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Librarian Sleuths

You can be quite sure that librarians love books. For most of us, books are what drew us to a library career in the first place. We like to read books, talk about books, recommend books, and find great books to buy for the library. If you read the bios of Provo City librarians, you can see that we have a lot of other interests, too: we travel, sew, play Minecraft, cook, go to Comic Con, love pets. 

Most of us also find that hunting down a hard to find piece of information is part of the thrill of being a librarian, too.  The information age has made research even more interesting and challenging. With so many resources available librarians have an essential role in sorting through the 2,900,000 Google results you get from a query like “What happens when you swallow a piece of gum?” And we can provide access to high quality information in resources the library subscribes to on behalf of our patrons and teach search strategies for using them.

Since librarians are such interesting people, with skills for hunting down information from a variety of sources, it’s no wonder that a few smart authors have turned librarians into crime solvers.  Combine all our interests and talents with stumbling onto a crime scene and suddenly your local librarian can become a private investigator, too. Here are some of my favorite librarian sleuths:

BOOKS CAN BE DECEIVING
by Jenn McKinlay
(2011) 

Author Jenn McKinlay has a degree in library science. So she isn’t making it up when she puts in details about libraries and the work librarians do.  Lindsey Norris, the star in McKinley’s Library Lover’s mystery series, is director of Briar Creek Public Library in Briar Creek, Connecticut.  She loves crafts, has a dog named Heathcliff who eats cookies, and her best friend is Beth, the Teen and Children’s librarian. She uses long words like pteromerhanophobia and makes insider jokes about being a librarian such as “working in a library must be lovely because it is so quiet.”

SEW DEADLY
by Elizabeth Lynn Casey
(2009) 

Elizabeth Lynn Casey features librarian Tori Sinclair in her Southern Sewing Circle series. Tori is a recently divorced Yankee transplant to Sweet Briar, South Carolina and works at the Sweet Briar Public Library.  She is slowly getting to know members of the community as they come in to the library. And her new friends in the Sweet Briar Ladies Society Sewing Circle fill her in on local gossip and help her solve mysteries. 

REAL MURDERS
by Charlaine Harris
(1990) 

Librarian “Roe” Teagarden is the sleuth in Charlaine Harris’ Aurora Teagarden series. Recently widowed, she keeps her house immaculate since the death of her husband. She is famous for helping solve the mystery of a serial killer in Lawrenceton, Georgia, just outside of Atlanta. She is a member of a local club called Real Murders, which meets once a month to discuss famous crimes.

LENDING A PAW
by Laurie Cass
(2013) 

Laurie Cass portrays librarian Minnie Hamilton as kindhearted, loyal, and resourceful in the Bookmobile Cat Mystery series. Minnie has a degree in Library and Information Science and works as the assistant library director in Chilson, MI. She lives on a houseboat. One of her secret hobbies is spending time in cemeteries where she encountered a stray cat she named Eddie after he followed her home. Because of her passion for sharing books, the library now has a new bookmobile to serve areas outside of the town. Eddie sneaks into the bookmobile, obviously determined to come along for the daily ride. Without Eddie, Minnie would probably never have become involved in murder cases.

CURIOSITY THRILLED THE CAT
by Sofie Kelly
(2011) 

In author Sofie Kelly’s Magical Cats mysteries, librarian Kathleen Paulson leaves Boston and moves to Mayville Heights, Minnesota, where she is supervising the restoration of the Mayville Heights Free Public Library, a Carnegie Library built in 1912. Along with the building restorations she is updating the collections and computerizing the card catalog. Lucky for her, stray magical cats, Owen and Hercules have insinuated themselves into her life, or she might have found herself behind bars for murder.

austen ranking 1

Well, readers, it's that time again. It's time to talk Austen. We've already established where I've failed in my Austen adaptation viewership (PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES, nearly every adaptation pre-1970), which leaves us with roughly 25 adaptations to rank.

I'm ready. Are you ready?

Let's begin.

6.6 Lost in Austen26. LOST IN AUSTEN 
Directed by Dan Zeff
(2008)

Jane marries Mr. Collins. Darcy ends up with someone besides Elizabeth. Gemma Arterton (an excellent casting choice for Lizzy) is barely on screen. The very attractive Elliot Cowan somehow manages to look unattractive as Darcy. I hate this movie very much. That is all.

