It gets harder and harder, as time goes on, for mystery writers to come up with different kinds of detectives and different kinds of mysteries. There are all sorts of variations on Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, and noir private investigators are frequent, too, and there are many different kinds of police departments whose members star in thrillers and mysteries of their own, but for the most part the crimes are common to most mysteries: murder, theft, blackmail, kidnapping, etc. How can you make your mystery new and different?

Felicia Yap, in her new book, Yesterday, has come up with a unique new twist. In the world of this book, there are two kinds of people, and they’re divided up by virtue of how much they can remember.  Most people are “monos”, who can only remember one day’s worth of events. They’re limited in what kinds of jobs they can have, and can’t become politicians, and mostly stick with other Monos.  Then there are the elites, the “duos”, who can remember two days’ worth of events.  Nobody is capable of remembering more than that.

Starting with that premise, you can immediately see how that would complicate the solving of a mystery.  It’s not just that the witnesses and suspects genuinely can’t remember what went on if it was more than a day or two ago. The investigators have the same memory problems.

In this case, we have a mixed marriage: Claire is a well-meaning mono, and her husband, Mark, is an ambitious duo, a politician on the rise.  Their marriage is a shining example of what could be, how these social divisions can be overcome, until it turns out that Mark was having an affair with a beautiful woman who’s just been murdered. Naturally, Mark is the prime suspect in the murder (some things don’t change), and naturally the victim and the police officer investigating the case have secrets of their own, but how can anyone find out the truth when everyone’s memories keep erasing themselves so quickly?

For a truly different murder mystery that will keep you guessing and also make you think about the role of memory in just about every aspect of your life, check out Yesterday.


Thanks to everyone who came to the Field Notes meeting this past Saturday, August 19, to discuss I Liked My Life, and especially to everybody who offered suggestions for the book for September’s reading and meeting.  Our choice (hard-fought as it was) is Half Broke Horses, by Jeannette Walls. We’ll be meeting on September 16, from 11 to 12:30, hopefully in the Gallery (elevator permitting), with discussion, coffee and snacks, so come on and join us!

If you read Walls’ previous book, The Glass Castle, you might have wondered (I certainly did) what made her parents so odd, what made them behave the way they did. Her next book, Half Broke Horses, partially answers this question by telling the story of her maternal grandmother, Lily Casey Smith, and her life and adventures in the West before and during the Depression.  Told in a very simple, direct style and in the first person, the book reads as if Lily herself were talking to you in a no-nonsense tone.  Judging by her account of her life, she had quite the adventure: growing up in a sod house on the Texas plains, breaking horses when she was six, trekking out by herself for hundreds of miles on horseback to become a teacher when she was 15 and hadn’t even started, let alone finished, high school, and then taking on the wilds of the Big City (Chicago, in this case).  Lily had her share of ups and downs, disappointments and joys, but she didn’t let anything get in the way of her will to find her Purpose (as her somewhat difficult father would put it) and live the life she wanted.  Understanding Lily makes it a little easier to understand Rosemary, Jeannette Walls’ mother, and Lily’s daughter.

Copies of Half Broke Horses will be available for checkout at the library this week, so come on in and get your copy, and then join us for our usual rousing discussion on September 16.  


The Royal Society, a high powered English association dedicated to excellence in science, has just announced its Insight Investment Science Book Prize shortlist for 2017.  The award founded in 1988, celebrates outstanding popular science writing from around the world, written for non-scientist audience.  If you’re interested in seeing what the Royal Society believes to be among the best science writing in the world for this year, you’re in luck, because four of the six finalists are right here at The Field Library, ready to be charged out and read.

Let’s start with something fascinating and out there: Other Minds: The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness, by Peter Godfrey Smith.  If you know anything about cephalopods (other than the 20,000 Leagues Beneath the Sea stereotype), you know that they’re fascinating creatures, with intelligence that’s especially surprising, given they’re invertebrates and almost everything about them is strange and different from more familiar mammals.  Some have said that an octopus is as close as most of us are likely to come to meeting an intelligent alien (how’s that for blowing your mind?), and you have to ask yourself, how did intelligence develop at least twice, in different places, on earth?  This book looks at the beginnings of consciousness, how it probably evolved in the ocean (as life began there), and then turns to consider the octopus, and how these mostly solitary creatures developed intelligence and what that means for them, and, by extension, for us. Frankly, just reading about the otherworldly octopus and what it can do is mind-blowing, so adding that to speculations about where consciousness and intelligence came from in the first place is a recipe for much boggling of the mind (in a good way).

