Book Exchange Book Club

Basket ‘o books.

One of my most visited blog posts is “Celebrate with a Book Exchange Party.” It’s absolutely awesome how many people search for book exchanges online. A book exchange party is a great theme to any kind of party: bridal shower, birthday party, Christmas party, etc.

For the last few years I have always talked about starting a book club with my book loving friends, but I never made it happen. I was finally inspired a couple months ago after hearing a friend of mine share about a book she was reading for her club — a club that has been together for 15 years!

I had my invite list set, but before I formally invited them via an event invite on Facebook (that’s formal right?), I wanted to announce the first book we would read and discuss. While searching through endless lists of popular book club picks I couldn’t decide on the perfect one for launch night. The ladies I planned to invite varied from fans of young adult to chick lit to non-fiction. How do you make everyone happy?

That’s when I had the idea to make the club a book exchange club. Everyone brings a book of their choosing (wrapped of course) and everyone leaves with a different book. Genius! As the girls showed up they dropped their wrapped book in a basket and drew a number to determine the order of selection.

While “You’ve Got Mail” played in the background (great book movie!) we each announced our favorite book to movie before we picked out our wrapped book. After each book was opened, the person who brought it gave background information about it. Each book could be stolen up to two times, because sometimes we open a book we’ve already read or we saw someone open a book we REALLY want to read.

Next month when the group gets together we have the choice to bring the book we received on the first night, or we can add a new book to the exchange. We will also share with the group what we thought of the book we read over the last month. I will be sharing about “The Monkey’s Raincoat” written by Robert Crais.

Of course these book exchange nights are enjoyed with treats!

What suggestions do you have for a book exchange?


Wilkommen to Leavenworth

Leavenworth’s finest.

Sometimes you just need to get away for a weekend. Lucky for us in the Pacific Northwest there are so many mini-vacation spots just a quick drive away. Last weekend my husband and I enjoyed a getaway to Leavenworth, Wash., a Bavarian-themed village surrounded by Alpine Hills in Chelan County.

Everything about Leavenworth is cute: the storefronts, the dogs that wear lederhosen harnesses, the year-round Christmas lights outside, the music that plays through the outdoor speakers…What’s not to love?

Oh, and the food! On our way to our weekend getaway we had already mapped out some of the things we knew we had to do, which included a stop at the Munchen Haus Bavarian Grill for a warm pretzel and a Bavarian sausage. The best part of the experience is trying to decide which mustard to decorate your meal with because there are seriously too many too choose from! And don’t forget the topping of their famous apple cider kraut.

No line is too long to wait at the Munchen Haus Bavarian Grill.
No line is too long to wait at the Munchen Haus.

We also had to be sure to visit A Matter of Taste, a quaint shop where you can pick up hot sauces, mustards and the like to take a little piece of Leavenworth home with you. We stocked up on garlic and jalapeno mustards and our favorite habanero pepper jelly. And a visit to Leavenworth would not be complete without stopping by my favorite shop: the bookstore — and we did not leave empty handed!

We tried out new restaurants where we ordered dishes we couldn’t pronounce, but we also returned to the familiar spots. We spent our weekend at the Leavenworth Village Inn which had a jacuzzi tub in the bedroom (genius!).

At night in our room with the window open I fell asleep listening to the horse-drawn carriage walking down the street. You really feel like you’re transported to another place in another time.

In talking with the locals there’s definitely something magical about the place, even to those who were born and raised in the town, because they never left.

Whether it’s during the holiday season, when the town looks like a decorated Gingerbread house village, or during the summer when the sun is hot and the town is overflowing with people, anytime is a good time to visit. Wilkommen to Leavenworth!

From our visit February 2012.

What I’m Reading Wednesday


I last blogged about “Call the Midwife” last winter after reading the memoir written by Jennifer Worth. It was during that time I discovered PBS made a show of the same name based on the three-book memoir.

The memoirs are written by a midwife on her experiences working in the London East End post-WWII. Recently the follow up to “Call the Midwife” was released in the U.S. I waited more than two months for “Call the Midwife: Shadows of the Workhouse” to become available at the library and it was finally my turn!

The show is now in its second season in which it takes stories from the memoirs while also adding drama. In last Sunday’s episode we meet Jane, a shy and nervous woman, who joins the staff at Nonnatus House. Her tragic story is revealed in the “Shadow of the Workhouse.” Jane was born in the workhouse and the abuse she endured as a child eventually broke her spirits. Some of the stories shared are so difficult to read because they involve helpless children, some who knew no other way of life except within the walls of the workhouse.

Workhouses offered accommodation and employment to the poorest of the poor until 1948. Families were separated and children were treated harshly. In “Shadows of the Workhouse” Worth shares stories of people she encountered who grew up in the workhouse and what became of them. They are sad but encouraging stories.

“Farewell to the East End” is the final book in the series and I’m happy to report I’m No. 5 out of 24 holds! Until then I will continue to watch season two of “Call the Midwife!”

