This reading group guide for Fortune & Fame includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
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From competing against each other to become the First Lady of the American Baptist Coalition, to joining forces to extract themselves from a murder case, Jasmine Cox Larson Bush and Rachel Jackson Adams have been through a lot together. In Fortune & Fame
, the women must put aside their differences as production begins for the new reality series First Ladies
, where both Jasmine and Rachel intend to become the show’s biggest star. But when Rachel’s husband’s former lover joins the cast and Jasmine’s husband’s former flame turns up as the show’s executive producer for the OWN network, the ladies find themselves in for a season of drama both on- and off- screen. To survive the months of filming and maintain their sanity and their marriages, Jasmine and Rachel will have to decide whether it’s best for them to become friends or foes. Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. The world of reality TV provides a setting rife with drama for all of the novel’s characters. What do Rachel, Jasmine, and Mary each hope to gain by appearing on First Ladies
? Is it simply fortune and fame, or something more than that? What does each character stand to lose by starring on the show? Do you think that the benefits of appearing on a reality show outweigh the negatives?
2. Each of the three First Ladies has come to her position in a different way. What does each of them gain by being a First Lady? How do Jasmine and Rachel’s positions differ from Mary’s, and why? Are they right to treat Mary as they do?
3. Reality shows are supposed to be unscripted. But as the novel progresses, it becomes clear that many events and scenes of First Ladies
—for example, Nathan exposing the secrets of Mary’s past on the altar of his church—are staged by the stars and the producers. Were you surprised by how many of the characters orchestrated events during the course of filming, and by how scripted the “unscripted” show actually was? Why do the characters feel they needed to manipulate situations, and how do their manipulations help or hurt them?
4. From phone calls to Stedman to her brilliant scheming, Jasmine has a very powerful friend in Mae Frances. How do Mae Frances’s connections help Jasmine and Rachel throughout the course of the novel? Could Jasmine and Rachel have made it through filming without the assistance of Mae Frances?
5. Natasia promises Rachel, Jasmine, and Mary that First Ladies
will be a classy show, “about serving as an example of a Godly woman who finds forgiveness in the most difficult of situations.” By the end of the novel, do you think Natasia’s description is an accurate representation of what audiences would take away after viewing season one of First Ladies
? Why or why not?
6. Rachel reveals that she thinks that God is testing her by putting her on a reality show with her husband’s former lover and ex-con Mary. Discuss Rachel’s relationship with Mary over the course of the novel. Has Rachel accepted Mary by the end of the book and passed God’s test, or not? If you think of the reality show as a test from God for all of the main characters, who passes and who fails?
7. Jasmine constantly refers to herself as classy and sees herself as above the show’s drama, while Rachel struggles to maintain her composure and refrain from physical violence and altercations. How do the women’s contrasting personalities push them apart and how do their differences bring them together? Do you think Jasmine and Rachel are actually more alike than they think? Do you have friends with personalities that you consider to be completely opposite from yours?
8. When Mary is released from prison, she never dreams that her life with Nathan will turn out the way it does. How does her time in prison change Mary and her faith in God? Why are her expectations of life with Nathan so different from the reality? Why is she so submissive to her husband? Were you surprised when didn’t she speak up for herself or try to leave her marriage sooner?
9. The First Ladies get the opportunity to star on a television show because they each have a powerful husband, but the pastors all have very different feelings about the show. Describe how Hosea, Lester, and Nathan each react to their wives being a part of the television show, and how their feelings about the show impact their marriages. Why are Lester and Hosea so reluctant to be a part of the filming, and why is Nathan so eager to appear on camera?
10. Natasia’s illness causes her to question everything in her life, particularly her relationship with Hosea. Does Natasia take advantage of her situation to get closer to Hosea, or is she doing what anyone in her position would do? How does her understanding of her mortality impact her actions? Do you think Hosea goes too far in his support of Natasia, or are his actions justified? Is Jasmine right to be angry with her husband for helping Natasia, or not?
11. ReShonda Tate Billingsley and Victoria Christopher Murray wrote the book in alternating chapters. Could you tell which author wrote which chapter? Did you see examples of how each author tried to put the other in situations that would be difficult to write their way out of?
12. By the end of the novel, do you think that Jasmine and Rachel are truly friends, enemies, frenemies, or something else? What do you predict will happen on the next season of First Ladies
? Enhance Your Book Club
1. Hold a reality show pitch session! Each member of the book club should prepare their best idea for a reality show and pitch it to the group. Who would star in your show? Where would it take place? Why do you think it would be a hit?
2. The First Ladies are filmed volunteering at the Fulton County Right Track program with troubled young girls. Spend an afternoon with the members of your book club volunteering at a cause that is important to all of you. No need to bring the drama—just have fun while you help make a difference!
3. Are you on Team Jasmine or Team Rachel? Make T-shirts showing your loyalty like the ones Victoria Christopher Murray and ReShonda Tate Billingsley are wearing in their joint author video for Sinners & Saints
, the first book that brought Jasmine and Rachel together: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g57hGC zXPp0.