“Shuk: From Market to Table, the Heart of Israeli Home Cooking” (Einat Admony and Janna Gur) by Lisa E. Brown

Do you know what a shuk is?

I must admit that the term was new to me when I came across a cookbook here at the Joplin Public Library. Thankfully, the opening pages of Shuk: From Market to Table, the Heart of Israeli Home Cooking by Einat Admony and Janna Gur define the term in detail. Simply put, a shuk is an open-air marketplace in towns and cities where Israelis flock to buy produce, meats, spices, and so on.

Although I was previously unfamiliar with the term “shuk,” I’m no stranger to food from Israel and its neighbors. In fact, being fond of “appetizer” meals, I’ve been known to put together a platter of pita, labneh (a tangy, yogurt-based cheese), za’atar-spiced tomatoes, baba ghanoush (eggplant dip) and hummus (chickpea dip) for dinner. Needless to say, I was eager to delve into this cookbook!

If you are new to Israeli cooking, never fear. Shuk is very user-friendly.

There are excellent glossaries that cover popular ingredients, from tahini (sesame paste), to preserved lemons, to the above-mentioned za’atar, a mixture of herbs, sesame seeds and the delightfully sour, beautifully colored sumac.

And if you are worried about where to find the more exotic ingredients in our area, never fear. Fox Farm Whole Foods carries many of them, and there’s always the Internet. Many of the vegetables can be found at area farmers markets such as Joplin Empire Market and Webb City Farmers Market – in season, of course.

The photographs are gorgeous, a feast for the eyes and a temptation to the stomach. So colorful and zesty, they leap off the page and invite you to try the dishes.

One of my favorite aspects of Shuk is how it highlights individual shuks, exploring them with images and words. It offers helpful hints on the story behind the shuks, the vibe and when to visit. As someone who loves to travel, it brings home the local flavors and colors of Israel.

And the recipes. I can’t neglect to mention the recipes!  So much yum and goodness for all palates.

I went through Shuk page by page, marking recipes that I wanted to try with little bits of paper. And there were many of them!

I was intrigued by the Israeli Salad. For years I have relied on the Israeli za’atar salad recipe from one of my old Moosewood cookbooks, but Shuk’s includes carrots, which I never would have thought of adding. I’m sure this particular vegetable brings a crunchy sweetness to counterbalance the tartness of the lemon juice and sumac.

And then there’s the Quinoa Tabbouleh with Kale and Dried Cranberries. I love traditional tabbouleh, in all its tomatoey, herby goodness. But it’s a summer salad, and I try to cook seasonally. However, making it with kale and cranberries makes it perfect for fall and winter.

Much to my delight, there were multiple pages covering that gorgeous nightshade vegetable known as eggplant. I adore eggplant. (It’s not for everyone, I agree, but I would contend that if you don’t like it, you just haven’t had it prepared the right way.) Here there are recipes for basic dips and spreads, as well as an intriguing Sweet and Sour Baked Eggplant.

And the humble chickpea gets its due, as well, along with its partner in sesame goodness, tahini. Did you know that if you soak and boil dried chickpeas with a little baking soda, it can transform your hummus into something especially silky and smooth?

Looking for meatier fare? There are dishes that utilize chicken, seafood, beef and lamb.

And we can’t forget the desserts! The tahini shortbread cookies sound delicious, and I also tagged a recipe for Fresh Orange Pound Cake that I fully intend to try.

I’ve just touched on a handful of reasons why Shuk is a terrific new addition to the world of cookbooks, but see for yourself. You can find it shelved with the new non-fiction at the Joplin Public Library.

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Counting your read books — how many will you read in 2020? by Jeana Gockley

The end of the year and the start of a new one is typically the time for readers to reflect on what they have read during the past year. And this year, I’m excited to get to be one of them, because I finally remembered to keep track of my year’s worth of reading. Huzzah!

I had not tracked my books read since first grade — that year, my total was 300, and I enjoyed a lot of “Book It” personal pan pizzas from Pizza Hut. But last December, I noticed several of my friends had tracked their 2018 books, so I thought I would give it a try.

Fast forward 12 months and I’m happy to report that I finished 30 books. It is not quite on par with my 300 titles from first grade, but I will take it. Life feels a bit busier nowadays, and the books I currently read are a tad longer.

