Off The Shelves

Bleak Books with Olivia: The Maidens by Alex Michaelides

Have you ever read a book all the way through just to close it for the last time and say “wow, that was bleak”? Well, I’m here to make the case for those dark, dreary, haunting, and disturbing reads that keep you up at night long after you put them down. Welcome to Bleak Books with Olivia, your resident creepy book lover at the Aurora Public Library District.

Ah, finally, a return to my comfort zone: a dark academia murder mystery. After finishing Michaelides’s first novel, The Silent Patient, I was ravenous for more. Here in Bleak Books world, we love a good, shocking, knock-you-off-your-feet psychological thriller, and boy did Michaelides deliver. Then, after that book left a void in my life, I read the description for his next release: another psychological thrill ride with a crazy twist ending, but this time, with a dash of dark academia, the genre that’s taking the literary world by storm right now. So of course I put my name on the waiting list and read it as fast as possible as soon as I got it. Now, it’s time to reflect on the madness that is The Maidens. Let us begin, shall we?

Amazon.com: The Maidens: 9781250304452: Michaelides, Alex: Books

Mariana Andros is a group therapist living alone in London, grieving the sudden loss of her husband. Her niece, Zoe, calls her from school at Cambridge one evening in distress. There’s been a murder and Zoe’s best friend is the victim. Mariana comes to comfort Zoe, whom she raised as one of her own after her parents were tragically killed in a car accident, but she ends up staying to investigate the strange murder after she comes across an odd and seemingly sinister group of students led by the charismatic Classics professor, Edward Fosca. These girls call themselves the Maidens and have dedicated their lives to Fosca, whose strange and enigmatic presence combined with his talent for lecturing has drawn the interest of many students and faculty alike. Mariana finds herself drawn into the intertwined lives of these young women as one by one, they are picked off by the killer. Mariana knows in her heart it must be Fosca, but the truth is never all that it seems.

Set against the old, vine-covered academic setting of Cambridge University, this gripping story will shock you to your core. I was enthralled from start to finish, so invested in Fosca’s life that I felt I was a Maiden myself at times. Throughout the book, personal letters written by the killer themselves are sprinkled in, creating a three-dimensional image of a murderer before we ever meet them. The end is something you will NEVER see coming, I guarantee it. I would recommend reading The Silent Patient first, just because!

Thank you for joining me on this dissection of one of my favorite Bleak Books. I hope to see you again sometime soon! Please take a look in the Adult Fiction section at the Aurora and Dillsboro Public Libraries for my favorite Bleak Books. If you are looking to check out this specific title, please look on the New Books shelf at the Aurora Public Library. If you meet me in the library and have any Bleak Books suggestions, please let me know! I’m always looking for a new book to disrupt my life for a couple of weeks.

5 Things You *Probably* Didn’t Know About Sylvia Plath

Sylvia Plath was an American novelist, poet, and short-story writer. She is known for her confessional poetry collections The Colossus and Other Poems and Ariel. Many of her previously unpublished works were published as The Collected Poems after her death in 1981. The collection won Plath the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry in 1982, making her the fourth to receive this honor posthumously.

Triple-Face Portrait by Sylvia Plath.

1. She also wrote children’s books.

Though none of them were published while Plath was alive, a small collection of children’s stories were found among her writings after she died. One, The-It-Doesn’t-Matter-Suit tells the story of 7 year-old Max Nix and his mustard yellow suit. Max was the youngest of seven brothers. Two of the brothers were named Otto and Emil- her father’s names.

2. She originally pursued Studio Art.

When Plath attended Smith College in 1950 she initially wanted to major in Studio Art. However, once her professors realized what a gifted writer she was, they encouraged her to pursue an English degree instead. In 2017, the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery mounted a retrospective of her work. It was on display until 2018.

A copy of The Bell Jar with the pseudonym Victoria Lucas.

3. The Bell Jar was initially published under a pseudonym.

When it was originally published in 1963, The Bell Jar was published under the name Victoria Lucas. It wasn’t until after Plath’s death that it was published under her real name. The Bell Jar is a semi-autobiographical novel portraying Plath’s struggles with mental illness. Colossus was the only large work published under Plath’s name while she was alive.

