THE ABC’S OF A GOOD NURSE: HOW TO TREAT PEOPLE

I confess to being a sucker for books written by people in particular professions I am unlikely ever to engage in: books about valiant teachers working with students with serious disabilities or handicaps, brain surgeons (one of the best books in that genre I’ve ever read was When the Air Hits Your Brain, by Frank Vertosick), midwives, nurses.  So when I saw How to Treat People, subtitled A Nurse’s Notes, by Molly Case, how could I resist?

Case writes about her training, her work as a qualified nurse, and her family’s experiences with the medical profession.  She’s English, so there are some differences between the health care system she works in and our health care system, and it takes a little while to get used to some of her references (HDU for High Density Unit, which doesn’t seem to have an American equivalent, for instance), but some things about nursing are universal, and most of the stories she tells about her experiences and her patients could have happened anywhere.

From the evidence of her book, Molly Case is an excellent nurse, modest and competent, empathetic and generous of heart. She talks about her first experiences of the death of a patient, her experiences with patients who are suffering from various kinds of dementia, and the whole range of medical problems nurses deal with.  There’s one especially funny story about a patient being prepared for surgery who had interesting metal jewelry that had to be removed (I wouldn’t dream of spoiling the fun of it), and moving stories about Molly’s father’s medical issues and his surgery, which turns her from a nurse to a daughter (albeit one well informed about medical procedures) again. She’s the kind of nurse I would want to have attending me if I were in a hospital.

The book is not organized chronologically. Over the course of the book, you do learn about her childhood, her early training, her family background, but the information is spread out throughout the book, sprinkled among anecdotes about the various aspects of nursing care and her experiences with her patients and other medical professionals. I didn’t feel at all confused by her organization, which follows the order of things nurses check with a new patient: airway, breathing, circulation, disability, exposure.  For each category, she explains why it’s important, how a nurse checks it, a little background of how historically this particular aspect was checked, and then some anecdotes about her experiences with this part of a nurse’s assessment. 

Informative, charming, vivid and moving, How to Treat People is a fine look at what happens on the other side of the hospital bed.

MULTIPLE FUTURES, ALL STRANGE: DEAD ASTRONAUTS

If you’re the kind of reader who wants a straightforward narrative, with characters who remain more or less the same throughout the book, if you want all the questions the book raises to be answered by the end of the book, you should probably not read Dead Astronauts, by Jeff Vandermeer.  However, if you have ever read any other books by Vandermeer (such as the Southern Reach trilogy, which start with Annihilation, a wonderful — but definitely strange — book), you will not be expecting a linear narrative or ordinary characters.  You will be expecting experimental writing, fascinating ideas, plots that circle back on themselves and then turn in a completely different direction, and characters who may not be human in any sense, who could, in fact, be anything.  In that case, you are going to love Dead Astronauts.

It’s a hard book to describe. It’s dystopian, set in a world where, at least at one time, there was an all-powerful Company that, as far as we can tell, more or less destroyed the human population.  There are three characters, one of whom, Grayson, the lone astronaut survivor of a space disaster, is definitely human, the other two of whom can at least appear human. Chen, whose background is kind of opaque, has worked for the Company in the past, and has joined with the others to take down the Company in at least one timeline. Moss is a still more interesting character, a shapeshifter of extraordinary abilities, possibly created by the Company.  Moss has chosen to take on a human shape to be with Grayson, though Moss is willing to try different forms to destroy the Company.

The three of them have been fighting against the Company endlessly; they are always defeated, but they come back repeatedly in the hope of finding the right combination of circumstances, the right version, in which they can actually defeat the Company.  There are recurring creatures they encounter, the duck with the broken wing, the blue fox, the Leviathan, and over the course of the book we come to learn the backgrounds of those characters (sort of; there’s a certain stream of consciousness narration in some of the stories of the other characters), and get a sense of how all these creatures work together and why they do some of the things they do. 

Vandermeer has a terrifying imagination.  There are certain things in this book — the wall of globes, the dinner at the secret garden — that will haunt my dreams for some time (I’m not going to go into more detail; when you read the book, you’ll see what’s so appalling about those particular scenes).  While the book is set in the future, many of the terrible things happening in the book grow naturally out of things we are already seeing (only magnified and extended).  

