Jo Nesbo is one sick puppy.  This is not something I’ve just discovered; reading all of his Harry Hole novels has made that abundantly clear to me, and each new volume just pushes the boundaries a little farther. His most recent Harry Hole book, Killing Moon, takes his dark imagination to new and more horrible places.

I love it.

You might have thought, at the end of the last book, Knife, that Harry Hole, formerly of the Oslo Police Department, had finally broken free of his involvement with police affairs and serial killers and the like, and at the beginning of Killing Moon, Harry is in Los Angeles, California, attempting to drink himself to death (which is very much in character for him).  His death wish doesn’t keep him from getting involved with other people, though, including Lucille, an older woman, once an actress and now a person who owes money to some very relentless people.  It’s his friendship with Lucille, and his need to get her out of trouble, that leads him back into the world of serial killers and the police department that shaped much of his life.

The first quirk is that Harry isn’t employed by the police, and officially he’s not supposed to be involved in the case at all.  He’s been hired by Markus Roed, a wealthy man who’s an obvious suspect in the murders of two young women who had both been at the man’s party shortly before their deaths. Roed swears he’s innocent and is willing to pay a lot to have Harry prove someone else is the murderer.  Harry needs the money, so he’s willing to work for Roed, a man for whom he has nothing but contempt, but he’s not committed to proving Roed innocent if the man is the actual murderer.

We sort of know who the murderer is, because he’s one of the point of view characters in the book.  However, we know him by his nickname of Prim, and as the plot progresses, there are several people who could be Prim, and that’s part of the suspense, especially when we near the climax and are following three different people, all of whom are in positions where they might be the killer and we have to guess which is the right one (and such is Nesbo’s skill that, even though I know he does this all the time, I still couldn’t pick the right person for the killer).

The stomach-turning aspect of the book isn’t the way the killer dispatches his victims (though that’s gruesome enough).  It’s how he sets his victims up in the first place, and what he does to himself to lure his victims.  If you know something about toxoplasmosis, you’ll guess the method of the luring (and Nesbo helpfully shows us two instances of mice approaching cats which will then kill them), but this is not for the squeamish (which I always say about Nesbo, with ample reason).  

There are twists and turns in the plot, times when you think you know where the story is going only to realize you’ve been tricked.  As with all the Harry Hole books, there’s a point, about three quarters of the way through, when the plot gets supercharged and you simply cannot stop reading until you get to the end, no matter what else might be going on in your life.

If you’re a fan, you’ll want to read this one.  It’s prime Harry Hole, and there’s even a possibility, however slight, that he might ride off into the sunset and start a life as a more or less normal person.  I wouldn’t bet on it, though, and even though this was one gruesome book, I can hardly wait to see if there’s going to be another one.


The Field of Mystery Book Group seems to do best when we have problems with the monthly book.  The Darkness wasn’t a book that most people disliked (though one or two did), but it was a book that was problematic, especially in its ending.  Which makes for a disappointing reading experience, but a terrific book group experience, as members pointed out issues and rationales and shared insights that I wouldn’t have come up with on my own.  So a not great book can and usually does inspire a great discussion, which is one of the terrific things about this group.

While it did take us two rounds to narrow down the choices for July, when we got to the second round, the selection was easy.  We’ll be reading Exiles, the latest book by Jane Harper, an author we’ve read and enjoyed before.

Exiles brings us back the character of Aaron Falk, the protagonist of The Dry, Harper’s first book, as he joins his friends for the christening of their baby, for whom he’s going to be a godfather, at their home in South Australia’s wine country.  The christening would have happened the year before, but at the wine festival at that time, a young woman disappeared, leaving behind her stroller with her six week old baby.  In the circumstances, everyone was concerned about finding Kim, the missing woman, and the christening was postponed.  Now, a year later, Kim’s body has never been found, though many people assume she died, and her family is making another push for anyone who might have knowledge of what happened to her.  Falk is drawn into the investigation.  The group of Kim’s friends who are still living in the area is close-knit, and, as is usual for Harper’s novels, gradually we begin to see the fissures among the friends and families, and secrets begin to emerge about what really happened to Kim, before and at the time of her disappearance.

