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Tag Archives: Friday Reads
Disclaimer: I finished reading this book a week or two ago. Then I found out it was this week’s #BookFaceFriday. I couldn’t resist the temptation.
“A beautiful computer hacker and a bad-boy FBI agent must collaborate…in more ways than one…” Sometimes Goodreads just has the perfect descriptions. I can’t describe Wired by Julie Garwood any better than that. In this book, Allison Trent is a freakishly brilliant computer hacker who has a day job as a supermodel. Yes, you heard me.
Liam Scott is an FBI agent with a prickly exterior who is in a bind and needs a freakishly brilliant computer hacker to casually break into the FBI servers. He is ready and willing to break every rule in the book to complete his mission. But, don’t worry, he has a heart of gold.
Allison would love to help, but she has a super secret double life she doesn’t want anyone to know about! Fear not, I didn’t give any spoilers here. The reader knows about her double life nearly from page one. She is casually breaking a few rules of her own to use her super secret computer powers for good.
You may have noticed this, but Wired is a romantic suspense novel. This book is probably not going to radically change the way you see the world. But it sure is entertaining. Every page you turn reveals a new plot line fresh out of the Romantic Suspense Book of Clichés. It was deliciously predictable in all the right ways and was the perfect way to relax on a lazy weekend.
Read it to find out if two prickly people with a secret heart of gold can collaborate…in more ways than one.
I have my mother-in-law to thank for introducing me to a new-to-me mystery series: The Molly Murphy Mysteries. So far, I’ve read and listened to Book 1: Murphy’s Law, and am halfway through Book 2: Death of Riley. This series is Mrs. Bowen’s third historical mysteries venture, and I am thoroughly enjoying it. Here’s a synopsis of Murphy’s Law:
Murphy’s Law introduces us to the spunky, 19th-century Irish heroine: Molly Murphy. Defending herself from the unwelcome advances of a landowner’s son in Ireland, Molly accidentally kills him and flees to London to escape hanging. A split second decision introduces Molly to Kathleen O’Connor, who, with her two small children, has tickets on a ship to America, where she plans to join her husband. But after discovering she has tuberculosis, Kathleen persuades the desperate Molly to take her children to America. On board the ship, Molly attracts the loud attentions of a crude, boisterous type named O’Malley. Her public argument with him comes back to haunt her when he is found murdered on Ellis Island; Molly and a young man she befriended become prime suspects. Although the handsome young detective investigating the case, Daniel Sullivan, appears to believe Molly is innocent, Molly decides she’d better investigate on her own behalf and that of her friend. Wending her way through a gritty, pulsating underworld of recently arrived immigrants in Tammany Hall-era New York, Molly struggles to prove her innocence by any means necessary.
Complete list of the Molly Murphy series titles:
- Murphy’s Law (2001)
- Death of Riley (2002)
- For the Love of Mike (2003)
- In Like Flynn (2005)
- Oh Danny Boy (2006)
- In Dublin’s Fair City (2007)
- Tell Me, Pretty Maiden (2008)
- In a Gilded Cage (2009)
- The Last Illusion (2010)
- Bless the Bride (2011)
- Hush Now, Don’t You Cry (2012)
- The Family Way (2013)
- City of Darkness and Light (2014)
- The Edge of Dreams (2015)
- Away in a Manger (2015)
- Time of Fog and Fire (2016)
- The Ghost of Christmas Past (2017)
This title came to my attention on July 1st aka Canada Day as the daily special from Audible. I was intrigued, downloaded the title, and eagerly began listening. It helps that the author of whom I have long been a fan reads this title.
Myers begins with the premise that Canada lacks a mission statement. The country promises to provide good government and a safe place to live but is that enough? The inevitable comparisons to life in the United States make up a great deal of content. He compares regional colloquialisms, health care, the love of hockey, and the government supported CBC to their American counterparts. The United States does not propagate information about Canada so there may be many episodes in Canadian history that will be new information. To drive this point home, when my curiosity was piqued for the Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, father of the current Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, I looked for books to read more about him from my local library, but there were none.
Mike Myers was born to two Liverpudlian parents who immigrated to Canada for better employment opportunities. English parents making a life in Canada caused a clash of culture. Mike shares how the values of his parents and the humor of his brothers Peter and Paul shaped his worldview and brand of comedy. One of the attributes of his father in often-difficult situations was a non-rhetorical question of “how can we make this funny?”
Mike shares how his character Wayne Campbell (Wayne’s World) is a quintessential Canadian creation, specifically from the Scarborough district of Montreal, dissecting everything from his language to his name. Other Saturday Night Live characters also owe their origin to Mike’s Canadian and British upbringing. With Canadian, British, and United States Citizenship, it’s clear that Mike Myers is a very proud Canadian patriot despite being an expatriate.
