Sometimes it seems as if the tiniest things can change your entire life, and you wonder what would have happened if, for instance, you’d missed that train instead of catching it, or if you’d gotten this job instead of that one.  Of course, life is full of coincidences and things that just happen to fall in a particular way, and adults don’t expect to be able to plan everything and be able to follow their plans without unforeseen calamities or roadblocks.

But what if these seeming coincidences were nothing of the sort?  What if they were all part of a plan? What if there were people whose jobs were to set up certain coincidences and make certain unlikely things happen, so that other, more important, things would follow? Einstein is reputed to have said “God does not play dice with the universe.”  What if he was right?

That is the beginning of the fascinating premise of a new book, The Coincidence Makers, by Yoav Blum.  There IS a grand plan, and there are people who are spending all their time working to set up those coincidences and “accidents” that lead to that plan’s working.  Three characters went through a “coincidence training course,” where they learned how to set up apparently random events so the people involved would never suspect they were planned, and after they graduated from the course, joined a secret organization as Coincidence Makers, where they’ve been working the last two years.

One day, Guy, one of the Coincidence Makers, receives an assignment that’s at a much higher level than anything he’s tried before.  He realizes that it’s a big deal and that it’s going to be much more difficult and more complicated than his usual job, but even he has no idea how serious it is, how many things it’s going to impact, including his own life.  A mysterious killer shows up as well, and over the course of this mission, Guy and his companions learn new things about fate, free will, and the nature of love.

The premise is so intriguing you almost have to read the book itself to see how it plays out, and what the big mission is. Check out The Coincidence Makers  and see for yourself.



After a fun, party atmosphere-d discussion of our March book, Furiously Happy, the Field Notes Book Group has chosen our book for April 21, our next meeting, and it’s Lab Girl, by Hope Jahren.  Copies of the book will be available starting this week (March 19 on) at The Field Library Circulation Desk, so come on in and pick up your copy, and then get ready to join us on April 21, from 11:00 to 12:30, at The Field Library Gallery.

Lab Girl is Jahren’s memoir of her life as a scientist, and it’s been given all kinds of recognitions: the National Book Critics Award for Autobiography, a New York Times Notable book, inclusion on the Best of the Year lists for the Washington Post, Time, NPR and others, as well as a finalist for the PEN/E. O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award.  

Hope is an excellent narrator, describing her development as a budding scientist from her earliest days helping her father in his college laboratory in a small town in Minnesota through her high powered career in various universities.  All along, she shares not only her stories of her own education, but of the people she works with, including Bill, her lab manager who’s both brilliant and (like so many scientists) a bit eccentric, and shares her enthusiasm and love for the world of plants, which surrounds us but which most of us don’t even really see at all, let alone understand.

It’s a fun read and a fascinating one, so come and join us in what will undoubtedly be another great discussion (with snacks!).



Three new thrillers have just arrived at The Field Library, all turning, in one way or another, on the question of memory. Hard as it is to solve a mystery when you have all the pieces available to you, it’s logarithmically more difficult to solve the mystery when you yourself have serious blank spaces in your memory, and those blank spaces could be where the most important information resides.  

Police officer Doug Brock, the protagonist of David Rosenfelt’s Fade to Black, suffers from traumatic amnesia.  Shot in the line of duty before the book begins, Doug is trying to rebuild his life, retrieving some of his memories and joining an amnesia support group to help him work on getting the rest of his memories.  So it makes sense to him to try to help another man from the amnesia group who has made a most disturbing discovery. In Sean Connor’s attic, he says, he’s found a scrapbook of a murder victim, but he has no memory of the girl or why he might have put that scrapbook together. Doug takes the matter to his chief and reopens the closed case of this girl’s murder, only to discover that he himself had a personal connection to the case (a surprise to him).  As he investigates, the case causes him to question everything he knows about Sean, about the case, and about his own past.

Cassandra Bowden has few excuses for her own lack of memory in Chris Bohjalian’s The Flight Attendant. She’s a binge alcoholic, and has many times drunk herself into complete blackouts, which are starting to interfere with her job as a flight attendant. However, what happens when she wakes up from a bender in a Dubai hotel is much worse than any hangover she’s ever encountered before. The man in bed beside her is dead, clearly murdered, and Cassandra has no memory of anything having to do with the man, how she got there, how he got there, what might have happened to him.  She then makes a disastrous decision: she doesn’t call the police, but begins to lie about what happened. She lies to the people she works with, she lies to the people she’s serving in First Class, and, most dangerously of all, she lies to the FBI agents who are waiting for her in New York. With so many lies and so little memory, Cassandra has put herself into a position where it may no longer be possible for her to tell the truth, even if she could figure it out. Who killed the man?  Could she have done it? If she didn’t, how did she end up in bed with a murdered man?

