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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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The Puzzler: One Man’s Quest to Solve the Most Baffling Puzzles Ever, from Crosswords to Jigsaws to the Meaning of Life by J. A. Jacobs

In a Saturday New York Times crossword puzzle, the clue “A.J. ___________, author of The Know-It-All” was the greatest moment in the answer’s life. That is until his brother-in-law pointed out that it was the Saturday puzzle – the hardest one of the week with the most obscure clues. So maybe it wasn’t the greatest moment in Jacobs’ life but it was still pretty cool and it reignited his love of crosswords.

That love turned into a passion, not just for crosswords but all kinds of puzzles, and to the book “The Puzzler: One Man’s Quest to Solve the Most Baffling Puzzles Ever, from Crosswords to Jigsaws to the Meaning of Life”.

The author explores all kinds of puzzles beginning with crosswords. From interviewing The New York Times puzzle creator Peter Gordon to the surprisingly recent history of the form, Jacobs not only informs but challenges you with crosswords you can solve.  The first wordcross (crossword), published in the New York World in 1913, is included. The puzzle quickly gained in popularity and was picked up by numerous publications. However The New York Times, now famed for their puzzles, considered the form too lowbrow and frivolous for publication.

As with most of the puzzle forms explored, an appendix is included to the chapter with puzzles for you to try (solutions are in the last part of the book). Also included are puzzles created for this title by Greg Pliska, founder of the Exaltation of Larks puzzle company. Twenty puzzles are included plus if you find the secret passcode in the introduction you can unlock more puzzles at thepuzzlebook.com.

The Rubik’s Cube and its 43 quintillion possible arrangements came along much later than the crossword, 1974. Jacobs’ parents bought him one but he didn’t get more than one side done. Determined to rectify this gap in his puzzle resume, he spends a Saturday determined to finish and 41 years after his first attempt he completes the cube. Of course Yusheng Du who can complete the puzzle in 3.47 seconds would not be impressed with Jacobs’ time.

Anagrams, rebuses, and all manner of word games are explored.  Then it’s on to jigsaws. Jacobs admits he wasn’t a fan of this particular puzzle. During his research he discovered jigsaw fans included Bill Gates, Queen Elizabeth II, and Hugh Jackman. He also found the World Jigsaw Puzzle Championship. It was to be held in Spain with 40 countries represented, one of which was not the U.S. Thinking he would surely be turned down, Jacobs filled out the entry form. Alas, a day later he was confirmed as Team USA. Now he just needs 3 teammates and to actually finish a jigsaw puzzle.

He recruits his family and they begin training. It is satisfying to put pieces together and get that aha moment when things fit – when chaos becomes order. On the day of the competition they find themselves led to 1 of 86 tables which contains 4 unpublished 1000-2000 piece puzzles.  They have 8 hours to complete all 4 puzzles. Team USA goal? Don’t finish last!

Mazes, math and logic puzzles have the author tackling puzzles that require you to think outside the box and sometimes to reverse your thinking to find a solution. Next is ciphers and secret codes. Jacobs was granted permission to enter the CIA headquarters to view a famous unsolved puzzle, Kryptos. Jim Sanborn was commissioned to create a sculpture for the expanded headquarters in 1988. The wavy wall of copper contains a secret message. It’s been over 30 years and Sanborn is still the only one with the solution.

Jacobs also covers visual puzzles (Where’s Waldo), Sudukos, KenKen and chess problems which includes an entertaining interview with Garry Kasparov. His coverage of Riddles starts with Alice in Wonderland as Lewis Carroll who was a big fan.  He touches on historical riddles and riddles in other works of literature including the Book of Exeter. Created by monks the book is famous for having some really naughty riddles and for having no answer key.

Japanese puzzles boxes, cryptics, scavenger hunts (including the MIT Mystery Hunt) and infinite puzzles round out Jacobs puzzle journey. Along with those aha moments when a solution was found or 2 pieces fit, Jacobs found that we can all learn some lessons from puzzle solving.

This is a fun, informative read you’ll find on the New Nonfiction shelves in the lobby. Just one caveat – if you want to try solving any of the puzzles please make photocopies. We don’t one to deprive the next reader of their own aha moment.

Six Mystery/Thrillers that Take You Places

My reading over the last few weeks has taken me to a lot of different locations. I spent some quality time in Colorado before a brief stop in Washington, DC led me to Texas. Then I made a mad dash through Peru, Costa Rica and the Caribbean. My next stop was North Carolina before a stay in Sydney, Australia.

