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Book Review | Close to Death by Anthony Horowitz

From the publisher: In New York Times bestselling author Anthony Horowitz’s ingenious fifth literary whodunnit in the Hawthorne and Horowitz series, Detective Hawthorne is once again called upon to solve an unsolvable case—a gruesome murder in an idyllic gated community in which suspects abound.

I love Anthony Horowitz. His writing and his mysteries just work for me, and every adult book he writes is a must-read. (I confess, I don’t love his series for kids, Alex Rider.) I adored Magpie Murders, both the book and the miniseries, and I love the Hawthorne and Horowitz books. It’s fun seeing an author write himself into a series as somewhat of a clueless dolt. (When Horowitz asks Hawthorne to tell him the solution to an old murder case, Hawthorne replies, “You never know the solution, mate. That’s what makes your writing so special. You don’t have a clue.” Ha! (p. 65 of the ARC))

This book is pretty different from the previous Hawthorne and Horowitz books. In the previous books, the author has watched Hawthorne solve a mystery and then written a book about it. In this book, he writes about a murder that happened years before. So, unfortunately, the pair don’t spend much time together this time around. Still, I get it – the author needs to keep things fresh for himself and his audience.

I often don’t even try to solve murder mysteries, but Horowitz throws in so many details and so much misdirection and then makes the clues pay off, so I do try to pay attention. (No, I did not figure out what was going on in Close to Death, any more than the fictional Horowitz did.) I also enjoy how English these books are.

“I have never been a huge fan of so-called ‘locked-room’ mysteries,” complains the fictional Horowitz as the real-life Horowitz proceeds to write one. Ha! (p. 184 of the ARC) I had a bit of a hard time with this one in one respect, trying to figure out how he could actually turn this into a published book given what would need to be revealed, but that’s beside the point. I know they aren’t true crime, but clever fiction. And I know these books aren’t done because we still need to find out what happened in Reeth!

I read an advance reader copy of Close to Death from Netgalley. It is scheduled to be released on April 16 and will be available in multiple formats at the Galesburg Public Library. The library owns the whole series in multiple formats. If you want to read the first four books, start with The Word is Murder.

Cooking the Books | The Kitchen Front by Jennifer Ryan

Welcome to Cooking the Books (where we try recipes found in, well, books!) This month, Children’s Assistant & STEM Specialist Ms. Meghan tried out a recipe from one of her recent reads:

Just in time to finish up Women’s History Month, here’s a historical fiction novel that follows four British women as they cope with food rationing, grief, and societal pressures during World War II.

I’ve had an ARC (Advance Reader’s Copy) of The Kitchen Front on my Kindle for years now, and just never got around to it. Cooking the Books has once again knocked another book off my TBR (To Be Read) mountain. I just wished I enjoyed it more.

I’m in the minority here. TKF has a 3.97 star rating on Goodreads and a 4.4 star rating on Amazon. The novel details the lives of four British women from varying backgrounds as they compete for a spot on a radio program during World War II. Rationing was in effect at this time, and the book opens with the weekly allotment for one adult. A stick of margarine, half a stick of butter, three pints of milk, one cup of sugar…very different from the way we eat today. The radio program, based on an actual one, helped women stretch out their rations with creative (sometimes very creative) recipes. I enjoyed this look at an aspect of the war that I hadn’t seen written about before, especially in the crowded field of WWII novels. Unfortunately, that was about all I liked.

Overall, I found the book to be flat, predictable, and breezy. I am all for breezy books that give your mind a break, but that’s not how this one is advertised. The characters do a lot of speaking out loud; the author definitely does a lot more telling as opposed to showing. Perhaps because I didn’t enjoy it, I also found myself nitpicking. A character says he wasn’t aware that another was in the contest, then on the next page asks why the efforts to sabotage her had failed. A barn owl hoots instead of screams. Little things that should have been caught by the editor. Without giving away spoilers, a major life-changing decision is flip-flopped in the span of three pages. This just wasn’t the book for me, but as I said, it is the book for a lot of people.

