THE WICKED BOY: OUR DECEMBER FIELD NOTES BOOK GROUP READ

After a fun discussion of The Shadow of the Wind, our November book club read (and what a juicy, entertaining read it was; I highly recommend it to anyone, in or out of the book group), we have chosen the next book for the Field Notes Book Group, a nonfiction historical true crime book, The Wicked Boy: The Mystery of a Victorian Child Killer, by Kate Summerscale.

You may be thinking, from the title, that it’s a book about a Victorian person who kills children, which would be gruesome enough (think of the second plotline in The Devil in the White City for an American example), but in fact it’s even more peculiar, because the book focuses on a child (technically teenager) who, along with his brother, kills his mother and is charged with murder. One of the brothers confessed and testified against the other, but the other, Robert, was found to be insane and sentenced to the infamous Broadmoor lunatic asylum at age 13.  And that’s just the beginning of his story.

Meticulously researched, this book reads like a novel rather than nonfiction.  The writing is so vivid you feel as if you’re actually there in the working class London neighborhood where the brothers and their mother lived, and living through the events as they happened. If you have any interest in Victorian London (say, you’re a Sherlock Holmes fan or a Charles Dickens fan), if you have a taste for true crime, if you’re interested in seeing different views of childhood, insanity, and the dangers of pulp fiction (substitute violent comic books, television, violent video games), this is a great read and will undoubtedly lead to fascinating discussion.

Come to the Field Library and pick up your copy of the book this week, and then join us on December 16 in the Field Library Gallery from 11:00 to 12:30 for coffee, refreshments and what promises to be a lively discussion of murder, mores and the Victorian era.

 

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HEIST ON THE MOON: ARTEMIS

What’s an author to do after he writes a surprising bestseller about a man abandoned on the surface of Mars, trying to survive until people come to rescue him?  If the author in question is Andrew Weir, the answer is, he writes another science fiction book, but this time instead of being set on Mars, it’s set on the moon. And not just on the moon, but on the largest city on the moon, Artemis, which give the book its title.  But rather than being a story of survival under very difficult conditions, and the efforts people on earth are making to save one man’s life, Artemis takes the trope of the heist story and transplants it to the moon.

You see, in the future when the moon has been colonized, it turns out that it’s really hard to make a living there.  It’s a great place to go if you’re rich, a fun place to stay if you’re a tourist (though again you would have to have a lot of money to be a tourist on the moon), but if you’re an ordinary person, trying to make a living, it’s like living in the most expensive city in the world, only more so.  Jazz Bashara has an ordinary job as a porter, but it’s not paying her bills by itself.  So she’s turned to crime, petty crime at first: a contraband item here and there, smuggling one or two things that harm no one and make her a little money.  Key word there is “little.”  As a small time criminal, Jazz isn’t really getting ahead or even staying afloat, so when she’s given the opportunity to make some real money (slugs, as it’s referred to on the moon, for reasons that make sense there) by doing a little sabotage on behalf of a very rich and powerful man, she’s more than willing to go for it.  Naturally, this being the kind of story it is, pulling off the job does not put her in a better position and in fact puts her in grave danger, as she discovers the bodies of two people who have already been killed in connection with this and realizes that she’s most likely next.

This is Andrew Weir, so you know you’re going to get lots of science and worldbuilding, a wisecracking protagonist, and a fast paced plot.  You don’t have to be a big science fiction fan to enjoy Artemis, but if you are, you’ll have even more fun with it.

THE CAT CAN FIX IT: THE ASTONISHING THING

There are plenty of books about dogs and how wonderful dogs are.  Albert Payson Terhune made a profession of writing dog books, as did Jim Kjelgaard, and the trope of children’s books, especially award-winning children’s books, focusing on dogs is so well-established that there’s a book called No More Dead Dogs that plays on it.  Understand, I have nothing against dogs, books about dogs, books from the point of view of dogs, you name it.  But as a cat lover, sometimes I find it a little annoying that there are so many dog books and so few cat books, so when I have the chance to get a book from the point of view of a cat, as compared to a dog, I’m happy to snap it up.

