An Elderly Lady Must Not Be Crossed by Helene Tursten

For these dark, cold winter nights, many readers turn to the cozy mystery genre. It is a genre full of stories of charming small towns beset by serial killers and warm winter cabins playing host to locked room mysteries – with victims and perpetrators alike trapped inside by record snowfall.

While the book I read has many characteristics of a cozy mystery, it is decidedly different than the others. The recently translated AN ELDERLY LADY MUST NOT BE CROSSED is the second book by Swedish author Helene Tursten about quiet, self-possessed, dangerous Maud.

Maud is in her eighties; she has outlived everyone in her family by many years, and has enjoyed a long retirement doing exactly what she pleases. She has traveled all over the globe. She is extraordinarily healthy and mobile. And has enough saved up to continue her current lifestyle until her death. She has a nearly perfect life, except that Maud is a murder.

Maud does not get any pleasure from murder, like a traditional serial killer. She merely sees it as a means to an end.

When the teacher she has been substituting for returns from extended medical leave – forcing Maud out of her teaching job – Maud takes matters into her own hands and arranges an “accident” to remove the obstacle. One snowy night she drops a chunk of ice on the other woman’s head.

In addition to ensuring her own survival as a single woman in Sweden, Maud uses murder to deal with pesky neighbors and those who pose a threat to her friends.

The people who fall victim to her coolly calculated wrath are mainly deserving of punishment. Men who abuse their wives (and disturb their downstairs neighbor on Christmas Eve), women marrying elderly men just for their money (especially when the man happens to be an old flame of Maud’s), and fully grown adults who accrue so much gambling debt that their mothers (and Maud’s favorite neighbor) have to sell their apartments to pay off those debts.

Maud will bring about their deaths, and she will never even be suspected. That is, until she murders someone a little too close to home.

At the beginning of An Elderly Lady Must Not be Crossed, the final murder of the first book is still an open police case.

An antiques dealer came to Maud’s apartment to make an offer on her father’s silver collection, but when it became clear that he was planning to undervalue the pieces, and make off with three of the most expensive items, Maud hit him with the fireplace poker – causing him to fall face first into the fender and impale himself.

Maud did her best to cover up the crime: leaving a small trail of blood with an old shoe, cleaning the poker so that the police would not find prints, and booking a few days at a spa so she could have conceivably been out of town when the murder occurred.

She even fools all of the police investigators using her infirm elderly lady technique – all of them, that is, except two officers, who are back at Maud’s door as this book opens.

Finding herself in a tight spot, Maud decides to go on an extended trip: an expensive safari in her favorite part of Africa. On the plane ride from Sweden to South Africa, she finds herself reminiscing about other justice-driven murders from her past.

An Elderly Lady Must Not be Crossed is a collection of stories, told with the frame narrative of Maud’s trip to South Africa. Things that happen on her trip remind her of times she was driven to crime to solve the problems in her life.

Readers can tell that Maud has no remorse for her victims. In her estimation, each and every one deserved what they got – and made life a little easier for Maud.

In my opinion, it is not necessary to read the first book – An Elderly Lady is Up to No Good – before reading this one. Each book stands on its own well enough for readers to feel confident starting with the second book.

If you are looking for a quick read to distract you from the cold this winter, try Helene Tursten’s AN ELDERLY LADY MUST NOT BE CROSSED.

 

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Favorite Reads of 2021

As we kick off a new year, I like to reflect on what I have read during the previous year.  And for the third year in a row, I kept track of the books I read, for a grand total of 30. That is down a little from last year, but I started several things that I read half way through and then quit reading, so I am still pretty happy with it. 

Of those thirty titles, I would like to tell you about a few of my favorites.  Below are my top eight picks, in no particular order:

THIS IS HOW IT ALWAYS IS by Laurie Frankel – Upon finishing this book, I knew it was going to be my top pick for 2021 – BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR!  And really, truly it is.  It is the story of a family – Penn, Rosie, Roo, Ben, Rigel, Orion, and Claudie Walsh-Adams.  With five boys Penn and Rosie barely have a spare minute, but they are caring, thoughtful parents who encourage their children to be independent thinkers, dreamers, and ultimately, whoever they want to be.  This is no different with their youngest, Claude, even when he wants to wear dresses, carry a purse, and play with Barbies.  They have always told him, and his siblings, they can grow up to be whoever they want to be; and what Claude wants most is to be a girl.  Penn and Rosie support this, but they struggle with how to help Claude transition to Poppy and keep her safe.  At its simplest this book is about a family that has to make some tough decisions as they grow, learn, and support each other, but really it is so much more thanks to Frankel’s beautiful writing and accessible storytelling style. The way she frames and tells the story made this book extra special to me. It really spoke to my heart. Do not miss this one, it is powerful.

THE FIREKEEPERS DAUGHTER by Angeline Boulley – Boulley’s debut novel has been getting noticed all year – from numerous starred reviews to high acclaim on best book lists to having the production rights purchased by High Ground the Obama’s movie company.  The buzz is real! Marketed as a title for older teens, but with much crossover appeal for adults, it is the story of Daunis Fontaine, a girl who has never felt like she fits in.  On one side she has her native, firekeeper heritage and on the other her white, French heritage; she has always felt like an outsider in both worlds.  She navigates this with the help of her best friend Lily, but after Lily is murdered Daunis finds herself at the center of an FBI investigation focusing on exposing the drug trade in her hometown and on the reservation.   Complicating things further is a new-to-town, hockey-playing hottie and unanswered questions about her uncle’s recent death.  I could not put this book down and highly recommend it. Not only was the mystery/thriller elements compelling, but Boulley’s spotlight on Native American culture was a highlight. This book is a gem. 