In some places I caught up with familiar characters, in others I got to know ones I’ve met briefly before, and for a few I was able to meet new personas.

Margaret Mizushima took me to Colorado in her Timber Creek K-9 mystery series. This series was recommended to me by a fellow mystery reader who thought I would like it (Thank you, I do!). Mattie Cobb and K-9 partner, Robo, are introduced in Killing Trail. Robo was bought for the sheriff’s department to help with a growing drug problem in Timber Creek. On the pair’s first assignment he proves his skill goes beyond drug detection when he discovers the body of teen. This series has a lot going for it with good character development, a complex heroine with a troubled past, a mountainous setting, and most importantly the relationship between Mattie and Robo and how they work together. I’ll be back in Colorado again soon.

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Lucas Davenport in the Prey series by John Sandford is one of my favorite characters. His adopted daughter, Letty, was introduced in Naked Prey and is mentioned or makes brief appearances in most of the succeeding Prey novels. In The Investigator she takes the lead. The 24-year old Stanford grad is talked out of leaving a boring job by her boss, Senator Colles. His plan is to make her a researcher with her first assignment to work with Homeland Security to find who is stealing oil and for what purpose. Joined by DHS agent John Kaiser they leave DC for a brief stop in Oklahoma before the trial leads them to Texas. This is Sandford at his best as Letty and John piece together clues and follow the oil and the money. With plenty of action and smart dialog this one was hard to put down.

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The Recovery Agent features Gabriela Rose, Janet Evanovich’s new heroine. First introduced in a Stephanie Plum novel, Gabriela has mad skills and uses them to locate items and investigate fraud for insurance companies and private clients. However her current case is for family. Grandma is convinced Gabriela is a descendant of Blackbeard and they possess a map that will take them to the Ring of Solomon. If she can find it, they can save their hurricane ravaged town. The map however is in the home of her ex-husband, Rafer, who insists on being part of the quest. This novel is pure entertainment as the adventure goes from Peru and Costa Rica to the Caribbean then New York City and back to South America. It has a truly creepy bad guy and funny sidekicks. Though divorced there is still a spark between Gabriela and Rafer with plenty of witty banter. If you are an Evanovich fan, you don’t want to miss this one.

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After all that excitement I settled in to catch up with the ladies in the Secret, Book & Scone Society. Nora’s book store in Miracle Springs, NC is the gathering place for the 4 friends-Nora, June, Hester and Estella. In this 5th book in the series, Vanishing Type, three of them are helping Hester’s beau plan a romantic scenario for proposing. But Hester has a secret and before she can share it an unidentified man is found dead with an old book is his pocket. Then a book in the same series shows up in Hester’s bakery and Nora finds another in a box in her storeroom. What is the significance of the series of books? Is Hester in danger? Despite the intrigue I felt like I was catching up with old friends. Their lives are evolving with each new book in the series.

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Apples Never Fall by Liane Moriarty is a book I checked out because it was recommended to me by a friend. After 20 pages I thought why did she think I’d like this? After a few more I was hooked. The Delaneys of Sydney Australia were a tennis family. Stan and Joy ran a successful academy and all 4 of their children were gifted players. Now they play recreationally or not at all but tennis still seems to dominate their lives. The story is told in the present where Joy is missing and in the past when a young woman, Savannah, shows up at Stan and Joy’s home needing help. In the present the police and even his children believe Stan is responsible for Joy’s disappearance. He feels guilty about something and he’s not talking. In the past, where Savannah seems to take up permanent residence in their home, is where it starts to unravel. The urgency of Joy’s disappearance is dimmed because she is so often seen in the past. But this book is about so much more than the mystery of what happened to Joy. It’s about family, how the past shapes the present and how the smallest things can make all the difference. Hint: keep this book in mind for the Summer Reading Program starting on May 31st. This title will work for one the adult challenges.

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The Day He Left by Frederick Weisel

Paul Behrens had found his calling teaching literature to middle school students. He loved being a teacher. Married with a son and daughter, he was in good health and they lived in a nice home. So why did he leave one morning and not come back?

Did life get be too much to handle? Is he running from something or to someone? Eddie Maher and his team tackle the mystery of Paul’s disappearance in Frederick Weisel’s novel, The Day He Left.

