Some stories are intended for young audiences but are perfectly wonderful for adults. Here are two excellent juvenile graphic novels or jgns you might have missed (if you're past your teens). Sequels exist if you enjoy these.
Hereville book jacketHereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword by Barry Deutsch.  Mirka dreams of being adventurous, but like everyone else in Hereville, she's an Orthodox Jew and is expected to learn knitting and other household skills. There's a witch, a wise stepmother, standing up to bullies, conflict between tradition and free will and, of course, a troll to defeat. Mirka is an imperfect but feisty and likable heroine.Amulet book jacket
Amulet Book 1: The Stonekeeper by Kazu Kibuishi. Their mother is lured through a strange door into a world of robots and elves, demons and talking animals, and Emily and Navin follow. Brave kids, yes, but I love it when the parents are actually competent. Gorgeous art that looks like a Miyazaki movie.

This summer I kept finding myself reading fiction about teens and death. There was The Fault in Our Stars of course, which I avoided reading for a long time because-- teenagers! With cancer! But it was really good once I relented, and read it in two tearstained days. I also enjoyed Goldengrove by Francine Prose, about a girl whose sister dies in a boating accident and how she, her parents, and her sister’s boyfriend deal with their grief. The writing in this one is extraordinary, evocative and poetic. And then I read Lauren Oliver’s Before I Fall, which is kind of a Mean Girls/Groundhog Day mashup. We watch Sam, one of four horrid, popular girls who rule their suburban high school go through a day-- Valentine’s Day-- being so mean to everyone around them that you don’t mind when their car flies off the road that night. And then Sam lives that day again, and again. It's so interesting to watch how things change, how Sam changes, as she lives through that day repeatedly.

What is it with teenagers and death? I wondered.

But the truth is that we're all interested in death. When my kids were really little, they tortured me by playing with the idea of their deaths or mine. Shakespeare’s plays are full of it, the whole mystery genre is built on it, and let’s not even talk about movies, TV or video games. Death is a great big, dramatic mystery, and we’re all interested in it.

If you’d like to plunge into the mystery-- at least in the context of YA books-- here is a list of good ones. Please let me know if there are any you’ve enjoyed that I missed.

This past week, I've woken up a bunch of times throughout the night thinking about all of the stressful things happening in my world. My thoughts keep churning around and around.  Will there ever be peace in the Middle East? My mom's heart problems. Why is my car insurance so expensive? Will I ever visit Europe? Oh the anxiety! There are simply periods of my life when I am drowning in it. I don't quite get people who don't get anxious. The world is an anxiety-producing place and the only thing we can do is try to figure out ways to lessen it or to adjust to it. And here's a book that will do just that: My Age of Anxiety by Eric Stossel. Wow.

My Age of Anxiety bookjacketThis book will tell you everything you need to know about anxiety. Stossel, the editor of The Atlantic, has suffered from anxiety and various phobias since an early age. The great thing about this book is that it might make you feel better about your own anxiety; Stossel's description of his own is so outrageous that the chances are good that yours will pale in comparison.  I will not soon forget the hilarious but painful tale of his visit to the Kennedy compound that involved a search for a bathroom, a leaking toilet, and a pants-less encounter with John F. Kennedy, Jr. Another plus in reading this is that Stossel really does write about everything you need to know about anxiety. I'm hoping to sleep better in the coming weeks.


havanaHaving wanted to visit Havana for a long time, partially out of defiance to America’s travel restrictions and partially because of the culture—plus just a tiny dose of Hemingway significance, I set about making it happen. There are ways for Americans to experience Cuba short of obtaining citizenship elsewhere and one of the easiest legal options is through a people-to-people license. This is essentially, a guided educational tour. Now, I’m not typically a group tour kind of girl, butche guevara I also did not want to bother about going through Canada or Mexico. I did not want to worry, or to plan, or really if I’m being honest I don’t even like to think whilst on holiday, but best of three isn’t bad. Group dynamics and challenging personalities aside, I found the tour to be just the thing. It was very informative, as all educational tours should be, and I learned more about the culture than I would have had I wandered around at my leisure snapping photos. But I did take some photographs...would you like to see?

