Kate Forsyth takes us back to the Napoleonic Wars and into the story of Dortchen Wild, a dreamy girl responsible for telling the Brothers Grimm several of the stories found in their collections. Taut with the tension of trying to believe in the magic and beauty of fairy tales while being faced with life’s cruelties, The Wild Girl vividly seeps into your heart leaving a lingering enchanting darkness.
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Title: Water for Elephants
Author: Sara Gruen
Page Count: 350 pages
Genre: Literary Fiction, Historical Fiction
Tone: Nostalgic, Romantic, Bittersweet
A novel of star-crossed lovers, set in the circus world circa 1932. When Jacob Jankowski, recently orphaned and suddenly adrift, jumps onto a passing train, he enters a world of freaks, grifters, and misfits, a second-rate circus struggling to survive during the Great Depression, making one-night stands in town after endless town. A veterinary student who almost earned his degree, Jacob is put in charge of caring for the circus menagerie. It is there that he meets Marlena, the beautiful young star of the equestrian act, who is married to August, the charismatic but twisted animal trainer. He also meets Rosie, an elephant who seems untrainable until he discovers a way to reach her.
These book discussion questions are highly detailed and will ruin plot points if you have not read the book.
1. What is the appeal of this novel?
2. What part do the animals play in this novel?
3. Describe Rosie and her personality traits. What is Rosie’s role in the novel? Do you think elephants can really think and act the way that she did?
4. How does Jacob’s life in the nursing home compare to the animals at the circus?
5. Why does Jacob prefer Rosemary to the other nursing home staff?
6. Did you like how the author switched back and forth between the nursing home and the circus story? Did this enhance or detract from the story?
7. Who was your favorite character? Why?
8. Who was your least favorite character? Why?
9. Upon reading the prologue, who did you think murdered August? Was the prologue an effective way to begin the story? How did that opening scene, involving chaos, make you feel about the rest of the story?
10. Describe the difference between how Jacob and August felt about Marlena. What was it about August that attracted Marlena to him. What was it about Jacob?
11. What did you learn about circuses from reading this novel? (reality and illusion) Do you like circuses? Has this novel changed the way you look at them?
12. How do the practices of the circus relate to the modern business world?
13. Would you have liked more detail on what became of Jacob, Marlena and their children? It didn’t sound like Jacob was extremely close to his children. Is that the impression you got? If so, were you surprised by that?
14. In the words of one review, Water for Elephants “explores…the pathetic grandeur of the Depression-era circus.” Do you agree? How does the “pathetic grandeur” describe the world that Gruen creates in her novel?
15. Why did Jacob get so upset at the nursing home patient, McGuinty, said he carried water for the elephants?
If you like Water for Elephants, you might like…
Want help with your book discussion group? Check out tips, advice, and all the ways the Library can help support your group!
Has Jurassic World genetically engineered your hunger for dinosaur reads? Gather round for admission because the library park is open!
Building on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic The Lost World, a teen and his photojournalist father travel to document the last dinosaur circus and the creatures’ release back into the wild.
Try the dinosaur’s life on for size. After her mate is killed in an attack on a brontosaurus, a female raptor embarks on a perilous year-long odyssey as she copes with a flash flood, migrates to the ocean, finds a new mate, and produces a family of chicks, in a novel set against the exotic prehistoric background of the early Cretaceous.
Containing both Dinosaur Planet and its sequel, Dinosaur Planet Survivors, this volume tells the tale of a team originally sent to catalog plant and animal life on another world. Suddenly, they find themselves surrounded by giant swamp creatures, deadly predators, terrifying dinosaurs, and a curious change in their crew members.
Pleistocene-era animals are migrating from their time to our own, and it is up to Emma and her cat Billie to protect the public, the environment, and even the prehistoric beasts from utter destruction.
The saga of two cultures fated to struggle for control of the earth: the Yilane–cold-blooded intelligent reptiles and the Tanu–warm-blooded humans.
In the book that made it cool for adults to hang on to their dinosaur fascination, an American bioengineering research firm erects a theme park on a Caribbean island, complete with living dinosaurs, and invites a group of scientists to be its first terrified guests.
The Audie Awards: 150 finalists and only 30 winners. On Thursday, May 28th the Audio Publishers Association will declare which exceptional audiobooks will be crowned Audie Winners for 2015. Enjoy a taste of the finalists below, and stop by the Fiction/AV/Teen desk on the second floor to let us know who you think should win this year’s Audie Awards! The categories and finalists below only scratch the surface, so make sure to peruse the other categories. The Awards Gala hosted by Jack Gantos will be Livestreamed on Thursday, starting at 6:30pm.
Want great listens to take on the go? Try SYNC, a free summer audiobook program that gives away two themed titles each week for downloading. These are top-quality productions featuring standout performances, and though the design is to encourage literacy and listening in young people across the country, adults are finding new entertainment, too!
This week you can grab Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, a gothic tale of dreamy suspense, and the bestselling Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia. Upcoming pairs include Dodger by Terry Pratchett with Dickens’ Great Expectations and March by Geraldine Brooks offered with Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. For details, visit the official website (www.audiobooksync.com) and plug in!
Title: The Kommandant’s Girl
Author: Pam Jenoff
Page Count: 395 pages
Genre: Historical Fiction, Romance
Tone: Mesmerizing, Intrigue
Nineteen-year-old Emma Bau has been married only three weeks when Nazi tanks thunder into her native Poland. Within days Emma’s husband, Jacob, is forced to disappear underground, leaving her imprisoned within the city’s decrepit, moldering Jewish ghetto. But then, in the dead of night, the resistance smuggles her out. Taken to Krakow to live with Jacob’s Catholic cousin, Krysia, Emma takes on a new identity as Anna Lipowski, a gentile.
