Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Hank Phillippi Ryan tours with 'The Murder List'

WORCESTER—Author Hank Phillippi Ryan, on-air investigative reporter for Boston’s WHDH-TV and bestselling author of 11 thrillers, came to the city with her newest book, “The Murder List,” on Sept. 7.

Ryan spent years as a television reporter before writing fiction. Her career has provided a rich well of familiarity with crime and motivation, leading to ideas for her novels.
Hank Phillippi Ryan
The latest is a twisting exploration of the conflict between defending and prosecuting attorneys, each dedicated to seeking justice from an opposing point of view. She does so skillfully. To personalize the plot, Ryan created a young law student, Rachel, who is torn between her defense attorney husband’s side of the fence and that of her temporary employer, a powerful district attorney. There’s a fascinating pull between the two forces as Rachel observes them, but there’s also a sucker-punch conclusion that unites her with both sides of the legal question. 

The author has an impressive resume. She’s collected numerous top writing awards from mystery organizations, including five Agatha Awards and a Mary Higgins Clark Award. Her novels have been listed in Library Journal's Best of 2014, 2015, 2016 and her recent novel, “Trust Me,” made it to numerous “Best of 2018” lists. About her newest, “The Murder List,” the Library Journal says, “Masterly plotted—with a twisted ending—a riveting, character-driven story” and “a must-read for fans of legal thrillers.”
It is. The final chapter is a mind-blower.

Ryan says the book is a study, really, of “how defense and prosecuting attorneys compete, each with the goal of winning a murder trial.” Her thought process in creating the book is in itself a study in fiction writing:
“I was listening to my criminal defense husband discuss a murder case one day. One track of my mind was listening to his narrative, and the other track was thinking, ‘Wow, what a good guy he is.’ The authentic real thing—standing up for the little guy, protecting the rights of the individual against the vast power of the state and the prosecution, making sure the prosecution plays by the rules and that the trial is fair and just.”

Using her writer’s imagination, she twisted the notion a bit: “I thought, ‘what does the prosecutor’s wife think about her husband?’ Certainly, she thinks he’s a good guy—protecting the public, putting miscreants behind bars, keeping criminals off the streets, standing up for law and order.

 “So how, I thought, can everyone be a good guy? And I started thinking about ‘good,’ especially when it comes to the justice system, and realized that everyone involved chooses the side they think is the good side. And then they fight it out to see which ‘good’ wins.”
She had the basis for a book, then and there, but kept thinking:
“Added to that, the obsession with lawyers to win. You ask a lawyer, ‘What’s a good case?’ And they’ll say ‘winnable.’ So, given that they all think they’re good, and that they all want to win—and they’re always always in a battle with each other—doesn’t that set up perfect conflict? And the question of how far someone might go to win?”

It certainly could. But she needed characters to manifest the differences and interact. Hence, Rachel Stone.  “Add a newbie—a young lawyer wannabe who has to choose a side. So I created law student Rachel, trying to figure out her legal life.”

Alongside, she created two influences—Rachel’s brilliant defense attorney husband and her new employer, a powerful DA whom he despises. “Two sides, battling for the legal soul of this novice attorney, she said. “At least, that’s what they think they’re doing.” 

Insert a murder and a war ensues, with Rachel experiencing the warring viewpoints toward justice and more than a little trouble on the domestic front. In fact, no one is exactly as the reader expects in this book.

During her years with WHDH, Ryan saw enough criminal behavior and courtroom performance to draw conclusions about that niggling little flag of truth waving for all its worth under the weight of battling winds.

“I have been a television reporter for 43 years,” she said. “I have wired myself with hidden cameras, confronted corrupt politicians, chased down criminals and gone undercover and in disguise.” … I have covered court proceedings from the Claus Von Bulow murder to the Boston mobs, to the case that became ‘A Civil Action,’ and dozens of murder cases. So people ask, ‘Do you do research?’ and I say—I’ve been doing research for 40 years.”
The underlying competition is used to elevate suspense in this thriller. 

“To get ahead in a cut-throat business, people use whatever tactics they can devise and sometimes wind up doing things they might not have predicted they were capable of,” she said.
Despite the book’s contrivances, Ryan doesn’t use an outline as she crafts her story. “That’s what gets me to the computer every day,” she said. “I have to find out what happens next. So, when people say ‘Wow, I never saw that ending coming,’ I say, yeah, wasn’t that a surprise? I surprised myself! That’s part of the magic of writing. And that’s what makes it a joy every day.”

