Check It Out Category: Fiction

Staff Pick: Blasphemy by Sherman Alexie

Picture of LarryBlasphemy includes some of Sherman Alexie’s classic short stories along with newer tales. The stories challenge the reader’s comfort zones with plots exploring race and ethnicity, culture, stereotypes, alcoholism, diabetes, and personal identity. The settings are in the Pacific Northwest with Native American protagonists. The expertly crafted stories are personal, revealing the characters for who they are and what influenced their lives, making them seem real and reflecting life as it truly is for many.

Book Discussion Questions: The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

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

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.

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!


official website of author Diane Setterfield
The Guardian interview with Setterfield
audio: Setterfield talks about her inspiration and process
BookPage feature on the release of The Thirteenth Tale
The Independent review of The Thirteenth Tale
Lit Lovers book discussion guide
The Wall Street Journal explains “The Eerie Allure of the Gothic
video clip from the 2013 BBC movie adaptation


Distant Hours book coverThe Distant Hours
by Kate Morton

Rebecca book coverRebecca
by Daphne Du Maurier

Seduction of Water book coverThe Seduction of Water
by Carol Goodman

International Latino Book Awards

Make the most of Hispanic Heritage Month (Sept 15 – Oct 15) by checking out a brand new winner of the International Latino Book Awards.  Though not interchangeable, the terms “Hispanic” and “Latino enjoy a great deal of overlap, and you can be assured that each of these honorees celebrates the culture in the context of an exciting, thoughtful, and heartfelt story.

Best Novel

Japanese Lover book cover

Historical Fiction – First Place
The Japanese Lover
Isabel Allende

Map of Chaos book cover

Fantasy/Sci-Fi – First Place
The Map of Chaos
Félix J. Palma


Best Latino-Focused Fiction Book

Make Your Home Among Strangers book cover

First Place
Make Your Home Among Strangers
Jennine Capó Crucet

Ana of California book cover

Second Place
Ana of California
Andi Teran


Best Young Adult Fiction Book

Shadowshaper book cover

First Place
Daniel José Older

Weight of Feathers book cover

Second Place
The Weight of Feathers
Anna-Marie McLemore


Best Young Adult Nonfiction Book

Becoming Maria book cover

First Place
Becoming Maria
Sonia Manzano

Enchanted Air book cover

Second Place
Enchanted Air: Two Cultures, Two Wings
Margarita Engle


List: Most Frequently Challenged Authors of Color

We celebrate our own freedom to read during Banned Books Week, but it is also right to champion those who bravely compose those very stories. Non-white authors receive more than half of book challenges each year — even though they are allowed much less of the publishing market! The reasons vary, and we can become distracted by the complaints, but what shouldn’t be lost are the vibrant creations of writers who deepen our understanding of the world.

The Bluest Eye book coverThe Bluest Eye
by Toni Morrison
Eleven-year-old Pecola Breedlove, an African-American girl, prays for her eyes to turn blue, so that she will be beautiful, people will notice her, and her world will be different.
Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian book coverThe Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
by Sherman Alexie
Budding cartoonist Junior leaves his troubled school on the Spokane Indian Reservation to attend an all-white farm town school where the only other Indian is the school mascot.
Color Purple book coverThe Color Purple
by Alice Walker
Two African American sisters, one a missionary in Africa and the other a child-wife living in the South, support each other through their correspondence, beginning in the 1920s.


Kite Runner book coverThe Kite Runner
by Khaled Hosseini
Traces the unlikely friendship of a wealthy Afghan youth and a servant’s son in a tale that spans the final days of Afghanistan’s monarchy through the atrocities of the present day.
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings book coverI Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
by Maya Angelou
A black woman recalls the anguish of her childhood in Arkansas and her adolescence in northern slums in the 1930s and 1940s.
Bless Me Ultima book coverBless Me, Ultima
by Rudolfo Anaya
A coming-of-age story set in post-World War II New Mexico, in which an old woman with healing powers comes to live with a boy’s family the summer before he turns seven.


List: Young Adult Books for Adults

Every Thursday afternoon on Twitter, library staff across the nation standby to answer requests for book suggestions using the hashtag #AskaLibrarian. A question posed last week was, “how old is too old for Young Adult books?” Our answer? As long as you are enjoying the books, there is no old that is too old for Young Adult books! Below are some titles that may strike an additional chord with adult readers.

Breakfast Served Anytime book cover Breakfast Served Anytime
by Sarah Combs


Pointe book coverPointe
by Brandy Colbert
Shadowshaper book coverShadowshaper
by Daniel José Older
The Boy in the Black Suit book coverThe Boy in the Black Suit
by Jason Reynolds


The Wrath and the Dawn book coverThe Wrath and the Dawn
by Renee Ahdleh
Written in the Stars book coverWritten in the Stars
by Aesha Saeed








Graphic Novel: Daytripper by Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá

Daytripper book cover“It’s a story about death.”
“It’s really about life…but death has a big part in it.”

Brás de Oliva Domingos makes his living writing obituaries. From the facts of death and the moments of life, he recreates stories. Sifting through the existences of others makes a man contemplate his own. What moments had greatest impact? Were they beginnings? Endings? Which choices led to one or the other? Rarely are those answers simple, and Daytripper is an ethereal, meditative exploration of possibilities.

Authors Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá gracefully lead readers back and forth within Brás’ life, illustrating key experiences and variations on his death. Though moments are heart-wrenching, the sum total is strangely uplifting, and what remains even after multiple scenarios is a sense of wonder at the meaning one life may hold.

