Book Club Guides

Book Club Guide: The Martian by Andy Weir

The Martian by Andy Weir 
Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first people to walk on Mars. Now, he's sure he'll be the first person to die there. After a dust storm nearly kills him and forces his crew to evacuate the planet while thinking him dead, Mark finds himself stranded on Mars' surface, completely alone, with no way to signal Earth that he’s alive. And even if he could get word out, his supplies would be gone years before a rescue could arrive. Chances are, though, Mark won't have time to starve to death. The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment or plain-old "human error" are much more likely to kill him first. But Mark's not ready to quit. Armed with nothing but his ingenuity and his engineering skills—and a gallows sense of humor that proves to be his greatest source of strength–he embarks on a dogged quest to stay alive, using his botany expertise to grow food and even hatching a mad plan to contact NASA back on Earth. 

What to Serve Your Guests:

Loaded Baked Potato Appetizers: Since Mark Watney lived mostly off of potatoes while on Mars, you can make your guests these loaded baked potato appetizers. Recipehere.  

Shrimp Cocktail: Astronauts love their shrimp cocktail. Story Musgrave, the six-time shuttle flier ate shrimp cocktail for every meal, including breakfast. Find a recipe here.

Author Interviews:
NPR Interview
Telegraph Interview
Amazing Stories Magazine
Adam Savage Interview

Book Reviews:
Wall Street Journal Review
AV Club Review
New York Times Review
Kirkus Review

Discussion Questions:
1. How did The Martian challenge your expectations of what the novel would be? What did you find most surprising about it?

2. What makes us root for a character to live in a survival story? In what ways do you identify with Mark? How does the author get you to care about him?

3. Do you believe the crew did the right thing in abandoning the search for Mark? Was there an alternative choice?

4. Did you find the science and technology behind Mark's problem-solving accessible? How did that information add to the realism of the story?

5. What are some of the ways the author established his credibility with scientific detail? Which of Mark's solutions did you find most amazing and yet believable?

5. What is your visual picture of the surface of Mars, based on the descriptions in the book? Have you seen photographs of the planet?

7. Who knew potatoes, duct tape, and seventies reruns were the key to space survival? How does each of these items represent aspects of Mark's character that help him survive?

8. How is Mark's sense of humor as much a survival skill as his knowledge of botany? Do you have a favorite funny line of his?

9. To what extent does Mark's log serve as his companion? Do you think it's implicit in the narrative that maintaining a log keeps him sane?

10. The author provides almost no back story regarding Mark's life on Earth. Why do you think he made this choice? What do you imagine Mark's past life was like?

11. There's no mention of Mark having a romantic relationship on Earth. Do you think that makes it easier or harder to endure his isolation? How would the story be different if he was in love with someone back home?

12. Were there points in the novel when you became convinced Mark couldn't survive? What were they, and what made those situations seem so dire?

13. The first time the narrative switched from Mark's log entries to third-person authorial narrative back on Earth, were you surprised? How does alternating between Mark's point of view and the situation on Earth enhance the story?

14. Did you believe the commitment of those on Earth to rescuing one astronaut? What convinced you most?

15. To what extent do you think guilt played a part in the crew's choice to go back to Mark? To what extent loyalty? How would you explain the difference?

16. How does the author handle the passage of time in the book? Did he transition smoothly from a day-to-day account to a span of one and a half years? How does he use the passage of time to build suspense?

17. Unlike other castaways, Mark can approximately predict the timing of his potential rescue. How does that knowledge help him? How could it work against him?

18. When Mark leaves the Hab and ventures out in the rover, did you feel a loss of security for him? In addition to time, the author uses distance to build suspense. Discuss how.

19. Where would you place The Martian in the canon of classic space exploration films like 2001: A Space Odyssey, Apollo 13, and Gravity? What does it have in common with these stories? How is it different?

20. A survival story has to resonate on a universal level to be effective, whether it's set on a desert island or another planet. How important are challenges in keeping life vital? To what extent are our everyday lives about problem-solving and maintaining hope?

Book Club Guide- The Traitor's Wife by Allison Pataki

Looking for great book club suggestions, as well as discussion questions, author information, and what food to serve at your next book discussion? You've come to the right place! We will start posting these book discussion guides for you on the third Thursday of every month. If you have a title that you'd like to suggest we cover, leave it in the comments or email it to

This Month's Selection: The Traitor's Wife by Allison Pataki
A riveting historical novel about Peggy Shippen Arnold, the cunning wife of Benedict Arnold and mastermind behind America's most infamous act of treason . . . 
Everyone knows Benedict Arnold--the Revolutionary War general who betrayed America and fled to the British--as history's most notorious turncoat. Many know Arnold's co-conspirator, Major John Andre, who was apprehended with Arnold's documents in his boots and hanged at the orders of General George Washington. But few know of the integral third character in the plot: a charming young woman who not only contributed to the betrayal but orchestrated it.

