Tag Archives: Molly’s picks

Mysteries at the Library: Sue Grafton

v is for vengeanceThis is part of an ongoing series of posts, featuring some of my favorite mystery authors.

I got sucked into Sue Grafton’s alphabet mystery series while on vacation a few years ago. Before that, I could not have imagined reading any series that seemed to follow such a formulaic plan: each title of the series begins with a new letter of the alphabet. But while these books do follow a very predictable formula, Grafton is such a great writer that I’m happy to play along.

Kinsey Millhone, Grafton’s fictional detective, is a tough loner private investigator who lives in the always beautiful, southern California beach town Santa Teresa (a very close cousin to Santa Barbara). Grafton has been writing these books since the 1980s and while the world has taken leaps and bounds forward over the years, her novels are still set in the 1980s. The latest has only progressed as far as 1988, and half the fun of these books is reading about a time in our recent history when no one used computers or had cell phones.

From A is for Alibi all the way up until her most recent V is for Vengeance and all the letters in between, Grafton has written an impressive series.

Don’t forget to leave a comment with your mystery writer picks or, even better, write up a quick recommendation for your fellow readers on our blog!


Mysteries at the Library: Laura Lippman

This is pasugarhousert of an ongoing series of posts, featuring some of my favorite mystery authors.

Laura Lippman writes a great series of gumshoe detective books set in Baltimore, Maryland. Her detective is Tess Monaghan, a former reporter for the Baltimore Sun turned private investigator.  (Interesting note: Lippman herself who was a reporter for the Sun before she started writing novels.) Monaghan has a winning can-do personality and the stories have loads of local flavor, which is one of the reasons I read detective fiction. The west coast may claim such greats as Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammet, but the east coast has Laura Lippman.

Another interesting note: Lippman married a fellow Baltimore Sun alum: David Simon, the creator and writer of the television shows The Wire, Homicide: Life on the Streets, and Treme (the former two set in Baltimore). Lippman appears on the season 5 premiere of The Wire as a reporter at the Baltimore Sun.

The first book in the Tess Monaghan series that the library owns is The Sugar House. This series is fine to pick up just about anywhere, though if you like these books you will want to circle back to read the earlier novels. Lippman writes frequent stand-alone books that I’d call domestic thrillers. Try And She Was Good or Every Secret Thing.

Don’t forget to leave a comment with your mystery writer picks or, even better, write up a quick recommendation for your fellow readers on our blog!

Mysteries at the Library: Jacqueline Winspear

maisie dobbsThis is part of an ongoing series of posts, featuring some of my favorite mystery authors.

This year I have been on a Maisie Dobbs tear. Maisie is the thoughtful creation of mystery writer, Jacqueline Winspear. The series is set in post-World War I London, where Miss Dobbs is a private inquiry agent.  She is an independent woman, though her beginnings were less auspicious. She went “in service” as a maid when she was thirteen years old and there her genius was discovered and nurtured. These books have a touch of the New Age about them (Maisie meditates and uses her higher understanding of human nature to aid in her casework) which adds to the individuality of the investigator.  I have read the entire series over the past year—I’m currently on the most recently published book, Elegy for Eddie. For those just starting the series, though, definitely begin with Maisie Dobbs.

Don’t forget to leave a comment with your mystery writer picks or, even better, write up a quick recommendation for your fellow readers on our blog!

Mysteries at the library: Laurie R. King

This is part of an beekeepers apprenticeongoing series of posts, featuring some of my favorite mystery authors.

Author of the popular Mary Russell series, Laurie R. King writes intelligent, accessible mysteries. Her characters are usually highly intelligent, feminist iconoclasts. She is the author of the Kate Martinelli series (American police procedural set in San Francisco), the Mary Russell series (a Sherlock Holmes pastiche set in England), and several excellent stand-alone titles.

I picked up The Beekeeper’s Apprentice as a lark many years ago and was so taken with Mary Russell that I’ve been a devoted follower of the series ever since. Russell is the young, brilliant apprentice to an aging Sherlock Holmes. She is a theologian, a chemist, as well as a detective. These books also work well as young adult novels for those YA readers interested in Sherlock Holmes.

The Kate Martinelli series is darker than the Mary Russell series, but equally satisfying. Kate Martinelli is a tough, private, police detective working in San Francisco in the present day. Begin with A Grave Talent.

