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kell_9781101883075_are_all_r1.inddThe All Good Books discussion group will meet on Thursday, August 16, 2018 at 7 PM in the Community of Christ Church Library to discuss Lilac Girls: A Novel by Martha Hall Kelly (Random House Publishing Group). The church is located at 7842 Mission Road in Prairie Village, Kansas.

The following 15 discussion questions are suggested by the publisher, plus we’ve added a few more at the end of the list.

  1. In what ways do you think the alternating points of view help to enrich the narrative? Was there ever a time you when you wished there was only one narrator? Why or why not?
  2. The primary settings of this novel are starkly different—Caroline’s glamorous New York world of benefits and cultural events, and the bleak reality of life in a concentration camp. In what ways did the contrast between these two settings affect your reading experience?
  3. Caroline’s relationship with Paul is complicated, taboo even. Was there ever a time when you didn’t agree with a choice Caroline makes with regards to Paul? When and why?
  4. As Caroline becomes more and more invested in her work with the French Families Fund, and eventually with the Rabbits, did you feel that she changes in any way? If so, how were those changes apparent through her interactions with others?
  5. Throughout their time in Ravensbrück, Kasia and the other prisoners find subtle, and not so subtle, ways to demonstrate their resistance. Discuss the variety of actions they take. Which of them did you find to be most powerful? Most moving? Most effective?
  6. When Kasia learns that they were hunting Rabbits, she thinks, “Just don’t feel anything. If you are to live, you cannot feel.” Do you agree with this statement? What do you think it says about the nature of survival? Is it relevant to any other characters in the book, not just the prisoners?
  7. Did you find Herta to be a sympathetic character? Why or why not?
  8. When Vilmer Hartman comes to visit Ravensbrück, he shows concern for Herta’s mental state. What do you think this reveals about her character? Had you previously thought about any of the points he makes?
  9. Though the Nazis made sure the German people only got their news from one media point of view, Herta’s father continues to read as many newspapers as he can. How does this relate to media usage today?
  10. Did you feel that Halina’s ring is an important symbol in the book? How does Herta feel about the ring? Why does she keep it?
  11. Throughout the novel, in and out of Ravensbrück, the characters experience harrowing, difficult situations. Is there one that you found more memorable than the others? Why do you think the author chose to include it?
  12. If you had to come up with a single message or lesson to represent each of the main characters’ experiences—Caroline’s, Kasia’s, and Herta’s—what would it be and why?
  13. Many of the themes explored in Lilac Girls—human rights, political resistance, survival—are a direct result of the historical World War II setting. How are those themes relevant to current events today?
  14. Lilac Girls also touches on a number of interpersonal themes, including female friendship, mother-daughter relationships, love, infidelity, mental health, and more. How do these themes impact the characters’ lives?
  15. What do you think the author hoped her readers would take away from this reading experience?
  16. What event in the novel affected you the most? Why?
  17. Parts of the novel are very difficult to read because of the events that demonstrate the inhumanity and abusiveness of the Nazis. Why did you keep reading?
  18. How do Kasia and Zuzanna (the sisters) change from the beginning of the novel to the end? Do their personalities and their relationships to each other change?
  19. There are several sayings interspersed throughout the novel. Some are quotes and others are aphorisms. Did you underline or remember any specific ones?
  20. An Automat is mentioned several times in the novel. What is it? Did you have to look it up? Are there parallels between the Automat and today’s restaurants?
  21. Why do you think the novel is called “Lilac Girls?”
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kell_9781101883075_are_all_r1.inddThe All Good Books discussion group will meet on Thursday, August 16, 2018 at 7 PM to discuss “Lilac Girls” by Martha Hall Kelly. Discussion questions will be posted soon.

Inspired by the life of a real World War II heroine, this debut novel reveals a story of love, redemption, and secrets that were hidden for decades.”

The book club meets at the Mission Road Congregation of the Community of Christ, 7842 Mission Road, Prairie Village, KS. Come and join the discussion.

