You may have noticed the recent trend in thrillers: many of the psychological ones center on home and family.  Few of us, after all, have been placed in situations where the fate of the country or the world hangs on our actions, but we’ve all been in situations where we wondered about those nearest and dearest to us, whether we really know them or not. The Field Library has a couple of new thrillers this week that take us deep into the question of who we can trust, and whether the people we think we can trust are really who we think they are.

Take the situation in Her Three Lives, by Cate Holahan, for instance.  A man divorces his wife and marries someone very different. His children aren’t happy about the change, seeing it as a mid-life crisis, and seeing their new stepmother, Jade, as a possible gold digger and a definite interloper. Jade herself, on the verge of getting everything she’s wanted from life, feels the tension with her husband’s children and between his suburban Connecticut lifestyle and her Caribbean upbringing.  Then there’s a terrible break-in, in the course of which Greg, the husband, suffers a traumatic brain injury.  He sets up security cameras all over the place, which seems like a reasonable response to such a violent event, but he also seems to spend all his time watching the feeds.  Jade’s beginning to wonder if he knows more about the people behind the attack than he’s letting on.  At the same time, Greg’s starting to keep track of Jade’s comings and goings in greater detail than ever before, becoming suspicious about her background and her possible connection to the break-in.  Who’s worthy of suspicion? Is Greg onto something or is his growing paranoia a result of his injury?  And what really happened in that break in?

The situation in The Perfect Daughter, by D.J. Palmer, is unique.  Sixteen year old Penny definitely killed her biological mother: she was found in the apartment, covered in blood, holding the murder weapon, and she had quite a motive.  But is she really guilty?  Her adoptive mother, Grace, who’s still recovering from the death of her husband not long ago, believes that Penny’s not guilty by reason of mental illness, specifically her multiple personality disorder which has been manifesting for some time and was finally diagnosed by a psychiatrist.  Grace will do anything to keep her daughter out of prison (as most mothers would).  The psychiatrist who’s treating Penny in the state mental hospital between Penny’s trial and sentencing, Dr. Mitchell McHugh, has some demons of his own, but he’s determined to try to save Penny and her family.  Could Penny be faking the multiple personality disorder?  Could there be something even darker behind this particular horrible crime?  Is either Grace or Dr. McHugh ready to face what might really be going on with the “perfect daughter”?

If you’re in the mood for some edge of your seat suspense that all takes place very close to home, check out these two new thrillers and prepare for a wild ride. 


I already talked about how glad I am that I don’t have to choose among the nominees for the Best Novella Hugo award, how much I loved three of the nominees and how difficult I would find it to choose one as the “best” of the year, especially because they were all so different in form and aim.  Well, the choices for Best Novel, most of which are available here at The Field Library,* would also put me in an impossible position if I had to choose.

I’ve personally read two of the nominees, which I will get to in a minute, but the only reason I haven’t read the other two which are here in the library is because there are only 24 hours in a day.  Both of the ones I haven’t read look excellent, and would make a difficult choice only harder.

One of them is Piranesi, by Susannah Clarke. You may be familiar with her from her last huge novel, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, a wild alternate history with wizards and magic.  Piranesi is much shorter and stranger, passing up even the semblance of historical reality.  Piranesi lives in a strange and magical house, a labyrinth of rooms and strange statues that hold an ocean whose tides flood the different rooms. Piranesi thinks he knows the place well, but when the only other human being he comes into contact with sends him looking for a Great and Secret Knowledge, Piranesi begins to suspect there’s someone else in the house, and that perhaps the whole world he’s known is not what it’s seemed to be.

Another of the books I haven’t read yet (but will read when I have spare time — insert bitter ironic laugh here) is The Relentless Moon by Mary Robinette Kowal.  This is the third book in her Lady Astronaut series, which starts with the premise that a meteor struck the east coast of the US in 1952, destroying Washington, D.C. and changing history dramatically.  With the knowledge that the earth was going to be rendered uninhabitable, the race to the moon and to set up colonies there and on other planets became much more urgent, and women became a serious part of this effort.  In this book, the moon colony is in danger of sabotage from an underground organization that thinks all this space stuff is just political theater, and Nicole Wargin, one of the original Lady Astronauts and wife of a politician planning to run for president, is sent to the moon to find the saboteur before it’s too late.  A mystery and an espionage book as well as a book about space: what more could you ask?