Socialite Peggy Shippen is half Benedict Arnold's age when she seduces the war hero during his stint as military commander of Philadelphia. Blinded by his young bride's beauty and wit, Arnold does not realize that she harbors a secret: loyalty to the British. Nor does he know that she hides a past romance with the handsome British spy John Andre. Peggy watches as her husband, crippled from battle wounds and in debt from years of service to the colonies, grows ever more disillusioned with his hero, Washington, and the American cause. Together with her former love and her disaffected husband, Peggy hatches the plot to deliver West Point to the British and, in exchange, win fame and fortune for herself and Arnold.

Told from the perspective of Peggy's maid, whose faith in the new nation inspires her to intervene in her mistress's affairs even when it could cost her everything, The Traitor's Wife brings these infamous figures to life, illuminating the sordid details and the love triangle that nearly destroyed the American fight for freedom." 

What to Serve your Guests:

Hard Apple Cider: The most popular alcoholic drink in colonial times due to the abundance of apple trees. (21+ only)

Gazpacho: A colonial dish, this cold soup will be a nice light dish to serve your book club guests. Find a recipe here.

Pennsylvania Dutch Apple Dumplings: These delicious apple dumplings will be a great treat to serve your guests. Dumplings and puddings were very popular in colonial times. Find a recipe here.

Author Interviews:

Book Reviews for The Traitor's Wife:

Discussion Questions:
    1. Before moving to Philadelphia, Clara spent her entire life on a farm in the Pennsylvania countryside. How does Clara’s identity evolve throughout her years of service to Peggy and Benedict Arnold? What character traits does Clara retain? Discuss which characters have the greatest impact on Clara’s growth and development. 

    2. Why does Clara take a nearly instant dislike to Major John Andre? Why is she relieved when the Judge and Mrs. Shippen refuse to allow Peggy to attend the Meshianza? Compare the way Andre treats Peggy with how Caleb treats Clara. 

    3. Clara is flattered at “having so quickly become her lady’s confidante and friend” (page 119). Does Peggy sincerely consider Clara a friend, or is Clara misreading her mistress? Why does Clara so desperately crave Peggy’s approval, and even friendship? At what point does this begin to shift? 

    4. Discuss the theme of loyalty in the novel. What drives the different characters’ allegiances? Who is the most loyal character? 

    5. “I hate the man, and I always will,” says Peggy of Benedict Arnold (page 146). Why then does she begin pursuing him the first time they meet? Does she truly come to care about him, or is it all an act? 

    6. What is your view of Benedict Arnold? Trace his evolution from ardent patriot to turncoat. Do you think he would have committed treason without Peggy’s influence? Why or why not? Discuss both his and Peggy’s motivations for aiding the British. 

    7. “My husband knows how to win on the battlefield. It’s all brute strength and fighting. But spy work is different—it requires poise, and self-control, and grace. It’s like a delicate dance. And if anyone knows how to dance, it’s me,” says Peggy (page 326). Which traits make Peggy better suited for espionage than Arnold? Why does the couple freely discuss their plans in front of Clara? Is it because they trust her not to reveal their secrets or, as Clara believes, because they find her invisible? 

    8. When Arnold’s treachery is revealed, he immediately flees and leaves Peggy behind. Given the circumstances, are his actions justifiable in any way? Why doesn’t Peggy hold it against him? Share whether or not you were surprised that Peggy was able to so easily convince George Washington and his companions of her innocence. 

    9. Does Clara intentionally or unintentionally help the Arnolds commit treason by cracking Andre’s code and translating the clandestine correspondence? Does her role make Clara partly to blame? What would you have done if you were in her position? 

    10. At one point in the story, Clara laments that she is not the master of her own fate. How do she and Caleb take charge of their future, both individually and as a couple? Discuss Clara’s warring emotions of impotency and desperation to intervene in the Arnolds’ plot. 

    11. When Clara confides in Mrs. Quigley about the Arnolds’ plotting, why is the older woman so quick to dismiss her claims? When Mrs. Quigley later understands exactly what’s happening, why does she still advise against Clara and Caleb taking action to stop the Arnolds? Explore how Mrs. Quigley’s response to the news differs from Caleb’s response to the news. Does either of them understand Clara’s position and perspective? 