The book can be challenging to read; there’s one chapter which consists of two sentences, repeated for pages (the sentences are : “They killed me. They brought me back.”), and another in which one paragraph about the joys foxes enjoy when there are no people is repeated for pages (with a variation stuck in the middle, so you do have to pay attention).  There are pages with one paragraph each, there are places where the typeface clues you in as to who’s telling the story (that’s another of the stories in the book that haunts my nightmares) and what it’s about. You have to pay attention. You have to be willing to let go of preconceived ideas about what a book looks like or reads like.

It’s worth it.  The ride is rocky and disturbing in places, but you come out of it with a sense of a vivid, terrible future, yet with some small sprinklings of hope.  

NEW YEAR, NEW READING CHALLENGE

Once again we’re facing the beginning of a new reading year, and how better to expand your reading horizons than to join with us in the 2020 Field Library Reading Challenge?  This year we’re going to try to keep it simple: 12 categories, one for each month, some pretty easy to fulfill, some a little more challenging.  If you’re interested, just let me know and I’ll sign you up.  Then each month you’ll get a list of the books that qualify for a particular category, and the lists will also, of course, be published here on the blog.

Ready to join me?  Here’s the challenge:

2020 READING CHALLENGE READING LIST READ THE FIRST BOOK IN A SERIES READ A BOOK ABOUT U. S. PRESIDENT (S) READ A BOOK ABOUT HUMAN BIOLOGY OR HEALTH READ A BOOK SET IN NEW YORK OR BY A NEW YORK AUTHOR READ A

See you on the other side, and all along the way!

 

THE BEST BOOKS OF 2019, AS FAR AS I’M CONCERNED

This is the time of year when everybody’s putting together their “best of 2019” lists, so who am I to buck the trend?  Many of these lists run to 10 or even 20 books, but I’m only limiting my selections to (a) books I actually read during 2019, (b) books that were published during 2019, and (most important) ( c) books that stood out, that I really, really liked.  Most of the books I’ve written about this year are books I’ve enjoyed (I’m not one of those people who likes to write bad reviews of anything), but the ones I’m listing here went above and beyond and stick with me months later. Your mileage may vary, of course, but these are my top choices.

NONFICTION

Yes, I do read nonfiction, and even write about it sometimes. There were two nonfiction books this year that really stood out.  These are not listed in order of importance or quality; as far as I’m concerned, they’re equal.

The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper, by Hallie Rubenhold, is the kind of book that turns accepted history on its head.  How many books are there about Jack the Ripper, speculating about his identity, luxuriating in the details of exactly what he did to his victims and when?  This is the first I’ve seen that focuses instead on the victims, the women who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, and the author does a terrific job of bringing them to life for us, challenging the standard story that he was killing prostitutes by showing us that most of them weren’t what we would call prostitutes.  What they had in common was poverty, and poverty in Victorian England was often a death sentence for women. One of the best things about this book, in my opinion, was the way the author brings you through the woman’s life up until the moment before she’s killed, skips the details of how she was killed, and then looks at the aftermath for her friends and family. If you were reluctant to read this book because you were afraid of violence and gore, don’t be. It’s not that kind of Jack the Ripper book; it’s much better.

Midnight in Chernobyl: the Untold Story of the World’s Greatest Nuclear Disaster, by Adam Higginbotham, is another of those books that tells the story of something you think you already know, and illuminates it in ways you couldn’t imagine.  This is probably the most terrifying book I read all year, made all the more chilling because every detail of it is verified and documented. Reading this is like watching the kind of horror movie where you’re screaming at the screen for the characters not to do what you know they’re going to do.  There are descriptive passages that H. P. Lovecraft would have given his eye teeth to have written; there is suspense the likes of which the best thriller writers would envy. It is appalling and vivid and terrifying and one terrific read.

