Marie’s Reading: “The Cellar” by Minette Walters

CellarThough the blog doesn’t reflect it, I’ve been on a Minette Walters kick lately.  I like her unlikeable characters, and I like her feel for misdirection.  The Cellar is different than her other books, and it’s a dark, sad, creepy story.

A family of African immigrants brought along their slave, Muna, to England.  She has been with them since she was eight years old, when they stole her from an orphanage.  Muna is forced to live in the cellar, to cook and to clean, and to endure all manner of abuse from the Songali family.  And all this time, she’s been plotting her revenge.

There’s a slow, creepy build to this story.  At the start, one of the sons of the family has gone missing, which brings police to the door.  To cover Muna’s true place in the household, she’s finally given real clothes and a bedroom.  As the tale continues, you discover how much Muna knows and understands–from the fact she can speak English to the lengths she’ll go to to exact some vengeance on this family.

There’s no one to like in this novel, but you can certainly understand how tragic and twisted poor Muna is.  Even in the more grotesque moments, it’s hard to feel much but a sick pity for her.  This is one of those horror stories that unwinds the disturbing truths slowly, and stays with you for a while after reading it.

If you enjoy claustrophobic horror stories and tales of revenge, give this a look.  But if the winter darkness already has you in a funk, maybe put this one off until summertime!



Marie’s Reading: “The Perfect Nanny” by Leila Slimani

perfect nannyThis French thriller is a slim, quick read, but it packs an emotional punch.  The story is about a nanny named Louise, hired by a French couple to care for their two children.  Over time, and via flashback, it becomes clear that Louise is not as wonderful a find as her employers supposed.

This novel is quite understated and character-focused.  Readers who are tired of rote police procedurals and lots of heinous crime will likely find the style and tone refreshing.  The reader is also aware from the first page of both the crime and who did it, and the narrative does not focus on an investigation nor the gory details.  Instead, we get a glimpse into this family and into Louise’s life, and can intuit the reasons behind the tragedy that opens the book.  The story is compelling and unsettling, with lots of dark corners.

The Perfect Nanny has less to do with a crime and investigation than it does with motherhood and with caregiving, and how oppressive those roles can be even as they bring a lot of joy.  Slimani also examines the tensions of class.  Readers who enjoy intensely focused, character-centered novels should give this one a look!  I’d also suggest it to readers who enjoy old-school domestic thrillers.


January Simply Books! List

Here are the books we shared at our latest Simply Books! book club meeting at the library!

“Four Swans” by Winston Graham–a novel in the “Poldark” series, set
in Cornwall in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. This particular
story deals with the “four swans”–four women in Ross Poldark’s life.
It’s a bit of an old-fashioned soap opera, but so much wonderful
scene-setting and lots of context of the times. Very enjoyable.

“The Association of Small Bombs” by Karan Mahajan–set in India, this
novel follows both the victims and perpetrators of a terrorist
bombing. The characters are three-dimensional, you really get into
their heads, especially the terrorist who eventually feels empathy for
his victims. The language is wonderful, really creative descriptions.

“Manhattan Beach” by Jennifer Egan–this novel follows a young woman
at the Brooklyn Navy Yard during World War II, with an ambition to be
a diver. It’s her life story, with all its trials and tribulations,
including an absent father and a gangster boyfriend. It’s very
informative fiction, you really get a sense of getting into these
characters’ lives.

“Ruthless River” by Holly Fitzgerald–a true story of survival in the
Amazon. It’s inspiring to know that people survived an ordeal like
this. It’s a story of a couple who becomes lost on a rafting trip in
the Amazon, and nearly die. It’s incredibly emotionally intense–way
too intense in places!

“Mr. Rosenblum Dreams in English” by Natasha Solomons–this novel is
set in England during the decades around World War II, and follows a
German Jew who escaped Germany just ahead of the war. He’s determined
to follow all the rules to becoming a proper Englishman, but has a lot
of trouble being accepted into English society. The writing is very
evocative, and the book is fascinating–it takes a little while to
narrow down what it’s all about, but it’s worth it in the end.

“Zami: A New Spelling of My Name” by Audre Lorde–Lorde called this
book a “biomythology”–a nod to the fact that while she’s telling her
life story, she takes a few liberties. She writes like a poet about
her childhood in Harlem and about her coming of age and activism.