Maher heads the VCI (Violent Crime Investigations) team in the Santa Rosa Police Department. The members of the team are Daniel Rivas, close to retirement he is the memory for the team; Steve Frames is a former Marine with weapons training; Eden Somers was an FBI analyst good at research with an uncanny ability to find the obscure links in an investigation; and Martin Coyle is the computer guy.

The team handles all manner of crime and never has a shortage of cases so when Annie Behrens walks in to report her husband missing it wouldn’t seem to be a priority – he is an adult male gone less than 24 hours. But he left without his phone and briefcase. Also his son saw him that morning early, dressed up instead of wearing his usual polo and khakis, and Paul was crying. Did Paul leave with the intention of never coming back?

Mahler wants to give it 24 hours and the team begins to dismantle Paul’s life. What they find is more questions than answers. Paul’s marriage was far from ideal. He and Annie had grown apart. She is drinking heavily and involved with a doctor at the hospital where she works evenings. His son is dealing drugs at the high school and Claire, his daughter, is being bullied.

In the briefcase he left behind is a friendship bracelet in a sealed bag. What if any significance does it have to the case? On his laptop is a letter of resignation and searches for Child Protective Services, sexual assault and molestation. He withdrew $1200.00 from the bank the night before he left. Plus who is the man caught on video breaking into his classroom the morning of his disappearance?

When they find Paul’s dead body the team’s focus turns from a missing person to homicide. To find the killer they must discover Paul’s motive for leaving – was he a victim or a predator?

As Mahler leads the search he has Frames only part time as he is on loan to Narcotics for a sting operation and Eden has been called into the FBI office about the case of the Highway 60 serial killer. Eden researched the case for years and it led to her resignation from the FBI so she wants no part of the case. The suspect has been arrested again but he may be set free and he has Eden’s name and address.

Weisel has penned an excellent police procedural but it is also a character study. Each team member is a person with thoughts, feelings, and flaws. These are not the typical hard-nosed sceptics depicted in a lot of crime novels. Eddie and the team know that those they deal with have varying motivations and experiences that influence actions and the information they provide.

This is the second book of the Violent Crime Investigations Team mysteries. The first, Silenced Women, came out last year but you don’t have to read the first one to enjoy this one. However, if you do read Silenced Women first you’ll see how the characters are evolving.

This is not the perfect crime novel but it is an interesting cast of characters. You can be entertained reading about the process of finding whodunit along with a detective’s reflections on people and life.

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Pump: A Natural History of the Heart by Bill Schutt

Everyone has a heart. Some are described as cold or big, some soft or hard. A few people have one of gold and others one of stone. If we are fortunate, it works just fine but for many their ticker is faulty. Whether using it to describe character or taking about how it functions, Bill Schutt covers it all in Pump: A Natural History of the Heart.

Schutt divides his exploration into 3 sections: Wild at Heart, What We Knew and What We Thought We Knew, and From Bad to Better. Just looking at some of the chapter titles lets you know this is not a dry scholarly text – Blue Blood and Bad Sushi, The Barber’s Bite and the Strangled Heart, and What’s Snakes Got to Do, Got to Do with It?

Before we get to the meat or heart of the book, the author tells us about nine blue whales who perished in the Cabot Strait in 2014. The tragic event made it possible for researchers to harvest the heart of one of the smaller whales (only 76 feet long). The harvesting and preservation of the 386-pound heart is a fascinating start.

Wild at Heart is a look at the circulatory systems of different species and how hearts function, the anatomy of the organ and how it evolved. To start the author goes from the massive heart of the whale to organisms so small they don’t have a heart. The horseshoe crab and its blue blood and open circulatory system are covered as are insects and their circulatory systems that don’t have a heart or carry oxygen.

This section is full of interesting facts and asides, such as the tiny masked shrew whose heart beats at a rate of 1320 beats per minute. How cold affects the heart and Ice fish and their antifreeze protein are covered as is the North America Wood Frog which can freeze (body fluids turn to ice) and then revive.

The second section, What We Knew and What We Thought We Knew, discusses the history and advancement of medical knowledge concerning the cardiovascular system. It is here that Schutt talks about the belief that the heart contained the soul of a person.

The Egyptians believed it contained all the good and bad deeds done by the deceased. They preserved it so the person could be judged in the afterlife. Aristotle also believed that the heart was the seat of intelligence, emotions and the soul. This cardiocentric view would remain for centuries to come and gave rise expressions such as cold-hearted, soft -hearted, and blue bloods.

