When you’re talking about fantasy books, whether high or low fantasy, odds are you’re going to be talking about magic in one form or another.  Those of us who have been reading fantasy for a long time are familiar with the more obvious ways magic gets used in those books (you don’t even have to be much of a fantasy reader to be aware of how magic usually works; it’s one of those concepts that’s part of the culture, through fairy tales and Disney and the influence of The Lord of the Rings and the like).  So it’s kind of refreshing when writers come up with new twists on how magic works and is used.  Two new fantasy novels here at The Field Library have their own interesting versions of magic, for those of us looking for something new.

Spellbreaker, by Charlie Holmberg, starts with the idea that there are two kinds of magic users: the ones who make spells, and the ones who break them.  The world of Spellbreaker is a stratified one, with aristocrats in power and common people in need.  Our protagonist, Elsie, is a spellbreaker, but an unlicensed one, who is therefore unable to use her gift legally.  This doesn’t stop her from joining the Robin-Hood-like group, the Cowls, and using her spellbreaking skills to help ordinary people.  One day she’s caught by Bacchus, a wizard who’s on the verge of achieving master status, as she’s trying to break one of his spells. She strikes a bargain with him: he won’t tell on her and she’ll help him by breaking the bad spells around him. Things get complicated in the world around them: wizards are getting murdered, and their spellbooks are disappearing, and there’s an air of menace surrounding Elsie and Bacchus as she attempts to figure out how to handle her magical gift, discover her past, figure out her relationship with Bacchus and keep the world from being destroyed.

The other book brings magic together with labor unrest, a topic near and dear to my heart.  The Factory Witches of Lowell, by C. S. Malerich, is set in 19th century Lowell, Massachusetts, when the first “mill girls” who operated weaving and spinning machinery to create the first Industrial Revolution in America.  This is pure fact, and the whole Lowell System, where women were hired because they could be paid less than men (some things don’t change), and where they lived in company-provided housing and were required to adhere to the company’s “morals” standards, is an aspect of American history few people know about, any more than they know about the strikes and labor unrest of these mill girls. In The Factory Witches of Lowell, the company raises the rent but not the wages, and the girls decide to go on strike. But one of their number, Judith Whittier, has been through strikes before and knows how easily they can be broken, so she gets a little help keeping the strikers from abandoning the picket line. A friend of hers in the boarding house happens to know some witchcraft, and is willing to use it to protect the workers.  Frankly, the idea of putting witches and mill girls together is such a brilliant one I can hardly believe it hasn’t been tried before.  Mixing magic with the all too dark facts of early American industrial history is a potent combination.

So if you’re tired of the same old wizards and their same old spells and complications, give these two books a try, and take a different angle on magic in fantasy.


Despite my having changed the book our group was reading well into the month (due to my own inability to concentrate on something deep and factual in this age of COVID 19), the Field Notes Book Group had a great and stimulating discussion of Lillian Boxworth Takes a Walk this past Saturday, and had no difficulty whatsoever in choosing our book for December, Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett’s Good Omens.

The full title of the book is Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch, and even that doesn’t give you a real taste of what this book is like.  Pratchett and Gaiman are two of my favorite writers, and in this, their only collaboration, they reached the heights of humor.  I know the book has been made into a television series, and I watched the series, which was okay, but — as is almost always the case — the book is so much better!

Back in the beginning, when Adam and Eve were ejected from the Garden of Eden, the angel with the flaming sword (Aziraphale) and the snake with the apple (Crowley), started their friendship and their time on earth, tempting or supporting human beings in their attempts to choose good or evil.  Over the millennia, Aziraphale and Crowley became used to the good things of earth and the quirks of humanity, and became quite fond of us humans.  So then, when they learned that the Apocalypse was at hand and earth was to be destroyed, neither one of them was entirely in favor (though, considering that one was an angel and the other a demon, both of them should have supported the effort for different reasons), and they decided they would, if they could, prevent it from happening.

As is often the case in Pratchett’s worlds, the best laid plans of the universe get screwed up, and the baby who was to grow up into the Antichrist somehow got exchanged with another, much more ordinary baby.  So the Antichrist isn’t exactly what he was supposed to turn out to be, and he has his own ideas about how the world should end, or not.  

