Love stories

All the Ways We Said Goodbye

Author: 
Williams, Beatriz

The New York Times bestselling authors of The Glass Ocean and The Forgotten Room return with a glorious historical adventure that moves from the dark days of two World Wars to the turbulent years of the 1960s, in which three women with bruised hearts find refuge at Paris' legendary Ritz hotel.The heiress . . .The Resistance fighter . . . The widow . . .Three women whose fates are joined by one splendid hotel

France, 1914. As war breaks out, Aurelie becomes trapped on the wrong side of the front with her father, Comte Sigismund de Courcelles. When the Germans move into their family's ancestral estate, using it as their headquarters, Aurelie discovers she knows the German Major's aide de camp, Maximilian Von Sternburg. She and the dashing young officer first met during Aurelie's debutante days in Paris. Despite their conflicting loyalties, Aurelie and Max's friendship soon deepens into love, but betrayal will shatter them both, driving Aurelie back to Paris and the Ritz- the home of her estranged American heiress mother, with unexpected consequences.

France, 1942. Raised by her indomitable, free-spirited American grandmother in the glamorous Hotel Ritz, Marguerite "Daisy" Villon remains in Paris with her daughter and husband, a Nazi collaborator, after France falls to Hitler. At first reluctant to put herself and her family at risk to assist her grandmother's Resistance efforts, Daisy agrees to act as a courier for a skilled English forger known only as Legrand, who creates identity papers for Resistance members and Jewish refugees. But as Daisy is drawn ever deeper into Legrand's underground network, committing increasingly audacious acts of resistance for the sake of the country-and the man-she holds dear, she uncovers a devastating secret . . . one that will force her to commit the ultimate betrayal, and to confront at last the shocking circumstances of her own family history.

France, 1964. For Barbara "Babs" Langford, her husband, Kit, was the love of her life. Yet their marriage was haunted by a mysterious woman known only as La Fleur. On Kit's death, American lawyer Andrew "Drew" Bowdoin appears at her door. Hired to find a Resistance fighter turned traitor known as "La Fleur," the investigation has led to Kit Langford. Curious to know more about the enigmatic La Fleur, Babs joins Drew in his search, a journey of discovery that that takes them to Paris and the Ritz-and to unexpected places of the heart. . . .

Discussion Guide: 

1. How did you experience the book? Were you engaged immediately, or did it take you a while to
"get into it"? How did you feel reading it—amused,
sad, disturbed, confused, bored...?


2. Describe the main characters—personality traits, motivations, and inner qualities.
• Why do characters do what they do?
• Are their actions justified?
• Describe the dynamics between characters (in a
   marriage, family, or friendship).
• How has the past shaped their lives?
• Do you admire or disapprove of them?
• Do they remind you of people you know?


3. Are the main characters dynamic—changing or maturing by the end of the book? Do they learn about themselves, how the world works and their role in it?


4. Discuss the plot:
• Is it engaging—do you find the story interesting?
• Is this a plot-driven book—a fast-paced page-turner?
• Does the plot unfold slowly with a focus on character?
• Were you surprised by complications, twists & turns?
• Did you find the plot predictable, even formulaic?


5. Talk about the book's structure.
• Is it a continuous story...or interlocking short stories?
• Does the time-line move forward chronologically?
• Does time shift back & forth from past to present?
• Is there a single viewpoint or shifting viewpoints?
• Why might the author have chosen to tell the story
   the way he or she did?
• What difference does the structure make in the way
   you read or understand the book?


6. What main ideas—themes—does the author explore? (Consider the title, often a clue to a theme.) Does the author use symbols to reinforce the main ideas? (See our free LitCourses on both Symbol and Theme.)


7. What passages strike you as insightful, even profound? Perhaps a bit of dialog that's funny or poignant or that encapsulates a character? Maybe there's a particular comment that states the book's thematic concerns?


