Check It Out Category: Book Discussion Questions

Book Discussion Questions: The Good Girl by Mary Kubica

The Good Girl cover imageTitle: The Good Girl
Author:  Mary Kubica
Page Count: 382 pages
Genre: Psychological Suspense
Tone:  Compelling, Contemplative

Inner-city art teacher Mia Dennett is taken hostage by her one-night stand, Colin Thatcher, who, instead of delivering her to his employers, hides her in a cabin in rural Minnesota to keep her safe from harm.

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:  2016 Mount Prospect Public Library. All rights reserved. Used with Permission.

1. Without going into detail of the why’s, did this book turn out to be what you were expecting?

2. The story is basically told through 3 people’s viewpoints. Did this type of storytelling work for you?

3. We are introduced and get to know Mia through other characters perceptions ( Eve and Colin).  Did you feel like you got to know the character?

4. Let’s talk about Colin/ Owen. What did you think about him?

5. On the night of her abduction Mia leaves the bar with a stranger. How did this action affect your perceptions of her character?

6. What did you think about Eve not telling Detective Hoffman about Mia’s checkered past as he was beginning his investigation?

7. We all have our theories when reading these types of books, Initially, who did you think had Mia kidnapped and why?

8. What are your thoughts on the side characters (Jason/Grace/Delmar)?

9. Mia said to Colin that she (Mia) and her father are different people and that Grace was the one just like her father.  What would you say about that statement?

10. Colin decides to hide Mia in a secluded cabin. There were many times he could have just left her and didn’t.  Why did you think he decided to stay and as you were reading this, were you questioning his motivations?

11. Let’s talk about the lady with the flat tire. What did you think would happen?

12. Was there ever a point in the book where you hoped Colin and Mia wouldn’t be found?

13. What did you think of Colin’s relationship with his mother?

14. During the ongoing investigation Eve basically throws herself at Detective Hoffman. What was your reaction to that passage?


From the publisher: The Good Girl book discussion kit
Reading group guide
Chicago Tribune article on Kubica’s book deal
Book trailer (video)
Interview with Mary Kubica (video)
Q&A with Mary Kubica


eyes-on-you book coverEyes on You
by Kate White

cartwheel book coverCartwheel
by Jennifer DuBois

Gone Girl book coverGone Girl
by Gillian Flynn

Book Discussion Questions: The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

Thirteenth Tale book coverTitle:  The Thirteenth Tale
Author:  Diane Setterfield
Page Count: 406 pages
Genre: Gothic Fiction; Psychological Suspense
Tone:  Atmospheric, Dramatic

When her health begins failing, the mysterious author Vida Winter decides to let Margaret Lea, a biographer, write the truth about her life, but Margaret needs to verify the facts since Vida has a history of telling outlandish tales.

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:  2016 Mount Prospect Public Library. All rights reserved. Used with Permission.

1. In many ways, this is a book for book lovers, and there are multiple passages that speak to readers. For instance, early in the book (p. 32) Margaret contrasts her reading as a child to her reading as an adult.

a. Do you recall why Margaret says she prefers old novels? (see p. 29)

b. Her father advocates for contemporary writing, ones “where the message is that there is no end to human suffering, only endurance…endings that are muted, but which echo longer in the memory.” Do you side with Margaret or with her father? Is it that simple?

c. Given those characterizations, does The Thirteenth Tale resonate more as an old novel or as contemporary writing?

2. Let’s dig in by putting ourselves in Margaret’s place. We’re living our quiet bookshop lives, and we receive a letter without real context or satisfactory explanation. Why would we (as Margaret) even consider accepting the invitation?

3. In one interview about her career change from academia to author, Setterfield notes her realization that “whilst books are extraordinary, writers themselves are no more or less special than anyone else.” How might we say this is reflected in the novel?

4. Would you call The Thirteenth Tale a ghost story? If so, who are the ghosts? Who is haunted?

5. What do biography and storytelling have in common? How are they different? Would you rather have the truth or a good story?

6. Were you surprised at Miss Winter’s true identity? What points Margaret (and the reader) to this conclusion?

7. Who was saved from the fire? How can we be certain?

8. Margaret realizes that “plunging deep into Miss Winter’s story was a way of turning my back on my own” (p. 282). Was this true? Did it work?

9. Angelfield (the house) becomes an external symbol of the family and its changing condition. Can you think of examples of when this seems to be true? Which other rooms or homes reflect their inhabitants?

10. Miss Winter tells Margaret that “it doesn’t do to get attached to secondary characters. It’s not their story. They come, they go, and when they go they’re gone for good. That’s all there is to it.” (p. 191-2). Does that prove to be true in her story? In the book?

11. How essential is what we learn from Hester’s diary?

12. What did you think of the “game” of the conveyor belt and Margaret’s later admission (to us) that she did love books more than people?

13. In what ways does The Thirteenth Tale fit the characteristics of a Gothic novel?

14. Several classic Gothic novels are named, some multiple times. Did this enhance the experience for you? Did it seem too “on point” or distract by the comparison, or did you find it original?

