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How To Host a Winter Themed Book Club Meeting *and* Books With a Winter Setting Round-Up

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Hello, My Lovelies!  For today's What I'm Reading Wednesday post I thought I'd help you plan a winter book club meeting and round-up three well-written winter themed books.

Hosting a book club meeting should not be that complicated.  By keeping it simple you and your guests can focus on the book discussion, and you as the hostess can enjoy the meeting without being stressed.

First, I'll give you a few ideas on decor for the meeting, and then I'll share the books with you along with a few easy ideas for drinks and dessert.  I think a good time to host is after dinner so you don't have to worry about feeding your club members a meal.  Right away offering dessert and a warm drink simplifies your preparations for the meeting.  I'm also including a savory selection to serve with wine if you prefer savory to sweet.


Keep things simple.  Use a white or winter themed runner on your kitchen table.  Add a houseplant (I used variegated ivy) and some white flowers, like baby's breath, in white or clear vases.  Use small dessert plates that look wintry, and use white napkins.  If you have pretty winter-themed mugs, use them, too. You can set-up a little buffet where club members can help themselves to dessert and drinks.  

This is the Rachel Ashwell Shabby Chic table runner I bought recently.  No, I didn't iron it because she rarely irons her linens.  I love the softness of the linen and the pretty white trim.

I placed snowflake tea light holders on the table along with a scented candle.  The monogrammed napkins were a wedding gift.  The dessert plates and butter bell is from Anthropologie.

The large plate is for serving the dessert.  I thought it would be fun to place it on this wooden server to give it height and interest.

Use what you have!  A houseplant in a pretty pot makes a nice centerpiece with inexpensive grocery store flowers.

The large dinner plate is vintage MacKenzie-Childs.  The pattern is King Ferry from the Taylor line.

I love these snowflake mugs.  They're perfect for a winter event!

You can also place a winter-themed kitchen towel on your table for spills.

Another centerpiece idea is books!  If you don't own any winter-themed books, you can check them out from your local library and place them on your table.  
The ribbon is vintage.

Book Selection Reviews and Menus  

My Review:

The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley is unique because it is a novel within a novel.   Writer Carrie McClelland has been writing a book based on the " '08 " (or the failed Jacobite invasion that never was in 1708) that could have restored James Stewart to the Scottish throne.  She writes historical fiction, and has been researching the '08 in France, but unfortunately she is suffering from writer's block. She travels to Scotland for her agent's son's christening, and there she finds her muse.  Jane (her agent) lives conveniently only ten miles from the Slain Castle ruins.  Suddenly, Carrie's writer's block is gone.  The area around Cruden Bay, the village where Slains is located, becomes Carrie's new home while she writes her book.  Carrie lets a cottage by the sea, and she cannot write her novel quickly enough.  Her landlord's two handsome sons, Stewart and Graham, might be a wee bit of a distraction to the lass.

The novel within the novel focuses around Sophia, a distant relative of the Countess of Erroll, the mistress of Slains Castle.  Sophia moves to live at Slains at the invitation of the Countess. The household is instrumental in planning the Jacobite rebellion primarily due to the Countess's politics and the geographic location of Slains castle on the northeastern coast of Scotland.  Visitors and intrigue are a constant at Slains Castle: sea captains, soldiers, gentry, and spies all descend upon the castle waiting for news of James Stewart's return.  One young soldier in particular, John Moray, interests Sophia more than all the others.  Moray is a wanted man, but she falls in love with him anyway.  Sadly, duty calls, and he must return to France to fight for the crown.

Carrie decides to make the focus of her story Sophia, who is one of her ancestors, and her writing explodes from there.  Her dreams are filled with detailed scenes about Sophia and her life at Slains.  As Carrie finishes a chapter, she is stunned at the historical accuracy of her story. She thinks at first that she must have read these historical facts while doing research for her book, but eventually she is convinced she has never before in her life read most of the information.  Could Carrie be reliving the life of her ancestor through genetic memory? Susanna Kearsley brilliantly weaves both Sophia and Carrie's stories together into a seamless book.  I love her writing style, and this novel has two romantic story lines, plenty of history, suspense, and atmosphere.  

Suggested Menu:

Scottish Scones served with butter
Scottish Shortbread
Scottish Breakfast Tea with milk and honey or sugar

My Review:

There are so many things I love about Russian Winter by Daphne Kalotay: ballerinas, poets, intrigue, and romance, just to name a few.  It could also be classified as a  historical fiction because part of the plot revolves around artists during Stalin's regime in the former USSR.

Nina Revskaya, a former prima ballerina, defects to the West after she achieves success with the world-famous Bolshoi Ballet.  Eventually settling in Boston, Nina decides to sell her extensive jewelry collection at auction and donate the proceeds to the Boston Ballet.  One of the most intriguing sets included in the auction is a matching set of amber earrings and bracelet.  The set contains specimens: insects that are frozen in time as the resin encapsulates them. Coincidentally, a middle aged Russian Literature and Language professor, Grigori Solodin, also donates an amber pendant with a perfect specimen of a spider and its egg sac to the auction.  It appears to be a part of Nina's set, and together the pieces should raise lots of money for the ballet.

Grigori Solodin was born in Moscow in 1950 at the height of Stalin's dictatorship.  His mother was supposedly a ballerina with the Bolshoi, and she died from hemorrhaging shortly after the birth.  When Grigori was 13, his adoptive parents (scientists who also defected to the West) gave him a purse that contained letters, photographs, and the amber pendant.  Nina Revskaya and her poet husband, Viktor Elsin, were in the photographs. Grigori confronted Nina as a young college student, but she would not tell him anything about his mother.

