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Read Like a Writer Book Club

Read Like a Writer Book Club

By Robin at Readerly Book Coaching

In which we will read great books, past and present, and look at them through the lens of a writer. What can we learn about great writing from the books we read?
Join us to find out!

Robin is a book coach and editor who works with writers to craft the compelling novels that readers crave about characters who make a difference. She may be the coach for you if you want to make a beautiful and satisfying novel.

Download writing resources and see more book reviews and writing tips at
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24. Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray

Read Like a Writer Book ClubNov 30, 2023

24. Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray

24. Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray

Writers work with Robin to elevate their novels and create the stories readers crave.  Let her be your novel whisperer.

Want to meet in person?  Join us in Galveston in April 2024!

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Lock in the 2023 Price on an Opening Pages and Synopsis Review here.

Use Promotional Code: 2023PRICE to get $50 off until January 31, 2024.


Originally serialized 1847-48, later published in a bound volume in 1848. Thackary intended it as a parody of society, a parade of human foibles.

Genre:  LIterature/Classic

Setting: Mostly England, some scenes in Brussels and France

Theme:  Pride leads humans to make terrible choices and to their downfall, but life is also unfair and sometimes bad people end up on top.

Things we thought AUTHOR did well as a writer 

that we would like to emulate.:

  • Structure:  A dual POV (ish) that follows two female main characters whose lives are on opposing trajectories and whose paths cross and whose stars rise and fall in opposition.

  • Intrusive Narrator:  Thackary’s narrator gives details and makes judgements about the characters as he tells the story.  He is also wickedly humorous and ironic. Modern writers may not want to adopt this narrator, but it is an interesting option that might give writers ideas for other interesting narrators. 

Something to think on:

Vanity Fair is a part of a series on female agency.  It is an early example of a novel that turns on the heroines’ choices.  It is also a great example of the cause and effect chain in a novel.  Enjoy!

Nov 30, 202320:15
23. BONUS Interview with Sara Johnson

23. BONUS Interview with Sara Johnson

Writers work with Robin to elevate their novels and create the stories readers crave.  Let her be your novel whisperer.

Want to meet in person?  Join us in Galveston in April 2024!

Learn how to work with Robin and Readerly Book Coaching at

Subscribe to the Tea Break Newsletter to get monthly notes to your inbox about books and writing.

Lock in the 2023 Price on an Opening Pages and Synopsis Review here: 

Use Promotional Code: 2023PRICE to get $50 off until January 31, 2024.

Sara Johnson is a mystery writer from Durham, North Carolina, who spent nine wondrous months in New Zealand and was inspired by the mysteries she saw all around her.  Her latest novel is The Bone Riddle, the fourth in a series about Forensic Odontologist, Alexa Glock, set in New Zealand. Her books are published by Sourcebooks’s Poisoned Pen Press Imprint

Find her here: 

Her book recommendations were:

Autopsy of a Crime Lab by Brandon L. Garrett 

Nothing to See Here by Kevin Wilson 

Nov 16, 202324:44
22 BONUS Interview with Cynthia Newberry Martin

22 BONUS Interview with Cynthia Newberry Martin

Writers work with Robin to elevate their novels and create the stories readers crave.  Let her be your novel whisperer.

Want to meet in person?  Join us in Galveston in April 2024!

Learn how to work with Robin and Readerly Book Coaching at

Subscribe to the Tea Break Newsletter to get monthly notes to your inbox about books and writing.

This week we have a bonus episode for listeners, in which I interview author Cynthia Newberry Martin.

Cynthia Newberry Martin is the author of three novels—The Art of Her Life (2023), Love Like This (2023), and Tidal Flats (2019), which won the Gold Medal in Literary Fiction at the 2020 Independent Publisher Book Awards and the 14th Annual National Indie Excellence Award for Fiction. She’s also the editor of the How We Spend Our Days series, over a decade of essays by writers on their lives, published on her website and also on Substack. She grew up in Atlanta and now lives in Columbus, Georgia, with her husband, and in Provincetown, Massachusetts, in a little house by the water.

Find Cynthia and her books here: 

Books that Cynthia recommends:

The Nature of Remains by Ginger Eager 

Mourner’s Bench by Sanderia Faye

Oct 27, 202330:09
21. Nutshell by Ian McEwan

21. Nutshell by Ian McEwan

Writers work with Robin to elevate their novels and create the stories readers crave.  Let her be your novel whisperer.

Learn how to work with Robin and Readerly Book Coaching at

Subscribe to the Tea Break Newsletter to get monthly notes to your inbox about books and writing.

Terry Northcutt is a Writing Coach and book lover!  She coaches fiction and nonfiction.  You can find her at 


Published in 2016 by Jonathan Cape. It is McEwan’s 14th novel.  Other titles include On Chesil Beach, Atonement, Sweet Tooth, and Lessons (2022).

Genre:  Literary

Setting: London, UK, contemporary

Additional Notes and reviews:  

The narrator and POV is that of an unborn child inside one of the main characters.  As with other novels by McEwan, the language is so beautiful and so precise and so unique.  The voice of the fetus is clear and though one must suspend disbelief, it is a wonderfully creative use of POV. 

Additionally, upon rereading, even though it is almost eight years old, it reads as fresh and insightful about world events, about society, about so many things.

NY Times review 

Review in the Guardian 

Theme:  Human Nature is essentially evil—humans are nasty, brutish, and selfish—from birth.

Discussion Questions:

  1. When you first started reading the book, what did you think about the narrator?  Do you think this narrator worked for telling the story?  Why or why not?

