Sometimes you read books that just speak to you at the right time in your life. This month’s Book Report has two such books.
The first is a cozy mystery by Patricia Crisafulli titled “The Secrets of Ohnita Harbor." (A cozy mystery is a mystery that’s no blood or gore or anything too scary.) Gabriela is a 40-year-old divorced mom of 10-year-old son Ben, who moves back to her hometown of Ohnita Harbor from New York City after her divorce.
In New York City, Gabriela worked in authentications at the New York Public Library. Back home in Ohnita Harbor, she works in the town library, which is the oldest library in the country still in its original building, called “the fortress."
Like most community libraries, it is struggling financially. Gabriela is organizing a rummage sale to raise funds and, with a group of volunteers, is wading through the mountain of donations. When they open up one box of donations, they discover an intriguing ivory cross that looks like like could be an antique worth a great deal of money.
People are also reading…
Word gets out about the cross, and many people are interested. The library maintenance man, Mike, seems overly curious, as does a local antique dealer who offers his assistance, and the head of the library board of directors becomes increasingly insistent that the cross be sold immediately before a true assessment can be made.
When a local banker and good friend of Gabriela’s is found dead in the harbor after seeing the cross, it is assumed she accidentally drowned. Soon after, a body is found dead on the library lawn. Is the cross cursed, or is someone after the cross?
Gabriela uses her contacts to find out more about the cross, and discovers it may have belonged to St. Catherine of Siena, a medieval saint whose head is actually on display as a relic in the Duomo de Siena in Italy. If this cross belonged to St. Catherine, it could be worth enough to save the library.
There were many things that spoke to me about “The Secrets of Ohnita Harbor." The setting is a stand-in for Oswego, the author’s hometown and where I attended college. I volunteer at The Book Cellar, a used bookstore located in a New York Public Library branch, and we get donations of books all day every day, so I totally related to Gabriela’s job.
I have visited the Duomo de Siena, and saw for myself the head of St. Catherine. Gabriela’s friend has a basset hound, and I used to have a beloved basset myself.
The characters in the book are interesting. Gabriela is described as “a truth teller," perhaps a nice way of stating she says what she thinks whether people want to hear it or not. Her young son, Ben, is portrayed realistically; he can be sweet and kind and then cranky and self-centered, as many children his age are.
Gabriela’s mother, Agnese, is from Tuscany, and Gabriela is glad to be able to be back home to care for her mother after she was widowed and now has a health scare. Agnese’s Italian comes in handy when they need to speak to people in Siena.
“The Secrets of Ohnita Harbor” is a fascinating mystery, and the local setting will appeal to many who live in the area. I highly recommend it and am glad to see that there will be a second book in the series, “The Secret of Still Waters Chasm," set in the Adirondacks.
The other book that spoke to me was the fourth in Laurie Gelman’s “Class Mom” series, “Smells Like Tween Spirit.” This time Jen Dixon’s tween son is on the wrestling team, which means Jen must become a wrestling mom and deal with a particularly unpleasant mom from a rival team.
Her adult daughters decide to quit their jobs and team up to start a health food café (without killing each other), she’s going through a dry spell with her husband, and she has to deal with her dad’s dementia and her mom’s inability to face that, all this while teaching her favorite spin classes.
This one is truly funny and a little bittersweet. If you’ve ever been a sports mom (I was) you’ll relate, and you’ll laugh out loud at Jen’s antics as she tries to keep the wheels of her life spinning. Another highly recommended from me.
Diane La Rue is a member of the National Book Critics Circle and blogs about books at http://bookchickdi.blogspot.com. You can follow her on Twitter @bookchickdi, and she can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.