How to Win Friends and Influence Fungi: Collected Quirks of Science, Tech, Engineering, and Math from Nerd Nite by Chris Balakrishnan and Matt Wasowski

If you are looking for a little science education in a fun, light read (or even if you’re not), I’ve got the book for you. How to Win Friends and Influence Fungi: Collected Quirks of Science, Tech, Engineering, and Math from Nerd Nite by Chris Balakrishnan and Matt Wasowski will both educate and entertain.

Balakrishnan and Wasowski are the editors of this title; seventy self-described nerds have contributed the content. Nerd Nites are gatherings that take place in cities around the world where a presenter will share their knowledge on a topic while adult beverages may or may not be consumed. Topics range from shark babies to dating apps to Godzilla. Since participation at a Nerd Nite is, by its format, limited, this book allows all these presenters to share their knowledge over and over with anyone who can read or listen.

This is a book you can read from cover to cover or just open to a random spot and be instantly immersed. Entries are 3-5 pages in length and are (depending on your views) fascinating, sometimes kind of gross, amusing, and always educational.

The Contents pages are detailed enough that you can pick and choose entries that interest you. The first section is Creature Features. Here you’ll learn that camel spiders are not venomous as rumored but can grow to be 5” to 6” long and if they chase you it’s just because you moved the shadow that they were resting in. You’ll also find entries on dolphins, cephalopods, stomatopods, and anemonefish (remember Nemo) who change their sex as they mature.

The next section is on Brains. Explore why certain repetitive sounds drive us crazy, why some people are happier than others, why we hear foreign accents and find what synesthesia is? You will also learn why disgust can be dangerous. Then it’s on to Bodily Fluids. You’ll explore among other things the difficulties of going to the bathroom in space, all the different species besides mammals that feed their young milk and that the shin plays a role in bladder control.

Next up is Doing It. Here the nerds talk about how to be perceived as more physically attractive (wear red), how some animals attract partners, online dating, and 10 things you didn’t know about sex. Health and (Un)Wellness explores topics in medicine. If you’ve got the stomach for it, learn something about maggot therapy. Also covered is DNA, the hangover, the microbiome, and genetics.

You’ll want to dip into Pathogens and Parasites for the zombies, birds, and antiviral immune response. But if you have any tendencies toward hypochondria you might want to skip human parasites. Death and Taxes is really just about death. Learn about Monarch the bear, mass extinction and the algae apocalypse.

Next up misinformation about space is explored along with asteroids, Jupiter’s moon Europa, artificial gravity and the Tagish Lake Meteorite. Tech (High and Low) ranges from GMOs to dating apps to human powered flight. You’ll also get info on Google, prosthetic limbs, machine learning, why we should (or shouldn’t) domesticate bacteria and the potential of nuclear fusion.

Some will debate the next section, Math Is fun. You’ll want to dip in here if for nothing else than is it better to put in the milk first or the tea? You can also hear about gossip, music theory, infinity and cryptography.

To wrap things up the nerds explore careers. Want to be a veterinarian? Learn about all the things a dog will swallow and what not to say to your vet. Find out what Chindogu is, the truth about dead bodies and embalming, and learn a little about animal CSI.

This is a fun, entertaining read and like a library – it has something for almost everyone but not everyone will want to read all of the Nerd Nite offerings.

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Review written by Patty Crane, Reference Librarian

Crook Manifesto by Colson Whitehead

In Crook Manifesto, the always excellent Colson Whitehead takes us back to the world he devised in his previous novel, Harlem Shuffle. Ray Carney still has his Harlem furniture store. Becoming more prosperous, he and his family have settled into an apartment on the coveted Strivers’ Row. We’re in the 1970s, where “the flamboyant quotient in Harlem” is high, filled with all sorts of “groovy plumage.”

But the New York of the 1970s is also one of decline, with “the apprehension that things were not as they had been and it would be a long time before they were right again.” In the decade of America’s Bicentennial, this current volatility seems fitting to Carney, where America is both “melting pot and powder keg.” And to Carney, the powder keg is besting any harmonious melting together. When it comes time for him to conjure up his Bicentennial furniture ad for the newspaper, he can’t think of anything jingoistic. He can think only of such cutting things as “200 years but it feels like more–Ask the Indians. This July 4th, Salute Truth, Justice & 3-Position Adjustable Recliners.”

Still, even though Carney tends to “weave private dread into the universal condition,” life is pretty good. He’s no longer a part of the secondary economy, where he helped fence (move) stolen goods. His underworld contacts have stepped back into the shadows, leaving Ray Carney to live the straight-and-narrow life.

That is until his teenage daughter wants tickets to see the Jackson 5 at Madison Square Garden. As any father will tell you, just about anything will be done to avoid disappointing your daughter. So as the concert date approaches, Carney does what he has to do to score tickets to the sold-out show: He steps back into the shadows.

