Sometimes you just hit on the perfect book to read right now.  Becky Chambers’ new book, A Prayer for the Crown-Shy, happened to be that book for me this week, possibly this year.

It’s the sequel to A Psalm for the Wild-Built, and this is one of those sequels where you really are better off reading the books in order (and why shouldn’t you?  Neither one is very long, and both are warm and charming), so you know who Sibling Dex, the tea monk, and Mosscap, the robot, are, and why all the people they encounter react so strongly to seeing Mosscap.

Sibling Dex is a nonbinary monk, one of the most gentle characters I’ve come across in fiction in recent years.  Their job is to drive around their world in a person-propelled cart, stop in different villages and places and let people come in and drink the tea Dex makes and talk to Dex, not as a therapist, not as a confessor, but as a fellow human being who listens and cares.

Mosscap is a robot.  A long time ago, all the robots left the humans who built them and exploited them.  The robots went elsewhere and set up their own civilization and the humans learned how to live without the help of robots, which turned out to be a good thing for humans.  Mosscap reveals itself to Dex, and to the world of humans, with a seemingly simple question: what do you need?

The first book introduced the characters and the setting and started them on their way.  This book takes them into the world of Panga, where people have the opportunity to meet and interact with Mosscap and with Dex as Mosscap’s – guide? Friend? Helper?   To some people, Mosscap is a celebrity, or as close as you can get to a celebrity in this culture which doesn’t have the same mass media fixation as ours.  To some people, Mosscap is a symbol of bad times in the past which we want to forget or get over.  Those people, I hasten to add, react by ignoring Mosscap, not by taking any violent action against it (there is no violence in this book whatsoever, which is a major point in its favor).

Mosscap has a unique curiosity about the whole world of humans.  As it looks at both the natural world and the human constructions with wonder and delight, we the readers get to see the world through its eyes, as does Dex.  It is a wonderful place, a place where I, for one, would love to live, between the low technology and the social organizations (Dex’s family is intensely complicated but there’s lots of love and connection among the members).  

I don’t think there’s going to be another book in this series, because the ending of this book feels right and settled as if there’s not much more to say, but I also think if  Becky Chambers wants to write more about Dex and Mosscap, I would be delighted to pick up the next book.

If you’re in the mood for a gentle, optimistic novel about an alternate society and a world healing from the kinds of mistakes we’ve made in this one, I recommend A Psalm for the Wild-Built and A Prayer for the Crown-Shy.  You won’t regret it.


The Field of Mystery Book Group had another interesting discussion on Saturday, especially considering that the group was pretty divided on one of the most important elements of our August book, The Book of Cold Cases.  Whether you liked the supernatural element or not (and it was a really significant supernatural element, with a real haunting and a ghost who makes the climax happen), there was plenty to talk about, including how the book could have been written without the ghosts.  After the discussion, we chose our book for our September meeting (which will be on the 10th rather than the 3rd, so we don’t run into Labor Day Weekend): Solitude Creek, by Jeffrey Deaver.

Surprisingly, the group hasn’t read Deaver before, even though he is a prolific mystery/thriller writer who has written numerous series of books and has been nominated for many mystery awards, including a lifetime achievement award from the Boucheron convention and eight Edgar awards. Solitude Creek stars one of his series characters, Kathryn Dance.

At a concert, someone shouts “Fire” and the people panic, rushing for the exits, which are blocked.  Some people are trampled to death.  It turns out there was never any fire; someone deliberately set up the people to panic and die.  

Kathryn Dance is a brilliant investigator with the California Bureau of Investigations, and as she starts looking into this case, she discovers the perpetrator is a person obsessed with using people’s fears to kill them.  He’s just getting started with the concert, and Kathryn realizes that he’s going to go for bigger and more dramatic killings unless she can stop him first.

Copies of the book will be available at the Circulation Desk of the Field Library.  Join us for our usual scintillating discussion, and, of course, coffee and donuts, on September 10 from 10:30 to 12:00.


