MY FAIR LADY, REVISIONED: UNDER THE TABLE

Add to the growing collection of new versions of older stories Under the Table, Stephanie Evanovich’s take on Pygmalion and My Fair Lady.  In the best tradition of revisionings of classic tales, Evanovich doesn’t just recreate the original story but puts her own spin on it, in this case placing the events in modern day New York City and flipping the genders and the social classes to come up with a new, entertaining romance that’s both an homage to the original(s) and a fun story on its own.

Our protagonist, Zoey Sullivan, fled a bad marriage and the Midwest to live with her fun sister in New York City.  She gave herself three months to get her head straight, and discovered her love of and skill with cooking could lead her to a career and financial independence.  Avoiding her ex, Derek, who’s constantly calling her, Zoe is settling into a new life when she meets Tristan at one of the private parties she caters. She falls in love with his kitchen, which is everything a chef could possibly dream of, and then she turns her attention to Tristan himself.

Tristan is a diamond in the rough: handsome, rich, with lovely manners, but with few social skills and very shy around other people (as an aside, can we have a person who’s got poor social skills who’s not a brilliant computer programmer?  This is getting to be a cliche). Zoe decides to take him in hand and give him some polish, help him learn how to dress, how to act around other people, how to gain confidence in public settings.

Naturally, once he’s starting to shine thanks to her efforts, Zoe realizes that she’s not thinking of him as just an experiment, someone she was helping.  She’s fallen for him, but she has no idea whether he feels anything for her. And as she’s trying to figure out where she’s going with Tristan, who should turn up in New York City but her ex, Derek, looking for a second chance and not willing to take no for an answer.

If you love a good makeover story and enjoy a little romance and wish My Fair Lady had been a little different, check out Under the Table.

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BEYOND THE LIMITS OF SCIENCE: LOST AND WANTED

If you’re interested in a new novel that takes on questions of science and faith, of female friendship and the power of the different kinds of love, try Lost and Wanted, by Nell Freudenberger.

Back in the day, Helen Clapp and Charlotte Boyce were closer than sisters, the kind of friends who told each other everything about their lives.  They were college roommates at Harvard, and shared all their struggles and triumphs at school and after: the time a professor hit on Charlie, Helen’s frustrations as a young woman trying to make her way in the world of science, Charlie’s troubles trying to break into the world of Hollywood screenwriting as a black woman, the challenges they both faced as parents.  But as Helen advanced to a tenure track professorship at MIT, wrote bestselling books that explained science to lay people, and arrived at a breakthrough in the esoteric field of fifth dimensional space, Charlie began to disappear from her life. Their calls grew less and less frequent, Charlie became more elusive, and Helen, if she thought of Charlie, assumed they were just growing apart.

Until Charlie died suddenly, and Helen suddenly realized what she’d been missing.

So far, you might think you’re reading a normal “women’s fiction” book, but things take a bit of an odd turn. After Charlie’s death, Helen gets a phone call from her.  This is impossible in Helen’s scientific view of the world, and yet, she can’t help believing that this really was Charlie talking to her, and that brings Helen back into Charlie’s world, her memories of her friendship with Charlie and everything that went along with that, including her long-ago relationship with Neel Jonnal, a prize-winning physicist who’s on the verge of winning a Nobel Prize.  Helen is forced to reconsider the choices she’s made in her life, the rules of science which have always limited and steadied her world.

Did something supernatural happen?  Does friendship survive death?  Are there second chances in life?  Read Lost and Wanted to find out.

 

 

 

SPRING INTO NEW THRILLERS

How about some thrilling reading to get you through the transitional days when Mother Nature can’t seem to make up her mind about whether it’s actually spring or still winter?  You can choose between domestic thrillers, classic dangers-from-the-past-coming-back-to-haunt-you thrillers and up to the minute this-could-bring-about-the-end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it thrillers. We’ve got them all in the new fiction section of The Field Library.

