EXOTIC SETTINGS, EXOTIC MYSTERIES

While a really good writer can make almost any setting, no matter how familiar, seem new and exciting, there does come a point when you want something a little different, when you want to see a mystery set somewhere you haven’t been before, somewhere that hasn’t been the setting for hundreds of other mysteries, in print or on film. So often the setting becomes an integral part of the story, so that it couldn’t take place anywhere else, or the setting itself almost becomes a character in the story, so a standard place often leads to a predictable story. However, we have two new mysteries here at The Field Library which take place in settings very unusual for the mystery genre, and as a result, the stories themselves take on different dimensions.

Jane Harper, the author of the first mystery, The Lost Man, has written two other books set in Australia (The Dry and Force of Nature).  This one, a stand alone, takes place in the unforgiving outback in central Australia.  The three Bright brothers each live on their own ranch, three miles apart, each the other’s nearest neighbor.  In December, Cameron, the middle brother, disappears. Months later, his two brothers, Bud and Nathan, find Cameron’s body lying dead at the fence that acts as a boundary for their lands. The family gathers to grieve, along with long time employees and recently hired ranch hands, but Nathan becomes suspicious about exactly how and why his brother died. Why would someone as experienced in the harshness of the summer outback have just wandered off under the hot sun? Could he have been forced to his death?  And if so, there are very few people who could possibly have had a hand in his death, all of them related, one way or another, to Cameron and his brothers. Family secrets emerge as possible motives for murder under the brutal heat and isolation of the outback.

If the thought of so much dry heat is too much for you, you can turn to Watcher in the Woods, by Kelley Armstrong, for a complete contrast. Watcher is set in the secret town of Rockton, in the Yukon territory, a place off the maps, where many of the inhabitants are criminals or victims fleeing from civilization.  Casey Duncan, our protagonist, is one of the three police officers who keep order in the town, and while she’s no stranger to violent crime there, she’s surprised that any outsider could find the place, let alone cause trouble there. A U.S. Marshal appears, demanding the officers release one of the residents to him, without specifying exactly who he’s seeking, and within a few hours, he’s been shot dead.  The pool of suspects is limited to the people in town, including Casey’s sister who just arrived, and Casey and her fiance, the town sheriff, have to determine what the Marshal knew and who was willing to kill to keep it secret, before the killer strikes again. In a town of so many secrets, so many people hiding from the world, that’s not going to be easy.

Take your pick: Australia or the Yukon.  You’ll enjoy a different world, and a different kind of mystery.

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WHERE COLOR MEANS EVERYTHING: WE CAST A SHADOW

As a parent, how far would you go to take care of your child?  What would you be willing to sacrifice in order to protect your child from danger?  If you knew your child was going to be the victim of prejudice and trouble his whole life because of a physical trait you could get fixed, how much would be too much to get that trait fixed?

These are the questions at the heart of a new dystopian novel, We Cast a Shadow, by Maurice Carlos Ruffin, but with a twist.  The added factor in We Cast a Shadow is racism taken to a new level.  In the future world of this book, a series of procedures have been created called Demelanization.  Skin can be lightened, lips thinned, noses reconstructed, all to make a black person look more like a white person.  Of course, there’s a cost for these procedures, and it’s not cheap by any means, but in the increasingly segregated and dangerous world of the United States, more and more African Americans are opting for these procedures.  

Our unnamed narrator is a black man who has managed to succeed in this world; he’s living outside the ghetto, he’s married to a white woman, he’s got a good, well-paying job as a lawyer in a large firm.  He’s also he father of Nigel, a biracial child with a black birthmark that’s growing larger and larger. He’s convinced Nigel’s only hope of success in this world is to lose all evidence that he has any African American traits at all, via the demelanization procedure.  

In order to afford the procedure, he has to make partner, win bonuses, at his firm, but he has to compete with the few other African Americans in the firm for whatever crumbs of status and money might be available. He’s willing to do whatever is necessary, as he defines necessary; even if this means engaging in humiliating and even degrading exercises.  His self-hatred and internalized sense of his own racial inferiority motivate him almost as much as his love for his son does.

