Monday, November 23, 2015

'Playing with Fire' is Gerritsen's latest

A novel often is the best way of presenting the emotional content of historical events. By fictionalizing a tragedy, a time or a way of life, an author invests them with human drama. Loss, love, spirit are transferred to the reader's mind within the realm of history.
So it is with Tess Gerritsen's "Playing with Fire," a novel in which she weaves the story of a star-crossed World War II-era couple with a modern contemporary mystery. The two stories are linked by sheet music, the mysterious, passionate "Incendio" which violinist Julia Ansdell purchases in a Roman antique shops during a visit to Italy. She brings it home to Boston and begins to practice its odd, minor chords and lightning-quick arpeggios.
But Ansdell's 3-year-old daughter displays uncharacteristically violent behavior linked to the music. Once she has clearly identified music as the source of her child's outbursts, she finds no one will believe her. Leaving the U.S., Julia searches for the music's history, tracking the music to its roots. While this may seem improbable, it is the framework of a nice little mystery: one that will bring its protagonist into seriously threatening circumstances as she digs into a murderous history that a family no longer wants to see brought to light.
Within the sub-plot, there is a sampling of the cruel depravity German soldiers visited on Jewish prisoners during the war, drawing readers deeper into the plight of the original composer, Lorenzo's, ill-fated life. The terror that he experiences in a concentration camp becomes part of the plot but also becomes the genesis of "Incendio," as Lorenzo grapples with horror and fury as he's forced to play as loud as he can to mask the screams of dying Jews. It is horrific, and Gerritsen's straightforward recounting of the situation is riveting, as well as scarring to one's soul.
Allowing Julia to ferret out such details as she digs into a lost life is that much more arresting, and Gerritsen does it well. She also creates a murder mystery that leaves Julia in a frightening situation far from home, attempting to bring justice to the memory of the violinist-composer.
All of this is recounted skillfully—the book is not at all confusing, and Gerritsen's skillful writing makes the action both fluid and exciting.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

'The little O, the earth' blends travel essays, poetry in harmony

"The little O, the earth" is a thoughtful, introspective travel journal, harmoniously compiled as a blend of writing, art and experience into an enjoyable exploration of the world and its great art collections.
Judith Ferrara's book, titled from Shakespeare's "Antony and Cleopatra," describes various flights of imagination through art, essay and poetry. The Worcester-based writer/artist will read from her book at 2 p.m., Nov. 8, in the Princeton Art Society, 18 Boylston Ave., Princeton, and at 7 p.m., Nov. 12, at The Street Beat, 1 Ekman St., Worcester.

The well-designed, square book she envisioned when she started succeeds in capturing the intellectual liveliness of a watchful visitor, seeking to absorb and learn from the best of the world's cultural richness. Ferrara's thoughts about art and the many places she has visited over more than a decade are candid and affecting. Readers are in Barcelona, Reykjavik and Amsterdam, Cote d'Azur, Florence and Rome, St. Petersburg, London and cities across the United States, through the eyes and mind of a woman whose goal—to visit the world's famed museums—may seem too ambitious, but seems to be well within her reach.

Don't expect a dull or overwritten collection of essays. These excerpts from her journals are rich with detail but spare in content. In them, she preserves her best sense of a place and person. There are tidbits of knowledge—like Rembrandt's bankruptcy list being used to restore his house for posterity, the misleading "two tuns of yellow" paint used in Monet's home at Giverny, and Renoir challenging himself to do better after heartbreaking exposure to the works of Titian, Veronese and Raphael—presented between her drawings, inspired by the museums and lands she saw. She briefly considers the music she relies upon as a backdrop for creative juices, the life of an artist, the love she developed for Goya's art after observing his work at The Prado in Madrid.

She writes about Worcester-born poet Elizabeth Bishop, and poet Stanley Kunitz's Worcester home, where she spent several years as a docent. She speaks of the training that goes into being a museum guide, or docent, and relates her joy at hearing a child, after staring at one of her works, solemnly pronounce, "Wow."