The two books I have read are both books I loved, for different reasons, and I could no more imagine choosing one over the other than I could imagine choosing which eye is my favorite.

Seriously, we have on one hand Murderbot’s first full length novel, Network Effect, by Martha Wells, which we all know I loved.  And then on the other hand we have the brilliant ode to New York City in all its diversity and its battle against Lovecraftian monsters trying to destroy it in The City We Became, by N. K. Jemisin, which I also adored and couldn’t get enough of.  Very different books, each brilliant in its own way, each a wonderful example of modern speculative fiction.  If I were sitting with a ballot for the best novel, I would probably be sitting there for a LONG time, unable to make up my mind.

All I can say is, based on my knowledge of the books involved, whichever book wins Best Novel is certainly going to deserve it.  If you want to see for yourself, check out the nominees here at the library.

*If my daughter ever read this blog, she would be totally outraged that The Field Library doesn’t have a copy of Harrow the Ninth, by Tamsyn Muir, which is also nominated for best novel, but fortunately for me, she doesn’t read my blog, so I’m safe.


After a wide ranging discussion of our April book, Claire of the Sea Light, the Field Notes Book Group voted on our selection for our May meeting (on May 22 rather than the more usual May 15), and that is Lori Gottlieb’s Maybe You Should Talk to Someone:  A Therapist, Her Therapist, and Our Lives Revealed. Copies of the book will be available at the Field Library Circulation Desk shortly.

It may be cheating on my part to offer this book as a selection (though I didn’t force people to vote for it), since I already read it, but the book is an excellent read, and will provide lots of material for discussion, considering the issues it raises, not only about therapy and mental health, but also about the lives and problems of Lori Gottlieb and the people she’s treating.  Following her story and the stories of her patients through the book is like reading a particularly insightful novel focused on the inner lives of people in pain and in crisis.  If you, like me, have a soft spot for the kinds of nonfiction that talk about therapists and patients, this is a great read and an excellent choice. My own review of the book is here.

Join us for our discussion from 11 to 12:30 via zoom on May 22.  If you’re not already a member of the group but want to be a part of this, send me a note at, and I’ll be glad to send you an invitation to the zoom meeting. 


Nicole Glover’s debut novel, The Conductors, is a little hard to characterize. It involves magic, so it’s sort of fantasy; it’s set in an alternate version of Philadelphia during the era of Reconstruction, so it’s alternate history; it involves a murder that needs to be solved by a pair of investigators, so it’s a mystery; its main characters are all African Americans, which makes it unusual in all those categories.  It transcends all its categories and becomes something unique, and uniquely interesting.

Henrietta and Benjamin Rhodes, husband and wife, known as Hetty and Benjy, were conductors on the Underground Railroad during the period before the Civil War, using a unique kind of magic that relies on the constellations as part of their repertoire. Now, in the postwar period, they live in the Free Black community in Philadelphia, using their talents to investigate crimes and issues which the white police force ignores, and they’re especially sought after when there’s a hint of the supernatural in a crime in their ward.

When a person they’d helped rescue from slavery is found dead in an alley, Hetty and Benjy have to figure out whether this was murder, and whether this, and later kilings, are parts of a pattern or an isolated cases.  As they investigate, Hetty begins to discover that she doesn’t know some of the people closest to her as well as she thought she did, including her husband (and as an aside, if this isn’t a classic mystery trope, I don’t know what is). 

The realities of our version of Reconstruction and the book’s version of the era extend all the way into the different kinds of magic that are used.  There’s one kind that only white people can use, one kind (based on African, West Indian and Native American beliefs) that Hetty and Benjy use, and another kind that uses potions, based on herbs. It makes a kind of ugly sense that even the world of magic would be segregated by race, and the relationship between the black community of the Seventh Ward and the white establishment, especially the police, is also all too likely.

