Check It Out Category: Historical Fiction

Book Discussion Questions: Circling the Sun by Paula McLain

Circling the Sun book coverTitle: Circling the Sun
Author: Paula McLain
Page Count: 496 pages
Genre:  Historical Fiction, Biographical Fiction
Tone:  Atmospheric, Commanding

Summary:
Brings to life a fearless and captivating woman from recent history: Beryl Markham, a record-setting aviator caught up in a passionate love triangle with safari hunter Denys Finch Hatton and Karen Blixen, author of the classic memoir Out of Africa.

 

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. Historical fiction based on real people has become a popular genre.  Why do you think this is?  How do you feel about novels based on real people?

2. Biographies have been written about Beryl Markham, and Markham herself wrote a memoir, West with the Night.  In your opinion, would having access to these works make it more or less challenging to create a fictionalized account of her life?

3. Were you familiar with Beryl Markham before you read Circling the Sun?  Did reading this book contribute to your understanding of her?

4. Are you curious about the parts of Markham’s life that McLain chose to not include?

5. How do you think the author meant to portray Beryl Markham?  Do you believe Beryl is portrayed in a positive light?

6. Do you believe first person narration helped you connect with Beryl as a character?

7. Does Beryl have a lot of agency in her own life?   How does she handle circumstances not within her control?  Did you disagree with any of her choices?

8. How did Beryl conduct her life within or against gender norms of the time?

9. Karen tells Beryl she admires her independence, to which Beryl replies, “I have fought for independence here, and freedom, too. More and more I find they’re not the same thing” (pg. 161).  How are the themes of independence and freedom explored in Circling the Sun?

10. Does the colonial setting complicate your opinion of the book?

11. Some readers have critiqued the novel’s emphasis on romantic pursuits at the expense of additional exploration of Markham’s accomplishments in horse training and aviation.  What are your thoughts on this?

12. Marveling over the new foal Pegasus, Beryl thinks, “Somehow this miraculous animal belonged to me: a bit of grace I hadn’t even known I was desperate for” (pg. 61). In her youth and early adulthood, how does Beryl connect with animals, and horses in particular?

13. In her memoir West with the Night, Beryl Markham wrote, “Africa is mystic; it is wild; it is a sweltering inferno; it is a photographer’s paradise, a hunter’s Valhalla, an escapist’s Utopia.  It is what you will, and it withstands all interpretations.  … It is all these things but one thing – it is never dull” (pg. 8).  How did the setting of Circling the Sun contribute to your understanding of Africa in the early 20th century?  How important was Kenya to Markham?

14. Toward the end of West with the Night, Markham wrote, “A life has to move or it stagnates.  Even this life, I think. … Every tomorrow ought not to resemble every yesterday” (pg. 238).  Do you think Circling the Sun captures Markham’s zeal for variety?

OTHER RESOURCES:

Discussions questions written by publisher
Lit Lovers’ reading guide
McLain on the story
behind Circling the Sun
Photo gallery provided by publisher
New York Times article on Beryl Markham
NPR book review on Circling the Sun
Video of Paula McLain discussing her work

READALIKES:

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by Lauren Willig

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Book Discussion Questions: The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman

Dovekeepers book coverTitle:  The Dovekeepers
Author:  Alice Hoffman
Page Count: 505 pages
Genre:  Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction
Tone:  Lyrical, Thought-provoking, Haunting

Summary:
In 70 CE, 900 Jews held out against armies of Romans on a mountain in Masada. According to an ancient historian, two women and five children survived. Based on this tragic event, Hoffman weaves a tale of four bold, resourceful, and sensuous women, each of whom has come to Masada by a different path.

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. Who was your favorite character and why?

Yael’s Story

2. What had Yael’s life been like when we first meet her?

3. Why was her red hair so important?

4. What does Yael do to break free of Sia and her attempts to ruin her pregnancy? Do you think that acts of contrition have power?

5. Yael says of Ben Simon that of all the people he murdered, he did his best work on me. What did she mean? Why did she then remember him with love?

6. Yael’s father says that he sees her mom when he looks at her, but he treats her horribly. Shouldn’t this have made him more loving?

