Here There Be Monsters . . . Kinda

By Stacy Parish, Children’s Department

“Eight more days ‘til Halloween, Halloween . . .”  OK, maybe not the most appropriate way to lead into a blog about scary-but-not-too-scary creatures who live in children’s books, by invoking a jingle used in the classic horror film “Halloween,” starring the fabulous future kid-lit author Jamie Lee Curtis, but with that tie-in, how could I not?

The Wild Things

First in our no-particular-order list of creepy creatures: the Wild Things inhabiting the island where Max sailed his private boat in and out of weeks and almost over a year in Maurice Sendak’s fabulous classic Where The Wild Things Are.  Being the King of all Wild Things was a blast for a while, what with having no homework, no bedtime, and no rules, but Max became terribly lonely “and wanted to be where someone loved him best of all.”  So he abdicated his throne and sailed back into the night of his very own room, to find his still-hot supper waiting for him.  The lesson here, in my opinion?  Those who truly love you will forgive your occasional monstrous behavior, and maybe even make you a grilled cheese sandwich.

The Grinch

“You’re a monster, Mr. Grinch/Your heart’s an empty hole/Your brain is full of spiders/You have garlic in your soul.”  Hence, the next monster in our Monster Mash-Up, that grouchy green grump who lives on Mount Crumpit.  Yes, friends and fiends, the antagonist-turned-protagonist of Dr. Seuss’ How The Grinch Stole Christmas is next in the roster of scary-not-scary monsters.  Let us ponder for a moment the classic literary juxtaposition of Good vs. Evil.  After a busy night of  animal abuse, cosplay, and totally highjacking all the boxes and bags and the last can of Who-Hash from Whoville, yet waking up to the sound of Cindy Lou Who and all her friends and relatives singing and celebrating anyway, the Grinch has an epiphany.  “What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store.  What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.”  The Grinch’s heart “grew three sizes   that day,” making him not so monstrous after all.

Dementors

I implied at the beginning of this article that the monsters listed here wouldn’t be too ghastly.  Darling Reader, I lied.  You should now take the opportunity to fortify yourself with some chocolate before proceeding onward, because the Dementors from JK Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (and subsequent books in the series) are making their sinister presence known in our melange of monsters.  According to Professor Remus Lupin, “Dementors are among the foulest creatures that walk this earth. They infest the darkest, filthiest places, they glory in decay and despair, they drain peace, hope and happiness out of the air around them. Even Muggles feel their presence, though they can’t see them. Get too near a Dementor and every good feeling, every happy memory, will be sucked out of you. If it can, the Dementor will feed on you long enough to reduce you to something like itself – soulless and evil. You’ll be left with nothing but the worst experiences of your life.”  According to the website Pottermore.com (and if you don’t know about this marvelous site, you must visit as soon as you finish reading this delightful and not frightful blog), Dementors are the true scary beasties of the mystical realm.  Oh, it is also imperative to note that Dementors cannot be destroyed, but only driven away temporarily by using the Patronus Charm.

The Gruffalo

Yikes. Okay.  Let’s flee the darkness of the Dementors and continue onward in our odyssey of oddities.  Do you know the gruffalo?  No? Oh!  The Gruffalo is a children’s book written by Julia Donaldson that was inspired by a Chinese folk tale in which a fox borrows the terror of a tiger.  In Donaldson’s story, a mouse is taking a walk in the woods and encounters several creatures—a fox, an owl, and a snake– who would like to make a meal out of him.  The clever mouse declines the “invitations” to their homes by telling them that he already has lunch plans with his friend the gruffalo, who is a monster-like hybrid of half grizzly bear and half buffalo, whose favorite snack happens to be whichever animal that the mouse is trying to evade.  Terrified by the description of the fictional beast, each animal flees. Mousie is so proud of himself, and taunts them:  “Silly old fox/owl/snake, doesn’t he know?  There’s no such thing as a gruffalo!”  But here comes the plot twist! The mouse is shocked to encounter a real gruffalo, who threatens to eat him.  Again, Mousie’s cunning saves the day.  The mouse tells the gruffalo that he is the scariest monster in the forest, and proves it by leading the gruffalo past each creature that menaced him earlier, causing them to run away again when they see them walking together.  The gruffalo is increasingly impressed by this, and is apparently clueless that *he* is the scary one, so the sly mouse further presses it to his advantage by threatening to eat the gruffalo, who then hightails it into the forest.  Personally, I find this to be an excellent instructional tale for those among us who are physically diminutive (I’m 5’2”, Darling Reader) but make up for it in confidence.

So there you have it, Darling Reader, some charming-and not-alarming (well, with the exception of those foul Dementors) monsters who inhabit the pages of children’s books, and now your own imagination.  Have a frighteningly good Fall, and don’t be afraid to keep exploring the vast forest of literature that is available to you at WCPL.  Happy reading–

 


***The opinions and viewpoints expressed here are, as always, solely a product of the sometimes-disturbing contents of the author’s head and are in no way representative of the employees of WCPL, their families, or their Halloween-costumed housepets.   The author also wishes it to be known that while the nickname “Scary Stacy” was bestowed upon her by some sorority sisters in college, she really is trying to mellow into a kinder, gentler sort of modern monster.
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Snow White’s Sister, Cinderella’s Eagle and What’s With all the Blood?