I love a country with a poet immortalized in the revolution square. Of course he did have a hand in planning the Cuban War of Independence, but still. Sure, Che Guevara is there too, along with Camilo Cienfugeos, but have you read anything about or by José Martí ?                                            
Next stop, La Terrazas. This is a tropical oasis (thanks to a government issued reforestation program) a few hours from Havana. It is an eco-village of sorts which sits on the site of the Buenavista coffee plantation ruins.  Also on the tour was a place called Fusterland, the home/museum of José Rodríguez Fuster. He has been compared as a cross between Gaudi and Picasso and his home is showplace to the art of mosaics. fusterland
Then it was a quick tour of the Colon Cemetery where Hemingway's bartender Constantino Ribalaigua Vert is buried (who it is rumored invented the famous Floridita daiquiri). And who doesn't like a good cemetery? Or a good daiquiri for that matter.

There was an afternoon spent experiencing the culture through the palate...i.e. a coffee, rum, and cigar tasting. Learning can be tough I know, but when in Cuba as they say... I watched the rolling of a cigar, learned how many leaves go into the making of one, and how some came to be named after famous works of literature. (It has been said that workers in cigar factories were some of the most literate as there was a designated reader of classic texts, newspapers, etc. in the factory being broadcast while the workers rolled and cut cigars.) 

The agenda incfinca vigialuded a heavy dose of art, with a performance of opera, ballet, and a graphic arts workshop with a meet and greet of the artists, plus a visit to Hemingway’s home, the Finca Vigia, which has been preserved as if the author just stepped out for a moment...probably on a drinks run to the Floridita.

 And because you can’t go to Cuba and not have a night of dancing at the Buena Vista Social Club, I did that too...albeit badly. If you would like a little more background on US/Cuban relations and some of the history but can't make the trip yourself, check out this list.

fuster land viva cuba                           

Going Somewhere by Brian Benson

A fan of books about The Big Ride? Check out my list.


Whiskey Tango Foxtrot cover

Is that electrical tape on your webcam or are you happy to see me?

One of the more anticipated the books from my stackWhiskey Tango Foxtrotcenters around a too close for comfort techno-conspiracy. Strangers, drawn together by creative happenstance, are forced to make a choice with global implications. The future of information is in their hands.


Not into techno-thrillers? Me either, but think again. Shafer’s book is addictive for the plot curious and its ensemble of characters. They find themselves at unique, yet relatable, crossroads of their own making. Then again, maybe someone, something else is calling the shots. As the suspense builds and time to act disappears, there’s no going back .


In addition to all the free e-books you can enjoy from the library, there are several web sites that provide access to out of copyright or open source e-books and you can access them any time without your library card.

Project Gutenberg logo


Project Gutenberg provides access to over 45,000 free e-books that you can download for offline reading in either ePUB or Kindle formats, or simple read online through any internet browser. They've digitized all the books themselves, including titles from Jane Austen, Mark Twain, William Shakespeare and many many more.



Internet Archive logo


The Internet Archive and Open Library offers over 6,000,000 public domain e-books, including over 500,000 eBooks for users with print disabilities. You first have to register with the Open Library web site, but then you can "borrow" and read as many e-books as you like.  Featured authors include Charles Dickens, F. Scott Fitzgerald and many modern authors, too!


Open Culture logo


Open Culture features access to 600+ e-books and so much more, including audiobooks, free online courses and movies.




HathiTrust is a partnership of academic and research institutions that offers millions of titles digitized from research libraries around the world.  You can browse through the collection and read e-books in both desktop and mobile browsers.



Google Books allows for full text searching and browsing through millions of books and magazines that have been digitized by Google.





Books Should Be Free has e-books and audiobooks from the public domain in English and many other languages. Titles work on Android, iOS, and Kindle.



Free e-books in other languages can be found at these sites:


The International Children's Digital Library contains nearly 5,000 children's book titles in 59 different languages. It also features a kid-friendly search interface, with facets like book cover color and what type of characters the book features.




For Spanish titles, try El Libro Total, which features Spanish classics and Latin American works.




For free French downloadable audiobooks, look no further than AudioCite.



VietMessenger features Vietnamese ebooks from many genres. Simply register with the web site and download away.

