Tuesday, May 9, 2017

June 2017: The Letter by Katherine Hughes

Julie has selected "The Letter" by Katherine Hughes as our June 2017 book! The Kindle version is currently only $1.99 on Amazon.


ABOUT THE BOOK
Tina Craig longs to escape her violent husband. She works all the hours God sends to save up enough money to leave him, also volunteering in a charity shop to avoid her unhappy home. Whilst going through the pockets of a second-hand suit, she comes across an old letter, the envelope firmly sealed and unfranked. Tina opens the letter and reads it - a decision that will alter the course of her life for ever...

Billy Stirling knows he has been a fool, but hopes he can put things right. On 4th September 1939 he sits down to write the letter he hopes will change his future. It does - in more ways than he can ever imagine...

The Letter tells the story of two women, born decades apart, whose paths are destined to cross and how one woman's devastation leads to the other's salvation.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Kathryn Hughes was born in Altrincham, near Manchester. After completing a secretarial course, Kathryn met her husband and they married in Canada. For twenty-nine years they ran a business together, raised two children and travelled when they could to places such as India, Singapore, South Africa and New Zealand. Kathryn and her family now make their home in a village near Manchester. The Letter is Kathryn's first novel, and she is busy working on her second, The Secret.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Discussion questions for 'A Monster Calls'

Discussion questions for our May 2017 book.

1.  “You’re a good boy,” Conor’s mother tells him. “I
wish you didn’t have to be quite so good” (page 17). What does she mean by that? Why does Conor have to be so good?

2.  How does the monster describe itself to Conor?
Where does the monster come from? What does
it want? Do you think that the monster is real, or
is it a product of Conor’s imagination? What does
Conor think?

3.  Lily was once Conor’s closest friend, but now he
can’t forgive her. Why? Is he right to feel betrayed?
How do most people behave around Conor once
they learn about his mother’s illness? What would
you have done in Lily’s situation?

4.  “Stories are wild creatures,” the monster says.
“When you let them loose, who knows what havoc
they might wreak?” (page 51). What does the
monster mean by this? In what ways does the rest of
novel prove the monster’s point?

5.  Discuss the role that humor plays in this novel. 
Where are the best comic moments? Describe the
monster’s sense of humor. Would you enjoy the
monster’s company?

6.  “Sometimes people need to lie to themselves most
of all,” the monster tells Conor (page 62). Is Conor
lying to himself about his mother’s illness? Is his
mother lying to herself? What does each of them
need to believe? Why?

7.  Look closely at the illustrations. How do they
capture the tone of the novel? How do they
express the range of Conor’s emotions?

8.  Who is the hero of the monster’s first tale? Who
is the villain? How does the story keep surprising
Conor? What does Conor hope to learn from the
story? What does he actually learn?

9.  Discuss Conor’s relationship with his father.
What have they shared over the years? Why does
Conor want to live with his father now? Why
does his father say no?

10.  In the monster’s second tale, whose home is
destroyed? Why? What does the story inspire
Conor to do? Why does he enjoy doing it? How
does Conor’s grandmother respond to his actions?
Why?

11.  Conor’s monster appears to him in the form of
a giant yew tree. What is the medicinal value of
the tree? How effective is it as a treatment for his
mother’s illness? Why does she want to believe it
will help?

12.  Harry, the school bully, looks straight into
Conor’s eyes and says, “I no longer see you” (page
145). Why is this such a cruel thing to say? How
does Conor make himself impossible to miss?

13.  Describe Conor’s recurring nightmare. How does
it usually end? What changes when the monster
demands the truth? What is more painful to
Conor than the death of his mother? Why does
he need to be honest?

14.  At the very end of the novel, what does Conor say
to his mother? Why must he say it? Why must
she hear it?

15.  The authors’ note explains that Patrick Ness
wrote this novel based on an idea from Siobhan
Dowd. Why was Patrick Ness initially reluctant
to take on the project? What persuaded him to
change his mind? Even though it’s impossible
to know for sure, do you believe Siobhan Dowd
would have liked the finished book? Why or why
not?

From http://www.candlewick.com/book_files/0763655597.bdg.1.pdf

May 2017: A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

For May 2017, Andrea has picked "A Monster Calls: Inspired by an idea from Siobhan Dowd" by Patrick Ness.

DID YOU KNOW?
A Monster Calls was made into a movie:
a 2016 dark fantasy drama film directed by J. A. Bayona and written by Patrick Ness, based on his novel of the same name. The film stars Sigourney Weaver, Felicity Jones, Toby Kebbell, Lewis MacDougall, and Liam Neeson, and tells the story of Conor (MacDougal), a child whose mother (Jones) is terminally ill; one night, he is visited by a giant tree-like monster (Neeson), who states that he will come back and tell him three stories.


ABOUT THE BOOK

A #1 New York Times bestseller

An unflinching, darkly funny, and deeply moving story of a boy, his seriously ill mother, and an unexpected monstrous visitor.