THE GUNCLE by Steven Rowley – Despite the serious themes of this book – loss, death and grief – I smile every time I think of it.  Much of my smile has to do with Rowley’s ability to create well drawn, flawed, yet loveable characters, but it also with the upbeat, fun nature of the book.  Patrick, or GUP (gay Uncle Pat) for short has been hiding out from his former actor life in Palms Springs, but his life is quickly changed when his nine-year-old niece Maisie and six-year-old nephew Grant come to stay with him temporarily, after they suffer a huge lose. GUP is not used to having kids around full time, however, the time he spends with them gives each of them, including GUP, exactly what they need to heal and grow.  This book is the perfect combination of a light beach read and something with a hint of seriousness. It is a treat! 

MAC B KID SPY: MAC UNDERCOVER” by Mac Barnett – This is one of my favorite series to read with my son.  We were introduced to it when he participated in a virtual children’s book club sponsored by the Joplin Public Library.  One of the talented staff members recorded herself reading the book in four separate segments and then shared the videos with the kids on a weekly basis. We both loved listening to her narrate the clever, humorous book that is set in the late 80s.  Kids learn about Gameboys, the KGB and the Queen of England’s love of corgis. It is a blast from the past with full color illustrations. It is most appropriate for children in grades 2 to 5, but with an adult reading it aloud definitely fun for the whole family. 

A SONG OF FIRE & ICE Series (Books 1 – 5) by George R. R. Martin – I had the pleasure of listening to all five books over the course of 2021 – A Game of Thrones, A Clash of Kings, A Storm or Swords, A Feast for Crows, and A Dance with Dragons – and they were all excellent. I LOVED this epic series!  I will not give much detail since the popular Showtime series made them so well known, but will say, this is a series for readers who like a well built new world, knights, castles, bloody battles, plot twists, and dragons.  It is a big investment of time, and your friends will wonder why you are canceling plans to stay home and read; yes, they are that good, but so worth it. I just hope Martin releases the final two books in the series soon so I do not have to read the series all over again to remember what happened. But wait, maybe that would not be so bad, since they are so good.

PROJECT HAIL MARY by Andy Weir –  I wrote a full review for this one in September, but could not pass up a chance to mention this book again.  This well-crafted, science fiction that reads like an adventure tale should not be missed.  The book’s main character Ryland Grace is on a mission to save Earth; however, when he wakes up aboard a spacecraft in outer space, he has no idea where he is, much less, why he is there.  He cannot even remember his own name, but as he begins to explore his surroundings, parts of his memory slowly return.  He soon realizes he has been left to deal with a monumental task – figuring out how to save Earth from a parasite species that is killing the sun. Weir creates an engaging and compelling story that spans genres – science fiction, adventure, and mystery fans will all find elements they enjoy.  I highly recommend this one.  

PEOPLE WE MEET ON VACATION by Emily Henry – I am always down for a good beach read and this one was right up my alley.  Poppy and Alex have been friends for 12 years.  Seemingly they have little in common; Poppy is always looking for a good time and Alex is more introverted, but over one fateful summer they bonded, became great friends, and have been taking a special summer vacation together ever since.  Except last year, something happened that made things weird, ruined everything, and caused the friends to stop talking.  Poppy is looking for an opportunity to get the pair back together and she soon finds it in the form of Alex’s brother’s wedding in Palms Springs.  I had read Emily Henry’s previous book, BEACH READ, and really liked it, but this one is even better.  The characters are well drawn and the story seems more plausible. This book made me laugh out loud several times. Poppy and Alex both have a wickedly sarcastic sense of humor and the writing of their dialog is so good.

NEWS OF THE WORLD by Paulette Jiles – I missed this one when it first came out several years ago, but I am sure glad I found it this year.   Set in 1870, Captain Kidd has been tasked with returning a ten-year-old rescued captive girl to her relatives in southern Texas. The journey is over 400 miles through wild, dangerous territory and the girl does not remember how to speak English and only wants to escape back to her adopted native family.  To say Captain Kidd has his hands full is an understatement.  Jiles is a masterful storyteller and gets to the heart of the matter with sparse, but powerful narrative. Her character development and description of the land and people make this story shine. Short and compelling; readers will be hard pressed to not finish this Western in a single sitting. 

Thanks for taking the time to share in my reflection and reading about my favorites.  I wish you a wonderful new year of reading! 

Rabbits by Terry Miles

There is a lot going on in this world today. One need not be privy to all the inner workings of society to understand that truth. Like it or not, we live in a complicated era. As is often the case with such eras, members of society try to make sense of the complicated and the complex. From the more traditional media outlets of television, radio, and newsprint to the more recent advent of social media-centric platforms, a myriad of voices attempt to provide some semblance of an answer to the cultural madness we face. Those “half-answers” are varied and often conflicting. Thus, the plight of our era persists. In a world of dissonant voices amongst perplexing circumstances, societal members are left to their own devices to sort order from the chaos.

Okay, now that our stage is set—and done so rather ominously, I may add– let me introduce our main character. Enter, the Conspiracy Theory.

Terry Miles’ debut novel, Rabbits, is about many things. Oversimplifying the plot by reducing it to one mere component or thread merely insults the author. That is not what I’m trying to do. Instead, I’m attempting to highlight a rather significant theme laden within the rationales of this story. Situated within a world as complex and complicated as ours, Miles introduces his readers to a wainscoting-esque society of gamers associated with an underground game known as, you guessed it, “Rabbits.”

Technically, this game doesn’t have a name, and if it does, nobody knows it. In place of a legitimized title, this ancient contest is often referenced in one of three ways. Some choose to call it “the Game”. Others associate it with a Roman numeral ranging from I to IX (a reference to each iteration of the modern version being played). In recent years an overwhelming populace have labeled it with the aforementioned “Rabbits.” We’ll go with that one. Reliable facts concerning this game are few and far between. The one constant that persists (in various wordings and phrasings) is “you don’t talk about the game, like ever”. Yeah, I’m pretty sure Chuck Palahniuk wants his royalties for that bit.