She’s not kidding. Ryan derives the energy she needs for a schedule pivoting from a reporting assignment for her editor to writing and, quite often, author appearances across the country. She has kept up with a very busy schedule, one that puts her on planes—writing.

“My goal is to make my books be realistic and authentic, so if I need to check facts of course I do—that’s part of the fun. But my stories, being fiction, rely on my experience in the real world, and are shaped by that. My thrillers are not my TV reporting turned into fiction, but all that deep experiences translates into making genuinely believable stories.”

She’s been pleased by reactions from those in the criminal justice field. “I’ve gotten so many emails from lawyers who have read ‘The Murder List,’ saying how pleased they were to read a book that not only nails the justice system, but also nails the relationships that attorneys have with each other, and their psychological drives and motivations.”

Ryan loves her life, despite her busy schedule. (She visited six or seven states during the first week of her current book tour.) Participants ask her all kinds of questions, including this uncommonly known fact: her name. “I get asked about my name, and where my story ideas come from, and whether I know the endings of my books before I start writing. The answers are: It’s a nickname for Harriet (which someone made up my first day of college); I have no idea, and No!”

“Having these successful novels is a dream come true, ever since I was a little girl reading Sherlock Holmes under the covers. I challenge myself to be better and better every time, to be a better writer, to make my books be more compelling and surprising—I want people to miss their stop on the T because they are so riveted by the book.”

Her goal must be in reach. CNN named “The Murder List” an ultimate beach read this year.
Consequently, she travels a lot, and her appearances are often before packed audiences. “It’s exciting and rewarding, and actually inspirational, to meet all the people who come to my signings or write me emails and want to chat about thrillers and the book world.,” she said. “There are very few vacations, and I have basically given up cooking. Don’t tell. Luckily, I have a very supportive husband.”

Would she change anything? “If we could possibly make the days have more hours, that would be very nice,” she said. “Other than that, I am the happiest and luckiest person ever.”

Friday, August 2, 2019

Preston's latest, "Crisis in the Red Zone" may stun you

Richard Preston has released a new book about Ebola, the disease that keeps on coming.
Preston first came to my attention with his riveting 1994 nonfiction best-seller about the outbreak of Ebola in Africa, “The Hot Zone.” Born in Cambridge, Preston graduated from Wellesley schools before departing these parts for the world of infectious disease, bioterror threats and, in 2011, co-author of Michael Crichton’s unfinished novel, “Micro,” after Crichton died.
He’s not a geek - or at least, he didn’t start out that way. His uninspired academic record blocked him from acceptance at Pomona College in California. It was only weekly collect calls to the dean that eventually earned him an acceptance. The dean took a risk, and it paid off: Preston graduated summa cum laude. He later earned a doctorate in English at Princeton University.
Since then, he’s been an investigative journalist. Preston has long been a regular contributor to The New Yorker magazine. His attention to detail, horrific as it may be, has earned respect among scientists for precise writing and depth of research. The American Institute of Physics and the Centers for Disease Control both awarded his writing, among many others.
His latest, “Crisis in the Red Zone,” updates Ebola’s status and details the threat it presents in the future. The title refers to the quarantine area. “Patients die in the red zone,” he says. Preston writes of chaotic field hospitals struggling to contain the threat (in Zaire, 11,000 died, now, in Congo, more than 1,600 have so far died in the second outbreak). He profiles doctors and researchers committed to fighting a nearly uncontainable disease, at the risk of their own lives.
Don’t think the book will be a tome. His writing is fluid and exceptionally readable. Preston knows how to tell a story well, even when it’s the truth.

In related viral zone fiction, David Koepp, screenwriter for “Mission: Impossible” and “Spider-Man,” has a first novel, being released Sept. 3. “Cold Storage” is the story of a long-buried organism that emerges, threatening mass extinction. Fun topic for summer, right? It’s a thriller.

"The Guest Book"
Author Stephen King, highly recommends Sarah Blake’s novel, “The Guest Book,” to book clubs. “Lots to unpack there,” he says. Critics have also dubbed it “monumental” and “an American epic.” It revolves around a Crockett Island, Maine, family across three generations. I'm midway through it--it's multi-layered but fresh. Blake is available to Skype during club meetings. sarahblakebookclubs@gmail.com.