I’m reluctant to expound on how funny the book is, because I’ve always found that when someone raves about something I’m more inclined to resist it, but if you’ve ever read any of Terry Pratchett or Neil Gaiman, you know how weird and how funny they can be.  We chose this book because we need something light in these difficult times, and I’m sure the group will find plenty to talk about when we meet again on December 19.

So come and join us.  The book will be available at The Field Library’s Circulation Desk, and if you’re not a member of the group but want to join the conversation, send me an email at and I’ll send you the zoom link.  It should be a great day for holiday spirits!


You — yes, you, the person reading this blog post — should be in a book group, and I’ll tell you why.

If you’re already in a book group that you like, then you don’t have to read the rest of this post, though you might enjoy it anyway (if only to nod your head and feel superior to those poor mortals who haven’t found the right book group yet).

Let’s start with all the benefits of being in a book group, and then we’ll discuss and demolish the standard reasons why you don’t want to be in one.

The most obvious reason you should be in a book group is because you love to read. You wouldn’t be reading a blog about libraries and books if you didn’t love to read.  If you’re here, you’re perfect book group material.

Maybe every year you make a resolution that you really should read more, but every year things sort of get away from you (even in non-pestilential years like this one).  You know what makes it easier to achieve a goal?  Deadlines. Deadlines like knowing you have to read this book this month because your group is going to discuss it and you don’t want to be that person, the one who has to confess they didn’t actually read this month’s book.  If you’re in a book group that meets once a month, that means you will definitely read at least twelve books in a year, which is a very good start.

Did you ever take courses, in high school or college or beyond, where you were supposed to read and discuss books, and did you ever feel disappointed about those courses?  If you were like me, maybe you found the teacher’s insistence on going deeply into every detail of the book annoying (I still have a distinct memory of my English teacher in my sophomore year of high school stopping us on the very first page of Heart of Darkness to call our attention to the fact that the characters were playing dominoes — light and dark imagery! — which made it clear that our coverage of this book was going to be a long, painful slog).  Or maybe you wanted to hear more from your fellow readers about what they thought of the book or the characters, and not so much about what the critics thought about it or what the teacher intended you to take away from the book.  Maybe you longed for the opportunity to really discuss a book, maybe a book that wasn’t on the curriculum, and you couldn’t get it in school.  You can get that in a book group, and I can pretty much guarantee you are NOT going to get that obsessive attention to detail that English classes often provide. 

Maybe you’re stuck in a reading rut: you know a couple of authors you like, and a genre you enjoy, but you have the feeling there’s more out there that would interest you but you don’t know where to start. A good book group will select books you wouldn’t think of on your own, and give you new authors, new genres, new directions for your reading.  

Maybe you just want to meet people.  When you were in school and college, meeting people was easy because you were in an environment rich with new people who were also looking to make new friends. As adults, it’s a lot more difficult: you go to work, you go home, you have to do all that boring and time-consuming adult stuff.  You meet people at work, sure, and you meet your neighbors, sometimes, but where are you going to meet interesting people who are readers like you?  In a book group, that’s where.

Ah, but there are reasons not to be in a book group — or are there, really?

First and most obvious reason is that you don’t have the time.  We’re talking about a meeting per month, maybe an hour or two.  You don’t have an hour a month to meet with people and talk about books you’ve read?  And the time you spend reading the book is time you can sneak in around all the other things in your life: when you’re waiting in line (always bring a book), when you’re in a waiting room for whatever, when you’re cooking dinner or whatever.  Of course there are people who genuinely don’t have any spare time at all, and if you’re in that category, you’re not going to be able to do a book group, but really think about it before deciding you don’t have the time. Odds are you do.

Then there’s the fear of reading a book you don’t like.  In every book group I’ve been involved with, I’ve had to read books I didn’t like.  It’s a fact of life, and if you started reading a book for yourself, with no book group involved, you could quit it.  You can also not read the whole book if you don’t like it, even if it is the selection for the book group.  You may find that other people in the group felt the same way, and it won’t be the end of the world if once or twice you don’t finish the book of the month (if you’re regularly not finishing the books, you might not be in a good group for you).