Myers, Mike (2016) Canada. Doubleday Canada
Set during the Civil War and following years, Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women tells the story of four remarkable sisters: Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy. When we first meet them, they, and their mother, struggle to make ends meet while their father serves as a minster in the Union army. Despite their lack of material wealth, the Marches share what little they have with their poorer neighbors. This charitable act catches the eye of their wealthy neighbor James Laurence and his grandson, Laurie. Over the course of the novel, Laurie grows close to the sisters, particularly Jo.
In writing Little Women, Alcott drew heavily from her childhood in Concord, Massachusetts, the book’s principal setting. Like the Marches, the Alcott family struggled financially at times. The Alcott family also followed American transcendentalism or the belief that people and nature are inherently good. On numerous occasions, Alcott’s characters express a belief in transcendentalism. Even when they’re at their lowest, they choose to see the good in others. Additionally, the character of Jo is said to be drawn from Alcott. They not only shared numerous personality traits, but both chose to pursue literary careers at a time when middle class women did not work outside of the home.
While Little Women takes place during the late-nineteenth century, the story continues to strike a chord with today’s readers. Like modern girls, the March sisters fall in love, encounter envy, struggle to fit in with wealthy friends, fight with siblings, and find their way in the world. We rejoice at Meg’s marriage, laugh at Jo’s antics, and weep when they lose loved ones because these are universal experiences we all go through at some point. In other words, we see ourselves in the Marches.
Alcott, Louisa May. Little Women. New York: Signet Classics, 2004. Originally published 1868.
This spring, I consumed a lot of depressing nonfiction. As summer approached, I was ready for a change. I wanted to read something funny, with the power to transport me out of my own head. Luckily, David Sedaris’s new book, Calypso, hit the shelves on May 29, 2018. It was just what the doctor ordered.
Like Sedaris’s previous books, Calypso is a collection of personal stories (Sedaris refers to them as “realish”) told for maximum comedic effect. As his readers have come to expect, many of these tales feature family: his four living siblings; his nonagenarian father, Lou; and his long-term and long-suffering boyfriend, Hugh. His mother, who died during cancer treatment in 1991, and his sister, Tiffany, who committed suicide in 2013, are also present, even in their absence.
What’s different about this current book is that everyone is older; themes of middle age and the passage of time run throughout. This doesn’t make the book a downer though, just relatable, as I too have aged. And never fear–Sedaris’s talent for treating sober and mundane topics poignantly, while at the same time triggering barks of laughter with his irreverent, sometimes shocking humor, remains intact.
In some of my favorite passages in the book, Sedaris muses on his twenty-plus-year relationship with Hugh. For instance, in “Company Man” Sedaris writes:
We’re not a horrible couple, but we have our share of fights, the type that can start with a misplaced sock and suddenly be about everything. “I haven’t liked you since 2002,” [Hugh] hissed during a recent argument over which airport security line was moving the fastest.
This didn’t hurt me so much as confuse me. “What happened in 2002?” I asked.
Hugh’s line about not liking David since 2002 cracks me up, but I think the fact that the insult merely piques David’s curiosity about what happened in 2002 brilliantly conveys the security and familiarity of the couple’s bond, despite squabbles.
Other stories in the collection deal with, among other things, a fatty tumor Sedaris wants to have removed so he can feed it to a snapping turtle; his mother’s never addressed alcoholism; a psychic-mediated conversation between his sister Amy and their deceased mother and sister; and their father’s refusal to move out of his house despite regular falls. Depressing, yes, but hilariously so! I promise!
Sedaris, David. Calypso. New York: Little, Brown, & Co., 2018.
I heard Celeste Ng speak at a United for Libraries hosted author event a few years ago. At the same event, I received an advance copy of her book, Little Fires Everywhere. I enjoyed her remarks but I wasn’t especially interested in reading the book. The book has received a lot of attention since its publication. It is included on many best books of 2017 lists and it is now among three books on Lincoln City Libraries short list for One Book One Lincoln voting. During a recent and long road trip, I had a chance to listen to the audio version of Ng’s book. I wasn’t disappointed.
Little Fires Everywhere begins with a house on fire and speculation about who is to blame. At the top of the list is the youngest family member – a non-conforming teen rebel. But did she do it and, if so, why? The setting is Shaker Heights, Ohio, and the story evolves from the developing relationships among members of two families – one long rooted in the community and prosperous, and the other (a mother and daughter) impoverished and living day to day under uncertain circumstances. Central are the two mothers – Elena Richardson, a local news reporter, mother of four and a well-connected community member, and Mia Warren, a mysterious artist and single mother of one. Connections evolve and conflict emerges as a result of the attempted adoption of a Chinese-American baby and an ensuing custody battle. In the background is Elena Richardson’s effort to uncover Mia Warren’s true identity.
Lincoln’s three books selected for the all community read are all excellent choices. Celeste Ng’s book is worthy and notable. If chosen, it will make an interesting read and a great source for conversation.