The pioneers of medical knowledge covered included Hippocrates, Galen, Ibn al-Nafis, William Harvey, and Vesalius. Bloodletting and the use of leeches is well-covered as the practice lasted into the early twentieth century. George Washington’s treatment for a throat infection included bloodletting.

Charles Darwin’s health problems and the discovery of Chagas disease are also covered in this section before moving on to From Bad to Better. This final section covers the advances made in modern cardiology.

Schutt begins with tuberculosis (consumption) and the development of the stethoscope. To diagnose a patient a physician needed to listen to the lungs. This was done by a method called auscultation. One could tap the chest and listen to the sound resonated back or listen directly by placing your ear on the patient’s chest. After an embarrassing situation involving a plump female patient Dr. Rene Laennec saw two children playing with a piece of wood and a pin. One held the wood to his ear and could hear the other child scratching the opposite end with a pin. A tightly rolled piece of paper placed against the patient’s chest was Dr. Laennec first attempt and led to the instrument that is probably the first thing people think of when you say doctor or medicine.

Werner Forssmann’s development of heart catherization is unique in that he was his own guinea pig so to speak. After a brief sidetrack to holistic medicine, the switch from cardiocentric to craniocentric thinking, and varicose veins, Schutt discusses the phenomena of broken-heartedness.

The Burmese Python makes an appearance in this section because after feeding their hearts grow in size by 40%. As does Zebrafish and their ability to repair their damaged hearts. Research is being done on both of these processes to help those with faulty tickers. Schutt ends with the research being done with transplanting pig hearts into humans, cardiac regeneration, and using plant-based solutions to further the research.

This is an informative entertaining read with Schutt talking to us and letting his sense of humor shine through. It is peppered with black and white drawings by Patricia Wynne that illustrate what they author is saying. I highly recommend this if you want to know more about the heart and a whole lot of other fun facts.

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Courting Misfortune by Regina Jennings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Random Road by Thomas Kies

Geneva Chase is a really good reporter. She writes well, has great instincts and her resume includes jobs at major newspapers, magazines and even Fox News. But Geneva, the person, is a mess. Her poor choices and drinking has cost her all those resume filling jobs.

In Thomas Kies’ debut novel, Random Road, Geneva finds herself on probation at the only job she could get, crime beat reporter for the Sheffield Post. Sheffield, Connecticut is where she grew up and where hopefully she can start over.

The start over has not gone well. Out with Frank, her married lover, she encounters his wife and in the ensuing drunken brawl Geneva punches an off-duty cop. Hence her probation and mandated AA meetings.

Okay before I go further, you are probably asking yourself why I picked this title. I’m a mystery reader and I like character-driven novels. However, I usually like those characters, if flawed, to at least be striving for something better. But Geneva is likeable and her self-destructive tendencies are revealed over time. Plus I was hooked on the whodunit.

And who can resist a novel with the opening line ‘Last night Hieronymus Bosch met the rich and famous’? The scene this line describes may be the career remake Geneva needs. She has an exclusive on a multiple homicide in the gated community of Connor’s Landing. Six bodies, hacked to death, in the beautiful Queen Anne home of a multi-million dollar estate. The police aren’t giving much away other than the brutality of the crime and that there are at least 2 perpetrators.

She has other stories to follow as well. One is Jimmy Fitzgerald. Jimmy has been in trouble and gotten off lots of times thanks to his rich father. But this time he killed a mother of three in a hit and run. Another is the Home Alone Gang, burglars targeting the very affluent in Fairfield and West Chester counties.

But her story on the murders is picked up nationally and she has drawn the attention of a possible tipster.  A message in her voice mail says “I know who killed those people”. The male caller states he knows who and why but cannot go to the police. Geneva has no way to trace the call and doesn’t know if it’s legitimate or a crackpot. So as she waits for another call, she starts digging for her own clues.

On the personal front, she reconnects with Kevin Bell after seeing him at an AA meeting. Kevin, widowed with a teen daughter, was her best friend in school. Their reunion soon leads to deeper feelings but Frank is proving hard to dump.

There is a lot going on in this novel and Geneva’s personal relationships seem to go at the same speed as her breaking news stories. As tragedy strikes at home, her different news stories coalesce. Geneva’s search for the killers takes her unexpected places and exposes the sometimes lethal results of too much money and privilege.