At what point does protection become harm?  How far can a parent go to save his or her own child from a system that’s horrible and dangerous?  How far is the protagonist of We Cast a Shadow willing to go, and is that too far?   Suspenseful, satirical and thought-provoking, We Cast a Shadow is a book for our times.

WHEN THE RULES DON’T WORK: IN AN ABSENT DREAM

As anyone who’s been reading this blog for any length of time knows, I’m a huge fan of Seanan McGuire’s Wayward Children series, which has already won Hugo and Nebula awards and which, to my delight, shows no signs of ending in the near future.  The first book was Every Heart a Doorway, followed by the prequel, Down Among the Sticks and Bones (review), followed by Beneath the Sugar Sky (review), and now by the newest, In An Absent Dream.

The first two books are more closely related than any of the others, but you can easily read any of them independently, or read them out of order without getting confused.  The basic concept is that there’s a home for children who’ve come back to the mundane world from more fantastic places (think Alice in Wonderland or Narnia), who aren’t able to forget their other worlds and long to find a doorway or other portal back. There’s an inherent poignance, as the characters have all lost something precious and not all of them are going to be able to get it back, but that uncertainty and longing gives the books their tension and suspense.

In An Absent Dream departs a little from the usual structure, in that we don’t see the Home until the very end of the book, but it’s still at heart a story of a girl who gets to escape her normal existence by traveling to and staying in another world, at least for a while.

Katherine Lundy, our protagonist, is a quiet, well-behaved, book-loving girl of six when she finds the door in the tree that leads her to the Goblin Market for the first time. Since her father is the principal of the school she attends, Katherine has no friends and few deep connections to the human world, other than her parents, her older brother who barely interacts with her at all, and her baby sister who’s hardly a person yet. So she has little reason to hesitate when she sees the sign on the door in the tree that says “Be Sure.”

She enters the Goblin Market, a world where various kinds of humans, non-humans and partial humans live and work in reasonable harmony due to the operation of the market, which keeps everything fair by making everyone follow some straightforward rules: ask for nothing; names have power, always give fair value; remember the curfew.  The most important rule, it turns out, is the one about giving fair value. An uneven exchange results in debt, and too much debt can cause a person to be changed into something else (we see a couple of characters changed, partially or completely, into birds as a result of debts).

Katherine, who renames herself Lundy, meets another girl, called Moon, and Moon introduces her to the way the rules work and to the Archivist, an older woman who proves to be very important to Lundy’s future in the Goblin Market.

Lundy passes in and out of the Goblin Market a few times, and we get to know her and to see what the pull of that world is for her. The concept of fair value is fascinating, and the way the world is set up to make the transactions work is absorbing, as are the relationships between Lundy and Moon, Lundy and the Archivist, and Lundy and her family (especially her father and her sister) when she returns to this world.  And all the time, the clock is ticking down to Lundy’s curfew, the time she has to decide where she really belongs and to make a commitment to that world.

Obviously, since it’s part of this series, I had a feeling all along that Lundy wasn’t going to have a happy ending in the Goblin Market, but the suspense arises from not knowing what exactly is going to happen to her and how, and knowing or guessing in advance doesn’t make the ending any less poignant.

Like all the books in the series, In an Absent Dream is short, a novella rather than a novel, and that’s good and bad. It’s good because you can (and I did) read the whole book in a day, and it’s bad because the author has to leave certain things out (what did happen when Lundy and Moon battled the Wasp Queen, and what actually happened to Mockerie?). The lack of some details really doesn’t hurt the book, but you should be prepared for a book in which you sometimes have to read between the lines and guess at things.

Reading In an Absent Dream made me both impatient for the next book in the series and wanting to reread the first three books again.  It’s that good, moving, fascinating and thought provoking. If you’ve read any of the other books, I don’t need to tell you to hurry out to pick this one up and read it.  If you haven’t read the series (and why not?), do yourself a favor and check out In an Absent Dream and dive into a strange world of rules and debts and an all-powerful market that makes everything “fair.”