Spoiler: I have read this book myself and I loved it.  Harper is one of my favorite mystery writers, and she brings this part of Australia to vivid life even for people like me who have never been there  (it’s on my bucket list, of course).  The story is engrossing and the mystery is solved in a satisfying way.

We’ll be getting copies of the book in at the library this week, so come and pick up your copy and then join us on July 8 for what should be a fun discussion.


It’s true that I’m already running three book groups through the library, and it’s also true that I’m starting another, called It’s Not Rom-Complicated, which will be focusing on Romantic Comedies, and which will have its first meeting on Tuesday, June 6, at 7 p.m.

You might be wondering, as any sensible person would, why on earth I would want to run yet ANOTHER book group.  You might even be wondering about whether I’m plugged in.  Honestly, I wonder about that latter issue frequently myself. 

So why another book group?  What made me think this was a good idea?

Well, in some respects it’s part of my job as Head of Adult Services. Book groups are a great way to get people reading and discussing library materials, and that means more circulation of those materials, which is one of my job goals.  Building community relationships is also a part of my job, and book groups are, in my opinion, a great way to build relationships among people who have a lot in common but may never have discovered that without the book group.

And, while I don’t like to brag, I do think I’m pretty good at running book groups.  I’ve been doing it for years and I’ve learned a lot over that time: how to set the ground rules, how to get the group to choose what to read, how to lead discussions.  Expertise wants to be used.

But the real reason is because it’s fun.  Book groups are fun, fun to lead, fun to join, fun to participate in.  Here’s a genre of books I enjoy reading, and I know there are other people out there who enjoy them, too.  When I read a book I enjoy, I want to share it with other people.  I want to be able to discuss its good and bad points with other people who’ve read it and who probably have different opinions and perspectives from mine.  Discussions in book groups give me new insights into things I’ve read, no matter how familiar I might be with the book. 

And, at least in my book groups, we laugh a lot.  Even if the books themselves aren’t necessarily funny, we find ways to find humor in the discussions, and I don’t think I’ve had a meeting of any of my book groups where we didn’t crack each other up at least once, and sometimes frequently.  

If there’s any genre that should lend itself to some good laughs, it’s romantic comedy.  Sometimes it’s witty banter that demands to be read out loud to a sympathetic audience.  Sometimes it’s ridiculous situations that are resolved in ridiculous, almost slapstick, ways.  Sometimes it’s just quirky characters who do funny things with great seriousness.  But it wouldn’t be romantic comedy if there weren’t at least some humor in it, and the ones I particularly like have a lot of humor in them.

I’m looking forward to the group. I’m already having fun considering the books we’re going to be choosing from for the next month’s read, books I’ve read already, books I always wanted to read and didn’t have the time to read, new books that just look like they’re going to be entertaining.  It’s certainly going to counteract the often dark stuff we’re reading in Field of Mystery, and sometimes in Field Notes, and there’s nothing like balance.

So if you’re interested in romantic comedy, or if you think you might be but haven’t given it a chance yet, come and join us.  At this point it looks as if we’ll have meetings on the first Tuesday night of every month, but that’s subject to change depending on people’s interest and schedules.  At our first meeting, on June 6, we’ll be discussing Secretly Yours, by Tessa Bailey.  Should be fun.


“Exit, pursued by a bear” is the most famous Shakespearean stage direction (in fact, it might be the greatest stage direction of all time, Shakespeare or not), and it turns out that it’s also one of the great meet cutes of all time, as evidenced in Bear With Me Now by Katie Shepard, a funny romantic comedy that slyly breaks a lot of the conventions of the genre while still delivering on everything you want in a rom com.

Teagan Van Zijl, our male lead, is wandering through the wilds in an effort to escape from a (humorously and vividly described) wilderness therapy retreat in Montana when he encounters a grizzly bear.  Being a city boy and having only the most limited experience of wildlife, of course he panics and has no idea how to escape. Enter our female lead, Darcy Albano, who’s working as handywoman at the retreat, who has vast knowledge of the outdoors and wildlife, and who rescues him from the bear. She gets him medical attention but only after making him swear that he will not mention the bear when he explains how he got these cuts and bruises.  

If that isn’t a meet cute, I don’t know what is.  Consider how we’re already in an interesting place (how many romantic comedies start in Montana?), and how we’ve already reversed the roles, so that it’s a gentleman in distress and the person with the expertise who does the rescuing is the lady (though you might have some reservations about calling Darcy a “lady”).  

