Tuesday, April 7, 2015

April events for readers and poets

There is much going on this month.
Here are some that didn't make the newspaper, thanks to my own error!

Seven Bridge Writers Collaborative invites readers to observe National Poetry Month with several events at Thayer Memorial Library this month. Poets may read from their work at a Poetry Open Mike at 6:30 p.m., April 14, in the library's downstairs Dexter meeting room. There is a five-minute maximum reading period for each participant. 
Also, poet Michael Fisher, author of "The Wolf Spider" and "Libretto for the Exhausted World" will lead a workshop on the Language of Poetry from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 on Saturday, April 18, in the Dexter Room.

Holden Free Library is also welcoming fans of poetry at a poet-led writing workshop, Monday, April 13, 10:30 a.m. to Noon. Jennifer Freed will lead the workshop, one of several poetry and writing sessions offered during April at Gale, (508) 210-5569.

Northboro Public Library's Friday Morning Book Group will discuss Debra Dean's "The Madonnas of Leningrad" at a meeting planned for April 10. The novel is based on the World War II seige of Leningrad. Call the library, (508) 393-6889, for information from Marie Nieber, leader.

Thayer Memorial Library's Adult Book Group will meet at 6:30 p.m., Tuesday, March 31, to discuss "People of the Book: A Novel" by Geraldine Brooks. This is the fact-inspired story of a rare illuminated manuscript, the Sarajevo Haggadah, through centuries of exile and war. For more information, contact Assistant Director Karen Silverthorn at 978-368-8928 or ksilverthorn@cwmars.org.

Actress-singer Debbie Reynolds' "Unsinkable: A Memoir," is the topic of Heywood Library's book group for April 29.

Gale Free Library's Contemporary Book Group in Holden will meet at 10:30 a.m., Tuesday, April 7 to discuss "The All-Girl Filling Station's Last Reunion" by Fannie Flagg. Its Classics Book Group will meet on Thursday, April 30 at 6:30 p.m. to discuss "The Custom of the Country" by Edith Wharton.

At Haston Library, North Brookfield, members will discuss "Common Threads Poetry," at 7 p.m., April 28.

Members of Lancaster's "Off-Track Bookies" will meet on April 9 to discuss Ann Leary's "The Good Wife."

On April 13, the NOW Women's Issues Book Group will discuss "Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers," by Mary Roach. "Great science writing, and very engaging, says Joan Killough-Miller. "But don't try to read this over lunch!" Meets at 7 p.m. inside Barnes & Noble, 541 Lincoln St., Worcester.

