Florida-Beach-I3

FLORIDA BIZARRE: CARL HIAASEN STRIKES AGAIN WITH RAZOR GIRL

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Carl Hiaasen’s new book, Razor Girl, will be available at the Field Library as of September 6.

If you’re a fan of Hiaasen’s work, that sentence is all you need; you will immediately put the book on hold (but you’ll get it after I do, because I already have it on hold!) and wait with bated breath for the warped delight of a new book by Hiaasen.

If, however, you are unfamiliar with the Florida grotesquerie that is the subject of Hiaasen’s books, allow me to introduce you to a funny, if definitely warped, writer who will make it impossible for you to ever look at Florida in quite the same way again.

It’s hard to describe what that special something is about Hiaasen.  It’s certainly his characters, who range from obituary writers to mafiosi to health inspectors to undercover stunt doubles for wasted pop stars to former governors of Florida who have gone to ground in the Everglades.  Quirky isn’t even the beginning of the description of these people, all of whom are vivid and full of life (even if you’re glad they’re not living in your neighborhood).  But it’s also his twisted plots, the intertwining of disparate, equally bizarre and warped, goings on to come together in a satisfying conclusion.

He also writes nonfiction (most recently Dance of the Reptiles in 2014) and children’s and young adult books (Hoot, Scat, Chomp and Flush), and if you enjoy his unique sensibility, by all means give them a try as well.  But he won my heart with his adult novels.

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One of my favorites, which I often recommend to people, is Skinny Dip. A corrupt marine biologist (yes, they do exist, especially in Hiaasen’s world) is falsifying data so his employer can continue to dump fertilizer illegally in the Everglades.  When he thinks his wife is onto him, he tries to kill her by pushing her overboard off a cruise ship in the Atlantic, only she doesn’t drown. Instead, she manages to ride to shore on a bale of marijuana, and meets up with a former cop.  Since her husband not only tried to kill her but thinks he succeeded, the wife, Joey, joins with the ex cop to keep her existence secret and to mess with her husband’s head, gaslighting him and making him seem less and less stable to the dangerous people he’s working for. I won’t spoil the book by telling you more about the plot, but trust me, it’s hysterical, a roller coaster ride you can’t stop reading.

bad monkey

His last book, Bad Monkey, starred Andrew Yancy, a former Miami police officer who lost his job because, in a fit of passion, he attacked his then lover’s new lover with a Dust Buster mini vacuum cleaner.  As the book opens, Yancy is working as a health inspector, a job that makes him sick (you, too, will have trouble looking at restaurants in the same way after reading about some of his encounters), but hopes to move to the Sheriff’s office if he can solve a murder case arising from the presence of a severed arm in his freezer (it’s complicated). At the same time, he’s sabotaging the attempts of his jerk of a neighbor to sell the neighbor’s house (in bizarrely inventive ways), and he finds himself involved with the bad monkey of the title, a monkey formerly starring in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, as well as a voodoo queen with homicidal tendencies, and a kinky medical examiner who’s stolen his heart.

It’s a good sign that Yancy shows up in Hiaasen’s newest book, Razor Girl, because he’s such a great character, in a book full of interesting characters.  Our protagonist, Lane Coleman, represents Buck Nance, an accordionist who’s rebranding himself as the star of a redneck reality show.  Lane’s car is rear-ended by a car driven by the notorious Merry Mansfield, the Razor Girl of the title, and the seeming accident is really part of a scam she’s running. Things spiral out of control quickly, as you would expect when you have characters like a New York mafiosi, a man who runs a company called Sedimental Journeys, which steals sand from one beach to put on another that’s eroding, and giant Gambian rats infesting the restaurants Yancy is continuing to inspect. Yancy lives in hope that he will solve a murder and return to being a detective, and possibly the Razor Girl will be the key to getting him there. Naturally, a description like this is wholly inadequate to convey the fun and madness of Carl Hiaasen firing on all cylinders.  The only thing to do is get the book and read it for yourself.

 

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IN PRAISE OF NEW ADDITIONS TO MYSTERY SERIES AT THE FIELD

One of the great pleasures of the mystery genre is the series, a tradition that began with Sherlock Holmes and continues with any number of authors nowadays. With the best series, each book brings greater depth to the main characters, the supporting characters, the setting and the issues the series explores.  There are some authors, of course, who delight in killing off characters we readers have come to care about (I’m looking at you, Jo Nesbo), but for the most part, a good mystery series brings us back to familiar places and familiar people and that can be a real pleasure.  In August we have some new mysteries in well-loved series for people to dive into.

