We’ve been doing reader’s guides ever since the Cherry Forums started doing book clubs. For the discussion and our responses (my collaborators and my, not the royal we), you’ll have to click on the book title and go to the Forum’s board for that book, but if all you need are the questions, they’re right here.
WARNING: These questions assume you’ve read the book, therefore there are spoilers in them. If you haven’t read the book yet and you don’t want spoilers, click away from here.
Maybe This Time Reader’s Guide
With a big thank you to Eric Clapton, Cyndi Lauper, Jackson Browne, and everybody else who provided music for the Maybe This Time soundtrack because the question headings are from them.
- Layla (Eric Clapton): Andie in 1982 was headstrong and impulsive; after all, she married North after knowing him for only a day. But as the book opens ten years later, she’s changed; as North says, when he fell in love with her in ’82, he heard the original “Layla;” when he sees her in ’92, he hears the acoustic version. How has she changed, and how does a month in the country change her ever more that the previous ten years? Why?
- Man in Love (Eric Clapton): North is really laid back, so far back he’s in the shadows, and it doesn’t help that MTT is not a romance novel, so North had to work within a romantic subplot. Did you find the romance believable? Satisfying? Did he work for you as a romantic hero or was he just too detached?
- Girls Just Want To Have Fun (Cyndi Lauper): Did you feel sympathy for May? Did you feel she was a fully developed character, something beyond the ghost that goes bump in the night?
- Somebody’s Baby (Jackson Browne): Alice lost her mother at birth, her father and her grandfather at six, and her aunt at seven. That’s a lot of death and a lot of abandonment. Do you feel she was portrayed realistically given her circumstances? What about her relationship with Miss J? May? Her relationship with Andie is arguably the most important relationship in the story. Did you find it realistic? Compelling? What impact did it have on Andie? On Alice?
- Any Day Now (Ronnie Milsap): Carter got short shrift for most of this story because he’s so withdrawn mainly because he thinks he’s doomed and he expects people to leave him. Did it bother you that Andie took so long to recognize that he was in trouble, too? Did his relationship with Andie and then later with North change him and them? Did you find those relationships believable? What about his relationship with Alice?
- Baby Mine (Bonnie Raitt): The ghosts had each chosen a child before Andie got there. What was Miss J’s relationship (if you can call it that) with Alice? What did she need from Alice? What did Peter need from Carter? Did you find them pitiful or frightening? Why? What impact did the fact that they were haunting children have on your perception?
- Make A Move On Me (Olivia Newton-John): Andie ends up with two ghost experts on her hands: Isolde, a medium who knows there are ghosts, and Dennis, a parapsychologist who doesn’t believe. What did they add to the story? Were both necessary? What did you think of where they ended in their relationship to the Archers, to each other, and to the world?
- Lawyers in Love (Jackson Browne): The Archers are not good at marriage. North neglects his for work, Southie avoids the institution like the plague, and Lydia cheats on her husband with his ne’er-do-well brother. What’s wrong with these people?
- Time After Time (Cyndi Lauper): This book was written as an homage to Henry James’s Turn of the Screw. What echoes from that story are in the book? What things are the same? What things are completely different, so much so as to be the exact opposite of the book?
- Everything Changes (Kathy Troccoli): This book takes place over one month, but in the course of that month the lives of almost everyone in the story are irrevocably changed. Did you find that believable? Chaotic? Transformative for you as a reader?
- SheBop (Cyndi Lauper): What question do you want to ask? It’s all about you on this one.
Don’t Look Down Reader’s Guide
My first collaboration was Don’t Look Down with Bob Mayer, an action-adventure novelist. It was a love story with helicopters, alligators, and many, many guns.
Revisit the 2006 Don’t Look Down book club discussion on CherryForums.com (with Bob Mayer).
- A symbol is a concrete object that represents an abstract idea, but the idea is usually dependent upon the observer or reader. So as the book opens, Lucy Armstrong is on the Eugene Talmadge Memorial Bridge when a black helicopter appears on the horizon. She thinks, “That can’t be good,” but inside the helicopter is J.T. Wilder. What does the helicopter symbolize to Lucy? To the reader? Does it make a difference if the reader is male or female? What does the bridge symbolize? Do they symbolize different things to women than they do to men? Do men even think in symbols or do they just want to talk about how big the guns are?