4 Fiction Books to Read for Hispanic Heritage Month

Hispanic Heritage Month Header ImageRead a book in celebration of National Hispanic Heritage Month!

Damas, Dramas, and Ana Ruiz book cover Damas, Drams, and Ana Ruiz
by Belinda Acosta
A story about family and growing up, Ana Ruiz is determined that throwing her daughter the perfect quinceañera will help mend a weakened relationship.
Lost City Radio book cover Lost City Radio
by Daniel Alarcón
Norma hosts a weekly radio show in post-war South America, reading the name of the missing to help them be found again, when a boy shows up who may have clues to her own missing husband.
The Heart Has Its Reasons book cover The Heart Has Its Reasons
by María Dueñas
When learning her husband had an affair, college professor Blanca chose to uproot her life in Madrid and move to San Francisco.
We the Animals book cover We the Animals
by Justin Torres
Poetic and intense, this short story follows three biracial boys growing up in the midst of their mother and father’s rocky relationship.



Book Discussion Questions: Falling Angels by Tracy Chevalier

Falling Angels book coverTitle:  Falling Angels
Author:  Tracy Chevalier
Page Count: 324 pages
Genre: Historical Fiction, Social Commentary
Tone:  Evocative, Dramatic, Strong Sense of Place

In a novel of manners and social divisions set against the backdrop of turn-of-the-century England, two girls from different classes become friends, and their families’ lives become intertwined in the process.

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. With which character did you empathize most? Do you think this was the author’s intent?

2. Did you find the characters believable? If so, what made them ring true?

3. How entrenched is the novel in London during the Edwardian era? Why was this time/place chosen?

4. What details of time period brought the story to life? Did you respond favorably to the degree of description?

5. Could this story have worked in a different time setting? A different place? Does it have something to say to contemporary audiences?

6. Gertrude describes Kitty this way: “a vein of discontent runs through her that disturbs everything around her…She thinks too much and prays too little.” Is this a fair representation? What was your reaction?

7. Is Kitty a bad mother? What about Gertrude’s indulgence?

8. What does Simon add to the story? Some criticism complains that his continued friendship with the girls and their families is the least believable. What do you think?

9. Is someone to blame for what happened? Who bears most responsibility, who shares it, or is it simply circumstance?

10. Which other characters made significant impressions either on the events of the story or on your experience of it? Explain.

11. The New York Times Book Review wrote, “This is Tracy Chevalier’s singular gift: through the particular perspectives of a few finely drawn characters, she is able to evoke entire landscapes…there are no stock characters here, none who are perfectly comfortable in the niche society has assigned them.” Would you agree that there are no stock characters? Was no one in the story comfortable in his/her role?

12. How might you describe the gender dynamics of the story? Were the men uniform in how they viewed and treated women? Were they challenged in these perceptions?

13. Was the title aptly chosen? In which passages are falling angels referenced or illustrated? Other angel imagery?

14. Chevalier has said, “I used to make all sorts of pronouncements [like] ‘Men and women [are] absolutely equal.’ Now…I understand how things aren’t equal.” What in this book supports this view? Do you agree?

15. What did you think of Caroline Black? Of how the suffrage movement was depicted?

16. The cemetery is a recurring symbol, a “site of beginnings as well as endings”. What are examples from the story that support its importance? What message is the author trying to convey?

17. Which events would you consider most significant to the characters? Did these seem important as you read them?

18. What is gained by having multiple narrators? Were there narrators you enjoyed more than others? Would you personally have preferred the story told by one person?

19. Chevalier has earned a reputation as a novelist who expertly articulates the way women negotiate the demands of society. Is this true in Falling Angels?

20. Did you enjoy the author’s style?

21. People characterized the book as “a thoughtful exploration of the ways people misread each other by being trapped in their own perspectives.” Would you agree? Would you have described it with a different theme?

22. How did you feel at the end of the book?

23. What do you think happened to the characters after the book ended?

24. Was this book what you expected?

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


BookPage feature on release of Falling Angels
IndieBound interview with author Tracy Chevalier
The New York Times review of Falling Angels
Background, review, and questions from Reading Group Guides
The Independent‘s “General History of Women’s Suffrage in Britain
BBC Radio4: Tracy Chevalier and Audrey Niffenegger tour Highgate Cemetery


Park Lane book coverPark Lane
by Frances Osbourne

Wayward Winds book coverWayward Winds
by Michael Phillips

Foxs Walk book coverThe Fox’s Walk
by Annabel Davis-Goff

What If Fiction: Dark Matter vs. The One That Got Away

Dark Matter book cover
The One That Got Away book cover


Would your life be any different if one afternoon you chose to have lunch at Le Peep instead of Emerson’s Ale House? Or what if you chose to take Rand road to get to Randhurst Village instead of Main Street? You may never know the impact of these seemingly small daily decisions like these, unless you’re a character in Blake Crouch’s Dark Matter or Leigh Himes’ The One That Got Away.

Dark Matter follows Chicago physicist Jason as he is suddenly thrown into an epic adventure he never knew was even possible, while Abbey gets a chance to find out what life would have been like if she had chosen to be with a different man in The One That Got Away. Even though both books are very different, Dark Matter is a twisty novel that will screw with your mind and The One That Got Away is a heartfelt comedy of errors, they both deal with family, love, self-identity, and the what if.

Which book will you choose to read? Will it change the rest of your life? There is only one way to find out…