4. Her estranged husband received backlash following her death.

Plath was married to Ted Hughes for 6 years before Plath learned he was having an affair. They separated in July of 1962. Though they were not together, they were still legally married at the time of Plath’s death, meaning Hughes inherited the Plath estate and all of her written work. He has received backlash for burning Plath’s last journal and for losing a different journal and an unfinished novel. It is rumored that those writings contained allegations of abuse that Hughes did not want anyone to see. Some people were also angry that Plath’s tombstone read “Sylvia Plath Hughes” despite the fact that she and Hughes were separated when she died.

TW: Depression & Suicide

5. She struggled with severe mental health problems.

Plath suffered from severe depression all of her life.  In 1953, she attempted suicide for the first time. She spent the next six months in psychiatric care, receiving electric and insulin shock treatment. She attempted again in 1962 by driving her car into a river. By 1963, Plath was receiving daily visits from her doctor and had a live-in nurse to take care of both her and her children. On February 11, 1963, Plath’s nurse found her in her apartment dead of intentional carbon monoxide poisoning. She had the room sealed off with towels and cloths to protect her children. She was 30 years old.

 

A Good Day for Chardonnay

book cover

“….So, Randy escaped.” “Seriously?” She slapped a palm against the steering wheel. “Damn it that’s all we need. Put out a BOLO, coordinate roadblocks for both I-25 on-ramps and call everyone in. Everyone. Who’s Randy again?” Sunshine Vicram to her partner Quincy

“Laugh-out-loud funny, intensely suspenseful, page-turning fun’ Allison Brennan on A Bad Day for Sunshine

Running a small-town police force in the mountains of New Mexico should be a smooth, carefree kind of job. Sadly, full-time Sheriff – and even fuller-time coffee guzzler – Sunshine Vicram, didn’t get that memo.

All Sunshine really wants is one easy-going day. You know, the kind that starts with coffee and a donut (or three) and ends with take-out pizza and a glass of chardonnay (or seven). Turns out, that’s about as easy as switching to decaf. (What kind of people do that? And who hurt them?)

Before she can say iced mocha latte, Sunny’s got a bar fight gone bad, a teenage daughter hunting a serial killer and, oh yes, the still unresolved mystery of her own abduction years prior. All evidence points to a local distiller, a dangerous bad boy named Levi Ravinder, but Sun knows he’s not the villain of her story. Still, perhaps beneath it all, he possesses the keys to her disappearance. At the very least, beneath it all, he possesses a serious set of abs. She’s seen it. Once. Accidentally.

Between policing a town her hunky chief deputy calls four cents short of a nickel, that pesky crush she has on Levi which seems to grow exponentially every day, and a raccoon that just doesn’t know when to quit, Sunny’s life is about to rocket to a whole new level of crazy.

Yep, definitely a good day for chardonnay.raccoon

Start your joy ride with A Bad Day for Sunshine, book one in the Sunshine Vicram series. I found author Darynda Jones using Novelist, a library resource to help each reader find books that are exactly what they’re looking for.

Here are two read-alike series.

Stephanie Plum mysteries

Evanovich, Janet

Reason:  In both of these funny, banter-filled series, strong females jump in with both feet when it comes to the criminals they’re hunting all while also handling complicated love lives and their overly involved family members. Sunshine Vicram series delves into darker themes than Stephanie Plum. — Jane Jorgenson

Virgil Flowers mysteries

Sandford, John

Reason:  Readers looking for offbeat police procedurals set in small towns will enjoy Sunshine Vicram and Virgil Flowers. Helmed by likeable protagonists, both suspenseful and intricately plotted stories contain humor, mystery, quirks, and sex. — Andrienne Cruz

 

Twists on Classic Tales

I found books by Mary Renault on a library shelf when I was in high school, and they inspired a love of books based on mythology. The King Must Die and The Bull from the Sea flesh out the story of Theseus who kills the Minotaur on Crete. Here are some other, more recent, novels based on myths or on works by Homer or Virgil.

