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

Celebrating Black Authors

 

February is Black History Month! We’re celebrating by highlighting some books in our collection by Black authors! Click on the book covers to place holds online.

Adult Fiction

The Parable of the Sower Graphic Novel Adaptation by Octavia E. Butler

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

Charcoal Joe by Walter Mosely

The Changeling by Victor Lavalle

Adult Nonfiction

Becoming by Michelle Obama

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson

Stamped From the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram X. Kendi

Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela

Teen Fiction

Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor

Black Boy White School by Brian F. Walker

I’m Not Dying With You Tonight by Gilly Segal


Raybearer by Jordan Ifueko

Juvenile Fiction

Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis

Harbor Me by Jacqueline Woodson

New Kid by Jerry Craft

The Parker Inheritance by Varian Johnson

Easy Books

I Got the Rhythm by Connie Schofield-Morrison

The Undefeated by Kwame Alexander

Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut by Derrick D. Barnes

He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands by Kadir Nelson


 

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.

 


 

Bleak Books with Olivia: The Secret History by Donna Tartt

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.

So, you’ve just finished reading The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt (or maybe you’ve seen the movie instead, I don’t judge!) and you’re on the hunt for another gripping thrill ride full of mystery, intrigue, and tons of dark academia themes. Why not reach for another Tartt novel? This sprawling narrative about a young man’s desire to just be something other than ordinary takes our main character, Richard, to dizzying highs and deep, deep valleys of low points as he tags along with quite possibly the most interesting people on campus: the tight-knit group of Classics students at Hampden College and their enigmatic professor, Julian Morrow.

The beginning of The Secret History shoves us face-first into the drama of it all: one of the Classics students has been murdered, and it was a group effort between the rest of the Classics Clan, as I like to call them. Now, you may be saying “Whoa! Spoiler Alert!” but this is all made clear in the exposition of the novel, just a few pages in, and even can be read on the jacket. The big mystery of the novel is why a group of friends this close would murder one of their own in cold blood? What does he know? Donna Tartt promises we are bound to find out.

The reveal is beyond jarring. While the beginning of the novel is slow and steady, introducing each member of the Classics Clan to Richard in painstaking detail, the moment we know why our dear friend Bunny is going to be murdered, we’re sent into a tailspin. We are taken alongside Richard as he makes the journey from average college student to an accomplice to murder, and Donna Tartt makes this transition so smoothly that you don’t even think to balk at this change in demeanor. The seduction to the mysterious, intriguing, and dangerous lives of Richard’s friends makes him blind to their true natures. Only after Bunny is gone do we see the group unravel. The act tears them apart in very unique ways, as the act of murder would to any sane person. And only then does Richard realize he has never truly known these people and never will.

What is so remarkable about this book to me is how I realized slowly that I am Richard. I too am just along for the ride, so in love with these interesting students that I can’t see they have manipulated me as well. I hate to admit it, but as the book came to a close, I still found each character so intriguing that I had forgiven them for their crimes and still wanted to sit down for a cup of coffee with them in the Hampden library. How twisted is that? Now, that is good writing.

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 on the second floor of the Aurora Public Library for my favorite Bleak Books (including this one!) 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.

 

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.

It’s National Best Friends Day!

June 8th is National Best Friends Day! This lighthearted holiday began in 1935 when the US Congress decided to devote a day to close friends. National Best Friends Day has given rise to other national holidays such as Friendship Day, Women’s Friendship Day, and an entire week called Old Friends, New Friends Week. The holiday has gained popularity over the last 5 years due to the rise of social media, and even has its own hashtag to go with it. Don’t forget to show your friends some love on social media today with the hashtag #nationalbestfriendsday

 

Check out some of our books on friendship!

                                  

Manga Mania

While manga and comic books occasionally get categorized together, they aren’t the same. Manga are comics or graphic novels created in Japan that conform to a style the Japanese developed in the late 19th century. They are read right to left instead of left to right. While comic books have their own loyal fan-base, so do manga. More popular with young adults than adults, manga can cover a host of genres such as romance, action, drama, fantasy, and so much more.

Stop by and check out the manga in our teen ‘graphic novel’ area and browse through the display of manga we have up!

Want to read one that we don’t have? You have two options: if the manga is older than 6 months, you can inter-library loan it (borrow it from another library in Indiana for free) or if the title is newer than 6 months you can ask to place it as a collection request (a database of titles that we consider to buy for patrons).

Libby: One Tap App

The power of an app is almighty. However, if the app is too complicated to use, more likely than not, we’ll delete it. There are thousands of apps for social media, a million for gaming, and hundreds for reading. While Overdrive was the original reading app for the Aurora Public Library digital library patrons to use, we’ve been introduced to a new app called Libby, which was created by the same company that created Overdrive.

