This reading group guide for The Accidental Family includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Rowan Coleman. 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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About a year ago, Sophie Mills’s life was turned upside down when her childhood best friend died and left Sophie in charge of her two young daughters. A true city girl, Sophie surprised everyone, including herself, when she moved to the country to be with the girls and their father, Louis—her best friend’s widower.
But adjusting to life as a semi-permanent mother in a small town isn’t as easy as Sophie imagined. She can’t quite make that final commitment to move in with Louis and the girls—she’s on her way to becoming the longest-paying guest of the local bed-and-breakfast.
Just as Sophie starts to feel secure, Louis’s first love resurfaces with some shocking news. Now Sophie can’t help but wonder: Can Louis take responsibility for his past as well as his present? And can she fulfill her solemn promise to be there for two frightened little girls “always, forever, whatever”? Questions for Discussion
1. The prologue to The Accidental Family
takes place six hours after Sophie shows up at Louis’s door in Cornwall, and the first chapter begins six months later. What has changed over those six months? How has Sophie and Louis’s relationship evolved, and how has it remained the same?
2. The night that Louis proposes, why does Sophie insist that he is asking her permission to go on a surfing trip to Hawaii? What other miscommunications does this scene foreshadow?
3. Sophie complains to Cal, “Why do you have to sum up my entire life like it’s a tabloid headline” (page 210)? What are some of the more tabloid-worthy moments of The Accidental Family
? Which plot twist shocked you the most?
4. What were your first impressions of Wendy Churchill, Louis’s first love? Did she meet your expectations in the end? Why or why not?
5. With four husbands in her past, eighty-nine-year-old Grace Tregowan has plenty of stories about love and loss. Which stories and pieces of advice seem to affect Sophie the most, and why?
6. Consider how Bella and Izzy handle the turmoil in their family. How does each girl cope with fear and uncertainty? How are their reactions similar, and how are they different?
7. Sophie feels she can relate to Seth’s sense of loss and confusion: “She knew what it was like to live without a father and she also knew how shocking it was to discover that your whole life, everything you’ve believed to be unalterable and true, could be turned on its head in a second” (page 156). Why doesn’t Seth seem to respond to Sophie’s sympathy? Could Sophie have done more to help Seth? If so, what?
8. Discuss the reappearance of Jake Flynn, Sophie’s former love interest. Does Jake seem happy with his fiancée? Is his kiss with Sophie purely for “scientific research,” as he says, or does he really want Sophie back? Explain your answer.
9. Iris shares the story of how she and Sophie’s father met and fell in love. Compare this story to Sophie and Louis’s. What do these romances have in common? How are they different?
10. Sophie has a broad support network, from sensible Iris to irreverent but loyal Cal to sexy, practical Carmen. Among Sophie’s friends and family, which character is your favorite, and why? Enhance Your Book Club
1. Plan a dream vacation to Cornwall, England! Pretend you and your book club will be spending a long weekend in this coastal region. Where would you stay, and what would you want to see? You can research Cornwall tourism at www.visitcornwall.com.
2. Treat your book club to a proper English tea! If there is a teashop in your town, hold your book club meeting there. Or if you’re hosting at home, you can find recipes for scones, cakes, and other Sophie-approved delights at www.joyofbaking.com/EnglishTeaParty.html.
3. Follow the example of Iris, Sophie’s mother, and volunteer at your local animal shelter. You can search for a shelter that needs help by entering your zip code on this website: www.pets911.com/organizations/volunteer.php
4. Take a peek into Rowan Coleman’s world by reading her blog at www.rowancoleman.blogspot.com. A Conversation with Rowan Coleman, Author of The Accidental Family1. You open The Accidental Family with a bedtime story recounting the adventures of Princess Sophie, Prince Louis, Bella, and Izzy. Why did you choose this fairy-tale format to bring readers up to speed on the events of the previous novel, The Accidental Mother?
I wanted new readers to be able to pick up The Accidental Family
and read it as a stand-alone book, but I was aware that at least some of Sophie and Louis’s life from The Accidental Mother
was really pertinent to this book. At first I tried to weave the events of the past into the main text, but most of the time I found that it slowed the book down and got in the way of the narrative flow. I had the idea for the bedtime story one evening while telling my daughter a made-up bedtime story in which she was the heroine. I realized how much children love to hear about themselves and that this is exactly what Sophie would do, not only to help the children understand what had happened but to help her understand it too. 2. The promise “Always, forever, whatever” plays a central role in The Accidental Family. How did you come up with this key phrase?
