Check It Out Category: Book Discussion Questions

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:

The Secret Chord Book Cover

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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

All-Girl Filling Station's last reunion book coverTitle: 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:

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by Elizabeth Buchan

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by Stephanie Lehmann

Book Discussion Questions: The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

Cover of The Girl on the TrainTitle:  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:

Cover of The Pocket WifeThe Pocket Wife
by Susan Crawford

Behind Her Eyes book coverBehind Her Eyes
by Sarah Pinborough

Suspect book coverSuspect
by Michael Robotham

Book Discussion Questions: Small Blessings by Martha Woodroof

Small Blessings book coverTitle:  Small Blessings
Author:  Martha Woodroof
Page Count: 310 pages
Genre: Fiction, Domestic Fiction
Tone:  Heartwarming, Quirky, Thoughtful

Summary:
In an inspiring tale of a small-town college professor, a remarkable new woman at the bookshop, and the ten-year-old son he never knew he had, this comedy of manners reminds us that sometimes, when it feels like life has veered irrevocably off track, the track shifts in ways we never can have 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. Woodroof said she chose to set Small Blessings in a college to create a bell jar atmosphere where people couldn’t avoid each other.  How does a small college in a small town help create that type of atmosphere?

2. How important were college students to this story?

3. How would you describe Tom’s life at the start of Small Blessings?

4. What things happen to dramatically change his life?

5. In light of all the coincidences that made Tom’s life better, do you consider this book to be realistic fiction?  Why or why not?

6. What words would you use to describe the tone or mood of the story?

7. Who was your favorite character?  Which character was the best well described?  Are they the same person?

8. How did Marjory Puttnam have a hand in getting Tom and Rose together? Do you think she was purposefully matchmaking?

9. Do you think Marjory killed herself?

10. Did Tom and Agnes do the right thing for themselves and Rose to stay with her all those years?

11. What if she had never died? Would it still have been the best choice to make?

12. In what ways are Tom and Agnes a good team?

13. A lot of the book depends on the premise that Rose was a magnetic pull for other people. Was it clear to you what made her so special to them?

14. Tom’s thoughts after Marjory’s death contain the quote from which the book title comes: “Talking to your mother-in-law might seem like small potatoes to people who luxuriated in more richly felt lives, but it had often been enough for him to build a bearable day on. Small blessings, as his mother had so often said…..” What are some of the little things that can make a day better?

15. How are small blessings different than big blessings?

16. If you had to go through life with just small or big blessings, which would you sacrifice?

17. Did Woodroof succeed in writing a book about small blessings?

18. A few days after Marjorie’s death, Rose invites Agnes to lunch.  During her lunch with Agnes, Rose realizes three things about herself:  That she hasn’t had the courage to explore her own heart, that she was lonely, and that she had kept people away with self-imposed separateness.

-Does it take courage to explore your own heart? How so?
-What does it mean to have self-imposed separateness?
-Why do you think Rose lived that way?
-Is it possible to admit to loneliness and not see life or one’s own self negatively?

19. Does Rose change from her realizations?

20. Russell has hidden the pain of his unhappy childhood and awkward childhood from everyone, including his AA sponsor.  Why do you think he kept this to himself?

21. Is there a line between being open about one’s pain and “airing dirty laundry”?  If so, what is the difference to you?

23. How would you describe Iris and Russell’s relationship?  Did you find their personalities very different or very similar?

24. Do you think Russell is capable of changing and will he do it?

25. Tom, Agnes, Russell, Rose and Iris all seem to experience some degree of loneliness.  What examples did you see in the story?

26. In light of these examples, what does Woodroof seem to be saying about loneliness? Is it fixed or changeable?  Is it caused by fault or does it just happen?

27. Rose’s mom, Mavis, tells her, “The worst thing you can do in life is turn away from it.”  What does this mean?  Do you agree?

