Check It Out Category: Fiction

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:

Crossing Purgatory book coverCrossing Purgatory
by Gary Schanbacher

Lila
by Marilynne Robinson

List: Fantastical Holiday Reads

Now that it’s December, you may be in the mood for a tale trimmed with tinsel. Mystery fans, romance readers, and humor devotees don’t lack for brightly-wrapped packages, but those who enjoy wondering about life in other worlds or pushing the boundaries of what-if won’t need to settle for coal. Fill your stocking with science fiction and fantasy stories that embrace the Christmas spirit!

Christmas Stars book coverChristmas Stars
ed. by David C. Hartwell
A collection of holiday miracle stories by top fantasy and science fiction writers includes the tales of a father’s gift that opens up the universe for all humanity and the original fantasy that inspired the film It’s a Wonderful Life.
Season of Wonder book coverSeason of Wonder
ed. by Paula Guran
Yuletide brings marvels and miracles both fantastic and scientific. The best stories from many realms of fantasy and a multitude of future universes, gift-wrapped in this spectacular treasury of wintertime wonder.
Yuletide Universe book coverA Yuletide Universe: Sixteen Fantastical Tales
ed. by Brian M. Thomsen
A compilation of holiday tales by a range of science fiction and fantasy authors includes contributions by such notables as Neil Gaiman, Clive Barker, Anne McCaffrey, and Harlan Ellison.

 

War of Gifts book coverA War of Gifts: An Ender Story
by Orson Scott Card
Chaos erupts at Battle School when a student places a gift in another student’s shoe on Sinterklaaus Day, an act of rebellion that forces everyone to make a choice during the War over Santa Claus.
Miracle and Other Christmas Stories book coverMiracle and Other Christmas Stories
by Connie Willis
Multiple Hugo and Nebula Award-winning author Willis captures the timeless essence of generosity and goodwill in stories that transport readers to fascinating realms filled with wonder and joy.
Krampus the Yule Lord book coverKrampus, the Yule Lord
by Brom
When he stumbles upon a magical bag that belongs to Krampus, the Lord of Yule and the dark enemy of Santa Claus, struggling songwriter Jesse gets an unexpected chance to save his daughter and his own broken dreams–and return wild magic to Boone County, West Virginia.

Audiobook: Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mue

Behold The Dreamers book coverLife is brimming with potential for Cameroonian immigrant Jende Jonga and his family. Set in New York in 2007, Jende has just gotten a new job chauffeuring for the rich, white Edwards family and his wife Neni is on her way to becoming a pharmacist. Their journeys are about to get harder however, as they face the realities of living in a new country on the brink of recession and the Edwards family’s own hardships start to bleed into their lives.

Prentice Onayemi is the versatile narrator of this 2016 debut, changing tones and cadences to take on the different characters’ accents and genders to fully bring the characters alive. A story simultaneously of hope and heartbreak,  Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue is all about the turbulence of trying to achieve your dreams no matter where you reside in life.

The Hogarth Shakespeare Project

Hogarth Series book covers

Considering that 2016 marks the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death, it is nothing short of remarkable that his plays not only are still read and appreciated but also have resonance for us today. The Hogarth Shakespeare Project, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, has invited award-winning and bestselling novelists to put their own spin on several of these enduring tales. Upcoming releases include works by Jo Nesbø, Tracy Chevalier, Edward St. Aubyn, and Gillian Flynn, but you can read these inventive takes on the Bard right now:

Gap of Time book coverThe Gap of Time: The Winter’s Tale Retold  by Jeanette Winterson

A baby girl is abandoned, banished from London to the storm-ravaged American city of New Bohemia. Her father has been driven mad by jealousy, her mother to exile by grief. Seventeen years later, Perdita doesn’t know a lot about who she is or where she’s come from – but she’s about to find out.

Her story is one of childhood friendship, money, status, technology, and the elliptical nature of time. Written with energy and wit, this is a tale of the consuming power of jealousy on the one hand, and redemption and the enduring love of a lost child on the other.

 

Hag-Seed book coverHag-Seed: The Tempest Retold  by Margaret Atwood

Felix, whose productions have amazed and confounded, is at the top of his game as artistic director of the Makeshiweg Theatre Festival. His planned staging of The Tempest not only will boost his reputation, it will heal emotional wounds. Or that was the plan.

Instead, after an act of unforeseen treachery, Felix is living in exile in a backwoods hovel, haunted by memories of his beloved lost daughter, Miranda. After twelve years, revenge finally arrives in the shape of a theatre course at a nearby prison. Here Felix and his inmate actors will put on his Tempest and snare the traitors who destroyed him. It’s magic! But will it remake Felix as his enemies fall?