Of those 30 titles, here are my top six picks, in no particular order:

• “A MAN CALLED OVE” by FREDRIK BACKHAM. Even though Backman has been popular for several years, this was the first one I’ve read by him. I loved it! The characters in this book are exceptionally drawn and real. Ove might seem like a crotchety old man on the outside, but underneath he’s a warm and kindhearted old grump who is beyond lonely. His busybody neighbors help rectify this, and man, what a good read.

• “CIRCE” by MADELINE MILLER. I listened to this one using our Overdrive service, and it was a powerful experience. Most everyone has heard of the Greek character Circe, the sorceress who famously turned men into pigs. But in Miller’s retelling of this tale, you learn so much more. The storytelling elements of this book are spot on, and readers will be hard pressed to not peek ahead while reading.

• “THE TEA GIRL OF HUMMINGBIRD LANE” by LISA SEE. I not only learned an amazing amount about tea from this book, I learned a lot about the Aka, a native tribe that live in the mountainous areas of China. See had to do a lot of research to pull this one off, and it shows in her descriptive and thorough writing. The characters, who are flawed, well-rounded and beautiful, combine with the unusual setting and compelling storyline to create a masterpiece of fiction.

• “THE STORY HOUR” by THRITY UMRIGAR. This is the story of Maggie, an American psychologist, and Lakshmi, a young Indian woman. The pair meet after Lakshmi tries to commit suicide, and Maggie is so affected by the woman and her silent grief that she agrees to counsel Lakshmi on a pro bono basis. Soon, they start to feel and act more like friends and less like doctor and patient. This makes for a complicated relationship and a fascinating story. You get to know Lakshmi’s backstory and the reason she felt like suicide was the only answer, and you get to learn about Maggie’s life at the same time. The story is engrossing and the ending has a nice surprise twist that will have readers guessing until the end.

• “EVVIE DRAKE STARTS OVER” by LINDA HOLMES. I wrote a full review for this one in October but could not pass up a chance to mention it again. Holmes’ writing style is quirky and captivating. Her tale of a guilt-ridden widow and a former Major League Baseball player will keep you interested until the final pages.

• “MRS. EVERYTHING” by JENNIFER WEINER. Jennifer Weiner is one of my favorite authors. If she writes it, I will read it. “Mrs. Everything” does not disappoint. Told through the alternative viewpoints of two sisters — Jo and Bethie Kaufman — from early childhood into their senior years, she weaves a story of love, loss and, ultimately, forgiveness.

I have enjoyed seeing my final reading list so much that I’m making one of my 2020 goals to do it again. I am not sure I will surpass 30, but we will see. Thanks for taking the time to share in my reflection and reading about my favorites. I wish you a wonderful new year of reading!

Jeana Gockley is the library director for the Joplin Public Library

An Elderly Lady Is Up to No Good by Helen Tursten Review by Patty Crane

Helen Tursten is a Swedish mystery writer with two very successful series featuring detectives. However, when asked to write a story for a Christmas anthology she decided to explore the other side of the law and Maud was born.

An Elderly Lady Is Up to No Good is a collection of five short stories featuring Maud, a wily, self-contained octogenarian. Maud leads a quiet solitary life in Gothenburg and that is just the way she likes it. Her large apartment is rent free and with shrewdly amassed savings she is able to live comfortably and travel when and where she wants.

The stories revolve around her determination to keep her life just as she wants it. In the first Maud finds herself the focus of a new neighbor, Jasmin Schimmerhof. Jasmin is the daughter of Swedish celebrities and has turned much of the space in her new apartment into an art studio. Her 450 square foot apartment doesn’t allow much room for the large sculptures she creates. After breezing her way in, it appears she thinks Maud’s spacious 1000 square feet is more suitable for her masterpieces.

When Maud’s father suffered a fatal heart attack the only thing he left of value was the apartment building they lived in. When it was sold the lawyer added a clause that allowed the widow and her two daughters, Maud and Charlotte, to keep their apartment and live rent-free for the duration of their lives. Maud is the only one left and has been triumphant in any challenges to her rent-free status. Jasmin seems to believe that the elderly Maud can be manipulated. To her peril she doesn’t realize what Maud is capable of in defense of her coveted thousand square feet.

