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
What a thrill! This action filled novel is the first in the new series The Legion by Kami Garcia, co-author of the Beautiful Creatures young adult series.
We first meet Kennedy, a teen living a pretty normal life…until the day she mysteriously finds her mother dead at home. Devastated and alone (her father also left rather oddly years before) Kennedy cannot begin to imagine what is in store. When she is suddenly attacked by a force she can’t explain, twin brothers Jared and Lukas spring to her rescue. Confused, Kennedy doesn’t know whether to trust the brothers, or run away screaming in search of the police. But when they reveal they are part of a secret organization that has existed for hundreds of years to protect the world from a powerful demon, and that Kennedy’s mom was a part of the organization as well, she is truly baffled. Yet there is something in the brothers that she trusts and her curiosity gets the better of her. While the brothers continue to fill her in (including the fact that she must take her mother’s place among the other four members, all teens who lost their parents on that one fateful night) Kennedy finds herself in a new place surrounded by four exceptional people, all with unique talents and skills which far surpass the ones she believes exist within herself.
As the book progresses Kennedy surprisingly seems to fall into her new role and proves she has something to offer the others. But something is wrong too. Something that separates Kennedy. Something no one can seem to put their finger on. What will it mean for the team? More importantly, what will it mean for all of humanity? A great start to what is sure to be a fast paced, mystery-filled series (with a hint of romance) that brings in not only the paranormal but religious type-themes found in The Da Vinci Code as well.
Check the WRL catalog for Unbreakable.
Nibbles and the other guinea pigs of Dandeville are back! This time Nibbles and friend Posie discover that caterpillars are eating their precious dandelion plants. Posie suggests that they keep the caterpillars as pets. The two guinea pigs make a list of things they might need to take care of the caterpillars. Things like ping pong balls so they can play soccer, little wooly socks and small hairbrushes. One day they discover that the jars containing the caterpillars are empty! After advertising their lost caterpillars, Mr. Rosetti asks them to bring the caterpillars’ jars to his café. When the lids are opened, out fly the newly transformed caterpillars. The guinea pigs find out that “when you lose a caterpillar, you find a butterfly”. Readers should pay close attention to the numerous details in the mixed media illustrations, especially the pictures hanging in the guinea pig art museum. This book is also a great fiction title to use when learning about the life cycle of a butterfly.
Check the WRL catalog for Nibbles’ Garden: Another Green Tale.
“Here’s the essential truth about me: I killed a girl when I was fourteen. Her name was Lila, she was my best friend, and I loved her. I killed her anyway.”
This noir fantasy for teenagers, first in an ongoing series, has a great mafia-with-a-twist setup. Curse workers can change your emotions, alter your memories, tweak your luck, and in rare cases, kill you stone dead with the touch of a bare hand. Thus, the gloves. Everyone wears them, all the time, even though workers are actually pretty rare—maybe one in a thousand people. Illegal since the 1930s, curse working has gone underground, and most workers are associated with organized crime.
Cassel Sharpe is the only non-worker in a worker family, and the only one trying to go straight (-ish), which is tough when you’ve been raised by con artists. But Cassel has good reason not to draw attention to himself, because of all the grifters and mobsters in his family, he’s actually hiding the deadliest crime.
There’s a satisfying mystery to be unraveled here, but the real payoff of the story is in Cassel’s layered, complicated relationship with his family: his mother, awaiting trial for her latest gold-digging swindle; his grandfather, whose hand is withered and blackened as a side effect of the death curses he’s dealt. His brothers are lying, conniving pieces of work, but they’re the only ones Cassel can trust, because they’re family, right? And family watch out for each other.
Sure they do.
Holly Black works in the background details—history, politics, slang—that give this alternate reality depth. There’s some physical violence, but mostly the violence is in watching Cassel get emotionally yanked around by, oh, everybody. (The best—and creepiest—part of the setup, for me, is that Cassel’s mother is an emotion worker. When Mama Sharpe tells her boys to love each other, she’s not kidding around. She can make you.)
Check the WRL catalog for White Cat.
It ends with a punch, so you may want to have the second book, Red Glove, ready.
Aliens invade and then …
encounter the cat.
David Wiesner once again proves that you don’t need words to tell a full and satisfying story.
