Check It Out Category: Fiction

Book Discussion Questions: The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

Girl on the Train book coverTitle:  The Girl on the Train
Author:  Paula Hawkins
Page Count: 323 pages
Genre: Psychological Suspense, Crime Fiction
Tone:  Compelling, Tense, Disturbing

Summary:
Rachel sees the same couple breakfasting on their deck each morning as she passes by in her commuter train. She thinks their life looks perfect until, one day, she sees something shocking. The train moves on immediately, but she can’t keep it to herself and informs the police. Has she done more harm than good?

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

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

1. The Girl on the Train debuted as #1 on the NYT Bestseller Fiction List and has continued to break sales and library checkout records. In your opinion, what is it about this book that captured the interest of millions of readers worldwide?

2. Many complain that Rachel is unlikable. Do you agree? How important to your enjoyment of a book depends on whether you like a main character? Does your response differ if the difficult character is male or female?

3. Others maintain that relatability is more important than likability. Is Rachel relatable to you? Do you understand her choices? Do you care what happens to her?

4. Many psychological thrillers of recent years incorporate uncertain memory as a major factor. What is it about amnesia or compromised memory that works so well in these stories?

5. Do you react differently to Rachel’s memory issues because they are her own fault?

6. Would the story have worked without Rachel’s multiple personal issues: a ‘stable’ commuter who notices out the window, for instance?

7. It has been suggested that Rachel is symbolic of our voyeuristic tendencies – both as individuals and as a society. Is this fair?

8. What does Rachel gain from her involvement in the investigation? What does it cost her?

9. Was the choice to use multiple perspectives effective? One review complained that the lack of distinction confuses the reader. How would you respond?

10. Contrast the life Rachel imagined for Jess with what we learn of Megan’s reality. What else do we gain from Megan’s perspective?

11. Anna’s voice isn’t introduced until a third of the way into the book. Did it surprise you? Throw you off? How distinct is her voice?

12. Speaking of voice, why are only female characters chosen for point of view?

13. Are there characters (main or secondary) that you trusted or knew right away not to trust?

14. Did you ever believe Rachel had something to do with Megan’s disappearance? Did she?

15. Would this story play out the same in a US setting, or are the UK elements essential?

16. Hawkins has said that “the set-up is often the fun part” with scenarios and red herrings, but it is “a really hard thing to make that final act a convincing ending.” How’d she do?

17. What becomes of the surviving characters? What kinds of lives do they lead in future?

18. Would you characterize this as a cynical book? Is there any hope or positivity? Does that matter?

19. What, if anything, is Hawkins trying to say about marriage/relationships?

20. How are children or pregnancy (or barrenness) catalysts for much of the action? Is this intended to be cultural commentary?

21. The theme of self-sabotage is well explored through several characters. Is there any examination of recovery or redemption?

22. What did you think of Hawkins’ writing? Did you respond positively to her style, her prose, and/or her pacing?

23. Early in movie talks, Hawkins commented that she had no idea who should be cast as Rachel, as she’s specifically described as unattractive. The finished adaptation stars Emily Blunt, whom Hawkins publicly endorsed as excellent in the role. Does casting a beautiful woman change the tenor of the story?

24. Having “Girl” in the title has become shorthand to identify a specific type of psychological thriller. Is it problematic that a 32-year-old, divorced, hard-drinking woman is labelled this way? For contrast, consider the parallel The Boy on the Train. Why do you think this is so?

25. How would you characterize your experience of reading The Girl on the Train? Did you approach it as a whodunit? Would you describe it as a fun read?