The book, I Didn’t Do the Thing Today, by Madeleine Dore, has the subtitle of Letting Go of Productivity Guilt, but really the subtitle could be along the lines of “Not Stressing Yourself to the Breaking Point.  It’s a deep, good-hearted advice book, full of thought provoking ideas that challenge our cultural focus on getting more and more done in less and less time.  Instead of providing you with life hacks that could get you through your to-do list faster, it provides you with questions about whether you really need all the things on the to-do list, and, more importantly, whether you should judge yourself on the basis of how much of that to-do list you managed to accomplish in a day or a week.  Speaking as someone whose daily journal entries tend to revolve around beating myself up for what I didn’t get done, I found this book refreshing and powerful.

It’s not a quick read (so maybe it wasn’t the best thing for me to be reading during the Adult Summer Reading Game, when the emphasis is on page count, an unanticipated issue with the game which I’ll try to fix for the next time). It’s the sort of book you read slowly and carefully, and put down frequently to contemplate the ideas that are being presented.  It’s not that the language or the thoughts are complicated or difficult to understand.  Quite the contrary; Dore writes simply and clearly and frequently quotes people she’s interviewed about these issues in an interesting way.  I found I had to read it slowly and stop frequently to think about it because I was surprisingly resistant to the ideas involved.  Think of your life as something other than a collection of achievements?  Think about time differently?  Slow down? Change expectations?  Consider limitations as a good thing rather than bad?  These are all ideas in the book, and all things that are counter-cultural in the best way.

Even if you’re not someone who reads how-to books and especially doesn’t read self-help books, you’ll probably find something to love in this one.  It’s the equivalent of having a conversation with an incredibly kind and generous friend who happens to have thought a lot about the big questions and is willing to point you in a direction you might not have considered before, without pushing you in any way.

Will reading this book change your life?  Maybe.  Dore would never make that kind of claim (she’s too modest and open minded for that), but I definitely feel I look at my life and the world around me differently as a result of reading this book, and it might do the same thing for you.  Check it out.


It makes perfect sense that Sarah Gailey would follow up her brilliant book, The Echo Wife (which I not only persuaded the Field Notes Book Group to read but have pushed into the hands of lots of people as a wonderful read), with something very different.  Her newest book, Just Like Home, is every bit as enthralling and creepy (if not more creepy, at least on the surface) as The Echo Wife, but instead of taking us into a near future where cloning of humans is possible, it sets us in the present, as a young woman goes back, for the first time in years, to the family home where her mother is dying, and where her father tortured and killed several people years earlier.  

This is the kind of book where the main character, in the first chapter, can wonder about something she buried under the front steps and my first thought was that it was either a body or a body part.  It is, in fact, the kind of book that I devour like candy, and I read it in a day because I really couldn’t put it down.

Vera has a complicated relationship with her mother, who is dying from some unspecified but clearly draining disease (which looks like some kind of late stage cancer).  She also has a complicated relationship with her late father, who died of pneumonia in prison some years ago.  Her mother, who called her home, has set up her bed in what used to be the dining room, a room which seems always shrouded in a semi-darkness no matter what the light conditions outside are.  We learn right away that Vera’s mother threw her out of the house when Vera was 17 (eventually we will learn the reasons for it), and that Vera dreads her mother’s anger and hatefulness, and in the first encounter between Vera and her dying mother, the latter tells her to stop referring to her as “mother.”  Talk about unresolved issues!

Vera’s father, Francis, built the house himself, and his presence pervades it.  Vera misses him terribly, and feels guilty for having had no contact with him between his arrest and his death. Gradually, oh so gradually, we get flashbacks where we see what Vera knew about her father and when she knew it.   She is not an uncomplicated character herself (nor did I expect anything less from Gailey).

To make this sojourn more awkward still, Vera’s mother has been making ends meet by renting out the shed on the property to people who are still fascinated by what Francis did, artists and mediums and true crime savants, and the more significant parts of the house itself (the basement, for instance) are preserved as if it were a museum in which Francis’ widow just happens to live. The man living on the property now is a creepy artist, the son of an author whose True Crime book about Francis made the writer rich, made his reputation, and, in so doing, destroyed not only the Crowder family’s reputation but also any possibility that Vera Crowder could ever live a normal life. She carries a not unreasonable grudge against the father, but his artist son, James, is thoroughly hateful and creepy in his own way.

The past will not rest.  Vera starts finding bits of her father’s writings about her in unusual places, pages obviously cut from his missing journal, though James denies doing anything of the sort and Vera’s mother couldn’t physically do it.  Things move around in her room, and she hears noises that couldn’t have come from anything in the house.  Is it James or is there something worse going on?