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Let’s start with a wonderful Scandinavian author, Karin Fossum, whose series starring Inspector Konrad Sejer is set in Norway.  Sejer is not your typical police inspector in mystery novels and certainly not like Jo Nesbo’s Harry Hole (which is not to say I don’t LOVE Harry Hole and wish Nesbo would write another one in that series, but that’s beside the point).  He’s old fashioned and polite; he will allow himself one cigarette and one glass of whiskey per day, and he never loses control of his temper or runs afoul of his superiors.  And in some respects it’s really good to have someone as calm and even-keeled as Sejer in this series, because the actual cases he investigates tend to be dark and disturbing. The newest book in this series is Hellfire, in which a seemingly inexplicable murder is slowly and searingly solved and, more importantly, explained. The bodies of a young woman and her child are found dead in a pool of blood outside a camper. There’s no evidence of robbery or assault, and seemingly no reason for them to be so brutally killed. Sejer and his fellow investigator Jakob Skarre begin their hunt for the killer and his motives. At the same time, a parallel storyline follows 20 year old Eddie and his mother, Thomasine, known as Mass.  There’s definitely something wrong with Eddie and his obsession with his missing father, and the secrets his mother is keeping from him about her past.  The two storylines come together in a powerful climax that rests as much on the psychology of the superbly-drawn characters as any tricks of plotting.

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Turning from Norway to Canada, we come to the work of Louise Penny, whose main series character is Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Surete du Quebec.  Penny has won just about all the major awards a mystery writer can: the Agatha award for best novel four years in a row, the Anthony award for best novel four years in a row, and awards in Great Britain and Canada. The new Inspector Gamache novel is A Great Reckoning,  and at the beginning of this book, Gamache has retired from the Surete du Quebec. He’s taking on a new position, teaching cadets for the Surete, and when an intricate old map is found in a bistro in Three Pines, where Gamache and his wife live, he chooses to use this and its obvious connection to the town as part of an exercise for the cadets, so they can puzzle out who made it and why.  A professor is killed, and somehow the map is connected to the death.  As is also, seemingly, Amelia Choquet, a cadet with tattoos and piercings, guarded and angry, someone who would seem more at home on the other side of a police lineup, a protege of the dead professor.  Gamache’s own relationship with Amelia becomes a focus of the investigation, as his potential involvement in the murder becomes an issue.  The book is filled with the characters and settings, the intricate plotting and depth of psychological insight Penny’s fans have come to love.

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If you prefer your mystery series set in an earlier historical period, then you may be in the mood for Charles Todd and his series featuring Bess Crawford, an English battlefield nurse in World War I.  With the latest book, The Shattered Tree, the time is 1918, the war is grinding to its end, but the Germans haven’t given up yet and are pulling out all the stops to keep from losing the war.  In the midst of this difficult time and place,  a soldier is found under a shattered tree, suffering from blood loss and cold.  Bess stabilizes him for his transport to the field hospital, but she notices that when he’s in pain, he cries out in perfect German, though he’s wearing a French uniform.  Bess is suspicious, but her superior explains that the man is from Alsace Lorraine, an area between Germany and France which changed from French to German repeatedly over the last fifty years, most recently having been claimed by Germany after the Franco-Prussian War.  This satisfies the supervisor but Bess has her doubts, especially considering the man’s location so far from the French lines and so close to where the Germans are fighting a last ditch effort.  Bess is a soldier’s daughter as well as a nurse, and she is not going to let this man disappear, especially if he is in fact a German spy.

DON'T LOOK BACK.jpg      STILL LIFE COVER      A DUTY TO THE DEAD COVER

If any of these descriptions makes you interested in the series but you want to start the series at the beginning, the first book in the Inspector Sejer series is Don’t Look Back.  The first book in the Armand Gamache series is Still Life, and the first book in the Bess Crawford series is A Duty to the Dead.

Historical-Fiction

AUGUST HISTORICAL FICTION AT THE FIELD LIBRARY

August has been a banner month for historical fiction at the Field Library, and September promises to give us even more fascinating blasts from the past.  So in case you’ve missed them, here are some of the best of August’s historical novels (some of which would qualify for one of the categories in the 2016 Read Harder Challenge, for anyone who’s interested).