Top of Form

Reading for pleasure, for knowledge, for life

Although lately much occupied with books about how to keep your dog from renting the drapes, chewing the doorways and destroying the doors, I have found time to read books recommended by friends, solicited for reviews or books that are just plain fun.
Louise Erdrich's novels about contemporary Native Americans bring me back to western South Dakota, where I lived during the 1972 flood and the 1973 Wounded Knee occupation—both tense and difficult times for Native Americans. Sherman Alexie does it for me too.
The people of the Midwest and West come alive again, enduringly and soulfully, within the works of Ivan Doig, Annie Proulx, Charles Frazier, Ken Haruf and David Guterson.
T.C. Boyle's short fiction opens my imagination to new ways of expressing ideas, as well as crafting imaginative stories. The same holds for Ray Bradbury, Proulx, John Updike, Lorrie Moore, Amy Hempel, Flannery O'Connor and Jhumpa Lahiri. They have written memorable stories.
I'm a fan of books about men, women and families during World War II, so I routinely pick them up both fiction and nonfiction from that era. Among the best: "The Diary of Anne Frank," Kristen Hannah's "Winter Garden" and, more recently, "The Nightengale," Chris Bohjalian's "Skeletons at the Feast," Elie Wiesel's "Night," Laura Hillenbrand's "Unbroken," Thomas Kennealy's "Schindler's List," William Styron's "Sophie's Choice," Jenna Blum's "Those Who Save Us," Victor Klemperer's "I Will Bear Witness," Viktor Frankl's "Man's Search for Meaning," Corrie Ten Boom's "The Hiding Place," Leon Uris' "Mila 18" and "Exodus," and so, so many other books dealing with this era that have enriched my knowledge and thoughts.
This is why we read. We read to expand our lives and hearts, to learn about what we need to understand, to live in ways we cannot live.
I hope that your book club does that for you.
Area book groups:
The next meeting of the Douglas Library Book Group will focus on Garth Stein’s "The Art of Racing in the Rain." Meeting is Tuesday, April 14, at 6:30 p.m. Call the library, (508) 476-2695, for a copy of the book. New members welcome.
The Friday Morning Book Club at Northborough Library will meet at 10 a.m., April 10, to discuss "The Madonnas of Leningrad" by Debra Dean, a novel based on the siege of Leningrad during World War II.
Actress-singer Debbie Reynolds' memoir, "Unsinkable" will be the topic of a 4:30 p.m., April 29 meeting at Heywood Library in Gardner.
Gale Free Library in Holden has slated two meetings. The Contemporary Book Group will meet at 10:30 a.m., April 7, to discuss Fannie Flagg's "The All-Girl Filling Station's Last Reunion." Its Classics Book Group will meet at 6:30 p.m., Thursday, April 30, to discuss "The Custom of the Country" by Edith Wharton.
Off Track Bookies in Lancaster will meet at 7 p.m., April 9, to discuss Ann Leary's "The Good House."
North Brookfield Book Group, observing National Poetry Month, has slated "Common Threads Poetry" for its 7 p.m., April 28 meeting at Haston Library.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Book clubs try short stories on for size

We're all rushed these days, but reading remains important to many. There are solutions for the too-busy-to-read dilemma, and many groups are finding them.
Several area book groups have spoken about dividing a book up into multiple sessions (some even go a full season on one author). This allows members to savor a book, without hurrying to the end before a meeting.
Another solution is to read short stories; groups sometimes select one author and explore his or her work that way. Heywood Library Group recently did short stories by TC Boyle, an unconventional but wildly creative fiction writer.
In Clinton, a short story book club formed in the wake of a 600-page Dostoyevsky work that convinced them to do other things. Members meet in Bigelow Free Library every other week to discuss stories by an author whom they've chosen to explore at length.
"If they miss one session, there's always a different story they can read for the next meeting. Our meetings are on Saturdays from 10 to 12 or so, usually in the basement because we're speaking out loud," said Joan Higbee-Glace, one of the organizers, along with Gordon Graham. They publish notices in the main library area and the Item to let prospective members know what the group is reading.
"We usually read about 20 pages aloud while we're there, so if people don't have time to read the story they can just listen to it being read. Members can interrupt at any point with a question or a comment about the reading," she said.
Right now, members are exploring Bernard Malamud. "Malamud was a New York-based writer, a Jewish man who wrote a lot about poorer people," Glace said. "His family were storeowners, so he writes about people who have fallen on tougher times, lost money. He also writes about some Italian life, Catholics. What an interesting perspective these people have; sometimes the phrases are just beautiful, or sometimes just funny; they catch your eye, and you think, I've got to remember that, 'cause I want to use it someday!"
The group is small, and older, she says—with a core of six, joined by others depending on which author they're exploring. Flannery O'Connor attracted her own fans in addition to the regulars. Come spring, snowbirds return to expand the group.
By taking their time with one author, Glace said, "we see how an author progresses; sometimes the stories are redone, or carried on with same characters. O'Connor sometimes took a theme and changed it. She was from the South, a Roman Catholic when the South was generally protestant; she wrote a lot about the grace of God, but not so much that you would notice it. ... You could see how God worked in someone's life, without actually mentioning it."
They discuss authors before selecting one. "Sometimes, people who don't want to read an author learn that they really enjoy the writer. You really get a feeling for the guy. In a short story, the descriptions of the characters are so wonderful, and you notice that in some stories, certain things are emphasized. O'Connor often talked about the sky and the trees, and she often had a surprise ending. We read 'A Good Man is Hard to Find' and loved it."

