Seasonal Cozy Mystery

Tonight the Costa Mesa/Donald Dungan Library’s mystery book club discussed The Wicked Witch Murder by Leslie Meier. If you are looking for some seasonal light reading I would recommend this book. Newspaper woman, Lucy Stone, an amateur sleuth from Tinker’s Cove, Maine is our protagonist. Lucy’s quiet town is disturbed when Diana Ravenscroft moves into town and sets up a business specializing in spells and witchcraft. Some of the local residents are less than excited to have a witch living in their midst. The upset turns to outright rage when a murder occurs and strange things start happening all over town. This quick read is full of witches, red herrings and all kinds of small town drama. If you like this book, Leslie Meier has a whole series of holiday themed mysteries. From the St. Patrick’s Day Murder to the Star Spangled Murder, there is literally a book in this series for every holiday. Check Leslie Meier’s website to see the full book list. Fans of Joanne Fluke and Laura Levine will enjoy this book and so will fans of seasonal cozy mysteries.


A dangerous book for boys--and girls too for that matter!!

Cast of Characters: A Bumble Bee; Roman; Grunion's Dad; Wing; Sparkler; Beryl (one of my favorites); Grunion; The High Tollin (Albert); Wangle (boo: hiss); Briar; and A Fairy (poor fairy). In  Conn Iggulden's book Tollins: explosive tales for children, richly illustrated by Lizzy Duncan, you will discover the world of Chorleywood, where Tollins live, and Fairies are used as handkerchiefs. The bearded men are working hard at developing fireworks, and I am sad to report, that blowing up Tollins is not out of the question. Will Sparkler and Grunion find a solution to the slavery and near death that ensues? READ THIS BOOK AND FIND OUT!



Coming of Age Thriller

MisterDeath’s Blue-Eyed Girls by Mary Downing Hahn is based on real events that took place in the mid-1950s. The horrific murders in the book happened during the author’s teenage years and are the defining moment in the life of the main character, Nora Cunningham. Nora is a typical teen, neither very popular nor an outcast, insecure about her looks, and uncomfortable because she’s tall. Murder is at the heart of the story, but it is more of a coming-of-age story.

 The day after a night of partying, Nora and her best friend, Ellie, are almost witnesses to the shocking murders of their classmate and a young friend, Cheryl and Bobbie Jo. The deaths have an impact on the teens at the party, and each deals with the tragedy in his or her own way. Nora, who starts out as a good Catholic girl until this tragic event shakes her convictions about friendships and religion, begins to question everything. She tries new things that go against her Catholic upbringing like reading new authors and making out.
The title of the book is inspired by a poem by E.E. Cummings. The killer takes a line from the poem and refers to himself as Mister Death. The story is told through multiple perspectives, including the killer’s, but focusing mostly on Nora and, occasionally, Buddy, the alleged killer; there are also letters and diary entries. Through the different viewpoints, the reader gets the whole story. This narrative style works very well as the characters experience tragedy and growing up. The book is sometimes slow, but very well-written and is quite a departure from middle school ghost stories readers may have come to expect from Hahn. Mister Death’s Blue-Eyed Girls is in the Younger Teen section in the OCPL system.


"Best Ever" Halloween Books for Children

Who can better recommend a children's book than a children's librarian? This list was compiled by OC Public Libraries' Children's Librarians. These are their favorite "Best Ever" Halloween books.

A Beasty Story by Bill Martin

Big Pumpkin by Erica Silverman

Bone Dog by Eric Rohmann

Clifford’s First Halloween by Norman Bridwell

Even Monsters Need Haircuts by Matthew McElligott

Frank Was a Monster Who Wanted To Dance by Keith Graves

Ghosts in the House by Kohara Kazuno

Go Away Big Green Monster by Ed Emberley

The Hallo-wiener by Dav Pilkey

The Little Old Lady Who Was Not Afraid of Anything by Linda Williams

Los Gatos Black on Halloween by Marisa Montes

Mrs. McMurphy's Pumpkin by Rick Walton

Nathaniel Willy, Scared Silly retold by Judith Mathews

The Perfect Pumpkin Pie by Denys Cazet

Plumply Dumply Pumpkin by Mary Serfozo

Pumpkin Circle: The Story of a Garden
by George Levenson

Pumpkin Moon by Tim Preston

Room on the Broom by Julia Donaldson

The Runaway Pumpkin by Kevin Lewis

Skeleton Hiccups by Margery Cuyler

Vampire Boy's Good Night by Lisa Brown

The Witch's Hat by Tony Johnston


My Top Ten Favorite Classics

Everyone has their favorite classic books. These are mine. It was hard narrowing it down to just ten!  What are your favorites? Comment and add to this list.