15. What other recurring symbols seem to be present in The Thirteenth Tale?

16. Did you like the structure: Beginnings, Middles, Endings, Beginnings? How is this choice significant?

17. In which character names did you find significance?

18. What patterns seem to be repeated throughout the story?

19. Aurelius wonders if it’s better to have no story than one that keeps changing, and Margaret’s mother thinks a weightless story is better than one too heavy. What do you think is better for these characters? In general?

20. How effective is the choice of title? What does it contribute to tone and to theme?

21. The idea of siblings, especially twins, is central to the story in many ways. How do the different relationships affect the characters and themes? Did this enhance your experience of the story?

22. Did you find the ending satisfying? Explain your answer.

23. The question of precisely when The Thirteenth Tale takes place has sparked much speculation. As you read, did you have a time period in mind? Would you have preferred this be specifically stated? What is gained in leaving the time undefined?

24. Is there anyone today who might be Vida Winter’s contemporary counterpart: someone who has written multiple bestsellers, whose books are among the most borrowed from libraries, yet who is reclusive, “as famous for her secrets as for her stories”?

25. The Thirteenth Tale was the inaugural selection of “Barnes & Noble Recommends” in which each season one book was chosen as riveting and of extraordinary quality worthy of stimulating discussion, one that they were sure you would recommend to others. Their introduction opened with a single word: unputdownable. Would that word characterize your experience with the book? Would you recommend it to others?

Want help with your book discussion group? Check out tips, advice, and all the ways the Library can help support your group!


official website of author Diane Setterfield
The Guardian interview with Setterfield
audio: Setterfield talks about her inspiration and process
BookPage feature on the release of The Thirteenth Tale
The Independent review of The Thirteenth Tale
Lit Lovers book discussion guide
The Wall Street Journal explains “The Eerie Allure of the Gothic
video clip from the 2013 BBC movie adaptation


Distant Hours book coverThe Distant Hours
by Kate Morton

Rebecca book coverRebecca
by Daphne Du Maurier

Seduction of Water book coverThe Seduction of Water
by Carol Goodman

Book Discussion Questions: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidyin Up book coverTitle: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up
Author:  Marie Kondo
Page Count:  pages
Genre: Nonfiction, Organizing, House and Home
Tone:  Matter of fact, Casual

This best-selling guide to decluttering your home from Japanese cleaning consultant Marie Kondo takes readers step-by-step through her revolutionary KonMari Method for simplifying, organizing, and storing.


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:  2016 Mount Prospect Public Library. All rights reserved. Used with Permission.

1. Give me only one word to describe what you thought of this book.

2. Marie Kondo is like a popstar in Japan and she can’t even take the subway any more. Why do you think this book was such a hit in Japan? Why has it been such a hit in America?

3. Before reading this book what did “tidying” mean to you? How is her meaning of tidying different?

4. Did Kondo seem like an unusual kid to you? Why?

5. What are some of Kondo’s key principles found in the book?

6. How does her Shinto belief system play into her tidying? Do you need to agree with someone’s religious beliefs to find value in what they say or do?

7. Which of her ideas did you find most helpful?

8. For those who read the entire book, have you begun tidying? Why was this motivating for you? What were your results?

9. For those who didn’t finish the book, did you do any tidying? Why or why not?

Alison Stewart, author of Junk: Digging Through America’s Love Affair with Stuff says, “Accumulation has been going on for a couple of decades, but we’re just hitting the tipping point, because of demographics. You have the Depression-era people who were taught to save everything – it was a matter of survival. Then in the 1950’s they were taught to buy everything. That’s a dangerous combination. In the 1980s and ‘90s there was all this money, and also the free flow of cheap stuff. But Millennials might swing the pendulum back the other way.” (Publishers Weekly, March 21, 2016)

10. Do you have examples in your own life/house of this?

11. How is organizing and storing a downfall for Americans?  Check out these statistics.

–“There are more storage facilities in America than McDonald’s and Starbucks combined.” (Huffington Post, 4/21/2015)

–There is 7.3 sq. ft. of self-storage space for every man, woman and child in the nation; thus, it is physically possible that every American could stand – all at the same time – in a self-storage facility. (

  • –I was fascinated that a very American response to all this junk is to make business out of it, whether it’s self-storage, which is a $24 billion dollar business, or junk-removal companies, or personal organizing, or the Container Store. There’s this thought that organizers support the Container Store and the Container Store supports the organizers. But some professional organizers, on the down-low, say “I’m not sure it’s a great thing” Making it pretty doesn’t make the problem go away. (Publishers Weekly, March 21, 2016, Q&A with Alison Stewart)

12. Why do we as Americans have so much stuff?

13. How did the Great Depression affect that generation and subsequent generations in relation to holding on to things?

14. You may be asking the question, why would you throw away something that’s perfectly good? What would Kondo say?

15. What is so hard about paring down?

16. How do you deal with items from your grandparents/great grandparents? Will your kids want these antiques you’ve saved? There is an interesting article by Marni Jameson a nationally syndicated home design columnist, author and speaker. It’s called “Memo to Parents: Kids Don’t Want Your Stuff.” ( Now that’s not always true, but she gives advice and considerations when deciding what to pass on or let go.