What I’m Reading Wednesday


Maria Semple is a literary comedic genius. The television writer who has written for shows such as Saturday Night Live, Ellen and Arrested Development, (who’s excited for May 26?!) graced book lovers with her second novel “Where’d You Go, Bernadette.”

I have heard and seen so many positive reviews about the Seattle author’s latest and I had to see for myself. Unfortunately Maria was unavailable to participate in a Q and A for this post because she is busy for this book’s paperback tour, so instead I’m going to gush about how much I loved this and how much you will, too!

To start, let’s talk characters. The people involved in this story evolve through a series of emails, letters and other correspondence. It’s written in such a fun way that drops clues to solve the story’s mystery: Where’d You Go, Bernadette.

The story takes place in Seattle and Maria name drops a lot of local celebrities such as the Seattle Seahawks, the UW Huskies, glass artist Dale Chihuly and (my BFF will like this one) former Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck. And there is a lot of business about Microsoft. Being that I grew up and live about 45 minutes south of Seattle and didn’t grow up in the Microsoft hub, I wasn’t in tune to just how many people work for the company. But just last weekend I was at the Sea-Tac airport listening in on a conversation between two parties when one asked, “Do you work at Microsoft?” “Yes, I do.” “Me, too!” Wow.

I carried this book with me everywhere I went in hopes to be able to sneak in a few pages every time I had even just a couple minutes of time to kill, and was sad to see the fun, crazy and dramatic story come to a close.

Throughout the story Maria includes a character named Audrey into an eclectic cast of characters who prides herself in her Christian ways, but many of the interactions with Audrey makes me cringe in her attitude and her actions. It was neat to read of one of the young main characters, Bernadette’s daughter Bee, explore faith through a youth group her friend invited her to. There is a powerful scene when the youth group visits the “Radio City Christmas Spectacular” and Bee is overcome when she hears the performance of “O, Holy Night.”

“Maybe that’s what religion is, hurling yourself off a cliff and trusting that something bigger will take care of you and carry you to the right place.”— Bee Branch from “Where’d You Go, Bernadette”

We are nearing the time of the year when people seek out their “beach reads” to pack on their vacations. May I highly recommend “Where’d You Go, Bernadette” for your packing list!

What I’m Reading Wednesday

12294541If there are two things I love it’s Paris and chocolate. So I was very excited when my step-mom picked up “Paris, My Sweet: A Year in the City of Light (And Dark Chocolate)” by Amy Thomas for me!

Thomas shares her love of all things sweet as she takes her readers on a tour of her own self discovery and desserts galore while living in New York and Paris. While in Paris she wrote ad copy for Louis Vuitton (jealous much?), but while she didn’t get a Louis Vuitton discount, she definitely enjoyed the perks of Paris.

It is my absolute dream to visit Paris and I so enjoyed all of Thomas’ descriptions and the history lessons she shared. I was also able to relate to her personal story as she watched all of her friends marry and start families while she was still cruising through the dating scene (I have the husband, but everyone is having babies!). She made a great discovery in that sometimes we want something just because we think we’re supposed to want it (brilliant!).

“Paris, My Sweet” is an absolute treat! Thomas shared with me some more background info behind her memoir and also answers a question you’re left asking at the end: does she ever find Mr. Right?!

Q and A with Amy Thomas:

Q: What is the first dessert/sweet you tried that changed your life?

A: Growing up I ate all kinds of sweets — Hostess cupcakes, Chips Ahoy, cakes and brownies from box mixes, plus my mom’s baking from (more or less) scratch — and I would say they shaped my life. But the first sweets that changed me were Teuscher champagne truffles. They are so potently delicious and made me realize the power and beauty that a mere two bites of chocolate can have.

Q: What is your go-to treat for a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day?

A: Homemade chocolate chip cookies. I love eating the dough and the chips as I go along, and then plucking one cookie from each tray as they come out of the oven. I don’t think there’s anything more uplifting than warm cookies from the oven.

Q: Besides New York and Paris have you toured other locations that boast sweet spots?

A: Everywhere in the world has worthy sweet spots! Some of my favorite places have been San Francisco (Tartine, Bi-Rite and Miette), Brussels (all the chocolatiers), London and Sydney (both cities have markets, cafes and bakeries with the most dazzling baked goods).

Q: Are there Parisian sweets you miss that you order and have sent to you in New York?

A: Despite missing all the sweets, I don’t have any of my friends send me stuff. I actually sort of like missing them and then indulging and relishing in them when I return to Paris — about twice a year. I always make sure I get my fill of pain aux raisins, almond croissants, Nutella crepes and chocolates galore.

Q: If you had one day in Paris where would you visit? What would you eat?

