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Wilder Girls by Rory Power

Being a teenage girl is rough. Being a teenage girl trapped on an island while a mysterious illness transforms you and your friends into strange, animal-human hybrids and destroys the wilderness around you? Well, that’s a hardship I’ll probably never be able to relate to. And that’s what the characters in WILDER GIRLS have to deal with.

Hetty, Byatt, and Reese are three friends bound together by the strange situation they’re in. They attend the Raxter School for Girls. Except classes aren’t really in session. A sickness has taken over the school. Almost all the adults have died, except for two of the younger faculty, Miss Welch and the Headmistress. These two keep the girls in order, helping them learn survival skills and manage their meager supplies.

The illness on the island causes the girls go through painful and unpredictable transformations. Hetty’s right eye fused shut. Reese has a silver-scaled claw for a hand and glowing hair. Byatt grew a second spine. Other girls aren’t so lucky; sometimes, the transformations are too much for their bodies to handle.

Hetty is recruited to the team of girls responsible for bringing supplies from the Navy drop-off back to the school. The job is dangerous, requiring them to face the transformed wilderness that surrounds the school. Just when Hetty thinks the danger can’t get more intense, she discovers a secret that could bring everything crumbling down. And this secret might put Byatt’s life in danger.

Wilder Girls is one of those books that could be categorized for adults if the content were just a little different. As is, however, the author deals with topics like love, betrayal, and family all with a Sci-Fi spin that I think both adult and teen readers can enjoy. I appreciated the depiction of everyday life in a disaster situation. Yes, the school is falling apart, but there are still love triangles and petty disagreements. Life goes on, even when life is mutating around you.

The story is told mainly from Hetty’s perspective, with a few chapters from Byatt’s point of view. While I don’t mind this tactic, it doesn’t work as well in Wilder Girls. The chapters told by Byatt feel too much like what they are: a way for the author to tell readers about the secrets Byatt unwittingly uncovers.

I have a real knack for choosing books that don’t have tidy endings. Wilder Girls is another one of those. Of course, the author could be leaving room for a sequel–and I honestly hope that’s the case. For any criticisms I might have, it’s a really well-written book. In a way, it reminded me of the Southern Reach trilogy by Jeff VanderMeer, which is always a bonus.

On a completely different note, I should say this is my last book review for Joplin Public Library. I’ve accepted a position at another library. JPL has been part of my life since my childhood, when I would walk to the old library on Main Street and spend hours amongst the books. Joplin Public Library has a bright future, and I look forward to being a patron for years to come.

Song for the Unraveling of the World by Brian Evenson

Reading slumps aren’t uncommon. Lately, I’ve been starting books, only to return them unfinished. In times like these, I often turn to short stories to help me get back into the groove. Short stories take the pressure off of reading. I don’t have to track characters and plots for hundreds of pages. And this is where author Brian Evenson really shines. In his latest release, he builds worlds and characters in only a few pages.

SONG FOR THE UNRAVELING OF THE WORLD is a fairly short collection of stories at just over 200 pages. However, the collection contains 22 stories. I don’t have the space to review each story, but I’ve picked three that I think best represent this collection as a whole.

In the titular story, a daughter goes missing. Her father, Drago, searches the house but can’t find the little girl. Drago refuses to call the police for reasons the reader doesn’t immediately understand. But, as his search expands to include the surrounding neighborhood, the truth about Drago and his daughter is revealed. He will not call the police because he is living under a false identity. Why? Well, that would spoil the story.

“Room Tone” — Filip wants nothing more than to finish shooting his film. The only problem? The house he’s been using for filming has been sold and the new owner won’t let Filip in to complete the project. Filip isn’t happy with the sound of the film; the background noise is all wrong. He just needs in the house long enough to record a few minutes of silence. How far will he go to finish his film?

“The Hole” — A mission to explore a planet goes horribly wrong for those visiting the new world. Klim and the rest of the crew must search for Rurik, who has gone missing. Kim finds Rurik at the bottom of a large hole. There are only two problems: 1) Klim is also at the bottom of the hole and 2) Rurik is clearly dead, but still moving and talking. Can Klim escape? Even if he does, will he ever be the same?

