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Book Discussion Questions: Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline

Cover of The Orphan TrainTitle: Orphan Train
Author: Christina Baker Kline
Page Count: 278 pages
Genre:  Historical Fiction
Tone: Thoughtful, Poignant, Sobering

Summary from publisher:
Penobscot Indian Molly Ayer is close to “aging out” out of the foster care system. A community service position helping an elderly woman clean out her home is the only thing keeping Molly out of juvie and worse…

As she helps Vivian sort through her possessions and memories, Molly learns that she and Vivian aren’t as different as they seem to be. A young Irish immigrant orphaned in New York City, Vivian was put on a train to the Midwest with hundreds of other children whose destinies would be determined by luck and chance.

Molly discovers that she has the power to help Vivian find answers to mysteries that have haunted her for her entire life – answers that will ultimately free them both.

Rich in detail and epic in scope, Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline is a powerful novel of upheaval and resilience, of unexpected friendship, and of the secrets we carry that keep us from finding out who we are.

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

1. Were the orphan trains a good thing? Why or why not? What, if any, better options were available at the time?

2. What did you notice about the style of writing and how this story was put together?

3. Thinking back on the children that were highlighted in the book, Carmine, Dutchy and Niamh, what were the motivations of the families who took in these orphans? How did these differing motivations affect the children’s lives?

4. What similarities or differences are there between the past as shown in the story and our present foster care system?

5. In what ways are Molly and Vivian similar? How are they different?

6. Do you have things that you don’t use or are stored away but you can’t part with? What are those things and why do you keep them?

7. What would a timeline of Vivian’s life look like? Use a white board to diagram this or just do it verbally. What characterizes each segment of her life?

8. What would a timeline of Molly’s life look like? What characterizes each segment of her life?

9. “You can’t find peace till you find all the pieces.” How is this true in Vivian’s life? How is it true in Molly’s life?

10. Molly’s charms on her necklace are mentioned throughout the story. What is their significance? What did Vivian’s Claddagh cross and Molly’s charms mean to them?

11. How has Molly changed Vivian’s life? How has Vivian changed Molly’s life?

12.  Read the prologue aloud to the group. Having read the book and rereading the prologue what does this tell you about Vivian’s view of the people in her past? What does this show about her character?

13. How did you feel about the way the author ended the story? Is Vivian’s happy ending enough?

14. If you were to write additional chapters to the book what would happen to Vivian, to Molly?

15. The American Experience, a PBS show, has a program on the orphan trains. There was also a movie made in 1979 called The Orphan Train. Do you think this book will come to the big screen? Would you want to see it?

Other Resources

Lit Lovers’ Discussion Questions
Video interview with Christina Baker Kline
History of orphan trains from The Children’s Aid Society
Huffington Post interview with Christina Baker Kline

If you liked The Orphan Train, try...

Cover of The Forgotten SeamstressCover of Austerlitz Cover of The Language of Flowers

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Forgotten Seamstress by Liz Trenow
Austerlitz by W.G. Sebald
The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

By Jenny, Readers' Advisor on January 21, 2015 Categories: Book Discussion Questions, Books, Historical Fiction

Book Discussion Questions: Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese

Cover of Cutting for StoneTitle: Cutting for Stone
Author: Abraham Verghese
Page Count: 688 pages
Genre:  Literary Fiction,  Family Sagas
Tone: Haunting, Moving, Richly Detailed

Summary from publisher:
Marion and Shiva Stone are twin brothers born of a secret union between a beautiful Indian nun and a brash British surgeon. Orphaned by their mother’s death and their father’s disappearance, bound together by a preternatural connection and a shared fascination with medicine, the twins come of age as Ethiopia hovers on the brink of revolution.

Moving from Addis Ababa to New York City and back again, Cutting for Stone is an unforgettable story of love and betrayal, medicine and ordinary miracles—and two brothers whose fates are forever intertwined

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

“Writing has many similarities to the practice of internal medicine. Both require astute observation and a fondness for detail.”

“At heart I am a physician. It is my first and only calling. As a physician, things move me, and one way to talk about these things is to write about them. For me writing and medicine are not different parts, it is seamless, the same world view: fiction and healing promote the same cause.
~Abraham Verghese

1. As you reflect on this complex story, which scenes stand out in your memory? Why did those particular moments have such impact?

2. At the end of chapter 31 (379-380), Marion reflects on his home, including this statement: “I felt ecstatic, as if I was at the epicenter of our family…” Does this seem arrogant or appropriate for an adolescent to say? In what ways is Marion the epicenter of the book?

