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Cozy Spooky Season: October Staff Picks

posted: , by Elizabeth
tags: Library Collections | Recommended Reads | Adults | Teens | Seniors | Art & Culture | Readers Writers

Calling all fans of pumpkins and page-turners! Grab a mug of hot cider and settle in with our staff for Cozy Spooky Season (trademark Becca Starr, Literature and Language Librarian, see below for more details) and our October Staff Picks. October is always a fun month to share all the fantastical, thoughtful, mysterious, scary and wonderful riches at the library. Thanks for joining us, and read on…  

Cindy’s Picks 

The Door by the Staircase by Katherine Marsh is one of my favorite spooky October reads.  Chock to the brim with eerie creatures and happenings, you will be hooked on this gem of a middle grade novel from the moment the main character, Mary, climbs into a dirty, cramped chimney on a chilly October night to escape her orphanage!   

At times it has an almost fairy tale-ish atmosphere: “Something rustled in the overgrowth.  A buck?  A bear?  She backed away just as a pair of yellow eyes flashed in the darkness and an enormous white wolf trotted out.” However, in this book, the wolves are helpful and kind, and people who appear to be kind are not always what they seem.  Mary must learn the terrifying secret about the old woman who adopts her. 

I’m excited about a brand new book from our Maine Student Book Award shelf: No Place for Monsters by Kory Merritt.  Elaborately illustrated with dynamic black and white drawings, it has an almost graphic novel feel to it, but with as much text as a regular novel.  Levi and Kat are about to discover a very dark side to their neighborhood. 

“Sunset.  The sky dims from pink to purple.  Feel the chill of the night breeze.  Hear the whisper of dry grass, the skitter of leaves down empty sidewalks.  The shadows creep closer.  Once we feared those shadows.  Remember?  You’ve heard the stories.  Stories of Monsters.  Bogeys and boggarts and bugbears, waiting to spring from the darkness.  Ah, but that was long ago, back when the woods were still wild and the shadows untamed. We are safe now. There is no place for monsters in suburbia.”   

But children have been going missing in Cowslip Grove despite the neatly-mown lawns and tidy sidewalks.  No one remembers the missing children except for Levi and Kat, and it will be up to them to fight whatever is taking the children and save the missing kids before it’s too late. 


Kelley’s Picks 

Home Sick Pilots, Vol. 1 by Dan Watters 

Just when you thought haunted houses were getting predictable, this comic comes along with a big dose of 90’s indie rock nostalgia and a whole bunch of gore.  

The Hazards of Love, Vol. 1 by Stan Stanley 

Big bold magical realism, this graphic novel is unlike anything else I’ve read this year. Watch your hands and don’t trust the talking cat.  

White Smoke by Tiffany Jackson 

Is it just me or is this house haunted? Tiffany Jackson will keep you guessing in her latest thriller—it’s a page turner and it will keep you up with the lights on. 

All These Bodies by Kendare Blake 

One of my favorite authors of dark YA fantasy is back just in time for Halloween with an historical thriller reminiscent of In Cold Blood with a (possibly?) paranormal twist.  


Megan’s Picks 

What to read in October? I’m in the mood for creepy crawlies and creatures of the night! Here’s a selection of monsters—some loveable, some terrifying—for my favorite time of the year: Halloween. 

With vampires and so much more, I adored Any Way the Wind Blows by Rainbow Rowell. Ex-Chosen One Simon and vampire Baz unravel a new threat to the world of mages—a sudden abundance of new “Chosen Ones”—with plenty of romance-fueled interludes. What I didn’t expect was how steamy some of those interludes were. (Be forewarned, though it was a pleasant surprise for me!) Simon’s trauma and his difficulties with intimacy were well handled and rang achingly true despite the giant dragon wings and vampire fangs. This is the last in a trilogy, so start with the first, Carry On! 

The Lost Girls by Sonia Hartl is another vampire book that I’m looking forward to. One in a string of discarded vampiric conquests, Holly is stuck just as she was when her jerk of an ex-boyfriend and vampire sire, Elton, turned her years ago. When she meets Elton’s other exes, they rope her into a plan to kill Elton before he can add new girl Parker to his list. That concept is enough to get me interested—throw in that Holly is also falling for Parker, and now I can’t wait to get my hands on the book. 