Don’t go into this collection thinking you’re going to get answers. Much of the effectiveness of Evenson’s writing comes from what isn’t explicitly described in the stories. Evenson focuses in on the world of each story. With short stories, authors don’t have a lot of room for world-building. The challenge then becomes making these brief glimpses into the world fully believable. And this is where Evenson really shines.

Every story in the collection takes place in a distinct setting, each with its own history and set of rules. Even though several stories have similar themes or settings, Evenson made each one distinct. There seem to be nods to classic authors like Ray Bradbury and Shirley Jackson. (In fact, Everson was a finalist for the Shirley Jackson Award in 2017.)

Evenson explores several themes throughout the collection. Identity and sense of self are perhaps the two most common themes. Can we change who we are? Is identity more than skin deep? Fair warning for the faint of heart, Evenson explores these ideas in a very literal sense. At times, he even uses a genre known as ‘body horror.’ If you’re not familiar with this genre, think of the movies The Fly and The Thing

Overall, I think this is a solid short story collection. Evenson’s masterful world-building goes a long way in making these stories successful. The stories overlap two of my favorite genres, Sci-Fi and horror, and though there aren’t any happy endings, this collection will make you think about bodies and identity in a whole new way.

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Book review by: Leslie Hayes

Come With Me by Helen Schulman

I’m a sucker for alternate universe stories. Exploring “what if” questions is just so much fun. “What if” can range from the small to grand questions of life. What if I hadn’t made that left turn? What if I had taken that job? What if I had moved to Seattle? I was really excited to see a book exploring “what ifs” and decided to give COME WITH ME a read.

Amy is a busy mom of three boys, struggling to keep the family financially afloat while her unemployed husband spends his time on Twitter. Amy’s twice-daily runs help her feel grounded and give her time to think. And, sometimes, she thinks about “what if” questions. What if she had stayed with her boyfriend, Eric? What if she didn’t have to work for her best friend’s son? What if her daughter had lived?

Not-so-luckily for Amy, she works for Donny. He is the son of Amy’s best friend, which often results in awkward situations for Amy. Donny takes advantage of the near-familial relationship to drop in at Amy’s home or pout his way into getting what he wants at work. (If there’s one person I felt truly bad for while reading this book, it’s Amy.)

Donny has come up with a way to use algorithms to analyze a person’s life. Using virtual reality goggles, a person can experience what would happen if they had made a different decision in the past. No time travel or wormholes needed, just a computer program. And because he can, Donny makes Amy the first test subject.

Her first experience is horrifying. Over and over, she watches an event unfold wherein one of her sons is hit — or almost hit — by a car. As awful as the experience is, Amy finds herself unable to say no when Donny asks her to use the VR goggles again.

Meanwhile, her husband, Dan, decides to run away to Japan. He’s following Maryam, a fellow journalist with whom he has fallen in love. As they travel to Fukushima to interview a man living in the radioactive ruins, Dan is exhilarated by the idea that he has done something so adventurous, just like the journalists he follows on Twitter.

A crisis brings all the characters together, along with the weight of the decisions they have — and haven’t — made. Though both Amy and Dan are searching for an emotional connection, they don’t find it with each other. They’re both so interested in “what if” that they stop seeing what’s right in front of them.

While this is surely a book about the “what if” questions in life, Schulman spends very little time actually exploring the possible alternatives. Instead, the book is more about dealing with those “what ifs” in everyday life. Amy is too busy being a mother to all the men in her life to spend much time pondering alternate lives. Dan takes the plunge and actually steps into the world of the “what if” by running away to Japan with Maryam. But will either of them find what they’re looking for?

Schulman doesn’t stick to telling the story just through main characters. Amy and Dan are the two characters around whom most of the action takes place. Some sections are told from the point of view of minor characters, which can be distracting from the main story. However, Schulman does an excellent job giving each character a unique voice. Dan’s ADD shines through in rambling, long paragraphs that change subject frequently. Amy’s thoughts revolve around all of the things she has to take care of: lunches, kids, work, money, laundry, and more.