17. How many of you have downsized moving into a smaller place? What was the hardest thing about doing that? Was there anything freeing about it? How is your life now different from before?

18. Some of you have dealt with the grief and aftermath of losing your parents. How did you deal with going through and disposing of all their stuff? Was there a lot of it? How long did it take to finish?  

19. What will your children’s experience of dealing with your stuff be? Do you have more or less than your parents did? Will you leave it for them to deal with or will you choose to take intentional action to deal with it yourself? Where will you begin? When will you begin?

20. What lessons did you learn or have affirmed in this book? What steps have you taken or will you take after reading and discussing this book?


Blog article: “8 Decluttering Lessons Learned from Marie Kondo”
Q&A on Reddit
People to People discussion questions
Google talk (video)
The Atlantic article, “The Economics of Tidying Up”


The Things That Matter book coverSoulSpace book coverJoy of Less book cover







The Things That Matter by Nate Berkus
SoulSpace by Xorin Balbes
The Joy of Less by Francine Joy






Book Discussion Questions: Falling Angels by Tracy Chevalier

Falling Angels book coverTitle:  Falling Angels
Author:  Tracy Chevalier
Page Count: 324 pages
Genre: Historical Fiction, Social Commentary
Tone:  Evocative, Dramatic, Strong Sense of Place

In a novel of manners and social divisions set against the backdrop of turn-of-the-century England, two girls from different classes become friends, and their families’ lives become intertwined in the process.

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:  2016 Mount Prospect Public Library. All rights reserved. Used with Permission.

1. With which character did you empathize most? Do you think this was the author’s intent?

2. Did you find the characters believable? If so, what made them ring true?

3. How entrenched is the novel in London during the Edwardian era? Why was this time/place chosen?

4. What details of time period brought the story to life? Did you respond favorably to the degree of description?

5. Could this story have worked in a different time setting? A different place? Does it have something to say to contemporary audiences?

6. Gertrude describes Kitty this way: “a vein of discontent runs through her that disturbs everything around her…She thinks too much and prays too little.” Is this a fair representation? What was your reaction?

7. Is Kitty a bad mother? What about Gertrude’s indulgence?

8. What does Simon add to the story? Some criticism complains that his continued friendship with the girls and their families is the least believable. What do you think?

9. Is someone to blame for what happened? Who bears most responsibility, who shares it, or is it simply circumstance?

10. Which other characters made significant impressions either on the events of the story or on your experience of it? Explain.

11. The New York Times Book Review wrote, “This is Tracy Chevalier’s singular gift: through the particular perspectives of a few finely drawn characters, she is able to evoke entire landscapes…there are no stock characters here, none who are perfectly comfortable in the niche society has assigned them.” Would you agree that there are no stock characters? Was no one in the story comfortable in his/her role?

12. How might you describe the gender dynamics of the story? Were the men uniform in how they viewed and treated women? Were they challenged in these perceptions?

13. Was the title aptly chosen? In which passages are falling angels referenced or illustrated? Other angel imagery?

14. Chevalier has said, “I used to make all sorts of pronouncements [like] ‘Men and women [are] absolutely equal.’ Now…I understand how things aren’t equal.” What in this book supports this view? Do you agree?

15. What did you think of Caroline Black? Of how the suffrage movement was depicted?

16. The cemetery is a recurring symbol, a “site of beginnings as well as endings”. What are examples from the story that support its importance? What message is the author trying to convey?

17. Which events would you consider most significant to the characters? Did these seem important as you read them?

18. What is gained by having multiple narrators? Were there narrators you enjoyed more than others? Would you personally have preferred the story told by one person?

19. Chevalier has earned a reputation as a novelist who expertly articulates the way women negotiate the demands of society. Is this true in Falling Angels?

20. Did you enjoy the author’s style?

21. People characterized the book as “a thoughtful exploration of the ways people misread each other by being trapped in their own perspectives.” Would you agree? Would you have described it with a different theme?

22. How did you feel at the end of the book?

23. What do you think happened to the characters after the book ended?

24. Was this book what you expected?

Want help with your book discussion group? Check out tips, advice, and all the ways the Library can help support your group!


