Check It Out Category: Historical Fiction

Staff Picks for Digital Reads and Listens

Need a new book to provide comfort, distraction, or insight during this time of social distancing? Our readers’ advisory staff have picked favorites that are available through the OverDrive or Hoopla digital book services with little or no wait! Check back twice each week for fresh digital recommendations of what to read, watch, or listen to, follow along on Goodreads, or contact us for a suggestion that is personalized just for you!

accident book coverLaura recommends
The Accident by Chris Pavone
“a clever and suspenseful conspiracy thriller”
ebook and e-audio
hollywood homicide book coverAl recommends
Hollywood Homicide
by Kellye Garrett
“a fast-paced whodunit”
e-audio
familiars book coverLiz recommends
The Familiars by Stacey Halls
“compelling and delightfully atmospheric”
e-audio

 

i love you so mochi book coverAbby recommends
I Love You So Mochi by Sarah Kuhn
“a sweet YA romance about following your own dreams and reconnecting with friends and family”
 e-audio and ebook
harrys trees book coverDenise recommends
Harry’s Trees by Jon Cohen
for fans of A Man Called Ove
ebook and e-audio
book of joy book coverJenny recommends
The Book of Joy
by Dalai Lama XIV & Desmond Tutu
“deep happiness and light humor radiate through this wide-ranging conversation between two individuals who have faced adversity”
e-audio and ebook

 

bel canto book coverNancy recommends
Bel Canto by Ann Patchett
“offers escape through fascinating characters and gorgeous writing”
ebook and e-audio
they called us enemy book coverAndrea recommends
They Called Us Enemy by George Takei
“really helped to put the discomforts of self-quarantine into perspective”
ebook
spellman files book coverCathleen recommends
The Spellman Files by Lisa Lutz
“crackling narration, interesting twists, and full-throttle hilarity”
e-audio

 

conviction book coverDenise recommends
Conviction by Denise Mina
“delightfully twisty and suspenseful with a dash of humor!”
e-audio and ebook
one more thing book coverJenny recommends
One More Thing by B.J. Novak
“hilarious and smart short stories”
e-audio and ebook
nine women one dress book coverLaura recommends
by Jane L. Rosen
“charming, feel-good story”
ebook and e-audio

 

underground airlines book coverCathleen recommends
Underground Airlines
by Ben H. Winters
“a smart, moody, tantalizing ride”
ebook and e-audio
spin the dawn book coverAbby recommends
Spin the Dawn by Elizabeth Lim
“for readers who enjoy books by Sarah J. Maas or stories with fairy-tale elements”
ebook and e-audio
yellow house book coverAl recommends
The Yellow House
by Sarah M. Broom
National Book Award winner
New Orleans memoir
ebook

 

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society cover image
Nancy and Abby recommend
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
“a warm-hearted book with likable characters”
ebook and e-audio
The 7 1/2 deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle book coverLiz recommends
The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle
by Stuart Turton
“the narrator’s voice is superb; you will be immediately immersed in the the world of the story”
e-audio and ebook

 

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

Andrea’s Pick: Dread Nation by Justina Ireland

Andrea Staff Pick photoThe Civil War… with zombies? Dread Nation by Justina Ireland combines fantasy storytelling and the dark history of racial oppression in the U.S. in this genre-blending YA novel that’s a little bit historical fiction, a little bit steampunk, and only sort of about zombies.

When the dead walked at Gettysburg, all thoughts of rebuilding the nation fell away. A new law declared that young people of color must attend combat school to learn how to defeat the dead. Fresh from combat school, Jane finds herself in the clutches of powerful enemies who see her as less than human. In the war against the dead, she never expected that the living might turn out to be her biggest danger.

Have you taken up this summer’s challenge of Reading Takes You Everywhere? Enjoy this book for either of the following categories:

Q. Read a book of fantasy or magical realism.
Y. Read a book from the Young Adult collections.

Book Discussion Questions: News of the World by Paulette Jiles

News of the World book coverTitle:  News of the World
Author:  Paulette Jiles
Page Count: 213 pages
Genre:  Historical Fiction
Tone:  Compelling, Lyrical, Character-driven

Summary:
In the aftermath of the Civil War, Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd, an elderly widower and itinerant news reader, is offered fifty dollars to bring an orphan girl, who was kidnapped and raised by Kiowa raiders, from Wichita Falls back to her family in San Antonio.

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:  2018 Mount Prospect Public Library. All rights reserved. Used with Permission.

1. What might the experience of coming to hear a news reader be like? Did the author’s choice of having a news-reading scene be our first moments of the book help you move into the world of the story?

2. What was your initial impression of Captain Kidd? What details contributed to that impression?

3. Several commentaries offer the observation that News of the World is deceptively simple. What might this mean? Is it a compliment, or is it a neutral observation? Do you agree?

4. Which elements of a traditional Western are evident in News of the World?

5. What do we learn of Kidd’s youth? How does this inform the story? Were you glad to know more about his past?

6. From the first scene in which Johanna is introduced, we are treated to brief moments of her perceptions. How do these glimpses enhance the story? What do we learn?

7. How would you characterize Johanna’s behavior? Is it believable?

8. In what ways does Kidd try to help Johanna become ready for re-assimilation into her new life?

9. Conversely, what does Johanna teach Kidd?

10. Jiles did a great deal of research on captives. Does it show? Does her work make this a better story in any way, or would it not have been much different to either make it up or leave in the background?

11. From what we learn around the edges and from Johanna’s thoughts, would you say the Kiowa are depicted sympathetically?

12. What were some of the memorable encounters along the journey?

13. Describe the reunion between Johanna and her people. How does the Captain try to help? How is he treated?

14. After he left her with family, was the Captain right to intervene?

15. What was your reaction to the lives they created for themselves? Were you surprised? Satisfied?

16. Was John Calley a good man? How would you describe him? What were the three circumstances in which they encountered him?

17. What purpose did the talk Captain and Johanna have on her wedding day serve?

18. Several of the characters, including Britt Johnson and Captain Kidd, are based on true historical figures. Is this surprising? Does this change your perception of them at all?

19. Would you describe this as a realistic story?

20. Where in the novel does the title appear? Does it have significance beyond the literal?

21. What is the primary draw for you about this story: the setting, the bond of characters, the journey?

22. Would you describe this as a quiet novel? Why or why not?

23. What will you take away with you from this novel? What will you remember?

24. What is the significance of the line, “The bones of the Kiowa warriors did not lie in the earth but in the stories of their lives, told and retold – their bravery and daring, the death of Britt Johnson and his men, and Cicada, the little girl taken from the by the Indian Agent, Three Spotted’s little blue-eyed girl”?

25. Jiles asserts that, “using quote marks is like surrounding human speech with barbed wire.” Was the omission of quotation marks distracting or confusing?

26. Does it surprise you to learn Jiles is also a poet? Why or why not?

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

OTHER RESOURCES:

Paulette Jiles Rides the Dangerous Trails of 1870s Texas” via The Sacramento Bee
Can a 10-year-old Girl Ever Recover from Years in Captivity?” via The Washington Post
interview with The Dallas News: “Paulette Jiles Explains the Apocalyptic Influence on Her Acclaimed Texas Frontier Novel
National Book Award Finalist content, including author reading, interview, and judges’ citation
New York Times book review
Paulette Jiles official author website
LitLovers discussion guide

READALIKES:

Bohemian Girl book coverBohemian Girl
by Terese Svoboda

True Grit book coverTrue Grit
by Charles Portis

Far as the Eye Can See book coverFar As the Eye Can See
by Robert Bausch