It should not be a surprise to anyone who knows me that Halloween is one of my favorite holidays.  For anyone who loves dark and creepy stories, let alone horror stories, this is one of the best times of the year, and there are so many classic horror and close-to-horror books to read, it’s hard to decide which one to highlight this year.   There’s H.P. Lovecraft, over the top and with many problematic aspects but who packs a wallop in his finest work (read “The Colour Out of Space”, but not at night in a place where you can hear trees moving in the wind). There’s Frankenstein, so much deeper and more interesting than any of the movies made from it (and if you’re a fan of Young Frankenstein, you will notice places where Gene Wilder and Mel Brooks took whole blocks of text from the original book).  There’s Dracula, again a better book than any of the movies, filled with Victorian sexual stereotypes and longings.  But it’s late in October, you don’t have a lot of time to read one of those 19th century long books, so for this Halloween, may I suggest you acquaint yourself with what I consider the best written of the classic horror novels: Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde?


The general story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde has suffused our culture.  Everybody knows about it; there have been multiple movies, and even Bugs Bunny took on the story at least once.  There are new versions coming out all the time (and here I want to give a shout out to the entertaining The Diabolical Miss Hyde by Viola Carr, published last year and about to be joined by a sequel, The Devious Dr. Jekyll), and it seems there’s nothing new anyone could say about the story.  However, while almost everybody knows the outlines of the story, few have read the source, and that’s a shame, because it is a rattlingly good read.

The book is short; you could read it in one sitting, and you might want to, because it’s that terrific. The best way to approach it is to try to forget all you think you know about Dr. Jekyll and approach it as the original readers must have done.

One of the surprisingly modern things about the book, which sets it apart from most of the other 19th century classics, is its structure.  This book is not told in a straightforward way (as the movies usually tell it), starting with Jekyll’s creating the formula, then using it, then discovering its harms.  No, it’s told in a fractured way, starting with the oh-so-ordinary lawyer Mr. Utterson hearing an odd story about an act of unmotivated cruelty and its strange connection with the house of one Dr. Henry Jekyll, and continuing with a series of increasingly odd incidents, including the nature of Dr. Jekyll’s will, and leading up to the murder of a nobleman and its connection to Mr. Edward Hyde.  At last Utterson comes to Jekyll’s house for a final confrontation with Hyde, though it’s not the sort you would be expecting based on any of the movies, and only at the very end of the book do you discover what had been going on behind the scenes Utterson has only understood slightly.  Stevenson is a masterful storyteller (the author of, among other things, Treasure Island, the ur-pirate story) and all his skills shine here.  I am not going to give away any more details of the way the story unfolds, except to say you might find yourself surprisingly sympathetic to Hyde by the end.

So this Halloween, make the acquaintance of the real Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and prepare to be well entertained.


good omens cover

For our next meeting of the Field Notes Book Group, which will be held on November 21 from 11 to 12:30 at the library, we’re going to read a unique collaboration by two of the most brilliant and funniest fantasy writers of our times.  Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch, was written by the late great Terry Pratchett and the ever popular Neil Gaiman, and it is a wonderfully fun read, as you would expect from the minds of these two.

What’s it about?  Well, it’s about the end of the world, but don’t think dystopian stuff like The Walking Dead.  It’s about the Apocalypse, but don’t think of the world of the Left Behind series, not in the hands of the irreverent Pratchett and Gaiman.

Two of the main characters are angels, one from heaven and one from hell, both of whom have been stationed on earth for millennia. They have more in common with each other, by this point, than either of them has with his supervisors back home, and when they’re confronted with the imminence of the end of the world which they’ve grown quite fond of, they join forces to try to stop it.

This is made more interesting by the fact that the antichrist was switched with another baby at birth, thanks to a mishap involving an absent minded Satanist nurse, and now the actual antichrist is a seemingly ordinary 11 year old  boy named (of course) Adam, who has no idea he’s destined to destroy the earth and who just happens to be living in the same town as the last living descendant of one Agnes Nutter, a witch whose prophecies have been incredibly detailed and unassailably accurate, including the date and time of the end of the world.