Libby is a simple to use reading app. While Overdrive has many tabs you have to click to do one simple thing, Libby is a one tap app. Once you download Libby, and login using your library card number and pin, you can start looking for titles on the very next page. Libby takes away several steps that Overdrive has and simplifies it. You can do so many amazing things with Libby!

You can add more than one library card.

You can listen to audiobooks at your own pace.

You can adjust your reading settings (font, size, space).

You can filter your Preferences to see books for specific age groups (kids, teens, adults).

You can borrow eBooks from our library and send them to your kindle!

You can change the lending period on the titles you borrow.

You can borrow magazines, eBooks, and audio books as well as videos!

The only downfall to Libby? She’s not available on as many devices as Overdrive is. Libby is only available on google Play, Apple Store, and Microsoft store. However, the creators of the app are working diligently to make Libby more compatible with other devices as well. Don’t worry though, you can set Libby to send eBooks to your kindle and still be able to read on your kindle!

Helen Hoang: The Kiss Quotient and The Bride Test

 

A couple weeks ago, I sat down and read the summary for The Kiss Quotient. written by Helen Hoang. I was curious and interested, because I’d never read a romance novel where one of the main characters was diagnosed with a disorder. So I thought, let’s take a chance; I bought the book, and started reading it.

I was not let down!

I loved the book! I loved the main character Stella, and I loved her love interest Michael! I enjoyed reading about a character who was on the spectrum and how, even with being on the spectrum, she gets her guy! I completely understood all the hype about this book.

A heartwarming and refreshing debut novel that proves one thing: there’s not enough data in the world to predict what will make your heart tick.

Stella Lane thinks math is the only thing that unites the universe. She comes up with algorithms to predict customer purchases — a job that has given her more money than she knows what to do with, and way less experience in the dating department than the average thirty-year-old.

It doesn’t help that Stella has Asperger’s and French kissing reminds her of a shark getting its teeth cleaned by pilot fish. Her conclusion: she needs lots of practice — with a professional. Which is why she hires escort Michael Phan. The Vietnamese and Swedish stunner can’t afford to turn down Stella’s offer, and agrees to help her check off all the boxes on her lesson plan.

Before long, Stella not only learns to appreciate his kisses, but to crave all the other things he’s making her feel. Soon, their no-nonsense partnership starts making a strange kind of sense. And the pattern that emerges will convince Stella that love is the best kind of logic.

I really loved the characters and everything about Stella. I loved how Helen didn’t shove Stella’s ‘disorder’ in our face, but let us learn slowly that she had Asperger’s. I enjoyed reading about Stella’s life and understanding more about Asperger’s Syndrome and how it affects Stella’s everyday life. It was amazing to read a different type of romance instead of our normal everyday “run of the mill” romance. I was especially happy to read more about Asian culture! She incorporated the perfect amount of education and entertainment to even out the playing field.

Helen Hoang’s journey with this book is just as beautiful as the story.  She wanted to write a gender-swapped Pretty Woman, but couldn’t figure out why a successful, beautiful woman would hire an escort. So when her daughter’s preschool teacher informed her that she thought her daughter was on the spectrum, Helen started doing research. So she thought, “That’s an interesting reason to hire an escort.”

From there, she started researching autism solely for her book and ran into the difference between men and women on the spectrum; women have learned to mask their autism and to copy peers. While she was reading, she started to think about the things she does. “I tap my teeth, but I tap them because no one can see. Because if you move your fingers or you move your body or you rock in your chair, then people will see, and that’s no good, it has to be secret … and that put me on this journey where I started to explore, could I be on the spectrum?.” 

While Helen learned more about her new character Stella, she learned more about herself, and then the diagnosis came, and her first novel was born.

Helen has released book two in The Kiss Quotient Series,  The Bride Testand was inspired by a website that stated autistic people were heartless and that they couldn’t experience injustice. So her new character Khai was born. She wanted to display that just because autistic people don’t operate on the same wavelength as everyone else and don’t show their emotions as much as others, doesn’t mean they don’t have those emotions. She was also inspired by her own mother’s story of being a Vietnamese refugee. Helen decided to base her heroine, Esme Tran, on her mother’s story and the inner strength she needed to create a new life for herself.

Book three in the series is expected to be published next year!

This is definitely a book that will stay with you for awhile and make you come back and think about it months after finishing! She’s officially been tagged as one of my new favorite authors!

I want to believe that I can be a main character, I can be a leading character in my life, that I can have a happily ever after, that I can find true love, and I can get married, and conquer, and be happy.

-Helen Hoang on why she has characters on the spectrum