Little Fires Everywhere is Celeste Ng’s second novel. Her debut book is, Everything I Never Told You, an award winning best seller.
Ng, Celeste. Little fires everywhere. (New York: Penguin Press) 2017.
For years, I overlooked the simplicity and beauty of Tom Petty’s music. Some points of clarification at the outset: I would like to acknowledge the contribution of the Heartbreakers to Tom Petty, and it should be noted that the band (both collectively and individually) did a fair amount of side work, including backing Johnny Cash and the Travelling Wilburys (among other things). I owe it to my daughter (11-year old astrology expert and member of the counterculture) for my renewed interest in Petty, and the Heartbreakers. As a youngster, I never really listened to him much. Not that I had anything against him or his music, but I guess I just did not have the appreciation at that time. At any rate, the daughter, oddly and I’m not sure how, became a huge Petty fan. She likely was drawn to his simplicity, musical genius, and willingness to tell it like it is. Speaking of how Tom and the Heartbreakers got hooked up with Johnny Cash, Tom mentions that the band was interested in all forms of American music, pure forms that is, “not what they would call country today. What they would call country today is sort of like bad rock groups with a fiddle.” Tom and the Heartbreakers backed Cash on American II: Unchained. As much as I could go on about Cash, this little review today is about Petty, so let us steer back in that direction.
Petty, written by former Del Fuegos guitarist Warren Zanes, chronicles Tom’s upbringing, complete with an abusive alcoholic father in 1950’s working class Gainesville, FL. Arguably, the most difficult obstacle in Petty’s childhood was his lack of familial support for his interests and passion (music), but some might argue that being severely beaten around age 5 would be just as bad or worse. At any rate, Tom did not have an easy childhood, and while struggling through the monotony and boredom of school, he did get hooked up with other musicians, notably taking guitar lessons from Don Felder (the Eagles), forming various cover bands, and then the assembly of Mudcrutch. Most of the members of Mudcrutch subsequently became members of the Heartbreakers.
The account provided by Zanes relies on interviews from various people around the band and Petty himself. I think Tom wanted to tell his story, but felt the need to have it done independently, so that it seemed more credible. I can’t say I blame him, as I’ve often read autobiographies (especially by musicians) that come across as braggadocios, even if not intended. This one doesn’t play that way. Petty is such a likeable figure because of his honesty and humility. That is not to say that the duration of the Heartbreakers was without conflict, because it certainly was not. In addition to the Heartbreakers and various producers (notably Jimmy Iovine and Rick Rubin), numerous other prominent figures played a role in his life, such as (to name just a few) close friends Stevie Nicks, Jeff Lynne, Bruce Springsteen, and George Harrison. One of the reasons Petty has appeal (aside from his work with the Heartbreakers) is his work and friendship with these other musicians. For a nice little example of this, check out the performance at George Harrison’s induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (2004), and a cat named Prince who makes an appearance around 3:29.
Zanes of course also covers personal aspects of Petty’s life, including his relationship with his first wife, Jane Benyo, his kids, and his second wife, Dana York. Zanes also chronicles Tom’s depression and heroin use, and while that certainly is a large part of his story, it does not overwhelm the reader. It just seems to be an honest depiction and part of his story. As far as biographies go, this is one of the better ones.
Zanes, Warren. Petty: The Biography. 2016. Print.
I became motivated to reread this book when I looked at the booklist for The Great American Read program and realized that it had been about forty years since I first encountered this classic “Coming of Age” story.
With Bless Me, Ultima (1972), the first in a trilogy (followed by the publication of Heart of Aztlan in 1976 and Tortuga in 1979), Anaya follows six-year-old Antonio on his growing-up journey and spins the story by revealing dreams and reality—and blurring the fine line between them from time to time. Anaya says he does not seek characters—they just come to him. So it is with Ultima. Anaya says she appeared in the doorway while he was writing and assured him that the story will not work unless he put her in it. Ultima is a pivotal character in the story. She is a curandera—a healer and teacher, and she guides Antonio gently without prescribing exact choices to make or solutions to problems.
From the first dream sequence to the last (you’ll recognize them, they are in italics), it is clear that Antonio was born to struggle and that his path is marked by having his feet in two different worlds. Throughout the book, he is faced with tests. Some are common tests of childhood, like how to overcome the loneliness of feeling different. Others are extremely unusual and painful tests for a young person to endure and learn from. I feel like this book has resonated with so many readers because even though we may live in different worlds, many of us can really relate to his experience. Are we all on the same journey as Antonio? Struggling to understand good and evil around (and within) us? But are some of us especially lost with no guides or curanderas to show us the way?
The setting and characters ring true to me. The book mirrors my experience in small towns in New Mexico right down to my best friend Lenora’s grandmother—who might very well be the model for Antonio’s mother—speaking only Spanish, warning us against straying to the city (too late—we were already on our way to LA), and feeding us the most heavenly comfort food for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
The story is told in flat-out beautiful writing, and unless you read the book, you’ll just have to take my word for it that this book has one of the best first paragraphs ever! So I’d suggest you (and your book group) find out for yourselves. This #FridayReads feature is available as a Book Club kit from the Nebraska Library Commission at http://nlc.nebraska.gov/ref/bookclub.