    12. Examine the character of George Washington. Why does the novel open on the morning of his visit? What does George Washington mean to Benedict Arnold? To Peggy Arnold? To the servants like Hannah, Caleb, Clara, or the Quigleys? Discuss whether George Washington’s disapproval was the impetus for Arnold to agree to treason. 

    13. How does Clara use tactics she learned from observing her mistress to achieve her freedom from Peggy? What gives Clara the strength and courage to stand up to the imposing Peggy? Would Clara actually have reported Peggy’s guilt, or was it a bluff? 

    14. When news comes that Arnold successfully escaped, why is Clara relieved he won’t hang for his crimes? Why does she promise to keep quiet about Peggy’s role in the plot? 

    15. In what ways did The Traitor’s Wife give you new insights into the Revolutionary War? What, if anything, did you learn that surprised you? 

Book Club Guide: Crooked Heart by Lissa Evans

Looking for great book club suggestions? We've got you covered! You've come to the right place for discussion questions, author information, and what food to serve at your next book discussion. If you have a title that you'd like to suggest we cover, leave it in the comments or email it to

May Selection: Crooked Heart by Lissa Evans
Summary: "When Noel Bostock--aged ten, no family--is evacuated from London to escape the Nazi bombardment, he lands in a suburb northwest of the city with Vera Sedge--a 36 year old widow drowning in debts and dependents. Always desperate for money, she's unscrupulous about how she gets it. Noel's mourning his godmother, Mattie, a former suffragette. Wise beyond his years and raised with a disdain for authority and an eclectic attitude toward education, he has little in common with other children and even less with the impulsive Vee, who hurtles from one self-made crisis to the next. The war's provided unprecedented opportunities for making money, but what Vee needs--and what she's never had--is a cool head and the ability to make a plan. On her own, she's a disaster. With Noel, she's a team. Together they cook up a scheme. Crisscrossing the bombed suburbs of London, Vee starts to turn a profit and Noel begins to regain his interest in life. But there are plenty of other people making money off the war and some of them are dangerous. Noel may have been moved to safety, but he isn't actually safe at all..."

What to Serve Your Guests:

Beef Wellington: Beef Wellington is a classic London staple. Your guests will love these savory, flaky treats. Check out an easy recipehere.

Fish and Chips: Perhaps the most British food there is! We found you an easy recipe to make this delicious meal here. 

Sticky Toffee Pudding: A great London dessert- Sticky toffee pudding consists of moist sponge cake stuffed with raisins or dates drenched in a toffee sauce and served with custard or ice cream. Get the recipe from Food Network here.

Discussion Questions:

1. Probably the best place to start with this book is this: what did you think about the characters? Were your attitudes toward them different at the beginning of the book then they were by the end? If so, how do the characters change from start to finish? Or if the characters don't change, what does?

2. Most novels about World War II and the London Blitz focus on characters' heroism and bravery. What do you think about Evans's approach—honing in on characters who are hardly heroic, who take advantage of the generosity of others in times of crisis? Do desparate circumstances excuse Noel and Vee? Which type of person—the scoundrel or hero—is more prevalent in humanity...or in ourselves?

3. Reviewers are like Polonious in Hamlet, referring to Crooked Heart as comical-tragical, tragical-comical.... What do you think? Is it one...or the other...or both? If both, where does the line between comedy and tragedy fall (or blur)? Point to some areas where the writing is particularly humorous...or to other areas where it's not.

4. Lots of twists and turns in this novel: did you "see it coming"...or where you taken by surprise at the turn of events. Reviewers frequently mention Dickens. Do you see parallels? 

5. Satisfying ending...or not?

Questions taken from LitLovers.

Author Interviews:

NPR Interview
Bookanista Interview
The History Girls Interview
Words with Writers Interview

Book Reviews:

Book Club Guide: Ordinary Grace by William Kent Kreuger

Looking for great book club suggestions? As well as discussion questions, author information, and what food to serve at your next book discussion? You've come to the right place! We will start posting these book discussion guides for you on the third Thursday of every month. If you have a title that you'd like to suggest we cover, leave it in the comments or email it to

This Month's Selection: Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger

Summary: New Bremen, Minnesota, 1961. It was a time of innocence and hope for a country with a new, young president. But for thirteen-year-old Frank Drum it was a summer in which death assumed many forms. When tragedy unexpectedly comes to call on his family, which includes his Methodist minister father, his passionate, artistic mother, Juilliard-bound older sister, and wise-beyond-his years kid brother, Frank finds himself thrust into an adult world full of secrets, lies, adultery, and betrayal.

