Month: March 2013

Check It Out Blog

LISTS: Fairy Tales for Adults

Brothers Grimm DVD coverBeing a grown up can be a drag…but living in a world where a simple walk in the woods can turn magical, where beasts and mirrors can talk, and to-do lists include epic adventures, evil witches, and brothers named Grimm – now that is living.

Click here for fairy tale books and here for fairy tale movies aimed at adults.

1976 South Africa

White Dog Fell From the Sky book coverIsaac was smuggled out of South Africa after he witnessed the violent murder of his friend by two white men in the uniform of the South African Defense Force. After traveling in the secret compartment of a hearse, Isaac makes it to Botswana, but is left by the side of the road unconscious. A skinny white dog is there when Isaac awakens and travels door-to-door looking for gardening work. Eventually, Alice hires him. After a weekend away, Alice comes home to find Isaac missing. White Dog Fell From the Sky by Eleanor Morse is a story of loyalty, cruelty, apartheid, and Alice’s search for her new friend Isaac, with his white dog in tow.

Donna S.’s Pick: Home Front

Donna S staff pick photoIn Home Front, Kristin Hannah explores military females serving in war zones. Joleen, a U.S. Army reservist, has been called to active duty. She leaves behind her family, including her shaky marriage, to fly Black Hawk helicopters in Iraq, and nothing is the same when she gets home.

How Many Times

Need You Now album coverLife can be overwhelming. Whether because of personal trials or more public tragedy, we reach a point at which we crave the reassurance of an answering echo. In an effort to honor those affected by the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School, Plumb’s new release underwent a last-minute title change, and Need You Now offers both understanding and hope. The single “Need You Now (How Many Times)” has already claimed top spots in Christian music charts, resonating deeply when there are no good answers. The album features an uplifting mix of tempos and styles, playing to the range of singer/composer Tiffany Arbuckle-Lee. Ballads, dance beats, light pop, and worship tracks combine to speak for soul-searching and celebration alike.

LISTS: If You Like Maeve Binchy

Maeve Binchy author photoIt has been a snowy, cold winter, but Maeve Binchy’s character-driven stories of friendship and family will warm you from the inside out. Binchy (1940 – 2012) was a novelist, playwright, and columnist best known for making the lives of her everyday, usually Irish, characters undeniably absorbing to readers.

Click here for a list of leisurely-paced authors similar to Maeve Binchy, while you wait for her last novel, A Week in Winter, to come up on hold.

The Kung Fu Freak With the Horn

Tai Chi Zero DVD coverYang Lu Chan was born with a horn. He covers it up with a cap. This horn is the visual representation of his savant genius in Kung fu. The horn begins to turn from a healthy pink to black and Lu Chan is told that unless he can balance his interior and exterior, he will die. The only way to do this is to travel to a remote, mountain village to learn an equilibrium-inducing form of Kung fu. The only catch is…the town doesn’t teach outsiders. Set in 1900, Tai Chi Zero is a playful martial arts movie with steampunk elements and action-packed, almost anime-style fight scenes. If you liked Kung Fu Hustle, you’ll probably like Tai Chi Zero.

Book Discussion Questions: Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

Never Let Me Go book cover

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


Title: Never Let Me Go
Author: Kazuo Ishiguro
Page Count: 288
Genre: Science Fiction
Tone: Complex, suspenseful, thoughtful

Questions composed by MPPL Staff:

1.    In one interview, Ishiguro observes that in many reviews of Never Let Me Go, the words “strange” or “sinister” keep coming up. Do these words reflect your experience with the book? What other words would you use?

