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Book and Author

The play takes place on Labor Day weekend in the joint backyards of two middle-aged widows.  One house belongs to Flo Owens, who lives there with her two awakening young daughters, Madge and Millie, and a boarder who is a spinster school teacher.  The other house belongs to Helen Potts, who lives with her elderly and invalid mother.  Into this atmosphere comes a young man named Hal Carter, whose animal vitality upsets the entire group.  Hal is a most-interesting character a child of parents who ignored him, self-concious of his failings and his hard luck.  Flo is sensitively wary of the temptations Hal poses for her daughters.  But Madge, bored with being merely a beauty, sacrifices her chances for a wealthy marriage for the excitement that Hal promises.
Published 1953, 78 pages. Description from book jacket.



William Inge: Inge’s fascination for the theatre began early. In the 1920’s Independence had many cultural events as top artists and shows stopped over for one night stands between performances in Kansas City, Missouri, and Tulsa, Oklahoma. Although Inge was not from a well-to-do family, he did get to see many shows as a member of a local Boy Scout Troop. The troop met in the Civic Center, a ground floor meeting room of Memorial Hall, a large 2,000 seat theater where these shows were held. The scouts were regularly invited to sit in the balcony after their meetings to watch the performances.

The small town of Independence had a profound influence on the young Inge and he would later attribute his understanding of human behavior to growing up in this small town environment.  “I’ve often wondered how people raised in our great cities ever develop any knowledge of humankind.  People who grow up in small towns get to know each other so much more closely than they do in cities,” said Inge.  Inge would later use this knowledge of small town life in many of his plays, most of which revolve around characters who are clearly products of small towns like Independence.


KSN News anchor, John Snyder, explores the career of Kansas-born playwright, William Inge, including an interview with Inge scholar, Mike Wood, the WSU Executive Director of the Media Resources Center.

Published on Dec 15, 2011


Discussion Questions for Picnic

  • Why do you think William Inge chose to have the stage set be the porches and yards of two small houses?
  • Think about Flo Owens, Helen Potts and Rosemary Sydney.  What are their lives like, do they have dreams?  How has loneliness affected their choices?
  • Is this play relevant today, or is it dated?  Why?


  • Serve Mrs. Potts’s Lady Baltimore cake.  Here is the history of the cake from The Old Foodie.  Here is a recipe from Taste of Home.
  • Watch the 1955 movie version of Picnic starring William Holden and Kim Novac.  Discuss the director’s casting choices and other changes to the play.

Movie trailer for Picnic (1955) posted on YouTube by Craig Steves.


Hound of the Baskervilles

Book & Author

The Hound of the Baskervilles

60 Second Book Recap has a great video teaser that’ll give you a quick taste of what you’re in for when you read this book:

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

You can read about Doyle’s fascinating life at Wikipedia or at the official site of his literary estate.

Amazingly, there is video footage(from 1927)  in which Doyle shares how he came to create Sherlock Holmes:

Quote from the book

The world is full of obvious things which nobody by any chance ever observes.


Topics this book will bring up for discussion include:

  • The conflict between the scientific viewpoint of Holmes and the supernatural explanation accepted by many of the other characters.
  • The character of Sherlock Holmes himself.  What are his motivations?  His moral viewpoints?  How does the Holmes of the book relate to the depictions of the character you have seen on TV and in movies.
  • Why does Watson work so well as a companion to Holmes?  Why do you think he is such a loyal friend to Holmes?


Your group could of course watch one of the many film adaptations of this tale.  Or even just a clip from one of them which you could then compare to the book.

Alison’s Wonderland Recipes has some great Sherlock Holmes inspired recipes.  My favorite are the London Fog Lattes – they look like the perfect drink to serve at your meeting!

There are a number of books related to Sherlock Holmes that can offer inspiration for fun ways to enhance your meeting, or you could just bring a few for the members to look at before and after the discussion.  Here are a few of my favorites:

Sherlock Holmes Was Wrong: Reopening the Case of the Hound of the Baskervilles by Pierre Bayard

The Science of Sherlock Homes: From Baskerville Hall to the Valley of Fear, the Real Forensics Behind the Great Detective’s Greatest Cases by E.J. Wagner

Solving Sherlock Holmes: Puzzle Your Way Through The Cases by Pierre Berloquin
Contains 144 different puzzles , including cryptograms , crosswords , ciphers , and many more inspired by six classic Sherlock Holmes short stories.


