Fresh Finds with Jessica: April

Check out our YouTube channel every last Friday of the month for Fresh Finds! Join Jessica on April 30th as she discusses 5 of APLD’s newest books for April! Subscribe to our channel so you don’t miss any of our videos! Subscribe here.

Check out the five books below! Click on a cover to place a hold or learn more!

            

Bleak Books with Olivia: The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

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.

I think it’s about time for a return to the classics, don’t you? The Picture of Dorian Gray has been on my want-to-read list for months. When discussing dastardly books, this one in particular always seems to come up in conversation at some point. Maybe it’s the cast full of unlikable characters, or maybe it’s the descent into all-out hedonism that drags our title character down into the depths of pure evil. Or maybe, it’s just a good, old-fashioned hate-read (I cast my vote for the latter). Either way, this book is the one to reach for when you just want a downright sickening read.

I must preface this review by saying that I actually enjoyed this book, and found it an easy read. All the parts were there to keep me flipping the pages well into the wee hours of the morning: drama, intrigue, a couple deaths, and, of course, art (I’m an art historian, so I was sold on that front!) but there was just something that really rubbed me the wrong way… in the best way.

Dorian Gray is a remarkably beautiful young man approaching adulthood when he is taken by a painter, Basil Hallward, to be his muse. At the studio, Dorian meets Lord Henry Wotton, a brilliant, conniving older man with a taste for the hedonistic, despite Victorian society conventions. Lord Henry convinces Dorian that aging will ruin his beauty and render him useless and irrelevant in the near future and Dorian begins to panic, making a foolish wish to transfer all of his blemishes, wrinkles, and marks of indulgence to a portrait Basil recently made of him. The wish works, and once Dorian discovers he will not age any longer, his lust for life grows to disastrous proportions that comes with a body count.

This book, as I mentioned before, became not just a hate-read, but an full-on loathe-read. Almost every character in the book is male, and often they gather around and discuss modern life, which always seems to involve several quips about how women are useless for anything other than being a beautiful wife. Dorian himself also becomes a reason to hate this book with all his pompous self-adoration and his complete foolishness throughout the entire novel. Wilde tried to make me sympathize with Dorian, who was led astray at an innocent young age by an arguably predatory older man, but it’s incredibly difficult to feel bad for a boy who knows of his wrongdoings, continues to do them, and even leaves a body count in his wake. Maybe Dorian Gray’s portrait preserves his atrocious attitude from boyhood well into his older years along with his good looks.

Although this description may have thrown you off, I encourage you to read it anyway! This book gives an honest depiction of how obsession with youth and beauty will do nothing but eat you alive. As I said before, it truly is a “loathe-read”, but you will at least finish the book with the satisfaction of knowing you certainly aren’t the only one that hates Dorian Gray.

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 (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.

Wives – Fictional and Real

I’m not very fond of the trend of creating a book title based on the profession of the main character’s spouse. However, that’s not enough to keep me from reading a good book. Here are a selection of books from the Aurora Public Library District collection based on the theme “________’s Wife.” I’ve grouped the books into totally fictional characters, novels based on a historical women, and a couple of actual biographies.

I love biographical fiction, so I’ll begin with those books. The Engineer’s Wife is the story of Emily Warren Roebling who married into the engineering family that designed both the Brooklyn Bridge and the Roebling Suspension Bridge in Cincinnati. Emily worked closely with her husband on the Brooklyn Bridge and carried on engineering duties when her husband was injured during the construction.

The Engineer's Wife by Tracey Emerson Wood The Aviator's Wife by Melanie Benjamin The Emancipator's Wife by Barbara Hambly

Anne Morrow Lindbergh is, of course, The Aviator’s Wife, written by Melanie Benjamin. Benjamin has also written biographical fiction about Lewis Carroll, Babe Paley, and Mrs. Tom Thumb. Mary Todd Lincoln was a controversial figure in her day. You can read about her in The Emancipator’s Wife as well as several books by Jennifer Chiaverini.

The Clergyman's Wife by Molly Greeley  The Centurion's Wife by Davis Bunn and Janette Oke

For all you Jane Austen fans, The Clergyman’s Wife is about Elizabeth Bennett’s friend Charlotte who marries the unbearable Mr. Collins in Pride and Prejudice. Davis Bunn and Janette Oke are both well-known as writers of Christian fiction, so if you enjoy biblical fiction, you should check out The Centurion’s Wife.