Alice Feeny’s Sometimes I Lie involves a protagonist with even more serious problems than Doug or Cassandra.  Amber Reynolds is a victim of shut in syndrome. She’s in a coma; she can’t move, speak, or even open her eyes, but she can hear everything that’s going on around her. The people around her don’t know she can hear and understand them, and there’s nothing she can do to make them aware of her conscious state. If this isn’t nightmare fuel by itself, there’s more.  She can’t remember what happened to her, but she has a suspicion her husband, who no longer loves her, had something to do with her present state. She goes back and forth in her mind between her scary present situation, the events of the week before her accident, and childhood memories from 20 years before, trying to find the truth in a world of lies and half truths.


What happens when some seemingly incurable condition or illness is suddenly cured?  Is it a sign that the illness was wrongly diagnosed in the first place, or is it a sign that something supernatural has happened? Or is there another alternative?  

These are the questions at the heart of Anatomy of a Miracle, by Jonathan Miles.  The book’s protagonist, Cameron Harris, fought in Afghanistan, and, after a traumatizing accident, was rendered paraplegic.  He’s been living a difficult life with his sister in a battered Biloxi, Mississippi, neighborhood for the last four years, just barely making it.  And then one day, for no particular reason, he rises out of his wheelchair and is able to walk again.

Now he’s the center of national and even international attention, much to his own dismay.  Journalists are investigating his “miracle”, and even emissaries from the Vatican are digging into Cameron’s life, his injury and his recovery, trying to determine whether this was really a certifiable miracle or some kind of medical breakthrough.

What happens when a person becomes a symbol? What happens to his life and his privacy, to his deepest secrets?  What actually happened to Cameron, and how does his “miracle” affect everybody else around him, including the people drawn into his orbit through his new celebrity, the people who want to believe and the people who want to prove there was nothing supernatural about what happened?

Anatomy of a Miracle is that rare book that looks into questions of faith and rationality, science and the limits of science, and the way our culture turns people into celebrities.

For those who are interested, this book is the next pick of Sarah Jessica Parker’s Book Club Central, so there will probably be a lot of buzz about it in the near future.



Who says horror books should only come out around Halloween?  There’s definitely something to be said for winter as the season of horror: being stuck indoors by snow and ice, at the mercy of whatever demons you brought in with you, or whatever supernatural forces you encounter there (see The Shining or Traveler’s Rest  for examples).  And this March, facing all these late snowstorms, we can luxuriate in the dark creepiness of some new horror books at The Field Library.

Snowstorms and being stranded by weather brings to mind one of the most infamous disasters of the trek westward, the Donner Party, which just happens to be the subject of The Hunger, by Alma Katsu. The Donner Party was a group that tried to cross the Rockies in 1846 by a different route, got lost, got stranded and snowbound, and ended up eating each other’s dead bodies before they were rescued.  This is historical, and gruesome, fact. The Hunger takes it a step or two farther, speculating about whether the bad luck that seemed to haunt the party was something more, a malignant force following the party, seeking its destruction.  As the group of men, women and children travels across the Sierra Nevada mountains, and people start disappearing, those who continue onward begin to wonder whether there’s something terrifying waiting for them beyond the mountains, as the Native American stories suggest, or whether that evil is coming along with them and has been there from the start.  If you like your historical fiction on the dark and scary side, be sure to check out The Hunger.

As far as I’m concerned, there’s nothing creepier than dolls, particularly dolls that look like real people; it’s the whole uncanny valley thing that gets to me, so the concept underlying The Silent Companions, by Laura Purcell, unnerves me and probably will unnerve anyone else who feels similarly.  Nicely Gothic in setting, the Victorian era protagonist is Elsie, a young woman who marries a rich, handsome man, moves to his estate with him, and prepares for an easy life.  Unfortunately for her, her husband dies a few weeks into their marriage, and she’s pregnant, left with his somewhat disturbing cousin for company, her servants angry and sullen, surrounded by a village of hostile locals.  It gets worse when she discovers a locked door in the house, and behind that door (am I the only one shouting, “Don’t open that door!”?), she finds a carved wooden figure that looks surprisingly like her. The village people have superstitions about those silent companions, and Elsie tries to disregard those stories, until she notices that the figure’s eyes are following her.  What’s going on here? Is the house haunted? Is Elsie?

