I have been meaning to read some of the urban fantasy of China Mieville, if for no other reason than that someone with a name like that ought to be a great fantasy writer.
Certainly, all the reviews have praised Mieville’s characters and stories. Some time ago, I came across a copy of Mieville’s YA fantasy Un Lun Dun on display at an American Library Association conference, and I picked it up for the return trip. It proved to be all that I could want in a novel. Mieville has a deft hand for characters, and Deeba, the ultimate heroine of the story, can take her place with Phillip Pullman’s Lyra Belacqua and Francis Hardinge’s Mosca Mye in the ranks of tough, enduring characters who make their way through dangers that they never foresaw.
The story is complex enough to keep all readers interested, and Mieville mixes humor and wordplay in with a variety of intriguing plot twists. There are betrayals and failures here, and, as in all good fantasy, help often comes in unexpected ways and from unlooked-for quarters. Mieville conjures up an alternative London, where the unwanted debris of the real, contemporary London comes to life. This Un Lun Dun, or the Abcity as it is called, is threatened by the Smog, and it falls to Deeba to lead the struggle against this evil. There are puzzling connections between London and Un Lun Dun, and a sinister plot that involves the British government and those who would control the Abcity. Mieville blends a beautifully descriptive writing style with a flair for thrilling action, and I look forward to getting to his other novels soon.
Check the WRL catalog for Un Lun Dun
Jimmy Hoffa. Ambrose Bierce. D.B. Cooper. Amelia Earhart. Chances are anyone you ask can identify these famous missing persons. But have you heard of ”the most missingest man in America?” Once upon a time, Judge Joseph Crater’s 1930 disappearance captivated the country, and sporadic developments have still made news since. Ariel Lawhon doesn’t know what happened to Judge Crater, but her new book sure takes what we know and extends it just a little into a plausible and entertaining solution to the mystery.
What we know: Judge Crater had barely started his new job as an Associate Justice of the New York Supreme Court and was at his summer cottage when he got a phone call. He returned to New York City, and did some work in his chambers. On the evening of August 6, Crater had dinner with a friend and a showgirl, set off to see a Broadway play and >poof<. It took a month for an investigation to start, because everyone thought he was somewhere else, but when he was officially reported missing on September 3 it became national news. Lots of tips, a grand jury investigation, and countless police hours trying to trace him turned up nothing. Whispers of corruption in the judiciary, of Tammany Hall politics, and of gangland involvement came out of the rampant speculation, but nothing was ever proven.
As you can tell by the title, Lawhon’s story revolves around the women in Crater’s life. Stella Crater’s money financed the Judge’s rise in the world, but he expects that she will comport herself as the political wife, representing her husband in public and keeping her nose out of his business in private. The Mistress is Sally Lou Ritz, a busty long-legged showgirl with a secret past and serious current problems. Despite the glamorous whirl of Broadway shows and speakeasies, Ritzi also learns to be where Crater wants her and to be gone when he doesn’t. Then there’s the Maid, Maria Simon. Maria works part-time for the Craters, and the Judge got Maria’s husband Jude his new job as a detective for New York City’s Finest. She, too, learns that keeping Crater’s secrets is the price she will pay for her husband’s advancement.
The story develops along the web of visible and invisible relationships created by these people. All of them dance on the strings pulled by the infamous gangster Owney Madden. Madden is Ritzi’s sponsor in the not-so-glamorous Broadway backstage world, where interchangeable showgirls often double as courtesans. He holds the mortgage on Stella’s family cottage, which Crater sold him in exchange for the cash the judge needed to run his election. And he’s the guy who tells the NYPD how and when to conduct their investigations, and it’s no accident that Maria’s husband is one of the guys chosen to look into Crater’s death.
The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress is set in the quintessential New York City depicted in the black and white movies of the era. It’s 1930, and the worst of the Depression hasn’t really become visible to these characters, although they see men in bespoke shoes selling apples. New Broadway shows are opening up all the time, speakeasies are thriving, the life and livelihood of the City is settled in the chophouses where the rich and powerful eat. Underneath that lighthearted bustle is the worm of the Big Apple – the flow of money and patronage through the political clubs, bribery from the station house to the courthouse, and the muscle to silence anyone who stands in the way.
Lawhon uses a bookend plot to set the stage for those not familiar with Crater’s story. Stella Crater made an annual visit to a Greenwich Village bar on August 6, where she would buy two cocktails, raise one in a toast, drink it and leave the other untouched. In the book, she invites Jude Simon to meet her there for one last drink, and presents him with a sealed envelope, the final word that explains everything to the last detective remotely interested in the case. The modern-day conversation makes an occasional reappearance in the story, as do flashbacks that establish Crater’s character or create a timely link between two characters. Added together, the three plotlines make a deeply satisfying resolution to one of the 20th century’s greatest unsolved mysteries.