The King Must Die by Mary Renault         The Bull From the Sea by Mary Renault

Lavinia by Ursula Le Guin

House of Names by Colm Toibin

Ursula Le Guin is perhaps better known for her science fiction, including the children’s Earthsea series. In Lavinia, Le Guin weaves a story about a minor character who appears near the end of Virgil’s epic poem The Aeneid.

Clytemnestra, the wife of King Agamemnon is the protagonist of House of Names by Colm Toibin. Depicted in the Odyssey and the Iliad as a murderous mother in search of vengeance, Clytemnestra may evoke some sympathy when you’ve heard her side of the story.

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller  Circe by Madeline Miller

Madeline Miller soared up the bestseller lists with her two stand-alone novels The Song of Achilles and Circe. Both books bring a deeper understanding to relationships found in the original works of Homer and show the dangers faced by those who dare to anger the gods.

The last three titles are all focused on the events of the Trojan War, but told from different perspectives. That’s what makes retellings so much fun!

Song of Kings by Barry Unsworth A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker

Bleak Books with Olivia: Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo

Have you ever read a book all the way through just to close it for the last time and say “wow, that was bleak”? Well, I’m here to make the case for those dark, dreary, haunting, and disturbing reads that keep you up at night long after you put them down. Welcome to Bleak Books with Olivia, your resident creepy book lover at the Aurora Public Library District.

Leigh Bardugo is all over the place right now. Her three teen series that comprise the “Grishaverse” are wildly popular and have been since the first book in the Grishaverse came out: Shadow and Bone. The Grishaverse is also newly represented onscreen as a new Netflix series titled “Shadow and Bone” as well. Ever since the show was announced, these books have been flying off our physical and ebook shelves, and I must admit, I am one of those newly ravenous readers. But I didn’t pick up Shadow and Bone in hopes of finishing it before the Netflix series came out. I actually found myself drawn to the series after reading Bardugo’s excellent adult debut, Ninth House.

(It is important to note that this book is very much for adults. There are very graphic depictions of violence, gore, and sexual assault.)

Ninth House tells the story of an unlikely Yale freshman: Galaxy “Alex” Stern. Alex finds herself with a full ride to Yale after surviving an apparent overdose and an unsolved multiple homicide, but there’s one major hitch. Alex has to assume all the duties of a member of Lethe, a secret society set up in order to keep all the other infamously secret societies on campus in check. Keep them in check from what, you ask? Oh, just the typical, everyday, run-of-the-mill dark magic ritual. And these… unsavory and, at times, just plain gory rituals attract ghosts, or Grays, which can be a bit of a problem. That’s where Alex steps in. Alex has seen Grays since childhood and, as one may rightly assume, her experiences with them have caused a massive amount of trauma. This new role in the House of Lethe forces her to confront her trauma until an odd murder takes place on campus. Alex is told to leave it up to the authorities. After all, it is just a townie. But Alex knows something is wrong, and she’s up for the challenge of decoding this unnatural crime scene. What follows is a supernatural rollercoaster ride as you piece together both the cause of the murder and Alex’s past through flashbacks.

One part murder mystery, one part supernatural fantasy, and one part dark academia makes up this disturbing, sinister read. It’s the jack of all trades when it comes to bleak books. Can’t get enough of the story? Here’s some good news: not only is Ninth House the first book in a supposedly five book series (according to Bardugo’s Twitter account), but Amazon is reportedly making this series into a television show as well with Bardugo as head writer and executive producer. Three cheers to my fellow hyperfixaters! Looks like we’ll be seeing Alex for years to come.

Thank you for joining me on this dissection of one of my favorite Bleak Books. I hope to see you again sometime soon! Please take a look in the Adult Fiction section at the Aurora and Dillsboro Public Libraries for my favorite Bleak Books. If you are looking to check out this specific title, please look at the Get Caught Reading display in the stairwell at the Aurora Public Library. It’s one of my staff picks! If you meet me in the library and have any Bleak Books suggestions, please let me know! I’m always looking for a new book to disrupt my life for a couple of weeks.

