Off The Shelves

Must Read Teen Fantasy

Some of these series have been around awhile and others are much newer. Whichever you prefer, these are great choices for teens and adults who enjoy reading fantasy.

Laini Taylor made a huge splash in the publishing world with her Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy. She followed these books with Strange the Dreamer and Muse of Nightmares.

Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor Days of Blood and Starlight by Laini Taylor Dreams of Gods and Monsters by Laini Taylor

After a long pause, Kristin Cashore has returned to the Graceling Realm series this month with the publication of Winterkeep. Graceling was the first book written, but Fire is described as a prequel-companion book.

Graceling by Kristin Cashore Fire by Kristin Cashore Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore Winterkeep by Kristin Cashore

Leigh Bardugo describes the fantasy world she created for her Grisha trilogy as influenced by Imperial Russia, rather than medieval England, and as more repeating rifles rather than broadswords. Start now, and you’ll be able to immerse yourself in this world before the Netflix series premieres in April. Bardugo has other related books that are also set in this fantasy world.

Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo Siege and Storm by Leigh Bardugo Ruin and Rising by Leigh Bardugo

The Sea of Ink and Gold trilogy by Traci Chee is described as intricately plotted and culturally diverse with a lyrical writing style. It’s a swashbuckling world filled with pirates and assassins!

 The Reader by Traci Chee The Speaker by Traci Chee The Storyteller by Traci Chee

Here are some more “first books” in great fantasy series. Let us know which you like, and what new fantasy book you’re looking forward to.

The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson Flamecaster by Cinda Williams Chima An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir  Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard

 

The Brontes Live On

If you love classic literature, you probably already know that there are many, many recent novels that tie into the plots created by Jane Austen. Novelists have also taken the opportunity to rework or reimagine the novels of the Bronte sisters, with Jane Eyre probably the most common source material. The books range from prequels to novels about the Brontes to modern updates. Let us know which of the original Bronte novels you love, and which retelling you enjoy!

Adele by Emma Tennant  The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde The Flight of Gemma Hardy by Margot Livesey

Jane by April Lindner My Plain Jane by Hand, Ashton, and Meadows Jane Steele by Lyndsay Fay

The House of Dead Maids by Clare Dunkle The Vanished Bride by Bella Ellis

Hannah Swensen Mystery #1: Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder

Hi there! Welcome to my blog series where I will be reading and reviewing Joanne Fluke’s Hannah Swensen series, as well as trying out some of the recipes included in the books!

You do not necessarily have to read these books in the order that they were published; however, for the purpose of this blog, I did start from the beginning. Since there are so many books in the series (26, with number 27 expected in late February), I will not be writing a blog over each book, but every five or so. Today I will be discussing the first book in the series, Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder.

Review

The book begins by introducing Hannah Swensen, a twenty-something year old woman who owns a cookie and coffee shop called the Cookie Jar in her hometown of Lake Eden, Minnesota. We learn that Hannah once had aspirations to become a professor, and was well on her way to a Doctorate Degree when her sister, Andrea begged her to come home when their father died to help their mother get his affairs in order. Hannah dutifully returned to Lake Eden to assist her family, and subsequently ended up staying and opening the Cookie Jar instead of going back to school.

One morning, Hannah happens upon a crime scene in the alley behind her shop involving the Cozy Cow delivery driver, Ron LaSalle. The scene leads into a criminal investigation led by Andrea’s husband Bill, a Winnetka County Deputy Sheriff. Hannah uses her wits, some skills she’s picked up from mysteries she’s seen on TV, and possibly illegal tactics to help Bill track down the criminal and solve the town’s mystery. Through her investigation, we meet some Lake Eden locals, and learn some shocking town secrets.

I would consider the Hannah Swensen books to be cozy mysteries. They are gentle, easy reads, and though they include murder, they are not overly graphic. I read this particular book in two days, and it kept my interest the entire time. The plot lines aren’t overly complicated, but they aren’t obvious either. In Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder, I thought I knew who the murderer was about halfway through, but I ended up being wrong.

For the most part, I really do enjoy these books. I love Hannah Swensen’s sarcastic character, and the fact that she is an independent woman. However, I feel these books are a bit problematic. For the sake of space, I will go deeper into these issues in future blogs, but here are some things I’ve noticed. Joanne Fluke uses the r word to describe Freddy Sawyer, a character with a developmental disability. The character Betty Johnson is never mentioned without also mentioning how fat she is and how unflattering her outfit is. There’s also a sort of unhealthy dynamic between Hannah and Mike, one of her love interests. All that being said, this book was published in 2000 and I realize times were different then. I’m interested to see if these things continue into the later books.

