Farewell and Two Historical Fiction Books to Keep you Thinking

February 3, 2019

I always have a hard time figuring out how to begin any columns I write for Joplin Public Library. This time it is even more difficult to know what to say. This will be my last column and book review on behalf of Joplin Public Library.

The day you read this will be my last day as director at Joplin Public Library. I have just completed nine years of what has inarguably been the most interesting years of my employment. The years have run the gamut of emotions and stretched me in ways I never anticipated.

In the way life frequently happens, I was not seeking a change. It was my full intention to stay with Joplin Public Library until I was led away in my dotage. An opportunity came my way, however, that changed that and is allowing me to come full circle in my life.

My undergraduate degree was awarded by Ozark Christian College on North Main Street. The “new” library facility opened there my freshman year. When I saw they had an opening in the library, I saw a chance to “dial back” my life a bit, yet come and work where my adult life began.

I will be beginning as Access Services librarian (fancy librarian term for making sure folks can get what they need) there. Leaving Joplin Public Library is definitely bittersweet. I have learned much and met so many terrific patrons and staff that leaving and beginning again isn’t easy. Yet the opportunity allows me to come full circle with my life in a way I hadn’t dreamed of.

I will miss Joplin Public Library and hope the feeling is mutual.

Now, I’d better tell you about a book!

I’ve read two books by Melanie Dobson this month that captured my attention and intrigued me. I have always enjoyed historical fiction, and especially fiction taking place during the World War II era, specifically during the Holocaust. Visiting Auschwitz when I was in college left an indelible imprint on me, making me want to learn more, both through fiction and non-fiction writings.

Both CATCHING THE WIND and HIDDEN AMONG THE STARS are set with dual time and storylines. There are storylines in the present-day setting that intertwine with the past. Both books had intricate plotting that kept me thinking, trying to figure out what was what and how the stories in each weave together to make one.

CATCHING THE WIND tells of Daniel Knight, who has searched for nearly 70 years for his best friend, Brigitte, whom he helped escape from the Gestapo after both their sets of parents were arrested. A long, harrowing and dangerous journey for the 13 and 10 year old gets them to England, where they are promptly separated. He never reneges on his promise to try to find her. But can he keep that promise?

HIDDEN AMONG THE STARS tells of Callie Randall, who runs a bookstore and discovers a cryptic list in a first edition of BAMBI. Her search for information leads her to take risks, discover past secrets, and find information that changes lives forever. Changes for the better? Or changes for the worse?

I read both books in audiobook format through Hoopla. Joplin Public Library also carries them in print format. The audiobook narrator was quite good. I don’t care for the narrators who read quite well, but in a sickly sweet voice. Give me a narrator whose voice changes for characters and situations. Nancy Peterson narrated these two books that way and did a great job.

These two books were the sort that had me sitting in the garage for five minutes more of the story, or driving more slowly on my commute home. Tempting as it was to listen at my desk, I managed to resist that.

If you enjoy historical fiction with a hint of intrigue, danger, and romance, as well as an inspirational bent, you will enjoy these books.

Thank you for allowing me to bend your ear about my reading habits for the past nine years. I will never forget the experience.

Reviewed by Jacque Gage

The Wife Between Us

I have no clue how I came to read this book. I must have read some short snippet about it on MOLib2Go, thought it sounded interesting, and placed it on hold. The hold list must have been a long one, because when the notice came that it was my turn I had absolutely no recollection of the book or of placing it on hold.

Notification came at a good time. I’d just finished a book and had nothing in my personal queue. Gone are the days I can juggle five and six books at a time.

It is going to be really hard to write a review of “The Wife Between Us” by Greer Hendricks with no spoilers.

It must have been the publisher’s blurb that caught my attention. How can someone resist, “When you read this book, you will make many assumptions. You will assume you are reading about a jealous ex-wife. You will assume she is obsessed with her replacement. Assume nothing. Read between the lies.”

Everyone has a secret in this book. Richard, the hedge-fund banker husband is rich and kind and generous. Nellie is the bride-to-be, a preschool teacher and part-time waitress about to enter her new marriage. She loves her life, but someone is following her and making voiceless calls to her cell phone, making her nervous and jumpy. But Richard is ever-present, calming her and making her feel secure.

Vanessa is the bitter, alcohol abusing ex-wife who makes ends meet by living with her aunt and working at Saks. Maureen is Richard’s older sister to whom he is extremely close. Despite Nellie’s hopes to become close to Maureen, this doesn’t happen

Are they really as they seem? Remember the publisher blurb.

I read this book in the audio version. I was disappointed in the narrator to begin with and was prepared to blast her in this review, but as with everything else in this, nothing is as it seems. The narration made sense at the end.

There are twists and turns everywhere in this book. Being warned ahead of time of them, I tried to figure things out ahead of time. I was still blindsided a couple times. I can remember listening with my mouth hanging open (literally) and thinking, “What just happened here?! Is what I think what it is?!”

This audiobook had me hanging. I use audiobooks for my daily commute. This one had me hooked enough, I listened to it doing housework, laundry, and cooking. I even sat in a few parking lots because the chapter wasn’t over when I’d arrived at my destination.

I mulled what was happening over and over in my mind. What did I believe? Who did I believe?

Now that I’ve finished listening to this book, I want to get the print copy to re-read and double check that the clues were already there. Some reviewers didn’t like the final twist, but I found the denouement satisfying.

Joplin Public Library has this book in large print, regular print, audio and ebook through MoLib2Go. I challenge you to read this and see if you can sort fact from fiction and truth from lies. Try “reading between the lies”.

Review by Jacque Gage.