7. Why did Yael see her pregnancy as a gift instead of another burden in her sad life?

8. What about the Man from the North? Why was he important to the story?

Revka’s (the Baker’s Wife) Story

9. Her story opens with sorrowful looking back. She says, “I didn’t understand what the wind was capable of and how we must bow before it, grateful no matter where it takes us.” What has happened to her?

10. Hoffman does not hold back the details in the rape and torture scene of Zara. Why might the author have made this choice? What was your reaction?

11. Yoav becomes the Man from the Valley, apparently driven by his sorrow to distance himself from his sons and court death in battle. Revka seems to understand. What was your response to how he chose to deal with his grief?

12. It seems like a generous thing that Revka would have breathed her daughter’s soul into the mouth of her husband. Why then, does she call it the 2nd worse thing a mother could do?

13. How does she get back the voices of Noah and Levi?

Aziza’s Story

14. If Rebekah could have truly changed her gender, do you think she would have, or was it the things that men were able to do that she wanted?

15. Do you think she was blessed because she had such unique abilities or was it a burden for her?

16. Rebekah has four key men in her life. Who was most influential? Did any of them really love her?

17. What does withholding her given name say about the power of a name?

18. How would you describe Rebekah based on her relationship with her sister and brother?

19. The Man from the Valley was able to love Aziza because she was a boy. How did this thinking make sense to both of them?  Was he good for her?

20. Did Amram deserve the death he received?

Shirah’s (the Witch of Moab) Story

21. Would the story have been better without the element of magic?

22. What did you think of Shirah’s all-consuming love for Eleazor? Was he her equal?

23. She leaves Moab. What did you think of her decision?

24. Chana says you can’t have my husband and Shirah replies, “I’ve had him all along?” Powerful sentence, but it is true? What did she have?

25. In the end, was Shirah’s death a failure or a triumph?

General Questions

26. Do you have a new awareness of what daily life or warfare must have been like?

27. How did the women relate to God?

28. Were you surprised at the intertwining of superstition, magic ritual, and religious belief? Does that take away from their faith experience?

29. Were any of the father figures in this book reliable? Do you think this book was fair to men?

30. Hoffman has said that she bases her works on fairy tales because she appreciates their emotional truths, the lessons they teach about human nature, love and hatred. What seemed fairy tale-like to you? Do you agree that fairy tales teach valuable lessons?

31. Based on this story, what does Hoffman seem to believe about romantic love? Is it a positive thing?

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

OTHER RESOURCES:

book review from The Washington Post
video:  How I Wrote [The Dovekeepers]: An Exclusive Interview with Alice Hoffman
audio or transcript: A Tale of Forgiveness from the Tragedy of the Masada via NPR
Masada description, photos, and maps via UNESCO
discussion guide from the publisher
additional questions from Southfield Public Library

READALIKES:

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by Geraldine Brooks

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Book Discussion Questions: The All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion by Fannie Flagg

All-Girl Filling Station's last reunion book coverTitle: The All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion
Author:  Fannie Flagg
Page Count: 347 pages
Genre: Southern Fiction, Historical Fiction
Tone: Heartwarming, Funny, Leisurely-Paced

Summary:
The best-selling author of Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe presents a hilarious new mystery that, spanning decades, generations and America in the 1940s and today, centers around five women who worked in a Phillips 66 gas station during the WWII years.

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. How did you like the book? What about it left a lasting impression on you?

2. What, if any, were your favorite moments? How about least favorite moments?

3. After learning she was adopted Sookie said, “I’m an entirely different person than I was, even a few minutes ago. Everything has changed.” Sookie goes from identifying as a Southern Methodist English person to now identifying as Polish and Catholic. Why do people generally try to identify themselves in such short descriptors?

4. How has how we identify ourselves changed or not changed over the years?

5. Why was Lenore so obsessed with what side of the family Sookie’s traits came from?

6. What are Sookie’s similarities to Lenore? Differences?

7. Is Lenore a realistic character?

8. Why didn’t Sookie tell Lenore she was adopted?

9. If you were Sookie, would you have told Lenore you knew you were adopted? Why or why not?

10. If Sookie never learned about her adoption, would her vision of Lenore ever change?

11. How did Sookie’s relationship with her kids differ from Sookie’s relationship with her mom?

12. A lot of this book focuses on how Sookie feels about her mother. How did Sookie feel about her father? How do you feel about her father?