FICTION

Every year there’s at least one book I recommend to everybody I encounter at the library.  This year, that book was Hollow Kingdom, a debut novel (amazingly) by Kira Jane Buxton.  When I describe the book to people with one sentence, I tell them it’s the zombie apocalypse as seen through the eyes of a domesticated crow named S.T. (the initials stand for an obscene description of the crow by his human), and I can see people turning off at the thought. Trust me, though, it is not your typical zombie apocalypse.  For one thing, nobody uses the Z word. For another thing, our main narrator (there are multiple narrators for brief parts of the book, almost all of them animals, giving us different insights into what’s going on worldwide) is such a vivid character, funny and touching at the same time. For another thing, what’s going on with humans (called mofo’s in the book; this is what S.T.’s human, Big Jim, used to call people) is only a small part of the book. Human beings are being destroyed and destroying things, but the focus of the book is how the animals who survive are creating their own world without us.  I have to confess, there were times during my reading of this book that I had to stop because I was so moved, not just by the fate of the humans, but by S.T.’s sorrow and longing for human beings. The book has everything: humor, tears, adventure, thought-provoking reflections, characters you care about deeply, and even a satisfying ending (it’s not necessarily the ending I would have chosen, but it works and it’s satisfying). Keep an eye out for Kira Jane Buxton: judging by this book, she’s quite talented and packs quite a punch.

And yes, in any year in which Jo Nesbo publishes a Harry Hole novel (not frequent enough for my taste), you know I’m going to pick his book as one of the best of the year.  This year his book was Knife, and as one of my co-workers remarked, nobody has ever seen me get so excited about a knife before.  Jo Nesbo is a fiendish writer, and, despite his undue cruelty to his main character, his plotting is better than ever.  If you’re a fan of these dark and enthralling books, I don’t need to tell you anything other than that there’s a new Harry Hole book; if you’re not a fan but you’re interested in dark thrillers that take you by the throat and keep you frantically turning pages till you reach the end, you should start at the beginning of the series and check Nesbo out.

And here’s to all the good books we haven’t yet encountered in 2020!  Happy reading to us all!

THE OTHER SIDE OF A CHRISTMAS CAROL: MARLEY

At this festive time of year, it is of course a good idea to revisit the classics, and of course Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is one of those classics, which I personally reread every year (for my money, none of the movie adaptations manages to capture the depths of the original).  This year, in addition to reading A Christmas Carol, I also read a new book, Marley, by John Clinch, which (as you might guess from the title) is a prequel to A Christmas Carol, and gives us, among other things, a look at what Jacob Marley was like when he was alive, and what his relationship with Ebeneezer Scrooge was like when they worked together at Scrooge & Marley’s. 

This seems to be my year to read different versions of famous books, whether that’s because there are more of them around or whether that’s just saying something about my taste.  One of the things I look for is a sense of the author’s knowledge of (and love for) the source material. The writer of the new book is constrained to greater or lesser extent by the original, and that’s especially so in the case of Marley.  We know how the story ends, after all: Marley is dead before the book begins, and Scrooge is set in his ways as a miserly curmudgeon, and the ghost of Jacob Marley comes on Christmas Eve to save Scrooge from Marley’s fate. We also know something of Scrooge’s past from his encounters with the Ghost of Christmas Past, and any prequel to A Christmas Carol has to not only create a Jacob Marley who could believably be both the partner of the bad Scrooge and someone who could come back from the grave to save Scrooge, but also to create a past Scrooge who lives up to what we see with the Ghost of Christmas Past.  

It’s a tall order, but Clinch manages it brilliantly. Jacob Marley meets Scrooge when the pair of them are in that terrible boarding school, and immediately demonstrates what he’s going to be for most of the rest of his life by taking advantage of Scrooge’s ignorance.  Marley is a charming, reprehensible person: a cheat, a fraud, a forger, a libertine and a man who will step on anyone to get his way. As you watch him create not just shell organizations but fraudulent documents purportedly signed by people in these fraudulent organizations, and you watch his incredible imagination at work, you can’t help but almost admire him, all the while being aware that his ends are dreadful and he has no morals to speak of.  You dislike him because you know what he’s really doing, but at the same time he exerts an almost Dexter-like antihero fascination. At one point a young Scrooge describes Marley as “protean”, and that is really an excellent encapsulation of Marley.

One of the more interesting things in this book, a major plot point in fact, is that Scrooge and Marley’s fortune is made through the slave trade.  You will notice in the original that at no point does anyone talk about where their money came from, so it makes perfect sense that it would be vaguely illegal (or absolutely illegal). Scrooge, who comes across in most of this book as a calculating machine, someone who cares only about the figures on the page and not about what they represent in the real world, becomes aware that the slave trade is part of his bread and butter only when Belle’s father refuses to allow her to marry him because of where his money comes from.  Scrooge sees the light and attempts to divest the company’s funds from slave ships, but Marley isn’t willing to give up such a lucrative trade, even when slavery is made illegal in Great Britain. The way Scrooge and Marley plot against each other in secret over this makes for tension in the book, and the involvement of other parties, including Scrooge’s brother in law (his sister’s husband), creates twists and turns worthy of Dickens himself (and I can’t give higher praise than that).

