Check It Out Category: Book Groups

Book Discussion Questions: I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh

I Let you go book cover

Title: 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?

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

Boys in the Boat book cover

Title: 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?

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Book Discussion Questions: Small Blessings by Martha Woodroof

Small Blessings book cover

Title:  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!

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Book Discussion Questions: The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

The Thirteenth Tale book cover

Title:  The Thirteenth Tale
Author:  Diane Setterfield
Page Count: 406 pages
Genre: Gothic Fiction; Psychological Suspense
Tone:  Atmospheric, Dramatic

Summary:
When her health begins failing, the mysterious author Vida Winter decides to let Margaret Lea, a biographer, write the truth about her life, but Margaret needs to verify the facts since Vida has a history of telling outlandish tales.

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. In many ways, this is a book for book lovers, and there are multiple passages that speak to readers. For instance, early in the book (p. 32) Margaret contrasts her reading as a child to her reading as an adult.

  • a. Do you recall why Margaret says she prefers old novels? (see p. 29)
  • b. Her father advocates for contemporary writing, ones “where the message is that there is no end to human suffering, only endurance…endings that are muted, but which echo longer in the memory.” Do you side with Margaret or with her father? Is it that simple?
  • c. Given those characterizations, does The Thirteenth Tale resonate more as an old novel or as contemporary writing?

2. Let’s dig in by putting ourselves in Margaret’s place. We’re living our quiet bookshop lives, and we receive a letter without real context or satisfactory explanation. Why would we (as Margaret) even consider accepting the invitation?

3. In one interview about her career change from academia to author, Setterfield notes her realization that “whilst books are extraordinary, writers themselves are no more or less special than anyone else.” How might we say this is reflected in the novel?

4. Would you call The Thirteenth Tale a ghost story? If so, who are the ghosts? Who is haunted?

5. What do biography and storytelling have in common? How are they different? Would you rather have the truth or a good story?

6. Were you surprised at Miss Winter’s true identity? What points Margaret (and the reader) to this conclusion?

7. Who was saved from the fire? How can we be certain?

8. Margaret realizes that “plunging deep into Miss Winter’s story was a way of turning my back on my own” (p. 282). Was this true? Did it work?

9. Angelfield (the house) becomes an external symbol of the family and its changing condition. Can you think of examples of when this seems to be true? Which other rooms or homes reflect their inhabitants?

10. Miss Winter tells Margaret that “it doesn’t do to get attached to secondary characters. It’s not their story. They come, they go, and when they go they’re gone for good. That’s all there is to it.” (p. 191-2). Does that prove to be true in her story? In the book?

11. How essential is what we learn from Hester’s diary?

12. What did you think of the “game” of the conveyor belt and Margaret’s later admission (to us) that she did love books more than people?

13. In what ways does The Thirteenth Tale fit the characteristics of a Gothic novel?

14. Several classic Gothic novels are named, some multiple times. Did this enhance the experience for you? Did it seem too “on point” or distract by the comparison, or did you find it original?

15. What other recurring symbols seem to be present in The Thirteenth Tale?

16. Did you like the structure: Beginnings, Middles, Endings, Beginnings? How is this choice significant?

17. In which character names did you find significance?

18. What patterns seem to be repeated throughout the story?

19. Aurelius wonders if it’s better to have no story than one that keeps changing, and Margaret’s mother thinks a weightless story is better than one too heavy. What do you think is better for these characters? In general?

20. How effective is the choice of title? What does it contribute to tone and to theme?

21. The idea of siblings, especially twins, is central to the story in many ways. How do the different relationships affect the characters and themes? Did this enhance your experience of the story?

22. Did you find the ending satisfying? Explain your answer.

23. The question of precisely when The Thirteenth Tale takes place has sparked much speculation. As you read, did you have a time period in mind? Would you have preferred this be specifically stated? What is gained in leaving the time undefined?

24. Is there anyone today who might be Vida Winter’s contemporary counterpart: someone who has written multiple bestsellers, whose books are among the most borrowed from libraries, yet who is reclusive, “as famous for her secrets as for her stories”?

25. The Thirteenth Tale was the inaugural selection of “Barnes & Noble Recommends” in which each season one book was chosen as riveting and of extraordinary quality worthy of stimulating discussion, one that they were sure you would recommend to others. Their introduction opened with a single word: unputdownable. Would that word characterize your experience with the book? Would you recommend it to others?

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

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Book Discussion Questions: Still Life With Bread Crumbs by Anna Quindlen

Title: Still Life With Bread Crumbs
Author: Anna Quindlen
Page Count: 252 pages
Genre: Fiction
Tone: Moving, Romantic, Reflective

Summary:
Moving to a small country cabin, a once world-famous photographer bonds with a local man and begins to see the world around her in new, deeper dimensions while evaluating second chances at love, career, and self-understanding.