The Great American Read is an eight-part PBS series that explores and celebrates the power of reading, in the context of America’s 100 best-loved novels (as chosen through a national survey). It investigates how and why writers create their fictional worlds, how we as readers are affected by these stories, and what these 100 different books have to say about our diverse nation and our shared human experience. Voting for America’s favorite book opened with the launch of the two-hour premiere episode on May 22 and continues throughout the summer, leading up to the grand finale “favorite” announcement in October 2018. Viewers can vote at pbs.org/greatamericanread and through hashtag voting via Facebook and Twitter using #GreatReadPBS. I think I might be voting for Bless Me Ultima. Which book will you vote for?
Review by Mary Jo Ryan.
All 5-year-old Mike wanted from life was to go to Disney World. One day, his dad packed him in the car, drove him to an abandoned shipyard, and told him that The Happiest Place on Earth must have closed. That was the day that ol’ Mike Muñoz realizes that life will be a constant disappointment, and just when you think you’re going to get what you want, it will all be taken away.
Today, Mike is a 22-year-old landscaper (although he prefers the title “topiary artist” for his skills with the hedge-trimmers). He still lives with his mom and his developmentally disabled brother, their dad long gone to parts unknown. He drives a junky car, always one step away from engine failure, and still hangs out with his high school buddy, neither of them with any romantic prospects on the horizon.
When Mike loses his landscaping job for refusing to pick up dog poo, he is determined to do whatever it takes to break free of his hand-to-mouth existence and chase the American Dream, perhaps writing “the great American landscaping novel” along the way. And so begins a series of unfortunate events that will be all too familiar to anyone who has ever tried to escape from the cycle of poverty that holds down a good portion of our society. Though angry and resentful about his lot in life, Mike keeps his sense of humor, even as “The Man” takes everything else away.
From the author’s website:
“To the Stars Through Difficulties (She Writes Press, 2017) is inspired by the fifty-nine Carnegie libraries built in Kansas early in the 20th century.
Andrew Carnegie was the Johnny Appleseed of libraries – but public libraries would never have thrived on the prairie in the early 20th Century if it weren’t for the women in small and remote communities who sponsored waffle suppers, minstrel shows, and women’s baseball games to buy books.
Angelina returns to her father’s hometown of New Hope to complete her dissertation on the Carnegie libraries, just as Traci arrives as artist-in-residence at the renovated Carnegie Arts Center, just when Gayle takes refuge after the devastation of the neighboring town of Prairie Hill by a tornado. Discovery of an old journal provides not only the information Angelina needs to finish her dissertation but also the ammunition to save the Arts Center from attacks by the Religious Righteous and the inspiration for the neighboring and rival town of Prairie Hill to build a cultural center as the first act of reclaiming their lives after the tornado.”
This is definitely a book for library lovers. The history of Carnegie libraries is beautifully interwoven within the story of the present day struggles and triumphs of the libraries/arts/cultural centers of the novel. As a librarian, I of course identified with library school student Angelina. But, the strength, intelligence, and determination of all of the women is inspiring. A very well written, feel-good read … perfect for a relaxing summer vacation or book club discussion.
As graphic novels have gained popularity and recognition as legitimate reading, authors and illustrators continue to expand into other areas. Although nonfiction told in graphic novel format has been around for quite some time, it seems in recent years more opportunities have been taken. Well-known nonfiction writer, Brad Meltzer, has created a slim volume the publisher is calling a graphic biography.
I Am Gandhi is illustrated by 25 artists, with the variety of art strengthening this excellent biography of an outstanding man. Meltzer tells of his childhood in India, his time spent in London and South Africa, and mentions a particular picture book that influenced his life. It is written as if Gandhi himself is telling of his life to a small group of children. How he developed his non-violent approach, what existing ideas influenced him in its development, and how he and others put it into practice are all included.
This title is a good introduction to Gandhi, his life and beliefs. It may guide readers to look for more in-depth information about him. The timeline, quotes, and photos at the back of the book add to his story.
Librarians may see the title and author and think of his series of biographies for much younger readers, also titled “Ordinary People Change the World.” This younger series is aimed at kindergarten through grade 3 and gives a much briefer look at a number of amazing people.
Meltzer, Brad. I Am Gandhi: A Graphic Biography of a Hero. , 2018. Print.
Sometimes a book in your read-me-next list jumps to the front of the pack. I read the news reports like everyone else, a month ago, April 25, 2018—the Golden State Killer had finally been arrested. Over thirty years since his last likely murder, authorities arrested a suspect, 72-year-old Sacramento resident Joseph James DeAngelo, a former police officer, based on DNA evidence. I thought to myself: it’s time to read that book by Michelle McNamara, before I read anything else.