Shylock Is My Name book coverShylock Is My Name: The Merchant of Venice Retold  by Howard Jacobson

The most provocative character in Shakespeare, Shylock finds his present-day counterpart in art dealer and conflicted father Simon Strulovitch. Already grieving his beloved wife, he cannot reconcile himself to his daughter Beatrice’s betrayal of her family and heritage in choosing to be with a footballer notorious for giving a Nazi salute on the field. Culminating in a shocking twist on Shylock’s demand for the infamous pound of flesh, Jacobson’s insightful retelling examines contemporary, acutely relevant questions of Jewish identity while maintaining a poignant sympathy for its characters.

Vinegar Girl book coverVinegar Girl: The Taming of the Shrew Retold  by Anne Tyler

Kate is a socially awkward young woman, adored by the preschool children she teaches but misunderstood by her peers. Her father is a scientific genius, but not so great on emotions. About to lose his (equally genius, equally socially inept) research assistant, Pyotr Cherbakov, because of visa problems, and desperate to save the project that is his life’s work, he comes up with a plan: Kate will marry Pyotr who will then be able to stay in the country and finish the project. The plan sounds perfect, except for one small hitch: Kate.

 

Book Discussion Questions: Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

Big Little Lies book coverTitle: Big Little Lies
Author:  Liane Moriarty
Page Count: 460 pages
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Tone: Darkly humorous, relatable, chatty

Summary:
Follows three mothers, each at a crossroads, and their potential involvement in a riot at a school trivia night that leaves one parent dead in what appears to be a tragic accident, but which evidence shows might have been premeditated.

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 this book to someone?

2. Did you relate to one of the characters the most?

3. Who did you think was going to die? Who did you think was the murderer?

4. Why do you think the author chose to include snippets of the reporter’s interviews throughout the book? What purpose do you think she hoped it would serve? Do you think it was effective?

5. What are some of the themes in the book?

6. What do you think Moriarty was trying to say about bullying? Were the acts of the children bullying any different than the stuff going on with the adults? Was one more or less harmful?

7. Do you think Madeline is oversensitive or is she justified in the fights she gets in?

8. Why did you think Celeste wanted to leave Perry at the beginning?

9. There is violence in Jane’s life and violence in Celeste’s life. Is there (or was there) violence in Madeline’s life?

10. Women and their looks are discussed a lot in the book. Do you think this obsession with looks is specific to women, particularly women of a certain age?   Why or why not? Do you think there was an overall message being said?

11. “It was like wealth was an embarrassing medical condition. It was the same with Celeste’s beauty. Strangers gave Celeste the same furtive looks they gave to people with missing limbs…” (pg 32). Does this happen in real life?

12. Why do you think everyone was so quick to suspect Ziggy?

13. What did you think when Jane started suspecting her own son? Why did you think she did? Why don’t you think the other parents didn’t suspect their kids?

14. Did you think Ziggy was the bully? Did you think he was being bullied? Did you suspect it was really Max? Was it believable how he took the fall?

15. Did you ever suspect Saxon Banks was Perry? When did you begin to suspect?

16. Did you suspect Tom was not, in fact, gay? Were you glad for Jane?

17. Jane starts the book being nauseous at the thought of having any other relationships. Why was she able to start something with Tom?

18. Was Madeline joking with her phrase, “never forgive, never forget?” Does she change throughout the book?

19. How did you like Bonnie? Did Madeline’s reaction to her make you like her more or less?

20. Celeste and Madeline are so different. Why do you think they ended up becoming and staying such good friends?

21. Did it surprise you that Celeste would try to fight back?

22. Is the fact that Perry travels so much really the reason why they never ended up working on fixing their marriage?

23. Did trivia night meet your expectations?

24. What did you think of the teacher? Did that change throughout the book?

25. Bonnie says, “We see. We… see!” (p. 421) Were you surprised to learn about Bonnie’s history?  Were you surprised to discover that all along Max had been seeing what Perry was doing to Celeste?

26. Moriarty tackled so many subjects– among them bullying, spousal abuse, problems with their marriages, dealing with traumas from the past, beauty. Did it work? Why add so many? Was it too much?

27. “All conflict can be traced back to someone’s feelings getting hurt, don’t you think?” do you think that’s true?