13. How were the men treated in this book? (Buck, Earle, Sookie’s father)

14. We don’t really see much of Winks. What was his role in the book? Did you like the letters?

15. Were you surprised to learn about the WASPs? Why are they not more known in history?

16. How did the WASP’s storyline impact your reading of Sookie’s storyline?

17. How did Sookie view Lenore differently by the end of the book?

18. What, if any, are the similarities between Lenore and Fritzi?

19. What do you think about the relationship between the psychiatrist and Sookie?

20. What makes this book Southern?

21. A lot of people said they didn’t like this book because they disliked the characters. Can you like a book and not like the characters? In what situations is that the case or not the case? Where do you draw the line for yourself?

22. Were you mad that Fritzi lied about Sookie’s mother’s death? Why did she lie?

23. Did reading The All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion leave you changed in any fashion?

24. If you had to describe this book in just one word, what would it be?

OTHER RESOURCES:

Washington Post review
LitLovers discussion guide
CBS Specials: Remembering the WASPS (video)
Video chat with Fannie Flagg and Southern Living
History of filling stations in America
Information on the Women of World War II

READALIKES:

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Resolution: Read a Centennial Book

One feature of this year’s Adult Winter Reading is that you decide your own reading resolutions. Whether your goals are modest or ambitious, we’ll cheer you on! One unique challenge you may choose is to Read a Centennial Book, but what does that mean? You can customize that, too! In honor of Mount Prospect’s Centennial (1917-2017) celebration, you might try one of these approaches:


His Family book cover
In the Land of White Death book cover

Read a book published in 1917

Such as…

His Family by Ernest Poole

In the Land of White Death: An Epic Story of Survival in the Siberian Arctic by Valerian Ivanovich Albanov

 


Lost Mount Prospect book cover
Randhurst book cover

Read a book about Mount Prospect

Such as…

Lost Mount Prospect by Gavin W. Kleespies

Randhurst: Suburban Chicago’s Grandest Shopping Center by Gregory T. Peerbolte

 


Never Been a Time book cover
Passchendaele book cover

Read a book about world events in 1917

Such as…

Never Been a Time: The 1917 Race Riot That Sparked the Civil Rights Movement by Harper Barnes

Passchendaele: The Tragic Victory of 1917 by Philip Warner

 


Mata Haris Last Dance book cover
Passage into Light book cover

Read fiction that takes place in 1917

Such as…

Mata Hari’s Last Dance by Michelle Moran

Passage Into Light by Judith Pella

 

 


2001 book cover
Devil at My Heels book cover

Read a book by an author born in 1917

Such as…

2001, A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke

Devil at My Heels: A World War II Hero’s Epic Saga of Torment, Survival, and Forgiveness by Louis Zamperini with David Rensin

 


My Wifes Affair book cover
Warming Up book cover

Read a book by an author who has lived in Mount Prospect

Such as…

My Wife’s Affair by Nancy Woodruff

Warming Up by Mary Hutchings Reed

 

 


Left Behind book cover
Chicago Neighborhoods and Suburbs book cover

Read a book that specifically references Mount Prospect

Such as…

Left Behind by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins

Chicago Neighborhoods and Suburbs: A Historical Guide by Ann Durkin Keating

 


Man of the Forest book cover
Age of Innocence book cover

Read a book published in Mount Prospect’s early years

Such as…

The Man of the Forest by Zane Grey

The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton

Fiction: Twelve Days of Christmas Books

How do you choose your holiday comfort read? Some are drawn to covers with holly-decked cottages, snow-dusted couples, or anything in bright red or green. Others select by genre, familiarity of author, or tone. Anything is fair game to help you find the book that fits your mood! These authors are hoping that echoing a familiar carol in the title might tempt your interest for one or all twelve days of Christmas.

 

Twelve Days book coverTwelve Days 
Teresa Hill
Twelve Days of Christmas book coverTwelve Days of Christmas
Debbie Macomber

 

Three French Hens book coverThree French Hens
Lynsay Sands
Six Geese A-Slaying book coverSix Geese A-Slaying
Donna Andrews
Ten Lords A-Leaping book coverTen Lords A-Leaping
C.C. Benison

 

Twelve Days of Pleasure book coverTwelve Days of Pleasure
Deborah Fletcher Mello