One of the great pleasures in a reader’s life is rediscovering an old favorite, especially if it’s a book you haven’t read in a number of years.  If it’s been long enough, you can even reread a mystery and not remember all the plot details so you can encounter them anew (there are some mysteries that I am sure I would never remember all the plot details even if I just read them yesterday, such as The 7 ½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle).  There are books I know I read and loved even if I don’t remember much about them, and while sometimes it’s risky to recommend something you don’t remember all that well, in the case of Carl Hiaasen’s Skinny Dip, which I persuaded the Field Notes Book Group to read for September, I felt reasonably confident.

Rereading it has been one of those absolute pleasures.  I remembered the inciting incident of the plot, that this woman’s husband pushed her off a cruise ship, intending her to die, but she survived by grabbing hold of a marijuana bale and made it to shore.  There, I remembered, she decided she was going to mess with her husband’s head by haunting his home and his new girlfriend.

All of this was in fact part of the book, so I was remembering that part accurately. I also had a dim memory that it was a really funny, if warped book, and, having just reread it, I can attest that that, too, was accurate.

There was just so much I’d forgotten.  With Hiaasen at his best, the plot is a twisted coil, with several things going on at the same time, and all the characters a little off plumb.  There’s something Wodehousian about his use of coincidence and his interlacing of characters with very different agendas, and I mean that as a high compliment.

Here you have Joey, an heiress and a former champion swimmer, married to a total scumbag, Chaz.  They’ve been married two years, and Joey hasn’t figured out where Chaz makes his money, but trust me, it’s through some slimy fraudulent dealings with people who should not be messed around with.  Chaz, believing Joey’s caught on to what he’s actually doing, decides to kill her and pretend she committed suicide, forgetting Joey’s swimming talents, which save her life.

Joey is rescued by a classic Hiaasen character, Mick Stranahan, a former cop who’s been retired kind of against his wishes and who is now more or less a hermit, but still willing to help out a lady in distress and mess with someone as obnoxious as Chaz.  There’s also a quirky police officer investigating Joey’s disappearance (quirky in his choice of reptilian pets, at the least, and there’s a whole subplot about his snakes) who doesn’t think much of Chaz’ changing story.  Chaz has a girlfriend, Ricca, who he was seeing while he was still married to Joey, and his relationship with Ricca starts to go sideways after the “murder.”  Not to mention Red Hammernut (Dickensian character names, you’ll notice), the big bad guy, rich industrialist who’s poisoning the Everglades and using Chaz to cover his tracks.  And when Chaz seems to be losing it (thanks to Joey and her shenanigans), Hammernut calls on his extremely quirky muscle, Tool, to babysit the rapidly deteriorating Chaz.  

These are all great characters, not a stereotype in the bunch, made delightfully odd by their personalities and their quirks, and their interplay is both surprising and inevitable based on who they are and what they’ve already done.  

There is violence in this book (Tool is good at his job), but for the most part it’s so over the top you can’t really be freaked out by it.  There are points where you are sure that even Hiaasen can’t possibly make all this work out right, but he does.  Justice is served (if in a warped fashion), people get what they deserve, and the ending is quite satisfying.

If I’d been afraid I would be disappointed on revisiting this book, I’m delighted to report that wasn’t the case.  If you haven’t made Hiaasen’s acquaintance before, this is a great book to introduce you to his work.  I’m looking forward to discussing his humor, his characters and his plotting with the folks in the Field Notes Book Group, and wish you the pleasure of diving into Skinny Dip yourself.


I’ve written before about the tendency in modern historical fiction to focus almost exclusively on World War II, and how frustrating it can be.  Yes, World War II is important, and it’s recent enough that readers can have some sense of what the world was like then, but when you’re talking historical fiction, you’re talking about the entire span of history from the dawn of time to last year (or a decade ago); the years from 1939 to 1945 are just a tiny fraction of that.

So I’m delighted to call attention to Robert Harris’ new novel, Act of Oblivion, which takes on a fascinating and little known historical fact and turns it into a suspenseful thriller.  

In the aftermath of the restoration of King Charles II to the English throne in 1660, all the people who’d been involved in the execution of King Charles I were hunted down and executed.  Or rather, most of them were.  Act of Oblivion tells the gripping story of two men who were deeply involved in the trial and execution of King Charles I who escaped to New England, and were pursued there by an agent of the Crown.