This story has the potential to restart her career if she can stay sober, keep her job, work out her personal relationships, and not get killed in her search for suspects.

This is an older title and the first in the Geneva Chase Mystery series. The following titles are “Darkness Lane”, “Graveyard Bay”, and “Shadow Hill”.  “Shadow Hill” published this summer to some really good reviews. It is also a recommended title for fans of Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone series. Other series read-alike are the Jane Ryland mysteries by Hank Phillippi Ryan and the Hollows novels by Lisa Unger.

 

Our Team: the Epic Story of Four Men and the World Series that Changed Baseball by Luke Epplin

When thinking of historic moments or teams in Major League Baseball, the 1948 Cleveland Indians did not leap to mind. That changed when I read Luke Epplin’s new book, Our Team: the Epic Story of Four Men and the World Series that Changed Baseball.

A very good friend recommended that I read “Our Team”. He said I would like it and, as is often the case, he was right. It is in turns biography, social history, sports history, and a recap of the crucial games in Cleveland’s 1948 season and World Series win.

Epplin focuses on four people: owner Bill Veeck, fielder Larry Doby, and pitchers Bob Feller and Satchel Paige. He introduces each man while telling us about the time in which they were living. If you didn’t already know, you’ll find out how very different it was to play baseball professionally if you were Black.

Bob Feller was a pitching phenom. His dad recognized and nurtured his talent. From his home field to high school and semi-professional baseball, crowds showed up to watch Feller pitch. He drew the attention of the Cleveland Indians and was signed to a contract in 1935, his junior year in high school.

Originally set to start in the minor leagues he pitched against the Cardinals in an exhibition game and skipped straight to the majors. Feller worked 3 innings and struck out 8 batters – sending him to the minors didn’t make sense.

In contrast Satchel Paige’s path to the Majors was long and arduous. He didn’t have a father to nurture his talent. He worked from a young age and actually learned to pitch at the Alabama Reform School for Juvenile Negro Lawbreakers. When he was released at 17 he signed with a Black semi-professional team to study the game and hone his talents.

He soon learned that people would pay to watch him pitch. Like Feller he was a phenomenal pitcher but Paige was also a showman. He was good at gauging the crowd and keeping them entertained. He played in the Negro League during the season and then, as many League players did, went south to keep playing to make a living.

To earn some extra money Major Leaguers also played after the season was over. Barnstorming games often pitted Negro Leaguers against Major Leaguers. In October 1936 Paige and Feller met for the first of many games they would pitch against each other. Neither allowed a run with Feller striking out 8 and Paige 7.

Paige was such a dominant pitcher and had so much success against Major League players that League executives deemed a white player that could hit off Paige ready to play in the Majors. Despite this, he would not get his chance in the Major Leagues until the summer of 1948 when he was 42 years old.

Larry Doby was born in the south but his family moved north to find work. With his father was mostly absent and his mother working as a live-in domestic, he lived with his grandmother in Camden, NJ. He spent his free time playing stickball. Before high school his mother moved him to Paterson, NJ so he could attend an integrated school. A natural gifted athlete he was a 3 sport star and welcome to socialize with all his teammates.

Unlike Paige, Doby never aspired to play in the Major Leagues. He had his pick of sports but wanted to play Negro League baseball. He signed with the Newark Eagles and was an instant success. World War II interrupted his stint with the Eagles but after the war he resigned and continued to improve.

His talent drew the eye of both the Dodgers and the Indians with the Indians buying his contract from the Eagles in the summer of 1947. Unlike what the Dodgers did with Jackie Robinson, Doby did not go into the Minor League system. He went straight to the Majors.

The man who brought Feller, Paige and Doby together for that championship year was Bill Veeck. Bill loved baseball. His father was team president of the Chicago Cubs and Bill worked for the Cubs himself until he had the opportunity to buy the Milwaukee Brewers. In Milwaukee he perfected what he would eventually bring to the Indians. He roamed the crowds during the games talking to people, he gave away prizes, and had firework shows.

He wanted to win almost as badly as he wanted to fill the stands and make sure the fans had a good time. He also wanted to integrate baseball. He did it with personnel and eventually his Indians became the first American League team to sign a Black player.

There is so much more about each of these men that Epplin explores – how World War II affected each man, Feller’s quest to secure his financial future, Paige’s style and remarkable longevity, Veeck’s energy, and Doby’s ability to excel amid the isolation and injustices he endured integrating the game while living in a segregated society.