  2. Who was the protagonist or the story?  Why do you think this person is the protagonist?

  3. What details did McEwan use to give the reader information about the character without too much telling?

  4. Did you think they got away with it?  Why or why not?  Why do you think he left the ending open?

  5. Do you think the message of the book was clear?  What do you think it was?

Things we thought McEwan did well as a writer that we would like to emulate.:

  • Voice—The narrator makes us believe he is a fetus?  Through his observations and the way he understands things and the way he hears and imagines what is happening.  He never breaks character, and he is utterly believable as a fetus. 

  • Prose is tight and not one single word, even the adverbs, are wasted—He even once makes a reference to insisting on the adverb, his writing is so assured.  

  • Literary References/Genre Conventions—Is it Hamlet?  The Guardian reviewer thinks so, and I am inclined to agree.  There are also plentiful references to other literary texts and poetry all woven seamlessly, so that they are both signposts to the reader and amplifiers of the prose. He plays with form by using a thriller as the canvas on which to hang the novel.  It isn’t really a thriller or a mystery, but he uses the tropes of both—plotting, murder, adultery, investigation, suspense over whether they will get caught—to create the tension in a story that is really neither of those things. 

Something to think on:

Authors frequently worry that they have to be completely original.  While the way he told the story is highly creative, the story is essentially a retelling.  What does that mean for writers?

Oct 20, 202335:03
20. The Book Thief

20. The Book Thief

Writers work with Robin to elevate their novels and create the stories readers crave.  Let her be your novel whisperer.

Learn how to work with Robin and Readerly Book Coaching at

Subscribe to the Tea Break Newsletter to get monthly notes to your inbox about books and writing.


Terry Northcutt is a Writing Coach and book lover!  She coaches fiction and nonfiction.  You can find her at 


Published in 2005 by Knopf. Zusak is Australian and an award winning author of several novels, latest The Bridge of Clay (2018). He is the child of German and Austrian immigrants to Australia. 

The Book Thief was adapted for film in 2013.

Here is a TedX Talk by Zusak about his writing process and how success comes from failure. 

Genre:  Historical Fiction/Literary

Setting: Himmel Strasse, in a small town outside Munich during WWII.

Theme:  Mortality, Love, Kindness

Things we thought AUTHOR did well as a writer that we would like to emulate.:

  • Fresh take on a well worn time period—The narrator is Death, but death is not an evil bloodthirsty being.  He is self-deprecating and loves humans.  He finds them beautiful. The novel is set in WWII, but the perspective is different, because of the narrator and because of the point of view of average German people caught up in world events and trying to survive.

  • Experiments with structure—The inclusion of the books by Max and the asides by death explaining things, the dictionary entries.  They are all important and add to the story.  This is the difference between a well thought out structure and when writers just throw things in because they are cool.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How did the narrator change the way this story was told?

  2. Did knowing which people were going to die make it less interesting?  Why or why not?

  3. Who was the hero of the tale? Why?

  4. If you were going to write the plot in a paragraph, what would it say?

  5. What message did you take from the book?  How did that message come through?

Something to think on: This novel, like so many really good ones, breaks a lot of rules.  It is long, it is not tightly plotted, it is a little challenging in structure, yet it is beloved the world over.  Why do you think this book breaks the rules well, and when is it okay to break the rules?

Oct 11, 202336:53
The Books We'll be Reading for Fall

The Books We'll be Reading for Fall

Get your annotated Starter List of Novels for Writers

Get more book reviews and see how a coach can elevate your writing at  

Follow Robin on Instagram @readerlybooks to see what she is reading

This season, we will discuss even more books!

We'll be reading on three themes that writers frequently have questions about. We'll see some great examples of writers who deal with these story elements and plot points.

Book List for Fall 2023:

Narrators:  The Book Thief/Zusak and Nutshell/McEwan

Naughty Girls:  Vanity Fair/Thackeray and The Power/Alderman

Secrets:  The Scarlet Pimpernel and The Dutch House/Patchett

Besides discussions of these titles, be sure to check for bonus episodes and author interviews. There will be goodness to come. :)

Aug 23, 202304:28
BONUS for Women's Fiction Day 2023—Author Interview with Barbara Dullaghan

BONUS for Women's Fiction Day 2023—Author Interview with Barbara Dullaghan

Read more about books and writing with Robin and Readerly Book Coaching at

Subscribe to the Tea Break Newsletter to get monthly notes to your inbox about books and writing.

Barbara was born and raised In Tarrytown and Sleepy Hollow, NY, bordering towns on the beautiful Hudson River, just 20 miles north of NYC.  She worked as a teacher and educational consultant in four states before retiring to Coastal Carolina with her husband, Jack.

She just published her debut novel, Secrets in the Hollow: A Sleepy Hollow Novel.

Find her:

Jun 03, 202319:44
Season 2, BONUS: The Maid by Nita Prose

Season 2, BONUS: The Maid by Nita Prose

Read more about books and writing with Robin and Readerly Book Coaching at

Subscribe to the Tea Break Newsletter to get monthly notes to your inbox about books and writing.

Tawnya Caldwell currently works as a medical social worker but has always had a love of reading and all things book related. While she drafts her debut novel and dreams of opening her own bookstore one day, she is working toward a certificate in editing and publishing at UCLA Extension and book coaching certification from Author Accelerator. 

This one had been on my TBR pile for a while, and I finally decided to get a subscription to Audible so I can listen while I run.  I usually listen to Nonfiction, but I am trying to branch out!  Anyway, I LOVED this book.  The reviews and accolades that have been showered on it are entirely deserved. 

