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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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Children’s Books That (Some) Librarians Don’t Love

By Stacy Parish, Children’s Department

Darling Reader, I’m going to let you in on a little industry secret.  A couple of them, actually.

Most human librarians have not read–and occasionally don’t have an awareness of–every single book in their respective libraries.

And . . . brace yourselves for Librarian Secret #2 . . . there are books that some librarians don’t even like.

Okay, okay, simmer down now.  I know this may come as an unpleasant shock to some of you, but it really shouldn’t.  Just as even the esteemed Dumbledore enjoyed lemon drops but didn’t much care for Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans, so it goes with those of us who spend our days surrounded by the good, the bad, and the ugly of literature.  (Dirty little secret #3: there are actually librarians who do not like the Harry Potter series, but in the interest of good citizenry, I shall not reveal their identities here.  Hey, just because I love those books to the point of dressing up as Bellatrix Lestrange on Halloween and random Tuesdays doesn’t mean that everyone has to love them.)

Since it is a bankable fact that I’m a tremendous slacker and try to get my colleagues to do my work for me whenever any opportunity presents itself . . . oh, wait . . . I mean, since I value the viewpoints and opinions of my co-workers and try to practice inclusion whenever I can . . . and because this would be a really boring article if I just rattled on about the books that I despise (Johnny Tremain), I have solicited (and paraphrased in some instances) opinions from my smart and talented fellow librarians, and several of them have been kind enough to share their thoughts with me about children’s books that they personally find odious, irksome, or just plain weird.  I have also given my “guests” pseudonyms taken from the aforementioned Harry Potter series (and did I mention how much I love those books?) so that no repercussions may befall them for placing their confidence in me.  Therefore, Darling Reader, I present to you in no particular order a short list of books that are disliked by at least one (and sometimes more) WCPL employee.

“The only book that I can truly say that I despise is Madonna’s The English Roses.  And the reason has more to do with the fact that Madonna says she wrote it because, when she had her child, she ‘couldn’t find any good books out there for children, so she had to write her own.’  The arrogant ignorance of that statement caused me to hate the book on general principle!” says a kind and lovely librarian to whom I’ll refer as “Madam Pomfrey,” Hogwarts’ school matron, or school nurse, in American parlance.  (Author’s aside:  a used hardcover copy of The English Roses is available at Amazon for the astonishingly low price of fifteen cents.  I am so not making this up.)

Librarian “Godric Gryffindor” is also not a fan of Madonna’s alleged books, or of those by almost any celebrity or pop-culture figure, whether they go by one name, or two or three.  “However, I doubt if I could name a specific title, because I’ve banished all the crappy ones from my mind,” Gryffindor states.  And by Merlin’s beard, don’t even get him started on some of the adult “classics” . . .

Next up, a two-for-one.  Staffers “Kingsley Shacklebolt” and “Professor Wilhelmina Grubbly-Plank” weigh in on Love You Forever by Robert Munsch.  “This book is sweet if you don’t think too hard about it; very stalker-mom if you do think about it, and once you do, you can never go back to sweet,” says Shacklebolt.  “It is just so incredibly sad!” states Professor Grubbly-Plank.  The author concurs on both opinions.

“I like books that teach or are an example of good behavior or qualities, and use proper grammar.  Also, humor is wonderful, but not bathroom humor,” says a librarian I’ll refer to as “Molly Weasley.”  Again, the author agrees.  I adored the late Barbara Park, author of the popular Junie B. Jones books, as she was a wonderful person and a fellow alumna of the University of Alabama, but I truly cringe every time I connect a child with ol’ Junie B.  Some folks find Junie B. charming and funny, others find her to be ill-mannered and obnoxious.  Ditto for Dav Pilkey’s Captain Underpants books, as well as Jeff Kinney’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid series.  Personally, I try to make myself feel a little better about young patrons being devoted to these series; at least they’re engaged and reading something, I tell myself.  The darker side of my psyche usually responds with a profanity-laced reply that I keep to myself.

The final entries in this ridiculous annoying snarky insanely funny blog are brought to you by two fabulous librarians to whom I shall bequeath the pseudonyms of “Luna Lovegood” and “Hermione Granger.”  Hermione told me that she put some thought into my query, and that there aren’t that many kid-lit choices that she really detests, but that any books featuring Caillou (that whiny bald-headed Canadian kid who torments his little sister Rosie and the family cat Gilbert) are definitely on her list.  Also, “there was this dead bird book that was pretty morbid.”  Indeed—The Dead Bird by Margaret Wise Brown, author of the  classics Goodnight Moon and The Runaway Bunny.  Luna’s least-favorite children’s book also contains a theme of death and grieving:  I Cried Too by Jim Schmidt.  Our sweet Luna wants to make it clear that she doesn’t dislike this book, but that the subject matter just makes it so hard to get through.