Teagan is suffering from panic attacks due to his high-powered job as head of a charitable organization that his late mother mismanaged so badly it’s in desperate need of money.  He’s not at all cut out for that job (he hates asking people for money), but he feels responsible because it’s the family charity and it was his alcoholic mother who drove it into the ground. His well-meaning but somewhat flighty younger sister, Sloane, accompanied him to this wellness retreat for addicted people, though she has more substance abuse problems than he does.  

Darcy, by contrast, is a woman who can do all kinds of things but who has made a mess of her life to date. She wants to be a park ranger but she can’t seem to get the requisite college degree.  She knows a tremendous amount about ecosystems and wildlife, as well as practical information about maintaining vehicles and other machinery.  She’s being both overworked and underused in the retreat, but she’s having trouble figuring out where she’s going to live and work next.

Of course she and Teagan fall for each other, but Teagan doesn’t tell her why he’s really at the retreat, pretending instead that he’s an alcoholic (he knows all about alcoholism because of his mother).  This is the classic deception that nearly causes the whole relationship to founder at the critical point (don’t all romantic comedies, and a lot of romances, have that as the turning point?).  He doesn’t want to lose her when he returns to New York City, so he persuades Darcy that he needs her to come back with him as his sober companion, and Darcy, being dedicated, does everything she can to help him combat his supposed drinking problem, which doesn’t really exist.  

There are lots of aspects of this book which switch up the usual rom com tropes.  For instance, though Teagan is a rich man (relatively), he isn’t a jerk about it like the stereotypical Alpha rich guy (I’m looking at you, Christian Grey).  His anxiety issues are real and well portrayed; you feel for him in his panic attacks, and you can understand where they come from and how frightening they are for him.

Darcy, too, is a refreshing female character.  She has made a mess of her life, basically living from temporary job to temporary job, but that’s not because she’s a bad or sloppy person.  She’s trying very hard to get the credentials she needs to get the jobs she wants, but her time in the Navy as well as her attempts to get her college degree are stymied by things beyond her control.  It becomes apparent as a reader that Darcy has some unacknowledged learning disability, and kudos to the author for showing a more realistic vision of what her dyslexia would be like.

There are a number of scenes in the book that verge on slapstick but never quite fall into absurdity.  The dialogue is crisp and funny, the kind you want to read aloud to others while you’re reading.

Of course there’s a happy ending (it’s a rom com, after all), and it feels like an earned happy ending, where the characters you’ve been cheering for overcome their issues with each other and with the world around them and end up exactly where you want them to be.

For a fun and refreshingly different sort of Romantic Comedy, check out Bear with Me Now and enjoy.


An intricate mystery that gives room for lots of interpretations and questions about details makes for an excellent book group discussion, so this Saturday the Field of Mystery Book Group had a wonderful time discussing our May book, The 7 ½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle.  Then when it was time to choose our book for June, we had little trouble coming up with a winner on the first ballot: The Darkness, by Ragnar Jonasson.

I am, as anyone who reads this blog already knows, a big fan of Nordic Noir (just two weeks till the new Jo Nesbo comes out, and don’t think I’m not counting the days!), so when one of the choices for the mystery book group is set in Iceland, I’m already halfway there.  And when the main character is a female police officer of a certain age who’s being forced to an early retirement, well, clearly this book was written for people like me.

And also, I hope, for people in my mystery group.

Hulda is a 64 year old woman, working in the Reykjavik police department.  She knows she’s going to have to retire at the end of the year, but she’s unpleasantly surprised when her supervisor accelerates her departure, basically giving her two weeks to finish up before a young male hotshot detective takes her place.  Her supervisor graciously allows her to choose any cold case to work on for her last two weeks, and Hulda chooses the death of a young Russian woman who came to Iceland seeking asylum, whose body was found on a remote beach.  The sloppy detective who investigated the case determined it was suicide, but Hulda doesn’t believe that was what really happened.  She’s determined to find out what happened to the woman, and when she discovers that another young woman vanished around the same time, she’s sure there’s more going on under the official story.  With little to lose, Hulda sets out to find the truth, even if it costs her everything.