New England area writers

Knowing about local authors and buying their books will support the writing community near home and may also give you an advantage in finding someone to visit or Skype with your club.
A local independent bookstore is also likely to know who is writing excellent books within your community. Another way to find them is to look for readings at area writing collaboratives, libraries and organizations that spotlight writers in a literary series like the Jewish Community Center series in Worcester. Many regional authors have been profiled or mentioned in this column; a short listing may give your group its next read. (Not all are available for visits or Skype events.)
Ali Hosseini of Hudson, author of “The Lemon Grove” and “The Place of Stones,” beautifully depicts the Iranian culture of his youth and the conflicts in modern Iran that changed what was an idyllic life for its people to one of suffering amid war and loss of their livelihoods. It’s published by Northwestern University Press; his webpage is www.alihosseini.com.
Ursula Wong of Chelmsford, whose fictional series on the Lithuanian resistance to Soviet occupation after World War II began with “Amber Wolf” and continued with “Amber War” and “Amber Widow,” is also the author of short stories and the novel, “Purple Trees.” She is at work on “Black Amber,” about a Boston man who plots to stop Russian plans for a gas line under the Baltic Sea. She will sign books in Putnam, Connecticut, during the July 21 Lithuanian Summer Festival there. Contact urslwng@gmail.com.
Mary Bonina, who grew up in Worcester, became a sought-after teacher of memoir writing after writing her own, “My Father’s Eyes: A Memoir.” A Cambridge resident, Bonina gives readings at libraries and literary events. Contact her at http://www.marybonina.com.
Poet and songwriter Rich Marcello of Harvard has written several novels including “The Color of Home,” “The Big Wide Calm” and “The Beauty of the Fall.” He teaches creative writing through Seven Bridge Writers Collaborative in Lancaster and is writing “The Latecomers,” his fourth novel. Contact him at www.richmarcello.com/contact.
Joe W. Bebo of Hudson recently released “Alex - A Lesson in Courage,” the story of a special needs boy surrounded by many people who cared enough to make his life better. Other self-published books include historical fiction, sci-fi and horror. See more on Facebook. To contact, joewbebobooks@gmail.com.
Frances Brown of Webster writes paranormal romance, women’s fiction and contemporary romance under the pseudonym Claire Gem. If that’s your thing, her books include the newest, “Electricity,” from her Haunted Voices series. Learn more at https://clairegem.com. She’ll read from and sign copies of “Electricity” from 1 to 3 p.m. July 20 in Booklovers’ Gourmet, 55 East Main St., Webster. This is Gem’s seventh novel, set on the grounds of a former Massachusetts mental asylum.
Steven E. Huff of Worcester wrote two humorous (and helpful) books based on the “Better Call Saul” and “Breaking Bad” TV series. His books are “Don’t Go to Jail!: Saul Goodman’s Guide to Keeping the Cuffs Off” and a follow-up book, “Get Off the Grid! Saul Goodman’s Guide to Staying Off the Radar.” An expert on crime nitty-gritty, he’s appeared on NBC’s “Dateline,” CBS’s “48 Hours Mystery” and MSNBC. Deputy digital editor for Maxim magazine, he writes for various online outlets and founded the first true-crime blog, True Crime Report. He also sings opera! More info at facebook.com/stevehuff.
R.A. Salvatore is an internationally recognized writer of fantasy series. He lives most of the year in California now, working, but is a Leominster resident who began his writing career there. Books include the latest Drizzt novel, “Boundless;” the Forgotten Realms series of trilogies and books; the Demon Wars and Dark Elf series; and “Star Wars: The New Jedi Order.”
Worcester native Thomas Christopher Greene has written a half-dozen books, including “The Headmaster’s Wife” and “The Perfect Liar” (2019). They’re clever and inventive. He lives in Vermont, where he founded the Vermont College of Fine Arts in Montpelier. Thomaschristophergreene.com.