BookPage feature on release of Falling Angels
IndieBound interview with author Tracy Chevalier
The New York Times review of Falling Angels
Background, review, and questions from Reading Group Guides
The Independent‘s “General History of Women’s Suffrage in Britain
BBC Radio4: Tracy Chevalier and Audrey Niffenegger tour Highgate Cemetery


Park Lane book coverPark Lane
by Frances Osbourne

Wayward Winds book coverWayward Winds
by Michael Phillips

Foxs Walk book coverThe Fox’s Walk
by Annabel Davis-Goff

Book Discussion Questions: Call the Midwife by Jennifer Worth

Call the Midwife book coverTitle: Call the Midwife (also called The Midwife)
Author:  Jennifer Worth
Page Count: 340 pages
Genre: Nonfiction, Memoir
Tone: Reflective, Warm

Reflects on the experiences of Jennifer Worth as a midwife in London’s postwar East End, including the nuns from whom she learned her craft and the interesting and challenging births she aided during her career.


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:  2016 Mount Prospect Public Library. All rights reserved. Used with Permission.

1. Do you believe this book is adequately described as a career/work memoir or is it more than that?

2. What else did you learn about beyond midwifery in post-WW II England?  (What did you learn that you weren’t expecting to?)  Was the book what you expected?

3. Beyond childbirth and midwifery, what are the dominant themes in the book?

4. One of the challenges of writing a memoir is deciding what to include and what to leave out.  Do you imagine Jennifer Worth had any difficulty making these decisions when writing her memoir?  (Note: She continued and wrote two additional books; The Midwife is considered first in a trilogy.)

5. According to an article on Slate (11-1-2012), the character of Chummy was created by Worth (Worth’s daughters insist she was real) – she was not based on an actual person she knew in that time.  How do you feel about the existence of fictional elements in a non-fiction book?  Does it affect your enjoyment of the book?

6. Worth’s ability to connect with people is somewhat restrained – she mentions several times holding back and resisting getting too drawn into someone’s personal situation.  What do you think of her preference to keep a distance?  Do you think this was a professional stance, or more of a reflection of her personality?

7. How do you think this distance/reserve affected her ability to write a book such as this?  Is it a strength or a weakness?

8. Can you recall which anecdotes or deliveries affected her despite her efforts to not be emotional?

9. Which mother/baby moments or deliveries did you find most memorable?  Did they all contribute equally to the book? Were there any stories that should have been left out?

10. What about the men in the book?  Who stands out in your mind?  Are there any generalizations that could be made about how men are portrayed?

11. Which nuns at Nonnatus House did you find most interesting?

12. What was her purpose in writing her memoirs?  Who do you think Worth’s intended audience was?

13. If you are a parent or not, would this affect your enjoyment or appreciation of the book?  What about if you like history or not?

14. Have you seen the BBC series based on this book (and other two books)?  How does it compare to the book?

15. Would you say there are differences between the book and the TV show?  If so, how are they different?  Does one enrich the other?

16. What do you think about the level of detail in some of the deliveries?  Was it necessary?  Does it give you a richer understanding of this line of work?

17. Thinking about the subject matter and the time period / setting, would you say this was an easy or difficult book to read?

18. The book’s subtitle is “a memoir of birth, joy, and hard times.” Was there a balance between challenging stories and more joyous circumstances?  Would you say the book had an overall tone / mood to it, or is it hard to say?

19. How has life changed for women since the time period captured in this book?  Have prenatal care and obstetrics changed?

20. What things do you think have stayed the same?  Despite the specific setting and time period, is there a timeless appeal to this book?

21. Are you interested in reading her two additional books?  Is one enough?  If you haven’t watched the series yet, do you think you will?

22. How would you describe her writing style?  Do you feel aware of the fact that she wasn’t a professional writer?

23. Is there anything that we can learn from her work as a midwife?  If so, what is it and why is it important?

Want help with your book discussion group? Check out tips, advice, and all the ways the Library can help support your group!


Reading group guide from the publisher
Discussion questions and responses from blog, Project Motherhood
PBS music playlist for Call the Midwife
Video interview with Jennifer Worth on her life
Radio Times article: Jennifer Worth’s daughter on their mother


All Creatures Big and Small book cover Balm in Gilead book cover My Name is Mary Sutter book cover







All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot
Balm in Gilead by Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot
My Name is Mary Sutter by Robin Oliveira

Book Discussion Questions: A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

A Man Called Ove book coverTitle:  A Man Called Ove
Author:  Fredrik Backman
Page Count: 337 pages
Genre: Fiction, Humorous
Tone:  Quirky, Character-focused

A curmudgeon hides a terrible personal loss beneath a cranky and short-tempered exterior while clashing with new neighbors, a boisterous family whose chattiness and habits lead to unexpected friendship.


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:  2016 Mount Prospect Public Library. All rights reserved. Used with Permission.

1. The title of the book is A Man Called Ove. How do you define masculinity or what makes a “man”?

2. If the author had used a woman as the lead character aka “A Woman Called Ovina”, would that have worked for you?  Why or why not?

3. Do you recall the opening chapter (A man Called Ove buys a computer that is not a computer)?  How did these few pages set your expectations for the novel?

4. Ove has several rants throughout the novel.  Be honest, did you ever channel your inner Ove and find yourself agreeing with any of them? If so what resonated with you? Some examples of his rants: people driving in places clearly marked no cars allowed, the lanky one having such a hard time backing up his trailer, people paying everything on credit, and service charges for credit card purchases.

