Month: July 2013

Check It Out Blog

Be Swept Off Your Feet

Way Back Home book cover

Winners of the 2013 RITA Awards, celebrating the best in romance, have been announced.  Which love story will you choose?

Contemporary Single Title RomanceThe Way Back Home by Barbara Freethy

Historical RomanceA Rogue by Any Other Name by Sarah MacLean

Romantic Suspense:   Scorched by Laura Griffin

Best First Book and Novel with Strong Romantic ElementsThe Haunting of Maddy Clare by Simone St. James

Words Have Power

Lexicon book cover“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me?”  Not so fast!  Words can be weapons, especially in Lexicon by Max Barry.  This is a world in which a secretive international syndicate of “poets” collects special words and uses them to control others.  What does this have to do with a seemingly clueless man being kidnapped from an airport bathroom, a teenage grifter living on the street, or the horrifying event that first wiped out and then quarantined an entire Australian town?  When the storylines converge, everything changes.  Thrilling and thought-provoking, the scariest elements hit close to home, warning us of our vulnerability to manipulation.  Try this high-octane dystopian fable, and you’ll find yourself entertained beyond words.

LISTS: Feel Good Nonfiction

Full of Heart book coverIt’s summer! It’s bright, and the world seems wide open with possibility. Grab a nonfiction title that will uplift your spirits as you sit on the beach, your lunch break, the train to work or wherever you find yourself this sunny season.

Click here for feel good nonfiction.

Hushpuppy Versus the Storm

Beasts of the Southern Wild DVD coverHushpuppy is a 6-year-old girl who lives not with her father, but in the adjacent trailer next to his in a Southern Louisiana bayou. Her mother is long gone and her daddy, Wink, loves her as much as his alcoholism allows. Hushpuppy is alone much of the time, but life holds a pleasant balance – until a storm of coastal-changing capabilities sets its course to her home. In Beasts of the Southern Wild, a dreamy, brutal, yet joyful film, Hushpuppy strives to save herself and her father from a natural disaster – only Hushpuppy doesn’t see it as a storm raging toward them…she envisions prehistoric monsters striding to wreak havoc on the Bathtub, her hometown.

Book Discussion Questions: The Zookeeper’s Wife by Diane Ackerman

The Zookeeper's Wife book coverSPOILER WARNING: These book discussion questions are highly detailed and will ruin plot points, if you have not read the book.

Title: The Zookeeper’s Wife: A War Story
Author: Diane Ackerman
Page Count: 368
Genre: WWII Nonfiction
Tone: Inspiring, Dramatic


Questions composed by MPPL Staff:

1. Would this make a good movie?

2. Was the book what you expected?

3. Were the characters fully realized? Do you feel as though you knew them well?

4. The book is specifically entitled The Zookeeper’s Wife, keeping the focus firmly on Antonina. Was this an effective authorial strategy?

5. Give characteristics to describe Antonina.

6. How did you feel about Jan? Did your opinion change during the course of the story?

7. How old did you picture Rys? Did he mature in the course of the story?

8. Who were some of the more memorable characters? (Human or animal!)

9. Did Han and Antonina anthropomorphize animals and nature? Would you have in their situation?

10. Do you find it unusual that Antonina does not know, nor does she want to know, about her husband’s work? Why or why not?

11. Did you want to know more about Jan’s role in the resistance or more in general about what was being done? Why do you think this wasn’t emphasized in the story?

12. What does Ackerman celebrate in the culture? What does she criticize?

13. Do you trust the author’s account? Is there anything that gives concern?

14. What do you think drew Ackerman to tell this story?

15. Ackerman is a novelist, naturalist, and poet. How do you think her telling this story would differ from a WWII historian’s telling?

16. Jonathan Safran Foer said, “I can’t imagine a better story or storyteller. The Zookeeper’s Wife will touch every nerve you have.” Would you agree? Is the author a great storyteller?

17. Would The Zookeeper’s Wife have worked as a historical novel instead?

18. Did anything surprise you about the portrayal of the Nazis? Did you find any of their ideaology contradictory?

19. Are there any environmental issues from The Zookeeper’s Wife that are still around today?

20. What are the themes of The Zookeeper’s Wife? What personal, societal, political, and scientific thoughts did this book give you?

21. Ackerman states in an interview, “It improved my idea of what a hero is. We tend to think of heroes only in terms of violent combat…but human beings also perform radical acts of compassion…Antonina’s story needs to be told, because it’s a tale of the heroic compassion that so-called ‘ordinary people’ rise to, in every era, and it’s time that they became role models, too.” Did your idea of a hero expand?

22. How does The Zookeeper’s Wife compare to other WWII narratives? To other tales of heroism?


Other Resources

Diane Ackerman’s website
Lit Lovers’ book discussion questions
Diane Ackerman on C-SPAN
Diane Ackerman at the Los Angeles Public Library
Science Friday interview with Diane Ackerman
Powell’s interview with Diane Ackerman
NYT review of The Zookeeper’s Wife
Animal welfare in Nazi Germany


If you liked The Zookeeper’s Wife, try…

Schindler’s List by Thomas Keneally
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer
The Pianist by Wladyslaw Szpilman

Schindler's List book cover   Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society book cover   The Pianist book cover




New Broadway Soundtracks

Kinky Boots CD coverCan’t wait for buzzed-about Broadway shows to make their way to the Midwest? Ease that longing with the best new cast recordings of the Great White Way. Kinky Boots won six 2013 Tony Awards, including Best Musical, Best Actor in a Leading Role (the fabulous Billy Porter), and Best Original Score for composer/lyricist /pop icon Cyndi Lauper. Honors for Best Musical Revival went to Pippin, reimagined with a circus theme and featuring the spellbinding performance of Best Actress in a Leading Role Patina Miller. If jukebox hits are more your flavor, you can’t miss the energetic medleys of Motown: The Musical. Though the stage may be only in your mind, the theater experience will inspire a personal standing ovation.

LISTS: Current Historical Fiction Authors

Raiders from the North book coverRoyal affairs! Battles! Women’s suffrage! Impeachment! Household servants! Human rights! There are so many different topics to historical fiction. It doesn’t matter if you want a novel set in the same era as Downton Abbey or a story focused on ancient Rome – the book you want is out there!

Click here to see stand-out authors currently writing historical fiction.

An Imagined History of a Photograph

Mary Coin book coverAn attractive, albeit worn down, woman sits with her jaw propped on her hand as her little ones clutch her sides. Dorothea Lange captured the photo of the “Migrant Mother” in 1936 and it became the image that expressed the hard, gritty times of the Great Depression. Marisa Silver fictionalizes the subject of the photograph into Mary Coin, who stopped to rest on the road when a photographer, Vera Dare, snapped her family’s picture. Both Vera and Mary’s stories are woven into the current day narrative of Walker Dodge, a professor confronted with a family mystery tied to the photograph. Mary Coin is for any reader in love with literary fiction with equal parts heartache and historical depth.