I REALLY CAN’T REMEMBER: YESTERDAY

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.

NEXT BOOK GROUP READING: HALF BROKE HORSES

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 SCIENCE BOOK PRIZE SHORTLIST AT THE FIELD LIBRARY

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.

 

THOSE AMAZING VIKINGS: THE HALF-DROWNED KING

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.

 

BESTSELLING AUTHORS WITH NEW BOOKS AT THE FIELD THIS AUGUST

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!

YOUR TIME IS NOT YOUR OWN: A MAN OF SHADOWS

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.

 

LIZZIE BORDEN TOOK AN AX: SEE WHAT I HAVE DONE

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.