Adventures of Huckleberry Finn By: Tom Sawyer
A Passage to India By: E.M. Forster
A Room of One’s Own By: Virginia Woolf
Dracula By: Bram Stoker
Emma By: Jane Austen
Invisible Man By: Ralph Ellison
Leaves of Grass By: Walt Whitman
The Scarlet Letter By: Nathaniel Hawthorne
Sense and Sensibility By: Jane Austen
To Kill a Mockingbird By: Harper Lee


An Unconventional New Novel

"A work of art is a confession." – Albert Camus

How Should a Person Be? by Sheila Heti is a meditation on art and life.  Sheila (our protagonist shares the author’s name) is a 20-something playwright, living in Toronto.  She is trying to finish a commission, but she has writer’s block and seems to spend more time thinking about how she should live her life and how she should be, than actually writing.  The novel is unconventional—partly stream of conscious, partly linear—and it is written in five acts, like a play.  Though mostly prose, some chapters are written in dialogue.  Subtitled “A Novel from Life,” this book is quasi-autobiographical, based partly on Heti’s personal experiences and on conversations with her friends.  I found myself constantly thinking, “I wonder if that really happened,” and at times, “I HOPE that’s not true!”

Sheila struggles to discover who she is as a playwright, as an artist and as a woman.  Even though we don’t necessarily get answers to all the big questions she poses about creativity, life, relationships and friendships, we do get a glimpse at her attempt to answer them in a meaningful way.  Are we bound by the way other people view us?  What makes a painting (or a person) beautiful, and conversely, ugly?  Why does she want to write her play, anyway?  As we see Sheila answering the questions, we also get a little closer to answering them for ourselves. 


Valeri Gorbachev

I have read more picture books as an adult than I ever did as a child, and I am picky about my picture books! Stilted language, overlong prose, bad illustrations, and terrible rhymes fill the shelves. One picture book creator who rarely disappoints me is Ukranian-born Valeri Gorbachev.  Although he didn’t even speak English when he came to the United States at the end of the cold war, his signature watercolors of anthropomorphized animals first graced the pages of other authors’ work, and he now writes and illustrates his own picture books populated with portly raccoons, spunky rabbits, and turtles – oh, the turtles!  
      [Cover]         [Cover]

In style and manner, the ink and watercolor creatures he paints have the warmth and character of Arnold Lobel’s Frog and Toad. Like Lobel’s good friends, Goat and Pig lead simple lives, but feel deeply for each other. In The Big Trip, adventurous Pig plans a trip while his friend Goat worries about the dangers, and in That’s What Friends are For, Goat imagines all the terrible things that could have made Pig cry. The relationships focus on things to which children can relate, but are never condescending or dismissive.

Reminiscent of detailed chaos of Richard Scarry, The Missing Chick follows a mother hen and her many neighbors looking high and low for her missing chick. Sharp little eyes will help them search. Like all of Gorbachev’s picture books, this one combines a nice old-fashioned look with a gentle humor that’s easy to share at bedtime.

A perfect example of Gorbachev's connection to the world of children is Turtle's Penguin Day. After reading a book about penguins, Little Turtle transforms himself into a penguin for the day, crafting a costume out of a suit jacket, sharing penguin facts, and spreading penguin fever through his school--until he finds a new obsession. This gentle story is not the flashiest, but it speaks to the mind and heart of a preschooler perfectly.

OC Public Libraries owns almost 40 titles written or illustrated by Valeri Gorbachev – what’s your favorite?



Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail

A while ago I posted a list of books to read while you were waiting for the book Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed. Finally my wait is over. It was a long, but worthwhile, wait and now I have read the book and can say I am very impressed. I think what really impressed me about this book was the author’s honesty. Strayed doesn’t hesitate to show herself in an unflattering light, and she doesn’t bend the story to show herself as a hero or something we should strive to be. Strayed tells her story, flaws and all. Wild chronicles Strayed’s experiences as she spent a summer hiking the Pacific Crest Trail alone. The Pacific Crest Trail is a hiking trail that stretches from Mexico to Canada.
Strayed was not an avid long distance hiker prior to this adventure. She had experience hiking and camping, but she admits right away she had never gone backpacking before and wasn’t fully prepared for the challenges she would encounter during her hike. Unless you count her enormous backpack “monster” as a character, which by the end of the book I started to, Strayed hiked over 1100 miles by herself. Despite her solitude, she meets a large cast of characters on her hike. These brief encounters kept Strayed from abandoning her hike, they kept her motivated, and helped her along the way. Besides relaying the events of her hike, much of the book is about the author’s childhood, the death of her mother a few years before, her divorce, and the pain caused by all these events. This is not a hiking book, and this is not a Pacific Crest Trail guide book; it is most definitely a memoir. Wild is the story of how the author healed herself. At the beginning of the hike Cheryl Strayed is not in a good place emotionally, but by the end of the book the reader is confident Strayed will be okay.
Don’t think this book is just a personal journal. Strayed is an excellent writer, and this book is well-crafted and full of polished writing. I rooted for Strayed the whole way, and you will too. I definitely recommend this book and think it would be of interest to most people, even those who aren’t fans of the great outdoors.


Losing Yourself in the Alps of Northern Italy

Adriana Trigiani's novels are always comforting and full of reflection. They are sometimes historical, ever capturing the essence of their geographical setting, and always there is the Italian connection that calls the reader to pack up and go explore the villages that she describes.

The Shoemaker's Wife is perhaps the best so far. Set both in the northern Italian alps and later New York City and Minnesota, the novel spans the lifetime of Enza and Ciro, two characters who are far too full of goodness, talent, industry and beauty to be real (or are they?). But isn't that what a perfect story does, transport us to some world beyond our possibility so that we be lost for a while as we visit?

I cannot spoil this novel by describing where it goes and how it ends. But the places it takes us at the turn of the century in the early 1900's are so vivid that we can breath the Italian mountain air and see the wildflowers in bloom.  And we can see and even hear the best and worst of New York City during this period from ill-treated immigrant working conditions to the splendor of the Metropolitan Opera and the great Caruso. The events illuminate the finest of the art of historical seamstress work and high fashion and shoemaking, as the title describes.  And we can celebrate success but cry with heart-break as we are taken through the full circles of life.

As in all of Trigiani's novels, there is a thread of romance, but the female characters are strong career women who know their own minds.  Her novels are peopled with characters that we would like to know or even want to be.  They start with the Big Stone Gap series set in the Appalachian mountains where she grew up and continue on through many best-selling others including a young adult novel Viola in Real Life.  As well as being a best-selling author, she is a playwright, screen writer, television writer and producer and so much more. So wide is her fan base that she has even turned tour organizer, taking groups to the places she writes of.

The Shoemaker's Wife is as rich in text as its cover, a glorious read.

Details of her  biography and many accomplishments can be found on her website here.


Camp Days 1942-1945

Camp Days 1942-1945 is a memoir in art by Chizuko Judy Sugita De Queiroz depicting her childhood experiences in the Poston, Arizona internment camp.  It is a remarkable book in that the harshness of camp life is depicted in art that is so vibrant and colorful.  One of my favorite images is that of the beautiful desert sky all awash in shades of yellow, orange, blue and purple, with desolate-looking barracks in the foreground.

The book’s introduction is written by George Takei (of Star Trek fame) who spent his childhood interned at Camp Rohwer, Arkansas. He writes: Chizuko’s art is a powerful narrative of a shameful event in our history.  It is also an evocative personal chronicle of the survival of a loving and resilient family.