The Salaryman's Wife by Sujata Massey  The Shoemaker's Wife by Adriana Trigiani  The Soldier's Wife by Joanna Trollope

The Salaryman’s Wife is set in Japan and is the first book in a mystery series. Adriana Trigiani and Joanna Trollope are both popular writers of domestic fiction.

If your reading tastes run more to actual biographies, try The Zookeeper’s Wife, set during World War II or Shakespeare’s Wife about Anne Hathaway.

The Zookeeper's Wife by Diane Ackerman Shakespeare's Wife by Germaine Greer

To find more “wife” books, just type the word “wife” into the catalog search box and then use the collection filters on the left side of the page to choose Adult Fiction or Adult Biography.

Bleak Books with Olivia: The Silent Patient 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.

Let us dive into the dark, disturbing world of psychological thrillers, shall we? This genre is a staple of my “bleak books”, described by yours truly as novels where our deepest fears manifest and grow within the minds of the characters. I would recommend these books to anyone that loves the psychological aspects of true crime stories, serial killer documentaries or are just fascinated with the ways that our brains can be our own worst enemies.

 

The Silent Patient is a book that will mentally shake you to your core. Meet Alicia Berenson, a famous painter who is also notoriously known for brutally murdering her loving husband by tying him up and shooting him five times at point-blank range directly into his face. She then attempts to commit suicide at the scene and refuses to speak another word. Naturally, her art becomes an overnight sensation as people from across the globe study each painting for some kind of clue that would explain this heinous crime and Alicia’s subsequent silence.

Theo Faber, a criminal psychologist, thinks he may be able to find the answer and becomes obsessed with uncovering the truth, working his magic to infiltrate the psychiatric ward where Alicia is staying, and manipulating the staff in order to become her personal psychologist. As he meets with Alicia, he discovers through her silence that there is much, much more than meets the eye. A sprawling web of lies, obsession, and passion ensnare Theo as he descends into the darkness that has consumed Alicia, and slowly, Theo realizes Alicia may actually be the one in charge here. The shocking rollercoaster ride of an ending will simply leave you at a loss for words, not unlike Alicia herself.

The number one thing that I enjoyed about this book is the gripping, unrelenting pace at which it was written. It was because of this that I could not put the book down and was finished with it in a number of days, which is VERY FAST for me, a reader who has major attention deficit issues. Virtually no time was spent on themes and concepts that I often find wasteful, such as world-building and descriptive writing. Instead, the majority of the novel is spent within the thoughts of Alicia and Theo, tying them together with a remarkably thick rope that normally wouldn’t exist between two characters who are supposed to be complete strangers. The novel is built so that we exist entirely within the realm of the mind, constantly aware of inner monologues and the twisted thoughts that we fear to share with the rest of the world. Alicia and Theo are stripped to their rawest forms in this novel, making it a true psychological thriller. The novel even manages to get the readers to reflect on themselves, asking “In that moment, would you not do the same? Can any blame truly be placed?” The characters are manipulative and deceptive, betraying us at every turn. Right from the beginning, you know something is very wrong and it’s only going to get worse, giving the book a deeply sinister tone. The book is unsettling, disturbing, and shocking, making it a truly bleak book.

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 (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.

An Irish Country Doctor Series

If you’ve fallen in love with the latest PBS version of James Herriot’s All Creatures Great and Small, you should try the Irish Country Doctor book series by Patrick Taylor. Although Taylor’s books are fictional and Herriot’s books are based on his real experiences as a country vet, the books have much in common. In both series, a medical practitioner fresh from college begins a new life working for an older doctor in a rural setting.

Set in Northern Ireland, these books, filled with plenty of local color and small-town eccentricities, have kept readers coming back for more since 2004. The latest entry, An Irish Country Welcome, was published in 2020.

An Irish Country Doctor by Patrick Taylor      An Irish Country Girl by Patrick Taylor

An Irish Country Wedding by Patrick Taylor     An Irish Country Welcome by Patrick Taylor      

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.