The book is filled with such moments, carefully folded together and crafted into a beautiful homage to art.
Her poetry relates to travels, recollecting thoughts about Van Gogh and Michelangelo alongside the realities of life for an artist, mother and writer. The assembled poems are warm, personal, and lovely; I won't single any out, because they are touching and unique. Oh, alright, I will: "No Apologies," which seems to marry the day-to-day life of mother and wife with the dreams and frustrations of creation.

Audio Journal an alternative

Speaking Volumes, a book club for those with visual impairments, holds frequent radio meetings, and the group's schedule is available at This is a terrific way to connect a friend or parent with vision issues to a book discussion group they can enjoy. Books are available, recorded on digital cartridge by the Library of Congress, through Perkins Braille and Talking Book Library and the Worcester Talking Book Library.
Volunteers discuss the book in the studio, and listeners may call in to comment and be part of the group. Selections are made at least four months in advance, allowing listeners time to reserve copies. The number to call to take part in the program is 508-752-0557. It is also possible to listen online, at the website. For more details, the show maintains a Facebook page—simply look up Speaking Volumes. 

Speaking Volumes is broadcast the first Tuesday of each month from 8 to 9 p.m. Discussions are archived on the website for a year. The selection for Nov. 3 is "Everything I Never Told You" by Celeste Ng. The schedule into 2016 includes: Dec. 2, "The Round House," by Louise Erdrich; Feb. 2, "Lawrence in Arabia," Scott Anderson; March 1, "Life After Life," Kate Atkinson.

Classic Book recommendations
This month, Betsey Johnson of Holden reports book club members who meet at the Congregational Church there often prefer to read 19th century English writers Jane Austen, Thomas Hardy, the Brontes and George Eliot, as well as American writers Willa Cather, Henry James, Kate Chopin and Edith Wharton. "Can't go wrong with any of these authors," she writes. Wharton's "Summer" and James' "Washington Square" are both short and readable.

Area book clubs

Members of the "Greatest Book Club Ever" at Douglas' Simon Fairfield Public Library will discuss Stephen King's "The Shining" at 6:30 p.m., Thursday, Nov. 5. Public welcome. Call to reserve a copy. The library's "Book Bunch" meets at 6 p.m., Nov. 19. Also at the library, at 6:30 p.m., Nov. 13, readers will discuss Michael Tougias's "The Finest Hours" about a Nor'easter off Cape Cod that destroyed two oil tankers, and the effort to rescue their crews. There are also two young people's book clubs at the library. For details, contact the library.
Lancaster's Thayer Memorial Library Adult Book Group takes on Mark Haddon's unique and very readable novel, "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time" at its 6:30 p.m. Nov. 24 meeting. Check with the library to reserve a copy. The Thursday afternoon book club meets at 1 p.m., Nov. 12, to discuss "Pascali's Island" by Brian Unsworth.
Also in Lancaster, Off-Track Bookies will discuss Geraldine Brooks' "People of the Book" at a meeting Nov. 12.
"With Malice Toward None," a life of Abraham Lincoln by Stephen B. Oates, is the discussion focus for a 10 a.m., Nov 13 meeting of the Friday Morning Book Club, Northborough Library.
In Mendon, says Brenda Whitner, readers will discuss Jo Jo Moyes' "Me Before You," a novel about a caretaker assigned to a young man who intends to commit suicide after being paralyzed. Meeting is at 7 p.m., Nov. 3 in the town library.
Dudley book club members will meet Nov. 5, 6 p.m. in the Pearl L. Crawford Memorial Library to talk about Jeannette Walls' "Half-Broke Horses." For details, call 508-929-8021 or leave an email address at the library.
The Holden Gale Free Library's Book Club will consider "The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry" by Gabrielle Zevin at a 10:30 a.m. meeting, Nov. 3, and, on Dec. 1, "A Spool of Blue Thread" by Anne Tyler. Copies are available through the library.
Bannister Book Group, Merrick Public Library, Brookfield, will meet Tuesday, Nov. 24, 7 to 8 p.m. to discuss "Kindred" by Octavia Butler, a novel about a modern black woman transported back in time to a slave plantation in the antebellum South. "Harrowing, haunting story," one reviewer said.
"The Other Wes Moore," by Wes Moore, will discussed at 6:30, Nov. 2, in the Jacob Edwards Library, Southbridge.
The NOW Women's Issues Book Group, Worcester, will meet Nov. 9 to discuss "Euphoria" by Lily King. Meeting is at 7 p.m. in Barnes & Noble, 541 Lincoln St.
"The Remains of the Day," by Kazuo Ishiguro will be discussed at Haston Library in North Brookfield on Dec. 8. This is the combined November/December meeting
Brown Bag Book Club at Leominster Public Library has slated "And the Mountains Echoed" by Khaled Hosseini for its Nov. 5 meeting at noon.
The Nov. 18 meeting at Fitchburg Public Library is about Cheryl Strayed's "Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific West Trail." Discussions are at 1 and 6:30 pm.
"Orphan Train" by Christina Kline is the topic of a 4:30 p.m., Nov. 18 meeting in Heywood Library, Gardner.
Whately Library hosts an author visit and book discussion with Jeannine Atkins on Saturday, Nov. 14, starting at 11 a.m. Whately’s own Atkins will lead a discussion of her new book, "Little Woman in Blue."
Books will be available for purchase and signing. Library is at 202 Chestnut Plain Rd. Call 413-665-2170 for info.