There are a number of starter, main course, and dessert recipes featured in the book from historic sources, all of which adhere to the Ministry of Food rationing to various degrees. Unsurprisingly, there was an active black market for ingredients, and those who could afford them didn’t go without. Many of the recipes offer a lot of flexibility, which is to be expected when working with limited ingredients. For various reasons, I declined to attempt The Ministry of Food’s Sheep’s Head Roll or Chef James’s Whale Meat and Mushroom Pie. Instead, I made Audrey’s Fruit Scones. I vaguely remember making scones 20 years ago. This recipe contains a lot less sugar than modern recipes and produces a…perfectly adequate vehicle for getting butter and/or jam to your mouth. The apricot flavor was good, with comments that it ‘could use more apricot, less scone’ but other than that? Eh. A coworker said ‘mostly good, a little bland – but aren’t all scones?’. It does produce an incredibly wet, sticky dough; if you think you’ve got enough flour on your surface, think again.

Scones: 2.5/5 (based on all opinions)

Book: 1/5 (based on my opinion)


The Recipe


Audrey’s Fruit Scones

Makes 12 scones



3 cups flour
½ teaspoon salt
5 teaspoons baking powder
1 tablespoon sugar
1 ½ cups dried fruit (raisin, sultanas, red currants, apricots, prunes, etc.)
¼ cup butter
¼ maragaine, lard, or suet (I used margarine)
1 egg, beaten, or the equivalent in dried egg powder
1 cup milk


Preheat oven to 425 F/220 C. Sieve the flour, salt, and baking powder into a bowl. Add the sugar and dried fruits and mix. Cut the butter and margarine into small pieces and rub it in. Mix the egg and milk and slowly add until the dough is a stiff consistency. Roll it out into a thick layer, about 1 inch thick, and use a floured cutter to cut it into circles. Place on a greased baking tray and bake for 10 minutes or until risen and golden brown.

Book Review | How to Solve Your Own Murder by Kristen Perrin

From the publisher: For fans of Knives Out and The Thursday Murder Club, an enormously fun mystery about a woman who spends her entire life trying to prevent her foretold murder only to be proven right sixty years later, when she is found dead in her sprawling country estate…. Now it’s up to her great-niece to catch the killer.

How to Solve Your Own Murder has been called the biggest debut of 2024. It’s the first book in the Castle Knoll Files. In a familiar pattern, the book moves between passages from a diary set in the 1960s and narration by Annie, the main character set in the present.

It’s 1965. Frances is 17 and at the Castle Knoll Country Fair with Rose and Emily, her two best friends. She receives a fortune that will change her life. Like most fortunes received from fortune-tellers at a country fair, it is filled with nonsense that can be interpreted in many ways. But Frances can’t shake it. It also includes the dire warning that “All signs point toward your murder.” In what seems to me to be something of a self-fulfilling prophecy, she becomes obsessed with her fortune. And sixty years later, she is murdered.

The obsession with a fortune that later comes true is a nice twist. Otherwise, the book is familiar in a comforting way. If you like cozy mysteries, it will probably remind you of books, TV shows, and movies. There are a lot of characters and I could have used a list of them and how they are related. I had an especially hard time keeping the men of the past straight. There are hints at a future romance for Annie. Annie also devises a too-stupid-to-live plan to catch the murderer, which works, but I hope that does not become a pattern. The author does her best to sell her red herrings and misdirection, perhaps to excess.

Still, it’s a fun book, and I’ll probably read the sequel. The cover is very eye-catching.

I read an advance reader copy of How to Solve Your Own Murder from Netgalley. It is scheduled to be released on March 26 and will be available at the Galesburg Public Library.

Book Review | A Deadly Walk in Devon by Nicholas George

From the publisher: A retired San Diego police detective embarks upon group walking tours in England’s most scenic counties in the first in a charming new mystery series set in the English countryside.

is a debut novel and the first book in the Walk Through England Mystery series. In it, a group of Americans on a guided walk in Devon, England, includes a man named Gretz. I’ve read a lot of cozy mysteries, and Gretz is right out of cozy mystery central casting. The grouchy, hard-to-get-along-with, unlikable man who is obviously going to be the murder victim and about whom other characters say, “If you did kill him, we don’t blame you.” (p. 148 of the ARC)

I’d guess the author has also read a lot of cozy mysteries. Besides the unlikable victim, we have the bickering couple, the clueless Chief Inspector, the attractive young new widow, and a whole cast of suspects hiding secrets. I hope in the sequels that the author can strive for a little more originality, instead of a cookie cutter cozy. I think we might see some of the walkers return in future books, and maybe they will be fleshed out a little. The climactic confrontation of the killer was truly eye-rolling in its implausibility.