Carney contacts Munson, a white cop who shakes down the neighborhood crooks. He’s a crook with a badge, a streetwise tough from Hell’s Kitchen who long ago realized he could work both sides of the law. He’ll get Carney those tickets, but Carney must go on a ride with him. And what a wild ride it is.

It’s an open question whether Carney was looking for an excuse to re-enter the underworld. Either way, he quickly realizes he’s made a big mistake. “Slip once and everybody is glad to help you slip hard. Crooked stays crooked and bent hates straight.” Munson’s world is collapsing, so he enlists Carney to act as wheelman on one final run of extortions.

Whitehead demonstrates why he’s won the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, twice. He could be describing anything and I’m pretty sure I would be regaled. During moments of grand intensity, there’s still some observational levity that underscores the absurdity of what’s transpiring. For example, there’s the old-timer crook who forms perfectly articulated sentences even with an active cigarette affixed in his mouth. “Shakespeare monologues couldn’t budge it.” Soon after this thought, someone is shot three times. And on it goes.

There are quite a few recurring characters from Harlem Shuffle (such as Munson), most notably Pepper, an aging bruiser whose entire adult life has been one heist after another. (Note: Crook Manifesto can be read as a stand-alone novel.) When a blaxploitation shoot is set to be filmed in the neighborhood, Carney sees to it that Pepper works its security. To the taciturn Pepper, “filmmaking was a heist, same animal.” In fact, Pepper sees most human activity through a criminal’s lens. To wit: The men on the street signs didn’t get there “by being decent, that’s for damn sure.”

Whitehead is known for his meticulous research to set a scene. Pick any era, allow Whitehead some time to research it, and he’ll pen a story that will place you right in that period. In 1970s New York City, arson was ubiquitous. The reasons for it are varied, but we already know the drill: debilitated buildings being burned not only for insurance payouts but also for kickbacks to those who will choose just who in fact gets to rebuild them. It was common enough for some tenants to sleep with their shoes on. Then there were the willing arsonists, or “firebugs”—blokes who just wanted to see the world burn.

Pepper can be violent, but the crime he sees now goes beyond the pale. In addition to the wildness of repeated arsons, there’s such things as the mother of four who’s stabbed over a few dollars and a pastrami sandwich, and the Juilliard student who’s pushed onto the subway tracks. To Pepper, “a man has a hierarchy of crime, of what is morally acceptable and what is not, a crook manifesto, and those who subscribe to lesser codes are cockroaches.”

Nonetheless, both Carney and Pepper know that in a “city like this, it behooves you to embrace the… contradictions.” And, really, it’s not as though there was some “good old days of crime” epoch, even though it often feels like it, a wanting for it to be so. Take Alexander Oakes, a rising politician and a childhood friend of Carney’s wife, Elizabeth. Both Alexander and Elizabeth come from the monied Harlem community, with Alexander acting as an interlocutor between the old and new power structures. To Elizabeth’s father, Alexander “would have been his son-in-law if the world made any kind of sense, if Elizabeth had any sense.” Without giving anything away, Carney and Pepper learn how this other set operates, and, once again, it gets fierce.

The world—as it does—changes fast for Carney. His kids are growing, doing their own thing, and on their way to leaving. His wife has her own busy career. Other than an occasional meet-up with Pepper and a few others, he’s essentially a loner, with an uneasy foot in both the crooked and straight worlds. Things come back hard on Carney, leaving him somewhat bewildered and struggling with what he should be thinking about. He’s like the city where he lives. “The city is being tested. It was always being tested and emerging on the other side in a newer, stronger version for having been laid low.”

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Reviewed by Jason Sullivan

The Kingdoms by Natasha Pulley

Natasha Pulley’s THE KINGDOMS opens in an alternate London – one controlled by the French following their victory in the Napoleonic Wars. The city has been repurposed as a hub for industry. Written English has been outlawed and French citizens own most of the remaining homes and businesses.

In this other London, Joe Tournier discovers himself on a train platform with no idea how he got there. He is diagnosed with a common case of epileptic amnesia.

People all over the country have been experiencing flashes of false memory and remembering people who never existed. But the arrival of a postcard convinces Joe that his visions of a different life are real.

When Joe visits the lighthouse depicted on the postcard, he is captured by an old vessel from the defunct British Navy – captained by an unstable man named Missouri Kite.

Kite explains that the lighthouse is near a portal in time, and Joe has been transported to the past. Recently, a ship passed through this portal and was captured by the French Navy. Most of the crew was taken prisoner; the French used the crew’s knowledge of their own past to turn the tide of the war and defeat the British – leading to the French-controlled England that Joe came from.

It is Kite’s plan to use Joe’s expertise as an engineer to change history again and return control of England to the British.

Kite knows that history has been altered because one man – Jem Castlereagh – escaped from the captured ship and was picked up by the British. Kite was on the ship that saved him, and he and Jem became close.

During his stay on the ship, Joe is not told much about Jem – except that Kite killed him.