Ann Connery Frantz is a freelance writer/editor who also writes fiction. Send information and ideas to

Friday, October 9, 2015

Don't miss Boston Book Fair -- it's a readers' nirvana!

Boston Book Festival organizers have announced the author lineup for the seventh annual festival, slated for Oct. 23-24 at Copley Square, Boston. Some 175 authors and presenters are expected, and events—beyond two ticketed events—are free. They are held in buildings surrounding the square and adjacent churches, with many sessions in the Boston Public Library. The largest groups meet in Trinity Church.
A large crowd attends, so arrive early for good seating. This is a chance to hear authors who have won some of the most prestigious writing awards, including the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, Caldecott and Newbery awards, and the Mann-Booker Award. Sessions include scientists, architects, historians and authors of multiple genres.
One special element—the city-wide "read" of a story—features Jennifer De Leon's "Home Movies" this year. It has been available throughout the Boston area, free (check libraries, book stores), in preparation for what may be the world's largest book discussion. For details, see the web site,
The few paid events generally are inexpensive, and proceeds support free events at the festival. At one, author Neil Gaiman will interview his wife, memoirist and singer/songwriter Amanda Palmer, on Oct. 24. Her book is "The Art of Asking." Cost is $10.
The other paid event is exclusive to BBF supporters at the $150 level or higher: Margaret Atwood's kickoff keynote speech, Friday, Oct. 23. This is the festival's major fundraising event, hence the price. If you'd like to donate, see the web site (there's a $50 to $100 level as well as much higher possibilities).
Workshops, interviews and spirited discussions are offered all day each day, with the festival kicking off late Friday.
Among other major participants: Atul Gawande, Colum McCann, James Wood, Louis Sachar, and Libba Bray. A complete list is available online.

The site features a large contingent of booths set up by booksellers, publishers and other book-related enterprises, plus free music and lots of food stands. The entire day is relaxing and cheerful, as participants are surrounded by others who love books!
Recommendations for classic favorites
This month, the Northboro Friday Morning Book Group recommends these classics for clubs to consider—"which we feel are highly discussable.  We consider a classic as being published in the 1960s, and previously and we've read four classics a year for the past 14 or 15 years."
1)  "Huckleberry Finn," Mark Twain
2)  "A Man for All Seasons"  (the play)
3)  "Middlemarch, George Eliot"
4)  "Two Years Before The Mast," Richard Dana, Jr.