I love England and have yet to do a walking tour, so the premise of this book appealed to me. Unfortunately, there is not as much “walking” as I had hoped. Once the murder occurs, the group stays in one place. Still, I enjoyed the English setting.

The book is narrated by ex-detective Rick Chasen, and at one point he mentions that he likes whistling as he walks. That would certainly be grounds for murder if I were on a walk with the guy. Although this is marketed as a debut, there were references to the main character’s previous cases which originally made me wonder if I’d missed something.

At one point Chase’s walker friend Billie jokes, “I’ll kill you if you don’t. Oops. Guess I shouldn’t be joking about murder, should I?” (p. 131 of the ARC) Is the author poking fun at cozy cliches or just being cliched? I can’t tell. The main character is supposed to be a huge baseball fan, but I wondered if the author is. At one point the main character muses, “I often looked at my success rate through the lens of baseball, where batters typically fail to get a base hit seven out of ten pitches.” (p. 170 of the ARC) I think he means seven out of ten at bats. I read an advance reader copy, so maybe that will be fixed when the book is published. I do give the author points for trying to redeem Bill Buckner, who is unfairly blamed for costing the Red Sox the World Series in 1986. Although I felt like the author made some rookie errors (ha ha) in his debut, I enjoyed it enough that I might read book two.

The cover is very attractive and I imagine similar matching covers on the whole series that will look great together. If you enjoy the sometimes outlandish stories in M.C. Beaton’s Hamish Macbeth and Agatha Raisin series, you may enjoy A Deadly Walk in Devon.

I read an advance reader copy of A Deadly Walk in Devon from Netgalley. It is scheduled to be released on March 26 and will be available at the Galesburg Public Library.

Book Review | The Road to Murder by Camilla Tinchieri

From the publisher: In the latest installment of the acclaimed Tuscan Mystery series, the sole witness at a crime scene speaks only English, and ex-NYPD detective turned amateur chef Nico Doyle is summoned by the local carabinieri to help.

I’m always looking for good books set in Italy, and I’ve found an enjoyable series in the Tuscan Mysteries by Camilla Trinchieri. I have an Italian friend who tells me I need to read books by actual Italians, and I think Trinchieri fits the bill. Her father was an Italian diplomat and her mother an American, and she has lived in Italy and the United States.

The Road to Murder is due out in March and is the fourth book in the series. I’ve also read the first three books. I think that each book has gotten stronger, as is often the case with long-running series. The main character, Nico Doyle, is a widower who moved to his dead wife’s hometown. He’s also an ex-detective from New York. When a murder occurs in book 1, the local maresciallo asks for his help, since they don’t have many murders in idyllic Tuscany and Nico has a lot of experience. This pattern continues in each of the books. (Nico is evidently not good luck, since murders occur with regularity now that he’s a local!)

I love the Italian setting, the Italian words, the descriptions of the Italian landscapes and the Italian food. As I’ve gotten to know each recurring character, I like them better. There is one character who quotes a lot of Dante and a cute little rescue dog who’ll be a lot of fun if this ever becomes a TV series. I do find it a little odd that an American civilian is allowed to participate so fully in solving murders in an Italian city; maybe, at some point, he’ll actually get a job on the force.

This series is a fun cozy police procedural. If you enjoy Louise Penny’s Chief Inspector Gamache series, you might like it. I read an advance reader copy of The Road to Murder. When it is published in March, the Galesburg Public Library will add it to our print and ebook collections of the series. If you want to start the series, book 1 is Murder in Chianti.

Book Club Discussion Questions | The Two Lives of Sara by Catherine Adel West

From the publisher: A young mother finds refuge and friendship at a boardinghouse in 1960s Memphis, Tennessee, where family encompasses more than just blood and hidden truths can bury you or set you free.

Sara King has nothing, save for her secrets and the baby in her belly, as she boards the bus to Memphis, hoping to outrun her past in Chicago. She is welcomed with open arms by Mama Sugar, a kindly matriarch and owner of the popular boardinghouse The Scarlet Poplar.