Check the WRL catalog for The Wife, The Maid, and the Mistress
I wrote earlier about The Whistling Season and the singular character of Morris Morgan, the erudite and cultured man who wound up in the rough Montana town of Marias Coulee. Morrie was a memorable character from the start, and though the events of that story sent him away from Marias Coulee, Ivan Doig brought him back in Work Song. As important as he was to the first book, we still only saw him through Paul Milliron’s eyes; now we get to see the world through Morrie’s.
Ten years after the events of The Whistling Season, Morrie gets off the train at the go-go town of Butte, Montana, thinking he’ll get an accounting job with the Anaconda Copper Mining Company and start the path to his certain fortune. But little in the town is as direct as the railroad tracks coming and going from the depot. In Butte, you are on one side or the other and even outsiders have to pick, as Morrie learns when he takes a room at Grace Faraday’s boarding house. The sides? Anaconda, which runs the town, or the union, which struggles to represent the miners.
Grace, the young widow of a miner, has two boarders, Griff and Hoop, both veterans of the mine and stalwart union men. They quickly set Morrie straight about “wearing the copper collar”, so he stoutly declares that he won’t work for the Company. Which leaves him jobless and mostly broke, because the trunk with his possessions vanished on the train.
After a brief stint as a professional mourner, Morrie discovers the Butte’s true prize: the public library and its priceless collection of exquisitely bound first editions. As intimidating as the Anaconda Copper Mining Company can be, though, they have nothing on the head librarian, Samuel S. Sandison. Former cattle rancher, book collector, and professional grouch, Sandy is also swayed by anyone who believes as he does in the narrative genius of Robert Louis Stevenson. Morrie easily talks himself into a job, and winds up doing anything Sandison doesn’t want to.
But trouble is coming to Butte. Wage cuts and safety issues put the miners on edge, and Anaconda puts their thugs to work on anyone who might be an outside agitator. Before long, Morrie finds himself dodging strikebreakers and helping the union with an essential job: finding a work song.
In a community subdivided into different nationalities with their own musical traditions, finding a tune that can inspire the miners to pull together is no easy task. Morrie can go into an unconventional classroom (think 3000 feet under the surface), teach them about rhythm, rhyme, and melody, but if they are to be as effective as the Wobblies Little Red Songbook, the words have to come from the miners.
As he did in The Whistling Season, Doig seems to go right to the edge of creating an unwieldy cast of characters, but manages to have each one precisely delineated and in the perfect place to play their roles. Along with a lively young teacher from Morrie’s past, a young union leader toughened in the trenches of World War I, and the towering and haunted Sandison, he includes a starveling boy nicknamed Russian Famine, the fastest thing on two feet in Butte. But Doig is most tender in developing Grace Faraday, the young woman trying to survive on her own in the face of company harassment and her precarious status in a town where unattached females are usually prostitutes. Measuring his worldly ambitions against such people makes Morrie a (slightly) better man, and we are pleased to be along for his self-discovery. And though I haven’t read it yet, Morrie’s journey continues in Sweet Thunder. I have a feeling I will be reviewing it in the near future.
Check the WRL catalogue for Work Song
There are all sorts of materials that can be checked out from a library. The most typical, of course, are books, but some libraries circulate items such as maps, art prints, even toys. Elizabeth’s new job is as a page at a very different type of library, The New York Circulating Material Repository. This library circulates objects. Some objects, like one of Lincoln’s hats or Marie Antoinette’s wigs, are particularly valuable. Others have little intrinsic value, but are no less important to have in the collection.
“Some of the more popular types of items we loan out these days include musical instruments, sports equipment, and specialized cooking tools. Many New Yorkers like to give the occasional fondue party, for example, but they don’t want to devote the cupboard space to a lot of fondue pots. Or if you’re thinking of learning to play the piccolo, you might want to borrow one to see how you like it. In the late nineteenth century, specialized silver services were very popular. In the 1970s, it was wood lathes.”
Now, the idea of such a library is so incredibly cool that it prompted me to immediately Google “New York Circulating Material Repository” just to be sure it wasn’t real. The realization that this library was fictitious was a blow, but the author had even more up her sleeve. My longing for this library to be real grew as Elizabeth began to uncover its secrets. In the Dungeon are sections with names such as the Grimm Collection, the Wells Bequest, the Gibson Chrestomathy, the Garden of Seasons, and the Lovecraft Corpus.