Serious consequences exist for those uncommitted to preserving the Games’ secrecy. By “serious consequences,” I really just mean one consequence. Death. Other tactics are used to keep the game “pure,” but death, that seems to be a biggie, and that which one should be most concerned about. Due to the extremity of disobedience’s ramifications, if one wishes to learn about the game, secret meetings in low key, private settings are often conducted. These meetings are oftentimes under the ruse of an unrelated reason for gathering, and require the dismissal of all electronic devices (because we all know that Big Brother is always watching). It is at one such meeting in a rundown half-pizza joint, half-arcade that our story begins.

Here, we are introduced to K. “That’s it. Just K. One letter.” A self-proclaimed expert on the Game, K has been researching and developing theories on the Game for decades. K’s history with the game is troubled and somewhat sordid. While unknowingly playing the Game as a teenager, an automobile accident takes the life of K’s childhood friend, Annie, and seriously injures both K and Annie’s sister, Emily. At the age of 17, K’s parents die in a tragic accident (unrelated to the Game). To avoid being placed in foster care K successfully seeks emancipation by court order. Subsequently, the intellectually gifted loner quickly develops an obsession–gaming. Naturally, this obsession leads K back into the world of Rabbits. I wrote this in a rather predictable way, but let me assure you, K’s journey is anything but predictable. Still, I can’t give all the good bits away, can I?

Thanks to God’s greatest gifts to mankind (i.e., Reddit and subreddits), our self-appointed Rabbits aficionado gathers somewhat of a following and begins hosting the types of secret meetings described above, whereby K essentially rattles off the same propagandic-ridden script throughout each meeting, while fielding questions about the game–many of which are proffered by Baron (an associate of K’s), though the audience is not aware of that fact. Now, back to the start of our story. As this particular meeting (the one at the pizza joint) is ending, K is introduced to a character claiming to be Alan Scarpio, a multi-billionaire and the rumored winner of the sixth iteration of Rabbits. We quickly discover that this claim holds up to scrutiny, and Scarpio is actively recruiting K to help him “fix the Game” before its next iteration begins, as it is apparently broken.

From this point forward, K’s life takes a turn for the wild. I mean, legit, things get trippy. Scorpio goes missing shortly after his encounter with K. Soon to follow, Baron is found dead in his apartment. With little convincing needed, K recruits Chloe (a long-time friend/former lover of K’s), and the two set out to do what Scarpio seemingly couldn’t. The path they have chosen forces K to reassess epistemological assumptions regarding life, the universe, and time itself. K confronts controversial phenomenologies such as the Mandela effect, gaming theories surrounding ARGs (alternate reality games), and the efficacy of the dark net (an overused Sci-Fi trope for sure, but one that Miles utilizes with finesse). As K’s story wears on, readers are introduced to twists and turns, authentic and well done character development, and a firm, steady pacing that will hopefully define this upcoming author’s future literary endeavors.

Everything about this book is intentional. Terry Miles has a story to tell, and he tells it well (for the most part). One particularity regarding intentionality that I am rather fond of is the ambiguous descriptions of K. No pronouns are used to describe the character. All descriptions of K can easily be applied to those who identify as female, male, or nonbinary. In short, K’s gender is never revealed because K’s gender doesn’t matter.

K is not female. K is not male.
For some these two claims might beckon the question, “What is K, then?”

K is a badass. And that’s all K needs to be.
K is a strong character amongst a myriad of other strong characters. Emphasizing the characters’ internal strengths is refreshing, especially in a day and age where our culture often defines us by our external merits.

Now, let’s get cyclical. This book has a strong lead character, and an equally strong supporting cast (I just said that, right?) Yet, as mentioned above, I don’t identify K as the lead. From the start of this book to the end, the focal point is something else entirely. Once again, the star, who I would argue leads at every turn, is none other than the tried and true Conspiracy Theory.

At its core, this book is a love letter to the classic conspiracy theory genre (even more so than that wild, 1997 Mel Gibson movie). In case one isn’t cognizant of this genre, let’s get cozy.

In short, something’s wrong with this world. The only way to “fix” what is wrong is to expose the truth surrounding the brokenness and the corruption within. The only way to do that is to secretly possess a genius level intellect (while knowing a thing or two about computers) as the powers that be undermine said intellect with labels such as “clinically insane,” “disturbed,” and “out of touch with reality.” Yet, there’s not enough subterfuge in this world to stop the truth from eventually surfacing and destroying the machine of tyranny once and for all. Or is there? For that bit, you’ll have to read this riveting book (hook, line, and sinker).

Be forewarned, however, this book isn’t for everyone. If you’re interested in Sci-Fi, conspiracy theories (probably not real ones, but just the ones that poke fun at the real ones), and philosophical idealism (I promise, that’s actually in the book), then this might be right up your alley. Maybe you just like a well written, well developed story. In that case, this might be your jam as well. If not, that’s fine too. Here at the Joplin Public Library we have a book for just about anyone. If you’re thinking this might be the book for you (or the next book for you) then you can find it in the New Adult Fiction section in the main lobby of the library. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

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Fun in the Snow for All Ages

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Snowflake Bentley by Jacqueline Briggs Martin, illustrated by Mary Azarian

The Snowflake: Winter’s Frozen Artistry by Kenneth Libbrecht and Rachel Wing

The Story of Snow: The Science of Winter’s Wonder by Mark Cassino with Jon Nelson, Ph.D.

The National Weather Service (NWS) defines a white Christmas as “having one inch or more of snow on the ground on Christmas morning”.  According to NWS climate information from 1981-2010, southwest Missouri has an 11%-25% chance of experiencing a white Christmas this year.  As I’m writing this (in mid-December), the temperature has broken the record high for this date, and the forecast so far points to above average temps for the holiday weekend even with Bing Crosby in heavy rotation on the radio.

On the chance that wintry fun appears in the near future, here are some titles tailor-made for snow days!  Try them for backyard STEM activities.  These illustrated non-fiction books are great for individuals and multi-generational groups wanting to discover more about snowy weather.