Take your mind off your own inconveniences by reading about people who have it much worse. Check out our new horror books.


There might be a better person to write a novel about Chicago in the 1920’s than David Mamet, famous for his screenplays for the movies The Untouchables  and Wag the Dog and his Pulitzer Prize winning play, Glengarry Glen Ross, but it’s hard to imagine who that might be.  Mamet’s new book, Chicago, is his first novel in decades, and it’s set in the rich and dangerous world of Prohibition era Chicago, like The Untouchables.

The protagonist is Mike Hodge, a veteran of World War I, currently working for the Chicago Tribune. As a newspaper writer, he’s got a front row seat to observe all the corruption and crime, all the aspects of the dark underbelly of the city.  He should have known better than to fall in love with Annie Walsh, since he knew perfectly well that her family was involved with organized crime.  But he did fall in love with her, and when she gets murdered, he’s not about to let her go unavenged.  And so begins a tale which interweaves Mamet’s vivid and hard-boiled characters with real life figures, including the legendary Al Capone.

If you’ve seen Mamet’s plays or movies, you have a pretty good idea of what to expect from his novel: dense, quick moving dialogue, plots involving crosses and double crosses, and compromised characters. If you’re a fan of David Mamet, all you need to know is the name of his new book.   If you’re interested in 1920’s Chicago, and you enjoy witty, hard-boiled dialogue that does most of the heavy lifting in telling the story, this is a don’t miss book for you, too.


If you’re the type of person who likes “real” historical novels, ones that peer into the lives of actual historical figures directly, rather than looking at famous or infamous people through made up characters who happen to orbit around them, and if you’re interested in the era of the 1930’s and 1940’s in America, then we have a new book for you!  It’s Amy Bloom’s newest novel, White Houses, and it tells the story of Lorena Hickok and her relationship with Eleanor Roosevelt.

Amy Bloom is an excellent writer, and fond of historical fiction.  Her last book, Lucky Us, followed a rather eccentric pair of sisters through the world of 1940’s America, and it was a fun read, filled with historical detail and fascinating characters.  

Lorena Hickok, known as “Hick”, has become known to the general public, if obliquely, through Ken Burns’ television series about the Roosevelt family, but she was more than just a footnote to the Roosevelts’ marriage. She was, as White Houses demonstrates, a fascinating person in her own right, a woman who started out with nothing and made herself into one of the prominent journalists of the era, which was, it’s worth noting, not an era in which women were assumed to be able to do the same kind of work as men.

Her relationship with Eleanor Roosevelt, which started when Hick was covering FDR’s first run for the presidency in 1932, forms the spine of the book.  The two women were very different: Hick was outgoing and brash, as she had to be in order to make a success of herself in a man’s world, whereas Eleanor was kind of shy and introverted, unsure whether she had what it took to be the wife of the most powerful man in the world. And while they had to hide the true nature of their “special friendship”, due to the rampant homophobia of the period, this book leaves no doubt that this was love, deep and powerful, shaping their lives.

Hick, our point of view character, had a bird’s eye view of everything that went on in the White House, from Eleanor’s daily routine to FDR’s relationship with his lover, to the behavior of FDR and Eleanor’s children (spoiler alert: they do not come off well in this telling), and seeing things through her intelligent and observant eyes gives us a different perspective on one of the most well known periods of American history.

If you’re doing the Field Library Reading Challenge this year, this book counts for the category of “Read a Book about the Great Depression” (as you can see, I’m pretty loose and forgiving about what fits in particular categories), but you don’t need an excuse to read this lovely historical novel about two extraordinary women.



After a great discussion of the February book, No One Cares about Crazy People, the Field Notes book group chose our next book, which we will be discussing on March 17 (my birthday!): Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things, by Jenny Lawson.  Copies are already available at the Field Library, and more will be coming in through the week, so if you’re interested, come on in and pick one up.