Perhaps you’re turning your nose up at the idea of a “domestic” thriller, but if you’re talking about My Lovely Wife, by Samantha Downing, you’re making a mistake.  The tag line for this book is “Dexter meets Mr. and Mrs. Smith”, and admit it, you’re already intrigued (especially if you, like me, were a fan of Dexter in his early days).  Our protagonists are your ordinary seeming married couple. They met, fell in love, got married, had kids, bought a house together. They’ve been married 15 years, and maybe their relationship is getting a little stale.  Maybe they’re snapping at each other a little more than they used to do. Maybe they need something to spice their marriage up, something like, oh, I don’t know, perhaps figuring out creative ways to get away with murder?  If you have a twisted mind, this is probably the first book you should pick up and read.

Iris Johansen has been writing thrillers centering around Eve Duncan, the forensic sculptor, for more than twenty years now (the first one, The Face of Deception, was published in 1998), and yet there are still new facets to the character and her world to explore.  In the latest in the series, Dark Tribute, the focus is on Cara Delaney, Eve’s ward. Cara is finally getting settled in her life as a professional musician when she is kidnapped by someone who’s got a grudge against her grandfather and is willing to use her to get back at her family.  The past she thought was safely behind her is now a source of extreme danger to Cara and everyone she cares about, and the question is, can Cara save her own life and the lives of those close to her?

Catherine Coulter heightens the stakes in her newest book, The Last Second. What her main characters, Special Agents Nicholas Drummond and Michaela Caine, have to do is prevent someone from loosing an electromagnetic pulse over the earth’s atmosphere that would kill all earth’s electronic communications.  No biggie, right? France has launched its own communications satellite, and its second-in-command is a woman who believes her life was saved by aliens on a prior spacewalk, and who believes the aliens will allow her to join them and become immortal if she changes earth’s destiny by deploying the EMP.  With the clock running out and the destruction of what makes our modern world work imminent, this is one of those books you keep reading long past your bedtime, to find out what’s going to happen.

And isn’t that what thrillers are all about?

MAYBE SECOND CHANCES HAPPEN: GRACE AFTER HENRY

How do you move on after a tragedy?  What if life gives you a second chance?  What if you think it’s a second chance but it really isn’t?  These questions, and their surprising answers, are at the heart of the charming debut novel, Grace After Henry, by Eithne Shortall, new at The Field Library.

Grace and Henry were the perfect couple; he was the love of her life and the two of them were buying their dream house in Dublin, ready to move in.  Then tragedy struck: Henry was killed in a bicycle accident, leaving Grace alone and nearly destroyed by grief.

She struggles to move on, but it’s really difficult, living in the house they bought together,  returning to her job, her daily life, watching television with her neighbor. Everything reminds her of Henry, to the point where she’s starting to see him in other people.  She knows this is a problem, especially when the person she mistakes for Henry turns out to be someone altogether different who may not even look that much like him, objectively.

But then one day a plumber shows up at her house, looking exactly like Henry, for real.  And he has a good reason to look like Henry: he’s Andy, Henry’s long-lost twin brother. He’s come to Dublin to find out what happened to Henry, and he is both so like Henry and so unlike Henry that Grace isn’t sure whether she’s being given a second chance to be with Henry again or whether she’s losing her mind.  Does she really want to move on, or does she really want to cling relentlessly to the past which was so much happier for her?

It’s a book about grief and loss, but it’s also a book about resilience, about quirky ordinary people trying to make the best of difficult (and even strange) circumstances.  And it’s set in Dublin, the author’s hometown and a charming and fabulous city itself, which is another point in the book’s favor. So if you’re in the mood for a funny-sad charming book that will take you away from Peekskill, give Grace After Henry a try.

 

THE FEELING ROBOT: TODAY I AM CAREY

If you’re the type of person who says, “I don’t like science fiction,” because you think it’s all space opera and high tech whiz bang science that you’re not going to understand, then boy, do I have a book for you!  Today I Am Carey, by Martin L. Shoemaker (a well respected speculative fiction short story writer) is a science fiction book that is NOT like the stereotype.  It is, instead, a deeply emotional and human book, asking some of the most profound questions of what makes someone human, through the prism of an empathic robot named Carey.

