Check It Out Category: Historical Fiction

Book Discussion Questions: The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman

Dovekeepers book coverTitle:  The Dovekeepers
Author:  Alice Hoffman
Page Count: 505 pages
Genre:  Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction
Tone:  Lyrical, Thought-provoking, Haunting

Summary:
In 70 CE, 900 Jews held out against armies of Romans on a mountain in Masada. According to an ancient historian, two women and five children survived. Based on this tragic event, Hoffman weaves a tale of four bold, resourceful, and sensuous women, each of whom has come to Masada by a different path.

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. Who was your favorite character and why?

Yael’s Story

2. What had Yael’s life been like when we first meet her?

3. Why was her red hair so important?

4. What does Yael do to break free of Sia and her attempts to ruin her pregnancy? Do you think that acts of contrition have power?

5. Yael says of Ben Simon that of all the people he murdered, he did his best work on me. What did she mean? Why did she then remember him with love?

6. Yael’s father says that he sees her mom when he looks at her, but he treats her horribly. Shouldn’t this have made him more loving?

7. Why did Yael see her pregnancy as a gift instead of another burden in her sad life?

8. What about the Man from the North? Why was he important to the story?

Revka’s (the Baker’s Wife) Story

9. Her story opens with sorrowful looking back. She says, “I didn’t understand what the wind was capable of and how we must bow before it, grateful no matter where it takes us.” What has happened to her?

10. Hoffman does not hold back the details in the rape and torture scene of Zara. Why might the author have made this choice? What was your reaction?

11. Yoav becomes the Man from the Valley, apparently driven by his sorrow to distance himself from his sons and court death in battle. Revka seems to understand. What was your response to how he chose to deal with his grief?

12. It seems like a generous thing that Revka would have breathed her daughter’s soul into the mouth of her husband. Why then, does she call it the 2nd worse thing a mother could do?

13. How does she get back the voices of Noah and Levi?

Aziza’s Story

14. If Rebekah could have truly changed her gender, do you think she would have, or was it the things that men were able to do that she wanted?

15. Do you think she was blessed because she had such unique abilities or was it a burden for her?

16. Rebekah has four key men in her life. Who was most influential? Did any of them really love her?

17. What does withholding her given name say about the power of a name?

18. How would you describe Rebekah based on her relationship with her sister and brother?

19. The Man from the Valley was able to love Aziza because she was a boy. How did this thinking make sense to both of them?  Was he good for her?

20. Did Amram deserve the death he received?

Shirah’s (the Witch of Moab) Story

21. Would the story have been better without the element of magic?

22. What did you think of Shirah’s all-consuming love for Eleazor? Was he her equal?

23. She leaves Moab. What did you think of her decision?

24. Chana says you can’t have my husband and Shirah replies, “I’ve had him all along?” Powerful sentence, but it is true? What did she have?

25. In the end, was Shirah’s death a failure or a triumph?

General Questions

26. Do you have a new awareness of what daily life or warfare must have been like?

27. How did the women relate to God?

28. Were you surprised at the intertwining of superstition, magic ritual, and religious belief? Does that take away from their faith experience?

29. Were any of the father figures in this book reliable? Do you think this book was fair to men?

30. Hoffman has said that she bases her works on fairy tales because she appreciates their emotional truths, the lessons they teach about human nature, love and hatred. What seemed fairy tale-like to you? Do you agree that fairy tales teach valuable lessons?

31. Based on this story, what does Hoffman seem to believe about romantic love? Is it a positive thing?

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

OTHER RESOURCES:

book review from The Washington Post
video:  How I Wrote [The Dovekeepers]: An Exclusive Interview with Alice Hoffman
audio or transcript: A Tale of Forgiveness from the Tragedy of the Masada via NPR
Masada description, photos, and maps via UNESCO
discussion guide from the publisher
additional questions from Southfield Public Library

READALIKES:

Secret Chord book coverThe Secret Chord
by Geraldine Brooks

Antagonists book coverThe Antagonists
by Ernest K. Gann

Women book coverThe Women
by T. C. Boyle

Book Discussion Questions: The All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion by Fannie Flagg

Title: The All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion
Author:  Fannie Flagg
Page Count: 347 pages
Genre: Southern Fiction, Historical Fiction
Tone: Heartwarming, Funny, Leisurely-Paced

Summary:
The best-selling author of Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe presents a hilarious new mystery that, spanning decades, generations and America in the 1940s and today, centers around five women who worked in a Phillips 66 gas station during the WWII years.

