Mysteries with Ghosts, Murder and Magic

Tuesday Mooney Talks to Ghosts

With a cast of quirky characters, including a handsome stranger, a dead billionaire, and a weird heroine, Kate Bacculia creates a puzzle-solving mystery through a citywide treasure hunt in Boston in Tuesday Mooney Talks to Ghosts.  The promise of a fortune, as well as the possibility of finding a murderer, drives Tuesday Mooney,  clever and intelligent researcher, who dresses in black and usually tries to avoid most social contact. Her sidekicks, a gay friend and a teen neighbor, help her face a painful past as well as propel her to a future with promise as they search out strange clues and coded messages.

Not for everyone, this story has elements of Edgar Allen Poe mixed with Agatha Christie, with a touch of Sophie Kinsella, and allusions ranging from Ellen Raskin to King Arthur.  I’m not sure I caught them all but the ones I did connect were hilarious.  Suspending belief is key as the reader gets involved in these strange and sometimes nefarious doings.

The Last House Guest

Megan Miranda’s The Last House Guest involves a mystery in Maine with tension between the rich with summer houses and the locals. The death of Avery’s best friend, Sadie, triggers the story, with the action going back and forth over the years. Eventually, Sadie’s suicide is ruled as murder, with Avery as prime suspect. As she works to clear her name, Avery solves not only the mystery of her friend but sadly discovers more deceit leading back to her parents’ car accident when she was a teenager. A whodunit with a sad twist.

 

Ninth House

Leigh Bardugo’s strange tale in Ninth House involves ghosts and dangerous magic at Yale University. Galaxy “Alex” Stern, a high school dropout, has a second chance at the good life with a scholarship to Yale; the quid pro quo requires her using her powers (seeing ghosts) to watch over the famous Yale secret societies. The most well known “Skull and Bones” can read the future of the stock market in blood and guts (both Bush presidents were members).  Bardugo lists all the societies at the end of the book, with the names of the famous alums.

Alex’s freshman outsider problem – the poor girl who doesn’t fit in – quickly gives way to her struggles to solve a murder noone wants solved, with ghosts hovering nearby.

With a nod to Harry Potter some of the magic seems harmless at first, like the library conveniently shaking its stacks to deliver books requested through a special portal, but Bardugo has a flair for more adult consequences.  When the magic goes awry, lethally burying someone under books cascading down from the walls, she notes ironically “Suffocating beneath a pile of books seems an appropriate way to go for a research assistant.”

Although Bardugo is noted for her children’s fantasy books, Ninth House is for adults only.  As the story gets more complicated, so do the magical malfunctions, often with lethal results.  I enjoyed following the witches, demons, and ghosts, and if you are a fan of Deborah Harkness books, you might too.

 

More Book Lists

Ron Charles’ list of best books of 2019 for the Washington Post had not one book I had read. Many were nonfiction which I tend to avoid, one I had started but could not finish (On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous), but one sounded appealing enough to order from the library – Strangers and Cousins.

If you want to see what they are reading inside the beltway these days, here is the Washington Post top ten:

  1. Black Leopard, Red Wolfe by Marlon James – fantasy epic
  2. Falter by Bill McKibben – nonfiction
  3. Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo – this year’s Booker Prize
  4. A Good Provider is One Who Leaves by Jason DeParie – nonfiction
  5. Know My Name by Chanel Miller – nonfiction
  6. On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong – fiction
  7. Say Nothing by Patrick Radden Keefe – nonfiction
  8. Strangers and Cousins by Leah Hager Cohen – fiction
  9. The Topeka School by Ben Lerner
  10. The Yellow House by Sarah M. Broom – nonfiction

Library Reads at http://libraryreads.org has the monthly nationwide library staff picks list for adult fiction and non-fiction.  This time of year they offer their complete list, asking library staff to vote for their favorites.  I usually find many on their list I’ve read, and sometimes a few I’ve missed.  Check out their site for over 150 titles they recommended this year.  Librarians always have good ideas.