Carey is a robot designed to be a caretaker for people with Alzheimer’s.  It’s paired with Mildred, an elderly lady who’s losing her memories. Carey’s job is to make Mildred comfortable by taking the parts of the people she thinks she’s seeing and interacting with.  After she dies, Carey is left with the beginnings of its emotional education and nowhere official to use those abilities, so Carey, who cannot die or age, spends time with Mildred’s remaining family, dealing with the overworked scientist, Paul, the dedicated teacher, Susan, and their daughter, Millie, who grows up with Carey as her best friend.  And Carey, for its part, grows up as well.

Told as a series of electronic diary entries by Carey, the book is deceptively short, but emotionally deep, a shining example of the breadth of modern science fiction. Even if you think you don’t like science fiction, give Carey a try, and it might well change your mind.

GOING TO THE DOGS FOR THE APRIL BOOK GROUP

After a vigorous discussion of A Reliable Wife, which some members of the group considered “depraved” (doesn’t that make you want to read it?), the Field Notes Book Group chose the book for our April meeting, a nonfiction book, Inside of a Dog, by Alexandra Horowitz.  On April 27, from 11:00 to 12:30, the Field Notes group will be discussing this book in the Teen section of the library, and, as usual, there will be coffee and snacks, including but possibly not limited to Dunkin Donuts Munchkins.

The subtitle of Inside of A Dog (and we know all nonfiction books have to have a subtitle, don’t we?) is What Dogs See, Smell, and Know.  While Horowitz is a dog owner herself, she’s also a scientist, and it’s the scientist’s eye she turns on the development of dogs and the intricacies of dog behavior, without being at all dry or dull.  For those of us who are dog lovers, this book will, I guarantee, show you aspects of man’s best friend that you hadn’t considered before, and even those of us who aren’t totally into dogs already will be fascinated by how much we don’t know, or think we know (wrongly) about what it’s like to be a dog, and how dogs fit into the human world.

Come and join us on April 27 for what promises to be a lively discussion of all things canine and Alexandra Horowitz’s approach to the world of dogs. Copies of the book are available at the Field Library circulation desk, as usual.

THE BEST BAND THAT NEVER EXISTED: DAISY JONES & THE SIX

I don’t know whether you’re the type of person who pays attention to celebrity book selections or not. Working in The Field Library, I’ve come to the conclusion over the years that most of these famous people’s book groups aren’t really creating the kind of “everybody has to read this book right now because this person chose it” that Oprah’s club did when it was first starting. Even Oprah’s books don’t create that kind of wild enthusiasm anymore.  However, sometimes it’s good to know which books are going to get the buzz of a celebrity endorsement, and the next book club selection of Reese Witherspoon’s book club is Daisy Jones & the Six, by Taylor Jenkins Reid, and it looks as if it’s going to be a fun read.

It’s hard for me to think about books set in the 1960’s and 1970’s as “historical” novels (I was growing up then! That can’t be history! History happened before I was born!), but as a matter of fact, the world of the late 1960’s and 1970’s, where Daisy Jones is set, is different enough from the modern world as to seem like a different world, not only a different time, and Reid captures that era with loving attention to detail.

Daisy Jones is a would-be singer, living in Los Angeles, sneaking into clubs on the Strip, sleeping with rock stars, doing drugs and drinking, and dreaming of becoming a star herself. The Six is an up and coming band, led by the somewhat emo (not a term then, of course) Billy Dunne.  It’s only when Daisy joins The Six that they become major stars, and naturally there’s chemistry and drama between Daisy and Billy, there’s the obligatory sex, drugs, and rock and roll, the meteoric rise and the tragic fall of the band. The whole thing is told as a faux oral history, with interviews (note to those doing this year’s challenge: this would count as an epistolary novel) with different people involved in the story. There’s even a playlist at the end of the book for those who want the complete musical experience.

This is a book people are going to be talking about, so get a jump on the conversation (as soon as our new system comes up — March 14) and pick up a copy of Daisy Jones & the Six.