Natural history photographer Mark Cassino and physicist Jon Nelson have teamed up to create The Story of Snow: The Science of Winter’s Wonder, a closeup of the building blocks of winter fun.  Winter fun starts with snow, and this book starts with an introduction to snowflakes–how they are formed, how they grow (spoiler alert–water vapor is a key player in both processes), then on to their structure and how to identify them along with intriguing facts sprinkled throughout.  The authors also give tips on how to capture a snowflake yourself and view it before it melts.

The Story of Snow incorporates crisp, clear line drawings with actual photos of snowflakes, a particularly helpful effect for showing their growth cycle where enlarged photos detailing the snowflakes’ structure sit next to tiny dots indicating their actual size.  Almost mono-chromatic in a wash of blues and greys, the pages look icy and steely without dulling nature’s amazing variety.  Cassino’s photographs highlight their delicate specimens; the photos are sharp with the snowflakes appearing to be made of glass or metal.  Presented in picture book format, the text works well for early-to-middle-elementary readers (although it would benefit from a glossary); it lends itself well to read-alouds for the younger set or to being used in a group.  Nelson and Cassino have provided a book just the right length for a multigenerational activity inclusive to little ones.  You can find The Story of Snow in the easy non-fiction section of the Children’s Department.

In that same section, you can find a biography of the pioneer of snowflake photography.  Snowflake Bentley, written by Jacqueline Briggs Martin and illustrated by Mary Azarian, won the 1999 Caldecott Medal recognizing the “most distinguished American picture book for children” for its lively, hand-colored woodcuts evoking the snowy outdoors of rural Vermont.  Flipping through the pages, you can feel the cold’s sting, smell the woodsmoke, see the detailed texture of woolen yarn balls rolling on wooden, farmhouse floorboards.  Each woodcut conveys motion and stimulates the senses.  Illustrator Mary Azarian lives not far from Bentley’s home and captures the essence of 19th century farm life in Vermont’s “snowbelt” where the annual snowfall is close to 120 inches.  Through her artistry, it’s easy to feel the beauty in winter that Bentley did.

Born in 1865, Wilson Alwyn “Snowflake” Bentley lived his life in snowy Vermont and was fascinated by nature, especially weather.  He was a home educated, citizen scientist who studied snowflakes for over 40 years.  He pioneered photomicrography (photographing through a microscope), producing the first successful photograph of a snowflake in 1885.  Bentley’s life is a study in perseverance, determination, and vision.  Starting as a teen, he drew and then photographed hundreds of snow crystals each winter persisting through failures until he succeeded in capturing the images and sharing them with others.  He would stand in the snow for hours at a time to catch snowflakes for his photos.  Bentley’s good cheer–his belief in natural beauty and his determination to share it with everyone–runs through the book and is infectious!  This charming title is a fun romp for independent readers or for read-alouds with all ages.  Pair it with a paper snowflake activity or actual snowflake spotting for fun over winter break!

The husband and wife team of Kenneth Libbrecht and Rachel Wing pick up where Wilson Bentley left off.  In their book, The Snowflake: Winter’s Frozen Artistry, they blend art and science to create a gorgeous look at the life of snowflakes (technically known as snow crystals).  Libbrecht, a physics professor at Caltech who served as the official snowflake consultant on the movie Frozen, and Wing, a park ranger with a geology background, wanted to understand more about how snow crystals form.  The result is a family hobby that has taken them and their children snowflake hunting on three continents.  They even grow snow crystals in their own lab to study and photograph, creating shapes not found in nature!

Wing and Libbrecht have honed their photomicrography skills and sprinkle amazing closeups of snow crystals throughout their book.  Using different backgrounds and lighting techniques, they create spectacular works of art ranging from the iciest blue through the rosy shades of a winter sunrise.  The crystals’ intricate beauty is obvious in the photos, and it becomes clearer in the text.  The authors share their curiosity and excitement to discover how nature works in hope that it will inspire others to see nature’s beauty for themselves.  Book chapters divide that exploration into topics that are manageable for understanding–a brief history of snow crystal study, snow crystal formation and identification, weather needed for snowfall, snow crystal symmetry, etc.  Sidebars offer activity ideas such as “Snowflake Fossils” (preserving snow crystals in super glue on microscope slides) and designing a scientifically accurate paper snowflake.  Wing and Libbrecht use concrete descriptions to help readers understand how snowflakes are made and function.  The Snowflake: Winter’s Frozen Artistry provides great accessible information for citizen scientists, nature enthusiasts, and families looking for a fun, outdoor adventure.  Not ready to commit to snow crystal hunts on three continents?  No worries–you can have a delightful time scouting for snowflakes at a level adapted to your situation.  You can find this adult non-fiction title as an ebook through the Library’s Hoopla service.

I hope you are able to enjoy some quality reading and listening time during the holiday season.  Come on over and check out a title (or 2 or 3).  Happy reading!

Radius Books

A couple of times a year, we receive a box of free art books from Radius Books, a nonprofit publisher based out of Sante Fe, New Mexico, that aspires “to make a lasting impact through [their] Publishing and Donation programs.” Founded in 2007, Radius Books has published over 150 titles and donated – gifted, rather, as they say on their website – over 75,000 books to “libraries, schools, and arts programs in all 50 states.” Thanks to their generosity, we’re fortunate enough to have a small, though growing, collection of Radius Books in our library’s Post Reading Room.

Books by the same publisher tend to become formulaic, with look-alike layouts, consistent components, matching materials, and similar sizes and styles, even if and when they are not part of a series. Which, admittedly, is fine for most books, but for art books? …Radius Books are unique, wonderfully well-thought out, and beautiful. Although visual artwork is the mainstay, cultural, historical, informational, and social content is woven into the fabric of many of Radius’ titles and, when done, is done so in a manner that complements the visual artwork. What’s more, their offerings are diverse. Not only as diversity relates to art forms and mediums, but as it relates to the representation of a range of people. Time and again the result is stunning.