 

NOTHING BUT THE TRUTH: GOLDEN STATE

In this era of “fake news” and lies and the necessity of fact checkers, there’s something really appealing about the idea of a society where truth is the ultimate virtue and anyone who lies, even a little, is punished for it.  That’s the world of Golden State, by Ben H. Winters. Before you decide this is the world for you, however, you might want to consider, as Winters does, all the implications of how such a world would work and whether it would be an actual improvement over what we have now.

Something terrible happened in the past, but nobody in the world of Golden State knows what that was, because they do not keep their history.  The United States is no more, and the nation known as Golden State has arisen from what was formerly California.  In this nation, only truth is allowed, and the only people allowed to even consider possibilities other than verifiable fact are the Speculators, special enforcers like our protagonist, Laszlo, who are so sensitive to untruths that they are physically affected by the smallest of white lies, let alone major deceptions.  In order to make sure everyone is telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, the state has turned into a veritable panopticon. There is no privacy for anyone; everything is always being observed and recorded, and citizens are required to keep diaries of everything they do, and to get other people to verify their versions of events.

Laszlo starts out with a new partner, investigating what should be a fairly simple question of whether someone who fell off a building died as a result of an industrial accident or whether he was pushed. With everything recorded and verified, this should be a piece of cake for Laszlo and his partner, but this is a situation where pulling on one thread begins to unravel everything. Over the course of the story, Laszlo begins to develop from a person who believes in all the rules and how essential they are to the functioning of the world to a person who starts to ask questions, even if they’re dangerous questions that go to the underpinnings of the whole society.  What, after all, IS truth? Who determines what truth is the real thing? How can human beings, storytelling creatures by nature, refrain from ALL forms of untruth?

Golden State probably won’t make you eager to return to a world where truth seems to be a vanishing thing, but it will make you wonder exactly how far we should go to the other extreme of honesty.

 

WOMEN MAKE THRILLERS WORK

Thrillers used to be a man’s world, and if women were characters in them, they were usually femme fatales or damsels in distress, people who were peripheral to the action.  Not anymore! These days the hottest thrillers tend to involve women as the main characters. Think of Gone Girl or The Girl on the Train*, or The Woman in the Window, which have dominated bestseller lists.  Three new thrillers here at The Field Library feature women as main characters in different capacities, in very different situations.  

An Anonymous Girl, by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen, doesn’t start out in your classic thriller fashion.  Our protagonist, Jessica Farris, signs on for a psychology experiment involving questions of ethics and morality, run by the mysterious Dr. Shields. The ad says the people participating must be women between the ages of 18 and 32, anonymity is guaranteed and the compensation will be generous.  Why shouldn’t Jessica sign on? Answer a few questions, take her money and leave: what could be problematic about that? But then she starts answering the questions and they’re not what she expected, questions like “Could you tell a lie without feeling guilt?” and “Have you ever deeply hurt someone you care about?”  As the questions become more penetrating, more invasive and more disturbing, Jessica starts wondering about the man running the program. Does he know her? Is he trying to manipulate her? The study takes her out of the lab and into the world, requiring her to do certain things, dress certain ways, and Jessica becomes (understandably) paranoid.  Where is this leading? What exactly is being studied and why is she involved in this? An Anonymous Girl is a subtle, psychological thriller that makes you wonder about exactly where you should draw the line in trusting people.

Elle Stowell, the protagonist of The Burglar, by Thomas Perry, is very different from Jessica.  By profession, she’s a high class burglar who uses her looks, intelligence and unconventional skills to get inside the ritziest homes in Bel Air, and steal the most valuable items without getting caught.  It’s an easy, if unconventional life, until one night she breaks into the wrong house, discovering the results of a triple homicide. Suddenly she’s a target instead of a mover and shaker, and in order to keep from becoming the next victim, she has to use her breaking and entering skills, and her smarts, to figure out who the murder victims were and why they were killed, all the while trying to stay out of the cross hairs of the murderers herself.