Allow me to introduce you to Boo, the feline heroine/protagonist of Sandi Ward’s debut novel, The Astonishing Thing.  Boo is your classic finicky feline, who doesn’t let just anyone into her heart, but she has grown very fond of and even devoted to her human, Carrie.  Carrie provides food and laps and all the good things Boo requires.  Carrie also takes care of the rest of the non-feline family, including her husband, Tommy, her children and the dog (whom Boo refers to as Not-Cat, and isn’t that EXACTLY how you would expect a cat to think of the household dog?), and everything seems to be going well, until one day when Carrie just leaves, and no one, especially Boo, has any idea what happened or why it happened.  The entire household is in disarray, and Boo worries, as cats would, whether anyone is going to remember to fill her food dish, let alone provide a warm lap for her.  But she’s also curious (a definite cat characteristic) about what happened to “Mother.”  She’s been watching the family very closely and she knows that Carrie loved Tommy and the other members of the family. She knows Carrie didn’t stop loving them. So what led to her departure?  And what, if anything, can a good-hearted and insightful cat do to bring the family back together again?

If you’re a cat person, you’ll enjoy this book. Even if you’re not a real cat person, you might just find yourself looking at cats (and their people) in a new light.

 

NEW AND EXCITING BESTSELLERS FOR NOVEMBER

Another month, another crop of new books by bestselling authors. One even has TWO books coming out this month (bet you can’t guess which bestselling author that is!), so if you’re a fan of the hottest authors or you just want to be au courant with the books everybody will be reading, come to The Field Library and take a look at our November bestsellers.

Mary Higgins Clark seems to have been writing forever, but she keeps coming up with winners. Her latest book, Every Breath You Take, is the fourth book in her Under Suspicion series (if you want to catch up, we have all the preceding volumes here at the Field), and in this one, Laurie Moran, the protagonist of the series, is using her television program to solve a cold case involving a wealthy woman who was pushed to her death from the roof of the Metropolitan Museum of Art three years earlier.  The case was never solved, though the widow’s young boyfriend was the most likely suspect then, and now.  But as Laurie digs deeper into the case, with help from her father’s Police Department connection, she begins to see that there are many more people who might have been guilty, including people in her own inner circle.  Who should she trust? How far should she go before she finds her own life in danger?

Jack Reacher, the hero of Lee Child’s bestselling series, returns in November in The Midnight Line. He’s not looking for trouble, or for anything in particular, when he gets out of a bus at a comfort stop in Wisconsin and sees a West Point ring in a pawn shop.  Reacher knows what it takes to earn that ring, especially for a female cadet, and it doesn’t make sense to him that the owner would have pawned it. Being Jack Reacher, he decides to find the owner of the ring and make sure she’s okay, and of course the trail is much more complicated than Reacher could have anticipated, throwing him in the path of bikers, cops, muscle, and crooks, leading him to the middle of nowhere in Wyoming, and a vast criminal enterprise that only someone like Reacher could break.

You could hardly think of someone less like Jack Reacher than Stephanie Plum, the inept bounty hunter protagonist of Janet Evanovich’s bestselling series. However, her ridiculous lack of sense and ability make her books a lot of fun, and the latest, Hardcore Twenty-Four, is another example.  Can you imagine Jack Reacher getting stuck babysitting someone’s boa constrictor?  Well, that’s just the start of what Stephanie gets herself into: she can’t bring in professional grave robber Simon Diggery (an almost Dickensian name, by the way) until she promises to babysit his boa, Ethel, a job for which she is entirely unqualified. Then headless bodies start showing up, as does Diesel, a hot guy who doesn’t take no for an answer in his professional or personal life, and Stephanie has more problems than she knows how to deal with (and for those who are longtime fans of the series, one of those problems includes the question of Grandma Mazur’s new online boyfriend; any subplots having to do with Grandma Mazur are, of course, worth reading all by themselves).