By Lon Maxwell, Reference Department

Fairy tales come from many places; mythology, folk legends and even news headlines of the day. Hansel and Gretel may have hearkened back to the great famine of the fourteenth century when parents abandoned children and cannibalistic old ladies were not unheard of. The Pied Piper of Hamelin refers back to the children’s crusade when thousands of children left for the holy land to convert the Muslims. Cinderella has elements from the original King Leir folk tale (evil sisters who steal a throne) mixed with the myth of Rhodopis, a high class escort whose sandal is stolen by an eagle and dropped on a prince’s head causing him to search the kingdom for the owner of the mysterious footwear. Snow White and Rose Red hearkens back to the mythology of animals turning into gods. Snow White and her sister help a bear and an ungrateful dwarf. The dwarf tries to get the bear to eat the girls but is himself killed. The bear turns into a prince and the girls marry him and his brother respectively. Interestingly, in the original German folktales there are two different snow whites; Schneeweißchen has the sister, while Schneewittchen has the dwarves.

Time has removed the darker parts of many fairy tales. Many of the events of early versions of the fairy tales we know and love would be unfit for children (and some adults).

  • In a very early version of Sleeping Beauty by Giambattista Basile the princess is raped by a king and then gives birth to twins that revive her. She tracks down the twins married father only to have his queen try to eat her babies. It’s all happily ever after though, the king has the queen burned alive for her attempted infanticide so he can marry sleeping beauty.
  • The Grimm Version of Snow White is truly grim. The queen isn’t her step mother, it’s her mother. The prince finds her dead and she is woken when he is carting off her body and the poisoned apple falls from her mouth. I don’t care to speculate as to why he is carting off a beautiful, dead girl. Finally as punishment for what she’s done, the queen, who in this version asks the huntsman to bring her Snow’s liver and lungs to eat, is made to wear iron shoes that have been kept in a fire all day and dance until she dies.
  • Wilhelm and Jacob Grimm don’t bother to take out the gory details of Cinderella. Their version has the step-sisters cutting off toes to fit their feet into the slipper, and when Ella is finally proven to be the prince’s one true love, they get their eyes pecked out by doves.
  • In early versions of Little Red Riding Hood, prior to the polish and lightening of the Brothers Grimm, Red is fed bits of her grandmother before being eaten by the wolf. Oh, and there’s no passing woodsman to rescue her so she just gets eaten. She doesn’t learn her lesson, only the reader does.
  • Ariel, not her name in the original Little Mermaid, didn’t always end up with Eric (not his name either). In the original Hans Christian Andersen version, the mermaid was given legs but every movement felt as if swords were impaling her extremities. As she truly loves the prince, she dances, despite the pain, to win his affection, but he marries a princess from the neighboring kingdom.  In one last grasp at gore, the little mermaid’s sisters bring her a knife and tell her to kill the prince and let his blood drip on her feet so that she becomes a mermaid again. She declines and, brokenhearted, dissolves into sea foam. So much for the Disney ending.

According to a study by Durham University anthropologist, Dr. Jamie Tehrani, many of these tales are thousands of years old, going back to before the indo-european langauge family began to split. Tehrani believes that this is why so many of these tales are found in multiple cultures. But Fairy Tales are finding themselves pushed to the foreground once again. Television, film, books, and comics have all revived classic tales with new twists. Disney’s revived princesses are seeing a further recreation into live action movies and their show, Once Upon a Time, has brought these characters into the real-ish world of primetime soap operas. Bill Willingham’s Fables series has done something similar with the characters of our children’s stories living in modern Manhattan and a farm upstate for those less human and more anthropomorphic. New books are written retelling old tales all the time. Anne Rice, writing as A. N. Roquelaure, wrote a series of erotically charged sleeping beauty tales in the mid-1980s with a follow up that came out in 2015. Jasper Fforde turned the nursery rhymes into nursery crimes with his books The Big Over Easy and The Fourth Bear. Neil Gaiman has taken elements of fairy tales and made them even darker. Gregory Maguire’s Wicked went from best-selling novel to Broadway where it joined Into the Woods in modern retelling musical history. All of this shows the endurance these tales have and the future traction for their continued popularity.

Perhaps the most fascinating question of all this is, where our great x8 grandchildren will find their fairytales. Will their parents lull them to sleep with the tales of diminutive people trying to destroy a magic ring? Will their grandparents recall nights listening to the story of the beautiful girl who fell in love with the handsome vampire? Will their dreams be peppered with stories of magical children in a sorcerous school making the world safe for everyone? Histories suggests that they will; that the tales of our modern pop culture will traverse the ages, slightly bent, occasionally warped and find themselves sitting on the nightstands of children for generations to come, probably with some of the darkest parts edited out right next to the copies of Jack the Giant Slayer and Cinderella.

