Murder at the Mena House: Erica Ruth Neubauer

Mix the pyramids of ancient Egypt, a world class hotel, and plenty of cocktails and you will get this adventurous tale of murder and deception.  Jane Wunderly, a young World War I widow, is on her first trip abroad with her Aunt Millie who is determined to find her a second husband.  Having no interest in another husband, Jane is equally determined to enjoy everything Egypt has to offer; pyramids, bazaars, exotic flavors and ancient artifacts.  Until, that is, another guest is found murdered and Jane is the main suspect… – Susan Conner

Red at the Bone: Jacqueline Woodson

Even though this book is only about 200 pages, there is so much beauty and struggle in it and I loved every word. The book centers around two Black families in New York City. Two high school students, Iris and Aubrey, become pregnant with a child, who they name Melody. The book switches perspectives between Iris, Aubrey, Melody, and the two sets of grandparents, and through the three generations, they explore motherhood, race, love, sexual orientation, class, and grief. If you need a quick read with a lot of feeling, this one is for you. – Julie Travers

The Nancy Drew Series

As you can see by checking the Book Review page, my daughter and I have a shared appreciation of Nancy Drew books. Growing up, I was lucky enough to have the luxury of access to many books in my home, and the pleasure of weekly visits to the local library. One of the ways books were acquired at home was through mail order book clubs. We received Dr. Seuss, Easy Readers, Happy Hollisters, The Bobbsey Twins, and Nancy Drew. This started my life-long interest in Nancy Drew books. 

I still read the classic Nancy Drew books to this day. I’m aging myself by noting that there were 43 books at the time, the last title being The Mystery of the 99 Steps. Thirteen more yellow, hardcover books  followed. One of my sisters was actually the lucky recipient of the books, but how I looked forward to her getting one of those yellow-backed books in the mail! Of course, I had to wait for her to finish the book before I could read it, but it was worth it. Then, when I was in the sixth grade, there came the fateful day that our school decided to start a library and my parents generously donated many of our books to it, including our Nancy Drews. As years went by I often regretted their kindhearted decision, but the Nancy Drews were the books I missed the most. The result was, when I got my first full-time job, I would go to the bookstore every week and buy a Nancy Drew book.I would have been satisfied with the collection at that point except, unknown to me, in the interim the publishers had decided that some of the books needed an update. Truth be told, older books did show the historical reality of how some people were unfairly perceived in an unflattering way. There are many books of my childhood that portrayed stereotypical, though usually kind, characters who did need to be revised, but I don’t recall ever judging people by characters in books. I knew the difference between fact and fiction. Revisions of characters only would not have mattered to me, but these were revisions of whole stories, and that set me on the path to find the Nancy Drew stories I remembered.

From 1959 to 1979 the books were revised to update the stories. I originally read the revised edition on books 1 to 3 and have since read the originals. There are differences, although the stories seemed to retain a lot of the original plot. However, for some books the revisions changed the whole plot with glaringly obvious differences. For instance, in book 5, The Secret At Shadow Ranch, (the book that introduces cousins Bess Marvin and George Fayne), Nancy travels to a ranch in Arizona where the cousins’ aunt attempts to keep up a ranch she received as payment of a debt, and uncovers the mystery behind why an old mountain woman is guardian of a beautiful young girl. In the revised edition the title is changed to The Secret of Shadow Ranch,  The ranch is in danger of being shut down, and is threatened by a phantom horse that seems to bring destruction with it each time it appears. 

For book 11, The Clue of the Broken Locket, the original story centers around two adoptive parents who are unsuitable for the caring of baby twins so Nancy sets out to search for the rightful birth mother with the help of a broken locket. In the revised edition the story centers around two separated cousins (one of which has two twin children that are missing), and a  mysterious lodge that seems to harbor many secrets. The stories are completely different. 

In book 18, The Mystery at the Moss Covered Mansion, the story changed so much that, as with book 5, they even revised the title to The Mystery of the Moss Covered Mansion, since not much of the investigation takes place at the mansion. In the original story Nancy helps her father with a murder investigation, locating an heiress, exposing an impostor, and finding the cause of strange screams at the mansion. In the revised edition, a friend of Nancy’s father has been charged with sending a truck loaded with explosive oranges into the Space Center at Cape Kennedy. Along with the explosive oranges there are other silly elements to the story such as Nancy nearly dying by falling in a pool of boiling water, and a spy story ending. 

