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The Fields by Erin Young

Robyn Young writes historical fiction in her home country of England. Under the pseudonym Erin Young, she has crossed the pond, at least in print, and penned her first thriller. Set in Waterloo, Iowa and the surrounding farm country, The Fields is a thriller that makes a statement on big agriculture and family farms.

It opens with Chloe Miller running for her life in a cornfield. When a drone approaches she curls as close to the corn stalks as possible hoping to hide from her pursuer. Days later her body is discovered by a co-op farmer surveying the crop.

From the wounds on the body it is obvious that this is a murder, making it Sergeant Riley Fisher’s first big case as head of the Investigations Division of the Black Hawk County Sheriff’s Department. The pressure is intense as the sheriff wants a quick resolution, the men who wanted the promotion she got are waiting for her to fail, and the victim was a childhood friend. A friend from a time that Riley desperately wishes she could forget.

Chloe was married to James who is a researcher for GFT, a corn breeding company. They live in an affluent part of town so how did Chloe end up in the field and where is her car? James immediately becomes a suspect as he never reported his wife as missing.

Her team starts building a case, collecting evidence and conducting interviews. Then another body is found. This victim was strangled but had some of the same wounds found on Chloe. Nicole King was killed in an old meat-packing plant and evidence points to someone camping in the plant. Besides Nicole’s purse and a backpack there are lots of pill bottles from a local pharmacy. The evidence leads to a displaced veteran, George Anderson. But Anderson seems to have disappeared along with others who have been living on the streets.

The pharmacist identifies the drug as Fenozen which at least one of his former employees had been stealing. One of the suspected thieves is Sarah Foster. Sarah is known to the department because her daughter, Gracie, has been missing for weeks and believed to be a runaway.

Despite the wounds the two victims don’t have anything in common so James Miller is still Riley’s number one suspect in Chloe’s death. First the sheriff and then the governor warns her to leave James alone. Riley’s father worked for the governor in the past so he knows her but why is he steering her away from Miller?

Then Gracie is found in the river with similar wounds to the other two victims. Black Hawk County now has the requisite three bodies to think they have a serial killer. But the only thing tying the victims together is the strange wounds. The cause of death is different for each victim and they have nothing in common except their gender.

Is there one murderer, two or even three? When the FBI comes in to assist, Riley knows she has to solve the case quickly or lose it. But how do you find such an unpredictable killer or killers?

There is a lot going on in this novel. Riley has the pressures of her job and uneasy relationships with some of her colleagues plus the past trauma this case stirs up. Then there is her substance abusing brother, his fourteen year old daughter and her grandfather dying from dementia. Add in the complexities of the case along with some political intrigue and eco-terrorists and it‘s hard to keep everyone straight. I found myself stopping a time or two so I could remember where the character fit in.

Most of the story is in the third person but Riley speaks in her own voice occasionally and there are a couple of chapters from an unnamed character giving you a glimpse of someone spiraling out of control. Is this the killer or a potential victim?

I like well-developed characters and Riley fits the bill. Once all the different plot lines were in place the novel rushed to an action-packed ending. I will give you fair warning, the author doesn’t shy away from gory descriptions and there is a horror element I didn’t expect.

This is the first book featuring Riley Fisher. A second book, Original Sins, was released in March. If you like Karin Slaughter’s novels or enjoyed The Killing Hills by Offutt or Highway by C.J. Box, I recommend you give this title a try.

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Review written by Patty Crane, Reference Librarian

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

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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Before She Finds Me by Heather Chavez

The day has finally arrived that Julia Bennet has been both dreading and anticipating. It’s move in day at Anderson Hughes. Her only child, Cora, is starting college. Their light-hearted banner over the things in Cora’s cartful of possessions is interrupted by the arrival of her ex and Cora’s dad, Eric, along with his new wife Brie.

Things become a little tense as Brie is not Julia’s biggest fan. About to go in search of Cora’s lost phone, Julia is halted by an uneasy feeling. Is it Brie’s presence or has she sensed something else? When she hears the first pop, she listens. At the second pop she reacts and pulls Cora to the ground. The rest of the crowd is slower to respond. There are three more pops. The man that had been next to them falls and Brie collapses on top of him. Then the screaming begins.