Maud is not only protective of her space but also the people she loved. Before her father’s death, she was engaged to Gustaf and very happy. When her father died and was not the rich man he appeared to be, Gustaf’s family ended the engagement. He eventually married and was widowed.

In the second story, ‘An Elderly Lady on Her Travels’, Maud (who has always kept track of Gustaf) learns that he, now 90, is about to marry a woman 35 years his junior. Zazza, the bride-to-be, was once a student of Maud’s and she suspects that love is not the reason Zazza is marrying Gustaf. The wedding will take place at the Selma Spa. Maud has never been to a spa but immediately books a visit. The spa’s amenities are much to Maud’s liking and as it turns out provides her opportunity to ensure Zazza won’t be taking advantage of Maud’s former fiancé.

Maud is very resourceful in how she deals with problems. In story three the problem is her upstairs neighbors. The husband is abusive and all that yelling, crying and thumping is very disturbing. After the wife needs to be hospitalized for ‘falling down the stairs’ things are quiet for a few months. When the abuse begins again, Maud devises a simple but appropriate plan to make sure the abuse stops and quiet is restored.

The last two stories are connected.  The first, ‘The Antique Dealer’s Death’, begins with Maud’s discovery of a dead man in her father’s study. It unlike the other stories is not told by Maud but by the neighbor who identified the body and by the police. It appears the deceased may have been in the act of stealing the silver when he was attacked. He is identified as the local antique dealer. How did he know about Maud’s collection and if he had an accomplice, who is it?

The final story, ‘An Elderly Lady Is Faced with a Difficult Dilemma’, is back in Maud’s voice. We find out just how and why Frazzen, expert in gold and silver, came to be in Maud’s home. We also witness more of Maud’s cunning, ruthless style.

This a small book and a very quick enjoyable read, especially if you like unusual characters. As the author says of Maud, “I enjoyed every minute of her company. But let’s just say I would not like to have her for a neighbor or a relative!”

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Dear Fahrenheit 451 by Annie Spence

Librarians love books. We love the smell and the feel of books. We love the weight of knowledge that you feel just holding a book in your hands. But sometimes, you find a book that just makes you want to throw it against a wall. Or bury it in your yard. Or – fellow librarians, cover your eyes – set that book on fire.

In “Dear Fahrenheit 451: Love and Heartbreak in the Stacks,” librarian Annie Spence writes letters to books that have left an impression on her (both good and bad).  From “Matilda” to “The Goldfinch” to “Cornzapoppin’!: Popcorn Recipes and Party Ideas for All Occasions” – Annie has read them all, and she has feelings.

Annie’s letters are well-written and approachable, she mourns her inability to get through “Anna Karenina” and sheds light on the unhealthy relationship at the center of “The Giving Tree.” Each letter is composed like a love letter, or a break-up letter in some cases, and is signed with Annie’s signature. Reading this book feels like reading someone’s personal, and very unusual reading journal.

These letters are hilarious, but also ridiculously informative. If you want to know what series is loved by both semi-truck drivers and precocious children bored of the books in the Children’s Room, Annie can help with that (it’s Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple series).

Annie Spence is a master of a skill essential to library work called “reader’s advisory.” It is skill all about being able to understand and create connections between books. When a patron comes into a library looking for what to read next, we have been trained to help you find something else you will probably enjoy. Annie Spence is here – in book form – to help you find your new favorite books.

Annie is also ready if you need some advice for your life, not just what to read but also Excuses to Tell Your Friends So You Can Stay Home With Your Books (page 177) or Turning Your Lover into a Reader (page 205) – if you find that your significant other is just not that into books.

Reading this book feels like talking to a friend, the reader feels very connected to Annie and her experiences reading books. You can tell just how much she loves reading – and it makes you want to expand your own reading horizons. If nothing else, pick it up so you can truly understand how voracious readers feel about the library from Disney’s Beauty and the Beast (page 163).

If you look forward to reading these book reviews that we at the Joplin Public Library provide every week, then I heartily recommend that you give “Dear Fahrenheit 451” a try.

