The Best Book and Song Pairings from Taylor Swift’s New Album, Midnights

Didn’t get a ticket for Taylor Swift’s upcoming tour? Don’t despair. Think of all the money you saved when jamming out instead to Midnights along with a good book instead. The librarians at Libby, an app for borrowing ebooks, audiobooks, magazines, and more that let’s you borrow from your local library for free, went track by track to come up with pairings to go along with the new album,  check out that list here.

The best part? Unlike a $700+ floor seat and hours of Ticketmaster torture, these books are free. So instead of a credit card, just whip out your library card.

Give credit to Joe Skelley (see his bio below) who works for Libby.

Midnights Book/Song Pairings

It Happened One Summer

 Lavender Haze

📚 It Happened One Summer by Tessa Bailey

Piper Bellinger is an Instagram wild child with a trust fund and a penchant for riling up the paparazzi. A lot of people make assumptions about her, including Brendan—at first. Both characters show that there’s more than meets the eye and they don’t give a darn what people think if they’re meant to be together.


The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo

♫ Maroon

📚 The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid

No spoilers here but IYKYK—this song fits the bill.


New Moon

♫ Anti-Hero

📚 New Moon by Stephenie Meyer

Jokes about Jacob Black and Renesmee aside, this song captures the vibe of the franchise and the era of the books and movies so well. Whether it evokes Bella’s four-month depression (Hello, One day I’ll watch as you’re leaving / And life will lose all its meaning), Edward feeling like “a monster on the hill” and a danger to his love, or truly the “covert narcissism” disguised “as altruism” from just about every Cullen, this song has the Twilight franchise covered.


♫ Snow on the Beach

📚 The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab

Addie makes a deal with the devil and lives forever, but is forgotten by everyone she meets. That’s until she meets a man who remembers her name. A lot of her life and loves feel like snow on the beach: weird but beautiful and, often, impossible.


I'm Glad My Mom Died

♫ You’re On Your Own, Kid

📚 I’m Glad My Mom Died by Jennette McCurdy

With lyrics like, I didn’t choose this town, I dream of getting out and I hosted parties and starved my body / Like I’d be saved by a perfect kiss down to the repetition of You’re on your own, kid, you always have been, this song evokes so many of the feelings Jennette describes throughout her book: navigating life with her mother, being forced into Hollywood and just doing her best to survive.


The 99 Boyfriends of Micah Summers

♫ Midnight Rain

📚 The 99 Boyfriends of Micah Summers by Adam Sass

Micah is the “Prince of Chicago.” He runs a popular (anonymous) Instagram filled with drawings of his numerous, imaginary boyfriends. He’s got it all, but knows he’s so much more than that. When Boy 100 turns into his very first boyfriend, he finds that love is so much more than what’s been living in his head. He has to fight the hurt as he tries to make his own name while Boy 100 is chasing the fame.


Along for the Ride

♫ Question…?

📚 Along for the Ride by Sarah Dessen

Auden spends a lot of nights reading or walking around town—basically doing anything but sleep. She runs into a fellow night owl, Eli, and they form a friendship as they both try to work through their stuff. These lyrics match perfectly:

Good girl, sad boy, big city, wrong choices. We had one thing goin’ on I swear that it was somethin’ / ‘Cause I don’t remember who I was before you painted all my nights / A color I’ve searched for since.


Mockingjay

♫ Vigilante Sh*t

📚 Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

There are so many strong, powerful and amazing women in literature who could absolutely “draw the cat eye, sharp enough to kill a man,” but from the jump, this song evokes thoughts of sticking it to The Capitol. Whether dressing for revenge, or taking down the corrupt system from the inside, Katniss Everdeen and her crew are up to some vigilante sh*t.


Daisy Jones and the Six

♫ Bejeweled

📚 Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Daisy has a way of capturing the attention of everyone in the room when she walks in. She shimmers and shines, but there’s more to her than meets the eye.


Isla and the Happily Ever After

♫ Labyrinth

📚 Isla and the Happily Ever After by Stephanie Perkins

Isla is a hopeless romantic who might finally have a chance with Josh, a guy she’s had a crush on forever. But they have a lot of obstacles to overcome in this sweet and intense romance.

I’ll be gettin’ over you my whole life.


It Starts with Us

♫ Karma

📚 It Starts with Us by Colleen Hoover

We could totally imagine “Karma” as Lily’s anthem as she navigates the tricky dynamics of her ex, Ryle, and the feelings she has for Atlas as they meet again as adults. Lily deserves her second chance at love despite the others that keep trying to bring her down.


