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July Book Club Choice

Henry's Sisters by Cathy Lamb

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This is a story about a family that’s fallen apart and ends up being put back together again. It’s about a Queen Anne house, a bakery, a motorcycle, a mid life crisis Corvette, flowery smelling pink letters, an amusing divorce, burning bras, a crime writer, love, a kid who studies different religions each week, fear, giant cupcakes, a lost father, and a disastrous childhood partially spent living in a car...
Poignant, funny, Henry’s Sisters is a novel about family and forgiveness, mothers and daughters, and gaining the wisdom to look ahead while still holding tight to everything that matters most.

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Author Q&A

Q. Which of the three sisters in Henry’s Sisters can you relate to the most?
Dorothy Leigh, Boston

A. Hmmm...must I choose just one sister, Dorothy? I relate to how Isabelle is a loner. Although I am quite social, and love a good party, I am also a loner who spends a lot of time daydreaming, and must spend a chunk of every day alone or there are too many voices clamoring in my head. I relate to how she is passionate about her photo journalist job. I used to write articles for our state newspaper, loved the reporting part of it ,and "get" how that is in her soul. With Cecilia, there was something feisty and angry, but so vulnerable about her that just struck me as she kept developing in the story. I relate to how blunt she could be and, can I say it? I relate to her vengeful, unrestrained nature! I also relate to her because I used to be a schoolteacher, too, and I loved her heart for kids. With Janie, well, she's a writer, and I relate to how she lives in her storyline and loves the river and her house boat. Janie was learning to dare to dare, and I understand how that feels, too.

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Q. I love the grandmother in the book! What gave you the idea to have a character who thought she was Amelia Earhart?
F. Logan, Sussex

A. I love Grandma, too. Amelia Earhart is a hero of mine. I had read about Amelia when I was writing Henry's Sisters. Before I knew it, Grandma thought she was Amelia Earhart and they were flying, together, off into the great blue yonder in my imagination. That's a scary thing about being a writer. So much of what I see or read or feel when I'm writing is plopped into my book when I'm working at night between 10 and 2 in the morning. For example, I saw a homeless woman in downtown Portland. She was muttering to herself, pushing a cart, and it broke my heart. She shouldn't be outside, she isn't capable of taking care of herself, why aren't we caring for these people? So, I put a homeless woman in Henry's Sisters that night and the girls took care of her. A friend of ours, Joe, did two tours in Vietnam. He was talking to me about those tragic experiences and the aftermath while I was writing. So, the father in Henry's Sisters went off to Vietnam. A friend of mine had a son who kept exploring different religions. He had attended an evangelical Christian church and came home and made a shrine to Mary and started genuflecting. He went to a Mormon church and studied their religion. Then he tried out a couple more religions. His family is Jewish, I’m friends with the mother, and she was telling me about his new religious interests until we laughed so hard I thought I would cry. So, that night, Cecilia's daughter started experimenting with religions, including wearing a full burkha.

Q. I’ve read your book Julia’s Chocolates which also features quirky characters and mixes drama with humor. Is this something that inspired all your writing?
Esther Crook, New York

A. Before I write every book I make a list of all the difficult topics I’m going to cover. With Julia's Chocolates, some of those issues were: Childhood abuse, body image problems, self esteem issues, conflicts with a deranged mother, being on the run from a stalker, separation from loving family members, being unhappily married, married to an alcoholic, married but feeling like you weren't fulfilling yourself, religion, and trying, as a woman, to find yourself and start over. So, these are all topics that can be very heavy, even bring readers to tears. I add the humor for a few reasons. One, we need it in books like this. It balances out the tension. Two, I like to laugh, I assume my readers do, too. Three, it's an emotional whipsaw effect that, as a writer, I like to put in my books because I think it moves the plot along, and shows a new angle to each character and their character arc. For the record, I LOVED writing Julia's Chocolates. I figured if I was cackling with laughter, and crying, then the readers might, too.

Q. Did you base any characters or the family dynamic in Henry’s Sisters on real people?
C. Benton, London

A. None of my characters, in any of my books, are based on real people. Something may trigger the beginning of a character, the thought of who that character might be, but then my characters grow and develop as I plot and write the story into their own unique, odd, interesting selves. I sketch out my characters so thoroughly I could tell you what kind of toothpaste they use and what they think of arugula, politics, plaid tablecloths, and roller skating. However, I am one of three sisters, as in Henry's Sisters, and I have a brother, too. So our family structure is the same as in Henry's Sisters. Unlike the Bommaritos, though, we grew up in a very stable family. It was a lot like the Brady Bunch only my father wasn't gay, we were all related, we didn’t have a housecleaner, and we had two truly poorly behaved dogs. I spent my childhood running around outside catching butterflies and playing hide and seek, much of it with my siblings. We camped all over California and Oregon, burned marshmallows over a fire, sometimes fought, and thought Saturday morning cartoons were the best things in life. Still, though, I GET the sister dynamic in Henry's Sisters. I get the love, the fighting, the issues and the history that sisters deal with.

Q. When you are thinking about an idea for your next novel, what comes first, the plot or the characters?
Carol Mortimer, London

A. Ah ha. I have two answers for you, Carol. In Julia's Chocolates, The Last Time I Was Me, Henry's Sisters, and Such A Pretty Face, the character came first. In the novel I'm working on now, First Day Of The Rest Of My Life, what came first was...a violin. My daughter had played the violin for years and we were paying to rent one. The math wasn't working anymore to continue to rent, so we bought her an 80 year old, beautifully taken care of, violin. It had some dents and scratches on it and I held it and started thinking, "Where did that violin come from? Who used it? What tears did they cry? What made them laugh? What was their life like? What did they regret? What scared them? What were their losses? What were their most glorious moments in life?" I had my next plot. Of course I've built characters, sketched them all out real tight...but the initial idea stared with that violin and the stories it could tell. And, what stories that violin ended up telling me for the book!

Q. The characters in Henry’s Sisters are all larger-than-life and highly dysfunctional – almost caricatures – but all reflecting real emotions that anyone can relate to. Do you think every person is dysfunctional to some extent?
J A Anderson, Hampshire

A. First off, I absolutely do not think the characters in Henry's Sister are "almost caricatures." I have known too many people who have come from dysfunctional families and they don’t come out of that experience whole, they’ve all got some pretty hefty problems they have to work with, just like the sisters in the book. If anyone was raised in Henry's family, they’d come out with addictions, quirks, problems, anger and nervous issues, relationship problems, or emotional damage, etc. I will agree that those gals showed some real, free – flowing, flaming emotions. A book is quite dull, isn't it, if you can't get into the deep emotions of characters. As far as do I think every person is dysfunctional to some extent? No, I don't. I think there's some pretty happy, content, stable people out there. I’ve met ‘em! That's not to say they weren't, at some point, dysfunctional. They may have been and worked through it. But do I think that the vast majority of us have been through the ripper of life and have some dysfunctions? Sure do. that's what makes us all very cool and interesting. And it gives me something to write about!


Book Club Reviews

This star review was by Penny Bullock, Lancaster of Lancaster.

A truly fabulous novel about families, forgiveness, love and cupcakes. It takes you on a roller coaster of emotions that you won't want to get off. A perfect novel from a great author, one to read and then read again.Penny Bullock, Lancaster, Lancaster

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I recommend this book! If you want to laugh and cry reading a book this is for you. I loved the characters - and wish I could have jumped into the book to sit and talk to them all! I will certainly be looking out for more books by this author. Julia's Chocolates is next on my list!Jane Duncan, Hove

I absolutely loved this book!! Very intense to begin with, but it really hooked me and I found myself 200 pages in before even realising it. Wonderful, rich characters with so many things happening but melting together perfectly. I just loved Henry and 'Amelia Earhart' what a great combination, their voices seemed really authentic. This book was like one of those cartoon presents that you see, where it pops open and lots of things come spilling out! It made me chuckle, it made me smile and it certainly made me cry. An excllent, well drawn story, filled with vibrant characters. An author I will definitely read again!Shona, Gainsborough (Book Babblers book club)

This is so difficult to review without giving away half the story, but I absolutely loved it - all her other books went straight onto my bookmooch wishlist. The first 50 pages were a challenge - "full on" as Anne said, and I was dreading reading the whole thing. But what a story - superb and complex characters, well drawn, and minor characters springing into full 3D. Lots of laugh out loud stuff - some of those mealtimes, wonderful. So loved Henry - can see him now, swooping round the lawn with Amelia Earhart and handing out the bakery samples with a "Jesus loves you" (read it, you'll understand then!). The ending was fantastic - heartbreaking, but funny + life affirming too. A superb book that worked at so many levels - really loved it.Annie, Gainsborough (Book Babblers book club)

What a mixed bag this book is. Like one reviewer I was tempted to give up after the first 50 pages, it all seemed too over the top and the characters are very much larger than life. My life at least! But once it got down to the nitty-gritty and why these sisters were the wrecks they were it was totally absorbing. On the up side equally emotional, tragic, funny sometimes farcical sometimes deadly serious but also way too much screaming, sentiment and religion for me. It would certainly make a great chick flick, gave it a 4* as in the end it's a book with a big heart.Liz, Gainsborough (Book Babblers book club)

The opening chapters of Cathy Lamb's novel 'Henry's Sisters' catapults the reader straight into the lives of the sisters of the title. Three women, each with complex personalities, all very odd and eccentric, all with major problems and all stemming from their bizarre and dysfunctional childhood. Isobelle; famous photographer who sleeps with every man she meets; Janie; successful crime author who has to count everything and taps constantly and Cecelia; overweight mother of two and newly separated from her unfaithful husband. Combined, these three with Momma - manic depressive with a tongue that can cut her daughters to ribbons; Stella; their Grandmother who believes she is Amelia Earhart and the wonderful Henry, their Downs Syndrome younger brother and you have a cast of characters that jump from the page and make you love them. Isobelle narrates the story and after the first few chapters the pace begins to slow down as the family history is uncovered. Tragic events have followed this family throughout their lives and shaped their lives as adults. Through every terrible event it has been Henry that kept the family together, although he is the one with 'special needs' he is the only good and pure character in the story. When the three girls have to return to their home town to care for him and their Momma they slowly begin to realise just how much the family means to them. In turns very very funny, often very sad and sometimes quite harrowing this is a wonderfully crafted novel. The plot is sound and the characters are true to life. It is very difficult to write a full review without giving away the story, lets just say that I had a lump in my throat at the end.Anne Cater, Gainsborough (Book Babblers book club), Gainsborough, Lincolnshire


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