Elizabeth, being a fairy tale fan, is most interested in exploring the Grimm Collection. She learns that it contains objects related to the Grimm brother’s stories and that many of the objects are powerful, even dangerous, and as such are kept under lock and key. Her coworkers are hesitant to reveal any other details, however, as other library pages have recently disappeared, and Grimm objects are going missing as well. Elizabeth is still learning her way around this mysterious new job, and she doesn’t know who to trust, but the lure of working among genuine Grimm Collection items is too great a prospect to resist. Sounds like a dream job to this librarian!
Check the WRL catalog for The Grimm Legacy.
Popular illustrator Ed Young tries his hand at writing by creating a children’s version of the Chinese epic Journey to the West. This Chinese fable set in the 600s A.D. revolves around a monk who travels with the Monkey King and other animals on a quest to bring Buddhist scriptures from India back to China. Young’s version focuses on the creation story of the Monkey King and the events that lead up to him protecting and joining Monk Tang on his journey.
Older elementary-aged children and middle school children will have a better understanding of this complex tale, while younger children can enjoy Young’s bright and simplistic illustrations. The “Author’s Note” and “List of Characters” give a more complete picture of the story. The book ends with a moral: “By learning that there was strength in admitting weakness, Monkey had saved the day. Did Monkey’s humility last? That’s another story for another book.”
Check the WRL catalog for Monkey King.
Sophie is a teen witch who doesn’t have much experience with spells. She was raised by a mortal mother, and her warlock father has never been in the picture. Despite her lack of expertise, or perhaps because of it, Sophie has cast one too many spells in front of her mortal classmates. Her punishment is to be sent to Hecate Hall, a reformatory boarding school for witches, shapeshifters and faeries. Hex Hall, as it is called by these magical teen delinquents, is to be her home until she shapes up, or she turns eighteen (whichever comes first).
While Sophie doesn’t fit in the regular world very well, she doesn’t exactly fit in the magical one either. In addition to being behind in her magical abilities, there turns out to be a few things that her classmates know about her father that she doesn’t. Her ignorance of the magical world leads her to say and do many wrong things, and prevents her from making many friends. She has drawn the ire of the resident mean girls by declining to join their coven, and she has a crush on the head mean girl’s boyfriend. On top of all that, her roommate, Jenna, is a vampire. She is the only vampire student at Hex Hall and her last roommate was found exsanguinated in the bathroom from two puncture wounds on her neck. Although Sophie has been assured that Jenna was cleared of any wrongdoing, the culprit is still at large.
As Sophie is finding out, the magical world, and her place in it, are much different than she ever could have dreamed.
Check the WRL catalog for Hex Hall.
For starters, it is simple enough that even your dog could read it. That’s because Rrralph is the story of a dog that can talk. The narrator asks Ralph his name, and he replies, “Ralph! Ralph!” He goes for a walk past a tree covered in, “Bark! Bark! Bark!” And later he encounters a scary, “Wolf! Wolf!”
You get the idea. Children love joining along with Ralph. And Ehlert’s dog, with button eyes, an aluminum pop-top nose and mouth made out of a zipper, is wonderful to watch romp across the page.
This story is perfect with a group or one-on-one. I’ve shared it many times with babies, toddlers and pre-schoolers, and I wouldn’t hesitate to use it with kindergarteners or first-graders.
Check the WRL catalog for Rrralph.
Priceless is a memoir about the true crime undercover investigations carried out by FBI Agent Robert K. Wittman. Since the late 1980s, Bob Wittman was the original solo art crime investigator for what became the FBI’s Art Crime team in 2004, now numbering 14 agents who are well-versed in the fine arts, skilled with undercover work, and are prepared to rapidly deploy to any worldwide site for art theft recovery work and sting operations, often in cooperation with international law enforcement agencies. The FBI updates an online top-ten listing of art crimes and maintains a database of stolen art.
The book is arranged so that you’re following developments in FBI Agent Wittman’s career as well as some pivotal events in his personal life throughout the book. However, each chapter neatly portrays a particular case and its wrap-up. There is one thread running from the beginning through the end, the notorious unsolved 1990 case of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum theft. Wittman’s frustrating battle with the restrictions under which he had to work in the FBI’s bureaucracy, including power struggles with senior officials, seems to provide some clues as to why this case might have been solved long ago had it not been so botched by red tape.
The stories truly bring the high-stakes investigations of art theft to life for the lay reader, and open up our eyes to the realities of art crimes. The biggest revelation in this book is the fact that those who steal art are seldom glamorous, handsome and powerful art connoisseurs, as they have been portrayed in films such as Dr. No or The Thomas Crown Affair. That characterization may be true in some cases, although they are usually your typical thugs who can’t resist taking something that seems incredibly valuable yet easy to steal for even the dumbest of crooks. Some of the book’s photos of captured thieves make that contrast startling. As security systems and staffing have become more sophisticated today, even better organized art theft rings have staged some thefts on the level of Ocean’s Eleven style drama, but most of the crimes investigated by Wittman and told in Priceless are more a case of your average guy taking advantage of an opportunity to get away with something for money.