Here are a few I’ve read:

  1. The Clockmaker’s Daughter: A Novel by Kate Morton 
  2. The Library Book by Susan Orlean 
  3. One Day in December: A Novel by Josie Silver
  4. Unsheltered: A Novel by Barbara Kingsolver
  5. My Sister, the Serial Killer: A Novel by Oyinkan Braithwait
  6. Night of Miracles: A Novel by Elizabeth Berg 
  7. Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty 
  8. Once Upon a River: A Novel by Diane Setterfeld
  9. The Suspect by Fiona Barton 
  10. The Only Woman in the Room by Marie Benedict 
  11. The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides 
  12. Good Riddance by Elinor Lipman 
  13. Save Me the Plums: My Gourmet Memoir by Ruth Reichl 
  14. The Lager Queen of Minnesota: A Novel by J. Ryan Stradal 
  15. Lady in the Lake by Laura Lippman 
  16. The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware 
  17. The Dutch House by Ann Patchett 
  18. This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger

Book Club Lists

Some book clubs are getting organized for next year with reading lists. Others prefer to make decisions monthly, targeting newer books. Whatever your preference, lists of books are always a good way to reevaluate your own reading and sometimes provide new ideas for good reads.

The Honolulu Museum of Art cleverly connects books with their art collection, with the discussion led by a knowledgable docent, followed by a tour of the art. The books on their list for the next two months include:

  • Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeline Thien
  • Circe by Madeleine Miller
  • Beloved by Toni Morrison

I have had Circe in my ebook collection since it was published.  This might be a good time to finally read it.

Celebrities like to promote book lists and sometimes offer online book club discussions.  I try to avoid Oprah’s suggestions, but I do like picks from Reese Witherspoon.  Her November selection is Jojo Moyes’ The Giver of Stars. Other books on her list include:

  • Fair Play by Eve Rodsky
  • The Secrets We Kept by Lara Prescott
  • The Last House Guest by Megan Miranda
  • Whisper Network by Chandler Baker
  • The Cactus by Sarah Haywood
  • The Library Book by Susan Orlean
  • Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

My local book club has its list for next year:

  • Molokai by Alan Brennert  
  • Origin by Dan Brown – 5th in the Robert Langdon series 
  • Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
  • The Gown by Jennifer Robson – historical fiction
  • The Salt Path by Raynor Winn – biography/memoir
  • Poisoned Palms: The Murder of Mrs. Jane Lathrop Stanford by Buckingham-murder mystery
  • America’s First Daughter by Dray and Kamoie – historical fiction
  • Becoming by Michelle Obama – biography/memoir
  • Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward
  • American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins

 

And my favorite book club has Ann Patchett’s The Dutch House next on the agenda.

What is your group reading?

 

The Novels That Shaped Our World

When the Sunday New York Times “By the Book” section asks someone, usually a writer, to identify books they are reading or one with a powerful impact on their lives, I feel so connected to the person when a book I know is named. If it’s a book new to me, I usually look for it in the library.  Like many of you, I love finding book lists and recommendations.

So, when the BBC decided to ask a panel of leading writers, curators and critics to choose “100 genre-busting novels that have had an impact on their lives,” I could not wait to review the list. “These English language novels, written over the last 300 years, range from children’s classics to popular page turners. Organized into themes, they reflect the ways books help shape and influence our thinking.”

I was equally surprised by the books on the list I had read, the books I had not read, and those I had never heard of. Some were predictable, like Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Huxley’s Brave New World, and Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. Some seemed fun to read but below the mark, like Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones Diary. Others were tempting to find, just by the title and author’s reputation, like Ali Smith’s How to Be Both.

I’ve read only about a third on the list, some as required reading in my past life, but I was pleased to see a newer book – Homegoing.

My top ten from the list include these I’ve read – and still remember:

  1. Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
  2. Eye of the Needle by Ken Follett
  3. A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini
  4. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark
  5. Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys
  6. The Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling
  7. Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfield
  8. I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
  9. The Witches by Roald Dahl 
  10. Rebecca by Dapne du Maurier

If you are interested in checking out the complete list, you can find it at https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/articles/494P41NCbVYHlY319VwGbxp/explore-the-list-of-100-novels-that-shaped-our-world 

My next read should be fun – discovered from the list:

Psmith, Journalist – P. G. Wodehouse  

Free from Gutenberg Press but I want the pictures, so I’ve ordered it from my library.