The Maid is the story of Molly, a neurodivergent maid at a fancy NYC hotel who finds a dead body one morning as she is making her cleaning rounds.  She is, of course, railroaded by the cops, one in particular, and the reader knows she didn’t do it. How will she prove it?  Enter her gang of unlikely and wonderful friends who help her hatch a scheme to catch the real killer. 

There are so many things to love about this book.  Molly is completely charming as a twenty-something who thinks and talks like a little old English lady, because she was raised by her Gran. All the characters have color names, so CLUE immediately springs to mind. The way Molly forgives and overcomes the people who talk down to her and make assumptions (she uses one of my favorite expressions about how to assume makes an a** out of [yo]u and me), and the way the friends work together is truly heartwarming.  Yes, there is pain in the book—Molly is grieving for her Gran, who has recently died, and she faces a mountain of financial difficulty, but her spirit remains unbroken and she is someone we would all like to have as a friend. The only thing I didn’t like about the novel is the final twist, but I will not give it away here. If you want to discuss, shoot me an email.

The Maid is a great example of using the story to get the message across.  There is plenty of social commentary about the way neurodivergent people are treated, the way the working poor are mistreated, and how society coil do better, but she doesn’t preach to us, she lets the story make us feel.  Writers take note, this is how it is done.

I recommend this novel for readers who like Agatha Christie, Columbo, and closed room mysteries with a dash of heart.

May 17, 202329:13
Season 2, Episode 7: The Plot

Season 2, Episode 7: The Plot

Read more about books and writing with Robin and Readerly Book Coaching at

Subscribe to the Tea Break Newsletter to get monthly notes to your inbox about books and writing.

Terry Northcutt is a Writing Coach and book lover!  She coaches fiction and nonfiction.  You can find her at 


Published in 2021 by Celadon Books. She is a successful writer with several well regarded books and some TV/movie adaptations under her belt.

The Plot is a complex thriller. If You and Medea had a love child, it would be this book. 

The Plot is told from the point of view of the main character, a writer who has always dreamed of writing the Great American novel. He had a decent first book, but his second was weak and he ends up teaching in a “low residency” MFA program in Vermont. When a student reveals his idea for a novel that he thinks can’t fail, Jake agrees and waits, painfully, for the book to debut. Fast forward a few years. Jake has descended even further down the food chain in publishing, working as a freelance editor and book coach, when something jogs his memory; he recalls that the book never came out and he hasn’t heard from the student. A few Google searches reveal the student died just months after the end of the writing program and the book never went to press. You know what happens next… 

Jake becomes a best selling author, darling of the reviewers, the talk shows, Oprah even chooses his book for her book club. He is riding high when he gets the first message: I know what you did. 

Korelitz’s novel examines what it means to be a writer when “anyone can write a book” and “everyone has a unique voice and a story nobody else can tell.” One gets the idea she is winking at the reader all the way through the novel. 

It’s a thriller, and there is a puzzle, but the puzzle isn’t the thing. This is a novel for book lovers; there are so many Easter eggs for literature geeks! A favorite was when Jake salves his conscience with thoughts straight from Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic--if he doesn’t write the novel, the idea will leave him and go to another writer--he has to write it, of course he does! There are loads of places where the bibliophile will smile, smirk and knowingly chuckle--this book is for you. Jake is so focused on himself and his writing, he misses what is right in front of him, which the astute reader surely will not. 

Genre:  Literary Thriller

Setting: New York, Vermont

Theme/Story Question:  Who owns a story?

Things we thought Korelitz did well as a writer that we would like to emulate:

  • Literary References:  Elizabeth Gilbert/Big Magic, MFA writing programs every where, Ahab, Infinite Jest, so many I lost count. This is great fun for readers and lets them in on the joke.  So many inside jokes from writing, reading, publishing. 

    • Jake’s fake pretentious “Finch” as a nod to Atticus Finch

    • Reference to Maxwell Perkins in chapter 3

    • “Good writers borrow,great writers steal…” TS Eliot

    • Talented Tom (Talented Mr. Ripley)

  • Takes us inside the mind of Jake:  The reader is firmly with Jake, so much so, that is only after the “big reveal” that we question some of the story events.  Like why would someone who barely knows you drop everything and move in with you?  

    • Chapter 7, his inner monologue about getting a good idea.

    • Chapter 1 where we get an encapsulated account of Jake’s slide from promising to stunted and his attitude about writing—it can’t be taught…

Discussion Questions:

1. What did you imagine the plot would be? When did you know? 2. 

2. How does Korelitz portray the publishing world? How do writers come off? What about Agents and Editors, Critics… 

3. Which Easter egg was your favorite? Why? 

4. Did Jake get what he deserved? Why or why not? 

5. Is it possible to “own” an idea, a story? Why or why not? 

6. Can anyone be a writer? Why or why not? 

7. Were you surprised by anything in this book? What and why? 

May 04, 202338:58
Season 2, Episode 6: The Beautiful and the Damned

Season 2, Episode 6: The Beautiful and the Damned

Read more about books and writing with Robin and Readerly Book Coaching at

Subscribe to the Tea Break Newsletter to get monthly notes to your inbox about books and writing.

Terry Northcutt is a Writing Coach and book lover!  She coaches fiction and nonfiction.  You can find her at 


Published in 1922 by Scribners. This is Fitzgerald’s second novel, after This SIde of Paradise and before Gatsby. He did work with Max Perkins on this novel.

Genre:  Literary

Setting: New York (mostly) a little in California

Additional Notes and reviews:  Some critics found it too pessimistic, and most find this one of his weaker novels, interestingly.  It was adapted into a 1922 movie, which Fitzgerald hated.

