gardenAbout a year after I started working at the library, Courtney Dermott joined our staff, working alongside me in our Circulation Department. I enjoyed her company here for the next nine years or so until her retirement. More recently, Courtney was on our Library Board of Directors, last serving as President. Sadly, Courtney recently died, leaving many bereft. She will be missed. Courtney would be happy to know that several of her friends and club mates have remembered her with Memorial Gifts to the library. You may not be aware that we buy materials in honor or memory of people (and organizations). We will select and purchase items that friends or loved ones feel would be suitable to memorialize a loved one or honor someone’s birthday, anniversary, graduation, or other event. Included in those recent memorial purchases is the title I’m reviewing this week, Native Plants of the Midwest: A Comprehensive Guide to t he Best 500 Species for the Garden by Alan Branhagen, which the Garden Club purchased in her memory.

This is a terrific book, lots of beautiful photos of all the plants included as well as full descriptions and information on how to grow them, where to use them in the landscape and their ornamental attributes. All that comes after the first eighty pages or so which delve into the whys and wherefores of using native plants as well as inspirations for design and selecting the right plant for the right location and use.

You may well be tempted to skip over those first pages and jump right into the plants themselves, which are broken up into numerous divisions, including shade trees, evergreen trees, small trees and large shrubs, vines, prairie perennials, woodland perennials, groundcovers and more. Many, if not most, of the plants listed were at least somewhat familiar to me, but there were quite a few I had never encountered before that I can recall, although most of those are plants I would not normally encounter in life or reading as they are succulents (which I generally don’t care for) or plants that only grow in specialized environments (like bogs, which I have never had a need to find plants for).

I was amazed at how many plants we now grow in our gardens are, in fact, native, given that for many years gardeners preferred to garden with mostly European and Asian plants as they were considered more interesting and exciting. More recently, interest in native plants has grown because people are more aware of the effect on the ecosystem (growing natives provides food and shelter for all kinds of animal life, including butterflies and birds) and that plants that evolved in a given climate and soil, etc. are better fitted to thrive there. Himalayan poppies, for example, are beautiful and one of the few truly blue flowers, but they don’t like it in the Midwest. The native blue eyed grass, on the other hand, while not as showy does have some truly blue selections and is allegedly relatively easy to grow from seed although it does not transplant well. Pitcher’s sage (salvia azurea) is also quite blue and much easier to grow and widely popular with bees and other pollinators (as well as pretty adaptable and easy to grow).

So, if you are interested in familiarizing yourself with a wide variety of really good native choices for your garden, now’s the time to start planning for spring with this beautiful and informative book, among many gardening books to be found at the Joplin Public Library.

a-study-in-charlotte

     Are you Sherlocked?  The new season of the PBS show, Sherlock, has sent me down a Holmes and Watson rabbit hole.  Luckily, the popularity of the television shows Sherlock and Elementary on CBS along with the recent films starring Robert Downey, Jr., have inspired a rash of titles featuring the classic characters.  I’ve found radio plays, comics, stories imagining Holmes solving crimes without Watson or the other way ‘round, tales riffing on the original canon by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, books attempting to tie Holmes to Jack the Ripper or the assassination of John F. Kennedy, a series depicting Sherlock in middle school, novellas featuring Sherlock’s brother Mycroft, adventures of Sherlock’s purported vampire twin, retellings from the perspective of Professor Moriarty, countless puzzle books, numerous “how to” titles for the art of deduction, and—believe it or not—a board book for infants entitled Little Master Conan Doyle, Sherlock Holmes in the Hound of the Baskervilles: A BabyLit Sounds Primer.   (On a side note, the last entry is part of a board book series that includes baby versions of Moby Dick and Anna Karenina in addition to the Pride and Prejudice parody, Goodnight, Mr. Darcy.)

     An interesting newcomer to the mountain of Holmes titles is last year’s A Study in Charlotte by Brittany Cavallaro.  I wholeheartedly agree with the book’s tagline, “You’ve never seen Watson and Holmes like this before.”  Jamie Watson and Charlotte Holmes are 21st-century descendants of John and Sherlock—both Londoners dropped into an upper-crust Connecticut boarding school for reasons I cannot relate due to massive spoilers.  (Not surprisingly, there is a fair amount of this plot I cannot reveal due to spoilers, massive or moderate.)  Watson and Holmes are atypical teens leading atypical lives trying to balance homework assignments, dances, and rugby practices with extortion, kidnapping, and murder.