David Baldacci brings back his top assassins, Will Robie and Jessica Reel, in his new book, End Game, for nonstop action.  Will and Jessica have handled a lot of tough situations as they’ve acted in secret on behalf of the U.S. Government, killing people who represent unique threats to the U.S.  They have always been able to rely on their handler, code named Blue Man, to keep them safe and have their backs.  But now, after a rare vacation, Blue Man has disappeared and no one can get in contact with him.  Will and Jessica assume the worst and spring into action, tracking him to his last known location, a small town in the wilds of Colorado which has become a magnet for crime, drugs and far-right militia groups. But as Will and Jessica discover, there’s a deeper and more sinister threat lurking in this small town, a threat not just to Blue Man and to them, but to all of America as well, and they’re outgunned against an adversary with home court advantage.  Will they be able to get Blue Man back? Will they get out with their own lives?

Danielle Steel is becoming more prolific as time goes on.  Her last book, Fairytale, came out in October, and this month she’s got Past Perfect. a very different kind of book, a ghost story, a time travel story, an unclassifiable novel about what happens when the past and present collide. The book begins with a modern family, Sibyl and Blake Gregory and their three children, Andrew, Caroline and Charlie, moving from New York to a beautiful old mansion in the Pacific Heights area of San Francisco.  The fact that the house is surprisingly inexpensive for its size and location doesn’t give them any pause (obviously they haven’t been watching the right movies), but when an earthquake shakes up the house the first night they move in, they meet the people who lived there a hundred years before, the Butterfield family, all of whom are long dead.  In the days to come, the two families meet up with each other more and more often, sharing meals, memories, and time (as I said, a strange kind of book and hard to categorize).  Is the past actually perfect? Of course not, but it can teach the present a great deal, as the Gregory family comes to learn.

Did you guess which bestselling author has two books coming out this month?  If you said James Patterson, you’re right!  The first to arrive is Count to Ten, which is in the Private series, and is set in India, specifically in Delhi.  After the events in Mumbai (related in Private India: City on Fire, earlier in this series), Santosh has resigned as head of the Private Agency for India, but the head of the global agency wants him back very badly, and persuades him somehow to take on the founding of a new office in Delhi. Santosh has enough to do just fighting his own demons, but a case arises to make things worse.  Barrels full of dissolved human remains have been found in the basement of a house in a fashionable part of Delhi, and, in case that wasn’t harrowing enough, the house belongs to the state government, which is suppressing all public information about the scene and the remains. Just what Santosh needs in a new city when he’s still shaky after the devastation in Mumbai.

Later in the month, Patterson brings back his longest-standing character, Alex Cross in the latest in the only series for which he doesn’t have a co-writer credited.  The newest entry is called The People vs. Alex Cross, and for the first time Alex is on the wrong side of the law, charged with murder after gunning down followers of his nemesis Gary Soneji (whom we met back in the very first book in the series, Along Came a Spider). Alex knows it was in self-defense, but he’s being made into the poster child for trigger-happy cops. Suspended from the police and fighting for his professional life, the last thing Alex should be doing is investigating another serial killer, but when his long time partner, John Sampson, brings him a video that might be connected to the disappearances of a number of young women and asks for his help, Alex can’t say no, and so while he himself is on trial, he’s attempting to solve a series of violent crimes and prevent more.  With the natural suspense of a murder trial running through the book, added to the hunting down of a serial killer, Patterson is at the top of his game, and you can find his new bestsellers right here at the Field.

 

VIVA LA RESISTANCE: RADIO FREE VERMONT

Okay, so maybe you’re tired of politics, especially right after what seemed like a very long election season.  But that shouldn’t keep you from taking a look at Bill McKibben’s debut novel, Radio Free Vermont, and following his quirky but interesting take on what might happen if people in the state of Vermont decided they were mad as hell and weren’t going to take it anymore . . . “it” being their being part of the United States.

While this is McKibben’s first novel, it’s certainly not his first book, nor is it his first foray into the world of politics.  His book, The End of Nature, which came out back in 1989 (!) is considered a classic work of environmentalism and one of the first to bring attention to the problem of climate change.

