Sample Some Tasty “Cozy Mysteries”

The words “cozy” and “mystery” may not seem to go together at first glance, but with the growing popularity of the mystery novel subgenre,  they somehow do. What makes a mystery “cozy”? They are usually set in small towns, with amateur or atypical sleuths solving the crimes, and Angela Lansbury in Murder She Wrotethere isn’t a lot of swearing, gore, or sex. Think “Murder, She Wrote” with a hundred different themes.

The theme of the series is usually evident in the series name and the often-punny book titles. There seems to be a theme for every interest: Knitting (Dyeing Wishes : A Haunted Yarn Shop Mystery), Gardening (Harvest of Murder : A Gardening Mystery), Books & Reading (If Books Could Kill: A Bibliophile Mystery), and of course, Cats (Paws and Effect : A Magical Cats Mystery). But one of the biggest themes is Food.

We’ve assembled some mysteries sure to appeal to the Foodie and Amateur Detective in you!

Goldy Bear MysteriesCatering to Nobody by Diane Mott Davidson by Diane Mott Davidson. This series follows caterer Goldy as she solves murders and tries to keep her fledgling business afloat. Catering is a risky business indeed!

Hannah Swensen MysteriesThe Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder by Joanne Fluke by Joanne Fluke. Hannah Swensen is a cookie baker whose gingersnaps are almost as tart as her mouth and whose penchant for solving crime definitely stirs things up.

Bakeshop MysteriesMeet Your Baker by Ellie Alexander by Ellie Alexander. Welcome to Torte – a small-town family bakeshop where the coffee is hot, the muffins are fresh, and the cakes are definitely to die for.

Comfort Food MysteriesDo or Diner by Christine Wenger by Christine Wenger. Trixie Matkowski  agrees to take over her aunt’s diner in upstate New York, and is looking forward to the small town atmosphere she knew as a child…. until murder is on the menu.

Tea Shop MysteriesShades of Earl Grey by Laura Childs by Laura Childs. Theodosia Browning is the  owner of Charleston, South Carolina’s  Indigo Tea Shop, where a mystery is always brewing…

Cheese Shop MysteriesThe Long Quiche Goodbye by Avery Aames by Avery Aames. Charlotte Bessette runs Fromagerie Bessette, or as it’s more commonly known by the residents of small-town Providence, Ohio – the Cheese Shop. Another small town with a large number recipes to make and murders to solve.

 

Sci-Fi Favorites

Today’s guest post was written by Harold Kramer.

In this blog post, I’m going to discuss some of my favorite science fiction (sci-fi) books and authors.  If you are interested in sci-fi, a good place to find some of the best science fiction are the Hugo and Nebula Awards. These annual awards constitute a list of outstanding sci-fi literature and drama. They also provide an international platform that showcases both established and new sci-fi authors in a broad range of genres and sub-genres.

Contemporary sci-fi has split into many sub-genres, such as dystopia (think Red Rising), alien invasion  (like Ender’s Game),  cyberpunk (like Neuromancer), and sci-fi/fantasy (Dune, for example).  The common thread, that makes any literary or dramatic work science fiction, is that it deals with scientific topics such as life on other planets, space flight, time travel and life in the future.  In fact, the library has recently merged its sci-fi collection into the fiction collection since it is has become difficult to distinguish “regular” fiction from science fiction.

For starters, here are two of my favorite authors:

Jack McDevitt is a master writer of classic sci fi.  He has been compared to Arthur C. Clarke and Isaac Asimov, two legendary sci-fi authors. He has been nominated for the Nebula Award sixteen times.  His two ongoing series of novels are the Alex Benedict series and the Academy or “Hutch” (Priscilla Hutchins) series.  Both series have definitive timelines, so you should really start at the beginning of each series. However, each novel can stand on its own.  My favorite Alex Benedict novels are Coming Home and Seeker. Seeker won the 2006 Nebula Award for Best Novel.   Two of my other favorites are his first novel, The Hercules Text a story about mankind’s reaction to receiving an intelligent signal from space, and Omega, a Priscilla Hutchins novel about mysterious energy clouds in space. It was nominated for the Nebula Award in 2004.

Connie Willis is an American writer who has won more Hugo and Nebula awards than any other science fiction author ever.  My favorites books by her are her trilogy of time travel novels.  These include Doomsday Book that is an account of time travel to the 14th Century by a female heroine who is a historian from Oxford University sometime in the late 21st Century. It is moving story of human frailty and courage during a time of great devastation. It’s as much historical fiction as it is sci-fi.  Blackout and its sequel All Clear also feature female historians from Oxford University. These books are detailed, compelling novels about the courage of the British people during World War II.  These novels won both the Hugo and Nebula Awards.

Let me know about some of your favorite sci-fi authors and novels and I will feature them in future blogs.

That Wild Wild West

Westerns are not my bag. They cover a very short piece of history (usually post-Civil War to the early 1900’s), they’re often trite, and too many of them bore me. You can run down a checklist for almost every one: Horse? Check. Damsel? Check. Angry Indian? Check. Sheriff?  Check. Big shootout? Check.

