Misbelief: What Makes Rational People Believe Irrational Things by Dan Ariely

A few years ago Dan Ariely, Professor of Psychology and Behavioral Economics at Duke University, found himself being compared to Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels. He was also named as the “chief consciousness engineer of the Covid-19 fraud” and a leader of the agenda 21 plot. How could this be? These people just didn’t know him so all he needed to do was talk with them and it would be over. Boy was he wrong!

That experience led him to want to understand why and how this could happen. The result is Misbelief: What Makes Rational People Believe Irrational Things.

Misbelief is not a new phenomenon, it’s been around for ages. But it does seem to be increasing and becoming more mainstream. It’s more than just misinformation, it’s a mindset. Ariely defines misbelief “as a distorted lens through which people begin to view the world, reason about the world, and then describe the world to others.”

Getting to misbelief is a process and Ariely likens it to a funnel. You start with a few questions about accepted truths and if you proceed to the end of the funnel, you will dismiss all mainstream sources and embrace alternative truths and conspiracy theories. We are all the opening of the funnel, this book explores why some advance to the end and what factors turn skepticism to mistrust.

The author identifies four elements to the funnel of misbelief. The first is emotional. Stress and the need to manage it play a big role in the journey to misbelief. Not everyday stress but unpredictable stress. Such as the stress of losing employment, the death of a loved one, financial loss, or a pandemic. It can evoke a strong emotional response and feelings of helplessness and loss of control. To combat these feelings you may start looking for someone to blame.

The next element is cognitive. Ariely explores what makes us susceptible to misinformation. We all practice confirmation bias and seek information that supports our beliefs. We also think our minds work differently than they actually do. How does that along with motivated reasoning and the Dunning-Kruger Effect lead someone through the funnel?

The third element considered is personality. What personality traits when combined with other forces make someone more likely to be a misbeliever? Misremembering, seeing patterns, and decision-making biases play a part. And while there is no personality type that misbeliever’s share, if you have a narcissist in your life, don’t ignore their needs.

The final element is social. This one is a powerful motivator as people are social. Those who advance in the funnel of misbelief will usually experience ostracism. When others are made uncomfortable or embarrassed by what someone with a misbelief says they distance themselves. As family and friends turn away, the social needs of the misbeliever are filled by the ones who believe as they do. This draws the misbeliever even farther down the funnel. The social need can overshadow the misbelief as the reason to keep the misbelief.
So what does all this misbelief lead to – mistrust. Mistrust is a serious problem for our society but Ariely says Superman gives him hope. I’ll let him explain why.

I’ve probably made this sound a bit boring and academic but it is not. Ariely’s style is conversational with a little humor and always respectful. His examples opened my eyes to misbeliefs I didn’t know existed. He also provides Hopefully Helpful boxes scattered through the text. These are things we can do to combat some of the actions that can lead to misbelief.

I was eager to read this when I saw this title on our new book shelves. I’ve been very puzzled the last few years how someone who shares the same belief system with another can come to believe something that the other finds completely unbelievable. With Ariely’s help, now I know.

Review written by: Patty Crane, Joplin Public Library Reference Librarian

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The Adventures of Amina Al-Sirafi by Shannon Chakraborty

Amina al-Sirafi used to be a pirate. She sailed the Indian Ocean on her ship, the Marawati, with a dedicated and close-knit crew. She was a fearsome warrior and an ingenious captain. But now, she’s retired.

For ten years she has been living in a dilapidated house by the ocean with her mother and young daughter. Amina stays isolated to avoid being recognized as the famed sea captain. She loves being a mother, and she loves the quiet life she has been able to provide for her family.

Her retirement is interrupted by the arrival of a noblewoman, Salima al-Hilli. The older woman reveals that her son used to be a member of Amina’s crew – before his death – and offers Amina a fortune to track down her granddaughter.

Dunya al-Hilli was kidnapped by a band of mercenaries led by Falco Palamenestra, a Fankish captain with unusual powers. As Amina looks into the teenager’s disappearance, it becomes clear that there is more to the story than Salima is willing to tell her.

Before she sets out to track down Dunya and Falco, Amina has to gather her crew back together, track down the Marawati — which she has left in the care of her former first mate, and find out where Falco is heading.

As the crew investigates, they discover what Falco is searching for: the Moon of Saba, a legendary artifact that is said to contain a supernatural being. Amina also discovers that Dunya was far from a kidnapping victim. She is a self-taught supernatural scholar who willingly went with Falco to find the Moon.

