Free Book Club Discussion Guides

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Can you imagine reading 250+ books with your friends? Maybe you’d do it if you had a discussion guide. I’ll share our Piquant page-Turner discussion guides here. You’ll find the most recent discussion guides on top. Just scroll down for earlier guides. Joy in the pages!


A Man Called Peter

Catherine Marshall

Peter Marshall (preacher) May 27 A Man Called Peter

Note: To guide the discussion, note that each number corresponds to one of the twenty chapters of the book. For example, “Under Sealed Orders” is #2 and the questions relate to chapter 2.

  1. What did you know about Peter (or Catherine Marshall) before reading this book? “ Man Called Peter,” stayed on the NY Times bestseller list for 50 consecutive weeks. Why?
  2. “Under Sealed Orders”—Peter had a love affair with the sea. What were his other early loves? Describe his “navy career,” his call to ministry, and the path to the USA (p. 19). What did he mean by “God’s nugatory influences” (p 15)— Eric Liddell, the quarry?
  3. How did Peter end up in Alabama and then Columbia Seminary in Georgia? Discuss his letter to “My dear Mother” dated 5/13/1929. How was “Singing in the Rain” a mark of his own “practical and down-to earth, applicable preaching?
  4. How was Peter’s personality and early preaching described? How was his “deep sense of humility” on display? Why was he called “Twittering-birds Marshall” (41, 43 ff.)? What of “spiritual reality is a matter of perception not proof”? p. 41
  5. What was Catherine’s impression of Peter when she first heard him in college? Discuss: he’d get married “when good and ready” p. 52, an “idealist and romanticist” p. 54, proposal and health certificates p. 56, 59.
  6. “Dreams carried around in one’s heart for years, if they are dreams that have God’s approval, have a way of suddenly materializing” (p. 68). Discuss how Peter was “practical businessman as well as poet,” in “The Home of Your Dreams.” 
  7. How and why did Peter decide to take the pastorate at New York Avenue?
  8. Describe the couples’ trip to  “The Country He Left Behind.” How did his homeland foster his “sensitive appreciation of all beauty”? What did you learn about Sir Walter Scott or the character of the Scottish people? How did its literature and language impact Peter? p. 95
  9. What pressures were on Peter and Catherine as they began at New York Avenue, Lincoln’s church p. 101? Discuss his citizenship (p. 104), his sense of inadequacy (p. 105), gardenias (p. 107).
  10. “My husband’s tastes left no half measures,” and “You either see BEAUTY or you do not,” p. 108. Eggs, tea, and night owls p. 112, turkey hash, “Heaven comes to earth only as we work for it.” p. 120 
  11. How did Peter show that “Christianity Can Be Fun” p. 124? The “best diction” p. 126, singing, Gaelic p. 128, his love of games—time stolen from sleep, p. 130, his joy p. 134. “When people were personally attracted to Peter, he would say, ‘The only reason they feel that way about me is because they have a deep hunger for God, but Christ, as a Person, is still not real to them. Now, I have to find the way to transfer their admiration from me to Christ.’” Discuss his desire for others to know Christ. 
  1. How was the second year at New York Avenue “The Hardest”? How did he handle criticism? Discuss pp. 138-139. Read p. 142, “rare combination of poet and prophet.”
  2. Discuss the “Man wi’ His Laddie” and also Catherine’s mothering style p. 154. Prunes, p. 157, silly talk, p. 160.
  3. How did Catherine learn that “God Still Answers Prayer” p. 168? How did Peter deal with his wife’s TB and need to rest for three years? What role did confession play in Catherine’s healing journey p. 166. What do you make of the notion that “certain personalities have a proclivity for certain diseases” and spiritual nourishment (pp. 169-170)? Also how did A.D. come to them? p. 178 
  4. Discuss “Waverly” and Cape Cod. “It was one of the paradoxes about him that such a vigorous man, with an exceptionally active, restless mind, nevertheless enjoyed developing certain ruts in his life.” p. 180. The sea and the cool temps p. 181-5.
  5.  How did Peter use his  “sanctified imagination” in writing sermons p. 191-2? What’s the difference between emotion and emotionalism p. 194? How did he “talk himself into a sermon”? P. 197 How does the incident with the Marine show his priorities? p. 200 
  6. How did Peter reveal his “Valiant Heart”? How did his heart attack push Catherine to find “prayer specialists”? Have you ever done that? 
  7. What is “The Dominie”? How did Peter find peace in preparing Senate prayers ahead of time p. 215? Read his prayer on p. 217 and discuss how “God wrote his prayers.” “How I admired his straightforward way, his freedom from all cant and hypocrisy, his unusual impelling diction, his sturdy personality…” p. 224
  8. How did Catherine and Peter work “Together”? Discuss how she dealt with his weakened heart. What was Peter’s approach to death (p. 231)? How did Peter learn “that the kingdom of God goes on without Peter Marshall.”
  9. Discuss Peter’s “graduation,” including Catherine’s clarity in planning it (p. 241)? Read the editorial on pp. 243-4. “The truth is he out prayed, I preached, and outplayed us all. Why? Because he had sought and found delight in the doing of God’s will…” p. 247

From ON MY WALK blog: “Peter Marshall was a Scots-American Presbyterian pastor who served as Chaplain of the Senate from 1947 until his early death (at 46) in 1949. A Scotsman by birth, Marshall immigrated to the United States in 1927. Gospel patrons in a Georgia Sunday School class provided the financial help that enabled Peter to attend and graduate from Columbia Seminary. He pastored the Westminster Presbyterian Church from 1933 until his call to New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C. in October 1937. Marshall began his ministry at the “The Church of the Presidents,” at thirty-five years of age. In fact, he interviewed with the elders just one day following his marriage to Catherine Marshall (22 at the time). Catherine Marshall’s loving biography of her husband is honest, honoring, and revealing.”