Theme/Story Question:  What happens when you live your life waiting for something to happen?

Things we thought Fitzgerald did well as a writer that we would like to emulate.:

  • Dialogue:  Each character is differentiated so that it is perfectly clear who is talking.  Favorites are the pages where he starts the discussion with numbered characters and then gradually names them as the conversation continues.

    • Page 122:  The Ushers scene.  They are not names until they introduce themselves or someone calls them by name.

    • Gloria and Dick throughout:  You always know when Gloria or Dick are speaking.

  • Making the place real: The setting comes alive.  The reader can hear the music, see the outfits, smell the cocktails and the rot of the main characters. But it is done with a marvelous economy of words.

    • Example:  The Encounter, p. 345 when Dot shows up at Anthony’s door.  We know exactly where we are in time and space, we can see the room, what they are wearing, everything as it happens. 

Discussion Questions:

1. Critics have drawn attention to the book’s heavily autobiographical element. How does this presumed emotional investment inform the novel, in your opinion? Hortense Calisher suggests in her introduction that when Fitzgerald “cuts himself, you will bleed.” Discuss this remark in light of the novel.

2. Do you consider The Beautiful and Damned to be a tragedy? Does it succeed as such? Why or why not? What are the specific weaknesses in Anthony and Gloria that cause their demise? Is their suffering warranted? Is their reaction to their plight realistic, in your opinion?

3. In describing the novel to his publisher, Fitzgerald wrote that Anthony Patch “is one of those many with the tastes and weaknesses of an artist but with no actual creative inspiration.” Do you agree with this assessment? How does this description inform your understanding of the novel? Why might this kind of figure interest Fitzgerald?

4. How would you characterize the novel’s specific morality? Does Fitzgerald’s story have a moral, in your opinion?

Something to think on:

The structure here is linear, but also experimental.  Fitzgerald essentially writes a novel in which nothing really happens except a downhill slide for the main characters from beginning to end.  They are never as charming as they are at the beginning.  The other characters grow and change, but they don’t.  It’s like Seinfeld before Seinfeld was a thing. 

The lesson for writers is that all kinds of rules can be broken if you do it in a compelling way.  One could argue that Anthony and Gloria are anti-hero/heroine or just static characters who stand still while the world changes around them.  But because other things change, the story is possible. They don’t have an arc of change, but the world around them does.  So, Fitzgerald has essentially flipped the script for writing a novel. 

Structure NOTE:  

The party chapter that changes everything begins at 58%, page 205

Apr 27, 202339:49
BONUS Episode—Writing Exercises

BONUS Episode—Writing Exercises

Read more about books and writing with Robin and Readerly Book Coaching at

Subscribe to the Tea Break Newsletter to get monthly notes to your inbox about books and writing.

We talk a lot on the podcast about applying the lessons of excellent books to our Works in Progress.  

Today we have three writing exercises for you to try.  If you would like to enter for a chance to win an on-air coaching session, please send your exercises in to Robin.  Robin[at]

She is waiting to hear from you!

Apr 12, 202309:09
Season 2, Episode 5: Station Eleven

Season 2, Episode 5: Station Eleven

Read more about books and writing with Robin and Readerly Book Coaching at

Subscribe to the Tea Break Newsletter to get monthly notes to your inbox about books and writing.

Terry Northcutt is a Writing Coach and book lover!  She coaches fiction and nonfiction.  You can find her at 


Published in 2014 by Knopf. St. John Mandel went on to win the Arthur C. Clarke Award for Science Fiction and appeared on many best of lists.

Genre:  Post Apocalyptic Science Fiction

Setting: The Great Lakes Region, occasionally Los Angeles, Toronto, and other places

Additional Notes and reviews:

Station Eleven was a finalist for the National Book Award.

NY Times Review (gift link)

‘Station Eleven,’ by Emily St. John Mandel - The New York Times

Theme:  Is Survival Enough?  What do Humans Need? 

Things we thought AUTHOR did well as a writer that we would like to emulate:

  • Weaving the threads together and keeping them active all the way through  This is one of the best examples of the last several years of a book that takes several stories and weaves them to make one whole story that is greater than the sum of its parts.

    • Miranda and the Station Eleven comics

    • Arthur

    • Jeevan

    • The traveling actors

    • The airport museum and Clark

  • This is a “Quiet Novel” that works:  The writing is subtle, and the story is frequently interior, but it still draws the reader in and makes them want to know what will happen to all the various players, even if we don’t like them very much.

    • Quiet doesn’t mean plotless.  Each storyline has an arc.

      • Miranda goes from young naive girl to successful professional with her own life and passion project:  Station Eleven

      • Arthur goes from callow teen to successful actor to jerk who dies of a heart attack on stage

      • Clark goes from wannabe actor to successful businessman to curator of the museum of civilization

      • Kirsten goes from child actor to killer to traveling actor looking for beauty in the world.

      • Jeevan goes from paramedic to hermit to traveler to someone who is making the best of the situation and helping to rebuild society.

Discussion Questions:

  • Which of the story lines did you find most interesting and why?

  • This novel was written before Covid.  Does that experience change the way you experience this novel?

  • Is survival alone insufficient?  Do humans need more?  Why or why not?  What is your evidence?

Something to think on:

Especially for Writers—Good novels, whether they are genre fiction or literary, wrestle with BIG questions.  They don’t tell the reader what to think, but they encourage the reader to think.  When you are planning or drafting your novel.  What is the BIG question you want readers to consider?  Type it out and put it somewhere you can see it as you are writing your story.

Interview with Emily St. John Mandel about her writing process.  She starts with one thing and adds as she goes.  Revision is key!  