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Let’s start with the Tudors, who are always fun to visit, even if you wouldn’t want to live in their court in the real world.  Philippa Gregory comes through again in her favorite era with the new book, Three Sisters, Three Queens, about Henry VIII’s two sisters, Margaret and Mary, and his first wife (their sister-in-law) Katherine of Aragon.  Margaret married the king of Scotland, Mary was sent to marry the king of France, and of course Katherine married first Arthur, Henry’s older brother, and then, when Arthur died, Henry VIII himself. All of this is pretty well known (especially to people who are interested in this era and this court), but what Philippa Gregory brings to the table is her vast knowledge of the Tudor court and the world of that era, and her vast and in depth understanding of the people who lived in and around the court. The three women at the center of this book fight, each in her own way, against the limitations of their roles, the public perception of them as powerless pawns of the men in their lives.  They see each other as rivals, allies, mirrors and always sisters, no matter where their public lives take them. If you think you know all there is to know about this era, rest assured that Philippa Gregory will show you something new and fascinating and bring this bygone world to life.

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For a different kind of competition, why not turn to the late 19th, early 20th century and the “Battle of the Currents” between Thomas A. Edison and George Westinghouse, vividly chronicled in The Last Days of Night by Graham Moore.  Moore is the author of, among other things, The Sherlockian (a fun book in its own right), and the screenwriter for The Imitation Game, so you know he can write historical fiction, and here he has a cast of characters and a big canvas on which to portray the legal maneuverings and battles between Edison and Westinghouse, turn of the century New York, and people like Nicolai Tesla, Alexander Graham Bell and Sanford White appear and play their parts in the drama.  A little-known but historically significant battle that determined the future course of electrical transmission, involving two of the more flamboyant scientist-inventors of the era: The Last Days of Night is a real eye-opener.

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It seems a little strange to me to be talking about fiction set in the 1950’s as “historical,” though in fact it is, and The Dollhouse, by Fiona Davis, reminds us just how very different the 1950’s were from today.  The book is set in the Barbizon Hotel in New York City, occupied at that time by young women who were either learning to become models and secretaries or who were already working as such, testing their independence and their roles in the Mad Men era. Darby, a young woman just starting secretarial school, moves into the hotel and feels wildly out of place among all the models there, but she befriends one of the maids and is introduced to an entirely different New York City, a world of downtown jazz clubs, the birth of bebop music, heroin and romance.  Decades later, Darby is still living in the hotel, which is now condominiums, and her upstairs neighbor, a journalist, is fascinated by the scandal that lurks in the hotel’s, and Darby’s, past.  The journalist can’t resist exploring, even though she may end up finding out more than she expected.

Firefighter

LIFE IN FLAMES: ASHES OF FIERY WEATHER

ashes of fiery weather

There is something wonderful about a book that spans multiple generations.  I confess to having a real  soft spot for family sagas (I grew up reading R. F. Delderfield and Susan Howatch, who wrote novels you could dive into and live in for weeks, following different families through generations of love, loss and the business of life), and also a soft spot for books about Irish Americans (not really surprising, considering my background), so I’m delighted to announce that a new book, Ashes of Fiery Weather, by Kathleen Donohoe, is coming to the library on August 30, is a saga about seven generations of Irish American firefighters in New York City, starting with the matriarch escaping the Potato Famine in Ireland, and culminating in the World Trade Towers on 9/11.

And, just to make this even more intriguing, the story isn’t told by the men of the family, but by the women, who bring a different perspective to the excitement and losses of a firefighter’s life. Stoic, tough, raising their children and themselves and even becoming one of the first female firefighters in the city’s history, these women bring history to life and sweep you up into a world you may have only seen in passing, while at the same time they’re the kind of women you’ve probably met and admired (even, perhaps, in your own family) all your life.

Let yourself be absorbed into the world of firefighting, the world of an extended Irish American family in New York City, and the history that shapes us all.  Check out Ashes of Fiery Weather.

Streets in the late evening, Bombay/Mumbai, India, 1994

As the sun sets over this busy Bombay/Mumbai intersection the buildings are bathed in a magical golden light. Working from top to bottom, the scene appears to increase in speed as we move downwards towards the main road.  The river of taxis speeding to left and right serve as a striking counterpoint to the street life above.

Phaidon, Iconic Images, final book_iconic, Iconic photographs

RETURN OF THE FIELD NOTES BOOK GROUP: SEPTEMBER BOOK, SHANTARAM

Hope everybody’s had a wonderful and relaxing summer with lots of excellent reading, both old and new books.  The Field Notes Book Group has been on hiatus for the summer, but now we’re gearing up for the fall season, and we hope you’ll all be back for more reading, coffee, donuts and exciting discussions.