There are two women at the heart of Freefall, by Jessica Barry: a mother estranged from her daughter, and her daughter who’s running for her life. The daughter, Allison Carpenter, is on a private jet that crashes in the Colorado Rockies, and manages to survive the crash.  Unfortunately for her, walking away from the crash is the easiest thing she has to do, even though she’s isolated in the mountainous wilderness. She’s got a secret that powerful people would kill to preserve, and if those people knew she was still alive, they’d make sure she never got out of the wilds.  Meanwhile, in a small town in Maine, on the other end of the country, Maggie Carpenter, Allison’s mother, learns her daughter is presumed dead in the plane crash. A family tragedy drove Allison away, and Maggie doesn’t know much about her daughter’s present life, even that she was engaged to be married, or why she was flying on a private plane. But she believes Allison’s not dead, and she dedicates herself to finding out more about her lost daughter, including the secrets Allison’s keeping that could mean her death.  The book cuts between Allison’s efforts to make her way out of the forbidding terrain and Maggie’s efforts to discover why Allison is in such trouble to begin with, and possibly find a way to get her out of it.

Three different thrillers, four different women at the heart of them: come in and check them out.

 

*Someday I will talk at greater length about how annoying it is that all these modern books refer to adult women as “girls.” I realize it’s a marketing thing, new books attempting to capitalize on the popularity of bestsellers like Gone Girl, but as far as I’m concerned, if the character in question is over 18 years of age, she’s a woman, not a girl.

MOTHER LOVE: WHERE’D YOU GO, BERNADETTE

It seems as if I’ve been circling around Maria Semple’s Where’d You Go, Bernadette for years.  I know I’ve suggested it to the book group a couple of times, though it’s never become one of our selections.  It qualified on last year’s reading challenge as a Book Set in the Arctic or Antarctic (though most of the action of the book takes place in Seattle, the parts set in Antarctica are a key part of the book, and as you know, I am pretty open minded about what qualifies in any given category), and this year it will qualify for the category “Read a Collection of Letters or an Epistolary Novel” (and while there is some actual narration interspersed with the various emails and other documents of the book, this one definitely qualifies as an epistolary novel). If at some point I choose a category like “Read a book about architecture or architects,” it would qualify there, too.  It was, finally, about time I read the book, and, having done so, I’m a little annoyed at myself for having waited so long.

Don’t let the fact of its being an epistolary novel scare you.  While much of the story is told through emails and memos and magazine articles, it is perfectly easy to follow, and in fact, the different tones and perspectives of the writers of those emails make for a great deal of the humor of the book. You have no problem figuring out who’s talking even without looking at the headings of the emails, and of course our narrator’s first person additions and interpolations help set the contexts too.

The thing I loved most about  this book were the characters, and what juicy, fun characters they were!  Bernadette is a middle aged woman with a teenage daughter, a husband who’s a genius working at Microsoft, and serious problems dealing with the world.  She doesn’t fit in with the other mothers at her daughter’s school: she doesn’t volunteer, she doesn’t gossip, and she basically considers those other mothers as “gnats”, small annoying things that aren’t worth the effort to swat. Naturally, those other mothers have issues with her, especially Rachel Griffin (one of the other main characters of the book), and these issues reach tragi-comic proportions as the plot winds on (including a mudslide that nearly destroys Rachel’s house, for which both Rachel and Bernadette share the blame).  Bernadette doesn’t get along well with most people, and spends most of her time in the family’s home, which is a horror movie dream, a former school/home for unwed mothers which leaks everywhere and is being infiltrated by blackberry vines even under the floors. What makes Bernadette’s willingness to hide away in that particular house all the more curious is that, before she became something of a hermit and a professional character, Bernadette was a brilliant architect, awarded a Macarthur Genius Grant back when she was living in L.A. (a case, clearly, of the shoemaker’s kids going barefoot).  She rants at other drivers and at all aspects of Seattle life (don’t get her started on Canadians), she doesn’t care what people think of her, and she’s something of a scandal in town in general. But as we get to see her through her daughter’s eyes, and through her own words, we come to realize that she’s not just a stock “nutty mother” type, but an interesting person we come to care about.