Beach Read

♫ Sweet Nothing

📚 Beach Read by Emily Henry

Beach Read follows January, a romance author who doesn’t believe in love anymore, and Augustus, a literary author who’s a bit of a cynic. A romance, yes, but you’ll need the tissues ready!

All that you ever wanted from me was sweet nothin’.


Before the Devil Breaks You

♫ Mastermind

📚 Before the Devil Breaks YouDiviners Series Book 3 by Libba Bray

This is such a magical and spooky series by Bray, filled with love and mysterious powers. There are so many moments in this book that feel like they only happen when all the stars aligned, and the love story of Theta and Memphis is surely one of them. From their chance meeting during the raid of the Hotsy Totsy club in Book 1, to discovering Theta’s past in Book 3, this pair absolutely embodies “the first night that you saw me nothing was gonna stop me.”

After you soak in the new album, head over to the Libby reading app to find the perfect book match.

Joe_Skelley_2.jpg

About the Author

Joe Skelley has always been a lover of reading and passionate about the library. His love of libraries brought him to OverDrive where he works on the Events team, working with the Digital Bookmobile and co-hosts the Professional Book Nerds podcast. Joe loves thrillers, magical realism and the broad spectrum of YA. When he’s not working, Joe loves to listen to audiobooks and podcasts, watch YouTube, get too involved in a DIY project and (most importantly) play with his Boston Terrier, Roscoe.

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The Last Dress From Paris

London, 2017. There’s no one Lucille adores more than her grandmother (not even her mother, she’s ashamed to say). So when her beloved Granny Sylvie asks Lucille to help secure the return of something precious to her, she’s happy to help. The next thing she knows, Lucille is on a train to Paris, tasked with retrieving a priceless Dior dress. But not everything is as it seems, and what Lucille finds in a small Parisian apartment will have her scouring the city for answers to a question that could change her entire life.

Jade Beer. Holly Clark Photography.

Paris, 1952. Postwar France is full of glamour and privilege, and Alice Ainsley is in the middle of it all. As the wife to the British ambassador to France, Alice’s job is to see and be seen—even if that wasn’t quite what she signed up for. Her husband showers her with jewels, banquets, and couture Dior dresses, but his affection has become distressingly illusive. As the strain on her marriage grows, Alice’s only comfort is her bond with her trusted lady’s maid, Marianne. But when a new face appears in her drawing room, Alice finds herself swept up in an epic love affair that has her yearning to follow her heart…no matter the consequences.

In her novel The Last Dress From Paris, Jade Beer makes the City of Lights come alive as she weaves a lush, evocative story of three generations of women, love, and a fashion scavenger hunt. It is also an exploration of the ties that bind us together, the truths we hold that make us who we are, and the true meaning of what makes someone family.

2022 actually marks the 75th anniversary of Dior, and the collection of dresses featured in the novel are inspired by an exhibit Beer saw at the V&A in London.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Jade Beer is an award-winning editor, journalist, and novelist who has worked across the UK national press for more than twenty years. Most recently, she was the editor-in-chief of Condé Nast’s Brides. She also writes for other leading titles including The Sunday Times StyleThe Mail on Sunday‘s YOU magazine, The Telegraph, the Tatler Weddings Guide, Glamour, Stella magazine, and is one of The Mail on Sunday’s regular fiction and nonfiction book reviewers. Jade splits her time between London and the Cotswolds, where she lives with her husband and two daughters.

This book is available in the following formats: Kindle, Audiobook, Hardcover and Paperback.

Mirrorland

Twin sisters, once extremely close when growing up in an eccentric household with a demeaning and scolding mother, alcoholic grandfather, and absent father, are now separated by thousands of miles and endless anger.

Cat lives in Los Angeles in an apartment overlooking the water. But it’s not hers, and she’ll have to move soon when the owner returns. A lifestyle writer, her finances are precarious, and she’s unsure of what she’ll do next when she gets a call from Edinburgh, Scotland. El, her twin, has failed to return from a solo sailing trip. 

El is much more stable—at least on the surface. An artist, she’s married to Ross and living in the grand but uber Gothic home where the twins grew up—a place they called Mirrorland. It’s all dark passageways, closed off dusty rooms, hidden cupboards, nooks, and cobweb filled crannies. Here the two invented an alternate universe of hovering evil, wicked clowns, a ghoulish Tooth Fairy, and blood thirsty pirates all populating their elaborate stories that had them plotting their survival in a hostile and shadowy world. Not for them were the typical indulgences of young girls such as soccer or hosting tea parties with their favorite stuffed animals. It was not in any way an idyllic childhood.