Perhaps I’ve only just now realized the challenge of relaying the uniqueness and beauty of these books to you. But I’ll do my best by discussing a few of the 35+ Radius Books that we have in our collection.

Masumi Hayashi: Panoramic Photo Collages, 1976-2006 does, in fact, take the shape of a panoramic photograph. Beginning with an essay penned by Barbara Tannenbaum, in which she describes Hayashi as using “art to awaken people gently but insistently to societal ills,” the book then moves into six sections of vivid, sometimes surreal, plates: Post-Industrial Landscapes; EPA Superfund Sites; Abandoned Prisons; Cities; Japanese American & Canadian Internment Camps; and Sacred Architectures. In this work, Hayashi creates individual panoramic photo collages by combining hundreds of still photos. Some of the already rectangular-shaped plates (i.e. pages) fold out into even larger panoramic collages.

Remnants: Photographs of the Lower East Side is a collection of photographs by Janet Russek & David Scheinbaum that documents the vibrant, yet vanishing, Jewish heritage of Manhattan’s Lower East Side, which Amy Stein-Milford refers to as “a place of origin, a Plymouth Rock, the neighborhood where it all started” for many American Jews. Stein-Milford goes on to write that today, “that history is imperiled.” Publications such as this help to preserve that heritage. One of the many interesting stories within this book is one about Joel Russ. In 1907, he immigrated from what is now Poland and sold herring out of a barrel until, in 1914, he could build a brick and mortar store. In 1933, he renamed his business “Russ & Daughters,” making his daughters business partners. This is known as the first business in the United State with “& Daughters” in its name–quite a controversy at the time!

Interwoven is one of the most intriguing art books that I’ve come across, full stop. This title features the work of Kyle Meyer, an American Artist who spent extended periods of time in Swaziland, and raises awareness about the “hostility and brutal discrimination” faced by members of Eswatini LGBTQI community. In the book’s foreword, Todd J. Tubutis describes how Meyer makes his work: he “hand-shreds each photographic print and weaves it together with strips of fabric worn by the sitter, creating a series of larger-than-life portraits that are both flat and dimensional, both digital and handmade.” Meyer’s work is brilliant. Throughout the book are transcriptions of hand-written notes. Also, the book incorporates pages of fabric reproductions of the actual fabric woven into the works of art depicted in the plates.

The aforementioned titles focus on photography, or photography-related artworks, because that is a particular interest of mine. Our Radius Books collection does, however, include books about other art forms and mediums, such as the sculpture work of artist John McCracken, the recycled and embroidered textiles of Bengal in Kantha, the drawings of Linn Meyers, and much more.

Our Radius Books collection is an incredible resource for anyone and everyone interested in visual art. We are thankful to be on their mailing list and that their organization does the work that they do to amplify voices while making art more accessible. Although these books cannot be checked out, they are available for your in-house use and make for great fireside companions. So as the days get colder and winter approaches, I encourage you to carve out some time to visit the library’s Post Reading Room, peruse our Radius Books collection, and choose a few titles to enjoy by the fireside. As always, happy reading.

Find Masumi Hayashi:Panoramic Photo Collages, 1976-2006 in catalog.
Find Remnants: Photographs of the Lower East Side in catalog.

WE ALL PLAY by Julie Flett & JOJO MAKOONS by Dawn Quigley

I love to set both small and larger reading challenges for myself throughout the year. In November, I chose to primarily read titles by Native authors. I encourage you to explore the growing number of titles in this category at the Joplin Public Library. I will share two of my most recent favorites.

The first title is JULIE FLETT‘s picture book “WE ALL PLAY.” Flett is a Cree-Metis author and illustrator who has won numerous awards. “We All Play” is a simple book, told mostly in English with Cree words throughout, that depicts children playing in ways similar to bison, beluga whales, geese and other North American animals. The text is a pattern; three to four pages show animals hopping, peeking or wobbling, and every fourth spread shows children moving their bodies in similar ways with the repeating refrain “We play too! (‘Kimêtawânaw mîna’)” at the top of the page.

In the reader’s note at the end of the book, Flett describes the ways in which her father taught her about her relationship to nature as a young girl. “We All Play” depicts a most basic connection between us and nature: Children of all species playing together outside.

Once you have seen it, Flett’s art is instantly recognizable. She works primarily with earth tones; this title in particular utilizes many shades of beige, white, gray and green, with pops of clay red, sky blue, and goldenrod appearing occasionally. Animals, humans and the landscape have only the most basic of features, and the edges are soft and smudged.

At the conclusion of the story, Flett includes a list of animals featured in the book. Each animal name is listed in English and three variations of the name in Cree (one, more than one, and “younger, smaller, cuter”). The author also includes a bit of linguistic education on the Plains Cree dialect, including the pronunciation of words and sounds. This would be an excellent group read-aloud, as it lends itself well to movement and conversation. You can find “We All Play” in the picture book category at the Joplin Public Library.

Another excellent book I read this month is DAWN QUIGLEY‘s “JOJO MAKOONS: THE USED-TO-BE-BEST FRIEND.” This first book in the forthcoming series follows the plucky 7-year-old narrator JoJo, an Ojibwe girl living on a fictional reservation (Pembina Ojibwe) learning to navigate friendships, life with her mom and kokum (grandmother), and figuring out how to rescue her home best friend, her cat Mimi, from getting shots (among other things). JoJo is funny and earnest, and she often wonders why people — her family, her teachers, her best friends — think differently than she does. Why can’t she bring Mimi to school? Why don’t “couch” and “touch” rhyme when they obviously look the same? Why isn’t Fern saving her a seat at lunch anymore?

JoJo’s problems feel both real and urgent, as problems tend to feel whether you are 7 or 37. The spunky young protagonist is similar in voice to Junie B. Jones, another beloved first grader with her own series.