The group enjoys ethnic writers. "You get to know how someone else thinks, someone not of your faith or color. That's really wonderful. It leads to stories from members in the group, who remember when some of the older ways were prevalent in their community. For instance, the little grocery stores in Clinton come to mind when we read Malamud. There were ethnic groceries in each neighborhood. Members have stories about what happened in their neighborhood. We relate to the stories deeply."
Anyone is welcome to join. For more info, call Glace at (978) 870-0352 or Gordon Graham at (978) 733-4367. People are welcome to just drop in. "If they call, I'll make a copy of the story and send it to them until they get a book," she said. Next Malamud sessions are: March 7: "The German Refugee," and March 21, "A Choice of Profession."
"We only take off if the library is closed, or there's a storm."

Twenty years of booking it:
The Booklovers' Gourmet in Webster is celebrating 20 years in business this year. Owner Debra Horan says the store will continue to invite regional and nationally known writers in a setting geared toward community gatherings—with food, of course. On Saturday, March 7, The Grey Whisker Pickers will perform from Noon to 2 p.m. at the store, 55 E. Main St., and a memory wall will invite longtime and new customers' comments.

Book groups meet:
Douglas Library book group meets Tuesday, March 10, at 6:30 p.m. to discuss Laurel Corona's "The Mapmaker's Daughter." New members are welcome; for a copy of the book, call (508) 276-2695.
The NOW Book Group will discuss "We are All Completely Beside Ourselves" by Karen Joy Fowler at its March 9 meeting. The group meets at Barnes & Noble, 541 Lincoln St. (Lincoln Plaza), Worcester.
At Heywood Library, book group members will discuss "Riding the Bus With My Sister" by Rachel Simon. Meeting is at 4:30 p.m., March 25.
The newly formed North Central Mass Millennial Book Group will discuss Roxane Gay's "Bad Feminist" at a meeting to be held Feb. 25, 6 p.m., in Ashburnham.  To join and for location, check www.meetup.com.
Off-Track Bookies of Lancaster has slated Christine Baker Klein's "Orphan Train" for its March 12 meeting.
O'Connor's Books, Brew & Banter will discuss Laura Hillenbrand's "Unbroken" at 6:30 p.m., March 25 in O'Connor's Restaurant, 1160 W. Boylston St., Worcester.
Gardner's Heywood Library group will discuss Rachel Simon's "Riding the Bus with My Sister" on March 25.
At Gale Free Library in Holden, contemporary book club members will meet to discuss "A Man Called Ove," by Fredrik Backman. Classic Book Group members will discuss Bernard Malamud's "The Fixer."
At Haston Library in North Brookfield, book group members will discuss "The Boys in the Boat," by Daniel James Brown, at 7 p.m., March 24.
The C.S. Lewis Society of Central Massachusetts will meet several times during March at Auburn Public Library. At 9 a.m., March 14 and 21, discussion centers on Peter Kreeft's "Between Heaven & Hell." A poetry reading, featuring Irma Stevens, Monica Nelson and Stephen Boys, is slated for 9 a.m., March 28.

Ann Connery Frantz writes Read It and Reap for book groups and those who love to read. Send suggestions or questions to ann.frantz@gmail.com.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Kristin Hannah, "The Nightingale"