This is a haunted house story par excellence.  The house itself is kind of strange, and Vera’s experiences are classic hauntings (with the ever present question of whether she’s hallucinating or the victim of a vicious interloper who wants the house himself lurking in the background).  Gailey builds suspense in multiple directions: what’s going on with the house?  What’s James’ real agenda?  What did Francis actually do?  Why is Vera’s mother so angry with her so often and yet occasionally tender towards her?  

But it’s more than a haunted house story (even as it ticks off all the boxes that make a great one).  The heart of the book is Vera and her relationship with her parents, especially her father. Vera’s memories give us an unusual look at a person who was, quite frankly, seriously mentally ill, but who also clearly loved her.  He’s not your typical serial killer, if there is such a thing, and Vera’s love for him and guilt about her role in his arrest have made her who she is today (that’s not necessarily a good thing).  

There’s some gore in the book, but for a novel about the daughter of a serial killer, I found it less violent and gross than most of Jo Nesbo’s works.  It’s very suspenseful and unsettling; everything makes sense in the end (a horrible kind of sense), and it’s a hell of a ride.   If you liked The Echo Wife, you’ll like this.  If you like a good haunted house story, or a good psychological thriller, you’ll like this.  If you like really well written horror, what are you waiting for?  Put this one on your To Be Read list immediately!


Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s latest book, The Daughter of Doctor Moreau, is a fascinating take on the only H.G. Wells classic novel that has never really gotten its due in popular culture (unlike, say, The War of the Worlds, The Time Machine, or The Invisible Man).  By taking the basic elements of the original and moving them to the Yucatan peninsula in the late 19th century, she’s created not just a meditation on things science shouldn’t do and the line between humans and animals, but also an examination of class, colonialism and feminism.

Carlota Moreau, one of the two protagonists of the book, has grown up on her father’s isolated estate in the wilds of the Yucatan peninsula.  Her father, whom she looks up to practically as a god, is totally dedicated to his scientific research involving the creation of human-animal hybrids.  She has no other biological family, but she’s close to Lupe and Cachito, both of whom are hybrids, whom she treats as brother and sister.   She has little contact with other human beings, as her father keeps her away from society, on the grounds that she’s been very sick when she was younger and she needs to keep herself calm and unemotional or else the sickness will return.

The plot really starts when Montgomery Laughton, the other protagonist, takes a job as Doctor Moreau’s majordomo.  He’s a broken soul, a man struggling with alcoholism and depression, whose life has been pretty much a wreck.  He’s shocked at first to meet the hybrids, and he’s entranced by Carlota when he first encounters her, but over time he comes to find the world at the estate to his liking, and to treat the hybrids as normal human beings. His past romantic experiences have made him very wary of beautiful young women like Carlota, and the two of them butt heads (not literally) fairly often, without there being real antagonism between them.

Moreau’s in trouble.  Actually, he’s in debt, deeply in debt, to the Lizalde family, who are financing his experiments.  He may be focusing on pure science and the ultimate benefit to mankind of the discoveries he’s making, but the Lizaldes want him to create a race of obedient hard-working creatures who won’t give them the kind of trouble the natives do.  Hernando Lizalde thinks of the Indians, many of whom are in rebellion against the colonial powers, as little more than animals themselves, to be worked till they drop and hunted down if they try to escape.

Meanwhile, the hybrids are suffering: they weren’t built perfectly, and are in constant pain that supposedly can only be treated by the medicines only Dr. Moreau can give them. They want freedom, especially Lupe, but they’re afraid they won’t survive without the medicine, and of course Moreau doesn’t want to give that away and give up his control over the hybrids. 

When Eduardo Lizalde shows up at the estate with his cousin, and falls for Carlota, you just know there’s going to be trouble.  Not from Moreau, who hopes that his daughter’s marrying Eduardo will guarantee him funding for his work, but from Montgomery, who doesn’t like young Eduardo and especially doesn’t like his interest in Carlota, and also from Eduardo’s cousin who doesn’t like Carlota’s background and thinks she would be a terrible match for Eduardo. They discover the existence of the hybrids and are horrified by them, though Eduardo comes close to promising to give Carlota the estate if she marries him.