Amina has a history with the supernatural. She knows that Falco and Dunya are already in over their heads. And though she is only interested in stopping Falco, a misguided teenager with an adventurous streak deserves to be saved.

Shannon Chakraborty’s THE ADVENTURES OF AMINA AL-SIRAFI is a high-seas heist full of memorable characters. None more extraordinary than Amina herself.

Amina is a strong, resourceful woman dedicated to getting back home to her family. But the more time she spends at sea, the harder it is to think about giving it up again. Her struggle between her love of the ocean and her love for her daughter plays out internally as she rides the waves, fights sea monsters, and argues with her estranged demonic husband.

The book is written as if Amina is dictating it like an old fish story. Her wry personality comes through every anecdote. This first-person narration allows Amina to keep some important details to herself as the journey progresses. Some readers may feel like they missed a previous book from the number of allusions she makes to the last adventure of the Marawati – the one that led to the death of Dunya’s father and Amina’s retirement.

The in-fiction writer is a scribe dedicated to recording the crew’s adventures, because – despite her protests – Amina is becoming a legend.

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Review by Alyssa Berry, Technical Services Librarian

Lady Tan’s Circle of Women by Lisa See

The setting for Lisa See’s latest New York Times bestselling novel, LADY TAN’S CIRCLE OF WOMEN, is fifteenth century China.  A place where women are encouraged to follow a traditional path, usually one dictated by their father or husband. 

Tan Yunxian, the novel’s narrator, is reminded of this by her mother as the book opens.  Respectful Lady imparts, “Whether animal or woman, we are a man’s possessions. We women exist to give him heirs and feed, clothe and amuse him. Never forget that.” Her mother offers this advice as she and Yunxian are both trying to manage the pain of footbinding. 

Education is usually not part of the path set forth by men for the women in their lives, and the idea is reinforced by Confucius who is quoted as saying, “an educated woman is a worthless woman.”  However, Yunxian is different from most women in China. She has led a life of great privilege, thanks to the wealth of her family, and is surrounded by educated people, including her grandmother, who is one of a few female doctors. 

Yunxian’s path to medicine starts early, due to her ailing mother. During this time period, male doctors were not allowed to see or touch a female patient.  They needed another person, usually the husband, to serve as a go-between, to ask questions and provide the recommended treatment, but when Respectful Lady falls ill, Yunxian is chosen to carry out this task.  Despite Yunxian’s attention and care, her mother ultimately succumbs to an infection and the eight year old cannot help but feel like there should have been more she could have done to help. 

After her mother’s death Yunxian’s father must depart Laizhou for Beijing to take his next level imperial exams, so she is sent to live at her paternal grandparents’ compound in Wuxi. Medicine has been in her family for generations and both her grandparents are doctors.

After settling in, Yunxian’s grandmother begins to teach her medicine, specifically medicine to help women. Being a female doctor allows Yunxian’s grandmother the opportunity to properly examine women and treat them, unlike how it works for male doctors.

In addition to Confucius teachings not valuing women, midwives are considered less than doctors because they soil their hands with blood during labor and delivery, so it is necessary for a doctor to work closely with a midwife. Yunxian’s grandmother values the help of midwives and works closely with a woman named Midwife Shi. The midwife’s daughter, Meiling, is apprenticing for her, and she and Yunxian become best friends as they help with the medical work. 

For seven years, Yunxian learns alongside her grandmother and Midwife Shi. While Yunxian is learning medicine, her bride price is also being negotiated, so 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 not only treating women in the compound, but from corresponding and being friends with Meiling. Yunxian is left feeling isolated and alone.  

 The remainder 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.” 

Lisa See’s newest offering is phenomenal! I love how she based the book on the true story of Tan Yunxian. The characters are well drawn and Yunxian felt like a living, breathing person to me.  Not only does See’s research and the history she incorporated shine throughout, but the plot is compelling and relatable. I could not stop reading this novel. Readers will feel like they are part of the Ming dynasty thanks to See’s descriptions of daily life – the food, the culture, the traditions and the scenery. Also, note that Lisa See’s headshot for the book was taken in front of the marriage bed that has been in her family for generations. I highly recommend this one.

Find the book in the catalog. 

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

Enjoyable Audiobooks

When I was younger I went through a phase where I turned up my nose at the thought of audiobooks. “That isn’t real reading” I recall my smug self thinking. Well, younger self, here I am today, writing a dedication to audiobooks. 