5. How do you feel about Backman’s use of alternating the present and past to tell the story? Do you think this is more or less effective than if he had told the story from a strictly chronological view?

6. An unfortunate character in Ove’s past was Tom.  Tom stole and Ove took the fall.  What did you think of Ove when he refused to name Tom as the thief??

7. Thanks to Tom, Ove was ultimately shifted to the night shift which is how he met Sonja.  “All roads lead to something you were always pre-destined to do” (pg. 79).  What do you think of this statement?

8. Ove is a completely honest man, yet when he first met Sonja he lied about himself.  Why?

9. What drew Ove and Sonja to each other?

10. Sonja described loving someone, like moving into a house “At first you fall in love with all the new things, amazed every morning that all this belongs to you… over the years, the walls become weathered, the wood splinters here and there and you start to love that house not so much because of all its perfection but rather for its imperfections”.  What are your thoughts?

11. We learn that Sonja and Ove lose their unborn child.  What kind of father do you believe Ove would have been?

12. What did you think of Ove’s visits with his wife?

13. If you were to have an “Ove” in your life, do you think he would be the type of person you could be married to or have as a friend?

14. Once Ove is forcibly retired, he plans to “retire” himself?  Why do you think Ove wants to kill himself?  Do his suicide attempts reconcile to the type of man he is?

15. What did you think about his various attempts?

16. What did you think about Ove’s relationship with Cat?

17. The driving force of the story is Ove’s relationship with Parvenah. What do you think drew Parvenah to Ove and vice-versa?

18. One of my favorite passages was discussing Ove and Sonja.  He was a man of black and white and she was color, all the color he had.  Yet when Nasanin drew him she drew everyone else in black and white and Ove in a rainbow of color.  Parvenah said she always drew Ove that way.  What do you think Backman was trying to say?

19. Backman discusses the rift in Ove and Rune’s friendship on pg. 245 “Maybe their sorrow over children that never came should have brought the two men closer.  But sorrow is unreliable in that way. When people don’t share it there’s a good chance that it will drive them apart instead”. Do you agree with this? Why or why not?

20. What do you think about the ending of the book?

21. What do you think of Ove’s persona at the beginning of the book versus his persona at the end of the book?

22. Fredrik Backman calls this book a fable.  If that is true, what would the moral of this book be for you?

Want help with your book discussion group? Check out tips, advice, and all the ways the Library can help support your group!


Reading guide from Lit Lovers’
A book club’s experience discussing Ove
Interview with Fredrick Backman
BBC Radio 4 talks to Backman (audio)
Backman on his writing


Storied-Life-of-A.J.-Fikry book coverThere must be some mistake book cover The Widower's Tale book cover







The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin
There Must Be Some Mistake by Frederick Barthelme
The Widower’s Tale by Julia Glass


Book Discussion Questions: Remembering Babylon by David Malouf

Remembering Babylon book coverTitle:  Remembering Babylon
Author:  David Malouf
Page Count: 200 pages
Genre: Historical Fiction, Literary, Aboriginal Fiction
Tone:  Lyrical, Thought-Provoking, Strong Sense of Place

In the mid-1840s, a thirteen year old boy is cast ashore in the far north of Australia and taken in by aborigines. Sixteen years later, when settlers reach the area, he moves back into the world of Europeans.

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:  2016 Mount Prospect Public Library. All rights reserved. Used with Permission.

1.  What would you say this book is about?

2.  In what way does the introduction of an outsider/newcomer expose the true character of the community? of the individuals?

3.  What were the two initial reactions of the village? Were these responses understandable? What qualities do the two groups have in common?

4.  Describe what you know of Gemmy. How old did you imagine him to be? Who is he at heart? Is he intelligent? Did you sympathize with him? Did anything change your opinion of him?

5.  Was Gemmy an innocent? Why did he come in the first place? Do your answers affect your experience of the story in any way?

6.  From the opening scene, it seems as if Gemmy is the central character, but he later simply disappears. Does this mean he isn’t the focus of the story?

7.  How does the setting contribute to the story? Is this simply a historical account of Australia, or is there a universal element to the book? What is the implied relation between Gemmy’s fate and the progress of Australian history?

8.  In many ways, Janet is closest to Gemmy – the one who understands him, the one he most accepts. Janet is also the focus of several pivotal scenes. Why? What is the author attempting to say, for instance, in

a. her “growing-up” moment
b. the swarm of bees
c. the final scenes as a nun (with Lachlan)

9.  What story is being told with the other characters:

a. Jock McIvor?
b. Mr. Frazer?
c. George Abbot?
d. Mrs. Hutchence?

10.  How did Lachlan Beattie’s character contribute to the story? How did he change? Why do you think he was made a Minister of the government? Did his experiences with Gemmy contribute at all to this path?

