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Book Group Topics

Like most writers, I am thrilled to talk to people about my book and happy to offer topics to book groups.

One great thing about book group questions is there are no wrong answers. These questions are designed to inspire discussion and prompt readers to maybe look at the book from new angles. None of them contain spoilers and they’re all designed with positive thoughts about the book in mind. They may also spur more and better questions! I’m happy to take suggestions at

If your book group is reading either of my books, please post a photo on the Facebook page Maureen Milliken mysteries or tweet one to @mmilliken47, so I can include it in the book group gallery on the book group page on

Above all, thanks for reading!

At the top are questions for No News is Bad News, the second in the Bernie O’Dea mystery series. Below that are enhanced topics for Cold Hard News with a lot of comments from me on the origins of the questions. Some of those could also lead to topics for No News is Bad News. Enjoy!

No News is Bad News book group questions

  1. No News is Bad News follows story lines two years apart – do you feel that structure enhanced the story more than a straight narrative with no flashbacks would have?
  2. Was there any scene in the book that resonated with you the most?
  3. How about “small” scenes? Were there any that stood out to you because of what they revealed about a character, or carried emotional weight, even though they may not have been major plot scenes?
  4. What did you think of Bernie’s relationship with Sal? What about with her other siblings? How does their family dynamic compare with yours?
  5. What did you think of Dawna and Pete’s competing ideas about whether someone could mistake a person for a deer? What do you think of Pete’s opinion given the revelation he had in the final chapter?
  6. Most characters aren’t described in a lot of physical detail. How did you picture the characters?
  7. Bernie can be her own worst enemy. Do you think her sometimes frustrating behavior and bad choices are balanced by good choices she makes? What’s the worst thing Bernie did? What’s the best?
  8. Which characters would sit next to at the counter at Choppy’s? Which would you avoid?
  9. How do you feel about how things ended with Bernie and Pete? What do you think will happen next?


Further topics and enhanced Cold Hard News questions:

I am very interested in character when I read a book. Much more so than plot. I love to delve into the ways people act with each other and interact, and the effect one person has on another.

I wanted to create characters readers cared about.

Did you like the characters (even though they didn’t always do likable things)? Did you feel that Bernie and Pete’s friendship was believable, and understand why they both reacted the way they did about certain things?

I also wanted to create a female protagonist who was more like a “normal” person, rather than some of the superwomen in some books. Someone people could more or less relate to.
Did you feel Bernie was relatable? How about Dawna and Carol? Did they seem like real people to you?

The glamour. The excitement. The life of a journalist.
The glamour. The excitement. The life of a journalist.

I’m a newspaper editor and have worked for daily newspapers for more than 30 years. My dad was also a newspaper editor and we grew up immersed in newspapers and newspaper talk. I wanted my book to depict newspapers realistically — or as realistically as possible for a mystery novel.
If you are unfamiliar with that world, did the newspaper stuff ring true? Was it interesting or boring (as in too detailed) for you?

Before I wrote the book, I knew some things I wanted to happen (though not totally the plot — more on that later). One thing I wanted was for the protagonist to unwittingly betray the person she had such strong feelings for and have to try to redeem herself. SPOILER ALERT: That happened when Bernie quoted Pete’s “off the record” remarks after the shooting, when he was exhausted and in shock. My journalist friends all felt it was an impactful moment in the book. Some non-journalist readers aren’t sure it was such a big deal.
What did you think about that? Did you feel Bernie had betrayed Pete? Or did you think it was much ado about nothing? Even though it was impulsive and she regretted it, do you see why she did it? Did it make you dislike her or sympathize with her?

ADHD poster girl before there even was such a thing. But wouldn't have it any other way.
ADHD poster girl before there even was such a thing. But wouldn’t have it any other way.

In a really funny coincidence, the week I thought I was “finished” with the book, I was diagnosed with ADHD. At that time, Bernie didn’t have it. Well, she did, I just didn’t know it. I realized though that I had created a character who had ADHD. It took me a year or so to give in, but I finally revised the book and gave it to her, too. It explained a lot of her behavior. I didn’t know a lot about ADHD when I was diagnosed (or thought I didn’t know, but obviously I did).
Did you think that was a good addition to the plot? Or was it distracting? Was there too much of it? Not enough? Or just right? What did you think of Bernie’s attitude about it?

The plot. Oy. That’s the hard part. When I started writing the book I wasn’t totally sure what would happen. I knew there’d be a body in a snowbank, because I always imagine that happening. The shooting I also knew would happen because it was similar to something that happened in New Hampshire in 2007 when I lived there, and I was very unhappy about what happened with the bystander who shot the young man. I wanted to write a plot that helped channel my anger about that — a resolution I liked, rather than what had happened (the guy was exonerated with no investigation or trial. He later turned out to be a dangerous nut job. You can read more about the original shooting here in an excellent Boston Magazine piece that goes into all the angles of the story).
Did the plot hold your interest? Did you figure it out? Were there parts that didn’t hold up or make sense?What did you think about the final twist concerning Stanley’s murderer?

One reader before I was published told me to make Ike more likable, so I gave him a dog. My dog, actually,

Ike's dog Dubya is based on my dog Dewey. 1993-2013
Ike’s dog Dubya is based on my dog Dewey. 1993-2013

Dewey, who made it for 17 years before I had to put him down a couple years ago. Other people told me NOT to add a dog and not to give it to Bernie at the end, because now I have to keep the dog and deal with him through the subsequent books.
What do you think? Did you like the dog? Did it make Ike, a truly unlikable character, any more likable?

I also wanted to have a realistic Maine in the book. I get tired of all the lighthouses and lobsters that are in many books, and wanted to depict Maine the way it really is.
Did the setting feel real to you? If you’ve been to Maine, did it ring true? If you haven’t been, did you feel like you could get a good feel for it? Did you want to come here?

I don’t do a lot of describing characters in my books, because I find readers’ imaginations fill in the blanks very nicely. Strangely, two reviewers — both male — describe Bernie as attractive. I never say she’s attractive in the book because I want her to be “everywoman” and not have some level of beauty most women don’t feel they have. Pete finds her attractive. I thought it was funny, though, that those reviewers did, too.
Do you have vivid pictures of Pete, Bernie and the others in your heads? Who do you think they look like?I’m not big on picking out movie stars to play them, because they are such real people to me that they are themselves, and don’t look like movie stars. But if you were going to cast a movie, who would play them?

Thanks again for reading Cold Hard News and No News is Bad News.