Seconds book jacketWhat if you could take back all the regrettable things you did or said and their horrible outcomes? Fantasy becomes reality in Seconds by Bryan Lee O’Malley. Seconds stars Katie, a 29-year-old chef who is opening a brand new restaurant. Like her predecessor Scott Pilgrim, Katie is a pleasure seeker and acts impulsively and selfishly. She makes so many mistakes, but it doesn't matter because she can redo anything by popping a mushroom. It felt easy for me to forgive her because it felt so relatable. Why do your twenties feel like one long never-ending failure?Scott Pilgrim book jacket

I actually read Seconds three times because I couldn't get enough of the art and coloring, the exotic idea of a Canadian winter, house spirits, Hazel’s thrifted outfits, and the hilarious facial expressions. Will Katie ever open her restaurant or is she stuck to repeat the same day? Read Seconds - it’s my favorite graphic novel this year!

Kid's Fiction

Tales of Bunjitsu Bunny

by John Himmelman

A  new series about Isabel the Zen bunny told with spirit and humor. A fun "read aloud" book that delivers gentle Zen lessons in an appealing style.

Emily's Blue Period

by Cathleen Daly

A little girl copes with her parents' divorce through the making of art. A heartfelt and lovely picture book sure to relate to other children experiencing difficult change.

Kid's Nonfiction

Creature Features: Twenty-five Animals Explain Why They Look the Way They Do

by Steve Jenkins

A playful exploration of unusual animal facial features with cool facts and humor. Sure to be a favorite read-aloud with young children.

Taking Flight: From War Orphan to Star Ballerina

by Michaela Deprince

The memoir of a ballerina from war-torn Sierra Leone who was adopted by an American family and is now, at the age of sevevteen, a premier ballerina in the United States. An inspiring read for teens.

Adult Nonfiction

Superstorm: Nine Days Inside Hurricane Sandy

by Kathryn Miles

A moment-by-moment account of the largest Atlantic storm system ever recorded. A hurricane like no other, it even caught the attention of the astronauts on the International Space Station. The author takes you inside the disaster detailing the efforts of the countless residents to cope with the fury.

As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of the Princess Bride

by Cary Elwes

A first person account of the making of this cult film classic by the actor who played Westley. Includes behind the scene stories and interviews with the actors, actresses, author, director and producer. For all fans.

The Republic of Imagination: America in Three Books

by Azar Nafisi

The author of "Reading Lolita in Tehran" analyzes her most beloved works of American literature. Sure to be of interest to literary readers who enjoyed her bestseller.

Adult Fiction

The Prince's Boy

by Paul Bailey

The story of a passionate love affair between two men set in pre-war Europe written by an author short listed for the Man Booker Prize. A sensual read with rich characters.

Bathing the Lion

by Jonathan Carroll

A surreal novel where five people share the same dream and are called back to fight against the cosmic crisis' that result when Chaos swirls through the universe. The well-drawn characters have to deal with day-to-day issues along with impending disasters on a galactic level.





Gentle reader, do you harbor a fond regard for Jane Austen?  Is there a quiet little corner of your mind that remembers your literature classes fondly? Can you be found watching just about every costume drama that hits the movie theater or television screen? (The occasional water bottle forgotten on set just gives me a good chuckle!).  If so, you might enjoy the following series.

Shades of Milk and Honey book jacketI just caught up on Glamourist Histories series by Mary Robinette Kowal.  I had ignored the books when they first came out and ended up reading the third book first.  I liked it so well I dropped my other reading to go back and catch up on the series.

The first book, Shades of Milk and Honey, introduces Jane, the plain elder daughter of a respectable gentleman. In this world the real reason ladies of good families swoon so very often isn't the too tight corseting, but the strain of casting glamour. Part of a respectable girl's education includes not just the arts a young lady would have learned in the real world but also learning to cast glamour, entertaining her would be suitors and providing a decorative grace, with her illusions, to her family's home.

Jane has a lovely younger sister and, being of a certain age, has become resigned to her fate as a spinster sister.  As Jane has always been plain, she has thrown herself into her lessons and is a talented illusionist after years of study and practice with glamour.  A nearby family hires a gifted artist, mysterious Mr. Vincent, to decorate their manor home with glamours.  The expected misunderstandings occur!