11.  Gemmy is repeatedly called a “black-white man” or even “a parody of a white man”. How does the question of race and identity impact the situation? the story as a whole?

12.  What was it that the people feared?

13.  Though Malouf employs multiple points of view, he leaves the aboriginal characters as enigmas. Why might he have chosen to do this? If the aboriginies had never visited, would Gemmy’s treatment have eventually been the same anyway?

14.  How does Gemmy’s treatment by the aborigines both parallel and differ from his treatment by Englishmen?

15.  In your opinion, what became of Gemmy?

16.  Which scenes stand out as particularly impactful?

17.  What did you think of Janet’s statement near the end, “He was just Gemmy, whom we loved….”?

18.  Were you satisfied with the ending?

19.  Did Gemmy change the town or its people? How?

20.  What importance does the title add?

21.  What role does language (or the absence of it) play? Compare with Gemmy’s sense that the words in which Abbot transcribes his story contain “the whole of what he was”.

22.  What did you think of Malouf’s style? He is first a poet; was that evident? Was his non-linear narrative effective or distracting? What does he accomplish by telling his story from shifting points of view and by withholding critical revelations?

23.  Did you have difficulty with the use of dialect? Did this add to or detract from the plot / theme / book as a whole?

24.  Is there a message about colonization? What of the allusions to “dispersals”? What of the longing for connection in a vast, empty land?

25.  Is there a political commentary in Remembering Babylon? a moral one?

Want help with your book discussion group? Check out tips, advice, and all the ways the Library can help support your group!


Author Colm Tóibín interviews David Malouf
The New York Times review of Remembering Babylon
Spotlight as winner of Los Angeles Times Fiction Prize
Video interview from Sydney Writers’ Festival
Discussion questions from Reading Group Guides
Australia’s Top 100 Favourite Homegrown Reads


That Deadman Dance book coverThat Deadman Dance
by Kim Scott

Rabbit-Proof Fence book coverRabbit-Proof Fence
by Doris Pilkington

Living book coverThe Living
by Annie Dillard

Book Discussion Questions: The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd

The Invention of Wings book coverTitle: The Invention of Wings
Author: Sue Monk Kidd
Page Count: 373 pages
Genre: Historical Fiction
Tone: Moving, Authentic, Strength

The story follows Hetty “Handful” Grimke, a Charleston slave, and Sarah, the daughter of the wealthy Grimke family. The novel begins on Sarah’s eleventh birthday, when she is given ownership over Handful, who is to be her handmaid and follows the next thirty-five years of their lives. Inspired in part by the historical figure of Sarah Grimke (a feminist, suffragist and, importantly, an abolitionist), Kidd allows herself to go beyond the record to flesh out the inner lives of all the characters, both real and imagined

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:  2016 Mount Prospect Public Library. All rights reserved. Used with Permission.

1. How many of you would say you enjoy historical fiction? What is it about historical fiction that you enjoy? For others, what don’t you enjoy about it?

2. Did this book meet your expectations? Why or why not?

3. Did you like the way the story was told, with each chapter going back and forth between Sarah and Handful? Why or why not?

4. In the book who needed wings and how did they obtain them? Where does the author use the image of birds and flight?

5. What qualities in Sarah, Nina, and Handful did you most admire? What other admirable characters were there in the story?

6. Understanding the time and the family Sarah was brought up in, what made Sarah desire and fight for a different life for herself, other women and slaves?

7. Sarah fought against what was expected of her throughout her life. Use your imagination and tell me what her life would have been like had she acquiesced. Could she have been happy?

8. What significance did the fleur-de-lis button hold for Sarah? What was the significance of Charlotte’s story quilt? What was the significance of the rabbit-head cane that Handful receives from Goodis? What was significant about the spirit tree?

9. What gave Handful and Sarah strength to do all that they did?

10. What does having an ally mean when facing a difficult task? Who were Sarah’s allies throughout the different times of her life? Who were Handful’s allies?

11. How are the two causes of abolition and women’s rights similar? How are they different?

12. What were some of the pivotal moments in the story? Give examples of where you saw Handful moving toward freedom. Give examples of where you saw Sarah moving toward freedom.

13. Did you find the ending satisfying?

14. If this book was made into a movie would you go see it?

Want help with your book discussion group? Check out tips, advice, and all the ways the Library can help support your group!


Reading Group Guide on Sue Monk Kidd’s website
Hobart and William Smith Colleges’ Discussion Guide
Discussion questions from blogger, Wide Lawns
Q&A video with Oprah and Sue Monk Kidd
NPR interview with Sue Monk Kidd
More about the Grimke Sisters

A Mercy book cover Miss Emily book cover The Wedding Gift book cover







A Mercy by Toni Morrison
Miss Emily by Nuala O’Connor
The Wedding Gift by Marlen Suyapa Bodden





Book Discussion Questions: Still Life With Bread Crumbs by Anna Quindlen

Still Life With Bread Crumbs Book CoverTitle: Still Life With Bread Crumbs
Author: Anna Quindlen
Page Count: 252 pages
Genre: Fiction
Tone: Moving, Romantic, Reflective

Moving to a small country cabin, a once world-famous photographer bonds with a local man and begins to see the world around her in new, deeper dimensions while evaluating second chances at love, career, and self-understanding.

