Check It Out Category: Book Discussion Questions

Book Discussion Questions: Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger

Cover of Ordinary GraceTitle: Ordinary Grace
Author:  William Kent Krueger
Page Count: 307 pages
Genre:  Mystery, Psychological fiction
Tone:  Melancholy, Nostalgic, Strong sense of place

Summary:
Looking back at a tragic event that occurred during his 13th year, a man explores how a complicated web of secrets, adultery and betrayal shattered his Methodist family and their small 1961 Minnesota community.

 

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. In Robert Kennedy’s eulogy to John F. Kennedy he used the phrase “Awful grace of God.” This phrase was used several times in this novel. What do you think is the meaning?

2. Do you believe as Aeschylus said, “He who learns must suffer”?

3. Why do you think Jake’s stutter permanently disappeared after he gave grace?

4. What does ordinary grace mean to you?

5. Who do you consider the main character in this book?

6. Without the war, what path do you think Nathan would have ended up taking career wise?

7. What do you think drew Jake and Lise together?

8. Do you think Emil was still in love with Ruth and vice-versa?

9. When the body of the itinerant was found Frank downplayed Jake’s presence and that upset Jake. However, when Emil Brandt tried to kill himself Frank tried to turn Jake into the hero and that really upset Jake. Why?

10. Why do you think the author never actually told us what happened in the war that changed Nathan so much?

11. Ruth did not seem to care for Gus very much in the beginning of the story, yet her attitude toward him seemed to change by the end. Why do you think that was?

12. Jake said he is afraid that his mom won’t come back. I mean she might come home, but she won’t come back (pg 260).  What did he mean by that?

13. When Frankie was accusing Emil Brandt of killing Ariel, Jake asked if it really matters who killed her. What did you think about that?

14. What did you think of Warren Redstone?  Why did he keep all those trinkets in his can?

15. Why do you think he was in jail?

16. Why didn’t Frank tell anyone about Warren’s connection to the dead man?

17. Jake said “There are somethings you can’t run from. You can’t run from who you are.  You can leave everything behind except who you are” (pg 265).  Is that true?

18. What did you think about how it ended? What happened to all of the characters?

19. On the first page, as Frank is talking about the events that were to happen, he says “You might think that I remember that summer as tragic and I do, but not completely.” After having finished the novel, what do you think of that statement?

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 provided by Simon and Schuster
Lit Lovers’ discussion questions
New York Journal of Books review
Q&A with William Kent Krueger
Interview with William Kent Krueger (video)

READALIKES:

Montana 1948 bok coverMontana 1948
by Larry Watson

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by Alex George

the homecoming of Samuel Lake book coverThe Homecoming of Samuel Lake
by Jenny Wingfeld

Book Discussion Questions: Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf

Our Souls at Night book coverTitle:  Our Souls at Night
Author:  Kent Haruf
Page Count: 179 pages
Genre:  Literary Fiction, Love Stories
Tone:  Reflective, Bittersweet, Moving

Summary:
In Holt, Colorado, widower Louis Waters is initially thrown when the widowed Addie Moore suggests that they spend time together, in bed, to stave off loneliness, but soon they are exchanging confidences and memories.

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. Imagine yourself a resident of Holt. If you discovered (or suspected) the evening visits, would you have an opinion? What if you were a member of the family?

2. The first sentences read, “And then there was the day when Addie Moore made a call on Louis Waters. It was an evening in May just before full dark.” In your opinion, how effective is this as a first line? What does it convey?

  1. 3. Is it significant that the proposal was at Addie’s instigation rather than Louis’s? How so? What would have been different in the story otherwise?

4. Does this proposal seem outrageous to you? Understandable? Was it brave?

5. Ruth says of Louis, “But he’s no saint. He’s caused his share of pain.” Did that surprise you at the time? Is it better for the story than Louis isn’t a saint?

6. The arrangement is a chance for these two individuals to revisit with each other what has happened in their pasts. What is the appeal of this? Which of those memories made the biggest impact on their relationship? On you as a reader?

7. How interesting is it for a reader to just listen in on characters’ conversations? Is it a talent of the author to make this interesting? Did you want something more to happen?

8. Do the characters think of this relationship as casual? At what point do you think the relationship became more for Addie? For Louis?

9. Was it inevitable that their relationship became sexual? Did you want it to? Were you surprised how deep into the story we were before it did?

10. We see strong instances of their children reproaching the parents about this arrangement. What did you think of that?

11. Gene could arguably be a villain in this story. What did you think of him? Was he at all justified in his concerns or actions?