I'm really looking forward to the final book, Of Noble Family, late next spring and will definitely read any other series this author writes. I heard her reading from an upcoming new series this summer and it was intriguing!

birthday cakeCan I interest you in a piece of cake? September is a month of celebrating. So many birthdays! Conway Twitty. Sophia Loren. Upton Sinclair. Me! I'm sure that many of you either have birthdays during the month of September, or know many folks who do. I attribute this to the Christmas and New Year's holidays falling approximately nine months before this most celebratory month ;-). But whatever the reason, September offers opportunites to party at every turn.

However you enjoy celebrating your big day, or the big days of your loved ones, I wish you the best. I'm hoping for a quiet day spent out of town, surrounded by people I love, followed by cake, chocolate please, maybe from the library's new acquisition, Betty Crocker Birthdays. The day of one's birth is a time for rejoicing, no matter what that entails.

Before I go, I would like to remind you of another very important September birthday. Our very own Multnomah County Library turns 150 years young this month!birthday logo What an honor to be part of such a special birthday! I, and everyone who has a hand in making our libraries the magical places that they are, would like to invite you to attend our 150th jubilee, Saturday, September 27. Take a look at this page and join us for a bash of unrivaled revelry, with fun for all ages. After all, you, dear reader, are part of what makes the Multnomah County library extraordinary! Happy Birthday! 

In my first post, I talked about how to find science information that’s written for scientists to read.  

But sometimes we’re not interested in an intensely technical analysis!  We may want a quick answer to a science-related question.  Or, we may be absolutely ready to read a long article or book -- so long as it’s written for a general audience.  

So, let’s talk about:

The way scientists talk to us non-scientists  

The general public is a very diverse group, so there are a lot of reasons scientists might want to communicate with us, and a lot of reasons we might want to hear from them:

  • Some scientists actively reach out to a wide audience.  There are many ways they might do this, but a few common ones are: giving public lectures, hosting community discussions, or writing newspaper columns or popular science books.  

  • For some scientists, communication with the public is an important part of their formal role. Government researchers, for example, or scientists who work for public-oriented organizations like science museums or environmental nonprofits.  

  • And sometimes, the interest comes straight from the public. We non-scientists want to know about the latest cancer research, about work that's being done to better predict the occurrence of wildfires, about breakthroughs in our understanding of the workings of the other planets in our solar system, and so on.

As you can see, scientists’ communication with the public might take a lot of different forms.  How to navigate them all?  Use your imagination, and always remember to ask the question, “How would scientists communicate about the question I’m exploring?”  This can lead you to a wide array of resources that are designed to be read by regular people like you and me, such as:

Now you should have a good start finding science information that’s designed for us non-scientists to read and use in our lives.  Have fun learning, reading and exploring!


Remember, librarians are always happy to help you with your questions and research needs -- whether they’re science-related or not!  So ask the librarian on duty the next time you’re at the library, or call or email us anytime.



Can you imagine spaghetti without tomato sauce? How about a world without French fries, chocolate bars, or popcorn? If you like any of these foods, you can thank the peoples of the ancient Americas who cultivated tomatoes, potatoes, cocoa and corn before the rest of the world learned about them.

We think of chocolate as a sweet treat. While this wasn't always true, the scientific name of the cacao tree is Cacao Theobroma, meaning "food of the gods," which most people would agree is a good name. Cacao beans were first used to make a bitter, spicy drink for Aztec and Mayan religious ceremonies. The beans were so valued, that at one time, cacao beans were even used as money.

photo of potatoes and other vegetables at a marketBaked potatoes, mashed potatoes, french-fried potatoes, potato pancakes, potato chips, potatoes in stew. Potatoes are grown and eaten all over the world, but were first cultivated by the Incas living in the Andes of current day Peru. Take a look at the article in New Book of Knowledge, searching for "potato" to learn more (you'll need your library card handy if you're outside the library).

Like cacao, corn and popcorn were used for ceremonies. Aztecs included corn in sculptures and popcorn as part of decoration for headdresses and necklaces. The Maya creation story says the first grandparents were made from white and yellow corn, and they based their calendar in part on the growing cycle of corn. The Aztec, Maya and Inca peoples ate popcorn too. The ancestor of modern corn is a grain called teosinte. It has just a few kernels on each stalk. The kernels are too hard to eat or grind into flour, but teosinte can pop! Check out this video to see kernels popping.