For me an audiobook is many things. They’re a way to multitask, listening to a book while I cook, clean, exercise, pretty much any daily task that has my mind wandering or thinking “it’d be really nice to know what happens next in my book.” They’re a companion in the car or on a walk. But what I’ve found most is audiobooks are a performance and a connection with the story. Anyone that listens to audiobooks has likely experienced the ones that do not have ideal narrators, an otherwise good book falling flat because of the narration. To that end what follows are three audiobooks I listened to this year that are not only good books, but good audiobooks.


The Sentence by Louise Erdrich

Set in Minneapolis and spanning from November 2019 to November 2020 The Sentence follows Tookie, a woman who has recently been released from federal prison for a laugh-worthy crime. Becoming an avid reader during her time in prison, Tookie takes a job in a bookstore upon her release. Tookie soon discovers the bookstore is haunted by the ghost of Flora, the store’s most dedicated and annoying customer, even in death. What begins as a crime caper, ghost story mashup soon turns into a deep contemplation on the Covid-19 pandemic, George Floyd, the Black Lives Matter movement, and the historic horrors and culture of Native Americans that often permeates Erdrich’s novels. While this might sound like a confusing culmination of themes it is executed expertly in the moving fashion common for the Pulitzer Prize winning author. Erdrich herself narrated the audiobook I listened to, and if there is ever an opportunity to listen to an audio with the author as narrator I will happily take it. Erdrich is the best person to bring the story to life, invoking Tookie’s experiences through one of the most tumultuous years of modern history with the soul she wrote into this novel. 

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 The Diamond Eye by Kate Quinn

Kate Quinn is an author of historical fiction, her novels generally focused upon a female protagonist. In The Diamond Eye Quinn fictionalizes the true story of Russian female sniper Lyudmila “Mila”  Pavlichenko. Mila is a single mother studying as a history student in Kyiv when Hitler invades Ukraine and Russia. Mila’s life forever changes, as she leaves behind her history books for a sniper school. Mila soon rises to be one of the best and well known Russian snipers, with over 300 kills to her name; this earns Mila the nickname Lady Death. Her country decides to use Mila’s renown by sending her on a goodwill tour to Washington, D.C., where she spends time at the White House and befriends First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. However, it doesn’t take long for danger to once again find Mila. This novel is full of history and Mila was a person I greatly enjoyed getting to know, full of strength, determination, and hope in a struggling time. The audiobook I listened to is narrated by Saskia Maarleveld, a prolific narrator in the audiobook world. What I particularly enjoyed about the narration is the seemingly easy transitions from the various accents and languages in the novel. Listening to this made me want to read more of Quinn’s novels. 

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The Anthropocene Reviewed: Essays on a Human-Centered Planet by John Green

I haven’t picked up a John Green book since several of his novels made a mockery of my teenage heart (I’m looking at you, The Fault in Our Stars), but I was interested in Green’s recent essay collection The Anthropocene Reviewed: Essays on a Human-Centered Planet. The collection contains numerous essays reviewing various topics within our current geological age, such as the Lascaux Cave Paintings, Viral Meningitis, Canada Geese, and Teddy Bears. Whatever the topic, Green fills the reviews with humor, personal tidbits about experiences with the chosen topic, factual information, and insightful reflections. The essays demonstrate a masterful ability to begin with what seems like a straightforward topic (for example, Wintry Mix) and take the reader through an empathetic reminder to wonder, to pay attention to what is around us and our part in it. At the end of each essay Green gives a rating for what he reviewed based on a 5 star scale. I listened to the version narrated by Green, and while I enjoyed the collection as is, Green’s narration took it to a different level, pulling me along his introspective journey through the Anthropocene. And, as a seasoned reader of Green’s novels, I couldn’t help slightly fangirling over the deep dive into his mind. I give The Anthropocene Reviewed: Essays on a Human-Centered Planet 4.5 stars.

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Audiobooks can be checked out from the Joplin Public Library in CD form, as well as electronically from the digital borrowing platforms Libby and Hoopla. 

Review by Sarah Turner-Hill, Adult Programming Coordinator


Tolkien Companion Books


Titles reviewed:
The Atlas of Middle Earth (revised edition) by Karen Wynn Fonstad
J.R.R. Tolkien, Artist & Illustrator by Wayne G. Hammond and Christina Scull
Tolkien: The Illustrated Encyclopedia by David Day

Hello, book fans! It’s fandom week here at the book review, so buckle up as we travel through one of my favorites, the world of J.R.R. Tolkien!

Whether based on authors, individual books, or a series, literary fandoms generate a lot of material to pore over and to dissect. There can be a lot to enjoy and a lot to ponder beyond a book’s basic plot. When world building is involved, that amount of material can increase dramatically. When the world is as detailed as Tolkien’s Middle-Earth, it’s an exponential jump.