Carole Johnstone 2020 – © Julie Broadfoot – http://www.juliebee.co.uk

In Carole Johnstone‘s Mirrorland house of mirrors book, it’s been almost 20 years since Cat was last home, but much is the same. Memories tug at her as she wanders through the darkened rooms of her old home, and she at times feels catapulted back into feelings of being haunted and hunted. But there are new problems to face as well. As the days go by and neither El nor her boat are found, the police give her up as lost at sea. But Cat believes she is still alive and continuing one of the many games they played when young. How else to explain the clues she keeps finding, ones that would only mean something to the two of them?

Cat is an unreliable narrator—she drinks way too much, and she keeps slipping into the past, but whether that past is what really happened long ago, one of the many convoluted stories the sisters made up in Mirrorland, her own perceptions of what was happening around her back then, or a combination of all three, it’s hard to tell.

Also in the house, El’s husband Ross waits for news as well. Here, too, are complications. We learn quickly that Cat was—and still is—in love with Ross, but how she lost him to her sister takes longer to unfold. She receives emails—from El, she is sure—that lead her to places where she discovers torn pages from El’s diary. Someone else is leaving warning notes, telling Cat she’s in danger and insinuating that Ross is not to be trusted—that he harmed El and possibly killed her. That warning though may have come too late because Cat and Ross have rekindled their old romance.

It’s easy to enter Cat’s world, to feel the burden of being watched by unseen eyes and experience her fear as she struggles to determine whether El’s really dead, and who, if anyone, she can trust. And, of course, as readers we wonder if we can trust her.

This review originally appeared in The New York Journal of Books.

About the Author

Carole Johnstone’s award-winning short fiction has appeared in annual “Best of” anthologies in the United States and United Kingdom. She lives with her husband in an old farmhouse outside Glasgow, Scotland, though her heart belongs to the sea and the wild islands of the Hebrides. She is also the author of The Blackhouse.

An Honest Living

“Noir land is always smoke and mirrors, and for those who like entering that world, be assured that Murphy is already at work on his next book.”

Anchored in life by little except a few friends, a love of books and cinema, and his nascent law practice—a downward slope from his previous position with a prestigious law firm—we never learn the name of the narrator in An Honest Living, Dwyer Murphy’s first novel. Even his clients seem unsure of who he is, and when one gives him a going away present with his name misspelled, our narrator can only ruefully observe “they were only off by a few letters.”

A guy like this makes a perfect patsy and that’s what happens when Anna Reddick hires him to determine if her husband is selling off her valuable collection of rare books. It seems easy enough. Staging a meeting with Reddick’s husband at the Poquelin Society which he describes as “a scholarly society dedicated to the art, science and preservation of the book, whatever that meant,” he quickly scores the proof he needs.

Case solved. Ha! As it could be that easy in a neo-noir novel set in a time and place where everyone seems to have a secret to hide and nothing is as it seems. And that applies also to the people the detective meets. It turns out the woman who hired our detective is not Anna Reddick.

Now, one of the noir fundamentals dictates that there’s a femme fatale, the kind of dame a hero shouldn’t fall for, but of course, always does. And that dame is the real Anna Reddick, a successful author and heir to old New York money. She hires and beguiles our detective to investigate the disappearance of her husband. Marital strife, a possible suicide or maybe murder, theft, and mystery—why wouldn’t you fall for a woman like that?

There are layers to this droll, atmospheric novel including the inside jokes the author wants us to get. If you’re wondering about the Poquelin Society, don’t bother trying to join. It doesn’t appear to exist, at least according to a Google search. But there was a French playwright and actor named Jean-Baptiste Poquelin, though he was better known by his stage name, Molière.

But the biggest of the wink and nods is for movie buffs familiar with the 1974 Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway movie Chinatown, directed by Roman Polansky. The plot of An Honest Man is an homage to this great noir classic and the book echoes many of its plot components. The book’s title derives from a conversation Nicholson had in the barbershop scene Chinatown.

But Chinatown is all Los Angeles in 1937 and the story revolves around water rights, incest, and murder. An Honest Living is New York through and through from the scenes that our detective spies from the G Train and the window of his brownstone or the streets he walks littered with trash and 24-hour diners. It’s Manhattan before the financial meltdown—urban, somewhat gritty, and unhomogenized.

Murphy has taken that time period and our knowledge of the looming crisis and created a compelling mystery set in a world of jaded hopes and ambiguous relationships. There’s the overwhelming sense that the other shoe will drop and when it does, it will come down heavy on our somewhat hapless narrator.