The library owns one of King’s stand-along novels as well. I highly recommend Keeping Watch, a novel about a man who operates something like an underground railroad for abused women and children.

Don’t forget to leave a comment with your mystery writer picks or, even better, write up a quick recommendation for your fellow readers on our blog!

Mysteries at the library: P.D. James

james death of an expertI love a good mystery. This post will be part of an ongoing series, featuring some of my favorite mystery authors.

No such list would be complete without the inimitable P.D. James. The undeniable mistress of British crime drama, James has written dense, complicated novels about murder for the last five decades. Her primary series features investigator Adam Dalgliesh, the reserved Detective Inspector of Scotland Yard who writes poetry when not solving murders. If you are just embarking on your journey with James, there is no better place to start with one of the early novels, such as Death of an Expert Witness. I also love the two mysteries featuring private detective Cordelia Gray: An Unsuitable Job for a Woman and The Skull beneath the Skin.

Subgenre: British whodunit, literary detective fiction

The one thing I like better than discovering new writers on my own is finding out what my fellow mystery lovers are reading. Please leave a comment to recommend your favorites or, even better, write up a quick recommendation for your fellow readers!

Book Review: The Wings of a Falcon–Cynthia Voigt

The Wings of a Falcon by Cynthia Voigt

Cynthia Voigt has been writing Young Adult (YA) novels since her first book in the Tillerman series, Homecoming, was published in 1981. In the 30 years since then, she has published over 30 books and has been nominated and won several writing awards. I recommend all of her books: her characters are beautifully realized and her settings are so clearly rendered that I feel as if I know them. Her girl characters, in particular, are complicated, tough, smart, caring, and insightful.

Girl heroes are in their heyday in young adult literature (great news for girls!) but this has meant that there are not nearly as many contemporary books available for and about boys. Cynthia Voigt’s young adult novel The Wings of a Falcon is a fantastic exception. The novel is the perfect adventure tale and it takes place in Voigt’s Kingdom series (a series which includes Jackaroo, On Fortune’s Wheel, and Elske—all three great adventures starring strong girls). This novel is probably the darkest and the most complicated of the series. The powerful story is the tale of an orphan boy who through his bravery, intelligence, and occasional ruthlessness becomes King. He begins the novel unnamed but later names himself Oriel. He is accompanied on his adventure by his best friend Griff—as loyal, kind, and sensitive as Oriel is brave and ruthless. Together, the pair face raiding Wolfers, rival armies, snow covered mountains, and other dangers.

Like all hero tales, the story ultimately concerns the development of character and the bonds of friendship. Recommended for all, and most especially for any boys looking for a great boy hero tale.

Our summer reading picks

In anticipation of summer vacations full of summer reading, the staff at Chatham Community Library offer up these great recommendations for your summer reading pleasure…

Amy: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer.

Visit the Channel Islands during World War II and honor creativity in adversity! It’s the power of books and community told through letters.



Brendan: Lost Rights by David Howard

I’m currently reading Lost Rights: The Misadventures of a Stolen American Relic for Chatham Community Library’s July Book Club meeting. It’s the story of how North Carolina’s original copy of the Bill of Rights was stolen during the Civil War and recently rediscovered in an FBI sting operation, and its convoluted journey through many hands along the way. Come talk about it with us on July 3 at 6:45 pm at the Chatham Community Library!

Dana: A Conspiracy of Paper by David Liss

This well-researched historical thriller launches the Benjamin Weaver series, in which a boxer-turned-private investigator travels through the seedy underworld of eighteenth-century London in pursuit of thieves and debtors. Weaver (a Jew among Christians, adding yet another layer of interest to the story) becomes entangled in the world of finance and scandal leading up to the world’s first stock-market crash, brought about by speculation in the South Sea Company’s stock. If you want a rollicking good read without even realizing you’re also getting a bit of a history lesson (the beginnings of speculative trading, anyone?), you won’t be able to get enough of this series.

Megan: On Writing by Stephen King

Summer always puts me in creative-mode, and Stephen King’s classic memoir is full of both writing advice and hilarious life stories. A perfect lead-in to our summer edition of National Novel Writing Month this July!


Molly: Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte & Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys.