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

OTHER RESOURCES:

Paula Hawkins: By the Book via New York Times Book Review
Paula Hawkins: The Woman Behind The Girl on the Train via The Guardian
Interview on NPR: All Things Considered (audio or transcript)
BookPage feature on Paula Hawkins
LitLovers discussion guide
Three perspectives on the book’s settings: The Book Trail, shmoop, and a composite map
Hawkins’ next book, Into the Water, announced

READALIKES:

Pocket Wife book coverThe Pocket Wife
by Susan Crawford

Behind Her EyesBehind Her Eyes
by Sarah Pinborough

Suspect book coverSuspect
by Michael Robotham

Staff Pick: The One-in-a-Million Boy by Monica Wood

Nancy from Administration suggests The One-in-a-Million Boy by Monica Wood

One in a Million Boy book coverHe is a strange eleven-year-old, with an obsession for Guinness World Records. She is 104 years old, an immigrant from Lithuania, who does amazing card tricks. When the boy appears at the home of Ona Vitkus for a Boy Scout project, they become fast friends, and Ona finds herself sharing things that she’s never told anyone before. Soon, they’ve concocted a scheme to get Ona into the record books, as the Oldest Licensed Driver. However, the boy dies before they can achieve their goal.

Agreeing to continue her yardwork for a few more weeks, the boy’s father, Quinn, is also drawn into Ona’s quest for a world record. As a result, Quinn glimpses the son he never really knew. This is a lovely and amusing story of friendship, love, loss, and dreams pursued, especially enjoyable in audio.
 
 
For other thoughtful and touching stories of self-discovery, try one of these!

Ocean Apart book coverAn Ocean Apart
by Robin Pilcher
Britt Marie Was Here book coverBritt-Marie Was Here
by Fredrik Backman

 

Stiltsville book coverStiltsville
by Susanna Daniel
After You book coverAfter You
by Jojo Moyes

Rosie Thomas

Book Discussion Questions: Small Blessings by Martha Woodroof

Small Blessings book coverTitle:  Small Blessings
Author:  Martha Woodroof
Page Count: 310 pages
Genre: Fiction, Domestic Fiction
Tone:  Heartwarming, Quirky, Thoughtful

Summary:
In an inspiring tale of a small-town college professor, a remarkable new woman at the bookshop, and the ten-year-old son he never knew he had, this comedy of manners reminds us that sometimes, when it feels like life has veered irrevocably off track, the track shifts in ways we never can have imagined.

 

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

The Library is happy to share these original questions for your use. If reproducing, please credit with the following statement:  2016 Mount Prospect Public Library. All rights reserved. Used with Permission.

1. Woodroof said she chose to set Small Blessings in a college to create a bell jar atmosphere where people couldn’t avoid each other.  How does a small college in a small town help create that type of atmosphere?

2. How important were college students to this story?

3. How would you describe Tom’s life at the start of Small Blessings?

4. What things happen to dramatically change his life?

5. In light of all the coincidences that made Tom’s life better, do you consider this book to be realistic fiction?  Why or why not?

6. What words would you use to describe the tone or mood of the story?

7. Who was your favorite character?  Which character was the best well described?  Are they the same person?

8. How did Marjory Puttnam have a hand in getting Tom and Rose together? Do you think she was purposefully matchmaking?

9. Do you think Marjory killed herself?

10. Did Tom and Agnes do the right thing for themselves and Rose to stay with her all those years?

11. What if she had never died? Would it still have been the best choice to make?

12. In what ways are Tom and Agnes a good team?

13. A lot of the book depends on the premise that Rose was a magnetic pull for other people. Was it clear to you what made her so special to them?

14. Tom’s thoughts after Marjory’s death contain the quote from which the book title comes: “Talking to your mother-in-law might seem like small potatoes to people who luxuriated in more richly felt lives, but it had often been enough for him to build a bearable day on. Small blessings, as his mother had so often said…..” What are some of the little things that can make a day better?

15. How are small blessings different than big blessings?

16. If you had to go through life with just small or big blessings, which would you sacrifice?

17. Did Woodroof succeed in writing a book about small blessings?

18. A few days after Marjorie’s death, Rose invites Agnes to lunch.  During her lunch with Agnes, Rose realizes three things about herself:  That she hasn’t had the courage to explore her own heart, that she was lonely, and that she had kept people away with self-imposed separateness.

-Does it take courage to explore your own heart? How so?
-What does it mean to have self-imposed separateness?
-Why do you think Rose lived that way?
-Is it possible to admit to loneliness and not see life or one’s own self negatively?

19. Does Rose change from her realizations?

20. Russell has hidden the pain of his unhappy childhood and awkward childhood from everyone, including his AA sponsor.  Why do you think he kept this to himself?