- Clothes are also important symbols in Don’t Look Down. What does it mean that Wilder wears body armor, that Lucy wears red cowboy boots, that Pepper won’t take off her WonderWear? And why does Bob still think it doesn’t matter what they’re wearing?
- Authors often allude to or pay homage to other works to draw on the themes or motifs there. Don’t Look Down draws heavily on two pop culture sources: the movie High Noon (Bob) and Wonder Woman comics (Jenny). The situation on the bridge reminds Wilder of High Noon. Why is Will Kane such an iconic hero, and what is it in particular that Wilder responds to in his character? What does it mean that Lucy’s the only person in the book who hasn’t seen High Noon? What does it mean that Jenny still hasn’t seen High Noon? In spite of that, how does Don’t Look Down pay homage to High Noon?
- If Wilder has Will Kane, Lucy has Wonder Woman and her Golden Lasso. The Golden Lasso is a symbol of Wonder Woman’s power but it’s also often used against her. How does Don’t Look Down co-opt the Wonder Woman legend? How does Lucy’s power work against her at times? And how about that rope?
- At the beginning of the book, both Lucy and Wilder make assumptions about the opposite sex based on their previous experiences. How do those assumptions change by the end? Why do they change? How are those changes embodied in the final scenes? Is it believable that those changes happen in four days?
- Lucy and Wilder aren’t the only ones making assumptions; the readers are, too. In the beginning chapters of Don’t Look Down, everybody assumes Moot is male. Then they see her eggs and realize that, as Tyler puts it, “Moot’s a chick.” How does that change the perception of the gator, cold-blooded reptile though she was?
- Don’t Look Down is about trust and power, in particular about trusting someone enough to give up power to him or her, both physically and emotionally. How do Lucy and Wilder negotiate both kinds of power issues? Is their relationship at the end one of equals sharing power?
- One of the reason that trust is central to DLD is because it’s necessary in order for people to bond together and communities. How have both Lucy and Wilder formed communities in the past? What community do they form together, and what sacrifices do they have to make to keep that community safe? Is it worth it? Why is it easier to make a commitment to a community or team rather than to a lover?
- Don’t Look Down is the story of two strong people–Lucy Armstrong, a film director, and J.T. Wilder, a Green Beret—who are forced to work together when somebody begins to take “shooting a movie” too literally. It was written by two stubborn people–Jenny Crusie who wrote the scenes in Lucy’s point of view and Bob Mayer who wrote Wilder’s scenes—who teamed up to create a romantic adventure that reflects both Crusie’s background writing romantic comedy and Mayer’s background writing military thrillers. Can you tell there were two authors in Don’t Look Down? Does having two genders share the storytelling balance the story or does it still seem predominantly male or female? What differences in this story did you find that might stem from having both a male and a female author?
- Bob and Jenny are calling their hybrid genre “romantic adventure.” How would you describe it?
The Unfortunate Miss Fortunes Reader’s Guide
After all that macho stuff on the bridge, I wrote a novel with two good friends, Anne Stuart and Eileen Dreyer, about witches with screwed up powers and even worse love lives. Then we talked about it.
Revisit the 2007 The Unfortunate Miss Fortunes book club discussion on CherryForums.com (with Eileen Dreyer and Anne Stuart).
- We put butterflies on the page for each of the four point of view characters. Did that help or hinder your ideas of the characters? Schlocky gimmick or brilliant characterization device? Please don’t say you didn’t notice.
- Eileen characterized Dee in a large part by her painting. How does art help communicate Dee’s desires? What does it say about her as a person?
- Krissie (Anne) fell in love with Elric so Lizzie spends most of time in the bedroom with him. How does sexuality communicate Lizzie’s desires beyond sex? How does the physical inform the emotional for her?
- Jenny vented a lot of rebellion in Mare, who sees herself as Queen of the Universe (no, these characterizations are not at all autobiographical, why do you ask?). Did you find Mare’s confidence annoying? How does her need to be Queen reveal both her fears and desires? How does it fuel her character arc?