If you want to get started on the series, APLD has a large print, regular print, ebook, and eAudiobook copy of Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder! You can go online or call the library to place a hold on our print copies, or access the digital copies on Libby or OverDrive.

Recipe

I decided to try to make the Regency Ginger Crisps that Hannah made for the Lake Eden Regency Romance Club. The recipe makes 6 to 7 dozen. Since I had so many extras I brought them to the library with me the next day, and they were a hit with the staff!

Regency Ginger Crisps

Do not preheat oven yet, dough must chill before baking.

3/4 cup melted butter

1 cup brown sugar

1 large beaten egg (or two medium, just whip them up with a fork)

4 tablespoons molasses (that’s 1/4 cup)***

2 teaspoons baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons ground ginger

2 1/4 cups flour (not sifted)

1/2 cup white sugar in a small bowl (for later)

Melt butter and mix in sugar. Let mixture cool and then add egg(s). Add soda, molasses, salt, and ginger. Stir it thoroughly. Add flour and mix in. Chill the dough for at least 1 hour. (Overnight is even better.)

When the dough has chilled, preheat the oven to 375 degrees F., rack in the middle position.

Roll the dough into walnut sized balls in white sugar. (Just dump them in the bowl with the sugar and shake the bowl gently to coat them.) Place them on greased cookie sheets, 12 to a standard sheet. Flatten them with a spatula.

Bake at 375 degrees F. for 10 to 12 minutes or until nicely browned. Cool on cookie sheets for no more than 1 minute, and then remove to wire rack to finish cooling. (If you leave these on the cookie sheets for too long, they’ll stick.)

***To measure molasses, first spray the inside of the measuring cup with Pam so that the molasses won’t stick to the sides of the cup.

Yield: 6 to 7 dozen, depending on cookie size.

 


 

Best of 2020

Our patrons checked out over 34,000 books, ebooks, audiobooks, magazines, and DVDs in 2020! That’s a lot of reading, watching, and listening! Here are the items people checked out the most in 2020!

*Data is as of 12/28/2020

CD

The CD section includes both Adult Fiction and Nonfiction Audiobooks. Our patrons checked these items out over 350 times. The most popular titles were:

#1 Long Range by CJ Box

#2 Twisted Twenty-Six by Janet Evanovich

#3 The Fiery Cross by Diana Gabaldon

DVD

The DVD section includes both films and tv series. Our patrons checked these items out over 4,000 times. The most popular titles were:

#1 Game of Thrones Season 1

#2 Game of Thrones Season 2

#3 Outlander Season 4

E

The E section consists of easy picture books. It does not include board books, easy chapter books, or ABC books. Our patrons checked these items out over 6,000 times. The most popular titles were:

#1 Chicken Big by Keith Graves

#2 Ladybug Girl by Jacky Davis

#3 Dinosong by Tim McCanna

FIC

The FIC section includes both paperback and hardback Adult Fiction books. Our patrons checked these items out over 6,500 times. The most popular titles were:

#1 Hush by James Patterson

#2 Moral Compass by Danielle Steel

#3 Cajun Justice by James Patterson

 

JFIC

The JFIC section is comprised of both paperback and hardback Juvenile Fiction books. These items were checked out over 2,500 times. The most popular items were:

#1 Lord of the Fleas by Dav Pilkey

#2 For Whom the Ball Rolls by Dav Pilkey

#3 Brawl of the Wild by Dav Pilkey

LP

The LP section includes Large Print Adult Fiction and Nonfiction books. These items were checked out over 1,500 times. The most popular titles were:

#1 A Cat Named Brat by Lydia Adamson

#2 Deceived by Irene Hannon

#3 A Cousin’s Challenge by Wanda Brunstetter

MAG

The Mag sections includes all Magazines. These items were checked out over 1,000 times. The most popular titles were:

#1 People

#2 Food Network

#3 Country Homes & Interiors

NF

The NF section includes all Adult Nonfiction books including Oversized and Biographies. These items were checked out over 1,500 times. The most popular titles were:

#1 Caring for Your Baby and Young Child

#2 Nolo’s Essential Guide to Buying Your First Home

#3 Magnolia Table Volume 2

TFIC

The TFIC section includes both paperback and hardcover Teen Fiction books and Graphic Novels. These items were checked out over 800 times. The most popular titles were:

#1 Midnight Sun by Stephanie Meyer

#2 Arch Enemies by Marissa Meyer

#3 Supernova by Marissa Meyer

 

There you have it! The most popular items of 2020! Have you read these titles yet? You can place a hold* on these items by clicking on the link, selecting “Place Hold,” and signing in with your library card number and pin. You can also call us at 812-926-0646 (Aurora) or 812-954-4151 (Dillsboro) and we will place a hold for you!

*Holds cannot be placed on DVDs.