Werewolves, merpeople, and…something else? populate What Big Teeth by Rose Szabo, the story of estranged daughter Eleanor’s return to her Maine home and her struggle to reconnect with her monstrous kin after years of boarding school. Lots of small factors made this work for me—the rowdy werewolf family, the misfit struggling to find her place, the Maine setting, the queer and polyamory representation, the eldritch horrors… 

Kelly DeVos’s Eat Your Heart Out stars a fully realized cast of teens, each one with their own reason for attending Camp Featherlite, a fat camp designed to prey on fat teenagers for its own nefarious purposes. And then…zombies?! This was a sharp and thoughtfully written book with a fast-paced plot and a heavy side of drama. I grew to love every member of the group—even the ones I started off despising. 

I’ve just started No One Returns from the Enchanted Forest by Robin Robinson, a lovely graphic novel about a town of goblins searching for safety when their underground home is plagued by destructive earthquakes. Unfortunately I have already grown attached to mischievous goblin child Pella, who—at this point in my reading—has already entered the Enchanted Forest and therefore will surely never return! (Right?) 

Finally, I have yet to read Artie and the Wolf Moon by Olivia Stephens, but I’m excited for what looks like a charming book with the perfect pairing of queer crushes and werewolves. I’m hoping it will be the perfect cozy Halloween read! 


Sarah S’s Picks 

One of my favorite literary Halloween costumes is the girl from The Green Ribbon, a delightfully spooky tale from Alvin Schwartz’s classic In a Dark, Dark Room, and Other Scary Stories. Pair an eye-catching green ribbon with a gruesome gash from A Complete Guide to Special Effects Makeup and you’ll be a hair-raising hit!  


Aaron’s Picks 

Over the last several months I have read several books from our science collections that, though selected somewhat at random and at first seeming unrelated, have in retrospect formed a cohesive whole. A book about birds, a book about time, a book about consciousness, a book about animal (and human) instincts. All were chosen on different days by browsing what happened to be on our New Non-Fiction shelves at the Main library or what happened to be available on cloudLibrary when I happened to want to listen to an audiobook. But as I listened and read and reflected on these recent picks, common themes emerged.   

All four books turn out to explore consciousness in one way or another – animal consciousness, human consciousness, our conscious perception of the movement of time, and urges that may arise in the subconscious or instinctual part of our brains but that drive us to seemingly conscious action.  

Jonathan Meiburg, in A Most Remarkable Creature, and Maine’s own Berndt Heinrich, in The Homing Instinct, write with incredible sensitivity about what the lived experience of our animal neighbors may be, their conjectures pointing to a mystery we may eventually solve as we come closer to understanding animal consciousness. In Conscious, Annaka Harris manages to condense an incredibly complex topic into a short, readable volume that highlights what we do and don’t know about our own existence in the world, and Carlo Rovelli manages a similar feat in The Order of Time as concerns the famously daunting subject of quantum mechanics and our passage and experience of time. They are also all frank about the distinctions between what we know, what we might soon learn, and what is likely to remain a mystery, distinctions that in no way minimize the authors’ enthusiasms.   

While there is of course value in deep investigation of specific topics (welcome to the library!), this grouping of books, read back-to-back, helped me remember that a broader context of direct and indirect connections is what makes meaning from simple information. 


Becca’s Picks 

It’s spooky season, but it’s also cozy season! In honor of Cozy Spooky Season (trademark Becca Starr, 2021), here are some picks from our most recent purchases that will make you delightfully shiver: 

Chouette, by Claire Oshetsky: A woman believes she has been impregnated by an “owl lover.”  Everyone thinks she is just nervous about motherhood…until Chouette is born. Equal parts magical and horrifying! 

Go Home, Ricky!, by Gene Kwak: Ricky Twohatchet is devastatingly injured during a wrestling match. Even worse (some would say), his career is ruined after an out-of-context video goes viral. Go Home, Ricky! is delightfully cheeky, but if fear of “being cancelled” keeps you up at night, you will find this book bone-chilling.  