Noir land is always smoke and mirrors, and for those who like entering that world, be assured that Murphy is already at work on his next book.

This review previously appeared in the New York Journal of Books.

Published by Viking Books, it is also available in audiobook and Kindle formats.

Jobs For Girls With Artistic Flair

June Gervais, author of Jobs For Girls With Artistic Flair (Pamela Dorman Books 2022 available in hardcover, Kindle edition and on Audible), talks about her highly praised first novel.

What inspired you to write about an aspiring tattoo artist? Why did you decide to set it in the 1980s?

 My fascination with tattoos was sparked in childhood, and the tattoo shop setting felt ripe for stories.But when I started the book that became Jobs for Girls with Artistic Flair, I actually didn’t plan to write about an aspiring apprentice in the 1980s. I imagined Gina Mulley as a single mother, an established tattooer in her thirties, circa Y2K, when tattooing really began to catch fire in mainstream culture. I was 19 when I started writing this book, and I thought it would carry more weight if it included a character who was further into adulthood.

 As I dug deeper into the story, however, a mentor encouraged me to write a chapter set in Gina’s youth. The resulting scene had such energy, and was so off-the-wall, that I wanted to see what happened next. The fact that Gina’s teens and early twenties would have lined up with the 1980s turned out to be a stroke of luck, because although I didn’t know it yet, tattooing at that time had a much different vibe. It was riskier, more secretive; in other words, it attracted the kind of misfits who make for good characters.

 What kind of research did you do to learn about the tattoo industry?

Besides scouring books and documentaries, I interviewed and shadowed ten different tattoo artists, and every one of them taught me something unique and valuable. A few of Gina’s life experiences—like buying her first tattoo machines from an acquaintance who was headed to jail—are drawn from the life of a real-life artist, Lynn TerHaar, the first woman to open a tattoo shop in our county. Many of the fun details about old-school tattooing were furnished by Marvin Moskowitz, a third-generation tattooer whose family had a well-known shop on the Bowery before tattooing was outlawed in New York City. I spent time with Michelle Myles of Daredevil Tattoo, who is not only a veteran artist but a scholar of the art form, and runs a museum within her shop.

I often met these people through moments of synchronicity that left me feeling awed and grateful. One of the most moving was stumbling on the artist who tattooed my mother in the 1980s. She turned out to be a well-known tattooer named Marguerite, one of the first women ever to tattoo on Long Island. I’d had no idea.

 At times, Gina struggles to adapt when confronted with change—or lack thereof—in both in her professional and personal spheres. Often, it seems like all the odds are stacked against her. Why was it important to you to show Gina faced with such adversity?

 I want stories to be honest about the perils of uphill climbs. If you desperately want to learn a craft, but no one’s paying you to do it—and you’re already weighed down with responsibilities—and you’re short on money, time, or a supportive community—what do you do? Well—you scrape together everything you can and plow ahead; but there’s no guarantee that your labor will ever bear fruit. You can have all the self-discipline and passion in the world, work late into the night or wake before sunrise, but sometimes you’re still thrown back to square one, by events completely out of your control. So you make Plan B and Plan K and Plan Q. You dig deep and find new reasons to keep going, and you find traveling companions, if you can.

 I have felt all of this keenly in my quest to write while still caring for loved ones, paying the bills, and clumsily trying to be a decent citizen of the world. All my urgency and frustration—and all the breakthroughs and moments of growth and beauty—ended up in Gina’s story.

 What’s your connection to, or history with, tattoos?

I was six years old the first time I walked into a tattoo shop; my mom was getting tattooed, and she took me along. This was in the late 1980s, roughly the same time when my book is set—well before tattoos became mainstream, especially for women—and I was too young to know that the experience I was having was highly unusual. I also had no idea that culture-at-large often viewed tattoos as trashy or dangerous. Mom also studied karate, so I spent a lot of time at her dojo, where many people were tattooed. Because of her, I associated tattoos with love and beauty and strength.

Throughout my childhood, I used to sit beside my mom tracing the lines of her tattoo with my finger. That butterfly on her wrist is probably the most influential piece of art in my life. When I got my first tattoo on my eighteenth birthday, she came with me.

The book deals with dual themes of work and finding a vocation. Gina and Rick (a fellow tattoo artist) are both extremely passionate about their work while Gina’s brother Dominic fell into tattooing because he was good at it. And Anna is stuck in a dead-end job but trying to discover her calling. Can you discuss how these themes affect Gina and the other characters?