Book groups/selections for October
The Athol Public Library's "Booked for Lunch" club will discuss "Delicious!" by Ruth Reichl  when the group starts its season tomorrow (Monday). "Our group varies in size from 12 to 24. Membership is not required and participation varies based on the selection (and often time of year!). We encourage new folks to join us," said Robin Brzozowski. "Throughout the year we read popular fiction, a few non-fiction selections and an occasional classic. Everyone is given the opportunity to share their thoughts."
NOW Women's Issues Book Group will discuss "The Lady in Gold: The Extraordinary Tale of Gustav Klimt’s Masterpiece, Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer.” This hefty title is by Anne-Marie O’Connor, and it concerns the real-life story of Adele’s Jewish family, their ordeal in Nazi-occupied Vienna, and the fight to reclaim the famous painting, stolen by Nazi officers. A movie version (called the “Woman in Gold”) starred Helen Mirren. The group meets at 7 p.m., Oct. 12 in Barnes & Noble, 541 Shrewsbury St., Worcester.
Off-Track Bookies in Lancaster has slated Sue Monk Kidd's "The Intervention of Wings" for its Oct. 8 meeting. "Wings" is based on the life of Sarah Grimk√©, an abolitionist and early proponent of women’s rights. On her eleventh birthday, Sarah—daughter of a wealthy plantation family—is presented with her own slave, which horrifies her. Hetty is the slave. The two defy traditional slavery.
At Lancaster's Thayer Memorial Library, book club members will talk about Kathleen Norris's "The Cloister Walk," a memoir of her time as an oblate (and Presbyterian minister) who examines her faith while staying with Benedictine monks. Meeting is Oct. 27.
At 7 p.m., Oct. 27, Merrick Public Library in Brookfield, members will read Rachel Joyce's "The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry," a novel about an anti-hero seeking himself, and respect, in his travels.
The Contemporary Book Club at Gale Free Library, Holden, will discuss "Black River" by E.M. Hulse at 10:30 a.m., Tuesday, Oct. 6. Check the library for a book loan.
Mendon Public Library's group will discuss "A Snicker of Magic" by Natalie Lloyd (a 2014 Newbery Award nominee) on Monday, Oct. 5 at 7 p.m. Call librarian Brenda Whitner for details.
At Simon Fairfield Public Library in Douglas, book club members will discuss Derek B. Miller's "Norwegian by Night" at 6:30 p.m., Oct. 13. The N.Y. Times described this book as having "the brains of a literary novel and the body of a thriller." Call 508-476-2695 to reserve a copy.
Malcolm Gladwell's "David and Goliath" will be the focus of a 4:30 p.m. Oct. 28 meeting at Gardner's Heywood Memorial Library.
Haston Public Library, North Brookfield, chose books for the new season at an August cookout. The group has slated "A History of Reading" by Alberto Manguel for its Oct. 27 meeting.
Erik Larson's "Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania" is the topic for Crawford Library's book group, meeting at 6 p.m., Oct. 1 in Dudley.
"The Girls of Atomic City" by Denise Kiernan will be discussed at Leominster Public Library's Brown Bag meeting on Oct. 1.
Fitchburg Public Library's book club will discuss Sue Monk Kidd's "The Invention of Wings" on Oct. 14 at 1 and 6:30 p.m.
In Southbridge, group members will discuss Michael Ponsor's "The Hanging Judge" at 6:30 p.m. in Jacob Edwards Library.
Jhumpa Lahiri's "Unaccustomed Earth," eight stories exploring family life in India, Thailand and the United States, will be discussed at the 10 a.m., Oct. 9 meeting of Northboro Public Library's Friday Morning Book Club.