Do you think The Hound of the Baskervilles is a great choice for a book discussion group?  Comment on this post and let us know what you think!



Mornings on Horseback

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Book and Author

Mornings on Horseback:  Mornings on Horseback is the brilliant biography of the young Theodore Roosevelt. Hailed as “a masterpiece” (John A. Gable, Newsday), it is the winner of the Los Angeles Times 1981 Book Prize for Biography and the National Book Award for Biography. Written by David McCullough, the author of Truman, this is the story of a remarkable little boy, seriously handicapped by recurrent and almost fatal asthma attacks, and his struggle to manhood: an amazing metamorphosis seen in the context of the very uncommon household in which he was raised.

The father is the first Theodore Roosevelt, a figure of unbounded energy, enormously attractive and selfless, a god in the eyes of his small, frail namesake. The mother, Mittie Bulloch Roosevelt, is a Southerner and a celebrated beauty, but also considerably more, which the book makes clear as never before. There are sisters Anna and Corinne, brother Elliott (who becomes the father of Eleanor Roosevelt), and the lovely, tragic Alice Lee, TR’s first love. All are brought to life to make “a beautifully told story, filled with fresh detail” (The New York Times Book Review).

A book to be read on many levels, it is at once an enthralling story, a brilliant social history and a work of important scholarship which does away with several old myths and breaks entirely new ground. It is a book about life intensely lived, about family love and loyalty, about grief and courage, about “blessed” mornings on horseback beneath the wide blue skies of the Badlands.  Published, 1981, 448 pages.  Description from book jacket.


David McCullough:  has been acclaimed as a “master of the art of narrative history.” He is the winner of two Pulitzer Prizes, two National Book Awards, and has received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian award…

In the words of the citation accompanying his honorary degree from Yale, “As an historian, he paints with words, giving us pictures of the American people that live, breathe, and above all, confront the fundamental issues of courage, achievement, and moral character.”

From the book:

“To be with him was to have fun”, remembered one of the cousins, “if for no other reason than that he so obviously was having a good time himself.”


Reading Group Guide from Simon & Schuster

  •  In exploring the effect of asthma over Teedie’s life and the Roosevelt family, McCullough writes, “For a child as acutely sensitive and intelligent as he, the impact of asthma could not have been anything but profound, affecting personality, outlook self-regard, the whole course of his young life, in marked fashion…But he knows also that his particular abnormality lends a kind of power.” What power is McCullough speaking of? How does Teedie’s illness positively affect his life, interests, and ultimate passions and goals? Explain.
  • As a member of the State Assembly at the age of twenty-three, Theodore, Jr. proved to be an irreverent spirit in politics. After meeting Samuel Gompers and learning of the working conditions of cigar makers, Theodore supported the Cigar Makers Bill while simultaneously stepping on the toes of the notorious Jay Gould. What was Theodore’s mistake in taking on Gould? How did he inadvertently fashion his political image? How was his polarized sense of right and wrong constructed by his upbringing? Was he wrong in his judgment of “the wealthy criminal class”?


Watch Doris Kearns Goodwin (The Bully Pulpit) talk about Teddy Roosevelt’s Fitness Regime.


Watch David McCullough deliver the 124th Landon Lecture at Kansas State University.  The subject of his speech is on the qualities of leadership as illustrated by John Adams and the founding fathers.  Does Theodore Roosevelt demonstrate the qualities of leadership, as a young man, that powered John Adams and the founding fathers?  Explain.

Death in Shangri-La

Book & Author

Death in Shangri-La

Ygul Zur


Topics this book will bring up for discussion include:

The way the Israeli soldiers were, as the author puts it “torn between two great forces: their habit to rely on aggressiveness and violence and their eagerness to find calm and the quiet inner self”.

For Americans this story has an unique perspective as it it told from an Israeli perspective. What differences did you notice in the way the narrator viewed the world?

India plays a central role in this book.  Did you enjoy this aspect of the book?  Did you think the author did a good job of incorporating the Indian landscape and culture?  Do you want to travel to India now?