These are very interesting and sometimes thrilling tales. They’ll take you behind the scenes of the FBI and around the world to exotic locations and scenarios, and I hope you enjoy them as much as I did.
Look for Priceless in the WRL catalog.
Thrillers rarely come along that are created with as much verve as Headhunters, a standalone novel by Norwegian author Jo Nesbø, who also writes the Harry Hole series. The crafty, intelligent plot has a bit of noir as well as some jaw-dropping comic moments; you won’t believe the literally sticky situations that come up amid Hitchcockian twists and turns. You’ll also find well-developed characters despite the book’s brevity (less than 300 pages), which I always appreciate.
Roger Brown is a corporate headhunter who moonlights as an art thief to maintain a lavish lifestyle for his wife. He is also clearly trying to compensate for his short height and his insecurity about having such a gorgeous wife, terrified that she’ll discover his true colors. In Roger’s misguided drive to supplement his already lucrative work and preserve his marriage, he suddenly finds himself caught in a web of unclear motives and loyalties, with no one to trust. He wonders just how long he’s been the target in someone’s larger scheme rather than solely the mastermind of his own crimes.
Clas Greve is not only a brilliant and devilishly handsome corporate icon, he’s also a tried and tested covert special forces operative skilled as another type of “head hunter.” His history with GPS tracking technology landed him the CEO position with a major corporation rumored to have lost him following a takeover. Roger Brown’s wife Diana, who meets Greve through her art gallery, tips Roger off to Greve’s availability as a potential CEO candidate, and Roger thinks he is perfect to head a competing GPS technology firm. Diana also tells the tale of a missing masterpiece by Rubens that was found in Clas Greve’s grandmother’s apartment in Oslo. Not only does Roger think he has found the perfect executive for his client, he plots to steal the work of art that might set him up in luxury for life.
Pampered, polished Roger, a sophisticated businessman and very classy thief, may be in over his head, but in the course of an adventurous and outrageous series of circumstances, he reveals his true grit. The reader will end up rooting for this undeserving hero. Fans of Stieg Larsson, Elmore Leonard, or Carl Hiaasen are likely to be enraptured.
“MPAA rating: R; for bloody violence including some grisly images, strong sexual content and nudity.” If you are over 17, and know that you could at least stomach Pulp Fiction or Fight Club, don’t let this intimidating film rating prevent you from viewing the riveting Norwegian film version of the novel. Despite the rating, I found it less disturbing than expected, not as violent or brutal as your average Tarantino flick—the murders in Headhunters come across as rather accidental, not cold-blooded or ultra-disturbingly violent. Yes, there are some graphic scenes, but you’ll be so caught up in the unexpected plot twists that I doubt you’ll find them too extreme—well, except for one scene reminiscent of the unforgettable outhouse scene in Slumdog Millionaire. I don’t think I’ve enjoyed suspense this much since Fargo. What you should know is that the details in some scenes are so much more graphic in the book that you’ll be glad that the director chose to leave them out!
The DVD has settings for viewing in Norwegian with subtitles or with English dubbing. I enjoyed it in Norwegian more because the English was dubbed with American accents. Roger Brown’s character is British and all the other characters are either Norwegian or Dutch, so it just made more sense to use the English subtitles.
Check the WRL catalog for the book
Check the catalog for the ebook
Check the catalog for the DVD
How certain are you that the things you do in life matter? A heavy question, I know, but then this is a heavy book.
One day, Pierre Anthon announces to the rest of his 7th grade classmates that nothing matters. The students take his comments, in a word, badly. His announcement flies in direct opposition to everything their parents have taught them and everything they believe. Pierre, however, is adamant in his belief and will not be swayed. He settles himself in the branches of a plum tree and is content to let life simply pass by. This does not sit well with his classmates at all. They endeavor to prove to Pierre that there is something, anything, in the world that matters.
Things start off innocuously enough. It is almost like a game of truth or dare. The children build a “heap of meaning” and each child is required to contribute the item that means the most to them. What that item must be is decided for them by their classmates. The pile builds as the children take turns chapter by chapter. With each item the stakes get raised. No one wants to sacrifice their beloved item. After a child makes a sacrifice, it is their turn to demand a meaningful object from someone else, and they begin to take their revenge. Each time they go for the jugular, choosing more and more valuable things. Disturbing things. Horrific things. In the end, someone pays the ultimate price.