Puritan New England is practically a different world, and the betrayals and confused loyalties of the English Civil War are little known, even to people who are familiar with historical fiction, and when you add a chase between an implacable and clever hunter and two experienced military men, all of them in a strange country where the stakes couldn’t be higher (in the 17th century, you would be lucky to be simply executed; punishments for treason were ghastly and drawn out), you have the makings of a different kind of exciting historical novel.  Robert Harris has written some famous alternate histories (Fatherland, about a world in which Hitler won WWII, was made into a movie) and has a keen grasp of historical detail.

If you, like me, are interested in historical fiction that looks at the whole breadth of history, of if you’re looking for a good, gripping read that’s different from other thrillers, check out Act of Oblivion.


One of the best perks to my job is that I get to see what’s going to be published in advance of its release date.  Of course I wouldn’t take (undue) advantage of this knowledge by putting things on hold before anyone else even knows the things are coming out (at least, not most of the time), but knowing that something exciting is coming soon is definitely a thrill. 

Okay, so November 1 isn’t quite as soon as I would like, but I just discovered that The World We Make, by N. K. Jemisin, is coming out on that date, and I’m tremendously excited about it.  The World We Make is the sequel to The City We Became, and if you read my blog, you’ll know I loved that book with a holy passion, and the only thing that worried me about it was that it was part of a series and I didn’t want to have to wait years to see how it came out.  The good news is that the series is only two books, and here we are, with the second book on the near horizon.

For those who don’t remember, The City We Became was speculative fiction (nominated for Nebula and Hugo Awards, among others, and won the British Fantasy Award and the Locus Award for best fantasy) in which cities are sentient beings, with avatars who protect them.  The City of New York, lovingly and vividly portrayed in this book, has not one but six avatars, the primary, who stands for the whole city, and one person for each of the boroughs.  The city barely comes alive before it’s under attack by The Enemy, the Woman in White, who turns out to be an avatar from another city of a different kind. The book was filled with wonderful characters, and pits the Lovecraftian dislike of/fear of cities against the vibrant multicultural life of a modern city (and, at least in that book, the modern city wins out).  

I am so pumped about the sequel, in which the avatars of New York City join with other cities in the world (who are more distant presences in The City We Became) to defeat the Enemy once and for all.  The only difficulty will be waiting for November 1, when we get our copy here at The Field Library.  If you loved the first book, then you should definitely put in your hold for the second so you don’t have to wait a moment longer than is absolutely necessary.


Sometimes you hit a dud, a book that nobody in the book group finds particularly good or interesting, and that pretty much happened in the Field of Mystery Group with our most recent selection, Solitude Creek, by Jeffrey Deaver (for some reason, I found it nearly impossible to get the name of that book right; you would not believe some of the things I called it, entirely innocently).  We still managed to have a lively discussion of the book and what its flaws were, and then when the time came for us to decide on the book for October, we were surprisingly united in our first round choice of Northern Spy, by Flynn Berry.  We will be meeting on October 1, and copies of the book were put on hold and are already coming in to the library.

The book is set in Belfast, Northern Ireland, in the present time.  Though the Good Friday Peace Accords of the 1990’s stopped a great deal of the sectarian violence in Northern Ireland, the IRA is still around and still a problem.  Our protagonist, Tessa, is a new mother working as a producer for the BBC.  When the IRA commits a robbery and there’s a shot of a young woman putting on a mask just before the robbery, the police think it’s Tessa’s sister, and she does resemble Tessa’s sister, but Tessa is confident they’re wrong.  Her sister is against violence and besides, she was on holiday when the robbery took place.  As she digs into the facts of the case, trying to prove her sister’s innocence, Tessa finds herself torn between conflicting loyalties, struggling with her sense of right and wrong, and her desperate need to protect her family, including her baby.

This should be an exciting read and an interesting discussion.  Come and get the book out from the library and then join us on October 1 for discussion and refreshments.


Once again the Hugo Awards have been given to well-deserving writers and works, and once again The Field Library has its share of winners and finalists, so if you’re interested in what the experts in the field consider to be the best in speculative fiction, give these works a look.