I always say that you don’t need to read the original to appreciate one of these books, and that’s true for Marley, but I would be remiss not to mention the cleverness with which Clinch seeds the narrative with other Dickens characters.  Many of the names of the fake lawyers, businessmen and other characters Marley creates are in fact names familiar to any Dickens fan, but occasionally one of Dickens’ characters makes a brief appearance, not even big enough to be a cameo, and that’s just delightful (I’m thinking particularly here of a mention of a young lawyer by the name of Tulkinghorn, who is a major character in Bleak House, my favorite Dickens novel).  Even better is Marley’s alias, used when he’s doing something especially sleazy (shaking down whorehouses, for instance, or hiring murderers), of Inspector Bucket of the Metropolitan Police.  The name becomes a joke of sorts, insulating Marley from the consequences of his actions, but there is in fact an Inspector Bucket (a very good detective, too) in Bleak House.  If you’re a fan of Dickens, you will especially appreciate the author’s love for the master.

Marley is a satisfying read, a book that stands on its own but also illuminates its predecessor.  The characters and plot are worthy of Dickens while being modern at the same time. In this festive season, augment your enjoyment of A Christmas Carol by reading Marley as well. 

JANUARY 2020 FIELD NOTES SELECTION: BRITT-MARIE WAS HERE

Thanks to everybody who showed up at our last Field Notes Book Group meeting of the year and provided such a lively discussion of families and serial killers and how far, really, we would be willing to go to take care of younger siblings.  We also chose the next book, which the group will discuss on January 25, 2020: Britt-Marie Was Here, by Fredrik Backman.

Britt-Marie, the protagonist of the book, is a very particular person, as you discover from the very first chapter.  She has exacting standards which she expects everyone else to live up to, not that she is judging anyone else (as far as she can tell), but when her husband takes up with another woman, she’s thrown for a loop.  The whole question of what she’s going to do for the rest of her life is something she’s never had to consider before, and now, when the job she’s “qualified” for happens to be taking care of a building in Borg, a town in the middle of nowhere, Sweden, she finds herself in completely foreign circumstances.  Except that maybe, this is just what Britt-Marie needs to find out who she really is and to share that with other people.

Come and pick up a copy of the book at the Circulation Desk and then join us on January 25 from 11:00 to 12:30 at the Field Library to share refreshments and coffee and talk about Britt-Marie and how she reinvents herself.

 

FAITH IN OUTER SPACE: SISTERS OF THE VAST BLACK

If you’re the type of person who doesn’t like to read science fiction because you feel it doesn’t have enough to say about the world we actually live in, have I got a book for you!  Lina Rather’s Sisters of the Vast Black is set on a living spaceship that serves as a convent for a group of nuns who travel the outer reaches of human civilization to bring the sacraments and medical care to far flung colonists. It is also a book about faith and faithlessness and the possibility of redemption, about colonialism and humanity and what binds people together.  Only a novella in length, the book packs quite an emotional punch and is one of the best books I’ve read all year.

We get to know the Sisters of the Order of Saint Rita and their ship, Our Lady of Impossible Constellations, as they face ethical dilemmas from the outset of the book, when they discover their ship has bonded with another ship and wants to mate.  Should they leave their path to accommodate their ship’s desire? Does the ship have a soul and the right to self-determination? That, as it turns out, is only the first and ultimately the simplest of their dilemmas as the Vatican back on earth and the former earth government start reaching out to regain control over the far flung reaches of human settlement, with questionable motives.

The characters, distinct and very human (with the exception of the ship, of course), have their secrets, their crises of faith, their conflicts with each other and with the requirements of their order and the distant government.  One of the things I liked most about the book was its treatment of the women’s faith as something real and valid; we don’t have the stereotype nuns who are vicious or hypocritical or credulous. They have varying depths of faith, some of them deeply committed to their Catholic religion, some of them questioning the doctrines, some of them nuns because that was the profession that would get them out of bad situations, and all of those positions are seen sympathetically and with empathy. The one character who leaves the order to join with her lover is presented as someone caught between her heart and her vows, and her fellow nuns accept (with a little tension) her decision.  