 

Bleak Books with Olivia: Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë

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.

Now, I know what you may be thinking. “Why would anyone read something that makes you feel so unsettled after you finish it? Where is the happy ending? Who would want to read that?” I get it. Books can be an escape from everyday life. They can act as a retreat. But isn’t there something that’s just so inviting about reading a book where all the characters are horrible people who keep doing the wrong thing over and over again and the book always ends in a jarring way that sets you off-kilter for weeks? No? Well, let me play devil’s advocate.

So let’s begin with the classic that started it all and the book that got me REALLY into dark reads: Wuthering Heights. This review will be spoiler-free!

So, you’re wandering through the stacks on the second floor of the Aurora Public Library and pick up this book, thinking “I need a nice romance. It’s set in late 18th century England in the stunning moors of Yorkshire, and I love period dramas! Why not?” Not quite. Wuthering Heights is a narrative, not about love, but about obsession and revenge at the hands of a ruthless, heartless man. Heathcliff, an orphan boy living on the streets in Yorkshire, is taken by a family out on the moors and turns out to be their worst nightmare.

Cathy, the only daughter of this family, spends almost all her waking moments with Heathcliff. All this time spent together can only lead to one thing: a childhood crush. But, as it always is with Olivia’s Bleak Books, wrong place, wrong time. No matter how many times Cathy and Heathcliff link up throughout their lives, there is always something in the way. Husbands, wives, children, money, vengeful drunken brothers, ghosts, property ownership, the rich kid across the moors… you name it, Heathcliff and Cathy probably dealt with it. Heathcliff goes absolutely bonkers over the edge with his obsession over Cathy and his revenge on the family who took him in. One would argue (me, I would definitely argue) that spite is the only thing that keeps Heathcliff going. The book ends in a devastatingly haunting fashion, complete with misty graveyards and ghosts and no real happy ending whatsoever… well, maybe a little bit, but I’ll leave that up to you to decide.

Overall, my favorite thing that will keep bringing me back to this novel for years to come is how it feels very much my own. It is cold, dark, and mysterious. All the characters have fatal flaws, and I would despise to meet them all, but oh, how I wish I could visit the moors and peek into a day in the life of Heathcliff. So, five stars to the 18th-century version of Days of Our Lives. It’s got all the drama, intrigue, violence, and shock of a modern-day soap opera, and I just ate it up.

Thank you for joining me on this dissection of one of my favorite Bleak Books. I hope to see you again sometime soon! Pleaser take a look in the Adult Fiction section on the second floor of the Aurora Public Library for a display of my favorite Bleak Books (including this one!) Discussions over many of them will be soon to follow. 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.

Calling All Cozy Readers!

“Cozy” mysteries are one of the most popular genres in the Aurora Public Library District. Cozies are perfect for light summer reading and for long, cold winter nights. If you’re not familiar with the cozy genre, these books are the “gentle reads” of the mystery titles – no gore or graphic content. The crime is typically solved by an amateur detective who happens to stumble across a dead body from time to time, and the setting is often a small, quaint village. Each series may have a large number of books; however, even the best of series eventually come to an end. That’s why we’re always on the lookout for new series of Cozies. Here are the newest additions to our cozy collection – the first books in brand-new series.

To Kill a Mocking Girl by Harper KIncaid   A Study in Murder by Callie Hutton

A Spell for Trouble by Esme Addison   The Bodies in the Library by Marty Wingate

The Library District has lots of ongoing series of cozies featuring themes like cooking, bookshops, pets, or even chocolate! Just jump in and see which authors you enjoy. There are great resources online about this genre, so don’t forget that we can also borrow from other libraries, if you find a series we don’t have. Here’s a great website to check out if you want to see the amazing variety of books in this gentle category: Cozy Mystery List

Lisa Kleypas

Lisa Kleypas

After graduating from Wellesley College with a political science degree, Lisa published her first novel at age twenty-one. Her books are published in more than 20 languages and are bestsellers all over the world. Lisa (born 1964) was also named Miss Massachusetts in 1995 and competed in the Miss America Pageant the next year.

Her novel “Stranger In My Arms” was given the Waldenbooks Award for greatest sales growth.  The following year, Lisa’s “Someone To Watch Over Me” was a Rita finalist at the Romance Writers of America convention.

In 2002 her novel “Suddenly You” was a Rita finalist and Lisa won the Rita award for her Christmas anthology novella featured in the “Wish List.”  It was a banner year, and her novel “Lady Sophia’s Lover” was awarded Best Sensuous Historical Romance from Romantic Times magazine, and “Lady Sophia’s Lover” was given a starred review in Publishers Weekly, as was “When Strangers Marry.”