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. How did you like the book? What about it left a lasting impression on you?

2. What, if any, were your favorite moments? How about least favorite moments?

3. After learning she was adopted Sookie said, “I’m an entirely different person than I was, even a few minutes ago. Everything has changed.” Sookie goes from identifying as a Southern Methodist English person to now identifying as Polish and Catholic. Why do people generally try to identify themselves in such short descriptors?

4. How has how we identify ourselves changed or not changed over the years?

5. Why was Lenore so obsessed with what side of the family Sookie’s traits came from?

6. What are Sookie’s similarities to Lenore? Differences?

7. Is Lenore a realistic character?

8. Why didn’t Sookie tell Lenore she was adopted?

9. If you were Sookie, would you have told Lenore you knew you were adopted? Why or why not?

10. If Sookie never learned about her adoption, would her vision of Lenore ever change?

11. How did Sookie’s relationship with her kids differ from Sookie’s relationship with her mom?

12. A lot of this book focuses on how Sookie feels about her mother. How did Sookie feel about her father? How do you feel about her father?

13. How were the men treated in this book? (Buck, Earle, Sookie’s father)

14. We don’t really see much of Winks. What was his role in the book? Did you like the letters?

15. Were you surprised to learn about the WASPs? Why are they not more known in history?

16. How did the WASP’s storyline impact your reading of Sookie’s storyline?

17. How did Sookie view Lenore differently by the end of the book?

18. What, if any, are the similarities between Lenore and Fritzi?

19. What do you think about the relationship between the psychiatrist and Sookie?

20. What makes this book Southern?

21. A lot of people said they didn’t like this book because they disliked the characters. Can you like a book and not like the characters? In what situations is that the case or not the case? Where do you draw the line for yourself?

22. Were you mad that Fritzi lied about Sookie’s mother’s death? Why did she lie?

23. Did reading The All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion leave you changed in any fashion?

24. If you had to describe this book in just one word, what would it be?

OTHER RESOURCES:

Washington Post review
LitLovers discussion guide
CBS Specials: Remembering the WASPS (video)
Video chat with Fannie Flagg and Southern Living
History of filling stations in America
Information on the Women of World War II

READALIKES:

Everything she thought she wanted book coverEverything She Thought She Wanted
by Elizabeth Buchan

Astor Place Vintage book coverAstor Place Vintage
by Stephanie Lehmann

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

International Latino Book Awards

Make the most of Hispanic Heritage Month (Sept 15 – Oct 15) by checking out a brand new winner of the International Latino Book Awards.  Though not interchangeable, the terms “Hispanic” and “Latino enjoy a great deal of overlap, and you can be assured that each of these honorees celebrates the culture in the context of an exciting, thoughtful, and heartfelt story.

Best Novel

Japanese Lover book cover

Historical Fiction – First Place
The Japanese Lover
Isabel Allende

Map of Chaos book cover

Fantasy/Sci-Fi – First Place
The Map of Chaos
Félix J. Palma

 

Best Latino-Focused Fiction Book

Make Your Home Among Strangers book cover

First Place
Make Your Home Among Strangers
Jennine Capó Crucet

Ana of California book cover

Second Place
Ana of California
Andi Teran

 

Best Young Adult Fiction Book

Shadowshaper book cover

First Place
Shadowshaper
Daniel José Older

Weight of Feathers book cover

Second Place
The Weight of Feathers
Anna-Marie McLemore

 

Best Young Adult Nonfiction Book

Becoming Maria book cover

First Place
Becoming Maria
Sonia Manzano

Enchanted Air book cover

Second Place
Enchanted Air: Two Cultures, Two Wings
Margarita Engle

 

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

Summary:
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.

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. 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!

OTHER RESOURCES:

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

READALIKES:

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

RITA Award Spotlight: Historical Romance and Inspirational Romance

Romance displays

As Romance Awareness Month draws to a close, the Library is celebrating with dual displays. Here you may find the recently announced honorees of the 2016 RITA Awards, which celebrate excellence in the romance genre. Often the most exciting races are those for historical romances and inspirational romances, and you can see several favorites below.