3. In what ways is Shiva something of a mystery to the reader? [Also consider, “’What I do is simple. I repair holes,’ said Shiva Praise Stone. Yes, but you make them, too, Shiva.” (577)]

4. Talk about Marion’s parting from his family when he is forced to leave the country (444).

5. Think about how the character of Genet is portrayed at different points. [e.g., “I wanted out of Africa. I began to think that Genet had done me a favor after all.” (457) and “she found her greatness, at last, found it in her suffering.” (601)] How is she integral to the story? How do you feel about her?

6. For a story that most often takes place in small settings with few people, somehow it has an epic “feel”. How is that?

7. When Ghosh returns from prison (350-351), he and Marion talk about a well-known story about a man who couldn’t rid himself of his slippers.

“The slippers in the story mean that everything you see and do and touch, every seed you sow, or don’t sow, becomes part of your destiny.”

Ghosh then shares about his past and has a lesson for Marion.

“I hope one day you see this as clearly as I did…The key to your happiness is to own your slippers, own who you are, own how you look, own your family, own the talents you have, and own the ones you don’t. If you keep saying your slippers aren’t yours, then you’ll die searching, you’ll die bitter, always feeling you were promised more. Not only our actions, but also our omissions, become our destiny.”

Do you agree? Are these sentiments borne out in the novel? What is the role of fate throughout?

8. In what ways is this book about legacy? About exile? Betrayal? Forgiveness?

9. Marion states that he became a physician not to save the world but to heal himself. Do you think he was healed in the end?

10. What do the female characters in the book reveal about what life is like for women in Ethiopia?

11. Did the medical detail add to the novel or detract from it?

12. The latter portion of the book contains commentary on medical practice in America, especially regarding foreign physicians (e.g., 492). Did this seem significant to you?

13. Did “The Afterbird” offer closure for you? For the characters? How did you react to its revelations?

14. Remember Stone’s favorite question? [What treatment in an emergency is administered by ear? words of comfort] How is this poignant, especially given Stone’s choices and manner?

15. What is the role of sexuality in Cutting for Stone? How would you characterize the scenes that are depicted, especially between Marion and Genet?

16. What romantic relationships are central to the story? How so?

17. Though the book earned excellent reviews, it wasn’t in nearly as much demand as it seems to be now. Why do you think that is? With over 600 pages, it isn’t an easy choice for book groups, but that doesn’t seem to be a concern. Did the length bother you?

18. Few works of fiction include a bibliography or an acknowledgment section which credits many literary allusions included in the story. Does this affect your opinion of the book?

19.Verghese said that his aim in writing Cutting for Stone was “to tell a great story, an old-fashioned, truth-telling story.” He has also said “my ambition was to write a big sweeping novel into which you could disappear, travel away as though in a space-ship, disappear, meet exciting people, and return to find that only a couple of days had passed in real life. That’s what happens to me when I am reading a good book.” In your opinion, did he succeed?

Other Resources

Lit Lovers book discussion questions
One Book One City resources
Video of Abraham Verghese discussing Cutting for Stone
Frequently asked questions answered by Abraham Verghese
Radio interview with Verghese on Ethiopia

If you liked Cutting for Stone, try...

Cover of Desirable DaughtersCover of Beneath the Lion's Gaze Cover of God of Small Things

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Desirable Daughters by Bharati Mukherjee
Beneath the Lion’s Gaze by Maaza Mengiste
The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy

By Jenny, Readers' Advisor on January 14, 2015 Categories: Book Discussion Questions, Books, Literary

Book Discussion Questions: The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman

Cover of The Light Between OceansTitle: The Light Between Oceans
Author: M.L. Stedman
Page Count:  345 pages
Genre:  Historical Fiction
Tone:  Haunting, Melancholy

Excerpted summary from publisher:

After four harrowing years on the Western Front, Tom Sherbourne returns to Australia and takes a job as the lighthouse keeper on Janus Rock, nearly half a day’s journey from the coast. To this isolated island, where the supply boat comes once a season, Tom brings a young, bold, and loving wife, Isabel. Years later, after two miscarriages and one stillbirth, the grieving Isabel hears a baby’s cries on the wind. A boat has washed up onshore carrying a dead man and a living baby.