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Haben: The Deafblind Woman Who Conquered Harvard Law by Haben Girma and Manga Claus: The Blade of Kringle written by Nathaniel Marunas, illustrated by Erik Craddock

One of the things I like best about the holiday season are the stolen moments of quiet amidst the hustle and bustle–lovely, little gifts of reading or listening time when least expected, so I try to have a book of some sort at hand.  Since Thanksgiving weekend, I’ve already managed to squeeze in some titles that were on my hold list. Here are two quick (and vastly different) reads I’ve recently enjoyed and am excited to share with you.

I anxiously awaited Haben Girma’s autobiography after watching a segment on C-SPAN2’s Book TV this fall.  Her interview with host Peter Slen was engaging and entertaining, pulling me in with fascinating stories sprinkled with her great sense of humor.  Her book, Haben: The Deafblind Woman Who Conquered Harvard Law, did not disappoint.

Girma, whose parents immigrated to the U.S. from Eritrea and Ethiopia, grew up in Oakland, California.  She is a graduate of Harvard Law School who currently advocates for people with disabilities. She is an avid ballroom dancer, has climbed icebergs, helped build a school in Mali, surfs and kayaks, has traveled extensively, has pioneered an accessible communication system, and has spoken at the White House.  She also happens to be deafblind.

Haben (pronounced “ ‘Ha’ like ‘ha-ha’ and ‘ben’ like ‘Benjamin’ ”) is full of adventures and insights.  Girma, in her early thirties, describes her journey navigating cultures–American and Eritrean and Ethiopian, inclusionary and exclusionary–with warmth, passion, and wit.  Her voice clearly comes through with confidence and delight.

Biographies are one of my favorite genres because I get to experience the world from different perspectives, meeting interesting people on the page even if I never have the opportunity in person.  Nowhere near the end of her story, Haben Girma already has plenty of insight to offer. In addition to her travels and accomplishments, she shows what it takes to maneuver in a world designed for others, to carve out a space for daily life.  She leads by example and by thoughtful suggestions, inviting all of us to consider ways to open accessibility for people with disabilities.

Charming and astute, Haben Girma’s autobiography is an enjoyable read and a valuable one.  I can’t wait to find out the rest of her story.

What happens when you combine a disgruntled elf, hordes of teddy bears fueled by evil magic, and an author’s obsession with samurai movies?  You get, Manga Claus: The Blade of Kringle, written by Nathaniel Marunas and illustrated by Erik Craddock.  Yes, Virginia, there is a Manga Claus.  He exists as certainly as honor and loyalty and tinsel.  He wields a pair of skillfully forged samurai blades, defending Christmas from threats internal and external and coming to the rescue as surely as he delivers toys every year.

Fritz the elf resents being assigned to the laundry instead of Santa’s workshop.  In a fit of rage with his fist raised to the sky, (“I’ll show him what I can do–I’ll show them all!!!”) Fritz uses an evil spirit to animate a nutcracker in a plot to sideline the workshop.  One thing leads to another, and the evil escapes to create an army of ninja teddy bears bent on destruction. Thanks to his katana and his wakizashi, Santa transforms into Manga Claus and saves the day.

The charmingly cheesy text pairs fantastically with Erik Craddock’s action-packed, blockish-yet-expressive art in shades of red, grey, and black.  (I got a distinct classic Cartoon Network vibe from it.) This slim graphic novel moves quickly yet unveils additional visual details with every read.  It begs to be made into an animated short! It’s a delightful, campy romp that is not designed for people who take Santa seriously.  This is a great title for teens as well as graphic novel fans and folks whose favorite Christmas movies are action flicks.

I can’t wait for the other books on my hold list to come in.  Who knows what treasures will appear before the year is out! If you would like to see what titles the library offers or to place an item on reserve, take a look at our website http://www.joplinpubliclibrary.org/ and click on “Search Catalog”.  Library staff are available to help whether you stop by or give us a call at 417-623-7953.  Happy reading!

Why? by Adam Rex and Claire Keane & Saturday by Oge Mora

The end of the year is always a scramble to chip away at my TBR (to be read) list in order to meet an arbitrary goal I set for myself when I was feeling much more ambitious — sometime around the first of January. I never include picture books when I track my reading; considering how many I can read in a week, maybe I should start doing so to meet my goal before the ball drops on Dec. 31.

Whether you choose to include picture books in your official tracking, you should carve out a few minutes to read the ones mentioned below.