28. What genre would you call this book?

29. Is this a realistic look at motherhood?

30. Do you think you have to have had kids going to school to get the full effect of the book?

31. Are the issues in Big Little Lies exclusive to upper middle class families?

OTHER RESOURCES:

Reading Group Guide
Penguin Book Club discussion questions
Audio Interview with Moriarty at the Sydney Writers’ Festival
HBO series update
Big Little Lies book club hosting ideas

READALIKES:

The Slap book coverCover of Hyacinth Girls  little-children

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas
Hyacinth Girls by Lauren Frankel
Little Children by Tom Perrotta

Recent and Upcoming Movie Releases Based on Short Stories

Sometimes reading the book the film was adapted after doesn’t have to take long at all! Movies shown below are based off of short stories, which vary from alien invasions to supernatural serial killers to intimate character studies. Check them out before you see the movies or read them after you watch to compare and contrast. Enjoy!

Julieta book cover
Runaway book cover

Runaway by Alice Munro is a starred review collection of short stories centering around women of varying ages and situations. What connects the stories is Munro’s ability to focus on the passions and motivations of her characters, providing a thorough reflection of them. The movie Julieta weaves together three of Munro’s stories that center around one woman trying to leave her husband.

In theaters December 2016

 

 


The Bye Bye Man book cover

The Bye Bye Man and Other Strange-but-True Tales by Robert Damon Schneck dives into paranormal stories in America’s history. Its title story and the basis for the new movie, The Bye Bye Man follows three college students in the 90s playing around with a Ouija board. Without meaning to, they unleash the deadly and terrifying spirit of a serial killer known as The Bye Bye Man.

In theaters January 2017

 

 

 


Arrival book cover
20 Years of the Year's Best Science Fiction book cover

Framed around the question of what if someone on Earth could interpret alien language, Ted Chiang’s award winning short story, “Story of Your Life” provides the foundation for 2016 film Arrival in which a linguist is enlisted by the military to communicate with an alien spaceship that landed on earth. The short story is especially notable for how it is constructed and portrays the alien language.

In theaters November 2016

Winner of the 2016 World Fantasy Award: The Chimes by Anna Smaill

The ChimesChimes book cover, an imaginative debut by New Zealand poet and former violinst Anna Smaill, was named Best Novel at the 2016 World Fantasy Awards. In the aftermath of the Allbreaking, memory is ephemeral, writing has been outlawed, and everything is communicated through musical expressions. Teenaged Simon knows his parents have died, but he doesn’t know how, nor does he know why he’s in London. Working with the leader of an orphan band of scavengers, Simon begins to piece together not only his own story but one that could change the world. A veritable symphony of intricate world-building and fascinating quest for truth, The Chimes was also honored as a longlist title for the 2015 Man Booker Prize.

Book Discussion Questions: Kim by Rudyard Kipling

Kim book coverTitle:  Kim
Author:  Rudyard Kipling
Page Count: 230 pages
Genre: Classic, Adventure, Espionage
Tone:  Dramatic, Atmospheric

Summary:
Kim, the poor orphaned son of an Irish soldier stationed in India, searches for his identity and learns to move between the two cultures, becoming the disciple of a Tibetan monk while training as a spy for the British secret service.

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. Describe this boy Kim that we meet — not what happened to him, but what is he like? How would you describe his character, his personality, his passions? What gives you that impression?

2. Does Kim change throughout the novel? Would you say he grows up, or does he remain a boy?

3. This is sometimes generalized as a boys’ adventure story. What appeal would it have for readers who enjoy those tales?

4. At its most basic structure, Kim might be described as a quest story. How is this true? Whose quest(s) are explored? Are there multiple journeys being explored?

5. Kim is widely considered a masterpiece of children’s literature. Who might the audience be now? Would you give it to a student? Recommend it to a certain type of reader for leisure?

6. Another way to characterize the novel may be as a tale of friendship. Describe the relationship that grows between Kim and the lama.

7. The fact that they are on the road provides opportunity to weave in and out of other places, people, and scenarios. Is this done effectively? Which scenes made the strongest impact?

8. How would you describe Kipling’s India as described in the novel — geographically, demographically, politically, ideologically?

9. You may have noticed that significant passages are devoted to describing the many peoples and cultures that make up India. Did these have the ring of authenticity? Were they stereotypical or biased? Did you obtain a sense of all facets: rich, poor, cities, temples, etc.?

10. In Kipling’s time, why do you think English readers were fascinated by portrayals of “exotic” British colonies like India? Can you think of any modern counterparts for our day?

11. This is overwhelmingly a male novel. Who are the female characters that you can recall? What perspectives does the way women are characterized expose? Would you rather have women be absent than to be portrayed in this way?

12. Kipling received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1907 (Kim was published in 1901). His commendation read, “in consideration of the power of observation, originality of imagination, virility of ideas and remarkable talent for narration which characterize the creations of this world-famous author”. Which of these qualities are evident in Kim?