I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer chronicles McNamara’s tireless research into the then-cold case of the serial killer (and rapist and burglar) that she dubbed the Golden State Killer, a moniker now solidified by recent media attention. While I’m not a true-crime buff, I am a lover of research and storytelling and problem-solving, and McNamara’s journey is thoughtfully told, somehow incredibly informative without ever being lurid or sensational. She never exploits or re-victimizes the people who had the misfortune to experience the mystifying, seemingly random violence of the Golden State Killer. The events in the book are not detailed chronologically from the Killer’s perspective, either, which would be more expected. This structure of the presentation of events seems to de-center and deflate the Killer, which is poetic, considering his need for control. Truly, this book is not really about him.
We read about his crimes in different geographic areas of law enforcement, between 1974 and 1986, and how different agencies put together that the crimes in their area might be committed by one offender. And then, occurring much later, we read how investigators realized how all these offenders (the East Area Rapist, the Original Night Stalker, the Visalia Ransacker, etc.) might be one extremely prolific criminal, that we now know as the Golden State Killer. McNamara details the protocols of investigations, and how they were changing, especially related to DNA collection and testing. She also did copious research herself, and interviews other researchers, amateur and professional, for a fascinating look into the minds of those who try to solve crimes.
McNamara died before she could complete the book. I didn’t know much about her or her writing career before she died. I was familiar with the work of her husband, Patton Oswalt, having enjoyed reading his books and watching his stand-up routines. McNamara was well-known in true crime circles for her blog TrueCrimeDiary, which focused on—you guessed it—true crime and cold cases, an interest she had ever since the unsolved murder of a teenager in her neighborhood as a child. When she died unexpectedly in 2016, McNamara had mostly completed the book, and had written many articles about the case and made extensive notes. The book was completed, faithful to its original intent, by a true crime writer she had worked with previously (Paul Haynes) and Oswalt. The editors have made it very clear what was written by her, what was transcribed from her notes and recordings, what was adapted from her published articles, and so on.
The book was released in February 2018, and it was the story of its posthumous publication that attracted me to it at first. Then HBO purchased the rights, and I was even more interested. And you already know what happened on April 25, 2018.
The title sounds like an odd choice, but when you read the chapter it comes from—a letter McNamara wrote to the Killer, about his eventual capture that she was certain would occur, written long before April 25,, 2018—you’ll understand why it was chosen for the title.
Of interest to library workers: using WorldCat as a research tool, on p 269, in a chapter called “The One.” In this engrossing chapter, we read about the “one” suspect on which various investigators each fixated, how they were each sure they had finally figured out who their suspect was, and then how all the different “ones” were ruled out. (Sidney, Nebraska is also mentioned on p 269—but don’t worry, just read the chapter.)
Also of interest to Nebraskans: the epigraph is a poem by Weldon Kees, “Crime Club.” It helps set an eerie tone for a book as much about the people solving a crime as it is about crime or a criminal. Sure, after you finish the book, you’ll probably want to dive into the news reports about Joseph James DeAngelo. (There’s plenty to read about him already, and more will come out when we get closer to a trial.)
But you might also take a little time to appreciate Weldon Kees. And look into the mystery of his disappearance, if you choose. Or just enjoy some of his poetry.
McNamara, Michelle. I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer. , 2018. Print.
But she wonders how it could be if she just didn’t have to do these things.
Following a shooting star and some paw prints into the forest, Moon meets a wolf who, along with his pack, shows her their “wolfy ways” – how to play, how to be still, and how to be wild.
Moon, written and illustrated by Alison Oliver (2018), is a sweet story with beautiful, expressive pictures about balancing the day-to-day busy schedules with time spent outside, playing and connecting.
In Ruth Ware’s The Woman in Cabin 10, it’s the old set up on a cruise ship, there’s a lady in a cabin, but she isn’t really there. There were sounds of a struggle, and a body hitting the water, a smear of some substance on a privacy screen like blood, but in the morning, nothing. The night before there had been suitcases, and clothing in the cabin. In the morning it is completely bare
Lo (Laura) Blacklock wouldn’t have heard the sounds from the cabin next door, except, within days of the trip, her flat in London was broken into while she slept. The burglar actually locked her in her bedroom while he burgled her flat. She’s gone through the trouble of replacing her phone, money and credit cards, but the break in has deeply disturbed her. To top it all off, she’s had a fight with her boyfriend, a photojournalist just back from a foreign shoot. She’s sleep deprived. anxious, and now, can’t find the mysterious young woman, approximately her age, who she borrowed mascara from in cabin 10 next door. Worse, none of the crew or passengers are missing.