I've been reading fiction and nonfiction about the decimation of the Jewish people under the Nazis for some years now, and only recently read "Willy Peter Reese's journal, "A Stranger to Myself," about the siege of Leningrad as Allied Forces overtook the Germans during that war.
What crosses the line into Hannah's novel is the portrayal of what happens to common people in war time. The personal losses, hunger, betrayals and failures of humanity when terror and deprivation tear at the fabric of a society are the same, regardless of which nation is touched by war.
I remember being touched similarly by Jenna Blum's absorbing novel, "Those Who Save Us," about a woman forced to collaborate with the Nazis, but living a double life to help stave off the hunger their prisoners must endure.
Equally affecting is Hannah's story, about a young woman, Isabelle, who becomes the "Nightingale" an almost mythic figure the Germans are obsessed with capturing. She leads downed Allied pilots over the mountains to escape France. Her sister, who considers herself far less brave, also rises to the challenge, saving Jewish children from certain death by hiding them within a convent and in her home, under the nose of an abusive Nazi billeted in the house.
Their suffering--no doubt typical of the painful reality endured during the war--is as memorable as their courage. One realizes something about courage in reading this story--that it is not an easy road to take, and it is a way that does not always reward those who take it.
This is a riveting book, and I consider it Hannah's best to date. She has written it nearly flawlessly, and with clear dedication to the people who fought vile German practices in any way they could.

Monday, February 16, 2015

The World of the Small Book Publisher

February 21, 2015

A Seven Bridge Writers’ Collaborative
Living The Writer’s Life

       Do you understand the different working relationships between publishers and authors (acquisition, subvention, fee-for-service, subscription)? Do you know what really makes traditional publishing different from self-publishing? Do you know how to determine the quality of a publisher’s services? Or how a publisher can help promote your book? Join Sarah Bauhan, head of Bauhan Publishing of Peterborough, New Hampshire, for a discussion of these topics and a look at the changing world of small book publishers.

       Bauhan Publishing is an independent publisher in Peterborough, New Hampshire. They focus on New England regional books in the areas of history, art, nature studies, and poetry, as well as venturing into thoughtful books that explore sustainability of both the earth and the spirit. 

For more information, contact Karen Silverthorn at 978-368-8928 ext. 4.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Which book has the dodo? We don't all agree.