Or you could force yourself to finish it even though you don’t like it. If you’re in a good book group, you can spark a discussion about why the book was so terrible, and those discussions are often more fun than the ones where everybody loved the book and they’re talking about what they loved about it. Obviously, if all the book group does is tear apart books they hate, there’s something wrong with the selection process, but everybody hits a dud once in a while, and it’s cathartic to rage about a bad book with other people who feel the same way.

Maybe you’re shy and you don’t think you’d be able to contribute to the discussion, or you think you wouldn’t be “smart enough” to talk about the book.  You don’t have to be the life of the party, and if your book group leader is on the ball, you’ll get an opportunity to share your thoughts without worrying that other people are going to jump on you for them (if you’re in a group where people jump on each other, you’re in the wrong group). As far as not having anything to say, you may discover that once people start talking, you have all kinds of ideas and you’re sparked by their insights into your own.

Wouldn’t you love to meet new people who love to read as much as you do? Wouldn’t you love to have an excuse to read more, and to read different things than you might pick for yourself?  Wouldn’t you love to discuss books you like (or don’t like) with people who’ve read and reacted to the same books you have?  You know you really want to join a book group.  Go out and find one!


I don’t know about the rest of you, but lately I’ve been in need of lighter reading. Yes, I still do turn to some of the heavy nonfiction and the deep, complicated novels, but I really love a book that doesn’t depress me or ask too much of me as a reader. If that book also makes me laugh, it’s a genuine keeper.

Allow me to recommend, with great enthusiasm, More than a Woman, by Caitlin Moran, a book that kept me laughing aloud for much of it and that kept me going when she turned her attention to more serious, heavy issues.  

Where her earlier collection of essays, How to Be a Woman, was sort of a handbook for young feminists coming of age, this book takes a clear sighted and very funny look at what it’s like to be a middle aged woman in this era and still be feminist. The book is structured with each chapter an hour : the hour of “The List”, the hour of married sex, the hour of reflecting on a good marriage, the hour of aging, the hour of parenting teenage children, etc.  

 Warning: when she talks about sex, she’s fairly explicit.  Not porn-type descriptions, but she doesn’t go for euphemism.  In fact, she has a whole chapter where she talks about women’s sexual parts and why there are so many expressions for men’s genitalia and so few for women’s, and how we should use the right words more often. The chapter is funny and accurate (you find yourself nodding along with her — why IS it that way, anyway?), but if you don’t like reading about sex, you might want to skip it (and the married sex one, which is also really funny and true to lived experience).  

The thing about Moran is that she sees the same things we all see, but she pays attention.  For instance, she has her teenage brother living with her family for a while, and she notices how unhelpful he is, how it doesn’t even occur to him to do the sorts of things she’d do automatically if she were staying with someone else.  She realizes that it comes down to the difference between the way boys are raised and the way girls are raised, how girls are socialized to keep the domestic world running and boys aren’t.   Or, for another instance, she talks about how motherhood changes a person in a fundamental way, how basically having a baby rewires you completely, and musing about why we don’t have stories about this the way we do for coming of age and going on journeys of discovery and the like. And then she has a brilliant insight: we DO have stories like that, but we don’t recognize them for what they are because they’re in disguise as superhero origin stories.  I know that’s going to sound strange, but trust me, when you read her explanation, it makes perfect sense and you’ll wonder why you never saw it that way before (I personally will never watch Spiderman or Captain America or any of those movies again the same way).

Her list of “All the Things I Have that Are Useless to Me Right Now but Which One Day Might Form My Future Life” is especially funny as she describes all those things she’d saved with the intention of being someone she now realizes she never had any chance of becoming (each description ends with some variation of “You are not Annie Liebovitz” or “You are not elegant” or “You are not ‘radiant’”, all of which I can relate to, until the chapter itself ends with “You are not half the women you thought you would be by now,” a perfect ending).