I don’t want to give away too much of the plot. Suffice it to say there is a plot, and all things we see early in the book come into play again by the end, and that the end, while leaving room for other stories set in this universe, is emotionally satisfying, resolving the characters and all the plotlines set up in the book. I cared so much about the characters, including the ship, that I was moved by their behavior and their fates. This is a beautifully written, touching book that wrestles with the big questions with grace and power.  Don’t miss it.

WHAT READERS THINK THE BEST BOOKS OF 2019 ARE

Every year, Goodreads readers get to choose what books they believe were the best of the year in various categories ( see here), and this year, all of the winners in the various fiction categories are available for you to read right here at The Field Library.

The overall winner in fiction should come as no surprise, as it’s one of the most anticipated books of the last two decades and has also won the Man Booker prize for 2019 and will probably win more awards before the year is through.  Margaret Atwood’s sort-of sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale, entitled The Testaments, is one of those books that’s so popular we can’t keep it on the shelves, even with an express copy and a regular copy.  While The Handmaid’s Tale dropped readers into the midst of the Republic of Gilead and left us, along with the protagonist Offred, trying to figure out how that horrible world worked, The Testaments takes the story much later and shows readers how the Republic of Gilead eventually fell (this is not a spoiler, since the end of Handmaid made it clear the Republic was something in the past, studied by historians), by taking three different characters, one of whom we will all recognize from Handmaid, and following their interactions with the system.  Put it on hold (your best chance of getting your hands on it in the near future) and settle in to read the next phase of Gilead.

The top Mystery and Thriller is The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides. It starts with Alicia Berenson, a woman who seems to have it all: a booming career as an artist, a loving husband who’s a noted photographer, a gorgeous house in a great location in London. But apparently things aren’t as perfect as they seem, because one night her husband comes home from a photo shoot and Alicia shoots him five times in the face. Which would be awful enough and cause enough notoriety, but then Alicia refuses to speak another word, to anyone, about anything.  Now it’s not just a celebrity murder, it’s a mystery, and one that catches the attention of the whole world. Alicia is locked away from the press and the curious in a forensic hospital, until one day Theo Faber, a famous criminal psychotherapist, shows up, determined to get Alicia to talk. But even if he succeeds, and that’s by no means assured no matter how skilled he is and how determined he is, he may find that he’s not just investigating her truth, but his own, which could be more dangerous to his sanity than anything Alicia might tell him.

The winner in the historical fiction category is Daisy Jones and the Six, by Taylor Jenkins Reid, which I’ve already written about here, a book set in the very recent past and the wild world of rock music.

The winner in fantasy is an interesting choice: Ninth House, by Leigh Bardugo. The protagonist, Alex Stern, is, apparently, a loser, a young woman who’s thrown her life away.  Raised by hippie parents in the Los Angeles area, she dropped out of high school, got involved with criminal boyfriends and dead end jobs, she finds herself the only survivor of a horrific and unsolved multiple homicide.  Her life then changes in a dramatic way when she’s offered a free ride to Yale University by mysterious benefactors. The only thing she has to do in return is keep an eye on the secret societies at Yale, where the offspring of the rich and powerful gather for some pretty disturbing occult activities which should horrify the university and their parents if any of them knew what the young people were doing.  Alex digs deeper into the groups’ forbidden magic, their raising of the dead, and their preying on the living, putting her own life and soul in danger.

On a lighter note, the winner in the romance category is also one I’ve already written about Red, White and Royal Blue, by Casey McQuiston, here , in which the son of the United States President finds himself involved in a romantic relationship with a prince of the royal family of England.

The readers at Goodreads apparently like twisted science fiction, because the winner in the science fiction category is Recursion, by Blake Crouch, a book I wrote about here, in which people’s memories are being changed and reality is changing along with them, and two people have to try to find out what’s happening and stop it while there’s still a consensual reality to save.

And it practically goes without saying that in a year when Stephen King publishes a horror novel, that’s going to be voted the best horror novel of the year, and so The Institute takes top honors. Of course we’ve already talked about it here , and of course we have some great Stephen King themes: children with psychic powers, evil adults trying to control those powers, horrible things happening all around.  If you’re a Stephen King fan, you’ve already read this, but if you were on the fence, well, now you have justification for checking it out.

If you’re a person who doesn’t want to follow the crowd, by all means ignore these recommendations and go your own way (I’ll help!), but if you’re interested in what your peers think are the best books of the year, you could hardly find a better place to start than here, at the Field Library.