Mrs_SaintThe All Good Books group will meet at 7 PM on Thursday, July 19, 2018, to discuss “Mrs. Saint and the Defectives” by Julie Lawson Timmer. Discussion questions are available below. This date is a reschedule of a previously cancelled book club meeting date.

Please join us at the Mission Road Community of Christ congregation located at 7842 Mission Road, Prairie Village, Kansas. We’ll meet in the Church Library.

Discussion Questions for “Mrs. Saint and the Defectives” by Julie Lawson Timmer

  1. Some of the main characters in the novel include Markie, Kyle, Jesse, Clayton, Lydia and Mrs. Saint. What is the relationship between those five characters and how would you describe them?
  2. On page 36, Markie ponders how her teenage son “even on his grumpiest days” can “scrounge up some cheer” (such as a smile) for his grandparents and/or Mrs. Saint. Why are teenagers like that?
  3. Markie is convinced (on page 44) that “She had caused it all by doing one terrible thing: she had looked the other way.” Explain. Do you agree?
  4. On page 52, Markie observes “Romance and passion and long talks into the night can carry the day when there are no bills to pay, no jobs to hold down, no middle-of-the-night feedings, no debates about attachment parenting and discipline techniques.” Do you think this is why many marriages flounder? What makes the difference between a marriage that succeeds and one that breaks or just endures?
  5. As Markie and Kyle settle in their new bungalow, they meet an entourage of neighbors. About one of them Mrs. Saint says “She is a faith healer, Ronda. Or so it is what she says. Which I do not know about this, honestly. Magic and special powers for things, I am not so sure. She likes to send luck to people by making totems such as this. Of course, no one of us can say that when the good thing happens, this was because of the totem rather than a person’s own hard work and the fate of the world. And when the good thing does not happen, well, she of course cannot explain.” What are your personal views about fate, magic, chance, “asking the universe (God) for what you need” (that is, answered and unanswered prayers) and whether “What will be, will be?”
  6. On page 89, Mrs. Saint refers to the people she’s helping (Frederic, Bruce, Lola, Ronda, Patty) as defectives. Why does she use that term? What does she mean? How does Markie respond?
  7. When Mrs. Saint asks Markie, “What is your way of helping people?” How did she respond? How would you respond?
  8. On page 119, Markie considers her aloneness and offers this reflction: “The thing about setting your life up so you could be completely alone was that you ended up completely alone.” Why do we sometimes seek “something” and then regret getting it?
  9. Who is Gregory? What do you think of his relationship with Markie?
  10. On page 182, Markie’s manager refers to his staff as “my direct and dotted-line reports.” What do you think of his use of this terminology?
  11. Her manager also invited Markie to “Share a meal.” He explained, “We all bring our own lunches, and I have everyone walk around the room, find someone they don’t know very well, and broker a trade. You know, my pickle for your pudding cup, half my bologna for half your turkey and Swiss. Like back in grade school! Great intermingling exercise! Really lets you get to know your coworkers more intimately.” What’s your reaction to this “exercise” and his management style?
  12. What surprises Markie about Patty when she finally gets to know her (page 249)?
  13. Who said “It’s not how we got here…Or even that we are here. It’s where we go from here.” What does that comment mean to you?
  14. Who is more stubborn, Mrs. Saint or Markie? Defend your position.
  15. Who is Simone and what is her relationship to Angeline (Mrs. Saint)? What is their story?
  16. On page 306, Simone states, “I should not have come here to grant my sister forgiveness. I should have come here to ask for hers. I have judged her all these years for refusing to lead a life that is true to who she is, to what our family was. For refusing to honor them. And all this time, she has been honoring them far better than I.” What does she mean? Why is it often so hard to forgive? Why is it so often easy to criticize others for failing to do what we fail to do?

Mrs.Lincolns.DressmakerThe All Good Books group will meet this Thursday, June 21, 2018 to discuss  Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker by Jennifer Chiaverini. We’ll meet at the Community of Christ Mission Road Congregation (7842 Mission Road, Prairie Village, KS) in the Church Library.