Mr. Wuffles, as his name suggests, is a cat. He is a handsome beast, black with a white front and white socks. David Wiesner has perfectly captured his cat-arrogance as he moves through the pages with his golden green eyes wondering what’s in it for him. His jeans-wearing, green-shirted owner (who only appears as legs and arms) tries to engage him with new toys, but he stalks off past all the old rejected toys with their price tags still intact. He finally finds one that engages his interest because it is full of tiny ant-sized green aliens. The appealing nose-less green-faced aliens know they are in mortal danger from Mr. Wuffles so they have to partner with friendly ants and a ladybug to attempt their escape. They communicate with each other in speech bubbles resembling hieroglyphics and with the reader in expressive gestures. They don’t notice the humans at all.
I enjoy reading graphic novels but at forty-mumble I am starting to struggle with the tiny print in some of them. I thought someone should invent large print graphic novels for the chronologically challenged, but realized they already exist and that they are called picture books. Most picture books aren’t interesting to adults on their own merits, unless they are planning to share them with a child. Some picture book authors break this rule frequently such as Chris Van Allsburg, Maurice Sendak and David Wiesner, with stories on multiple levels and gallery-worthy art. David Wiesner has a talent for turning things around like his award winning Flotsam with its changes in viewpoint.
The title, Mr. Wuffles, sounds positively sappy (which I don’t mind as a secret Reddit Aww viewer), but it isn’t a sappy book. Despite his name, Mr. Wuffles is portrayed as the terrifying hunter that any domestic cat really is to anything smaller than it. Older children will be able to follow this almost wordless story, but SF fans of any age and cat lovers will also get a kick out of it. My sixteen-year-old loved it. See if you can spot when one of the aliens cries in his hieroglyphic script, “To infinity and beyond!” as he flies away on the back of a ladybug from the approaching killer cat claws. Mr. Wuffles raises important questions like, what would happen if aliens invaded and they were not godzilla-like orders of magnitudes larger than us, but orders of magnitude smaller? What if it already happened? What if they just met the cat, who was only interested in cat things like chasing them and perhaps eating them?
And it may leave you wondering the next time your cat snubs the toys you buy, that maybe it’s because there are aliens under the radiator?
Check the WRL catalog for Mr. Wuffles.
Amy has had a rough year. Her boyfriend, Matt, hasn’t been treating her very well, and now he has left her for her best friend. She needs to get away, and her mother’s solution is to send her to her great-aunt Mae’s house in the country for an extended visit. Amy thought she’d be fine with that, but she soon finds that country life isn’t that different from city life. Most of the students at her new high school are just as gossipy, the boys behave just as badly as Matt, and the girls aren’t any friendlier than her ex-best friend. Luckily, the country does provide some solitude when she needs to escape.
Behind Mae’s house is a clearing, beyond which lies a thick mist which never seems to dissipate. While wandering one day, Amy meets Henry, who is everything the kids at school are not. He’s polite, friendly, and doesn’t seem to want anything from her. Amy finds that she can be at ease around Henry, and their meetings in the clearing become something she can look forward to. She wonders why they never meet at school or in town, but what Amy doesn’t know is that Henry’s home beyond the clearing exists in a pocket of time in which it is still 1944. Henry and Amy’s relationship develops, but Henry is always wary of Amy’s spending too much time in his world, since it has taken him quite a bit of effort to maintain it. Henry must decide what is more important, his reasons for staying in 1944 or his desire to be with Amy.
Check the WRL catalog for The Clearing.
All of the guinea pigs in Dandeville love eating dandelion leaves. In fact, they like them so much that they begin to run out of them. Of course, they could still buy them on the Internet – “for a HUGE amount of money”. Forced to eat chewy cabbage instead, Nibbles the guinea pig saves the day. He finds the sole remaining dandelion growing right outside his bedroom window, and he knows that he absolutely must not eat it. After a trip to the library to borrow the book Everything You Need to Know About Dandelions, Nibbles takes care of his dandelion and lets it go to seed. (Grown-ups – be sure to pay attention to the titles in the library illustration if you want a chuckle.) After Nibbles scatters the seeds all over Dandeville, new dandelion plants sprout and grow. The story concludes with Nibbles realizing that he loves growing dandelions just as much as he loves eating them. The mixed media illustrations are the heart of the story and are worth examining closely.
Check the WRL catalog for Nibbles: A Green Tale.
