MagicMidnight Gulch used to be a town with magic—a town where people could bake secrets into pies, sing up rainstorms, and catch shadows. Currently the town’s welcome sign reads, “Midnight Gulch, Tennessee—a proper place to call home” but as Felicity Pickle, her wanderlust mother, and her younger sister drive their dilapidated van, affectionately know as the Pickled Jalapeño, into town, she can see through the layers of paint that the sign used to boast, “Midnight Gulch, Tennessee—a magical place to call home.”

The idea of magic is an exciting one to Felicity. She hopes that with the help of Midnight Gulch’s magic and a little luck she will finally be able to make her dream of finding a place to call home come true.

Twelve-year-old Felicity possesses a “snicker of magic” of her own. She has a unique gift that allows her to see words that people are thinking or feeling. She glimpses words everywhere—looped above people’s heads, perched on bookshelves, streaming down walls, and shining in windows—and the words, at least the interesting ones, have personalities of their own. Some dance, some sparkle, some fly, and many showcase themselves in color—polka dots, zebra stripes, and neon hues.

It is through her magical word collecting that she meets and befriends Jonah, an amazing boy who uses his alter ego—the Beedle—to secretly help people in the community. According to his grandmother, he has a knack for “fixing what’s ailing” folks and he is making good on his promise not to waste his “know-how.”

It is with the help of Jonah’s “know-how” and his unfailing friendship that Felicity discovers the town’s magical past and learns the complete story of the feuding Brothers Threadbare, their ill-fated romances, and a mysterious curse. A curse that Felicity believes is the key to changing her mother’s wandering ways.

Debut author Natalie Lloyd’s foray into the world of children’s literature is charming. Lloyd’s ability to weave together tidbits from several seemingly separate stories to form a cohesive thread is inspired and clever. Combined that with her use of language and description and her book comes alive, much like Felicity’s collected words. Captivating characters steal the show and one would be hard-pressed not to discover someone to adore in this enchanting story about friendship, perseverance, and ultimately, love.

Pirio Kasparov is a miracle, remarkable, or an anomaly depending on who is describing her – fishermen, her rescuers, or the U.S. Navy. Pirio was on a lobster boat that sank in the foggy North Atlantic after being rammed by a tanker. She spent 4 hours in 48 degree water before being rescued by the Coast Guard. Boat owner and friend, Ned Rizzo, did not survive.

As you read Pirio’s story in  Elisabeth Elo’s novel North of Boston you find a character more complex than a one word description. The only child of Russian immigrants she is a little damaged, smart, tough, courageous, and proud she is American.

As she tells her doubting father, in America the authorities will find the tanker that destroyed the lobster boat and killed her friend. But finding the tanker proves problematic for the Coast Guard. Pirio can only provide the color and according to the logs no boats of that color were out of the harbor that day.

Pirio wants answers, not only for herself but for Ned’s son, Noah. Noah’s mother, Thomasina, and Pirio have been friends since they were both banished to boarding school. They were rule breakers and drinking buddies. Pirio changed her lifestyle but Thomasina can’t and counts her sobriety in days.

Noah and Pirio share a special bond. Noah is a pal and because of circumstances sometimes Pirio’s responsibility. So for him as well as herself she wants to find who is responsible for Ned’s death.

Also the Navy is eager to study her. They want to know how she could survive for 4 hours in water that would kill most people in minutes. She feels a duty to help but the base in Florida is a long way from Boston and the answers she seeks.

She begins by questioning Ned’s former co-workers. He worked for years at a commercial fishing company, Ocean Catch. His acquisition of the lobster boat was recent. In fact its last voyage was also its first.

Someone else is raising questions about Ned. “Larry” says he is Ned’s friend but no one knows him. Pirio then suspects he is an insurance investigator but his real identity is reporter Russ Parnell. Russ’s prime interest is not the accident but in Ocean Catch and the voyages the fishing trawler Sea Wolf takes.

At first Pirio’s sleuthing is done around her hours at Inessa Mark, the perfume company her parents founded. But as she uncovers more evidence her search to find out what happened consumes her.

She soon begins to believe that there was nothing accidental about the tanker ramming the lobster boat. When clues point to Ocean Catch and the Sea Wolf she joins forces with Russ Parnell to find Ned’s killer and uncover the truth.

Following clues, and sometimes ignoring her instincts, Pirio finds herself in the far north and running for her life. Can she and Russ uncover the truth while evading ruthless killers who will go to any length to keep their secret?

This is Elo’s first novel. It took me a few pages to get accustomed to the author’s style but once into the story it was easy to get lost in the telling. Cold water survival, the perfume industry, Russian immigrants, commercial fishing, and whales are woven into a compelling story of suspense.