Nothing was originally published in Denmark and has been translated into English. A 2011 Printz Honor book, it is dark, thought provoking, and not for the faint of heart. It is for older teens and a crossover title for adults.
Check the WRL catalog for Nothing.
Junie, Jakie and the baby beg Papa to take them to the lake, but he’s worried about their rattletrap car, because “it doesn’t go fast and it doesn’t go far.” But they load it up anyway with a surfboard, toy boat, a beach ball and a giant tub of chocolate marshmallow fudge delight and off they go. But they don’t get far when, Boom—ssssss! A tire goes flat.
But remember that beach ball? It’s the perfect spare, and they glue it on with handfuls of chocolate marshmallow fudge delight. And off they go again, until . . . another part of the car dies or falls off. Along the way the car gets noisier and noisier, with sounds like wappity bappity, lumpety bumpety, clinkety clankety, bing bang pop!
And all those toys and the chocolate marshmallow fudge delight come in very handy!
This is a great read for preschoolers through kindergarten. The large illustrations are wonderful to use with a class.
Check the WRL catalog for Rattletrap Car.
Shapiro uses a true crime event, the 1990 theft of priceless works of art from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, as the backdrop for this engaging novel about a young artist with outstanding talent but a soiled reputation whose susceptibility gets her neck-deep into a forgery scheme. Cleverly, author Shapiro inserts a fictional masterpiece by Degas that, of course, was not among the 13 works stolen in real life. This way she is able to weave an entirely new provenance, history, and fate for her invented painting for the sake of this story, which includes a fictional alleged relationship between the museum’s founder Isabella and Edgar Degas. Clues are slowly revealed to the reader through the inclusion of a mysterious collection of undiscovered letters composed by Isabella, telling all to her favorite niece.
Reluctant at first, but eventually coerced into accepting that her part in copying the painting is innocent—it’s apparently legal to copy art as long as one doesn’t try to pass off the forgery as the original—Clare Roth feels safely distanced from any related criminality. She convinces herself that it’s legal to create a fine copy of an original masterwork; after all, she legitimately copies masterpieces for a fine art reproduction business. She’s in denial, however, that storing the stolen art in her studio home or developing a romantic attachment to the art dealer makes her an accessory to the crime. Feeling removed from the Gardner theft, and unconnected to any of the buyers or sellers interested in the proposed forgery, Clare still becomes increasingly enmeshed as the plot unravels, family secrets are uncovered shedding new light on the museum’s history and benefactor, and the authenticity of a valuable masterpiece is questioned.
Those who love true crimes and/or mysteries with a sprinkling of romance (that doesn’t dominate a story) are likely to enjoy this novel. It will also appeal to those who like contemporary novels based around true events.
Information on the real art theft in the wee hours following Saint Patrick’s Day reveling is described on the Gardner museum’s Website and also in The Gardner Heist, by Ulrich Boser. Art investigators are still trying to recover the stolen artworks, and a $5 million reward is offered for information leading to their safe recovery.
In The Art Forger, the device of using a bolder and smaller font to distinguish sections in the novel that describe events that occurred years earlier helps to keep time and details straight. Unfortunately, this technique was lost on me as I was reading the e-book version; it’s there but I just didn’t notice it easily on my particular device—just thought I’d mention that for those of you with e-readers.
I was instantly absorbed in this fast-paced, detective-style investigation of the mysterious manuscript, the “Crown of Aleppo.” Parchment fragments of the ancient codex are still unaccounted for today, so those who want the book to end with a nice neat conclusion or happy ending should not even get started. However, those who love a good unsolved mystery and a series of unreliable accounts from multiple viewpoints, perhaps reminiscent of Iain Pears’s novel, An Instance of the Fingerpost, are likely to love this story. One after the other, we read contradictory accounts of the same event in Aleppo, Syria. In 1947, anti-Jewish violence protesting the creation of the state of Israel endangered the sacred texts, which were housed in the Jewish synagogue in the city; consequentially, most of Syria’s Jewish community fled. Amid the chaos, parts of the document disappeared. Various individuals closely associated with the synagogue claimed credit for protecting the codex.
Investigative reporter Matti Friedman bravely followed an obfuscated trail, having to carefully negotiate his way into archives, museums, and libraries, and into the trust of those who may harbor what truths still exist in living memory regarding the codex. Along the way, he discovered a number of cover-ups, suppressed documentation, and red herrings, yet he relentlessly and obsessively pursued the previously untold story.