12. How did the introduction of Jamie change their relationship? Of Bonny?

13. Contrast their interactions with Jamie to what we know of their relationships with their own children.

14. In one passage, Louis confesses:

I think I regret hurting Tamara more than I do hurting my wife. I failed my spirit or something. I missed some kind of call to be something more than a mediocre high school English teacher in a little dirt-blown town.

What does this tell us about Louis? Does it affect your view of him?

15. In what places of the story did you find humor?

16. Gene gives an ultimatum. Did Addie make the right choice? Is there a ‘right’ choice?

17. Later, Addie calls (again, her initiative) and wants to connect again. At first Louis balks, asking, “isn’t this the sneaking around we didn’t want to do?” What would you have done?

18. Did you want more from the ending? Why did Haruf make this choice?

19. A New York Times review asserts that Haruf’s “great subject was the struggle of decency against small-mindedness, and his rare gift was to make sheer decency a moving subject.” Do you see evidence of this struggle in Our Souls at Night? Again, putting yourself in the place of an observer/family, would you take any issue with the word ‘decency’?

20. This book was written as Haruf knew his time was limited. What did he want most to say? Should this be in our minds as we read? If you knew, did this affect your reading of the story?

21. When undertaking the project, Haruf told his wife Cathy, “I’m going to write a book about us.” What elements do you suspect were autobiographical?

22. Did you find the lack of quotation marks distracting? Why might the author make this choice?

23. Haruf’s style is almost always described as “spare” and his characters “plainspoken”. Are these qualities appealing to you?

24. Do you think his style and chosen setting may have held him back from wider recognition?

25. One writer commented that Our Souls at Night “engages sentiment without becoming sentimental”. What do you think about that statement?

26. Is this a sad or heavy book? How would you describe the feeling to someone else?

27. An upcoming film adaptation stars Robert Redford and Jane Fonda. How does that fit the characters in your mind? Are you interested in viewing the film?

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

OTHER RESOURCES:

Kent Haruf’s Last Novel is a Beautiful Gift” via The Oregonian
Final interview with Kent Haruf courtesy of Denver Center of Performing Arts
Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel review and analysis of Our Souls at Night
LitLovers discussion guide
Our Souls at Night competes in the Tournament of Books
Cathy Haruf on Her Husband’s Final Novel” via Knopf Doubleday

READALIKES:

To Be Sung Underwater book coverTo Be Sung Underwater
by Tom McNeal

Lila
by Marilynne Robinson

O Pioneers book coverO Pioneers!
by Willa Cather

Book Discussion Questions: I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh

I Let you go book coverTitle: I Let You Go
Author: Clare Mackintosh
Page Count: 388 pages
Genre: Psychological Suspense
Tone: Atmospheric, Haunting, Gritty

Summary:
Devastated by a hit-and-run accident that has ended the life of her young son, Jenna moves to the remote Welsh coast to search for healing while two dedicated policemen try to get to the bottom of the case.

 

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. This is Clare Mackintosh’s debut novel. In what ways did this book include autobiographical elements? How did it make her story more believable?

2. If you had to describe what kind of book this was, what would it be?

3. What other books that you have read that might seem similar to I Let You Go?

4. What did you think of the pacing of the book? Did it remain consistent throughout?

5. Let’s talk about style. How does the way this story is told differ from most novels? How does this style make the story work?

6. What ten words would you use to describe the characters Ian, Jenna, and Patrick?

7. How would you characterize Ray, Mags, and Kate and their relationships? Why are work relationships prone to romance or infidelity?

8. Which characters do you have a visual image of in your mind?

9. How did the author bring the settings alive? Describe some of the settings from what you remember.

10. This novel was released first in Britain and the author lives in North Wales. If you didn’t know that how did the story give you a hint? Did you find some of the language and police titles and procedures confusing? Was it off putting?

11. Do you think the author understood domestic violence well? How did that come across in her writing? How did this book give you a peek into how an abused woman might think and feel?

12. How do you see Ian grooming Jenna and the control and abuse starting? Give examples.

13. Who tried to warn Jenna about Ian before their marriage? Why didn’t Jenna listen? Why didn’t Eve or Jenna’s mother ever tell Jenna the truth about her father?

14. How does the abuser view his abusive actions? Where is the responsibility placed?

15. How does the victim view their being abused? Where is the responsibility placed?

16. What was the huge twist in the middle of the story? How did the author fool you?

17. The author had Jenna writing names and messages in the sand and photographing them. What were the practical reasons of why Jenna did this? What were some of the messages? How could her writing names and messages be seen as symbolic?