As Joe learns more about his captors and their desperate bid to save the British Empire, he develops a sense of belonging that he does not understand. He cannot reconcile his knowledge of what Kite has done with his overwhelming sense of loyalty to the insane man. On top of that struggle, he knows that helping defeat the French will destroy the family that he left behind in the future.

There is a lot to process in THE KINGDOMS; it is both a straightforward alternate history, told like historical fiction, and a deeply interior look at loss and trauma.

Pulley does not shy away from gruesome depictions of battle. Kite’s ship – crewed by women and children alongside what remains of the Navy – charges through a French blockade to rejoin the British command fleet.

During the battle, Joe is helping in the infirmary where Kite’s no-nonsense sister, Agatha, holds court. In the midst of the battle, she is shot down with no warning, and afterward Kite barely reacts to the news that his sister was killed.

Kite’s life has been full of violence and struggle. Like Joe, I found myself unable to hate Kite despite his frequent threats of violence and his open admission that he is a murderer. Beneath that, he is surprisingly soft-hearted.

The novel is a whirlwind of interesting characters and memorable scenes. It was something a little outside-the-box for me, but I am glad that I gave it a try.

 

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Book review by Alyssa Berry, Technical Services Librarian

ROMANTIC COMEDY by Curtis Sittenfeld

In ROMANTIC COMEDY by Curtis Sittenfeld, Sally Milz is a sketch writer who works for a late-night live comedy show called The Night Owls. She has been unlucky in love on several occasions, most notable a divorce right after finishing college. So unlucky that she has sworn off dating anyone at work, and while she has the occasional no-strings attached hookup her life is almost solely focused on her work at The Night Owls. The other writers and the actors who make up the cast are like her family.

Sally started to notice a phenomenon at work where average-looking men who work for The Night Owls become romantically involved with beautiful, famous women who are completely out of their league. In fact her friend and co-worker Danny Horst is the third addition to her growing list thanks to him dating Annabel Lily, a gorgeous, talented, famous movie star, after she appeared as a guest on The Night Owls. She has dubbed this the “Danny Horst Rule” and made a sketch about it. The sketch makes fun of it, but also shows how unlikely it would be to work in the reverse – a gorgeous male celebrity would never fall in love with an ordinary woman.

The “Danny Horst Rule” is put to the test when world famous, dreamy pop music sensation Noah Brewster guest hosts The Night Owls. Sally and Noah hit it off, but she is not sure if she should believe her luck. In fact, she cannot fathom that handsome, talented Noah would be interested in her and thanks to her self-sabotage it is several years before she and Noah connect again, through a series of clumsy, comical and heartfelt emails.

Author Curtis Sittenfeld is insightful and funny. I loved her writing style and how she created Sally’s and Noah’s characters. The character dialogue seemed witty and believable and the relationships genuine. When reading I felt like Sally’s insecurities were something most could relate to. I laughed out loud on numerous occasions and just found the storyline was so clever. Plus, Sittenfeld’s secondary characters – Sally’s friends, the staff at TNO, even Sally’s stepfather – were drawn convincingly and added depth to the book.

It was also really eye opening to see how a live, late night television show similar to SNL works – the timeline for developing the show and how much work the writers and actors have to do to get ready each week. Plus, it is crazy to think about the number of talented people who work together to create something so funny and timely.

Speaking of timely and funny, that seems to be one of Sittenfeld’s gifts. Her writing is both and she has a way of dissecting elements of love and the world of modern dating that is compelling and so interesting to read. Many readers will see elements of themselves in her writing and storytelling. I highly recommend adding this one to your “to be read” list.

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Review written by: Jeana Gockley, Joplin Public Library Director.

The Henna Artist by Alka Joshi

In 2023 Joplin Public Library began a new adult program, Joplin Reads Together, the Library’s first community read. Community reads are popular at public libraries throughout the nation and offer an opportunity for a shared reading experience for members of the community. Joplin Reads Together happens in the month of April, centering around one novel with accompanying programs related to the novel, all culminating in a visit from the author of the chosen book. With Joplin Reads Together adult programming at the Library hopes to promote a sense of community, its organizations, reading, and community discussion. Joplin Reads Together is fortunate to have four local organizations as community partners: Friends of Joplin Public Library, Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce, MSSU George A Spiva Library, and Post Art Library. In 2023 our selected title was Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van Pelt; we spent the month of April enjoying programs related to the title and had the pleasure of hosting Shelby Van Pelt at our Library.

I am very excited to share this year’s selection: The Henna Artist by Alka Joshi. A historical fiction set in 1950s India, The Henna Artist is Joshi’s debut novel and the first in The Jaipur Trilogy. All of Joplin Public Library’s April adult programs are inspired by The Henna Artist, and on April 23rd Alka Joshi will visit our Library to discuss her book!

Set in the decade after India’s independence from British colonialism, The Henna Artist follows a young woman named Lakshmi as she escapes an abusive marriage and sets out to pave a new, brighter future for herself. Lakshmi moves from her small Indian village to the vibrant, bustling city of Jaipur where she begins to make a living for herself through her work as a henna artist. Henna is a traditional paste that temporarily dyes the skin. Henna designs are often elaborate and symbolize things such as good health or happy marriages.