What to do with all of this information? Organize it, of course! One of my favorite fandom creations is the companion book–a title created specifically to aid the reader in exploring the fictional world that sparked the fandom. Companion books can take a variety of approaches to the original work–atlas of the fictional world, dictionary of terms or characters, encyclopedia, character genealogy, etc. They are generally very helpful books aiding in enjoyment of the original work and often entertaining in their own right.

The first time I binge-read the Lord of the Rings trilogy I had just seen the Peter Jackson films and had that visual reference vividly with me. Years later when I read the series again, I had a companion book nearby with a detailed map of Middle-Earth, character genealogies, a glossary, and other tools that added so much more to the experience..

Every journey needs a map, and a trip with Tolkien is no exception. (One does not simply stop in Mordor to ask directions.) The Atlas of Middle-Earth (Revised Edition) by Karen Wynn Fonstad is a great resource for the casual and hardcore Tolkien reader alike. Fonstad was an American cartographer whose methodical, thorough approach offers an opportunity for casual readers to dip in and out of the sections they want without being overwhelmed.

The atlas begins with chronological divisions showing the history of Middle-Earth then follows with a chapter of regional maps (including the Shire) and maps covering The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings topped off by thematic maps such as climate, vegetation, and languages. Each map is accompanied by explanatory text that may prove helpful for casual fans navigating the books and movies and interesting throughout (particularly the history section) for superfans. The sepia-toned maps with their minimalist precision lend an old-school feel resembling Tolkien’s original drawings.

J.R.R. Tolkien, Artist & Illustrator by Wayne G. Hammond and Christina Scull delves into the body of pictorial works across Tolkien’s lifetime from childhood paintings to final sketches. A deeeeeeep dive into Tolkien’s art, this title is great for readers intensely interested in the history of book illustration or all things Tolkien. The book is laid out chronologically, generously filled with 200 reproductions of his designs–the majority of them in full color–and just over 200 pages of thoughtful, in-depth text. It’s the academic tone of the highly detailed text that moves the book to the realm of die-hard fans although absolutely worth a flip-through for the mid-level enthusiast.

Tolkien: The Illustrated Encyclopedia by David Day welcomes a range of Tolkien fans by pulling together a variety of details about the fictional world and its inhabitants. Arranged like a traditional encyclopedia, Day’s work provides detailed-yet-easily-digestible information on Tolkien himself and the history, geography, sociology, natural history, and biography of Middle-Earth. Each entry offers background and description of its subject matter in clear, concise terms and provides context within Tolkien’s writings. The encyclopedia is heavily illustrated throughout using a wide assortment of art styles, most in full color. Its design is accessible and engaging, making it easy for a casual user to find what they need. The varied art produces a welcoming, slightly groovy vibe that meshes well with the text, creating a delightful companion on the journey through Tolkien’s imagination.

Speaking of Tolkien’s imagination, Hobbit Day refers to the shared birthday of characters Bilbo and Frodo Baggins and is observed on September 22 by many Tolkien fans. This year, the Joplin Public Library and the Empire Market have teamed up to bring a piece of Middle-Earth to Joplin for Hobbit Day! Kick off the free, all-ages fun at the Library on Friday, September 22, 11am-6pm, with a scavenger hunt, crafts, and more, then visit the Empire Market on Saturday, September 23, 10am-2pm, for awesome activities plus special food and merchandise from market vendors. Costumes are always welcome. See you there!

Brave Hearted: The Women of the American West by Katie Hickman

Katie Hickman’s Brave Hearted: The Women of the American West is as much about westward expansion and the colonization – or, in seemingly benign language, westward ‘migration’ and ‘settlement’ – of what we now know as the American West as it is about the history of the women who were among the first to make their way westward.

Stories, both fictional and non, of westward migration abound. Most of these stories, like much of the romanticized imagery of, and entertainment about, the American West, are about men–cowboys, explorers, fur traders, guides, merchants, military, warriors, etc. But what about the women? Although Brave Hearted is not, nor does it pretend to be, comprehensive, it helps tell a fuller story about travels to, and the settling of, the American West. And it all starts with a couple of ladies who felt called to missionary work.