On the surface, Ordinary Grace is the story of the murder of a beautiful young woman, a beloved daughter and sister. At heart, it’s the story of what that tragedy does to a boy, his family, and ultimately the fabric of the small town in which he lives. 

What to Serve Your Guests:

Juicy Lucy Sliders- These delicious burgers are native to Minnesota. The thing that makes them unique is the cheese that oozes out of the middle when you take a bite.  Make these sliders for an easy to eat version.

Tater Tot Hotdish- These hotdishes (or casseroles) with tater tots are famous in Minnesota. This won't be the healthiest Book Club Meeting, but it sure will be tasty.

Norwegian Krumkake- Another Minnesota favorite, Krumkake is a crispy, wafer-like cookie. Add whipped cream or chocolate to make them extra tasty.

Discussion Questions: (from Simon and Shuster)

1. Discuss the final revelation of Ariel’s whereabouts. Had you guessed correctly? 

2. Much of Frank and Jake’s knowledge comes from overhearing and snooping. Which instance of eavesdropping provided them with the heaviest, most important information? Is there a particular overheard conversation that led most directly to the loss of their childhood innocence? 

3. Along those same lines, in what ways have the two boys been transformed by story’s end? 

4. Who is ultimately responsible for the death of Karl Brandt? 

5. A number of characters carry secrets that eventually come to light. Was there a certain catharsis once they were able to unload the truth? Did it do them any good? Consider especially Frank’s father, whose deeds in the war remained a mystery. Is there some merit to carrying the burden of a secret alone? 

6. Though the title of the novel refers to a particular “ordinary grace,” what other small graces did you find in the book? 

7. Why does Ruth leave her family? Do you think she was truly mad at Nathan? At God? Discuss the ways in which she and the other characters deal with their grief over Ariel. 

8. Do you agree with Frank’s insight in the epilogue that, “there is no such thing as a true event?” What makes a story real? How do we deal with varying perspectives and reflections of history? 

9. Do you think Frank had a responsibility to tell Emil about Lise? Was there merit to Jake’s argument that her fenced-in estate was prison enough? 

10. Do you forgive Emil for his moment of indiscretion? Is he in some way to blame for everything that happened in New Bremen? 

11. Frank and Jake often make a case to come along to the sheriff’s office, crime scenes, and pivotal confrontations during the upheaval in New Bremen. Should they have been allowed to bear witness to these things? Should children be shielded from the occasional darkness of adult life? 

12. What do you make of Gus? Is he in some ways the backbone (though not a true relative) of the Drum family? 

13. Do you agree with the sentiment of the older Warren Redstone? Is it true that the departed are never far from us? 

Author Interviews:

Book Reviews:

Book Discussion Guide: The Wind is Not a River

Looking for great book club suggestions? As well as discussion questions, author information, and what food to serve at your next book discussion? You've come to the right place! We will start posting these book discussion guides for you on the third Thursday of every month. If you have a title that you'd like to suggest we cover, leave it in the comments or email it to

This Month's Selection: The Wind is Not a River by Brian Payton


Following the death of his younger brother in Europe, journalist John Easley is determined to find meaning in his loss, to document some part of the growing war that claimed his own flesh and blood. Leaving behind his beloved wife, Helen, after an argument they both regret, he heads north from Seattle to investigate the Japanese invasion of Alaska's Aleutian Islands, a story censored by the U.S. government.

While John is accompanying a crew on a bombing run, his plane is shot down over the island of Attu. He survives only to find himself exposed to a harsh and unforgiving wilderness, known as "the Birthplace of Winds." There, John must battle the elements, starvation, and his own remorse while evading discovery by the Japanese.

Alone in their home three thousand miles to the south, Helen struggles with the burden of her husband's disappearance. Caught in extraordinary circumstances, in this new world of the missing, she is forced to reimagine who she is—and what she is capable of doing. Somehow, she must find John and bring him home, a quest that takes her into the farthest reaches of the war, beyond the safety of everything she knows.

What to Serve Your Book Club Guests:

Since a lot of this story takes place in the Aleutian Islands of Alaska, we thought this fun Alaskan salmon dish would be a great choice for food.

If you are looking to make something a little easier and less expensive, try making a Seattle Style Hot Dog. These hot dogs, served with cream cheese, have become very popular in Seattle over the years. 

In sticking with the seafood that both Seattle and Alaska are known for, you can also opt to make this Warm Crab Parmesan Dip for an appetizer if you don't want to make a whole meal of it. 