Good Omens is very funny (the footnotes at the bottoms of the pages, which are pure Terry Pratchett, are worth the price of admission in themselves) and quite provocative without being nasty or mean-spirited.  There are numerous copies on hold behind the Circulation Desk at the library, so come on in and claim your copy, and then join us for what should be a most entertaining discussion in November!


the witches cover

Stacy Schiff, the author of the Pulitzer Prize winner, Cleopatra, one of the most popular nonfiction books of the year, has done it again.  Her newest book, The Witches: Salem, 1692, is a terrific read, as enthralling and horrifying as the best novels, and at the same time it is meticulously researched and sticks closely to the facts of the Salem witchcraft hysteria.  

As Schiff makes clear in her very readable book, people have been fascinated by the Salem witch trials for over three hundred years.  They have been interpreted and reinterpreted in many ways, used as a metaphor for just about everything from religious hysteria to the McCarthy era blacklists, and part of that is because to this day, nobody’s entirely sure what happened or how it happened.  Why did the girls throw the kinds of fits they did, screaming and contorting themselves in bizarre ways?  Were they faking it or did they really believe that someone was strangling them or pinching them or otherwise attacking them?  Why did so many otherwise reasonable adults take the testimony of the girls so seriously? Why were there people who admitted to being witches, and why were none of the admitted witches hanged or otherwise punished?  Why were particular people accused of witchcraft?  Why did the hysteria start and how did it stop?

With a novelist’s clear eye and a willingness to look at the facts using the mindset of the seventeenth century, Stacy Schiff takes us into Salem Village, and into the larger American Puritan world of which it was an integral part. She helps us enter, at least a little, into the fears and beliefs of people whose circumstances were very different from our own, and a time and place in which the very nature of the colony’s government was in flux and the people in New England had reason to feel themselves besieged by the Native Americans who lived cheek and jowl with them. She brings to life the harshness of life on the New England frontier and the strongly held beliefs of the Puritans living there.

A lot of people were involved in the trials, either as accusers, accused, family members, judges or witnesses, not to mention the people outside Salem Village (Increase Mather and Cotton Mather, the superstars of the American ministry), but it’s easy to keep track of who was who and who did what in this version of events. The story is told chronologically so it’s clear how things snowballed from one week to the next, from one month to the next. Without taking any obvious sides, Schiff makes the horrific abuses of the judicial process and the injustice of the executions crystal clear.  If you know very little about the Salem Witch Trials other than what you’ve picked up from television and The Crucible, this book is an excellent place to start, and when you finish reading it, you will be really well informed on the subject.

Of course, when you’re writing about the events of 1692 in Salem, sooner or later you have to provide your explanation for what happened and why it happened there and not in other places and other times, and what that says about America then and America now.  It’s probably not possible for anyone to explain what happened in a way that will satisfy everybody, but Schiff’s final chapter, in which she offers her best evaluation of what was happening to the girls and why the community got so caught up in the hysteria, is very plausible and might very well be the right answer (and no, I’m not going to reveal it here: read the book!).


One of the great things about mysteries is that they cover a wide range of possibilities. There are the hard-boiled noir mysteries, the cozy mysteries, the intellectual puzzle mysteries, and then there are the historical mysteries, for which I personally have a special affection (being a history buff and all).  Here I’d like to call attention to some of the newest historical mysteries at the Field Library, so you can enjoy them the way I do.


There are few better and more entertaining guides to the world of ancient Rome than Steven Saylor, whose main character, Gordianus the Finder, explores both high and low society, in and around Republican Rome and the ancient world.  In his latest book, Wrath of the Furies, Gordianus (who is 22 years old with all the recklessness and emotion of that age) receives a cryptic message from his former tutor, Antipas, who is now living in Ephesus and who believes his life may be in danger.  Naturally Gordianus decides to go to Ephesus and rescue Antipas, and naturally things are much more complicated than the young man imagines.  Ephesus is under the control of Mithridates, one of the most interesting and dangerous opponents of Rome in the ancient world.  Gordianus pretends to be a mute Egyptian,with his slave, Bathsheba,  as his interpreter.  He’s still walking into a seething cauldron of intrigue and danger, and he doesn’t really know what Antipas’ message really meant and who might be using Gordianus and for what purpose.  Intrigue, danger, some blood-curdlingly accurate and vivid descriptions of battles and slaughters, and the intrepid if somewhat naive Gordianus as a guide: what better way to learn about ancient Roman history?