London, 1889. The city’s residents are frightened and demoralized by the crimes of Jack the Ripper, and Scotland Yard’s reputation has suffered as a result of its inability to capture the killer. The story opens on the scene of newly recruited Detective Inspector Walter Day and forensic pathologist Bernard Kingsley examining a corpse on a train station platform. The corpse turns out to be a fellow policeman, shockingly mutilated.
Day soon finds himself heading up the investigation, supervising Scotland Yard’s recently formed “Murder Squad.” The reader is taken into the world of policing in class-conscious Victorian London and its overworked detectives, disrespected constables, and the nascent science of forensic pathology. The thoughtful and perceptive Day, and the detectives on his murder squad, examine the cases of the murdered Detective Little, trying to find some thread of a lead to grasp.
As the murder squad pursues leads in the murder of their colleague, an ambitious and dedicated constable pursues the seeming accidental suffocation of a young boy in a chimney. The tragedy is a predictable outcome of the boy’s work as a chimney sweeper’s boy, yet Constable Hammersmith finds himself moved by pity and anger to pursue the facilitator of the child’s fate– against the orders of his superiors. He finds himself opening a very dangerous can of worms, which may or may not be related to Day’s homicide investigation. Jack the Ripper himself figures into this story, but not in the way you might think!
You should check out this series if you enjoy the Victorian-era mysteries of Anne Perry. Grecian’s protagonists share their sense of justice with those of Perry’s detectives Thomas Pitt and William Monk.
I was intrigued by the characters and their relationships. The character Bernard Kingsley is based on real-life forensic pathology pioneer Bernard Spilsbury (most famous perhaps for his work on the Crippen poisoning case). The forensics are one of the most intriguing aspects of the story. It is fascinating, for example, to see the general incredulity which greets Kingsley’s introduction of fingerprint technology into the case, something which today is taken for granted in criminal investigations. I was surprised to find out that the powerful character of Commissioner of Police Colonel Sir Edward Bradford is a real historical figure and portrayed very true to life.
The relationship between Inspector Day, Constable Hammersmith, and Dr. Kingsley are developed in the second book in the series, Black Country, which I think I enjoyed even more than the first one. I’m greatly looking forward to the next entry in this series.
Check the WRL catalog for The Yard as a book.
Listen to The Yard on audio CD.
We also have The Yard as an eaudiobook.
If you enjoy trickster tales, then you will want to read Anansi and the Talking Melon. This is a cute story about a mischievous spider named Anansi who loves melons but is too lazy to grow his own. One day he drops into elephant’s melon patch and uses a thorn to poke a hole into a juicy melon. Anansi slips inside the melon and eats and eats until he is full. When Anansi tries to squeeze out, he discovers a big problem. He is too big and can’t get out. While trapped inside the melon he gets bored and decides to trick elephant into thinking the melon can talk. Elephant is so impressed with the talking melon he decides he must show the king. Along the way elephant meets up with various jungle animals who accompany him on his journey to show the king. Read this witty and wonderful West African folktale to find out what happens when Anansi finally meets the king. The simple plot and beautiful illustrations make this a great read aloud for early elementary children.
Eric Kimmel has other Anansi books, Anansi and the Moss-Covered Rock , Anansi Goes Fishing, Anansi and the Magic Stick and Anansi’s Party Time. These books are also available from Williamsburg Regional Library.
Check the WRL catalog for Anansi and the Talking Melon.
Jacob Fielding cannot be killed. As the story begins, Jacob has just survived what should have been a fatal car accident. His foster father is killed, and just before impact his final words to Jacob are, “You are indestructible.” With those words, Jacob seems to be given a gift, and he cannot be harmed in any way. Things take a turn when he writes those same words on the cast of the girl he has a crush on, Ophelia. His invincibility seems to be passed on to her, when shortly thereafter she survives a nasty skateboarding accident. He confides in Ophelia and his best friend Milo that he believes these words are the key to his power and that he can transfer it to those in need. With Ophelia and Milo now sharing his secret, the three set out to test the limits of his power and put it to good use.
Unfortunately, no good deed goes unpunished. Although they try to use Jacob’s indestructibility for good and to save those in danger, they realize that there is a terrible side effect to preventing death. Jacob is sending his power out to others more and more, and giving it to Ophelia more often as well. Ophelia’s personality begins to change, and she becomes obsessed with using the power to protect herself and as many people as possible. Soon Ophelia becomes a danger to herself and to everyone else, and it is up to Jacob and Milo to determine what this power really does, where it comes from, and how to bring Ophelia back.