From the outset we know that Carlota isn’t Dr. Moreau’s legitimate daughter.  His wife died in childbirth with his first child.  She and everyone around her assume that she’s the daughter of some woman who had an affair with Moreau after his wife died, but there’s more going on than Moreau lets on.

The explosive situation, with the hybrids and Moreau’s dependence on Lizalde and the Indian rebellion in the background, does in fact explode, and both Carlota and Montgomery are tested beyond anything they ever expected.  The book has a slow, long fuse, but once it ignites, it moves fast and becomes a book you can’t put down.  You care about the characters, hybrid and human, and at a certain point you start to wonder if it’s possible for this to end well, or even on a slightly positive note (spoiler alert: it does).

A compelling read, an excellent take on an underrated classic, and the kind of book which would prompt one of our librarians (hi, Sarah) to say, “Good for her!”, The Daughter of Doctor Moreau is well worth checking out.


One of the pleasures of running book groups is getting to put together selections of books for the group to read for the following month.  One of the drawbacks of running book groups is that sometimes the group doesn’t pick the book you wish they would.  That happened this month: I offered the Field of Mystery Group the book The Verifiers, by Jane Pek, and they didn’t choose it.  So I ended up reading it myself, and what a fun read it was.

Start with the premise: our main character, Claudia, is working for an agency that checks out the backgrounds of people on dating services.  If you’re matched up with someone through an online service and you feel there’s something iffy about the person, you would go to this agency, the Verifiers, and they would investigate whether the person is what they pretend to be online.  Isn’t that a great premise for a mystery?  Think of all the ways in which people lie and what might be behind the deceits.

But it gets better, and part of that is because of Claudia, our protagonist.  Claudia has secrets of her own, not terrible ones, but ones that loom fairly large when she considers her family.  She’s not looking for a nice Chinese boyfriend, as her mother wants: she’s gay and she hasn’t outed herself ro her traditional (if quirky) family.  She left the corporate job her older brother got for her through his connections, and instead is working for this agency, where secrecy and confidentiality are bywords, and where she is not making the kind of money her brother hoped she would.  Her family – mother, sister and brother – is a big part of her life, whether she likes it or not, and she’s aware that she’s lying to them pretty much all the time.

Claudia has a degree in English, and she is a major fan of mysteries, especially a (fictitious) series starring one Inspector Yuan, to which she refers frequently over the course of the book. She delights in the idea that she’s following in the footsteps of this Inspector Yuan (and for the record, based on what she mentions about those books, I would absolutely read the whole series), and bases her (sometimes less than great) decisions on what he would do in the circumstances.

The plot begins when a young woman comes to the agency to find out why a particular date started ghosting her, and then asks the agency to look into the background of another person who dated her but who seemed to be hiding something.  Of course the second person IS hiding something, as Claudia quickly discovers, but the first date, the one the client never even met, is more interesting still.  Claudia is much more fascinated with this case than either of her bosses are (always a red flag), and when they discover that the client died suddenly, an apparent suicide, the bosses want to close the files, but Claudia is really hooked and, true to her deep genre knowledge, wants to find out if this was really a suicide. 

One thing leads to another, and Claudia finds herself investigating that suspicious death and some other odd things that are going on in the online dating industry, including the use of bots pretending to be potential suitors.  Despite the discouragement from her bosses, she persists in digging deeper and deeper into the question of who that client was (and of course, the client wasn’t exactly who she pretended to be), what the client was really doing, and who caused the client’s death.  All the while, Claudia is also dealing with her family’s demands on her, and the general complications of living and working in New York City.

The book is fast moving, the mystery is original, the characters are believable if slightly off, and all in all, it was great fun to read. I couldn’t put it down, and I devoutly hope that the hint at the end of the book that there might be more to come is a promise.  I’d be delighted to read more of Claudia’s exploits if they’re as entertaining as these.

Check it out if you’re in the mood for a mystery that’s not gory or excessively violent, that pulls you right in with a wonderful character with a great voice and keeps you going to the very end.


After a really amazing and invigorating discussion this Saturday on Small Things Like These (so much depth for such a short book!), the Field Notes Book Group chose our book for August.  It was a tough choice, and I had to be the tie-breaker, but ultimately we went with A Thousand Ships, by Natalie Haynes.