On occasion, you read a book that you know will win all of the awards. (On other occasions, you will have read none of The New York Times’ top 10 titles. But that is neither here nor there.)

Adam Rex and Claire Keane’s inquisitively titled “Why?” is one of those books. The story follows a bored little girl tagging along behind her mom at the mall. As preschoolers are wont to do, she peppers her mother with a near-constant string of “Why? Why? Why?” as they shop.

As the girl dawdles behind, she encounters supervillain Doctor X-Ray threatening nearby shoppers. As he releases the fire in his heels and floats down to survey the damage, he receives his first, “Why?” from the brave little girl. Doctor X-Ray explains the details of his plot, growing more animated with each “Why?” — an effect that leads to an eventual existential crisis. Why is he trying to take over the world? What does he hope to accomplish?

“Why, indeed,” asks the dejected supervillain at the story’s end. The moral of the story, then, must be that inquisitive children can save the world if their questions are taken seriously, right? Of course, that’s a bit of a leap and very tongue-in-cheek, but curiosity and persistence have achieved great things — why couldn’t they help thwart evil?

Keane’s illustrations are a natural companion to Rex’s story. The Disney animator’s art adds effects that feel vintage, realistic and, at times, fantastical. Doctor X-Ray looks exactly how you would expect a supervillain to look, with a long, white lab coat, goggles on his forehead and a bushy, red handlebar mustache. The story is primarily told through conversation, and their text is handwritten and placed in comic-style text callouts — again, lending a vintage, comic book feel.

Overall, the story is delightful, and it’s one of those special books that both children and their grownups will undoubtedly enjoy.

Find Why? in our catalog.

The second picture book I want to share is Caldecott honoree Oge Mora’s sophomore release, “Saturday.” I was a big fan of her debut book, “Thank You, Omu,” and I gladly recommend it to all families looking for a good read aloud.

“Saturday” follows a little girl named Ava and her mom as they attempt to make the most out of the most special day of the week. Ava’s mom works Sunday through Friday, so every Saturday must be perfect. Unfortunately, grand expectations such as this are inevitably met with disappointment, as is the case with Ava and her mother. Plan after plan is ruined, even as the text emphasizes repeatedly: “The day would be special. The day would be splendid. The day was Saturday.”

When they get to the library, story time is canceled. When they leave the salon, their new hairdos are promptly ruined by an errant puddle. Finally, Ava’s mother has enough; Saturday has been ruined, she proclaims. However, as Ava gently reminds her, the splendid and special part of Saturdays is not what they do — it’s who they are with. As a working parent, this reminder from a wise and precocious child hit home.

I might venture to proclaim that Oge Mora is making some of the best, most distinctive art in the picture book world. The illustrator mixes several artistic methods, from collaging to hand lettering to small details done in pen. Her collages themselves are unparalleled; Mora often includes small details from vintage publications, including newspapers, recipes and other books, making each page feel special in its own right.

Finally, it’s worth mentioning that Ava and her mother are black. Of the 3,653 picture books reviewed in 2018, only 400 featured African or African American protagonists (per the Cooperative Children’s Book Center, 2018). More importantly, Ava is not placed in the story to teach or to represent her race as a whole — she just gets to be herself, and that fact feels important.

I would recommend “Saturday” to all families looking for a fun read-aloud, and it’s sure to be added to my ever-growing suggestion list — (if I can bring myself to return it).

Find Saturday in our catalog.

“The New Frontier: 112 Fantastic Favorites for Everyday Eating” (Ree Drummond), by Lisa E. Brown

Do you have any authors that seem like old friends? You read their works over and over, or eagerly await their next release. My oldest author friend is Jane Austen; I’ve been reading her since I was 12, and have yet to tire of her.

But my newest old author friend is blogger, Food Network personality, photographer and cookbook author Ree Drummond, also known as The Pioneer Woman. I always look forward to her next cookbook, and it’s a pure pleasure poring over the colorful photographs, chatty introductions, and mouth-watering recipes. Her latest cookbook is entitled THE NEW FRONTIER: 112 FANTASTIC FAVORITES FOR EVERYDAY EATING.