Darling Reader, if you’ve stuck with me this far, thank you.  I hope this blog made you laugh, made you think, but most of all I hope it made you want to read—even if it is something that isn’t universally loved by librarians.  Because really, that’s the whole point, isn’t it?  Read what YOU love, and have fun.  Until next time–


Unlike most of my other blogs, the opinions and viewpoints in this article DO represent those of some other employees of WCPL.  Names and other identifying details have been altered, via my intense love for the world of Harry Potter, to protect the innocent and the not-so-innocent.  Lastly, just because your favorite librarian may not like a particular book, that doesn’t mean that she or he won’t help you find that one, or thousands of other amazing and wondrous books that are available at WCPL. Happy reading!

Reader’s Advisory Websites for Kids

By Katy Searcy, Children’s Department

Looking for a great book to get your kids excited about reading? Do you have a picky reader who absolutely must only read one particular genre? Maybe you have a kid on your hands who just read the best book ever and needs something else that’s just as good. Sure, you could go to Goodreads, but sometimes their suggestions aren’t exactly what you’re looking for. You could also ask us, your friendly neighborhood librarians here at WCPL who are very familiar with our collection and would be more than happy to recommend you the perfect book. But admittedly, there are likely some gaps in our vast book knowledge, so here are five websites full of great book suggestions for kids.

Guys Read

rotate-phpGuys Read is a web-based literacy program founded by children’s author Jon Scieszka. Their mission is to encourage boys to become self-motivated, lifelong readers by helping them find books they’re interested in. This website has collected lists of books recommended by teachers, librarians, booksellers, publishers, parents, and other guys and grouped them into categories to make them easier to find. From “Creepy and Weird” to “For Little Guys” to “Robots” to “Classics That Actually Hold Up,” guys of all ages can find exactly what they’re looking for in a book, and if they find one they like, there are further recommended titles under each book suggestion.

A Mighty Girl

logo-300x135Similar to Guys Read, A Mighty Girl prides themselves on having “the world’s largest collection of books, toys and movies for smart, confident, and courageous girls,” and their impressive book section features over 2,000 girl-empowering books to choose from. Their best feature is easily the over 200 book categories available to explore, where books are grouped by character (from books, television, movies, and historical figures), genre, social issues, personal development, topic, and age.

The Best Children’s Books

best-childrens-books-hdrThe Best Children’s Books is curated by teachers who understand how important it is to find good books for children, and the books featured on this website are books that they use and recommend in their classrooms. For the most part, books recommended here are geared toward ages four through twelve. With blurbs describing how exactly books can be used, there is definitely more of a focus on classroom use, but this website could be an excellent resource for homeschooling families, teachers, or anyone needing a book for a particular report topic.

Bank Street College of Education Book Lists

bank-libraryBank Street College of Education Library excels at creating book lists. From “STEM” to “Back to School” to “Read Alouds for Children Twelve and Over,” there is a list on nearly any topic featuring a diverse array of characters and stories.  If you have the time, I would definitely recommend browsing their Best Books of the Year list that features a whopping 600 titles broken down by age range.

Books & Authors

homepage-leftBooks & Authors is a database available through the library that provides recommended read-a-likes and an extensive selection of genres and authors to browse. You can even create lists of books you may come across that you want to save for later.

 

Once you’ve found a book to read, search our catalog for it and put it on hold, or give us a call for us to put it on hold for you. If we don’t have it in our collection, we can get most books from interlibrary loan. Now go forth and discover your new favorite book!

Awesome Box at the Main Library

By Jessica Dunkel, Reference Department

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Click image to go to our Awesome Box website!

Have you ever read or watched something from the library that you absolutely LOVED and wanted to tell everyone about? Well now you can! Next time you check out something awesome from the library, return it to our Awesome Box. From there, we’ll spread the word that it is awesome!

What is an Awesome Box?

  • An Awesome Box is a book drop for library items you think are awesome! It’s just like a regular book drop. But instead of putting items back on the shelf after you return them, we make a note of what you put in the Awesome Box and share it with everyone so they can know it’s is awesome, too!

What kinds of things should I put in the Awesome Box?

  • Any library materials including books, DVD’s, or Audiobooks you find awesome. They can be helpful, mind-blowing, your all-time favorites, etc. Whatever you think other people would enjoy knowing about.
  • Basically, if it was fantastic, helpful, amazing, valuable, entertaining, or just all-around awesome, put it in, so that everyone knows how good it was.

img_1271Does putting items in the Awesome Box actually return them?

  • Yes – if you put an item in the Awesome Box it will be returned to the library (and then Awesomed!)

Where can I see what people have put in the Awesome Box?

  • You’ll find what people have “Recently Awesomed” on our Awesome Box bulletin board just inside the Main Library’s entrance.
  • For a full list of what has been “Awesomed” in the past 30 days at our library, visit this website from our homepage: https://wcpltn.libib.com/i/recently-awesomed. You’ll also find links to everything that our patron’s have declared Awesome, including movies and Awesome books for adults, teens, and kids.

So the next time you’re returning something, remember: the awesome things go in the Awesome Box!

 


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