"The new creature names everything that comes along, before I can get in a protest. And always that same pretext is offered--it looks like the thing. There is the dodo, for instance. Says the moment one looks at it one sees at a glance that it 'looks like a dodo.' It will have to keep that name, no doubt. It wearies me to fret about it, and it does no good, anyway. Dodo! It looks no more like a dodo than I do."
Mark Twain thus described about Adam's reaction to a new creature in the Garden of Eden, namely Eve, in "The Diaries of Adam and Eve," a tongue-in-cheek take on the first couple's discovery of the world around them. Also, perhaps, an indicator of the future.
One would do well to remember Adam's dismay at Eve's insistence on naming (or renaming) each and every plant, animal or aspect of life she encounters to her own liking. She's certain about her choices; he's bewildered. Sounds familiar.
In book clubs, we're all Adams and Eves, regardless of gender. So when members believe their opinion of motivation, theme or denouement is absolutely correct (just because it "looks like a dodo") others may take offense. Strident arguments ensue, while other members, like Adam, acquiesce; they're the ones taking it all in and thinking about another aspect of the book—or what they'll eat when they go home.
If  your group has mostly Eves, you may be doomed to months of dispute, in which no one's opinion is altered. But in fairness, opinion is up for grabs. Only the author knows what he or she intended (maybe). While taking the discussion far afield of the author's intentions may be amusing, or even instructive, it is also likely to discourage conversation among those who think otherwise. Done with a sense of fairness and humor, disagreement is pleasant. But I think out-of-control disputes affect membership—negatively.
So how do you decide whether Adam or Eve's take is correct?
Sometimes, you don't. One person's guess is as good as the next, so respect them all, basically, as legitimately formed and offered. Still, a riot may ensue.
The Opinionated Ladies Book Club, a group of proudly outspoken women in Gainesville, Fla., has been profiled in the Gainesville Sun. Early on, the group initiated some loose rules to keep order. Members usually pick a printed question about the book from a container passed around the room; that generally guides the conversation around the book, rather than 500 other topics of interest to members that day. The group also has a handy bell nearby, and when the conversation gets out of control, and a self-selected Eve is holding forth in a loud voice, that little bell rings—a signal to restore order.
I remember reading an essay by someone who quit her book group after other members universally pronounced the selection despicable, complaining loudly that Oprah could pick such a bad book! (Considering that the book was "One Hundred Years of Solitude," she may have been in the wrong group for her taste.)  
You may have to search for the right group. If you utterly hate chick lit, for instance, joining a group that's going to select one half the time is a mistake. Keep looking. In the main, most clubs have a loyal base of people who tend to like each other well enough to keep meeting. The reading list may turn off some members, but there's always room to grow. I've generally found that others' selections have brought me to titles I would not otherwise have picked up, so I'm grateful for being introduced to them. When my own group, the Off-Track Bookies, picks a book I don't have time to read, I'll sometimes skip the meeting, or go there to see if the discussion interests me sufficiently to check it out later. I've seen members ask others to warn them when a plot spoiler is just ahead, so they can leave the room.
Adam and Eve never had a book club, or they might have killed each other. But at least we can read Twain and find out how they learned to get along, in his wry view.
B.J. Novak in Hartford
Field trip time: Actor B.J. Novak, screenwriter, author, co-producer and a regular cast member of "The Office" will appear at a benefit for The Mark Twain House & Museum, Hartford, Conn., at 7 p.m., Feb. 20, in the Aetna auditorium in Hartford. He'll talk about his life and career, and his recently published book, "One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories." There are different charges, so see the Mark Twain Museum website for details.
 Area book group meetings
The book group at Worcester Public Library meets the second Wednesday, 3-4 p.m. and the second Saturday of the month, 11:30-12:30 p.m. in the third floor elipse. This month's selection is Anne Stuart's "Black Ice." Interested members are invited to meet Stuart at the book club's kickoff event, Feb. 14.
The next meeting of the Douglas Library Book Group will focus on Kate Horsley’s "Confessions of a Pagan Nun" at 6:30 p.m., Tuesday, Feb. 10. A sixth-century cloistered Irish nun secretly records the memories of her Pagan youth, rather than transcribing Augustine. Gwynneve writes of her village's pigkeepers and fishermen, of her fiercely independent mother, whose skill with healing plants and inner strength she inherited. She writes of her druid teacher, who introduced her to the mysteries of written language. But disturbing events at the cloister intervene and as the monastery is rent by vague and fantastic accusations, Gwynneve's words become the one force that can save her from annihilation. Call the library, 508-476-2695, for a copy of the book. New members welcome. Homemade refreshments, inspired by the title being discussed, will be served.
The NOW Women's Issues Book Group will meet at 7 p.m., Feb. 9 to discuss Karen Joy Fowler's "We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves." The group meets at the Barnes & Noble bookstore, 541 Lincoln St., Worcester. Members will also recap "From A to X" by John Berger, as last month's meeting was cancelled due to weather. Meetings are free and open to the public.