O Pioneers!

Book & Author

O Pioneers!: The first of Cather’s renowned prairie novels, O Pioneers! established a new voice in American literature–turning the stories of ordinary Midwesterners and immigrants into authentic literary characters.

O Pioneers! was Willa Cather’s first great novel, and to many it remains her unchallenged masterpiece. No other work of fiction so faithfully conveys both the sharp physical realities and the mythic sweep of the transformation of the American frontier–and the transformation of the people who settled it. Cather’s heroine is Alexandra Bergson, who arrives on the wind-blasted prairie of Hanover, Nebraska, as a girl and grows up to make it a prosperous farm. But this archetypal success story is darkened by loss, and Alexandra’s devotion to the land may come at the cost of love itself.

At once a sophisticated pastoral and a prototype for later feminist novels, O Pioneers! is a work in which triumph is inextricably enmeshed with tragedy, a story of people who do not claim a land so much as they submit to it and, in the process, become greater than they were.

For more than seventy years, Penguin has been the leading publisher of classic literature in the English-speaking world. With more than 1,700 titles, Penguin Classics represents a global bookshelf of the best works throughout history and across genres and disciplines. Readers trust the series to provide authoritative texts enhanced by introductions and notes by distinguished scholars and contemporary authors, as well as up-to-date translations by award-winning translators.

Published in 1913, 210 pages.


Willa Cather is one of the most important American novelists of the first half of the twentieth century. Seen as a regional writer for decades after her passing in 1947, critics have increasingly identified Cather as a canonical American writer, the peer of authors like Hemingway, Faulkner and Wharton. The author of 12 novels, 6 collections of short fiction, 2 editions of her book of poetry, April Twilights, and 9 works of nonfiction and collected journalism, speeches, and letters.

Born in Virginia in 1873, Cather settled in Webster County, Nebraska, in 1883. Though she lived the rest of her life in Pittsburgh and New York and traveled extensively, Cather’s depictions of the Nebraska prairie and farming communities were important milestones in American literature. “Miss Cather is Nebraska’s foremost citizen,” wrote author and Nobel Prize-winner Sinclair Lewis. “The United States knows Nebraska because of Willa Cather’s books.”

Quote from the book:

I like trees because they seem more resigned to the way they have to live than other things do. I feel as if this tree knows everything I ever think of when I sit here. When I come back to it, I never have to remind it of anything; I begin just where I left off.


  • What qualities must a person have to survive as a farmer in Nebraska in the 1870s? What qualities would hinder such survival in Cather’s point of view?
  • Do you believe that Marie, by her beauty and vitality, caused her own tragedy? Do such women cause problems? If so, how?
  • Alexandra is deeply tied to the land, and yet her greatest hope is for Emil to leave the farm and go to college, to have a personality apart from the soil.  Why does Alexandra wish a different life for Emil?

Now Read This Interview from the Philadelphia Record

Test of Wills

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Book and Author

A Test of WillsIt’s 1919, and the “War to End All Wars” has been won. But there is no peace for Scotland Yard inspector Ian Rutledge, recently returned from the battlefields of France shell-shocked and tormented by the ever-present voice of the young Scot he had executed for refusing an order. Escaping into his work to save his sanity, Rutledge investigates the murder of a popular colonel in Warwickshire and his alleged killer, a decorated war hero and close friend of the Prince of Wales.

The case is a political minefield, and its resolution could mean the end of Rutledge’s career. Win or lose, the cost may be more than the damaged investigator can bear. For the one witness who can break the case open is, like Rutledge, a war-ravaged victim . . . and his grim, shattered fate could well prove to be the haunted investigator’s own.Published 1996, 320 pages. Description from book jacket.


Charles ToddCharles and Caroline Todd are a mother-and-son writing team who live on the east coast of the United States. Caroline has a BA in English Literature and History, and a Masters in International Relations. Charles has a BA in Communication Studies with an emphasis on Business Management, and a culinary arts degree that means he can boil more than water. Caroline has been married (to the same man) for umpteen years, and Charles isdivorced.