The tenth century “Crown” is the oldest Hebrew Bible manuscript, considered the authoritative text from which all copies of the Torah were meant to be hand copied in the old days. All sorts of legends and pesky rules, not very well suited to the preservation of disintegrating, aging old manuscripts, surround the “Crown,” including the stipulation that it was never to be moved from its location in Syria (riot, fire, and political unwelcome brought an end to its residency of over a thousand years), and that no one would be allowed to photograph or scan it (a rule certainly not instated before its most recent centuries). Therefore, when leaves of the folios went missing, no photographic images existed to at least preserve their memory, such as those we have to remember many stolen artifacts and fine art these days.
I just loved reading about this great mystery, and it kindled in me a new interest in other investigations of manuscripts with storied pasts.
Check the WRL catalog for The Aleppo Codex
Check the catalog for the ebook version
I don’t generally use cumulative tales in story time, because they bore me. But The Napping House is one, glorious exception.
This is the story of how a wakeful flea disrupts the slumbering mouse, on the snoozing cat, on the dozing dog, on the dreaming child, on the snoring granny, on a cozy bed in a napping house where everyone is sleeping. It works so well because Audrey Wood’s text sounds so good, and her husband’s pictures are so big and funny.
Like all good illustrations, Wood’s images give observant children the chance to find more in the story. The next animal to climb on top of the bed is always waking up on the page before. And if you’re sharing the book one-on-one, you can even see the flea hopping closer to the bed page by page.
This is the perfect story to read and then share again as a flannel board. And if you go to the Woods’ web page, you’ll find printable coloring pages for the story. You’ll find that page here:
Check the WRL catalog for The Napping House.
All this week, Mindy reviews books about art theft, starting with two titles about some of the more sensational cases:
Museum of the Missing (2006) and Stolen (2008) are very similar books—both have introductory material written by Julian Radcliffe, chairman of the Art Loss Register, a tool used worldwide to authenticate artworks and aid in the recovery of stolen art. Some of the true crimes described in the earlier work are also in Stolen. Both include pages filled with color illustrations of lost art and the fascinating stories detailing what is known about their thefts. (Those who are tracking the fluctuating state of art theft cases may also want to follow current events. One way that I have been doing that is with a Google alert that sends newly published articles and blog posts to my email inbox daily.)
These art crime stories range from sad, disturbing, and shocking losses of our cultural heritage to hilarious and often audacious stupid-crook capers. The good news is that a number of stolen works of art have been recovered by art crime investigators, often working in undercover sting operations designed to thwart criminal schemes. It’s delicate work, often prioritized in favor of recovering works of art unharmed rather than on locking up the culprits who stole them. Appeals to the public are often made, with rewards offered, without fear of prosecution if involved.
The reality is that the high-priced art world often makes the headlines with record-breaking art sales. This attracts thieves who can’t seem to resist. What thieves unfortunately fail to calculate is the market for fencing their loot. Thus, they’re sometimes stuck with stolen art, and without backgrounds in art history or an acquired taste for fine art they seldom show any concern for its preservation. Thieves who couldn’t find a buyer have sometimes destroyed the stolen art in order to eliminate the evidence of their crime. Sculptures are stolen for their metal content and melted down for scrap.
Houpt and Webb each do an excellent job of storytelling about these intriguing art thefts. They also provide a great deal of insight into the history of art and what has made stealing it such an irresistible crime. A nice shelf to browse for more titles like these is located in the true crime area of 364.162.
Check the WRL catalog for Museum of the Missing
Check the catalog for Stolen
In Barbara Kingsolver’s novel The Poisonwood Bible, a missionary family is sent to the Congo to show God’s word and covert the Congolese people, “bringing the Christian word to these people.” Reverend Price, the father, expects to be highly welcomed the whole time the family is in the Congo and intends to baptize all of the children, but what the family finds is something entirely unexpected. Some of the family members learn to adapt to Africa and understand the people, while other family members resist the change and keep to their societal stereotypes.
The book is narrated by the girls’ during the time they are in Africa and by Orleanna years after she has left the Congo, living on Sanderling Island, Georgia. Nathan Price does not speak but we are painted a clear picture of his character through the eyes of his children and wife.
The Congo during this time was undergoing radical political changes. Belgium was leaving the Congo after extracting many of its precious natural resources and as a nationalist movement was growing. The Congo was becoming an independent nation with the first elections. Unrest was growing in the country as the elections were soon to be held. Nathan was warned by other missionaries to leave to country and go back home, because it was unsafe for his family. Nathan rejected this even after being yelled at by his wife because he wanted to stay “until another family can come.” Civil unrest began as the first elected president is murdered and as racial violence continues. The family continues to be in a vulnerable situation as Nathan continues to insist to stay in the country.