Part of the humanizing of Bernadette comes from her daughter, Bee’s, perspective on her. Bee, a very smart and accomplished young lady who’s planning to go away to boarding school in the East for high school, adores her mother, and sees nothing wrong with Bernadette’s behavior.  She stands up to the other mothers of the school and to anyone else who tries to give Bernadette a hard time, and she’s willing to upend her whole life when Bernadette goes missing.

Which happens twice in the novel, first when Elgin, Bernadette’s husband, tries to stage an intervention to get Bernadette committed to a mental hospital (there’s a lot going on in this book, all of which makes sense in context, but all of which, when looked at from a wider perspective, is kind of bizarre), and Bernadette disappears from a locked bathroom, leaving no note or other hint of where she’s going, and second, when she disappears from a cruise ship in Antarctica.  Bee refuses to believe that her mother is dead, and especially not that she committed suicide, so Bee and her father head down to Antarctica themselves, officially so Bee can get “closure,” but actually so Bee can find out what actually happened to her mother.

I am not doing this funny, fast-moving and charming book justice.  It came out in 2012, so I have come late to its delights (though I am certainly going to read Maria Semple’s other books now that I’ve seen how well she writes), but the best thing about reading in general is that it’s never too late to discover something wonderful.  So spend some time with Bernadette and Bee and the whole wild cast of characters orbiting around them, and settle in for some fun.

 

WOMEN’S PERSPECTIVES ON WORLD WAR II

It seems these days that World War II is the most popular era for historical fiction, with a new novel about some aspect of the war coming out nearly every month.  In January we have two new World War II novels, each one looking at a different aspect of the war, and each one looking at it through the eyes of women doing more than just keeping the home fires burning and waiting for their men to return home.

The Light Over London, by Julia Kelly, follows a familiar pattern for modern historical novels, the modern day character learning about her counterpart in a past time, her life being illuminated in some way by the history she’s learning. Cara Hargraves is working for a gruff antiques dealer when she discovers an unfinished diary from World War II, with a picture of a young woman in uniform, at an estate sale.  Reading the diary leads her to investigate the story behind it, and there we are in the second narrative of the book with 19 year old Louise Keene, living in Cornwall in 1941. Her ideas about her life and her future are upended when she meets Paul, a dashing RAF officer, stationed at a nearby base. His unit’s deployment leads Louise to look beyond her narrow life and become a Gunner Girl, a woman in the British army’s anti-aircraft unit, stationed in London during the Blitz.  She takes pride in her ability to identify enemy planes, and in the accuracy of her calculations, leading the male gunners to shoot down the attacking aircraft, but of course life in London during this dangerous period is scary and filled with risks. She clings to the hope that she and Paul will be reunited after the war, but life is precarious during wartime and her real education in life and love is just beginning. There are parallels between the lives of the two women, and Cara is inspired by Louise’s story to investigate the war experiences of her own grandmother, who never spoke much about what she did in the war.

The protagonist of The Only Woman in the Room, by Marie Benedict, is a real person: Hedy Lamarr, and her story is incredible enough to seem more fitting for a novel than a biography.   Her extraordinary beauty got her married to a prominent arms dealer in the early stages of the Third Reich, and probably protected her from being rounded up with other Jews and killed.  As she and her husband moved in the highest social circles of the Nazis, she was continually underestimated, assumed to be a pretty airhead, but all the while she was paying attention to everything she heard about the highest level plans of the Third Reich.  She disguised herself and made a daring escape from her husband’s castle, to emerge in Hollywood as a film star, but even that wasn’t the whole extent of her extraordinary life. She didn’t want to spend her time making money in movies when the war was raging, so she turned her scientific mind toward helping radio-controlled torpedoes avoid having their frequencies jammed, a technology that was later adopted by the U.S. Navy, and that still later became the basis for secure Wi-fi, Bluetooth and GPS.  

Even if you consider yourself a World War II buff, there are undoubtedly things in these two novels that will be new to you, and if you have only a general knowledge of the war and how it affected non-combatants, you will find these two books fascinating.