Where Did They Go?: Unsolved Disappearances

By Lon Maxwell, Reference Department

Everyone loves a good mystery. We love to hear the details and questions left. We love to put our brains to the facts and puzzle out what may have been missed. A small part of us hopes (however unlikely it may be)  that we may actually be able to find that crucial overlooked bit, or make that perfect leap that could bring the mystery to an end. It’s one of the reasons the mystery genre has been so popular since Poe created it, through books, radio, film and television. Sometimes though, the mysteries are real, the people have disappeared. I’m not talking about the search for mysterious creatures like big foot or the investigations of odd phenomenon like the Bermuda triangle.  I’m talking about the actual mysteries from the real world that puzzle investigators and theorists every day.

The Lost Persian Army

Painting of a Persian Army in circa 1500AD by Chingiz Mehbaliyev

Some mysteries go back in time, way back in time. For instance, in 524 BCE the emperor of Persia sent an army into Egypt. The emperor, Cambyses II, was attempting to solidify his claim to the throne of Egypt. This meant destroying an oracle and priests of Amun that declined his invitation to legitimize his right to pharaonic glory. To do this he sent 50,000 troops from Thebes in the east of Egypt into the desert. These were Persian soldiers and Egyptian conscripts, men used to the harsh deserts. However not a one of them ever made it to the oasis where the temple was. They had simply vanished into the desert. Theories have abounded to explain their fate for millennia. Herodotus believed they were lost in a sandstorm and the entire army is buried beneath the dunes of Egypt. Most recently an Egyptologist and Professor, Olaf Kaper, has said he believes they were slaughtered by the rival claimant and Cambyses just claimed they were lost to avoid the embarrassment according to some hieroglyphics he has just discovered.

Roanoke

John White discovers the word “CROATOAN” carved at Roanoke’s fort palisade

Let’s jump forward about 2000 years. While we are all at least somewhat familiar with the lost colony of Roanoke, most of us never understand the immensity of it. Sure there were other colonies that failed. The initial attempts at Jamestown collapsed. The Popham colony in Maine thirteen years before the pilgrims also ceased to be. There was even a late 1600s colony near the site of Roanoke on Colleton Island that ceased to exist. These examples have one thing that Roanoke does not. We know what happened to the people. Poor planning, internecine strife and fiscal mismanagement brought those colonies to an end, and we have the records, survivors and graves to prove it. Roanoke has none of this. Here an entire colony just simply vanished from the face of the Earth in the time it took the governor to sail to England and back. Governor White had gone back to England for supplies for the struggling colony and left 115 people, including his granddaughter, and first English child born in the new world, Virginia Dare.  When he returned three years later the colony was deserted. A fence post had the word Croatoan carved into it and a tree had the letters cro. All the buildings had been taken down showing it was not a hasty departure and no new graves were located. The agreed on sign that they were forced to withdraw, a Maltese cross, was not found anywhere. The people had just gone and, despite much trying and many theories, no one has figured out their fate in the intervening five hundred years.

MV Joyita

MV Joyita towed on shore after found drifted 1955 partially submerged and listing heavily to port side

Closer to today we have the case of the MV Joyita. This was a yacht built for a 1930s film director that was found adrift in the south pacific in 1955. But this was no luxury toy, discarded when the next shiny bauble appeared. This boat had gone from luxury yacht to U.S. Navy patrol ship to a charter boat for hauling or fishing. She was sturdy, despite some radio range issues and leaky pipes. She was found listing, but afloat, five weeks after and 600 miles off course from her last planned trip. She was found with the dingy, life rafts, emergency supplies, firearms and crew of twenty-five missing.  Not a person was aboard, which was odd considering the fact that she’d been afloat all that time. Here too you find a lot of theories, from injured captains to attacks by Japanese military personnel that refused to believe the war was over, but no answers.

Apollo Mission Goodwill Displays

Rock fragment (encased in acrylic) from the Apollo 17 mission to the moon. Donated to the State of Illinois along with the state flag, which accompanied the mission

Here we find the theft of an object. Not too irregular, right? Things get stolen all the time. How about when twenty-seven versions of the same thing go missing? Now we have your attention.  After the Apollo program managed to reach the surface of the moon, NASA put together plaques and displays of moon dust and a flag that was carried on an Apollo mission. They were made for all the United States Territories and States and multiple other countries as well as the United Nations as good will gifts by the Nixon administration. Since that time the displays from Brazil, Canada, Cyprus, Honduras, Ireland, Malta, Netherlands, Nicaragua, Norway, Romania, Spain, Sweden, Alaska, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, and West Virginia have all vanished mysteriously. Several attempts have been made to locate the displays but none have surfaced, not even on the illicit markets catering to less than scrupulous collectors. This is made more suspicious by at least five more thefts of moon materials.