Jane Eyre was written in 1847 and is the story of orphaned unloved Jane, self-described as “poor, plain, and little.” The novel, told in the passionate first person voice of Jane herself, chronicles the narrator’s life from age 10 through adulthood. While the story contains elements of romance, I would argue that it is a book primarily about one person’s quest for self-determination. Jane is caught in a time and place (19th century England) in which her role in the world is pre-determined. She does not accept this fate, however. There is a mystery at the heart of the book, too, which I won’t spoil. After reading Jane Eyre, definitely try Jean Rhys’s, Wide Sargasso Sea. While the book is technically a prequel to Jane Eyre, it was written over a century after Bronte published her novel, in 1966. This book follows the story of Antoinette, a brilliant and troubled creole woman from the Bahamas. To say more would be to ruin the surprise of both books.

Jennifer’s picks: Find yourself taking a “stay-cation” this year? Three outstanding new books will transport you to different times and places–from the deep woods of Michigan to the Blue Ridge of Virginia and North Carolina–hold you tighter than a patch of brambles, and haunt you like ballads “way over yonder in the minor key,” as Woody Guthrie put it.

The protagonist of Bonnie Jo Campbell’s Once Upon a River, Margo, is a teen abandoned by her mother. She’s learned most of what she knows on the river and is as sure a shot as her idol, Annie Oakley. After a tragedy forces her from her home, she survives in the wild on a search for her mother. This is a young woman who makes choices, though they aren’t always good ones, and faces challenges with a calm assurance. In a nutshell, Campbell has created a female Homer who overcomes trial after trial to return home—to herself. Although no Pulitzer prize for fiction was awarded this year, this book was long rumored to be in the running.

Ron Rash and Robert Goolrick are masters of atmosphere, and their newest novels ring with moonshine and high lonesome mystery. Neither Heading Out to Wonderful nor The Cove reach the art achieved in A Reliable Wife or Serena, but both are beautifully written mountain tales that evoke the sights, sounds, and smells of the Virginia and North Carolina Blue Ridge and readers would be missing stories as memorable and compelling as fairy tales.

Open Goolrick’s Heading Out to Wonderful and you won’t be able to stop reading until the bitter end. In 1948, “Charlie Beale drove into town out of nowhere in an old beat-up pickup truck. On the seat beside him were two suitcases. One was thin cardboard. . .and in it were. . .a set of butcher knives, sharp as razors. . .The other one was made of tin and. . .it was filled with money. A lot of money.” Then the handsome, mysterious stranger not only meets the ethereally beautiful wife of the meanest man in Brownsburg, Virginia, but draws the four-year-old son of his new employer into a train-wreck of a tale that will remind you of Long Black Veil, Tom Dooley, and other traditional tragic songs.

In The Cove, the suspicious inhabitants of Mars Hill, North Carolina have labeled Laurel Shelton a witch, though they accept her brother Hank, who has returned home from World War I minus one arm. The gloomy, secluded cove where she and her brother have spent their lives is widely believed to be cursed. One day Laurel follows the sound of flute music emanating from a swath of rhododendron and discovers a mysterious stranger. Dressed in rags, he has a note pinned to his shirt explaining that his name is Walter, he is mute, and he needs to get to New York. Hank and Laurel want to keep Walter in the cove as long as possible; Hank in order to make improvements to the homestead so he can leave the cove for good, and Laurel because she sees in Walter her only hope for happiness. When Walter’s dangerous secret is unwittingly revealed to a vigilante, the story steams full-tilt to its dramatic ending. Readers will want to learn more about the true events that inspired this story.

If you are still looking for books to read, here are more recommendations:

NPR’ s 2012 Summer Books Series

Goodreads Popular Summer Reading Shelves

Nancy Pearl Unearths Great Summer Reads

Library Journal: Summertime and the Reading is Easy

Don’t forget: summer reading isn’t just for kids! Chatham Community Library is pleased to offer its first summer reading program for adults, Between the Covers. Click here to sign up.

Book Review – The Essential Haiku: Versions of Bashō, Buson, & Issa

The Essential Haiku: Versions of Bashō, Buson, & Issa edited by Robert Hass

For those looking for an introduction to Haiku, for those who love poetry, or for those who simply are looking for something new, try Robert Haas’s wondrous book, The Essential Haiku. Haas serves as editor and translator for a collection of haiku from three of Japan’s masters: Matsuo Basho, Yosa Buson, and Kobayashi Issa. These small poems are full of life, wisdom, and humor.