At seven minutes past midnight, thirteen-year-old Conor wakes to find a monster outside his bedroom window. But it isn't the monster Conor's been expecting-- he's been expecting the one from his nightmare, the nightmare he's had nearly every night since his mother started her treatments. The monster in his backyard is different. It's ancient. And wild. And it wants something from Conor. Something terrible and dangerous. It wants the truth. From the final idea of award-winning author Siobhan Dowd-- whose premature death from cancer prevented her from writing it herself-- Patrick Ness has spun a haunting and darkly funny novel of mischief, loss, and monsters both real and imagined.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

As a child
I was born on an army base called Fort Belvoir, near Alexandria, Virginia, in the United States. My father was a drill sergeant in the US Army, but much nicer than that makes him seem. I only stayed at Fort Belvoir for the first four months of my life and have never even been back to the East Coast of America. We moved to Hawaii, where I lived until I was almost six. I went to kindergarten there, and we used to have field trips down to Waikiki Beach. I once picked up a living sea urchin and got about a hundred needle pricks in the palm of my hand. I made up stories all the time as a kid, though I was usually too embarrassed to show them to anybody.

As an adult
I've only ever really wanted to be a writer. I studied English Literature at the University of Southern California, and when I graduated, I got a job as a corporate writer at a cable company in Los Angeles, writing manuals and speeches and once even an advertisement for the Gilroy, California Garlic Festival. I got my first story published in Genre magazine in 1997 and was working on my first novel, The Crash of Hennington, when I moved to London in 1999. I've lived here ever since. I taught Creative Writing at Oxford University for three years, usually to students older than I was.

As an artist
So far, I've published two books for adults, a novel called The Crash of Hennington and a short story collection called Topics About Which I Know Nothing, a title which seemed funny at the time but less so 10,000 mentions later... Here's a helpful hint if you want to be a writer: When I'm working on a first draft, all I write is 1000 words a day, which isn't that much (I started out with 300, then moved up to 500, now I can do 1000 easy). And if I write my 1000 words, I'm done for the day, even if it only took an hour (it usually takes more, of course, but not always). Novels are anywhere from 60,000 words on up, so it's possible that just sixty days later you might have a whole first draft. The Knife of Never Letting Go is 112,900 words and took about seven months to get a good first draft. Lots of rewrites followed. That's the fun part, where the book really starts to come together just exactly how you see it, the part where you feel like a real writer.

Things you didn't know about Patrick Ness
1. I have a tattoo of a rhinoceros.
2. I have run two marathons.
3. I am a certified scuba diver.
4. I wrote a radio comedy about vampires.
5. I have never been to New York City but...
6. I have been to Sydney, Auckland and Tokyo.
7. I was accepted into film school but turned it down to study writing.
8. I was a goth as a teenager (well, as much of a goth as you could be in Tacoma, Washington and still have to go to church every Sunday).
9. I am no longer a goth.
10. Under no circumstances will I eat onions.

*******

Patrick Ness is the author of the Chaos Walking trilogy. The Knife of Never Letting Go, Book One of the trilogy, won the Guardian Children's Fiction Prize and the Booktrust Teenage Prize. The Ask and The Answer, the second book in the trilogy won the Costa Children's Book Award 2009. The third book, Monsters of Men, was released in September 2010.

He has also written a novel (The Crash of Hennington) and a short story collection (Topics About Which I Know Nothing) for adults, has taught Creative Writing at Oxford University, and is a literary critic for the Guardian. Born in Virginia, he lives in London.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Book discussion questions for April's 'A Man Called Ove'

Discussion Questions
1. How does the opening scene, in which Ove attempts to purchase a computer, succinctly express the main points of Ove’s ongoing battle with the stupidities of the modern world? 

2. Ove loves things that have a purpose, that are useful. How does this worldview fail him when he believes himself to be useless? How is he convinced that he can still be useful? 

3. As readers, we get to know Ove slowly, with his past only being revealed piece by piece. What surprised you about Ove’s past? Why do you think the author revealed Ove’s past the way that he did? 

4. We all know our own grumpy old men. How do Ove’s core values lead him to appear as such a cranky old coot, when he is in fact nothing of the sort? Which of these values do you agree or disagree with? 

5. Although Ove has some major "disagreements" with the way the world turned out, there are some undeniable advantages to the modernization he finds so hollow. How do these advantages improve Ove’s life, even if he can’t admit it? 

6. Parveneh’s perspective on life, as radically different from Ove’s as it is, eventually succeeds in breaking Ove out of his shell, even if she can’t change his feelings about Saabs. How does her brash, extroverted attitude manage to somehow be both rude and helpful? 

7. Ove strives to be “as little unlike his father as possible.” Although this emulation provides much of the strength that helps Ove persevere through a difficult life, it also has some disadvantages. What are some of the ways that Ove grows into a new way of thinking over the course of the book? 

8. Ove is a believer in the value of routine—how can following a routine be both comforting and stultifying? How can we balance routine and spontaneity? Should we? Or is there sense in eating sausage and potatoes your whole life? 