Copies of the book are available at the Circulation Desk, so come on in and pick up a copy and then join us on June 3, either live and in person or via zoom.  If you’re interested but can’t make it in person, email me at the week of the meeting so I can send you the link.  Should be lots of fun!


An easy way to describe T. J. Klune’s most recent book, In the Lives of Puppets, is to say that it’s sort of a take on Pinocchio (the title gives a hint of that), and there are some aspects of the book that do remind you of Pinocchio, but I wouldn’t look at this wonderful book through such a limited lens.  You’d be missing some of the best aspects of the book, the characters and the emotion and charm Klune brings to all their books.

Victor, our protagonist, is a human being.  He lives in this marvelous enclave built and designed by his “father”, Gio, who is a robot.  His companions are two other robots, Nurse Ratched (and I’m sure the name is deliberate) and Rambo, who’s a vacuum cleaner unit (think of a Roomba and you’ve got the right idea).  Victor, like Gio, is an inventor, someone who loves to build things, usually from spare parts he finds in the scrap yards.  Victor has never met another human being.  The official story Gio tells him about his origins is that Gio was living by himself and beginning to feel lonely when a human couple ran by with a baby, which they left with him for safekeeping.  The couple never returned, but Gio chose to raise Victor as his own (that’s the official story, though, as we learn over the course of the book, things are not what they seem).

The trouble begins when Victor finds a broken robot in the scrap yards and decides to bring it back home, repair it and bring it back to life. Gio recognizes the robot, which calls itself Hap, and it’s clear there’s some connection between the two of them which Victor doesn’t know about or understand.  This leads ultimately to their home’s being invaded by a huge machine called The Terrible Dogfish, which leads to androids appearing at the main house, calling Gio General Innovation Operative, and taking him back to the City of Electric Dreams. 

Victor and his androids, including the somewhat difficult Hap, head off to the City of Electric Dreams to find and rescue Gio, on the assumption that Gio is still himself and that he wants to be rescued. Along the way they encounter various helpers and potential enemies, including The Coachman and the Blue Fairy (at this point you’re saying, aha, here’s the Pinocchio stuff, but believe me, these are not at all like the characters in that book), finding their way to the fabulous and strange city and ultimately to Gio.  Along the way, Victor learns the truth about his “father”, his origins, and about what Hap was and why he was nearly destroyed, and Victor has to come to terms with some terrible things Gio and Hap (in his previous incarnation) did.  The question of whether redemption is possible and who has the standing to forgive is the true heart of the story, and Victor wrestles with it for a good deal of the book.

The characters are what makes the book: Victor, the last human (as far as we know) in the world, fragile and emotional, brave when it counts; Nurse Ratched, who can cheerfully say the most terrible things to Rambo and to anyone else in what I hear in my mind’s ear as a totally deadpan tone but who can also turn on her empathy mode and act almost like a kind human being; Rambo, excessively friendly and somewhat neurotic; Hap, conflicted, sometimes obnoxious but with a heart (which Victor made for him) that stands him in good stead with Victor and with the plot; Gio, a more complex character than he first appears.  And then there are the minor characters who are also intriguing (the Coachman, for instance, starts out as an apparent villain, but reveals more of himself as the story progresses, and the Blue Fairy is not at all what you would expect).  

If Pinocchio is a fable about becoming a “real boy” (though the book is much more complicated than the Disney version), you can see In the Lives of Puppets as a fable about gaining a soul and becoming – not a real human, because humans are no longer part of this world, except for Victor – a different kind of robot, a robot with free will and a heart to help make the right choices. 

Because this is a T. J. Klune book, you know you are going to have a moving emotional experience.  There was a point where I was moved to tears (I’m not going to spoil it by telling you when that happens), but they were good tears.  And the ending was just right – in keeping with the whole tenor of the story, an earned and satisfying conclusion.

If you’re already a T. J. Klune fan, all you need to know is that they have a new book, and you’ll jump on it.  But if you’ve never read T. J. Klune before, check out In the Lives of Puppets and settle in for a great read.