The historical series the Ravenels, debuted on the New York Times Bestsellers list and, much to her fans’ delight, characters from previous books made cameos.  Each of the five Ravenels books has been a NY Times Bestseller.  The newest book Chasing Cassandra has been given a starred review by Publisher’s Weekly and by me 😉

Lisa is one of those authors that I never miss and I am always excited when the next title is announced, if you are a fan of romance with lots of twists and turns but always a happy ending you can’t go wrong with one of her many titles.

The Ravenels series in reverse order includes:

Chasing Cassandra 

Devil’s Daughter

Hello Stranger

Devil in Spring

Marrying Winterborne

Cold-Hearted Rake

 

Espionage Thrillers

There’s just nothing like a great spy novel to get your heart racing and the pages turning! Of course, the espionage genre is filled with unforgettable classics by authors like John Le Carre, Graham Greene, Frederick Forsyth and Robert Ludlum.  However, the authors writing spy novels today can hold their own with even the best of these well-known novelists. Check out these titles, all written in the last ten years. There’s a lot of variety in the settings, including World War I, World War II, the Cold War, and post 9/11. I hope you will find at least one new author to love.

The Cairo Affair by Olen Steinhauer  Mission to Paris by Alan Furst  The Moroccan Girl by Charles Cummings

Moscow Sting by Ales Dryden  The Night Agent by Matthew Quirk  An Officer and a Spy by Robert Harris

Palace of Treason by Jason Matthews  Red Star Falling by Brian Freemantle  Dragonfly by Leila Meacham

The Shanghai Factor by Charles McCarry  Too Bad to Die by Francine Mathews  The Ways of the World by Robert Goddard

Young Philby by Robert Littell  Leaving Berlin by Joseph Kanon  The Alice Network by Kate Quinn

Let us know which spy is your favorite!

“Most spies were amateurs: frustrated revolutionaries of the left or right, people who wanted the imaginary glamour of espionage, greedy men or lovesick women or blackmail victims. The few professionals were very dangerous indeed; they were not merciful men.”
Ken Follett, Eye of the Needle

The City of Light

Are you ready for some adventure? Just sit back and get comfortable, because these books will whisk you away to the City of Light! Of course, the library has many books set in Paris. This is just a small selection to get you started; you can choose the one that seems the most interesting to you.

A Garden in Paris by Stephanie Grace Whitson  The House I Loved by Tatiana De Rosnay  The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George

The Good Thief's Guide to Paris by Chris Ewan  The Bones of Paris by Laurie R. King The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery

Paris was the Place by Susan Conley  The Paris Key by Juliet Blackwell  The Painted Girls by Cathy Marie Buchanan

While you’re in the library, pick up one of our Paris-themed DVDs to set the stage.

Gigi DVD An American in Paris DVD Hugo DVD Midnight in Paris DVD

To learn more about the sights and neighborhoods of Paris, check out our newest Fodor’s guide or the non-fiction book Five Nights in Paris by John Baxter.

Fodor's Paris 2020  Five Nights in Paris by John Baxter

“He who contemplates the depths of Paris is seized with vertigo.
Nothing is more fantastic. Nothing is more tragic.
Nothing is more sublime.”
Victor Hugo

When the Weather Outside is Frightful …

When the days are short and gloomy, there’s nothing like digging into an epic story. Here are some sagas that will keep you engrossed for days and totally immerse you in another time or place.

Mary Stewart’s Merlin Trilogy was written in the 1970s, but is one of the most highly-acclaimed versions of King Arthur and Camelot. Another series set in England is the Last Kingdom series by Bernard Cornwell, also known as the Saxon Tales

The Merlin Trilogy by Mary Stewart  Last Kingdom by Bernard Cornwell

He was a best-selling author of spy stories first, but Ken Follett is better known now for his sweeping Pillars of the Earth and Century trilogies.

Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett   Fall of Giants by Ken Follett

Edward Rutherfurd’s books are similar to those of James Michener, centered on a geographical location and the people that inhabit it through multiple generations. He has written books on places like London, Paris, New York, and a two-part series on Ireland.

New York by Edward Rutherfurd   The Princes of Ireland by Edward Rutherfurd

If you’re already missing Poldark on Masterpiece Theatre, this may be the time to dive into the Poldark series by Winston Graham.

Poldark by Winston Graham  Demelza by Winston Graham

For a setting in America, try the Wilderness series by Sara Donati. The six-book series follows the fortunes of a family of English immigrants on the New York frontier. The Last Hundred Years trilogy by Jane Smiley would be another great choice, taking you on a literary adventure through cycles of birth and death, passion and betrayal that span a century in America.

Into the Wilderness by Sara Donati  

For more multiple-generation sagas, check out this Book Riot blog post:

https://bookriot.com/2017/06/15/100-must-read-generational-family-novels/