 Gina has grown up in an insular, go-it-alone family where her mother and brother work to pay the bills, period; she hasn’t been exposed to people who are striving for some common good while also supporting their families. Both Rick and Anna, on the other hand, have been raised in environments where contributing to a larger community is highly valued. Rick mentions at one point that his parents are in helping professions, and even as a tattoo artist, he wants to do whatever good he can. Clues from Anna’s life point to a faith background that emphasized service. These two people really introduce Gina to the idea of vocation. 

 This is eye-opening for Gina, but complicates her relationship with her brother Dominic. At one point, she wanted nothing more than to follow in Dominic’s footsteps. Now she is baffled and angry when he won’t use his position as a business owner to speak out against injustice in their town—which is something I think a lot of Gen Z readers will relate to. What Gina eventually comes to understand is that for Dominic, work holds a sense of purpose, too; that purpose is just confined to his immediate family and friends. But it’s one more rift that makes Gina question whether she still belongs at this tattoo shop she always considered home.

Tattoo tastes and trends have changed a lot since the 80s. What kind of designs do you think Gina would be creating today?

 Luckily for Gina, the kind of botanical designs she created for Anna have grown in popularity the past few years. So have the dotwork and stippling you see in the book’s illustrations. But in order to make a living, most tattoo artists need to do a good deal of whatever’s popular in addition to what interests them, and demand is sometimes driven by what’s trending on Pinterest or Instagram—I saw a very funny clip on Inked Magazine’s YouTube channel where artists were bemoaning how many lions and pocketwatches they’ve done lately. Gina would also probably be getting a lot of requests for lettering, tiny minimalist tattoos, watercolor tattoos, and mandala-style ornamental work, and I’m sure she’d be getting inquiries about hand-poked tattoos… But I imagine Gina getting most excited about a client who gave her the license to create a large-scale piece just for them, something imaginative and new.

 The book certainly has a feminist bent, and touches on social justice—was this choice intentional or did these elements arise organically as you wrote? How does Gina think through what we owe ourselves and each other?

I think writers always circle back around to their obsessions, and from the time I was little, I’ve had this built-in obsession—in any given situation—about 1) whether things are being done fairly, 2) whether everybody is okay, and in response to all that, 3) whether I am doing enough. Sometimes I manage to channel this into effective action; sometimes it just manifests as grief and anxiety. And I think the same could be said for Gina in this book. There is no single character in Jobs for Girls who is straightforwardly, autobiographically me; but Gina gets angry about racist real estate practices because I’m angry about racist real estate practices. Anna is haunted by the specter of war because I am, too. Rick’s preoccupation with the question “De qué sirve?”, regarding his work—essentially, “what good does it do?”—is very much my own.

I love that you also asked about what we owe ourselves. In 1986 Marie Shear wrote, “Feminism is the radical notion that women are people.” And amidst all Gina’s conversations with Rick, in which her eyes are opening to other people’s experiences of injustice, she’s also having another awakening: Maybe my wellbeing and my thoughts matter, too.

 If you went to Gina’s shop, what kind of tattoo would you get?

I love this question! I think I’d want an oil lamp—or maybe a desk lamp?—tattooed somewhere near my foot.

The lamp thing alludes to two quotes that were deeply meaningful to me as I persevered with this novel. One is from E.L.  Doctorow: “Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” The other is an ancient line of sacred poetry: “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” These two quotes meant so much to me that for years, I told myself: If I ever get this published, I’m going to get a tattoo of a lamp somewhere near my foot. Because the thing about the headlights is true, but I don’t really want a headlight tattoo. Although it might have a cool biomechanical steampunk vibe.  

 The concept of identity—whether familial, sexual, or community—plays a significant role in the novel. What do you hope readers will take away from the read?

 Towards the end of the book, Gina thinks through all the specific nicknames she’s been given by every important person in her life, and the identities attached to those names. None of these encompasses the entirety of who she is. By the end of the book, she’s selected another name, and she’s lettered it into a drawing of what she hopes to do with her life.

Writer Eunice Brown, the founder of Dear Grown-Ass Women, has said, “You don’t have to like me. But I sure as hell do.” By the end of Jobs for Girls with Artistic Flair, I think Gina Mulley has become a person she sure-as-hell likes, and she may not know what’s ahead of her, but she knows for sure that she wants to bring her whole self to it. I hope readers finish the last page feeling a little like that: more alive, a little more awake. I hope they feel electrified by a similar sense that the moment they’re living in is fertile and fleeting, and their wholeness matters. And so does everyone else’s.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

June Gervais grew up on the south shore of Long Island and is a graduate of the Bennington Writing Seminars. Her many jobs have included shelving library books and taking classified ads, grassroots activism and graphic design, art direction, and teaching. Jobs for Girls with Artistic Flair is her debut novel.