At the Boston auction house, Drew Brooks, a young associate, is writing the auction brochure and supplement.  She wants to solve the mystery of the matching amber set, and she presses Grigori and Nina for answers.  Nina is obstinate, and the reader does not understand why until much later in the book.  Grigori is a bit more helpful, but he is not telling his whole story, either. Grigori becomes increasingly attracted to Drew, which is a huge surprise to him.  He has been grieving for his wife, Christine, who died two years ago from cancer.  Once Grigori tells Drew everything he knows, Drew has insight that surprises, yet disturbs Grigori about his past. Ironically, Drew also has a strange connection to the story through her Russian ancestry.

As the story weaves back and forth from Stalinist Russia to Boston in the early '00's, Kalotay spins a heartbreaking story of lost friendship, deception, heartbreak, and hope.  The book also teaches an important lesson that it is never too late to do the right thing, and that sometimes forgiveness begins with forgiving oneself.  

Suggested Menu:

My Review:

In the Midst of Winter by Isabel Allende is a well-written story about three people whose lives are forever changed during a snowstorm in Brooklyn, New York. Allende is a highly acclaimed writer.  She first writes her books in Spanish, and then she translates them herself into English.  I think she's very talented, and I'm embarrassed this is the first book of hers I've ever read.

Richard Bowmaster is an NYU South American Studies professor in his sixties.  He lives a very rigid life, and he has few connections with people.  His Brooklyn brownstone has a basement apartment which he lets to Lucia Maraz, a professor from Chile who teaches in his department.  Lucia has a little crush on Richard, but he's not having it.  He's punishing himself for his tragic past chock-full of poor decisions and careless behavior.  He has four cats who help keep the vermin in check in his brownstone, and during the storm one drinks antifreeze (Richard is also a careless pet owner), and Richard must rush him to the nearest emergency vet clinic.

When Richard leaves the clinic, he skids into a young twenty-something girl from Guatemala named Evelyn Ortega.  Evelyn is undocumented and illegal although her criminal boss has given her a false Native American identification card.  She's also driving her boss's car without permission, so she's frightened.  But there's another much more pressing reason why Evelyn doesn't want to wait for a police report: This pressing reason lands Evelyn at Richard's doorstep the following day, and he calls on Lucia to help him deal with the situation.

The narrative shifts back and forth between present-day Brooklyn and the past for each of the three characters: Evelyn's story in recent-past Guatemala; Richard's story in 1970s Brazil; and Lucia's story in 1970s Chile.  Isabel Allende gradually reveals the stories of these fascinating characters in small increments, and it makes the novel more interesting.  She also describes in horrifying detail the ruthlessness of MS-13 gang members that brutalized Evelyn and her family.  The three join forces on a quest to upstate New York during the storm, and as they share their pasts with each other, the reader has a clearer picture of why they make certain choices.  This book is a bit more political than the other two (think illegal aliens), plus there's plenty of ethical fodder for discussion.

Suggested Menu:
Savory Selection: Mini Cheesy Pretzel Dogs

Discussion Questions

Below are literary guides and/or discussion questions for each book.  You may use the links to learn more about these books, but be careful!  Some of the discussion questions may contain spoilers.

Now you have everything you need to plan your next winter book club meeting!  I am here to help!  ;P

Which book would you pick?

Until next time...

Happy reading!
Ricki Jill


  1. Love your ideas for hosting! In our book club we take turns hosting and sometimes we strike out for a restaurant. It's so much fun to have the girls over though and much more relaxing.

  2. Great post! Some wonderful entertaining ideas as well as delicious reads for a winter’s eve!! Well done, Ricki Jill!!

  3. How much fun! I love the idea of matching the menus to the books, and the idea of just serving dessert and coffee or tea. Your table looks lovely, and I had to laugh when I read the part about not ironing the linens! So many books, so little time!! I apologize for not keeping up with your Sketchy Reader book club, I hope to get caught up and sign up for more months again soon!

  4. So lovely RJ. I love all of your ideas and pretties. Good reads for our cold winter days, enjoyed your reviews as always.........

  5. I love this post a lot. And I love the entertaining ideas. But I'll tell you, your book club is way more high maintenance than mine! At ours, everyone brings a dish we can eat on our lap -- last night there was a mix of salad, veggies, chips/salsa, brownies, cookies, cheese/crackers -- and usually a bottle of wine. The food table generally looks nice but no special decorations are required because most of the houses are so unique to the person, they are the decoration. The person hosting picks the book. We make an effort to talk about it -- once we even talked most of the meeting about it but generally it ends up being about 10-15 minutes or so before we go off on another topic. Last night we talked about Swans of Fifth Avenue (our book), The Charming Quirks of Others (the book some read instead), then about the Larry Nassar/gymnastics case, Jewish holidays in interfaith homes, the Mueller investigation, gerrymandering, Academy Award-nominated movies, cats and fecal transplants. It was all very illuminating.

    The books you mentioned sound very good. I love Allende's writing. That one may go on my list for sure as well as the Russian one.

    And your table is drop dead gorgeous! (I'm glad to know about Rachel Ashwell not ironing this. I don't think I have an iron anymore. I might in the basement... just haven't needed it for -- well, that's another subject.

  6. Oh, dear, I love everything about this post. It would be a joy to go to all three of them! I'm glad to hear you enjoyed THE WINTER SEA. It's been on my TBR pile for so long, maybe this will be the year I break it open.


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I'm Ricki Jill. Welcome! I'm honored that you're reading my blog. I enjoy sharing my creative lifestyle @ The Bookish Dilettante. For more information about my blog, please read the Start Here page. Thank-you for stopping by, and I hope you'll consider following me via email.

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