A QUIET BOOK, FULL OF HEART: THE CLERGYMAN’S DAUGHTER

I confess it: I fell in love with Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice the first time I read it, when I was in college, and every time I reread it, I’m still in love: the writing! The characters! The great dialogue!  I’ve long contended that two of the basic romance tropes were invented by Jane Austen, the enemies to lovers in Pride and Prejudice and the second chance at love in Persuasion.  Obviously I’m not alone in my love of Pride and Prejudice, considering how many movie/television versions of the story have been made and how many adaptations and spinoffs have been written.  As with Sherlock Holmes (another of my favorites), I’ve learned to be careful about reading the spin offs. I’m picky, and I admit it: a book about one of the characters in a favorite book needs to be true to that character in the original and not just use the character as a jumping off place for something completely different.  Even the great P.D. James had trouble getting the characters from Jane Austen’s books right in her Death Comes to Pemberly, and don’t get me started on the many lesser authors who have attempted to take some of the lesser characters in Pride and Prejudice and take them in new directions.  For some reason, Mary Bennett is often the character of choice, turned into a bluestocking or a brilliant writer or heaven knows what else.  However, Molly Greeley’s book, A Clergyman’s Wife, manages the incredibly difficult feat of imagining an afterlife for Charlotte Collins, nee Lucas, being true to the character of Charlotte in the original and at the same time giving us a new insight into Charlotte and her world and her behavior.

When the book opens, Charlotte has been married to Mr. Collins for three years.  She has a young daughter, she has her house and her role as a clergyman’s wife, with responsibilities to visit and look after the people in the parish.  She has to deal with Lady Catherine de Bourgh, her husband’s patron and a bullying arrogant woman. She has to deal with her husband’s many limitations of taste and sense, her isolation from friends and family, and her knowledge that this is the life she has chosen and all she has to look forward to is more of the same (until Mr. Bennett dies and Mr. Collins takes over his property).  She is more or less reconciled to all of this.

And then something changes.  Lady Catherine decides the Collinses should have rose bushes in their yard, and donates some cuttings for their use, and one of Lady Catherine’s tenants, Mr. Travis, is called upon to plant the bushes for them. Mr. Travis is a young man, the son of Lady Catherine’s former gardener, a diamond in the rough, but to Charlotte, he is a breath of fresh air.  She starts to feel an interest in Mr. Travis she’s never felt for her husband or anyone else. For the first time in her life, she realizes that she may have missed out in reaching for the security of marriage to Mr. Collins, that there might be more to life than she’d experienced before, or than she’s likely to experience in her marriage to Mr. Collins.

This is where Greeley shows what kind of a writer she is.  The temptation must be strong to give Charlotte other options, maybe killing off Mr. Collins so Charlotte could marry the (single) Mr. Travis, or giving Charlotte a romance with Mr. Travis while she’s married to Mr. Collins.  This is not that kind of book. It’s not the kind of book where Mr. Collins suddenly and miraculously becomes a sensible, loving person, or where Lady Catherine turns into a kinder, more empathetic (quieter) person. People are who they are, and that includes Charlotte herself.  She’s the person who married someone she knew was kind of a boor because she was desperate to get married and achieve some measure of independence. She did it with her eyes open, and she’s a woman who keeps her word even when it’s difficult, as it is here.

This isn’t a book full of twists and turns, a book where plot is everything.  This is a character study more than anything else, and Charlotte turns out to be a lovable character and a relatable one: not beautiful like her younger sister, not clever and witty like her friend, Elizabeth, not rich like Anne de Bourgh, Lady Catherine’s daughter.  Her father lifted the family out of the merchant class when he sold his business, but the family didn’t have the money to attract young men of a higher class, and Charlotte learned not only how to make a little money go far but how important it was to relieve the financial burdens of her family, even at the cost of her own potential happiness. She’s devoted to her daughter, and mourns her baby son who died at birth, and she’s resolved to make a better life for Louisa, her daughter, than she had herself. This is a quiet book, full of heart, and even if you are a fan of Jane Austen and a jealous guard of her works (as I am), you will find this warm and moving.  Give yourself a treat and check out The Clergyman’s Wife

HOT THRILLERS FOR A COLD DECEMBER

When the weather turns bad and you don’t really want to face the snow and ice outside, what’s better than curling up with a good thriller that will take your mind off the bad weather and everything else?  Luckily for you, we have a group of new thrillers here at The Field Library that will carry you away and keep you feverishly turning those pages. Some are by authors you’ll recognize from earlier thrillers, one you might recognize from another genre, but all of them are experts at creating suspense and keeping readers on the edge of their seats.