JoJo Makoons is published by Heartdrum, a Native-focused imprint of HarperCollins created in partnership with We Need Diverse Books. JoJo’s Ojibwe culture is woven into every aspect of the story, from JoJo’s hilarious pronunciation tips (“If you can say Tyrannosaurus rex, you can say nindizhinikaaz”) to Tara Audibert’s grayscale art in JoJo’s classroom. JoJo’s funny narrative style lends itself well to a family or classroom read aloud, though I found myself laughing out loud while reading solo. I love JoJo Makoons, and I know you will too. You can find “JoJo Makoons: The Used-to-be Best Friend” in the easy fiction section of the Joplin Public Library.

Mercury Rising: John Glenn, John Kennedy and the New Battleground of the Cold War by Jeff Shesol

Shared national narratives matter. They cohere generations around a belief system: that the country’s general purpose is, in a word, good. Such binary choices that reduce complex entities to either “good” or “bad” are often fraught with circumstance. But sometimes the circumstances ease the choice. Take the Cold War. Of course one could easily pierce the relative goodness and badness of the U.S. and the Soviet Union with specific examples. But if this same one had to choose between a liberal democracy that provides opportunities to correct injustices, or a totalitarian regime that summarily expends individuals for the regime’s sake, we should think it an easy choice.

Still, Americans in the mid-20th century actually needed to see, not just believe, that the Soviet experiment would eventually fail. Jeff Shesol, author of “Mercury Rising: John Glenn, John Kennedy and the New Battleground of the Cold War,” frames it more narrowly: Americans needed to see their country win the space race.

The term “existential threat” is probably overused. But an American at the end of 1957 could be forgiven for claiming it. That year, the Soviets launched both Sputnik and American dread. If the Soviets could launch a satellite into orbit, what else could they do? It didn’t help that Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev, in his usual haranguing style, said that they were producing ICBMs “like sausages.” Inside the Pentagon and the Eisenhower administration, there wasn’t much regard for the R-7 Semyorka rocket the Soviets used to launch Sputnik. They thought it crude, good for only lifting heavy payload and not easily directed.

Nevertheless, questions of what the American’s were doing in space persisted, greatly annoying Eisenhower. At a news conference, he played down Sputnik. “They have put one small ball in the air.” Much later Eisenhower would nonchalantly say to reporters, “It’s not necessary to be first in everything.” While true, it’s hardly a sentiment to rally around. And as Shesol notes, many Americans thought being second in space meant being second in everything.

Under intense pressure, Eisenhower agreed to a space program. He believed that it had to be non-militaristic so as to make it less prone to the military-industrial complex. So he and Senator Lyndon Johnson, over drinks at the White House, finalized a bill that created NASA.

What followed was Project Mercury, the United States’ first man-in-space program. Shesol says it began as “a program in search of a purpose—beyond the obvious aim of ensuring that the man in question was American and not Russian.” There was already talk of landing a man on the moon, yet Eisenhower had little patience with such a fanciful thing. Plus, his Science Advisory Committee reported that the whole thoroughfare was an “emotional compulsion.” Eisenhower ultimately slashed Mercury’s budget.

James Webb, NASA’s administrator, hoped to have better luck with President Kennedy as his campaign rhetoric intimated some support. But when the Soviets sent cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin into orbit, there was growing worry that the U.S. would not catch up to, let alone surpass, the Soviets. Besides, Kennedy had more earthly concerns: Berlin, Cuba, Southeast Asia, and domestic civil rights abuses. In a meeting with Kennedy, Webb showed him a model of the Mercury spacecraft. Kennedy dismissed it, said it looked like something you would pick up at a toy store.

Interesting as this political history is, the book really thrums when it focuses on America’s first astronauts, the Mercury Seven, test pilots all. Because the space program was in its nascent stages, their roles were not clearly defined. The astronauts wanted spacecraft designs to allow for consistent pilot control. The engineers, however, sought to minimize the astronauts’ role in flight, seeing them more as backups for when the automatic functions failed.

NASA administrators had the Seven on a constant travel and training schedule. At times, they stood united, pushing back against such things as having to pay for their meals when on official trips. When they were in danger of losing their flight pay because they were unable to log enough flight hours, they went to the press to have their demands met. But they were a competitive group otherwise, settling into two factions. There was John Glenn (with Scott Carpenter, “Glenn’s only true friend among the astronauts”) and Alan Shepard (who had the rest).

It was an unexpected delight to read Glenn’s backstory. He grew up dreaming of flight, eventually earning his pilot’s license in college. As a Marine in World War II, he was assigned to fly transport planes. For Glenn, this would not do and lobbied for combat. It was granted and he more than relished it. He knew he was not invincible, but his confidence as a pilot was undoubtedly secure.

He continued in the Korean War, this time flying jets. “Glenn seemed to hurl himself at targets, flying too fast and too low through sheets of anti-aircraft fire, blasting his 20-millimeter cannons.” One of his wingmen, Ted Williams (yes, that Ted Williams, of the Boston Red Sox), would later say of Glenn: “The man is crazy.” Williams could be prickly, but he also had high praise for Glenn: “Absolutely fearless. The best I ever saw. It was an honor to fly with him.”

At war’s end (and disappointed that it ended), Glenn became a test pilot, where he earned the reputation as someone who engaged in what servicemen called “sniveling.” Glenn would go on to explain what this meant: It was “going around and getting what you want to get even if you’re not slated to get it. There’s nothing wrong with it—and I was superb at it.” After he flew the first supersonic transcontinental flight (a mission he devised), he gained some fame, even appearing on “Name That Tune.”

It wasn’t just the relative aw-shucks ease in which Glenn appeared before the cameras that irked most of the other astronauts. It was more that Glenn was not like them. Drinking and womanizing were common. Glenn partook in neither. (Glenn never knew life without his wife Annie. They grew up together, and Glenn would often shield her from situations where she would need to speak, her stutter having been rated at 80 percent.) Glenn saw their libertine activities as a liability to the program. They often saw him as a scold. (Glenn believed in the notion of astronaut-as-role-model. Some members of the press tried to apply this model to Shepard, inferring that he was from humble origins and a churchgoer. In reality he grew up wealthy and openly stated that he didn’t belong to any church.)