A Thousand Ships is about the Trojan War, sort of.  It’s also about The Iliad, The Odyssey and a number of famous Greek tragedies about the lead up to and the aftermath of the Trojan War.  It differs from those classics because this book focuses exclusively on the female characters involved in the war, on the Greek side, on the Trojan side, even on the Olympian side, giving them a voice they’ve been denied through the centuries.  

Because it’s about a war and the aftermath of a war, there are dark and sad moments in it, but there’s also a certain vein of humor, especially in Penelope’s increasingly annoyed letters to Odysseus while he’s off having his adventures.  The book is structured as a series of interrelated short stories, and it’s a terrific read.

Do you in fact need to be an expert on Greek mythology to enjoy this?  No.  You don’t even need to have read The Iliad or The Odyssey.  Trust me, it will all become clear to you as you read.  Of course if you are familiar with the stories in a general way, the book will be all that much more fun to read.

Copies of the book will be available at the Circulation Desk.  Join us on August 20 for what promises to be an excellent discussion of a fascinating book.


I’m not rigid about the difference between books and movies.  I understand that they are two different media, and you can’t expect a movie to do the same things that a book can do, even if the film is “based on” the book. Sometimes the differences between the two are almost comical (the Lawrence Olivier/Greer Garson version of Pride and Prejudice, for instance, completely changes some of the characters), sometimes they’re so vast you can hardly trace the outlines of the original in the movie (and yes, I know the movie, Blade Runner, is a classic, but it is VERY different from Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, and while I love the movie Slumdog Millionaire, I don’t think I would have loved it as much if I’d read the source, Q & A, first).  What’s interesting to me now is the difference between books and television series based on the books, which actually turns out to be the opposite of the difference between books and movies.

With a movie, the book is almost always better because the author can go into depth in the characters and their thinking in a way that’s almost impossible to depict on film.  An author can have a character musing over things, considering alternatives and possibilities, for pages and it’s interesting.  In a movie, showing someone thinking is the same as showing the person doing nothing, and nobody likes that.  Books can go into greater depth with subplots and side characters, where movies have to cut all that “extraneous” stuff out to get on with the story.

A television series, though, has enough time and space to cover all the details of the book.  Subplots and side characters can be developed and shown because you don’t have a two hour limit.  The problem with a television series based on a book is that the series needs more, and so the way a series diverges from a book is in complicating things and adding things to the book, whether those things might be strictly necessary or not.

For instance, the first season of Dexter followed the first book, Darkly Dreaming Dexter, fairly closely, with one or two dramatic differences (people live at the end of the book who are killed in the series, and vice versa).  Characters who were mentioned in the book got their own subplots, but on the whole, if you read the book, you had a good sense of where the series was going.  After that first season, though, the television series took a completely different path, complicating Dexter’s backstory, adding more characters and more relationships, until finally the only things the series and the books had in common were some characters and a general concept of who and what Dexter was.

The Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett book, Good Omens, was delightful, a romp through the apocalypse and the efforts to avoid the apocalypse.  The characters of Crowley and Aziraphale, the devil and angel (respectively) were just two among a whole assortment of strange and entertaining characters.  The television series, while mostly following the arc of the book, changed its focus to Crowley and Aziraphale, developing their relationship over the course of human history and giving them much more of a part to play in avoiding the end of the world.  They are charming and funny characters, and I’m not saying that the series was bloated or in any way bad.  I enjoyed it.  I enjoyed the book more, though, and I think that’s because (a) I read the book first (always a factor, to be honest), and (b) the book was more balanced among the characters and the plotlines. I understand there’s going to be a second season of Good Omens, and I have to wonder what it could possibly be about, since the whole story of the book was covered in the first series.

More recently, I’ve been watching the series of The Old Man, and, while waiting for the next episodes, I read the book, by Thomas Perry. The television series is baroque, especially for a thriller: there is a backstory involving the Russian war in Afghanistan, there are multiple characters with multiple identities, and (as there should be in a show about spies) questions of loyalty and betrayal.  The book is lean and mean; the characters are fewer and less complicated, the plot is clear and moves like a racehorse.  It would make a terrific movie in the same way The Maltese Falcon made a terrific movie.  What I can’t understand is why someone chose to take this book, with this plot and this speed, and wrap it around with multiple lines of secondary characters, political intrigue, mistaken identities and the like to drag it out for hours and hours of a television series.