Charles and Caroline have a rich storytelling heritage. Both spent many evenings on the porch listening to their fathers and grandfathers reminisce. And a maternal grandmother told marvelous ghost stories. This tradition allows them to write with passion about events before their own time. And an uncle/great-uncle who served as a flyer in WWI aroused an early interest in the Great War.


A Test of Wills: The First Inspector Ian Rutledge Mystery
From the Reader’s Guide at the back of the book
William Morrow Paperbacks; Reprint edition (August 16, 2011)

  • Why does Chief Superintendent Bowles feel that Rutledge is a threat, even though the inspector has been away for nearly five years?
  • What was your reaction when you discovered what happened between Rutledge and Hamish MacLeod during the battle of the Somme? With whom did your sympathies lie?
  • Shaken by the outcome of the inquiry, Rutledge must still face his own demons. Were you moved by the ending?  Did your feelings about Ian Rutledge change over the course of the book?


The History of Inspector Ian Rutledge Timeline

Listed are the first titles in the series.  Find the complete list of titles with brief descriptions at Charles Todd’s website

  • A TEST OF WILLS takes place in June 1919
  • WINGS OF FIRE takes place in July 1919
  • SEARCH THE DARK takes place in August 1919
  • LEGACY OF THE DEAD takes place in September 1919
  • WATCHERS OF TIME takes place in October 1919


From  RT Book Reviews is a YouTube video of Charles and Caroline talking about writing their Ian Rutledge and Bess Crawford World War I mystery series. Published on Jul 28, 2011


HUSH hosts and guests: Miranda Ericsson, Caroline Todd, Lissa Staley and Charles Todd

Listen to Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library’s Hush Podcast featuring Caroline and Charles Todd.





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Book and Author

The Yard:  As Jack the Ripper’s reign of terror in London comes to an end, a new era of depravity sets the stage for the first gripping mystery featuring the detectives of Scotland Yard’s Murder Squad.

“If Charles Dickens isn’t somewhere clapping his hands for this one, Wilkie Collins surely is.”– The New York Times Book Review

Victorian London–a violent cesspool of squalid sin. The twelve detectives of Scotland Yard’s Murder Squad are expected to solve the thousands of crimes committed in the city each month. Formed after the Metropolitan Police’s spectacular failure in capturing Jack the Ripper, they suffer the brunt of public contempt. But no one can anticipate the brutal murder of one of their own…

A Scotland Yard Inspector has been found stuffed in a black steamer trunk at Euston Square Station, his eyes and mouth sewn shut. When Walter Day, the squad’s new hire, is assigned to the case, he finds a strange ally in Dr. Bernard Kingsley, the Yard’s first forensic pathologist. Their grim conclusion: this was not just a random, bizarre murder but in all probability, the first of twelve.

The squad itself it being targeted and the devious killer shows no signs of stopping. But Inspector Day has one more surprise, something even more shocking than the crimes: the murderer’s motive..  Published 2012, 448 pages. Description from catalog

Alex Grecianis the national bestselling author of the “Scotland Yard Murder Squad” novels, including The YardThe Black Country, and the forthcoming The Devil’s Workshop.

After leaving a career in advertising, working on accounts that included Harley-Davidson and The Great American Smokeout, Alex returned to his first love: writing fiction.

He co-created the long-running and critically acclaimed graphic novel series Proof, which NPR named one of the best books of 2009. One of the Proof storylines is set in the 1800’s and inspired Alex’s debut novel The Yard.

He has also written an original “Murder Squad” e-book, The Blue Girl, and an original graphic novel, Seven Sons, as well as a multitude of short stories, both comics and prose, for various anthologies. He lives in the Midwest with his wife and son. He is working on the sixth novel of Scotland Yard’s Murder Squad.

Quote from the book:

“A man cuts the guts out of woman after woman or sews a man’s face  up or shaves some poor bastard and then cuts his throat for no reason at all – there’s no percentage in it.  That’s killing for the sake of killing.  Where do we even start to look for the monster done that?”


  • Failure to solve the Jack the Ripper murders has diminished Scotland Yard’s reputation.  Crime is overwhelming and inspectors have to triage the caseload.  How does Inspector Day organize the cases left by Inspector Little?  What does he come to realize?
  • Forensic pathology is a developing science in criminal investigations. Describe Dr. Kingsley and his methods.  Are his methods accepted and do they help further the investigation?
  • From A Conversation with Alex Grecian Author of the Yard, Grecian said his original intention was to write this book as a graphic novel series, but his agent talked him into writing it as prose.  Is his background as a graphic artist evident in the descriptions and pacing of the book?