Clichéd

No doubt, much of my boredom has to do with Hollywood Westerns. Though I’ve never seen the entire Terror of Tiny Town, I’ve suffered a few westerns. I did like Tombstone, and the remake of True Grit, Young Guns, Maverick, and yes, I admit, I did enjoy The Lone Ranger – three times. Maybe I’m un-American, but I can’t stand John Wayne or his films, and while I was excited to watch High Noon (it was mentioned in the TV show M*A*S*H*, and actor Harry Morgan appeared in both), it was a terribly disappointing, tragically dull film to someone used to modern Hollywood. It turned me off from ever attempting My Darling Clementine or Shootout at the OK Corral. So while I can handle modern westerns, those old classic hallmarks aren’t found on my shelves.

Nor had I ever read a real “Western,” although a couple of Best-Western Literature lists include children’s books like the Little House on the Prairie series, as well as Old Yeller (you could probably throw in Young Pioneers, Caddie Woodlawn, Seven Alone, and the sequel to Old Yeller, Savage Sam), and those I loved just fine. If you read through twenty different lists of what’s considered the best of Old West literature, you’ll find ten books are on every list, so let’s call them the Best Westerns of Literature (not to be confused with Best Western, the hotel, or Western Lit as opposed to Asian):

The Virginian – Owen Wister
Hondo – Louis L’Amour
Lonesome Dove – Larry McMurtry
True Grit – Charles Portis
All the Pretty Horses – Cormac McCarthy
The Shootist – Glendon Swarthout
Riders of the Purple Sage – Zane Grey
The Time it Never Rained – Elmer Kelton
The Ox-Bow Incident – Walter Van Tildenberg Clark
Shane – Jack Schaefer

Fresh and Award-Winning

I could have lived the rest of my life just fine without Westerns, except for one thing: someone I knew was writing one. I’ve seen Howard Weinstein for many years at various conventions, attended some of his writing workshops, and we know each other at least in passing. Howard’s written more than 18 books, from science fiction to dog training to Mickey Mantle, and some 65 comic books. To make sure he got it right, he visited several of the places he wrote about, making sure he got the details, and over a year or more I listened to him talk about his work and read excerpts from it. It was interesting, but… It was a western.

Galloway’s Gamble was published last September, and now it’s won an award: The Western Fictioneers Peacemaker Award for Best First Western Novel. So I had a quandary: support a fellow writer in his award-winning endeavor, or ignore his success on a project he loved dearly. I thought I’d done my duty by having the library order a copy, but I buckled down and opened my first western.

photo courtesy of Howard Weinstein

Galloway’s Gamble is the story of Jake and Jamey Galloway, two brothers who shift about aimlessly looking to find their purpose and not doing well at it. They join the Civil War too late, they miss marrying the girls they had their eyes on, they get taken by a cheating card shark, and horse-shy Jake just can’t manage to hang onto a hat. Yet, little by little, they take steps and missteps to change their fortune, and wind up trying to save their little Texas hometown from the villainous cattle baron Wilhelm Krieg and the corrupt banker Silas Atwood. 

As a western, I can’t judge Galloway’s Gamble, since I’ve read nothing to compare it to, but winning an award is pretty good sign. As a novel, you certainly don’t have to like westerns to enjoy it. The story of the Galloway brothers is a timeless tale of the little man against the powerful, with a cast of characters that never lets you walk away for long – you have to pick it back up and find out what happens. While the influence of films like Maverick is evident (which is not a bad thing), there isn’t an overwhelming number of bullets, horses, swaggering men in hats, and no cliché’d slang that could be a turn-off to the casual reader. Instead, you get a solid, interesting story that just happens to take place in the late 1800’s.

Give it a try. If you like it (and I’m sure you will), you might find some of the classic westerns to your liking, too. I think I’m going to go watch Maverick again.

This Year’s Best Crime Novels So Far

Today we are featuring a guest post by Cassie Peters:

Crime novels offer glimpses into the minds of those who choose to either take the law into their own hands or ignore it entirely. Through the author’s words, we are able to contemplate, observe, and judge the motivations that make the criminals tick. If learning about the underworld is within your literary interests, here are some of the best crime novels of 2018. Following a long tradition of crime-based literature, many of these novels are brilliant subversions of the well-known and popular genre. Get ready to take a harrowing leap into the minds of 2018’s fictional criminals.

The Outsider by Stephen King

Terry Maitland is a Little League coach, family man, and all-around beloved pillar of the community who was arrested for the mutilation and murder of a young boy. Honest cop Detective Ralph Anderson struggles with deciphering all available evidence for fear of convicting the wrong suspect, until his wife Jeannie asks all the right questions that leads the investigation to the truth. Meanwhile, time-warping details both obscure and provide glimpses into hidden, deeper truths. Stephen King’s The Outsider is a masterful twist on the classic crime genre. A smooth and effortless tale of modern day crime with just the right amount of noir, politics, and psychedelics. Not a lot of writers can so pleasurably disorient readers like King.


