Marie’s Reading: “Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day” by Winifred Watson

miss pettigrewA charming book with a delightful main character!  This screwball comedy from the 1930’s follows Miss Pettigrew as she’s swept up into the world of Delysia LaFosse, a nightclub singer.

Guinevere Pettigrew is a 40ish governess who desperately needs a new placement.  She shows up at an apartment in London expecting to find children to take care of.  Instead, she finds Delysia, an elegant young woman who needs to get a gentleman caller out of her apartment and enlists Miss Pettigrew’s help.  From there, it’s one adventure after another, with Miss Pettigrew swept up in the middle.

Over the course of a day in Miss LaFosse’s company, Miss Pettigrew blossoms.  She proves herself smart, loyal, good under pressure, and even might find a beau of her own.  Her progression is really fun to read–the  more she gets drawn in to the kind of world she’s only ever seen in movies, the more she finds she loves it.  This does not remain a fish out of water story for very long–it’s more like a fish finding the right water kind of story.

pettigrew illustrations

The illustrations are fun, too.

The friendship that develops between the women is great to read, too.  They complement each other nicely, and each has lessons to offer the other.  Miss Pettigrew and Miss LaFosse have an excellent rapport, and the way the day winds up for the both of them is sweet and fulfilling.

The dialogue is crisp and very 1930’s, along with the fast pace and lots of supporting characters popping in and out (in very dramatic, theatrical fashion, of course!).  Everything hinges on one misunderstanding, and you  hope that Miss Pettigrew will keep quiet about it and enjoy her day of really living.

While this book doesn’t share the satirical edge of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes by Anita Loos, you might give that one a try if you enjoyed Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day.  It was definitely in my head as I read this.  Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons could be another good readalike, for the humor and tone.



Marie’s Reading: “How to Stop Time” by Matt Haig

how to stopTom Hazard has a rare affliction: he ages incredibly slowly.   Each year for him is more like fifteen for the rest of us.  As a result, Tom, born in 1581, is still alive today looking as though he’s in his early forties.

Tom’s under the protection of a shady sort of society, as are others like him.  They’re the ones who keep him in fresh identities as the years pass, in return for some “odd jobs” now and then.  And as long as Tom keeps a low, lonely profile, never falling in love or making long-lasting connections with others.  But Tom is getting tired of the lifestyle.  The only thing keeping him going is the memory of his long-dead wife and the hope that his daughter (who has the same affliction he does) might still be alive.

The book follows Tom in modern-day London, and fills in the backstory of his life.  There are wonderful historical touches, particularly the scenes set in Shakespeare’s London.  The glimpses of the past help to drive home the point that people have always, always been the same–and you get the sense of how annoying it must be to have to watch the same cycles played out over and over again over centuries.

Haig has such a compassionate way with his characters.  The message of his novels, particularly this one, always has to do with the importance of being as good a human being as one can possibly be–to love one another, and to recognize one’s place in the grander scheme.  In his novel The Humans, that scheme was the universe.  Here, the scheme is time.  It’s a funny, touching, hopeful, and humane study of love, loss, and history.



Simply Books! February Meeting

Here’s a list of the books that we shared at our February Simply Books! meeting of the library’s adult book club!

“The Poisonwood Bible” by Barbara Kingsolver–this is the best book the reader has ever read. It’s one that really sticks with you.  It’s about a family of missionaries in Africa, and the story is told from each of their five perspectives. The description of Africa is so
rich that it doesn’t feel like fiction. The character voices are all wonderful, each one unique. It also makes for an interesting tragedy for the very religious character who, after conflicts, doesn’t really learn anything.

“Jade Dragon Mountain” by Elsa Hart–this is the first book in the Li Du mystery series (The White Mirror is the second). Set in18th century China, the story follows a librarian who’s been exiled from the Forbidden City, and ends up in a small town near Tibet, where a Jesuit astronomer mysteriously dies. There’s a fantastic sense of place, and the richness of the scenery and of the love and respect for scholarship in the culture really come through. It’s a very interesting time in Chinese history to read about, with the East India Company beginning to take over.