 

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

1. Who was wronged in the book? Whose story would you say this is?

2. Are any of the characters “bad?” If so, who? What makes a person warrant the description “bad?”

3. How would you describe Tom? Why does he enjoy his lightkeeper duties?

4. Why does Isabel want to marry Tom? Why does he agree? What are his hesitations?

5. Did you find Tom and Isabel’s courtship convincing? Do you understand their attraction to one another and their decision to marry?

6. What are some of the signs and hints of Isabel’s manipulative nature early on in the book?

7. Which character were you rooting for more than the others?

8. Was there a character you identified with more? If so, did this change as you read the book?

9. Was there any one character that frustrated you more than others?

10. How does Tom’s quietness play a role in the story? What about Isabel’s quietness?

11. Are Tom and Isabel a mystery to each other?

12. As the reader, are Tom and Isabel mysteries to you as well? Do you feel you know Tom better or Isabel better?

13. How does Tom’s experience in the war affect his relationship with Isabel, being a lightkeeper, and response to the baby arriving?

14. Do you think the pregnancy and childbirth losses they went through affect the right or wrong of keeping the baby? Does knowing what they went through affect your judgment of their choices?

15. Tom and Isabel live a solitary life. How would their response to baby arriving been different if they weren’t isolated on island? How would their marriage have been different?

16. How did you respond to the focus on various characters in town in Part 3? Do you like the variety or is the book better when focused on Tom and Isabel?

17. What does it mean to be an “outsider” and how does that affect one’s perception?

Other Resources

An interview with M.L. Stedman
The Light Between Oceans Reading Group Guide
One Book One City Resources
Lit Lovers’ Discussion Questions
Reflection on a Light Between Oceans book discussion

If you liked The Light Between Oceans, try...

Cover of The OrchardistCover of The Lightkeeper's WifeCover of Latitudes of Melt

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin
The Lightkeeper’s Wife by Karen Viggers
Latitudes of Melt by Joan Clark

 

By Jenny, Readers' Advisor on December 31, 2014 Categories: Book Discussion Questions, Books, Historical Fiction

Book Discussion Questions: The Wednesday Sisters by Meg Waite Clayton

Cover of The Wednesday SistersTitle: The Wednesday Sisters
Author: Meg Waite Clayton
Page Count:  288 pages
Genre:  Women’s lives and relationships
Tone:  Heartwarming, character-driven

Excerpted summary from publisher:

When five young mothers—Frankie, Linda, Kath, Ally, and Brett—first meet in a neighborhood park in the late 1960s, their conversations center on marriage, raising children, and a shared love of books. Then one evening, as they gather to watch the Miss America Pageant, Linda admits that she aspires to write a novel herself, and the Wednesday Sisters Writing Society is born.. In the process, they explore the changing world around them: the Vietnam War, the race to the moon, and a women’s movement that challenges everything they believe about themselves. At the same time, the friends carry one another through more personal changes—ones brought about by infidelity, longing, illness, failure, and success.

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

1. The first character we meet is Frankie.  She’s from Chicago but moves across the country to Palo Alto with her husband and two young children.  What kind of person is she?  What is it that brings her together with the other women in the park?

2. The next character we meet is Bret.  She is unique for wearing white gloves after that style is out of fashion.  We don’t find out why she wears them until much later in the book.  What did you think about the gloves? Were you surprised by why she wears them?

3. What was the significance of the mansion by the park?  What did it represent to the women and to the time period in which they lived?  Who was the person they saw walking around in the mansion? Why was she there?

4. Are the friendships realistic?  Do they seem similar to some of your own friendships?

5. Why was Frankie able to confess that she was trying to write a novel to Danny’s boss but not Danny?

6. This book takes place in the late ’60s at a time when things were beginning to change more rapidly for women in the United States, yet a lot of the old conventions were still in place.  In what ways did that affect the opportunities these women had, both in their personal lives and in their professional lives?

7. Some notable historical events that occurred at this time: moon landing, assassination of Bobby Kennedy, women’s liberation movement, and the Pentagon Papers.  Was this time in history particularly significant and/or more fraught with turbulence and change than periods since?  In what ways did that affect the characters and their generation?

8. Ally’s husband is Indian and they have trouble having a baby.  In what way does that affect her relationships in the group?  Does having or not having children not affect the women’s relationships amongst each other?

9. What do the books the sisters read say about them?

10. Frankie wanted to reinvent herself when she got to California.  She wanted to be called Mary rather than Frankie.  She imagined herself hosting parties and attending parties with her husband’s colleagues.  Was she able to reinvent herself?  How was her life similar or different to what she imagined?