Lakshmi does henna for the elite women of Jaipur, as her paste and artistry is one of, if not the very, best Jaipur has to offer. With this position comes both status and danger. Lakshmi spends hours with the elite, listening to their complaints about their husbands, their worries and fears, and all their drama. While this no doubt puts Lakshmi in the know and provides a more comfortable living, it also places her at a distance and in a precarious position. While Lakshmi knows and spends time with the most wealthy of Jaipur, she is not one of them herself and must be very mindful of what she says and how she carries herself for fear of losing any patronage.

Lakshmi is, for the most part, very good at this, except for the secrets she holds close. In addition to her henna Lakshmi provides additional services for her clients by way of her skills with herbs to create remedies and tea sachets that have varying purposes. Many of her henna clients purchase such sachets to help with things such as illness or conception. However, Lakshmi is hiding the fact that she also sells sachets to men in extramarital affairs or to women attempting not to conceive; some of these individuals are married to or are her clients.

Lakshmi must not only keep the secrets of her powerful clients for their safety, but also her own. When Lakshmi’s estranged husband arrives in town alongside a sister Lakshmi never knew she had her world is turned upside down and the life she has worked so hard to build is suddenly threatened. Lakshmi can’t imagine her husband is up to anything good, and her 13 year old sister Radha’s fascination with the upper class and the excitement of Jaipur can only spell trouble. Can Lakshmi hold onto the life she has worked so hard to create for herself, or will the return of her past force Lakshmi to start all over again?

Alka Joshi has created an eloquent, engaging novel that thrums with color. From the vibrancy of the characters to the immersion in Indian culture Joshi’s descriptive writing brings Lakshmi’s world to life and transports the reader to a different time and place. The representation of the upper and service caste systems as well as gender roles and what is expected of Lakshmi as a woman add to the historical aspect of the novel. Motherhood is a consistent theme in the novel and Joshi has stated in interviews that Lakshmi is based on her own mother and her experiences in India. The Henna Artist is perfect for readers that want a good story that sticks with them and that enjoy being taken to another place and learning about other time periods and cultures.

I am very excited to hear Alka Joshi speak about The Henna Artist in person and I hope that if you read this novel you’ll join the Library in welcoming her to Joplin in April. If you are interested in participating in Joplin Reads Together or want to learn more about it visit the Joplin Public Library website at joplinpubliclibrary.org/joplinreadstogether or visit the Library. Joplin Reads Together is designed for adults and a library card is not needed to participate.

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Review written by Sarah Turner-Hill, Adult Programming Coordinator

THERE WAS A PARTY FOR LANGSTON, KING O’LETTERS by Jason Reynolds & Jerome and Jarrett Pumphrey

Happy February! As we close out Black History Month, I would like to share one of my most recent favorite picture books, which happens to be written by, illustrated by, and about exceptional Black authors.

There Was a Party for Langston, King O’ Letters is the debut picture book by award-winning young adult author Jason Reynolds and illustrator duo Jerome and Jarrett Pumphrey. It’s hard to believe that Reynolds, the young adult author phenom, has not written a picture book before now, but it’s no surprise that his first one is as good as it is. He writes in a poetic manner that translates perfectly to the picture book format.

There Was a Party for Langston is also a Caldecott Honoree and a Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award Honoree as of January 2024. These honors are well-deserved because this book is unique, masterfully done, and exciting. Reynolds’ debut picture book honors the Harlem Renaissance poet (and Joplin-born!) Langston Hughes, and it honors him well. As he discusses in the afterword, the author was inspired to write this book after seeing a photo of writers Amiri Baraka and Maya Angelou dancing. These esteemed writers (or “word makers” as he calls them) were dancing at a party honoring Hughes at the New York Public Library in Harlem.

There Was a Party for Langston recaps both the events of the party and the events of Hughes’ life as well as the legions of writers and readers he inspired over the years. Reynolds emulates Hughes and other Harlem Renaissance writers through text that feels energetic and alive, with words stretching across each page, seemingly in motion. For example, when Reynolds describes how Hughes’ words could “[turn] birds into words flying all around him,” he transforms lines from Hughes’ poem “Dream Variation” into the bodies of birds flying toward the sun.

The collaborative nature of the art and the story is top-tier. The Pumphreys’ 50s-inspired comic-style art is beautiful on its own, but the way they bring the text to life and incorporate it into each page is unparalleled. When Reynolds tells of Hughes’ influence on Angelou and he describes her ability to “make the word ‘woman’ seem like the word ‘mountain’,” the Pumphreys paint a woman lying on her side in the shape of a mountain with “woman” across her back in green to look like trees and a stream rolling out in front of her spelling out the words “shine on me.” I can’t imagine a picture book that would honor Hughes more fully while simultaneously being some of both Reynolds and the Pumphrey brothers’ best work. There Was a Party for Langston is a joy to read aloud.