     James “Jamie” Watson meets Charlotte Holmes at Sherringford, the posh school he attends on a rugby scholarship.  Jamie secretly wants to be a writer, an aspiration he cultivates out of the public eye as he navigates his new surroundings.  He has grown up in the U.S. and, most recently, London which he misses desperately.  Jamie’s estranged father and his new family live only an hour away, another sore point.  Charlotte, as you can imagine, has been busy with other activities.  Her upbringing reflects the family business—training in observation, deduction, the sciences (yes, all the sciences) sprinkled with lessons in lock picking, computer hacking, and wiretapping.  Jamie first spies Charlotte at the weekly poker game she runs in her dormitory’s basement.  A few days later, they officially meet and have the awkward conversation about their ancestors; a few weeks later, they are becoming crime solving colleagues bonding over clues in Charlotte’s personal laboratory.  By the end of the semester, they are fighting for each others’ lives.

     This book is really about relationships—between Charlotte and Jamie, Charlotte and her family, Jamie and his family, Charlotte and her past, the main characters and the school, Charlotte and…wait a minute, can’t tell you that one another spoiler (a HUGE one, trust me).  Certainly there is plenty of action-filled plot; by finals week, this Holmes and Watson duo unravel the mystery behind an assault, a poisoning, a deadly snake, eerie recreations of the original Holmes stories, an attempted murder, blackmail, clandestine surveillance, and a school-shuttering explosion.  This doesn’t even count the roller coaster ride occurring in the last few chapters of the book!

     Brittany Cavallaro successfully translates the spirit of the original Sherlock Holmes stories for a current audience.  Her main characters are interesting, three-dimensional blends of wit, intelligence, generosity, loneliness, adventure, and heart.  Her secondary characters are fleshed out as needed for the story, appearing when needed to further the plot then receding into the background until their next task; they aren’t necessarily flat or uninteresting just not as rounded as Holmes and Watson throughout the book.  Instead of directly translating Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories point by point into Sherringford, Cavallaro blends elements from several of them to create her mystery.  Some elements are more obvious—an exasperated-yet-grudgingly-respectful detective, Mycroft Holmes becomes Charlotte’s brother Milo, Jamie’s solicitous dorm mother, a murder weapon purposefully copied from The Blue Carbuncle (among others).  Charlotte displays the distinctive personality traits of the original Holmes, including an opiate habit which sets up one of the most moving scenes in the book—Jamie nursing Charlotte through an overdose attempt and its aftermath.

     A Study in Charlotte is an entertaining romp of adventure and mystery (with a dash of romance) that incorporates realistic situations and a serious topic or two along the way.  It’s a fun read, well-suited to high schoolers and teen lit. lovers looking for a quick book.  Due to some mature language and topics, it may not be to everyone’s taste.  You can find this book (and a variety of others) in the Teen Department of the Joplin Public Library.  Hope to see you soon!

girlMelanie is a very special little girl. She’s at the top of her class. She loves her teacher, Miss Justineau. But she can’t understand why Sergeant Parks and his soldiers insist on strapping her to a wheelchair just to take her to class. Why she can’t go outside and play. Why she and her classmates are locked in cells every night.

The Girl With All the Gifts is a spin on the zombie apocalypse story. Told through several viewpoints, the most compelling is that of Melanie. She’s 10 years old and goes to class with other children around her age. But sometimes, those children leave to visit Dr. Caldwell and never return. Melanie’s also not sure why she and her classmates are strapped down, why her teachers and the soldiers keep their distance from the children.

One day, when Melanie is called to Dr. Caldwell’s laboratory, the base is attacked by outsiders known as Junkers. They’re a loosely organized group of uninfected humans who live outside the protection of the military base. The Junkers have rounded up a group of Hungries, zombies who only want to eat. When Miss Justineau is under threat during the attack, Melanie realizes what she truly is: a Hungry. She saves Justineau’s life by killing others, Junkers and Hungries alike.

The group that escapes is made up of Miss Justineau, Dr. Caldwell, Sergeant Parks, Private Gallagher, and Melanie. They decide to make their way to a nearby settlement called Beacon, figuring this is their best chance for survival. Sergeant Parks doesn’t trust Melanie, but she’s a smart girl who doesn’t trust herself either. She doesn’t want to hurt Miss Justineau, so she agrees to wear a muzzle.

As the survivors navigate toward Beacon, they discover the fungus that created the zombie plague has begun taking over the world. The Hungries that roam are in various states of decay. Some still hold on to habits from their old lives, pushing baby carriages or singing songs. But others have fallen victim to the fungus. Giant fungoid trees sprout from Hungries that have been overtaken. But other Hungries survive.