8. Is the ending satisfying? If so, why? If not, why not...and how would you change it?


9. If you could ask the author a question, what would you ask? Have you read other books by the same author? If so how does this book compare. If not, does this book inspire you to read others?


10. Has this novel changed you—broadened your perspective? Have you learned something new or been exposed to different ideas about people or a certain part of the world?

 

(Questions by LitLovers)

My Not So Perfect Life

Author: 
Kinsella, Sophie

A New York Times Bestseller! Everywhere Katie Brenner looks, someone else is living the life she longs for, particularly her boss, Demeter Farlowe. Demeter is brilliant and creative, lives with her perfect family in a posh townhouse, and wears the coolest clothes. Katie's life, meanwhile, is a daily struggle -- from her dismal rental to her oddball flatmates to the tense office politics she's trying to negotiate. No wonder Katie takes refuge in not-quite-true Instagram posts, especially as she's desperate to make her dad proud.Then, just as she's finding her feet -- not to mention a possible new romance -- the worst happens. Demeter fires Katie. Shattered but determined to stay positive, Katie retreats to her family's farm in Somerset to help them set up a vacation business. London has never seemed so far away -- until Demeter unexpectedly turns up as a guest. Secrets are spilled and relationships rejiggered, and as the stakes for Katie's future get higher, she must question her own assumptions about what makes for a truly meaningful life.

Genre: 
Discussion Guide: 

1. Describe Katie Brenner. Are there aspects of her life you relate to…as someone unsure in her job…or worried about social acceptance…or dissatisfied with the path her life has taken?

2. When Katie moves to London, she tries to erase her not so posh background, which includes altering both her name and accent. Would you describe her actions as those of a phony? Or is she a pragmatist, doing what it takes to make it in a class-conscious society?

3. What does the title suggest in terms of one of the book's central themes. How is life never quite so perfect as we would wish? Whose life is not so perfect in the novel?

4. Describe Demeter. What do you think of her? Does she remind you, say, of Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada? Is she overly stereotyped, or have you known people like her?

5. When Katie leaves Cooper Clemmow, she accuses Demeter and Alex of entitlement, making the point that the trajectory of their careers was made easier by their life circumstances. Is that a fair accusation to make? Does what Katie learn later about the two of them dispell the charge of "entitlement"? Have you ever thought about your own entitlement…or your lack of it? Is there such a thing as entitlement?

6, Alex. Discuss.

7. What does Katie learn about Demeter when she comes to Anster Farm? How do her husband and children seem to relate to her…and she to them? Why does she cry as she nuzzles Carlo the horse—what are those tears about?

8. Consider the "big-sister" talk that Katie has with Coco. What do both Coco and Hal learn about their mother. What, in fact, does Katie learn about Demeter?

9. Ultimately, what does Katie learn about herself and the things that matter most in life?

10. Is My Not So Perfect Life funny? If so, what passages are particularly humorous or display Katie's witty insights?

(Questions by LitLovers.)

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine

Author: 
Honeyman, Gail

No one’s ever told Eleanor that life should be better than fine.

Meet Eleanor Oliphant: She struggles with appropriate social skills and tends to say exactly what she’s thinking. Nothing is missing in her carefully timetabled life of avoiding social interactions, where weekends are punctuated by frozen pizza, vodka, and phone chats with Mummy.

But everything changes when Eleanor meets Raymond, the bumbling and deeply unhygienic IT guy from her office.

When she and Raymond together save Sammy, an elderly gentleman who has fallen on the sidewalk, the three become the kinds of friends who rescue one another from the lives of isolation they have each been living. And it is Raymond’s big heart that will ultimately help Eleanor find the way to repair her own profoundly damaged one.

Smart, warm, uplifting, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine is the story of an out-of-the-ordinary heroine whose deadpan weirdness and unconscious wit make for an irresistible journey as she realizes.

The only way to survive is to open your heart. (From the publisher.)