NEW AND EXCITING HISTORICAL FICTION AT THE FIELD

While we’re waiting for the Westchester Library System to make the full transition to its new software, and all the books released after February 18 are finally available (and not just sitting on a table in the back of the library, waiting for cataloging!), let’s focus some attention on books released before the freeze.  In this particular case, I want to call your attention to some of the newest history books available here at the Field, ranging from England in the 1600’s to Revolutionary War era America, to Hawaii and California in the early part of the 20th century.

The Familiars, by Stacey Halls, takes us to the era of one of the most famous witch hunts in English history, the Pendle Witch Trials of 1612 (a good 80 years before our own famous Salem witch trials), through the persons of Fleetwood Shuttleworth, a young wife trying to find a way to survive her latest pregnancy, and Alice Gray, a midwife promising to help her.  As the fear of witchcraft heightens in the countryside, Alice falls under suspicion, and Fleetwood is forced to wonder whether this woman is really just the healing woman she says she is or whether her skills come from a pact with the devil. And in either case, if Alice is in danger of being tried and executed as a witch, how will Fleetwood and her baby survive?  A different look at witch trials, The Familiars asks the question of how much witch scares were reflections of fears about women in general.

If I told you that Dear George, Dear Mary, by Mary Calvi, is about our first President, odds are that you’d be thinking “Mary? You mean Martha, don’t you?”  After all, we all know that Martha Washington was George Washington’s wife. However, before he was President, before he knew or married Martha Dandridge Custis, George Washington fell in love with another woman, Mary Philipse, a New York heiress and one of the richest women in North America (the name Philipse should sound familiar to people like me who live in Westchester County). The novel, based on hundreds of letters and journal entries and other primary sources, gives us a different portrait of the Founding Father, not only his private life but also the origins of his feelings about Great Britain and the sources of the greatness he would demonstrate in the American Revolution and later.  Why George didn’t marry Mary Philipse, what happened to Mary, and how the two of them lived their respective destinies is the heart of this fascinating historical novel.

Want to go a little farther afield in your historical fiction?  How about trying Alan Brennert’s sequel to his bestselling Moloka’i, the newly published Daughter of Moloka’i, which takes place in Hawaii and California in the early part of the 20th century.  The protagonist, Ruth, was born in the leper colony at Kalaupapa to a woman suffering from leprosy, and given up for adoption.  Adopted by a Japanese couple who raise her on a grape and stawberry farm in California (you have an idea where this is going, don’t you?), Ruth is sent to the internment camp at Manzanar.  After the war, however, she is contacted by Rachel, who claims to be her biological mother, and comes to discover the truth about her past, and about Rachel’s life in the leper colony. The two women, separated for most of Ruth’s life, find their similarities and their differences and the great love that binds them together despite everything.

 

BRAM STOKER NOMINEES HERE AT THE FIELD

Every year, the Horror Writers Association gives out an award, the aptly named Bram Stoker Award, for high achievements in horror, and this year, four out of the five nominees for Superior Achievement in a Novel are available at The Field Library.  If you’re a horror fan, odds are you’ve already encountered these books, but even if you don’t think of yourself as a horror person, you still might find something intriguing to read in the novels nominated for the Stoker.

One of the books, The Hunger, by Alma Katsu, about the already-nightmarish Donner Party turned supernatural and more horrible, I’ve already written about here. If you like your horror based on historic fact, or if you’re intrigued by the idea of American westward expansion as the setting for a horror novel, you should definitely check out The Hunger.

Another of this year’s nominees, Unbury Carol, by Josh Malerman, was also the subject of a blog post here. The story of a woman who periodically falls into deathlike comas, and whose evil husband intends to get his hands on her fortune by burying her while she’s in one of those comas.  The thing that makes her situation real horror is that when she’s in this state, she’s fully aware of her surroundings, even though she can’t do anything. Being buried alive has long been a trope of horror, but Malerman puts a new spin on it.

