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February 2021



"I’m excited to announce that I'm starting a book club! Each month I’ll choose one of my books for us to read and have a Facebook LIVE Q&A at the end of the month. Look for details in my monthly newsletter and on my social media accounts!" 

My first selection is The Red Garden. I published this book in 2011 and I still think about these characters often. It’s a novel-in-stories taking place in the town of Blackwell, Massachusetts. I’ve included some discussion questions and other materials to get you acquainted with the book. Hope to see you at my Facebook LIVE. 

Facebook LIVE Q&A:
February 26, 2021 @ 3pm EST


The Red Garden by Alice Hoffman

The Red Garden presents us with the luminous and haunting world of Blackwell, Massachusetts as it captures the unexpected turns in history and in our own lives.

Beautifully crafted, shimmering with magic, The Red Garden is a transforming glimpse into small town America, presenting us with 300 years of passion, dark secrets, loyalty and redemption in a web of tales where characters lives are intertwined by fate and by their own actions.

From the time the town is founded by a brave, young woman from England who has no fear of blizzards or of bears, to the young man who runs away to New York City with only his dog for company, the characters in The Red Garden are extraordinary and vivid: a young wounded civil war solider who is saved by a passionate neighbor, a woman who meets a historical character who is fiercely human, a poet who falls in love with a blind man, a mysterious traveler who comes to town in the year when summer never arrives.

At the center of everyone’s life is an extraordinary garden where only red plants can grow, and where the truth can be found by those who dare to look.

“She liked to disappear, even when she was in the same room as other people. It was a talent, as it was a curse.” 

— Alice Hoffman, The Red Garden
Questions and Topics for Discussion

1. Hallie Brady’s story sets the stage, featuring a woman whose strength exceeds her husband’s and whose best source of solace and nourishment is a bear. What does the tale of Bearsville tell us about nature and survival? How do Harry’s actions reflect the dilemmas portrayed in the rest of the book?

2. Enhance your reading with a bit of research on the real John “Johnny Appleseed” Chapman. What makes him the ideal savior of the fictional Minette?

3. Though she is not rescued in “The Year There Was No Summer,” Amy Starr reappears for future generations. What does her ghost signify to you? Did she liberate Mary by uniting her with Yaron?

4. Like Hoffman’s character named Emily, poet Emily Dickinson did not complete her course of study at Mount Holyoke Female Seminary. What does Charles Straw awaken in his young visitor? How does he help her become a “voyager” like him?

5. “The River at Home” captures both the untold suffering and the healing that marked the home front during the Civil War and its aftermath. What ultimately restores Evan and Mattie?

6. In “The Truth About My Mother,” how does Blackwell contrast with the modern world? What ultimately ensures that the characters can replace suffering with joy?

7. At the beginning of “The Principles of Devotion,” Azurine says Sara taught her that “a woman who could rescue herself was a woman who would never be in need.” Do you agree? Are most of the people in your life able to rescue themselves, or do they need others to rescue them? What separates the survivors from the victims in The Red Garden?

8. Discuss both Topsys: the brutalized Coney Island elephant (inspired by true, horrific events) and the dog that sustains Sara. Is the special relationship between humans and nonhuman creatures in The Red Garden magical or realistic?

9. “The Fisherman’s Wife” showcases the Eel River and its hardy inhabitants in a dramatic way. What does this story tell us about fantastic storytelling, as Ben Levy required? What does the wife’s tale tell us about hunger in its many forms?

10. Discuss the many types of love that emerge in “Kiss and Tell.” Although Hannah has to hide the truth about her romantic feelings, she is able to realize her dream of raising a child. In what ways does history repeat itself through the story of Blackwell?

11. Blackwell is home to many outcasts seeking a new identity, but the townspeople often fail to identify their own “monsters.” How did you respond to the tale of Cal, whom Kate saves, versus Matthew, whose heart she steals? How are evil and injustice born in Blackwell?

12. “Sin” captures the transient figures (family as well as friends) who shape a lifetime. Frank’s reunion with Jessie sparks memories but also raises a question: Who were the truly good people in their lives?

13. What does Louise Partridge inherit other than a house? How did you react when Brian, the Harvard researcher she requested, was disappointed to find only bear bones? What stories, emotions, and experiences were planted and harvested in the red garden?

14. James Mott seems cursed, yet he is also a healer. What is the role of fate in lives like his? Was he destined to succeed? Could you relate to the closing scene, in which James is watched over by his father and Cody? Do you feel protected by the spirit of loved ones who have passed away?

15. Which characters were you most drawn to? How would you have fared in their situation? What did you discover about life and history by reading their stories?

16. Discuss other Hoffman works you’ve read. What themes (perhaps of family, new identities, or the power of magical hope) echo throughout her previous books and The Red Garden? What unique vision of the human experience is presented in The Red Garden?

“She said she wanted a man like that, someone who understood sorrow, not someone who caused it.”  

— Alice Hoffman, The Red Garden
Praise for The Red Garden 
“Achingly lovely… In lean, hypnotic prose, Hoffman constructs a post-apocalyptic fairy tale leavened with hop.”
          —Publishers Weekly, starred review

“Beautifully written… This is both a survival story and an homage to the need to cherish life’s every moment.”
          —School Library Journal, starred review

“Hoffman writes in lyrical, stripped down poetry that distills both magic and elemental experience into essential, unforgettable words.”

Featured Independent Bookstore 


Each month I’ll choose an independent bookstore I love. This month I’ve selected the wonderful Warwick's, in La Jolla, CA. Warwick’s is the country’s oldest continuously family-owned and operated bookstore. 
"Warwick’s is a 4th generation family owned bookstore – Nancy Warwick is the current owner - her great great grandfather started the business in 1896.  This year we will celebrate 125 years!  It is our legacy and traditions that set us apart – like hosting wonderful authors every year, but what keeps us relevant is having great booksellers connecting with the community recommending great books!"

—Julie Slavinsky, 
Director of Events at Warwick’s
Wynn & Louise Warwick at the 1940's Wall Street location in La Jolla, CA. 
Learn more about Warwick's history here

Follow Warwick's on social media @warwicksbooks.

Shelby Recommends

This month Shelby is encouraging everyone to donate to The American Library Association. The ALA is an organization that promotes libraries, both physical and virtual, and encourages lifelong discovery and learning. Donate to help ensure access to information for all. 

Follow me on Instagram @mizindependentshelby.



Post of the Month

Readers and followers comment and tag me in wonderful posts on social media. Here are my favorite comments from this post on Instagram.
@christinaholbrookwrites: My Florida orchid which somehow still explodes with a profusion of purple blossoms here at 9500 ft elevation, in cold, snowy Colorado🌺 Is that magic???

@mrchillybeans: 🌹 Rose, the queen of the garden, and my daughters name ❤️

@rvarner74: Lilac. I remember living in a house that had a big lilac tree by the dining room . Nothing better than sitting there with the breeze blowing the scent in.

@jlcollins323: I love,LOVE heirlooms plants. I come from a long line of wise women healers in the Deep South. Kiss-Me-Over-the-Garden-Gate(polygonum orientale) AND Love-Lies-Bleeding (Amaranthus caudatus).

@chloella212: Rosa Flora is my favorite because it smells like my mother. We live over 400 miles away from eachother so it means so much to me when it is in bloom and she is in the air.

@hergraceslibrary: My faves are roses for smelling and foxgloves for looking at.

@ladysunshine34: I don't know that I can pick just one! My rubber plant is almost 20 years old! He's probably my favorite 😜
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