While we like a mystery that ends with a solid resolution, there is something to the unexplained mystery that draws us to seek new answers and solutions. Maybe someone should write and unsolved mystery novel next?

Add a Little Paranormal to Your Romance

By Lindsay Roseberry, Reference Department

Interested in branching out in the romance genre?  Tired of regular historical romances and looking for something new?  Consider paranormal romance (often confused with urban fantasy, which is its own subgenre).   These novels are romances, but they include some element of the paranormal or supernatural, which is why they are perfect for October.  Many characters have ESP, magic or other special abilities and oftentimes the hero (or heroine) is not human but a werewolf, a vampire, a faerie (The Fae), a god, a demon, an angel or anything else writers can think of, in disguise.

Paranormal romance has its roots in Gothic fiction, which involved the supernatural (or the promise of the supernatural) and it often included the discovery of mysterious elements of antiquity. Generally there was also a large rambling house, with glimpses of lurking unknown figures with a threatening mystery and a brooding hero.  Think of Jane Eyre, with the creepy old house and strange things happening in the attic, or even Dracula and Frankenstein. Thank goodness this novel has morphed into the paranormal romance.

Most sources agree that the first big hit in the paranormal romance genre was probably Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander, which won the 1991 RWA (Romance Writers Association) Best Romance award for a new “Futuristic/Fantasy/Paranormal” category.  Jude Deveraux made it to the best seller list with A Knight in Shining Armor in 1989, telling a similar tale of time-crossed lovers.  It is one of the fastest growing trends in the romance genre.

According to Romance Literature Statistics, in 2010 romance fiction generated just over a billion in sales, estimated to go up to $1.368 in 2011, and it has only increased since 2011!! (The Romance Market share compared to other genres – $759 million for Inspirational fiction; $682 million for mystery novels and over $500 million for the parent genre, science fiction and fantasy.) Who knew!

So romance fiction is no small thing anymore, but a force to be reckoned with!

So why is it so popular?  Jordan Hawk, an author and blogger gives several reasons why this genre is still going strong:

  1. These books take us away from our every-day lives.  If we have stress in our lives, pets and children who depend upon us, it’s nice to get away for a while.
  2. It exercises our imaginations. These novels are like living daydreams, where anything can happen and magical creatures exist.  You could meet a Fae, a vampire, a wizard and/or help defeat evil, plus fall in love with the hero, just like the heroine.
  3. Some of the authors write books that can be considered fantasy adventure stories for women.  If the female lead is a take-charge kind of girl we can all fantasize about living a life like that.  There’s a reason people sometime call romance “mind candy”.
  4. You can read about people meeting their soulmate, and fantasize about this in your own life.  Imagine there is someone out there just for you and he is looking for you, too.  Some authors write racy stories and some write gentle romance novels, so you can pick what suits you best.

One thing: these books are in a series and are meant to be read in order. Don’t pick up the third or fourth book and expect to know what’s happening. You should try to read in series order, as they are meant to be read–not in random order. (We have Interlibrary Loan here at our library which will allow you get the books you’re missing in a series so you can read them in order.)

Paranormal fiction can be fun and humorous, or sexy and dark. There is something for everyone in this genre!  Here are a few authors in each of the above categories.

Humorous and Light Paranormal Authors:

  • Mary Janice Davidson
  • Charlaine Harris
  • Katie McAlister
  • Molly Harper
  • Shanna Swendson
  • Michele Bardsley
  • Mimi Jean Pamphiloff
  • Lydia Dare
  • Janet Chapman
  • Nora Roberts
  • Tracy Madison
  • Mary Balogh
  • Barbara Bretton
  • Victoria Laurie

 

Sexy Paranormal Authors:

  • Keri Arthur
  • Christine Feehan
  • Nalini Singh
  • Kresley Cole
  • Stephanie Rowe
  • J R Ward
  • Victoria Dannan
  • Karen Marie Moning
  • P C Cast
  • Sherilynn Kenyon
  • Lyndsay Sands
  • Jeaniene Frost
  • Charlene Hartnady

Sources:

Get free online Magazines with ZINIO!

By Jessica Dunkel, Reference Department

Did you know that having a Williamson County library card gives you access to a large selection of free online magazines? Our magazine database, Zinio, is a wonderful way to get your magazine fix without having to visit the library! (We do love when you visit, but we also appreciate instant access to free things. We’re sure you do, too.)

After you create an account (directions listed below), you can log in and start reading immediately on your home computer, laptop, tablet, or smart phone. You can also get the Zinio App and read wirelessly on your iPad, iPhone, Android, or Kindle HD/HDX.

Zinio gives you access to over 60 different magazines. A few titles include Good Housekeeping, National Geographic, The Oprah Magazine, Rolling Stone, Newsweek, Cosmopolitan, Reader’s Digest, Food Network, Seventeen, Country Gardens, Weightwatchers, Popular Science, Women’s Health, The Economist, Bloomberg Business Week, Dwell, and many more!