The Field Library is especially rich in the area of novellas.  Not only do we have the winner of Best Novella, A Psalm for the Wild Built, by Becky Chambers (reviewed here), but we also have all of the finalists: Across the Green Grass Fields, by Seanan McGuire (reviewed here), Elder Race, by Adrian Tchiakovsky, Fireheart Tiger, by Aliette de Bodard, The Past is Red, by Catherynne M. Valente, and A Spindle Splintered, by Alix E. Harrow (reviewed here).  The last few years have been a golden age for novellas, which the Hugos define as being between 17,500 and 40,000 words.  If you’re interested in testing the speculative fiction waters but aren’t sure you have the time or energy to devote to a full length book (and, to be fair, some speculative fiction novels are huge), try one of the finalist novellas, including this year’s winner.

I was personally delighted to see that Seanan McGuire won the Hugo for Best Series for her Wayward Children series.  The series, the books of which I’ve reviewed in this blog (here, here, here, here, here and here), involves children who left this world for another one, with different rules, and then were forcibly returned to this world.  The complex worldbuilding, the variety of characters and situations, the compassion McGuire shows for these damaged children, all adds up to a series that deserves the best series award, and more power to her (she has another book in the series coming out in January, just FYI).

The Field Library also has on its shelves The Last Graduate, by Naomi Novik, which won the award for Best Young Adult, though I’m not entirely sure it qualifies as a Young Adult Book, and most of the libraries in our system don’t treat it as such.  Still, Novik is an excellent writer, and this book, the second in a trilogy that began with A Deadly Education (which the library also has), takes the reader deeper into the world of the Scholomance, a dark school of magic that devours its students.  The third book (for people like me who don’t like reading series that aren’t finished) should be coming out this month.

Finally, what used to be the John Campbell Award for new writers, which has been renamed The Astounding Award for Best New Writer, went to Shelley Parker Chan for her novel, She Who Became the Sun, a book which reimagines the rise to power of the Ming Dynasty in China after the Mongol invasion.  While I’m delighted to see the Hugo voters recognizing the value of stories set in other parts of the world than Europe and North America, I’m a little sorry that one of the other finalists didn’t win.  Micaiah Johnson, who wrote the excellent The Space Between Worlds  (reviewed here), was up for the award but didn’t get it, deserving as she was.

So here you have it. Come to The Field Library and check out our Hugo winners and the finalists who didn’t quite make it, and immerse yourself in the best of speculative fiction.


The Maid, by Nita Prose, is a different sort of mystery.  It’s not a procedural, because the main character isn’t in law enforcement but is a maid in a hotel where a murder takes place.  But it’s not a cozy, either, despite our protagonist’s humble job, because it’s darker than that.  It’s not the kind of mystery where you’re given the clues and have to work out the answer before the protagonists do (though you are given a number of clues and hints, there are things you don’t know and can’t guess because we’re seeing through the eyes of a character who doesn’t always observe things and usually can’t interpret the things she does observe).  It is, however, a satisfying mystery novel because you care about the main character and because the plot, with one or two small questionable points, is engrossing and keeps you guessing.

Molly Gray, our protagonist, is a young, neuro-atypical woman who works as a maid in a fancy hotel.  She loves her job, and she’s good at it.  Nothing makes her happier than restoring a room to a state of perfect cleanliness.  She doesn’t complain about the state of the rooms she’s left to work on, she doesn’t complain (though she does notice) when other staff people laugh at her or call her a Roomba or a weirdo, or when the guests don’t notice her existence. She doesn’t have a sense that her job is low in status or that she should aspire to something better.  Her beloved grandmother, who raised her and who has died in the last few months, was a maid herself and instilled her simple values in Molly.

Molly is our narrator, so while we see what she sees, we can also see or guess at what those things mean, drawing different conclusions than she does.  Molly is frankly very naive when it comes to men, and there are a couple of occasions in the book where she interprets men’s behavior toward her as more affectionate and genuine than the men intend, and you cringe for her and hope she won’t get crushed when reality sets in (in one of those instances, a man takes advantage of her naivete and basically robs her).  She’s too willing to trust people in general, and that proves to be a problem.

