Brenda Janowitz

Liz & Lisa's Book Club: The Dinner Party by Brenda Janowitz

The amazing Brenda Janowitz has a new book out April 12th and we've selected it as our #bookclub pick because it's a must-read for anyone who wants to be thoroughly entertained for 300 pages! Add THE DINNER PARTY to your TBR list for Spring--you'll thank us!

And we have a copy for #giveaway. Just leave a comment here or on our FB page to be entered to #win. Share this post for a second entry. Contest closes on Friday, April 8th at 5pm PST.

Brenda, also the force behind many of PopSugar's must-read lists, stopped by to answer some of our burning questions. (Find out why she's inspired us to use the voice memo app on our phones!) But first, more about her novel!

The scoop: This Passover Seder is not just any Passover Seder. Yes, there will be a quick service and then a festive meal afterwards, but this night is different from all other nights. This will be the night the Golds of Greenwich meet the Rothschilds of New York City.

The Rothschilds are the stuff of legends. They control banks, own vineyards in Napa, diamond mines in Africa, and even an organic farm somewhere in the Midwest that produces the most popular Romaine lettuce consumed in this country. And now, Sylvia Gold's daughter is dating one of them.

When Sylvia finds out that her youngest of three is going to bring her new boyfriend to the Seder, she's giddy. When she finds out that his parents are coming, too, she darn near faints. Making a good impression is all she thinks about. Well, almost. She still has to consider her other daughter, Sarah, who'll be coming with her less than appropriate beau and his overly dramatic Italian mother. But the drama won't stop there. Because despite the food and the wine, despite the new linen and the fresh flowers, the holidays are about family. Long forgotten memories come to the surface. Old grievances play out. And Sylvia Gold has to learn how to let her family go.

Our thoughts: Read. It. Now.


PHOTO BY: Hy Goldberg / Cristina Calvi

PHOTO BY: Hy Goldberg / Cristina Calvi

How did you come up with the idea for THE DINNER PARTY? And on that note, when you think of an idea, do you write it down in a notebook, pin it up on a corkboard, file it away in your mind, promptly forget it and then curse yourself for not writing it down? 

I wanted to write a novel about letting go of the past, and how only when we do that can we move on to the future. The novel originally began at Chapter Fourteen, where Sarah’s boyfriend insists on wearing a “tie substitute.” (I have such affinity for that chapter, and it’s the one that was featured in my PopSugar First Look.)

When I think of an idea, I usually write it down. I’ve done the “file it away in your mind” thing and I always forget it (and then curse myself for not writing it down!). So, these days I live by my notes and the Voice Memo app on my iPhone.

The book is chock full of lively and complex characters that anyone in a family can relate to--especially during the holidays. Did you have a favorite to write? One that you found more challenging than another? 

Thank you! I appreciate that so much. I definitely had a blast writing Valentina, the woman who says what everyone is thinking. I wish I could be the sort of woman who says what everyone is thinking. But alas….

I always find male characters tough to write. I’m such a girly girl, and sometimes my worldview sneaks into their dialogue. In the book I’m working on now, one of my agent’s comments was: “A man would never say that.” And she was completely right! I was saying the line in my own head, when really, I should have been imagining Ryan Gosling, or Henry Cavill, or Joe Manganiello, or… I’m sorry, what were we discussing?

Ooh how we loved the drama in this book! In your own life, how do you handle drama when it comes your way?

You two are seriously making me blush! Thank you!!

I love family drama, but only in novels. In real life, family drama is so much harder to deal with. I think that’s what I love about fiction—you can create this entire world that you control. And you can give it a resolution.

Oh, and how I deftly answered around your question? That should give you a little glimpse on how I deal with family drama. I duck and I swerve and I try not to say anything too incriminating.

You are such a huge supporter of other writers. Why do you feel this is important?
I love reading and I love books. There’s nothing I love more than a good book, so why not talk about it?

What are three things your readers might find interesting about your writing process? 

One: I dictated full chapters of this book on my Voice memo app on my iPhone. (See, above, regarding not losing ideas when they come to you!)

Two: I don’t have a set writing routine—I basically write whenever and wherever I have the time. Sometimes it’s the nursery school parking lot (thank you, Voice memo app!), but I prefer it to be in my office.

Three: I’ve always had vivid dreams and nightmares, but I think it’s a big part of my creative process. I keep a pad next to my bed at night since I often wake up in the middle of the night with an idea.

Have you recently discovered any debut authors you'd recommend? 

So many!

In the past year, I loved EVERYBODY RISE by Stephanie Clifford, SWEETBITTER by Stephanie Danler, EVERY ANXIOUS WAVE by Mo Daviau, A WINDOW OPENS by Elisabeth Egan, HUGO AND ROSE by Bridget Foley, LOVE AND MISS COMMUNICATION by Elyssa Friedland, MAESTRA by L.S. Hilton, BE FRANK WITH ME by Julia Claiborne Johnson, THE THE TWO-FAMILY HOUSE by Lynda Cohen Loigman, MADWOMAN UPSTAIRS by Catherine Lowell, THE ASSISTANTS by Camille Perri, THE NEST by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney, and DIETLAND by Sarai Walker.

What's up next for you?

I’m working on my sixth novel and doing lots of freelance work. I’m getting ready for the launch of THE DINNER PARTY and reading seemingly a million galleys for my PopSugar Best Reads of Summer list. Maybe somewhere in there, I’ll work in a nap, but it’s doubtful.

