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Librarians

Criminal Minds From Other Times

Deadly ValentinesDeath in the City of LightLooking for a little history to go with your true crime? Two recent titles provide thrilling accounts of historical murders. One is set in Chicago and chronicles the rise and fall of Al Capone’s chief assassin, Jack McGurn. The other is about a serial killer in World War II Paris. Both are thoroughly researched, emphasizing the mayhem and extremism prevalent in these time periods. In Deadly Valentines: The Story of Capone's Henchman "Machine Gun" Jack McGurn and Louise Rolfe, His Blonde Alibi, Jeffrey Gusfield opens with an account of the infamous Valentine’s Day Massacre in 1929 Chicago.  Known assassin Jack McGurn and his girlfriend Louise Rolfe are the likely suspects.  But how does a boy from an immigrant family and a middle-class Midwestern girl end up embodying the Roaring Twenties’ hallmarks of excess, liquor, and grisly murder? By tracing their lives from childhood, Gusfield draws a connection between humble beginnings and a gangster lifestyle rife with crime and corruption. 

 

David King’s Death in the City of Light follows the rise of Marcel Petiot, who was regarded as a kindly doctor of the less fortunate until multiple human body parts were found in the basement of his Paris home in 1944.  His subsequent trial quickly devolved into a media circus. The Nazi occupation and government corruption further complicated matters and added to the train wreck of judicial proceedings, leading to a frustrating and perplexing conclusion.Perhaps most fascinating about both books are the unanswered questions.  Was Louise cold-blooded, or just someone unable to live a conventional life?  How did Petiot actually kill his victims? Those who enjoy historical accounts full of drama, danger and mystery (like Erik Larson’s Devil in the White City) will find these books to be satisfying page-turners. 

 

Melanie

 
 

What Happened to Bridget Jones?

What Happened to Bridget Jones?

posted by:
June 5, 2012 - 2:01am

Wife 22Melanie Gideon's new novel Wife 22 will speak to readers who loved Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones’s Diary and wondered what Bridget’s life would be like today.

 

William and Alice Buckle met and fell in love while working at an advertising firm. They got married, had two kids, and fell into their life together. Now they have two teenagers and have been married twenty years, but they have been drifting apart for a while. Alice works part-time as a drama teacher and dreams of the life that she might have had as a playwright. William still works in advertising, but he has become increasingly distant from Alice. One day, when Alice receives an email asking her to be part of a marriage study, she agrees to participate. To ensure her privacy, she will be known as Wife 22, and her contact will be Researcher 101. She corresponds heavily with Researcher 101, and the anonymity of the study lets her open up to him in ways that she can’t with anyone else. Alice begins to flirt with Researcher 101, and she wonders about what it would be like to meet him and experience the spark that's been lacking in her marriage to William for so long.

 

Gideon tells Alice's story in narrative, emails, Facebook chats and posts, and as the script of Alice's new play. The result is a relatable tale about modern life as a wife and mother whose life is both better and worse than she dreamed it would be. The movie rights to Wife 22 were recently acquired by Working Title Films, so it may come to a theater near you someday!

Beth

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Love, Italian-American Style!

Love, Italian-American Style!

posted by:
June 4, 2012 - 5:01am

The Shoemaker's WifeBestseller Adriana Trigiani delivers again with The Shoemaker’s Wife, an epic love story centered on the immigrant experience in the early twentieth century. The novel opens in the Italian Alps, where Ciro Lazzari and Enza Ravanelli live in nearby villages. They don’t meet until Ciro is called upon to dig the grave for Enza’s younger sister. They are instantly attracted, but fate intervenes when Ciro is banished from the village. Financial difficulties force Enza and her father to leave their village home several years later.  

 

Both Ciro and Enza end up in New York City and meet several times over the years, but their timing is always off. Enza starts off working in a factory and eventually becomes a seamstress at the Metropolitan Opera House working for musical greats such as Enrico Caruso. Ciro trains as a shoemaker and also works hard to be the most charming man-about-Little Italy. Handsome and outgoing, Ciro is a perfect fit for his new neighborhood. But while both are achieving success in their careers, their romance remains star-crossed. Finally, while serving in World War II, Ciro realizes what Enza knew from the beginning, that it is their destiny to be together.  