11. How did Danny’s intelligence and success affect Frankie’s view of herself and their relationship?

12. Danny leaves his stable company to start a new venture in Metal Oxide Semiconductor chips without asking Frankie her opinion.  How does this make her feel?  Is this lack of communication indicative of the time they lived in or specific to their relationship?

13. What was the significance of the Miss America pageants to the women?  Why did they initially get together to watch it?  Over the course of the book, how did their feelings change?

14. In chapter 13, the sisters went to the funeral parlor and sat in a coffin.  What did that mean to the sisters?  (Page 84-85)

15. What do you think of the guidelines for mastectomy, as Linda experienced?  Was she powerless in the treatment process?

16. The women are so close to Stanford University and some encourage Frankie to go take classes there but she doesn’t feel like she can.  Why not?

17. The Wednesday Sisters have a big schism after they find out that Ally’s husband is Indian.  Why did Jim’s being Indian cause such a rift between the sisters?

18. What did you think of the scene on the Johnny Carson show?  How did the show mark a changing point in the lives of the sisters?

Other Resources

Discussion starter kit provided by author
Video of authors@Google talk with Meg Waite Clayton
Lit Lovers’ Discussion Questions
Interview with Meg Waite Clayton
Reading Group Guide

If you liked The Wednesday Sisters, try...

Cover of The Sweet By and ByCover of The Reading Group Cover of South of Broad

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Sweet By and By by Todd Johnson
The Reading Group by Elizabeth Noble
South of Broad by Pat Conroy

By Jenny, Readers' Advisor on December 3, 2014 Categories: Book Discussion Questions, Books

Book Discussion Questions: The Lobster Chronicles by Linda Greenlaw

Cover of The Lobster ChroniclesTitle: The Lobster Chronicles
Author: Linda Greenlaw
Page Count:  238 pages
Genre: Travel writing
Tone:  Richly detailed, Character driven, Nostalgic

Excerpted summary from publisher:
After 17 years at sea, Linda Greenlaw decided it was time to take a break and move back home to a tiny island off the Maine coast to pursue a simpler life as a lobsterman and find a husband. But all doesn’t go as planned. The lobsters refuse to crawl out, fellow islanders draw her into bizarre intrigues, and the eligible bachelors prove elusive. But just when she thinks things can’t get worse, something happens forcing her to reevaluate everything she thought she knew about life, luck, and lobsters. Filled with nautical detail and the dramas of small-town life, The Lobster Chronicles is a celebration of family and community.

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

1. What did the author hope to accomplish by writing this novel? Was this strictly a story of a typical season of lobstering as the author mentioned in “The Note From the Author?”

2. Do you feel you learned a lot about the lobstering business from reading this book?

3. Does the life of lobstering appeal to you?

4. How would you describe a typical small-island lobsterman? What personality traits do lobstermen share? Why do they choose this profession?

5. What are the pros and cons of living on a small island like Isle au Haut?

6. Did you like the author’s writing style?

7. Did you find this story funny? If so, what parts stand out as humorous?

8. Linda Greenlaw has a college degree. Why did she decide to fish and then lobster rather than get a “real job” like her parents wished she would do?

9. Why do you think her parents said they wished she would get a “real job”? Do you think they really meant it? Did you find it ironic that her dad quit his “real job” and joined her in lobstering?

10. On page 207, did Linda waste her education fishing and/or lobstering? Do you agree that whatever path a person takes, “education is always being used?”

11. Was Linda a good business person?

12. How did you feel about the way Linda handled her gay helper Stern-Fabio?

13. Describe Linda’s relationship with her father.

14. Were you surprised (on page 106) how strongly Linda felt about removing the mainlanders’ gear from the islanders’ protected area – when the rest of the islands gave up so easily? Why was she so passionate about this compared to how laid back she was when Stern-Fabio stole her truck?

15. On page 221, why did the author include the chapter on Dorothea “Dotty” Dodge, the lady that she didn’t know very well?

16. After reading the book, did you believe the author when she said, “As proud as I am to say I’m an islander, nothing makes me prouder than to say, ‘I’m a fisherman.’ And that is not apt to change.”?

17. What were your thoughts when Linda told us that she is building a year-round home, but is undecided about how much of the year she will stay?