Ann Connery Frantz writes about authors and book clubs for the Telegram & Gazette. Contact her at

Thursday, September 3, 2015

The world of "Poldark" and other club selections

It's unlikely I would have read Winston Graham's "Poldark" without having seen the series opener on Masterpiece Theater this year (admittedly, having the handsome Aidan Turner in the title role helps draw viewers). I purchased the first book, in what I've happily noted is a long series, and read it insatiably in early August. Then I read the second, "Demelza." The third, "Jeremy" sits on my shelves while I consider whether to read it ahead of season two.
Will I go the distance, reading all 12 books? I doubt it. Rarely do I plunge into a series, given that I read for this column and a blog, author profiles, my book club, my own
choices and books about the writing craft. I don't have the kind of time I did when I devoured Nancy Drew, as a kid left to her own resources. I've never taken the time to re-read "Gone With the Wind" or the Tolkien trilogy, though I want to. I've read the first "Outlander," the first Evanovich, Ken Follett's "The Pillars of the Earth," but not "World Without End." Etcetera.
In fiction reading, I tend to return more often to a specific author, rather than a series. Ivan Doig, Annie Proulx, Louise Erdrich, T.C. Boyle, Colum McCann, Chris Bohjalian, Kate Atkisson, Kristin Hannah, and many of the classics. People do love series, however, and readers often remain absorbed in a favorite author from book one onward. That's what passionate reading is all about. There's also a huge following for historical non-fiction series writers: Bernard Cornwell, Phillippa Gregory, the late Leon Uris, Ken Follett.
"Masterpiece Theater" prodded me to read Henning Mankell's series of Wallander books, one or two Sherlock Holmes mysteries, and now, "Poldark." The entire series is slated for BBC, six seasons in all. It was first popularized in an earlier version, around 1975-76.
"Poldark" is a rich narrative, full of the wild sea and constant winds in Cornwall, draped around the class advantages of the rich amid the everyday difficulties of impoverished lives in 18th century England. Poldark, despite a privileged background, champions the common man. But he has his flaws. I'm absorbed in the love, the greed, the cruelty and the rich characterization it offers. Graham isn't around today to enjoy a second draught of fame, but the stories remain classic for this age as well.
Many of these books make excellent book group fodder, though tackling a series is impossible. Best you can do is focus on one or two of the best ones, hoping members will pursue the others on their own.
Area authors
R.A. Salvatore, a Leominster-based fantasy writer whose best-sellers include many series, "The Dark Elf Trilogy" and "The Demon Wars Saga" among them, will be guest author at the 7:30 p.m. Sept. 9 "A Conversation with R.A. Salvatore," at the Mark Twain House and Museum in Hartford, Connecticut. Tickets are $25, available from the museum.
Salvatore has written more than 40 books, selling more than 10 million copies in a dozen languages. During 2012, he received the prestigious Chandler Award of Merit from Thayer Memorial Library in Lancaster.
Worcester resident and artist Karla Cinquanta, marketing and creative content manager at Bancroft School, recently received an Indie Book Award of 2015 for "The Tiny Portrait," a story and picture book for children or adults. Indies recognize the best books from self-published authors an small publishers. The book has also received a Mom's Choice 2015 Gold Award. Cinquanta's story centers on two siblings who discover a tintype portrait of an unknown ancestor in a family heirloom trunk and embark on an adventure as they seek her identity. The children also explore their own connection to the past by creating a family tree. Cinquant's photo illustrations make the book unique. It is available through Barnes & Noble and
Joseph W. Bebo of Hudson has applied a master's in computer science from Boston University to his latest techno-thriller, "Lamp of the Gods." This self-published work follows a journalist's search for missing astrophysicist Benjamin Teller—pursued by the FBI, police, the White House and those greedy to profit from Dr. Teller's time-exploration discovery. Bebo has written a number of sci-fi novels and two fictionalized histories, "The Charbonneau Letter" and "Of Lake, Land and Liberty: The Battle of Plattsburgh in the War of 1812." The books are available through Amazon, Barnes & Noble.