When she discovers the dead body of a wealthy and important guest in his bed in the hotel, her life becomes complicated in the extreme.  Her friendship with the second wife of the deceased puts her in a dangerous position as the police naturally assume Giselle, the wife, had something to do with the man’s death.  The man in question seems to have been a real jerk, as far as Molly’s concerned, but of course she wants to do the right thing, as she understands the right thing.

She innocently tries to cooperate with the police and also protect her friends, or the people she believes to be her friends, but she goes from being a simple witness to a person of interest in the investigation, and even a suspect in the man’s murder.

The author does a great balancing job, staying entirely within Molly’s limited point of view but nonetheless giving us enough details that we can go beyond Molly’s conclusions and make our own guesses about what’s really going on.  She makes us care about Molly and makes her more than just her atypicality; we always realize that Molly has difficulties understanding and interpreting other people’s behavior, but we never feel pity for her or feel that she’s inadequate as a person or that she’s a symbol of what people on the spectrum are like.   

There are one or two spots in the story where I had to lean back and say, “Really?”  The police response, for instance, is almost stereotypical: it seems a mighty big jump to assume that Molly, of all people, was involved in a drug ring and murdered the VIP as a result of that, and Molly’s arrest struck me as the trope where the protagonist is hassled by the authorities to show how good and innocent the protagonist is (a trope I could do without, frankly).  Some of the characters are a little over the top, and not just because Molly sees them as “bad eggs,” but fortunately most of the important characters are more nuanced, and for the most part the plot works, keeps your interest and solves the actual murder in a way that makes sense and feels right, given everything we know about the characters.

It’s a quick read, and you find yourself rooting for Molly, hoping for her happy ending in a world that appreciates her.


While there’s a genre of fantasy/magic realism that involves modern day witches living and making magic in our world, they tend to focus on young women who are discovering their magic or dealing with romantic or other complications to their magic.  This is why I was so delighted to discover The Witches of Moonshyne Manor, by Bianca Marais: the main characters are six senior citizen witches.  In fact, they’re almost all in their 80’s.  It’s such a pleasure to read a book in which older people are not treated as if they’re tottering on the edge of the grave, but are having adventures of their own, getting into and out of danger, and living full and interesting lives.  These witches are well aware of their age: they suffer from aches and pains, from memory issues, from arthritis and other age-related issues.  However, they relish their years of experience and wisdom, and fight for their home and their sisterhood despite their flaws.  I want to grow up to be like these witches, and after you read this, you might very well feel the same.

One of the pleasures of the book (and there are many) is the breadth of the characters.  Yes, they’re all witches, they’ve all lived together (more or less) for decades, and most of them are around the same age.  However, their magic differs, their particular personalities are very different, and their approaches to their problems are widely different as well.  From Jezebel, whose magic is sexual attraction, to Ursula, whose power is precognition, to Queenie, who makes machinery of various sorts, to Ivy, whose connection is to plants, to Tabitha, who communicates through a raven named Widget, to Ruby, the missing and soon to be returning witch, each character is vivid in her loves and quirks and approaches to life, though they are all united in their connection to each other and to the house that has been their home for decades.

We also have Persephone, a young woman with a pet dog (named Ruth Bader Ginsburg), who wants to join the witches and help them (and be helped by them), bringing her magic tricks and her vast knowledge of social media (especially TikTok) to bear.  Persephone is not one of those too-good-to-be-true young people, who knows everything the older people need to know, nor is she just a placeholder to allow the witches (especially Queenie) to explain what’s going on (though she does serve that purpose, too).  She has an arc of her own, and plays a significant part in the resolution of the plot.

Ah, yes, the plot: the witches have a mortgage on their old and wonderful home, which has fallen into arrears.  The local men are working together to foreclose on the mortgage, destroy the house and replace it with a sort of amusement park called Men’s World. Queenie has made a deal to get the money from Charon, a very dangerous wizard, in exchange for a magical relic the group stole many years ago.  Only one small problem: none of the witches living in the house knows where the relic was hidden.  The one witch who did know, Ruby, is due to return to the household soon, before the date Charon comes to collect and before the final due date of the mortgage, but time is short, and everyone’s worried about how Ruby, who’s been gone for a long time and hasn’t been in contact with any of them in the interval, is going to react.