Ree Drummond’s books are accessible to cooks of all levels. Before you even get to the recipes, she includes a list of equipment she uses in her food preparation. I know my way around a kitchen, so it seems pretty basic to me, but not everyone has experience with Dutch ovens or food processors. She also includes a section entitled Instant Pot 101, as well as labels she applies to her recipes, from “lower-carb,” to “freezes well,” to “indulgent.” And as she does in all her cookbooks, she includes step-by-step photographs that I find helpful.

THE NEW FRONTIER is also user-friendly in its organization, with chapters starting with “Breakfast” and ending with “Desserts.” In between you can find recipes for “Snacks and Starters,” “Drinks,” “Small Sweet Bites,” even “Meatless.”

I’m not big on breakfast food, but the prospect of her “Carrot Cake Baked French Toast,” made with multigrain bread, pecans and carrots and slathered with a cream cheese glaze, had me salivating. I’ll definitely be trying that one! And I liked her spin on a diner classic: “Bacon, Kale and Tomato Sandwich.” That would pair nicely with a steaming bowl of homemade tomato soup (which Drummond has a fantastic recipe for on her blog and, I believe, in one of her previous cookbooks), although I would substitute tempeh bacon to suit my vegetarian ways.

I’m always looking for something to make when I host parties or attend a potluck, and I think I found a new snack to offer guests: “Goat Cheese Truffles.” They seem super easy to make and add a touch of casual elegance to a gathering.

Like adult beverages? Drummond offers up a selection. I love a good Bloody Mary, and her “Caprese Bloody Mary,” set off with cherry tomatoes, mozzarella balls and basil, then finished with a balsamic glaze, is right up my alley, combining one of my favorite drinks with my favorite salad. By the way, if you abstain from alcohol, the author frequently provides non-alcoholic variations of her drinks.

As someone who adheres to a meat-free diet, I’ll shy away from covering the chapters about chicken, beef and pork, and seafood. Suffice it to say, the recipes are varied and seem simple to make. If you eat meat, there should be something for you in THE NEW FRONTIER.

Bear with me while I review her section on meatless meals. The “Street Corn Soup” sounds deliciously flavorful, although it will probably have to wait until corn season rolls around next summer. Drummond is branching out with some of her ingredients, such as with the “Grilled Halloumi and Vegetables.” Halloumi is a briny, firm cheese that holds up well to heat, and I just happen to have some in my refrigerator, thanks to a trip to Trader Joe’s a while back. I see this recipe in my immediate future. Finally, there’s the “Kung Pao Cauliflower,” which gives me an excuse to use one of my favorite Asian ingredients, chili paste. And I will probably add some tofu to this dish for some protein.

Looking for something sweet to balance out the savory? THE NEW FRONTIER has that covered, with “Butterscotch Lava Cakes” and “Caramel Pecan Cheesecakes.” Me, I’m going to try the “Peanut Butter-Stuffed Chocolate Chunk Cookies” and the “Caramel Apple Quesadillas.” Yum!

If you’re seeking ideas to please the pickiest of eaters, you might check out the selection of Ree Drummond’s fun, friendly cookbooks that the Joplin Public Library has in its collection, including her latest. The title has a few holds on it, so you might want to jump on the list if you can’t wait for it to appear on the shelf.

And with that, I wish you happy times in the kitchen!

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The Lost Causes of Bleak Creek by Rhett McLaughlin and Link Neal

Rhett and Link met in the first grade at Buies Creek Elementary School in 1984. The story goes that they were both held back from recess for writing profanity on their desks. While everyone else was outside playing, they spent their recess coloring mythical creatures. They have been best friends ever since, and even made a blood oath to commit to always work together and create big things. That promise has been kept. Some of their earliest projects include a screenplay Gutless Wonders (never finished), and a punk rock band.

Fast forward to today, they run one of the most successful Youtube channels, Good Mythical Morning (GMM), with over 15 million subscribers, and over 5 million views daily. Their catalog also includes music videos, the web television series Buddy System,  their award winning podcast EarBiscuits, comedy/musical tours, and the New York Times’ Bestseller Book of Mythicality. 

Why am I mentioning all of this? Because the parallels between real life and fiction are evident in Rhett and Link’s second book, and first novel The Lost Causes of Bleak Creak. The book follows the friendship of Rex and Leif in the town of, you guessed it, Bleak Creak, North Carolina. Bleak Creek is a typical, small southern town. One that holds religion, family values, and tradition close to heart. It is a seemingly cheerful place, but every town, no matter how big or small, has its secrets.

The first chapter starts with Rex, Leif, and their friend Alicia filming a scene for their film, Polterdog (similar to the screenplay Gutless Wonders mentioned above). Something goes wrong during the filming of a scene which lands the three friends in trouble, one of the terms of punishment being that they are no longer allowed to film their movie. Alicia who already has a bad reputation due to previous circumstances, gets the worst punishment of the self-appointed Triumvirate. But having put so much time and energy into their movie, the group decides to meet up and film one last scene. As Rex and Leif make it to Alicia’s house, they soon find out she is in trouble. They find out she is being sent, against her will, to Wayne Whitewood’s reform school. Shrouded in mystery, no one really knows what happens inside the ominous building surrounded by a chain-linked fence, but it has a reputation of its own. Some people never return, those who do come back aren’t quite the same, almost zombie-like, without the appetite for brains. Either way, Rex and Leif have no choice but to try and save their friend from certain demise.

For a comedic duo, Rhett and Link wrote a thrilling page-turner. There is plenty of 90s nostalgia, and nods to good-ole southern traditions such as pig pickins’. They took elements from their personal lives and transformed into something magical. Hopefully this can turn a few people into a Mythical Beast, or fans of the GMM channel, because the friendship of Rhett and Link is so wholesome and inspiring. Their most recent episodes have been shot documentary-style, while they take you through Buies Creek to revisit their childhood homes, church, and the creek itself. It adds another layer to the novel. Even though  Halloween is over, there is always room for a little suspense and psychological terror (especially with the holiday season approaching fast), and this book delivers.

 

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Men of Valor by Irene Hannon; Things You Save in a Fire by Katherine Center; Something Read, Something Dead by Eva Gates; Bloody Genius by John Sandford

My book choices lately include a police procedural, Christian romantic suspense, cozy mysteries, and a book on women’s lives and relationships. Instead of choosing just one I thought I’d give you a sampling of what I’ve been reading.

Irene Hannon writes, among other things, Christian romantic suspense. Her Men of Valor series is a trilogy centered on the 3 McGregor brothers. The first book, Buried Secrets, introduces the oldest brother Mac. A former Navy Seal, Mac is now a detective. When a construction crew uncovers an unmarked grave Mac is called in to assist small town police chief Lisa Grant. The harder they work to discover the identity of the victim the more desperate someone is to make sure the name and the story stay buried.

The middle brother, Lance, is a new FBI agent and his first case is a possible kidnapping. The twist here is the victim, Christy Reed’s sister, was declared dead in a house fire months ago. Thin Ice brings together Lance and Christy in a race to find the kidnapper before he claims his next victim. Tangled Webs is baby brother Finn’s story. Still recovering from injuries received in the Middle East, the Army Ranger is vacationing in an isolated cabin. Screams in the middle of the night have him racing to the rescue of his neighbor. Neighbor Dana is recovering from trauma herself and now Finn has to rely on his skills to keep her safe and find who wants her gone. These are well-written quick reads.

Things You Save in a Fire by Katherine Center is classified as women’s lives and relationships. Cassie Hanwell is a firefighter and very good at what she does. What she is not so good at is trusting and letting people close to her. On her 16th birthday her mother, Diana, left Cassie and her father. Later that same day Cassie attends a party. What happened is only hinted at but it changed her forever. Now she’s a rising star with the Austin Texas fire department – that is, until aggressively and physically objecting to being groped by the man who is presenting her with an award. Refusing to apologize, Cassie loses the job she loves.

Diana asks her to come to Massachusetts to help her deal with some health issues. To save her career and do her reluctant familial duty, Cassie moves and starts over with the Lillian Fire Department. The Lillian crew are not as forward thinking as the crew in Austin. Working to prove herself and deal with her mother Cassie begins on a path of discovering forgiveness and the true meaning of love.

I like cozy mysteries and I’ve been reading Eva Gates’ Lighthouse Library series. The setting is the Outer Banks in North Carolina and the protagonist is librarian Lucy Richardson. Employed by the Bodie Island Lighthouse Library Lucy also lives in an apartment on one of the upper floors of the lighthouse.

In Something Read, Something Dead Lucy is hosting a shower for her soon to be wed cousin, Josie. Josie runs a local bakery and is planning a small wedding but her visiting relatives are pushing for an expensive, elaborate affair. Cousin Mirabelle sees the wedding as a boost to her own fledgling business and is especially forceful. When Mirabelle collapses and dies at the shower, it is determined she was poisoned. Josie becomes the number one suspect. She provided the treats for the shower including gluten-free food just for Mirabelle. With her bakery shut down, Josie may have to postpone marrying her beloved Jake. Determined to rescue Josie, Lucy begins her own investigation. She has plenty of suspects including Josie’s relatives and Jake’s old girlfriend who has recently relocated to the Outer Banks. This series is a winner with good characters, a unique setting, and plenty of mystery.

My police procedural is John Sandford’s latest in the Virgil Flowers series, Bloody Genius. Virgil is one of my favorite characters and Sandford can always be counted on to tell a good story. Virgil, an agent with the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, goes wherever he is sent in the state. A prominent professor at the University of Minnesota, Bart Quill, was bludgeoned to death in the library. After 2 weeks with no progress and despite his grumblings, Virgil is sent to help the Minneapolis PD.

There’s no clear lead but plenty of loose threads to pull and Virgil is pretty good at unraveling thread. Why did Quill have a reserved study room in the library when he had his own lab? Why was he there after hours? Was his research important enough to kill for and what about his feud with his academic rival? As usual with Sandford this is fast-paced, compelling and a little humorous. It’s hard to put down.

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Semiosis by Sue Burke

Part Planet of the Apes, part 2001: A Space Odyssey; “Semiosis”, by Sue Burke, tells the story of a group of astronaut colonists, and the planet they discover.

“Semiosis” is a generational novel, each chapter is told from the first-person perspective of a member of a new generation – beginning with original team of astronauts. The reader experiences the colony’s development through 107 years on Pax, the name the colonists give their new planet.

The original team of colonist consists of less than a hundred people from all over the world. They were chosen to provide particular skills to the community, not only to survive on their new planet, but to thrive. Scientists were chosen (meteorologists, doctors, biologists, and botanists) as well as artists (musicians and sculptors), and particular care was given to the type of personality that each member possessed.

The goal for Pax is to create a peaceful society that will become a part of the ecosystem of the planet, and live in harmony with any life forms that they may discover.

As the novel progresses, the narrators become more familiar with the nature of planet, and subsequently less ‘earthling’. The original colonists view Pax through the lens of Earth, comparing animals and plants to ones they (and we) are familiar with. From generation to generation, Earth customs and culture become increasingly more alien, as the humans develop their own ways of life.

Each narrator has unique voice; they have different perspectives on the planet, and its residents, and very different personalities. Burke’s experience as a short story author enables her tell each of these stories as its own distinct piece of a whole narrative. The chapters have their own narrative arcs, though many of the characters overlap from chapter to chapter.

Burke’s background in journalism – as a reporter and editor of various newspapers and magazines – also informs her writing style. Her chapters are character driven and concise, with an eye for scientific processes and vocabulary.  The first narrator, Octavo, is a botanist – and he thinks like a botanist.  His chapter is full of observations about plant life that some readers, and Octavo’s co-colonists, may not completely follow.

In many ways, “Semiosis” can be viewed as a first contact novel, with humans as the alien species. I will not go into detail about the other life on this planet, I will only say (mysteriously) that the colonists are not alone – there is life on Pax, beyond the animals that the team first encounters.

For interested readers, I will also say that rereading the first chapter – with all the hopes and new discoveries of the original colonists – once you have finished the book is an experience that I highly recommend.

I would like to also give a content warning for one instance of sexual assault.

Because this is my first book review, I think I ought to introduce myself. Hello, I’m Alyssa Berry – the new Technical Services Librarian at Joplin Public Library.  If you come into the library, you might not see me, because I spend a lot of my time in the back room, but I am hard at work getting books into our catalog and out onto our shelves. My team and I do all the digital and physical processing that turns regular books into library books. I started at JPL about a month ago, and I’m excited to be a part of everything that happens at the library – and to share my particular taste in books with all of you.

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