Emma’s already precarious situation is complicated by her introduction to Kommandant Richwalder, a high-ranking Nazi official who hires her to work as his assistant. Urged by the resistance to use her position to access details of the Nazi occupation, Emma must compromise her safety—and her marriage vows—in order to help Jacob’s cause. As the atrocities of war intensify, so does Emma’s relationship with the Kommandant, building to a climax that will risk not only her double life, but also the lives of those she loves.
These book discussion questions are highly detailed and will ruin plot points if you have not read the book.
1. A Publisher’s Weekly review called The Kommandant’s Girl “historical romance at its finest”.
Is this a historical romance? Would you categorize it differently? Mira Books, which published the novel, is a division of Harlequin. Did it ever seem like a Harlequin romance novel?
If it is a historical romance, then romance between whom? Emma and Jacob? Or Emma and the Kommandant?
2. Did you believe the romance between Emma and Jacob?
3. Emma and Jacob were married only a few weeks before they were separated. How do you think the story might have been different if they had been married for six months? One year? Five?
4. Was Jacob right to leave the way he did? Do you think he knew what Emma was doing?
5. Did you believe the romance between Emma and the Kommandant? Did the age difference bother you? As Emma wonders, if they had met in a different world, a different time, do you think they could have been happy together? Were they “star-crossed lovers”?
6. Did you find yourself more invested in Jacob or in the Kommandant?
7. Did you find Emma a sympathetic character? heroic? Was she a believable 19-year-old?
8. What was the most difficult challenge faced by Emma? How did her choices affect others?
9. Did her attraction to the Kommandant make her situation easier? What if she had not had feelings for him?
10. Emma struggled not just with betraying her husband, but betraying her faith. Do you think her struggle was portrayed realistically? Would you say she was unfaithful? Given the circumstances, were her actions “right”? In other words, do the ends justify the means?
11. Another review (Booklist) claimed that the author “succeeded in humanizing the unfathomable as well as the heroic”. Would you agree that the Kommandant, for example, was humanized? Did you find him sympathetic? Why or why not? If so, were you uncomfortable (as Emma was) with your sympathy?
12. Was the Kommandant really going to shoot Emma?
13. What was your opinion of Malgorzata and her role in the story?
14. How does Lukasz change the story? What if it had just been Emma and Krysia involved in the deception? What does Krysia add?
15. How was the underground portrayed? Did you feel you understood the danger? What did you think of Alek? Was his death a surprise?
16. How did you feel about Marta? Did your feelings change at any point?
17. Was Jenoff’s choice to have Emma tell the story from her point of view a good one? Was it well-utilized?
18. This is a first novel for Jenoff. Is that apparent? How so? Do you like the author’s style?
19. What was the greatest strength of the book? Its most serious flaw?
20. The book was originally titled A Fine Crack of Light. What do you think that meant? Which title do you prefer?
21. Even among those who like the book, the ending is often singled out as somewhat flawed. Did it end the way you expected? Was it satisfying?
22. How might you respond to other concerns/ criticisms:
-too many coincidences, especially in closing chapters
-language (e.g., Emma’s habitual answering of “okay”)
-not as deep or as evocative as could have been (tells, doesn’t show)
-too-familiar story; market full of WWII fiction titles
-too serious a topic to treat lightly
23. Many authors have an idea and then research the time and place. Jenoff walked the streets, was immersed in stories, and then felt compelled to write. Can you tell? Did that serve the story well?
24. Did the book’s setting enhance the story? What about the individual settings, such as the ghetto?
25. What themes would you say are throughout the story? The publisher suggests “timeless themes of hope, struggle, defiance”; would you agree with these? Are there others you would add? How well were the themes addressed and/or communicated?
26. What was the purpose of the book? Was it to learn about history? Did you?
27. What’s next for Emma? Did she and Jacob have a happy life? Does she change her mind about telling Jacob about the baby? Should she?
28. What life do you predict Lukasz will lead?
Mount Prospect Public Library Discussion Resources
Harlequin Discussion Questions
Lit Lovers Reading Guide
Personal Q&A with Pam Jenoff
Interview with Jenoff about the book
Holocaust Memorial Day Trust website
Kommandant’s Girl backstory
If you liked The Kommandant’s Girl, try…
Every other Friday the Library will bring you short lists of buzz-worthy books. Take a look below to check out some of the newest historical fiction titles that have arrived at the Library.
The Effects of War
The Creative Life
For these and other fresh reads, stop by the second floor Fiction/AV/Teen desk or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to talk to a Readers’ Advisor about new and old titles tailored to your taste.
This week on our displays we are featuring books involving the Immigrant Experience. Displays are located on the second floor by the elevators and toward the start of Adult Fiction. Interested in being matched with a book suited to your taste? Stop by the Fiction/AV/Desk on the second floor to speak with a Readers’ Advisor or email us at email@example.com. Check out some of the books below!
Addie Baum, The Boston Girl, recalls her life story to granddaughter Ava. Born in 1900 and saddled with a difficult mother, Addie must overcome poverty, gender roles, and lack of education. Author Anita Diamant has created a lovable character who peppers serious subjects with humorous asides and grandmotherly advice.
Previously known as the Orange Prize, Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction is in its 20th year. This week the annual prize has released its longlist featuring 20 different titles with plans to reveal the shortlist April 13th. The award is dedicated to recognizing literary merit in women from around the world “…whilst also stimulating debate about gender and writing, gender and reading, and how the publishing and reviewing business works.”
Up for a challenge? Try to see if you can read all of the nominees before the announcement of the winner on June 3rd! Below are some of the titles Mount Prospect owns.