But this time, the cruise ship, the cruise, and the passengers are all rather unique. It’s a very, very small, very exclusive cruise ship, more like a large yacht. Fitted out sumptuously, with guests to both fit the setting, and to advertise it–a few of the rich, the owner and his dying wife, travel journalists, a renowned photographer, all to advertise the maiden voyage of the Aurora Borealis, as it sets off from London to sight see the fjords of Norway, cities of the cold northern waters, as well as watch the Northern Lights. And Lo has gotten the chance of a lifetime to go, instead of the owner/head writer of the travel magazine she works for.
On top of the regular narrative are inset emails and online conversations from family and friends unable to contact Lo, foreshadowing a darker, more personal fate for Lo. It all works together to come to an altogether unexpected series of twists. The book is definitely a page turner, as Lo gets herself into trouble taking us right with her.
The Woman in Cabin 10, a novel, by Ruth Ware, Scout Press, imprint of Simon & Schuster, Inc., hardcover 9781501132933, softcopy 9781501132957, e-book 9781501132940
Matthias Lane is a library archivist, a widower nearing retirement at an American university, who guards the rules of the library’s archives religiously. Case in point—the archives has among its’ collections the letters written by T.S. Eliot to Emily Hale, a close personal friend. Graduate student Roberta Spire wants access to those letters, but the instructions left when the letters were donated do not allow public viewing until the year 2020. Roberta believes that the letters will give insight into why Eliot enjoyed female companionship, but was so emotionally detached from his wife, as well as to why Eliot became religious. At first, Matthias sees Roberta as only another grad student doing research. But as Roberta persists in wanting to read Eliot’s letters, Matthias is intrigued by her persistence, and by her knowledge of Eliot’s life and poetry that matches his own. As Matthias gets better acquainted with Roberta, he begins to realize that his own life and marriage are similar to Eliot’s, which Matthias has not previously examined in depth. As a result, his dilemma over Eliot’s letters ends in a completely unexpected solution.
This book appealed to me on two levels: it was a story involving a library archives, and a story based in historical fact. The letters of T.S. Eliot to Emily Hale are real, and are kept in the Firestone Library, at Princeton University. The letters are not to be shown to the public until January 1, 2020.
The Archivist, by Martha Cooley, was written 20 years ago, it was is still a great read, and I highly recommend it.
A member of my book group recently had us read Night School, the 21st entry in Lee Child’s very successful Jack Reacher series. While I’ve often felt it can be more difficult to have good conversations about genre titles, I’m happy to report we found plenty to discuss.
If you are a Lee Child reader, you know that the books feature Jack Reacher – a loner, drifting from place to place after mustering out of the Army in 1997 with the rank of Major. He does not own a home, possess a driver’s license, or collect federal benefits. The only item typically in his possession is a toothbrush and he never carries luggage of any sort. In Night School, Child resets the clock and places Reacher back in the army as a military policeman – part of the fictional 110th Special Investigations Unit formed to handle exceptionally difficult cases. The book begins with Reacher receiving an award for completing a successful covert operation in the morning, and by the afternoon, he’s reporting to night school.
His classmates include an FBI agent and a CIA analyst, both of whom also recently completed successful covert operations. Wondering what this school is about they receive the following background briefing: “[A] Jihadist sleeper cell in Hamburg, Germany, has received an unexpected visitor—a Saudi courier, seeking safe haven while waiting to rendezvous with persons unknown. A CIA asset, undercover inside the cell, has overheard the courier whisper a chilling message: The American wants a hundred million dollars.” From here, we follow Reacher and his classmates trying to determine what could be worth a hundred million dollars.
On the Lee Child website, I found an article by Stav Sherez entitled “Five reasons why the Jack Reacher novels are brilliant.” The fact is that even though the books are hugely popular, they often fail to garner much critical respect –as is often the case with series, genre books. The most discussable point of the article for me was that “…the Reacher books are Westerns in disguise and this goes a long way to explaining why they are so phenomenally popular…. Reacher is the classic silent stranger who rides into town and saves the small folk from rapacious bullies.” I would have never thought of Child’s books as westerns, but endings where justice is served are always satisfying.
I asked my group if reading this series in order was essential and the answer was no. Each book could be a standalone because each is uniquely episodic and Reacher’s personal life does not change or progress dramatically from title to title. Similarly, plots for the Jack Reacher movies starring Tom Cruise have been cherry picked from the series based on those most suitable for cinema (One Shot #9 and Never Go Back #18), as opposed to series order. We also discussed why people read series (and why some do not) and overwhelmingly series reader do not want to leave the character when others are perfectly happy to do so. When I asked if Jack Reacher could be someone they knew, all of the readers of the series said – he is real to me. As long as Lee Child continues to write, Jack Reacher remains safely in our group of literary friends.
