Love stories

Merry and Bright

Author: 
Macomber, Debbie
There are 10 or more copies of this title in Large Print: 
yes

Merry Smith is pretty busy these days. She's taking care of her family, baking cookies, decorating for the holidays, and hoping to stay out of the crosshairs of her stressed and by-the-book boss at the consulting firm where she temps. Her own social life is the last thing she has in mind, much less a man. Without her knowledge, Merry's well-meaning mom and brother create an online dating profile for her--minus her photo--and the matches start rolling in. Initially, Merry is incredulous, but she reluctantly decides to give it a whirl. Soon Merry finds herself chatting with a charming stranger, a man with similar interests and an unmistakably kind soul. Their online exchanges become the brightest part of her day. But meeting face-to-face is altogether different, and her special friend is the last person Merry expects--or desires. Still, sometimes hearts can see what our eyes cannot. In this satisfying seasonal tale, unanticipated love is only a click away.

Discussion Guide: 

1. What are the main themes of the novel? What did you find most interesting?

2. The story is told from the perspectives of both Merry and Jayson. Who do you think is the main character? Why?

3. Merry’s brother, Patrick, is a huge part of Merry’s life. How does his presence affect Merry and Jayson’s relationship?

4. If Merry and Jayson hadn’t met through online dating, do you think they would have ever made a connection on their own? Why or why not?

5. In Chapter 12, Merry tells Jayson that “Christmas is a condition of the heart... It’s being open and sincere, generous and kind to those with less, or showing our love to those we cherish.” What does Christmas mean to you? Does this definition match how you feel about the holiday season?

6. How does the phrase “Don’t judge a book by its cover” relate to this story?

7. How does Merry change Jayson and his relationships with others?

8. Which character did you most easily relate to? How are you similar? Different?

9. Who would you cast to play each of the characters in a film adaptation of MERRY AND BRIGHT? Why?

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand

Author: 
Simonson, Helen
There are 10 or more copies of this title in Large Print: 
no

You are about to travel to Edgecombe St. Mary, a small village in the English countryside filled with rolling hills, thatched cottages, and a cast of characters both hilariously original and as familiar as the members of your own family.

Among them is Major Ernest Pettigrew (retired), the unlikely hero of Helen Simonson's wondrous debut. Wry, courtly, opinionated, and completely endearing, Major Pettigrew is one of the most indelible characters in contemporary fiction, and from the very first page of this remarkable novel he will steal your heart.

The Major leads a quiet life valuing the proper things that Englishmen have lived by for generations: honor, duty, decorum, and a properly brewed cup of tea. But then his brother's death sparks an unexpected friendship with Mrs. Jasmina Ali, the Pakistani shopkeeper from the village.

Drawn together by their shared love of literature and the loss of their respective spouses, the Major and Mrs. Ali soon find their friendship blossoming into something more.

But village society insists on embracing him as the quintessential local and her as the permanent foreigner. Can their relationship survive the risks one takes when pursuing happiness in the face of culture and tradition? (From the publisher.)

Genre: 
Discussion Guide: 

1. Major Pettigrew and Mrs. Ali have known one another for a time. What is it about this one moment, when he opens the door to her at the story's onset, that makes him fall in love with her?

2. How would you describe Major Pettigrew? In what way do we see him as "typically English"?

3. Reading and love of books play a defining role in how we are to perceive characters in this book. Talk about the differences in reading habits among Roger, Mrs. Ali, and Mr. Pettigrew.

4. How does Helen Simonson portray Americans in this novel? Is it a fair depiction...or over-drawn?

5. How are outsiders treated in this village...and who are considered outsiders?

6. Small mindedness is an underlying motif in this book. Who in the novel is small-minded? How does this parochialism lead to misunderstanding?

7. Talk about some of the book's humorous plot ingredients: the gun squabble, the aristocrat who loves to hunt, the golf club and its costume party tradition.

8. If you're a fan of English novels, especially the comedy of manners type, you will recognize Simonson's use of stock characters and set-up: a retired military man, a small quiet village, a local aristocrat, multiple misunderstandings. In what way does Simonson, while using these elements, create something deeper, more potent in Major Pettigrew's Last Stand?

(Questions by LitLovers)

City of Girls

Author: 
Gilbert, Elizabeth
There are 10 or more copies of this title in Large Print: 
yes

"Life is both fleeting and dangerous, and there is no point in denying yourself pleasure, or being anything other than what you are."

Beloved author Elizabeth Gilbert returns to fiction with a unique love story set in the New York City theater world during the 1940s. Told from the perspective of an older woman as she looks back on her youth with both pleasure and regret (but mostly pleasure), City of Girls explores themes of female sexuality and promiscuity, as well as the idiosyncrasies of true love.

In 1940, nineteen-year-old Vivian Morris has just been kicked out of Vassar College, owing to her lackluster freshman-year performance. Her affluent parents send her to Manhattan to live with her Aunt Peg, who owns a flamboyant, crumbling midtown theater called the Lily Playhouse.