If the development of consciousness doesn’t interest you, how about the possible conquest of death?  That’s the subject of the wonderfully titled, To Be a Machine: Adventures Among Cyborgs, Utopians, Hackers and the Futurists Solving the Modest Problem of Death by Mark O’Connell, which is also on the Royal Society’s shortlist. Once you start thinking of the human body, and its inevitable limitations, as merely a device that can be replaced when it starts wearing out (or before), you’re in another world, one which coexists with our more normal way of seeing the world. It’s not just speculative fiction writers who consider the possibility of human immortality and how it might come about. People are already working in cryonics, and biohackers are installing devices inside their own skins to increase their senses, while another group of scientists works on ways to protect humanity from the possible rise of artificial superintelligence (a la Terminator and its progeny), and the author investigates all these seemingly odd outposts of our society, asking not only what they’re doing, but what their efforts, if successful and followed up, would do to humanity and to our world.

Do you think of yourself as a singular creature?  Well, that’s one way of looking at our bodies, but it might be very limiting, according to another shortlisted book, I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us and A Grander View of Life, by Ed Yong. What if you think of a human body as a vast ecosystem for different multitudes of microbes?  Sometimes the things we can’t see are not only important, but absolutely vital to our survival.  We usually think of our microbes (if we think of them at all) as bad things, germs that need to be eliminated, but as this book reveals, our microbiome allows us to digest food, shapes our bodies, protects us from diseases, and makes us who and what we are.  This book takes us on a guided tour of the hosts of microbes that live in other living things, including us, and introduces us to scientists who are working on the cutting edge of microbiology, and always with a light touch and a sense of humor.  

The one book in the shortlist that I’ve actually read is Testosterone Rex: Myths of Sex, Science and Society, by Cordelia Fine.  I’ve already reviewed it here(spoiler alert: I loved it).  Basically it’s a witty and entertaining (while still scientifically rigorous) rebuke to the “evolutionary psychology” ideas about how gender roles are genetically and evolutionarily predetermined to coincide with the roles we have in our modern society. Funny and fun to read, it’s the kind of book I’d love to see win a major prize.

The selection of the winner will be made in September, so if you want to be in the know before the award is given, you have time to read through these mind-boggling, excellent science books.



If you’re feeling disgusted with modern day politics and all the dysfunction in government, reading history, including historical fiction, is an excellent way to gain a little perspective.  However bad things are these days, for the most part they were worse in the past.  And if you’re a fan of the kind of betrayals and intrigues that fill shows like Game of Thrones, then you’re going to love The Half Drowned King by Linnea Hartsuyker, which takes us to the 9th century world of what would become Scandinavia, and puts us in the midst of the dynastic struggles of the Vikings, in countries made up of numerous little fiefdoms with petty kings all warring against each other.  The book is based on some real life history and a lot of research on the part of the author.

Ragnvald Eysteinsson is the son and grandson of kings and expects to take his father’s place as leader of the clan when his father dies.  However, his stepfather, Olaf, has other ideas.  When Ragnvald is on his way home from a trip to Ireland, he is betrayed and left for dead by men in his stepfather’s employ.  Rescued by a fisherman, Ragnvald is out for revenge against his stepfather (naturally enough). He also wants to reclaim his birthright, rejoin the woman he loves, and protect his sister, Svanhild, the kind of things any reasonable Viking would have as goals.  To accomplish these goals, he pledges his sword and his loyalty to Harald of Vestfold, who some people have prophesied will become the king of all the north.  