Friday, January 2, 2015

The 'who' and 'dunnit' of mysteries

While there are clubs dedicated to one genre—sci fi, mystery, history, biography, etc.—most clubs vary choices, and members may be flummoxed in evaluating a who-dunnit. New England writers Barbara Ross, Hank Philippi Ryan and Kate Flora provide guidance.
The rules of good writing are not suspended for a mystery, but there are different considerations a reader may want to use, they say.
It's more than plot. "In a fully formed novel of suspense, or a thriller, there should be much more to chew over than just who the bad guy is," said Hank Phillippi Ryan, multi-award winner for serial mysteries, most recently "Truth Be Told."
"One of the things I enjoy creating in my books is understanding what people's motivation is, and how far a person would go to get what  they want or need," she said. "When I was beginning to write, I had a big discussion with my husband (lawyer Jonathan Shapiro) about murder: What kind of emotion would a person have to be feeling to kill someone? What could drive you to take another person's life? There are a few things—power, money, love and revenge ... when you take out the psychopath, who isn't very interesting, understanding the motivation of a killer is a fascinating topic.
"Book clubs can discuss: whether you would make the same decisions the bad guy did; how else could the situation have been handled; is the motivation believable; is it understandable? Are the bad guy's actions reasonable—because a bad guy doesn't wake up in the morning and decide to be bad. The antagonist, if fully developed, is doing what they do for a reason that seems logical to them: they've been frustrated, or disappointed, or upset that they've been dealt with unfairly; they're the hero in their own life and they feel they're doing the right thing. So for a book group, talking about the motivation of an antagonist can be pretty revealing:
What would you do?
How far would you go?
How does the main character's life compare to your own?
What did you learn about what someone else might do, the decisions they might make and the life they have?
How do you see your life now, having had a taste of someone else's?
"A good book lingers," says Ryan, "and the characters' lives remain in your head after you close the book, so what will you remember about this book, or not?"
Kate Flora is the author of fiction including "And Grant You Peace" (her latest Joe Burgess mystery) and the Theo Kozak series, as well as non-fiction such as "Death Dealer: How Cops and Cadaver Dogs Brought a Killer to Justice."
She lists several suggestions.
1. Did the main character(s) seem believable to me? Did they hold my interest? Did the author make me care about them and what happens to them?

2. Was the plot disclosed in a way that kept me guessing? Did I need to keep reading to know what happened? Was I surprised by the ending? Was I satisfied?

3. If I was reading a series mystery, was the plot wrapped up well at the end? Was I left eager to read another book about these characters and interested in seeing where their lives will go?

4. Did the book teach me something that I didn't know before? Did I feel like I was in a real world and the situations faced by the characters were real? Did the author write generic cops or bad guys or were they complex and dimensioned?

5. Sense of place: My ancient Thrall and Hibbard copy of "A Handbook to Literatures" defines setting as: “the physical, and sometimes spiritual, background against which the action of a narrative takes place." How well did the author handle setting? Did it feel authentic? Could you see the places, and did their cultural, religious or social backgrounds play a role in deepening the characters for you?

6. Dialogue: Did the writer make you feel like real people were talking? Did the characters have distinctive voices?

7. What do you think the author wanted you to take away from this book? Did the story give you something to think about? Change the way you look at the world? Make you feel nervous or unsafe, or conversely, comfort you at the end by the way that order was restored? Did events in the book scare you or make you wonder? Will the characters live on in your imagination even after the book is done?

Barbara Ross, author of the Maine Clambake mystery series (whimsically titled "Clammed Up," "Boiled Over" and the upcoming "Musseled Out," is co-publisher/editor at Level Best Books, an anthology of crime and mystery stories by New England authors, and blogs on mysteries at mainecrimewriters.com.

"Mysteries are full of relationships, the same mother-daughter, sister-sister, parent-child connections that you’d dissect in any book club discussion. In a mystery, almost every character has a secret, so it would be fruitful to mine this vein. Which secrets did you believe? Which did you guess?

"Literary mysteries are roughly defined as books you can read more than once and get something out of it every time—i.e. the treatment of character, theme, etc. transcends the “puzzle.” It doesn’t wreck the book for you if you know the solution. These mysteries can contain many weighty subjects for book club discussion. For example, Malla Nunn’s Emanual Cooper Mysteries, about a white policeman in South Africa during apartheid, ask the question, “How can a moral man enforce the law when half the laws are immoral?”
"Mysteries have themes. In fact, some people believe that while literary fiction today can tend to get a little preachy, crime fiction can treat serious subjects—like PTSD or the abuse of painkillers, or the damage caused by prolonged unemployment—more adeptly.
"Finally, you can dissect the mystery itself. Did you guess the solution before the end? When and why? Or why not? Did the author “play fair”—i.e. once you knew the solution, were all the clues in the manuscript? Could you have guessed if you’d wanted to?"
"I've never been a member of a book club, but I have been a guest at several when they were reading one of my books" Ross said. "My observation is that book clubs approach crime fiction in two ways. Some choose 'literary' crime fiction, which is as well-written, well-rounded and affecting as anything else they read during the year. Others may choose a 'lighter' mystery as a good book for members during busy times, such as the holidays, or over the summer, when everyone wants a great beach book."