Peter Marshall (May 27, 1902 – January 26, 1949)

Peter John Marshall (January 21, 1940 – September 8, 2010)

Catherine Marshall ( 27 September 1914 – 18 March 1983)

Catherine published more than 220 books. These included many editions of her late husband’s sermons, several of her own inspirational books, and the best-selling novel Christy, inspired by her mother’s accounts of her early teaching years in Appalachia. In 1959 Catherine married Leonard LeSourd, executive editor of Guideposts magazine. She was buried at her request next to Peter.

For More on Peter and Catherine: 

  1. Audio of Marshall preaching “Trial By Fire.”
  2. A Man Called Peter — On My Walk blog post:
  3. Peter Marshall and a Woman Called Catherine:
  4. Video clips from the movie:

Brat Farrar

Josephine Tey

1. Do you like mysteries? Why or why not? What’s your favorite?

2. Author Robert Barnard writes that Brat occupies “the hinterland between the crime novel and the novel proper. Impersonation has been at the heart of many detective stories, but it has seldom carried the emotional charge of Brat Farrar, and our sympathies are never in a mere puzzle so skillfully and so surprisingly manipulated.” Do you agree that Tey is a master of “loving characterisation; and above all, control of reader sympathies”? 

3. Where did you feel your sympathy being played? Did you think that perhaps Brat/Patrick was the real thing and had somehow forgotten his former identity? 

4. What finally convinced Brat to impersonate Patrick Ashby? Discuss: belonging. (Refer to pp. 149, 158, 226) 

5. Were there holes in the plot, “like the contrivance of having the dental records destroyed in the Blitz” that distracted you from the story line? Or did you say that “the wonderful prose, with its descriptions of the landscape, spot-on dialogue and lively characterizations” had you “sailing through with great pleasure”? 

6. A wrong word or a forgotten memory could bring everything crashing down: What wrong words or memories slipped out of Brat (p. 201- “coolee”)? Did you feel the tension? Where did you most feel the suspense? Why was Simon so tense at his meeting with Brat (p. 105)? Simon’s test with the toy horse, “Travesty by Irish Peasant out of Bog Oak” (p. 117)? 

7. Which characters did you like and dislike the most? Why? Characters: Alec Loding, Bee, Brat, Simon, Eleanor, Jane, Ruth, Rector George, Gregg, Peggy, Sheila Parslow (Bee: p. 69)

8. Discuss impersonation. How far-fetched is this? How about 75 years ago compared to now?

9. Brat said Timber the horse reminded him of Simon (p. 158). Have you likened people to animals? As an aside, which Winnie the Pooh character are you most like? 

10. What role do the horses play in the book (p. 83)? How about horse breeding and lineage? “They’re not overly romanticized, seen through a soft-focus lens; horses can be a right pain in the rump just like any other creatures, and are a chancy entity to pin your living onto; they can sicken and die or fail to live up to expectations – or kill.” (From Stewartry)

11. Did you ever laugh? How about Tony riding past the judges upside down (p. 229)? 

12. Did the ending satisfy? Why or why not?


Nathaniel Philbrick

“We do not take a trip; a trip takes us…”

John Steinbeck

1. Have you ever taken a historical trip? Do you prefer self or expert guided? If you haven’t, would you like to go? If you have, would you share a highlight? (Would you travel with your dog?)

2. Would you like the sort of work Philbrick did: to interview librarians and historic home owners and read primary source documents? 

3. From 1-5 stars, how would you rate this book? What did you most enjoy? What could you do without? 

4. What did you think of all the rabbit trails? Can you share any tangents that you enjoyed? (E.g., Dentures/Teeth, p. 16, 19; Longleaf pines, 211; Mother Mary’s Gingerbread, 196; Mules p. 14)

5. Why did Washington take these tours (map on p. xv)? Was his mission accomplished? Explain. 

6. What did you learn about Washington as a man— “only a man,” but a punctual man (p. 250): 

  1. How did he travel, in terms of his carriage, his entourage, and his lodging? What questions do you have about the nitty-gritty of travel? 
  2. Why did he wear a brown suit at inauguration but a military uniform off the leopard skin saddle pad and white horse Prescott on most of his tour stops?
  3. Why did he stay only in taverns and not with rich friends? Hancock (p. 96) does not greet Washington in Boston, will not go to dinner at his house, since he did not greet Washington first. 
  4. Discuss: For Washington, everything was precedent setting. He was both a man of the people and a strong commander, above the common man. A President wants it both ways. Yet, he moved from “His Excellency” to “The President.” He is “only a man” (p. 108) is a recurrent theme. How was he in a no-win situation? (p. 277) 

7. What did you learn about the slavery, and the complexities involved with it, at the founding of our country? What did you learn about Washington’s complicated relationship with slaves? For example, how did marrying the widow Martha impact him?  (Read aloud pp. 304-5.) 

8. Discuss Washington’s tours (p. 295) and the receptions he received in different towns.  Which would you have enjoyed the most (e.g., 262- “gaining flesh” on the southern tour)? 

9. Discuss this quote from Philbrick: History cannot be pigeon-holed into good guys/bad guys. Washington was a paradox. He wills to free his servants, even as he tracks down runaway slave, Ona Judge. We are all victims of our own times. (Pp.. 171, 17) 

10. What would you like modern leaders to learn from George Washington’s tours? How would you like to imitate him? For example, how was he a model of servant leadership?