Still not convinced that you need Zinio in your life right now? Here are some more cool features:

  • If you’re hooked up to a printer you can print the pages you want to keep, like recipes, articles for school projects, or those top 10 lists you want to hang on to.
  • Because you have instant digital access, you’ll always have the latest issue as soon as it’s published.
  • You’ll also have access to older issues so you can check out what you may have missed.
  • The magazines are simple to navigate. You can flip through pages one by one or select a specific page in the page overview feature. There’s a zoom feature if you want a closer look at the pictures or text. And if flipping through each page doesn’t appeal to you, there’s an option to scroll down through the magazine like you would on a normal webpage. Here’s a preview:

zinio

Screenshot from Prevention Magazine December 2015

How to get Zinio

  1. Go to http://lib.williamson-tn.org/
  2. Select eLibrary Digital from the menu on the left
  3. Select Databases by Title
  4. Click on V-Z
  5. To read magazines on your internet browser: click on Zinio Online Magazines
  6. To read magazines on an iPad, iPad, iPhone, Android, or Kindle HD/HDX: click on Zinio Information / FAQ for instructions

Discover or catch up on your favorite magazines instantly with Zinio! As always, call us at the Reference Desk at 615-595-1243 if you have any questions. Happy reading!

Banned Books Week

By Lon Maxwell, Reference Department

Librarians have their own holiday week. We call it Banned Books Week and this year it runs from the 24th through the 30th of September. This is a week where we look back at classics and other printed works that have been challenged and outright banned in communities around the United States and the rest of the world. We celebrate this week not because books are banned, but because despite attempts to remove books from the public arena, these questioned titles remain available for us all. This is because we are citizens of a country that enjoys the freedom of speech.

Of course, when I say librarians I really mean the American Library Association (ALA) and when I say banned books I mean books that have been banned by or challenged in state sponsored institutions. And what is “challenged,” you say? According to ALA, “[a] challenge is an attempt to remove or restrict materials, based upon the objections of a person or group.  A banning is the removal of those materials.” The ALA and its partner in organizing Banned Books Week, Amnesty International, created this week to bring awareness to the masses that censorship still exists around the world and here at home as well.

Motivations for banning or censoring books usually start out with a desire to do what is perceived as good. These are not the 1933 Nazi cleansings, the burning of books that challenge a political ideal. They are usually attempts to protect a segment of the population from concepts and ideals that some feel may be harmful to others. Nevertheless, an unwillingness to accept ideas outside of our personal world view is still censorship, protective nature notwithstanding.

Banning books in the public domain, most often schools, leads to damage to our students according to an article called “The Effects of Censorship.” “While the attempt to keep children pure for as long as possible is admirable, it takes the form of leaving gaping holes in their education, if not academically, then about life.” The author goes on to explain that missing out on knowledge that is gained from materials some might find offensive can lead to a lack of knowledge that most feel is essential.

The fear of censorship itself is also a form of censorship. Many education professors speak of the self-censorship that teachers impose on themselves. The fear of having a choice they made questioned (or getting them into trouble with the institution) leads to the avoidance of a book or topic altogether.  However, one of the most important parts of education (and reading) is to study and read about both sides. First year composition courses tell students that they need to understand both sides of an argument before you can write a persuasive essay. You cannot refute an argument without understanding its underlying motivations.  What we do not know, we do not know. What gaps do we all have that we are unaware of because some piece of information was denied to us?

Evelyn Hall, in her 1906 Work The Friends of Voltaire, wrote, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” Basically, the standard for protected speech cannot be defined by a person’s personal beliefs.  That is the attitude taken by the ALA when it comes to banning books, going so far as to quote Noam Chomsky on their web site “If we don’t believe in freedom of expression for people we despise, we don’t believe in it at all.” Book challenges don’t know political exclusivity. They come from right and left.  Banned books isn’t some week designed to just speak out on the unjust persecution of books we like, it is a time for us to stand against all censorship. Just remember, if books you find offensive are banned, what’s to stop the books you approve of and enjoy  from being banned?

Banned Books Week is a celebration. It is revelry for the written word in which we can see our brightest heights and darkest depths, laid out before the world, to be seen, commented upon and preserved so that they may be remembered and judged by the future.  And I am proud to live in a country that leaves its written testimony open and bare for all to see.


P.S. – The biggest thing to look for every year at this time is the top ten list. These are the most challenged books of the last year.

Top Ten Challenged Books of 2016

Cozy Up To A Good Mystery – Agatha Christie Style

By Sharon Reily, Reference Department

It’s a chilly Sunday afternoon and the rest of your family is parked in front of the large screen watching a football game. You, however, are nestled into your favorite comfy chair in front of a glowing fireplace, steaming cup of tea in hand, a soft throw over your knees. You sigh happily as you open another installment of your favorite “Miss Marple” mystery series. This singular pleasure was brought to you courtesy of Agatha Christie, one of the creators and the chief purveyor of the mystery genre known as the “Cozy.” Forty-one years after her death in 1976, Agatha Christie is still one of the top-selling authors of all time, with novel sales in the billions. This September marks the 127th anniversary of Agatha’s birth. So in Agatha’s honor, we’ll look at this traditional mystery genre closely associated with her novels, and explore ways to find works by other authors that will appeal to Cozy fans.