 

6.6 Scents and Sensibility25. SCENTS AND SENSIBILITY
Directed by Brian Brough
(2011)

This movie is decidedly not great, but it does inexplicably have magic, healing lotion. I'm in favor of magic lotion that cures disease, and I would like the recipe, thank you (take that, angry thyroid!). SCENTS AND SENSIBILITY is fluffy and enjoyable, if a little bit silly.

 

6.6 From Prada to Nada24. FROM PRADA TO NADA
Directed by Angel Gracia
(2011)

I love the idea of a Latina take on Jane Austen, but this one falls a bit flat. There are a few too many stereotypes and clichés, and the script could have used some work. Overall, it’s predictable, lighthearted rom-com fare and an okayish effort at a transcultural adaptation.

 

6.6 Aisha23. AISHA
Directed by Rajshree Ojha
(2010)

The production quality of AISHA is better than that of KANDUKONDAIN KANDUKONDAIN, but it lacks the spark of BRIDE AND PREJUDICE. EMMA adaptations are tricky because the main character is so hard to capture – both likeable and frustrating – and this Emma solidly falls in the frustrating category. Austen famously described Emma as “a heroine whom no one but myself will much like,” but for me at least, AISHA takes that a little too far.

Even though I saw this movie only a couple of years ago I remember very little else about it, which is not a great argument in its favor. I think Aisha was tall? She maybe goes to the beach with her friends as some point?

 

6.6 Mansfield Park22. Every Austen Adaptation Made for TV in the 70s and 80s

I have watched them all, and I can confidently say that these are ... adequate. They are extremely faithful to the original plots, sometimes at the expense of visuals, music, acting, washed hair, and cinematic timing. In short, they are a little bit dull. Of the lot, however, the 1980 PRIDE AND PREJUDICE and the 1983 MANSFIELD PARK are the best.

 

06.6 Emma9621. EMMA
Directed by Diarmuid Lawrence
(1996)

I love Kate Beckinsale. The woman is aging backwards, and I’d consider murder to have skin like hers (maybe she has access to magic healing lotion? Discuss). BUT I do not love her as Emma Woodhouse. Where Gwyneth Paltrow manages to make Emma charming in all of her selfishness and absurdity, I just can’t like this Miss Woodhouse.

Note: This is based on my totally unanalyzed gut reaction to the film, and critics completely disagreed with me. I've tried to be objective in the rest of my rankings, but I'm probably wrong on this one. Insert shrugging emoji here.

 

africa

Sometimes life seems full of little annoyances; forgot to charge the phone, battery in the car key fob runs out, the microwave is on the fritz. It is easy to let the little things get us down and to forget the wonders that we enjoy every day.  A sure cure for our “first world” woes is to read about people who live with much less every day. I have recently read three books set in Africa that show what life is like for children in some of the world’s poorest countries. Despite the lack of basic comforts—sufficient food, clean water, indoor plumbing—they bravely push on, clinging to hope for a better life. All three books are well written and would be great to share with older children who might need their own healthy dose of perspective. 

6.1 Aumas Long RunAUMA’S LONG RUN
By Eucabeth A. Odhiambo
(2017) 

Auma lives in a small village in Kenya. Her father works in Nairobi and makes enough money that she and her siblings can attend school. Then one day her father comes home feeling ill.  When, after weeks he only gets worse, Auma is afraid that he has the “new” sickness that has taken the life of so many in her village. This is a sobering, but inspiring, look at the fate of many children in Africa who have been left to fend for themselves because of the AIDS epidemic. 

 

6.1 The Red PencilTHE RED PENCIL
By Andrea Pinkney
(2014)

Amira lives in a farm town in Darfur and helps her mother care for their farm animals and her younger siblings. One day, the Janjaweed come burn her town and kill her father. She must flee with her family to a refugee camp. Although the camp is crowded and the food and living conditions are horrible, Amira gets her first chance to learn to read and write. This story is written in crystalline free verse which allows Pinkney to show the reader only brief flashes of disturbing images, and linger on descriptions of life on Amira's farm and in the camp. The story is illustrated with black and white drawings, done in a child-like hand, that show how Amira sees her world as she draws with her cherished red pencil.  

 

6.1 A Long Walk to WaterA LONG WALK TO WATER
By Linda Sue Park
(2009)

This historical novel based on a true story follows the lives of two children from Sudan. In alternating chapters the reader watches Salva, who in 1985 flees civil war to become one of the "Lost Boys" of Sudan, and Nya, who in 2009 spends eight hours a day walking to and from a pond to get water for her family. Salva ends up spending a decade in various refugee camps and sees terrible war atrocities. Nya sees her little sister get sick from contaminated water during the dry season when the pond becomes muddy. Both of their stories come together in a wonderful and hopeful ending.