There Vivian is introduced to an entire cosmos of unconventional and charismatic characters, from the fun-chasing showgirls to a sexy male actor, a grand-dame actress, a lady-killer writer, and no-nonsense stage manager.

But when Vivian makes a personal mistake that results in professional scandal, it turns her new world upside down in ways that it will take her years to fully understand. Ultimately, though, it leads her to a new understanding of the kind of life she craves—and the kind of freedom it takes to pursue it.

It will also lead to the love of her life, a love that stands out from all the rest.

Now eighty-nine years old and telling her story at last, Vivian recalls how the events of those years altered the course of her life—and the gusto and autonomy with which she approached it. "At some point in a woman's life, she just gets tired of being ashamed all the time," she muses. "After that, she is free to become whoever she truly is."

Written with a powerful wisdom about human desire and connection, City of Girls is a love story like no other. (From the publisher.)

Discussion Guide: 

1. Narrative: Elizabeth Gilbert chooses to tell Vivian’s story in the form of a letter to a younger woman, Angela. How do you think the story benefits from being told in the voice of 89-year-old Vivian, looking back? What did you learn from this vantage? How did it influence your reading experience?

2. Character perspective: In 1940, nineteen-year-old Vivian’s introduction to life in New York City and within the Lily Playhouse is a shock after her world at Vassar and her family outside of the city. What is so different about it all? What elements of this new city and world shape her the most, do you think? And how might they have struck her differently if she’d come from a different kind of family and class background?

3. Sexuality: Vivian receives an atypical sexual education from her new friends, the showgirls, and from her time with Anthony. How does her time at the Lily shape Vivian’s ideas about sex and love and desire and appetite as a young woman, and how do these ideas sustain and evolve later in her life? How much do you think her adult ideas about female desire are due to her personality or experience? How typical do you think Vivian’s attitudes about sex and love would have been for someone of her age and time?

4. Female friendship, part 1: Consider the portrayal of Vivian’s friendship with Celia Ray, the smoldering showgirl at the Lily Playhouse. How does it compare to her previous experiences of female friendship from school. How much does this friendship influence what happens next for Vivian? Which of these two women, Vivian or Celia, do you think holds the power in their friendship, and why? How do you imagine their friendship would have played out over the years if certain events had not intervened?

5. Female friendship, part 2: How does Vivian’s later friendship with Marjorie compare with her younger friendship with Celia Ray? Would Vivian’s life with Marjorie and her other friends later in life have been possible if not for knowing Celia and the other women at the Lily when she was younger? Do you see her applying any lessons learned by observing the relationship between Peg and Olive and Uncle Billy?

6. Men: Consider the different male characters in the book—Vivian’s father, Walter, Uncle Billy, Mr. Herbert, Arthur, Anthony, Jim, Frank—and their different ideas expectations of women. What accounts for the differences between these men and how they relate to women? In what ways does Vivian meet their expectations or challenge / change them?

7. Fashion: City of Girls is full of descriptions of fantastic costumes and characters with truly original senses of style. What does Vivian learn about fashion and style from the showgirls? From her grandmother? From Edna? Even from Peg and Olive? Consider the role that fashion plays in Vivian’s story and in the various relationships and stages of her life: in boarding school, at the Lily Playhouse, at the Navy Yards, at L’Atelier with Marjorie, and in meeting Angela.

8. Generations: Edna, Olive, and Peg represent an older generation of women. Their views and relationships (with Billy, with Arthur) and behaviors influence Vivian in different ways. Consider what Vivian learns from Peg, Olive, and Billy’s domestic / professional arrangement. What about the dynamics she observes between Edna and Arthur? Think about how Edna treats Vivian after Vivian’s betrayal is revealed. Do you think Edna is justified in her behavior? Ultimately Edna decides to stay with Arthur even after what he has done. Do you think Vivian would have stayed with Arthur if she were in Edna’s position? Would Arthur have stayed with Edna if the positions were reversed?

9. Family: Were you surprised by the kind of life that Vivian builds with Marjorie and Nathan? In what ways can you see it growing out of her experiences at the Lily Playhouse in her twenties, and the lifestyle and values she adopts during and after the war? How does Vivian’s adult family life compare to the family she grew up with? Do you think Vivian ever wants more than the life she attains?

10. Love: What kind of love does Vivian have for Frank, and how does this love change the course of her life? How does Vivian’s love for Frank differ from her youthful love of Anthony? How does it compare with any of her other friendships or romantic relationships? How do you think Vivian would describe the difference between a "love" and a "lover"? Can you imagine Frank and Vivian having a physical relationship? How might that have changed Vivian’s life and story?

11. Values: On page 377, Vivian states: "I could have spent the rest of my life trying to prove that I was a good girl—but that would have been unfaithful to who I really was. I believed that I was a good person, if not a good girl." What does this quote mean to you? Is there a difference between being a good girl and being a good person? Does Vivian live up to this ideal in your opinion?
(Questions issued by the publisher.)

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.)

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