Then of course there is the season. The ups and downs in the race for the pennant against the Yankees and the Red Sox. The season came down to a one game playoff against the Sox to determine who would face the Boston Braves in the series. Even though we know the result, Epplin keeps you turning the pages to see what happens next.

Epplin did his research and brought to life these four remarkable men and the time in which they lived. It is both an entertaining and sobering book you don’t have to be a baseball fan to enjoy.

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We Came, We Saw, We Left: a Family Gap Year by Charles Wheelan

Charlie Wheelan is standing on a train platform in Medellin, Colombia and two of his children are missing. So begins Charles Wheelan’s account of his family’s gap year adventure. Charlie and Leah decided to take a year (or 9 months) and travel around the world with their children ages 13-18. We Came, We Saw, We Left: a Family Gap Year is an entertaining chronicle of seeing the world with and through evolving youth.

Charlie and Leah traveled the world the year after they graduated from college. Now, having turned fifty, they want to recreate that adventure with Katrina, Sophie, and CJ. Katrina just graduated from high school and can delay college for a year. High school junior Sophie (16) and 8th grader CJ will be home-schooled. Charlie, an author and a professor at Dartmouth College, and Leah, a math teacher, can take sabbaticals. Now how do they pay for the trip?

They decide to rent their house while they are gone and use the rent money for lodging. Only the things that are required to be were booked in advance such as flights and excursions. As for the rest they travel local buses, taxis, and trains and they do a lot of walking. They have a daily food allowance, a small amount of ‘free’ money per person and Leah is in charge of the budget.

The Wheelan family are seasoned travelers so with expenses figured out and a flexible itinerary of where they want to go, what could go wrong? Well, you can be at one train station, your wife at another, and Katrina and CJ missing somewhere in Medellin. Spotty Wi-Fi, no cell service, and vying for limited space on local transit are just some the challenges the family face and take in stride as they traverse the globe.

A world map entitled Nine Months, Six Continents, Three Teenagers is at the beginning of the book and shows the route from Hanover, New Hampshire to South America. Then on to New Zealand, Australia, Hong Kong, Vietnam to Calcutta, Cape Town, back to India then Germany and other stops along the way before returning to New Hampshire nine months later.

No time line is given for the journey. They were in Colombia in September and New Zealand at Christmas but otherwise the telling is by place not day or month. Each chapter begins with a small map pinpointing the places for this part of the trip.

Wheelan is an amusing, self-deprecating writer. Traveling together for nine months is not all roses and he doesn’t avoid telling about some of the less savory aspects. The whole clan suffers from motion sickness and no matter where you are, you can’t avoid germs. Aside from the gastric distress and colds, a flesh eating parasite also makes an appearance on Katrina’s foot and leg.

As with any family there will be squabbles and some disagreements. The author keeps a record of the trip in his journal. At the halfway point he has written: Countries: 8, Bus trips: 28, Flights: 13, Boat rides: 6, Jeep rides: 7, Horse rides: 2, Incidents of motion sickness: 7, Search parties looking for us: 2, Family meltdowns: 5, and Books read (by me): 25.

Whether it is museums, hikes, or diving, the squabbles and discomforts are woven into the grand adventure as we follow the family around the world. Wheelan is good at evoking the sense of a place whether it is a hike in the Amazon or drinking coffee at an outdoor café.

Some excursions were exciting – diving at the Great Barrier Reef, exploring a 7-level cave in the Rain Forest, visiting the Tiger’s Nest, a monastery in Bhutan and hunting for kiwi in New Zealand. Others were sobering – deforestation in Laos, the Vietnam Hanoi Hilton, a slave museum in Zanzibar and the Airbnb apartment they rented in Vienna. A small plaque, Stolpersteine (stumbling stone), stood in front of the building with the names of the Hofling family and the date, June 15, 1942, that the Nazis took them from their home.

This was an enjoyable journey to places many of us will never go. The author described many of the places and creatures he saw through his camera lens. I would have loved to see some of that wonder and beauty included as color photos but perhaps that would require another book.

Speaking of another book, Wheelan spent some of his travel time working on a novel. Finished by the end of their gap year trek, “The Rationing”, was published and you’ll find it at the library.

This family had a wish, then a goal and finally a plan. As Wheelan says “We pulled it off. We made it around the world: nine months, six continents, three teenagers and one flesh-eating parasite.”

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