The heroine of Charlaine Harris’ Aurora Teagarden series is a librarian.

Mystery fiction is divided into several major categories. Hard and Soft Boiled Mysteries generally feature a seasoned professional detective who often must contend with personal demons while investigating a crime. Procedurals offer blow-by-blow analysis of how a crime is solved, either by detailed detective legwork or scientific investigation. Thrillers and Suspense novels don’t always hinge on solving a crime or murder that occurs at the start of a novel, but instead focus on some ever-intensifying threat to the protagonist and feature lots of plot twists. There are also countless mystery sub-genres – Capers, Domestic, Historic, Noir, Romantic Suspense and True Crime, to name a few.

And then there are the Cozies. Sometimes called Traditional Mysteries, the Cozies are distinguished from the darker, grittier mystery genres by several crucial characteristics:

  • Instead of a hard-boiled detective, the Cozy crime solver is an amateur sleuth who is almost always a woman. Agatha’s Miss Marple is a prime example. The amateur sleuth usually has some other vocation – caterer, chef, cat fancier, bed and breakfast owner, or librarian.
  • In a Cozy, the setting is key!

    The setting of a Cozy mystery is critical and helps provide the novel its “cozy” character. It is often set in a small rural town or charming village, or in some cases a closed environment such as an isolated estate or even a train. The intimate nature of the setting allows most of the suspects to know each other. Bishop’s Lacey, the quintessential English village featured in Alan Bradley’s delightful Flavia de Luce series, and Cabot Cove, the location of Donald Bain’s “Murder, She Wrote” novels, both illustrate the perfect Cozy setting.

  • Cozies are lighter in tone than other mystery genres. They are considered “gentle” mysteries with little or no graphic violence or explicit sex. The murder almost always happens “off stage” and the victim is sometimes a less-than-sterling character who may have had it coming. Any sex occurs strictly “behind closed doors.” [Quick note: some current Cozies tend to be edgier than earlier examples of the genre.]
  • The amateur sleuth is not a police officer or forensics expert, but almost always has a friend or significant other who is one. Through this friend, our sleuth gains access to information, such as an autopsy report, not usually available to your average person.
  • The local law enforcement tends to underestimate and dismiss the amateur sleuth, allowing her to “casually overhear” key details at a crime scene.
  • Many Cozy Mysteries are parts of series.

    A Cozy usually features a “red herring” – a clue that steers the reader away from the actual criminal or suggests an inaccurate conclusion.

  • The victim and possibly some of the suspects are often known to the amateur sleuth. They could be old college friends or coworkers.
  • Cozies usually boast a cast of colorful, likeable, eccentric secondary characters who are often as important to the reader as the amateur sleuth.
  • Cozy mysteries are often written as parts of a series. Readers become emotionally involved with the amateur sleuth and other recurring characters and feel they’re “coming home” to a familiar place and old friends when they begin their next Cozy. There are MANY series to choose from, but a few notable ones include Agatha’s Miss Marple series, M.C. Beaton’s Agatha Raisin series, Nancy Atherton’s Aunt Dimity series, Louise Penny’s Chief Inspector Armand Gamache series, and the previously mentioned Flavia de Luce series by Alan Bradley (my personal favorite).

    Two intrepid Siamese, Koko and Yum Yum, help their human solve crimes in the “Cat Who” series.

  • Cozies sometimes center around a hobby or theme – everything from cats and the culinary arts to knitting and holidays to tea shops and libraries. A link to a great list of Cozy mysteries arranged by theme is included in “Further Reading” at the end of this article.
  • The good guys usually win and the evil-doers get their comeuppance.

Once you’ve devoured all of Agatha’s Miss Marple mysteries, what’s next?  The list of possibilities is literally endless. To help narrow the field, check out three of Agatha’s contemporaries who helped establish and refine the Traditional Mystery formula and, along with Agatha, comprised the four great “Queens of Crime”:  Dorothy L. Sayers (1893-1957), famous for her Lord Peter Wimsey series, Margery Allingham (1904-1966), known for her Albert Campion series and Ngaio Marsh (1895-1982), creator of the Inspector Roderick Alleyn series. WCPL has a good selection of works by each of these writers.

For contemporary Cozy novels, there’s no better place to look than the list of winners and finalists of the annual Agatha Awards. Since 1988, Malice Domestic, an organization celebrating the Traditional Mystery, has honored mysteries that best typify Agatha Christie’s works, defined as mysteries that contain no explicit sex, no excessive gore or gratuitous violence, and can’t be classified as “Hard-Boiled.” The 2015 and 2016 Agatha Awards winners and finalists are listed below with titles available at WCPL noted in bold. A link to the complete list of winners and finalists since the Awards’ inception in 1988 is included below under “Further Reading.”