New at the “Other” Branch

We know that many of our readers love to browse the “New” shelf at our libraries. Although we buy two copies of many titles, you could be missing out on some great titles by looking at the new releases at just one branch. Staff members are always happy to help you learn about the new books at the “Other Branch” by using the online catalog. Here’s a sampling of the one-copy titles that were purchased in the last month. You can ask the circulation librarian to have the books you want sent to the branch of your choice.

Happy Reading!

 

Taking it Outside

The trees are green, the flowers are beginning to bloom, and it’s a perfect time of year to take a family hike! Walking along the river at Lesko Park and hiking along the Dearborn Trail are great choices for a shorter hike, but within an easy drive, there are many rewarding trails to explore. If you’re looking for some new ideas, you can take a look at these books from the Aurora Public Library District collection.

Hiking Indiana by Phil Bloom Rail-Trails Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio Best Hikes Cincinnati by Johnny Molloy

A Guide to Natural Areas of Southern Indiana by Steven Higgs

 

Don’t forget to check for more titles online at the Indiana Digital Download Center.

Remember, we’re just a short drive away from the trails at Versailles State Park, Clifty Falls State Park, and at the Oxbow Nature Conservancy.

The Cincinnati/Hamilton County Park system is one of the best in the country and offers over 78 miles of trails at multiple locations around the tri-state area. You’ll be able to find a trail that’s just right for your family, whether you’re looking for a day-long adventure or a short nature hike that ends at a playground.

Novels in Verse

When I recently read A Time to Dance, I remembered again how much I enjoy reading books written in free verse. This has become an increasingly popular writing style in books for readers of all ages. Here are a few that I would definitely recommend to readers who want to try something a little bit different.

For younger elementary school readers:

Applesauce Weather by Helen Frost Love That Dog by Sharon Creech Gone Fishing by Tamera Will Wissinger

For older elementary or middle grade readers:

Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai Booked by Kwame Alexander Forget Me Not by Ellie Terry

For Teens or Adult readers:

Collateral by Ellen Hopkins The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo Bull by David Elliott

Special mention must be made of two of my favorite writers who write in verse. Helen Frost is a Hoosier author who has written a wide variety of books for children including non-fiction, chapter books, and picture books. I am in awe of the variety of poetic forms she uses in her novels, and I have learned to look for the author’s note in the back that explains what she’s done. For example, in Diamond Willow, the story is told in diamond-shaped poems that contain a secret message revealed by the bold text. In The Braid, the characters’ voices are braided together by echoing words and rhythms.

Diamond Willow by Helen Frost Salt by Helen Frost The Braid by Helen Frost

I became a Margarita Engle fan when I read The Poet Slave of Cuba, a biography written in verse. In addition to numerous picture books, Engel has written a memoir in verse as well as historical novels set in Cuba and Panama.

The Lightning Dreamer by Margarita Engle The Poet Slave of Cuba by Margarita Engle Enchanted Air by Margarita Engle

New WW II Fiction

Historical fiction is one of our most popular genres, and during the last few years, there have been some amazing novels written about World War II. Right now, we have a great selection of those on our “New Release” shelf, which means the books have been in the Library less than 4 months. Take a look at these newer books, but also share the name of your favorite WW II novel by posting the title and author in the comments.

The Consequences of Fear by Jacqueline Winspear The Elephant of Belfast by S. Kirk Walsh

The Consequences of Fear by Jacqueline Winspear is unique among the listed books because it is part of the long-running Maisie Dobbs series. The rest of the books shown are stand-alone novels. Fans of the series know that Maisie served as a nurse in The Great War, trained as a private investigator, and now runs her own investigative agency. The Elephant of Belfast is notable for its focus on a short episode in the war’s history, the 1941 bombardment of Belfast.

Eternal by Lisa Scottoline The Girl from the Channel Islands by Jenny Lecoat

Although many WW II novels are set in either France or England, Eternal by Lisa Scottoline is set in Italy and begins with Mussolini’s rise to power. If you are a fan of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, The Girl from the Channel Islands takes you to a similar setting during the German occupation.