The group discovers a mobile laboratory that Dr. Caldwell recognizes. Her colleagues had used the laboratory to work toward a cure for the fungus that threatens mankind. They begin using the laboratory as a base, hoping to restore the vehicle and use it to reach Beacon safely. But the group is not alone. And now that they’ve run out of e-blocker, Melanie is getting very hungry.

It’s difficult to discuss much more of the plot without giving too much away. I found myself caught up in the urgency of the story. Many times, I had to remind myself to slow down because I was skimming in order to find out what happened next. There are a few leaps of faith you have to take in order for the world to make sense. If Melanie weren’t a genius 10 year-old, the story would fall apart pretty quickly. But isn’t that the case with lots of books?

Made into a movie starring Glenn Close, Gemma Arterton, Paddy Considine, and Sennia Nanua (not yet available on DVD), this is a an interesting take on zombies. There are few changes between the book and movie, from what I can tell from clips and trailers. I’m definitely putting this on my to-watch list once it’s available on DVD.

girlReviewed by Tammie Benham

Xan the Witch doesn’t understand why the population of The Protectorate leave a baby all alone in the forest each year.  Still, she travels to the other side of the forest to rescue each baby, finding them homes in other towns with loving families.  Yes she wonders, “What kind of people would leave a baby to fend for itself in a dangerous forest?”

The people of The Protectorate understand that for hundreds of years the baby born closest to the Day of Sacrifice must be left in the woods so that the witch who lives on the other side of the forest won’t attack and destroy them all.  Each year the (all male) members of The Council take the chosen baby from his family and form a procession that ends deep in the forest under a sycamore grove, where they leave the child.

One year, the mother of a young girl baby refuses to quietly give up her daughter. She screams and fights The Council members until they call in The Sisters, a group of all-women who live together in a tower fortress, grow things, cook, and train to be assassins. The Sisters lock up the woman in the top of their tower and feed on her sorrow as she slowly goes insane.  “Magic and madness are linked after all.”

Xan the Witch rescues the madwoman’s daughter of course, as she has all the other children.  However, this time she falls deeply in love with the dark headed girl and decides she will raise her with the help of Glerk the Swamp Monster, who was there at the beginning of time, and Fyrian, the Perfectly Tiny Dragon.

Xan runs out of goat’s milk to feed the baby on her journey back across the forest to her home which necessitates the baby being fed starlight and moonbeams.  When Xan accidentally feeds the baby too many beams from the full moon the baby becomes enmagicked and gains her name, Luna.

Xan quickly discovers that raising a baby with too much magic inside and no ability to control the magic is impossible.  And so, she gathers all the magic inside the girl and locks it up until Luna’s thirteenth birthday.  With each passing year Xan becomes weaker, finally understanding that Luna is unknowingly siphoning off her magic and when Luna’s own magic is released, the five hundred year old Xan will die.

Meanwhile, Antain, a young boy who witnessed Luna being stripped from her mother and the imprisonment of the madwoman, has been trying to come to grips with what he saw.  In the course of his angst, he discovers that things are not at all what they seem with The Sisters, the Council, and with the witch.  Will Luna and her mother ever be reunited?  Will Antain be able to stop the baby sacrifices before his own son is left in the woods?  Will Xan have to give her life when Luna’s magic is released?

This second novel from award-winning writer, Kelly Barnhill has many twists and turns.  The prose is repetitive in spots, dragging out the story.  The overall tone of the book is dark with very few light spots.  This book might be an appealing read to those who loved the last three Harry Potter books.

 

For my final book review of 2016, I spent a long time looking at the books I’d read so far this year, trying to pick the perfect one to talk about. Instead, after perusing the list, I decided to share a few of the top reads I’ve enjoyed in the last 12 months.

Top of my list would have to be the Daisy Dalrymple series by Carola Dunn, since I’ve devoured 20 of them this year. This mystery series is set in England following the Great War, and the Honorable Daisy Dalrymple is trying to make a living by writing articles about manor houses, famous English landmarks and other such things. Of course, she finds herself constantly stumbling over dead bodies, with Scotland Yard Detective Alec Fletcher called in to investigate. A growing attraction between the two develops over the course of the series. I recommend starting with “Death at Wentwater Court,” but all of the books are a delightful cozy mystery to enjoy with a cup of tea and a biscuit.

Another great series of British historical mysteries are the Sebastian St. Cyr books by C.S. Harris. I came across the first one, “What Angels Fear”, which features aristocrat Sebastian St. Cyr as the prime suspect in a young woman’s brutal murder. He must clear his name and find the real killer while avoiding the clutches of the law and a mysterious figure who serves as the power behind the throne. Book 11, “When Falcons Fall”, was just added to the Joplin Public Library collection in October.