Meanwhile, back in Ragnvald’s home country, his sister, Svanhild, is supposed to make an advantageous marriage to the betterment of her clan, whether or not she wants something more, something that lets her see more of the world. Her stepfather, Olaf, has chosen a man for her, but she wants nothing to do with him.  When she has the opportunity to escape from her stepfather via her brother’s mortal enemy, she’s faced with a cruel choice: family or freedom.  It’s an especially tough decision in the Viking world, where women’s options were extremely limited.


This is the first book in a projected trilogy, following the fortunes of these characters, their real world counterparts, and their descendants.  Lose yourself for a while in the world of the Vikings, the sea kings and the land kings, with The Half Drowned King.



Get out your library card and get ready to put some holds on new books by bestselling authors which are coming out this August.  With our new policy of two weeks for express books, you have a better chance of getting your hands on one of the hot new books, but if you want to make sure of your place in line, placing a hold is the way to go.  And if you’re a fan of Sue Grafton or Fern Michaels, Danielle Steel, Stuart Woods, James Patterson or Lisa Scottoline, you’re in for a great month.

Let’s start with Sue Grafton, who’s getting close to the end of her Kinsey Millhone series, with Y Is for Yesterday, due on the shelves on August 22.  Ten years ago, in 1979, there was a horrific crime committed at an elite private school: four boys sexually assaulted a younger classmate and filmed their attack.  Then the tape was stolen and the suspected thief was murdered.  One of the boys turned state’s evidence and testified against the others, who went to jail.  Now, in 1989 (in the Kinsey Millhone world), one of the boys has been released on parole, and he’s being blackmailed by someone with a copy of the supposedly missing tape. Kinsey’s hired to find out who’s demanding the ransom,  which would be twisted enough, but there’s also a sociopath from Kinsey’s past who may be following her and leaving her clues about his continuing interest in her.  The cases have gotten deeper and more complicated as the series has gone on, so this should be a gripping read.

Or, if you’re not ready for something that heavy in this heat, Debbie Macomber’s got a new stand-alone book coming out in the beginning of the month. Any Dream Will Do is the story of two people who are trying to rebuild their lives with each other, and what happens when the past rears its ugly head.  In this case, Shay got into trouble because of her efforts to save her younger brother, Caiden, from people who were threatening him.  Trying to escape the consequences of crossing lines she never should have come near, she holes up in a church, and discovers the pastor there, Drew, a widower who, after the loss of his wife, has gone into a spiritual tailspin of his own. The two of them help each other find their footing again, and their friendship begins to develop into love when — of course — Caiden returns to his sister, and she had to make a decision about where her true loyalties and future lie.

While it’s not surprising to see that Stuart Woods has out a new book in August, it’s intriguing that he’s not writing (directly) about his series character, Stone Barrington, in Barely Legal. Instead, the protagonist of this action-filled novel is Herbie Fisher, former protege of Barrington, turned into a capable partner at a well-respected white shoe law firm, though clearly he hasn’t resolved all his former issues.  He’s dodging a loan shark who’s trying to collect on a $90,000 marker (this is not considered good behavior for a partner in a prestigious law firm, generally speaking), and gets involved in the defense of a college student who’s falsely accused of selling drugs. Naturally, the case isn’t what it seems, and turns out to involve a veiled threat against the student’s father, a prominent New York City councilman, made by the mob.  Herbie has to tread carefully in order to protect his client and keep the boy and himself out of deeper trouble.

In other lawyer-related novels, Lisa Scottoline brings us to the law firm of Rosato and DiNunzio in Exposed.  The firm has been through a lot over the last few years, but nothing as potentially damaging as the situation the partners now face. Mary DiNunzio wants to take the case of an old friend of hers, Simon Pensiera, who was wrongfully dismissed from his job.  Problem is, the company he works for is being represented by Bennie Rosato.  This creates a clear and painful conflict of interest (one firm can’t really represent both sides of a lawsuit), and as the partners square off against each other, forcing everyone else in the firm to take sides, twists and turns abound and the law firm is ripped apart.  Can the firm survive this epic battle of wills?