Julia’s story begins Heather Chavez’s newest novel, Before She Finds Me, then we meet Ren. Ren Petrovic is debating with her unborn child the merits of a belly band or a shoulder holster for her gun. Of course she’d much rather be home shopping for poisons. You see Ren has an unusual profession, she is a contract killer. Nolan, her husband, deals with the clients and Ren does the research. The circumstances decide which one of them carries out the contact.

A call from Nolan interrupts her shopping. It’s a call she’s received before – a check-in call after a job to say things went ok and I’ll be home soon. The only problem, they didn’t have a job scheduled.

Back at Anderson Hughes, the shooting has stopped. Cora has a bullet wound in her arm, Brie is dead and the man that fell next to them is unconscious. As the first responders try to restore some order to the chaos and find answers, the assumption is it is another senseless mass shooting. But Julia has studied guns and violence, her own mother was murdered, and this scene doesn’t feel random.

Ren knows it’s not. Why would Nolan do a job without planning? His explanation doesn’t quite satisfy Ren. She’s a killer but one with her own code of ethics. She only kills those who deserve to die. Her research is not only to find the best way to do the job but also into the target. What did they do to warrant being killed? Nolan had two targets, one who supposedly killed someone and a person related to the first target. What was the related person’s crime?

In the days following the shooting, Julia tries to keep Cora close and help Eric. At least two are dead, Brie and the man who fell next to them. The rumor is a student is also dead. Then Julia sees footage of the shooting on the news and comes to the realization that the bullet that struck the man was intended for Cora. Without his stumble and Julia’s quick reaction, Cora might be dead. Cora was one of the targets. Then a news report reveals that a student didn’t die as rumored, she was just shot in the arm.

Ren has reservations about Nolan’s explanations but he, their unborn child, and her father are her family. Besides her code of ethics, family is all she cares about. Ren starts the research that should have been done before the shooting and discovers Julia. She is drawn to her. Her obvious love for her daughter and her love of plants are things Ren admires. If Ren could have friends, Julia could be one.

But Ren’s world is starting to unravel. Oliver Baird is rich, powerful and a client. The client Nolan thought hired them. But he is Brie’s father. He has Ren brought to him and gives her an assignment – find Brie’s killer.

Ren will do whatever it takes to protect her family including finishing the contract. Julia is equally determined to keep Cora safe and find the killer. Because the police have realized this was not random violence and Eric is a prime suspect.

Julia and Ren tell their story in alternating chapters that reveal each woman’s life while also building suspense. For me, Ren was the more interesting character even though she lacks empathy and compassion. Julia is easily likeable, Ren is not. Even though I couldn’t admire her, I found myself pulling for her and hoping she could redeem herself.

This is a suspenseful story that builds steadily then races toward the end. If you like Ruth Ware or Gillian Flynn, you might enjoy this one.

Review by Patty Crane, Reference Librarian

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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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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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In Her Boots by KJ Dell’Antonia

In Her Boots by KJ Dell’Antonia is a warm-hearted novel about friendship, broken families, and how someone can be incredibly strong and full of self-doubt at the same time.

Rhett Smith has worked her way around the globe doing all manner of jobs. In high school, with the help of her best friend Jasmine, she created a superhero persona – Modern Pioneer Girl. When Rhett left college to travel, it was Modern Pioneer Girl (MPG) who stepped up when her money ran out and she needed a job. For MPG, when in a tough spot, all that was needed was a plan, two strong arms, and pluck.

With Jasmine’s encouragement she shared her experiences abroad on Instagram. Her following at first was small and she used the postings for self-affirmation when in tight spots. Her followers grew and she was approached to turn those posts and her adventures into a book. Published under the pen name Maggie Strong, The Modern Pioneer Girl’s Guide to Life, has made Rhett famous. Well she would be famous if anyone other than Jasmine knew that Rhett was Maggie Strong.