2016

2015

If you’re already a fan of Cozies or just ready to try them, one thing is certain — you won’t run out of reading material any time soon. See below for lists of works that will keep you reading for years to come. Enjoy…and stay Cozy!

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The Proper Way to Read a Book

By Lon Maxwell and Rebecca Tischler, Reference Department

Damaged Books

I blame my sister, it is completely her fault that I refuse to lend out books without making sure the other person understands that if it is not returned to me in the condition they borrowed it, they will buy me a brand new book. I’ve been reading, a lot, ever since a teacher told me to try actually reading the books instead of just looking at the pretty pretty pictures and making up a story.  I was hooked, and bought ridiculous numbers of books.  So of course, at times I was treated as a miniature lending library because of my “surplus.” I was very generous at first, especially to my sister, until she brought back one of my Harry Potter books SPLIT down the spine. SPLIT!! I repaired my poor book to the best of my abilities (I’m still waiting for it to fall apart again), and then my sister brought back another book that had WATER DAMAGE.  It’d been sitting in the RAIN! THE HORROR!!!

Needless to say, I was tired of being brought back books that I had to repair (it wasn’t just my sister, but as the little sister, I feel it is my duty to put as much blame on her as possible for my quirks).  Then I found out that someone who had been reading my copy of Pride and Prejudice until it was literally falling apart (who shall not be named), was buying themselves a brand new copy because they loved it sooo much they needed a copy of their own (after destroying mine).  So when they showed it to me, I gave them the book they had destroyed and told them that the new copy was now MINE!!! There may even have been evil laughter.  And glowing eyes… and the possibility that I grew three feet…. ANYWAY, suffice to say, that I now have rules about book lending and how others treat my books.  And then I realized, these are good ideas for ANYONE.  ALL books should be treated well.  So a co-worked and I have decided to share ideas for, HOW TO READ A BOOK!

Take it away LON!

This entertaining infographic designed by Michael Rogalsky for Quirk Books presents twelve yoga poses that combine the body simulation of yoga with the mental simulation of reading.

There are many suggestions on posture and physical attitude for reading properly, but I think they’re really just nonsense. Find the way you like to read at whatever moment you have. I have known people to hang upside down in chairs and read like that for hours. How you adjust your body is whatever suits you and your environment (I certainly wouldn’t recommend the upside down posture for, say, the bus). Maybe try book yoga.

This brings us to the book itself. For something made out of trees, books are remarkably fragile. You never want to bend a book cover back around the spine of a book. I’ve see many a paperback fall apart because someone felt it would be easier to read if they could view one page at a time. In hardbacks, this is impossible, but paperbacks are sufficiently pliable to be contorted this way. The problem is that the signatures (the individual sections of pages) are glued to the spine. When you bend the book past a certain degree the glue cracks and you can end up with chapter 27 floating free in the wind while you run after it.

When you want to mark a page, never dog ear the corner. Folding paper creates a point of weakness. Over time the corner will break off. Use a bookmark whenever possible, which means always. You don’t need one of those tasseled slips of laminated card from by the register at your favorite book store. Use whatever you have to hand. If you search your pockets wallet or purse you will most likely find a receipt from something. These make excellent improvised place holders. You will want to avoid things that may have food residue or adhesives on them as these can degrade the paper over time, so that gum wrapper is not the best idea.

Often you will find that you run across a section or passage of a book that you want to preserve or share. Writing and highlighting in books has two camps, those who shudder at the thought and those that think we who shudder need to take a deep breath more often. I hate running across a used book that I’ve been seeking for ages only to find the pages marked up by some prior bibliophile, and librarians will go apoplectic when they find it in the lending books. Personally, I endorse the use of sticky notes and flags, but only for temporary use. The preservation department of the Smithsonian Institute thinks differently. The notes and flags do leave behind an adhesive that will attract dirt and can contain chemicals harmful to the paper over time. If there is something that impresses you so much that you want to preserve, annotate or expound on it, then purchase a little journal to record the passage and your thoughts. You can even note the page in your book journal to return for later perusing.

Now for the big no-nos:

  1. Don’t read while you eat. Think about a bag of Cheetos and your favorite tome. Imagine how every page would end up with greasy orange fingerprints if you ate them while reading. I’m pretty sure that my wife would murder me and never feel a moments remorse if I got cool ranch powder on her first edition of Visions of Cody. The thing is, all food has these residues. They’re just not the color of orange highlighter.  Food residue contains acids and oils that damage paper as well as attract bugs that eat paper like roaches. Always eat lunch while reading? Your bookcase is full of enough food particulates and paper to make a cockroach buffet.
  2. Don’t read in the tub, regardless of whether the book is in the tub with you or not. Paper and water do not play well. That includes the humidity that steams up your mirrors.  The same goes for the beach with the added dangers of sand and salt, camping with its grime and weather, and boating with all of the above and an unsteady platform on which to place yourself. I know the joys of reading on the beach and while camping, so if you do decide to chance it, try to save it for those cheap mass market books you pick up at the pharmacy or grocery store.

