The Good Luck Girls by Charlotte Nicole Davis

The cover shows a young Black woman looking to the left, dressed for the trail in a leather coat and a strap for a bag across her chest. She has a floral tattoo on the side of her neck.

by Kristen B.

The Good Luck Girls is a flat-out running adventure of escape and escapade, complete with undead monsters, bank robberies, and a secret rebel base. In the country of Arketta, good luck girls are sold to “welcome houses” as children, basically into indentured servitude where they start as housemaids until they graduate to serving customers more personally. The male patrons of welcome houses are called “brags” by the women who work there. This book is filled with so many smart details that make it real.

Favors are the magical tattoos that mark the girls’ throats and match their names, which cannot be removed or covered without dire consequences. The girls in this story will do almost anything to remove those favors and be free of the welcome house. Meet the girls:

Aster, the protector, is the big sister and the one who has gumption to say, “time to go, girls.”

Violet, the favorite and the survivor who may have regrets, also has the secret information to get everyone to safety.

Tansy, the herbalist and medic, is the heart of the bunch who keeps everyone pointed in the same direction.

Mallow, the fighter, meets life with fists up but learns the hard way how to pick which fights are worth having.

Clementine, the catalyst and Aster’s younger sister, has a catastrophic Lucky Night and becomes the reason this group of girls flees into the wilderness. She wants so much more from life than a Welcome House can offer.

After Clementine’s debut ends with a very important brag dead in her bed, the girls figure out how make an escape, heading North to freedom. The girls follow clues from the story of Lady Ghost passed from good luck girl to good luck girl, but no one knows the truth – although Violet claims to have special knowledge. They discover a male guide to take them through rough country, who brings all the usual complications. He is also looking for redemption and a new life, and makes the difference for surviving in the deep wilderness. The group learns to rely on and (maybe even a little bit) love each other like family.

There are some solid themes underlying all the fun, including gender and race issues. These young women demonstrate their abilities to do what’s necessary to achieve their goals, despite physical and emotional trauma. As they reclaim their identities and their independence, questions arise about who the law protects and serves and when a little rebellion is a good thing. Honestly, I rooted for the girls during their first bank heist … even if it’s a crime.

I gulped this book down over one weekend. I can’t wait to see what these girls do next as I am pretty sure that each one of them is entirely capable of making her own good luck.

The Good Luck Girls is available in traditional print, book on CD, and as an eBook.

Kristen B. is a devoted bookworm lucky enough to work as the graphic designer for HCLS. She likes to read, stitch, and take walks in the park.

Norfolk, Archaeology, and a Touch of Crime: The Ruth Galloway Mysteries

The cover of The Crossing Places shows a black owl with yellow eyes atop a black perch, against a turquoise background.

By Julie F.

London native and Brighton resident Elly Griffiths has had a phenomenal (and very busy!) career since publishing the first Ruth Galloway mystery, The Crossing Places, in 2009. The author of three children’s books, the Stephens and Mephisto historical mystery series, and the Harbinder Kaur mystery series, she is the winner of the 2020 Edgar Allan Poe award for Best Novel for the first Kaur mystery, The Stranger Diaries. She also won the Dagger in the Library award from the Crime Writers’ Association, which is a prize for a body of work by a crime writer that users of libraries particularly admire.

Although all of her work is acclaimed, the Ruth Galloway novels are especially beloved by her devoted readers. Ruth is a forensic archaeologist who teaches at the University of North Norfolk, where her best friend, Shona, is married to the head of Ruth’s department. Over the span of thirteen novels, Ruth nurtures a passion for the work that consumes her academic life but also spills over into her personal life and a second job as an adjunct to the North Norfolk police constabulary. Like many police officers, DCI Harry Nelson is haunted by the one case he couldn’t solve – that of a missing five-year-old, who was taken from her parents’ home ten years ago and is now missing, presumed dead. When bones are discovered on the beach near Ruth’s home, DCI Nelson calls on Ruth to help the police date and identify them. An Iron Age discovery ensues, another child goes missing, and Ruth finds herself pulled into a case that has ramifications both past and present. The Crossing Places is an excellent start to a series where following the quirky, familiar characters we learn to love doesn’t overshadow the intensity of the mystery; Griffiths is skilled at developing both character AND plot.

Through the course of the series, Ruth has chilling adventure after adventure: she carbon-dates bones found on the site of an old children’s home in the process of being demolished; she attends the scene of the discovery of a downed World War II plane which presumably has the skeleton of the pilot intact; and a jaunt to Italy at the request of a fellow archaeologist needing help with his own most recent discovery results in a kind of working holiday. As the books progress, her relationship with DCI Nelson, both professional and personal, goes through a series of ups and downs that has the reader rooting for both the cranky but decent old-school DCI and the strong-willed, independent archaeologist.

The cover of The Night Hawks shows a backlit red house with a triangular roof, with dark trees above and green grass in the foreground.