The Body Scout, by Lincoln Michel: A baseball player is murdered during a game. His brother investigates, maneuvering through a world of environmental disaster, bloated corporations, and cybernetic body parts. The Body Scout is a fun cyberpunk ride that may strike a little too close to home.  

The Sinner and the Saint, by Kevin Birmingham: Isn’t true crime the ultimate Cozy Spooky? Learn about the true case that inspired Crime and Punishment and explore Dostoevsky’s life – and criminal companions – in Siberian exile. 

Happy cozy spooky reading! 


Stephanie’s Pick 

My October pick is much scarier than your average ghost story, since it involves vivid details about WWII London during the Blitz. 

V is for Victory by Lissa Evans graphically portrays 1945 London life during the Blitz, recounting rockets, bombs, rationing and missing people. There’s a cast of great characters led by precocious 15-year-old Noel and his “aunt” Vee, plus the twins Winnie (an air raid warden) and Avril (her glam sister). Questions about identity and parentage offer suspense and surprise, but the heart of this novel lies in the lives drawn so well, with humor and compassion. The reader really lives with these heroes during daily wartime peril. Most surprising to me is the fact that so many managed “To Keep Calm and Carry On” as the Queen commanded.  


Abraham’s Pick 

From the Portland Room archives! Pictured above: Betty Small and Grace J. Whitmore, of Bath, with cat perched on a 110-pound pumpkin. This was printed in the Press Herald on October 15, 1946. The two women were students at Farmington State Teachers College (today’s UMF). And the real mystery is…what’s the cat’s name?


Elizabeth’s Picks 

I don’t even know how to pick from all the riches that October brings to the library! Here are some ideas for dark nights from now through the depths of winter… 

My Heart is a Chainsaw by Stephen Graham Jones: Fantastic horror writer Stephen Graham Jones (member of the Blackfeet Nation) brings us this gory love letter to the slasher genre, described by one librarian as…Friday the 13th meets Shirley Jackson. In a town nestled by Indian Lake, high school senior Jade Daniels is an eighties slasher flick superfan…when she suddenly realizes she’s in a slasher. Will her encyclopedic knowledge help her survive? Ahhhh! 

The Library of the Dead by T.L. Huchu: Ropa Moyo has left school to earn money ferrying messages between the dead and the living in the phenomenal setting of a richly atmospheric, gloomy, ghoulish, haunted Edinburgh. With Zimbabwean magic, Scottish history, some “proper geekiness,” a cast of characters you’ll root for, and a grisly mystery to solve…plus a Library. Of. The. Dead. What more could you ask for?  

For more tales of supernatural beings..if you loved Helene Wecker’s The Golemn and the Jinni, Chava and Ahmad are back in The Hidden Palace!  

The 1998 film After Life by Kore-eda Hirokazu (who recently directed the out-of-this-world incredible Shoplifters) is a total gem of cinema. If you could bring one memory with you to eternity, what would you choose? Luminous cinematography, lovable characters, and a beautiful, wryly funny imagining of the lives of people after they die—hanging out in a big building that is a way station between life and death, wandering outside playing instruments, watching snow fall, filming memories and realizing what really matters. 


Eileen’s Pick  

I recently read This is Happiness by Irish writer Niall Williams, and felt my innards shift into a slightly different sequence. For one thing, my heart grew larger.  

Loathe to leave the altogether agreeable state in which I found myself, I moved on to Mr Williams’s novel History of the Rain. For lack of a better explanation—and I so wish I could find just the right words to fill that lack—I was set to bobbing in its damp, liquid Irishness.  

I am drawn to storytelling filled with meandering sentences that turn into freestanding paragraphs, words that sprout hyphens, and emotions that are bottled but could rock the rafters before too long.  

Such tales remind me of my family, the people I grew up loving. They are quiet, even shy. They have always laughed whenever the opportunity presents itself, frequently at themselves. They slip through the world with words as beloved companions even though they do not always know how to speak their hearts. In the end, they find their way with grace, warmth, humility.  

That is the blessed puddle I was happily splashing in while reading Niall Williams’s books. They render the privilege of wonder in the commonplace. Stories from ordinary life, stories special in their refraction.  