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The Wager: A Tale of Shipwreck, Mutiny and Murder by David Grann

Just when you think you’ve already heard the most daring of castaway sea voyages from the historical record, comes now author David Grann to regale us with a remarkable chronicle of woe. In The Wager: A Tale of Shipwreck, Mutiny and Murder, Grann weaves together a myriad of sources, recounting events with such vibrant prose they unfurl before the mind’s eye. These events, however, happened over 280 years ago. As revealed by his previous book, Killers of the Flower Moon, Grann’s talent is not just in narration, but also in finding historical narratives that turn the looking glass back around on us.

Mark Twain purportedly said, “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes.” During the 18th century, naval warfare was one such rhyme. In 1740, the Royal Navy dispatched a squadron from Portsmouth on a mission to seize the treasure aboard a Spanish galleon. Grann does capital work in describing the socio-economic profile of the crew, ranging from striving officers to men pressed into service against their will. Aboard these warships, pitiless hierarchy is the name of the game. For a ship to slice through the ocean, each crew member has to work with machine-like precision. Any dereliction is met with the lash—or worse. As we already knew, democratic these ships are not, for any glint of mutiny portends chaos.

On this voyage, typhus takes its toll. Also, as the squadron sails around Cape Horn, scurvy ravages the crew, rendering them near useless. Traversing the Cape’s furious waters is certainly an inauspicious time for a weakened crew. For centuries it bedeviled sailors. Grann notes that those who experienced it “strained to find a fitting name for this watery graveyard”: “Blind Horn’s hate,” “Dead Men’s Road,” or just simply “Terrible.”

Some of the squadron’s ships make it. Some turn back. One ship, a former merchant vessel (an East Indiaman) retrofitted into a warship, decidedly does not make it: the HMS Wager. Grann lays out, with great drama, how the ship runs hard aground just off a Chilean island. Water floods in, rats scurry up from the holds, and those well enough to flee scramble into smaller boats. Then there are those who break into the ship’s store of alcohol and go berserk in a mixture of revelry and fighting.

On that speck of land, later named Wager Island, commences the rest of the book’s subtitle. There is scant food on the island to sustain life. Celery grass, however, does alleviate the scurvy. A potential lifeline also manifests with the appearance of the Kawésqar.

Inhabiting the Patagonian archipelago for thousands of years, the Kawésqar people marvel the Wager’s crew with how they keep warm in constant near-freezing conditions, lathering their exposed skin with animal fat and tending small fires in their canoes. They extract sustenance from the sea and share it with the castaways. Eventually, an entire Kawésqar village relocates to the island. And then—and you knew this was coming—some of the crew promptly ruin it all. Quite often a group is only as good as its worst members. The worst of the Wager’s crew would, on occasion, take a boat to the ship’s wreckage, drink their fill of spirits, and then return to harass those on the island. One night, as the crew slept, the Kawésqar quietly gather their belongings and disappear.

Two crewmen’s journals supply much of the content on which Grann draws. One is John Bulkeley, a gunner. The other is from John Byron, a young midshipman and future grandfather to poet Lord Byron. Bulkeley is a savvy scribe, for he knows his journals need to reinforce the narrative he’s going to relay to the English admiralty.

Of course any relay is subject to a big-time fact conditional: getting off the blasted island. How this transpires is best left to the reader. But when the mutiny comes, the language used by the mutineers is similar in spirit to what American colonists will argue in the Declaration of Independence some 30 years later. Just as the mutineers name their despot, Captain Cheap, so will the Declaration’s signers name theirs: King George III. In essence, Enlightenment precepts were used, arguing that it’s not they who were in rebellion but their disgraced leaders, men who failed those they were charged to lead.

One faction makes it back to England before the other, commencing the race to peddle a narrative. There are plenty of London broadsheets more than willing to print the various stories from those on the Wager. For the crew, it’s more than an abstract winning of hearts and minds. It’s about solidifying a narrative that will be told to Royal Navy authorities. Under naval codes, punishment for dereliction of duty was already greatly feared by officers and sailors alike. Grann quotes Voltaire’s “Candide,” saying “that the English believed it proper to ‘kill an admiral from time to time in order to encourage the others.’” The admiralty’s ultimate decision is both unexpected and telling.

The Wager is every bit the historical thriller, deserving of the praise it’s garnered. But Grann is also asking the reader to consider larger questions. Why was it necessary to send out warships at all? The events happened under the auspices of the War for Jenkins’ Ear. And if—just by name alone—this sounds like a ridiculous undertaking, you’re not far off. Lives were lost, all in service of…what exactly? Quite a few of the Wager’s crew disappear from the historical record. Grann also mentions the many slaves lost (read: killed) in the Middle Passage during this time period. It’s no accident these nameless lives rarely entered any record at all, except perhaps as a ledger expense. Those responsible certainly had no interest in highlighting such barbarity. Says Grann: “Empires preserve their power with the stories that they tell, but just as critical are the stories they don’t—the dark silences they impose, the pages they tear out.”

