Fall into an Otherworldly Read

Sixteen years after the publication of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, her 2004 award-winning, magical and mysterious alternative history debut novel, Susanna Clarke is back with another dazzling tale.

Piranesi, Clarke’s second novel, is a slim tome compared to her first, but similarly, it is another literary page-turner set an alternate reality. This time, her protagonist is not an 19th-century magician, but just a man, with a strange name, who lives in a strange place that seems unlike any reality humans have encountered before. This man, Piranesi, lives in a grand labyrinth he calls the “House,” which is filled with statues he speaks to. Though he can remember living nowhere else, Piranesi obsessively keeps track of the House, including its many halls and rooms, the human remains that he finds within them, and the tidewaters that flood the House and threaten to drown him.

Piranesi’s only human interactions are with a man he refers to as “The Other.” The Other is often away, but when he regularly meets with Piranesi, he asks for assistance in his constant search for “A Great and Secret Knowledge” that he believes is hidden within the House.

As Piranesi records his daily life and activities in his detailed journal entries, he begins to notice inconsistencies in The Other’s behavior, as well as inconsistencies in his own journals, prompting Piranesi to question what he really knows about his world and the possible existence of living other people.

If you love to solve puzzles, love literary fiction, or if you are just looking for something off the beaten path, pick up Piranesi, suspend your disbelief for a short while, and be prepared to be a-mazed!

Fall into a Great Series

I have mixed emotions after finishing Richard Osman’s second book in his “Thursday Murder Club” series. Yes, I loved every minute I spent turning the pages in The Man Who Died Twice, but now I am dismayed and left waiting for the next installment. It was that good!

Set in a quaint English town, this sequel to The Thursday Murder Club follows the adventures of octogenarians Elizabeth, Joyce, Ron and Ibrahim, and it picks up where that book left off. The foursome, who lost some people dear to them and made some new friends (in the form of two local detectives), have grown even closer and still live in the same retirement community. Most importantly, however, they are all still obsessed with solving crimes and meet weekly to try and solve them.

In The Man Who Died Twice, readers learn all about Elizabeth’s past life as a spy with MI5 and all about her ex-husband Douglas. Elizabeth thought Douglas was gone forever, but now he has re-materialized. Douglas has stolen some diamonds from a dangerous bad guy, he asks the smartest woman he knows, Elizabeth, to help keep him alive.

Meanwhile, Ibrahim has been badly beaten in a mugging and now just wants to hide in his apartment from the world. The Thursday Murder Club set out to find whoever hurt their friend and when they do, be certain that the mugger will never underestimate a senior citizen again.

But will Ibrahim’s crisis distract Elizabeth from keeping both of her eyes on Douglas? She’ll have to ask her friends for help. As ever, they are up for the task.

You’ll want to read The Man Who Died Twice to the very end to find out if the club saves their man. Be prepared for laughs, red herrings, murders, and more in this truly entertaining read that is even better than its predecessor. Come for the crime solving and stay for the highly entertaining hi-jinx of a lovable slew of characters. And then just try to wait patiently for the series’ third book.


Fall into a Good Book

Sometimes I read a book and immediately want to re-read it. This is the case with Agatha of Little Neon, a debut novel by Claire Luchette.

Agatha is a nun, who, along with her three fellow sisters in a diocese in Buffalo, New York, has been diligently serving the lord. Agatha has felt safe, anonymous and lucky to have become part of a close-knit group of women. For years, Frances, Mary Lucille, and Therese have been her constant companions and they have fulfilled Agatha’s need for connection. When their diocese goes bankrupt, the four sisters are sent to Woonsocket, Rhode Island, to oversee and become caretakers for a half-way house where they encounter addiction and real-world problems that are often out of their control.

It is there that Agatha, who is reeling from the loss of their convent and from being separated from Mother Roberta, their beloved Mother Superior, is forced further from her comfort zones into learning and teaching geometry at a local girl’s school because of shortages. There, too, is where Agatha begins to become disenfranchised with the Catholic Church and to question her limited role in it.

Not only are Agatha’s story and journey compelling, the language alone in this novel kept me turning the pages with its short, vignette-like chapters, filled with Agatha’s poignant and thoughtful ruminations. Agatha of Little Neon is a charming and smart, quiet novel of self discovery. Read it, and then maybe read it again.