I am now waiting for Niall Williams’s Four Letters of Love to come my way. I can’t wait to read it. 

My thanks to Gail for suggesting that I might like This is Happiness. I sure did. And thank you to Andy, with whom I tumbled into a lunchtime conversation about the magic of storytelling. You inspired me to share the treasure that is Niall Williams’s brilliance. 


As always, thank you for reading.

If you’re looking for more ideas, that is our very favorite thing. We’re happy to help. Try our Your Next (Great!) Read service for kids, teens, and adults to get personalized lists of print or eBook recommendations from our staff. Our Reference staff is also available Monday-Friday, 10-4, at 871-1700 ext. 725. 

The Freedom to Read in Prison

posted: , by Rebecca Starr
tags: Library Collections | Programs & Events | Recommended Reads | Adults | Art & Culture | Health@PPL | Readers Writers

Banned Books Week (September 26 – October 2) provides time and resources to consider our freedom to read. Every year at the end of September, the Banned Books Week Coalition presents programs and information about censorship, intellectual freedom, and open access to information. They share stories about book challenges and protests by patrons and parents. Most of these challenges happen in schools and public libraries. However, one setting that has caught the attention of intellectual freedom advocates is the United States prison system.

In June 2019, Prison Legal News, a monthly magazine managed by the Human Rights Defense Center, obtained and published lists of banned publications (books, magazines, newsletters and pamphlets) from publicly funded prisons around the country. Soon after, PEN America, a nonprofit advocating for freedom of expression in writing, published a report titled “Literature Locked Up.” This report compiled book bans in prisons around the United States.

Advocates argue that prisons censor materials in three ways:

  • Creating lists of banned books and publications;
  • Allowing residents to purchase items from a small list of approved vendors;
  • Banning physical books and replacing them with resident-purchased, prison-issued tablets, which are often expensive and contain limited titles.

Rules about reading materials are dependent upon the prison’s classification.  In federal prisons, a warden can reject a specific publication, but they cannot create a list of banned publications (28 CFR 540.71(c)). Policies vary by state; in Maine, publications that “constitute a threat to safety, security, or the orderly management of the facility” are prohibited.  Privately owned prisons do not share data and policies publicly.

Libraries strive to offer well-rounded collections of diverse viewpoints, artistic expression, and sources of knowledge. Librarians support the autonomy of individuals to to read, watch, and listen to materials suited to the individual’s taste and learning goals. In 2010, the American Library Association adopted “Prisoners’ Right to Read: An Interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights,” which states:

When free people, through judicial procedure, segregate some of their own, they incur the responsibility to provide humane treatment and essential rights. Among these is the right to read and to access information. The right to choose what to read is deeply important, and the suppression of ideas is fatal to a democratic society. The denial of intellectual freedom—the right to read, to write, and to think—diminishes the human spirit of those segregated from society. 

To learn more about current issues related to incarceration, education, and creative expression, we invite you to:

Apple of My Pie: September Staff Picks

posted: , by Elizabeth
tags: Library Collections | Recommended Reads | Adults | Seniors | Art & Culture | Readers Writers

It’s September—the best month in Maine? Our September-loving staff dives into reading (and listening!) ideas from our Children’s, Teen, and Adult Nonfiction and Fiction collections.  


Elizabeth’s Picks 

Apple of My Pie by Mika Song: Hooray, it’s apple-picking time! Here’s one idea for young readers who are getting started on graphic novels. Very cute squirrels, a rescue mission, and plenty of apple pie makes for a dreamy fall read. 

A House for Every Bird by Megan Maynor with illustrations by Kaylani Juanita (of Magnificent Homespun Brown fame): A young bird-drawing artist figures she knows what her birds want…she drew them, right? She’s drawn an orange house for her orange bird and a tall house for her tall bird. But when she discovers her beautiful birds all want to swap houses, she gets to know who they really are. Come for the funny talking birds and the best illustrations—and stay for some gentle ideas about listening and letting go.

The Girl and the Ghost by Hanna Alkaf: Suraya has her own personal pelesit, Pink, a dark spirit who guards her jealously. When Suraya makes a fun new Star Wars-loving friend, her life with Pink changes—can they find enough light to defeat the dark? This sweetly spooky middle-grade fantasy set in Malaysia is great for a Halloween book pile.