Girl in Ice

A gifted linguistic professor who is fascinated by such extinct languages as Old Norse and Old Danish, Val Chesterfield is so frightened of the world that she has immured herself at the university where she teaches and treats her overwhelming anxiety with pills and bottles of Amaretto and merlot.

Beyond that, she’s mourning the loss of her marriage and the death and possible suicide of Andy, her twin brother who died of exposure on Taaramiut Island off Greenland’s northwest coast.  

And so, when an email from Wyatt Speeks who is overseeing the scientific lab on Taaramiut, pops up in her inbox, Val’s first thought is to hit delete. But despite her own initial forebodings, she opens it instead.

So begins Girl in Ice (Simon & Schuster), the a fascinating thriller by Erica Ferencik who also authored Into the Jungle and The River at Night.

Wyatt is asking her to listen to the attached vocalizations of a girl they extracted from the ice and who has, amazingly and impossibly, thawed out alive. Playing the sounds over and over again, Chesterfield is intrigued. The girl is not speaking any of the Greenlandic dialects spoken in the frigid part of the world where Wyatt is located. Indeed, despite Val’s vast repertoire and knowledge, she cannot recognize the language at all.

Wyatt wants Val to fly out and study the girl’s language. But that entails she leave her office, her shelves of books, and her everyday routines. When Val visits her elderly father, a noted climate scientist who has always been disdainful of her, he dismisses that the girl could have been thawed out alive and that his daughter has the spunk to travel so far away.

“You’ve never been out of Massachusetts,” he tells Val. But he also wants her to go, to find out the truth about Andy’s death and delivers an ultimatum. If she doesn’t journey to Greenland, then he doesn’t want to ever see her again.

The winds blow over 50 miles an hour on Taaramiut across a landscape barren of anything but snow, glaciers, water pocked with ice floes, deep seemingly bottomless crevasses, and herds of caribou.  No native people live this far north so where did the girl come from and how long was she encased in ice?

Totally isolated, the small community consists only of Wyatt and his assistant Jeanne, Val and a young couple who have won a coveted spot to dive in the frigid waters for specimens. And, of course, the girl who once was frozen and is now strangely alive.

But it’s not just the isolation, the young girl who speaks a strange language, and being where her brother died outside, alone in the bitter cold, that is unnerving. Wyatt seems to have other hidden agendas and Jeanne may be too good with knives—and she has so many. Even the couple become uneasy, urging Val to just play along until the plane arrives to take them home.

With the disappearance of her anti-anxiety medication, Val is unable to sleep and maybe unable to reliably process what is happening around her. She takes risky chances and she also has become maternally attached to the young girl as she learns the meaning of her words. What is part of Val’s uneven emotional state and what is real become less defined. She believes Wyatt’s stated quest–to learn how to prevent a cataclysmic climate change, one where sudden outbursts of frozen winds are freezing people to death almost instantaneously around the world–parallel Andy’s own dedicated studies.

But Val also senses a scary undercurrent and the more she learns, the more she wonders if Andy really committed suicide by wandering off into the cold or whether someone locked him outside. To add to her distress, the young girl is ill and is trying to tell Val in her own language what she needs to survive.

What can she do to save her? And what can she do to save herself?

This review originally appeared in The New York Journal of Books.

Girl in Ice is also available as a Kindle, Audio CD, Audible and in paperback.

About the Author

Erica Ferencik is the award-winning author of the acclaimed thrillers The River at NightInto the Jungle, and Girl in Ice, which The New York Times Book Review declared “hauntingly beautiful.” Find out more on her website EricaFerencik.com and follow her on Twitter @EricaFerencik.

The Marsh Queen

Far from the marshland where her family grew up and that claimed her father’s life, Loni Mae Murrow has found a quiet niche where she creates intricate life-like drawings of birds for the Smithsonian. It’s a rare talent and a job that Murrow, who started drawing at an early age, loves. But there are undercurrents in her job and life starting with a new administrator talking of budget cuts and disdaining Murrow’s need to return home to deal with her aging mother. Making it all more complicated is that she also is confronted with her brother and his controlling, avaricious wife both of whom seem more intent on cashing in on what little money there is in their mother’s portfolio than in helping her. Murrow has just a short time to take care of family business and to sort out messy family entanglements. If she doesn’t return in time, she’ll no longer have a job.