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:  2016 Mount Prospect Public Library. All rights reserved. Used with Permission.

1. How did you like Rebecca Winter as a character?  Do you feel satisfied with how much you know about her?  Are there any aspects of Rebecca’s situation that you especially relate to?

2. How does the third-person narration affect your impression of Rebecca?  How different would the book have been had it been written from a first-person point of view?

3. What are Rebecca’s initial impressions of living in the country?

4. How did Rebecca’s marriage to Peter affect her?  Despite it not having been an ideal match, what does she miss about being married?

5. How is Jim intelligent in ways that Peter isn’t?  What are some other character traits that make Jim likable?  What do Rebecca and Jim like about each another?

6. How did you respond to the character of Rebecca’s mother?  Beatrice (Bebe) is described as being “as definite, as unyielding, as dark as the ungainly statue of Artemis” (p. 53).  As a columnist/author of nonfiction, Quindlen has written candidly about the importance of motherhood as well as its joys and challenges – why do you think she created a chilly, unsupportive mother figure for Rebecca?

7. How does her father, Oscar, compare as a parent?  How would you characterize Rebecca’s relationship with him?  Why does she keep her move to the country from him?

8. How did you respond to the portrayal of Bebe’s dementia?

9. What do the secondary characters contribute to the book?  Do you have any favorites?

10. In an interview published in The Washington Post (1-28-14), Quindlen said that Rebecca’s story was partially inspired by “how we live in New York City, about failing to see beneath the surface.”  One of the themes in Still Life With Bread Crumbs is things (objects / people / experiences) not being what they are initially perceived to be.  What are some examples of this?

11. A theme in much of Quindlen’s nonfiction pieces is the effect of losing her mother at a young age (19), and in particular how the loss influenced her appreciation for life and “the gift of getting older.”  Like Quindlen, Jim lost his mother at a young age.  What does this loss mean for his character and his worldview?

12. The book explores how Rebecca’s photography career took off after her Bread Crumbs photo, and yet “she mainly found her good work to be accidental, and immediate” (p. 78).  Why did her photography become so important artistically for feminism?

13. Jim is upset with Rebecca for taking pictures of the crosses despite not knowing why they were there.  Do you believe a photographer has a responsibility to understand what they are capturing with their photographs?  Why / why not?

14. Rebecca thinks her father believes “photography was a second-rate artistic pursuit.”  Some people do dismiss photography as an inferior art form, or as not art at all.  What are your thoughts on this?  What other types of creative expression are not held in high esteem?

15. Have you ever felt locked into an image of yourself, whether it was created by you or outside forces?  (p. 173: “People froze you in place, Rebecca sometimes thought… More important, you froze yourself, often into a person in whom you truly had no interest.  So you had a choice: you could continue a masquerade, or you could give up on it.”)

16. There is a particular life stage captured in this book, accepting that you are getting older but realizing there are still many possibilities ahead.  Do you believe this book appeals more to readers past a certain age, or is there a broader potential audience?

17. Do you find the idea of reinventing yourself exciting or terrifying?  How does the idea of control play into this?

18. At the end of the book, what does Rebecca like about her life and situation that she didn’t appreciate before?

19. Were there any lessons you learned from this book?

20. In By the Book: Writers on Literature and the Literary Life from the NY Times Book Review (ed. By Pamela Paul), Anna Quindlen writes “I have many poetry collections – that’s my version of self-help” (p. 163).  Can Still Life With Bread Crumbs be seen as a form of self-help to its readers?  Why or why not?

21. Quindlen is a self-described feminist writer and has covered women’s issues in her journalism (exploring topics of women’s rights, political climate for women, balancing career and family, and modern life for women).  How does Still Life With Bread Crumbs contribute to the literature of contemporary women’s lives?  How is Rebecca’s story unique to the experience of women?

22. In an interview with Bookgirl TV pocast, Quindlen remarks “a simple, ordinary existence is just about the best thing out there.”  How does this novel reflect that belief?

23. With Still Life With Bread Crumbs, one of Quindlen’s goals was to write a love story.  How much does the romance element factor into this novel?  She also wanted to write a book with a happy ending.  Do you believe the conclusion of Still Life succeeds?

24. There are some interesting stylistic choices in the book.  Several scenes loop backward in time to a prior scene that the character recalls.  How did you respond to these multiple time shifts in certain scenes?  Does the circular patterning make you think of anything theme-wise?

25. In a direct reference to time, the phrase “but that was later” is a frequent comment at end of scenes.  What did you think of this pattern/repeated phrase?

26. Related to this, some chapters go far back in time (Thanksgiving 1956, for example) or way forward (one of the White Cross Series reviews).  What did you think of this?  What do you think the author was trying to achieve and do you think she succeeded?