18. How did Ian feel about the baby and Jenna’s pregnancy at the beginning? What changed as time went on? What did Ian do? Who takes the blame? When does Jenna begin to put the blame on Ian?

19. Who was driving the car that killed Jacob? Why did it happen? Who felt responsible and why?

20. What were some of the many choices Jenna made throughout the story? What are the consequences of those choices?

21. Near the end Patrick is talking to Jenna after she is released and the trial is over. Why did Jenna confess to killing Jacob and almost go to prison?

22. Did you like the ending?  Why did the author make is ambiguous?

23. Are there any other loose ends in this novel or things that weren’t believable?

OTHER RESOURCES:

Book club kit from the publisher
Book of the Month discussion forum
Article: “The True Events That Inspired ‘I Let You Go'”
Kirkus Review for I Let You Go
BBC Breakfast video interview
Informal interview on Google Hangout

READALIKES:

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by Fiona Barton

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by Ayelet Gundar-Goshen

Redemption Road
by John Hart

Book Discussion Questions: The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery

Elegance of the Hedgehog book coverTitle:  The Elegance of the Hedgehog
Author:  Muriel Barbery
Page Count: 325 pages
Genre:  Literary, Fiction in Translation
Tone:  Introspective, Quirky, Bittersweet

Summary:
Renée, the concierge of a grand Parisian apartment building, is easily overlooked due to her appearance and her demeanor. Resident twelve-year-old Paloma is determined to avoid the pampered and vacuous future laid out for her and decides to end her life on her next birthday. Both will have their lives transformed by the arrival of a new tenant.

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. 1. We usually make a point of not beginning discussions with this question, but in light of Paloma’s writing

With her it’s as if a text was written so that we can identify the characters, the narrator, the setting, the plot, the time of the story, and so on.  I don’t think it has ever occurred to her that a text is written above all to be read and to arouse emotions in the reader.  Can you imagine, she has never even asked us the question: “Did you like this text/this book?”  And yet that is the only question that could give meaning to the narrative points of view or the construction of the story…  (153)

Did you like this book?  Why or why not?  And do you agree with Paloma that this question is central to discussing or thinking about a book?

2. The story is presented through the interplay of two narrators. Would it have been as effective (or more, or less) if we had only one POV?  Why not Kakuro Ozu as well?  Would you have liked to experience his voice more directly?

3. What do Paloma and Renée have in common? Each has a secret life and a desire to stay hidden.  How so and why?

4. What did you think of Renée’s double life?

5. In the passage from which the title is taken, Paloma writes

Madame Michel has the elegance of the hedgehog; on the outside, she’s covered in quills, a real fortress, but my gut feeling is that on the inside, she has the same simple refinement as the hedgehog: a deceptively indolent little creature, fiercely solitary—and terribly elegant.  (143)

Would you agree with her description?  Would Ozu?

6. Were there any of Paloma’s “Profound Thoughts” or “Journal of the Movement of the World” entries to which you found yourself especially responding?

7. What do Paloma and Renée teach each other? Does Ozu teach and/or learn as well from them?

8. In what ways is Paloma still a child? Would you say she is neglected?

9. What of Paloma’s family? What roles do they play in the story?  (mother, sister, father)

10. How is social class reflected in this book?

11. What is the “goldfish bowl” and how is it important to the story?

12. How is identity also a theme throughout The Elegance of the Hedgehog? Think about how Renée might define herself as well as Paloma’s observations about the people around her.

13. Is Ozu a fully-realized character, or is he primarily a catalyst for the two women?

14. How did Renée’s backstory (her husband, her sister) contribute to her understanding of herself? To our understanding of her?

15. Is this a romantic story?

16. How did you react to the shocking event at the end? Why do you think the author chose this development and had it unfold in this way?

17. Would you have preferred a happier ending?

18. Did any of Renée’s parting words resonate with you? What of Paloma’s epiphany and, similarly, her last paragraph?

19. Did the book inspire you to explore literature, art, film, music, manga, language, or philosophy?

20. Would you describe either the book or the characters as pretentious?

21. Did the book surprise you at all? In what ways?

22. This book has been translated into over 30 languages. What do you think accounts for its popularity?  Did the fact it is a translation affect your reading of the book?

23. Where is humor brought into the story? Is it well-chosen?  Ill-chosen?  Distracting?  Needed?

24. Have you seen the film The Hedgehog? How successful is it as an adaptation?  Did you have any reaction to the casting or directorial choices?