Chizuko Judy Sugita De Queiroz will be at the El Toro Branch Library on Friday October 26th at 2pm to talk about her book, her art, and her camp experiences.  This program is free and open to the general public.
California Reads programs are made possible with support from Cal Humanities in partnership with California Center for the Book.


Fall Themed Cozy Mysteries

With all this warm weather it sure isn't feeling a lot like fall. But it is already October! If you need some help getting into the fall season why don't you try picking up a good autumn/Halloween themed cozy mystery. For a great list of fall themed mysteries check out this list of Halloween and fall themed mysteries provided by the website This website is a great resource for cozy mysteries of all kinds. This list of fall themed mysteries just might do the trick to get you feeling cozy despite all the warm weather.


So You Want to Eat Vegan?

“Eating and reading are two pleasures that combine admirably.”
                  – C.S. Lewis

People have so many different reasons for becoming vegan:  health, animal welfare, environmental concerns.  Sometimes they eat vegan for a limited time as a detox.  If you decide, for any reason, to give the plant-based, vegan way of eating a try, the book for you is Vegan for Life:  Everything You Need to Know to be Healthy and Fit on a Plant-Based Diet by Jack Norris and Virginia Messina.  This book addresses all your nutritional needs from getting enough protein (which is much easier than you might think!) to the specific daily intake of various vitamins and minerals that may be a little different from what you need with a more standard diet.  There are also sections on the unique needs of a vegan pregnancy and childhood, as well as sections on eating vegan as a teen or a person over fifty.

The book is filled with interesting tidbits, such as:
  • Vegans have to be careful to get enough vitamin B12 in their diets.
  • Leafy, green vegetables, tofu and sesame seeds are great sources of calcium.
  • We all know that beans are a source of protein (black beans have 7.6 grams per half cup), but even vegetables have some (broccoli has 2.3 grams per half cup cooked).
  • Plant foods contain no cholesterol, while even lean meats like shrimp and chicken are high in cholesterol.
Some other great resources in OC Public Libraries for a new or established vegan are:  Veganomicon:  The Ultimate Vegan Cookbook by Isa Chandra Moskowitz (Be sure to try the tempeh tacos—yum!); Viva Vegan!:  200 Authentic and Fabulous Recipes for Latin Food Lovers by Terry Hope Romero; The Conscious Cook:  Delicious Meatless Recipes that Will Change the Way You Eat by Tal Ronnen; This Crazy Vegan Life:  A Prescription for an Endangered Species by Christina Pirello; and the documentary, Forks Over Knives.


Not a New Author, But A New Author To ME

I love trying new books. Yet despite my willingness to try new things I don’t often pick up a book I have never heard of and take it home to read. I recently got the pleasure of stumbling onto a book and being pleasantly surprised. The book is The Tea House on Mulberry Street by Sharon Owens. Prior to reading this book, I had never heard of this book or this author. I was browsing the library’s catalog looking for audiobooks and came across this book.

Set in Belfast, Ireland, the book revolves around Muldoon’s tea house on Mulberry Street. We meet the husband and wife who own the restaurant, and we meet various customers who frequent the restaurant. The narrative switches between characters so we get to know each character well. This delightful book proves a book doesn’t need to be an action-packed thriller to be an enjoyable read. The interweaving storylines in The Tea House on Mulberry Street aren’t the stuff of wild stories; rather they voice the simple challenges of daily life. Whether tracking down a long-lost love, striving for artistic fame, or giving a husband the comeuppance he is due, the inhabitants of the tea house will draw you in with their stories. Owens’ characters are appealingly flawed and realistic people who make you want to cheer for them when they finally go after the happiness and life they realize they deserve. I wish the tea house were right here in Orange County; I would visit it right away.
My favorite thing about experiencing this book as an audiobook was the various Irish accents. The narrator, Caroline Winterson, does a fabulous job of creating unique voices for each character.  I would highly recommend listening to this book, but reading it on paper will be fine too. Pleased about my new discovery in Sharon Owens, I looked her up online and was so happy to find out she has written more books! In addition to The Tea House on Mulberry Street, she has also written The Ballroom on Magnolia Street and The Tavern on Maple Street. The best part about belatedly learning about an author is you don't have to wait for more books to be published; they are already on the shelf waiting for you!