To be honest, when I first read the synopsis for Come With Me, I expected a heavy science fiction novel, exploring alternate universes and missed opportunities. I was slightly wrong in that assumption. While the book is actually fairly light on sci-fi elements, it’s certainly heavy. And though the characters don’t travel throughout the multiverse, they do spend a lot of time with the weight of their choices.

Sometimes, life doesn’t turn out how we expect. That doesn’t mean it’s any less good that the “what if” worlds we can dream up. It’s important to remember that we can’t change the past, but the future is up to us.

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Book review by: Leslie Hayes

I Am Behind You by John Ajvide Lindqvist

I’m a horror fan. Well, a lightweight horror fan. I much prefer horror stories I can explain away so I can sleep at night. If I haven’t watched a haunted videotape, the ghost can’t possibly get to me. Right? Right?! So when I heard John Ajvide Lindqvist, author of the vampire novel Let the Right One In, had published a new horror novel called I Am Behind You, I had to give it a read.

On a peaceful morning in the Swedish countryside, four families wake to discover they’ve been transported from their campground to a grassy plain with no landmarks, trees, animals, or cell phone reception. The group, made up of wildly different people, must figure out how to survive long enough to escape. As they try to find a way out, the group discovers that the peaceful countryside they’ve been transported to is full of danger.

Donald is quick-tempered and obsessed with firearms, while his wife Majvor is even-tempered and kind. Will Donald snap and kill someone? Stefan, Carina, and their son Emil appear to be an average family, but Carina’s past haunts her.. Lennart and Olaf are just two guys on a camping trip. They may seem like normal farmers, but there may be more to them than it seems. Finally, Peter, Isabelle, and their daughter Molly certainly seem like the perfect family, but there is something darker underneath. The secrets carried by each group member threaten to destroy everyone.

With no apparent escape available, the group turns to survival. They pool resources and try to explore their surroundings. They begin to encounter strangers in the strange countryside, but you can probably guess that these strangers are dangerous. As with many horror books, it’s difficult to write about the events of the story without spoiling it. The dangers that begin to surface are nothing, however, compared to the dangers the group members pose to each other.

As is also frequently the case, there are questions that simply aren’t answered. Where is the group actually at? How did they get there? What in tarnation is going on?! There’s plenty of content to analyze in any literature course.

Though some aspects of the story didn’t quite hit home, they seemed to stem from cultural differences. For instance, the songs of Peter Himmelstrand feature prominently in this novel. (In fact, the novel’s original title is Himmelstrand.) For whatever reason, the only songs that play on the campers’ radios are songs written by Himmelstrand, who was a popular Swedish songwriter in the 1960s and 70s. Perhaps if I knew more about Himmelstrand and his place in Swedish pop culture, this plot point in the book would make more sense to me.

I still really enjoyed the book. The characters were very well-written; I hated who I was supposed to hate, which is a huge hallmark of effective characterization for me. Perhaps my favorite character is Benny, a beagle. Several portions of the story are told from Benny’s perspective. Lindqvist doesn’t get overly sentimental when writing from the perspective of Benny, which helps make this viewpoint feel more realistic than other fictional animals I’ve read.

A little bit of research revealed that there are two other books that are part of this universe Lindqvist has created. Maybe, if those are translated into English, I’ll get some resolution to the bigger questions I have about what happens throughout the pages of I Am Behind You.

Overall, this was a really good read. I only needed two nights to get through it, which is pretty quick for a book that runs just over 400 pages. If you’re looking for a tense, scary read, I Am Behind You is probably right for you. I’ll definitely be keeping my eyes peeled for the translations of the two follow-up books in Lindqvist’s series.

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Book review by: Leslie Hayes

Bitter Orange by Claire Fuller

When I first read the summary of BITTER ORANGE by CLAIRE FULLER, I thought it would be a fast-paced murder mystery. I was wrong. Bitter Orange is tense, with plenty of moments that work together to build toward a shocking ending. With a small cast of characters, Fuller intimately explores the intricacies of human nature and the bonds that we form with one another.