 

This is Trigiani’s first foray into historical fiction and it is remarkable. It took her twenty years to complete her research and she often found herself flying to the Italian Alps or walking to Little Italy. The novel is based on the love story of Adriana’s grandparents and this personal connection enhanced the creation of Enza and Crio. Kathryn Stocket, author of The Help, accurately sums up this gem with two words:  “Utterly Splendid.”

Maureen

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Unmistakably Irving

Unmistakably Irving

posted by:
June 1, 2012 - 2:01am

In One PersonRegular readers of John Irving flock to his literary novels for the strengths of his quirky, flawed characters as much as their circumstances. Irving fans have come to expect certain elements, present in so many of the author’s works—a New England setting, boarding school culture, an absent father, the search for self, wrestling, and of course, bears. All of these are present and accounted for in one way or another in his latest novel, In One Person.

 

Billy Abbott, of the small town Vermont town First Sisters, suffers from what he calls “dangerous crushes.” At age fifteen, Billy’s crushes include the town librarian Miss Frost, his stepfather Richard Abbott, who teaches Shakespeare at Favorite River Academy, and Kittredge, the physically stunning bully from the wrestling team. Billy’s crushes know no bounds of age or gender, something he acknowledges in conversations with Miss Frost. She guides him though the great love stories of literature, from the Brontë sisters to Dickens and finally James Baldwin’s novel of same-sex desire, Giovanni’s Room. As in many novels, literature becomes salvation.

 

The theater looms large in Billy’s life. His mother spends time in the wings as the line prompter for the community theater group’s productions, while his petite, sprightly maternal grandfather Harry is well known for playing leading lady roles. In an appropriate turn, Billy himself is cast as the sprite Ariel in The Tempest. Genetics seem to have much to do with his sexual proclivities, through both Harry and Billy’s absent birth father, a man he knows little about until later searches through school yearbooks reveal surprising truths.

 

Told in the immediate first person point of view, In One Person spans more than fifty years, chronicling Billy’s myriad relationships with men, male-to-female transsexuals (before the term transgender came into use, he points out), and even a few women. The novel is at turns absurdly funny, broadly comic and ultimately poignant. In One Person stands as a character-driven exploration of self, and the often fluid nature of sexuality.

Paula G.

 
 

A Summer Hit Parade

A Summer Hit Parade

posted by:
June 1, 2012 - 1:01am

The Red HouseBroken HarborHeading Out to WonderfulThe upcoming reading forecast looks promising as several bestselling authors release new titles. Mark Haddon, Tana French, and Robert Goolrick each have a new book coming to BCPL in June or July. Get ahead of your summer reading and put one or more of these on reserve now.

 

Mark Haddon made a splash several years ago with his story, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, which he told from the point of view of a boy with autism.  Haddon is known for his keen depictions of internal dialogue which bodes well for his newest book, The Red House. Posh Mark invites his sister Angela and her brood to spend a week with his new wife and stepdaughter at an English country house in a belated attempt at family bonding. Told in each of the eight different vacationers’ voices, Haddon illustrates how little of ourselves we reveal even to those who would claim to know us best.

 

Irish author Tana French writes suspense fiction with an edgy psychological angle. Her debut In the Woods won mystery’s Edgar award and introduced her crime-solving Dublin police department. Her fourth title, Broken Harbor, features murder squad Detective Sergeant Mick Kennedy. He is investigating the grisly deaths of a squeaky-clean suburban father and children as the mother’s life hangs by a thread in intensive care. Solving this crime requires Kennedy to revisit the tragic events of his own childhood…but will he be able to maintain the requisite objectivity to find the killer?

 

Robert Goolrick’s taut and twisty tale of obsession and passion (no, it is NOT a Fifty Shades of Grey read-alike,) The Reliable Wife made him a book club circuit darling. In his next book, Heading Out to Wonderful, he once again excels at setting a vivid scene, this time in small town Virginia. Outsider Charlie Beale arrives to settle down in the hamlet of Brownsburg but an entanglement with the lovely wife of the wealthiest man in town escalates into a fervor with far-reaching consequences.