The following are some suggested discussion questions:

  1. When you began reading the novel did you think that Elizabeth Keckley was a fictional character used by the author to talk about Civil War events and the Lincoln’s life in the White House? Or did you think that she was and historical figure? Did your opinion changed as you read the novel?
  2. From the novel, what surprised you most about Mrs. Lincoln? About President Lincoln? About the Lincoln family? And about Elizabeth Keckley?
  3. What are your thoughts on Elizabeth’s publication of her memoir, Behind the Scenes? Do you believe she have the right to publish about her years as a dressmaker, friend and confidante to Mrs. Lincoln? Was it a breach of confidentiality and privacy that her employers should have expected of her?
  4. Why do you think Elizabeth published her memoirs? Would you have published a similar memoir if you had served in the White House as a friend and confidant of the President or the First Lady?
  5. How would you describe Mrs. Lincoln as a wife, a mother, and a friend? Could you have served as a friend and confidant of Mrs. Lincoln like Elizabeth? How would you describe Elizabeth’s service and response to Mrs. Lincoln’s requests?
  6. What is your opinion of the relationship between Mrs. Lincoln and the Washington elite? Was she mistreated, or should she have expected the treatment she received? Explain.
  7. Would you recommend the novel to other readers? Why or why not?

The following are additional questions suggested by the publisher:

  1. What are Elizabeth Keckley’s most admirable qualities? What makes her such an appealing figure?
  2. Lincoln and Elizabeth both suffer terrible tragedies. Elizabeth was born into slavery, raped by her white master, and betrayed by her husband. She lost her only son in the war and was the victim of a scandal that damaged her reputation and left her in poverty. Mrs. Lincoln lost three of her four sons, as well as her husband, and was also the victim of devastating scandals and financial distress. How do they respond differently to the trials that life throws at them?
  3. What picture of President Lincoln emerges in the novel? In what ways does the novel deepen our understanding of Lincoln, both as a political leader and as a husband, father and friend?
  4. Elizabeth likes to think “that she too had played some small part in helping President Lincoln know the desires and worries of colored people better. She hoped she had used, and would always use, her acquaintance with the president and her time in the White House for the good of her race” [p. 192]. In what ways — direct and indirect — did Elizabeth helped the cause of people of color during her time in the White House? How might her personal example of dignity, compassion, and integrity have helped her cause? What actions does she undertake on behalf of her race?
  5. Why is the press so eager to vilify Mrs. Lincoln? Are any of their criticisms deserved?
  6. After her husband’s death, Mrs. Lincoln tells Elizabeth, “You are the only good, kind friend I have anymore, and I don’t know how I shall get along without you” [p. 259]. Why does Mrs. Lincoln come to rely so heavily on Elizabeth? In what ways is Elizabeth a loyal and generous friend to Mrs. Lincoln? What does she offer Mrs. Lincoln beyond dressmaking?
  7. Late in her life, Elizabeth tells the reporter, Mr. Fry, “When I am most in distress, I think of what I often heard Mr. Lincoln say to his wife: ’Don’t worry, Mother, because all things will come out right. God rules our destinies” [p. 349]. Does the novel itself seem to confirm Mr. Lincoln’s belief in divine providence? Does Lincoln’s death seem fated?
  8. What are some of the novel’s most moving scenes? How is Chiaverini able to bring the era, as well as the Lincoln family, so vividly to life?
  9. What are Elizabeth’s intentions in writing her memoir? In what ways does the editor of Carleton & Co., Mr. Redpath, take advantage of her?
  10. One reviewer of Elizabeth’s memoir, Behind the Scenes, writes that “The Line must be drawn somewhere, and we protest that it had better be traced before all the servant girls are educated up to the point of writing up the private history of the families in which they may be engaged” [p. 321]. Why do the critics respond with such hostility — and inaccuracy — to her book? Why would they feel threatened by it?
  11. How does Lincoln’s Dressmaker complement and add to the portrait of President Lincoln in the recent, Oscar–winning film Lincoln?
  12. Elizabeth learns from Mrs. Lincoln’s negative example that “the only way to redeem oneself from scandal was to live an exemplary life every day thereafter” [p. 325]. In what ways is her life, not just after the scandal but her entire life, exemplary?
  13. Reflecting on her teaching at Wilberforce University, Elizabeth feels that “Her greatest legacy could not be measured in garments or in words but in the wisdom she had imparted, in the lives made better because she had touched them” [p. 339]. In what ways does Lincoln’s Dressmaker also strengthen Elizabeth’s legacy? How much did you know about her before reading the novel?