The most recent novel, The Night Hawks, has the titular group of treasure hunters combing the beach in North Norfolk when they come across a body – and a cache of Bronze Age weapons, which is of real interest to Ruth and a new university colleague. DCI Nelson speculates that the body, which is not from antiquity, might be that of an asylum seeker who washed overboard in a storm, but the death is quickly linked to a murder-suicide at a nearby house, Black Dog Farm. The name ties into local legend about a huge, spectral black dog who haunts the area, adding an element of the paranormal to an already complicated mystery.

Both The Crossing Places and The Night Hawks are worthy additions to a compelling series, but I can recommend every entry – I’ve read and enjoyed every story involving DCI Nelson and his team, and Ruth and her colleagues, for well over a decade now. I’m still looking forward to more suspenseful mysteries from them – in a recent interview, Elly Griffiths said she is hard at work on the fourteenth Ruth Galloway novel, The Locked Room. Fans of Louise Penny, Ann Cleeves, and other writers of character-driven police procedurals will find much to enjoy and admire about this suspenseful series.

Julie is an instructor and research specialist at HCLS Miller Branch who finds her work as co-editor of Chapter Chats very rewarding. She loves gardening, birds, books, all kinds of music, and the great outdoors.

The Night Watchman by Louise Erdrich

The book cover has the title and author's name in white lettering against a background of stripes of varying widths in shades of blue, purple, and green.

By Piyali C.

Books have their unique ways of clearing the lenses through which we view life. They tell us stories of people whose struggles may not have found a prominent place in history books. Louise Erdrich’s The Night Watchman revolves around one such nugget of history.

The central theme of the book is the fight against Native dispossession from North Dakota by the Turtle Mountain Chippewa tribe, which was led by Louise Erdrich’s grandfather, Patrick Gourneau. The protagonist of the book, Thomas Wazhashk, is created in the image of Gourneau, who fought against a 1953 bill introduced by Senator Arthur V. Watkins to terminate the rights of the Chippewa tribe over their land in the reservation; Gorneau led a delegation of tribal Council Members in protest. Like Gourneau, Thomas is a night watchman in a jewel-bearing plant, the first factory located near the Turtle Mountain Reservation in rural North Dakota. Thomas spends every night guarding the factory, and during the day he meets with tribal elders as they plan to take their protest against Watkins’ bill to Washington, DC. Their efforts, however, require money the tribe does not have.

Thomas’s wife, Rose, not only supports him in this endeavor, but also is a pillar of the Chippewa community whose identity Thomas and other tribal leaders seek to preserve. Many women from the tribe find employment in the factory, putting beads on jewelry. One of these women is Patrice Paranteau, who happens to be Thomas’s niece. Patrice is a fierce, strong, independent young woman who single-handedly takes care of her mother and brother and continues to look for her sister, Vera, who went to the Cities and never came back. Unlike the other women in the tribe, Patrice is not looking for a husband and children, although there are a few men who desire her affection. She wants self-sufficiency and financial independence so she can stop her alcoholic and abusive father from hurting her mother and brother. Patrice saves every penny to fund her search for her big sister, Vera. Rumor has it that Vera has been seen in the city with a baby. Patrice never gives up hope that Vera will return, even after she finds despairing signs of Vera’s death when she goes to Minneapolis to look for her. During her search for Vera, Patrice encounters extreme violence and ugliness that endangers her own life, yet she remains undaunted. Louise Erdrich does not shy away from showing her readers the violence and exploitation that Native American women are subjected to in real life.

Although the novel revolves around the Chippewa tribe’s determination to stop the Termination Bill, Erdrich weaves a beautiful and sensitive story of love, loss, and hope, with characters who will remain in the heart of readers long after they finish the book. Each character created with utmost love and minutiae is a beautiful composite of the whole Turtle Mountain Chippewa tribe, who band together to fight for their existence and identity under Thomas’s leadership. For me, the character of Patrice Paranteau embodies the indomitable spirit, the fierceness, the mysticism, and the harmony of Native American tribes.

This was a spectacular book, incorporating the struggles of the Turtle Mountain Chippewa tribe as well as their resilience and sensitivity. I am still wandering in the pages of the book where the line between reality and paranormal sometimes became blurry, but it made perfect sense in the world that Erdrich creates for her predecessors. My library-sponsored book club, Global Reads, discussed this book a few weeks ago. We all agreed this was a beautiful story, an important story, a story that needs to be read to learn how people with little power rose up to the all-powerful government to demand what was rightfully theirs.

The Night Watchman by Louise Erdrich is available in print as well as in ebook and eaudiobook format from Libby/OverDrive. Louise Erdrich is the author of seventeen novels and the owner of Birchbark Books, an independent bookstore in Minneapolis.

Piyali is an instructor and research specialist at the Miller Branch of HCLS, where she co-facilitates both Global Reads and Strictly Historical Fiction.