Hellbent by Gregg Hurwitz

An orphan who at 12 was enrolled in a top-secret government training program for assassins escapes to become an unlikely vigilante in Hellbent. The novel is the latest in author Gregg Hurwitz’s international bestselling series of books in the Orphan X series. It’s a sordid look into the all-too-fragile lives that evolve on their own amid government motives and conspiracies. Crime and conspiracy take on a humanitarian form via bullet train-paced prose. 

The Perfect Nanny by Leila Slimani

What if Mary Poppins was a sociological suspense-thriller that didn’t hold anything back? There’s nothing mystical or magical about Leila Slimani’s The Perfect Nanny, but she manages to masterfully subvert expectations via her sublime prose. It’s no secret that the lives of the characters in the story are in danger, including young children.  The mystery is whether or not you’ll be able to make it through the slow simmer of how a wholly trustworthy figure can transition into a rationally irrational monster. Library Journal says, “What initially feels like routine, unremarkable women’s fiction morphs into a darkly propulsive nail-biter overlain with a vivid and piercing study of class tensions”.  Peppered with social realist truths amid subtle but constant mounting dread, The Perfect Nanny submits a poverty-stricken view of Paris that culminates in one of the most satisfyingly horrible endings yet.

Into the Black Nowhere by Meg Gardiner

FBI rookie Caitlin Hendrix is assigned to the FBI’s elite Behavioral Analysis Unit to find a serial killer who leaves behind grisly clues. In this  dark, disturbing portrait of murder from the perspective of a career forensic psychologist, Agent Hendrix works with the FBI’s serial crime unit and a legendary FBI profiler to dissect the motivations behind a killer based on the available evidence. Into the Black Nowhere is a gripping novel that doubles as a crash course in sociology, critical thinking, crime research methodology, psychological testing, and criminal theory. Based on the exploits of the infamous Ted Bundy, Gardiner’s novel succeeds at a creating a realistic depiction of how serial killers function that is horrendous and unflinchingly educational at the same time. Don’t worry – you won’t need an actual degree in forensic psychology to enjoy this book. However, you should be prepared to learn a thing or two about the criminal mind – insights that might be too dark or true to be forgotten. Watch your step.

This feature post written for Cheshire Library Blog by Cassie Peters.

Sherlock Holmes Lives On!

Sherlock Homes, the quintessential detective created by Arthur Conan Doyle, first appeared in A Study in Scarlet in 1887.  Doyle penned four novels and 56 short stories, chronicling the adventures of the great detective as seen though the eyes of the narrator of the Sherlock tales, Doctor John Watson.

Yet, when you go to our catalog and type “Sherlock Holmes” in the search box, much more comes up that just the Arthur Conan Doyle tales.  Sherlock Holmes appears in many new and sometimes surprising stories. One of my new favorites is The Daughter of Sherlock Homes by Leonard S. Goldberg.

It is no secret from the outset of the story that Joanna Blalock, a widow with a ten year old son who looks just the late Sherlock Holmes,  is the daughter of the great detective. The pleasure of this tale is not making that discovery but uncovering a world where the descendants of all the original Conan Doyle characters are living intertwined lives. The son of Inspector Lestrade bumbles his way though a murder investigation. The son of Doctor Watson is at the side of his elderly parent and just as blind to observations and deductions that never escape the sharp eyes of Joanna (whose mother is none other than Irene Adler, the only person to ever get the better of Sherlock Holmes!) Even the offspring of the infamous villains that Holmes faced are present.

I recently wrote a blog post about Enola Homes, the younger sister of Sherlock in Nancy Springer’s clever children’s mystery series. Since then, I have realized that the exploits of Sherlock Holmes did not end with the final Conan Doyle story, and, being a big Holmes fan, I’m glad that the great detective lives on. Here is a small sampling of other incarnations of Sherlock Holmes:

The Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes mystery series by Laurie R. King.
In The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, the first book in the series, a chance meeting with a Sussex beekeeper turns into a pivotal moment when fifteen-year-old Mary Russell discovers that the beekeeper is the reclusive, retired detective Sherlock Holmes, who soon takes on the role of mentor and teacher.

Sherlock Holmes and the King’s Evil and Other New Adventures of the Great Detective by Donald Thomas.
Five original tales inspired by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s iconic character feature Holmes taking on such challenges as the famed siege of Sydney Street, a planned German invasion of America, and a supernatural curse.

Sherlock Holmes and the Shakespeare Letter by Barry Grant.
Searching through modern London for a stolen letter purportedly written by Shakespeare, Sherlock Holmes discovers a plot to arm terrorists and enlists the aid of his roommate, James Wilson, to track the arms dealers to a Scottish castle.

The Perils of Sherlock Holmes by Loren D. Estleman.
A collection of Sherlock Holmes mysteries and essays, including “Channeling Holmes,” “On the Significance of Boswells,” and “Was Sherlock Holmes The Shadow?” that delve deeper into the world of Sherlock Holmes and the imaginative mind of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Sherlock Holmes and the Eisendorf Enigma by Larry Millett.
Dogged by depression and—as a trip to the Mayo Clinic has revealed—emphysema, 66-year-old Sherlock Holmes is preparing to return to England when he receives a shock: a note slipped under his hotel room door, from a vicious murderer he’d nearly captured in Munich in 1892.