Lori

 
 

And DOWN the Stretch They Come

EclipseKentucky Derby DreamsDrive around Maryland’s thoroughbred horse country, and it’s hard to imagine a more picturesque scene than the mare and her foal romping in a shamrock green field. It is equally hard to imagine the carefully orchestrated breeding and the trials of their short lived careers. Just in time for this year's Triple Crown campaign, two new books take an in-depth look at these storied animals whose equine feats define the sport of kings.    

 

In his well-researched biography, Eclipse: the Horse that Changed Racing History Forever,  journalist  Nicholas Clee brings to life the greatest horse of all time and his roguish owner, Dennis O'Kelly. Clee vividly describes mid-18th century Georgian England as a gambler's paradise. In this milieu, the Irishman wheels and deals, until he has purchased the undefeated Eclipse, the freakishly fast chestnut thoroughbred whose astounding number of progeny includes this year's Derby and Preakness winner I'll Have Another.  How O'Kelly and his brothel-owning companion, Charlotte,  manage to reap the benefits from their chosen activities and turn a racehorse into a breeding stallion for the ages is what makes this historical narrative fun to read.  

 

Fast forward 250 years to Susan Nusser's Kentucky Derby Dreams: The Making of Thoroughbred Champions.  Nusser deftly records the behind-the-scenes pulse of one of Kentucky's elite horse breeding operations as it readies for a new crop of foals. It is an exhausting schedule of barn rounds, meetings, crises, x-rays, and runway-like parading, all in the hope of getting to the yearling sales. Nusser's prose is fast paced and heartfelt. A prime example is when she describes a mare's anguish over the death of a foal: "her wail is steady, coming in waves, one right after the other."  Making it to the finish line is never taken for granted.

 

Horse lovers and historians, including fans of Laura Hillenbrand's Seabiscuit and Jane Smiley's Horse Heaven, will appreciate these revealing glimpses inside the racing world and the fragile four-legged athletes who run their hearts out.

Cynthia

 
 

Must Read TV

Imagine a world without DVRs and streaming video.  Go back to a time when half the country watched the same television shows which became mandatory water cooler conversation the next day.  Former NBC executive, Warren Littlefield brings such a world to life in Top of the Rock: The Rise and Fall of Must-See TV.  NBC was in its glory days in the 1990s with its “Must-See TV” lineup which included shows like Friends, Seinfeld, Will & Grace, and Frasier.  To capture the essence of this heyday, Littlefield, with assistance from novelist T.R. Pearson, interviewed more than fifty actors, writers, producers, agents, and executives. The actors include Kelsey Grammer, Sean Hayes, Lisa Kudrow, and Jerry Seinfeld, but the network head honchos are represented as well.

 

Littlefield offers the perspective of an insider and the interviewees are frank when talking about both the good and the bad memories of this time. Readers who enjoyed the sitcom Friends may be surprised to hear that Eric McCormack (Will & Grace) was rejected for the role of Ross. Lisa Kudrow had originally been cast as Roz on Frasier, but was luckily for Phoebe fans, she was fired and replaced by Peri Gilpin. Before settling on the name Friends, the creators called their show "Six of One".  This entertaining, quick read is for all those who love a little show business scoop and for those who miss cozy Thursday nights at Central Perk!

Maureen

 
 

A Voice for His Generation

A Voice for His Generation

posted by:
May 29, 2012 - 6:01am

PulpheadAs a contributor to many publications such as GQ, Harper’s, and The New York Times Magazine, John Jeremiah Sullivan, Southern editor for The Paris Review, is an accomplished essayist. His collection, Pulphead: Essays, brings together fourteen of his best long-form works from the past decade. Sullivan writes on intriguing topics, including a visit to a large, annual Christian rock festival in Kentucky. There he meets a group of young men from West Virginia who he connects with and learns their varied motivations for being there. A strong sense of place and emotion is stirred when he places himself among the throngs of believers, many of whom come to this event year after year. A supporting “character” is the RV that Sullivan rents to attend the occasion; he explores the benefits and foibles of having such a vehicle there.