EVERLAND by Wendy Spinale

EVERLAND was one of those books I got sucked into before I realized what it was about. I downloaded it in audiobook format from an online summer reading program for teens that I belong to.  (Yes, I realize I am a very old teen, but I frequently enjoy Young Adult novels.)

As I began listening to the story, I kept thinking,”This feels familiar.  It sounds like a mixture of PETER PAN by J.M. Barrie and NEVERWHERE by Neil Gaiman, along with some steampunk thrown in.”

London is in chaos. It has been destroyed in a blitzkrieg of bombs and disease. During the bombing of the city, a deadly virus that has no antidote has been released. Fast-acting, it kills everyone, leaving children, however, to a slower but still certain death.

Gwen and her two siblings, Joanna and Mikey, are some of the survivors trying just to exist.  Gwen must scavenge for food while avoiding the German Marauders who steal any child they can to take them to Captain Hanz Otto Oswald Kretchmer, who is looking for a cure for the virus he released.

In her foraging for food, Gwen runs into two other teens named Pete and Bella, who help her escape the Marauders by diverting the Marauders’ attention from Gwen to them, allowing her to run away.

This is when things began to click for me Gwen/Wendy, Bella/Tinkerbell, Pete/Peter, and Captain Hanz Otto Oswald Kretchmer, known by his initials, HOOK.

Gwen’s sister, Joanna, is snatched while Gwen is out searching for food.  Gwen knows that once a child is snatched, they never come back, so she decides to stop at nothing to get her sister back.

Pete and Gwen’s paths cross again, with Gwen finding out there is a whole civilization of Lost Boys living beneath the city of London.  She joins the Lost Children, and convinces them to join her cause to rescue her sister.

They join forces, but at what price?  Will they succeed in their quest? Will the virus kill them?  Is Gwen “The Immune”?

I’m “hooked” by now and hang on through the end of the book, hopeful for resolution.  Then, I realized this was the first book in a trilogy, with UMBERLAND and OZLAND finishing out the story.  While there is a bit of closure at the end of EVERLAND, it will take the whole trilogy for what I hope is a satisfying conclusion.

Joplin Public Library did not have this trilogy, but now does.  It is available in the New Book section of the Teen Department or at least will be available for check out after I finish the last two books!

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Jacque Gage, Reviewer

The Book of Essie by Meghan Maclean Weir

Recently, the Joplin Public Library Board allowed me to attend the Public Library Association’s conference. Held every two years, this is the largest conference that specializes in public libraries. It has well-known keynote speakers and a host of workshops, all geared to those who serve in public libraries. It’s a wonderful week, even when it’s held in the winter in Philadelphia during its fourth major winter storm within a three-week timespan.

As much as I enjoy the sessions, however, the exhibit hall is a bibliophile’s wonderland. It is a paradise with all the major players and most of the minor players in publishing today. Then there are vendors with anything you can imagine related to libraries, library technologies and buildings. It’s a veritable paradise. (Ask me about scoring “Pete the Cat” socks!)

Exhibitors give away the usual convention swag — candy, pens, sticky notes, etc. But more importantly, vendors give away lots and lots of books! There are best-selling authors there signing their newest books; there are advanced reader’s copies of books yet to be published; and there are other books just being sold dirt cheap. Did I mention this is a bibliophile’s wonderland?

I received an advanced reader’s copy of today’s book. It will not be available until June 12, so Joplin Public Library does not have it — yet. “THE BOOK OF ESSIE” is a debut novel from MEGHAN MACLEAN WEIR, and the opening paragraph grabbed my attention: “On the day I turn 17, there is a meeting to decide whether I should have the baby or if sneaking me to a clinic for an abortion is worth the PR risk. I am not invited, which is just as well, since my being there might imply that I have some choice in the matter, and I know that I have none.”

Esther Anne Hicks — Essie is the youngest child of an Evangelical preacher who has become a reality TV star. Her family is the star of “Six for Hicks”, a show that has followed every aspect of the family”s life for more than a decade. Every moment in life is scripted by the show producers and Celia Hicks, Essie”s mother, and shown for the world to see.

Essie”s pregnancy presents a problem to the family”s television empire. The show is popular and followed by thousands. This type of revelation could endanger the empire.

What should the family do about Essie? Should they sneak her away somewhere for a private abortion? Should they pretend and pass off a new baby as the seventh Hicks child belonging to Celia, Essie’s mother? Or do they decide to boost their ratings even more with a blockbuster wedding?

While the family is making decisions about Essie”s life, she is quietly making plans of her own by pairing up with a student she knows only slightly, Roark Richards. Roark is a senior at her high school, and Essie knows about a secret he is trying to protect.

“The Book of Essie” is told by three viewpoints — that of Essie, that of Roark and that of Liberty Bell, an ultra-conservative reporter whom Essie has contacted for help.

The characters in the story are created layer by layer, and the story is revealed ever so slowly by peeling back the layers of the characters like onion skins, one thin revelation at a time.

There are tough topics dealt with in this book, and because of that, some who have read advance copies don’t care for it. They were fascinated and captivated, but they were upset by sensitive topics.

It covers reality TV and a fundamentalist fire-and-brimstone preacher with a secret-filled family, but to tell you more would be a spoiler, so I will withhold that information.

Reading the book will answer your questions just as Essie finds answers to her own questions. Why did her older sister leave home and never come back? Who can be trusted with the truth? Can she win her freedom? At what price will her freedom come?

This book is on order and should arrive shortly. In the meantime, Joplin Public Library has thousands of other page-turners that will keep you entertained or informed.

Jacque Gage is the director of the Joplin Public Library.

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