Furiously Happy is a hard book to describe. The author, Jenny Lawson, admits right up front that she has mental health problems.  She’s suffered from depression and anxiety disorders for most of her life.  However, this is not a sad book like No One Cares about Crazy People.  Quite the contrary.  Lawson has such a sense of humor, such a delightful writing style and so much life and energy that this is one of the funniest books I’ve read in years.  I don’t want to give away any of the particularly hysterical parts of the book (most of it is laugh out loud funny).  Let me just say that when I read it for the first time, I was riding on a Metro North train to New York City, and I was laughing so hard the woman sitting in the seat next to me actually moved to another seat.

There’s much to discuss about the book, including whether her husband should be considered for sainthood now or whether the church should wait for his death to do it (really, he puts up with a lot), whether Lawson’s approach to life is a good way to deal with horrible things even if you don’t have mental illnesses and why we don’t all have taxidermy raccoons with outstretched arms to give people a hug. I’m being facetious, a little, but the book inspires that kind of goofiness.

So come and join us on March 17, from 11 to 12:30 at the Field Library Gallery, for coffee, snacks (possibly including homemade Irish Soda Bread), and an entertaining discussion of Furiously Happy.


I don’t want to give anyone the impression that all Scandinavian novels are dark mysteries with horrible crimes and brooding protagonists, though obviously I’m a fan of that particular genre of Scandinavian novel (hello, Jo Nesbo!).  It’s not true, of course; Scandinavian authors write every kind of book, and many different kinds get translated into English. Case in point: the charming new book, Hotel Silence, by Audur Ava Olafsdottir.

Our protagonist, Jonas Ebeneser, is a man who feels he’s reached the end of his rope. He’s living in Iceland, he and his wife have just gotten divorced, and his now ex wife tells him that the person he thought was his biological daughter isn’t his. Not wanting his daughter to find his body, he decides that he will commit suicide, but in another country.  With that in mind, he heads out to an (unnamed) foreign country dealing with the aftermath of war, and checks himself, and his box of tools, into the Hotel Silence, a somewhat dilapidated place run by a brother and sister, with two other guests.  

Slowly he begins to fix things around the hotel, which is in desperate need of all kinds of TLC, and as he does, the people of the area, who have been suffering from the aftereffects of the war and who are trying to rebuild their own lives, learn about his skills with tools.  They begin coming to him for help, for repairs to their own broken objects. Jonas becomes involved, more or less voluntarily, in fixing what needs to be fixed, and begins to appreciate the dangers and traumas these people have been facing and their will to live and to make things better after the war.  As you can imagine (what would be the point of writing a book like this where this doesn’t happen?), Jonas is changed for the better by his experiences and ends up fixing himself as much as he’s fixing the things in his new neighbors’ lives.

If you’re a fan of A Man Called Ove (another Scandinavian non-thriller), you will enjoy Hotel Silence, so give yourself a chance at renewal and read it.



What would it be like to have lived for centuries and hobnobbed with all the great and famous (and the not-so-great and the ordinary)?  You wouldn’t even be able to brag about the time you were acting in plays with William Shakespeare, or tossing down cocktails with F. Scott Fitzgerald or the like, because people wouldn’t believe you, either figuring you’ve got a great imagination or that you’re delusional.  If you weren’t the only one who could live for centuries, it stands to reason that the other immortals (or near immortals) would find each other and work out some rules for their mutual preservation, and you’d end up having to follow those rules, too.  After a while, you’d probably just want to live an ordinary life, whether or not that would be possible for someone in your position.

That’s the premise of How to Stop Time, by Matt Haig.  Tom Hazard, the protagonist, who’s already lived more than 500 years and has had all kinds of adventures over the centuries, is now working as a history teacher in a local high school (and here I have to tip my metaphorical hat to the author for this idea: what could be easier for an immortal person than teaching history, of all things? He wouldn’t even have to look anything up!), and trying to follow the rules of the Albatross Society, which protects people like him.  The first rule of the society is not to fall in love, not to get attached, and you can see how sensible that would be if you were inevitably going to outlive your beloved and suffer through loss over and over again.  However, while Tom is immortal, he’s also human, and there’s a French teacher at his school who is captivated by him, and he by her.

Can he break the rules of a very long lifetime, and defy the rules of an increasingly arbitrary and erratic leader of the Albatross Society and actually allow himself to fall in love and to begin to live fully and without hesitation in the present, for all its flaws?  Even if you think you know the answers to these questions, it’s still worth spending some time with Tom and his colleagues to see how he manages to use the wisdom of a lifetime to learn how to be a happy person at last.