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MPPL's staff blog about books, movies, music and the talent behind them.

Staff Pick: Embassytown by China Miéville

Picture of CathleenThe world-building in Embassytown is meticulous yet subtle, and it is a fascinating backdrop for a narrative in which an indecipherable language plays a central role in the dynamic between human colonists and the complicated beings on a distant planet. Complex, graceful, and perhaps perfect for any Arrival fans eager for next-level storytelling.

List: Your Novel is Too Long. It’s Also Great.

Today in the Tournament of Books (You are following, right? If not, let us remind you why you should) the post-judgment debate included advice to authors that no matter what it’s about, “Your novel is too long,” but after further consideration concluded, “Write it anyway.” This made us brainstorm lengthy-but-great books of our experience, and these are a sampling of those that must be mentioned:

Nix book coverThe Nix by Nathan Hill

2016. 625 pages.

Astonished to see the mother who abandoned him in childhood throwing rocks at a presidential candidate, a bored college professor struggles to reconcile the radical media depictions of his mother with his small-town memories and decides to draw her out by penning a tell-all biography.

 

 

1Q84 book cover1Q84 by Haruki Murakami

2011. 925 pages.

An ode to George Orwell’s 1984 told in alternating male and female voices relates the stories of Aomame, an assassin for a secret organization who discovers that she has been transported to an alternate reality, and Tengo, a mathematics lecturer and novice writer.

 

 

11_22_63 book cover11/22/63 by Stephen King

2011. 849 pages.

Receiving a horrific essay from a GED student with a traumatic past, high-school English teacher Jake Epping is enlisted by a friend to travel back in time to prevent the assassination of John F. Kennedy, a mission for which he must befriend troubled loner Lee Harvey Oswald.

 

 

Goldfinch book coverThe Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

2013. 771 pages. Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

A young boy in New York City, Theo Decker, miraculously survives an accident that takes the life of his mother. Alone and abandoned by his father, Theo is taken in by a friend’s family and struggles to make sense of his new life. In the years that follow, he becomes entranced by one of the few things that reminds him of his mother; a small, mysteriously captivating painting that ultimately draws Theo into the art underworld.

 

Seveneves book coverSeveneves by Neal Stephenson

2015. 867 pages.

A catastrophic event renders the Earth a ticking time bomb. In a feverish race against the inevitable, nations around the globe band together to devise an ambitious plan to ensure the survival of humanity in outer space. Five thousand years later, their progeny, seven distinct races now three billion strong, embark on yet another audacious journey into the unknown, to an alien world utterly transformed by cataclysm and time: Earth.

 

Luminaries book coverThe Luminaries by Eleanor Catton

2013. 834 pages. Winner of the Man Booker Prize.

In 1866, a weary Englishman lands in a remote gold-mining frontier town on the coast of New Zealand to make his fortune and forever leave behind his family’s shame. On arrival, he stumbles across a tense gathering of twelve local men who have met in secret to investigate what links three crimes that occurred on a single day, events in which each man finds himself implicated in some way.

 

Book Discussion Questions: Circling the Sun by Paula McLain

Circling the Sun book coverTitle: Circling the Sun
Author: Paula McLain
Page Count: 496 pages
Genre:  Historical Fiction, Biographical Fiction
Tone:  Atmospheric, Commanding

Summary:
Brings to life a fearless and captivating woman from recent history: Beryl Markham, a record-setting aviator caught up in a passionate love triangle with safari hunter Denys Finch Hatton and Karen Blixen, author of the classic memoir Out of Africa.

 

SPOILER WARNING:
These book discussion questions are highly detailed and will ruin plot points if you have not read the book.

The Library is happy to share these original questions for your use. If reproducing, please credit with the following statement:  2017 Mount Prospect Public Library. All rights reserved. Used with Permission.

1. Historical fiction based on real people has become a popular genre.  Why do you think this is?  How do you feel about novels based on real people?

2. Biographies have been written about Beryl Markham, and Markham herself wrote a memoir, West with the Night.  In your opinion, would having access to these works make it more or less challenging to create a fictionalized account of her life?

3. Were you familiar with Beryl Markham before you read Circling the Sun?  Did reading this book contribute to your understanding of her?

4. Are you curious about the parts of Markham’s life that McLain chose to not include?

5. How do you think the author meant to portray Beryl Markham?  Do you believe Beryl is portrayed in a positive light?

6. Do you believe first person narration helped you connect with Beryl as a character?

7. Does Beryl have a lot of agency in her own life?   How does she handle circumstances not within her control?  Did you disagree with any of her choices?

8. How did Beryl conduct her life within or against gender norms of the time?

9. Karen tells Beryl she admires her independence, to which Beryl replies, “I have fought for independence here, and freedom, too. More and more I find they’re not the same thing” (pg. 161).  How are the themes of independence and freedom explored in Circling the Sun?

10. Does the colonial setting complicate your opinion of the book?

11. Some readers have critiqued the novel’s emphasis on romantic pursuits at the expense of additional exploration of Markham’s accomplishments in horse training and aviation.  What are your thoughts on this?

12. Marveling over the new foal Pegasus, Beryl thinks, “Somehow this miraculous animal belonged to me: a bit of grace I hadn’t even known I was desperate for” (pg. 61). In her youth and early adulthood, how does Beryl connect with animals, and horses in particular?