Other Resources

Linda Greenlaw’s writing process
Greenlaw on BookTV (starts at 8:20)
Guide to Lobstering in Maine

If you liked The Lobster Chronicles, try…

Cover of Four Wings and a Prayer Cover of The Perfect Storm Cover of The Secret Life of Lobsters

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Four Wings and a Prayer by Sue Halpern
The Perfect Storm by Sebastian Junger
The Secret Life of Lobsters by Trevor Corson

By Jenny, Readers' Advisor on November 19, 2014 Categories: Book Discussion Questions, Nonfiction

Book Discussion Questions: The Dive From Clausen’s Pier by Ann Packer

Cover of The Dive From Clausen's PierTitle: The Dive From Clausen’s Pier
Author: Ann Packer
Page Count: 432 pages
Genre: Coming of Age
Tone:  Moving, bittersweet

Summary from publisher:

At the age of twenty-three Carrie Bell has spent her entire life in Wisconsin, with the same best friend and the same dependable, easygoing, high school sweetheart. Now to her dismay she has begun to find this life suffocating and is considering leaving it–and Mike–behind. But when Mike is paralyzed in a diving accident, leaving seems unforgivable and yet more necessary than ever. The Dive from Clausen’s Pier animates this dilemma–and Carrie’s startling response to it–with the narrative assurance, exacting realism, and moral complexity we expect from the very best fiction.

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

1. This is Packer’s first novel. Why do you think it has become so popular? What is the appeal?

2. Packer originally wrote this in the 3rd person, but then rewrote it in the first person. Would you have felt differently about the book had she left it in the 3rd person? How and why?

3. What contrasts did you find in the book, whether in personalities or in other areas?

4. What was the major theme or themes of the story?

5. Carrie asks the question on page 133, “How much do we owe the people we love?” How much do we owe them? How does she answer this question thru her actions in the book? Does her answer change throughout the book? How?

6. What are the different perceptions people have of Carrie’s going to New York? What are her perceptions?

7. Carrie is feeling guilty about leaving and she asks her mother, What kind of person does that make me? Her mother replies, the kind of person you are. You could just have easily have stayed. But that wouldn’t make you a good person any more than leaving makes you a bad one. You’re already made, honey. That’s what I mean. Are people defined by what they do, or by how others perceive them, or by neither?

8. Compare or contrast Mike and Kilroy’s characters. What attracted Carrie to both of them? Were you surprised to find out that Kilroy was forty?

9. What was Carrie’s relationship to Mike based on? What about your relationship to Kilroy?

10. Jamie and Lane are both Carrie’s friends but they are very different also. On page 254 Packer describes their relationships. Do you see a relation between the two female friend characters and the two lovers of Carrie? How?

11. What part does sewing play in the story? How does it change throughout the book?

12. How far can we escape our upbringing? How does that question relate to Carrie? How about to Kilroy?

13. Does finding out the mystery of his family, both meeting his parents, and finding out about his brother’s death explain who Kilroy is? Why or why not?

14. What makes Carrie finally return home? Does guilt or obligation make her decide to stay or is it something else – what? Is she settling, giving up or being true to herself?

15. At the end of the book Mike asks,
“We never would have gotten married would we?”
“I don’t know,” I said, “It was beginning to seem like not the best idea.”
“I think I know why,” he said. “It was like we already were married – we’d gone too far.” What does Mike mean by saying that? What went wrong or changed in Carrie’s and Mike’s relationship? Did Carrie or Mike change, or did their circumstances change, or both?

16. Envision an inverted version of the book written from Mike’s point of view in which Carrie had the accident. How might their lives have played out differently? What does this exercise reveal about their relationship and Carrie’s character?

Other Resources
Lit Lovers’ Discussion Questions
Reading group guide from publisher
Video of Ann Packer on writing
An interview with Ann Packer

If you liked The Dive From Clausen’s Pier, try…

Cover of SwimmingCover of Broken for YouCover of My Sister's Keeper

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Swimming by Joanna Hershon
Broken for You by Stephanie Kallos
My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult

By Jenny, Readers' Advisor on November 5, 2014 Categories: Book Discussion Questions, Books

Book Discussion Questions: The Pale Blue Eye by Louis Bayard

Cover of The Pale Blue EyeTitle: The Pale Blue Eye
Author: Louis Bayard
Page Count: 412 pages
Genre: Historical Mystery
Tone:  Plot-driven, literary, intricate

Summary from publisher:
At West Point Academy in 1830, the calm of an October evening is shattered by the discovery of a young cadet’s body swinging from a rope. The next morning, an even greater horror comes to light. Someone has removed the dead man’s heart. Augustus Landor—who acquired some renown in his years as a New York City police detective—is called in to discreetly investigate. It’s a baffling case Landor must pursue in secret, but he finds help from an unexpected ally—a moody, young cadet with a penchant for drink, two volumes of poetry to his name, and a murky past that changes from telling to telling named Edgar Allan Poe.