2.    Ishiguro, on the other hand, claims he thinks of this as his “most cheerful book”. Why do you think that is?

Ishiguro: “In the past, I had written about characters’ failings…With NLMG I felt that for the first time I had given myself permission to focus on the positive aspects of human beings. OK, they might be flawed. They might be prone to the usual human emotions like jealousy and pettiness and so on. But I wanted to show three people who were essentially decent. When they finally realize their time is limited, I wanted them…to care most about each other and setting things right. So for me, it was saying positive things about human beings against the rather bleak fact of our mortality.” (The Paris Review)

3.    At what point in the story did you realize the full meaning of “donor” and “complete”?

4.    One of the most common criticisms of the story is that the students never take action to change their fate. Did this bother you? How do you respond to the author’s explanation of his choice:

“It’s something I do instinctively in my writing,” says Ishiguro “and with this book it was a very important feature that escape was not an option. It’s about how we’re all aware of our fate, in that we have a limited time in life. Escape isn’t an issue in the book, because it’s never really an option in our own lives. Characters like Stevens and the kids in Never Let Me Go do what we all do; try to give meaning to our lives by fulfilling some sort of duty.”

5.    Kathy’s narration is a key to the novel’s disquieting effect. Was the choice of Kathy’s perspective a wise one? How would the novel be different if narrated from Tommy’s point of view, or Ruth’s, or even Miss Emily’s?

6.    What are some of Ruth’s most striking character traits? How might her social behavior, at Hailsham and later at the Cottages, be explained? Why does she seek her “possible” so earnestly?

7.    Art is a recurring motif throughout Never Let Me Go. In which scenes is art a topic? What is the importance to the students as children? As adults? To the story’s themes?

8.    Speaking of love, what is the importance of the myth of deferral – both to the students and to the narrative? As you read, did you have hope that this was a real possibility for them?

9.    Why do you think there was so much attention given to sexual urges and relationships? Is it simply because the story focuses on adolescents and young adults, or is there another explanation?

10.    How is the students’ inability to have children significant?

11.    What is the significance of the title?

12.    What were your reactions to the meeting with Miss Emily and Madame?

13.    Is it surprising that Miss Emily admits feeling revulsion for the children at Hailsham?

14.    What is the book saying about childhood? Think about this, too, in the context of Miss Lucy, who wanted to make the children more aware of the future that awaited them. In contrast, Miss Emily claims they were able to give them something precious – “we gave you your childhoods” (p. 268).  In the context of the story as a whole, is this a valid argument?

15.    One the distinguishing features of Ishiguro’s novels is his prose style. How would you characterize his writing? How did you respond to it?

16.    If you have seen the recent movie adaptation, what impressed you? What disappointed you? Which did you find more poignant?

17.    Did this novel surprise you? Would you be open to reading another like it? Are there similar books you might suggest?


Other Resources:

Abe Books discussion questions
Lit Lovers discussion questions
Kazuo Ishiguro interviewed by Allan Gregg
Book review by The Guardian
Book review by The New York Times
Ethics of cloning Wikipedia page
Trailer for movie adaptation


If you liked Never Let Me Go, try…

Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood
Beyond Black by Hillary Mantel
The Leftovers by Tom Perrotta

Oryx and Crake book cover     Beyond Black book coverLeftovers book cover

Patty’s Pick: Blackbirds

Patty staff picks photoMiriam Black knows when and how you’re going to die. She’s a beautifully scummy woman resigned to edge-living and stealing from the dead…until she meets a trucker named Louis. For a gutter punk Dead Zone with a strong, but not infallible female lead, try Chuck Wendig’s Blackbirds.

Do Readers Make the Best Spies?

Sweet Tooth book coverIn Cold War-era Britain, compulsive reader Serena Frome is unexpectedly recruited by MI5. Her big chance comes with the launch of Operation Sweet Tooth, one designed to fight Communist propaganda by secretly supporting writers with the right ideals. Serena’s beauty and interest in books puts her in an ideal position to befriend rising author Tom Haley. From the first paragraph of Ian McEwan’s latest, we already know that the mission doesn’t end well, but it’s easy to be distracted by the earnest narration of actress Juliet Stevenson. Through her voice, Serena feels her way through perception, deception, and manipulation. Exposure is imminent, but who, by whom, and how? Just wait for the final reveal, one that will especially gratify fans of Atonement.

LISTS: Irish Authors

Finbar's Hotel book coverYeats, Beckett, and Joyce are darkly poetic and philosophically enthralling. They are also not the only excellent Irish writers out there. This Saint Patrick’s Day, grab a book to go with your Guinness – and try someone new!

Click here for a list of contemporary and classic Irish writers.