“Crime and Poetry” by Amanda Flower–the first in the Magical Bookshop series, this book is a very promising start. It’s well-written and very readable. The story is about Violet, who assists her ailing grandmother in her bookshop. Soon there’s a death that ties into an Emily Dickinson poem, and Violet has to solve the mystery. It’s a nice cozy mystery that blends a mystery with books and cats–a classic combination.

“The Glass Castle” by Jeanette Walls–this memoir belongs on any list of books about people triumphing over the obstacles in their lives. Walls writes about her childhood, growing up with two parents who are likely mentally ill. They supported Walls and her siblings in intellectual ways, but let things like food and shelter slide. It’s not particularly well-written, but it is inspiring and compelling.

“Wintergirls” by Laurie Halse Anderson–this novel is a good young adult/adult crossover, about two girls battling eating disorders. Lia and Cassie are friends who are in a battle to see who can be the skinniest. Eventually Cassie passes away, and Lia feels guilty about her death. But Lia is still coping with her disorder, and the story describes her struggles and experience in a way that feels a lot more real and better than other similar stories. It’s very poetic and powerful, if a bit too swift and positive an ending.

“Homer & Langley” by E.L. Doctorow–this novel is loosely based on the story of the Collyer brothers, two recluses in New York City in the 1940’s. In this book, Homer lives with his brother in their decaying brownstone, describing the trajectory their lives have taken and how they ended up where they are. The writing has an elegance to it, and Homer gives off the vibe of not being altogether quite “right.” It’s certainly an affecting story, particularly knowing the true story that inspired it.

“There Goes My Everything: White Southerners in the Age of Civil
Rights” by Jason Sokel–historian Sokel examines the lives of middle and working-class whites in the south during the Civil Rights era.  The book explores how these white people dealt with the changes in their society, from resistance to acceptance and many other feelings in between. The issues discussed in the book really feed into issues
of today.

“Eat to Live” by Joel Fuhrmann–Fuhrmann is a regular on PBS, and he’s published a couple of books outlining his thoughts on how focusing diet on greens, fruits, and grains can make an enormous difference to health. He also talks a lot about processed foods and how bad they are for us, and how the food industry keeps pushing them.

“The Elephant Keeper” by Christopher Nicholson–this historical novel is set in the 18th century, on a grand estate. The main character is a young man who serves as the elephant keeper on the estate, and his deep relationship with the elephant he takes care of. It’s a fascinating, slow burn kind of story.

“Final Exam: A Surgeon’s Reflections on Mortality” by Pauline
Chen–this memoir relates how Chen, a surgeon, came to the realization that surgeons should work more closely with and support their patients during end of life care. Surgeons generally disconnect themselves from end of life decisions, and it comes from a desire to save lives rather than deal with the end of them. While she didn’t really present her thesis very well, it’s still an interesting reflection to read about.

“The Sympathizer” by Viet Thanh Nguyen–this novel is about the Vietnam war, including characters from South Vietnam, the Viet Cong, and an American. It’s intriguing, a little bit of a spy novel, and a bit visceral about the horrors of war. It’s very plot driven, and the
characters generate interest but not a lot of sympathy. But the phrasing is great, with wonderful imagery and a real way with language.

“Stranger from the Sea” by Winston Graham–this is the eighth book in the Poldark series, and it’s just as engaging with just as good a sense of history and place as the others. In this installment, it’s 1810 and Poldark is in his fifties with nearly grown children. While
most of the story focuses on the children, the grander backdrop is the ongoing war against Napoleon.

“Maine’s Favorite Birds” by Jeffrey and Allison Wells–a must-have for birders when the birds come back to the feeders this time of year!  Includes the common birds seen in Maine, and accompanied by beautiful illustrations by Evan Barbour. Beautiful and easy to use.

“A Painted House” by John Grisham–this novel is unlike Grisham’s other books. it deals with cotton farmers in the Arkansas delta, and it’s very enjoyable. Much better than his law books!

“Wild” by Cheryl Strayed–this memoir is about how the author hikes the Pacific Crest Trail solo after some tough personal losses. It’s easy to admire her even if you’re not particularly outdoorsy or physical. She’s a great writer, too, and it’s clear she gained a lot of personal insight from her hike. One to stay up late and keep reading!