Frances Jellico lies on her deathbed. She is dying of what she calls a wasting disease. A vicar visits her to hear her last confession, and Frances takes the opportunity to relive the particular summer that would change her life forever.

Frances is a sheltered woman who lived with her mother. Though she is not an academic, her interests lead her to research architecture and write a paper on the subject. After the paper is published and her mother dies, Frances is hired to survey the garden architecture of an English mansion called Lyntons. When she arrives at the mansion, she discovers two other people living there. Peter has been hired to inventory the estate and is accompanied by his girlfriend, Cara.

Cara and Peter have a volatile relationship, arguing frequently and loudly. During one of these fights, Frances discovers a peephole in the floor of her bathroom that looks down into bathroom of Cara and Peter’s living quarters. Through this hole, Frances sees intimate moments of their relationship.

Frances and Cara become friends and soon, they spend all their free time together. Frances and Peter begin shirking their duty of surveying the Lyntons estate in favor of picnics and swimming with Cara. But as their friendship deepens, Cara’s mental health seems to decline. Cara reveals that she had to give up a son for adoption. Frances assumes this is the source of the couple’s conflict and is filled with sympathy for the young woman.

The trio discover a locked room labeled “Museum” that Peter insists they open. As he bashes down the door with a sledgehammer, Cara tells Frances that her son had been the product of immaculate conception. For the first time, Frances begins to doubt Cara’s sanity.

The situation in the Lyntons mansion quickly escalates, with truths about Cara and Peter revealed to a stunned Frances. She has simply never been around people other than her mother. She becomes convinced that Peter is in love with her and that Cara’s erratic behavior stems from jealousy. After Peter rejects Frances’s advances, the situation in the house deteriorates further.

Ultimately, we discover that there is far more to the story than Frances has revealed. Of course, I don’t want to ruin the ending for you, but I’m sure you can already figure out that nothing in Bitter Orange is exactly what it seems to be.

Bitter Orange would be perfect for analyzing in a literature class. There are a plethora of elements to explore: the theme of motherhood, the recurring symbols of cows, water, ruined houses, and the bitter oranges that grow on the Lyntons estate. Without going into detail (because that would take far more space than I have), I will say that this is a novel that’s full of symbols and symbolic moments. Nothing happens without having meaning.

Fuller’s writing style works well to build a feeling of uneasiness. The story is told in first-person, from Frances’s point of view, which means readers have to rely totally on Frances’s observations and thoughts. My biggest issue with this book comes from this aspect. Personally, I think if a novel is written from one person’s perspective, the reader ought to be able to trust the narrator. Frances’s fragile mental state makes her naïve at best and unreliable at worst.

There are plenty of well-written, fast-paced murder mysteries on the shelves at Joplin Public Library. But if you’re looking for a slow-burning novel that’s about mental health, motherhood, and human nature, then Claire Fuller’s Bitter Orange should be your next read.

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Book review by: Leslie Hayes

Hoopla electronic resources

This week, instead of writing a book review, I wanted to take a minute to introduce a new service for Joplin Public Library patrons. It’s called Hoopla, and it’s a great way to use a variety of electronic resources. Whether you need audiobooks for your commute, want to preview the newest Ariana Grande album, or want to watch a documentary, Hoopla has something for you to enjoy.

Hoopla is similar to Overdrive, the library’s other primary source of eBooks. With Hoopla, you can check out eBooks and eAudiobooks using your library card. However, Hoopla also offers movies, television shows, graphic novels, and music. Hoopla has a wide selection of items for all ages and interests. There’s even a “Kids Mode” setting parents can use to help kids make age-appropriate reading choices. Finding content for the whole family is super easy.

The eBooks and eAudiobooks work similarly to other services. You choose what you want to read, and download it to your device. You can customize the eBook display to what suits your needs best with font sizes and screen color. The eAudiobooks are very easy to use, also. I do wish, however, that the chapters of the eAudiobooks were divided into separate tracks. But, the app will remember where you stop your audiobooks and resume playing where you left off.