However, here he’s a little more lighthearted. Our protagonist is one Vern Barclay, 72 years old and host of “Radio Free Vermont,” an underground radio station broadcasting from an undisclosed location, and he’s advocating for the radical idea that Vermont should secede from the United States and become its own country, with its own economy.  Though maybe that’s not really what he’s working for. Maybe he’s really just working to get people more involved with their own communities, their own local economies, their own local produce. As Vern talks, people start listening, and, more interestingly, they start acting.  Nothing too radical or dangerous, really, just things like taking over the public broadcasting at the local Starbucks, and giving local middle school students a day off for “Ethan Allen Day”, and hijacking a Coors truck to replace its contents with a local brewery’s products instead (there are probably many people who would applaud such a move even around here).  Full of quirky locals and a certain over the top look at what’s happening to small towns and small communities throughout the country, Radio Free Vermont is a good quick read you’ll enjoy even if you do think you’re sick to death of politics.

CON WOMEN AND SUFFRAGISTS: WELCOME TO THE CITY OF LIES

Elizabeth Miles is a woman living in the early twentieth century, a woman living by her wits, a con artist who specializes in separating men from their money.  She’s also the protagonist of City of Lies by Victoria Thompson, new historical fiction at The Field Library, and she’s going to take you on a wild ride.

Elizabeth has many names and many identities and up till now she’s been pretty successful as a grifter, but at the beginning of the book she discovers to her horror that she’s badly misjudged her mark.  Oscar Thornton, it turns out, is not just some stupid, easily befuddled rich man but a powerful criminal in his own right, and he is NOT pleased to have some young woman steal from him.  He is, in fact, so displeased that he and his minions are chasing Elizabeth down after having already caught and beaten up (and possibly even killed) her fellow con artist and brother.

What can she do?  Well, being a young woman of quick wits, Elizabeth discovers a Suffragist march outside the White House, and insinuates herself among the rich women marching for their rights, hoping she can join them in getting arrested.  Not that going to jail would be a good thing, but it would be better than getting caught by Thornton and his men.  And the authorities are quite annoyed at the ruckus the Suffragists are making, so they are all arrested, Elizabeth among the true believers, and sent to jail and then to the workhouse because there isn’t room for them in jail.

The one thing Elizabeth doesn’t anticipate is that she will find herself treated like a sister and a friend by these women whom she would ordinarily consider just potential marks, slow and stupid. She doesn’t expect to start admiring their intensity, their passion, their determination, and for the first time in her life, she’s finding friendships among women of her age.  When two of the women bring her with them to their home in New York, she even begins to find people who are attracted to her (without, of course, their knowing what she really is).

Unfortunately for Elizabeth, Thornton knows these women, too, and is able to track her down in her new residence, and her new life is becoming more and more dangerous, to her and to the women who have taken her in.  Will she be able to stay a step ahead of her enemies?  Will she fall back into her old life?

City of Lies is filled with vivid depictions of the Suffragist movement (don’t call them Suffragettes; just don’t) and what the women in it were willing to do and endure to win the right to vote. It’s one of those historical novels that makes an era come alive while giving you three dimensional and complicated characters to root for.  If you’re at all interested in the Women’s Suffrage movement or the period between World War I and World War II in America, or if you’re interested in feisty, surprising women, check out City of Lies, which happens to be the first book in a projected series (something to rejoice about).

2017 WORLD FANTASY WINNER: THE SUDDEN APPEARANCE OF HOPE

What would you do if you were utterly forgettable?  Not just a person who’s not very memorable, but someone who is erased from people’s memories as soon as they’re no longer talking to you or looking directly at you?  What would you do if even your own parents forgot who you were, forgot you were their child?  What if that state of being constantly forgotten started when you were a teenager and showed no signs of ever changing in your adulthood?  How would you make friends?  How would you get a job? How would you graduate from any school?  How would you find a place to live? How would anyone be able to hold you accountable for anything you did, right or wrong?  How would you survive?