25. How might you describe or recommend The Elegance of the Hedgehog to others? What other works might you recommend to one who liked 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:

interview with author Muriel Barbery
The Elegance of Muriel: An Author Profile of Muriel Barbery” via Publishers Weekly
New York Times book review of The Elegance of the Hedgehog
LitLovers discussion guide
France’s Iconic ‘Concierge’ — a Dying Breed?
video: Critic and educator Robert Adams lectures on The Elegance of the Hedgehog
movie trailer for the adaptation The Hedgehog

READALIKES:

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by Salley Vickers

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Book Discussion Questions: Circling the Sun by Paula McLain

Circling the Sun book coverTitle: Circling the Sun
Author: Paula McLain
Page Count: 496 pages
Genre:  Historical Fiction, Biographical Fiction
Tone:  Atmospheric, Commanding

Summary:
Brings to life a fearless and captivating woman from recent history: Beryl Markham, a record-setting aviator caught up in a passionate love triangle with safari hunter Denys Finch Hatton and Karen Blixen, author of the classic memoir Out of Africa.

 

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. Historical fiction based on real people has become a popular genre.  Why do you think this is?  How do you feel about novels based on real people?

2. Biographies have been written about Beryl Markham, and Markham herself wrote a memoir, West with the Night.  In your opinion, would having access to these works make it more or less challenging to create a fictionalized account of her life?

3. Were you familiar with Beryl Markham before you read Circling the Sun?  Did reading this book contribute to your understanding of her?

4. Are you curious about the parts of Markham’s life that McLain chose to not include?

5. How do you think the author meant to portray Beryl Markham?  Do you believe Beryl is portrayed in a positive light?

6. Do you believe first person narration helped you connect with Beryl as a character?

7. Does Beryl have a lot of agency in her own life?   How does she handle circumstances not within her control?  Did you disagree with any of her choices?

8. How did Beryl conduct her life within or against gender norms of the time?

9. Karen tells Beryl she admires her independence, to which Beryl replies, “I have fought for independence here, and freedom, too. More and more I find they’re not the same thing” (pg. 161).  How are the themes of independence and freedom explored in Circling the Sun?

10. Does the colonial setting complicate your opinion of the book?

11. Some readers have critiqued the novel’s emphasis on romantic pursuits at the expense of additional exploration of Markham’s accomplishments in horse training and aviation.  What are your thoughts on this?

12. Marveling over the new foal Pegasus, Beryl thinks, “Somehow this miraculous animal belonged to me: a bit of grace I hadn’t even known I was desperate for” (pg. 61). In her youth and early adulthood, how does Beryl connect with animals, and horses in particular?

13. In her memoir West with the Night, Beryl Markham wrote, “Africa is mystic; it is wild; it is a sweltering inferno; it is a photographer’s paradise, a hunter’s Valhalla, an escapist’s Utopia.  It is what you will, and it withstands all interpretations.  … It is all these things but one thing – it is never dull” (pg. 8).  How did the setting of Circling the Sun contribute to your understanding of Africa in the early 20th century?  How important was Kenya to Markham?

14. Toward the end of West with the Night, Markham wrote, “A life has to move or it stagnates.  Even this life, I think. … Every tomorrow ought not to resemble every yesterday” (pg. 238).  Do you think Circling the Sun captures Markham’s zeal for variety?

OTHER RESOURCES:

Discussions questions written by publisher
Lit Lovers’ reading guide
McLain on the story
behind Circling the Sun
Photo gallery provided by publisher
New York Times article on Beryl Markham
NPR book review on Circling the Sun
Video of Paula McLain discussing her work
Longitude Blog’s interview with Paula McLain

READALIKES:

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by Lauren Willig

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Book Discussion Questions: Guilt by Association by Susan R. Sloan

Guilt By Association book coverTitle:  Guilt by Association
Author:  Susan R. Sloan
Page Count: 496 pages
Genre:  Psychological Thriller, Legal Fiction
Tone:  Plot-Driven, Suspenseful, Richly Detailed

Summary:
A provocative tale that mirrors today’s headlines, this page-turning first novel is a gripping account of one woman’s brave struggle to triumph over the pain of a vicious rape, her battle to rebuild her life and the ultimate, shocking confrontation with the man who nearly destroyed her.

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. Did this book shock or disturb you? Why?

2. What was the author trying to accomplish by writing this novel — provide entertainment? deliver a message? something else?