Moving ahead to the Middle Ages, Alys Clare is in the middle of a series of mysteries involving a nobleman, Sir Josse d’Acquin, and an abbess, Helewise, in the 13th century in England.  The latest, which just came out, is called A Shadowed Evil.  Josse and Helewise go to visit the home of Josse’s uncle, who is dying.  Worse, the uncle has married some horrible woman who’s cold and heartless, especially toward the uncle’s heir, a terrified six year old boy, who claims he’s being haunted by monsters.  An injured young man appears at the house at the same time Josse and Helewise do, and questions arise without easy answers: what happened to Josse’s cousin, who seems to have disappeared? Where is the uncle’s stepson? Why does the house itself seem to breathe evil, and why do they feel they themselves are in danger?  The book brings the period and the setting to vivid life, and even if you haven’t read any of the earlier books in this series, you can still enjoy the mystery and its resolution.


Lately it seems more mysteries are being set in the Roaring Twenties, the heyday of Prohibition and excesses of all types.  One of the newest is Come Hell or Highball, a lighthearted mystery by Maia Chance, the first book in a series (always a good thing to get in on the ground floor of a series of books).  Lola Woodby, the protagonist, is a 31 year old society woman whose loveless marriage ends abruptly when her husband dies suddenly. To Lola’s shock, not only is she now a widow, but instead of a fortune, her late husband left her a mountain of debt. Lola and her Swedish cook, Berta, are reduced to staying in the love nest her husband had set aside for his mistress.  Desperate to make enough money to pay her rent, Lola agrees to find a missing reel of film for one of her husband’s former mistresses.  Naturally this turns out to be much more complicated and dangerous than Lola could have imagined, but she and Berta, her much more sensible sidekick, navigate the tricky waters of gangsters, interfering relatives and importunate bill collectors to find the film and solve the mystery before they become the next victims of the other people who are searching for the same film.  The dialogue is witty, the characters are lively and entertaining, and the mystery itself is intriguing enough to make us want to see these characters again soon.


Get ready for some excitement in November!  Some of the biggest names in fiction are coming out with new books that will arrive in our library in the end of October and the early part of November, so now is the time to put those books on hold.

the woman who walked in sunshine cover

Alexander McCall Smith hasn’t published a new entry in the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series since The Handsome Man’s Deluxe Cafe a year and a half ago, so it’s good news to all his fans that The Woman Who Walked in Sunshine is coming out on October 27.  In the latest installment, Mma Ramotswe is taking a much needed vacation, only she really can’t relax when a new and intriguing case comes to the agency.  Return with pleasure to the delights of Botswana and the charming characters of the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency.

tricky twenty two cover

Stephanie Plum returns to the fray in Tricky Twenty Two (can you believe there have actually been TWENTY ONE prior books in this series? How time flies when you’re having fun!) on November 17.  This time she’s searching for the missing troublemaker of a local college fraternity who seems to have disappeared in plain sight, and at the same time she’s looking for a killer with the help of and in competition with hot security guard Ranger and police officer Joe Morelli.  Expect humor and disasters in equal measures, and put in a hold for this one early.

stars of fortune cover

Nora Roberts is starting a new series with Stars of Fortune, coming out November 3.  The series, called the Guardians, follows a group of six people in their quests for three mysterious stars which give their holders extraordinary power. In this book, the focus is on the Fire Star, which is connected somehow with the Greek island of Corfu, and the character of Sasha Riggs, a reclusive artist and seer, whose visions and nightmares have brought her to this place and especially to Bran Killian, a magician, a man of great compassion and power.  As the six people begin to figure out what Sasha’s visions really mean, a cloud of danger overshadows them and their quest.

the mistletoe inn cover

While it may seem a little early to be thinking about Christmas (except if you go to any of the local stores which have their Christmas decorations up before Halloween), it’s not too early to put in a reserve for Richard Paul Evans’ new book, The Mistletoe Inn, which comes out on November 17.  This is the second book in his holiday collection, and centers around Kimberly Rosetti, a woman in her thirties who signs up for a writer’s retreat in Savannah at Christmas time and discovers not only how to write, but how to live, with passion and intensity.