The movies available through Hoopla cover an impressive range. From cult classics like the original Suspira to new releases like the amazing documentary RBG, there is certainly something for everyone. Looking for kid-friendly Halloween movies? There’s a category for that. Looking to host a vampire-themed Halloween party? There’s a category for that, too.

Can’t get enough PAW Patrol? Hoopla has you covered. There are plenty of great selections to help keep kiddos happy during road trips over the upcoming holiday season. But there are plenty of options for the adults, too, like Miss Marple and Doc Martin, and if you’re looking to get your heartrate up, pretty much everything Jillian Michaels has released. Looking to learn? Check out the offering from the Great Courses series, which can teach you about pretty much anything you’re interested in, from yoga to robotics.

I love the comics Hoopla offers. Again, the selections cover all age ranges and interests. But it’s how easy they are to read that really makes me love using them. You don’t need a huge e-reader to get the most out of Hoopla’s comics. You can read them in page view, but Hoopla also breaks down each page so you can read them panel by panel, which is great for reading on your phone or for those with visual impairments.

Using Hoopla is also incredibly easy. You can access with an app or at www.hoopladigital.com. You can even access Hoopla with a TV service like Apple TV or Roku. Just create your account, using whatever e-mail address you prefer, you library card number, and your library card PIN number. And then, voila! Access to thousands of electronic resources.

My favorite thing about Hoopla? No waiting list. That’s right. If you see something you want, it’s yours to check out right away. My least favorite thing about Hoopla? The monthly limit on items. I’ll be honest, it has to do with the Library’s budgetary constraints. We only have so much money to spend on Hoopla. But this circles back to another great Hoopla feature. You can add items to your “favorites” list and come back to them when the next month comes around.

Whether you’re an experienced eBook reader or just getting started with the format, I think Hoopla is a great service to use. There are so many options that you’re sure to find something you love. Plus, their content is updating constantly, so there’s always something new to discover. Get started today at www.hoopladigital.com!

Review by: Leslie Hayes

Kill Creek by Scott Thomas

Stories about haunted houses have been told for thousands of years. According to my research, one of the first written haunted house stories comes from Pliny the Younger, sometime between 61 and 115 AD. Stories about hauntings have stuck with us for thousands of years, turning the comfort of our homes into entities with minds of their own. This is what Scott Thomas sets out to do in KILL CREEK.

Sam McGarver is a horror writer without a story to tell. He spends his days lecturing students on the craft of writing, but hasn’t published a novel in years. His marriage is falling apart, and he’s constantly haunted by his mysterious but gruesome past. But then, McGarver is approached by a man who calls himself Wainwright.

Wainwright, host of an online show about horror, invites McGarver and three other authors to spend the night in the haunted Finch House and do an interview about their craft. The other authors are Daniel Slaughter, a devout Christian who writes soul-saving horror for teens; Sebastian Cole, elder statesman and the most prolific author; and T. C. Moore, the lone woman of the group.

Drawn together by forces they don’t quite understand, the four authors meet in the supposedly haunted Finch House for the Halloween-night interview. Wainwright’s interview delves into the deeply personal, becoming more of an attack on the authors than a proper interview. As each author retires for the evening, they confront personalized evils, courtesy of the house.

After leaving the house, they find themselves haunted. Slaughter’s daughter dies in an accident, for which he blames himself. Moore is tortured by her abusive past. Cole dreams of a lost lover. And McGarver’s past returns again and again. Each author can only find solace when they write. And, unbeknownst to one another, they’re all writing the same plot. Drawn back to the house by the horrors in their own stories, the authors must face the evil they’ve awoken.

Each of the author-characters in the book depicts a specific genre of horror fiction and are based on big names of horror writing. Touches of R. L. Stine, Clive Barker, H. P. Lovecraft, Stephen King, Billy Martin (published as Poppy Z. Brite), and others shine through in the personalities of the four characters. Because of this, the characters, though perhaps bordering on stereotypes.