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



February Staff Picks



Craeft: An Inquiry Into the Origins and True Meaning of Traditional Crafts by Alexander Langlands
Langlands is an archaeologist and medieval historian, and Craeft presents a history of both making and being through traditional crafts like haymaking, thatching, tanning, and others.  Craeft is itself an Old English word that means something more than just making–it’s a worldview and a knowledge, a connection to a place and to materials.  Through Langland’s examination you realize how different a world it was when we were by necessity connected to our environments and natural human inclination toward making.  It’s a really delightful book!

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver
I don’t know why it has taken me so long to get around to this book since I adore Barbara Kingsolver. I don’t usually read memoirs, but as I’m thinking about spring and planning my garden, this started to call to me. I loved it! More than a memoir, the book delves into the family’s year-long commitment to eat totally local, including much they grow themselves. I’m hoping to accomplish a similar goal this year, though on a much smaller scale. Kingsolver presents the facts of conventional farming and meat production in a way that really hit home for me. It wasn’t exactly new information, especially these days, but it made me never want to eat anything but grass-fed meat again. Not only for ethical reasons but because grass-fed, happy, healthy animals are drastically more nutritious. I felt like the last few chapters were a little extra like the book could have ended with the successful fall harvest and left it at that. Didn’t really need to know so much about turkeys. But, Kingsolver is a lovely writer and funny. The asides from her husband and daughter were nice additions.

The Grave’s a Fine and Private Place by Alan Bradley (Flavia de Luce #9)
I’m not sure what to make of this one, it has a very inconclusive ending. Without giving too much away, it was unusual. If you are new to the series, best start at the beginning with The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. It was nice to see Flavia growing up a little and learning to ask for and accept help from others. It is also nice to see her relationships with her sisters improving as they grow up. It definitely has the much-loved Flavia wit and cleverness, her turn of phrase and resourcefulness never disappoint. The secondary characters are fantastic as always. This series is great in that it has a familiar formula without feeling formulaic and boring. I like the set-up for the next book, it was just what I hoped would happen, so I’ll look forward to that.

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
It’s a classic I’d had–unread–on my shelf at home, but I wanted to get to it before the movie comes out. It’s a quick and easy read, and I can see the appeal for young-adult readers. Although it’s classified as science fiction–and there is a bit of serious science in it–the focus is really on the power of love and faith.

Tell Me More: Stories About the 12 Hardest Things I’m Learning to Say by Kelly Corrigan
I really liked this.  Following the death of her best friend, Corrigan tried to find a better way to grapple with those difficult conversations that personal crises demand.  Anchored by a dozen phrases–including “tell me more”–Corrigan gently, and with abundant self-deprecating humor, illustrates how we can better listen to each other.


Marie’s Reading Thrillers: “Tips for Living” and “The Lying Game”

I always want to read thrillers and suspense in late winter.  It’s a great time of year to hunker down with books, and something about the cold and dark lends itself to darker stories.  I’ve been reading a lot of Minette Walters, as well as re-visiting Tana French’s Dublin Murder Squad books.

Here are two thrillers that got me through some dark and snowy afternoons recently!

In Tips for Living, Nora has finally gotten her life back on track after her husband’s affair and their subsequent divorce.  But then her ex-husband and his new wife move into Nora’s adopted small town.  Shortly thereafter, the two are found murdered in their home.  Even worse, Nora is a sleepwalker suffering a relapse, and cannot remember her whereabouts on the night of the murders.  Nora has to clear her name while all the while wondering if, in fact, she did commit the crime.

As a bonus, I think anyone who lives in a small community with a large summer population will totally understand a lot of the snarkiness displayed in the newspaper article subplot of the book (the “Tips for Living” of the title).  There’s great small-town atmosphere, that sense of community that’s sometimes claustrophobic and insular.

Ruth Ware’s The Lying Game is less of a who-dun-it mystery than Tips for Living, and more of a thriller with many layers of deception.  It’s about four friends who have been hiding a secret for years, only to have it come back to bite them.  The scene-setting is great and the characters are interesting–Ware has a talent for atmosphere and dialogue.  If you like Paula Hawkins and S.J. Watson, you might like Ware’s books.

Though I enjoy whiling away winter afternoons with thrillers, I’m definitely looking forward to springtime and being able to read them with more sunshine and an open window!



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.