“The Jersey Brothers” by Sally Matt Freeman–Freeman is the daughter
of one of the brothers of the title. She set out to find out more
about her father’s youngest brother, a man nobody in her family really
talked about. He was a Japanese POW in the Philippines during World
War II, and his brothers (also in the military in different roles)
tried to figure out what happened to him.

“Personal History” by Katherine Graham–a memoir by the publisher of
the Washington Post, all about her upbringing around the paper and her
eventual ownership of it. She was the leader during the paper’s most
famous period, the release of the Pentagon Papers (and the most
exciting part of the book). An incredible read that won the Pulitzer.

“Bury Your Dead” by Louise Penny–one of the Inspector Gamache books,
this is a favorite so far. Interesting construction, with three
storylines at once. In one Gamache is dealing with the aftermath of
having to make a decision that he’s haunted by, as well as a case he
thought was closed. Another storyline is about an historian obsessed
with Champlain, and trying to find his remains.

“Jungle of Stone” by William Carlsen–this nonfiction book is about an
expedition to South America in the 1830’s, taken by John Stephens and
Frederick Catherwood. They were trying (and succeeded!) in finding
long-lost Mayan ruins in the jungle. Stephens wrote a book about the
experience accompanied by beautiful illustrations by Catherwood. The
book talks about their trip, their friendship, and a bit about the
Mayan culture they helped to uncover.

If you’d like to join us at a Simply Books! meeting, we hold them the fourth Saturday of every month at 2pm at the library.  If you’d like to be on our email list (for meeting reminders and meeting summaries), please send me a message at






January Staff Picks


A Secret Sisterhood: The Literary Friendships of Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, George Eliot, and Virginia Woolf by Emily Midorikawa and Emma Claire Sweeney.
This book is quite unique as it is really one of the first to really examine the friendships female writers had, in their historical contexts. These authors point out that unlike the studies of the male literary friendships in history (ie Hemingway and Fitzgerald, Byron and Shelley) these friendships were multifaceted in that they served as a support for each of these women but in most cases there was rivalry and competition as well due to their time periods and the lack of support society had for female authors. A fabulous read for anyone who loves these authors or is fascinated with women’s studies.

Ravens in Winter by Bernd Heinrich.
Bernd Heinrich was a former Professor of Zoology at the University of Vermont, who now lives in the western mountains of Maine. Maine winters can be long, but this book will take you on an outside adventure without leaving the warmth of your house.

“On a cold Maine day in 1984, Bernd Heinrich saw a flock of ravens sharing their food and apparently summoning other ravens to join in…Bernd’s adventures in the teeth of the Maine winters over the next four years, make an exciting detective story complete with false leads, apparently contradictory clues, and finally hard evidence.”
Grocery: The Buying and Selling of Food in America by Michael Ruhlman.
Who knew grocery stores could be so fascinating?  Ruhlman blends a history of American grocery stores with a look at our current health issues and the way we interact with our food.  His style is funny and personable, and he’s very passionate about consumer education and about food.  Valuable insight into how food is marketed and sold in our country.
The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill
This is a story about a young girl raised by a witch, a swamp monster, and a Perfectly Tiny Dragon who must unlock the powerful magic buried deep inside her. It was an easy read with some great insights into magic even for old timers :).
Beneath a Scarlet Sky by Mark T. Sullivan
Although the book is fiction, it is based on the true story of Pino Lella, a 17 year old in Milan during WW II. After the bombings begin in Milan, his parents send him to a camp he used to attend as a child, where the priest in charge of the school sends him off to hike a different route everyday. This is practice for when he finally helps guide Jews who are fleeing Italy over the Alps into Switzerland. When he turns 18, his parents fear that he will be sent to the Russian Front so they force him to join the German army. By some stroke of luck he becomes the chauffeur for General Leyers. In this role he brings his observations back to the resistance which is then relayed to the allies.
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, narrated by Stephen Fry
As I’ve said before, I generally don’t “do” audiobooks; I usually just can’t stay engaged.  But I am absolutely hooked on The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes read by Stephen Fry.  Fry’s reading is so lively yet subtle that I find myself picking up my headphones every chance I get.  (Even just the way he has Sherlock Holmes say, “ah,” is part of the characterization.)  And if that audiobook merely whets your appetite for Stephen Fry, you’ll find his reading of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy laugh-out-loud great!