James Patterson will also be coming out with a new book, but this one isn’t part of any of the series for which he’s known. The Store starts in a world where your every need and desire is anticipated by an extremely powerful retailer known (not very imaginatively) as The Store, which is always keeping track of everyone (in order to anticipate their needs and desires, of course).  The protagonists of the book, Megan and Jacob Brandeis, seem to have it made: they have a loving marriage, nice kids, and new jobs with The Store.  It turns out, however, that they aren’t what they seem, and they’re actually working for The Store to get inside information so they can expose what the behemoth is really doing to people.  The Store does not want that information to be discovered, let alone made public, and if The Store finds out what Megan and Jacob are doing, their lives will be in danger, because The Store is everywhere and sees everything.

Fern Michaels returns to the world of the Sisterhood, her group of women who are determined to right wrongs and fight injustices, legally or extra-legally, in her newest book, Need to Know. In this case, the wronged woman is famed singer Garland Lee, who made the crucial mistake of trusting her then attorney, who took advantage of her trust to steal a fortune from her. He’s rich and extremely well-connected, but that’s not going to save him from the vengeance of the Sisterhood when he goes a step too far and embroils Garland in a lawsuit that could cause her to lose her house and everything that means anything to her.

And what would a month be without a new book by Danielle Steel, who’s becoming almost as prolific as Stuart Woods (if not James Patterson)?  Her newest book, due this month, is The Right Time, and it turns on the question of when, if ever, can a person come out from under a deception.  The main character, Alexandra Winslow, was abandoned by her mother when she was only seven, and lost her father when she was 14.  Moving into a convent, with the encouragement of the sisters, she started honing her writing talent, creating dark and compelling mysteries.  Once one of her books was accepted for publication, she took a step that would haunt her afterwards, publishing the book (and its successors) under the name of Alexander Green.  As Alexander became more famous, and more people became envious of “his” success, the time for Alexandra to reveal who she really was seemed to slip farther and farther out of sight.

Whether your tastes run to mysteries or thrillers or romance, you’re sure to find something that appeals to you among our upcoming bestsellers.  See you at The Field!


It’s really tempting to call Jeff Noon’s new book, A Man of Shadows, a time travel book (and we all know how much I love time travel books), but that’s a misleading description of this extremely quirky and strange new science fiction book, which has been described by some reviewers as “new weird.”

Imagine a noir detective story, the hard-bitten, world-weary, possibly alcoholic private eye battling his own demons in a world that’s inherently corrupt and untrustworthy, setting out to investigate something that seems reasonably simple at first but turns out to reveal levels of corruption and damage throughout the society.  That’s one way you can describe this book: Nyquist, the protagonist, is a private eye who’s been hired by the head of one of the major corporations of his world to find a runaway young woman.

But the way this world is set up is what makes the book unique.  There’s the Dayzone, where there is never darkness, because there are electric lights turned on everywhere, and you can’t see the sky to determine whether it’s actually day or night.  Then there’s Nocturna, which is the opposite: eternal night, no lights to speak of other than the few nearly burned out bulbs that serve as constellations.  In between the two zones is Dusk, a scary place which is neither day nor night but fog and confusion.  

How’s this a time travel novel, or like a time travel novel?  Well, when you have no natural night or day, time becomes very fluid, and in this world, time zones change with the drop of a hat.  You can choose what time you have, purchasing your own time zone from one of the large corporations that control these things, and then you have to adjust your idea of what time it is with those of the people around you.  As you can imagine, this can get quite confusing.

Throw in a serial killer operating in the brilliant and eternal light of the Dayzone whom no one seems to be able to see, let alone catch, and add the possibility that this killer, known only as Quicksilver, might have something to do with the young woman’s disappearance, and the dawning possibility that this woman might have a more crucial role in the maintenance of the world than Nyquist first imagined, and you have a truly original, extremely mind bending, speculative fiction/noir detective/weird book.  Not for the faint of heart, A Man of Shadows will have you looking at the differences in time between different clocks in your home with growing suspicion.



One of the cases that has long fascinated me is the question of what Lizzie Borden might or might not have done in connection with the murders of her father and stepmother.  Most people have heard the children’s rhyme, “Lizzie Borden took an ax, gave her mother 40 whacks, when she saw what she had done, gave her father forty-one,” but what most people don’t know is that Lizzie was in fact charged with murder and acquitted (I know this because I’ve read a lot about the case).  People have speculated for ages about what really happened in that house (a wonderful, fictional re-visioning of the case is Maplecroft, by Cherie Priest, which you should also read if you have any interest in the case and an interest in H. P. Lovecraft).  A new novel, See What I Have Done, by Sarah Schmidt, leaps into the story with both feet.