Throughout the novel, Kingsolver continues to display the role of the American government involved in the Congo during this time, and how unaware the Prices’ are of their involvement. Mrs. Price continues to display the picture of President Eisenhower and Nathan Price continues to believe that America takes better care of its people, “Americans would never stand for this kind of unequal treatment.” She shows throughout the novel just how guilty the Americans are as the Belgians for mistreating the Congo. Social stereotypes about the Congo and blacks are portrayed throughout the characters and events.
An overall message in the novel is describing how something the same can mean something entirely different based on the context. Judgment should not be used unless a person really understands and accepts the situation. Nathan Price spoke some of the native language, but he did not really understand the meaning. He kept on saying ”Tata Jesus is bangala,” but really with his accent meant “Tata Jesus is poisonwood!” Nathan also did not understand the reasoning for the natives to resist baptizing their children in the river. If Nathan had really looked into it he would have realized it was full of crocodiles. Everything the natives did had a purpose; they didn’t have time to run around and have fun.
The Prices’ mission trip to the Congo changed all the characters for the rest of their lives. They learned how to deal with the harsh realities of life and how different two worlds can be. The novel displays a message of overcoming prejudices, fighting to gain control of one ’s self, and learning to adapt to changes that come one’s way. The novel puts into perspective what is really important in life and how to overcome, or deal with major hurdles.
Check the WRL catalog for The Poisonwood Bible
This Caldecott Honor Book is a choice pick for children and parents who have suffered feelings of longing when separated from their loved ones. Jacqueline Woodson’s sparse prose gives a lovely rhythm to this historical fiction tale about a young girl whose mother goes to Chicago for work during wartime. Woodson writes, “Mama’s hands are warm and soft. When she put her Sunday dress into the satchel, I held my breath. Tried hard not to cry. Ada Ruth, she said. They’re hiring colored women in Chicago since all the men are off fighting in the war.” Ada Ruth stays at home with her grandparents and a kitten she adopts. She waits for word from her mother as the family lives through tough economic times. The pain that enfolds the reader through most of the book is lifted with a happy ending for Ada Ruth and her mother. E. B. Lewis’ illustrations are incredible and bring the tale to life for readers. This would be a wonderful book for elementary-aged children who have a parent who is deployed or living apart from them for work, or for children with an interest in history.
Check the WRL catalog for Coming on Home Soon.
Beatles or Stones? Yes! This fall, about 50 years after the founding of the two bands, we’re seeing a new crop of books about their early years, including Tune In, the first volume of Mark Lewisohn’s planned mega-biography of the Beatles, and Beatles vs. Stones, a historian’s look at the public images of the two groups. But I doubt that any book published this year will have the impact, or the sales, of Keith Richards’s autobiography, which came out in 2010.
Life has to be one of the best books ever about the cultural and political explosion that happened in the mid 1960s—witnessed from the epicenter by a kid who just wanted to play blues guitar and ended up a pop superstar in the Rolling Stones. The book is raw and rude. Keith disses a lot of well known people, and reveals without apology the depths of his bad behavior: the groupies and girlfriend-swapping, the endless hard drugs and booze, the arrests and trials, the wild parties and trashed hotel rooms.
“Some of my most outrageous nights I can only believe actually happened because of corroborating evidence… The ultimate party, if it’s any good, you can’t remember it.”
Fortunately, Keith is just as revealing about his music, documenting how he created his epic guitar riffs, and almost effortlessly wrote hit song after hit song with Mick Jagger. He has collaborated with everyone who is anyone in music, and tells good stories about his encounters with Muddy Waters, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, George Jones, Tom Waits, and many others.
If possible, don’t read Life in print; listen to the audiobook version instead. Its offbeat, somewhat laid-back production is oddly suited to the story and to Keith’s distinctive style. There are three narrators, each taking a turn at reading in the voice of Keith : Johnny Depp (a close friend and admirer of Richards), the Irish rocker Joe Hurley, and Keith himself. This is disorienting for the listener, since the narration switches without warning from Depp, reading quite neutrally in his American accent, to Hurley, who does an over-the-top interpretation of Keith: slurring words, chuckling, and mumbling in a South London accent. At first I was put off by Hurley’s reading, but it grew on me and eventually I settled in to enjoy it. Keith narrates the final section of the book, covering his recent years, which are comparatively uneventful—oh, except for the time he fell out of a tree in Fiji and suffered a life-threatening brain injury.
Some parts are better than others, but the book, like a good album, opens with its strongest number. Superbly narrated by Depp, this is the story of the 1975 arrest of Keith, fellow band member Ronnie Wood, and two friends while driving a Chevrolet Impala packed with illegal drugs and weapons through Fordyce, Arkansas. This legendary culture clash between rural southern law enforcement types and long-haired British rockers can be read as hilarious farce, complete with a drunken judge and a victory parade for the bailed-out musicians. But there’s a dark heart to the story, a reminder that this was the Vietnam Era, the always-present backdrop of songs like “Street Fighting Man” and “Gimme Shelter.”