I’m sure there are books that would be perfect for a television series (Bleak House, for instance) where the writers wouldn’t need to add extra characters and extra plots and complications to stretch the material out.  But on the whole, I believe television series and books are two entirely different kinds of creatures, and they should stay that way.


The Field of Mystery Book Group had an especially stimulating discussion on Saturday of The Long Call, as is often the case when we have a book that some people really like and some people don’t.  There was plenty of interesting material to talk about with this book, and at least some of us will probably be looking for more books by Ann Cleeves.  Then we had a really easy time picking the book we’re going to be reading for August, which is The Book of Cold Cases, by Simone St. James (as an aside, I’m a little surprised we didn’t pick The Verifiers, which was another of the choices and one of the more intriguing possibilities – probably I’ll read it myself soon).

Years before, two men in the same area by similar means and with similar cryptic notes left on their bodies. Beth Greer, a rich and eccentric woman, was seen leaving the scene of one of the murders, and was charged with the crimes, but acquitted (shades of Lizzie Borden).  No one else was ever caught and charged.  Beth went back to her family mansion to live more or less as a recluse.

Shea is working as a receptionist by day, and running a true crime website by night.  Her choice of hobby is a little odd, given that she’s the victim of an attempted kidnapping by a man who’s coming up for parole soon.  Chance brings her into contact with Beth, and, not expecting any kind of response, she asks if she can interview Beth.  To Shea’s great surprise, Beth agrees, but on her terms: in her home, when she chooses.  Shea’s torn between delight that she might be getting the scoop of her life, and worry that she might be getting manipulated by a sociopath.  

Copies of the book will be available at the Circulation Desk shortly, and we’ll be meeting on August 6 at 10:30 (refreshments served!) for a discussion.  Join us if you can.


Over the last couple of years, since I’ve been running the Field of Mystery Book Group, I’ve had lots of occasions to think about what makes a good mystery.  Some of the books we’ve selected have been all right, some have been less than all right (one I actually hated, and said as much in the meeting), and some have been really good.  Reading our most recent selection, The Long Call, by Ann Cleeves, helped me to come to some conclusions about what kind of mystery I like best.

I’m as fond of a good twist as the next person (though, having read a lot of thrillers and mysteries, I’m a little harder to surprise with a twist these days), and a clever puzzle with lots of red herrings and dead ends is always entertaining, but what really makes a good mystery for me is more than the plot, however clever and twisted.  

The depth of characters and the breadth of the world the author creates are what I’m looking for. I want a mystery that sucks me into a whole world, a place that feels alive and realistic, where you feel the people go on and have lives outside their roles in this particular case.  When you’re reading the book, you should feel as if you’re actually there, whether “there” is a small town in Devon, England, or a private school for girls in Dublin, or a neighborhood in Tokyo. 

The other thing I look for is characters as complicated and conflicted as real people.  I especially love a book that starts out with a character presented in a particular way that then reveals more and more facets to the character, so you’re forced to question whether the initial impression was accurate at all.  For instance, in The Long Call, we’re given one view of the victim at the outset, and then as we gradually learn more and more about him, he becomes more and more of a human being, flawed and struggling, and quite different from the person we originally thought he was.  Lots of writers devote this kind of attention to their main characters and the continuing characters in a series, but to me, the mark of a really good writer is that they give that kind of loving attention to many characters, not just the detectives and the suspects, but the people surrounding them.  P.D. James was good at this, as are Tana French and Ruth Ware and Ann Cleeves and Minette Walters, to name a few.

Which is not to say that plot isn’t important.  Obviously a mystery where the answer is obvious from the outset isn’t much of a mystery, and neither is a mystery where the answer, when revealed, seems to have no relationship with the rest of the plot.  A great mystery plot turns on the particular characters of these particular individuals, and when the solution is finally revealed, you feel as if you should have guessed it all along but you didn’t because it was too cleverly hidden from you through the book.

Reading a good mystery is an immersive experience, one that engages the emotions as well as the intellect.  I’m delighted to have discovered so many really good ones through the book group, and hope you, too, will find the kind of mystery that keeps you up extra hours because you just have to find out what happened to these characters you care about.