13. In her memoir West with the Night, Beryl Markham wrote, “Africa is mystic; it is wild; it is a sweltering inferno; it is a photographer’s paradise, a hunter’s Valhalla, an escapist’s Utopia.  It is what you will, and it withstands all interpretations.  … It is all these things but one thing – it is never dull” (pg. 8).  How did the setting of Circling the Sun contribute to your understanding of Africa in the early 20th century?  How important was Kenya to Markham?

14. Toward the end of West with the Night, Markham wrote, “A life has to move or it stagnates.  Even this life, I think. … Every tomorrow ought not to resemble every yesterday” (pg. 238).  Do you think Circling the Sun captures Markham’s zeal for variety?

OTHER RESOURCES:

Discussions questions written by publisher
Lit Lovers’ reading guide
McLain on the story
behind Circling the Sun
Photo gallery provided by publisher
New York Times article on Beryl Markham
NPR book review on Circling the Sun
Video of Paula McLain discussing her work
Longitude Blog’s interview with Paula McLain

READALIKES:

The Ashford Affair book coverThe Ashford Affair
by Lauren Willig

Twain's End book coverTwain’s End
by Lynn Cullen

Boleto book coverBoleto
by Alyson Hagy

Staff Pick: The Joy of Less by Francine Jay

Picture of JoyceI’m not a minimalist, but I’m slowly working towards it. I don’t want stuff to dominate my life. Do you have clothes in your closet that are three sizes smaller than what you currently wear? Are you holding onto items from your parents that you will never use? Do you have ten sets of sheets but only own two beds? Then The Joy of Less is the book for you! Too much stuff weighs us down, takes up our time, and clutters our homes and minds.  Author Francine Jay encourages us to deal with clutter, get rid of excess, and live happily with less.

List: Beauties and Beasts in Love

A tale as old as time… but that doesn’t stop romantics through the years thrilling to the story of a heroine who sees past an animal-like exterior to recognize a noble heart beneath. Today is the release of Disney’s remake of its celebrated Beauty and the Beast, and we are marking the occasion with a collection of re-imaginings for adult readers.

When Beauty Tamed the Beast book coverWhen Beauty Tamed the Beast
by Eloisa James
The Earl of Marchant lives in a castle in Wales where, it is rumored, his bad temper flays everyone he crosses. Rumor also has it that a wound has left the earl immune to the charms of any woman.  However, Miss Linnet is not just any woman.
Beauty book coverBeauty
by Susan Wilson
Traveling to New Hampshire to paint a portrait, Alix finds a man hideously deformed by a rare genetic disease, but as she spends hours working on the portrait, she discovers the magnificent man inside the recluse.
Lair of the Lion book coverLair of the Lion
by Christine Feehan
To rescue her imprisoned brother, Isabella is willing to brave the fabled lair of the lion. When the imposing figure commands her to become his bride, she agrees in the hope she can save his tortured soul.

 

Bride and the Beast book coverThe Bride and the Beast
by Teresa Medeiros
Sent into a ruined castle as a sacrificial victim for a dragon, Gwendolyn Wilder finds herself instead lured into the castle lord’s luxurious bed.
Simply Love book coverSimply Love
by Mary Balogh
While on a summer holiday in Wales, Anne meets Sydnam Butler, a taciturn hero of the Peninsula Wars. Gentle yet courageous, but also wounded, he is unlike any man she has ever encountered.
To Beguile a Beast book coverTo Beguile a Beast
by Elizabeth Hoyt
Socialite Helen takes a job as a housekeeper in a crumbling Scottish castle, where she refuses to let the beast-like Sir Alastair scare her away with his surliness and scars.

 

Beauty and the Clockwork Beast book coverBeauty and the Clockwork Beast
by Nancy Campbell Allen
When Lucy, a botanist famous for her vampire research, arrives at Blackwell Manor to tend to her sick cousin, she finds that mysteries abound. A restless ghost roams the hallways, and Lord Miles is clearly hiding a secret.
Fire Rose book coverThe Fire Rose
by Mercedes Lackey
Accepting a governess position after her father’s death, Rosalind is disturbed when her only contact with her new employer is through a speaking tube, but she finds joy in her assignment–to read wonderful literature to him.
Yours Until Dawn book coverYours Until Dawn
by Teresa Medeiros
Blinded in battle, war hero Gabriel lives as a recluse in his family’s mansion, until the arrival of nurse Samantha, who sets out to heal not only the arrogant earl’s body, but also his heart and mind.

 

Hearts Blood book coverHeart’s Blood
by Judith Marillier
Anluan has been crippled since childhood, part of a curse that has besieged his family. When the young scribe Caitrin is retained to sort through documents, she brings about unexpected changes in the household.
Chocolate Rose book coverThe Chocolate Rose
by Laura Florand
Hot-tempered Gabriel isn’t above blackmail to get what he wants, but what he wants might be the daughter of his worst enemy. In the heat and sun of Provence, with roses, fountains, and ancient stone villages, even a beast can prove he is a prince at heart . . .
Beauty and the Werewolf book coverBeauty and the Werewolf
by Mercedes Lackey
Bella finds herself attacked by a wolf…who turns out to be a cursed nobleman. Secluded in his castle, she is torn between her family and this strange man who creates marvelous inventions and makes her laugh– when he isn’t howling at the moon.

 

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