Field trips to author's homes near Boston

Field trip, book clubs! Summer offers an opportunity to visit literary locations. Concord is a big one, home to houses lived in by “Little Women” author Louisa May Alcott, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and Boston publisher Daniel Lothrop, whose wife, Harriet (Margaret Sidney), wrote the “Five Little Peppers” series.
It’s not as far away as Salem, where the actual House of Seven Gables is located, or Hartford, Conn., where Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens) lived and wrote, and Concord has nearby shops and restaurants.
The Wayside — the first literary site added to the National Park Service — was first built around 1717 as home to Samuel Whitney, a Revolutionary war soldier. The Alcotts lived there after moving from communal living in Harvard. Louisa’s father, Bronson Alcott, was an eccentric who wanted no part of it (having not recovered from his failed living experiment at Harvard’s Fruitlands, another neat spot to visit).
They named the house Hillside. Neighbor and fellow author Ralph Waldo Emerson helped them find it, even loaning the family some money toward its purchase; Mrs. Alcott paid the rest. She would later tire of Concord and move the family toward Boston, selling to Nathaniel Hawthorne, for $1,500! It was Hawthorne who renamed it the Wayside.
Hawthorne lived there from 1852-1869, writing “The Scarlet Letter,” “House of the Seven Gables” and other fiction.
The public may visit; the house is part of Minute Man National Historical Park and located at 455 Lexington Road. These writers tackled issues familiar to Americans who know their history — the Alcotts sheltered at least two runaway slaves, becoming part of the Underground Railroad network. They lived in the house from 1845 to 1852, and this was where Louisa May Alcott envisioned much of the childhood portrayed in her book, “Little Women.”
Daniel and Harriet Lothrop and, subsequently, their daughter Margaret, owned the house between 1883 and 1965. While lesser known, Margaret’s “Little Peppers” series was a huge hit in the early 1900s. In 1965, it became part of the national park.
More summer club suggestions:
Katherine Howe, “The Daughters of Temperance Hobbs.”
The author of “The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane” returns with the story of a New England history professor engaged in a race against time to free her family from a curse. Look for it on shelves now.
Tom Phillips has released “Humans: A Brief History of How We F*cked It all Up.”
The fall book club discussion will be lively and unquestionably funny after the group reads this collection of “wish-you-were-there” moments from history, spanning culture, science, politics and war. It details how infamous screw-ups in human nature came at just the wrong moment, entertaining the rest of us for decades. Samples: The Taiwanese general who stored gunpowder in his palace before a lantern festival, and an army attacking itself after a little too much alcohol consumption. Students sweating out history courses might enjoy this book as well. Nonfiction.

Summertime reading choices

Summer offers time to squeeze in books you’ve wanted to read or something new and quirky. I stock the sunroom bookshelf with short stories, novels and nonfiction, as well as a stack of unread magazines and the summer Fiction Issue of The New Yorker.
Too many books, too little time — so this list is short and by no means exclusive. There are no baseball memoirs, heavy plots or historical tomes — just a few good reads.
I’d like to share your suggestion for a great summer read. Send it to the address below. For the moment, put up your hair, grab a cold drink and relax.
Jennifer Weiner, “Mrs. Everything”
For book clubs, this may be a perfect summer read: Jennifer Weiner’s “Mrs. Everything” penetrates the lives of two sisters from the 1950s to the present as the world changes around them. This story of women’s lives over the ’60s and ’70s and later decades, offers more than a light read. Publication date is June 11. Fiction.
Barbara Bourland, “Fake Like Me”
I didn’t expect to like this one but ended up devouring it. Bourland tells a well-informed story about a young artist who loses her work in a fire three months before a break-out show. Her attempt to recreate what’s been lost takes her to an artists’ colony where death, ego and dedication co-exist. The book reveals fascinating, insider details about the artist’s process, and the callous business of art collecting they must negotiate. There’s a mystery, too, and a bit of romance amid details of making art which only the initiated can provide. Fiction.
Jenna Blum, “The Lost Family”
Blum is out in paperback with the story of a family haunted by World War II experiences across several decades. There’s guilt and tragic loss, but also the beginnings of love and hope in a story that penetrates the shadows of war in succeeding generations. Blum wrote the wonderful “Those Who Save Us,” so I expect a lot from her in this one. Historical fiction.
Dani Shapiro, “Inheritance”
DNA testing seemed like fun in the early days. Now, it’s being used in criminal investigations and revealing family secrets. Novelist and memoirist Dani Shapiro took a DNA test casually, only to discover that her deceased father had not been, in fact, her biological father, and that her blonde, Scandinavian appearance signaled more than a fluke in her Orthodox Jewish family. Her search for her past leads her to memories and questions that unsettle her life. Nonfiction.
Kilgariff and Hardstark, “Stay Sexy & Don’t Get Murdered”
Watch enough news shows and you’ll run into Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark, hosts of the “My Favorite Murder” podcast and now authors of “Stay Sexy & Don’t Get Murdered.” This book’s packed with humor amid the in-your-face reality of women’s lives — depression, eating disorders, addiction and the like. Yet, somehow, it’s funny. For a sample, tune in to their podcast. Author Jenny Lawson calls it “the best advice your mother never told you.” Humor.
Elizabeth Gilbert, “City of Girls”
Gilbert’s “Eat Pray Love” became a best-seller. Now, she switches to the fleeting nature of life and pleasure in this story of a young woman in 1940s New York City, who discovers she doesn’t have to be a “good girl” to be a good person. “City of Girls” is flavored by the impending entry of the U.S. into World War II.
Enjoy. By the way, if you haven’t yet read them, try: Delia Owens’ “Where the Crawdads Sing;” Martha Hall Kelly’s “Lost Roses;” Louise Penny’s “Glass Houses” and Susan R. White’s “A Place at the Table.”