I have known my best friend, Jenny, since we were children, and during the course of our friendship we made each other many promises of loyalty that we have kept. We have always been there for each other through all of life’s ups and downs. Although we never used the “Always, forever, whatever,” when I thought about how to sum up the kind of friendship we had, that was the phrase that kept coming to mind. Best of all, I get a lot of mail from readers who tell me they have adopted it as their very own friendship motto. 3. Wendy is a complicated character; Sophie sometimes struggles to hate “that Wendy woman” when she considers the hardships of a single mother. Was it hard to resist creating a truly evil rival for your heroine? Why did you make Wendy’s motivations so complex?
Life is complicated and I feel that the majority of people try their best to get it right, even if they don’t always achieve it. Wendy makes life very difficult for Sophie; she manipulates Louis and her son—but only because she is looking at Louis and Sophie and the life she might have had if she had made different choices. Jealousy and regret are powerful emotions, and all of us have been overpowered by irrational feelings at some point in our lives. Apart from anything else, I try to write characters that are identifiable and realistic, and things are rarely ever as simple as “good” and “evil.” 4. The cliffs and breezes of Cornwall really come alive in this novel. How does this part of the world inspire you?
I love Cornwall with a passion. I first visited as a child and have fond memories of roaming its sandy beaches, climbing over rocks, and fishing for crabs in rock pools. Over the years I have become more and more attached to it, particularly St. Ives when I discovered the artist colony that grew up there and I found out more about the artists’ lives and work. During the summer it’s so packed full of tourists that you can barely move, and in the winter it’s wild and empty and full of untold stories—but all year round it never loses its charm for me. If you can visit, do! 5. Sophie takes quite a few romantic risks in this novel, from accepting Louis’s proposal to kissing two other men. Do you think risk is necessary for romance—or at least for a good love story?
I think in Sophie’s case the risks she takes are due to her uncertainty about the way her life is heading. Everything has changed very quickly, as she hasn’t had a moment to catch her breath and think about it. Although she loves Louis and the children, she is still testing her own sense of commitment. From a wider point of view, when it comes to writing a romance or a love story, risk and complication are definitely necessities. I really hate putting my characters through some of the things I do. Part of me would like them to have a nice life, meet a nice partner, and settle down—but that doesn’t make for very compelling reading! 6. Sophie and Carmen experience the madness of a wedding fair, overwhelmed by the cake samples and dress exhibits. Have you experienced this kind of wedding fever firsthand? Do you think it takes an event planner and a pastry chef—like Sophie and Carmen—to navigate the chaos?
I have been a bride, so I understand the fever that takes hold of wives-to-be! It can become the sole focus of a woman’s attention in the months leading up to her wedding, and everything else fades in comparison. Unfortunately, I think the obsessive side of wedding planning can detract from the joy and pleasure of the actual day.
Do you need a wedding planner? Probably not—but hiring one might help everyone stay sane. 7. Iris is able to guess almost instantly that her daughter Sophie is pregnant. Do you believe in a mother’s intuition? Do you think many women worry that they lack this instinct, like Sophie does?
As a mother, I have to say I do believe in mother’s intuition. Often it is a mother who knows first if her child is ill or unhappy—sometimes even before they do. And I don’t think that changes as the child grows into an adult. No one knows me better than my mum. She guessed I was pregnant before I knew about it. Before the birth of my first child I worried and worried that I wouldn’t be a natural mother, that I wouldn’t be able to get it right. I realized eventually that there is no such thing. All of us learn from page one starting on day one—there is no shortcut to learning how to bring up a child, and I don’t think you ever stop learning. I do think that you gradually develop the kind of knowledge of your child and the depth of love for your child that becomes intuition. 8. Sophie seems to be in limbo between high-heeled shoes and wellies—glamorous London life and muddy coastal life. Are you more likely to step out in heels or boots, yourself?
I love a pair of high heels, I love to be glamorous, period. Like Sophie, I am an occasion dresser. But I also have a dog and very beautiful woods near my house, so muddy wellies come out of the closet regularly too. 9. Which book did you find more challenging to write: The Accidental Mother or its sequel, The Accidental Family? Why?
It’s hard to say. Both books had their challenges. With The Accidental Mother
I was starting from scratch with new characters and I had to work hard to give the story credibility and an edge of reality. But on balance I’d say that writing The Accidental Family
was harder because I knew that so many readers really loved The Accidental Mother
and had been waiting a long time to find out what happened next, and I didn’t want to let them down. 10. The story of this “accidental family” seems far from over, as Seth joins the family and Sophie looks forward to her first baby. Can readers look forward to another book in this series? What does the future hold for Sophie and her family?
I honestly don’t know. I always like to finish a book without all the loose ends tied and an unknown future laid out for my characters to inhabit, but I don’t always feel the urge to write about it. The Accidental Family
came about because so many readers asked me what happened next to Sophie and Louis and because once I started thinking about it I couldn’t stop! I might very well revisit them in the future, but for now I have new characters and new ideas that I am working on.