If you’re more interested in apocalyptic fiction with a horror bent, another of the nominees, The Cabin at the End of the World, by Paul Tremblay, fills the bill.  Already discussed here, the book takes a situation that’s often seen in horror movies — the family camping in an isolated cabin, no wi-fi, no phones, no way of contacting the outside world, and then a group of possibly threatening strangers shows up at the cabin, carrying what might be weapons.  Tremblay takes this in a surprising direction, though, as the strangers claim they need the family’s help to prevent the end of the world. Who are the strangers? Are they telling the truth? If they are, how could the family possibly prevent the end of the world?

And finally, it’s appropriate that one of the contenders for the Bram Stoker Award is a spinoff on the real life story of Bram Stoker, the author of Dracula.  The book, Dracul, is by Dacre Stoker (a descendant of Bram) and J. D. Barker and is based, partially, on notes Bram Stoker left behind.  It’s sort of a prequel to Dracula, speculating that Bram Stoker based the famous book on his own real life encounter with a vampire.  As a child, Stoker was sickly and spent a lot of time in the care of a young woman named Ellen Crone.  A series of strange deaths occurred in a nearby town, and that, combined with Ellen’s bizarre behavior, led him and his sister, Matilda, to suspect the young woman was not what she seemed. She disappeared abruptly, only to reappear years later, and Bram found himself standing alone against an indescribable evil, scribbling down the facts as he remembered them while he waited for the longest night of his life.

Historical horror, classic horror tropes given new life, and a throwback to the masterwork of horror: check out the nominees and give yourself a good scare.

 

 

THE BEST CRIME WRITING OF THE YEAR, AT THE FIELD LIBRARY

If you’re in a criminal frame of mind, or you just want to read some of the best writing about crime published in 2018, your best bet is to check out the books that have been nominated for Edgar Awards this year, many of which are available right here at The Field Library. The Edgars are given by the Mystery Writers of America, and while the final awards won’t be announced until April 25, 2019, the nominees have been announced already, giving you plenty of time to sample what the experts in the field consider the best of the best.

In the category of Best Novel, three nominated books are here at The Field. Down the River Unto the Sea, is by Walter Mosley, already a Grand Master Edgar Award winner for his body of work. This new book doesn’t fit into any of his existing series, but nonetheless looks at the issues of justice and racism which have informed his work all along. The protagonist, John Oliver, was a top notch police officer until he was framed by his fellow cops and sent to prison. Ten years later, he’s working as a private investigator with his daughter when he receives a card from a woman who was involved in the frame. Obviously he needs to find out what happened and why, and this is his first real opportunity to do so.  At the same time, he’s also investigating the case of an African American journalist accused of killing two police officers in connection with the journalist’s investigation of police brutality and corruption.

The second Best Novel nominee we have here is Only to Sleep, by Lawrence Osborn, which is a new take on the iconic Raymond Chandler character,  Philip Marlowe, now 72 and in retirement until one last case comes his way, which is impossible for him to resist.  It seems one Donald Zinn supposedly drowned off his yacht, leaving behind a much younger wife who’s now extremely rich.  But is Zinn dead, or is this an elaborate fraud?

A Treacherous Curse, by Deanna Raybourn, is also nominated for Best Novel.  This is the third in the Veronica Speedwell series, following a Victorian butterfly hunter and world traveler who finds herself involved in various adventures along the way.  Here she’s investigating the disappearance of an archeologist and a priceless diadem from an ancient Egyptian princess’ newly discovered tomb. There are, it seems, all kinds of disasters associated with this particular expedition, and rumors of Anubis himself wandering the streets of London.  Veronica has to sort out fact from fantasy and figure out who or what has led to his disappearance, while conspiracies and threats swirl around her. If you’re into historical mysteries, especially ones set in the Victorian era, this is a series to read, but start at the beginning, which is A Curious Beginning, and is also available here at The Field.

Then there’s The Perfect Nanny, by Leila Slimani, which is nominated for Best Paperback Original.  This book has been a bestseller in Europe and generated a lot of buzz even before it was published here in America. It starts with a bang: two children are dead in their home, found by their mother. The nanny, the perfect nanny who was so good with the children, who made it possible for their mother to go back to her job as a lawyer, killed them. Why? How? The book then goes back to the beginning of the relationship between Myriam, the mother, and Louise, the middle-aged, seemingly ideal woman who will take charge of the children and of the parents, and follows through to the horrible denouement.  This is not a book for new parents or for people who don’t like horror in their mystery, but it packs a punch.

