City of Friends – Reading Group Guide
- What did you think of the depiction of female friendship in City of Friends? Did you find it authentic? Did you think they were good friends to one another?
- Stacey feels a ‘violent sense of injustice’ over her firing. Were you shocked by the circumstances of her dismissal? Do you think the same thing would have happened if she were a man?
- ‘She loved her children, loved Quin, loved her friends, but she adored her work.’ What did you think about Gaby’s attitude to work, family and domestic life?
- What do you think about Melissa’s situation as a working single mother? Granted, she is not short of money, but what about the inevitable emotional pressure on her son?
- Beth finishes her argument with Claire: ‘what you did was one thing, but the reason you did it was quite another.’ Did you think Beth was right to be so upset over Claire’s actions?
- Gaby contends in an interview that ‘working women should be as commonplace and unremarkable as working men’. Do you think City of Friends agrees with Gaby’s statement? Do you think the book represents this as already being the case, or an attitude that still needs shifting?
- Steve pressures Stacey to move her mum into a care home. Did you think this was fair? Who did you sympathize with most in the situation?
- ‘He’s very angry at the moment, and it’s easier to tell me it’s all my fault’. Gaby doesn’t see Quin’s outburst coming. Did you? Do you think she could have done anything differently to curtail his resentments? Do you think she should have done anything differently?
- ‘Work and life aren’t in opposition to each other, they enrich each other’, Gaby proclaims in a seminar. What do you think City of Friends says about working women and work/life balance?
- Do you think men and women work differently, and how does this affect how they are perceived and how they perceive themselves?
- Are attitudes to the juggling of work and family life generational, cultural or economic?
- What does feminism mean today?
Balancing Act – Reading Group Guide
Susie Moran is a success. She has founded and run her own highly profitable company, and now her three daughters are all involved in the business. Rooted in the traditions of the Stoke-on-Trent potteries, and producing charming, useable objects of distinctive design, Susie is justly proud of her family and her achievement – and has no intention of letting it change.
But what of the men in the family? Susie’s husband, a musician and artist, has always seemed happy to take a back seat. One of her sons-in-law has few ambitions outside the home. Another daughter, though, has brought her husband into the company – and they want to change things, much to Susie’s distress.
And then, into the mix, arrives Susie’s father, an ageing hippy who abandoned Susie as a baby. Now he’s alone, and wants to build bridges, although Susie’s daughters are outraged at the idea. Can the needs of a family business override the needs of the family itself? In wanting to preserveher business, will Susie lose something much more precious?
Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. At the beginning of the story the first chapter establishes the three daughters and then, in chapter two, we meet Susie for the first time. Discuss and compare the contrasts between this introduction to the characters. What are your first impressions
2. The traditional view of the woman’s role is turned upside down in this story, with the women as breadwinners and the men who actually support them in this, directly and indirectly, thankful to surrender the breadwinning role. Discuss how this affects the characters not only at home, but at work as well.
3. Each of the characters in the story face different decisions with their relationships. Look at Susie and her three daughters and discuss what changes are made and how this affects their careers.
4. Jasper and Morris play an important role in Susie’s life. What are they like and in what ways do they influence her in the decisions she has made?
5. Realising you have made the wrong choices is just as important as realising you have the right choices. Look at the men in this story – Morris and Jasper, the sons-in-law and Jeff, the boyfriend. Discuss the choices they make and how this changes their lives.
6. Joanna’s depiction of the children, Maisie and Fred, together with Polynesia the parrot, provide a vivid picture of everyday family life. But what role do you think they play in this story of role reversal and family relations?
7. A city blighted by loss of traditional industries… How far do you think Joanna’s story captures this comment and relects Emma Bridgewater’s20own success in regenerating the industry?
8. What do you think the future holds for the family both in their relationships and in their careers? How do you imagine their story playing out?
The Soldier’s Wife – Reading Group Guide
Alexa Riley eagerly awaits the return of her husband Dan, a major in the British Army, after a six-month tour of duty in Afghanistan. But the long-awaited reunion isn’t as perfect as she imagined, as her husband struggles to put the horrors of war behind him and readjust to family life. But for Alexa—who has been putting her own career dreams on hold while raising their three girls—the distance between them, both while Dan is away and at home, is unbearable. This poignant look at the inner workings of a modern military family questions just how much one is willing to compromise for family and what happens when love and vocation collide.
Topics & Questions for Discussion
- Although Dan has returned home to England, in what ways is he still in Afghanistan? What are some of the biggest adjustments he has to face at home?
- How do Dan and Alexa both contribute to the breakdown of communication in their marriage? What is the most vital information each one withholds from the other? What motivates Dan? Alexa?
- Many outside forces affect Dan and Alexa’s marriage. Discuss how the events involving Isabel, Gus and Kate, and the wounded soldiers impacted their reunion.
- Discuss the support system of women who emerge in the novel. Consider Franny, Mo, and Mel’s character in your response. In what ways does Mel represent a different path for military wives? Do you have a group of friends you turn to for support?
- Discuss the generational differences among the Riley military men: Eric, George, and Dan. What issues pose a challenge for Dan that his father and grandfather did not experience in their day? In what ways do the two elder Rileys have the benefit of hindsight?
- Compare the descriptions of day-to-day life on the military base with life in London. In what ways is the city an escape for Alexa?
- Dan and Alexa’s friends and family subtly involve themselves in the couple’s relationship. Do you think actions taken by well-meaning outsiders helped or hurt Dan and Alexa’s relationship?
- What role does Jack Dearlove fill in Alexa’s life that Dan cannot? Does Jack overstep his bounds in any way? Does Dan have the right to feel jealous or threatened?
- How does Isabel’s unhappiness at boarding school illustrate the turmoil within the Riley family? What message do you think is Isabel trying to send to her parents?
- Discuss the roles of hierarchy, structure, and authority in The Soldier’s Wife. How does the leadership styles of Mrs. Cairns, Mack, and George differ? In your opinion, does a family need structure or an authority figure?
- How did you react to Dan and Gus’s decisions about their military service? Do you think each man made the best decision for his family? For himself?
- Do know anyone from your personal life who has served in the military? Did reading The Soldier’s Wife affect your perception of what it is like to serve—both for service members and their families? Do you think this depiction of a military family is accurate? Why or why not?
- What do you think the future holds for Dan and Alexa, both in their relationship and in their careers? How do you imagine their story playing out?