- Speaking of autobiography, Jenny wrote Xan, too, and thinks she’s the greatest. Do you feel the same or was she the character you loved to hate (always good in an antagonist)? Do you feel she got her just desserts? How would you have saved the world from Xan?
- Elric is a sorcerer, Danny has supernatural powers but doesn’t realize it, Crash has the power to fix motorcycles with his bare hands. Did the fact that they were so different knock the book out of balance, or was it good for the heroes to be varied?
- The theme in UMF is about transformation, embodied not just in the sisters’ powers, but also in the objects that surround them, starting in the first chapter when Lizzie
changes the muffins, and in their character and plot arcs. What do you think of both the concrete transformations and the characters’ transformations? Did they echo each other for you as you read the story?
- Because we occasionally lose our grip, we buried a lot of frog jokes in the story, telling each other it was foreshadowing for Jude. How many of them did you get? Did they make you lose all respect for us?
- Which sister would you choose to be? (Think powers, lovers, clothes . . .)
Agnes and the Hitman Reader’s Guide
Then having written about a book about sisterhood and magic with the girls, I wrote a book about cooking and mobsters with Bob. Our heroine loved the Dixie Chicks. So we stole some Chicks’ titles for the questions.
Revisit the 2007 Agnes and the Hitman book club discussion on CherryForums.com (with Bob Mayer).
- Long Time Gone A tragic history comes back to haunt many of the characters. Did you find the back story echoed and enhanced the main plot, adding richness to it, or drew attention from Shane and Agnes? If the weight of the past hadn’t been shadowing all of the characters, would the book have been lighter? What impact would that have had on the story, for better or for worse?
- Cold Day in July A big motif in Agnes is loneliness. Who in this book is lonely? How have they brought that isolation on themselves? What events, characters, symbols can you find that show how loneliness and longing is one of the subtle motivators in this story? What events inspire the characters to retreat deeper into isolation or to reach out for each other?
- I’ll Take Care of You Most readers have pointed to the air conditioner as the moment they knew Shane was a good guy. How does taking responsibility for others characterize the people in this story beyond the romances? What other examples can you find? How does this acceptance or refusal of responsibility make or break the families and communities in the novel?
- Tortured Tangled Hearts Several critics have mentioned that Shane and Agnes hit the sheets pretty fast and then commit to each other in just seven days. Did you find this believable? Do you think the unusual circumstances—constant danger while trying to put on a high stress wedding—had a impact on this? Do you think that their individual histories have an impact on it? Did you notice that neither of them ever say “I love you”? Did that make you distrust their future at the end?
- Not Ready to Make Nice Agnes is about anger, one of the reasons we named her Agnes, because it was so close to “anger.” Agnes has made her reputation on being cranky, but she’s not the only one with a small rage problem. Who else is repressing or not repressing enormous rage? Why? How does the motif of anger both create the conflict in the story and help pull the story together? Is anger always a bad thing in this story?
- Voice Inside My Head As part of her efforts to control her anger, Agnes has long internal conversations with her court-appointed psychiatrist, Dr. Garvin. Did you find this believable and/or effective? How did the Dr. Garvin conversations both characterize Agnes and show her character arc?
- Let ‘Er Rip Agnes makes her living as crabby food columnist. Did the Cranky Agnes excerpts at the start of each day in the book add to her character or disrupt the book? Do you think the fact that Agnes cooks all the way through the book added to the plot or distracted? What role does food play in this story?
- Goodbye Earl Twelve people died in this book, although the authors feel that none of them will be much mourned. Did the high body count strain the credibility of the story or raise the stakes? Did anybody die you couldn’t spare? What place does violence have in romantic adventure? What place does it have in this story; that is, was it necessary to this story to have this much violence? And why does Agnes quote “Goodbye Earl” to Shane?
- Are We the Only Ones? Agnes and Lisa Livia are close friends. Is friendship in a book important to you? Did you believe in their friendship? Why or why not? What impact did their friendship have on the story; that is, did you feel their friendship was necessary to the story? What other strong friendships or missed friendships are important in this story?