During a lecture about horror, McGarver outlines four aspects of a successful horror story: 1) Emanation from a single location, 2) Sense of forbidden history, 3) Atmosphere of decay and ruin, and 4) Corruption of the innocent. These are precisely the four elements Thomas puts his characters through in Kill Creek. However, Thomas seems to depend on readers believing that these elements are in place, never quite making them jump off the page.

What gives horror stories power is repetition. Stories must be repeated and feared in order to have power. Thomas relies on this fear-repetition cycle to keep readers engaged in the story. I wanted to know what fears the characters have, how the house will exploit them, and, ultimately, what forces lurk in Finch House.

But I wasn’t scared for the characters. I didn’t have trouble falling asleep after reading this book, which is one of my top markers of a successful scary story. In my opinion, the best haunted house stories feature the house as one of the main characters. But, for me, this is one area in which Thomas falls flat. The house simply didn’t scare me.

The first half of the book was hard to get through. The writing feels more amateur than the second half. For example, Thomas references Moore’s “black mane of hair” every time she appears on the page. She is repeatedly described in terms of her sex appeal. Naturally, the male characters are never discussed in such a way. Also, the various personality traits and tics of each person are overemphasized. McGarver grabs his scarred and tattooed arm at least a dozen times.

The climactic battle between the authors and the house didn’t feel dangerous and tense. My willingness to suspend disbelief stopped about halfway through. Yes, it’s a horror story with supernatural entities, but I still need it to be believable. Without spoiling too much, hatchets do the sort of damage that can’t just be walked off.

So, if Kill Creek isn’t spectacularly written, what kept me reading? The same thing that forces the authors in the story to show up to the interview in the first place: I wanted to know what was haunting Finch House.

My critique doesn’t fall in line with other reviews out there. In fact, Kill Creek won the award for the American Library Association’s Horror Book of 2017. But this just goes to show that I’m one reviewer with one opinion. Plenty of people out there really enjoyed this book. If haunted house stories are for you, then you should give Kill Creek a try.

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Book review by: Leslie Hayes

I’ll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara

I don’t usually read true-crime books. The genre has never really appealed to me. The ways in which human beings can be awful leaves me lying awake at night as it is. But, as the internet makes the world ever more connected, it seems like these sorts of stories pop up on every form of social media I use. So, of course I heard about Michelle McNamara’s book. With rave reviews from the likes of Stephen King and an introduction written by Gillian Flynn, I decided to brave I’LL BE GONE IN THE DARK.

There are two stories in I’ll Be Gone in the Dark. One is the story of the Golden State Killer. The second, the story of Michelle McNamara. When she was a teenager, a girl in her neighborhood was killed. The murder went unsolved and McNamara was troubled by the idea that the killer was somewhere out there, unpunished. McNamara became a crime blogger, using TrueCrimeDiary.com to explore cold cases alongside other online amateur sleuths. When she came upon the story of the Golden State Killer, an obsession was born.

From 1974 through 1986, the Golden State Killer (GSK; the term was coined by McNamara) terrorized neighborhoods in Northern California, primarily Sacramento county. For years, law enforcement believed that there were three distinct criminals operating in the area: the Visalia Ransacker, the East Area Rapist, and the Original Night Stalker (not to be confused with Night Stalker Richard Ramirez). The truth, however, was that these were all the crimes of one man: the Golden State Killer.

The connection between these crimes would not be discovered until the invention of DNA testing. When samples from the seemingly unconnected offenses were entered into CODIS, the federal DNA database, the full range of GSK’s crimes became apparent. A particular genetic peculiarity made the DNA samples easy to connect. His offenses had, over the years, escalated from mere break-ins to rape and murder.

The Golden State Killer was meticulous in his planning. He would survey not just individuals, but entire neighborhoods for weeks at a time before striking. Often, he would call potential victims in what were assumed to be prank calls. He operated on terror, often taking hours to complete his intrusions. Even years later, he would call his living victims and whisper threats to them. Police had very few clues to go on.

