Check It Out Category: Fiction

Book Discussion Questions: The Obituary Writer by Ann Hood

The Obituary Writer book coverTitle:  The Obituary Writer
Author:  Ann Hood
Page Count:  292 pages
Genre:  Historical Fiction
Tone:  Reflective, Melancholy, Character-driven

Summary:
On the day John F. Kennedy is inaugurated, Claire, a young wife and mother obsessed with the glamour of Jackie, struggles over the decision of whether to stay in a loveless but secure marriage or to follow the man she loves and whose baby she may be carrying. Decades earlier in 1919, Vivien Lowe, an obituary writer, is searching for her lover who disappeared in the Great San Francisco Earthquake of 1906. The surprising connection between these two women will change Claire’s life in unexpected and extraordinary ways.

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:  2019 Mount Prospect Public Library. All rights reserved. Used with Permission.

1. The book is entitled THE OBITUARY WRITER, which might imply this is primarily Vivien’s story. Is that intentional? Is it true?

2. What was Vivien’s approach to writing obituaries?

• What is appealing about this?
• Were you surprised we weren’t shown any of the obituaries she wrote?
• How does her role in helping family members to find peace with loss contrast to her own situation?
• When was this difficult for her, and did this make sense to you?
• Would you want someone like Vivien to write your story? Why?

3. In an interview Hood references the challenge of using alternating point of views, “that the reader has to reach the end of each section wanting to stay in that time and place every time…I needed the reader to not want to leave Vivien when her section ended, then not want to leave Claire. Every time.”

• In your opinion, was she successful?
• Were you equally invested in Claire’s and Vivien’s stories?

4. Were there other characters you were interested to see make additional appearances? Lotte? Kay Pendleton (librarian)? Sebastian? What did each add to the overall narrative?

5. What about the male characters in general?

• What roles did they play in the story?
• Is there messaging that can be read into how they were depicted, either individually or collectively?
• Would you have been interested in learning more about any?

6. How is the topic of infidelity portrayed in the book?

7. Did you suspect that David might indeed be alive? Were you disappointed to learn he was not?

8. The novel is bookended with news of Dougie Daniels.

• What happened in the beginning of the book? What impact did that have on Claire?
• When and how does his story re-enter the narrative near the end? What were the ramifications there?

9. In your opinion, do Claire and Vivien bear responsibility for the lives they have? Do you think they own their choices or blame circumstances? Do they take responsibility for the consequences? Should they?

10. In 2002, author Ann Hood lost her 5-year-old daughter unexpectedly to a virulent form of strep throat, an experience she later shared in Comfort: A Journey Through Grief (2008). In what ways might this insight illuminate events or characters in The Obituary Writer (2013)?

11. What difference does it make to different characters that the baby Claire loses was Peter’s? How might the story have been different if it weren’t?

12. Did you guess the connection between the stories of Claire and Vivien?

• At what point did you suspect and/or become certain?
• In what ways did the revelation cause you to reflect back on the character of Birdy (or, for that matter, Vivien)?
• Was this an earned ‘twist’ or did it feel at all contrived?

13. Did Vivien have a hopeful/happy ending to her story? Do you think Claire will?

14. What significance, if any, might there be in the names chosen for the characters? An analysis of story tropes points out interpretations of Vivien, Sebastian, and David.  Are these stretches, or do you see validity?  Any others?

15. In a letter from the author included in the Reading Group Guide, Hood explains how the premise for this novel came about. She’d been in the midst of writing what was intended to be a short story about a young wife during the Kennedy era who was questioning her role as a woman during that time. She talks of always associating the Kennedy inauguration with hopefulness, but then she was confronted with details of a long previous April and the tragedy of the San Francisco earthquake. “I wondered what would happen if I told two stories: one about the hope of January 21, 1961, and the other about the grief of April 18, 1906. In that moment, THE OBITUARY WRITER was born.”

• How might this ‘origin story’ be surprising?
• Do you think the effect of juxtaposing these two stories was what the author intended?

16. Why do you think so much of modern writing/publishing, especially in the realm of what might be termed ‘women’s fiction’, uses the structure of dual storylines set in different eras, often in which two seemingly separate characters must be connected somehow?

• What’s the appeal?
• Do you enjoy reading stories told in this way?
• Are there any downsides?

17. The publisher describes THE OBITUARY WRITER as part literary mystery, part love story. How well does the story fit that depiction?