One of the classic tropes of romance and romantic comedies is the fake engagement: two people who have to pretend to be engaged to marry each other before there’s any relationship between them, and of course the relationship develops as a part of the fake engagement.  This is easier to carry off if the book is set in the past, when you could believe in parents or grandparents or powerful people requiring that a person get married in order to get a benefit.  Is it impossible to pull this off in a modern story and make it believable?  No, but you have to set it up right.  For an example of the way to work a fake engagement story in today’s world, look no farther than The Fiancee Farce, by Alexandria Bellefleur, which is a fun read that takes the trope and runs with it. 

You have both sides of the fake set up here.  First, there’s Tansy, a shy person who runs an independent bookstore that her stepmother owns (long story) and who loves romance novels.  In order to get out of some family related nightmares, Tansy created an imaginary girlfriend, and in a moment of weakness she chose Gemma West, the model for a number of romance novel covers, as her supposed girlfriend.  Put in a position where she’s about to be exposed as a liar, at the wedding of her mortal enemy, Tansy is desperate to come up with a plausible story when the real Gemma West saunters into the wedding and, discovering Tansy’s situation and wanting to embarrass her evil cousin, Tucker, who’s also Tansy’s mortal enemy, she not only plays along but ups the stakes, announcing that the two of them are actually engaged.

Gemma, it turns out, is the black sheep of a rich family that owns a newspaper empire.  Her grandfather, the last CEO of the company, named her, rather than her father, her cousin or her uncles, as the next CEO, provided she’s married by the date of the next shareholder meeting.  His reason for that provision is that he felt he was made a better man by his being married, and he felt his granddaughter would also be in a stronger position to run the company if she had someone who loved and supported her by her side.

Tansy’s lie is perfectly understandable in the circumstances, and while the grandfather’s provision in the will is a little iffy, I personally was willing to go along with it.  It was plausible enough.

So the two of them agree to a marriage of convenience.  Gemma will provide Tansy with a huge sum of money to buy the bookstore from her stepmother and improve it (her stepmother was planning to sell the bookstore to an evil conglomerate, one of the two evil conglomerates in the background of this plot) if Tansy will marry her and stay married to her for two years (the time required by the will – again, this is kind of artificial, but the author carries you along).  This is purely a business proposition, at least at first, since the two of them don’t even know each other when the “engagement” starts.  Naturally, this being a romance, they will get to know and love each other as their relationship continues, despite the best efforts of the people around them to wreck things.

It’s mostly Gemma’s family, outraged by the idea that she might take over the company when she’s got no experience and has been a scandal to the family for years, who are determined to undermine the relationship, but they have help from outsiders as well.  Not all of Gemma’s friends are thrilled with her plan, and not all of them take this well.

The two main characters are great fun, very different in personality but equally strong-willed and shaky in their sense of their ultimate worth.  They fit together really well, and their relationship develops quickly but believably.  I liked them both and rooted for them to end up happily ever after (knowing, because of the kind of book this is, that they would).

The heat/descriptiveness of sex in this book is, on a scale of one to five (one being they don’t even kiss till they’re married and five being just this side of pornographic), probably 3.5 to 4.  They have a great time sexually together, and there are no really cringey descriptions of body parts or metaphors, but there is enough detail that you get a sense of what they’re doing and why they’re having such a great time.

As you know if you’ve been reading this blog, I’m all for the secondary characters in romantic comedies, and Gemma’s housemates are a wonderful bunch, especially Teddy.  The members of Gemma’s extended family are almost uniformly awful, with the exception of Gemma’s mother and her smart-ass uncle Brooks, who have an adorable side plot of their own.  Tansy is kind of lacking in supporting characters (and I wish the author hadn’t named one character Kat when the stepmother’s name is Katherine – a little more imagination, please!), but she’s immediately sucked into Gemma’s friend group so that’s okay.

The fake-engagement-turned-into-real-marriage is a trope for a reason.  When it’s done right, as it is here, it’s immensely satisfying.  


There’s one way to tell if you’re the kind of person who’s going to enjoy Rupert Holmes’ new book, Murder Your Employer.  Read the opening two paragraphs:

“So you’ve decided to commit a murder.

“Congratulations.  Simply by purchasing this volume, you’ve already taken the all-important first step toward a successful homicide of which you can be proud, one that would gain you the admiration of your peers, were they ever to learn of it.”

If you appreciate the arch tone and the somewhat macabre subject matter and you found that amusing, then by all means get your hands on Murder Your Employer.  If not, skip the rest of this review and look for something else.