Fall into a Good Book

These recent chilly nights mean it is time to put away your beach reads and pick up a book that will blow you away. For me, that book is We Begin at the End by Chris Whitaker.

Part coming-of-age and part crime drama, this novel tells the story of 13-year-old Duchess Day Radley, a self-proclaimed outlaw, whose life is in shambles. Her mother, Star, is a struggling alcoholic and single mom to Duchess and her five-year-old brother Robin. Their family is one of legendary gossip and ridicule in their small coastal California town –after all, Star’s high school boyfriend Vincent King has been locked up for the murder of Star’s baby sister for the last thirty years.

Vincent King is about to be released and the Radley family aren’t the only ones worried about his return. Vincent’s best friend Walt, now town sheriff, has been busy watching over Star and feels responsible and guilty for turning Vincent in all those years ago.

When these beautifully rendered characters reconnect, be sure that decades-old resentments mixed with the anger of youth and a changing world will create an explosive reading experience. This emotional and intricately-plotted read is so compelling, that my only complaint was that I read it too fast.


Let Your Dreams Take Flight

I don’t know about you, but I thought I was pretty brave until I read Bicycling with Butterflies by Sara Dykman, our One Book, One City book choice this year. Ms. Dykman’s idea for her over 10,000-mile bike ride following the migratory trek of the monarch butterfly sounded daunting, and seemed impossible to this reader. Nevertheless, the author set her goal, planned for it, and then went out there and accomplished it. Talk about realizing your dreams!

I’m inspired -not to embark upon quite such a bike ride- but to instead appreciate that we humans can really get things done when we set out to do so. Like Ms. Dykman, we are bound to make some ‘wrong turns’ along the way, but if we persevere, we can and will succeed.

I’m eager to hear more about her ride among the beautiful Monarchs and will be lucky enough to do so when the author will be available at our virtual Q&A on Monday, August 2 at 6pm. Aren’t you? Register here and I sure hope to ‘see’ you there!

Endangered, Vulnerable or Threatened, Oh My!

Like Sara Dykman’s journey in her book, Bicycling with Butterflies, monarch butterflies face a perilous journey of survival. If you’ve followed our blog this past month, you might wonder if monarch butterflies are an endangered species.

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, a bureau within the Department of the Interior and the premier government agency dedicated to the conservation, protection, and enhancement of fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats, the answer is, sadly, not yet.

On December 15, 2020, the bureau announced that while listing the Monarch as endangered or threatened under the Endangered Species Act is warranted, the Monarch is still just a candidate in this process and its status remains under review annually until a decision is made.

Under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), plant and animal species may be listed as either endangered or threatened. “Endangered” means a species is in danger of extinction. “Threatened” means a species is likely to become endangered within the foreseeable future.’

You can read the latest about the status of Monarchs here: News Releases – U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (fws.gov) and learn more about the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s conservation efforts here: Assessing the status of the monarch butterfly (fws.gov)

Knowledge is power. Consider yourself armed with it and decide what you can do to help protect monarch butterflies!

Butterflies – Visitors from Beyond?

If you’ve ever lost someone close to you, perhaps you like to imagine that their spirit is visiting you when a butterfly crosses your path. I know I do. It turns out that there is a good reason for that.

According to the smart folks at Baylor University, since Ancient times, the winged form of a butterfly was a symbol for the human soul. You can see this symbolism in Ancient Egypt, the Ancient Greek civilization and in Native American cultures, among others. One example comes from the The Aztecs, who believed that happy dead, in the form of beautiful butterflies, would visit their relatives to assure them that all was well.

In Andalusian Spain, an heir was expected to throw wine over the ashes of the deceased as a toast to the butterfly that would escape with the soul.

Butterflies are also symbolic in Christian imagery. In depictions of the Garden of Eden, the soul of Adam is symbolized by a butterfly, or drawn with butterfly wings, and the Gnostics depicted the Angel of Death by showing a winged foot stepping on a butterfly.

Sara Dykman, in Bicycling with Butterflies, must have felt blessed indeed with all the “souls” she witnessed on her 10,000 journey following migrating Monarchs. Have you started reading yet?

I’m inspired to hang out with butterflies, and this weekend I plan to head to the Butterfly House at the Miller Nature Preserve, part of the Lorain County Metroparks. Visiting the Butterfly House is free and open to the public from mid-June through Labor Day. I can’t wait!