Narcissa Whitman and Eliza Spalding, along with their husbands, set out for the so-called frontier in 1836. In fact, both women married their husbands, who they barely knew, in order to fulfill their dreams of becoming missionaries. It was unacceptable for women to set out on their own at that time and, even if it had been acceptable, women lacked the means to do so. But these two men needed the women as much as the women needed them because they needed to be married to set up permanent missionary settlements in the West. Thus, their marriages were mutually beneficial. It was an interesting dynamic, with a bit of personal history and tension (that you could read more about in the book proper).

The two couples set out from Liberty, Missouri, in the company of a handful of others, including a carpenter, who served as “lay assistant and mechanic,” three Nez Perce, and two other men. Communally, they made some necessary purchases for the journey, such as cattle, horses, and a farm wagon, and each carried “a plate, a knife and fork, and a tin cup.” Any other personal belongings were toted along however by whoever owned them. They were headed to an American Fur Company rendezvous spot from which they would start the “real” journey West. Their arrival caused a sensation there, as it did when they made it to their final destination, for Narcissa Whitman and Eliza Spalding were the first white women to travel westward overland–it was a magnificent feat.

They, like the women who followed, left everything – material and immaterial – behind with the hopes of successfully establishing themselves in the West. Often, and likely more often than not, these women did not again see the family or friends who they left behind. Also, communication could be sparse, as it depended on mail delivery. To say it was not an easy journey, or an easy way of life if and when they got there, is perhaps an understatement.

Hickman’s book, however, isn’t just about the experiences of the Narcissa Whitmans and Eliza Spaldings of the world. As she writes in her introduction, the women she depicts “encompass an extraordinarily diverse range of humanity, of every class, every background, and of numerous different ethnicities, many of them rarely represented in histories of the West.” Indeed, that’s an accurate description, if self-described.

In addition to writing about the women of the Whitman Mission, Hickman writes about others who traveled west for religious reasons, such as the Mormons, as well as Native American, African American, Chinese, and other women, from all sorts of social classes and standings. Her story starts with Whitman and Spalding, presumably, because they were the first women who traveled overland to the west. Their success – meaning only that they actually arrived alive to where they were going – illustrated that women, too, were capable of making the journey. Soon thereafter, an unprecedented amount of people, including “unheard of” amounts of women, traveled overland to migrate west.

Not all women who landed in the west chose that journey, however. General Custer and his wife, Elizabeth, took their slave, Eliza, from camp to camp. Biddy Mason, who was born into slavery in Georgia in 1818, and her family were forced west by their owner, Robert Smith, who was part of the Mormon migration. Fortunately for Mason and her family, they were able to become freed when in California, due to a legality when Smith tried to remove them to Texas. Biddy Mason moved to Los Angeles, was “one of the first non-Mexican residents,” and became a well-respected, “prominent property owner and philanthropist.” Others were not as fortunate, such as the numerous Chinese women who languished as slaves or indentured sex workers after arriving from China by sea, often in horrendous conditions.

Brave Hearted is told in 18 expertly-researched chapters, complete with maps, notes, and a select bibliography. Although the book is not image-heavy, it does contain a handful of photographs, including one of “Handcart Pioneers” (pg. 196), people who headed west pulling what they owned themselves with a hand cart; a promotional image of Olive Oatman (pg. 231), who became famous for her time among the Mohave; Biddy Mason (pg. 284), who is described above; and others, some of whom remain anonymous/unknown.

Brave Hearted is one of the better books I’ve read about women and the American West, if not the best. Which is to say I highly recommend it to anyone with an interest in the topics discussed herein. As always, happy reading.

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Murder at an Irish Castle by Ellie Brannigan / Lonely Hearts Book Club by Lucy Gilmore

I was set to introduce the first book in a new cozy mystery series for this review then I read The Lonely Hearts Book Club. I enjoyed it so much I decided to tell you about both titles.

Murder at an Irish Castle by Ellie Brannigan is billed as the beginning of An Irish Castle Mystery series. Rayne McGrath runs a successful bridal boutique on Rodeo Drive in Hollywood. Her specialty is designing one of a kind wedding dresses. So how does a California girl end up in an Irish castle?

On her 30th birthday she and her partner, Landon, are set to lunch with an investment banker then will hopefully be celebrating at dinner. Landon is her romantic as well as business partner and she is expecting that partnership will also go to the next level by the end of the evening.

I was set to introduce the first book in a new cozy mystery series for this review then I read The Lonely Hearts Book Club. I enjoyed it so much I decided to tell you about both titles.

Murder at an Irish Castle by Ellie Brannigan is billed as the beginning of An Irish Castle Mystery series. Rayne McGrath runs a successful bridal boutique on Rodeo Drive in Hollywood. Her specialty is designing one of a kind wedding dresses. So how does a California girl end up in an Irish castle?