- Baby Hold On A big theme in Agnes is the failure of parenting. What actual, perceived or symbolic parenting failures are there in this book? How do they parallel and contradict each other? Are there signs at the end of the book that things will be different, that there will be good parenting in the future?
- A Home The house and land at Two Rivers are the MacGuffin in this story, something that several people are ready to risk everything for. What does Two Rivers mean to Agnes? To Brenda? To Shane? To Taylor? To Lisa Livia? To Garth? What is the effect of all these people seeing the house through their own prisms of reality? What impact of the geography of the house (the basement, the bomb shelter, the kitchen, the screen porch, the front porch, the various bedrooms) have on the adventure plot? On the romance plot? That is, how did the authors use the house to symbolize events and relationship arcs? How do you feel about Two Rivers?
Dogs and Goddesses Reader’s Guide
After all that mayhem, I wrote a book about goddesses and baking with my two best friends, Anne Stuart and Lani Diane Rich. We had a blast. Then we did a book club on it.
Revisit the 2009 Dogs and Goddesses book club discussion on CherryForums.com (with Anne Stuart and Lani Diane Rich).
- Popular psychology urges women to find the goddess within. It never mentions there are strings attached. What are the drawbacks to divinity that Abby, Daisy, and Shar have to deal with? Do the drawbacks change their lives as much as or even more than the new powers they get?
- The first hint the women get that they’re developing supernatural powers is when they start hearing dogs talk. How does that affect them? How would it affect you? (Feel free to substitute cats, birds, hamsters, etc.)
- The New Kammani is an ancient middle-eastern goddess dropped into 21st century Ohio, who struggles over the short course of the book because of the demands our society makes on her. Which is stronger, ancient tradition or our modern celebrity culture?
- Each of us had a secondary character we really loved–Gen, Peg, Mina–and had a great time writing. What secondary character was your favorite? Why?
- Abby’s an earth mother, Christopher lives in his brain. Do you think they’ll constantly be at odds or do they complete each other?
- Daisy likes her world orderly, yet she is surrounded by free spirits in Peg, Bailey and Noah. How did they each help or hinder her in accepting her own chaotic nature?
- Shar falls in love with a god. How’s that going to work out?
- There are a lot of loose ends at the end of this story (although no unanswered questions, we hope). What do you think happens next?
Wild Ride Reader’s Guide
After writing about sisterhood and goddesses with Anne and Lani, I went back to writing with Bob and we wrote about family and demons. Really the same thing, except the soundtrack was full of John Hiatt this time, thus the question headings.
Revisit the 2010 Wild Ride book club discussion on CherryForums.com (with Bob Mayer).
- Child of the Wild Blue Yonder: Mab is an unconventional heroine: nearing forty, not particularly attractive, remote, and absorbed in her work. Did you like her? Why or why not? Did you find her reluctance to change believable or annoying? Was her transformation over the course of the story satisfying? Could you connect to her as a heroine even though she was, frankly, weird?
- Master of Disaster: Ethan is a classic wounded warrior romance hero, but he’s unconventional in every other way, including his inability to find his softer side (he doesn’t have one). Even though he has important relationships with his mother, Mab, and Weaver, he never gives a big emotional speech or has a come-to-realize moment. Did this make him more interesting/satisfying/successful as the hero of the story or less? What were the elements that made him attractive (or not) to you?
- Something Wild: Do you think the paranormal elements were necessary in this book? Could Mab and Ethan have made the journeys necessary for their characters’ growth without discovering their nightmares were real? Does the idea that they were fighting both personal and real demons add depth to the book? In other words, does the paranormal add to or detract from the story?
- Sometimes [and Place] Other Than Now: How important was the amusement park setting to this novel? Would it have been as effective set in a different place (museum, small town, college, etc.)? Why or why not? Did the long back story—mythology, history of the park, history of the protagonists’ parents—add to or detract from the story? In short, how did the setting—time and place–work for you?