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 did you like Rebecca Winter as a character?  Do you feel satisfied with how much you know about her?  Are there any aspects of Rebecca’s situation that you especially relate to?

2. How does the third-person narration affect your impression of Rebecca?  How different would the book have been had it been written from a first-person point of view?

3. What are Rebecca’s initial impressions of living in the country?

4. How did Rebecca’s marriage to Peter affect her?  Despite it not having been an ideal match, what does she miss about being married?

5. How is Jim intelligent in ways that Peter isn’t?  What are some other character traits that make Jim likable?  What do Rebecca and Jim like about each another?

6. How did you respond to the character of Rebecca’s mother?  Beatrice (Bebe) is described as being “as definite, as unyielding, as dark as the ungainly statue of Artemis” (p. 53).  As a columnist/author of nonfiction, Quindlen has written candidly about the importance of motherhood as well as its joys and challenges – why do you think she created a chilly, unsupportive mother figure for Rebecca?

7. How does her father, Oscar, compare as a parent?  How would you characterize Rebecca’s relationship with him?  Why does she keep her move to the country from him?

8. How did you respond to the portrayal of Bebe’s dementia?

9. What do the secondary characters contribute to the book?  Do you have any favorites?

10. In an interview published in The Washington Post (1-28-14), Quindlen said that Rebecca’s story was partially inspired by “how we live in New York City, about failing to see beneath the surface.”  One of the themes in Still Life With Bread Crumbs is things (objects / people / experiences) not being what they are initially perceived to be.  What are some examples of this?

11. A theme in much of Quindlen’s nonfiction pieces is the effect of losing her mother at a young age (19), and in particular how the loss influenced her appreciation for life and “the gift of getting older.”  Like Quindlen, Jim lost his mother at a young age.  What does this loss mean for his character and his worldview?

12. The book explores how Rebecca’s photography career took off after her Bread Crumbs photo, and yet “she mainly found her good work to be accidental, and immediate” (p. 78).  Why did her photography become so important artistically for feminism?

13. Jim is upset with Rebecca for taking pictures of the crosses despite not knowing why they were there.  Do you believe a photographer has a responsibility to understand what they are capturing with their photographs?  Why / why not?

14. Rebecca thinks her father believes “photography was a second-rate artistic pursuit.”  Some people do dismiss photography as an inferior art form, or as not art at all.  What are your thoughts on this?  What other types of creative expression are not held in high esteem?

15. Have you ever felt locked into an image of yourself, whether it was created by you or outside forces?  (p. 173: “People froze you in place, Rebecca sometimes thought… More important, you froze yourself, often into a person in whom you truly had no interest.  So you had a choice: you could continue a masquerade, or you could give up on it.”)

16. There is a particular life stage captured in this book, accepting that you are getting older but realizing there are still many possibilities ahead.  Do you believe this book appeals more to readers past a certain age, or is there a broader potential audience?

17. Do you find the idea of reinventing yourself exciting or terrifying?  How does the idea of control play into this?

18. At the end of the book, what does Rebecca like about her life and situation that she didn’t appreciate before?

19. Were there any lessons you learned from this book?

20. In By the Book: Writers on Literature and the Literary Life from the NY Times Book Review (ed. By Pamela Paul), Anna Quindlen writes “I have many poetry collections – that’s my version of self-help” (p. 163).  Can Still Life With Bread Crumbs be seen as a form of self-help to its readers?  Why or why not?

21. Quindlen is a self-described feminist writer and has covered women’s issues in her journalism (exploring topics of women’s rights, political climate for women, balancing career and family, and modern life for women).  How does Still Life With Bread Crumbs contribute to the literature of contemporary women’s lives?  How is Rebecca’s story unique to the experience of women?

22. In an interview with Bookgirl TV pocast, Quindlen remarks “a simple, ordinary existence is just about the best thing out there.”  How does this novel reflect that belief?

23. With Still Life With Bread Crumbs, one of Quindlen’s goals was to write a love story.  How much does the romance element factor into this novel?  She also wanted to write a book with a happy ending.  Do you believe the conclusion of Still Life succeeds?

24. There are some interesting stylistic choices in the book.  Several scenes loop backward in time to a prior scene that the character recalls.  How did you respond to these multiple time shifts in certain scenes?  Does the circular patterning make you think of anything theme-wise?

25. In a direct reference to time, the phrase “but that was later” is a frequent comment at end of scenes.  What did you think of this pattern/repeated phrase?

26. Related to this, some chapters go far back in time (Thanksgiving 1956, for example) or way forward (one of the White Cross Series reviews).  What did you think of this?  What do you think the author was trying to achieve and do you think she succeeded?

27. Quindlen has stated that the theme of running out of money has been rarely explored in novels.  What do you think of the author’s choice to include specific dollar figures in Rebecca’s ruminations, when she does mathematical calculations in her head?

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

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