On her 30th birthday she and her partner, Landon, are set to lunch with an investment banker then will hopefully be celebrating at dinner. Landon is her romantic as well as business partner and she is expecting that partnership will also go to the next level by the end of the evening.

Arriving at her shop she can’t get in as someone broke something off in the lock. Landon should be there and is not answering his phone. Rushing to his home she finds it empty, as empty as their bank account. At Landon’s suggestion all their money went into one account to make the business more attractive to the bank. When the police gain access to her boutique it is empty as well, Landon took her completed gowns.

Amid the devastation and chaos, Rayne receives a call from Ireland. Her uncle died and her presence is required at the reading of the will. With no trace of Landon and her mother providing a ticket and vowing to handle things in her absence, Rayne takes the long flight to Dublin.

Transported to Grathton Village by a less than cordial Ciara, Rayne is taken directly to the solicitor’s office for the reading of the will. She is shocked to learn that she not only inherited a castle but also has a cousin, Ciara. An even more hostile Ciara as she expected to be her father’s heir.

Rayne is ready to turn the castle over to Ciara but the will prevents it and if she sells all proceeds will go to a church. To inherit any money Rayne and Ciara must stay one year and somehow turn the castle into a profitable concern. The village, Ciara, and the castle staff are depending on Rayne to stay and find a way to bring the castle and the village into the 21st century.

To complicate things further, Ciara is convinced her dad’s death was no accident. So all Rayne has to do is learn how the castle functions, make it profitable to save the village, and create wedding gowns when her shop and customers are thousands of miles away. Oh, and help Ciara find Uncle Nevin’s killer.

This is a murder mystery so there is a killer waiting to be found but in this series debut the focus is more on the place and characters than the murder. It will be interesting to see how things work out in the next book.

Lucy Gilmore brings together an unlikely group for her latest novel, The Lonely Hearts Book Club. There is the seemingly meek self-effacing Sloane, mean and curmudgeonly Arthur, nurturing and empathetic Maisey, kind self-absorbed Mateo, and quiet considerate Greg.

Sloane, a librarian at the Coeur d’Alene Public Library, is reshelving items when she first meets Arthur. As he rudely points out, she is blocking his way to Roman history. Arthur is well known by most of the staff, including fellow librarian Mateo, and they scatter whenever he enters. But Sloane, surprisingly, is not intimated and in the ensuing conversation (banter from Sloane, insults from Arthur) she earns a little of his respect.

Sloane anticipates his visits each day even though he can be cruel at times. When he doesn’t show up for several days, she breaks the rules to look up his home address. Discovering he is ill and alone (because he throws out or runs off every nurse they send) Sloane is determined to help.

When her decision leads to being fired, she becomes Arthur’s full-time caretaker. Her ‘job’ is to catalog his vast array of books. As a retired literature professor, Arthur has amassed a huge collection stacked haphazardly throughout his home.

Arthur will tolerate Soane but Maisey, his neighbor, is another matter. However, Maisey needs someone to care for so Sloane and Arthur are it. Searching for a way to ensure her place, Maisey tentatively proposes they read The Remains of the Day together since there are multiple copies. Sloane loves the idea and their book club is formed.

Soon Greg, Arthur’s estranged grandson, and Mateo join their club. Then a stranger wants to join but why and what is his connection to Arthur?

This novel has five narrators as each member of the club tells their own story while moving the narrative along. Enjoyable with good, relatable characters this is a tale of five lonely people brought together through one cranky elderly man’s love of books.

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Trust by Hernan Diaz

How vast individual wealth is amassed often hits its mark in biographies. We know the usual suspects: Carnegie, Rockefeller, Jobs. Within each is a story of a commodity or a manufactured good, something tangible for the mind’s eye. Concentrated wealth by way of finance capital is a more nebulous biographic endeavor. Rarer still are novelizations about finance capitalists.

If such a novel sounds beyond dull and has you mentally placing it back on the shelf, then this year’s co-winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction should have you reconsidering. I’ll take it even further: If there’s one novel I would recommend, here and now, it would be Trust by Hernan Diaz, the aforementioned winner. It’s a brilliant work told in four parts, each with a different narrator. As such, it’s tempting to label all narrators as unreliable. Fair enough, yet some narratives appear truer than others, with each casting doubt on what you think you’ve already learned. Throughout, the reader is putting together an intriguing narrative puzzle: Who are Benjamin and Helen Rask?