Need more information? Check out the books below or ask a librarian.

Yep, swuft--if you take that to mean anything that is cool or wonderful or fascinating. Swuft is a catch-all phrase in Seattle author Ivan Doig’s Bartender’s Tale, and it really does describe one of my favorite authors. Doig’s characters are flawed but big-hearted; miners, ranchers, teachers, raconteurs trying to get by in tough times. His settings are always in Montana, perhaps in the  early 1900s or the 1960s, and he weaves in a historical event or two into his stories. Doig’s characters' vocabularies are full of “Montanisms” derived from real research. (He’s even involved with a national group studying regionalisms.)  ‘Swuft’, by the way, is unusual in that Doig has said his “fingers” made it up. Doig’s own writing style is old-fashioned and full of “fine turns of phrase.” Finally, what I love most about Doig is that despite of some horrendous happenings, his books end on a hopeful note.

If you haven’t read Doig, try starting with the Whistling Season, to see how he intersects the lives of an Eastern Montanan widower, a teacher in a one-room schoolhouse, and a housekeeper hired on the merits of her ad in the paper. (The ad: “Can’t cook, but doesn’t bite.) If you like that one, try the related novels, Work Song and Sweet Thunder. Another place to start is This House of Sky, Doig’s autobiography of his early years in Montana. If you like Doig’s masterful mix of characters, language, setting and hopefulness, try some of the titles on my list, (Mostly) Western Places, (Mostly) People You’d Like to Know. Those books are all pretty swuft. 


Noble Intentions bookjacketGillian is a British American redhead who is extremely clumsy and forthright. You know where you stand with her! Or that you really shouldn’t stand next to her because you might end up with paint on your ballgown. Whereas Noble, yes his name is Noble, has alas so much emotional baggage as a widow and possible murderer. You may wonder can they find love?  Can they be in the same room without someone getting hurt? Read Noble Intentions to find out.

This title is part of the genre Regency romance - novels set during the period of the British Regency early in the 19th century.They are compelling stories that push boundaries. I love the ones that comment on gender inequality and try to right wrongs.

And the wrongs can come packaged in characters who are trying to overcome serious disorders like stuttering or dyslexia. All these details add a flavor which is at odds with the perfect grace that is expected of the aristocrats in these novels.

Witty dialog is a must and most of these racy romances make me laugh out loud.The sexy physical romance between characters seems inevitable, like rain or sunshine. It’s a question of when the sexual activity occurs that creates tension and makes the verbal banter all the more humorous.

It seems that all is not perfect in the Regency world, and that makes for good reading!

Maps to check out, in the Literature & History Room, Central Library, 3rd floor.The library, I’m sure you know, is a great place to borrow a book.  Did you know you can also borrow a map?

A fresh array of maps have recently arrived at Central Library, all available for check out.  This lovely shelf of circulating maps (pictured at right) is in the Literature & History room on Central’s third floor -- the same room that houses travel books, hiking guides, atlases, and other geography-related gems.

What’s in the map collection?

Most of the library’s check-out-able maps are of places in Portland, Multnomah County and Oregon, or of places in Washington and California.   And there are lots of different kinds.  For example, you can find:

  • wilderness, park and forest maps

  • street maps of cities and towns

  • maps showing lighthouses

  • regional maps showing areas like the California coast or the Olympic Peninsula

  • bicycling maps

  • and many other kinds of maps!

Would you like a recommendation for a great map?  Take a look at our brand-new list of Librarians' favorite maps -- or ask a librarian for a more personalized recommendation.

If you can’t or don’t want to come to Central Library to get your map fix, you can use the library catalog to place holds on the maps you want -- and then you can pick them up at your neighborhood library.

Finding maps in the library catalog

Searching for Los Angeles maps [click for a bigger version]Here are some tips for different ways to search for maps in the library’s collection:

When you’re looking for a map of a particular place, start with a search for the name of the place -- let’s use Los Angeles as an example. This search gives you lots of library materials about LA; to get to the maps, go to the Format section on the left side of the screen, click Other, and then click the checkbox next to Maps

Now you have a much shorter list showing only maps and books containing lots of maps.  To find maps you can check out,  go back to the Format section on the left, click on Titles I can…, and then click the checkbox next to Borrow and take home.  Now you should see a nice tidy list of maps (of Los Angeles, in this case) that you can borrow with your library card.


