lovesick Peony focuses all of her energy on “her poet.” Why do you think that she was so enamored of him? What about her did he value?

The Girls of Atomic City- Part III

Today we come to the dramatic conclusion of our gripping three-part series, featuring The Girls of Atomic City, by author Denise Kiernan.

Atomic bomb drop over Hiroshima

Atomic bomb drop over Hiroshima

Okay, our finale is not quite as dramatic as the book’s, but we will do our best to keep up with you, Denise Kiernan.

The Girls of Atomic City tells the true story of the men and women of Oak Ridge, Tennessee during World War II. None of them were natives of Oak Ridge. None of them grew up there. None of them visited their grannies in the local cemetery. Why?

tgoac_coverBecause Oak Ridge, Tennessee did not exist until 1942. It grew from the United States’ War Department’s need to develop, in secret, the technology that went into the Atomic bomb. The residents included the nation’s top scientists, government officials, a vast network of supporting personnel, and all of their families. What started as a secret site soon grew into a secret town, eventually becoming a secret city, complete with theaters, skating rinks, multiple cafeterias, and row upon row of identical prefab houses. It is against this backdrop that Kiernan recounts the stories of the remarkable men and women involved in the creation of the world’s most deadly military weapon.

The stories included range from the highly technical to the everyday, but so did life in Oak Ridge. Kiernan expertly recreated the feeling of only knowing part of the picture, a key feature in the format of the book and one of the reasons that I appreciated it so much. I’m officially a fan of all of these remarkable women: the ones who relocated to Oak Ridge and the one who wrote down their story. In the beginning, the reader gets bits and pieces of the policy and science that led to the creation of the atomic energy industry but gets far more of the excitement and nervousness of the young women involved as they travel to their new home. As the story progresses, pieces start to come together and the reader begins to appreciate how difficult life could be in this community of silent scientific breakthrough. When the bomb drops, literally, and the residents of Oak Ridge find out what they had been working on for those many long months, information is provided at an overwhelming speed. The “product” is finally named. The “gadget” is finally explained. The technical asides merge with the day-to-day accounts until the two are nearly indistinguishable. The world, the residents of Oak Ridge, and the reader finally know the big secret.

Visit www.girlsofatomiccity.com for a reader’s guide, book club notes, and tons of photos, interviews, and other features. The Reading Group Guide is also available on publisher Simon & Schuster’s website. Included are questions to further your discussion, activities to help you “experience” life in Oak Ridge, and an interview with Denise Kiernan about her writing experience.

The Girls of Atomic City- Part II

Still reading The Girls of Atomic City in preparation for our discussion on Friday. And still loving it!

Today’s post is an author profile of Denise Kiernan, the woman behind The Girls of Atomic City. Her portfolio includes everything from The Indiana Jones Handbook to ABC’s “Who Wants to be a Millionaire.” Most of her books focus on American history, specifically Revolutionary War-era history, with The Girls of Atomic City as an outlier, at least chronologically. Her list of published works include Signing Their Lives AwaySigning Their Rights Away, and Stuff Every American Should Know– all about the signers of the Declaration of Independence and Constitution, and including lots of good ol’ American factoids. Those works, along with her guide to financial management for the freelancer, The Money Book for Freelancers, Part-Timers, and the Self Employed, all promise to be interesting and enlightening reads.  

Malaprops 1 LogoDenise Kiernan is a huge supporter of independently owned bookstores, most notably Malaprop’s, her local Asheville, NC joint, so head to your closest indie bookstore to pick up this one Denise-Kiernan-style. Malaprop’s will even get you a signed copy of her book, The Girls of Atomic City, and mail it to you “lickety-split” (her words). If you’re an Asheville resident, or wanting a good excuse for a road trip, head over there on November 30th. You may just see Denise Kiernan or her hubby, author Joe D’Agnese, helping out around the store <wink, wink>. It’s also available on Amazon for you techy-types. The Girls of Atomic City has landed her a spot on the coveted New York Times Best Seller List and the LA Times Best Seller List, along with a host of other awards and recognition. I think it’s going to be a book club favorite around the country.