Does anyone need to be told who Robin Cook is?  He made his name with his first medical thriller, Coma, back in 1977, and has been writing thrillers (usually bestsellers) ever since.  One of Cook’s strengths is his ability to keep up with new developments in medicine and science and consider how they affect people’s lives.  In his newest book, Genesis, the new development is DNA ancestry testing, which becomes a key point in a murder investigation. A twenty eight year old pregnant woman dies, apparently of a routine drug overdose.  There are, however, some oddities that make the medical examiner and her pathology resident wonder if this is as routine as it seems. The dead woman’s family insists she never used drugs, and the medical establishment is going out of its way to keep the whole matter secret.  And why doesn’t anyone seem interested in the question of who the father of the fetus was and whether he might have known something about the woman’s death? Then one of the dead woman’s friends is murdered, and the medical examiner uses DNA testing to try to find out who the fetus’ male relatives might be.  However, there could well be people who would be willing to kill to keep this information secret, and the more the medical examiner and her resident find out, the more danger they could be putting themselves in.

While Val McDermid might not be as much of a household name as Robin Cook, among mystery fans she’s a rock star. Her newest book, How the Dead Speak, starts in a place where many other series would end, with one of the series characters in jail and the other more or less retired from the police force.  Tony Hill is finding outlets for his talents in jail, and Carol Jordan is working with an informal group investigating past miscarriages of justice. And then the process of construction on a former orphanage stops when a number of small skeletons are unearthed, probably dating from the period when the orphanage was in full swing.  Bad enough, but still more disturbingly, more skeletons turn up in another part of the property, dating from much more recently, one of them identified as the body of someone who’s alive and well and in prison, and involved in Carol’s innocence project. The two characters are brought together as the plot twists and turns in the hands of a master.

For those like me who have ambivalent feelings about Dexter, both the books and the television series, the sight of Jeff Lindsay’s name as author on a new book brings anticipation, tinged with a touch of dread.  I adored Linsday’s first two Dexter novels, and some of the middle ones were well-written, but I felt deeply disappointed by the way he ended the series (to the point where I didn’t even read the last book, Dexter Is Dead, and you know, if you’ve read me at all, that I like to finish series).  He has a lot of talent, and Dexter always had a vivid, entertaining voice (not to mention being a character you felt bad about liking and rooting for, based on the things you saw him doing), so I’m probably more intrigued than worried about his newest book, Just Watch Me. Riley Wolfe, the protagonist of Just Watch Me, isn’t a serial killer, but he is a bad person, a thief, a master of disguise and someone who will resort to violence if he thinks it necessary. He ameliorates some of this antisocial aspects by focusing all his efforts on the top .1%, stealing from the ultra-rich whom he despises.  In this book, he chooses to steal the Crown Jewels of Iran, which are not only (obviously) incredibly valuable, but legendarily impossible to steal, with up to the minute (and beyond) electronic security. He likes a challenge, but in addition to the known difficulties of dealing with the security system, he has a brilliant police officer (a modern day Inspector Javert) who’s chasing him down and is way too close behind him all the way.  If you’re into heist stories, this should be all but irresistible.

Nalini Singh may not be a name we associate with mysteries or thrillers; she’s much better known for her paranormal romance series and her other romances, but all the skills she’s honed in decades of romantic suspense come to the fore in her new thriller, A Madness of Sunshine.  Set in New Zealand (Singh’s home but pretty exotic in the world of mysteries and thrillers), in a particular town where people were, or thought they were, more than just neighbors and schoolmates, until an incident involving several vanished bodies shattered the community. In the aftermath, the people of the town resolved never to talk about what happened, and to pretend, as much as possible, that nothing happened.  You don’t have to be a reader of thrillers to know that pretending something never happened isn’t going to work; thriller readers are rubbing their hands together at the notion, sure that sooner or later that “nothing” is going to resurface with devastating results. Eight years after that first incident, a young woman vanishes in Golden Cove, and the past begins to collide with the present, and ignored dangers return to wreak havoc.