Bottom line, says Ryan:
"I want readers to be entertained and educated a little bit in a timely topical subject. The wonderful thing about a good mystery is that it's a fantastic story, a riveting page turner. My main character is a reporter. I want readers to get a deeper understanding of the high stress, stakes and relentless deadlines of being a reporter, and the pressure for getting a story on the air—the necessity of getting everything absolutely correct. Every day, some sort of moral issue arises that you have to solve. It's critical for a reader to be engaged with the main character, on their team somehow. A reader is living the main character's life for 400 pages, and has to be invested in that."

Mystery masters

Hank Phillippi Ryan, Barbara Ross and Kate Flora suggest these writers, some of their favorites.
Ryan: John Lescroart (SP), Lisa Scottoline, Linwood Barclay ("Trust Your Eyes" is quite astonishing), William Landay ("Defending Jacob"), Michael Connelly, Lisa Unger.
Flora: Michael Connelly, Kathy Lynn Emerson (Lady Appleton/"Face Down.." series), Kaitlyn Dunnett (Liss MacCrimmon series), Nancy Picard.
Ross: Any of Louise Penny’s fantastic Armand Gamache series, set in rural Quebec, Julia Spencer-Fleming’s Clare Fergusson and Russ Van Alstyne Mysteries, which take place in the Adirondacks, Paul Doiron’s  Mike Bowditch Mysteries about a Maine game warden, Craig Johnson’s Longmire Mysteries about a sheriff in Wyoming. If you don’t want a series, try William Kent Krueger’s Ordinary Grace, which won all the major mystery awards this year. Or B.A. Shapiro’s The Art Forger, which is on its way to becoming a classic.
"If your book club is looking for something lighter, try a cozy mystery. The sleuth is usually an amateur who has another interest or profession, and is propelled into solving the mystery by a personal stake. They’re always light on the descriptive gore (and the descriptive sex) and you can be virtually certain no child or pet will be harmed. These books make a nice break from a heavier reading schedule, and will still leave your group plenty to discuss. Consider one of Cleo Coyle’s Coffee House Mysteries, set in Greenwich Village, Jessie Crockett’s Sugar Grove Mysteries, which follow a multi-generational syrup-making family in New Hampshire, Sheila Connolly’s Orchard Mysteries set in Western Massachusetts or my Maine Clambake Mysteries.

Book group meetings

Northborough Library's Friday Morning Book Group will meet at 10 a.m., Jan. 9, to discuss Patrick O'Brian's "Master and Commander," a historical novel set during the Napoleonic Wars.

The next meeting of the Douglas Library Book Group will consider Slavomir Rawicz’s "The Long Walk" at 6:30 p.m., Tuesday, Jan. 13.  The book recounts the harrowing true tale of seven escaped Soviet prisoners’ desperate 4,000 mile march out of Siberia, through China, the Gobi Desert, Tibet, and over the Himalayas to British India. Call the Library 508-476-2695 for a copy of the book. New members welcome.
Heywood Library's book group has slated T.C. Boyle II—his second collection of short stories—for its 4:30 p.m. Jan. 8 meeting.
The Worcester-based Women's Issues Book Group will discuss "From A to X: A Story in Letters" by John Berger at its Jan. 12 meeting. Meeting is held at 7 p.m. in Barnes & Noble, 541 Lincoln St.
Brookfield Library book group will meet Tuesday, Jan. 6 at 7 p.m. to discuss "Spirit of Steamboat" by Craig Johnson.
Lancaster's Off-Track Bookies will meet Jan. 8 to discuss "The Light Between Oceans" by M.L. Stedman.