Like many cities in early 1960s America, Memphis is still segregated, but change is in the air. News spreads of the Freedom Riders. Across the country, people like Martin Luther King Jr. are leading the fight for equal rights. Black literature and music provide the stories and soundtrack for these turbulent and hopeful times, and Sara finds herself drawn in by conversations of education, politics and a brighter tomorrow with Jonas, a local schoolteacher. Romance blooms between them, but secrets from Mama Sugar’s past threaten their newfound happiness with Sara and Jonas soon caught in the crosshairs, leading Sara to make decisions that will reshape the rest of their lives.

Discussion Questions

  1. Did you finish the book, and if you did are you glad you read it?
  2. Were there sections you especially liked, or passages you felt didn’t work? Any parts you found difficult to read or especially well written?
  3. Did you like the characters? Did you find them believable?
  4. Were you glad the book was written in first person from Sara’s point of view? How would the story have been different if written from multiple points of view?
  5. What did you think of the plot development? Did the plot take turns you did not expect, or did you find it predictable?
  6. How was the dialog?
  7. Has anyone had any experiences that relate to places or experiences in the book? Can anyone speak to the author’s representation of 1960s Memphis?
  8. The Two Lives of Sara is a prequel to the author’s debut novel, Saving Ruby King. Has anyone read it? If you have, do you think it changed how you read and reacted to The Two Lives of Sara?
  9. Sara makes a hard and perhaps hard-to-believe choice at the end. Why did she make it? Was it the right choice?

Cooking the Books | Comfort Me With Apples by Ruth Reichl

Welcome to Cooking the Books (where we try recipes found in, well, books!)

Ruth Reichl’s memoir, Comfort Me With Apples: More Adventures from the Table, follows a burgeoning restaurant critic in the late 1970’s. Reichl, born in New York, starts her career as a chef in San Francisco with her artist husband. The memoir takes a frank look at relationships, occupational hazards, and of course, food. Reichl accounts meeting celebrities such as Wolfgang Puck and comedian Danny Kaye, details unusual experiences (like a 6 hour meal made entirely with garlic) and madcap adventures in the front (and back) rooms of restaurants far and wide. As would be expected in a memoir by a foodie, each chapter entails one or more extraordinary meals, and Reichl’s prose elicits the aromas, flavors and emotions (from sentimental to hilarious) of good food.

Recipes are sprinkled throughout the text – including sweet potato pie – that Reichl baked over and over again as therapy after being mugged near Berkley, California. It is this recipe that I brought to work for review by colleagues.

Sweet Potato Pie

From Comfort Me With Apples by Ruth Reichl


1 medium sweet potatoes (1.25 lbs)
¼ cup unsalted butter
¾ cup sugar
¾ cup whole milk
3 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla
½ tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp freshly grated nutmeg
¼ tsp salt
1 TB dark rum
1 TB flour
1 unbaked 9 inch pie shell


Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Prick the sweet potatoes with a fork and roast them in a shallow pan in the oven until tender, about 1.25 hours. Cool to room temperature. Raise the oven temperature to 400 degrees and place a cookie sheet on the bottom rack. Scoop the flesh from the potatoes into a bowl and discard the skins. Mash the potatoes until smooth. Melt the butter in a small saucepan and stir in the sugar. Add the melted butter mixture to the sweet potatoes with the milk and eggs and beat with a whisk until smooth. Whisk in the remaining ingredients (will be quite liquidy). Pour the filling into the pie shell. Carefully transfer the pie to the heated cookie sheet on the bottom rack of the oven and bake until filling is just set, about 40 minutes. Put on a pie rack to cool.


My colleagues’ reactions:  “This is utterly delightful. Sweet potato pie is one of my favorite desserts, and it reminds me of my grandma.” “OMG delicious.” “Reminiscent of pumpkin pie, but with a milder, more subtle flavor and wetter texture. 9/10”

Another colleague, originally suspicious of a sweet potato pie recipe from an east coast native, noted “I owe an apology to the New Yorker. The pie was quite delicious.”


My verdict: The pie came out a vibrant amber color, smooth on top and in texture, and I thought, absolutely delicious, if not a bit on the sweet side. I plan to substitute sweet potato for pumpkin pie for the foreseeable future, perhaps using less sugar depending on the flavor of the potatoes. The book was entertaining and educational – so I recommend both!

Pie: 5 stars. Book: 5 stars.

Book Review | Cascade Failure by L.M. Sagas

From the publisher: A high-octane, sci-fi adventure featuring a fierce, messy, chaotic space family, vibrant worlds, and an exploration of the many ways to be—and not to be—human.