Our next meeting will be on September 17 (the third Saturday of the month), from 11:00 to 12:30 in the Gallery at the Field Library, as usual, and our first book will be Shantaram, by Gregory David Roberts, copies of which are on hold and available in the Field Library.

SHANTARAM COVER

Shantaram is a big, sprawling book, based loosely on the author’s own life, that’s filled with adventure and excitement, set in India, recommended by one of our members.  Our protagonist, Lin, begins the story by escaping from a maximum security prison in Australia for the teeming city of Bombay (now Mumbai), India, where, with a false passport, he hopes to create a new life for himself.  However, it’s not as easy as he thinks to recreate himself.  At the same time he’s working in a clinic for the poorest of the poor, he’s also serving an apprenticeship in the Indian Mafia.  He encounters war, prison torture, betrayal and love, all the while meeting and encountering a Dickensian cast of prostitutes, beggars, gangsters and people without names and pasts they’re willing to share.

 

Throw yourself into the world of Shantaram and then join us on September 17 to discuss, argue and relive the adventure.

koh-i-noordiamond

THE PERPLEXING THEFT OF THE JEWEL IN THE CROWN: THE INSPECTOR AND THE BABY ELEPHANT RIDE AGAIN

THE PERPLEXING THEFT OF THE JEWEL IN THE CROWN

Anyone who loved The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra, by Vaseem Khan (and I count myself in that number) will be delighted to hear that former Inspector Chopra (who by the end of that book had opened a restaurant and private detective agency) and his baby elephant, Ganesha, are starring in a new mystery, also set in modern day Mumbai, called The Perplexing Theft of the Jewel in the Crown. When the Koh-i-noor, the fabled Indian gem which has become part of the British Crown Jewels, goes on display in Mumbai, of course security is extremely tight, because it would be a terrific scandal if something happened to this gorgeous and incredibly valuable diamond.  But it just so happens that when former Inspector Chopra visits the exhibition, the jewel is stolen, pretty much under his very nose.  How could this have happened?  Chopra, with the help of Ganesha, is on the case, and it will take their unique abilities and knowledge of the world of Mumbai to solve the crime.

baby elephant

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THE LURE OF THE PAST: NEW THRILLERS AT THE FIELD

The newest thrillers at the Field Library ask creepy and disturbing questions about the past, whether we ever really know what happened and whether we necessarily want to revisit tragedies in our histories.

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In Good as Gone, by Amy Gentry, a family is nearly shattered by an inexplicable crime: their 13 year old daughter, Julie, is kidnapped from her bedroom in the middle of the night, the only witness her younger sister.  The crime is unsolved, but the family sticks together, holding onto the faint hope that Julie may still be alive and may one day come back to them.  Of course, the old adage is “Be careful what you wish for.”  When, years later, a young woman appears at their doorstep, claiming to be the missing Julie, safe and sound, everyone should be happy, but Anna, Julie’s mother, isn’t.  She has doubts.  She wishes she doesn’t have them, but she can’t escape them, and ultimately she ends up hiring a private detective to find out the truth about this person claiming to be Julie.  If you’re a fan of the twisty suspense novels where you’re never entirely sure who’s telling the truth, you should definitely read Good as Gone.

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Twenty years ago, when Arden was four years old, her two year old twin sisters were stolen from the front yard of the family’s house in Keokuk, Iowa, while Arden watched. In Arrowood, by Laura McHugh, Arden comes back to the family estate, Arrowood, twenty years after the disappearance of her sisters, determined to find out what happened that summer.  However, small towns hold their secrets close, and Arden doesn’t realize how devastating the truth will actually turn out to be.