 

 

Rosie ProjectThis Thursday, April 19, 2018 –  the All Good Books group will meet to discuss The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion. Our meetings are now on the third Thursdays of each month. All meetings will be at 7:00 PM in the Church Library at the Mission Road Community of Christ Congregation (7842 Mission Road, Prairie Village, KS).

Possible Discussion Questions for The Rosie Project: A Novel  by Graeme Simsion.

  1. How would you summarize “The Rosie Project” for someone without giving away too much of the plot?
  2. Describe Claudia and Gene’s relationship. Is it honest, hurtful, evolving or conventional?
  3. If you found “The Rosie Project” enjoyable, explain why. Would you ascribe any of the following terms to the book? Inspirational, humorous, educational, light reading, romantic, adventuresome or melancholy?
  4. Do you believe Don would or would not make an ideal husband? Explain.
  5. Do you believe that Rosie would or would not make an ideal wife? Explain.
  6. On page 281, Don states, “I was wired differently. One of the characteristics of my wiring was that I had difficulty empathizing.” Do you think that some people are wired differently? Explain. What does that mean?
  7. Don always seems to need a “project” (The Wife Project, The Father Project, The Rosie Project). Why do you suppose that’s the case?
  8. Do you see any of the traits of Don Tillman in you or your friends? Do you see any of the traits of Rosie in your life or your partner/friends? Explain.
  9. Don has several moments of insight during the course of the story. Describe one. Have you had an “aha” moment that changed your thinking?
  10. On page 282, Don lists his understandings that will govern the second half of his life, including “An inability (or reduced ability) to empathize is not the same as an inability to love. Love is a powerful feeling for another person, often defying logic.”
  11. By the end of the novel, is Don really capable of love? Or has he simply convinced himself that confusion and attraction are love?
  12. What events or themes in “The Rosie Project” best lend themselves to discussion? What would you like to discuss?
  13. Would you recommend “The Rosie Project” to other readers? Why?
  14. After reading “The Rosie Project” would you be interested in reading the sequel: “The Rosie Effect?”

There are additional discussion questions offered by the publisher at http://www.simonandschuster.com/books/The-Rosie-Project/Graeme-Simsion/9781476729091/reading_group_guide

 

This week’s meeting has been postponed. We’re working on a new date later in April, 2018 to discuss The Rosie Project.

The next meeting of the All Good Books group has been rescheduled to Thursday, March 8, 2018 at 7 PM in the Community of Christ Church Library (7842 Mission Road, Prairie Village, KS). The group will discuss two books (choose what you wish to read, one or both): The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood or Mrs. Saint and the Defectives by Julie Lawson Timmer. Discussion questions for the Atwood book are posted at https://goo.gl/yRXCLz. Discussion questions for the Timmer book are posted below.