Marie’s Reading: “The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage: The (Mostly) True Story of the First Computer” by Sydney Padua

lovelace and babbageI loved The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage.  It’s consistently charming, hilarious, smart, and incredibly informative.  What a great way to give Lovelace and Babbage a wonderful adventure and a happy ending.

Based on the very real friendship and partnership between Ada, Countess of Lovelace and Charles Babbage, this graphic novel takes place in a “pocket universe” where the two of them actually built the Difference Engine (Analytical Engine, if you want to be precise, but as Padua notes, Difference Engine sounds cooler).  Adventures and hijinx ensue, with tons of cameos from famous Victorians.


Padua’s writing and art are both delightful, lively and entertaining.  The footnotes and endnotes are extensive and fourth-wall-breaking.  Padua does a great job of explaining and contextualizing the history of computer science and mathematics (and pocket universes). This book grew out of her webcomic, which you can find here.  Her site is great, chock-full of fun extras and an adventure that didn’t make it into the book.

If you enjoy a blend of humor and history, and/or if you’re a Kate Beaton fan, you should give this a look!  Steampunk fans might find a lot to like, too.

invention of geek








Marie’s Reading: “Three Graves Full” by Jamie Mason

three gravesWhile working on his property, landscapers uncover human remains in Jason Getty’s yard.  Jason is horrified, but also confused–neither of these bodies are the one that he buried himself.

Years before Jason committed a murder.  He never reported it, and he buried the man at the edge of his property.  He thought he’d covered for himself pretty well.  But now detectives are swarming, and Jason just knows they’re going to find the third grave eventually.  So he has to decide what to do before his crime is uncovered.


There’s also the mystery of the identities of the two bodies eventually found in Jason’s yard.   A team of detectives, Bayard and Watts (along with faithful dog Tessa), are working to figure out what happened to them and why.  Watts and Bayard were my favorite characters in the book–they both come across as dedicated, kind guys who are good at their jobs and have great instincts, as well as being great friends with each other.  Their interactions are great to read.

Jason is fascinating as well.  I like how Mason crafts his mindset.  It takes a while to discover how off-kilter he really is, and it’s a nice build.

Three Graves Full reminded me of a darkly comic “The Tell-Tale Heart,” with some police procedural thrown in.  It’s a fast-paced read with entertaining characters and really well-done action sequences.  If you like mysteries with a slightly different angle with lots of threads that come together at the end, you should give this one a try!


Camden Public Library Top Reads for 2017

Happy New Year!

I see a lot of books go out at the circulation desk over the course of a year.  Our community has readers of many varied tastes and interests, so it’s always neat to run the numbers and see the books that went out the most.

Here are the books that Camden Public Library readers checked out most often in 2017, both a fiction and a nonfiction list.  There were lots of ties, so these are in no particular order.


Top 10 Fiction:

Knife Creek by Paul Doiron
The Little French Bistro by Nina George
The Beach Inn by Joanne Demaio
Mangrove Lightning by Randy Wayne White
The Stars Are Fire by Anita Shreve
No Middle Name by Lee Child
The Denim Blue Sea by Joanne Demaio
Dragon Teeth by Michael Crichton
Himself by Jess Kidd
The Child by Fiona Barton

Top 10 Nonfiction:

Impatient Foodie: 100 Delicious Recipes for a Hectic, Time-Starved World by Elettra Wiedemann
The American Spirit: Who We Are and What We Stand For by David McCullough
Mating in Captivity: Unlocking Erotic Intelligence by Esther Perel
Free Country: A Penniless Adventure the Length of Britain by George Mahood
The Death and Life of the Great Lakes by Dan Egan
Everybody Lies: Big Data, New Data, and What the Internet Can Tell Us About Who We Really Are by Seth Stephens-Davidowitz
Ruthless River: Love and Survival by Raft on the Amazon’s Relentless Madre De Dios by Holly Conklin FitzGerald
Obama: The Call of History by Peter Baker
Open Heart: A Cardiac Surgeon’s Stories of Life and Death on the Operating Table by Stephen Westaby
What She Ate: Six Remarkable Women and the Food That Tells Their Stories by Laura Shapiro