After twenty years, a bad breakup, and the death of her grandmother, Rhett is coming home. Home is a farm right outside Bowford, New Hampshire. She grew up on the farm with her father and Grandma Bee. With Grandma Bee’s death Rhett expects to inherit the farm and restore it to what it was when she was growing up.

After her arrival in New York City she stops to visit Jasmine before heading on to Bowford. Of course Jasmine posts that MPG is in New York and Rhett immediately gets an invitation to be on the Today show the next morning. Her automatic response is no but somehow Jasmine talks her into saying yes.

Dressed very un-Rhett-like in a skirt and Jasmine’s cowboy boots they arrive at the studio. She is resigned to appearing until she finds out she’ll be on with another author, her estranged mother. Rhett hasn’t seen her mother, Margaret Gallagher, in twenty years and in a panic she identifies Jasmine as Maggie Strong. Jasmine agrees to appear and the segment ends abruptly when disaster strikes Margaret.

Upon arrival in Bowford, Rhett finds the farm is in worse shape than she expected. The next hit comes when an old flame, Mike, appears along with her mother. They have plans to sell the farm to the adjacent university where Margaret is president and build a welcome center. Rhett of course is not selling but what she wants may not matter. The farm wasn’t her grandmother’s. Upon her death it goes jointly to Margaret and Rhett, and Margaret is the controlling trustee.

To save her inheritance Rhett must get the farm in working order ASAP and find $250,000.00 to buy her mother’s half. When Jasmine shows up to help, things get even more complicated. Because the Today show incident went viral everyone thinks Jasmine is MPG. But Jasmine knows next to nothing about farming and possesses none of the skills MPG posted about as she worked her various jobs while traveling the world. Skills that are needed to restore a rundown farm.

Rhett needs to tell everyone the true identity of MPG but can she? All of Modern Pioneer Girls’ adventures and accomplishments over the last twenty years Rhett sees as separate from herself. The bravery and pluck are not Rhett, it’s her alter ego’s. Emotionally she is the child her mother abandoned. She hides behind her alter ego and reacts to her mother and others with the resentment and insecurity of that abandoned child.

Rhett wants to keep the farm and her secret but in doing so she risks losing all that matters most. Can she reconcile the two parts of herself and forgive before it’s too late?

With likeable characters and some quirky animals this title is recommended for fans of The Pioneer Woman and Eat, Love, Pray. The library has it in both regular and large print editions.

Review written by Patty Crane, Reference Librarian

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The Lost Ticket by Freya Sampson

In 1962, at age twenty-two, Frank Weiss felt destined to follow the path his parents want him to take, working in the family business which will eventually be his. But one April day on the 88 bus a young woman catches his eye. He notices her before she boards – her clothing and the confidence she exudes not to mention her red hair. He can’t believe it when she sits across the aisle from him.

Frank’s encounter with this intriguing young woman begins Freya Sampson’s latest novel, The Lost Ticket. The author weaves three stories into one with the 88 bus as a touchstone.

The first story is Frank’s and it begins with his encounter on the bus. Between his stares and blushes Frank and the young red-head share a stop and go conversation about her quest to be an artist. She defied her father to go to art school which Frank finds incredibly brave. They agree to meet at the National Gallery the following weekend if he’ll call her. Only after she writes her number on her ticket and gets off the bus does Frank realize he didn’t get her name.

Totally captivated and in a daze planning a future where they are together Frank heads home. Once there he empties his pockets to discover he lost the ticket she gave him. Even though he lost his chance to see her again, the encounter gave him the courage to become what he wanted to be instead of what he was expected to be. Sixty years later after a successful career in the theater, Frank is still riding the 88 bus. He is looking for his redhead, not for romance but to say thank you for changing his life.

The red-head who sits across the aisle from him on this April day, Libby, is too young to be the one he hopes to find. Libby’s is the second story and she did not follow her dream to be an artist. She succumbed to her parents’ demand that she study medicine. But after 2 years dropped out and has been disappointing them ever since.

The latest disappointment is why Libby is on the 88 bus in London heading for her sister’s house. After eight years together, instead of receiving the marriage proposal she expected from her partner Simon, she was dumped. Simon is bored and wants some space. Since the house is in his name and Libby works at his gardening company, she finds herself homeless and unemployed.