After all this you may think that I’m some sort of book preservation fanatic, and you’d probably be right. I work in a library after all. However if you enjoy books, you most likely want to share that love with others. Give them the best possible book when you loan them out by avoiding simple damage. If you like these suggestions and want to learn more about preserving your collection as a whole, please see our printed material preservation article.

Patriot Day

By Katy Searcy, Children’s Department

Most of us vividly remember the morning of September 11, 2001. We remember exactly where we were and what we were doing. But today, many children were either born after that date or were too young to remember the attacks. For those kids, here are eleven children’s books about September 11, 2001.

It’s Still a Dog’s New York by Susan L. Roth (J E ROT)
Pepper and Rover, two New York dogs, are miserable after the tragedy of September 11, 2001. Pepper feels overwhelmed with sadness and fear and anger. But in a tour of New York City, his friend Rover shows him that even though they’re sad, they can go on.

September Roses by Jeanette Winter (J E WIN)
On September 11, 2001, two sisters from South Africa are flying to New York City with 2,400 roses to be displayed at a flower show. When they land, they learn of the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center. The sisters cannot go home, and they are stranded with boxes and boxes of roses at the airport. When a kind stranger offers them a place to stay, they decide to repay this kindness by arranging their roses in the shape of the fallen towers.

Towers Falling by Jewell Parker Rhodes (J F RHODES)
As the anniversary of 9/11 approaches, Deja’s fifth grade teacher at her new school begins a unit on the tragedy, but Deja doesn’t completely understand why. Not when she has more important things to worry about, like the fact that her family is living in a homeless shelter or why her father is so sad all the time. As she begins making friends at school for the first time in her life, Deja realizes just how much the Twin Towers affect her.

I Survived the Attacks of September 11, 2001 by Lauren Tarshis (J F TARSHIS)
When Lucas’s parents decide football is too dangerous and make him quit, Lucas has to talk to his biggest fan: his Uncle Benny, who is a New York City firefighter. So the next morning, Lucas takes the train to the city instead of the bus to school. It’s a bright, beautiful day in New York. But just as Lucas arrives at his uncle’s firehouse, everything changes—and nothing will ever be the same again.

Cyber Spies and Secret Agents of Modern Times by Allison Lassieur (J 327.12 LAS)
The terrorist attack on September 11, 2001, spurred the United States and other countries around the world to develop new spying techniques, new cutting-edge equipment, and new recruits to meet the challenge of 21st century enemies and threats. Learn about the exciting modern world of spies and secret agents.

14 Cows for America by Carmen Agra Deedy (J 327.676073 DEE)
Nine months after the September 11 attacks, an American diplomat is surrounded by hundreds of Maasai people in western Kenya. A gift is about to be bestowed upon the American people, and he is here to accept it. Word of the gift will travel newswires around the globe. Many will be profoundly touched, but for Americans, this selfless gesture will have deeper meaning still. For a heartsick nation, the gift of fourteen cows emerges from the choking dust and darkness as a soft light of hope and friendship.

What Were the Twin Towers? by Jim O’Conner (J 725.23097471 O’CO)
When the Twin Towers were built in 1973, they were billed as an architectural wonder. At 1,368 feet, they clocked in as the tallest buildings in the world and changed the New York City skyline dramatically. Offices and corporations moved into the towers—also known as the World Trade Center—and the buildings were seen as the economic hub of the world. But on September 11, 2001, a terrorist attack toppled the towers and changed our nation forever. Discover the whole story of the Twin Towers—from their ambitious construction to their tragic end.

The Man Who Walked Between the Towers by Mordicai Gerstein (J 791.34 GER)
In 1974, French aerialist Philippe Petit threw a tightrope between the two towers of the World Trade Center and spent an hour walking, dancing, and performing high-wire tricks a quarter mile in the sky. This picture book captures the detail, daring, and drama of Petit’s feat.

September 11 Then and Now by Peter Benoit (J 973.931 BEN)
This nonfiction book in the True Book series for young readers recounts the events before, during, and after the terrorist attack on the United States on September 11, 2001.

America Is Under Attack: The Day the Towers Fell: September 11, 2001 by Don Brown (J 973.931 BRO)
Straightforward and honest, this account of September 11, 2001, moves chronologically through the morning, from the terrorist plane hijackings to the crashes at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and Pennsylvania; from the rescue operations at the World Trade Center site in New York City to the collapse of the buildings.

Fireboat: The Heroic Adventures of the John J. Harvey by Maira Kalman (J 974.7 KAL)
A fireboat, launched in 1931, is retired after many years of fighting fires along the Hudson River but is saved from being scrapped and then called into service again on September 11, 2001.

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