What if there were a new app that promised to make you perfect?  All you have to do is input your information into the app and follow its instructions and you will become better and better until you are actually perfect?  How successful would an app like that be in our modern world?

Those two things, the state of being continually forgotten by everybody and the app that makes people perfect (and who decides what constitutes “perfect”, anyway?), are the heart of the 2017 winner of the World Fantasy Award, The Sudden Appearance of Hope, by Claire North, which is available at the Field Library (and also, for those participating in the 2017 Reading Challenge, a book that qualifies as a fantasy novel).

Hope Arden has been dealing with her invisibility since she was 16.  She’s become a thief because no matter how much evidence she might leave at a crime scene, nobody is going to remember seeing her and she’s not going to get caught. Or at least that’s what she thinks. Maybe she gets a little cocky when she sets out to steal a priceless jewel from around the neck of a princess at a Saudi Arabian soiree, and she discovers that people are sufficiently angry at that theft to try to track her down, invisible or not.

At the same time, Hope’s discovered the existence of this new app, Perfection, and the way it’s manipulating people into eating the “right” things, buying the “right” things, living in the “right” places in order to become perfect.  She discovers the high cost of allowing this app to run one’s life, and she decides to take that app, and its creators, down, regardless of the cost to herself.

The combination of Hope’s troubled life and the way this particular app changes the world struck the voters of the World Fantasy Association as novel and fascinating.  Check it out and see for yourself.

 

WInner of 2017 World Fantasy Award — The Sudden Appearance of Hope by Claire North

 

SLACKERS SAVE THE WORLD FROM INTERDIMENSIONAL HORRORS: WHAT THE HELL DID I JUST READ?

Sometimes a book has the perfect title, that tells you exactly what you’re about to find inside the covers.  The new book by David Wong, What the Hell Did I Just Read? A Novel of Cosmic Horror, is one of those perfectly-titled books.

John and David are two guys in their twenties who don’t seem to have much direction in life.  If it weren’t for Amy, David’s extremely patient girlfriend who also happens to have a full time job that pays enough to live on, they would probably be living on the street, eating out of garbage cans. As it is, they work odd jobs and hang out, but their real forte is investigating nightmarish incursions of other dimensions into the world of their Undisclosed town, and trying to keep monsters from other dimensions from taking over this world.

In this book, the inciting incident seems serious enough: a young child is kidnapped by what looks like a particularly slimy pedophile, with suggestions that this pedophile might not be entirely human. Of course he isn’t human, he’s some kind of shape shifting monster, and as John and David join forces with the child’s father, Ted, a former Special Forces soldier who’s determined to wreak revenge on whoever stole his daughter, the bad guy in question makes himself appear identical to David, so David has to spend a certain amount of his time and energy telling Ted and the police that really, he’s not the kidnapper, no matter how it looks.

But then it gets weirder.  There are other kidnappings, first of a young boy whose mother is associated with a motorcycle gang/religious cult, and then of a whole group of children in a bus, and there seem to be multiple versions of David and John, and even Ted and Amy, wandering through the story, so close to the real versions that even people who know them well have trouble telling if this is a fake or not.  And those children who were supposedly kidnapped?  Well, maybe they’re not who the adults around them think they are, either.  Maybe they’re not even children. Maybe these adults never actually HAD children, but these creatures have persuaded the adults that they are their children.  Maybe there is a deep and terrifying plot behind all this weirdness, and it’s up to Amy and David and John, the last people you would ever want to be in this position,  to save the world.

It’s not for everyone; you have to have a certain willingness to enjoy somewhat juvenile humor involving bodily functions and sex (one of the characters lives above a sex toy shop, and the merchandise of that store figures here and there in the story), and you have to restrain your natural inclination to grab lazy slacker characters and shake them for being such idiots.  However, if you can get past those little issues (and you don’t mind the frequent four letter words), What the Hell Did I Just Read? can be a lot of fun.