Don’t let the use of magic keep you from reading this if you’re a mystery fan. Likewise, if you’re a historical fiction reader, The Conductors will appeal to your knowledge of this era in American history, despite its mystery and magic (or perhaps because of them).  Check out The Conductors and give yourself a unique treat.


I have nothing but respect for the people who will be attending this year’s World Science Fiction Convention, because they’re going to be the ones who get to choose the winners of this year’s Hugo Awards, the most prestigious awards in the world of speculative fiction.  I don’t envy them their task, because, in the categories in which I’ve read a number of the nominees this year, the choices are so difficult, the books all being of such high quality.  How do you choose the best when you love all of them?

For instance, four of the six finalists for Best Novella are here at The Field Library, and I’ve personally read three of them (this is better than I usually do with ANY awards; don’t even ask me about the Oscars because the odds of my having seen more than one of the movies featured are slim to none).  

Come Tumbling Down, by Seanan McGuire, is a part of her Wayward Children series, which I love in all its variety.  I’ve already written about this particular book, which is the third in a sub-series involving two recurring characters.  Of course I enjoyed the book, and I’m delighted to see its being nominated for a Hugo here.

Another nominee, Finna, by Nino Cipri, is also one of my favorites of the year, which I reviewed here.  It’s a very different kind of book from Come Tumbling Down, much odder and wilder, so how could you put it next to that book and say one is objectively “better” than the other?  (And, just to add to the fun, Cipri’s coming out with another novella, Defekt, next week, and you can be sure I’ll be reading that one!)

And then we have Upright Women Wanted, by Sarah Gulley, an alternative history with feminism and queer representation, turning the classic Western on its head and also showing great love for libraries.  What’s not to love about this book?  And, as you can see from my review here, I did love it.  More than Finna?  More than Come Tumbling Down?  I am SO glad I don’t have to make that decision.

I have not personally read Ring Shout, by P. Djeli Clark, which is also nominated for Best Novella, and which is also here at The Field Library, but it looks tremendous also.  Set in 1920’s Georgia, it combines the real life horrors of the KKK in the South with a supernatural twist, in which some of the Klansmen are white supremacists, and some of them are actual demons from another dimension, inhabiting the bodies of white people.  There are black women who have the power to destroy those demons, and they’ve been busy, but now they’re seeing signs that something much bigger is about to happen, something almost apocalyptic, which they have to use all their powers to face.  

I can just imagine looking at the ballot for Best Novella and being completely frozen with inability to choose among such wonderful options. Whatever wins Best Novella this year is sure to be top notch, and has an excellent chance of being something you can read right here at The Field Library.  Get a jump on the awards and check them all out now.


The new Murderbot book, Fugitive Telemetry, by Martha Wells, is due to be released on April 25. If you are a fan of the Murderbot series as I am (and for “fan”, read “madly obsessed lover of the series who will drop nearly everything to read the next book as soon as possible”), this really is all you need to know.  You can already put it on hold in the Westchester Library System (I did), to have a good chance of getting one of the first copies.  

For those who don’t know, the series is science fiction, classified as action/adventure, and it stars the wonderful former security robot that calls itself Murderbot.  In the first book, Murderbot had disabled its overdrive and became more or less independent.  While professing disdain for humans and their silly emotions, Murderbot has, over the course of the last five books, shown a willingness to go to extreme lengths to help and protect certain humans who are important to it.  Murderbot is sarcastic, funny, smart and a great companion in any adventure.  If you haven’t already started the series, what’s keeping you?  All Systems Red, the first book in the series, is available at The Field Library and throughout the system: it’s a quick read and a fine introduction to our favorite secbot.

As for me, I’m counting off the days till Fugitive Telemetry arrives.  I can’t wait to reacquaint myself with Murderbot in all its infinite sarcastic glory.


After an interesting and entertaining discussion of Ruth Rendell (a/k/a Barbara Vine) and her book, The Chimney Sweeper’s Boy,  the Field of Mystery Book Group chose our book for May, and it wasn’t even a close vote.  We overwhelmingly chose Murder in Old Bombay, by Nev March, to read for our May 1 meeting.