TIME TRAVEL FOR FUN AND CONFUSION

The later part of 2018 was a good time for books about time travel (or possibly I was just looking for time travel books and happened to get lucky).  We had Hazards of Time Travel by Joyce Carol Oates, and Time and Time Again: Sixteen Trips in Time by Robert Silverberg, and Miss Blaine’s Prefect and the Golden Samovar by Olga Wojtas, which I’m going to review here.

But first, I want to nominate this book for the worst title of 2018.  Is it easy to remember? Not in the least; I had to look it up myself to check it out.  Is it a clever, pun-like title, or a play on some well-known phrase? Not at all. Is it a title that gives you an idea of the book’s genre?  Nope; between the title and the cover, you’d be forgiven for thinking this might be some kind of historical novel, possibly a romance (and yes, I know you’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover, but obviously we all do, to some extent).  Does the title reflect what the book is about? Not really. Yes, the main character had been a prefect for Miss Blaine, and there is a golden samovar in the story which does play a minor role, but it’s not the focus of the book in any way (I kept hoping, as I read on, that the samovar would play a more prominent part, but it doesn’t). The worst part about the title, though, is that it doesn’t invite a reader to check the book out, and that’s a  shame, because the book is a hoot.

Our protagonist, Shona McMonagle, is a Scottish graduate of the Marcia Blaine School for Girls, a fact of which she is very proud, and a connection which leads directly to her time traveling adventure.  She is, in the present world, a librarian (another reason to like her), and she has a particular loathing for the book, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, for its slanderous portrayal of her alma mater, to the point where she deliberately tries to keep the book out of the hands of unsuspecting readers (and I will admit here that I had a sneaking admiration for her efforts in that regard; there are books I’ve felt the same way about, though I haven’t gone as far as Shona).  When the founder of the school finds Shona at the library and offers her the opportunity to travel back in time for a week to complete a mission, Shona is the kind of woman who jumps at the opportunity, even though she doesn’t know exactly what the mission is (and for most of the book, she’s in the dark about the nature of her mission, and even about exactly when she finds herself).

She goes back to Tsarist Russia, and finds herself in the middle of a mystery  involving the strange deaths of certain widows, which she assumes is part of her mission.  She’s provided with a house, money, and a serf, “Old Vatrushkin,” who acts as her coachman and in various other capacities as he’s needed.

If you are a fan of Elizabeth Peters, you are going to enjoy Shona.  She has the Amanda Peabody certainty of her rightness, and the indomitable spirit, with a modern feminism and egalitarianism thrown in.  If you are a fan of Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next (and if you haven’t read that series, starting with The Eyre Affair, you don’t know what you’re missing), you’ll also like Shona’s roll-up-your-sleeves-and-deal-with-the-weirdness attitude, which is like Thursday’s.  Shona has all kinds of modern knowledge and skills, but the humor in the story (and there’s a lot of humor in it) lies in the fact that Shona isn’t as smart as she thinks she is.  You, the reader, will be a couple of steps ahead of her, shaking your head at her assumptions, as bodies pile up and attempts are made on her life as she tries to accomplish what she thinks is her mission (she’s wrong about that, too), but that’s part of the fun.

Don’t bother trying to figure out how historically accurate Tsarist Russia is here.  Just sit back and enjoy the wild ride, the amusing characters, from Shona herself to the multitalented “Old Vatrushkin” (who’s actually only 29, so hardly old; he reminds me of Mel Brooks’ character in The Twelve Chairs, in fact), to the evil duchess and the intriguingly gorgeous Sasha and the innocent Lidia and her nanny, and the many almost farcical incidents of the plot (an early scene in which Shona wows a bunch of decadent Russian aristocrats by teaching them Scottish dances is one of my favorites, and it leads to other plot developments later).

There’s a hint at the end of the book that we haven’t seen the last of Shona and her time travels, and I, for one, am looking forward to her future adventures, though I certainly hope whoever names the next book will do a better job and make it more likely that she will have the readership she deserves.