Thank you so much for having me here! 

Thank you, Brenda!

xoxo, Liz & Lisa

Brenda Janowitz's 5 Do's and a Do-Over

recipe for happy life-final copyOur guest today: Brenda Janowitz Why we love her: Check out her answers below--how can you not love her?

Her latest: Recipe For a Happy Life

The scoop: Hannah Goodman doesn't grow up like most kids on the Upper East side. Her mother, Gray, is an award-winning photojournalist with little time for the banalities of child-rearing, and when she's not jetting off to follow the latest scoop, she's camped out at the Hotel Chelsea. The closest thing Hannah's got to a traditional matriarch is her grandmother—a glamorous widow six times over with a sprawling Hampton’s estate. But Gray is determined that her daughter resist the siren song of the trust fund set, and make her own way in the world. So Hannah does just that—becoming a successful lawyer in New York City, and dating a handsome musician. Hannah has it all, or so it seems, until one hot June day the carefully constructed pieces of her life break apart. When she throws it all in and seeks solace at her grandmother's estate, she discovers that where happiness is concerned, you don’t have to stick to the recipe.

Our thoughts: You'll be very HAPPY if you treat yourself to this charming novel.

Giveaway: Two SIGNED copies!  Just leave a comment ans you'll be entered to win!  We'll choose the winners after 8am on August 3rd.

Fun Fact: Smarty Pants alert!  Brenda is also an esteemed attorney!

Where to read more about Brenda: Her website, Facebook and Twitter.


GCC-Brenda-Janowitz-official-headshot-710574I’m so thrilled to be here!!  I’ve been following your site for a while now, but I just needed a new book (ahem) so that I could come on and chat!

It’s been five years (five years!) since my last book came out, and I’m so delighted that RECIPE FOR A HAPPY LIFE is finally on bookshelves.  A lot of people have asked me about the title.  They want to know if it has anything to do with cooking (it does not), or if I can tell them the secret to a happy life (I can try).

As I imagined the grandmother character and the advice she would give to her granddaughter, I wanted her to be non-judgmental and focused solely on her granddaughter’s happiness.  The phrase “that’s not the recipe for a happy life” just came to me, and so it became something that Vivienne says to her granddaughter often. 

Since one of the themes of the book is finding happiness, it was a perfect fit for the title.  And I think it encourages a dialogue—what is the recipe for a happy life?  How can we find it?  Did any of the characters in the book find it?  Can we choose to be happy?  I’ve spent hours debating with friends the question of whether or not we can choose happiness.  (I think we can.)

With that, here are my 5 Do’s and a Do over: Happiness Edition

DO:  Choose to be happy.  You can either approach the day with a big smile or in anger.  Choose the smile. For me, I think that happiness is a choice. Yes, there are major life events that make choosing happiness impossible at times. When my mother had emergency open heart surgery, there was no happiness to be found until I knew she would be okay.  But what I’m talking about is regular day-to-day life. You can either be doing your work, at the supermarket, or picking up your kids with a smile on your face, or you can choose not to make the conscious effort to be happy. When the day gets you down, you can either get angry or laugh it off.

I’ve noticed that when I approach the day with a big smile on my face, it encourages me to be happier. And it makes those around me happier.


DO:  Find the things that will make you happy. Writing for me isn’t something I like to do—it’s something I need to do.  Writing is the way I figure out what I think of the world, the way I process things.

About a year ago, I was talking about some personal problems I was having to an old friend of mine (you know that sort of friend you’ve known since you were 18 years old?) and she listened and then asked: have you been writing?  And I had to admit it to myself and to her—I had not.  I told her so, and she looked back at me, no judgments, and simply nodded her head.

Writers need to write.  And when you’re nurturing yourself, allowing yourself to do the thing that you need to do, that always makes you happier.

What’s the thing that you need to do that makes you happy?

DOLaugh a lot. I laugh all the time.  Always have.  When I was in nursery school, my teacher told my mother that there was something wrong with me because all I ever did was laugh.  My mother promptly had that teacher fired.

And I’ve never stopped laughing.  Why not?  I always try to find the humor in everything.

DOTreasure wonderful friends and family. It’s so hard to find special people in your life.  When you do, grab on and don’t let go.  Nurture the important relationships in your life.  As I get older, I realize how important friends and family are.

DO Enjoy the tiny moments in life. So often we’re looking for that big thing.  When I get that promotion, I’ll be happy.  When I finally get married, I’ll be happy.  When I get my book deal, I’ll be happy.

What I’m suggesting is that we embrace the little moments—really soaking in that adorably crooked smile your hubby or boyfriend or crush gives you for no good reason, taking in the moment when your child does something adorable, appreciating that friend who buys you a cupcake one day just because.  It doesn’t have to be anything big—just appreciating life’s little victories, life’s tiniest moments of happy is important.  So, the next time someone complements your outfit out of nowhere, or you see a really beautiful flower, or the cashier lets you use an expired coupon, reflect on it for a second and remember: you have to enjoy the happy moments, no matter how itty-bitty.


It’s so easy to look back at mistakes you’ve made and beat yourself up over it, isn’t it?  Well, I say: look forward.  Sure, learn from those mistakes, but never dwell on them.  Say your apologies and then move on.

After the lesson’s learned, the only important thing is to move forward knowing that you’re smarter and stronger from the experience.  You’ll do better next time.  (And if not, the time after that!)

Thanks, Brenda!