Matsuo Basho is perhaps the best known of the trio of masters. His Narrow Road to the Far North, considered his masterpiece, centers on one man’s solitary journey. There is, perhaps, no better poem about the feeling of longing often found in moments of solitude than this one of Basho’s:

         Even in Kyoto—
Hearing the cuckoo’s cry—
I long for Kyoto.

Yosa Buson, born some twenty years after Basho’s death, is often contrasted against Basho. Where Basho is a seeker, Buson is a painter. His poems capture still moments:

       Morning breeze,
the caterpillar’s hair.

Kobayashi Issa also writes about insects with humor and humanity in some of my favorite haiku:

       Don’t worry, spiders,
I keep house


          Climb Mount Fuji,
O snail,
But slowly, slowly.

And another:

          Don’t kill that fly!
Look—it’s wringing its hands,
Wringing its feet.

And finally:

          Even with insects—
Some can sing,
Some can’t.

And now, I had better end this review before I excerpt the entire book and rob you, gentle reader, of the pleasure of discovering your own favorites. If you find one, post it in the comments.

Even better, I hope that you’ll now be inspired to not only read these wonderful haiku masters, but to write your own small poems. This month, in honor of the season and National Poetry Month, we invite you to send in your original haiku about the people and places you love in Chatham County. Click here for more information about this event or to submit your work.

Review: The Blue Sword & The Hero and the Crown — Robin McKinley

The Hero and the Crown and The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley

The most popular book in the library at the moment is Suzanne Collins’s gripping young adult novel, The Hunger Games. But long before Suzanne Collins was writing about fierce and fearless girls, the fine young adult novelist, Robin McKinley was writing books about, what she calls, “girls who do things.” In her first novel, Beauty: A Retelling of the Story of Beauty and the Beast, her protagonist, ironically nicknamed Beauty, is neither beautiful nor is she interested in romance.  She is, however, very smart and very brave. This book set the course for nearly all of McKinley’s future work. Her two most successful books are The Blue Sword (A Newberry honor book) and The Hero and the Crown (the 1985 Newberry Medal winner).  Both novels are set in the magical kingdom of Damar—a cross between a classical fairytale and a middle-eastern Bedouin landscape. The Blue Sword was written first, but its story takes place many hundreds of years after the events in The Hero and the Crown.  Readers may take up either novel without fear that it will spoil the other. Most importantly, as in Beauty, the heroes of both books are clumsy, often-overlooked girls who are also brave and smart and funny. And, like Beauty, they hold within them the power to save the world.

I know how important this idea was to me as a young woman. I also know that I’ll be giving these books to my daughter—and my son—as soon as they are old enough to read. I, for one, can’t wait and neither should you.

Audio Book Review – The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

“Dr. Clifton came. He listened to my heart and asked me lots of questions. ‘Insomnia? Irregular sleep? Nightmares?’

I nodded three times.

‘I thought so.’

He took a thermometer and instructed me to place it under my tongue, then rose and strode to the window. With his back to me, he asked, ‘And what do you read?’

With the thermometer in my mouth I could not reply.

‘Wuthering Heights – you’ve read that?’


‘And Jane Eyre?’


‘Sense and Sensibility?’


He turned and look gravely at me. ‘And I suppose you’ve read these books more than once?’

I nodded and he frowned.

‘Read and reread? Many times?’

Once more I nodded, and his frown deepened.

‘Since childhood?’”

It turns out that Margaret Lea, the narrator of Diane Setterfield’s spellbinding novel The Thirteenth Tale is suffering from “an ailment that afflicts ladies of romantic imagination.” This is a novel for readers of a like-minded temperament.  Margaret is a biographer by vocation who is commissioned by the mysterious and compelling Vida Winter. Ms. Winter is a world-renowned novelist and storyteller with a deeply mysterious past. She is also gravely ill and wants to finally tell her true story before it’s too late. Over the course of the novel, we learn of Margaret’s past as well as the dark secrets hidden in Vida Winter’s memories.

I listened to this book on my morning walk, and it is an excellent audio book. Two readers take on the two different narrative voices; both readers were excellent.  This book is most reminiscent of Jane Eyre and Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca. It was a deliciously guilty pleasure—gothic, romantic, mysterious, and deeply satisfying.

The library owns both print and audio versions of this novel.