21. Is there a line between being open about one’s pain and “airing dirty laundry”?  If so, what is the difference to you?

23. How would you describe Iris and Russell’s relationship?  Did you find their personalities very different or very similar?

24. Do you think Russell is capable of changing and will he do it?

25. Tom, Agnes, Russell, Rose and Iris all seem to experience some degree of loneliness.  What examples did you see in the story?

26. In light of these examples, what does Woodroof seem to be saying about loneliness? Is it fixed or changeable?  Is it caused by fault or does it just happen?

27. Rose’s mom, Mavis, tells her, “The worst thing you can do in life is turn away from it.”  What does this mean?  Do you agree?

28. Woodroof is open about being a recovering alcoholic herself. At the story’s end, Iris is beginning a difficult journey to recovery, Russell has relapsed, and we know that Serafina has died. Is this novel hopeful or discouraging about the chances for recovery from addiction?  What made it so to you?

29. There are several relationships in the book: Tom and Agnes, Tom and Rose, Rose and Henry, Henry with Tom and the friendship between Tom and Russell. Which one was your favorite?  Why?

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

OTHER RESOURCES:

Lit Lovers’ Reading Guide
Martha Woodroof’s website
10 Questions for Martha Woodroof (via booksonthetable.com)
Kirkus review of Small Blessings
Interview with Martha Woodroof (video)
Deep South Magazine: “‘Small Blessings’ with Martha Woodroof”

READALIKES:

Gilead book coverGilead
by Marilynne Robinson

Fiction: Twelve Days of Christmas Books

How do you choose your holiday comfort read? Some are drawn to covers with holly-decked cottages, snow-dusted couples, or anything in bright red or green. Others select by genre, familiarity of author, or tone. Anything is fair game to help you find the book that fits your mood! These authors are hoping that echoing a familiar carol in the title might tempt your interest for one or all twelve days of Christmas.

 

Twelve Days book coverTwelve Days 
Teresa Hill
Twelve Days of Christmas book coverTwelve Days of Christmas
Debbie Macomber

 

Three French Hens book coverThree French Hens
Lynsay Sands
Six Geese A-Slaying book coverSix Geese A-Slaying
Donna Andrews
Ten Lords A-Leaping book coverTen Lords A-Leaping
C.C. Benison

 

Twelve Days of Pleasure book coverTwelve Days of Pleasure
Deborah Fletcher Mello

Graphic Novel: Grandville Noël by Bryan Talbot

Grandville Noel book coverUnicorn cult leader pursued by Victorian badger detective and Pinkerton cowboy is hardly the recipe for a traditional holiday story, and that surprise is what makes Grandville Noël  irresistible. Creator Bryan Talbot plays with expectations in a Christmas installment of the steampunk Wind in the Willows-like Grandville series that can be thoroughly entertaining even to newcomers.

Interplay of sepia and color, along with an elegance of line, illuminates in bold detail both action scenes and quieter moments. You’ll be riveted by Scotland Yard Inspector LeBrock’s efforts to rescue a vulnerable young woman who has been dazzled by promises of acceptance and love, proving that the fantasy-allegory-mystery-thriller hybrid speaks to themes of the season after all.

Book Discussion Questions: Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather

Death Comes for the Archbishop book coverTitle:  Death Comes for the Archbishop
Author:  Willa Cather
Page Count: 297 pages
Genre: Historical FictionClassic, Inspirational Fiction
Tone:  Contemplative, Unassuming, Strong Sense of Place

Summary:
In 1851 French Bishop Latour is dispatched to New Mexico to reawaken its slumbering Catholicism. Moving along the endless prairies, he spreads his faith the only way he knows—gently, although he must contend with the unforgiving landscape, derelict and sometimes openly rebellious priests, and his own loneliness.

 

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

The Library is happy to share these original questions for your use. If reproducing, please credit with the following statement:  2016 Mount Prospect Public Library. All rights reserved. Used with Permission.