Organizing your "reads"
Anna Ford, a young book club member in Philadelphia, has created a free book club organizing site—dreamed up with her boyfriend when she wanted to keep better track of selections, member information and popular books. You can also send invites and gather RSVP responses there. She invites book club members to check it out at I did, and thought it interesting to see what other clubs have most liked lately ("The Goldfinch," "Just Kids," "Madame Bovary," "The Magic of Ordinary Days" and "We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves.")
Book group selections
Friday Morning Book Club in Northborough, meets Sept. 11, to discuss "Andersonville," the Pulitzer Prize-winning story of the Civil War prison. The group meets at 10 a.m. in the library.
Food is the topic at Worcester Public Library's September meeting, says Morgan Manzella, reference librarian. She encourages participants to bring in a favorite recipe as the group discusses local harvests. Call the library for times, or email
"We decided to take on another of Sue Monk Kidd’s novels for our September book," says Joan Killough-Miller of the NOW Women's Issues Book group, Worcester. "Most of us liked 'The Secret Life of Bees' very much. Perhaps Kidd is a better novelist than she is memoirist. So the book for Sept. 14 will be 'The Invention of Wings,' a novel set in slavery times, inspired in part by the historic figure of Sarah Grimk√©." This group meets at 7 p.m. in Barnes & Noble, 541 Lincoln St., Worcester.
Off-Track Bookies in Lancaster is reading JoJo Moyes' touching "Me Before You" for its Sept. 10 meeting.
Full Court Press of Sutton is reading "The Beast in the Garden" by David Baron. Selections are chosen by the month, and recently included: "All the Light We Cannot See;" "The Girl on the Train" and "Orphan Train."
The next meeting of the Douglas Library Book Group will consider "Isaac's Storm" by Eric Larson. The group meets at 6:30 p.m., Sept. 8, marking the 115th anniversary of a hurricane that killed over 6,000 people in Galveston, Texas.
Brown Bag Book Group is reading Ayaan Hirsi Ali's "Infidel" for its Sept. 3 meeting, and "The Girls of Atomic City" by Denise Kiernan for its Oct. 1 meeting. Contact Leominster Public Library for times.
The book club at Fitchburg Public Library meets at 1:30 and 6:30 p.m. for each selection. Next meetings are Sept. 9 and the book is "Signora da Vinci" by Robin Maxwell.
Merrick Public Library's Bannister Book Group, Brookfield, will meet Sept. 29 at 7 p.m. to discuss Cathy Luchetti's "Women of the West," a myth-shattering look at the women who really settled the West, told through their own words and illustrated with period photographs.
The Southbridge book group meets the first Monday of the month at Jacob Edwards Library. Next selection is Maya Angelou's "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings" and the meeting is at 6:30 p.m., Sept. 14.
At Thayer Memorial Library in Lancaster, the Adult Book Group has chosen "Enon" by Paul Harding, slated for 6:30 p.m., Sept. 29. All readers welcome. To reserve a copy, call the library.
Anne Young of Heywood Library, Gardner, says the 4:30 p.m., Sept. 30 meeting will revolve around Isabel Allende's "My Invented Country: A Nostalgic Journey Through Chile."
The Contemporary Book Club at Gale Free Library in Holden meets at 10:30 a.m., Tuesday, Sept. 8, to discuss "A Tale for the Time Being" by Ruth Ozeki. Books are available through the library. Coming up in October: "Black River" by S.M. Hulse.
The Pearle L. Crawford Memorial Library Book Group will meet at 6 p.m., Thursday (Sept. 3) to discuss "The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry" by Rachel Joyce. Library Director Karen Wall says the group explores a variety of genres in fiction and nonfiction throughout the year, normally meeting the first Thursday of the month. The Oct. 1 selection is Erik Larson's history, "Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania."

Ann Connery Frantz writes about books and book clubs at (sorry for the two e's). Send news or comments to