Searching for the newest maps at the library [click for a bigger version]If you’d like to see a list of the library’s newest maps, go to the Advanced search screen, look for the Format section down at the bottom, and click the checkbox next to Maps.  Now click on the orange Search button.  This gets you a super-duper crazy long list of all the maps and map-filled things in the library’s collection.  

You can see newest maps by going to the Sort by dropdown at the top of the screen, and choosing the Date acquired option.  Now you’ll see the list re-arranged with the newest maps at the top.  Again, if you'd like to limit your search to maps you can check out immediately, click the checkbox next to Borrow and take home, over in the Titles I can... section on the left side of the screen.


Searching for the map Northwest Lighthouses [click for a bigger version]If you know the name of the map you need, you can search for it by title just as you would a book or other item.  Here’s an example: one of my favorite maps shows lighthouses in Oregon, Washington and Alaska -- it’s called Northwest Lighthouses.  A search for these words gets a list of results with the map right on top.






Remember, knowledgeable and friendly librarians are always standing by to help you with your map and research needs!  Ask us your map-related questions (or really, any questions) by email or phone, or talk to the librarian on duty the next time you’re at the library in person.   


See something say somethingPortland’s mass transit agency, TriMet, reminds us if we see something, say something; the message is plastered all over its MAX cars and buses, but I saw something on the MAX the other day and said nothing.

Along with about a dozen other people seated in the front area of a MAX car (the part that you climb the stairs to get to) at about 8:15 on a weeknight, I witnessed an incident of racial profiling and didn’t call out the perpetrator. As is often the case in situations where you want to say the right thing perfectly, it was only after the fact that I could figure out what to say and how to say it.

Here’s what happened: A few stops after I got on the MAX headed east, three young African Americans boarded the train. Everyone else in our section of the car was white (and possibly older, but I can’t precisely recall). They were conversing in what I’d call a “teenaged” way – laughing, a little loud, seemingly unaware of others in the car. Someone in the area had music going loud enough so that it leaked out of the earbuds. (Let me parenthetically state that hearing this “half-music” possibly annoys me more than loud phone conversations on public transit, and I don’t recall being bothered by the sound.) While stopped at the Rose Quarter station, a uniformed woman (TriMet, but not law enforcement) boarded our car, walked up the stairs and spoke directly to the Black youths that there had been a complaint about their music.

When they stated that they hadn’t been playing any music, this person glanced around to the rest of us and sort of generally asked whoever was playing their music too loudly to turn it down. She stepped out of the car, walked around its front to (I assume) speak with the driver because she returned to the car and said – again to the Black youths – yes, it was a complaint about your music and it’s time to turn it down.

Here is, of course, the point that I should have spoken up about what I just saw. I know I don’t want to escalate the situation, so I need to craft my words carefully. And that is so hard to do in the moment.

I have the (awkwardly formal) conversation clear in my head now:

Me: Excuse me, but I would like to point out that I have just witnessed an incident of racial profiling in this MAX car. If you’ve received a complaint about loud music, you must ask each of us if we have been playing music and that we must turn it down.

She: Oh, yes, you’re absolutely right, I shouldn’t have assumed it was the African Americans on this train who were listening to loud music. First, let me apologize to these young people right now and explain to the rest of you here in this section that you cannot play your music so loudly that the driver is able to hear it.

Me: Thank you.

I did send an equally careful comment via the TriMet website but it’s really too late. Cynically, I assume they will send that employee to some diversity training, she’ll be resentful and won’t hear what the trainers have to share, and it will happen all over again.

I hope it doesn’t happen all over again for me. Next time, I hope I’ll have the courage to speak up.

Can you share a situation where you witnessed something wrong and did or didn’t speak up?

(And because I’m a librarian, I found some books on the subject.)

Book jacket: The Steady Running of the Hour by Justin GoOut of the blue Tristan, a young and aimless American, receives notice from a London solicitor's office that he could stand to inherit an unspeakably large fortune that has been left unclaimed for nearly eighty years. He has only to provide evidence that he is the great grandson of one Imogen Soames-Andersson; a name he's never heard before. Oh and Tristan has only two months before the trust expires and the fortune is turned over to charity.