Pirio is an interesting character and indications are she will reappear in future novels. She has a difficult relationship with her father and she still misses her mother who died when Pirio was 10 years old. You get glimpses of their story throughout the novel. If there are additional Pirio novels, it will be interesting to see if we learn more.

If you are a Tess Gerritsen, Dennis Lehane, and/or Lisa Gardner fan this will be right up your reading alley. However, I recommend it to anyone who likes suspense.

If you are a Tess Gerritsen, Dennis Lehane, and/or Lisa Gardner fan this will be right up your reading alley. However, I recommend it to anyone who likes suspense.

Being both a fan of the actor Alan Cumming and genealogical shows like ”Who Do You Think You Are?” and “Finding Your Roots,” I eagerly checked out “Not My Father’s Son” by the talented Mr. Cumming. I knew it would not be a frolicsome read from the reviews which alluded to the abuse Cumming’s father dealt out to his family, but I was prepared.

I was not aware that the original ”Who Do You Think You Are?” series began in England in 2004 and spawned Irish and Australian versions before the American version started in 2010. Many of them are available on YouTube, but I refuse to be drawn down that time sink!

At any rate, in 2010 the production company approached Cumming about appearing on the program. He immediately said yes, primarily because of the family mystery about his maternal grandfather who had fought in World War II and subsequently left his family and died under mysterious circumstances in Malaysia.

Around the time that production was starting, Cumming did some interviews and (as is often the case with English journalism) there were some misstatements. Some of them greatly angered Cumming’s father, with whom he had had little contact since he left home at seventeen to work for a year before attending the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama.

Cumming’s older brother Tom called to tell him he needed to speak to him urgently. He refused to discuss whatever the issue was on the phone, but immediately began the three hour trip to see his younger brother. After he arrived, the brothers sat down and the by now rather distraught Alan asked what the problem was. His brother told him that their father had called him ten days earlier to give him a message to relay to Alan. What message? “He told me to tell you that you are not his son.”

Now, given the title of the book I wasn’t in complete shock to read that, but the circumstances were certainly shocking. He told Alan’s brother to tell him? Huh? What kind of man would deputize one son to tell another something like that? Well, the book answers that, and it’s not pretty. Cumming senior was, at best, a man with undiagnosed psychiatric disorders. At worst, a monster. Either way, he made both boys’ lives miserable for most of their childhoods. He was a dreadful husband, to boot, although I kept wondering why the boys’ beloved mother didn’t find a way out of the situation before the boys were both grown and gone, as she eventually did.

I don’t want to give away anything about the discoveries made and the past revealed in the book, but the book is both interesting from a genealogical viewpoint and as a memoir of a terrible childhood. It is extraordinarily well-written and I found it engrossing. I was hard pressed to put it down to eat or sleep. I can only hope that Mr. Cumming feels an urge to write more in the future. I would listen to him read the phone book, and I think I would read his shopping list!

The Secret Place” by Tana French

Tana French’s latest novel, “The Secret Place,” takes place in one day at St. Kilda’s, an elite all-girls boarding school near Dublin, Ireland. In the commons room at St. Kilda’s, there is a bulletin board called the “Secret Place,” where the girls can post secrets, complaints, frustrations — even their innermost thoughts — anonymously.

It is on this bulletin board that Holly Mackey discovers Chris Harper’s photo, along with a note that says, “I know who killed him.” Chris Harper, a boy from a neighboring all-boys school, was murdered on the grounds of St. Kilda’s a year earlier, and the case has gone cold. Holly takes the card to Detective Stephen Moran. Moran played a minor role in “Faithful Place,” French’s first novel.

Detective Moran has been working cold cases but has aspirations of joining the Dublin Murder Squad. Moran teams up with Detective Antoinette Conway, who first worked the case a year ago, only to reach a dead end. Conway is all business. She has an attitude and few friends among the males in the department. Conway is not eager to work with Moran, but she is determined to solve the case this time. Moreover, Moran knows that if they solve the case, it could be his ticket onto the Murder Squad.

Moran and Conway soon narrow their focus to the rivalry between two cliques of teenage girls at St. Kilda’s who despise each other. Holly belongs to the “good-girl” group, along with Julie, Rebecca and Selena. Joanna is the leader of the “evil-girl” group called the Daleks (named after the cyborg villains from Dr. Who).

From their interrogations, both detectives believe most of the girls know more than they are telling. Evidence seems to point to Holly as a suspect. Holly’s father, Detective Frank Mackey, the main character from “Faithful Place,” makes a cameo appearance when he arrives on the scene to protect his daughter.