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

1. Was Poe what you expected? Did his character fit with what you already knew? Did Poe’s character surprise you at all?

2. Did you ever suspect or doubt Poe?

3.Did you trust Poe’s accounts? Did he embellish? Was he objective?

4.What would the story have been without Poe? Why include him? Is it a gimmick? A distraction? Is the narrative better for his inclusion? Is the story more about the mystery/investigation or more about Poe?

5. Are Landor and Poe well-matched? Do they complement each other? Are they good or bad for each other?

6. Why do you think Landor and Poe “clicked” so quickly and well?

7. Why did West Point bring Landor in?  What does this reveal about the culture of West Point and about Landor? What was his style as an investigator?

8. In the development of the story, were you curious about Landor’s backstory? His private life? Was this changed at the end? In retrospect, were the clues laid?

9. Turning our attention to other characters, what did you make of Mr. Allan?

10. What do you make of each one of the Marquis family?

11. What is the significance of “the pale blue eye”? To whom does it first refer to? How about later in the story?

12. What is the allusion to Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart”?

13. Did the solution/revelation surprise you? Was this a satisfactory mystery?

14. What did you notice about the writing and the language? Were there times Poe/Bayard tried too hard, was too flowery, was too indirect, or did you appreciate the expressiveness, the images evoked?

15. Did the juxtaposition of language/poetry with the grisly mystery work or did it clash? Did the pacing seem uneven or not?

16. Did the historical details ring true? Were they well-chosen?

17. Is it believable that Poe would keep the secret? Do you believe he was behind Stoddard’s death?

18. Does Poe’s ordeal give him reason/foundation for rest of life’s writing?

19. Would Poe have approved of this story? Is it like him?

20. To what kind of reader would you recommend this book to?

Other Resources

Lit Lover’s Reading Guide
Biography of Edgar Allan Poe
West Point Military Academy history
Video of Louis Bayard describing his first two books

If you liked The Pale Blue Eye, try…

Cover of The Technologists Cover of Without Mercy Cover of Interpretation of Murder

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Technologists by Matthew Pearl
Without Mercy by Lisa Jackson
The Interpretation of Murder by Jed Rubenfeld

By Jenny, Readers' Advisor on October 22, 2014 Categories: Book Discussion Questions, Mysteries/Thrillers/Suspense

Book Discussion Questions: The Tiger’s Wife by Téa Obreht

Cover of The Tiger's WifeTitle: The Tiger’s Wife
Author: Téa Obreht
Page Count: 338 pages
Genre: Literary fiction
Tone:  Mystical, Haunting, Lyrical

Summary from publisher:
In a Balkan country mending from war, Natalia, a young doctor, is compelled to unravel the mysterious circumstances surrounding her beloved grandfather’s recent death. Searching for clues, she turns to his worn copy of The Jungle Book and the stories he told her of his encounters over the years with “the deathless man.” But most extraordinary of all is the story her grandfather never told her–the legend of the tiger’s wife.

 

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

1. Did it bother you that there were no actual geographical or time period references?

2. How did the time-shifting aspects of the book affect your experience of the story?

3. Natalia and Zora were together on a mission trip when she finds out that her grandfather had died. Why doesn’t she tell Zora?

4. Zora is in a predicament. There is a malpractice case brought up against a man who is well connected in the medical community. Her dilemma is whether to “stick it to the man she despised for years and risking a career and reputation she was just beginning to build.” She tells Natalia that she wants to ask her grandfathers’ opinion. What advice do you think he would have given her? What would you do?

5. “Swear to me on your life that you didn’t know.” Why didn’t Natalia admit to her grandmother that she knew her grandfather was sick?

6. As Natalia and her grandfather are watching the elephant walk down the street in the middle of the night, Natalia said, “None of my friends will ever believe this.” Her grandfather replied, “The story of the war that belongs to everyone, but something like this, this is yours and belongs only to us.” What do you think he means by this?

7. There are so many references to The Jungle Book and Shere Khan in this novel. Do you see any parallels between Shere Khan of The Jungle Book and the tiger?

8. Why was Barba Ivan’s dog Bis painted by everyone?

9. Leandro understood that part of the tiger was Shere Khan but he has always felt some compassion for Shere Khan. Why do you think that is?