13. What may make this a challenging work for modern readers? Has writing changed? Have readers changed?

14. Kipling portrays the imperialist presence in India as unquestionably positive, even presenting an ideal India that is not divided by imperialism but rather is unified by it. Where do we see this? Do you think this accurate?

15. Is it fair to be offended by cultural attitudes that were accepted as fact at that time? Should that color our experience as we read today?

16. A thematic motif is the search for Enlightenment. How were the lama’s ideals presented? Do you recall any specific encounters, challenges, or advancements of his faith?

17. What role did Kismet play in Kim’s life?

18. How is war and/or military operations characterized? Should we be at all uncomfortable with the references to, as one example, the Great Game?

19. Two literary terms applied to stories with a focus on a certain character are
             Picaresque: telling a story about the adventures of a usually playful and dishonest character
             Bildungsroman: novel about the moral and psychological growth of the main character
Does either apply here? Do both?

20. Would you call the ending a happy one? A satisfying one? What might you have hoped differently?

21. In spite of the challenges you might have had in reading Kim, did anything surprise you pleasantly? What were some of the high points?

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

OTHER RESOURCES:

Kim featured in The Guardian‘s list of 100 best British and American novels
Kim as comfort reading?
American Thinker: On the Greatness of Kipling’s Kim
Rudyard Kipling biography
The Kipling Society webpage
The New York Times: Lahore as Kipling Knew It
BBC News: the controversy of Kipling’s Indian Legacy

READALIKES:

Sea of Poppies book coverSea of Poppies
by Amitav Ghosh

Road to Samarcand book coverThe Road to Samarcand
by Patrick O’Brian

Baudolino book coverBaudolino
by Umberto Eco

Staff Pick: Did You Ever Have a Family by Bill Clegg

Jenny from Fiction/AV/Teen suggests Did You Ever Have a Family by Bill Clegg

Cover of Did You Ever Have a FamilyIn an instant, June’s entire family died the night before her daughter’s wedding. The house her loved ones were all staying in caught fire while June was outside of the house, and she was forced to watch her life be engulfed at the same time.

One of my favorite parts of this 2015 Man Booker nominee is how the story is told. The town June lives in is small, where everyone thinks they know each other and gossip is rampant. The narration switches from individuals throughout the town, giving us their own perspective on the situation and their own piece in this tragedy.  Ever so slowly, the truth of that night unravels as the characters deal with answering the question, “What now?” As a result we get this beautiful overarching picture of life and grief and time and the connections between people. If you love stories exploring people as they are and as they were, Did You Ever Have a Family by Bill Clegg is the book for you.

For more books dealing with grief, healing, and unraveling secrets try…

the untelling book cover
In The Untelling by Tayari Jones, twenty-five year old Aria is struggling to begin a new family with her fiancé. However, the grief of losing her father and sister fifteen years ago in a car accident is weighing on her as she tries to start anew.
the sweet hereafter book cover
Four different narrators reflect on a tragic school bus accident, sharing the town’s journey toward healing in Russell Banks’ The Sweet Hereafter.
in a dark dark wood book cover
In the psychological thriller In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware, a reclusive crime writer wakes up in the hospital with several injuries after a weekend away and has to piece together the secrets that lead to a death.
in the wake book cover
Arvid’s parents and younger brothers died in a ferry accident. Six years later, he finally begins to work his way toward happiness.  While the premise is sad, In the Wake by Per Petterson is ultimately a novel of hope and the celebration of family.
my sunshine away book cover
A southern gothic coming-of-age tale,  My Sunshine Away by M.O. Walsh takes place in a small suburb of Baton Rouge which is shaken when a 15 year-old girl is assaulted. Told from the perspective of a 14-year-old boy in the town, his devotion toward her makes even him a suspect in the crime.

We’ve Got You Covered: Books and Tree Branches

It’s the time of year in which radiant fall foliage drops to the ground, and we’re left with stark and moody branches that can close in on the unsuspecting. Take a peek at the titles below that use creeping wood on their covers to inspire delicious tension.

In the Woods book coverIn the Woods
Tana French
Sudden Light book coverA Sudden Light
Garth Stein
Big Fish book cover
Big Fish
Daniel Wallace

 

What We Knew book coverWhat We Knew
Barbara Stewart

Name of the Wind book coverThe Name of the Wind
Patrick Rothfuss

Loney book coverThe Loney
Andrew Michael Hurley

 

Tree of Smoke book cover
Tree of Smoke
Denis Johnson