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

The World's Fastest Man - by Michael Kranish

WORCESTER — Even a century later, Marshall “Major” Taylor’s legend lingers in Worcester — his home and, in many ways, his touchstone over the turn of the 20th century. Taylor’s extraordinary and challenging life in a racially charged nation is the focus of Michael Kranish’s “The World’s Fastest Man: The Extraordinary Life of Cyclist Major Taylor, America’s First Black Sports Hero,” published by Scribner.
The book, recording Taylor’s courage in the face of fierce competitive racism, is being released during Kranish’s appearance at 7 p.m. May 7 in the Worcester JCC, 633 Salisbury St. A multistate book tour will follow his appearance in Worcester, where Major Taylor’s career took off and where he felt most comfortable living and working.
Major Taylor Boulevard and a statue of Taylor outside the Worcester Public Library honor his memory. A bicycling association named for him commemorates his contributions with racing events. Taylor was the world’s first black champion, an outstanding competitive bicycle racer during the sport’s hottest era, from about 1890 to 1910.
“How did this obscure black man, at the height of the Jim Crow era, become a world champion? He left Indianapolis in his midteens to come to Worcester because in Indianapolis, he couldn’t join the local YMCA, which he needed to become a stronger bicyclist,” Kranish said. “That was his first taste of racial prejudice - when he realized the monster he faced.”
Told by his mentor that things were better in Worcester, he moved. Louis “Birdie” Munger, a record-breaking white bicyclist who entered into bicycle manufacturing after retirement, recognized Taylor’s competitive potential and did much to further his career. In Worcester, Taylor was able to join the YMCA.
“Worcester had been a stop in the Underground Railroad, and a lot of blacks had settled there, so it had a thriving black community when he arrived,” Kranish said. “His life provides a wonderful lens to see history at the time, how the country grew and changed. It was a period of time (1890s) at which there were practically no automobiles and horses were on the way out; people bought millions of bicycles. The transportation industry grew up around them.”
Without weighing the book down in facts or repetitious data, Kranish has written a swiftly paced journalistic narrative, rich in historical detail. “My style of writing is more of a cinematic view,” he said. “It’s not a compilation of facts but a constantly moving story that lets you see and feel the times.”
He presents some previously unknown historical materials about Taylor, using dozens of scrapbooks, letters, news articles and family memories he collected to first write a feature for The Boston Globe magazine in 2001. He later served as the Globe’s White House correspondent until 2015. At the time, he covered Sen. John Kerry’s political presidential campaign extensively. With fellow Globe reporter Scott Helman, he wrote “The Real Romney,” published in 2012. Kranish’s writing for the Globe’s 2015 series on inequality, “Divided Nation,” earned him several national awards. Because he now covers Washington, D.C., politics, he more recently wrote “Trump Revealed” (with Marc Fisher).
Kranish spent years collecting letters, interviews and documents to assemble a book that brings Taylor’s life into the forefront, beginning with the Globe article. “I interviewed his then-96-year-old daughter in Indianapolis,” he said. There, he accessed Taylor’s collected personal papers, “a lot of firsthand material. I had a lot left over after the story was published. I was very interested in his life and I began to think, maybe there’s a book here about Major Taylor.
“There was no other athlete like him. He came before Jack Johnson, Jackie Robinson and other black athletes. He was lionized in the American press and in Europe. Racism was crushing, but in the end, it just made him more determined. He felt, if he could have a fair race, he could beat anybody.”
Working on the book, Kranish traveled to Paris, where Taylor was widely known and celebrated. “Bicycle racing was huge in France. They saw him as an African American challenging the French champions, so he became a sensation. A black man in Paris.” At times, discrimination occurred there, but for the most part he was a star, and treated as such.
He pored through records about Taylor in the Worcester Telegram and The Evening Gazette. “I had to look through scrapbooks, study microfilm at libraries by searching around key dates to find things. The Worcester Spy (an abolitionist newspaper of the 19th century) was digitized and had covered him very intently. They were very pro-Major Taylor, wise about how they viewed civil rights at an important time in his career. They followed him around.” Since Taylor was widely covered across the country, Kranish found many digital records about him.
Taylor’s path was difficult, even if he made it look easy. He was a tremendous, one-of-a-kind athlete capable of beating all the opposition, all of the time. Because of his color, however, he was banned from many races and poorly treated by white competitors in the races he entered, who grouped together to force him out of first place or off the track. He sustained many injuries through the course of his career.
Despite that, Taylor had broken speed records across the bicycling industry by his mid-20s. He became a sports idol in France and later in Australia, where he was considered a monumental athlete.
While it lasted, racing made him rich, took him around the world and gained him recognition for a physical talent surpassing many. Were it not for Jim Crow, in fact, his name likely would have earned greater recognition in this country. Even white competitors had to acknowledge the champion among them, whom they strove to keep out of competition.
“At the end of the day, his story in one of inspiration and hope,” Kranish said. “He wanted his career to be remembered by young people especially, so that they would know they could overcome adversity.”
His appearance in Worcester is free. RSVP to Nancy Greenberg at ngreenberg@worcesterjcc.org or (508) 756-7109, ext. 232.
After Worcester, Kranish appears on May 8 at Porter Square Books in Cambridge, May 9 at Boston Public Library and then travels to Chicago (where Taylor lived his last couple of years and where he is buried), his birthplace of Indianapolis, New York City and Washington, D.C.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Meet Rivers Solomon, author, mother and cyborg

