How to Start a Theme Book Group

How to Start a Theme Book Group

Have you ever thought about starting a theme book group? You may want to! Today I’m turning the blog over to Maggie King, author of the Hazel Rose Book Group series and she’s sharing her insights on how to create your own theme book group and why you might want to. Thanks for stopping by Maggie!


I Hated That Book!

It happens. Someone in your book group hated the assigned book and doesn’t think it’s even worthy of discussion. There are thousands of book groups (clubs, if you will) in the United States alone and the majority read the same title each month before gathering to discuss it. But a group can fall into a rut once in a while and struggle to come up with choices that enthuse its members.

There’s another option: the theme book group.

In this type of group, the members pick a theme, read a book of their choice based on the theme, and meet to talk about what they read. This format allows for more freedom and flexibility of choice and all but eliminates the “I Hated That Book” syndrome that plagues many groups.

In the Murder on Tour group featured in Murder at the Book Group, #1 in my Hazel Rose Book Group series, the members read mysteries set in geographical locations. In the opening chapter, the group talks about the books they read with Florida settings. Titles include The Paperboy by Pete Dexter and The Deep Blue Good-By by John MacDonald. In the second Hazel Rose mystery, Murder at the Moonshine Inn, the group travels back in time to the ancient world via Silver Pigs by Lindsay Davis and Germanicus Mosaic by Rosemary Rowe. Martin Lorin’s Genesis One: Abel is Missing sparks an animated back and forth on the age-old question: why did Cain kill Abel?

Why did I choose a theme group for my book group series? In 1993 I joined my first mystery book group in Santa Clarita, California, and the members used the theme concept. Instructions for my first meeting: read a mystery set in New York City; I chose one from Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct series. Other themes included main characters with professions in journalism, business, law enforcement, and academia. We chose stories set in specific regions, small towns, large cities, you name it. We gave summaries of the books we chose, taking care to avoid spoilers (some were a bit lax about the spoilers!).

I attended that group for three years until I relocated to Virginia and started writing. While I modeled the Murder on Tour group after the Santa Clarita one, it bears no resemblance—no one ended up dead in Santa Clarita!

Lelia Taylor, blogger at Buried Under Books: Tales of a Former Indie Bookseller ( and former owner of Creatures ‘n Crooks Books & Sundries has this to say about the evolution of her theme group:

This book club has been together for over fifteen years and we still have most of the original members. We’ve never read just one pre-selected book but, in the past, we tried picking an author for each month and then we all read whatever we wanted by that author. Eventually we decided to just discuss any mysteries we had read in the previous month (we had to learn to discuss each one briefly but enough to whet each other’s appetites). Both systems worked but were not quite right for us.

In 2008 we came up with the idea of themes and we’re still doing that today. We have a list of about seventy five themes and we have no trouble satisfying the reading tastes of all members, from super cozy to seriously grim. As an example, a recent theme was “Books to Movies and Movies to Books” which also included TV or any other kind of screen treatment. As you can imagine, that encompassed countless possibilities from Agatha Christie to Henning Mankell to Ann Rule.

Lelia’s suggestions for themes

Fictional Characters: Mr. and Mrs. Darcy series by Carrie Bebris: Sherlock Holmes in the Irene Adler series by Carole Nelson Douglas; the Nursery Crimes series by Jasper Fforde

Golden Age: Agatha Christie, Ellery Queen, Dorothy L. Sayers, Rex Stout, Josephine Tey, etc.

Scientific Occupations: Alan Bradley (aspiring chemist Flavia de Luce); Randy Wayne White (marine biologist Doc Ford); Sarah Andrews (forensic geologist Em Hansen); and Mary Anna Evans (archaeologist Faye Longchamp)

GLBT: Ellen Hart (restaurateur Jane Lawless); Val McDermid (journalist/socialist Lindsay Gordon); and Josh Lanyon (mystery writer / bookseller Adrien English)

Selected resources for finding themes

Stop, You’re Killing Me! ( this online database includes indexes for locations, jobs, diversity, and historical periods

Goodreads ( the social media cataloguing site for readers has its own theme group

Cozy Mysteries by Theme ( you’re sure to find something here that will interest your group

By a Woman’s Hand: A Guide to Mystery Fiction by Women by Jean Swanson and Dean James): this is a favorite resource of mine. It hasn’t been updated since its publication in 1996 but many of the authors listed are still writing.

Go the traditional route: ask your local librarian!

Some Final Thoughts

If your group favors in-depth book discussions, the theme approach may not work. However, try it on occasion, like during the holiday season or the summer. Sometimes the theme itself will kick off a spirited dialog.

Whatever you decide, the main objective is to read and share your love of books.


Meet Maggie King

Maggie King is the author of the Hazel Rose Book Group mysteries, including Murder at the Book Group and Murder at the Moonshine Inn. She has contributed stories to the Virginia is for Mysteries anthologies and to the 50 Shades of Cabernet anthology.

Murder at the Moonshine Inn

Maggie is a member of Sisters in Crime, James River Writers, and the American Association of University Women. She has worked as a software developer, retail sales manager, and customer service supervisor. Maggie graduated from Elizabeth Seton College and earned a B.S. degree in Business Administration from Rochester Institute of Technology. She has called New Jersey, Massachusetts, and California home. These days she lives in Richmond, Virginia with her husband, Glen, and cats, Morris and Olive. She enjoys reading, walking, movies, traveling, theatre, and museums.




Instagram: authormaggieking

Buy link for Murder at the Moonshine Inn:

Buy link for Murder at the Book Group:


1 thought on “How to Start a Theme Book Group”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *