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.



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.


For the past couple of years I’ve been running reading challenges for patrons here in the Field Library, using the Read Harder challenge lists from the Book Riot site. And I have to confess that for the first year, 2016, it was a lot of fun, finding the books that fit the categories and enticing readers (including myself) to read them and try different things. A lot of people won the challenge that year and were delighted with their efforts.

But then came 2017, and the Read Harder challenge was less fun, more obscure. It was harder to find books here at the Field Library that would fit the categories (for instance, the book published by a micropress was absolutely impossible, so I cut that category out altogether), and I think I wasn’t alone in finding the choices to be less enticing.  

This year I’m running a reading challenge, but it’s a different one. It’s The Field Library 2018 Reading Challenge, and our goal is to explore the resources this library has that many people aren’t aware of.  The categories are broad and, if I do say so myself, sometimes quirky, but I believe it will be fun for anyone who wants to participate with me.

So if you’re interested, whether you’re someone who’s done both the previous challenges or someone who hasn’t even tried one before, or someone who’s interested in getting out of a reading rut but isn’t sure how to do it, come to the Field Library and sign up at the Circulation Desk!  We have multiple copies of the list and over the course of 2018 I’ll be posting lists of books that fall into each of the categories, with displays at the front desk.

Come and explore The Field Library’s collection and boldly read where no one has read before, or at least where you haven’t read before.  Join The Field Library 2018 Reading Challenge!


After a stimulating discussion about The Wicked Boy and Victorian crime, questions of sanity and morality (we really do have great discussions in this group!), the Field Notes Book Group chose the book for our January meeting: My Name Is Lucy Barton, by Elizabeth Strout.

A short and deceptively simple book by a Pulitzer Prize winning author, My Name Is Lucy Barton is narrated by Lucy, looking back on her experience when she was hospitalized for a long period and her estranged mother came to visit her for a period of days.  Neither Lucy nor her mother finds it easy to talk about the things that really matter, Lucy’s childhood and her mother’s life when Lucy and her siblings were growing up, so instead they circle around their truths, talking about other people Lucy knew in her childhood in a small rural community in Amgash, Illinois, and all the while other truths, about Lucy’s childhood, her marriage, her ambitions, and what estranged her from her family, lurk under the surface.  This well-written book is a fast read and yet the characters haunt you for some time after you finish reading it.

Come to the Field Library and pick up your copy of My Name is Lucy Barton, and then join us on January 20, 2018, at the Field Library Gallery from 11:00 to 12:30 for lively discussion and tasty refreshments.


There are certain kinds of books that just seem to work well. Books about libraries, or about bookstores, or about book lovers, for instance, tend to be fun to read. Books about people finding their best selves or recovering from loss and grief by going to a different (perhaps exotic) location and throwing themselves into the lives of the people there, for another example, tend to be comforting.  And (this may be personal to me, of course) books set in rural Ireland just make my heart happy.

Which is why I’m happy to recommend a new, charming book, The Library at the Edge of the World, by Felicity Hayes-McCoy, which combines all these categories into one. Woman trying to rebuild her life after having the earth pulled out from under her? Check. Working in a library/fighting to save a local library? Check.  Set in the west of Ireland?  Check.  

Hanna Casey, our protagonist, moved away from rural Lissbeg, in western Ireland, when she was a teenager, looking for the sophisticated life, bright lights, big city, and she found it, with a well to do barrister for a husband.  But now things have fallen apart: she found her hotshot husband in bed with another woman and she’s had to move back, humiliatingly, not only to Lissbeg, but to the back bedroom of her mother’s retirement bungalow.  She’s got a job as the town librarian, driving a mobile library van from one isolated town to another, but even that has its problems, since she feels conspicuous in her failure to make it on her own after so flagrantly shaking the dust of the place off her feet when she was younger. Her mother is hard to live with, her daughter is traveling the world, and Hanna tries to gain some independence by restoring a cottage left to her by her great aunt.

Then she discovers that the powers that be are threatening to close the library altogether, and Hanna finds a cause to fight for, and discovers how important her neighbors and family are to her and to her future.

So if the news of the world is getting you down and you’re in need of a feel-good book, check out The Library at the Edge of the World, and take a trip to the west coast of Ireland.



On October 17, 2017, the judges for the very prestigious Man Booker Prize announced this year’s winner: George Saunders’ extraordinary book, Lincoln in the Bardo.  The Booker Prize is awarded for what the judges decide is the best novel of the year written in English, and it brings recognition (and sales, of course) to the winning authors and books (sort of like Oprah’s selections, only with broader criteria for the selections).  We have two copies of the book on the shelves here at The Field Library, one of which is an express, so if you want to find out what the Man Booker judges considered to be the finest novel in English for this year, come on in and check it out.

The book is based on a true incident: during Abraham Lincoln’s first term as President. His young son, Willie, died, and the president, in his grief, went to spend a night in the cemetery where the boy’s body was laid.  Saunders starts with this and uses the Buddhist concept of “bardo,” a state of existence between death and rebirth.  In the crypt, young Willie is waiting for his father, but so are a number of other spirits of people who died and are not, for one reason or another, ready to move on to their next lives.

It’s written in the different voices of the ghosts and Lincoln, an unusual style which one of the judges described as being more like a screenplay than like an ordinary novel, and it does take some getting used to, but in the end the book’s form and substance join together to create a moving reflection on grief, the love of parents and children for each other.  It will also give you deep emotional insight into Abraham Lincoln, the man as well as the president.

Come and read it for yourself, but come quickly, because now that it’s won the Booker Prize, Lincoln in the Bardo is going to be extremely popular and hard to get.


Two new thrillers coming out this week at the Field Library turn at least partially on the love of siblings, and the pain of losing a sibling to murder.  The protagonists and settings are different, but in both Righteous and Killing Season, the need to bring closure and justice to the death of a beloved sibling makes the story move.

Perhaps you remember my writing about I. Q., a modern day Sherlock Holmes living in East Los Angeles in the modern era (in case you don’t remember, it’s here). Isaiah Quintabe, the hero of the previous book, is back for a new mystery in Righteous, by Joe Ide.  Ten years after his brother’s unsolved murder, Isaiah is still haunted by the death and by the questions it raises, and even his relatively good life now (growing library, growing recognition in his community, growing practice as an investigator, new dog) isn’t enough to keep him from needing to uncover the truth of his brother’s death, even if that investigation brings him face to face with what may be his own Moriarty.  At the same time, he’s trying to find a missing person, a DJ with a gambling habit, who’s also being sought by Chinese Triad gangsters, a furious bookie and her own kind of shaky boyfriend.  The two investigations put together are almost enough to send someone as smart as Isaiah around the bend.

Faye Kellerman needs no introduction to readers of thrillers.  She’s been a bestseller for decades, so when she comes out with a new book, it’s worth reading.  Her newest, Killing Season, is a stand alone book, not one of her series books.  Ben Vicksburg’s older sister, Ellen, was 15 years old, a universally liked, kind, studious person, when she disappeared without a trace.  A year later, Ben found her body in a shallow grave by the side of the river.  The police believed that she was the victim of a psychopath known as the Demon, but Ben, a math genius who sees patterns where other people don’t or can’t, isn’t satisfied with their investigation.  With the surprising help of his school’s popular new girl, Ben starts digging deeper and deeper into the other killings attributed to the Demon, discovering the killer’s methodical and cunning routines.  But as he’s getting closer and closer to the killer, the killer is starting to become more and more aware of him, and Ben might be putting himself and everyone he cares about in the path of someone who has nothing left to lose.


Some of the best thrillers start with a perfectly ordinary situation and then ask, “What if?”  What if people were lapsing into comas in a hospital after simple operations for sinister reasons? What if someone managed to clone dinosaurs on a special island?  And now, in Fierce Kingdom, by Gin Phillips, the question is, what would you do if you were a mother of a young child and the two of you were caught in an active shooter situation, and what if that active shooter situation took place at the local zoo?

Aren’t you intrigued already?  

Joan is spending a pre-Halloween day at the zoo with her four year old son, enjoying the exhibits and their time together.  It’s an all but perfect day as they’re leaving, just before the zoo is closing, and suddenly she hears what she thinks at first is firecrackers and then recognizes as gunfire.  Then she sees that what she thought were fallen scarecrows on the path are much more sinister and scary.  Realizing there are active shooters at the zoo, she takes her son and runs back inside to hide with him for their protection. Her son, Lincoln, is only 4 years old and doesn’t really understand why he needs to keep calm and quiet, how very dangerous everything is, so not only does Joan have to think fast and keep away from the shooters, but she has to make sure Lincoln doesn’t accidentally do something that will endanger them both.

Now everything the two of them had seen and enjoyed during the day takes on a different aspect: the hidden pathways, the exhibits that are being renovated, the carousel, the snack machines are no longer interesting things to see and explore, but potentially life-saving hiding places.  Joan and her son are trapped in the zoo, almost as much as the zoo animals themselves.  What is she willing to do to survive and to protect her precious son?  

She’s not the only one trapped inside the zoo, and we see the perspectives of some of those other characters as well as the killers themselves, but the heart of the book is Joan and Lincoln, their bond, their danger, and the moment by moment decisions she has to make that could have catastrophic consequences for her and her child.  This is the kind of book you won’t want to put down.


One of the biggest hits on television this past year has been the adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, the book of which has also been a bestseller (again).  Perhaps there’s something in the zeitgeist that leads to the proliferation of dystopias.  One of the newest, and one that should especially appeal to people who appreciate The Handmaid’s Tale, is Gather the Daughters, by Jennie Melamed.

There has been some kind of horrible catastrophe in the outside world long before the book starts, and most of the world has been turned into an incinerated wasteland.  Here on this island, however, ten men and their families set up a colony years before, creating a new society with appalling (to me, at least) rules and roles.  The religion is a sort of ancestor worship, information is strictly restricted, and breeding tightly controlled. Only special descendants of the original ten settlers, called Wanderers, are allowed to leave the island and explore the wastelands outside, searching for salvageable detritus.

Women have one role in this society: to bear children.  As soon as a girl reaches puberty, she begins her Summer of Fruition, a ritual designed to take her from adolescence to matrimony, and then she starts bearing children until she’s no longer useful, and then she commits ritualized suicide.  

The younger children, the ones who haven’t yet reached adolescence, get to run wild for the summers, their older sisters either married or in their Summers of Fruition, their parents indoors.  They do whatever they want, roaming the island, fighting over food and shelter and precedence, and then, one summer, young Caitlin Jacobs sees something she shouldn’t, something terrifying and against all the laws of the island.

She takes this information to Janey Solomon, a 17 year old leader by nature who’s so opposed to the prospect of marrying and becoming a breeder that she’s been starving herself to death. She urgently sets out to find out the truth about Caitlin’s discovery while she’s still capable of doing so, and she prepares the girls to rebel against the system, even though that might be the death of them all.

There’s something horrible but intriguing about a society that bears some resemblance to aspects of our own (if you think I’m exaggerating, try Under the Banner of Heaven, by Jon Krakauer), carried to a nightmarish extreme.  What would you do?  How would you survive in such a world?  Read Gather the Daughters and imagine for yourself how that society would work and what you’d do to accommodate yourself (or not) to it.