Murder in Old Bombay is a debut novel, possibly the start of a series (don’t all mystery writers secretly want to be starting a series that lasts for years and years?), which won an award for First Novel by the Mystery Writers of America.  The book is set in Bombay, India, in 1892.  Our protagonist, Captain Jim Agnihoti, is a big fan of Sherlock Holmes, and gets a chance, when he leaves the army and goes into journalism as his next career, to follow in his idol’s footsteps.  Two young women seemingly leap to their deaths together from a university clock tower, but their families don’t believe either one of them committed suicide, and end up engaging Jim’s services to investigate what really happened.  As Jim finds himself a Watson surrogate and even, possibly, a romantic partner, he begins asking questions.  Unfortunately for him, there are people who don’t want questions asked in this particular place and time.  Will Jim be able to find out what actually happened, or is he going to be forced to admit failure on his very first case?

Copies of the book will be available at The Field Library Circulation Desk within the week.  If you’re interested in joining the discussion, but you’re not already a member of the group (and why aren’t you?  We’re a good group), send me an email at the week of the meeting and I’ll send you a link.  Join us for intelligent discussion and new insights into what promises to be a fascinating book.


We all know that sometimes critics can get things wrong, and there have been many times I’ve scratched my head at the things some critics praise to the skies (the book we’ve hated most in the Field Notes Book Group was widely praised as “one of the best of the year”, which gives us reason to be skeptical).  However, seeing what top critics consider to be the best in various genres often gives us a starting point when we’re looking for something new that’s also something good.  With that in mind, let’s take a look at the books the National Book Critics Circle considered the best of 2020.  There are more than 800 members of the Circle, all professional critics, so their choices are worth looking into, and many of those winners are available right here at The Field Library for you to take out.

The best novel of the year, according to the National Book Critics Circle, was Hamnet, by Maggie O’Farrell, a historical novel about the little-known life of William Shakespeare’s wife and his young son, Hamnet, who died of the plague when he was 11 years old.  It’s a vivid imagining of Shakespeare’s early life, his relationship with his wife and children, and the possible inspiration of one of his greatest works.  If you want to read this one, you’ll have to put it on hold, I’m afraid, because it’s still so popular it’s hardly on the shelves anywhere in the Westchester Library System.

The National Book Critics Circle’s choice for the best biography of the year is Stranger in the Shogun’s City: A Japanese Woman and Her World, by Amy Stanley.  Tsuneno, the focus of the biography, was born in rural 19th century Japan before the country opened up to the West, and she left a wealth of primary sources about her life and her world.  Married four times (the first one at age 12), she took off for Edo (now Tokyo), the capital of the country and a dizzyingly different world for her, where she struggled to find a place.  Tsuneno wasn’t an extraordinary woman, a geisha or a highborn person, but it’s her ordinariness that makes this portrait of her life and her world so extraordinary.

The best autobiography of the year is very apropos in a time when anti-Asian violence is a focus of our national discourse.  It’s Minor Feelings: an Asian American Reckoning, by Cathy Park Hong, a poet and essayist.  She writes about her own experiences as a child of Korean immigrants and uses her experiences as a portal to look at Asian American history, Asian invisibility, racism and depression, to give us a portrait of what it’s like to be a member of a “model minority”, and how devastating that can be.

The National Book Critics Circle has a special prize, the John Leonard Prize, for the best first book by an author, and this year it was awarded to Luster, by Raven Leilani.  Edie, the protagonist of this novel, is a young black woman who finds herself getting involved in interesting and complicated ways with a white couple and their black adopted child, trying to find herself in her relationships, her work, and her art. 

Finally, the National Book Critics Circle chose the best work of criticism of the year, Marking Time: Art in the Age of Mass Incarceration, by Nicole R. Fleetwood. The book explores the art made by incarcerated people in the United States, made from ordinary objects in the most limited and harshest circumstances (including solitary confinement) by the author’s interviews with presently and formerly incarcerated people, visits to prisons and the author’s own experiences with the criminal justice system. Many of the artworks shown in this book have never been published anywhere before, and the author turns a scholarly eye onto the art itself and the conditions in which it was created.