Discussion Guide: 

1. Knowing the truth about Eleanor’s family, look back through the book to revisit her exchanges with her mother. Did you see what was ahead? How did Honeyman lay the groundwork for the final plot twist? 

2. What are the different ways that the novel’s title could be interpreted? What do you think happens to Eleanor after the book ends? 

3. Eleanor says, “These days, loneliness is the new cancer—a shameful, embarrassing thing, brought upon yourself in some obscure way. A fearful, incurable thing, so horrifying that you dare not mention it; other people don’t want to hear the word spoken aloud for fear that they might too be afflicted” (p. 227). Do you agree? 

4. What does Raymond find appealing about Eleanor? And why does Eleanor feel comfortable opening up to Raymond? 

5. Eleanor is one of the most unusual protagonists in recent fiction, and some of her opinions and actions are very funny. What were your favorite moments in the novel?

6. “Did men ever look in the mirror, I wondered, and find themselves wanting in deeply fundamental ways? When they opened a newspaper or watched a film, were they presented with nothing but exceptionally handsome young men, and did this make them feel intimidated, inferior, because they were not as young, not as handsome?” (p. 74). Eleanor’s question is rhetorical and slightly tongue-in-cheek, but worth answering. What are your thoughts? If men don’t have this experience, why not? If they do, why is it not more openly discussed? 

7. Eleanor is frightened that she may become like her mother. Is this a reasonable fear? What is the balance of nature and nurture? 

8. Is it possible to emerge from a traumatic childhood unscathed? 

9. Eleanor says, “If someone asks you how you are, you are meant to say FINE. You are not meant to say that you cried yourself to sleep last night because you hadn’t spoken to another person for two consecutive days. FINE is what you say” (p. 226–227). Why is this the case?  (From the publisher)

The Year of Pleasures

Author: 
Berg, Elizabeth

Betta Nolan moves to a small town after the death of her husband to try to begin life anew. Though still dealing with her sorrow, Betta nonetheless is determined to find pleasure in her simple daily routines. Among those who help her in both expected and unexpected ways are the ten-year-old boy next door, three wild women friends from her college days with whom she reconnects, a young man who is struggling to find his place in the world, and a handsome widower who is ready for love.

Elizabeth Berg's The Year of Pleasures is about acknowledging the solace found in ordinary things: a warm bath, good food, the beauty of nature, music, and art. Above all, The Year of Pleasures is about the various kindnesses people can—and do—provide one another. Betta's journey from grief to joy is a meaningful reminder of what is available to us all, regardless of what fate has in store. This exquisite book suggests that no matter what we lose, life is ready to give bountifully to those who will receive. (From the publisher.)

Discussion Guide: 

1. Betta’s departure from Boston at the beginning of the book is abrupt, even rushed. Is her choice to move so quickly a good one? What is she running away from, and what is she running toward?

2. In the early pages of the book, while driving to the Midwest with all her belongings in tow, Betta finds a kind of freedom and relaxation on the road. What does moving, or even driving, have to do with this release Betta feels?

3. Betta refers to a belief that one is sometimes closer to someone after death than before. What does she mean when she says this? Have you experienced this, in your own life?

4. Moving to a new place fulfills a promise Betta had with John, but she makes the move alone. Discuss the ways that Betta finds strength and independence in her new life. In the moments when that strength falters, how does she cope?

5. Betta hopes to love John and to be loved by him after his death. Does she succeed? Do you think love can transcend death?

6. Do you agree with the philosopher Kierkegaard’s suggestion that no matter how many years have passed, when good friends meet again, they will simply pick up where they left off? How does this play out in the novel? In your own life?

7. Is Betta’s relationship with Tom doomed from the start? Why or why not?

8. Why do Betta and Matthew become friends? Do they want the same things from the friendship? Do you agree with the decision Betta makes, to rent the room in his apartment?