1. How would you describe the mood of this book? Did you like it?

2. How does the Prologue set the scene for the story? What attitudes and themes does it foreshadow?

3. Describe the friendship between Jean Latour and Joseph Valliant. How essential is their relationship to the book as a whole?

4. Magdalena’s story is one of the more memorable in their early travels, and she then recurs throughout the book. What impact does her character have on the priests? On the reader?

5. Is this a Catholic book? What does it have to say about the greater theme of faith?

6. Are there aspects of religion (or those who profess to be religious) that are portrayed in a negative light?

7. Was the mission of the priests one of service, conversion, or something else? Did they make a difference?

8. What does Latour have in common with the ideal of the Western hero? What is different?

9. Some readers have trouble with Latour due to his lack of passion and sometimes even coldness. Is this how he struck you?

10. When deciding whom to appoint, it is said

The new vicar must be a young man, of strong constitution, full of zeal, and above all, intelligent. He will have to deal with savagery and ignorance, with dissolute priests and political intrigue. He must be a man to whom order is necessary – as dear as life.

      What do you think of these qualities? Were the Cardinals right? Are there others that proved to be necessary in the position?

11. How would you characterize the ways in which the priests interacted with their communities? With individuals? Was there anything that you think they should have done differently?

12. Did you respond to the vivid descriptions of settings, of landscape, of nature? Were there any that stood out especially?

13. In what ways are art and architecture a theme in the book?

14. What was the prevailing attitude toward Americans? Was this justified?

15. What did you think of Cather’s decision to use several historical names and figures in her story? Does this add credibility? Distract?

16. What instances of humor did you find in the book?

17. How satisfied are you with the title? Why do you think it was chosen?

18. Would you say this is an easy book to read? How difficult is it to describe or summarize?

19. Cather considered this book to be her best and most important. Do you agree? Even if you haven’t read other works, do you see significance?

20. Cather once wrote, “When people ask me if it has been a hard or easy road, I always answer with the quotation, ‘The end is nothing, the road is all.'” What do you think of that statement in general? Is this sentiment effectively illustrated by Death Comes for the Archbishop?

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

OTHER RESOURCES:

Death Comes for the Archbishop as one of All-TIME 100 Novels
Willa Cather biography
The Protestant Who Wrote the Greatest Book About American Catholicism
Cather draws attention to New Mexico history
Footsteps: Entering the World of Willa Cather’s Archbishop (via The New York Times)
Discussion questions from the Classics Reading Group of Algonquin Area Public Library

READALIKES:

Crossing Purgatory book coverCrossing Purgatory
by Gary Schanbacher

Lila
by Marilynne Robinson

List: Fantastical Holiday Reads

Now that it’s December, you may be in the mood for a tale trimmed with tinsel. Mystery fans, romance readers, and humor devotees don’t lack for brightly-wrapped packages, but those who enjoy wondering about life in other worlds or pushing the boundaries of what-if won’t need to settle for coal. Fill your stocking with science fiction and fantasy stories that embrace the Christmas spirit!

Christmas Stars book coverChristmas Stars
ed. by David C. Hartwell
A collection of holiday miracle stories by top fantasy and science fiction writers includes the tales of a father’s gift that opens up the universe for all humanity and the original fantasy that inspired the film It’s a Wonderful Life.
Season of Wonder book coverSeason of Wonder
ed. by Paula Guran
Yuletide brings marvels and miracles both fantastic and scientific. The best stories from many realms of fantasy and a multitude of future universes, gift-wrapped in this spectacular treasury of wintertime wonder.
Yuletide Universe book coverA Yuletide Universe: Sixteen Fantastical Tales
ed. by Brian M. Thomsen
A compilation of holiday tales by a range of science fiction and fantasy authors includes contributions by such notables as Neil Gaiman, Clive Barker, Anne McCaffrey, and Harlan Ellison.