Scotland Yard’s Murder Squad


Have your book group test their detective skills!  Use the instructions from this Scientific American article “Finding Fingerprints” to dust and lift fingerprints from hard surfaces.


The Girl Before

Book & Author

‘Please make a list of every possession you consider essential to your life.’ The request seems odd, even intrusive — and for the two women who answer, the consequences are devastating. Reeling from a traumatic break-in, Emma wants a new place to live. But none of the apartments she sees are affordable or feel safe. Until One Folgate Street. The house is an architectural masterpiece: a minimalist design of pale stone, plate glass, and soaring ceilings. But there are rules. The enigmatic architect who designed the house retains full control: no books, no throw pillows, no photos or clutter or personal effects of any kind. The space is intended to transform its occupant — and it does. After a personal tragedy, Jane needs a fresh start. When she finds One Folgate Street she is instantly drawn to the space — and to its aloof but seductive creator. Moving in, Jane soon learns about the untimely death of the home’s previous tenant, a woman similar to Jane in age and appearance. As Jane tries to untangle truth from lies, she unwittingly follows the same patterns, makes the same choices, crosses paths with the same people, and experiences the same terror, as the girl before.

Published in 2017, 336 pages. Description from the catalog.


J.P. Delaney is a pseudonym for a writer (Anthony Capella) who has previously written bestselling fiction under other names. Delaney is the author of the New York Times bestseller The Girl Before, which is being brought to the screen by Academy Award winners Ron Howard and Brian Grazer’s Imagine Entertainment


“I’m JP Delaney, a bestselling author who’s written under several different names.

People often ask why I write under a pseudonym. There’s no great mystery to it – it’s simply that I like to write different kinds of books, and publishers and retailers believe it’s confusing for readers to pick up a book by an author they think they know, only to discover it’s a completely different kind of story to the one they were expecting.

Personally, I think my books have much more in common with each other than they have differences. I find similar characters, themes and interests cropping up whatever I’m writing. (Sometimes I even drop in little parallels, just for fun…) And my relationship with the reader is always fundamentally the same. I never forget I’m inviting them to come with me on a journey, and that as their host and guide it’s my duty to enthrall them”.

Quote from the book:

People like to talk about clean slates. But the only truly clean slate is a new one. The rest are gray from whatever’s been written on them before.


  • Emma and Jane have a lot in common, but there are also striking differences between the two women. Compare and contrast these two characters, and discuss some of the ways in which their differences and similarities influenced their relationships
  • How does living at One Folgate Street impact each of the women? In what ways do our environments shape our experiences? If you could make one change to your current living environment that would have an impact on your behavior, what would it be?
  • What do you think of Edward’s dream to create a community of homes like One Folgate Street? Could such a project ever really work successfully? Why or why not?

Book Trailer


Velveteen Daughter

Book & Author

The Velveteen Daughter:  The story of Margery Williams Bianco, author of the beloved children’s book The Velveteen Rabbit, and her daughter Pamela, a world-renowned child prodigy artist whose fame at one time greatly eclipses her mother’s. But celebrity at such an early age exacts a great toll. Pamela’s dreams elude her as she struggles with severe depressions, an overbearing father, an obsessive love affair, and a spectacularly misguided marriage. Throughout, her life raft is her mother.The glamorous art world of Europe and New York in the early 20th century and a supporting cast of luminaries, including Eugene O’Neill and his wife Agnes (Margery’s niece), Pablo Picasso, Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, and Richard Hughes, author of A High Wind in Jamaica, provide a vivid backdrop to the Biancos’ story.

Published in 2017, 399 pages.  Description from the catalog.


“I was born in a blizzard in Milton Massachusetts where my father was a teacher and coach at Milton Academy. On the night before my early-morning birth my parents battled snow and slippery roads to drive to the hospital in a cranky old Ford Woody station wagon with a broken, wide-open window. My father later called the school to let them know he couldn’t teach his classes, and he always claimed that the next day all classes at Milton were cancelled to celebrate the great occasion of my birth. I took that as gospel for a long time, but I’m guessing it was really only a snow day. Just a hunch.