Mar 22, 202341:16
Season 2, Episode 4:  The Andromeda Strain

Season 2, Episode 4: The Andromeda Strain

Read more about books and writing with Robin and Readerly Book Coaching at

Subscribe to the Tea Break Newsletter to get monthly notes to your inbox about books and writing.

Terry Northcutt is a Writing Coach and book lover!  She coaches fiction and nonfiction.  You can find her at


Published in 1969 by Knopf. This was Crichton’s first book under his own name and was a NYT best seller.  He had previously published under a pseudonym, John Lange.  Incidentally, the rights to the Lange books have been recently purchased by Blackstone Publishing. Read more here:

It was adapted into a 1971 movie

Genre:  techno-thriller/medical thriller

Setting: 1960s, mostly in the deserts of Arizona and Nevada. Inside a secure government facility purpose designed for such an event.

Additional Notes and reviews:

It is interesting to go back and reread bestsellers from the past.  This one I first read back in the 1980s.  I am a Crichton fan and some parts of the book have aged well, possibly world ending germ from outer space, or did we actually make it ourselves?, while others have not.  There is a decided lack of diversity of any kind among the characters.  White male scientists save the world, sigh.

Theme: Unintended consequences when we experiment with nature, triumph of science

Things we thought AUTHOR did well as a writer that we would like to emulate:

  • Ticking Clock/Wolf at the Door:  There is a literal countdown in this novel and the stakes are world ending, so it doesn’t get much more tense than that.  But, it is possible for writers to use the idea of the ticking clock to inform their work and build tension.  What deadlines can you give your characters?
  • Structure:  He uses a structure borrowed from The Grapes of Wrath, which intersperses scientific information with the action.  This serves a couple of purposes. In Grapes, Steinbeck alternates chapters between what is happening in the nature of the dust bowl with what is happening to the Joads.
    • For the lay reader, he makes the science informing the story understandable. Yay!
    • He slows the pace a tiny bit.  When you have a nuclear device and a killer germ, things move fast.  Readers need a little easing of the pace to keep them from racing to the finish.

Discussion Questions:

  • What did you think of the “odd man” theory?  In light of more modern thinking do you believe this idea could be used to justify anything?
  • If you were re-writing this novel, where would you make changes to the genders/ethnicities of the main characters?  How would this affect the story?
  • If you have read this before and after Covid, how did that affect the way you experienced the book?

Something to think on:

Crichton was a master of the techno/medical thriller.  He studied medicine and literature.  What does this say about the idea of writing what you know?

Mar 10, 202337:30
Author Interview with Harini Nagendra

Author Interview with Harini Nagendra

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Harini Nagendra is a professor of ecology at Azim Premji University, and a well-known public speaker and writer on issues of nature and sustainability. She is internationally recognized for her scholarship on sustainability, with honors that include the 2009 Cozzarelli Prize from the US National Academy of Sciences, the 2013 Elinor Ostrom Senior Scholar award, and the 2017 Clarivate Web of Science award for interdisciplinary research in India.

Her non-fiction books include Nature in the City: Bengaluru in the Past, Present and Future, and two books co-authored with Seema Mundoli – So Many Leaves, and Cities and Canopies: Trees in Indian Cities, which received the 2020 Publishing Next Awards for best English non-fiction book in India.

Harini lives in Bangalore with her family, in a home filled with maps. She loves trees, mysteries, and traditional recipes. The Bangalore Detectives Club is her first crime fiction novel, published by Pegasus Books in the US, Constable in the UK, and Hachette in India/rest of the world – the book was in the New York Times Notable Books of 2022 list, and has been nominated for an Agatha and Lefty award for best first novel. 

Murder Under A Red Moon, book 2 in the series, is out on March 30, 2023.

You can pre-order it online at, or through your local independent bookstore.

Mar 05, 202326:49
Season 2 (Episode 3): Trust by Hernan Diaz

Season 2 (Episode 3): Trust by Hernan Diaz

Read more about books and writing with Robin and Readerly Book Coaching at

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Joining me today is Book Coach Lidija Hilje.  She is a certified book coach and developmental editor specializing in Literary, Upmarket, and Women's Fiction, based in Croatia. As a former attorney turned editor, Lidija's passion lies in helping writers outline and draft novels with a strong emotional impact and impeccable internal logic.You can reach her through her website ( or email (

Background for Trust

Published in 2022 by Riverhead Books, an imprint of Penguin Group. This is Diaz’s second novel; his first, In the Distance was a finalist for the Pulitzer.

Genre:  Literary

Setting: New York, mostly in the 1920s, but the last section is in the 1930s.

Additional Notes and reviews:

Guardian Review:

Trust has been on numerous best of lists, including Book of the Year by Publisher’s Lunch, being long-listed for the Booker, and on the NYT top 10 of 2022 list.

Theme:  What is the truth?  Does it depend on who is telling the story?  How can we ever know for sure?

What is Literary Fiction and How is it different to Genre Fiction?

See this article at the NY Times, which we will use as a framework for our discussion of Trust.

Here are some discussion questions for your book club:

  1. What did you think about the structure of this novel?  Do you think it would have been as effective written another way?  Why or why not?
  2. Who do you think the main character is?  What evidence would you use to make your case?
  3. What similarities and differences do you see between Helen and Mildred?  Between Rask and Bevel?  Why do we feel compelled to name the men by their surnames and the women by their first names?
  4. What about Jack?  What was his purpose in the story?
  5. If you were casting a movie, who would you cast as each of the main characters and why?
Feb 23, 202341:34
Season 2: A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick

Season 2: A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick

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Published in 2009 by Algonquin Books. Goolrick died in 2022 and wrote three other novels and a memoir.  He began writing novels late in life after being fired from advertising in his 50s.