I loved this book.  It’s a little hard to characterize: it’s humorous and suspenseful, it’s a mystery of a sort, it’s a satire on all the boarding school books you’ve read in the past (including the Harry Potter series), and it keeps you turning the pages, because you want to find out what’s going to happen.  It’s the sort of book where you know from the outset that at least one of the characters is going to fail, but since you don’t know which one (you do have lots of hints) and you don’t know how they’re going to fail, that’s hardly a detriment.

The book purports to be a sort of guide to homicide as taught in a very secret and exclusive academy, McMasters, whose whole purpose is to teach aspiring murderers how to do the deed and get away with it.  But don’t worry, this is not a school for just any murderers.  No, there are four questions a student must answer before engaging in a “deletion” (the school’s mastery of euphemisms is half the fun): is the murder necessary, has the victim been given every opportunity to redeem themselves, will innocent people suffer by this murder, and will the murder improve the life of others.  Only if these questions are satisfactorily answered will the school turn its resources toward helping a student commit the perfect murder.  Serial killers and psychopaths are weeded out quickly (and efficiently).  The school is expensive, but some students are sponsored by unknown benefactors (Cliff, one of the main characters, is in that position, not knowing who that benefactor is for most of the book).  The location and the school’s existence is so secret that if a student fails, he or she is “deleted” quickly and painlessly, to protect the school and the other students and faculty.

You can see how this setting would lend itself to some fun plots, and the author definitely delivers.  We follow three students from one graduating class: Cliff, Gemma and Doria, all of whom have nightmare employers who are determined to ruin their lives, though in different ways. Gemma’s employer is a blackmailer, Cliff’s is a cost-cutting monster whose efforts could lead to the deaths of hundreds of people, and Doria’s is the classic Hollywood mogul who’s determined to destroy her acting career because she slept with someone other than him.  None of the bad guys in this book have any redeeming qualities, but that’s also part of the fun: you have no problem rooting for our protagonists to do away with them (again, you need to have a kind of macabre sense of humor to appreciate this).

Their respective plots, honed with skills they’ve learned at McMaster’s, are clever and detailed, with plenty of opportunities for things to go wrong, and no one’s plot works perfectly as planned, which adds to the suspense and the entertainment value.  Between the school sequences (including a “track meet” that is anything but what you expect) and the students’ attempts to fulfill their “theses” in the real world, the plot teeters on the edge of unbelievable many times but always ends up (marginally) plausible.

This is the kind of book where the twists and turns are always fun and never seem to come out of nowhere, where you can attempt to second-guess the characters without being able to figure out how things are going to end up.  It works as a mystery, it kept me chuckling throughout, and the ending is utterly satisfying, if not completely anticipated.

If you have a quirky sense of humor and enjoy a somewhat lighthearted mystery that plays fair and keeps you going, you could hardly do better than Murder Your Employer.  Just don’t get any ideas. 


I’m happy to have a good and lively book group discussion even if many members of the group disagree with my evaluation of the book in question. The Field Notes Book Group is skilled at disagreeing with each other without being disagreeable in general, and I prize our vibrant group and the fun of our meetings.

We actually had some trouble choosing the book for next month, though we didn’t reach the point where I had to cast the tiebreaker vote.  We ended up with Maggie O’Farrell’s award winning book, Hamnet.

No, that’s not a typo: the book is named after the son of William Shakespeare and Agnes Hathaway (often rendered as Anne), who died at the age of 11.  The main characters of the book are Agnes and her children, with Shakespeare never actually named other than as Agnes’ husband.  The book suggests that Hamnet’s death haunted his parents, and led (possibly indirectly) to Shakespeare’s writing Hamlet, a play in which a son is haunted by his father’s death.  A different look at Elizabethan/Stuart England, a suggestion of Shakespeare’s background (we know so little about his actual life that it’s ripe for speculation), and a meditation on grief’s impact on families (even in an era when many children failed to live to adulthood), Hamnet won the Women’s Prize for Fiction and the National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction in 2020.

It should be an excellent read and lead to another interesting discussion.  If you’re interested in joining us but aren’t able to attend in person, send me an email ( the week of May 20, 2023 and I’ll send you the link to our zoom meeting.