9. The truism “it takes a village to raise a child” has some resonance with A Man Called Ove. How does the eclectic cast of posers, suits, deadbeats, and teens each help Ove in their own way? 

10. Although we all identify with Ove to some extent, especially by the end of the story, we certainly also have our differences with him. Which of the supporting cast (Parveneh, Jimmy, the Lanky One, Anita) did you find yourself identifying with most? 

11. What did you make of Ove’s ongoing battle with the bureaucracies that persist in getting in his way? Is Ove’s true fight with the various ruling bodies, or are they stand-ins, scapegoats, for something else? 

12. On page 113, after a younger Ove punches Tom, the author reflects: "A time like that comes for all men, when they choose what sort of men they want to be." Do you agree with this sentiment, especially in this context? How does the book deal with varying ideas of masculinity? 

13. On page 246, the author muses that when people don’t share sorrow, it can drive them apart. Do you agree with this? Why or why not? 

14. What do you think of Ove’s relationship with the mangy cat he adopts? What does the cat allow him to express that he couldn’t otherwise say? 

15. On Ove and Sonja’s trip to Spain, Ove spends his time helping the locals and fixing things. How does Ove the “hero” compare and contrast to his behavior in the rest of the book? Is that Ove’s true personality? 

16. Ove and Sonja’s love story is one of the most affecting, tender parts of the book. What is the key to their romance? Why do they fit so well together? 

17. Saab? Volvo? BMW? Scania?
(Questions issued by the publisher.)

Monday, March 6, 2017

Fates and Furies book discussion questions

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

1. Fates and Furies is told in halves. Why do you think the author chose to narrate the story this way? How did the split storytelling affect your reading of the book? Might it be symbolic of the characters’ inner lives? 

2. Consider Mathilde’s final decision—to keep her past a secret for so many years. Do you think she should have told Lotto the truth? Think about whether this lie was truly for the best; could they have been happy if Mathilde had told him everything? Why do you think she kept this information to herself? 

3. How did the inclusion of Lotto’s writing affect your reading experience? Did Lotto’s plays help you to understand his character? 

4. Discuss the way the author presents Lotto’s writing talent. Mathilde has a significant hand in his success, but she is never recognized for it. Should she have taken the credit? Discuss the effect of stardom on Lotto’s understanding of himself and his marriage. 

5. Fates and Furies questions male vs. female perceptions of reality. Think about how the author approaches the notion of feminine anger. Mathilde is an incredibly angry character; do the men in her life allow for this anger? Why or why not? Do you think Lotto is a misogynist? And how does your vision of Lotto’s world change after hearing Mathilde’s side of the story? 

6. Mathilde’s relationship with Ariel is abusive. What does Ariel’s presence in the story say about Mathilde’s natural impulse toward revenge? Where is her reaction to her experience with Ariel directed at other characters? 

7. Think about setting. As the characters grow, they find themselves in ever-changing spaces. How does each setting compel their actions and, eventually, their relationships? Specifically, discuss Mathilde’s life in France, Lotto’s childhood in Florida, and how these geographical differences affect their union in New York. 

8. Fates and Furies spans a long period of time. Chronologically, the plot is very complex, though there is a central focus on Lotto and Mathilde. . How do Lotto and Mathilde change over the years, together and apart? Do you think they had a happy marriage?

From http://www.bookmovement.com/bookDetailView/43679/Fates-And-Furies-Lauren-Groff

Monday, February 6, 2017

A Man Called Ove for April 2017

Becky has picked "A Man Called Ove" by Fredrik Backman for us to read in April 2017.

ABOUT THE BOOK
Meet Ove. He’s a curmudgeon—the kind of man who points at people he dislikes as if they were burglars caught outside his bedroom window. He has staunch principles, strict routines, and a short fuse. People call him “the bitter neighbor from hell.” But must Ove be bitter just because he doesn’t walk around with a smile plastered to his face all the time?

Behind the cranky exterior there is a story and a sadness. So when one November morning a chatty young couple with two chatty young daughters move in next door and accidentally flatten Ove’s mailbox, it is the lead-in to a comical and heartwarming tale of unkempt cats, unexpected friendship, and the ancient art of backing up a U-Haul. All of which will change one cranky old man and a local residents’ association to their very foundations.

A feel-good story in the spirit of The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry and Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, Fredrik Backman’s novel about the angry old man next door is a thoughtful exploration of the profound impact one life has on countless others. “If there was an award for ‘Most Charming Book of the Year,’ this first novel by a Swedish blogger-turned-overnight-sensation would win hands down” (Booklist, starred review).

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Fredrik Backman, a blogger and columnist, is the New York Times bestselling author of A MAN CALLED OVE and MY GRANDMOTHER ASKED ME TO TELL YOU SHE’S SORRY. Both were number one bestsellers in his native Sweden and around the world, and are being published in more than thirty five territories. His latest novel is BRITT-MARIE WAS HERE. He lives in Stockholm with his wife and two children. Visit him online at his blog: FredrikBackman.com, on twitter @backmanland, or on instagram @backmansk.