Child, Lee. Night School. New York: Delacorte Press, 2016
Reading a Tana French novel is like taking a trip to Dublin, Ireland. Like Maeve Binchy, French manages to capture not only the spirit of this city, but its people as well. While French’s novels focus on detectives from Dublin’s murder squad, these are not your classic police procedural mysteries. Rather, they focus on an ever-changing group of wonderfully complicated characters, full of contradictions, whose personal lives are delightfully messy. The victims, themselves, are equally interesting as well. Like the detectives who investigate their murders, their lives are complex and marked with many question marks. Rarely does the story travel in a straight line, but rather zigs and zags until the final page.
Currently, there are six novels in French’s Dublin Murder Squad series: In the Woods (2007), The Likeness (2008), Faithful Place (2010), Broken Harbor (2012), The Secret Place (2014) and The Trespasser (2016). All take place in Dublin, or the surrounding area. All take place within a short period, usually no more than over the course of a few weeks.
Unlike other series, such as the Kay Scarpetta books by Patricia Cornwell or Elizabeth George’s Inspector Lynley novels, French focuses each book on a different character. Some characters, such as Frank Mackey and Mick “Scorcher” Kennedy appear in several books. Others, like Rob Ryan from In the Woods, vanish as soon as their story concludes. That said, each title can be read in no particular order without feeling as though you’ve missed something along the way.
Ultimately, French spins terrific tales of suspense and intrigue. Her stories are not always pretty. Often, in their rush to solve a murder, French’s characters reveal their deepest and darkest secrets. Instead of making them unlikeable, it makes them relatable. After all, we all have our secrets.
Francisco Cantu brings a unique perspective to his debut book, The Line Becomes A River, a nuanced exploration of the United States-Mexican border. In addition to being a third-generation Mexican-American who grew up near the border, Cantu studied international relations and border policy at American University, in Washington, D.C. After graduating with honors, he served in the United States Border Patrol from 2008 to 2012, working in Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas. More recently, in 2016, he earned an MFA in Nonfiction from the University of Arizona.
Given Cantu’s background and experience, he could have taken this book in many different directions; the route he chose, however, is that of a deeply personal memoir, described by reviewers as “heartfelt,” “lyrical,” “intimate,” “brutal,” and “heartbreaking.” It unfolds in three unnamed parts. Part one opens with Cantu attending training at the Border Patrol Academy, and it follows him during his initial field placements. While it includes numerous accounts of Cantu’s experiences with border crossers and fellow agents, part one is notably framed by two conversations with his mother, which establish the moral conflict at the heart of the entire narrative.
The first conversation occurs when Cantu is still in training at the academy. During her Christmas visit, Cantu’s mother struggles to understand why he wants to join the Border Patrol, which she refers to as “a paramilitary police force.” He responds: “I’m tired of studying, I’m tired of reading about the border in books. I want to be on the ground, out in the field . . . I don’t see any better way to truly understand the place.” His mother is clearly not convinced and is obviously worried about more than just his physical safety: “There are ways to learn these things that don’t put you at risk, she said, ways that let you help people instead of pitting you against them.”
The second conversation occurs at the end of part one, during a subsequent Christmas visit. When his mother asks if he likes the work and is learning what he wanted, he’s not up to having the conversation he knows she’s trying to initiate. And when she brings up “how a person can become lost in a job, how the soul can buckle when placed within a structure,” he cuts her off: “I was too exhausted to consider my passion or sense of purpose, too afraid to tell my mother about the dreams of dead bodies and crumbling teeth, . . . about my hands shaking at the wheel.”
By part two, Cantu has been promoted to doing intelligence work, first in Tucson, then in El Paso. Though he continues to recount his own experiences, his narrative increasingly focuses on the systemic violence haunting both sides of the border: the beheadings, massacres, and mass graves tied to drug cartels; and the kidnapping and ransoming of desperate border crossers by organized smuggling gangs capitalizing on stricter border enforcement. His teeth are a mess from constant grinding and his nightmares persist.
The narrative’s emotional climax occurs during part three. By this time, Cantu has quit the Border Patrol and returned to school, leaving his most intense stress behind. But completely outrunning the emotional trauma of border enforcement proves impossible. This time it affects Cantu personally, when agents detain his undocumented friend, Jose, who is trying to reenter the United States after visiting his dying mother in Mexico. Suddenly, Cantu is experiencing border enforcement from the perspective of the detainee, and the detainee’s family and friends. He does what he can to help Jose navigate the immigration and court systems, but current policies offer little recourse and his friend is deported.
In the third and final Christmas conversation with his mother, Cantu shares the pain, hurt, and conflict he feels over Jose’s situation: “I don’t know what to do, I confessed. I feel pain, I feel hurt, but it isn’t mine. . . . It’s like I never quit . . . It’s like I’m still a part of this thing that crushes.” His mother responds: “You can’t exist within a system for [four years] without being implicated, without absorbing its poison. . . So what will you do? All you can do is try to find a place to hold it, a way to not lose some purpose for it all.”
One gets the feeling this memoir—dedicated in part “to all those who risk their souls to traverse or patrol an unnatural divide”—may be one manifestation of Cantu’s effort to follow his mother’s advice.
