Check It Out Category: Book Discussion Questions

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:

The Widow book coverThe Widow
by Fiona Barton

Waking lions book coverWaking Lions
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:

Cover of SkylightSkylight
by José Saramago

Cleaner of Chartres book coverThe Cleaner of Chartres
by Salley Vickers

A Novel Bookstore book coverA Novel Bookstore
by Laurence Cossé

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

READALIKES:

The Ashford Affair book coverThe Ashford Affair
by Lauren Willig

Twain's End book coverTwain’s End
by Lynn Cullen

Boleto book coverBoleto
by Alyson Hagy

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:

Breath of Scandal book coverBreath of Scandal
by Sandra Brown

Fifth Angel book coverThe Fifth Angel
by Tim Green

Weekend Warriors book coverWeekend Warriors
by Fern Michaels

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

Salt Sweat Tears
by Adam Rackley

Nazi GamesNazi Games
by David Clay Large