I don’t want to write too much about the individual events described in I’ll Be Gone in the Dark. In many ways, the actions of the Golden State Killer aren’t the focus of the story that McNamara tells. McNamara’s writing breathes life into the places and people associated with GSK. She spends more time discussing the lives of the victims than the actual crimes, which makes them feel less like characters in a gruesome play and more like the people they were.

While McNamara doesn’t go into extreme detail about the offenses committed by GSK, the overall tone of the book is haunting. In fact, one night after I had gone to bed, one of my cats shoved open the bedroom door to join me. A fairly common occurrence, to be sure, but this time I had to choke back a scream. For an instant, I was sure that the Golden State Killer had burst into the room. I laid awake for a long while.

McNamara shares the histories of the places and people involved, building the world of Northern California so that it almost becomes a character on its own. As with many true-crime books, there are pictures included. But these are not grisly procedural shots. Instead, McNamara included pictures of some of the GSK victims and law enforcement professionals associated with the case. These portraits help preserve the dignity of those affected by these horrific crimes.

On April 24, the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department arrested Joseph James DeAngelo for the GSK CRIMEs. You can find plenty of news stories about him with a quick Internet search. The most shocking aspect of DeAngelo’s arrest? He had worked as a police officer. More details will surely be forthcoming, but it seems likely that GSK has in fact been caught.

Sadly, McNamara passed away before her book was published, but her husband, actor Patton Oswalt, helped see her dream come true. I’ll Be Gone in the Dark is masterfully written, tying together the author’s life and the series of horrific crimes committed by the Golden State Killer. Gripping but not gruesome, McNamara’s book is one I would recommend for true-crime lightweights like myself.

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Book review by: Leslie Hayes

New titles for Spring 2018 by various authors

Maybe it’s the boost of energy that comes along with Spring, but I’ve really been on a reading kick lately. That probably sounds silly coming from a librarian, but most of us wax and wane in our hobbies. I’ve also found myself reading a few things I wouldn’t normally pick up. And since all of these books have been so entertaining, I decided to share several short reviews covering a range of recent additions to the Library’s collection.

Future Home of the Living God: a novel by Louise Erdrich — Set in the not too distant future, or maybe just an alternative present, Erdich explores what might happen in a world where humans seem to be devolving. Cedar Hawk Songmaker is a Native American who has been adopted by a white family. And she has a secret: she’s pregnant. In an increasingly dystopian world, can she ensure the safety of herself, her child, and her families? I spent a lot of time frightened for Cedar and she journeys between worlds, both literal and spiritual. Erdich’s story is firmly within the realm of Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale.

The One by John Marrs — What if, with a simple DNA sample, you could find your genetic soulmate? The one for whom you are literally perfect? In THE ONE, Marrs explores what might happen if this were possible. Six stories unfold as people learn the identities of their perfect genetic matches. Ranging from your everyday businessman to a serial killer, these characters discover that love is complex and can lead to results no one could expect. Though, I did find a couple of the plot points predictable, it was certainly a fun read. Fans of Black Mirror will likely enjoy this sordid set of tales.

The Refrigerator Monologues by Catherynne Valente — In the world of comic books, there is a term for a select group of characters: Women in Refrigerators. This refers to the disproportionate amount of female characters that are killed in the name of furthering storylines. Valente tells the stories of a series of women characters — no one directly from comics, but recognizable if you’re familiar with many of the big name series — who have been written out of the comics world and spend their time in the afterworld. The characters cover the gamut of emotions associated with such deaths, but also speak to the strength of female friendships. A quick read for anyone who wants a different perspective on the world of comics.

Red Clocks by Leni Zumas — In Zumas’s story, only married, heterosexual couples can adopt children. Abortion is flat out illegal. And in this world, women are dealing with what these regulations mean for their everyday lives. Each woman copes in her own way, with longing, fear, or even rebellion. These characters are very real, and likely will remind you of someone you know. And some women, like a fictional explorer named Eivør Minervudottir, are out of place in their own time. This is another work that is spiritually and topically akin to Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale.