Discussion Questions (from

1. THE WIND IS NOT A RIVER is a novel set against the backdrop of an actual WWII battle most people are unfamiliar with. Had you heard of the battle for the Aleutians before reading this book? What surprised you the most about the war in Alaska?
2. THE WIND IS NOT A RIVER, the Aleutian landscape plays a critical role in the novel, almost becoming a character unto itself. At the beginning of the story, John Easley is hurled into this little-known wilderness. How does the Aleutian landscape affect the lives and destinies of the novel’s main characters, John and Helen? How does it affect the U.S. and Japanese forces? How is it reflected in the style and themes of the book?
3. John Easley believes that North Americans have a right to know about the war on their own west coast. He goes to great lengths to get and bring home the story of the war in the Aleutians. He also says, “the sacrifices made on our behalf must be known before they can be remembered” (pg. 34). Was he justified in the actions he took to witness and report these events?
4. THE WIND IS NOT A RIVER is a story of survival as well as a story about the power of love. Helen Easley is driven to find her beloved husband and bring him home. Helen also loves her father, but is forced to leave him behind. John loves Helen, but feels duty-bound to return to the Aleutians. John loves his deceased brother Warren; he loves Karl and Tatiana. Which relationship affected you the most? Which surprised you the most?
5. The displacement and mistreatment of the Aleut people is explored in this novel. The evacuation of the Aleut people was done for expedience, as well as their own protection. Discuss this protective/paternalistic impulse. Was it justified? Would this kind of treatment have happened to nonnative Americans?
6. The photograph and possessions of a young Aleut woman, Tatiana, is discovered by John Easley in his most dire time of need. For him, these found objects take on almost mystical proportions. The urge to idealize others through their images, words or possessions seems almost innate. Can you think of other examples from our culture or personal experience? Discuss.
7. Helen finds strength in her religious beliefs and traditions. When things seem hopeless, her faith sees her through. John finds himself facing some of the darkest parts of human nature and the nature of existence itself. He comes away with a conviction that this life is all we have. Which character’s beliefs come closest to your own? Did you find insight into the mind (soul?) of the character of the opposing point of view? Discuss the role of “faith” in the story.
8. THE WIND IS NOT A RIVER explores the role of censorship and our understanding of history. Was censorship understandable in the context of this battle and war? What about more recent wars and conflicts?

9. The novel ends with Helen and Tatiana coming together in the same place at the end of the WWII. Helen feels protective of this young woman and her fiancé. She leaves without speaking to her. Was it the right decision? Are we sometimes justified in protecting others from knowledge we possess?  

Author Interviews:

Book Reviews:

Book Discussion Guide: H is for Hawk

Looking for great book club suggestions? As well as questions, author information, and what food to serve at your next book discussion? You've come to the right place. We will start posting these book discussion guides for you on the third Thursday of every month. If you have a title that you'd like to suggest we cover, leave it in the comments or email it to

This month's selection: H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald


When Helen Macdonald's father died suddenly on a London street, she was devastated. An experienced falconer, Helen had never before been tempted to train one of the most vicious predators, the goshawk, but in her grief, she saw that the goshawk's fierce and feral temperament mirrored her own. Resolving to purchase and raise the deadly creature as a means to cope with her loss, she adopted Mabel, and turned to the guidance of The Once and Future King author T.H. White's chronicle The Goshawk to begin her challenging endeavor. Projecting herself "in the hawk's wild mind to tame her" tested the limits of Macdonald's humanity and changed her life.

Heart-wrenching and humorous, this book is an unflinching account of bereavement and a unique look at the magnetism of an extraordinary beast, with a parallel examination of a legendary writer's eccentric falconry. Obsession, madness, memory, myth, and history combine to achieve a distinctive blend of nature writing and memoir from an outstanding literary innovator.

What to Serve to Your Book Club Guests:

Since hawks prey upon ducks, we suggest this Duck Prosciuttorecipe from Bon Appetit. You can make the prosciutto and serve with crackers and cheese.
Fish and Chips are another great option in sticking with the setting of the story in England. Here is a recipe we liked from Tyler Florence.

For drinks, serve a nice tea, perhaps an English Breakfast tea.

Discussion Questions:

1. How does the taming of Mabel mirror Helen’s own journey of healing and self-discovery?
2. In what way does H is for Hawk differentiate itself from other noted memoirs about grief, works of nature writing and biographies?
3. What new passions or obsessions have you delved into after experiencing a great loss?
To see a whole lot more discussion questions, check out Grove Atlantic's list of questions here.

Author Interviews:

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