Cantu, Francisco. The Line Becomes a River: Dispatches from the Border. New York: Riverhead, 2018.
A. J. Finn’s The Woman in the Window is a whodunit thriller with lots of surprises and unexpected outcomes. The book has been likened to Paula Hawkins’ The Girl on the Train and Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl and with elements of a Hitchcock movie.
Anna Fox, a psychologist in her late 30s, is the protagonist. Anna lives alone in an upscale Manhattan home. A young carpenter is a tenant who occupies the basement. The reader soon learns that Anna is agoraphobic and has not left her home during the past year. While living alone she has frequent phone conversations with her husband and 8-year-old daughter who are supposedly living elsewhere. Much of Anna’s time is spent watching black and white movie classics. Home bound, Anna observes her neighborhood and neighbors from her living room window. It is there that she witnesses, from a distance, a violent act in a home occupied by a family new to the neighborhood.
Anna’s fear of leaving her home, her aloneness and depression contribute to excessive drinking with wine as her favored drink. Her drinking, mixed with prescription drugs, compromises her credibility when she reports the incident to the police. Is she delusional? The conflict grows from there among Anna, the new and troubled neighbors, the police, and even her tenant. And there is Anna’s past – how did she become agoraphobic? What’s the story behind the absence of her husband and daughter?
The Woman in the Window is A. J. Finn’s first novel and a best seller from the get go. Though, not surprising because Finn (a pseudonym) is Dan Mallory, an experienced executive mystery fiction editor for William Morrow, the books publisher.
Finn, A J. The Woman in the Window. HarperCollins, 2018. Print.
Last year saw the brilliant return of Twin Peaks season 3 on Showtime. For those of you who haven’t seen season 3 yet, I highly recommend it. However, it would be beneficial for you to review the first 2 seasons, which originally aired in 1990 and 1991. Yep, that’s correct, I’m recommending a TV series from the 90’s. Your local library or inter-library loan service should be able to net you the DVD’s (including season 3). A prequel movie, called Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, is also beneficial before you swan dive into season 3. But today’s write up is about Twin Peaks: The Final Dossier, and not Twin Peaks the video series. While the author of the Final Dossier is Twin Peaks co-creator Mark Frost (the other co-creator is David Lynch), the book is written as a series of final FBI reports from the perspective of season 3 special agent Tammy Preston. I was surprised at the depth of Tammy’s reports. While I found Tammy’s character in season 3 to be a bit aloof (to put it mildly), not so in the case of the Final Dossier. She comes across as thorough, to the point, and witty in a Twin Peaks sort of way which is to say quite unconventional and refreshing.
The Final Dossier focuses on some rather interesting things about the Twin Peaks townspeople, and specifically what’s happened to them over the past 25 years (the gap between seasons 2 and 3). These people include Shelley Johnson and Co., the Haywards, the Horne’s, the Hurley’s, Windom Earle, Dr. Jacoby, Harry, and Annie. I’m sure I’ve missed some. I’d say it was interesting to read more about these characters, but the ultimate question after watching the ending of season 3 is: What really happened? The Final Dossier does in fact shed some light on these philosophical tidbits, and confirms some thoughts and theories by including dossiers devoted to Major Briggs, Philip Jeffries, Judy, the log lady, and in a roundabout way other big league players such as the Fireman, BOB, and the Woodsmen. Cooper (both good Coop and evil Coop/Mr. C) and Diane are also spread throughout both of these narratives. Be prepared, as these things — both the book and TV series — include various dimensions, the supernatural, doppelgangers, alternate timelines and realities, and the omnipresent dream, which we may or may not live inside of. Or do we live inside of a dream of a dream? And as Twin Peaks asks, who is the dreamer?
Moving forward from that, I find it helpful to offer a brief sample so the reader of the review can get a flava for the writing style. In this case, thumbs up goes to this one:
“And even as we ‘wonder’ at what we’re doing here, so do we also fear – so deep down below the surface of our lives that few can bear to look at it – that life is a meaningless jest, an extravagant exercise in morbidity, a tale of sorrow and suffering lit by flashes, and made bearable only by moments of companionship and unsustainable joy. Along the way, as we struggle to come to terms and comprehend why this strange fate has befallen us, time becomes no longer our ally – the spendthrift assumption of our youth – but our executioner. It all feels at times like a merciless joke made at our expense, without our consent.”
While I’m now tempted to swing by the local library, grab some Sarte, head home and crank up some Joy Division on my home Hi-Fi, I think I’ll resist those urges. A final thought on the season 3 series that sums up its originality is evidenced by this brief video. And if that doesn’t make you want to watch the series or read the book, I don’t know what would. Maybe it just isn’t for you. But if it is, let me know so we can talk about theories, and we can certainly talk about Judy. Season 3 on DVD is now available.
Frost, Mark. Twin Peaks: The Final Dossier. New York: Flatiron Books, 2017. Print.