18. Is this a story you will remember? What do you think will stay with you?

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

OTHER RESOURCES:

“‘The Obituary Writer’ by Ann Hood joins 2 Lives in Grief and Hope” via The Washington Post
interview with Bookish: “Ann Hood: The Obituary Writer
Ann Hood Talks about The Obituary Writer, Yarn Bombing, Writing, and So Much More
Reading Group Guides book review
LitLovers discussion guide
story tropes in The Obituary Writer
13 Secrets of Obituary Writers” via Mental Floss
documentary DVD: Obit: An Inside Look at Life on the New York Times Obituaries Desk

READALIKES:

The Perfume Collector book coverThe Perfume Collector
by Kathleen Tessaro

The Address book coverThe Address
by Fiona Davis

Book Discussion Questions: The Paris Architect

Tthe paris architect book coveritle: The Paris Architect
Author: Charles Belfoure
Page Count: 388 pages
Genre: Historical Fiction
Tone: Suspenseful

Summary: A Parisian architect is paid handsomely to devise secret hiding spaces for Jews in his Nazi-occupied country but struggles with risking his life for a cause he is ambivalent towards, until a personal failure brings home their suffering.

 

 

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: 2019 Mount Prospect Public Library. All rights reserved. Used with Permission.

  1. 1. The story begins with Lucien Bernard rounding a corner at the Rue La Boetie and a man almost collides with him. The man is almost immediately shot down by the German soldiers.  What did you think of Lucien’s reaction to this and did it set a tone for his character?
  2. 2. Lucien is an out of work architect, desperate for work. He meets with Auguste Manet who asks him to build a hiding space for a Jewish man being hunted by the Gestapo.  Let’s talk about this interaction.
  3. 3. What did you think about Celeste and Lucien’s relationship?
  4. 4. Collaboration was a very sensitive topic for the French. Let’s talk about this
  5. 5. Let’s talk about Adele, Lucien’s mistress.
  6. 6. “The Occupation hadn’t just bred hatred of Jews; it had brought out the very worst in human beings, neighbor against neighbor and even friend against friend. People would screw over each other for a lump of butter”.  Let’s discuss.
  7. 7. It was dangerous to hide Jewish people. What did you think of anyone hiding a Jewish person? Would you?
  8. 8. What did you think about Celeste’s reaction when Lucien admitted that he had saved two Jewish people?
  9. 9. Let’s talk about some of the German characters, did any stand out? If so why?
  10. 10. Most WW2 fiction, including this book, seems to portray most Germans in a less than pleasant light. What do you think of this?
  11. 11. The book is a series of vignettes describing the plight of Jewish people that were hiding. Did any of the stories particularly strike you?
  12. 12. Did you imagine yourself in any of the situations the Jewish people found themselves in? What would you have done if Captain Bruckner lined up the people in your neighborhood or you were forced to hide under a set of stairs?
  13. 13. We meet Adele’s right-hand “man”, Bette Tullard. Let’s talk about her.
  14. 14. Why do you think it was so important to Schlegel to find any hidden Jews?
  15. 15. Let’s talk about Father Jacques, the priest that took in Pierre.
  16. 16. Lucien ended up loving Pierre like a son. Why do you think Lucien took Pierre in?
  17. 17. Pierre realizes that there is something “off” about Alain and follows him. Let’s talk about this chapter.
  18. 18. Lucien’s attitude about helping Jewish people has an abrupt change, let’s talk about this
  19. 19. Lucien is approached by the Resistance. What is/was your opinion of France’s Resistance?
  20. 20. “The Resistance does its best under extremely difficult conditions.  But we must fight back.  To live defeated is to die every day”.  Do you agree, or do you think it is better to choose your battles?  Which side do you believe you would end up in, Resistance or Collaborator?
  21. 21. What did you think of Lucien helping the Resistance to sacrifice his factory?
  22. 22. Let’s talk about the ending.
  23. 23. “When all this Madness if over, I hope we meet again,” said Lucien to Herzog. Do you think they will?  If so, what do you think would happen if they did meet after the war?
  24. 24. Did you have a favorite character?
  25. 25. Do you think history could repeat itself in today’s world?

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

OTHER RESOURCES:

New York Journal of Books The Paris Architect: A Novel
Reading Group Guides Guide to The Paris Architect
Charles Belfoure’s Official Website
Lit Lovers Guide to The Paris Architect

READALIKES:

Sarah's Key book coverSarah’s Key
by Tatiana de Rosnay

Schindler's List book coverSchindler’s List
by Thomas Keneally

by Monica Hesse

Books: If You Are a Fan of Game of Thrones

A Game of Thrones, the first book in George R. R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire fantasy series, was the basis for the wildly popular HBO series, Game of Thrones, now airing in its final season. If you just cannot get enough of either the TV series or the book series (or both!), explore these engaging readalikes that offer adventures in similar realms.
 
