Reading Guides

Sweet Nothings
Janis Thomas
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When Ruby McMillan's husband announces one morning that he's dumping her for another woman, she's unable to decide which indignity stings the most: the dissolution of their eighteen-year marriage or the deflation of her white-chocolate soufflé with raspberry Grand Marnier sauce. Without a good-bye to their two teenaged children, Walter leaves Ruby to cope with her ruined dessert, an unpaid mortgage, and her failing bakery.

For as long as she can remember, Ruby has done what's practical, eschewing far-fetched dreams and true love in favor of stability. But, suddenly single again at the age of forty-four, she's beginning to discover that life is most delicious when you stop following a recipe and just live.


Janis Thomas, a native Californian, lives in Orange County with her husband, their two children, and their dog, Ruby. Janis has written more than fifty songs and (with her dad) two children's books, and is also an avid baker. She is also the author of Something New.


  1. Ruby has a clever, culinary way of characterizing all the people who come in and out of her life: her estranged husband, Walter, reminds her of shortbread; she refers to her mortgage broker, Jacob, as a Baked Alaska. Her daughter Colleen is a seven layer dream bar, "who is capable of being any or all layers at a time" (9). What sweet delicacy would you characterize yourself as and why? Discuss.

  2. Ruby admits to feeling that Walter's departure was inevitable: "I never loved him the way he wanted me to" (127). How do Walter and Ruby love differently? Discuss the concepts of comfortable love versus passsionate love. What type of love is the best foundation for a long and fulfilling marriage? How do Ruby and Walter's views on love influence their decisions in life? Is true love a license to love outside a marriage or a relationship?

  3. Social media websites such as Facebook can be seen as a way to develop and maintain friendships. However, they can also be viewed as a voluntary forfeit of privacy and an invitation to investigation. Discuss the effect that social media has on the characters in this book. How has it changed the way they view relationships? How would Ruby's social life have changed without the presence of Facebook? How does social media empower individuals in her community?

  4. "I'm frightened of the unknowable future and angry at a past that includes eighteen years that feel remarkably like wasted time" (55). What external factors and experiences have shaped Ruby's opinion of divorce and separation? Are failed marriages truly a waste of time? Why do some women see them this way while some see them as just another part of their history? How does Ruby's outlook on her situation change throughout the story? Describe how Ruby comes to terms with the breakdown of her marriage.

  5. Issues of physical beauty, body image, and self-acceptance appear often in this story. What effect do clubs like Little Princesses have on the mothers and daughters who participate? What do organizations like this tell us about the values in our society? Which character do you feel is most conflicted with physical insecurities? How does this person combat this lack of confidence?

  6. How do the characters in this book overcome their moments of anxiety? Does Ruby's recipe method actually help her during these incidents? How do her children handle their problems? Which character's pressure management techniques do more damage than good, and why? Whose stress technique do you most identify with and why?

  7. Ruby's inner monologue plays a very vocal role in her life. How often does she enjoy the moment rather than overanalyzing the situation? How do men and women differ in terms of rationalizing and living impulsively? Discuss how this outlook on life changes with age and experience. In what ways does this inner voice help or hinder Ruby from achieving her goals in life, love, and business?

  8. Ruby's mother has always been an enormous source of inspiration and support to her. Unfortunately, Estelle Simmons's battle with Alzheimer's disease has drastically changed that role in recent years. How does caring for the person who once cared for her change Ruby? How do these visits with her mother help Ruby through difficult times? What part of Estelle's history plays a crucial part in guiding her daughter through an impending divorce?

  9. Best Friends. Loyal workers. Respectful students. Several strong female characters surround Ruby's life. How do these women help and support one another? Which of these women does Ruby learn the most from and why? What influence does Ruby have on the women around her? In addition to Ruby, which female character undergoes the biggest transformation of her own?

  10. Ruby's ongoing struggle with confidence evolves while being a mother, a co-owner of a bakery and a teacher. Which moments define the development of her newfound self-assurance? Do any experiences set her back momentarily? Which characters assist her and which ones threaten to stand in her way?

  11. What does Ruby learn about herself and her emotions during her trip to Sunny Hills Bed and Breakfast with Jacob? How does her intimacy with him compare to the intimacy she shared with her husband of eighteen years? How does their failure to connect that night make Ruby feel?

  12. Ruby is faced with the advances of a handsome young student named Shane. How does this make Ruby feel? Do you think her reaction would have been different if Jacob were not in the picture? How would she have responded if her daughter had not met and exhibited feelings for Shane? What does this admirer mean to Ruby? How do Shane's actions change the way Ruby views herself?

  13. What does the story of Princess Mayblossom represent to Ruby? How does this fairytale echo her life? In the story, what do the attackers on the island symbolize, and why do you think the ambassador chooses to protect the princess from their assault? What major lesson can be learned from this book? What is more meaningful to her: the story itself or the passing down of the book from generation to generation?

  14. The anticipation leading up to Ruby and Jacob's first time together is as intense as the lovemaking itself. However, Jacob is immediately pulled away from this romantic encounter by answering a phone call from his ex-wife. How could Jacob have better handled this situation? Where should Jacob's priorities have been after such an intimate encounter? Why do you think Ruby suddenly missed Walter after Jacob walked out?

  15. Part of Ruby's journey focuses around making the right bet on a partner. Why do you think it took Ruby so long to realize what she really needed and deserved? Why is Walter so confident that Ruby will take him back after so much time has passed? What behavior does Walter reveal that makes it clear to Ruby that she has outgrown him? Do you think Ruby would have taken Walter back before Jacob entered into her life? Was there ever a point when you feel Walter could have successfully reconciled with Ruby?