27. Quindlen has stated that the theme of running out of money has been rarely explored in novels.  What do you think of the author’s choice to include specific dollar figures in Rebecca’s ruminations, when she does mathematical calculations in her head?

Want help with your book discussion group? Check out tips, advice, and all the ways the Library can help support your group!


Lit Lovers’ Discussion Questions
Video Interview with Anna Quindlen on BookGirlTV
New York Times book review, “Second Shot” by Joanna Rakoff
Washington Post interview with Carole Burns
Transcript of NPR interview (2-2-14)

Back When We Were Grownups book cover Open House book cover Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake book cover







Back When We Were Grownups by Anne Tyler
Open House by Elizabeth Berg
Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake by Anna Quindlen




Book Discussion Questions: Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

Just Mercy book coverTitle:  Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption
Author:  Bryan Stevenson
Page Count: 349 pages
Genre: NonfictionMemoir, Call-to-Action
Tone:  Inspiring, Explanatory, Sympathetic

The founder of the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama recounts his experiences as a lawyer working to assist those desperately in need, reflecting on his pursuit of the ideal of compassion in American justice.

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:  2016 Mount Prospect Public Library. All rights reserved. Used with Permission.

1. Is there anything about which you think or feel differently as a result of reading Just Mercy?

2. Who would you say is the center of this book: Bryan Stevenson or Walter McMillian?

3. Which details of Walter’s case were most difficult for you to accept? Was it difficult to believe that this could really happen?

4. What was your reaction to the fact that Walter’s case took place in Monroeville? How could the very residents who romanticized Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird stand for (or, worse, contribute to) Walter’s trials?

5. In which aspects was Walter’s case the ideal choice to use as the focus of the book? Would a case with a less flagrant miscarriage of justice have been a better way to test the author’s convictions?

6. Are the cases used as examples more about race or about poverty? In your opinion, is that a worthwhile question to ask?

7. Stevenson laments that “the opposite of poverty is not wealth; the opposite of poverty, in too many places, is justice.” How do you feel when you read those words?

8. Do you agree that “wealth, not culpability, shapes outcomes” in our justice system?

9. Critics of social justice initiatives complain that too many excuses are being made for those who have done wrong. What relevance might this opening line from The Great Gatsby have in the debate over this issue: “whenever you feel like criticizing anyone… just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had”?

10. How do cases such as Herbert Richardson’s, the man who set a bomb that killed a young girl, test these convictions?

11. Do you believe as Stevenson does, that we are more than the worst thing we have ever done? What effect, if any, should that belief have on the justice system?

12. One of Stevenson’s persistent talking points is that the question is not whether the condemned deserves to die but whether we deserve to kill. How does he explain this? Do you find this compelling?

13. Do you agree that the character of a nation is determined by how it treats the broken, the poor, the oppressed? Is this realistic?

14. In your opinion, is Stevenson against individuals accepting responsibility and/or consequences for their actions? Is there a middle ground?

15. Which other cases were memorable for you? Were you angry? Saddened? Did any moments bring satisfaction?

16. This book is often characterized as a memoir. Does that surprise you? In what ways does it fit that category?

17. What is your opinion of Stevenson as a “character”? Do you feel you know him? Do you understand him?

18. Did you notice the alternating structure of the book in which chapters about Walter’s case were followed by chapters on cases which illustrated different issues? What might the thinking behind that have been? Was it effective?

19. What does it mean to be a “stonecatcher”? What are the implications, both positive and negative?

20. Were you satisfied with the amount of time devoted to how the court system deals with mental illness, women, and children? Are you inspired to learn more?

21. Consider the title. What did you take it to mean before you read and/or what does it mean to you now?

22. The title appears specifically in two passages (p. 294 and p. 314). What is the context? Why “just” mercy in each instance?

23. When asked what effect he hoped Just Mercy would have on readers, Stevenson replied

I hope it makes people more thoughtful about our criminal justice system and the need to prioritize fairness over finality, justice over fear and anger. Many of the problems I describe exist because too many of us have been indifferent or disinterested in the poor and most vulnerable among us who are victimized by our system…

   Looking at your own response, did Stevenson achieve his goal? What do we do with ourselves after reading a work such as this?

Want help with your book discussion group? Check out tips, advice, and all the ways the Library can help support your group!


Official Just Mercy  website, including detailed Discussion Guide and opportunities to Get Involved
Walter McMillian feature on 60 Minutes
Bryan Stevenson TED talk: We Need to Talk About an Injustice
The New York Times review of Just Mercy
NPR interview with author Bryan Stevenson
Equal Justice Initiative website
Discussion guide from University of Wisconsin-Madison Go Big Read program
When Stevenson received the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Nonfiction, Publishers Weekly asked: Is This the Greatest Book Award Acceptance Speech Ever?


Between the World and Me book coverBetween the World and Me
by Ta-Nehisi Coates