The Last Night in London by Karen White  The Rose Code by Kate Quinn

Set during the London Blitz, The Last Night in London offers readers a story of friendship and espionage with a twist of betrayal. The Rose Code is also a spy novel, this time set in the top-secret facility known as Bletchley Park.

We seem to never get enough of World War fiction, so let us know your favorites!

Reading as a Springboard

I realize we read for lots of reasons. Maybe you read to escape, or maybe you read to learn something new or to improve your lifestyle. One reason I love reading is that it makes me curious about so many topics. Almost always, the book I’m reading, whether fiction or non-fiction, will lead me to look up more information about the book’s subject.

For years, I have been recording every book I read on both Librarything.com and Goodreads.com and listing subject tags for the books. Here’s a list of the last 10 books I’ve read, along with their tags and what I researched after reading the book.

Eugene Bullard by Larry Greenly

 

 

I discovered this book on a library display during Black History month, shortly after reading a Facebook post about this man. I tagged this book with “aviation history, biography, non-fiction, and pilots”, and the book led me to read more about World War I, Paris, and the French Foreign Legion.

 

 

Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi

 

 

I had loved Yaa Gyasi’s earlier book Homegoing, so I was eager to read Transcendent Kingdom. This one sent me to Google to learn more about the opioid crisis in the southeastern U.S. I tagged this with “addictions, families, and opioids”.

 

 

When You Trap a Tiger by Tae Keller

 

 

I always try to find time to read the Newbery Medal book each year. This one was especially appealing to me since I love reading novels based on folklore. It earned the tags “Newbery Medal, folklore, Korean-Americans, families, and loss”. Of course, I had to learn more about the role of tigers in Korean folktales!

 

 

The Rose Code by Kate Quinn

 

I have always enjoyed a good spy novel, and I really love historical novels with strong female characters. I had also been waiting impatiently for Kate Quinn to publish a new book! The tags I listed for this book are “codes, England, historical fiction, women’s roles, and World War II.” The book spurred an interest in the Enigma Code, the Bombe code-breaking machine, and all things related to Bletchley Park.

 

 

 

Symphony for the City of the Dead by M.T. Anderson

 

I’ve read several Young Adult novels that I loved by M.T. Anderson, so I was interested to see a non-fiction book by him. This had been on my “To Be Read” list for about five years! I loved the intersection of music and the attempts to maintain the spirit of the Russian people during World War II. I tagged it with “composers, music, non-fiction, Soviet Union, Russia, and World War II” and I followed up with some research on the composer and the siege of Leningrad.

 

 

 

The Sweet Taste of Muscadines by Pamela Terry

 

I grew up eating both muscadines and scuppernongs, so this book caught my attention right away. It was a great southern story with family secrets, and I’m filing away the recipe I found online for muscadine jelly. My tags were “Georgia, families, family secrets, and southern fiction”.

 

 

 

 

The Narrowboat Summer by Anne Youngson

 

Here’s another light and easy read, perfect for those who believe in second chances and the power of friendship. I tagged this novel with “canals, England, friendship, and second chances.” Afterwards, I spent time looking at pictures of narrowboats and at maps of British canals.

 

 

 

 

A Time to Dance by Padma Venkatraman

 

I love reading novels told in verse. They’re usually a fast read, and the format keeps even sad topics from becoming too overwhelming. This Young Adult book was about “classical dance, disabilities, and India”. I wanted to learn more about classical Indian dance and its connection to spirituality.

 

 

 

 

 

I picked this book up in a bookstore in my hometown and was surprised to learn about all the political corruption in a neighboring county during my high school years. My tags were ” civil rights, Georgia, non-fiction, political corruption, and racism”, but I could have also listed just about any vice. Unfortunately my searching on the internet  verified that everything the author said was true.

 

 

 

 

 

I received this Kindle book free with my Prime subscription. Translated from Spanish, it gave me more insight into the hardships faced by civilians on Germany’s Eastern front in World War II. I tagged the book with “Germany, historical fiction, World War II, Poland, Prussia, refugees, and Russia” and the first thing I needed to look up was the difference in Prussia and Poland.