10. How did you feel reading the story from the tiger’s perspective?

11. There are many other animals in this story (parrot, dog, owl, bear). Does their presence have a deeper meaning?

12. Was Dure a good father?

13. Luko, Jovo and the blacksmith go out to kill the tiger after it was seen in the smokehouse. Why did Luko and Jovo tell everyone that the tiger killed the blacksmith and not admit that the gun backfired?

14. Natalia lived most of her life under either the threat of oncoming war or war itself. Would this state have an effect on the decisions one makes for them? How does the lack of a war then affect her?

15. Why do you think “Riki Tiki Tavi” is the deathless man’s favorite story in The Jungle Book?

16. The author said she intended to write the deathless man as more of a menacing character; instead, she felt, he ended up being almost comforting. Had she written that character in a different way, how do you think it would change the tone of the story?

17. Who is the deathless man? Does he exist?

18. Do you think Dr. Leandro, Natalia’s grandfather, is an honorable man? Why or why not?

19. Dr. Leandro placed a wager with the deathless man. Who do you think won? Should Dr. Leandro have paid his debt? If you think he lost the wager does his refusal to honor it change your opinion of him?

20. The second time Dr. Leandro saw the deathless man, there was a miracle by a waterfall. Dr. Leandro was by the waterfall to take care of the sick people that made their pilgrimage there. Gavran Gaile, a.k.a. the deathless man, was by the waterfall as well, and he was letting people know that their time was coming. “But that is what I do; that is my work to give Peace,” the deathless man had said. Do you think that knowing their time is coming gave the sick people peace?

21. Téa Obreht seems to present a character in a certain light, and then she offers background information. Did you find that the background information made you change your initial opinion of any of the characters? If so, which ones and why?

22. Luka takes the tiger’s wife to the smokehouse, ties her up, and leaves her there in hopes that the tiger will devour her. Two weeks later she shows up in town “with a fresh bright face and a smile that suggested something new about her.” What happened to Luka?

23. Why did the villagers hate the tiger’s wife? Why did mother Vera help the tiger’s wife?

24. What was your opinion of the apothecary?

25. Why did Natalia volunteer to take the “heart” to the crossroads and wait for the Mora?

26. What do you think happened to Dr. Leandro’s copy of The Jungle Book?

27. Was there any story or part of the book that particularly struck you?

Other Resources

Lit Lovers’ book discussion questions
Q&A video with Obreht Part One and Part Two
Video of PBS News Hour interview
Vanity Fair interview
Information on the breakup of Yugoslavia

If you liked The Tiger’s Wife, try…

Cover of A Constellation of Vital Phenomena Cover of Bel Canto Cover of The Red Garden

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra
Bel Canto by Ann Patchett
The Red Garden by Alice Hoffman

By Jenny, Readers' Advisor on October 8, 2014 Categories: Book Discussion Questions, Books, Literary

Book Discussion Questions: What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty

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

Cover of What Alice ForgotTitle: What Alice Forgot
Author: Liane Moriarty
Page Count: 487 pages
Genre: Contemporary fiction, Women’s lives and relationships
Tone: Reflective, Humorous

 

1. Did reading What Alice Forgot lift your spirits up or bring them down?

2. Does the title represent the book well? Were you surprised the book wasn’t just about Alice?

3. Were you aware the book was set in Australia? Does it matter where it takes place?

4. How did Alice change in her 30s? Were they good changes, bad, or some of both?

5. Elisabeth acts as a primary tour guide of Alice’s life. How important is it for at least one person to have a good handle on what’s going on with you at any given moment?

6.What does Frannie have in common with Elisabeth and Alice?

7. How has Alice’s relationship with her mom growing up affected Alice’s role as a mother?

8. How is contemporary motherhood portrayed?

9. What does this book say about the effect having children and/or trying to conceive has on a marriage?

10. How are children portrayed in this book?

11. How have Alice’s relationships changed as she has gotten older? Do you think the changes in her relationships are natural?

12. Nick and Alice speculate they got married too young, do you agree or disagree?

13. Why was Alice drawn to Gina? In what ways was Gina a good friend and in what ways was she a poor choice?

14. Do you find it believable that Alice could be so strongly influenced by one friend?

15. If you could meet Alice at age 29, what advice would you tell her?

16. Why do you think the author chose the ages of 29 and 39?

17. What does Frannie’s story add to the book? Does it feel essential to the construction of novel?

18. What do you think about how Elisabeth is portrayed; did you enjoy reading her “homework”?

19. What type of balance ends up happening between Alice at age 29 and Alice at age 39?

20. In Elisabeth’s last piece of homework to Dr. Hodges (pg. 443), she supposes he and his wife might be “struggling with the problem of when is the right time to give up” – she offers a complicated answer. “We should have given up years ago” but also she “would go through it all again… Yes. Absolutely. Of course I would.” What do you think of this perspective? Is it realistic?