 In this world of changing genders and shifting genres, Rivers Solomon stands out. The author shirks simple identification by using “they” as a pronoun, instead of “he” or “she,” and writing about life in the margins, “where ‘they’ are firmly at home.” (See tweets at @cyborgndroid)
Solomon’s debut novel may intrigue book groups seeking new forms of expression and ways of looking at age-old problems, but it’s not for the faint of spirit.
Technically science fiction, “An Unkindness of Ghosts” explores in literary fashion what happens when a rocket ship transporting the people of a dying planet to another, ostensibly, becomes the center of questions about identity, race and slavery, set within the parameter of a woman’s search into her mother’s disappearance aboard the ship many years before.
Aboard the ship, dark-skinned passengers are kept on lower decks, far from the better-lodged white-skinned passengers.
“Solomon’s evocation of this society is so sharply detailed and viscerally realized, the characters so closely observed, the individual scenes so tightly structured, that the novel achieves surprising power and occasional brilliance,” writes reviewer Gary K. Wolfe in Locus magazine.
Solomon grew up around the U.S. and is living in Cambridge, England, with degrees in race and ethnicity from Stanford University and a master’s degree in fiction writing from the Michener Center for Writers at the University of Texas, Austin. Variously self-described as a mother, Afrofuturist, feminist and cyborg, Solomon cites literary influences that include Ursula K. Le Guin, Alice Walker, Octavia Butler, Ray Bradbury, Zora Neale Hurston and Doris Lessing.
‘Doctor Who,’ anyone?
While we’re on science fiction, there’s a Doctor Who monthly discussion night at Annie’s Book Stop, 65 James St., Worcester, with the next meeting at 7 p.m. March 15. Owner Patty Cryan is a longtime fan of the series, the world’s longest-running science fiction serial. This month’s topic: Classic and Modern Who Antagonists — The Cybermen! Written for BBC TV by various writers, the series was conceived as an educational project.
From 1 to 3 p.m. March 17, blogger, instructor, writer, and photographer Derek Strahan will be at Annie’s Book Stop to depict Worcester of a century ago through photographs and historical descriptions. He’ll have copies of his newest book, “New England Then and Now,” which includes Worcester County locations, to sign at the event. Strahan is the author of the blog “Lost New England” as well as the book “Lost Springfield.” He teaches English at the Master’s School in Simsbury, Connecticut, and lives in Springfield. In his book, vintage photos from 100 years ago are paired with the same viewpoint photographed today.
Tribute to Cather’s writing
The annual “One Book, One Boylston” community read commemorates the 100th anniversary of Willa Cather’s “My Antonia.” Boylston Public Library is giving away copies of the book and will hold a book discussion at 6:30 p.m. March 15, with a related panel discussion of the immigrant experience at 6:30 p.m. March 21 featuring Beth Singley from Ascentria Care Alliance and Jolene Jennings from Literacy Volunteers of Worcester. At 6:30 p.m. March 29, the pioneer experience will be further illustrated with a program on frontier cooking with Ryan Beckman, historic foods associate from Sturbridge Village.