Historical Romance: Long

Tiffany Girl book coverTiffany Girl
WINNER:  Deeanne Gist

Earls Just Want to Have Fun book coverEarls Just Want to Have Fun
Finalist: Shana Galen

 

Bella and the Beast book coverBella and the Beast
Finalist: Olivia Drake
If the Viscount Falls book coverIf the Viscount Falls
Finalist: Sabrina Jeffries
Finalist: Grace Burrows

 

Historical Romance: Short

Say Yes to the Marquess book coverSay Yes to the Marquess
Finalist: Tessa Dare
Secrets of Sir Richard Kenworthy book coverThe Secrets of Richard Kenworthy
Finalist: Julia Quinn
Finalist: Elizabeth Hoyt

 

Inspirational Romance

A Noble Masquerade
WINNER: Kristi Ann Hunter
Mountain Midwife book coverThe Mountain Midwife
Finalist: Laurie Alice Eakes
Finalist: Becky Wade

 

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

Summary:
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

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 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!

OTHER RESOURCES:

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

Readalikes:
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

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Fiction: Margaret the First by Danielle Dutton

Margaret the First book coverWell-behaved women seldom make history,” and it isn’t for lack of trying that the once-notorious Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle, is now largely unknown. After a shy, sheltered girlhood, a later life at court led to a new-found confidence in her intelligence, imagination, and ambition. She unabashedly flouted social norms, even earning the nickname “Mad Madge”. The one thing she did retain from her youth was her passion for writing, and she published extensively under her own name and with the support of her husband, both of which were nearly unheard of in the 17th Century. Danielle Dutton presents the life of Margaret the First in a series of personal tableaus that play out in short and fast-moving chapters.  You’ll be introduced to a fascinating woman from history who still has quite a bit to say to the world today.

This title will count as category F in the Summer Reading Challenge: Read a book of historical fiction set before 1900.

For more pre-1900 biographical fiction about fearless characters in the arts, try..

Exit the Actress book coverExit the Actress
by Priya Parmar
The Master book coverThe Master
by Colm Tóibín
In America book coverIn America
by Susan Sontag

 

It’s not too late to join the Summer Reading Challenge.
Not sure how to get started?  We have advice!
Share what you read and see what other people are reading using #MPPLsummer16

For reading suggestions, email us at readers@mppl.org or tweet at us @MPPLIB

New Book Spotlight: Historical Fiction Thrillers

Looking for a page-turner that will bring you back in time? Check out one of the newer releases below!


City of Secrets book coverCity of Secrets
by Stewart O’Nan

A moral thriller about the Jewish underground resistance in Jerusalem after World War II follows the experiences of Brand, a hunted refugee, who assumes a different identity and commits himself to the revolution while accepting increasingly dangerous missions.

The Letter Writer book coverThe Letter Writer
by Dan Fesperman

Taking a job with the NYPD four months after the attack on Pearl Harbor, a former small-town cop investigates the discovery of a body in the Hudson with the assistance of a mysterious, well-educated man who has uncanny knowledge of the city and its denizens.

High Dive book coverHigh Dive
by Jonathan Lee

A tale inspired by the 1984 Brighton Hotel bombing assassination attempt on the lives of Margaret Thatcher and her cabinet is told from the perspectives of an IRA bomb maker, a former star athlete-turned-hotel manager and the manager’s teenage daughter.

 

Email us as readers@mppl.org for more suggestions.
Head here for new and forthcoming nonfiction titles.
Summaries from Novelist.

Fiction: HHhH by Laurent Binet

hhhh book coverLaurent Binet’s debut HHhH follows along two men as they escape from Czechoslovakia, are recruited by the British secret service as agents, and attempt an assassination on one of Adolf Hitler’ most feared lieutenants, Reinhard Heydrich, known as the “Butcher of Prague.”  Binet also manages to twist in an awareness of his hand as the writer of this historical fiction, a work resulting from the melding of fact, personal accounts, and his imagination, yet still retains his gripping pace.

Bonus: This novel received starred reviews from Library Journal, Publisher’s Weekly, Booklist AND Kirkus! An impressive feat!