It’s a gruesome enough story: while there weren’t actually “40 whacks”, let alone “41,” both the father and stepmother were murdered by multiple blows with an ax, and at least Abby, the stepmother, seemed to have been facing her attacker when she was killed.  The police investigation was woefully inadequate, even for the time (why didn’t anyone check Lizzie for bloodstains when the police questioned her shortly after the murders?), and Lizzie’s statements during the investigation and the trial were all over the map.  The two people were definitely murdered. Someone must have done it, but who?

See What I Have Done tells the story from four points of view: Lizzie’s, Emma’s (her older sister who lived in the house with her), Bridget (the maid), and the enigmatic stranger, Benjamin.  Slowly the details of what life in the Borden household was like emerge from these conflicting perspectives: what it was like to live with a controlling, stingy, violent man like Andrew, what kind of woman Abby really was, what the relationship between the spinster sisters was like, and what led up to the murders and the aftermath.  

Of course, we will never actually know what happened, and there’s a certain amount of evidence that points to Lizzie (who was probably acquitted because the jury couldn’t believe a well-bred young woman could do something so gruesome), but if you’re interested in imagining what might have gone on in that house in Falls River on that terrible morning, See What I Have Done should be on your To Be Read list.


After a lively discussion of Life After Life, the Field Notes Book Group has selected its book for the month of August, and it’s a good one: I Liked My Life, by Abby Fabiaschi.

Before the beginning of the book, Maddy, a charming, intelligent housewife and mother of a bright, somewhat prickly teenage daughter, has jumped to her death off the roof of the library at Wellesley College. Maddy is our first point of view character,  sharing narrative duties with Brady, her husband, and Eve, her daughter, and she opens the book with observations about who should be Brady’s next wife.  Maddy is sort of haunting her family, but in the most benign fashion possible (Brady hears her laughter in his head; Eve hears her mother singing sometimes), trying very hard to take care of them even after her death.

I know this sounds like it’s going to be a very depressing book, but, surprisingly, it’s not at all.  Maddy’s voice is so funny, her observations so acute and accurate, and her intentions so clearly for the best, that you can’t help liking her.  While Eve and Brady are going through a lot in the aftermath of Maddy’s death, they are also acute observers and, especially in the case of Eve, quite funny in a sort of dark, ironic way.

The big question that drives you through this immensely readable book (I read it in one day) is, why did Maddy, who seems to be the most grounded, generous and intelligent person around, kill herself?  Why would someone who’s so devoted to her loved ones’ welfare, and someone who knows from personal experience how devastating suicide can be for the ones left behind, do this?  Was she trying to shame her family?  Did she have some secret depression, some pressure nobody else knew about?  As her husband and daughter move through their somewhat rocky  mourning process, they struggle with these questions, as do the readers.  

Without spoiling anything, I will tell you the book wraps everything up and answers all your questions in a very satisfying way.

The books will be available to check out at the circulation desk at The Field Library this week. Come in and pick one up, and then join us on Saturday, August 19, from 11 to 12:30 p.m. for discussion, coffee and snacks.


Tom Holt is not a man who takes much of anything seriously. He writes humorous fantasy that takes aim at all the cliches and tropes of fantasy fiction and turns them inside out in the funniest way possible (don’t believe me?  Try some of his other books, including Outsorcerer’s Apprentice,  and The Good, the Bad and the Smug, here at The Field Library).  In his latest book, The Management Style of the Supreme Beings, he changes his focus a little and starts with the premise that God decides to sell off the whole planet earth and everything on it to the Venturi Brothers, a pair of aliens (originally from Mars, though they’ve been all over the universe since) who have the whole supreme being thing worked out in their own way.  The Venturi brothers are not bad, necessarily — in fact, they’re beyond all this “good and bad” stuff in general — but they’re instituting a new regime for the earth and everything is going to be quite different as long as they’re in charge.