She’s also an extremely talented and well-spoken interviewee. Seriously- even if you don’t read the book, you can take some public speaking tips from this lady. Click here to see a March 2013 The Daily Show interview with Denise Kiernan about The Girls of Atomic City: Part I, Part II

Visit her site to learn more about what she’s done and what she’s up to. And keep reading The Girls of Atomic City for our discussion on Friday! See you then!

150 years later

“The Gettysburg Address”

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate—we cannot consecrate—we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

– Abraham Lincoln, November 19, 1863

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The Girls of Atomic City- Part I

tgoac_coverOur discussion of Denise Kiernan’s The Girls of Atomic City isn’t until Friday but I’m enjoying this book so much I just had to make my normal post into a series, featuring this book, its talented author, and the incredible story of these women.

The book tells the story of the women that worked in rural Oak Ridge, Tennessee during WWII, completing what seemed to them strange and disconnected tasks. Many of them came to work there to be a “vital part” of the war effort and work on a project that would “end the war”- with little more information to go on than that. They left home, most of them barely out of high school, and went to a secret facility to do an unknown job that they couldn’t talk about. When they got there, conditions were…well, here is one account of a new employee, Celia, entering the Oak Ridge facility:

Construction went on in every direction. The fences had been some of the first things to go up, and crews repurposed the barbed wire taken from many of the farms and homes that had been moved off the land. Celia couldn’t see any sidewalks, only wooden planks laid over the newly excavated ground. There were some houses, virtually identical, sitting side by side and lining the dirt roads. There were larger buildings, mostly white, similar in style and shape, not like the brick and stone and shingle of every other town she’d seen, or the soaring concrete and steel of the city she’d just left. Though the town was brand-new–less than a year old–somehow the mud managed to make everything seem run down.

– The Girls of Atomic City, pg. 37-38

The conditions didn’t improve much and the secretive nature of their work never changed. But the work at Oak Ridge certainly changed the war and the women themselves. If you enjoy learning more about history, in particular the behind-the-scenes support operations that were vital for the completion of world-changing events, this book is for you. If you enjoy reading about brave and remarkable people, willingly jumping into unknown and strange circumstances, this book is for you. If you enjoy a good story, full of memorable characters doing normal, everyday activities in extraordinary times, this book is for you. Denise Kiernan creates all of the above in The Girls of Atomic City, The Home Book Club’s latest selection.

Later this week, I’ll post an author profile on Denise Kiernan, writer, journalist, photographer- a real Renaissance woman. You definitely want to check back to hear about her experience interviewing these women and researching this book. And join us here on November 22nd for what promises to be a great discussion about this remarkable story.

Dinner Party: Thanksgiving Edition

Put down that tinsel! Get those ornaments back into the garage! For the love of Pete, take off that red, blinking reindeer nose!!! Don’t forget about Thanksgiving!

I love getting into the holiday spirit as much as anyone but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. If you haven’t picked up your Halloween costume from the dry cleaners yet, you are NOT allowed to start talking about Christmas. Let’s take a minute and remember the “forgotten” holiday, Thanksgiving. A time to spend with family or friends, reminiscing about the past year and express your gratitude for those people that have made it so memorable. If you had to face tough times in 2013- and in some way or another, we all did- be grateful for the people that helped you shoulder those burdens and tell them.

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“Freedom From Want” – Norman Rockwell

Before you rush out for presents, Black Friday sales, or to go Christmas shopping on Thanksgiving (yes- some stores are skipping Turkey day altogether), take some time to share a meal and conversation with the important people in your life.

Dinner Party: Thanksgiving Edition

– If you could invite one person to Thanksgiving dinner, who would it be and why? It can be a real or fictional person, living or dead. You can invite them for any reason- their interesting experiences, unique perspective, or just because they would laugh at all of Uncle Herman’s cheesy jokes.

– If you had to put one object from the past year into a time capsule, what would it be?

– What goals have you reached this year? What goals would you like to reach next year?

And don’t forget to always end with a “thank you,” whether it’s for the person that helped you reach a goal, experience something new, or made their world-famous green bean casserole because they know how much you like it.

How do you express gratitude in your family? Do you have any unique traditions?