Reading Group Guide
This reading group guide for The Moonlit Earth includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Christopher Rice. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
Megan Reynolds is returning to her hometown of Cathedral Beach, California, after losing both her job and her idealism in San Francisco, when halfway around the world, her brother, Cameron, is inexplicably involved in an apparent terrorist bombing at a luxury hotel in Hong Kong. As the plot unfolds, Megan discovers her brother recently developed a close relationship, possibly a romantic one, with a wealthy Saudi whose powerful family will stop at nothing to prevent their name from being connected to either terrorism or homosexuality. In a desperate attempt to save her brother and clear his name, Megan embarks on a race against time which takes her to Thailand, Hong Kong, and the South China Sea. Her journey thrusts her into conflict with trusted members of her own family and brings her ever closer to an unwanted reunion with her estranged father, a reunion that sheds light on his mysterious and emotionally devastating abandonment so many years ago.
TOPICS AND QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION
1. We learned a lot about the Reynolds family in the prologue—their father has left, the siblings always relied on each other in the past, but now one has been implicated in a terrorist act. How do these facts direct your thinking as you begin the narrative?
2. Megan, her brother Cameron, and their mother Lilah have all accepted financial support from Lucas. Do they seem ashamed or embarrassed by accepting his help?
3. After Megan left home, she visited a therapist who said her resentment toward her father would poison her future relationships. (p. 35) Does that seem to be true at the beginning of the novel? Is this part of what she ultimately discovers about herself at the novel’s end?
4. Why did Cameron make up the story about the incident over Hawaii? Why do you think he felt the need to lie to his sister?
5. Describe Majed and his responsibilities for the Al-Farhan family. Coming from a humble background, why is he willing to take on the kinds of risks his job entails?
6. Why did Majed initially reach out to Megan to try to help her? What were his feelings toward the Swan that may have moved him to help?
7. What do you think the media’s reaction would have been if Cameron wasn’t with a Middle Eastern man at the hotel? Do you think he still would have been considered a suspect if the security camera footage had showed him leaving with another white male?
8. How does the author’s use of a female protagonist affect the story? Was a female character able to do things a male character couldn’t in the context of the novel?
9. Why do you think Megan trusts strangers, like Majed, more than her own family members?
10. Lucas says his loyalty lies with his family, but he hides important information from them about Cameron and Zach Holder. In this case, do you think actions speak louder than words? By the end of novel, do you think he really did care about Megan, Cameron, and Lilah?
11. Do you agree with Megan’s decision to follow Majed after Lucas was killed? In that intense moment, how would you have reacted?
12. On page 218, Megan describes a “moonlit Earth,” or a rose-colored view of life—only now she admits to seeing the less beautiful parts. Is that a conclusion she would have reached if the bombing never took place? Which view of life is preferable?
13. At the time of the bombing, did you suspect Cameron of being involved in a terrorist plot? If so, how long was it before you changed your mind?
14. How did you react when you learned of the real circumstances around Parker Reynolds’s departure when Megan and Cameron were young? Do you consider what he did to be blackmail? How would you have reacted to his conditions regarding the photographs if you had been in Lilah’s shoes?
15. Do you believe the things Majed tells Megan when he meets her again in San Francisco during the epilogue? Do you believe Aabid is still alive and well?
ENHANCE YOUR BOOK CLUB
1. Cameron was a flight attendant for a luxury airline, while Megan said she disliked air travel. Do you enjoy flying or does the thought of flying make you sweat? Share your best (or worst) airline travel stories.
2. Much of the story takes place in Southeast Asia, known for its spicy and delicious cuisine. Share your favorite Asian flavors with the group as you discuss the story.
3. How much do you know about your family? Megan was so concerned about her own life, she didn’t give Cameron a chance to talk about his own. Then he disappeared. Share with your group your family history and listen as they share theirs.
A CONVERSATION WITH CHRISTOPHER RICE
This is your first book with a female protagonist. Why did you choose to do write in the voice of Megan Reynolds, and how do you think it went?
In some sense, it was much easier to write Megan then it was to write some of my previous main characters. I had just written an entire novel (Blind Fall) from the point-of-view of a Force Recon Marine, an act which required me to learn another language and slip into the skin of a character whose background was almost entirely alien to my own experience. Megan’s pervasive sense of being an outsider, existing on the fringes of extreme wealth, was one I could relate to, and ultimately it was a point of connection strong enough to get me past my anxieties about her gender. But there were some major women-in-thriller stereotypes I outlined for myself beforehand so I could avoid them at all costs. I wrote a piece about them for The Daily Beast and was interviewed about it for Talk of the Nation on NPR. I was determined not to turn Megan into some ridiculous ninja assassin in the course of twenty-four hours, or worse, have her become some stumbling nincompoop as soon as Majed showed up with a gun.