 Her writing is never more powerful than in the chapter entitled “The Hour of Demons,” where she talks about her daughter’s battle with an eating disorder.  If you have ever had a child with a mental health issue, you should read this chapter.  You’ll wince at how accurately she describes the terrible hope and helplessness of the parents who want to love their child out of this problem, with the best intentions in the world, and how those good intentions, and all the loving and all the tricks parents have developed over the years don’t heal the child. If you’ve never been in this situation, or you’ve never been close to someone in this situation (consider yourself lucky), reading that chapter will give you a deep and poignant insight into what it’s like to be that parent. 

(Not to be a spoiler, but I will mention that the daughter does get herself together and there is a sort of happy ending to that horrible part of the story.)

While I laughed aloud at most of the book, I think my very favorite part is the last chapter, entitled “The Hour of Happiness,” in which she talks about becoming a hag, and trust me, she makes it sound very appealing.  She talks about her “coven” of middle aged female friends, and I realized I have one of those, too, and am delighted to think of my friends that way.  And then she brilliantly brings us back to the foreword of the book, and all I wanted to do was read it again, and again. 

If you’re looking for a wise and funny book, for the reading equivalent of a night out with your best friends, check out More Than a Woman.  You’ll thank me for it.


Once again, over a zoom meeting, the Field of Mystery Book Group demonstrated that a book that wasn’t loved by everybody (and was, in fact, really actively disliked by at least one member) can still be the catalyst for an interesting and wide-ranging discussion. Despite its failings as a mystery per se, The Widows of Malabar Hill gave us plenty to talk about, and then we were able to vote on our book for our December 5 meeting: Little Deaths, by Emma Flint.

Little Deaths is set in Queens, New York, in 1965, where single mother Ruth Malone discovers her apartment window open and her two young children missing.  When the children are discovered, suspicion turns to Ruth, who doesn’t come across well in that more strait-laced era: she’s separated from her husband, she works as a cocktail waitress, she dresses provocatively and wears a lot of makeup, and her apartment contains a number of empty liquor bottles and love letters.  She presents, whether deliberately or by accident, as a “bad woman,” and neighborhood gossip speculates luridly about her past and her character.  The police are eager to close the case and find their villain, and so is our protagonist, Pete Wonicke, at least at first. Pete’s a new tabloid reporter who wants to make his mark, but the more time he spends investigating the case and getting to know Ruth, the more he comes to doubt the official story. Yes, Ruth isn’t your typical wife and mother, but does that mean she’s really a murderer?  What did, actually, happen to her children?

Copies of the book will be available at The Field Library Circulation Desk within the next week. Stop by and pick one up, and then join us on Saturday, December 5, from 11 to 12:30 for what promises to be a great discussion via zoom.


Like so many things this year, the annual Boucheron International Mystery Convention was held virtually, and the winners of this year’s Anthony Awards were announced for the best novel, first novel, and other categories.  Lucky you, you can come to the Field Library and take out the Best Novel and the Best First Novel whenever you want.

The winner of the Best Novel award is The Murder List by Hank Phillipi Ryan, a twisty suspense-filled book about two lawyers and a lawyer-to-be and the relationships among them in connection with a couple of murder cases.  Rachel is a law student married to a very successful criminal defense lawyer in Boston, whom she met when she was serving on a jury in a murder case. Her plan is to join him in his practice when she passes the bar, and become a lawyer on the Murder List, the list of lawyers who can be appointed to represent indigent defendants in murder cases.  In the meantime, she’s got an internship at the DA’s office, working for the DA who is her husband’s personal nemesis.  Rachel thinks she’s going undercover, learning the DA’s tricks so she can use them against the DA when she practices law, but the DA has other ideas.  Everybody in the book has a hidden agenda, and there are double and triple crosses aplenty, along with a surprise ending. 

The Best First Novel, also available here at The Field, is One Night Gone, by Tara Laskowski.  Thirty years ago, Maureen Haddaway went looking for her destiny in Opal Beach, trying to escape her own demons.  She disappeared without a trace.  Now Allison, suffering from a messy and humiliating divorce, escapes to Opal Beach to house-sit and get her life together, and she finds herself drawn into Maureen’s unsolved disappearance, discovering that even now there are dark secrets behind the rich facades of Opal Beach, and the truth about what happened to Maureen is still out there to be discovered.

If the attendees at virtual Boucheron thought these were the best mystery books of the year, they’re certainly worth checking out.