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Reviewed by Jason Sullivan

North of Nowhere by Allison Brennan

Kristen McIntyre Reed plays soccer for her high school team, loves to help out at the ranch where her dad works, and Jason, whom she secretly likes, just kissed her for the first time. She appears to be a typical sixteen year old. But in Allison Brennan’s North of Nowhere appearances can be deceptive.

When her dad, Tony, wakes her at 5:30am her first response is to reach for her weapon. When Tony tells her simply “Plan B, baby” she immediately reaches for her sturdiest boots, dresses warmly and grabs her go bag. No questions. They trained for this; grab your bag and get your brother, Ryan. Ryan is ten years old, smart, adept, and deaf.

Plan B means Boyd has found them and they have to run. A blizzard is forecast but they have to go now, even the wait for dawn to arrive could be costly. But they need light to ‘borrow’ his boss’ plane and fly to Ennis where they will get a car and head 300 miles north to a well-stocked cabin near the Canadian border.

Boyd McIntyre runs one of the largest crime syndicates in Los Angeles and he is Kristen and Ryan’s father. Tony was part of the syndicate until five years ago when he and Maggie, Boyd’s wife and the kid’s mother, devised a plan to get out. As Maggie and Kristen are leaving to meet Tony and Ryan, Maggie is shot and killed but Kristen escapes. Since then, Tony has been hiding and protecting them in Montana.

When his search lead Boyd to Montana he hired local help to locate Tony. They soon figure out what Tony may be planning and arrive at the airfield before Tony is ready. As the plane gains speed Boyd is chasing them and fires a warning shot at the plane. It doesn’t deter Tony but soon more bullets are hitting the plane. They manage to take off but the plane is damaged and Tony was hit twice, in the arm and chest.
Only halfway to Ennis, they are forced to crash land in a lake. Kristen manages to get them off the plane and to the shore but Tony is too badly injured to go further. When they hear a helicopter overhead they know Boyd has found them. Kristen will do anything to protect Ryan, even follow Tony’s order to leave him and hike through the mountains in a desperate attempt to reach Ennis before Boyd can catch them.

Tony’s boss, Nick Lorenzo, knows something must have gone wrong for Tony to take the plane. A neighbor tells him that there was gunfire at the airfield and then the plane’s transponder notifies Nick that the plane has gone down. Nick knows the storm is coming but he needs to help Kristen and Ryan if they survived the crash. First he calls Tony’s emergency contact to notify her of the situation, Ruby McIntyre, Boyd’s sister.

Local search and rescue is tied up looking for a family that didn’t make it home so Nick and his son, Jason, set out alone. When they find the crash site, Tony is dead. They search the area for Kristen and Ryan but only find footprints. The smaller prints of the kids and three sets of adult footprints. Nick sends Jason back to get help and he follows the prints.

Ruby meanwhile is making her own arrangements to help Kristen and Ryan. At 18 she enlisted in the military to free herself from the family. She tried to help Tony and the kids five years ago but Tony cut her off. Now she’ll do whatever it takes, even parachuting onto the mountain, to find her niece and nephew.

Kristen is strong and resourceful but can she keep safe a young boy who can’t hear danger approach or a warning shout? The weather is deteriorating, the terrain is treacherous, Boyd and his men can’t be far behind and they are a long way from the first stop in Plan B.

Boyd isn’t dressed or prepared for the mountain and the weather but nothing is going to stop him from finding his kids and taking them back. Ruby is prepared and equally determined to keep the kids from Boyd. Nick’s concern is for the kids but he doesn’t know what will happen if someone gets in Boyd’s way.

This thriller has a lot of moving parts, and the characters all have backstories that are relayed over the course of the chase through the mountains. Once it gets going it is almost non-stop action and just when you think you can take a breath something more deadly than the mountains and the storm waits.

Review by Patty Crane, Reference Librarian

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Arch-conspirator by Veronica Roth

In ARCH-CONSPIRATOR, Veronica Roth puts a futuristic spin on Sophocles’ Antigone. Roth transfers the ancient Greek tragedy to the last city on Earth, which stands as the lone haven in a desolate wasteland created by humanity.

The city is ruled over by Antigone’s uncle Kreon, the High Commander, a militant man obsessed with order and maintaining the status quo. Kreon took the throne after a riot – that he instigated – killed the former High Commander, Antigone’s father Oedipus.

Antigone and her siblings are set apart from the population not because their father was deposed and replaced as High Commander, but because their parents chose to have them independently. In this future, children are created using the ichor stored in the Archive, a gene bank containing the cells from generations of the dead.

It is considered unnatural to have biological children. Those children are looked down upon as being soulless, because the soul lives in a person’s ichor and is passed down to the next generation when new life is created.

Humanity is kept in check by Kreon’s marshal rule as well as this strict pseudo-religious dedication to humanity’s future.