Genre:  Gothic Historical

Setting: Wisconsin, mostly in the winter, with lots of snow

Additional Notes and reviews:

There is a smoldering quality about this novel, the reader knows there is going to be a lot going on just under the surface.  It is, as some like to say, a “quiet novel,” but it is never boring and the writing is beautiful and unique.

Some readers called this erotic, but there was nothing graphic about it.  There is a lot of thinking about sex and desire, but most of the acts happen off page.

A Reliable Wife spent three weeks on the NY Times Best Seller list and was  Goodreads Readers Choice winner.

Review Here

Themes:  Revenge, Desire, Addiction, Secrets

Things we thought Goolrick did well as a writer that we would like to emulate:

  • Suspense—Like Henry James, Goolrick knows how to keep the reader hooked.  One of the ways he does this is by revealing some things and keeping others hidden.  He also lets the reader know more than either of the main characters, so that the tension is maintained throughout.
  • Curiosity Seeds—The fact that Catherine is not what she has pretended is not withheld, but exactly what her plan is spools out little by little until the midpoint twist. There are also other ways he foreshadows what is to come (but not all of it)…
    • The blue bottle
    • Her thoughts about poison
    • All the characters thoughts on death
    • The way the people in town go crazy and kill each other and themselves
Feb 16, 202345:41
Season 2:  Mansfield Park by Jane Austen

Season 2: Mansfield Park by Jane Austen

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Today's discussion partner is fellow book coach Terry Northcutt, you can find her at 


Published in 1814 (finished in 1813), MP is the novel which comes out after after Pride and Prejudice, which was a huge hit even in its day.  Reception of MP was somewhat cooler, though it is notable that MP was Austen’s own favorite of her novels, a fact which puzzles many of her readers. See collected evidence of her favoring it here.

Many readers consider this their least favorite of Austen’s works.  They do not much admire Fanny and Edmund is widely considered a prig.  I mean, really, who isn’t team Henry Crawford.  He was much more amusing, could read Shakespeare, and was willing to change for his love.  Fanny was just too mulish to see it. It is my opinion that this is one of those sacred cows that needs to be reassessed. Many reviewers read the novel as a straight up story, including the great Lionel Trilling, who perhaps most famously hated Fanny, but I tend to agree with Claudia Johnson that MP is Austen’s MOST ironic work.  When read as if it is a parody of the kind of moral writing that filled the novels of the day, it is both hilarious, irreverent, and brilliant, just as its author was. Remember this in one of JA’s letters to her niece Fanny in 1816, “Pictures of perfection, as you know, make me sick and wicked.”  Could Edmund and Fanny have been such pictures and are we supposed to feel sick of them?  Do they in fact get what they deserve in each other?

Full Text of an 1870 Review by Richard Simpson

Article in JSTOR arguing brilliantly against Trilling's interpretation:

Link to Claudia Johnson’s Jane Austen: Women, Politics, and the Novel (1990)

Things we thought Austen did well as a writer that we would like to emulate:

  • Free Indirect Discourse:  Writers, please don’t try this until you have some work under your belt.  It may seem easy, but it is decidedly not.
    • Austen uses a third person omniscient intrusive narrator who may not only give us her opinions, but also see into the minds of the characters.  Notice, this happens once at a time, we are only in one head per scene (ish), and it is seamlessly integrated.  Third person omniscient is currently out of favor, but it is still worth reading someone who does it with such panache.
    • Irony and humor: I believe that many readers miss the irony intended by Austen, but some of it is unmissable…

Some things to think on:

What can writers learn from reading Austen? Don’t be afraid to let your own voice into the story.  Whether it is the style, the narrator, or some of the characters, it is the voice of the author that charms many readers.

Great Literature sparks discussion and disagreement.  If we all agree about the interpretation of something, it is not great art.  Make your book something that will make people think, talk, discuss, even disagree.

Feb 09, 202340:57
Author Interview with Lisa Williams Kline

Author Interview with Lisa Williams Kline

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Lisa is a client who got her publishing deal and I am thrilled for you to hear her story!

Lisa Williams Kline is the author of two novels for adults forthcoming in

2023, Between the Sky and the Sea, February 1, 2023 and 

Ladies’ Day, a contemporary women’s fiction novel is set to be published in June 2023

Her stories and essays have appeared in Literary Mama, Skirt, Sasee, Carolina Woman, moonShine review, The Press 53 Awards Anthology, Sand Hills Literary Magazine, and Idol Talk, among others.

She is also the author of ten novels and a novella for young readers.

She lives in Davidson with her veterinarian husband, a cat who can open doors, and a sweet chihuahua who has played Bruiser Woods in Legally Blonde: The Musical. She and her husband treasure frequent visits with their grown daughters and their husbands.

You can find her:

IG: @lisawilliamskline

FB: lisa.kline.566

Link to get your copy of Between the Sky and the Sea

Feb 02, 202322:51
Interview with author L. C. Hayden

Interview with author L. C. Hayden

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This bonus episode is an interview with Mystery and Thriller author L. C. Hayden.  She discusses her new book AND gives writers some great advice!

Connect with L. C. Hayden at

Buy her books at:

NOTE:  this episode was recorded in November, so some references are time sensitive.  You can still find L. C.'s new book and celebrate Native Americans any time...

Dec 22, 202217:34
5. The Appeal

5. The Appeal

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The Appeal by Janice Hallett 

Published 2022 (US) by Simon and Schuster. 

Published 2021 (UK) Hallett is a London based former magazine editor and journalist. 