I learned to read when I was three years old. This was thanks to a six-year-old sister who came home from first grade every day, sat me down, and played “teacher.” She taught me phonetics and I can still remember vividly the miracle of opening all the books in my room and realizing I could read the words myself. My world had changed forever.

At eight, in the back of another Ford station wagon, I had an experience that, to me, signaled that I would be a writer someday.  If you want to hear the story, click here

But I grew up and had to earn a living. These are some of the jobs I have had, in chronological order:

  • Typing letters at a cheap jewelry manufacturer in the garment district in New York
  • Administrative assistant to the General Counsel of Columbia Pictures (NYC, Fifth Ave.)
  • High school English teacher in California
  • Corporate newsletter editor at a real estate development company in Florida
  • Communications Director – Marie Selby Botanical Gardens, also in Florida
  • Development Director – New Canaan Country School in Connecticut
  • Development Officer – Amherst College in Massachusetts.

That eight-year-old’s dream of writing – what happened to it?

Did I write furiously and devotedly in my spare time during these years of work? No, I did not. At some point I did get serious about an idea and I wrote several chapters of a novel about Benedict Arnold, but never managed to get beyond a certain point. This went on for about 15 years (I’m not kidding) – and one morning, stuck as usual in front of the computer, I took a break. Which turned out to be a very good idea, because it was at that moment that The Velveteen Daughter was born. If you want to hear the story, click here

Personal stuff, in a nutshell:

I have been married more than once. My most recent marriage is twenty years old, and so I think it’s not too much wishful thinking to say that it seems to be working. I was a single mother for fourteen years, and have a stellar, marathon-running son and two awesome grandchildren. I am also a proud stepmother and step-grandmother of four daughters and six grandchildren.

I take very long walks. I carry a pen and notepaper with me as I seem to get a lot of creative ideas and writing problems worked out along the way.

I have a thing about cemeteries. Always have. Drove my son crazy on road trips, though once I showed him how to find military graves from the Revolutionary War (spurred by my Benedict Arnold work-in-progress obsession), he could look at it as a treasure hunt and then it was sort of fun.

I think that’s enough”.

Quote from the book:

She’ll sleep the day away, I can count on that. Another bad sign. There’s trouble ahead when the little genius takes to bed.


  • What is the relationship between Pamela and Margery? Do you find it problematical? What about the relationship between Pamela and Francesco?
  • How do you feel about the fictionalization of the lives of Pamela and Margery?
  • Many primary materials are quoted in this novel? Does this make the narrative more effective? Is it distracting?
  • How does Pamela’s illness manifest itself? When does it begin? Do you think it was inevitable (simply inherited), or do you think it had to do with circumstances in her life? What was the cause of her breakdown?

Now Read This Interview with Beth Anderson



My Absolute Darling

Book and Author

“Turtle Alveston is a survivor. At fourteen, she roams the woods along the northern California coast. The creeks, tide pools, and rocky islands are her haunts and her hiding grounds, and she is known to wander for miles. But while her physical world is expansive, her personal one is small and treacherous: Turtle has grown up isolated since the death of her mother, in the thrall of her tortured and charismatic father, Martin. Her social existence is confined to the middle school (where she fends off the interest of anyone, student or teacher, who might penetrate her shell) and to her life with her father. Then Turtle meets Jacob, a high-school boy who tells jokes, lives in a big clean house, and looks at Turtle as if she is the sunrise. And for the first time, the larger world begins to come into focus: her life with Martin is neither safe nor sustainable. Motivated by her first experience with real friendship and a teenage crush, Turtle starts to imagine escape, using the very survival skills her father devoted himself to teaching her.”

Published in 2017, 417 pages.  Description from the catalog

Gabriel Tallent was born in New Mexico and raised on the Mendocino coast by two mothers. He received his B.A. from Willamette University in 2010, and after graduation spent two seasons leading youth trail crews in the backcountry of the Pacific Northwest. Tallent lives in Salt Lake City.

Quote from the book:

He has a way of watching her that makes her feel as if she is the most important thing in the world.

Now Read This interview with Liz Button