Discussion Questions for “Mrs. Saint and the Defectives” by Julie Lawson Timmer

  1. Some of the main characters in the novel include Markie, Kyle, Jesse, Clayton, Lydia and Mrs. Saint. What is the relationship between those five characters and how would you describe them?
  2. On page 36, Markie ponders how her teenage son “even on his grumpiest days” can “scrounge up some cheer” (such as a smile) for his grandparents and/or Mrs. Saint. Why are teenagers like that?
  3. Markie is convinced (on page 44) that “She had caused it all by doing one terrible thing: she had looked the other way.” Explain. Do you agree?
  4. On page 52, Markie observes “Romance and passion and long talks into the night can carry the day when there are no bills to pay, no jobs to hold down, no middle-of-the-night feedings, no debates about attachment parenting and discipline techniques.” Do you think this is why many marriages flounder? What makes the difference between a marriage that succeeds and one that breaks or just endures?
  5. As Markie and Kyle settle in their new bungalow, they meet an entourage of neighbors. About one of them Mrs. Saint says “She is a faith healer, Ronda. Or so it is what she says. Which I do not know about this, honestly. Magic and special powers for things, I am not so sure. She likes to send luck to people by making totems such as this. Of course, no one of us can say that when the good thing happens, this was because of the totem rather than a person’s own hard work and the fate of the world. And when the good thing does not happen, well, she of course cannot explain.” What are your personal views about fate, magic, chance, “asking the universe (God) for what you need” (that is, answered and unanswered prayers) and whether “What will be, will be?”
  6. On page 89, Mrs. Saint refers to the people she’s helping (Frederic, Bruce, Lola, Ronda, Patty) as defectives. Why does she use that term? What does she mean? How does Markie respond?
  7. When Mrs. Saint asks Markie, “What is your way of helping people?” How did she respond? How would you respond?
  8. On page 119, Markie considers her aloneness and offers this reflction: “The thing about setting your life up so you could be completely alone was that you ended up completely alone.” Why do we sometimes seek “something” and then regret getting it?
  9. Who is Gregory? What do you think of his relationship with Markie?
  10. On page 182, Markie’s manager refers to his staff as “my direct and dotted-line reports.” What do you think of his use of this terminology?
  11. Her manager also invited Markie to “Share a meal.” He explained, “We all bring our own lunches, and I have everyone walk around the room, find someone they don’t know very well, and broker a trade. You know, my pickle for your pudding cup, half my bologna for half your turkey and Swiss. Like back in grade school! Great intermingling exercise! Really lets you get to know your coworkers more intimately.” What’s your reaction to this “exercise” and his management style?
  12. What surprises Markie about Patty when she finally gets to know her (page 249)?
  13. Who said “It’s not how we got here…Or even that we are here. It’s where we go from here.” What does that comment mean to you?
  14. Who is more stubborn, Mrs. Saint or Markie? Defend your position.
  15. Who is Simone and what is her relationship to Angeline (Mrs. Saint)? What is their story?
  16. On page 306, Simone states, “I should not have come here to grant my sister forgiveness. I should have come here to ask for hers. I have judged her all these years for refusing to lead a life that is true to who she is, to what our family was. For refusing to honor them. And all this time, she has been honoring them far better than I.” What does she mean? Why is it often so hard to forgive? Why is it so often easy to criticize others for failing to do what we fail to do?

 

HandmaidsThe next meeting of the All Good Books group will be on Thursday, January 11, 2018 at 7 PM in the Community of Christ Church Library (7842 Mission Road, Prairie Village, KS). The group will discuss one of two books (choose what you wish to read, one or both): The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood or Mrs. Saint and the Defectives by Julie Lawson Timmer. Discussion questions for the Atwood book are posted below. Discussion questions for the Timmer book will be posted later.