Genre: Crime/Cozy with an Epistolary Structure 

Setting: The “village” is an amateur theatre company in a small town in the UK 

Additional Notes and reviews: The Epistolary structure is expanded to include texts, emails (modern letters) and Whats App, plus police reports and more. 

It was on many “Best of” lists and awards lists, such as the New Blood Dagger Award, and the NY Times called it witty, indeed it was. 


Interview in The Guardian: 

Interview on YouTube: 

Theme: How different points of view shape ALL our perceptions. How we never have all the information. How easy it is to misunderstand each other, and of course, the weakness of human nature 

Things we thought the author did well as a writer that we would like to emulate: 

Maintained tension AND curiosity: She uses all the bits of evidence and the frame to both build tension and maintain the reader’s curiosity. As soon as one questions seems to be answered, there is another one. She was masterful at letting the reader know things that not all of the characters did, in order to keep us invested and cheering for the characters. 

Unreliable narrator: With so many unreliable narrators, it is difficult to draw readers in with one. We are too jaded, too suspicious to completely trust any narrator. What she does, to great effect, is to let us first identify with and feel sorry for lonely Issie, and then get annoyed by her, and then just really not like her. But we have to keep reading, to find out what happened. So, it is another form of tension, the narrator is both unreliable AND unlikeable, yet we are compelled to keep reading. 

Discussion Questions 

NOTE: These are Richard Peck’s Questions from 1978; they still work! 

l. What would the story be like if the main character were of the opposite sex? 

2. Why is the story set where it is? (Not where is the story set?) 

3. If you were to film the story, would you use black and white or color and WHY? 

4. If you could not use all of the characters, which would you eliminate and WHY? 

5. How is the main character different from you? 

6. Would this story make a good TV series? Why/not? 

7. What one thing in the story has happened to you? 

8. Reread the first paragraph of Chapter 1. What is in it to make you read on? If nothing, why did you continue to read? 

9. If you had to design a new cover for the book, what would it look like? 

10. What does the title tell you about the book? Does it tell the truth? 

Structure Notes: This is an amazing first novel, because it is a very complex structure. It points to a very organized way of writing, since it will have required a lot of thinking and planning to pull off, whether that happened before the first draft or during revision. According to the interview, she did not plan it, but pantsed it and then had to reverse engineer. Upside for writers: Planning and Pantsing BOTH work for a first draft, but you always have to provide structure at some point in the process for the story to work.

Nov 29, 202239:41
4. Dangerous Liaisons

4. Dangerous Liaisons

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Published in 1782 by Durand Neveu

Translated into English in 1812 for the first time, though many English people read it in French before that.

Genre:  Epistolary Novel, but with the twist of unreliable narrators.

Setting: French Aristocracy, Ancien Regime


Deception!  Scheming!  What does it mean to be moral?  What even is morality? Do any of us really have free will?

Additional Notes and reviews:

  • This is his only novel
  • It is a departure from previous epistolary novels which were cautionary tales and portrayed the letters as windows to knowing the characters.  In this novel, the letters reveal different sides of characters depending to whom they are written.


Analysis of Les Liaisons Dangereuses | Paris Update

Discussion Questions:

  1. Which characters were the most likable and the most unlikeable, why?
  2. Did you find yourself “cheering” for any of them during the course of the novel? Who and why?
  3. What questions do you think the author was asking about human nature with this novel?
  4. Do you think this was an indictment of the aristocracy or not?  Why?
  5. What are the motivations for Valmont, Merteuil, Danceny, and Cecile?  Do they get what they want? How does that keep the plot moving?
  6. How does the slow revelation of what is going on keep the plot moving?

Things we thought the author did well as a writer that we would like to emulate:

  • The Frame:  The narrator pokes in every once in a while to remind the reader of something or to make sure we didn;t miss it.  This serves to keep up the pretense that these are “real” letters found after the fact, but also to make sure we get all the important plot points hiding in the letters.
  • The timeline: is always clear.  The letters are dated and when one goes missing or is late, we are told as the reader by the letter writer.  We are never left trying to figure out where we are in the story
  • Loose Ends:  There are not any.  The reader knows what has befallen all the players by the end.  Some get the consequences they deserve, some do not.
  • The stakes:  Are always clear.  We know what will happen if the schemes are carried out, revealed, successful, unsuccessful.  There is no doubt what all the characters are risking.
Nov 09, 202236:22
3. Apples Never Fall

3. Apples Never Fall

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Published in 2021 by Henry Holt. Moriarty is an Australian Author—this is her ninth novel.

Framed as a family thriller/murder, this novel include a mysterious stranger, a disappearance, a suspicious husband/father, and four adult children who all have secrets of their own.

Genre:  Women’s Fiction, Domestic Suspense

Setting: Australia, the world of Tennis and high stakes sport.

Additional Notes and reviews:

Interview with Liane Moriarty in the Washington Post:

Review in the Washington Post

Review (less complimentary) in The Guardian

Discussion Questions:

  1. Whose version of Joy was the most accurate?  Why?  How did the different views of her help develop her character?
  2. Which of the Delaney children did you most empathize with and why?
  3. What was each major character’s misbelief?
  4. What was Joy’s arc of change?  What about Stan?
  5. How did the non-linear nature of the narrative keep the cause and effect chain going without losing steam?
Nov 02, 202223:41
2. The Aspern Papers by Henry James

2. The Aspern Papers by Henry James

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Published in 1888, Novella, later edited by James and reissued.

Genre:  Realistic Fiction at the time; today it would be classic or literary

Setting is Venice and the story is based on a real life incident involving Claire Clairmont, the mistress of Lord Byron, according to Britannica:

There is an opera based on the book.