The Edgars also recognize new writers, and three of the Best First Novel nominees are here at The Field for your enjoyment as well.  A truly original and hard to categorize novel, The Last Equation of Isaac Severy, by Nova Jacobs, is one of those nominees.  Isaac Severy was a mathematician who died by apparent suicide, but before he died, he sent a note to his adopted granddaughter, Hazel, telling her to deliver a mathematical proof of his to a colleague, but warning her that a sinister organization is also interested in this proof and so it’s hidden for her to find.  When she goes to Isaac’s home, Hazel discovers that there are many people searching for that bombshell of an equation, including Isaac’s dysfunctional family of geniuses, and she comes to realize that it may be more dangerous than even Isaac thought, as she races against time and tries to use Isaac’s maddening clues to find the equation before something goes terribly wrong.

Bearskin, by James A. McLaughlin, also nominated for Best First Novel, takes the trope of the man on the run from the drug cartels and twists it in new ways.  Rice Moore, our protagonist, has run all the way to the Appalachians, to a remote area where his job is to track wildlife and refurbish cabins, where nobody from the Mexican cartel would be likely to find him. But someone is poaching the bears in this preserve, and Rice takes it personally, getting involved with the scientist studying the bears and setting in motion a plan to expose the poachers, which might have the unfortunate effect of revealing Rice himself to his most dangerous enemies.

Another mystery set in the world of nature, Where the Crawdads Sing, by Delia Owens, is not just a nominee for Best First Novel, but is also a New York Times bestseller.  Kya Clark lives in the remote marshes on the North Carolina coast, a mysterious figure known to the locals as the Marsh Girl, given almost mythical qualities.  She’s been living on her own in the marshes since she was ten, isolated and more attuned to the world of nature than to human society, with a painful past. When the body of a young man is found, and he was known to have had some dealings with the Marsh Girl, the locals immediately turn on her, forcing her to defend herself against charges of murder. Did she or didn’t she?  What was her life like and what was her relationship with the dead man? A book that’s more often categorized as “literary” than “mystery,” this book is kind of an outlier in the Edgar category, but well worth checking out.

But if you’re not interested in fiction, fear not! The Edgars also recognize outstanding true crime reporting, and we can supply you with some outstanding examples of the genre.

One of the year’s nominees in the category of Best Fact Crime is a book the Field Notes Book Group read this past year, The Feather Thief: Beauty, Obsession and the Natural History Heist of the Century, by Kirk Wallace Johnson.  I already wrote about it here, but I heartily recommend the book, especially for people who aren’t interested in violence or gore but are still interested in crime and the solving of crimes.

If, on the other hand, you’re interested in gritty reporting on crime and punishment, there’s Sex Money Murder: A Story of Crack, Blood and Betrayal, by Jonathan Green, another nominee for Best Fact Crime,  which takes you deep into the worst of the crack epidemic of the 1980’s and 1990’s in the Bronx, following the rise and fall of the Sex Money Murder gang, its leader and two of its foot soldiers, as well as the efforts of the police officers, F.B.I. officers and prosecutors who risked their lives to bring the gang to heel and to bring some kind of justice to the most dangerous parts of the city.

I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer, by Michelle McNamara, is also a nominee for Best Fact Crime, and also a New York Times bestseller. While many people are fascinated by serial killers, especially the ones who never got caught (how many books are there on Jack the Ripper, for instance?), McNamara took her fascination to new heights or depths, becoming totally engrossed with a rapist-murderer in California in the 1970’s, seeking out all possible information about who he might have been, how he remained free, talking to everybody who had any connection to the murders and falling down the rabbit hole of conspiracy websites and chat rooms. The book is as much about her obsession and pursuit as it is about the killer himself and his horrible acts, but both are compelling and intriguing, in a horrible way.

Interested in the best crime writing around? Check out the Edgar nominees here at The Field Library.