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Mark Novak, the protagonist of Rise the Dark by Michael Koryta, lost his wife to murder while he was sleeping. Although Mark is a private investigator, the mystery of his wife’s death has been something too disturbing for him to delve into, until now, when the man convicted of her death is released from prison.  As Mark returns to the Florida town where his wife was shot, he begins to find disturbing clues that suggest her death was tied to a deep mystery in his own past, and he is drawn back to the mining towns of Montana where he was raised, the caves under Indiana, an abandoned Gothic Southern town and the darkest corners of the Northwest, where he comes face to face with an evil more frightening than anything he’s come across professionally.

watching edie

When she was young, Edie was wild and beautiful, creative and fascinating.  She made a stir wherever she went and thought her life would always be that way, but it wasn’t.  Now, at the beginning of Watching Edie, by Camilla Way, her dreams haven’t come true at all.  She’s a 33 year old waitress, pregnant and alone, overwhelmed by her responsibilities and feeling desperate that nobody is around to help her. Except that someone is, her old friend Heather, who’s been watching her for years, who appears on Edie’s doorstep when Edie needs her most.  Or when Edie thinks she needs her most, because Heather is not what she seems and her interest in Edie is much more sinister than she lets on. In Watching Edie, the past is never quite dead, and the ghosts of old hurts are just waiting for new opportunities to get revenge.

collection of books

THE BOOK THAT MATTERS MOST — WHAT’S YOURS?

If you’ve never read Ann Hood’s books, you’re missing out.  Yes, I realize that’s kind of a judgmental statement, but really there’s so much to enjoy about her books, starting with the one I first discovered, Somewhere Off  the Coast of Maine, and continuing through The Italian Wife and The Knitting Circle: warm and full-blooded characters involved in realistic situations resolved believably.

the book that matters most

Her newest book is called The Book that Matters Most. The protagonist, Ava, is seeing her life fall apart.  Her twenty-five year marriage is over, her children are adults off living their own lives and she’s desperate to find some meaning in her life, so she joins a book club, as you do. This is an intriguing book group because the theme for the year is for each person to present “the book that matters most” to him or her. Puzzling over what this might be, Ava rediscovers a book she’d loved when she was growing up, a book that helped her deal with tragedies in her family.  As she begins to investigate the source of that book and its mysterious author, her story interweaves with that of her daughter, Maggie, who’s getting involved in a self-destructive relationship with an older man in Paris, and ultimately Ava and Maggie find a chance to understand their histories anew and perhaps even to rewrite their futures.

Any book that celebrates the love of reading is on my “must read” list (and as I said, Ann Hood is always a good read), but I have to say I’m especially intrigued by the question of what book matters most.  What would I choose if I were in that book group?  What book would you choose? Would your choice change depending on when someone asked you?  Feel free to comment and share what would be your “book that matters most” to you.

 

time machine

A TRAVEL GUIDE FOR TIME-TRAVELERS: THE TIME-TRAVELER’S HANDBOOK

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First, let me clear up an obvious misunderstanding: The Time Traveler’s Handbook: 18 Experiences from the Eruption of Vesuvius to Woodstock, by Johnny Acton, David Goldblatt and James Wylie, is NOT a how-to book about how to build a time machine or operate one (I know, I know, wouldn’t that be the coolest book in the world and wouldn’t we absolutely have that book in the library if there was such a book?).  You can complain about truth in advertising all you like on this one, but don’t let that keep you from taking out this wonderful book, which has a terrific concept and is well-written, well-researched and fun.

The concept of the book is that it’s a guidebook for people using a company that does time travel.  So you book a trip with this company and these are the descriptions of the possible trips you can take, with all the kinds of detailed advice you’d expect to see in a travel guide, but describing historical details and physical details of places that usually don’t exist any more in that particular form, and, in the best cases, giving you hour by hour or round by round details of what’s going to happen in this particular historical event.  It’s a fabulous way to look at historical events, bringing them to life in a way even the best historical fiction (let alone straight histories) can’t quite do (how often, for instance, do you see details about what kind of food you’d be able to eat and what kind of toilet facilities you can expect to see, in a historical novel?).  

You probably won’t be equally interested in all the events and places offered by the fictitious time travel company, but if you have any interest in history at all, you’re bound to find something that intrigues you.  You can get a close up and personal view of Woodstock, day by day and hour by hour (with advance information about when the rain is going to start, for instance), or the fall of the Berlin Wall, or what you can expect as a fellow traveler with Marco Polo and Kublai Khan going through the Khan’s territories.  You can join in with the women marching on Versailles in the early part of the French Revolution, or watch the Rumble in the Jungle where Muhammad Ali defeated the great George Foreman. You can see the Beatles in Hamburg before they were the famous Beatles and watch how they developed; you can wander through New York City in the 1930’s to witness the birth of Be-Bop.  The descriptions are vivid and lively, incredibly detailed and immediate.  My only regret, after finishing this book, is that there isn’t (as far as I know) a real company offering these kinds of trips, because I would absolutely sign up a bunch of them.  You can do the next best thing: take this book out and time travel vicariously.