This story is just as much a gripping thriller, as it is a family drama. Was Megan’s relationship to her family difficult to put on paper?
No, it wasn’t. Most of my stories have boiled down to family intrigue. I’m fascinated by family secrets, and the myriad ways in which families try to keep them. And I don’t ever really write about my own family. Parker Reynolds, Megan’s father, is nothing like my own. My parents stayed married to one another for over forty years, up until my father’s death from brain cancer at the age of sixty-one. Their bond was as strong as steel, even through the tough times. But they did keep a secret from me when I was young. I was about six years old when one of my teachers referenced a sister I never knew I had; she died of leukemia before I was born. Since that moment, I’ve been fascinated with long-held family secrets. But after that happened, my parents were very open and forthcoming with me about Michelle’s illness and death. But what if they hadn’t been? Those are the types of questions that fascinate me as a writer. I look at my own life and ask what would have happened if a wrong turn had been taken in a certain place instead of a right one.
Why did you choose to base this story in Hong Kong? How did visiting the area help frame the narrative?
I traveled to Southeast Asia, fully believing that I would set most of the novel in Bangkok. For the first draft, the terrorist bombing was actually set in Bangkok and then Majed and Megan met up in Hong Kong in the latter half of the novel. But it didn’t work. Bangkok’s decadence and sprawl wasn’t the right feel for the novel. As part of my trip, I had planned a day or two in Hong Kong, because I had always wanted see the place. But the minute I set foot there, I knew it would play a major role in the book. The city’s glass and steel canyons and its tidal floes of pedestrians made a perfect setting for a novel which had financial corruption as one of the main themes.
Where did the relationship between Cameron and Megan come from? Are any of the characters inspired by real people? Do you have any siblings?
I think discovering that I had lost a sister before I was even born left me with a longing for the type of idealized sibling relationship Megan and Cameron have. But obviously, the specifics of their interactions were modeled after the close friendships I’ve had with women in my life.
What kind of research did you have to do to accurately portray the global locales, cultures, and characters in this novel?
It was the most travel I’ve ever done to research a novel and I loved every minute of it. I went overseas for three weeks without having outlined the novel and so entire scenes seemed to emerge out of actual locales. The entire Phuket sequence with Cameron and Majed occurred to me after I had returned, and after I had thought I might dismiss Thailand as a location all together. You have to go on those trips with an open mind; it’s not like location scouting for a film where you know exactly what the script’s dictates are and what physically needs to unfold in each locale. With the type of research I did, you’re-developing a storehouse of sights, sounds and recollections that you draw on once you’ve returned home. The most bittersweet part about the whole trip for me—I screwed up something on my computer when I returned and lost almost every photo I took. It was devastating. So in some sense, the novel itself is my best record of the experience.
Do you enjoying flying? Did you come across any airline stories while writing this book that changed your opinion?
I used to be an incredibly nervous flyer. For me, it was a strange response to homesickness when I left New Orleans for college. I’ve managed to work through it and now I look forward to it. (Why wouldn’t I? It’s an excellent time to read.) Part of it involved recovering the love of airplanes and commercial flight I had as a little boy, when it all seemed so magical. Flying is magical to me again. I love the energy in airports. I’ve written articles about how I become obsessed with cabin design and the different styles airlines adopt for their business and first class cabins. We actually held a book signing for this novel in the Atlanta Airport, which was a lot of fun.
There are eBooks and applications for your work. How do you feel about publishing in the digital age? How are other writers you know reacting to it?
It’s a complex issue. I want my books to reach readers where they are, and if readers are now shackled to their PDAs and their digital readers then it’s important my books get to them there. I have an eReader and I enjoy reading on it, especially when I travel, which I do a lot now for speaking engagements.* There are great conversations about this issue happening online, in places like the Huffington Post; writers with experience in publishing solely in the digital world are sharing what they’ve learned (and how much money they’ve managed to make along the way). The potential for out-of-print novels to be permanently available for download, and for the author.* If you’re interested in booking Christopher for a speaking engagement, contact KMP Artist Management at www.KMPArtists.com to take home a majority of the sale price, is tremendously exciting for a lot of us. But the lower price point scares us, as it does publishers.
How do you know when a story is finished and ready to be published?
When my editor says it is. Seriously, I can’t write without a guiding hand. And I’m an obsessive reviser. So I need someone else in there to make sure I don’t turn the thing into mud by re-writing the thing to death.