Not a Creature Was Stirring (Gregor Demarkian #1), by Jane Haddam

Recently added to your library’s ebook collection, this is the first title in Haddam’s long-running police procedural series featuring Gregor Demarkian, “the Armenian-American Hercule Poirot.” Demarkian, creator of the FBI’s Behavioral Sciences Department, is just coming out of mourning after the death of his wife. It’s the Christmas season, his first back in his old neighborhood of Cavanaugh Street, Armenian enclave in Philadelphia where he grew up. Although Cavanaugh Street has changed, many of his childhood friends and neighbors remain, with all their quirks.

As a favor to Father Tibor, priest at the local Armenian church, Demarkian accepts an invitation to Engine House, the Main Line mansion of Robert Hannaford, wealthy heir to a Philadelphia railroad fortune. When he arrives, he meets the Hannaford children and Robert Hannaford’s dying wife, but not Robert Hannaford himself, who has been bludgeoned to death in his library. More deaths follow between Christmas and New Year’s, before Demarkian and local police chief John Henry Newman Jackman find the solution and the killer. Motives abound among the Hannaford children, largely having to do with money, with the notable exception of Bennis Hannaford, who has made her own fortune as an author of a very popular fantasy series.

With the 29th book in the series just out, this has been Haddam’s most popular, and most durable, work. The main characters, Demarkian and Bennis Hannaford, are well drawn and likable, even though they can be irritating at times. Cavanaugh Street is an unusual but fascinating setting, with lots of recurring characters bringing in subplots that mesh well with the main story line. If you enjoy police procedurals, or books with ethnic characters, you’re sure to enjoy Not a Creature Was Stirring and the entire Gregor Demarkian series.

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Seconds by Bryan Lee O’Malley

Bryan Lee O’Malley is best-known for his Scott Pilgrim series, which inspired the recent cult hit film Scott Pilgrim vs The World. Scott Pilgrim is the genre-bending story of a slacker young twenty-something. O’Malley has grown up since the publication of the final volume of Scott Pilgrim, and so have his readers. Secondshis latest work, is the story of Katie, a 29-year-old chef. Unlike Scott Pilgrim, she’s ambitious and focused. The restaurant she co-founded is doing well, but Katie’s looking to branch out on her own.

Then there’s an accident at the restaurant, and Katie meets the house spirit who lives in Katie’s apartment above the restaurant. The spirit gives Katie a mushroom she can eat to undo the mistake that caused the accident. It works! Katie discovers where the mushrooms grow and ends up using them to undo lots of things. In this way, she can try out different possibilities.

Seconds really resonated with me, a late-twenty-something. Katie’s indecision and confusion about her future are perfectly rendered here. The storyline may be ultimately predictable (I’m sure it won’t surprise anyone to learn that changing the past turns out to have consequences Katie didn’t predict!), but it doesn’t matter. It’s still cathartic to see Katie’s struggles and growth. Katie herself is a great character–stubborn, ambitious, and funny. The supporting characters are great too, especially Katie’s shy friend Hazel who tells her about the role of house spirits in her culture, and Lis, the increasingly-grumpy house spirit.

O’Malley’s artwork is also wonderful. His cute manga-influenced style from Scott Pilgrim is still present, but here he gets to use color and it really shines. He uses the graphic novel format to convey emotions and scenarios with a single glance or crowded restaurant.

I’d recommend Seconds to fans of Scott Pilgrim, but also to readers looking for a funny and compassionate take on life as a millennial.

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Lisette’s List by Susan Vreeland

Lisette and her husband Andre move from Paris to Provence just before WWII to take care of Andre’s aging grandfather, Pascal. There they discover that Pascal owns seven masterpiece paintings. Nazi Germany has a reputation of either confiscating or destroying artwork, so Andre hides the pieces to protect them. Lisette, all alone now with Andre killed during the war and Pascal having died right before the war started, must find the missing art.

Dealing with her grief, loneliness, and the hardships of war is difficult for Lisette. But thinking about the artwork of Cezanne, Pisarro, and Picasso helps her to learn more about herself and the Provence countryside she is in which she is exiled. She also meets the artist Marc Chagall and learns more about the world of art that she yearns for.

After the war, Lisette looks for the missing paintings. Discovering where they are hidden also helps her to discover more about friendship and eventually, love.

Reading this book was like looking into an impressionist painting and discovering for oneself what the artist was trying to say. A painting can speak to each person in a different way. In like fashion, a book can speak to the reader in different ways. That’s what makes book discussion groups so much fun! We learn of different relationships between author and reader and maybe see things is a new light.

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