9. Betta says there are times when food is not just food. She uses food to heal, to comfort, and to seduce. Are there other ways in which food is important in this novel? In your own life, what roles do food and cooking play?

10. Finding joy in small things is important to Betta, and she uses joy as a vehicle for change. Do you agree with her philosophy? If so, what small things bring you great happiness? If not, why not?

11. What does Betta’s store symbolize? How does opening the store change her personality, and emotions? What is the importance of risk, and taking chances, in creating a new life? Have you ever undertaken a similar project?

12. A major theme of the novel is the transformation from tragedy to joy. Could Betta have found this certain kind of joy without the tragedy of losing John? How does the relationship between tragedy and joy operate, in the book and in your own life?
(Questions issued by publisher)

The Widower's Tale

Author: 
Glass, Julia

In a historic farmhouse outside Boston, seventy-year-old Percy Darling is settling happily into retirement: reading novels, watching old movies, and swimming naked in his pond. His routines are disrupted, however, when he is persuaded to let a locally beloved preschool take over his barn. As Percy sees his rural refuge overrun by children, parents, and teachers, he must reexamine the solitary life he has made in the three decades since the sudden death of his wife. No longer can he remain aloof from his community, his two grown daughters, or, to his shock, the precarious joy of falling in love.
 
One relationship Percy treasures is the bond with his oldest grandchild, Robert, a premed student at Harvard. Robert has long assumed he will follow in the footsteps of his mother, a prominent physician, but he begins to question his ambitions when confronted by a charismatic roommate who preaches—and begins to practice—an extreme form of ecological activism, targeting Boston’s most affluent suburbs.
 
Meanwhile, two other men become fatefully involved with Percy and Robert: Ira, a gay teacher at the preschool, and Celestino, a Guatemalan gardener who works for Percy’s neighbor, each one striving to overcome a sense of personal exile. Choices made by all four men, as well as by the women around them, collide forcefully on one lovely spring evening, upending everyone’s lives, but none more radically than Percy’s.
 
With equal parts affection and satire, Julia Glass spins a captivating tale about the loyalties, rivalries, and secrets of a very particular family. Yet again, she plumbs the human heart brilliantly, dramatically, and movingly. (From the publisher.)

Genre: 
Discussion Guide: 

1. From the stories that the characters remember and tell, what kind of mother (and wife) was Poppy Darling? How would you explain the very different kinds of mothers her two daughters, Trudy and Clover, have become? Discuss the choices these two women have made and how they affect their relationships with their children. And how about Sarah? What kind of mother is she? Does being a mother define any or all of these women?

2. How do Percy's age, background, and profession shape the way he thinks about the world around him? How does the way he sees himself differ from the way other characters see him? How has being a single father and now an involved grandfather defined him? How do you think he would have been a different father and man had Poppy lived?

3. By the end of the novel, how has Percy changed/evolved?

4. Why do you think Percy chose to avoid romantic or sexual involvement for so many years after Poppy's death? Is it habit and routine, nostalgia and commitment to his wife, or guilt over her death; or a combination of all three? Why do you think he falls so suddenly for Sarah after all that time alone? Why now?

5. The novel takes place over the course of a year, with chapters varying from Percy's point of view (looking back from the end of that year) to those of Celestino, Robert, and Ira. Why do you think Julia Glass chose to narrate only Percy's chapters in a first-person voice, the rest in the third person? (Does this make you think of the way she handled voice in her previous books?) And why do you think, when there are so many important female characters in this novel, that she chose to tell the story only through the eyes of men?

6. What do you think of the allusion in this book s title to Chaucer's Canterbury Tales?

7. This is a novel about family, the intricacies of the intertwining relationships among parents and children, grandparents and grandchildren, siblings and cousins, in-laws and girlfriends. Discuss and compare some of the central familial relationships here (particularly those between Percy and the various members of his extended clan). Do any of these relationships ring particularly true to your own family experiences? Which ones fascinate or move you the most?