For more inspiration, plan to keep reading all about butterflies with us this month. Until next time, keep looking up! ~Carol

Words About Butterflies and a Butterfly Word Search

We are all reading Bicycling with Butterflies: My 10,201-Mile Journey Following the Monarch Migration by Sara Dykman here at Rocky River Public Library this month. It really is a fascinating read and an informative, adventure-filled ride. You’ll want to place your hold here.

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To get you in the spirit to follow Sara’s journey, here are a few interesting monarch butterfly facts from Save Our Monarchs, a grassroots, non-profit organization that is dedicated to saving the embattled monarch butterflies:

-Like many birds, monarch butterflies migrate south for the winter. They’re not able to survive winters in the US.

-The monarch butterfly is an incredible creature that starts as an egg and goes through three amazing transformations during its life. The egg hatches into a caterpillar, which forms a pupa (chrysalis), which is then transformed into the adult butterfly.

-Monarch butterflies taste and smell using their antennae and legs, which are covered with sensory cells called chemoreceptors. These chemoreceptors also help the Monarchs find Milkweed plants on which to lay their eggs.

Learn more at www.saveourmonarchs.org

Feeling inspired by these facts? Here’s a Monarch butterfly themed word search you can print and complete, just for fun:

Happy Reading! Until next time, Carol

RRPL Summer Reads

I’m planning to keep things on the light side this summer. That means for the most part, I’ll be sticking with humorous, romantic stories and suspenseful, psychological fiction. Here’s a list of some of the books I’m looking forward to spending my summer with:

The Plot by Jean Hanff Korelitz – I can’t wait to read this book about a writer who steals a plot from a student and writes a bestselling novel out of it -and then gets caught!

Local Woman Missing by Mary Kubica – Page-turning thrills and chills are promised in this novel about a series of disappearances in a small town.

The Maidens by Alex Michaelides – I loved Michaelides’ The Silent Patient so reading this psychological mystery meets gothic thriller is a no-brainer.

The Summer Seekers by Sarah Morgan – Booklist is calling this book the “ultimate road-trippin’ beach read.” Yes, please.

Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid – This coming of age novel set from the 1950s through the 1980s won’t be either a humorous romance or a thriller, but I just cannot resist the buzz surrounding this new release.

An Unlikely Spy by Rebecca Starford – This twisting, sophisticated World War II novel following a spy who goes undercover as a part of MI5 sounds right up my alley.

The Disappearing Act by Catherine Steadman – Again, I loved this author’s last book (Mr. Nobody) and am counting on this to be another winning thriller.

The Break Up Book Club by Wendy Wax – What’s not to love about a book about book clubs, books, and relationships between readers of books?

I sure hope you find something stellar to read this summer, too! -Carol


Dial A for Aunties by Jesse Q Sutanto

Meddie Chan is a young Indonesian/Chinese American who always puts her mother and Aunties first. She resents her role as the wedding photographer in her family’s wedding company, but dares not admit it. In her meddlesome and overbearing family, everyone has their role: Big Aunt is the pastry chef, Second Aunt is the make-up artist, and Meddie’s mother designs wedding gowns, while Fourth Aunt is the entertainment. Meddie wonders if she’s given up everything for her family, and is silently bitter for not moving away with her ex, Nathan, when she had the chance.

In an effort to be “helpful,” Meddie’s mother sets Meddie up on a blind date on the eve of an important and profitable wedding that the Chan family is planning. It’s bad timing when Meddie’s obnoxious blind date makes such an outrageous pass that Meddie ends up wrecking his car and, accidentally killing him. Rather than go to the police, she turns to her mother and Aunties for help. Obligingly, the Aunties rally to help hide the corpse, in a freezer! When the freezer, with corpse in tow, inadvertently follows them to the wedding, hilarity ensues.

Dial A for Aunties by Jesse Q Sutanto is a sometimes-irreverent, blend of mystery and dark family comedy that has a hint of romance, too. It delivers the kind of over-the-top, madcap fun and mayhem you expect from authors like Janet Evanovich and Lisa Lutz, and it the gives readers a peek into Indo-Chinese culture along the way. Why not take a wild ride with the Aunties? Place your hold here.