28. Woodroof is open about being a recovering alcoholic herself. At the story’s end, Iris is beginning a difficult journey to recovery, Russell has relapsed, and we know that Serafina has died. Is this novel hopeful or discouraging about the chances for recovery from addiction?  What made it so to you?

29. There are several relationships in the book: Tom and Agnes, Tom and Rose, Rose and Henry, Henry with Tom and the friendship between Tom and Russell. Which one was your favorite?  Why?

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

OTHER RESOURCES:

Lit Lovers’ Reading Guide
Martha Woodroof’s website
10 Questions for Martha Woodroof (via booksonthetable.com)
Kirkus review of Small Blessings
Interview with Martha Woodroof (video)
Deep South Magazine: “‘Small Blessings’ with Martha Woodroof”

READALIKES:

Gilead book coverGilead
by Marilynne Robinson

Book Discussion Questions: Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather

Death Comes for the Archbishop book coverTitle:  Death Comes for the Archbishop
Author:  Willa Cather
Page Count: 297 pages
Genre: Historical FictionClassic, Inspirational Fiction
Tone:  Contemplative, Unassuming, Strong Sense of Place

Summary:
In 1851 French Bishop Latour is dispatched to New Mexico to reawaken its slumbering Catholicism. Moving along the endless prairies, he spreads his faith the only way he knows—gently, although he must contend with the unforgiving landscape, derelict and sometimes openly rebellious priests, and his own loneliness.

 

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 would you describe the mood of this book? Did you like it?

2. How does the Prologue set the scene for the story? What attitudes and themes does it foreshadow?

3. Describe the friendship between Jean Latour and Joseph Valliant. How essential is their relationship to the book as a whole?

4. Magdalena’s story is one of the more memorable in their early travels, and she then recurs throughout the book. What impact does her character have on the priests? On the reader?

5. Is this a Catholic book? What does it have to say about the greater theme of faith?

6. Are there aspects of religion (or those who profess to be religious) that are portrayed in a negative light?

7. Was the mission of the priests one of service, conversion, or something else? Did they make a difference?

8. What does Latour have in common with the ideal of the Western hero? What is different?

9. Some readers have trouble with Latour due to his lack of passion and sometimes even coldness. Is this how he struck you?

10. When deciding whom to appoint, it is said

The new vicar must be a young man, of strong constitution, full of zeal, and above all, intelligent. He will have to deal with savagery and ignorance, with dissolute priests and political intrigue. He must be a man to whom order is necessary – as dear as life.

What do you think of these qualities? Were the Cardinals right? Are there others that proved to be necessary in the position?

11. How would you characterize the ways in which the priests interacted with their communities? With individuals? Was there anything that you think they should have done differently?

12. Did you respond to the vivid descriptions of settings, of landscape, of nature? Were there any that stood out especially?

13. In what ways are art and architecture a theme in the book?

14. What was the prevailing attitude toward Americans? Was this justified?

15. What did you think of Cather’s decision to use several historical names and figures in her story? Does this add credibility? Distract?

16. What instances of humor did you find in the book?

17. How satisfied are you with the title? Why do you think it was chosen?

18. Would you say this is an easy book to read? How difficult is it to describe or summarize?

19. Cather considered this book to be her best and most important. Do you agree? Even if you haven’t read other works, do you see significance?

20. Cather once wrote, “When people ask me if it has been a hard or easy road, I always answer with the quotation, ‘The end is nothing, the road is all.'” What do you think of that statement in general? Is this sentiment effectively illustrated by Death Comes for the Archbishop?

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

OTHER RESOURCES:

Death Comes for the Archbishop as one of All-TIME 100 Novels
Willa Cather biography
The Protestant Who Wrote the Greatest Book About American Catholicism
Cather draws attention to New Mexico history
Footsteps: Entering the World of Willa Cather’s Archbishop (via The New York Times)
Discussion questions from the Classics Reading Group of Algonquin Area Public Library

READALIKES:

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