When NASA asked the astronauts to rank who should be assigned to the first mission, Glenn knew he was in trouble. Most of the country thought it would be Glenn. Many in NASA, however, believed that Shepard was the more talented pilot. The 1-2-3 mission order would be Shepard, Gus Grissom, and then Glenn. NASA announced that while a choice had been made, the astronaut’s name would be released later. Through all of this, a livid Glenn had to stand and smile.

Shepard’s successful suborbital flight bolstered the nation’s confidence in the program. But NASA was not satisfied with suborbital missions. They thought it akin to a circus act: throw a man up in the air and then watch him come down. Grissom went on his own suborbital flight, but to little fanfare.

It was actually fortuitous that Glenn was third in line. For now, the more powerful Atlas rocket was in use, ready to carry a capsule into orbit. Shesol builds the intensity by taking us through the numerous scrubbed launches that delayed Glenn’s liftoff, the issues either mechanical or weather related. When we reach February 20, 1962, we know this is the day. We know exactly how this turns out; but Shesol takes care to have us in the moment, on edge. Glenn rides the elevator to the top of the rocket and works his way into the Mercury capsule. It’s so small, in fact, Glenn says, “You don’t get in it, you put it on.”

There was a growing national sense that this was it, an American was about to orbit the earth. People lined up along the beaches near Cape Canaveral, Florida to witness the launch. It was becoming real for Glenn, too. He was strapped in, and it felt as though the booster below him “was alive. It screeched and growled. When he shifted back and forth, it moved, just slightly.”

While in the capsule, Glenn was able to speak to Annie via telephone one final time. Dangerous missions had long standing in their shared life together, but this one was spectacularly dangerous. He ended the conversation with the same sign-off he had used since World War II. “Remember, I’m just going down to the corner store to get a pack of gum.” Even though she was frightened, Annie repeated her part of the routine. “Well, don’t take too long.”

Americans were gathering around televisions and transistor radios. Schools would soon close for the day. Then the engines fired and the rocket ascended, arrowing and splitting the air into sound waves. And as long as it kept thrusting, there was a feeling that we were going to make it. In Grand Central Station a thousand or so people (eventually swelling to ten thousand) watched the big screen; someone in the crowd found the breath to yell, “Go, go, go!” President Kennedy, watching a TV in the White House, heard Walter Cronkite scream on-air, “Go, baby!”

Over the next five hours, Americans listened and waited. (Shesol points out that in 1962, 78 percent of Americans had not traveled by air.) Glenn completed his planned three orbits and returned safely. Within the same decade, Americans would behold the success of new rocketry and space exploration, culminating in the mighty Saturn V rocket and the moon landing. The technological achievements, along with the stunning visuals of space travel, were grand enough to speak for themselves. Yet, throughout—and even though it wasn’t always at the forefront of American consciousness—the space race was seen as a metaphor for the Cold War.

The Soviet Union collapsed and the Mercury astronauts are gone. If you tour the launch sites at the Cape today, you’ll see plenty of buildings marked “SpaceX,” not “NASA.” But you can still feel the history, a sense of believing in a shared endeavor. This is part of our narrative.

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Courting Misfortune by Regina Jennings

America’s first detective agency, the Pinkerton Detective Agency, was started in 1850. Kate Warne, the first female detective, was hired in 1856. The widowed Mrs. Warne proved to be very effective and would eventually lead a division of female detectives at the agency. One of whom may have been like Calista York, Regina Jennings’ heroine in Courting Misfortune.

This title is the first in a Christian historical romance series called The Joplin Chronicles. Set in Joplin around the end of the 1890’s it portrays a city emerging from its mining camp origins but still plenty rough around the edges.

Calista found life as a Kansas City debutante less than satisfying and believes she has found her calling as a Pinkerton detective.  Even though she has completed two successful assignments she is still on probation. Now Calista has one month to complete her next case and prove to the skeptical Mr. Pinkerton that she can do the job.

The case is finding Lila Seaton. Lila is the daughter of Chicago mobster Jinxy Seaton. Calista is less than thrilled about working for a gangster but seeing the haunted eyes in a photo of the missing young woman she is convinced she must help. Lila has been missing 8 months without a trace. Jinxy has learned from an associate that Lila was spotted in Joplin, Missouri in the disreputable House of Lords. Jinxy is certain Lila was kidnapped and is being exploited by the same people who murdered her sister.

Calista knows Joplin well as her Granny Laura lives just outside of town. During summer visits Calista was closely guarded when they made the trip into the rough and tumble mining town.  Now to do her job she must dodge her family and venture to the very places Granny avoided. Making the Keystone Hotel her base of operation, Calista heads for the House of Lords.

Matthew Cook grew up in Pine Gap and when he decided to answer God’s call to be a missionary he thought he might be sent to a foreign locale. Instead he found himself a short train ride away in Joplin, Missouri.

As he walks the streets of Joplin Matthew sees plenty of souls in need of guidance including the young woman who is pacing in front of the House of Lords.  She seems to be working up her nerve to go in and he steps in to warn her. But Calista does not welcome this good-looking stranger’s attention nor his desire to save her from poor decisions. Matthew however is determined to rescue her.

Matthew’s persistence is annoying but Calista is still able to pursue contacts that might lead her to Lila. Then her family discovers she’s in town.  Keeping her job and quest to find Lila a secret is proving difficult as her family joins Matthew in trying to keep Calista from the people and places that might lead her to the missing woman. Can she find Lila before her time runs out?

As for Matthew, besides his worry and growing attraction for Calista, he has taken a job in the mines to be closer to the people he hopes to help. Plus he must try to stop an outrageous plan to auction off a baby to raise money for the Children’s Home!