Chris Harper managed to get in the middle of the two feuding groups when he met one of the girls secretly. He gave her a pink flip phone and he had a red phone, and they were only to be used for texting each other. As Moran and Conway delve further into the case, it appears that Chris gave away more than one pink phone and that he saw more than one girl. The tightly held secrets of all the girls begin to be revealed …

I am a huge fan of Tana French’s novels. She excels in her character development and her vivid description of details. In “The Secret Place,” she deviated in style from her previous novels, the most obvious being in the narration, alternating between the past and the present. The past, the point of view of Holly and her friends, explains events that led up to Chris’s death, along with each chapter telling exactly how long Chris has left to live. I found the teen narration to be grating at times with all the teenage slang— ohmygod! Hel-lo?, OMG. Stephen’s narration presents the current point of view and chronicles the investigation and the interaction between himself and Detective Conway.

Tana French writes skillfully about the tangled web of friendship, love and loyalty. This is a well-developed, cleverly plotted mystery, but not a book that you can race through.

“The Secret Place” was a compelling and absorbing read (or listen, in my case), but it ranks as my least favorite of French’s novels. However, if you are a fan of French’s writing, it is definitely worth reading. All of her novels are standalone but carry over one of the characters from the Dublin Murder Squad into her next novel.

I prefer listening to the audiobook versions of French’s novels because I enjoy the Irish dialect and accents. There are two narrators, Stephen Hogan and Lara Hutchinson, and they alternated in the narration.

The Joplin Public Library has “The Secret Place” by Tana French in regular and large print and audiobook formats, and it is available for download from molib2go.org.

Although not the first to express the concept, in 1789 Benjamin Franklin wrote in a letter to a friend, “In this world, nothing is certain except death and taxes.” He was actually talking about the durability of the new U.S. Constitution, but the phrase began a life of its own.

Specifically, death — its surety, customs, information and philosophy surrounding it — is the subject of the book reviewed this week.

The title “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes and Other Lessons from the Crematory” by Caitlin Doughty caught my eye as I was reading another library’s newsletter. It sounded interesting and had good reviews, so we added it to the Joplin Public Library collection.

“Smoke Get in Your Eyes” is more than just a day-to-day account of Caitlyn’s life in the funeral business. In her book she weaves information about death traditions from all over the world and insights into the business of funerals in the United States.

The author’s interest in death began when she was eight years old and witnessed a little girl fall to her death in an accident at a local mall. She says, “Until that night I hadn’t truly understood that I was going to die, that everyone was going to die.”

Many of today’s children do not know much about death. This would have been unheard of even 100 years ago. Death has been removed from our daily lives, yet as Franklin told his correspondent, it is a sure thing.

Fast forward a few years. Caitlin goes through college, earning a degree in medieval history, writing her thesis on the late medieval witch trials in which well over 50,000 people were executed for supposed sorcery.

After college, wanting to gain entrance into the death industry, she takes a job in Los Angeles as an assistant at Westwind Cremation & Burial, learning the ropes and art of cremation.

She saw this job as a “way to fix what had happened to the eight-year-old me. The girl kept up at night by fear, crouched under the covers, believing if death couldn’t see her than he couldn’t take her.”

She details her experiences in learning the trade. Some are gross; some are sad; some are just downright interesting. While telling these tales Caitlin also weaves stories of death practices throughout the world and challenges our ideas about death and dying.

Wanting to dispel fear of dying, the author seeks to restore death and dying as a part of life. Since leaving the crematory, she has become a licensed embalmer, although she has serious issues with it and is establishing an alternative funeral practice.

As part of her demystifying process, Doughty has established theorderofthegooddeath.com website and also has a quirky and cheesy but interesting series of YouTube videos, “Ask a Mortician.”

If this books sounds at all intriguing, you may also be interested in “Does This Mean You’ll See me Naked – Field Notes From a Funeral Director” by Robert D. Webster. Joplin Public Library has this book only in downloadable e-book format.

“Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” is available in print at Joplin Public Library. There are already people on the hold list for it, so get your name added right away. You’ll find the book interesting, informative, disturbing and thought-provoking.

playSeveral weeks ago the Joplin Public Library opened its expanded and redesigned play space area in the Children’s Department. To the casual observer this transformation seemed to take a mere week to pull off, but for those staff members working behind the scenes, the process took much longer.

It began in November 2013, when the library director and I attended training in New York. The training was hosted by Middle Country Public Library system, the founding member of the Family Place Libraries network—a network that includes more than 300 public libraries across the nation. The mission of Family Place Libraries is to increase the role of the public library as a community hub for healthy child and family development, parent and community involvement, and lifelong learning beginning at birth.

After we attended the training, it was clear to both the library director and me that we wanted to be a part of the Family Place Libraries initiative. We started planning how to incorporate the key components of all Family Place Libraries—a specially designed welcoming space; a resource collection for parents; developmentally appropriate programming for parents and children, including a parent-child workshop; and outreach efforts to reach non-traditional library users—into daily Joplin Public Library operations.