So begins The Steady Running of the Hour, a debut novel by Justin Go that's part historical romance, part pulse-racing scavenger hunt. This is a book for fans of multi-layered historical fiction, whirlwind European travel, genealogy, and mysteries that reveal clues that only lead to more mysteries, until uncovering the story becomes the only thing that matters.

Just be warned that when you are forced to put Go's book down momentarily: to wash dishes, put on pants, or otherwise keep up appearances as a functioning member of society, you too may find yourself walking around in a daydreamy fog, contemplating clues written on brittle letters left behind in isolated Swedish barns.

Agatha Christie was queen of my reading list when I was in junior high school, and when I ran out of Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot books, I started consuming other English mysteries of their ilk. It turns out that what I mostly liked was a sub-genre of mystery called "the cozy", and I read truly frightening numbers of them during the summers from the age of 12 until about 18.

Barry Trott notes in Read On…Crime Fiction that "In a cozy mystery, most of the deaths occur offstage, and even when death makes a visit, there is a distinct lack of violence. The same applies to sex…Although the action may be mellow, the characters and the humor in cozies keep the reader entertained and coming back for more." Favorite authors of mine included Dorothy Sayers, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Catherine Aird, Elizabeth Daly, Margery Allingham and Robert Barnard. In later years, I discovered and enjoyed M.C. Beaton's Hamish MacBeth books and Rhys Bowen's Constable Evans series.

Mostly these days I prefer British police procedural series with complex characters and relationships that change and develop from book to book; however, the brooding inspectors and their personal problems have been a bit too heavy for me this year, so I was pleased to read a new book in the cozy arena titled Death of a Cozy Writer by G.M. Malliet. It was perfect - it had all of the elements that I love in a good cozy: dysfunctional English families, lots of suspects, murders that were not too graphically described and, best of all, a country house setting!

When the eldest son and heir apparent to the Beauclerk-Fisk family fortune is bumped off in the wine cellar and it looks like the murder is an inside job, family secrets begin rising to the surface and nobody is exempt from suspicion. Will the rest of the family get out alive?

Check out the following websites for more on the Cozy Mystery:

The Cozy Library 

Cozy Mystery List

And here's a source for long lists of authors and cozies by theme, courtesy of

I am the product of a English teacher/homemaker mom and a history professor dad.  Dig deeper into the family dirt and you’ll find coal miners, farmers and engineers.  My paternal grandmother even served as a Chief Yeoman in World War I. I have relatives on both sides of the family who have done the genealogy, so I know my familial history back a number of generations.  My roots are in England, the Netherlands and the Midwest. It’s no wonder I’m an Anglophile and a Green Bay Packers fan!

The People in the Photo book jacketThe women in The People in the Photo and The Sea House are not so fortunate.  They can’t even get a grip on who their mothers were, let alone their grandmothers. In The People in the Photo by Helene Gestern, Parisian archivist Helene Hivert doesn’t know much about her mother except that she died when she was four.  For years she didn’t even know how her mother died because nobody would talk about it, and her father would get very upset when Helene asked.  Years later as an adult, Helene finds a newspaper clipping with a photo of her mother and two men on a tennis court and decides to find out who those men were. What follows is a series of letters between Helene and Stephane, the son of one of those men.  Peeling the layers of family mysteries was fascinating and if I hadn’t had to go to work, I would have finished this novel in a day.The Sea House book jacket

In The Sea House by Elisabeth Gifford, Ruth similarly knows little about her mother.  Her mother also died when she was young, but not before she had told Ruth stories about her grandmother’s grandmother: She “was a seal woman.  She cast off her seal skin, fell in love with a fisherman, had his child and then she left them.  Sooner or later, seal people always go back to the sea.”  Well Ruth goes back, not to the sea, but to an island in the Outer Hebrides where her mother said she had grown up and buys a house, and soon she is deep in investigating secrets involving a dead child who just might have some Selkie (seal people) blood in her.  I loved the way the book shuttled back and forth between the 1860s occupant’s story and that of Ruth, the present day owner. I definitely want to get to the Hebrides one day, even though, as far as I know, I have no Selkies in my ancestral pool.

If you love books about family secrets, you’ll enjoy these two titles.