There’s a lot of backstory, but the author reveals it brilliantly, giving us just enough information at any time to keep us interested, but not dumping all of it at any point.  You’re always curious about what happened in the past, how these women got to this point, but you’re also always confident the author will give you what you need. There are twists and turns of the plot, but they work, and don’t come across as the author’s throwing in a twist just to show off.

It’s a fun read with wonderful characters, a well-constructed plot, and a very satisfying ending.  Read it for the fun of seeing older women depicted in all their complications and glories, magic or not.


Though we had a smaller than usual group at the Field Notes meeting on Saturday, we still managed to have an interesting discussion about our August book, A Thousand Ships.  The advantage of having a smaller than usual group is that everybody’s vote for the next book counts much more than it would in a larger group.  We had no trouble choosing our selection for September, Carl Hiaasen’s Skinny Dip.  

If you want a humorous take on Florida in all its weirdness, Carl Hiaasen is obviously your go-to author.  If you enjoy quirky, bizarre, plot heavy humor, look no further. Hiaasen has long been one of my favorite authors, and Skinny Dip has long struck me as one of his best.

Just consider the starting point of the plot: a shady Florida scientist is helping some even shadier operators figure out how to dump chemicals in the Everglades without getting caught.  The scientist suspects his wife, Joey, has caught on to what he’s doing and is likely to turn him in, so, in the classic manner of a Hiaasen character, he decides to kill her by pushing her off a cruise liner in the middle of the night, hoping she drowns.  She doesn’t drown because she lands on a bale of marijuana which was thrown overboard by drug dealers being chased by the Coast Guard.  Reaching the shore and being helped by a former police officer turned bitter loner, Joey decides not to turn her husband in for the attempted murder, but to mess with his head, since he thinks she’s dead,  and Mick, her new friend, is more than happy to help her with that.  

It just goes on from there, with a full cast of memorable characters and the usual twisted Hiaasen plot. 

We’ll be meeting to discuss this book on September 24 at 11 in the Field Library program room, and of course there will be refreshments.  It should be a great time for all.  Join if you can.


It should be no surprise to anyone that Natalie Haynes is really sharp when it comes to Greek mythology and especially the role of women in Greek mythology.  If you’ve read A Thousand Ships, her story of the aftermath of the Trojan War (and this month’s Field Notes Book Club selection), you know how good she is, how careful she is to take the stories we know and look behind them and past them to see the characters and the events in a unique way.  So it’s not a shock that her nonfiction book, Pandora’s Jar: Women in the Greek Myths, is so detailed, so fascinating and so well-written.  What is surprising is how much she manages to tease out of the oldest sources of these stories, and how her insights turn the stories around.

You don’t have to be an expert in mythology to recognize some of the characters here.  Has anyone not heard about Pandora’s box, or used that as a shorthand for something that turns out to be much more horrible than you thought before you opened it?  Or Helen of Troy, the “face that launched a thousand ships,” to quote Marlowe – you don’t have to know much about The Iliad to know that Helen was the most beautiful woman in the world and her leaving her husband with a Trojan prince was the cause of the Trojan War.  And Medusa, the lady with snakes for hair who turns people into stone, is another of those characters everybody has some familiarity with, even if they don’t know her story (and if you’ve seen either version of Clash of the Titans, you’ve seen her, not to mention her having a brief appearance in the Percy Jackson series).  

But even if you’re quite familiar with the stories (as I consider myself to be, having read D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths when I was a kid, and having read any number of books of mythology since), Haynes can surprise you into looking at the assumptions built into the stories of the women in the myths.  Too often the versions of the stories which have come down to us through the centuries have been filtered through frankly misogynistic lenses, making Pandora, for instance, into the villain of the piece instead of an instrument of the gods who might not even have been the one who opened the jar (not a box, probably) that let out all the evil in the world. Once you compare the story of King Midas and Medusa, you start to wonder how the supposed impiety of Midas was punished so lightly while Medusa was turned into a monster and then beheaded for the crime of being raped by Poseidon.  There’s a lot of rape in the backstories here (poor Cassandra, for instance), and the book leads you to see how the shifting of the stories of women shows us how our culture has evolved in the direction of patriarchy.  Even women who have objectively done something terrible in the myths (Jocasta, the mother of Oedipus, or Clytemnestra, who killed her husband, or Medea, who killed her husband’s new fiancee, and – what is more terrifying – her own children with her husband) come through Haynes’ analysis as much more justifiable characters, not pure evil but people placed in impossible situations who responded in very human ways.