- It Hasn’t Happened Yet: Romance novel convention says the first two characters the reader meets will begin a romance. Wild Ride’s first two characters are Mab and Ethan, and it’s not happening. Were there enough clues that they weren’t going to be together to keep you from being disappointed? Do you feel the relationship they established was the right one for them? Or are you singing “It hasn’t happened yet” and hoping that they end up together in the time after the book ends; that is, did the fact that they never became lovers spoil the story for you?
- Uncommon Connection: Ethan is a taciturn man of action. In many romances, that kind of hero is civilized and softened by a womanly heroine. Weaver is not that heroine. Did their unconventional romance work for you? What were the moments in the story that convinced you that they would or wouldn’t make it as a couple?
- You Must Go: Mab has problems connecting with anything but her work, and when she does finally fall for a man, he turns out to be a demon. (Well, we’ve all been there.) Do you see her romance with Joe as a failure or a success? Would you have preferred she ended up with him, or was it right and satisfying that she left him?
- What Love Can Do: Mab’s second romance is beginning as the book ends, but she’s had a relationship of a sort with Oliver from the beginning, even before she knew his name. Did you see their romantic relationship coming? Do you think their relationship will last? What moments in the book make you think so (or not)? How important was her first love affair in the making of this relationship? Would it matter if this romance didn’t last; that is, do you think Mab has come to a good place at the end of the novel because of what she’s learned about what love can do, whether or not she ends up in a relationship?
- Perfectly Good Guitar: There are many recurring images/ideas/events in Wild Ride (dragons, ice cream, body armor/canvas coat and miner’s hat, etc. although no guitars). What were the motifs you noticed and how did they add depth to the story? Did some of them become annoying because of the repetition or did you enjoy the rhythms they created?
- Thing Called Love: Speaking of motifs, Wild Ride is lousy with mothers: good mothers, crazy mothers, guilty mothers, manipulative mothers, expectant mothers. In particular, how does the gradual accumulation of information about the lives, goals, and motives of Glenda, Vanth, Mab, and Mab’s mother contribute to the impact of the story?
- Is Anybody There?: At the beginning of the novel, Mab and Ethan are alone and prefer it that way, the Guardia are falling apart, the demons are imprisoned, and Drunk Dave is stumbling alone in the dark. At the climax, they’re all in one place, clearly divided between Team Good and Team Bad, in a clash of communities. In that sense, Wild Ride is about team-building or community-building or family-building (pick the one that works for you), the movement from isolation to connection. Do you think this theme is an effective one? Can you cite scenes/incidents/moments that strengthened or weakened the book because of this emphasis in the story? Did this theme have particular resonance for you?
- Have a Little Faith in Me: This is a story that begins with the idea that good and evil are absolutes, no gray areas, and that evil must be eradicated or at least permanently contained. By the end of the book, there are evil humans (Ursula, Skinny, and Quentin, for example, not to mention Ray) and sort-of-good demons (Fun and Beemer). Did this softening of the absolute weaken the book or make it stronger? Do you agree with the book’s assertion that hanging out with demons/giving in to their demons makes people turn toward evil while hanging out with people/connecting to others makes demons more likely to behave humanely? That is, were the fates suffered by Ursula, Quentin, Skinny, and Ray justified? Should Mab and Ethan and the rest trust Fun and Beemer and possibly Vanth now? How does this connect with the theme of community/family that runs through out the book?
- Book Lovers: Did the ending work for you? Did it pull together everything discussed in the questions above? Did it give a satisfactory resolution to the adventure plot, the romance plot, and all the subplots? What makes a good ending to a story?
Manhunting Reader’s Guide
I wrote Manhunting and Getting Rid of Bradley a long time ago, but when HQN reissued them, we did book clubs. Revisit the 2007 Manhunting book club discussion on CherryForums.com.
- “You’ve been engaged three times in the past three years and not one of them could keep you” Manhunting was not Jenny’s title and she’s never liked it (Harlequin gave it that title). Her title was Keeping Kate. How important is a title to you; that is, what impact does it have on the book for you, and keeping that in mind, which do you think was the better title?