Thanks A Lot, Universe by Chad Lucas: “Be brave. Be real. Be weird.” This middle-grade novel shines. Seventh-grader Brian is shy and anxious, and he’s just been separated from his mom and dad. He plays basketball at school with Ezra, who’s kind and funny, and who’s one of a whole crew of teenagers and adults who show up for Brian in a very tough time. The narration swaps between Brian and Ezra, and you’ll root for both. Lucas’ empathy, humor, heart, terrific characters and fantastic dialogue stands out.  

Before They Were Artists: Famous Illustrators as Kids by Elizabeth Haidle: I love the artists and authors included here. With many hours of my life spent happily with the Moomin family and Miyazaki films, I’m so curious to see this new graphic novel.

The Darkness Outside Us by Eliot Schrefer :  This YA sci-fi thriller had me on the edge of my seat. It’s full of twists, turns, guesses, revelations, and nail-biting intensity. Ambrose and Kodiak are two 17-year-olds from rival countries alone on a space mission. Sounds simple, right? But it’s not simple—and it’s not for the faint of heart. I can’t say more. The mystery at the heart of this book is a stunner. Unputdownable.  

And just a quick shout-out to some new Adult Fiction coming to the library. I’m looking forward to Miriam Toews’ Fight Night, Jocelyn Nicole Johnson’s My Monticello, Ruth Ozeki’s The Book of Form and Emptiness, and Elizabeth Strout’s Oh, William!


Cindy’s Picks

I’d like to recommend Wanda by Sihle Nontshokweni and Mathabo Tlali, a new picture book that we have in the Children’s Room. The dedication reads: “To friendships that provoke learning, unlearning, and thinking beyond self.  To young Black women, who learned that their hair was a burden and not a crown, we hope this story will lead you to return to the places in your heart where you continue to hide, only to feel unseen.  We hope that you find and feel the memories and hurt so that you may heal and be free.”  

This beautiful book begins with eight-year-old Wanda being teased about her hair on the school bus.  Wanda hears the words of her mother in her imagination saying her “hair is strong and beautiful like clouds,” and tries to remind herself to be confident, but she doesn’t feel it until she has a wonderful talk with her grandmother. The illustrations are filled with warm tones and rich colors and the message is an important one for children: it’s okay to be who you are. 

October will bring readers an important new memoir by Rex Ogle, the author of Free Lunch (winner of the 2020 YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction Award).  Punching Bag is a memoir of Rex’s life during high school and the pattern of abuse he suffered at the hands of his mother and stepfather. He also heartbreakingly takes care of his little brother, trying to protect him.  It’s a deeply heavy—but necessary—story to share, speaking openly and directly to the emotional and physical abuse that so many children experience and that he and his brother survived. For all those coping with trauma, he includes a vital afterword. You will not forget Rex’s compelling story once you have read it, and I highly recommend picking up Free Lunch if you haven’t yet. 


Carly’s Pick 

Back-to-school season is a great time to return to one of my favorite genres: dark academia. I can’t resist tales of campus secrets, which are often murderous (think Donna Tartt’s The Secret History or Marisha Pessl’s Special Topics in Calamity Physics) and sometimes magical, too (à la Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo). 

Next on my to-read list is a new addition to the genre—Ace of Spades by Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé. Chiamaka and Devon are chosen to be senior prefects at their elite prep school, but their seemingly bright college futures are put at risk when an anonymous texter sends threatening and harassing messages about them to the entire school. 


Eileen’s Pick 

Soon it will be September, arguably the best month of the year. But as I write, it is unarguably August. Hot and sticky. Not like a cinnamon bun right from the cooling rack, but the kind of hot and sticky that makes work of every breath and lightheadedness a constant state. Summer in Maine is grand in many ways and it isn’t that I want to be somewhere else… but the hygrometer that is my hair cannot lie about the humidity: both are high and out of control.  

Nothing too complicated is called for when I sit down to relax into leisurely dewiness. A medium-sized fan trained directly toward where I sit, the only sweat in sight running daintily down a tall glass of sweet tea, and a book that will forgive my heat-addled mental wandering.  