It’s warped, it’s bizarre, it’s compulsively readable, and it’s even funny.  If the idea of slackers vs. Lovecraftian monsters from the beyond strikes you as a great premise for a book, then by all means pick up What the Hell Did I Just Read?, and you’ll be in for a treat.

NOVEMBER BOOK CLUB: THE SHADOW OF THE WIND

After our brief foray into pure nonfiction with The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, by the late great Oliver Sacks, the Field Notes Book Group is once again returning to the world of fiction for our November selection, which we will be discussing on November 18, from 11 to 12:30, and what a novel it is!  Carlos Ruiz-Zafon’s The Shadow of the Wind is one of my personal favorite books, a real page turner, an international bestseller, with something for everyone.

You know how people say “They don’t write ‘em like that anymore”?  Well, The Shadow of the Wind disproves that claim.  Set in Barcelona after the end of World War II, the book starts with our young protagonist, Daniel, entering the Cemetery of Forgotten Books and choosing the one book he will protect for the rest of his life (already you’re intrigued, aren’t you?  Admit it).  He chooses Julian Carax’s book, The Shadow of the Wind, devours it in one night, and then sets out to find other books by the author.  He is shocked to discover that he may very well have in his possession the ONLY book by Carax still in existence, because someone is busy destroying all the other copies of Carax’s books.  Who’s doing this, and why? Naturally Daniel wants to find this out, but his search leads him to danger and secrets, wonderful characters, mystery and doomed love, adventure and intrigue.

Copies will be available for all members of the group at the Field Library’s Circulation desk.  Come in and pick up your copy, and clear some time on your schedule so you can enjoy the fun of this book.  Join us on November 18, from 11 to 12:30, for coffee, refreshments and lively discussion!

CHRISTMAS MYSTERY — WITH FINCHES

Considering that the first crop of Christmas-themed books came out in late September (three months before Christmas!), I’m not going to rant about how ridiculous it is to have a new Christmas mystery published in late October (still two months early, and long before most of us are even thinking about the holidays with anything other than a vague sense of dread). Instead, I want to point readers to a series that’s lots of fun and that, despite having a Christmas setting, isn’t about romance and isn’t unduly sweet.

If you haven’t read any of Donna Andrews’ Meg Lanslow mysteries, and you’re a fan of cozies (as compared to the police procedurals or the really dark twisted mysteries from, say, Scandinavia), you’ve been missing out.  Meg, the protagonist of the series, is unusual for a main character in a cozy in that she doesn’t run a shop of any kind, but works as a blacksmith.  She lives with her husband and children in a small town in Virginia, which is also the home of her rather eccentric birth family.  She is, as all such protagonists have to be, quite good at solving mysteries that baffle the police, but the real fun of the series (which is now in its 23rd book) is the interactions among the characters. If you like Grandma Mazur and Stephanie’s relatives in Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum books, you’ll love Meg and her family. You don’t necessarily need to read the series in order (but once you’re hooked, you’ll want to go back and read them all) to enjoy this book,

How the Finch Stole Christmas is the third Christmas-themed mystery in this series, following last year’s The Nightingales Before Christmas and Duck the Halls in 2014 (if you’re noticing a certain theme in the titles, you’re right). In this book, Meg’s husband, who has in earlier years done a one-man performance of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol at Christmas time, has decided to expand the performance to include a full cast.  This gives him an opportunity to get his and Meg’s twin sons on stage, one as the young Scrooge and the other as Tiny Tim, which leads to natural complications.  But there’s worse, because one Malcolm Haver joins the cast and immediately causes massive drama.  Malcolm has an ego the size of a planet, a drinking problem, and a contract that allows him to get paid as long as he steps on the stage, regardless of his state of inebriation, and enemies galore.  Meg gets the thankless job of keeping Haver from the bottle as part of her duties as assistant to her husband, the director, and finding out who’s supplying him with liquor.  Also, why are there so many caged finches all over the place?

With just enough Christmas spirit and lots of atmosphere and family humor, and likable, if somewhat eccentric and odd, characters, How the Finch Stole Christmas is a Christmas book you can enjoy even two months before the holidays.