 

War of Gifts book coverA War of Gifts: An Ender Story
by Orson Scott Card
Chaos erupts at Battle School when a student places a gift in another student’s shoe on Sinterklaaus Day, an act of rebellion that forces everyone to make a choice during the War over Santa Claus.
Miracle and Other Christmas Stories book coverMiracle and Other Christmas Stories
by Connie Willis
Multiple Hugo and Nebula Award-winning author Willis captures the timeless essence of generosity and goodwill in stories that transport readers to fascinating realms filled with wonder and joy.
Krampus the Yule Lord book coverKrampus, the Yule Lord
by Brom
When he stumbles upon a magical bag that belongs to Krampus, the Lord of Yule and the dark enemy of Santa Claus, struggling songwriter Jesse gets an unexpected chance to save his daughter and his own broken dreams–and return wild magic to Boone County, West Virginia.

Audiobook: Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mue

Behold The Dreamers book coverLife is brimming with potential for Cameroonian immigrant Jende Jonga and his family. Set in New York in 2007, Jende has just gotten a new job chauffeuring for the rich, white Edwards family and his wife Neni is on her way to becoming a pharmacist. Their journeys are about to get harder however, as they face the realities of living in a new country on the brink of recession and the Edwards family’s own hardships start to bleed into their lives.

Prentice Onayemi is the versatile narrator of this 2016 debut, changing tones and cadences to take on the different characters’ accents and genders to fully bring the characters alive. A story simultaneously of hope and heartbreak,  Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue is all about the turbulence of trying to achieve your dreams no matter where you reside in life.

The Hogarth Shakespeare Project

Hogarth Series book covers

Considering that 2016 marks the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death, it is nothing short of remarkable that his plays not only are still read and appreciated but also have resonance for us today. The Hogarth Shakespeare Project, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, has invited award-winning and bestselling novelists to put their own spin on several of these enduring tales. Upcoming releases include works by Jo Nesbø, Tracy Chevalier, Edward St. Aubyn, and Gillian Flynn, but you can read these inventive takes on the Bard right now:

Gap of Time book coverThe Gap of Time: The Winter’s Tale Retold  by Jeanette Winterson

A baby girl is abandoned, banished from London to the storm-ravaged American city of New Bohemia. Her father has been driven mad by jealousy, her mother to exile by grief. Seventeen years later, Perdita doesn’t know a lot about who she is or where she’s come from – but she’s about to find out.

Her story is one of childhood friendship, money, status, technology, and the elliptical nature of time. Written with energy and wit, this is a tale of the consuming power of jealousy on the one hand, and redemption and the enduring love of a lost child on the other.

 

Hag-Seed book coverHag-Seed: The Tempest Retold  by Margaret Atwood

Felix, whose productions have amazed and confounded, is at the top of his game as artistic director of the Makeshiweg Theatre Festival. His planned staging of The Tempest not only will boost his reputation, it will heal emotional wounds. Or that was the plan.

Instead, after an act of unforeseen treachery, Felix is living in exile in a backwoods hovel, haunted by memories of his beloved lost daughter, Miranda. After twelve years, revenge finally arrives in the shape of a theatre course at a nearby prison. Here Felix and his inmate actors will put on his Tempest and snare the traitors who destroyed him. It’s magic! But will it remake Felix as his enemies fall?

Shylock Is My Name book coverShylock Is My Name: The Merchant of Venice Retold  by Howard Jacobson

The most provocative character in Shakespeare, Shylock finds his present-day counterpart in art dealer and conflicted father Simon Strulovitch. Already grieving his beloved wife, he cannot reconcile himself to his daughter Beatrice’s betrayal of her family and heritage in choosing to be with a footballer notorious for giving a Nazi salute on the field. Culminating in a shocking twist on Shylock’s demand for the infamous pound of flesh, Jacobson’s insightful retelling examines contemporary, acutely relevant questions of Jewish identity while maintaining a poignant sympathy for its characters.

Vinegar Girl book coverVinegar Girl: The Taming of the Shrew Retold  by Anne Tyler

Kate is a socially awkward young woman, adored by the preschool children she teaches but misunderstood by her peers. Her father is a scientific genius, but not so great on emotions. About to lose his (equally genius, equally socially inept) research assistant, Pyotr Cherbakov, because of visa problems, and desperate to save the project that is his life’s work, he comes up with a plan: Kate will marry Pyotr who will then be able to stay in the country and finish the project. The plan sounds perfect, except for one small hitch: Kate.