Reading so much, I find myself picking up books from all sections of the library, including the Teen Department. There were three books that were so outstanding I’ve been recommending them to others galore. First up is “Jackaby” by William Ritter, which can best be described as Sherlock Holmes meets Doctor Who. This is the first in a trilogy that features a young woman helping a detective investigate supernaturally bent crimes.

Another read that my teenage daughter and I both enjoyed was “The Jewel” by Amy Ewing. If you’re looking for a book that combines “The Hunger Games” with “The Handmaid’s Tale,” this is the one for you. The plot consists of young girls being tested for special abilities, with the successful ones chosen, trained and then sold to royalty to serve as surrogates. It was dark, compelling, thrilling and romantic, all at once.

Finally, if you’re looking for something lighter to read, I can’t recommend “The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl” comic book novel enough. Squirrel Girl is one of the standout Marvel creations, with her optimistic attitude and her ongoing quest to kick butt and eat nuts. There are four volumes so far in the library collection, with each one filled with some of the funniest comics you’ll ever read.

One book that had me laughing throughout, and I mean loud, wake-people-up laughing, was “Let’s Pretend This Never Happened: (a Mostly True Memoir)” by Jenny Lawson. The author is the creator of a blog, and this covers not only some of her funniest blogs, but also her awkward childhood and marriage to her long-suffering husband. Lawson is also quite open about dealing with her overwhelming social anxieties and issues. My poor husband had to listen to various excerpts that I found so hilarious that I was forced to read them out loud to him.

My final recommendation that I really enjoyed this year is “Dracula vs. Hitler” by Patrick Sheane Duncan. During World War II, Romanian resistance fighters, desperate to overcome the Nazi invaders, call on the Undead Prince, Dracula. The resistance, led by Van Helsing’s daughter and Harker’s grandson, hope that Dracula is, above all else, a patriot and lover of his homeland. But Hitler, once aware of this dark force, is determined to capture Dracula and gain his powers and immortality for himself. There are a multitude of mash-up books out there, but this is probably one of the best I’ve ever read. The author stays true to the story of Dracula and the characters penned by Bram Stoker, while merging them into Hitler’s quest for supernatural icons. While this may not appeal to everyone, it was a fun read that I whole-heartedly recommend.

These are just a few of the books I’ve read during 2016, but all stood out as ones that were my top reads for the year. All of them are available at the Joplin Public Library, and I hope at least one intrigues you enough to pick it up to read in the new year.

gravesThe Girls She Left Behind by Sarah Graves is suspenseful and intense. This is the second in the Lizzie Snow series. Lizzie was a Boston homicide detective. She currently lives in Bearkill, Maine and is a deputy in the Aroostook County Sheriff’s Department. She took the position so she can search for her niece. Lizzie’s sister was murdered and her baby was never found.

When not following leads Lizzie is kept busy with the residents of Bearkill and the surrounding area. One of those resident is Jane Crimmins. Jane was kidnapped when she was 15 by Henry Gemerle but managed to escape. She left behind at least 2 other victims but never told anyone about the crime or the other victims. Her kidnapper was finally arrested and 3 victims rescued alive. Now Henry has escaped. Can he be headed to Bearkill and Jane?

Lizzie knows of the case but not Jane’s involvement. Currently she is looking for a missing 14-year-old, Tara. The teen has a history of running away so no one is too concerned. But Lizzie’s instincts tell her something is not right then Tara’s mother receives a text with 2 words “help me”.

Lizzie soon believes that if she can find Henry Gemerle she’ll find her missing teen. But there is a more to this than another kidnapped girl. Can Lizzie unravel the secrets and lies in time to save not only Tara but herself?

curiousJanet Evanovich has collaborated with Phoef Sutton on a new novel similar in tone to her Stephanie Plum series. Curious Minds: a Knight and Moon Novel came out earlier this year. Riley Moon, a recent Harvard grad, is a junior analyst at mega-bank Blane-Grunwald. Her first assignment is to go see the bank’s biggest investor, Emerson Knight, and assure him his money is safe.

Emerson is eccentric, young, extremely rich, and wants to see the part of his fortune that is gold. When bank president Werner Grunwald doesn’t make that happen Emerson devises his own way to get access to his gold.

A reluctant Riley and Emerson travel to the Federal Reserve in Manhattan. What they uncover sends them on a mad dash across the country searching for a missing Grunwald brother, missing gold, and one step ahead of the thugs determined to keep them from reaching Area 51 and foiling the biggest heist in history.

This novel has what Evanovich is known for – humor, clever one-liners, and mad-cap escapes. It’s a light, fun read that will make you smile.