The novel begins with a novella that reads like a biography that’s essentially free of dialogue. Written by a man named Harold Vanner, he pens as his first sentence: “Because he had enjoyed every advantage since birth, one of the few privileges denied Benjamin Rask was that of a heroic rise.” Bookish and solitary, a young Rask enters the 20th century with “no appetites to repress.” When his father dies during his senior year of high school, “relatives and acquaintances alike were impressed by Benjamin’s composure, but the truth was that mourning simply had given the natural dispositions of this character a socially recognizable form.”

To say that he’s without appetite is somewhat of a misnomer. True, the tobacco business that yields great generational wealth within the Rask family bores him. Using that wealth to buy and sell securities decidedly does not bore him. In fact, as he moves through early adulthood, the New York financial community is awed by his ability to capitalize on the market.

But Rask has a problem. His localized fame works against his need for solitude. Continuing his monastic life carries the risk of being labeled, understatedly, “a character.” Rask is cognizant enough to know “there was nothing more conspicuous than anonymity.” He finds the remedy in Helen Brevoort, his future wife. It’s more than a marriage of convenience. They both share ravenous intellectual curiosities. Helen, too, craves a life of the mind. Yet she’s more adroit in crafting their image, understanding that “privacy requires a public facade.” She and Benjamin host numerous gatherings at their New York City mansion, notably chamber orchestra performances.

Throughout their marriage, the Rask fortune grows to levels that leave other financiers wondering exactly how this was achieved. Helen, in turn, uses this wealth to become the nation’s leading benefactor of the arts. Then comes the stock market crash of 1929.

Rather than being ruined, the Rasks inexplicably profit from the crash. They are vilified in the newspapers, Benjamin accused of orchestrating the calamity for personal gain. The Rasks become social pariahs before a brutal illness takes Helen’s life. In the end, despite their lavish parties, no one can say that they really knew the Rasks.

The novel’s second narrator is a financier who worked during the time in question. The novel’s third narrator is Ida Partenza, a woman who’s recalling—many decades later—her employment by the second narrator. And the final narrator’s diary entries completely change the novel’s tone, revealing and answering much. To expound on these narrations here would steal some of the novel’s thunder.

I say “some” because even if someone had disclosed what was to come, I would have devoured the novel nonetheless. Diaz’s writing is exquisite. He captures the voices of the learned, ranging from securities traders to cultural elites. He can also jettison any high-mindedness and share the musings of someone—regardless of socioeconomic class—who’s nearing the great equalizer: death. “Is the strawberry in my mouth alive? Or is its flesh, speckled with the unborn, already dead?”

Partenza’s narration also reveals a life outside the rarefied air of the wealthy. She and her Italian immigrant father are barely surviving the Great Depression in their Brooklyn apartment. It doesn’t help that her father is a self-styled anarchist who detests the very concept of money, a quasi-Marxist who can’t stand the Marxists in power. Still, he and the financier who employs Ida have something in common. They both see the economic depression as a corrective, but for vastly different reasons.

Ida loves her father and doesn’t necessarily disagree with some of his views; yet she finds his dogma insufferable, bordering on fascistic. She can’t help but take some pleasure in knowing that her father must accept that her income comes from a finance capitalist, money that keeps them housed. This period of her long life is short, but a certain person and event within it will also become the standard by which she will forever “measure hatred.”

The stories within Trust surround how paper capital begets more paper capital. But it’s also a story about how views on money bleed into all interactions, whether someone realizes it or not. It’s a story about how reality can be made to fit mistakes, about the “bizarre sort of violence in having…memories plagiarized.” Some of life’s narratives are born of deceit, becoming earnestly told and believed with each retelling.

Reviewed by Jason Sullivan

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Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo

For as long as she can remember, Alex Stern has been able to see ghosts. For most of her life it has been an inconvenience at best, but now it has gotten her a fresh start in life and a free ride to one of the most prestigious colleges in the world.

Last summer Alex woke up in a hospital bed after surviving a horrific attack at her home. There she is visited by Dean Elliot Sandow; he knows about her ability to see ghosts and he wants to offer her a position in one of the nine houses, secret societies on Yale’s campus.

Eight of the houses are essentially fraternities, run by the children of the rich and powerful – who were themselves members of these houses. Within these groups, members perform magical rituals: some predict the future, others change themselves into animals. In one Alex witnesses a famous musician undergoing a ritual to sing more beautifully.

The ninth house, Lethe, serves as a watchdog for these other houses. Lethe makes sure their rituals do not get out of hand and that the societies do not reveal themselves to the general public. Alex’s abilities will make her a valuable asset in this group.