21. Do you like how the book ended? Do you like the glimpse into future of characters’ lives in the epilogue?

22. Has reading this book changed the way you think about anything?

23. What can a young person learn from reading What Alice Forgot? How about an older person?

 

Other Resources
Lit Lovers’ book discussion questions
Author to author interview with Liane Moriarty
Real Simple interview with Liane Moriarty
What Alice Forgot book club hosting ideas

 

If you liked What Alice Forgot, try…
Remember Me? by Sophie Kinsella
Range of Motion by Elizabeth Berg
Before I Go To Sleep by S. J. Watson

Cover of Remember Me?Cover of Range of MotionVocer of Before I Go to Sleep

By Jenny, Readers' Advisor on September 24, 2014 Categories: Book Discussion Questions, Books

Book Discussion Questions: The House on the Strand by Daphne du Maurier

House on the Strand book cover

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

 

Title: The House on the Strand
Author: Daphne du Maurier
Page Count: 298
Genre: Literary fantasy, Gothic fiction, Time travel
Tone: Mysterious, Atmospheric, Suspenseful

 

1.  Were you caught up in the book right away? Did you find it hard to follow?

2.  How did you feel about the narrative moving back and forth between time periods? Several critics have commented on the immense skill with which du Maurier keeps tension on both levels. Would you agree?

3.  Which time period /storyline did you find more interesting?

4.  What was your opinion of Richard, the narrator?

5.  Being the straight-laced man that he was, why did Richard try Magnus’ drug in the first place?

6.  How would you characterize the relationship between Magnus and Richard?

7.  What differences were there in the ways Magnus and Richard approached the experiments?

8.  Why do you think Roger was used as the link/guide/alter ego?

9.  Why did John Willis corroborate Richard’s testimony at the inquest?

10.  How important to the story is Vita? Why so?

•  Did you like her? Feel sorry for her? Were you increasingly annoyed by/with her as Dick was?
•  How would you characterize Richard and Vita’s relationship? Why is this so?
•  Why didn’t Richard tell Vita about the drug, especially after she became suspicious of him having an affair and acting so erratically?
•  In Latin, “Vita” translates as “life”. Do you think this was an intentional choice for du Maurier? What might this understanding add?

11.  Did you trust Dr. Powell? Was he right to release Richard when he did?

12.  What was the allure for Richard to keep going back to the past?

13.  Would you agree that this is a “story of addiction”? If so, was he addicted to the drug itself or to the stories he witnessed?

14. Was Richard actually time-traveling or merely hallucinating?

•  Were you satisfied with Dr. Powell’s theories at the end of the book?
•  If it were the drug, why did Magnus and Richard travel back to same period?

15.  Would you say the tone of the story is approving? marveling? objective?

16.  What did you think of the end of the book? Was it satisfying to you?

•  What really happened to Richard?
•  Du Maurier once wrote, “What about the hero of The House on the Strand? What did it mean when he dropped the telephone at the end of the book? I don’t really know, but I rather think he was going to be paralysed for life. Don’t you?” Does her statement surprise you?

17.  This book was written in 1969. Is the subject still topical? Would you recommend this book to others?

18.  How do du Maurier’s descriptions deepen and reinforce the themes in the novel?

19.  Growing up, du Maurier disliked the expectations and limitations of being a girl. How well does she write the male perspective? What other attitudes toward society are revealed in her story and characters?

20.  Du Maurier’s only disappointment with The House on the Strand was that a film version was not made. It was her favorite of all her books, and she had written it almost as a film script. Do you think it a story that could be successfully adapted as a movie or miniseries?

 

Other Resources

Daphne du Maurier author site
author interview from Kilmarth, a central location in The House on the Strand
BBC article:  “Walking in du Maurier’s Footsteps”
“The Cornwall of Daphne du Maurier”, originally published in British Heritage magazine

 

If you liked The House on the Strand, try…

The Distant Hours by Kate Morton
The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield
Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

Distant Hours book coverThirteenth Tale book coverOutlander book cover

 

By Cathleen, Readers' Advisor on August 27, 2014 Categories: Book Discussion Questions, Books, Fantasy & Sci-Fi, Literary