What a drag it is getting old… For years now, the Stones have endured writings in the press making fun of their withered appearance and calling on them to retire, for decency’s sake. So far, neither the band nor their fans are ready to pack it in. In the summer of 2013, the Stones rocked out in electrifying sets in Hyde Park and at the Glastonbury Festival before screaming crowds spanning three generations. You know what they say, baby: listen to your elders.
Check the WRL catalog for the audiobook version of Life
Check for the print version
Just about everything that could go wrong in Zoey’s life has gone wrong. Last summer her father had an affair with a 24-year-old coworker and left her mother. Then, the week before school starts, her devastated mother attempts suicide and is put into a psychiatric hospital. Zoey gets into a car accident that affects her memory of the events leading up to and immediately following the accident (which turns out to have been a pretty eventful night). Her father abandons her to run off to Hawaii to marry the coworker, but not before he threatens to send Zoey to the “loony bin” with her mother if she is actually claiming to have amnesia.With all that going on, Zoey had better have a pretty supportive boyfriend, right? But, no, Brandon hasn’t made any attempt to contact her to see if she’s alright. However, Doug, her worst enemy, won’t leave her side.
The night of the accident holds the key to everything, if only she can remember it. When her detective work leads to spending more and more time with Doug, Zoey must come to terms with the fact that Brandon might not be the right guy for her, and Doug might not be such a bad guy after all. The night she can’t remember changes everything, but it could all change again when she learns what really happened.
Check the WRL catalog for Forget You.
Lula Landry, a beautiful mixed-race supermodel, has fallen to her death from her third-floor flat onto the snow-covered walk in a posh section of London. The paparazzi and press go wild; everyone in the world is shocked. A woman who lives in the same building swears she heard a male voice arguing with Lula right before the fall, but the police investigate and determine Lula’s death a suicide. The witness, they conclude after lengthy investigation, is either a delusional coke-head or is in it for the publicity; she could not have heard anything through the triple-glazed windows of the high-end flats.
Three months later, young Robin Ellacott, newly engaged and newly arrived in London, is working for a temp agency as a secretary and is thrilled to find that her new assignment is for a private investigator, as she has always secretly wanted to be a private eye. Her first encounter with her new boss, the large, hairy, one-legged veteran of the war in Afghanistan, Cormoran Strike, however, is not a pleasant one, and she learns on the first day of her week-long assignment that Strike is in a great deal of debt, is getting death threats from a former client, has only one current client, and is apparently living in his office.
It is fortunate, then, that a new client shows up at Strike’s meager office. The brother of Lula Landry, John Bristow, is convinced that Lula’s fall was not suicide, and has come to hire Strike to investigate. Strike at first says no; his conscience tells him he cannot take the money to investigate something that he is confident has been so thoroughly looked into that any investigation on his part will change the outcome. Bristow, fuming, says he had been willing to pay double Strike’s fee. Strike relents, his debts and living conditions weighing into the decision.
J.K. Rowling can create wonderful characters, and many populate this mystery novel. Almost anyone Strike and Robin look into in the course of their investigation could be a suspect: Lula’s rock star ex-boyfriend Evan Duffield; film-producer and neighbor Freddy Bestigui; Rochelle, a down-and-out friend Lula met in rehab; Guy Somé, a designer for whom Lula modeled; American rapper Deeby Macc who was supposed to stay in the flat below Lula’s the night she died; relatives, drivers, doormen, fellow models, and even strangers could have had a motive. As I listened to this audiobook, I was constantly changing who I believed the killer was, or even if there was a killer.
The reader for the audiobook, British actor Robert Glenister, is excellent. Though I am no expert on British accents, from my point of view, he nailed the various accents. I could easily tell who was speaking, and his inflections added so much to the story that I would recommend listening to the audiobook over reading the book for the immersive pleasure of Glenister’s outstanding storytelling.
According to news reports, a sequel is planned for publication in 2014. I am hoping Rowling, either using her own name or that of her pseudonym, Robert Galbraith, will continue what promises to be an excellent mystery series where the complex, very likable, and extraordinarily adept Cormoran Strike and his proficient and enthusiastic assistant Robin Ellacott investigate many more cases.
Check the WRL catalog for the print version of The Cuckoo’s Calling.
Check the WRL catalog for the compact disc audiobook version of The Cuckoo’s Calling.
Check the OneClickDigital catalog for the downloadable audiobook version of The Cuckoo’s Calling