All of the members have their own part to play within Lethe. Alex is an apprentice member, working under the direction of Darlington – Daniel Arlington – an upperclassman known and respected around campus. Darlington went missing earlier in the year when Alex saw him pulled into a portal to hell. Alex is driven to bring him back, despite everyone telling her that he is dead.

Lethe also has an Oculus, someone dedicated to recording and gathering information, and the Centurion, a member of the local police who can alert them if a crime scene seems magical or cover up something that the houses will deal with on their own.

Initially, Alex feels isolated in this group. Darlington is jealous of her innate ability to see ghosts. Pamela Dawes, the Oculus, seems offended by Alex’s presence. And the Centurion, Detective Turner, suspects that Alex may have been involved in the grisly murder she escaped in California.

Alex herself is difficult to get along with. She actively opposes the polite facade that has kept the balance between the houses and she is disgusted by the rich kids who play with magic without understanding the dangers. Back in California she was a high school dropout with an abusive drug dealer boyfriend. She knows this is an entirely different world, but she refuses to bow to its conventions.

Midway through her first semester, Alex is sent to the scene of a possible homicide. A young woman from New Haven has been found murdered. Detective Turner is eager to turn Alex away, the woman and her boyfriend are known criminals and he is already in custody, but Alex cannot shake the feeling that something is off.

As she follows up on her suspicions, Alex uncovers a string of similar murders going back decades. And if these are some kind of secret ritual gone wrong, Alex is going to get to put a stop to it.

Bardugo is an expert at crafting a satisfying antihero, Alex is a protagonist that the reader cannot entirely trust. She is complicated, secretive, and more likely to punch someone in the gut than walk away. Alex has had a hard life, but she will do anything to protect her friends – whatever the cost.

Leigh Bardugo’s NINTH HOUSE is a bit of a puzzle box. The novel jumps around through time; flashing back to scenes from Alex’s training with Darlington and keeping certain details hidden from the reader until just the right moment. There are layers of mysteries that build over the course of the story. Most of those mysteries are concluded by the end of the book; others are resolved in Hell Bent, the sequel that came out earlier this year.

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Book review by Alyssa Berry, Technical Services Librarian

The Celebrants by Steven Rowley

In April, the Library hosted bestselling author Shelby Van Pelt.  Following her presentation, during the Q&A, an audience member asked what she was currently reading.  She shared that she had just finished a new book by Steven Rowley called The Celebrants. She loved it and thought that it was a powerful, thought-provoking read. 

I am a Rowley fan, so I knew I had to read his latest and immediately added myself to the Library’s hold list.  Several weeks later, the book was ready for me and I could hardly wait to start reading it.  

It is the story of five long-time friends – Jordan, Jordy, Craig, Marielle, and Naomi.  A pack that used to be six, but a few weeks before the group’s graduation from Berkeley, their friend Alec died. His death, right on the cusp of their group entering the adult world, without each other, left them shaken and questioning what their lives and connections would look like after graduation.  

After Alec’s funeral, the friends gather at Naomi’s parent’s house in Big Sur, and spend the time comforting each other and rehashing Alec’s death. During the visit, Marielle suggests the remaining friends make a pact. The rules of the pact being, they will drop everything and get together when one of them calls and requests it. They will throw the requestor a living “funeral.” A group celebration to stop and remind themselves that life can be hard, but worth it, especially with one’s friends in their corner. During times of need these gatherings will be pockets of time where they share their love for one another.  

During the next 28 years, the five friends meet up for “funerals” on three occasions, but the newest call to action is different. Jordan has something he has been keeping from the group and it will not be an easy secret to share, and for the group, not something easy to process.  

Rowley has crafted a beautiful composition to the power and beauty of friendship and what lifelong support looks like. This is not a sappy story, more of the matter-of-fact, read between the lines, style that Rowley is known for, but the elements combined to make an emotional (grab the tissues) and heartfelt offering that reminds readers to not leave anything unsaid. 

Full disclosure, I did not love this book when I first started reading it.  Some, if not all, of the characters are not very likable, at least not from the beginning of the book. They are flawed, and Rowley’s writing style and the way the book jumps between points of time, make this more challenging. But I am so glad I stuck with and finished it. 

At one point, it all just clicked and I was able to realize why he had written it to move from present day to past events in the uneven manner that he did.  The story and the friendships really resonated with me. Friends are there to provide hope, encouragement, and to remind you why this life is worth living. Kudos, Steven Rowley, you have crafted another winner. 

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Review written by: Jeana Gockley, Joplin Public Library Director