3. In the beginning of the story, after Karen was raped the first time, the detective said that her case would never make it to court. Considering the times, if you were Karen, would you have pursued it any further?

4. Detective Haller said, “If it was my granddaughter, I’d tell her to go home and forget it – and be more careful the next time.” Sergeant Tug then said that if it was one of his granddaughters, he’d castrate the guy who did it. Again, considering the time, which thoughts would be closer to what your own might have been?

5. Do you believe in the first rape that Karen prompted her own misfortune in any way?

6. Were you surprised/angered at Karen’s parents reaction when Karen tried to tell them what happened? What was your opinion of Karen’s mom? What about her dad?

7. If you were Karen, would you have told Peter (her fiancé) the truth? If you were Peter, how do you think you might have reacted regarding Karen’s situation?

8. How important were Karen’s friends Demelza, Ione, Kevin, Mitch, Jenna, and Felicity? What attracted Karen to each?

9. How different was Nancy from Karen’s other friends?

10. What effect did Karen telling her friend Natalie, the psychiatrist, about the rape have on her?

11. It seemed inevitable that Karen and Ted would end up together. Were you happy for them? What attracted Ted to Karen? How was he different from Peter – especially when Karen told him that she had been brutally raped?

12. Was Karen a good stepmom to Ted’s girls Jessica and Gwen?

13. Were you surprised when Karen decided to work at Robert’s campaign office? Do you think she had her plan in mind from the very beginning when she started working there?

14. How did you feel when Karen went out for drinks with Robert and then accepted a ride home from him? Did you have any clue, at this point, what she had planned?

15. Putting yourself in Karen’s shoes, might you have made the same choices she did? Do you think it was worth putting herself through the same nightmare again so that she would be vindicated? Was it worth the payoff?

16. Were you surprised at how supportive Ted was? Do you think if he had known what Karen was up to, he would have put a stop to it?

17. Did Robert have any redeeming qualities? Why do think his wife Elizabeth stood by him all those years, knowing that he was having affairs?

18. After the second rape, everyone was supportive of Karen except her mother. Did you expect anything different?

19. Before the trial, Karen told the ADA, “I just hope I don’t let you down.” Why did she say that?

20. Why did the author choose Guilt by Association for the title? Was it a good choice? Is it distinctive enough?

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

OTHER RESOURCES:

biographical information courtesy of Bainbridge Public Library
Kirkus book review of Guilt by Association
Publishers Weekly book review of Guilt by Association

READALIKES:

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Book Discussion Questions: The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown

Boys in the Boat book coverTitle: The Boys in the Boat
Author:  Daniel James Brown
Page Count: 404 pages
Genre:  Nonfiction, Sports
Tone:  Impassioned, Inspiring

Summary:
Out of the depths of the Depression comes an irresistible story about beating the odds and finding hope in the most desperate of times – the improbable, intimate account of how nine working-class boys from the American West showed the world at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin what true grit really meant.

 

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. What made you want to read this book? Would you have felt compelled to read it outside of book club?

2. Do you think that reading this during the Olympics would make a difference to you?

3. What are the differences, if any, as to how the Olympics were regarded in the 1930s to how they are regarded now?

4. What are your thoughts on Avery Brundage and his role on the Olympic committee?

5. Bobby Moch was Jewish. Knowing what he knew about Germany, are you surprised he went? Would you have gone? Why did his father not tell him sooner?

6. Should there have been a boycott against the Olympics?

7. Leni Riefenstiahl is probably the most famous female director ever; what did you think of her?

8. Let’s talk about Joe’s family life. What are your thoughts? Specifically Thula and Harry ?

9. Which relationship do you believe was ultimately the most pivotal for Joe?

10. Ulbrickson kept putting different boys in different boats, what do you think made these boys fit together?

11. What do you think was the turning point for Joe to become a unit with the rest of the boys in the boat?

12. Why do you think the boys were so unbeatable?

13. How much of a pivotal character was Pocock? Could they have won without him?

14. What did you think of George Pocock’s issues with the California coach Ky Ebright?

15. What did you think about the journey over to Germany on the cruise ship? Did anything interest you?

16. What did you think about the way the Germans handled the race?

OTHER RESOURCES:

Lit Lovers’ Reading Group Guide
West Maui Book Club discussion questions
Seattle Times Q&A
(Video) Daniel James Brown on The Boys in the Boat
“Nazi Olympics Berlin 1936” article by United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
The Rowing Team That Stunned the World

 

READALIKES:

The Three-Year Swim Club
by Julie Checkoway

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Nazi GamesNazi Games
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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

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