Total Cat Mojo by Jackson Galaxy — Let’s be honest: I’m a crazy cat lady. I grew up a dog person, but years ago, my husband introduced me to cats and it’s been all downhill from there. Like any responsible pet owner, I want to make sure my cats are living their best lives. And that means Jackson Galaxy. He’s pretty much the go-to guy for cat people. And TOTAL CAT MOJO is a wonderful resource for all stages of a cat’s life. Plus, he gives great advice for troubleshooting common cat problems like litter box struggles, dealing with stressed kitties, and introducing new family members — from feline to human.

Though there are some common themes in these books, I think they’ll speak to a variety of readers. We add hundreds of items every month; be sure to explore the new books and to find something that appeals to you!

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Future Home of the Living God
The One
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Book review by: Leslie Hayes

Star Wars : From a Certain Point of View by various authors

If you’re a nerd, there are pretty much two factions: Star Trek and Star Wars. I grew up on Star Trek. Sure, I watched Star Wars, but I was way more into Picard than Luke. However, I married into a Star Wars family. To keep up with family debates, I’ve had to do a little research into the Star Wars universe. When STAR WARS : FROM A CERTAIN POINT OF VIEW came across my desk, I knew I’d have to give it a look.

Star Wars : From a Certain Point of View is a collection of short stories from a variety of big name authors like Meg Cabot, Christie Golden, and Paul S. Kemp, along with a story from Wil Wheaton (who I know as Wesley Crusher from Star Trek). Each story is based on the Star Wars universe. In particular, this collection bridges the gap between the events of Rogue One and A New Hope. However, none of the stories focuses on the traditional heroes of the saga. Instead, we get the viewpoints of characters like a stormtrooper, Grand Moff Tarkin, and even the monster from the Death Star trash compactor.

Each story offers a unique perspective on the behind-the-scenes events of the original trilogy. These aren’t just filler stories, either. The authors involved have taken care to delve deeply into the characters and show the emotional background to some of the events from the series. Since it would take a few more words than I have here to review all 35 stories, I’ll share my thoughts on a few from the collection.

“The Bucket” by Christie Golden — TK-4601 is a young Stormtrooper who has been given an amazing opportunity: capture the rebel Princess Leia Organa. He is full of excitement at the prospect of helping crush the Rebellion. But when he does encounter her, it will change him forever. As a huge Carrie Fisher/Princess Leia fan, I loved this story for the way Golden describes Leia through the eyes of an enemy. She’s a force to be reckoned with. Those who underestimate Leia soon regret it, a fact not lost on TK-4601.

“Stories in the Sand” by Griffin McElroy — The Jawa are a species that lives their lives scouring the deserts of Tatooine for anything they can sell. Jot is a Jawa who doesn’t quite fit in. Smaller but smarter than his peers, he discovers a secret compartment that lets him scavenge videos from the droids he scraps. But one day, he discovers a video stored in a blue and white droid. A video of a young woman in white asking for help. Will Jot erase the video and sell the droid? Or will he help set into motion the entire plot of the movies we love so much? McElroy does a great job of exploring a species that initially seems to have very little depth. He also reminds us that even the smallest of us can make a big difference.

“Laina” by Wil Wheaton — Ryland, a member of the Rebel Alliance, must say goodbye to his infant daughter. He’s about to go on a dangerous mission and needs to know Laina will be safe. She will go to live with her aunts. Fair warning, this is a heart-wrenching story. Wheaton examines why a single father would risk everything and join what might seem like a lost cause. What could bring him to risk his life? A fair amount of revenge and a dash of hope.

I should end this by noting that I’m a fan of the new Star Wars movies. I find they fill me with a sense of hope. And that’s a word I associate this collection. These are stories of the everyday person (or Jawa or droid). I think I “get” my in-laws love of Star Wars. Much like my love of Star Trek, it’s about heroes and hope. And these stories remind us that it’s not just the Skywalker family who can make a difference: it’s all of us.

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Book review by: Leslie Hayes