Don’t you sometimes just get tired of reading the same old thing?  After a while, don’t the usual mysteries or thrillers or romances start to sound alike?  When you’re reading your favorite author, doesn’t there come a moment when you realize you could anticipate what the next bit of dialogue or what the next plot twist will be, when you feel you’ve read this before, even if you haven’t? Sometimes it’s just fun to read something over the top or off the charts, and when you’re in that kind of mood, head over to the Field to look at our new and quirky novels.


Let’s start with a book whose very title tells you what you’re in for. Futuristic Violence and Fancy Suits, by David Wong, is not pretending to be anything other than what it is: a wild ride through a future society in which everything is just slightly (or sometimes more than slightly) off from our current world. Zoe, the heroine, starts out living in a trailer park with her stripper mother, but when her billionaire father is blown up, she’s pulled into his world, where she’s inherited his fortune and all the troubles that go along with it.  And what troubles she’s facing!  Her late father lived in a city called Tabula Ra$a, a place without regular police but plenty of private security, crooks who have cyborg psychotic killers at their disposal, buildings rise and fall at a moment’s notice, everything is for sale and anything can happen and usually does.  To make things even wilder, the whole world is able to tune in and watch the fun and horrors through a social media interface that makes our current obsession with smartphones and the like seem primitive.  Zoey, with the dubious help of her stinky cat and her own wits, has to think her way through this bizarre and hysterical world and not only survive but thrive.


While we’re on the subject of surviving in strange places and times, Rules for Werewolves, by Kirk Lynn, presents us with the voices of young squatters, living together on the fringes of society, in abandoned and foreclosed suburban houses, led by a charismatic and somewhat dangerous young man named Malcolm.  He  claims to be the pack leader of a group of “werewolves”, though you should be warned: these are not the kinds of guys who change their forms and howl at the full moon, though Malcolm requires that members of the “pack” undergo some kind of change in order to be full members. The book is told entirely in dialogue, so it can be a little confusing to read, but there’s a vivid life among these outcasts that makes the book well worth the effort.


If you’re curious about the preloaded Nook readers we have at the Field Library (and if you haven’t tried one of them, you absolutely should, but that’s another post), this is a great time to come in and take one for a spin (so to speak), because several of the Nooks have been loaded with new books.

The Romance Nook (#13) has 19 new books loaded into it, ranging from Erotica (Bound by Bliss) to Regency (The Reluctant Duchess, A Rogue by Any Other Name) to contemporary (Worth the Fall, Leaving Amarillo) to paranormal (Dark Prince, Christine Feehan’s first book in the Dark series).  Whatever your taste in romance, there’s sure to be something new on this Nook that you’ll enjoy.

This is a good month for music on the Nonfiction Nook (#2): new additions include Greg Allman’s autobiography,  My Cross to Bear, and Amy, My Daughter, a biography by Mitch Winehouse.  There’s also Brutal: The Untold Story of My Life Inside Whitey Bulger’s Irish Mob, by Kevin Weeks, a fascinating companion read to the recently released Johnny Depp movie, Black Mass.  Not to mention books on science (Periodic Tales: A Cultural History of the Elements, Warped Passages: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Universe’s Hidden Dimensions) and fascinating human drama (Wish You Happy Forever: What China’s Orphans Taught Me About Moving Mountains).  All this and more waits on the Nonfiction Nook.