 

Worst Moms

Not to brag, but I won the cosmic lottery when it comes to moms. My mom is the actual best mother in the history of the known universe. But even with such cause to celebrate her magnificence, I find the Hallmarky saccharine brand of hoopla just, well, gross. If you’re as #done with consumerist schmaltz as I am and looking for a new angle of mother appreciation (or want to feel better about your own mothering), check out these books featuring my picks for top five worst moms in literature:

5.30 Pride and Prejudice5) Mrs. Bennet

PRIDE AND PREJUDICE
By Jane Austen
(1813)

Trying  to get five daughters married off before your husband dies and leaves you all penniless would be enough stress to drive anyone to the brink, and I sympathize, truly, but not enough to overlook the hot mess of a mother that is Mrs. Bennet. Mrs. Bennet lacks tact, maturity, and indeed any sense of shame. It’s not like she doesn’t know how to behave, she just doesn’t much care. You think she would, you know, being so worried about her daughters’ futures, but alas, no such luck.

Yikes Level: PERMANENT HAND-SHAPED BRUISE ON MY FOREHEAD FROM FACEPALMING

 

5.30 A Game of Thrones4) Cersei Lannister

SONG OF ICE AND FIRE SERIES (Game of Thrones)
By George R.R. Martin
(1996 - present)

In this series, bad dads outnumber the bad moms by a LOT, but what few there are sure go for gold. First there’s Cersei, the queen, a spoiled, entitled, scheming woman who cares for no one but her children. Unfortunately that motherly love doesn’t do much good in the way of actual parenting; her eldest son is, in a word, monstrous. Maybe he’s born that way or maybe it’s parenting, but we’ll never know, since Cersei refuses to think ill of her precious princeling.

Yikes Level: LOSE YOUR VOICE SCREAMING “SHAME!”

 

5.30 Carrie3) Margaret White

CARRIE
By Stephen King
(1974)

The sins of the fathers – or mother in this case – don’t rest upon the child’s head but they sure can make an impact. Margaret is a glaring advertisement for therapy and forgiving yourself. Consumed with guilt after becoming pregnant at age 17, Margaret takes everything to the fanatic extreme – with a capital F E. Poor Carrie is basically set up for failure between her mother’s abuse and bullying at school.

Yikes Level: ALL THE YIKES

 

5.30 Coraline2) The Other Mother

CORALINE
By Neil Gaiman
(2002)

No, I’m not mom-shaming Coraline’s actual mother. The “other mother” through the portal in the wall is the one you should watch out for. That manipulative, murderous, child-snatching monster is the stuff of nightmares.

Yikes Level: MOM CAN I SLEEP IN YOUR ROOM TONIGHT

 

5.30 Harry Potter1) Petunia Dursley

HARRY POTTER SERIES
By J. K. Rowling
(1997-2007)

Petunia Dursely, nee Evans, would make this list for her loving but appalling parenting of her own son, but what secures her the top spot on this list is her neglect of Harry. There’s no excuse to treat a child like that, period, and when you’re spoiling your own son to disgusting excess in the very same house, that compounds the horribleness by the power of hypocrisy. If you can’t put aside old offences when your newly orphaned infant nephew, the child of your only, once-cherished sister arrives at your doorstep, are you even human?

Yikes Level: THE DEVIL HIMSELF WOULD CRY

 

Honorable Mentions: Queen Gertrude, HAMLET;  Lysa Arryn, SONG OF ICE AND FIRE (GAME OF THRONES) SERIES; “Evil Step-Mother”, (looking at you, fairy tales!).  A moment of silence please for all the Cinderellas , Snow Whites, and others in all their incarnations who’ve suffered at the hands of the dreaded “ Evil Step-mother”.

Phew! What a list. Stay tuned for next month, when I’ll be putting literature’s dads on blast.

Blogger’s Note: Hopefully I’ve been clear in my writing that this post is meant to be humorous, and not at all suggesting that abuse in any form is funny. The reality is that Mother’s Day isn’t a happy occasion for everyone. Many of us in our human family do suffer at the hands of those that should love and care for them best. Some of us have lost mothers. To all of us, no matter our situation, I hope we all can think of a person or two who have given motherly care to us through the years, no matter what name or label applies.

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