After taking the throne, Kreon allowed Antigone and her siblings to live in the High Commander’s residence with his family. Over the years, the four of them integrated themselves into these new lives with varying levels of success.

Antigone grew stoic and stubborn. She has since been unwillingly betrothed to Kreon’s son, Haemon.

Antigone’s twin, Polyneikes, has chafed against his uncle’s rule. He has joined a group of revolutionaries from the city who seek to overthrow Kreon.

Ismene, their sister, abides by Kreon’s rules, for the most part. She is quieter and meeker than the twins, but she does rebel in her own ways.

Their brother, Eteocles, has assimilated almost completely into the new High Commander’s regime. He has become a member of Kreon’s personal guard.

As the book opens, Antigone joins Polyneikes at a café in the city. Her brother alludes to dangerous plans he has for that evening. He ends their conversation by giving Antigone and Extractor – the metal instrument used to harvest ichor from the dead. Polyneikes makes Antigone promise that she will use it on him if things go badly.

Late that night, Antigone and Ismene hear a fight taking place in the courtyard of the High Commander’s residence. When they arrive at the scene, they find Polyneikes and Eteocles, who have shot and killed one another. One brother on his way to kill Kreon and the other protecting him.

Kreon labels Polyneikes a traitor and decrees that his body is not to be touched – or Extracted for the Archive – as a warning against insurrection. To honor her brother’s wishes, Antigone has twenty-four hours from his death to get to him and use the stolen Extractor.

Veronica Roth’s novella is a quick but intense read. She narrates chapters from many of her key characters, allowing readers a glimpse at the inner turmoil faced by each of them. Alongside this story of revenge and familial love, ARCH-CONSPIRATOR also offers a variety of perspectives on life at the end of the world.

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Book review by Alyssa Berry, Technical Services Librarian

JEANA’S FAVORITE READS OF 2023

Happy New Year and welcome to 2024! As with past years I like to kick off the new year by reflecting on what I read during the previous year. And 2023 was a strange one, reading-wise for me. I kept starting books and not being able to get into them, so I would not finish them. I did that with at least fifteen books, maybe more. Despite that frustrating phenomenon, the total I finished reading for the year was forty-three. On par with what I have accomplished the past several years. I am thrilled to have read the books I did. I hope you are as happy with your 2023 books, too. If not, do not fret, I am sure 2024 is going to be your year!

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

THE SEVEN HUSBANDS OF EVELYN HUGO by Taylor Jenkins Reid
Evelyn Hugo is a famous Hollywood film actress, who has been in the business since the 1950’s and has decided it’s time to have someone write a tell-all memoir about her life. The truth is hard to tell, and for some, even harder to hear, but seventy-nine year old Evelyn is determined to share her truth with the world.

Monique Grant is the writer Evelyn asks to work with, but no one is sure why. Most especially Monique. Her marriage is in a hard place and she is not well known at the magazine she works for, nor in the world of journalism. But Evelyn Hugo has a way of getting what she wants and soon she and Monique are spending their days together, going through her life. She tells Monique everything – about her childhood, her early days in the film industry, about her seven husbands and much more. No matter how hard or terrible, Evelyn is committed to sharing the truth and nothing but the truth.

It’s hard to describe the rest without giving away a couple of major storylines, but this book is so good. I listened to it and in addition to the compelling story, the narration is superb! Reid is phenomenal at writing characters. Her character development is perfect. Wonderfully complex characters that are multidimensional and hard to like, but even harder to not at least identify with. Evelyn and Monique both feel raw, real and like a living breathing people you might know. In addition to the characters the plot is unique and meandering so readers will be hooked from the first scenes. Evelyn has lived a full and exciting life and once the pieces start to click into place it is hard to stop reading. I highly recommend this one.

TOMORROW AND TOMORROW AND TOMORROW by Gabrielle Zevin
I wrote a full review for this one in March 2023, but could not pass up a chance to mention it again.

I am in love with this book. It is a love story, but not in the traditional sense. It has gaming, friendship, enemies, love, hate and heartbreak. It spans thirty years of a relationship that was created when two eleven year olds, Sam Mazur and Sadie Green, met and started gaming together in a hospital game room. The friendship had a rocky start, thanks to a misunderstanding, but Sam and Sadie are forever connected. They may not always remember they are friends, but they are. Through their love and shared history they create a life, a company and a family that is wholly their own.
Author Gabrielle Zevin is a master storyteller and her character development is brilliant. Each one is so completely developed it is hard to stop thinking about them even after finishing the novel. Zevin’s work is breathtaking and should not be missed. It reads much like real life feels, with all the emotions that love and friendship create along the way. It has a backdrop of 90s style gaming that combines with well-rounded, yet flawed characters to tell a compelling story of love, distrust, hope, hurt and healing. Sam says it best, “To play requires love and trust.” I feel this about reading, too. It requires trust of the author and Zevin does not disappoint.