Discussion questions for The Handmaid’s Tale

  1. What is a dystopia and how does it contrast with a utopia?
  2. What are some of the events that led to the dystopia in the novel (page 174)?
  3. Were you surprised that the novel was written by a woman? Why or why not?
  4. How would you describe the novel? Imaginative, hopeful, distressing, depressing, unbelievable, or?
  5. The narrator refers to several Colloquialisms from the “before time.” What is the before time?
  6. Authors of science fiction often take events from today’s news and extrapolate them into the future. What events today might lead to the dystopia described in the novel?
  7. Among the colloquialisms in the novel are the following. Have you heard them? What does each mean to you?
    “Waste not, want not.” Page 7
    “I know what you mean” and “I hear where you’re coming from.” Page 11.
    “What you don’t know won’t hurt you.” Page 52
    “The understatement of the year…” Page 137
    “Time to take stock.” Page 143
    “Context is all.” Page 144
    “Steel yourself.” Page 160
    “Even Steven.” Page 172
    “You can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs.” Page 211
    “What are you waiting for?” Page 291
  8. What is an Eye? An Angel? What is meant by the phrase “under his Eye?” Page 18.
  9. What does the following passage from page 18 of the novel tell you about the society described by Offred and its origins? “I used to be bad at waiting. They also serve who only stand and wait, said Aunt Lydia. She made us memorize it. She also said, Not all of you will make it through. Some of you will fall on dry ground or thorns. Some of you are shallow-rooted. She had a mole on her chin that went up and down while she talked. She said, Think of yourselves as seeds, and right then her voice was wheedling, conspiratorial, like the voices of those women who used to teach ballet classes to children, and who would say, Arms up in the air now; let’s pretend we’re trees. I stand on the corner, pretending I am a tree.”
  10. On page 24, Aunt Lydia says, “There is more than one kind of freedom….Freedom to and freedom from. In the days of anarchy, it was freedom to. Now you are being given freedom from. Don’t underrate it.” Is it possible to have freedom to and freedom from? Explain.
  11. What did Aunt Lydia mean (page 25) when she says “We were a society dying, of too much choice.”
  12. What was the role of the Econowives (described on page 24) in the Gilead society? Do we have a similar position in today’s society?
  13. Did you think the Epilogue added to or diminished the story? Was it necessary?
  14. Offred says on page 19 (with the war with the Baptists raging off-screen) “…I’m ravenous for news, any kind of news; even if it’s false news, it must mean something.” Do you see a parallel today or has one occurred during your lifetime, when news (any news) was better than no news?
  15. In Gilead, men are hung for past crimes (Angel Makers), “Gender Treachery” is punished by death, women are not allowed to write, stores are marked by images rather than lettered names, and one’s clothing is standardized (red, blue, green, black, striped). Why?
  16. Serena Joy is described by the narrator this way (page 45). “She wasn’t singing anymore by then, she was making speeches. She was good at it. Her speeches were about the sanctity of the home, about how women should stay home. Serena Joy didn’t do this herself, she made speeches instead, but she presented this failure of hers as a sacrifice she was making for the good of all.” Is this a case of “do as I say, not as I do?” Or is a contradictory life style sometimes necessary to make political and social gains?
  17. On page 46, the life situation of Serena Joy is described as “She doesn’t make speeches anymore. She has become speechless. She stays in her home, but it doesn’t seem to agree with her. How furious she must be, now that she’s been taken at her word.” What’s your reaction to Serena Joy? Is she an admirable character? Pathetic? Powerful? Neglected?
  18. On page 48, the narrator says, “The dishtowel is white with blue stripes. Dishtowels are the same as they always were. Sometimes these flashes of normality come at me from the side, like ambushes. The ordinary, the usual, a reminder, like a kick. I see the dishtowel, out of context, and I catch my breath. For some, in some ways, things haven’t changed that much.” Have you ever had a memory triggered by an object? Describe it and indicate whether the memory was pleasant, painful or just unwanted.
  19. What does “Nolite te bastardes carborundorum” mean? Why is it used several places in the story?
  20. At one point in the story, Offred says, “We were the people who were not in the papers. We lived in the blank white spaces at the edges of print. It gave us more freedom. We lived in the gaps between the stories.” What does she mean? Who are these people?
  21. The Red Center’s official name is the “Rachel and Leah Center.” What’s the significance of the name?
  22. What caused the inability of many women in Gilead to bear children. See page 112.
  23. Do you agree with the statement (page 125), “But who can remember pain, once it’s over? All that remains of it is a shadow, not in the mind even, in the flesh. Pain marks you, but too deep to see. Out of sight, out of mind.”
  24. Why do you think the Commander want to see Offred alone in his study? Why would he show her an old copy of Vogue (page 156)?
  25. Do you agree “Better never means better for everyone, he says. It always means worse, for some.” See page 211.