Here is a recorded scene from it:

In 2019, Julien Lansais adapted it for film, thought the reviews were mostly like this one in the New Yorker:

Theme:  James is examining the cult of celebrity which got its start during the Regency, but especially in literary circles is in full flower by the 1880s.  One Example of this is the Ireland Shakespeare forgeries of the late 1790s


During the 1870s and beyond literary tourism evolves into a booming practice.

James places our narrator as an editor who is at once a voyeur and a scholar.  It is unsettling, to say the least.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Where does the narrator stand in time?  Why do you think James chose this way of telling the story?
  2. Why do you think the narrator decides from the beginning to use a pretext in his investigation into the papers?  Why doesn’t he just ask? (5)
  3. Why does he fix on the garden as his entree? (11)
  4. Do you think he overplayed his hand by agreeing to the high rent so quickly? Why or why not?
  5. On page 34, James writes this, ostensibly about Apsern, “His own country after all had had most of his life, and his muse, as they said at that time, was essentially American. That was originally what I had loved him for: that at a period when our native land was nude and crude and provincial, when the famous "atmosphere" it is supposed to lack was not even missed, when literature was lonely there and art and form almost impossible, he had found means to live and write like one of the first; to be free and general and not at all afraid; to feel, understand, and express everything.”  Do you think he is speaking in any way about himself?  He was a longtime expat in Britain and Europe.
  6. When did you decide that Tita/Tina was playing him? Why does the narrator underestimate her so?
  7. Why does he pretend not to know who the portrait is of, when he specifically asked Tita/Tina about one?
  8. Why was he unwilling to marry her after all the rest?
  9. What do you think of the resolution?
  10. How did James maintain the tension all the way through?

Something to think on:

Writing books, unless one be a great genius—and even then!—is the last road to fortune. I think there is no more money to be made by literature."

James, Henry. The Aspern Papers (p. 62). Kindle Edition.

Nov 02, 202225:48
1. The Anomaly by Herve Le Tellier

1. The Anomaly by Herve Le Tellier

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Background:  This book was on several “best of” lists for 2021, including the New York Times.  Here is a sampling of reviews and the publisher’s page:

We all agreed it was a beautifully written book, both Science Fiction AND Literary, with a touch of tongue in cheek humor that made some of the bitter pills of human nature a little easier to swallow.

What we loved about Le Tellier’s writing and want to emulate:

  • His ability to weave the backstory in just enough to fill the reader in on the character.  No infodumps here, just clean prose with a Goldilocks amount of backstory to make the reader keep reading and understand what is going on.
  • His ability to seamlessly integrate multiple POV characters AND make us care about them all.  No easy task.
  • His use of foreshadowing was both elegant and subtle.

Some of our favorite passages:

  • p. 40-41  “THE FICUS is thirsty. Its brown leaves are so dry they’re curling up; some branches are already dead. Standing there in its plastic pot, it’s the very incarnation of hopelessness, if indeed the word “incarnation” can be applied to a green plant. If someone doesn’t water it soon, David thinks, it’s going to die. In all logic, it must be possible to find a point of no return on the continuous thread of time, an irretrievable tipping point after which nothing and no one could save the ficus. At 5:35 on Thursday afternoon someone waters it and it survives; at 5:36 on Thursday afternoon anyone in the world could show up with a bottle of water and it would be No, babe, sweet of you, thirty seconds ago, I can’t be sure, maybe, but now, what are you thinking, the only cell that could have set the whole thing going again, the final viable eukaryote that could have rallied its neighbors—Come on, guys, let’s see some motivation, let’s have a reaction, fill yourselves up with water, don’t let yourselves go—well, the last of the last has just left us, so you’re here too late, with your pathetic little bottle, ciao ciao. Yes, somewhere on the thread of time.”
  • p. 250  “ No author writes the reader’s book, no reader reads the author’s book. At most, they may have the final period in common.”
  • p. 360  “But I still don’t really like the word ‘destiny.’ It’s just a target that people draw after the fact, in the place where the arrow landed.”
Nov 02, 202218:05
Read Like a Writer Trailer

Read Like a Writer Trailer

Welcome to the Read Like a Writer Book Club!

a production of Readerly Book Coaching: 

This podcast will feature book discussions of great novels both past and present through the lens of a writer.  We’ll be deconstructing their work looking for lessons in craft, style, and story so we can apply those lessons to our own works in progress.

Some episodes it will just be me, your friendly neighborhood librarian, book lover, teacher, and book coach talking about books I think are beautifully wrought.

Here is the framework we will use as we think about the novels we read:

  • We will ask these questions:
    • What are the basic “facts” of the book?
      • Genre
      • Characters—who is the central character?
      • Basic plot events—what is the most important event?
    • Character Arc
      • What does the MC want?
      • What stands in her way?
      • What does she do to overcome this block?
    • What is the POV used by the writer?
    • What is the beginning and the end—is there change over time?
    • What is this book trying to teach/show you about the world?
    • Do you agree with the message of the book?  In other words, has the author done her job convincing you?
    • Choose a passage you find particularly beautiful and analyze it looking at things like rhythm, word choice, metaphors.  What does it teach you about language?
    • What about the author’s writing did you find particularly enjoyable?  What not?

I hope you will  join me as we read both for enjoyment and enlightenment; and hopefully have some spirited discussions along the way.  If you want to send in a voice comment for possible inclusion in an episode, please record yourself and provide your name and contact information to .  Use the subject line:  Read Like a Writer Book Club.

Oct 05, 202202:43