8. Celestino is an outsider and a loner in the eyes of the law, an illegal alien who was brought to the United States by a stroke of good fortune, only to lose his favored status and end up in a precarious situation with little money and no close friends. Discuss the circumstances that bring him into Percy's circle and the way in which he becomes so important in Robert's and Percy's lives? What destiny do you imagine for him beyond the end of the novel?

9. Discuss Celestino and Isabelle's teenage relationship as compared with the way they view each other once they are reunited as adults. Do you think that it would have worked out differently under other circumstances, or do culture and class sometimes present insurmountable obstacles? Compare Celestino and Isabelle's youthful relationship with the one between Robert and Clara.

10. What do you think of Robert's relationship with his mother? Talk about the way he sees her in the college essay he wrote versus the way he sees her after the argument they have in the car the night before Thanksgiving and Robert finds out about the sibling he almost had. How is Robert's intimate view of Trudy, as her son and only child, different from Percy's fatherly view of Trudy as one of two daughters? Compare Robert's and Percy's different visions of her professional life: Robert's summer working in the chemo clinic versus Percy's first visit to the hospital when he seeks Trudy's advice about Sarah. Is there a generational difference to the way they encounter the world of modern medicine?

11. What about Percy' s relationship with Clover? What do you think about his sacrifice of the barn to help her out? Is it entirely altruistic? What are the unintended consequences to their love for each other? Why does Clover resent her father and betray both him and her nephew, Robert, at the end of the novel?

12. Why does Robert, the good student and good son, allow himself to become involved in Arturo's missions ? Discuss Robert's friendship with Arturo and why Arturo is so appealing to Robert. What do you think of the observation that Turo is of everywhere and nowhere?

13. What do you think about Turo's activist group, the DOGS, and their acts of eco-vandalism? Do you agree with Turo that conservation efforts like recycling and organic lawn care aren't dramatic enough to make a dent (p. 148) in society s lazy, consumerist ways that true change will come about only through extremism?

14. Discuss the importance of the tree house in the novel. What does it represent, if anything, to each of the four main characters?

15. What do you think of Ira and his relationship with Anthony? How have Ira s fears influenced his relationships in general? How do you imagine the crisis at the end of the book has changed him, if at all?

16. Homes often seem like characters in Julia Glass novels; compare Percy's house with key houses in her other novels, if you ve read them (e.g., Tealing, Fenno McLeod's childhood house in Three Junes; Uncle Marsden's run-down seaside mansion in The Whole World Over). Describe Percy's house and its significance to various members of the Darling family. Discuss its tie to the neighboring house and the revelation at the end about the two brothers who built the houses. Why is this important?

17. How have libraries changed over the course of Percy's working life, through his youth, his daughters youth, and now Robert's youth? Percy doesn t seem to approve of the direction libraries are going and the way in which society regards books. Do you?

18. "Daughters. This word meant everything to me in that moment: sun, moon, stars, blood, water (oh curse the water!), meat, potatoes, wine, shoes, books, the floor beneath my feet, the roof over my head" (p. 108). Compare and contrast Percy's two daughters.

19. Why is Sarah so evasive and even hostile when Percy confronts her about the lump in her breast and even after she starts cancer treatment with Trudy? What do you think about her decision to marry her ex-boyfriend when he offers her the lifeline of his health insurance and to keep this a secret from Percy? What does it say about Sarah and her feelings for Percy? Do you think the relationship, at the end of the book, is salvageable in any form?

20. While visiting a museum, Percy's friend Norval asks, So what sort of landscape are you? Percy replies, A field. Overgrown and weedy. Norval then suggests, Or a very large, gnarled tree (p. 278). How would you describe Percy? How about yourself; what sort of landscape are you?

21. How is The Widower's Tale both a tale of our time and a story specific to its place, to New England?
(Questions issued by publisher.)

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