- “We’re going to improve your life” Kate has three important friendships in Manhunting, her longtime and long distance friendship with Jessie, and her new friendships with Nancy and Penny. Were they all necessary or was that too many in such a short book? What were their functions? Which was the most important? Why are women’s friendships so important here and in Jenny’s work in general?
- “This floats?” Place is important in Jenny’s work, particularly houses, but this time the heroine spends a significant part of her story stuck in a boat on a lake. What’s up with that?
- “Your next step is to find a hunting ground” So what’s with the fishing and hunting themes going on here, Kate hunting for a man and Jake fishing out on the lake? What other examples of hunting and fishing are going on in the subplots? What does that do to the romantic idea of “someday your prince will come” since it seems to imply “today you’d better go hunt him down”?
- “You sure you left those three guys you were engaged to? Have their bodies been found?” Kate’s a Type A over-achiever, Jake’s lazy, there’s a reason these two have broken engagements and a divorce in their pasts. Does that make them harder to like?
- “Of course you’re not Valerie” There are two romantic subplots in Manhunting, Will and Valerie’s and Penny and Mark’s. How do they echo or reverse Kate and Jake’s romance? Do they add to the plot or confuse it? In a very early draft of the book, Nancy and Bob had marital difficulties that were resolved amicably in a third subplot. Would that have added or detracted from the main plot?
- “He was just sitting there saying , ‘Great,’ like a big dummy” Much of this book is about miscommunication between men and women, such as Will not realizing Valerie was serious about marriage or Kate not understanding how Jake felt about her. Do you think it was realistic, or did the conflicts seem contrived?
- “It’s too soon and too fast” Kate and Jake fall in love awfully fast. Does it help that they become friends first? Is it easier to believe that they’d become friends quickly than that they’d become lovers quickly? How does that affect your belief in their love story?
- “It really hurts too much to stay here anymore” Popular fiction tends to have a dark moment about three quarters of the way through the story where the characters hit bottom. In Manhunting, the dark moment begins with the fight that Kate and Jake have over Will’s public rejection of Valerie and culminates when Kate leaves and goes back to the city. Did this conflict in the relationship seem contrived or inevitable?
- “I have a list of demands” Kate proposes to Jake at the end, or at least she tells him she needs to be married and to propose. A reader once wrote to Jenny saying that she disliked her heroines because they were so desperate, they were always asking the heroes for sex and marriage. Would it have been better for you as a reader if Kate had waited for Jake to pop the question?
- “You’ve got to start somewhere” This was the first novel Jenny wrote. (First fiction was the novella Sizzle; this is the first novel). Can you tell?
Getting Rid of Bradley Reader’s Guide
Revisit the 2008 Getting Rid of Bradley book club discussion on CherryForums.com
- How does Lucy’s hair reflect the changes she’s going through?
- How does Bradley’s treatment of Heisenberg symbolize his relationship with Lucy?
- What’s the significance of Zack finding Pete?
- Jenny’s books are all about community. Except for Tina and the dogs, Lucy is isolated in the beginning. Why? How does she develop a community by the end of the story?
- The two Bradleys followed different paths in life. Can you see why they were friends? At the end, do you think they were that different?
- How do you feel about Tina when the story opens? By the end? Did you change your mind? Why?
- Doughnuts and muffins are featured players in Faking It. In Bet Me, it’s chicken Marsala. What role do nachos, chili and onion soup mix play in Getting Rid of Bradley? Why do you think Jenny chose the foods she did? How do the choices mirror the stages in the relationship?
- Lucy’s house is very important to her. One of the signs that Zach ‘gets her’ is his reaction to the upstairs bedroom. What are other ways that Zach shows he appreciates Lucy and her house? What’s importance of his fixation on the kitchen floor?
- Who do you think is the most logical character? The most instinctual? Does this change through the book? If so, why?
- Although he’s devoted to his job, in other areas, Zach seems to agree with Peter Pan that growing up = death. Then he meets Lucy and begins to change. Why do you think Zach began to change his mind about growing up/maturity?
- Jenny’s books are all about community. Except for Tina and the dogs, Lucy is isolated in the beginning. Why? How does she develop a community by the end of the story? What was Zach’s community? How did it change when he met Lucy?