On Sept. 12, after a lot of hard work by many people, we opened the newly created play space, with the hope that not only would it start us on our way to Family Place inclusion, but that it would be a wonderfully welcoming space for families to learn, grow, play and have fun.

And that is similar to what Roni Cohen Leiderman and Wendy S. Masithe, the authors of “Let’s Play and Learn Together,” hope to give to readers with their book. Not a space for play, but ideas for play—a repertoire of 375 activities, songs and games that families with younger children can enjoy doing together.

According to the authors, “Play is much more than just fun and games. It is vital for cognitive, social and emotional development because it helps children develop their dexterity, imaginations, and communication skills while promoting friendships, empathy, and conflict resolution.” In short, play is one of the key things a parent/caregiver can do to ensure their child’s future success.

The pair have structured their book to include two main sections—“Play Ideas for Learning and Love” and “Play Activities and Ideas for Making Life with Your Child Fun and Hassle Free.” And each chapter is subdivided to focus on infants, toddlers and preschoolers, so it is easy to see at a glance what activities are developmentally appropriate.

This is a fun guide that not only provides creativity play solutions, it provides them without the use of bells and whistles. All one needs is a sock to make a puppet, chalk for hopscotch and a few spare cardboard boxes to create a train. The authors provide so many great ideas that almost any parent can do and it is hard to decide which to try first. Personally, after reading only the first chapter of this book, I had at least three ideas that I knew I just had to try with my family. I recommend this title for anyone who has the opportunity to interact and play with children.

  The second book in Robert Galbraith’s Cormoran Strike series, The Silkworm, finds the private detective in much better financial shape. He is doing well enough that he takes a case where payment is doubtful instead of continuing a case with an affluent but disagreeable client.

Leonara Quine’s husband, Owen, is missing. She thinks he went to an author’s retreat but can’t find him and he is not answering her calls. This is not the first time he has gone incommunicado so she can’t go to the police for help. With a child at home who requires constant care Leonara needs Strike to find Owen and bring him home.

Strike with the help of his assistant Robin traces Owen through London’s literary and publishing world. In talking with agents, editors, publishers, authors, and the missing man’s girlfriend Strike learns that Owen has penned his next great novel. A seemingly staged argument in a public place leads Strike to believe the disappearance may be a publicity stunt for the book.

That is until he discovers Owen’s horribly mutilated body in an empty house. Owen has been murdered in the same gruesome manner as the character in his unpublished novel. A murder straight from the pages of an unpublished work should limit the number of suspects.

However, Strike finds the novel was read by or readily available to a lot of people, many with a motive to kill. Quine’s novel depicted most of the people in his life in cruel and slanderous parody. The ones with the most motive to kill, his editor, publisher, agent, lover, rival author, and his wife, had all read the unpublished book.

Strike found Owen so technically his job is done but the detective in him can’t leave a case unfinished. Then the police decide Leonara is the prime suspect. Strike’s job turns from finding a missing husband to hunting a diabolical killer and proving Leonara innocent.

Robert Galbraith, better known as J.K. Rowling, has penned an intriguing character in Cormoran Strike. First introduced in The Cuckoo’s Calling, Strike is an imposing figure at 6’ 3”, burly with part of a leg missing due to an IED in Afghanistan. He retired from the special investigations unit of the military police after the explosion and started his detective agency. He is intelligent, intuitive, and keenly observant to every detail. He runs investigations with the organized discipline and ethics he learned in the military.

His personal life however is in shambles. As we meet him he is broke, as the few clients he has aren’t inclined to pay, and homeless. He just ended his engagement to longtime girlfriend Charlotte and she has the flat and 9/10s of his possessions. He is private and a bit of a loner keeping the true state of his life from the half-sister and aunt and uncle who are closest to him.

The other central figure in the series is Robin Ellacott. Her association with Strike begins as a one week temp position. He can’t afford her but by the end of the week she has proven herself to valuable to lose. She wants to stay and Strike agrees to keep her on at a reduced salary much to the dismay of her new fiancé, Matthew. Matthew would rather she be in a higher paying job and away from Strike.

The smart, beautiful Robin has a secret ambition to be a detective. She is in her dream job but struggles to keep Matthew happy while proving her worth to Strike. Robin’s character develops more slowly than Strike’s and the desire to see what she will become helps drive the series.

Read alikes for this series are Robert Parker and Kate Atkinson. I would add John Sandford and Lee Child to the list. The library has both the print and audio versions of the books. The audio narrator is Robert Glenister who does an excellent job of bringing Cormoran Strike to life.

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