This is an entertaining read and the author is well-versed in Joplin history.  There is a little mystery, fun characters, and a developing romance with faith the underlying motivation for our two protagonists.

The library has this title in our fiction collection and you can find the ebook and eaudiobook on Hoopla. Plus there are 5 paperback copies available to be read then either passed on to a fellow reader to enjoy or returned to the library. Just ask us to see if one is available.

Plus you heard it here first! (or maybe second or third) – the author, Regina Jennings, will be in Joplin on December 9th for a presentation on Pinkerton Detective Kate Warne. Please join us at the Joplin Public Library on Thursday, December 9th, at 6pm in our Community Room. A book signing will follow the presentation.

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All the Missing Girls by Megan Miranda

When Nicolette Farrell was eighteen, her best friend went missing. The entire town came together to scour the woods for her, and the local police looked into everyone who knew anything about her disappearance. In the end, a detective was sent by the state to the small town of Cooley Ridge, and – according to Nic – she broke Corinne’s whole life open.

Corinne Prescott was a girl full of secrets: from the pregnancy test found in her bathroom trash to her emotionally and physically abusive father to whether she had been dating her on-again-off-again boyfriend, Jackson, or Nic’s brother, Daniel, at the time of her disappearance. The state detective dissected every aspect of Corinne’s life, but she could not reveal Corinne’s final secret: what happened to her the night she disappeared.

All of this took place ten years ago, and Nic has tried to distance herself from it as much as possible. She moved to Philadelphia for college, broke ties with all of her old friends, and never talked about her past to anyone.

Although she refuses to talk about it, Nic has never been able to let her past go. She hears echoes of Corinne’s voice in her head, and half expects her friend to turn up someday claiming that her disappearance was all a joke.

ALL THE MISSING GIRLS by MEGAN MIRANDA opens with Nicolette waking up to a phone call from her brother, which she lets go to voicemail. Her brother’s message says that their father is not doing well – he has vascular dementia – and that the two of them need to sell his house in order to pay for his care.

Later that day, Nic gets a letter from her father; a letter which reads “I need to talk to you. That girl. I saw that girl.” Nic knows that her father can only be talking about Corinne Prescott. She packs up her life in Philadelphia and heads back to Cooley Ridge to see what is going on for herself.

When she gets back to her tiny hometown, it’s like she never left. Her brother still treats her like a teenage disappointment. Locals still think of her as “Patrick Farrell’s daughter.” And most of her high school friends are still working around town; including her high school boyfriend, Tyler.

Just days after Nic comes back into town, another woman goes missing.

Annaleise Carter was a few years younger than Nic in school, and she was completely beneath the notice of a group of recent high school graduates. But ten years ago, during the investigation, Annaleise provided an alibi for Tyler, Nic, and Daniel.

With this new disappearance, suspicion has again fallen on the three of them. Suspicion that brings old theories about what happened to Corinne back into the town’s consciousness.

After being at the center of the Corinne investigation, Nic is suspicious of the way the police operate. She believes that rather than dealing with the facts of Corinne’s case, they focused on revealing secrets – both Corinne’s and those of people connected to her.

She also knows that the town is more interested in having a story to explain what happened, rather than knowing the actual facts. Corinne’s boyfriend Jackson served as the town’s scapegoat, transforming the clean-cut teenager into a single, tattooed bartender living above the local bar.

Nic’s father now lives in a care home where they can monitor his scattered brain. Sometimes her father is lost in old memories, speaking to Nic as if she were her own mother. When Nic tries to talk to him about the letter that he sent her, he becomes evasive, and claims that she is in danger.

Nic cannot be sure if he means that she is in danger now, or if he thinks high school Nic is in danger because of Corinne’s disappearance.

After Nic comes back to Cooley Ridge in the first chapter, the book jumps forward to two weeks after Annaleise’s disappearance – right into the thick of the investigation. Each chapter then pulls back one day until we get back to the night of the first day.

As the book progresses, we learn more about who Nic and her friends were in high school, and what it was like to have a friend like Corinne, who could love you and hate you in equal measure.

Nic also learns who Annaleise was: a woman full of secrets, obsessed with the fate of Corinne Prescott.

 

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Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

Have you ever gotten a book recommendation that was so good you could not wait to tell everyone else about the book? This is that book! This epic multigenerational story draws you in and pretty soon the characters feel like your family and friends.

I love multigenerational tales – The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See and Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi are two of my favorites. While reading Pachinko, I joked with the person who recommended it to me, that I could barely live my life. All I wanted to do was read the book. It was so compelling that I could not wait to see what happened next.

The novel, set in Korea, starts in 1910, and focuses on a family who runs a boarding house in a small village by the ocean. This couple has only one son, Hoonie, who was born with a cleft palate and twisted leg, but manages to survive childhood and grow into a dependable son who makes his parents proud. Hoonie eventually takes over the boarding house with the help of his wife, Yangjin, and the couple have a daughter named Sunja.

As a naïve, sheltered teenager, Sunja makes a mistake. She meets and falls in love with a much older, Korean man. Unbeknownst to her, he is already married to a Japanese woman and when Sunja becomes pregnant, he offers to take care of her as his Korean mistress. Sunja refuses, and thus, starts a family-centered tale that readers will be unable to put down.

After Sunja’s rejection of Hansu, an unusual and timely solution is provided for her situation, and soon she is on her way to Japan to start a new life. Over the course of the next several years she deals with many struggles. She and her children and grandchildren endure harsh discrimination, financial troubles and have their lives impacted by world events, but despite the hardships, Sunja’s life has love and friendship, and raising her children brings her much joy.

I am not sure how I missed this captivating book when it was first released four years ago, but if you have not read it, I highly recommend it. Min Jin Lee has created a beautiful, enthralling tale of family. The characters are well written, flaws and all, and the setting and use of world events creates a strong, thought provoking novel.

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