Libby reminds Frank of his long ago fellow rider and he suggests that she get back into art by sketching people on the bus. His 1962 redhead sketched him and the drawing is one of his prized possessions. Libby’s first attempt she vows will be her last as she inadvertently riles the man she chose to sketch. And that’s too bad because she managed to capture the anger in the eyes of the tall, tattooed man with the spiked mohawk.

This brings us to the third story of the novel, Peggy’s. Her story comes in random chapters as she tells an unnamed person what is happening in her life. Events like witnessing a woman being yelled at by a man on the 88 bus. This intrepid young woman was sketching him right there on the bus. It reminded Peggy of when she used to draw on the bus.

Feeling lost and desperate for focus Libby is determined to help Frank find his lost love. An excited Frank offers the help of his carer (home aide). Frank has dementia and Dylan, tall with tattoos and a spiked mohawk, was employed to help him with his meds and food. Dylan is not at all happy but, for Frank, agrees to the plan.

During the search major changes happen in Libby’s life and others join the quest. As this disparate group bands together to help Frank before his dementia worsens, the author reminds us to look beyond our assumptions. Things are not always as they seem and families are not defined by genetics.

This is a feel good read. It’s a little bit funny and a little sad – it’s about life and what we make of the opportunities given. You can find it at the library in both regular and large print editions.

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Review by Patty Crane, Reference Librarian

The Woman Who Built a Bridge by C.K. Crigger; Shutter by Ramona Emerson

Deciding to try something new to me, I picked a couple of novels that are not my usual style. One is a western from the new large print books (FYI – it is new to large print but it actually first published in 2018). I don’t know much about this genre but the title caught my eye, The Woman Who Built a Bridge.

The author, C.K. Crigger, has penned a novel with two strong protagonists, January Shutt and Shay Billings. Shay is a friendly guy and has made a success of his small ranch.

January on the other hand is reclusive. She has returned to her family’s land after the death of her father. The pair abandoned the land 13 years ago when her grandfather attacked her. She does everything she can to shield her scars from prying eyes. The only structure left on the land is the old barn but January’s father was a master builder and now she is too. She’s fashioned a cleverly disguised home for herself and her dog inside the barn and makes a living selling butter and eggs.

Besides her home, January also rebuilt the old Kindred Crossing Bridge. For the local ranchers it makes their trips to town much shorter. But the bridge has drawn unwanted attention from Marvin Hammel.

Hammel, the richest man around, is planning something big. He has been damming the river so those that live downstream have to sell to him or risk losing everything. He’s made an offer for Shay’s place but Shay, along with others on the river, refuse to sell. He also wants the bridge but plans to just take it and January’s homestead.

Things escalate as first, a son of one of those who refused to sell is murdered then January finds Shay’s riderless horse covered in blood. He’s been shot in the back but January is able to get him to her place and get the doctor.

With Shay in hiding and recuperating, January finds herself defending both homesteads. She is smart and brave but the men she is up against keep coming. If she and Shay are to survive, they need to figure out what Hammel is planning and stop him.

This is an entertaining read. The good guys are interesting characters, the bad guys easy to dislike, the action is almost nonstop, and the details of January’s disfigurement are revealed throughout the story.

Shutter by Ramona Emerson

My other ‘outside my usual reads’ is a supernatural thriller by Ramona Emerson. Emerson is a Diné writer and her first novel, Shutter, takes place in part on the Navajo Reservation in New Mexico.

Rita Todacheene is a forensic photographer for the Albuquerque police department. For Rita it’s a calling and she’s very good at what she does. For her grandmother it’s a fear because she know about Rita’s special gift. Rita can see and hear the spirits of the dead.

Rita was born with her gift (or curse) but has learned to hide it from most people. Her grandma and Mr. Bitsilly, her grandma’s friend and a healer, have prayed and sung over her many times but the spirits remain. Over time Rita has learned to control to some extent the constant presences and to mute the voices. Then she gets called to a horrific scene on Highway I-40.