But the pull of her mother’s needs, a compelling job offer from a good friend, veiled hints at mysteries unsolved along with her realization that her father’s death may be less straightforward than it seemed at the time jarringly jeopardize the peace and tranquility that Murrow has achieved. She finds herself deeper and deeper into the place of her youth and the marshes, both of which she thought—hopefully–she had left behind for good.

Author Virginia Hartman convincing portrays the beauty of the marshes, creating an atmosphere of serene beauty but also one full of surprises and ultimately danger in The Marsh Queen (Simon & Schuster). She also conveys how easily Murrow falls into the patterns of her father who knew the waterways so well he could navigate the countless channels and inlets without a map. Hartman’s love of this landscape, full of unexpected wonders, is inherent in her writing.

Individual Portrait

“Early morning steam rises from the water,” Hartman writes about one of Murrow’s forays into the marshland. “I paddle to a different part of the swamp today, where the Cypress trees grow, as my dad used to say, ‘keepin’ their feet in the water.’ The canopy is high, like a cathedral, and I glide through the landscape of light and shadow. Ferns cascade from the trunks and pink lichen like measle spots and the Cypress knees stick up from beneath the surface like the hats of submerged gnomes.”

This enchantment of the waterways with all its many unexpected scenes of flora and fauna is something Murrow finds she shares with Adlai, the seemingly gruff proprietor of the canoe shop where she rents her canoe and paddles when she goes in search of such birds to draw as the purple gallinule. Her mother had married down so to speak when she chose Murrow’s father. It is a choice that Murrow ultimately must make as well—to leave a dream job of working at one of the most prestigious museums in the country and life in a bustling cosmopolitan city to return to the backwaters of home.

But first she must follow, however unwillingly, all the clues that keep presenting themselves regarding the past. It’s a matter of connecting the dots to find out what really did happen to here father all those years ago. And if she doesn’t accomplish that soon enough, then there’s more at risk for Murrow than just losing her job. It may mean losing her life.

The Marsh Queen is also available in hardcover, on Kindle, Audible and as an Audio CD.

This review originally appeared in New York Journal of Books.

About the Author

Virginia Hartman has an MFA in creative writing from American University and is on the faculty at George Washington University. Her stories have been shortlisted for the New Letters Awards and the Dana Awards. The Marsh Queen is her first novel.

Virginia Hartman Events

At the Writer’s Center in Bethesda, Maryland, Virginia teaches Advanced Fiction Workshop (six weeks). For more information, please contact the Writer’s Center at 301-654-8664, www.writer.org.

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The Patron Saint of Second Chances

is village sadly slipping away, self-appointed mayor and radiator repairman Signor Speranza listens in horror as a water commission official tells him that the water pipes must be replaced or the commission will shut the village’s water supply off — making Prometto uninhabitable.

The cost to fix it? Seventy thousand euros — an exorbitant sum for a village of 212 residents, most of whom are just barely getting by.

But Speranza has a plan — not a good plan or even a mediocre one, but at least it’s something. He decides to start a rumor that famed movie star Dante Rinaldi is filming his next mega hit in Prometto. If tourists think that Rinaldi will be readily available, Speranza believes that tourists will descend upon Prometto. After all, when there was a rumor that George Clooney would be filming in a neighboring town, it was a madhouse. And it looks like it will be so once again.

Soon tourists arrive with plenty of money to spend. But it isn’t just tourists. The locals go crazy with the idea of being in a film, almost any film. The butcher wants Speranza to find roles for all 15 of his overlarge sons, offering Speranza money if he makes it happen. Even Speranza’s daughter gets movie fever.

“The plan works a little too well, however, and he soon finds that in order to keep up the ruse, he will have to make the movie for real,” said Christine Simon, the author of “The Patron Saint of Second Chances” (Atria 2022; $23.70 on Amazon).

Simon says her plot was inspired by news articles she ran across that talked about how shrinking Italian villages were offering homes for a dollar.

“These stories usually have at their core some enterprising mayor trying to drag their village back from the brink of extinction,” she said. “This flash of inspiration was, therefore, triply rewarding for me, because it gave me my setting, my main character, and my main character’s mission, all in one fell swoop. Everyone should be so lucky.”

It also has origins in the Italian village where Simon’s grandparents grew up.