A mix of classics and new books has been added to the Mystery/Thriller Nook (#3), including the first of the Molly Murphy books by Rhys Bowen, Murphy’s Law, goodies by Allison Brennan (Cold Snap), Martha Grimes (The Old Silent), and Archer Mayor (Three Can Keep a Secret) and the newest book from Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Milhone series, X.

Likewise there’s a broad selection of new material on the Science Fiction and Fantasy Nook (#10), including the first of the Tiffany Aching books in the late great Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series, The Wee Free Men (and if you haven’t read any of the Tiffany Aching books, you’re missing a treat, so this is a great place to start).  New books range from military science fiction (Warship, Call to Arms) to warped dark humorous fantasy (The Fear Institute, a book in the Johannes Cabal series which is another series that is filled with dark inside jokes) to fantastic mystery of the Harry Dresden sort (Working for Bigfoot) to Clifford Simak’s classic of aliens on earth, Way Station.  Check out the breadth of science fiction and fantasy by sampling the goodies on this Nook.

All you need is a Field Library card, and you, too, can take out a Nook with hundreds of books to dive into.  Come and check us out!

A Trip Through the Past: New Historical Fiction at the Field

Welcome to the world of the past in new historical fiction at the library, a way to immerse yourself in history without having to study or memorize anything. This month we have a couple of books taking readers to ancient history, and one focusing on the horrors of the French Revolution.


Nearly everybody knows at least something about the famous (and infamous) Cleopatra, but hardly anyone knows about the rest of her family. Which is a shame, because while Cleopatra was becoming involved with Marc Anthony and the Roman Empire, her sister, Berenice, took the throne of Egypt and attempted to hold the country, while her youngest sister, Arsinoe, struggled to keep her head above water as coups and counter-coups rattled the government.  Berenice and Arsinoe are the main characters in a riveting new book, Cleopatra’s Shadows, by Emily Holleman, which explores the period when Cleopatra was out of the country and her sisters had to find their own paths, either to greatness (Berenice’s goal) or to survival (Arsinoe’s goal) and gives readers an intriguing new view of a legendary period and family.


And while we’re on the subject of legendary people of the past, who wouldn’t want to read a novel about the famous King David, especially one written by bestselling and critically acclaimed author Geraldine Brooks (who wrote People of the Book and March)?  Her new book, The Secret Chord, starts with the stories of King David from Scripture, but then digs deeper, placing him in the context of the historical period in which he would have lived, and looking at him through the eyes of his prophet, Nathan, and the people who knew and loved him, his wives and children. David here is not the perfect hero; he makes plenty of mistakes throughout his life and these aren’t downplayed or ignored, but in the end he comes across as a very gifted and powerful, but also very human, man.


Moving from the ancient world to more modern history, The Silent Boy, by Andrew Taylor,  is a thriller set during the latter part of the French Revolution, a fascinating and unsettling period in European history. The hero, Edward Savill, is living in London when he learns his estranged wife was recently killed in France.  Their ten year old son is brought to England to live in Charnwood, a house leased by French emigres, but Savill discovers, when he arrives at Charnwood, that his son has turned completely mute.  What horrors has the boy experienced that have rendered him incapable of uttering a single word?  The period detail is exact and well-researched; reviewers have compared the sense of setting to the work of Hilary Mantel and Charles Dickens, and the book has already been selected as Historical Book of the Year by the London Times.  Check it out and settle in for an unsettling visit to a particularly scary period of history.


IS FAT BOB DEAD YETHow can you resist a book with the title Is Fat Bob Dead Yet?  This new book by Stephen Dobyns, has been described as “Richard Russo meets Elmore Leonard” (a mind-boggling combination in itself) and reads like a literary version of one of the odder Coen brothers movies, humorous and bizarre at the same time.

Start with the main character, your classic (supposedly) ordinary guy caught in the middle of a vast criminal conspiracy.  In this case, though, our protagonist is Zeco Raposo, who calls himself Connor, and while he just happened to be at the scene of a horrific motorcycle accident, he is far from an innocent everyman, since he works for his uncle, who’s running a series of very questionable “charities”, and has a few secrets of his own.