 

A more personal essay describes Sullivan’s experience after his brother Worth is electrocuted in a bizarre accident, and the resulting aftermath of the coma that follows. As in many of the essays, humor worms its way into otherwise sobering events, such as recounting how many details of this incident were remembered because it had appeared on reality show Rescue 911, hosted by William Shatner. Perhaps the most fascinating of his subjects is Mister Lytle, the last of a scholarly group known as the “Twelve Southerners”. Sullivan spends some months living with the 92-year-old man, and the experiences that they share are captivating. A window into the Old South that still existed not too very long ago is opened and strikingly examined.

 

Other topics include the Gulf Coast of Mississippi just days just after Hurricane Katrina; the experiences of reality show characters after "their" season has passed; and one essay each on Michael Jackson and Axl Rose. John Jeremiah Sullivan is a writer who captures the longing, introspection, and world-weariness that exemplify the feelings of his Gen X contemporaries.

Todd

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A Ride in the Blistering Sun

A Lady Cyclist's Guide to KashgarArdent convictions entwined with bewitching messages of faith can be a stormy mix, especially when boundaries blur and cultures clash. Two British sisters face this predicament. Their efforts to help establish a Christian mission in rural China extract a high price in Suzanne Joinson's impressive, multi-layered debut novel, A Lady Cyclist's Guide to Kashgar.  

 

The story begins in 1923 in the ancient Silk Road city of Kashgar, where new missionaries Lizzie and Eva English join their aloof, determined leader, Millicent Frost. While Lizzie appears passionate, Eva is suspicious of religious conversion and is basically along for the ride, literally. Traveling with her trusty BSA lady's roadster bicycle, Eva hopes to publish her guidebook, A Lady Cyclist's Guide to Kashgar. Meanwhile, another story unfolds in present day London. Frieda Blakeman is feeling alone and dislocated in her life when she meets a homeless man from Yemen who appears one day sleeping outside her door. Their eventual friendship leads the pair to an abandoned flat Frieda has inherited and to a minefield of family history. 

 

Joinson's alternating narrative style sets the stage for what is to come. The parallel storylines share symbolism and metaphors that link together the characters' connection to their world and the ability to escape that connection. It is no coincidence that birds feature prominently in both stories as a symbolic "sense of freedom" or that Eva's bicycle is a "shield and my method of escape."     

 

Drawing on her considerable travel experiences, Joinson transports her readers to an exotic locale, rich with authentic voices and evocative prose. Readers of Barbara Kingsolver (The Poisonwood Bible) and Paul Theroux (The Great Railway Bazaar) may enjoy this tale of the traditions and challenges of a world at large.

Cynthia

 
 

The World’s Greatest Crime Fiction Writer?

TakenAccording to The Huffington Post, it’s Robert Crais. You can judge for yourself with Taken, the most recent in his Joe Pike/Elvis Cole series. Taken features a multinational cast of bad guys who buy, sell, and steal one another's kidnapped victims. When professional kidnappers capture a college-age couple who venture into the desert south of Palm Springs near the Mexican border, the young woman's mother hires Cole to find them. Initially, Mom thinks it’s a hoax to get at her money, but Cole quickly realizes that it’s for real and the danger is serious.

 

Through a series of undercover efforts, Cole, Pike, and their sidekick Jon Stone begin to unravel the power balance controlling this web of cartels. As they move to infiltrate the smugglers’ group, Cole himself becomes a kidnap victim. Pike and Stone must find a way to use his capture to aid their investigation and bring justice to the victims. This quickly moving story and realistically sharp dialog will keep readers up past their bedtime. Fans of Crais as well as general mystery readers will enjoy this latest effort. For series newcomers, it is not critical to start with the first title. Crais himself even recommends starting with a title in the middle of the series: L.A. Requiem. The good news is once you’ve polished this one off, there are 14 others waiting in the stacks.

 

While the titles in this series would make a fabulous fit for the big screen, to date Crais refuses to sell the rights to Cole, Pike, and his other recurring characters, preferring to allow his readers to keep their own personal conceptions of the characters.

Maureen