“My grandparents came to the United States via Canada in the early 1950s, trading their tiny village of Ferruzzano for Cliffside Park, New Jersey,” she said. “I grew up going to parties in their backyard — sprawling gatherings with dozens of people, many of them also from the village, sitting at long tables in lawn chairs and eating, eating, eating. When I began working on this story, at first I felt intimidated because I’ve never been to Ferruzzano in real life, but as I was researching the setting, and looking at family photos and even Google map images of the village, I was startled to find that the two places — my grandparents’ backyard in Cliffside, and their mountain village of Ferruzzano — looked astonishingly similar. I don’t know how they did it, but they managed to bring their village with them when they came here, and that’s the flavor that I hope I’ve incorporated into the fictional village of Prometto.”

Simon loved authoring this book, which she did just after the quarantine started.

“It was wonderful escaping reality each day to see what Signor Speranza and his zany crew would get up to next,” she said.

Now Simon says she’s devoted to comedy and small-town antics.

“I guess you can say we know what to expect from my next book,” she said.

First Born by Will Dean

Two identical twins as different as can be. Molly, anxious and reserved, lives a quiet, contained life in London. Katie, gregarious and fun-loving, is now attending school in New York where she has a great apartment, lots of friends and a handsome, athletic boyfriend.

Molly feels betrayed and jealous — until she gets a call from her parents who are visiting in New York. Katie is dead.

And so, Molly, forced to leave the safe confines of the cocoon she has enveloped herself in, flies to New York to comfort her parents and to take on the task of discovering her sister’s killer. But this isn’t a simple story of a twin forced to grow beyond the safe confines of her life. In “First Born,” author Will Dean takes us on a twisting path of family secrets, dark deceits and the slow recognition that even those we love aren’t who we think they are.

Katie, Molly discovers, has earned her admission to the prestigious school program not just because of her academic successes but also because of her relationship with a rich playboy philanthropist who jets around the world with an entourage of pretty young women.

“Molly soon realizes she never knew her twin as well as she thought she did,” said Dean, who was born in England, studied law at the London School of Economics and now lives in a remote area of Sweden. “Molly grows in confidence in New York. She starts to piece together the puzzle of Katie’s life. She finds those who wronged her. And then she goes about seeking revenge.”

Remember, we said it wasn’t simple, and as Molly attends Katie’s cremation ceremony with her parents, we learn of her own involvement in Katie’s death. And yet she still seeks vengeance for all those who wronged Katie.

Dean says the inspiration for his book came to him one night a few years ago.

“I imagined identical twins who had been treated differently from early childhood,” he said. “I was curious how being labeled ‘the fun one’ and ‘the serious one’ might manifest in later life. I’m also intrigued how we all think we know our partners, siblings, parents, children, etc well. But we never know them quite as well as we think we do.”

This article originally appeared in the Northwest Indiana Times.

The Verifiers by Jane Pek

Her brother is on the fast track to a successful career in finance and has plans for his sister to follow along. But in Jane Pek’s debut novel, “The Verifiers,” Claudia Lin secretly drops out of the corporate rat race without telling her siblings or mother and takes a job at Veracity, a new start-up that uses algorithms along with good old detective techniques to determine whether online suitors are real or not.

Claudia, a queer Asian American, really isn’t a computer geek. The reason she was chosen for the job by the company’s founder is her passion for reading, particularly the works about a fictitious crime solver named Detective Yuan.

Once she is hired, the firm becomes a three-person endeavor, with Claudia spending her time cyberstalking (the modern way to dig up dirt) and real life stalking, like they do in the crime novels Claudia consumes.

When Iris Lettriste comes in wanting them to investigate the men she’s met online, it at first seems like a simple case. But, of course, they never are. Lettriste is a no-show for her last appointment, and later is found dead of what looks like an accidental overdose of a prescription drug she’s taking.

Claudia’s bosses want to move on from Iris, but she thinks there’s more, particularly after all the online accounts belonging to Iris disappear and the real Iris shows up, saying that her sister has been impersonating her.

That’s enough for Claudia to start sleuthing on her own. Soon she’s fired from her job and almost involved in a fatal bicycle accident because someone has rigged her bike. On the home front, her gorgeous older sister is having relationship problems, and Claudia takes it upon herself to do some detecting to see what’s he’s up to.

Her brother is appalled and disappointed in her when he finds out she has quit the stellar and potentially very lucrative job he arranged for her.

Pek, who has an undergraduate degree from Yale, a law degree from New York University and an MFA in fiction from Brooklyn College and works as an attorney in New York for an international investment company, says she began the book by asking herself what if there was an online dating detective service, and from there began assembling the story line.

“I liked that Claudia would actually draw her detective rules from this obviously silly murder mystery series,” said Pek who is working on a sequel, “but that every now and then it would actually work out for her.”

The article originally appeared in the Northwest Indiana Times.

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