It turns out that the right book is from 2003, Braided Creek: A Conversation in Poetry comprising bite-size poems exchanged as correspondence between poets Ted Kooser and Jim Harrison. A long entry might be a whopping five-liner, with most a tantalizing three-or-four-line tease. They do not include who wrote which bits, saying (also uncredited) “This book is an assertion in favor of poetry and against credentials.”  

What matters here is that poetry was written. Perfectly. Succinctly. By these two poets. That is attribution enough.  

All I want to be  

is a thousand blackbirds  

bursting from a tree,  

seeding the sky.  

If you don’t have time for that one, how about  

Bucket in the rain,  


Is there anything cooler than poetry? 


Julia’s Picks 

Some flowers bloom / Where the green grass grows / Our praise is not for them / But the ones who bloom in the bitter snow / We raise our cups to them 

Fall is on the horizon, and in the world of Greek mythology, Persephone is making her annual journey back to the underworld where she spends the winter months. It’s a perfect time to remember the message of the musical Hadestown: “Spring will come again.” Written by folk singer/songwriter Anais Mitchell, Hadestown retells the ancient myth of the poet Orpheus, who travels to the underworld to bring back his lover, Eurydice. Working on a Song: The Lyrics of Hadestown is Mitchell’s chronicle of how the show’s lyrics evolved through its many versions, from the early years touring out of van in Vermont to the 2019 Broadway premiere. The book includes the compete lyrics of the Broadway production, alongside explanations of how (and why) each song changed over the years. An insightful guide to her own creative process, Mitchell illuminates the art of storytelling through song and demonstrates how ideas, like seeds, can blossom in unexpected ways. 

Accompany Working on a Song with the Tony-winning Broadway Cast Recording of Hadestown to hear the lyrics come to life. 


Stephanie’s Pick 

My choice is The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman. The Murder Club consists of a diverse and delightful cast of elderly residents at an upscale British senior facility. Usually they research cold cases, but this series of murders is recent and close to home. Headed by Elizabeth, who must be a former spy, and aided by two detectives, the team discovers all. Osman, a British TV personality and wit, provides a well plotted, suspenseful mystery, but the true joy is in his people. He respects these very real old people, who have challenges, but are capable, funny and endearing. I can’t wait for the next book, and maybe a BBC TV series. 


Becca’s Picks

September is the start of Cozy Season, where you can comfortably sit outdoors wrapped in a blanket, drink your favorite warm beverage (apple cider, anyone?), and get to work on that TBR pile. Here are a few favorites from our most recent fiction haul: 

Gordo by Jaime Cortez: Gordo tells interlocking stories from the perspective of Gordo, a boy growing up in a family of migrant farm workers in 1970’s rural California. Fans of Bryan Washington’s Lot will devour this book. 

For the Love of April French by Penny Aimes: If you liked Fifty Shades of Grey but are looking for something with more nuance, you will find a lot to love in this steamy romance! April, a trans woman living in Austin, meets an eccentric Seattle millionaire, and the sparks fly!  

The Matzah Ball by Jean Meltzer: Rachael is a Jewish woman who writes Christmas romances. When her publisher insists she write a Hannukah romance, Rachael heads to The Matzah Ball soiree for inspiration. This is sure to be a standout in this year’s pack of holiday romance novels! 

No Gods, No Monsters by Cadwell Turnbull: After Laila’s brother is killed by police, her investigation into his death leads her to discover the mythical monsters living among us. Cadwell Turnbull creates a supernatural underworld out of real societal issues in the launch of his Convergence Saga. If you liked Ring Shout and wished it were longer than a novella, you should check this one out. 

Finally, don’t forget to get on the waiting lists now for the new Sally Rooney and Lauren Groff! 


As ever, thanks for reading! Here’s a link to Apple of My Pie: September Staff Picks, a list of all the titles we’ve mentioned here.

If you’re looking for more ideas, that is our very favorite thing. We’re happy to help. Try our Your Next (Great!) Read service for kids, teens, and adults to get personalized lists of print or eBook recommendations from our staff. Our Reference staff is also available Monday-Friday, 10-4, at 871-1700 ext. 725. 


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