 

The Ruin of Kings book coverThe Ruin of Kings by Jenn Lyons
Large cast of characters, World-building, Epic fantasy

When destiny calls, there’s no fighting back. Kihrin grew up in the slums of Quur, a thief and a minstrel’s son raised on tales of long-lost princes and magnificent quests. When he is claimed against his will as the missing son of a treasonous prince, Kihrin finds himself at the mercy of his new family’s ruthless power plays and political ambitions.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Malice book coverMalice by John Gwynne
Epic fantasy, Large cast of characters, World-building

The Banished Lands has a violent past where armies of men and giants clashed in battle, but now giants are seen, the stones weep blood and giant wyrms are stirring. Those who can still read the signs see a threat far greater than the ancient wars. For if the Black Sun gains ascendancy, mankind’s hopes and dreams will fall to dust … and it can never be made whole again.

 

 

 

 

 

The Emperor's Blades book coverThe Emperor’s Blades by Brian Staveley
Epic fantasy, Court intrigue, World-building, Large cast of characters

The children of an assassinated emperor try to stay alive and avenge their father’s death while continuing down their individual life-paths, one in a monastery, another training with elite soldiers, and one appointed a minister determined to prove herself to her people.

 

 

 

 

 

Epic fantasy, World-building, Large cast of characters
A wholly seductive tale of war, passion, and intrigue, evoking the spirit of medieval Japan. It is the story of a boy who is suddenly plucked from his life in a remote and peaceful village to find himself a pawn in a political scheme filled with treacherous warlords, rivalry and the intensity of first love.

 

 

 

 

 

Prince of Thorns book coverPrince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence
Epic fantasy, World-building, Court drama, Violent
After witnessing the murder of his mother and brother and leading a band of bloodthirsty thugs, Prince Honorous Jorg Ancrath returns to his father’s castle and his birthright, but faces treachery and dark magic once he arrives.

 

 

 

 

 

The Mists of Avalon book coverThe Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley
Strong female, World-building, Dramatic, Mystical
The tumult and adventures of Camelot’s court seen through the eyes of the women who bolstered the king’s rise and schemed for his fall. As Morgaine and Gwenhwyfar struggle for control over the fate of Arthur’s kingdom, as the Knights of the Round Table take on their infamous quest, as Merlin and Viviane wield their magics for the future of Old Britain, the Isle of Avalon slips further into the impenetrable mists of memory.

Staff Picks: Kelda’s Selections of the Day

Kelda Recommendations picture

We asked Readers’ Advisory Assistant Kelda which books, audiobooks, and DVDs she’s recommending today.

She chose a combination of thoughtful, touching stories that reveal the fragility & strength of relationships.

 

Lily and the Octopus by Steven Rowley (Audiobook)

Ted—a gay, single, struggling writer is stuck: unable to open himself up to intimacy except through the steadfast companionship of Lily, his elderly dachshund. When Lily’s health is compromised, Ted vows to save her by any means necessary. By turns hilarious and poignant, an adventure with spins into magic realism and beautifully evoked truths of loss and longing, Lily and the Octopus reminds us how it feels to love fiercely, how difficult it can be to let go, and how the fight for those we love is the greatest fight of all.

The One-in-a-Million Boy by Monica Wood

The story of your life never starts at the beginning. Don’t they teach you anything at school?
So says 104-year-old Ona to the 11-year-old boy who’s been sent to help her out every Saturday morning. As he refills the bird feeders and tidies the garden shed, Ona tells him about her long life, from first love to second chances. Soon she’s confessing secrets she has kept hidden for decades.
One Saturday, the boy doesn’t show up. Ona starts to think he’s not so special after all, but then his father arrives on her doorstep, determined to finish his son’s good deed. The boy’s mother is not so far behind. Ona is set to discover that the world can surprise us at any age…

Tulip Fever (DVD)

An artist falls for a young married woman while he’s commissioned to paint her portrait during the Tulip mania of seventeenth century Amsterdam.

Winter Reading Wrap-up: Still Looking for Your Story?

Thank you to all who participated in this February’s Winter Reading – Find Your Story! Many of you chose to share the titles of stories that you wanted to recommend to your neighbors. Check out the pillar of post-it notes across from the Fiction/AV/Teen Services desk to see all of the books winter reading participants were fans of. Here are just a few:
Fandom Recommendations picture

Home Fire book coverHome Fire
by Kamila Shamsie
“Excellent!!”
Find Her book coverFind Her
by Lisa Gardner
“Loved it!”
by Kazuo Ishiguro

 

An American Spy book coverAmerican Spy
by Lauren Wilkinson
“A great Cold War thriller!”
The Poet X bookThe Poet X
by Elizabeth Acevedo
“Read by the author on audio is EXCELLENT!”
by Stuart Turton
“Agatha Christie Meets Groundhog Day Meets Quantum Leap”

 

Lethal White book coverLethal White
by Robert Galbraith
“Robert Glenister can read me a story anytime!”
Educated book coverEducated
by Tara Westover
“Fascinating Read”
by A. D. Jameson
“Funny, quick read.”