MAD HONEY by Jodi Picoult and Jennifer Finney Boylan
I have been a Jodi Picoult fan for years, but this book reminded me why I appreciate her writing so much. The characters, the timely plot, the slowly parsed details, the twist. It all works so well together and I am here for it.

I do not want to spoil the book so I am only going to share the barest of details.

The book has three main characters:
Olivia – beekeeper, abuse survivor and Asher’s mom
Asher – high school senior, golden boy and Lily’s boyfriend
Lily – high school senior, new-in-town and Asher’s girlfriend

Plot summary: Boy meets girl, boy falls in love with girl, girl dies, and boy is accused of killing girl.

I know that is not much, but the book is about Asher and whether he is guilty of the crime he has been charged with. But it is Olivia and Lily’s story told through their alternating perspectives. Who they are, where they come from and what makes them similar. The book is such an engaging tale, with thought provoking characters. In addition it provides unique insight and perspective about current issues.

LADY TAN’S CIRCLE OF WOMEN by Lisa See
I wrote a full review for this one in September 2023, but could not pass up a chance to share it again because it should not be missed.
The path of Tan Yunxian, the novel’s narrator, is different from most other women in fifteenth century China. In a place where women are encouraged to follow a traditional path, usually one dictated by their father or husband, Yunxian’s upbringing is not like that. She has led a life of great privilege, thanks to the wealth of her family, and being surrounded by educated people, including her paternal grandparents who are both doctors. Throughout childhood, Yunxian’s grandmother teaches her medicine, specifically medicine to help women.
For seven years, Yunxian learns alongside her grandmother until at fifteen she marries the son of a wealthy merchant. After her wedding, Yunxian goes to live with her husband’s family. Her mother-in-law, who is in charge of the household, forbids Yunxian from practicing medicine. Yunxian is left feeling unsure how to move forward in her new life.
The rest of the book reflects on the struggle that Yunxian faces in reconciling her education and upbringing with her married life. As the book title suggests, it is only possible due to her “circle of women.”
I have been a Lisa See fan since reading THE TEA GIRL OF HUMMINGBIRD LANE. She does a tremendous amount of research for her novels and I love how history and her creativity combine to make a beautiful historical fiction account. As with most of See’s characters, Tan Yunxian’s character is true-to-life and the book’s plot is gripping and relatable. Something that surprised me since it was set in fifteenth century China. I could not stop reading this book and I have told so many people about it. See’s descriptions of daily life – the food, the culture, the traditions and the scenery – make the reader feel like they are part of the story. Do not miss this one.

FOURTH WING (THE EMPYREAN BOOK 1) by Rebecca Yarros
Fantasy is not for everyone, but author Rebeccca Yarros helped introduce a lot of new readers to the genre in 2023. Women readers especially, thanks to the romance elements that she incorporates in her new series.

Twenty-year-old Violet Sorrengail never thought she would be entering a war college for dragon riders. From birth she knew she would become part of the less risky Scribe Quadrant, but when Violet’s commander general mother orders her to join the dragon riders, she has no choice but to comply.

Violet is smaller and physically weaker than her peers, but that does not stop her from trying her hardest to survive so she can attempt to bond with a dragon. She does not have an easy path forward. Not only does she have her physical limitations, but being Commander Sorrengail’s offspring puts an automatic target on her back. Top of the list is Xaden Riorson, her wing leader, and one of the most powerful dragon riders in the war college, thanks to his personal vendetta with her mother.

Violet will need to use all of her skills to survive her first year at the war college. She will need to keep her friends and enemies close as she navigates her daily life because the only way to leave the school is to graduate or to die trying.

This book got so much buzz in 2023 that I could not wait to read it. And thank goodness I was not disappointed. Yarros is clever. She has created a strong addition to the world of fantasy. Dragons, intrigue, magic, all the typical elements, with an enthralling and well written style. I am not sure if this book created a brand new genre of fiction in 2023, but I had never heard of “Romantasy” before this year. I love that it is the meshing of romance and fantasy. And I love the excitement her books have created and highly recommend giving this first one in the series a try.

DARK AGE and LIGHT BRINGER (RED RISING SAGA BOOKS 5 & 6) by Pierce Brown
I will not say much about these two, because I reviewed the first several books in the series last year in my end of year summary. I have added them to this year’s list because I enjoyed them almost as much as the first four books in the series. They are engrossing, suspenseful, clever and dark.

Darrow is a complicated character and he struggles with his own inner conflict for practically all of both books, but he is not always the main draw of the story since there are so many interesting secondary characters. Their narratives move the storyline along quickly.

As I mentioned last year, this series is violent, but do not let that discourage you. I highly recommend the whole series and cannot wait for the next, and supposedly final book to be released.

And that is a wrap for 2023. Thanks for taking the time to share in my reflection and reading about some of my favorites. I am excited to see what 2024 brings and I wish you a wonderful new year of reading!

Review written by: Jeana Gockley, Joplin Public Library Director