These revisions continue through book 34, so you may choose to read both versions of every book as you could be reading two completely different stories. The original versions will have 25 chapters, the revisions have only 20. You may also notice that Nancy is younger and feistier in the original books!

For years now I have haunted antique stores, used bookstores, and library book sales searching for the yellow books of my youth. I managed to find many different editions of  the books and have a nice little collection now. In the early 2000s, they re-issued some of the original stories, while I was working at a bookstore, and I was able to purchase a couple of those. Personally, I feel that some of the books that were published in the 1970s had more outlandish plots to them and lost the appeal of the original Nancy Drew books, but that’s just my opinion. If you also remember Nancy Drew with fondness and are interested in distinguishing the differences in book editions, this is a great resource to check out http://www.nancydrewsleuth.com.

I hope all my fellow Nancy Drew fans enjoyed this little bit of Nancy news.

— Denise Runyan

Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo

The last line of this joyful, hopeful, and energetic novel is:

“this is about being

together.”

This final line perfectly sums up the story of book, which was the joint winner of the Man Booker Prize in 2019 by Bernardine Evaristo, the first black woman to receive this award. The novel has 12 chapters, each of which is told in a different but inter-connected voice of a modern black British woman. At times, it’s difficult to keep each voice straight, but the work you put in remembering and learning each woman’s story is worth it. Evaristo forgoes traditional syntax and punctuation, which only makes the experience of reading this novel that much more unique. I loved finding different ways of identifying with each woman’s story, even when they were so different. I highly recommend this novel. — Julie Travers

The Confession Club by Elizabeth Berg

If you’re missing gathering together with your community, try out this book. It’s about a group of women in the small town of Mason, Missouri, who span in age from their 20s to their 80s who gather together to confess something that they’ve done or thought that they haven’t told anyone else to the group. The group gets two new members and their stories are closely examined throughout the story. Iris begins a relationship with a man experiencing homelessness and temporarily living in an abandoned farmhouse in the town. Maddy grew up in Mason, but moved to New York City to pursue her photography career with her husband and young daughter from a previous relationship. She yearns to move back to the small town life, but can’t bring herself to say this to her husband. Relationships between friends, family, community members, and lovers are the central points of this novel. I loved this simple read about the many characters in this fictional small town and would gladly escape here again if there was a sequel. — Julie Travers

Above the Bay of Angels by Rhys Bowen

Carpe Diem, her father always said, and that’s exactly what aspiring cook Isabella Waverly does.  While comforting a young accident victim in her dying moments, Isabella finds an invitation to become an under cook at the palace of Queen Victoria.  It’s an opportunity not to be missed for this young orphan currently in service to the miserable Tilly family of St. John’s Wood.  Gathering up her courage, she goes to the palace under the guise of Helen Barton, the accident victim, and wins the coveted position of under cook.  With this position comes much grueling work but it also opens the world to Isabella, now known as Helen, as she learns royal cooking skills, fends off a blackmailer, travels with the Queen’s entourage to France and of course, solves a mystery along the way.  A delightful stand alone from the prolific Rhys Bowen. — Susan Conner

Language Learning Materials

In an effort to maintain our fading Latin knowledge, a friend and I began reading Hobbitus Ille – J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, translated by Mark Walker – over video chat, as it was the only book in Latin we both had. It may sound nerdy, but hear (or read?) me out – this can be a helpful and fun method of language study! Even with very basic proficiency, reading a semi-familiar book can provide enough context to help guess unfamiliar phrases and compare grammar structures.

If you’re interested in language study, or in non-English-language materials, we have electronic resources available now on Overdrive!

After English-language materials, Spanish-language ones are the largest category (although most of the children’s books were originally written in English). 

Some children’s Spanish-language audiobook highlights, listed roughly by reading level:

Some children’s Spanish-language ebooks (also listed roughly by reading level): 

Adult Language Materials

There are also one or two books each in several other languages. Within any genre, you can narrow it down by selecting the “Language” tab on the left. 

— Morgan Clayton