You can tell from that much of a description that this is not a reverent book (by any means), and if you’re uncomfortable with an author taking (fairly gentle) pot shots at Christian theology, probably this is not the book for you.  

However, if you’re not easily offended, and if you’re curious about how the world would work if this whole “good — bad” dichotomy weren’t the basis for morality, or if you like a warped adventure story that takes you from heaven to hell to other galaxies and all kinds of places in between, that subverts many of the tropes of adventure fiction (take that, Indiana Jones and your pulp forbears!), then you should definitely read The Management Style of the Supreme Beings.  It’s a fast read filled with laugh aloud lines and warped characters (also warped looks at characters you think you know).

For instance, we have Kevin, God’s other son, the one who never seemed to find a place o fit in with the divine scheme, and who rebels against God’s sale of the earth and all that’s on it to the Venturis.  Yes, he’s supposed to keep away from the earth, but he can’t quite seem to do that, and his two Uncles (Raffa and Gabe, whom you might recognize as the angels Rafael and Gabriel, respectively) have their supernatural hands full trying to keep him out of trouble.

We also have Jersey, an Indiana Jones type of character who’s spent his whole life trying to find the ultimate answer to the existence of God, only to discover, when the Venturi brothers take over, that now everybody knows who the gods are around here, and now he has nothing left to look for, so his life loses its meaning until he discovers a secret that’s been kept for millennia, the secret of another god, one who’s never gone away.

Then there’s Bernie, a human being who’s been working for Uncle Nick in hell for a long time before the sell-off, and who uses his brilliant management skills to make hell into a great tourist destination after the new regime comes to power.  I might add that “Uncle Nick” comes across as a much more interesting (and sympathetic) character than you would expect from his traditional depiction, and has real affection for Bernie (to the point of offering to let Bernie take over the joint when Nick retires).

All of this is fun and the plot is entertaining and complicated enough to keep you going, but the thing that makes this book rise to true heights of goofy fun is the inclusion of Santa Claus as a character.  It turns out he’s not exactly what we always thought he was, and he is NOT pleased at the new management of the planet.  He knows when you are sleeping, after all, and knows when you’re awake, and “good” and “bad” are not things he’s willing to give up on without a fight.

If the news is getting you down and you really feel the need for escape, you could hardly do better than to turn to The Management Style of the Supreme Beings.



Some of the best thrillers start with a perfectly ordinary situation and then ask, “What if?”  What if people were lapsing into comas in a hospital after simple operations for sinister reasons? What if someone managed to clone dinosaurs on a special island?  And now, in Fierce Kingdom, by Gin Phillips, the question is, what would you do if you were a mother of a young child and the two of you were caught in an active shooter situation, and what if that active shooter situation took place at the local zoo?

Aren’t you intrigued already?  

Joan is spending a pre-Halloween day at the zoo with her four year old son, enjoying the exhibits and their time together.  It’s an all but perfect day as they’re leaving, just before the zoo is closing, and suddenly she hears what she thinks at first is firecrackers and then recognizes as gunfire.  Then she sees that what she thought were fallen scarecrows on the path are much more sinister and scary.  Realizing there are active shooters at the zoo, she takes her son and runs back inside to hide with him for their protection. Her son, Lincoln, is only 4 years old and doesn’t really understand why he needs to keep calm and quiet, how very dangerous everything is, so not only does Joan have to think fast and keep away from the shooters, but she has to make sure Lincoln doesn’t accidentally do something that will endanger them both.

Now everything the two of them had seen and enjoyed during the day takes on a different aspect: the hidden pathways, the exhibits that are being renovated, the carousel, the snack machines are no longer interesting things to see and explore, but potentially life-saving hiding places.  Joan and her son are trapped in the zoo, almost as much as the zoo animals themselves.  What is she willing to do to survive and to protect her precious son?  

She’s not the only one trapped inside the zoo, and we see the perspectives of some of those other characters as well as the killers themselves, but the heart of the book is Joan and Lincoln, their bond, their danger, and the moment by moment decisions she has to make that could have catastrophic consequences for her and her child.  This is the kind of book you won’t want to put down.