Don’t be surprised if you find yourself looking for plays by Euripedes.  Haynes uses his plays often to show other facets of these female characters, and you’re going to want to investigate her claim that he wrote women better than most playwrights in any era.

The other thing I want to mention about this book is that Haynes, in addition to being erudite and an excellent writer, is funny.  Throughout the book, no matter how dark the things she’s discussing, she manages to find a pun or a lighthearted reference (yes, she chooses not to make the obvious “turning to stone” sexual reference in her discussion of Medusa, but she specifically TELLS us that she’s not going to do it).  At one point, talking about Agamemnon’s return home and Clytemnestra’s welcome of him, discussing Agamemnon’s apparent cluelessness, Haynes wonders if Agamemnon has ever met his wife before this event. This is unexpected if you’ve read A Thousand Ships, in which the only humor is in the letters Penelope sends to Odysseus over the course of the booi, but clearly Haynes wears her erudition lightly and doesn’t feel she has to be totally serious all the time to prove she knows her stuff.  

The book is one you can read chapter by chapter; each chapter discusses a different woman’s story.  Each chapter is entertaining and thought-provoking, and by the end of the book the accumulated information and insights give you a deep picture of the major women in Greek mythology and what they really mean to modern people.  It’s a great read, and if it sends you to the original sources, so much the better.


What do you do when an author you love fails you?  I’m talking about the situation where you’ll read anything this author writes, they’ve never let you down, you recommend their books to all and sundry, and you grab their latest book eagerly and it turns out to be a dud.  This happened to me recently, and I was both surprised and really disappointed.  I’m not going to detail the name of the author or the book, because life is too short to waste time talking about bad or disappointing books.  Suffice it to say that I had never had a bad experience with this author before, and then as I was reading their latest book, I kept wondering what happened to them, why the book was so clumsy, the characters so annoying, the depth I usually love missing altogether. If the author had been someone I hadn’t read before, I might not have even finished the book at all.  I kept reading because I convinced myself that I must be missing something and the book would end up being the usual enthralling work I’d come to expect.  That didn’t happen.

Will I read this author again?  Probably.  Anybody can have a bad day, and I’ve read several other books by them and enjoyed them all very much.  

It’s the “several other books” that makes the difference for me.  I know at least two authors who wrote books I really loved, and then I read their next books, or started and couldn’t finish the next book, in the case of one of the authors (I don’t think I made it through 50 pages, it was that annoying), and that ended my ever wanting to read anything by either of them again. One good book can be a fluke, too, and if the second book isn’t at least interesting (it doesn’t have to be great), then I’m going to assume that first book was the aberration, and the author isn’t really that good after all.

It also depends on how bad the bad book turns out to be.  If it’s really egregious (multiple cliches, tropes that send me screaming out of the room, obvious and stupid “twists”), then the author’s other books would have to have been spectacular for me to want to pick up the next book.  If it’s that bad, as a matter of fact, I might find myself thinking back to those other books and questioning my judgment about them, maybe demoting them from the pantheon.  Someone who’s a good writer may have a bad day, an unfortunate book that shows them at less than their best, but a good writer (and you can argue this with me if you like, but you won’t win) will never write something that’s actually terrible.  Even a book that falls short of their usual standard will at least be readable, and have some interesting parts (the book I’m thinking about now had a clever solution to the murder, which made up for some of the idiot plot developments earlier).  And, contrariwise, someone who writes a dreadful book which piles on the cliches, forgets about proper character development, turns on ridiculous “twists”, is unlikely to be capable of writing a truly good, well-written book. 

So an author who’s high on your must-read list can make a mistake and come out with something you wish you’d never bothered to read, and the author can still remain on your “I’ll read the next thing they write” list.  They may just get reduced to a lower spot on that list, until they either redeem themselves or write another stinker and make you reconsider their position on the list at all.