Erma Singleton has jumped/fallen/been pushed over the overpass then hit by multiple vehicles. What remains of her is scattered down the highway. The images Rita views through the 1015 photos she takes is enough to haunt anyone but for Rita it’s worse.

Erma’s spirit has come and is loud and angry. She doesn’t know what happened but knows she didn’t jump and demands Rita finds the truth and gets justice. Erma won’t be silenced and brings other spirits to haunt Rita day and night.

With things spiraling out of control, to save her sanity and her job, Rita has to give in to Erma’s demands. But as she begins to dig she uncovers connections to other murder scenes she has photographed. Rita also finds Erma’s connection to a Mexican drug cartel.

Rita is in a race to uncover the truth but can she find the right answers before one of her colleagues is photographing her murder?

This novel is not just a crime thriller, it is also the story of Rita’s life. In alternating chapters, the hunt for Erma’s killer and Rita’s life on and off the Reservation from birth to young adulthood are told in alternating chapters.

Books with the supernatural are not usually my cup of tea but Emerson is a compelling writer and Rita, trying to balance two worlds, is an interesting character especially as a child. Once I reconciled murder mystery with talking spirits, this one was hard to put down.

Reviews by Patty Crane, Reference Librarian

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The Messy Lives of Book People by Phaedra Patrick

When she has time around her three cleaning jobs and family, Olivia (Liv) Green is an avid reader. Her favorite character is Georgia Rory. She has read and reread all nineteen books in the series by Essie Starling and thinks she knows the character inside out. But, if given the chance, is that well enough to finish Georgia’s story? In The Messy Lives of Book People by Phaedra Patrick, Liv is about to find out.

In the Green household money is tight. One son is in college and the other will go in the fall. Also her husband Jake’s family owned book-binding business is struggling. To help finances Liv had to add a third cleaning job. It was with none other than her favorite author, Essie Starling.

Essie is a recluse and not exactly warm or friendly. She refuses to communicate with her agent and editor unless it is by email or text and her personal assistants don’t last long. However she and Liv have formed a sort of friendship. That bond is tested when Essie discovers Liv reading the unfinished draft of book twenty in the series.

Instead of being berated or fired Liv is asked to give her honest opinion of not only the draft but also of the latest Georgia Rory novel. That opinion, Essie has lost her passion for her character, results in a surprise offer. Essie wants to enlist Liv’s help in reviving the character.

Eager to learn details about what this new arrangement will mean, Liv rushes to Essie’s apartment on her normal cleaning day. However the apartment is empty and Liv is asked to meet Essie’s solicitor, Anthony Pentecost, at a coffee shop.

Pentecost has startling news. Essie has died and the solicitor is to pass on her last request to Liv. “Dear Olivia, if Anthony is speaking to you now, the worst has most likely happened. If you need to take a little time out from this job and your others, you will be paid. If I die, keep my passing a secret for six months. During this period, I want you to complete my latest novel.”

It is six months at double the salary and with a tidy sum for expenses. But is this something Liv can do? She aspired to be a writer when young but didn’t have the opportunity to go to university. Deciding the lack of a degree can be overcome she is inspired to try. There are thirty-two very rough lackluster chapters, eight chapters yet to be written (every Georgia Rory novel is forty chapters in length) and less than six months to meet the November 1st deadline.

As she begins the rewrite of the draft, Liv finds herself struggling with the direction Georgia should go and who will be her final love interest. Liv needs to channel Essie but writing in the apartment and wearing Essie’s clothes are not enough. Discovering more about Essie is the only way Liv can go forward with writing.

Revealing the author’s past proves difficult. It also adds strain to her marriage. Liv and Jake have grown apart and becoming empty nesters is showing the cracks in their relationship. Now she can’t tell him about Essie’s death, that she is finishing the novel, or about her quest to uncover Essie’s past.

Will discovering Essie’s secrets help or hinder the finish of the novel? One thing is certain, Liv is finding a new path forward. Can her marriage survive the changes that are coming?

If you are like me and love series fiction, would you want to step into Liv’s shoes and decide how your favorite series ends? The library has this title in both regular and large print. Suggested read-alikes are Sara Adam’s The Reading List and Beach Read by Emily Henry.

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