Cascade Failure is a debut novel and the planned first book in a series set in space. A ragtag found family crews a wonky but space worthy vessel known as the Ambit. The beings aboard include Eoan, a sentient AI who captains the ship; Saint, a Guild member who has been around the block more than a few times; Nash, a handy engineer who can fix (and shoot) anything; a Guild deserter named Jal with body modifications and long history with Saint; and Anke, a brilliant hacker who is a complete unknown to the crew after they rescue her from a dead planet.

There’s nothing particularly original here, but if you like the TV series Firefly and works by Becky Chambers, you may enjoy Cascade Failure. This is about action, shooting, regrets, space, politics, computers, and not worrying too much that anyone important will die in the end. It was a fun read, and the kind of “first in a series” that might be better on a reread after a few more books have been added and I’ve gotten to know the world and the characters better.

I found the action scenes very hard to follow at times and might have enjoyed them more if I’d listened to the book on audio. So far there is no more than a hint of romance; the crew’s bond is based on friendship and shared experiences.

I read an advance reader copy of Cascade Failure. It is scheduled to be published in March and will be available through the Galesburg Public Library in print, as an ebook, and on audio.

Empowering Our Community: Inside the Galesburg Library’s Skills Lab Project

We are excited to introduce innovative spaces within the newly constructed Galesburg Public Library. Among them is the Skills Lab, which promises to redefine how the library engages with the community. This project is made possible through the visionary backing of the 100 Extraordinary Women© Campaign, creating a dynamic learning space that transcends traditional boundaries.

A Vision Unfolding: The Skills Lab, scheduled to open its doors in the summer of 2024, is a testament to innovation and community enrichment. It comprises six distinct stations, each tailored to various aspects of our patrons’ lives:

  1. Clothing and Fiber Arts: A haven for sewing enthusiasts and textile artists, offering resources for mending and creation.
  2. Food: A space for culinary exploration, providing skills in cooking, nutrition, and meal preparation.
  3. Transportation: Empowering patrons with basic vehicle maintenance, bicycle repair, and other transportation-related skills.
  4. Repairs: Equipped with tools and guidance for DIY repairs on appliances, electronics, and household items.
  5. First Aid: A hub for learning and practicing life-saving techniques, promoting community health and safety.
  6. Hobbies: Fostering creativity and leisure, from arts and crafts to various recreational activities.

Purposeful Design: The Skills Lab serves a threefold purpose, enriching the library experience for patrons:

  1. Problem Solving: Patrons can visit the library with specific problems and leave with the skills or information needed for immediate action—whether it’s sewing a clothing tear, repairing an appliance, or checking blood pressure.
  2. Training: The Lab provides a platform for patrons to acquire new skills, whether they come with intent or are open to discovering something new. From CPR training to navigating ATMs, the opportunities are diverse.
  3. Engagement: Beyond problem-solving and training, the Lab caters to those seeking interactive and engaging activities. Whether it’s dementia-related activities or a painting session, the Skills Lab is a space for community connection.

Save the Date: The anticipation builds as we look forward to the grand opening of the Skills Lab in the summer of 2024—a space that promises to redefine the library experience.

Stay Connected: Follow Galesburg Public Library Foundation on Facebook for updates or sign up for our newsletter.

We are eager to share this exciting journey with our community, and we look forward to welcoming you to the Skills Lab—an embodiment of our commitment to knowledge, skills, and community building.


Cooking the Books — Tasty: A History of Yummy Experiments by Victoria Grace Elliot

Welcome to Cooking the Books, where we try recipes found in, well, books! This month, Children’s Assistant & STEM Specialist Ms. Meghan tried out a recipe from one of her recent favs: Back in September, I reviewed Yummy: A History of Desserts by Victoria Grace Elliott. Now, food sprites Peri, Fee, and Fada are back (along with their new friend water sprite Naia) for Tasty: A History of Yummy Experiments. This middle grade nonfiction graphic novel (once again suited for readers of all ages) traces the history of cheese, pizza, pickles, soda, easy food (like canned soup and processed cheese), and gelatin. The format for Tasty is the same as Yummy: the sprites introduce us to the story of a food through a combination of history lessons, scientific explanations (the mold in blue cheese is in the same family as penicillin!), interviews with historical figures, and recipes! There is a Read more »

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