 

NEW YEAR, NEW CHALLENGE

As anyone who knows me or has read my work knows, I am a major fan of the library, The Field Library in particular (it’s my home library, as well as my employer!).  I have loved libraries since I was a kid in New Jersey, and I can’t imagine living anywhere without a library. I love working here: I love buying the new fiction, I love seeing all the new books as soon as they come out, I love giving people library cards, I love recommending books to people (especially when people come back and tell me they enjoyed the recommendations), I love giving people the items they’ve put on hold. In many ways, this is my dream job.

But even I, after working at the library for 11 years, am not familiar with all the good stuff on the shelves here. When I look for something to read, I, like many other patrons and readers in general, tend to stick to the same books, the same genres, the same type of books.  I wouldn’t say I’m in a rut, exactly, but I would say that I, like many other readers, sometimes need a little push to get me out of my reading comfort zone.

Which is why I’m setting up the 2019 Field Library Reading Challenge.  Those of you who have done the challenges in the last couple of years know what to expect, and for those who haven’t done this before, the rules are simple enough.  I’m posting a list of categories, and your goal is to read at least one book in each category. I will be regularly posting lists of books that fulfill the different categories here on the blog, and, if you sign up with your email address (send to me at nmulligan@wlsmail.org and I’ll add you to the list), I’ll send the list to your email on a regular basis as well.  There will be displays of books in each category at the library, but of course you’re welcome to put any of the books on hold to receive wherever and whenever you want.

Give it a try: stretch your mind, try different books, different authors, different kinds of books.  Let’s make 2019 a year in which we all find new books to love!

Here’s the list (you can pick up a copy at the Circulation Desk, too):

Read a Book about Mental Health

Read a Book about Astronomy

Read a Book about Games

Read a Book about Photography

Read a collection of short stories

Read an epistolary novel OR collection of letters

Read a book involving Math

Read a book about philosophy

Read a book about history other than US History

Read a book about money

Read a book about espionage

Read a book about law

Read a book about movies

From time to time over the year, I’ll also be highlighting different categories here in the blog, so keep watching this space, and keep reading.

Happy New Year!

SWIPING RIGHT FOR A NEW ROMANTIC COMEDY

The classic Shakespearean comedy involves mistaken identities and the complications that ensue, usually ending up with the right people getting together and ending happily.  It’s a theme that’s been used for romantic comedies for centuries, and it’s about time the trope was updated for the modern world. My Favorite Half-Night Stand, by Christina Lauren, is a modern and clever use of the old mistaken identity plot.

As with this year’s hit book, The Kiss Quotient, the main character here is a woman who has very little experience with the whole dating/romance scene.  Millie is a scientist, “one of the guys”, who’s much better at dealing with research into serial killers than at finding men who interest her romantically.  She’s a professor at Santa Barbara and hangs out with four other professors, all male, and all equally clueless about dating. When the group gets invited to a university function that turns out to be — horrors! — black tie, they decide they’re all going to bring a “plus one”, even if they have to find their dates through online dating services.

However, once they make the pact but before she actually starts the online dating process, Millie finds herself involved in a sexy half night stand with one of the other professors in the group, Reid.  The two of them are surprised at how much they enjoyed themselves, but they’re determined to remain just friends.

The online dating process for her is pretty gruesome.  While her male colleagues get all kinds of interesting women responding to their listings, all Millie gets are creepy people and obscene pictures.  So she creates a different identity for the dating app: Catherine, who can be all the things Millie is not, including vulnerable and open.

You’ve already guessed, I’m sure, who finds the profile for “Catherine” and starts corresponding with her: Reid, who knows the real life Millie but would never guess that she’s the same person he’s been connecting with online (if you’re picturing The Shop Around the Corner or You’ve Got Mail, you’re thinking along the right lines).  

Does Millie manage to come clean with Reid?  Does she figure out how to reconcile her real world and her online selves?  Is there a happy ever after? Do you need to read something light and charming with all that’s going on in the world?  Read My Favorite Half-Night Stand and find out the answers.