A: I would walk and, maybe not actually go inside anywhere, but visit countless landmarks. I would start in the east, near le Pont Sully-Morland and walk west, on the Ile Saint Louis, then past Notre Dame on the Ile de la Cite and through le marche  aux fleurs. I’d cross to the Left Bank and stroll through Saint Germain a bit before crossing over to the Right Bank by way of le Pont des Arts. I’d go through the Louvre’s carre, past IM Pei’s pyramids and into the Jardin des Tuileries. I would stop to take in the views of the Musee d’Orsay, the Seine and the Eiffel Tower in the distance. Then I’d walk through the magical Place de la Concorde, past the Grand and Petit Palais and finally across the magnificent Pont Alexandre III towards Les Invalides. Seeing as I’d be in the 7eme, I’d probably go to Chez l’mi Jean or Cafe Constant after all that walking.

Q: You write of the dating scene in Paris. Have you met Mr. Right since the book was published?

A: As a matter of fact, I have! I think I was finally ready to be in a committed relationship. About nine months after moving back to New York, I met someone and he’s for keeps.

Q: What is your next project?

A: I’m contemplating my next book, so it’s still unformed, but it will definitely be food — and city-centric.

(Photo by Lindsey Tramuta)

What I’m Reading Wednesday

Calling Me Home_Cover101012

I love when family history inspires a story. For author Julie Kibler, learning of a young romance between her grandmother and a black man in the south during the 1920s, inspired Calling Me Home. It’s a beautiful and also heartbreaking story, in that the reader hopes for a happy ending but deep down understands how the story ends.

Julie shares more about discovering her family history and who she would like to see cast if the novel turned into a film. Here is my Q and A with the author:

Q: This book has a beautiful dedication to your grandmother. Can you share a little bit of the family history that gave you the idea to write this book?

A: Seven or so years ago, my father told me that when my grandmother was a young woman in the late 1920s in northern Kentucky, she’d been in love with a black man. I learned this a long time after she died, but it helped me understand her personality a little better. She wasn’t an especially “warm fuzzy” grandmother. I believe now that she must have lost her one true love, and that it affected the way she felt about the rest of her life. My dad also told me while I was researching the setting for Calling Me Home that his hometown had a sign at the city limit warning blacks to be gone by sundown. I’d never heard of such a thing, and further research indicated this wasn’t uncommon in the first six or seven decades of the 20th century — and also that many of the towns where early generations of my family lived, on both sides, were “sundown towns.” Calling Me Home is fiction, but learning these things about my own family inspired me to write the story.

Q: I so badly wanted this story to have the “and they lived happily ever after” ending, but I just knew it wasn’t meant to be for Robert and Isabelle. Was this story difficult to write?

A: As much as I would have liked a happily ever after ending, too, I knew it wasn’t possible. I took comfort in knowing I could create that possibility for some of the characters, regardless, and that I could write an ending filled with hope in spite of the unavoidably tragic circumstances.

Q: Did writing this book lead to more discovery about your family history?

A: Recently, my family enjoyed digging through boxes and boxes of old photographs my grandfather had carefully preserved, along with saved letters and cards, hoping to learn something more about my grandmother’s relationship — a photo, perhaps, or some other hint. I was surprised as I viewed pictures of my grandmother as a teen for the first time. She was curvy, with a shy, but sassy smile. Her hair looked soft and somewhat fair. When I knew her, she was painfully thin, and always colored her hair the darkest shades of brown or black — really, quite harsh looking. We were fairly amazed at the vast transformation in her appearance from young adult to woman. My sister, my daughters, and I also sorted through a small trunk of costume jewelry, deciding what each of us would keep and what we would discard. Nothing surprised us especially, but we enjoyed sifting through the memories and curiosities stirred up by the task.

We’ve always been a family of packrats and storytellers, but I’m frequently surprised at how much we don’t know. I spend a lot of hours researching genealogy, locations, and connections online, asking my parents questions, and digging through keepsakes. I always wonder when the next bit of family lore might surprise me and set my fingers to typing madly.

Q: If Calling Me Home were to become a movie, who would you like to see cast for the main characters?

A: I recently sold the film option to Warner Brothers, with Roy Lee producing (who also produced The Departed and The Lake House). I’m excited to see how it unfolds. Dorrie was greatly inspired by the personality of a friend of mine, so it’s extremely hard for me to picture the right actress. I personally would love to see Betty White play the present-day Isabelle, but folks tend to peg her as a comic actress, so I’m open to suggestions for both of these women. I could see Taissa and Vera Farmiga playing the young Isabelle and her mother, and though Chadwick Boseman seems a bit old for the part of Robert, I’d love to see an actor with his looks and charisma.

Q: Is there another project you’re working on?

A: I’m currently working on a story set in Fort Worth, Texas, which is near where I live. I’m still not sure it will be “the one,” and I’m a little superstitious about talking about it — it seems whenever I start talking about a story idea very much, it tends to lose its magic. But I think I’ll probably always write stories about people who seem, on the surface, very different, but at heart are not so different at all.


Read more about Julie and Calling Me Home on her website!