The accident may not be anything of the sort, and while the motorcycle that’s destroyed in the accident Connor witnesses is in fact a Fat Bob (a particular Harley Davidson model), the man riding it at the time may not have been Fat Bob (a local man whose nickname came from his name and girth as well as his fondness for this particular motorcycle).  The detectives initially investigating the matter are a pair of characters who go out of their way to drive each other crazy, and eventually drive the FBI officers who get involved in the case crazy as well. Once they determine that this was a murder and no accident, the fun really begins.

Add some other quirky characters: a man with an Elvis style pompadour, a computer hacker who may be on the spectrum and who frequently comes up with bizarre and memorable misstatements, a homeless man who ended up with the bling from the corpse, all with their own distinctive voices and ways of dealing with the world and with each other.

The language of the book is a treat in itself, hard-boiled and funny, dialogue you want to read aloud, as it’s just slightly off kilter from reality and all the more entertaining for that. The book has an omniscient narrator who lets the readers in on details that the characters either don’t know, can’t know, or might have forgotten in the heat of the moment.

Is Fat Bob Dead Yet? is a mystery, a funny and definitely quirky book, well worth a read by anyone with adventurous literary tastes.


Try something new and amazing!  Stretch your horizons beyond this world and time and check out the new science fiction books at the library.


Let’s lead off with The Traitor Baru Cormorant, by Seth Dickinson, a first novel whose title isn’t exactly indicative of the fascinating world created therein.  Baru Cormorant is a young woman whose home is conquered by the Empire of the Masks. They destroy her culture, criminalize her customs and kill one of her fathers. She is one tough young woman, however, and determines to get back at the Empire and free her people, not by open rebellion (too easy to crush), but by infiltrating their culture and working her way high enough in the hierarchy to achieve her ends.  Spectacularly successful in her pretended assimilation, Baru is ultimately sent to another conquered country, this one on the brink of rebellion, to bring order to its chaos.  This country, Aurdwynn, seethes with treachery, intrigue and danger, and Baru has to navigate not only the rebels there, but a shadowy cabal within the Empire itself, leading to a do or die gambit that may win her everything, or destroy everything she cares about.  The worldbuilding in this novel has been compared to that of Dune, the characters fascinating and well-rounded, and the plot is both exciting and morally compelling.  


A different sort of empire awaits the reader in Luna: New Moon, by Ian McDonald.  On the moon, everything is controlled by five ruling corporations, known as the Dragons. The most powerful of the corporations, which controls the monopoly on helium-3, is run by one Adriana Corta. She started from nothing and built herself a family empire through sheer ruthlessness, and consolidated her power through marriage alliances with other powers on the moon.  But now Adriana is getting old, and the enemies she made on her way up are circling her corporation, looking for ways to take it (and her) down.  It’s up to her children to fight to preserve their mother’s legacy from outside enemies and from each other.  If this sounds like a Jackie Collins novel, or a version of Game of Thrones, it’s very different because it’s set on the moon, and the lunar setting is vivid and surprising: the effects of the moon’s low gravity, the intricacies of how people get to the moon, live on its unforgiving surface and wrest their livings from it.  


Return to earth, then, for a different kind of speculative world in Menagerie, by Rachel Vincent. Twenty five year old Delilah Marlow, a bank teller, has never had any reason to think of herself as anything other than human until the day she visits a traveling menagerie and witnesses an act of cruelty toward one of the captives there, a female werewolf.  Furious at the callous treatment of the poor creature, Delilah transforms and attacks the menagerie worker, but she’s not in human form when she does. In a moment her entire life changes: no longer considered human, she’s stripped of all her possessions, all her rights, and becomes one of the exhibits in the menagerie herself.  As Delilah comes to know the other creatures in the menagerie and the enigmatic and strange owner of the traveling show, she faces torture and humiliation but never gives up her struggle for freedom.  The book is exciting and compulsively readable but — and you know this is one of my personal bugbears when it comes to books so I feel the need to warn everybody about this — it is NOT a stand-alone, but the first in a series.  Still, Delilah’s world is so dark and fascinating it’s worth launching into it and waiting eagerly for the next in the series.