Check the WRL catalog for Thirteen Days to Midnight.
Sometimes, you just need a good book. Not a great one or one that will move your soul, but just a well-plotted, interestingly written story with characters who will keep your attention. I found myself in that state the other night, and rather than browsing my shelves for something to re-read, I got out my iPad and took a look at the mysteries in the library’s ebook collection. There were lots of titles there to choose from, and I decided to take a chance on Sally Spencer. I had never heard of her books before, but a British police procedural set in the post-WWII period sounded interesting. I was delighted with the choice.
Spencer’s main character, Inspector “Cloggin’ It” Charlie Woodend, is a great addition to the fictional police forces. Like some of my favorite other police inspectors, Adamsberg, Colbeck, and Dalziel, Woodend is often a thorn in the side of his superiors, and his sometimes unorthodox investigating style does not always endear him to his colleagues.
These are slow-paced stories, with more thinking, walking, and talking than cinematic thrills and chases. Like Simenon’s Maigret, Charlie Woodend lets the “why” lead to the “how” of the crime rather than vice versa. This first story in the series also introduces Sergeant Bob Rutter, who is assigned to Woodend to investigate a series of killings in a small town in Cheshire. Woodend has a reputation for running through sergeants pretty quickly, but Rutter turns out to be a match, and the interplay between the two builds as the series progresses.
Spencer does an excellent job of bringing in details of the personal lives of the policemen as well as cultural events of the period in which the books are set (moving forward from the 1950s). In particular, Spencer captures the disruption caused by the war and its aftermath to small town life. In the later stories, Spencer explores the difficult entry of women on to the force, and eventually develops a new series around one of her female detectives.
So while these books may not be the be all and end all of crime writing, they are solid examples of some of the best crime fiction I have read lately, and a welcome addition to my growing list of police procedurals.
Check the WRL catalog for The Salton Killings.
Also available as an ebook.
Not being a “Ripperologist” (someone obsessed with all things related to Jack the Ripper), I have to admit that I almost didn’t check out this book due to the words “Jack the Ripper” included in the description. Mysteries, though, that have interesting protagonists with an intriguing continuing story-line, are the types of mysteries that I enjoy reading the most. Detective Constable Lacey Flint of Now You See Me fits very ably into this category. She is a character that I don’t think you will soon forget.
Now You See Me begins with Lacey covered in blood—fortunately it’s someone else’s blood. When she returns to her car after interviewing a witness, she finds a woman leaning against her car. When Lacey approaches the stranger, she finds the woman’s throat has been slashed only minutes before. Lacey rushes to the woman to try to help her and watches as the woman dies on the street. Even though Lacey is a witness to the crime and a junior officer, she finds herself re-assigned to the murder investigation. Then the case takes an ominous turn when an anonymous letter is sent to a reporter. The letter mentions Lacey by name and also makes references to London’s most famous serial killer, Jack the Ripper. Does the Metropolitan Police have a modern Jack the Ripper on the loose? Will this murder be the first in a series of Ripper-like crimes?
As the investigating officers grapple with the seemingly random killings, they struggle to uncover anything that might link the victims as well as try to figure out where in modern London the new Ripper will strike next. Lacey also finds herself under scrutiny by fellow officer Mark Joesbury. Detective Inspector Joesbury is suspicious of Lacey’s involvement with the murders and wonders why the killer is fixated on Lacey. Lacey finds that her tightly-controlled and carefully ordered world is starting to unravel as the killer taunts her with secrets from Lacey’s past. As Lacey and the rest of the investigating team try to solve the increasingly horrific murders, the plot takes a few twists and there are a couple of surprises which I don’t want to give away.
Now You See Me is a faced-paced read that I couldn’t put down. For me, the Jack the Ripper plot-line isn’t as compelling as Lacey’s own story. The mystery does contain a lot of information on Jack the Ripper’s murders as well as the various theories of who committed the murders in 1888. A warning, though, the book has graphic descriptions of both the historical and modern murder scenes. While S.J. Bolton has written two more books featuring Lacey Flint, Dead Scared and Lost, I would start with Now You See Me so you’ll have a better understanding of Lacey Flint’s story.
Check the WRL catalog for Now You See Me.
Four-year-old Young Ju is going to heaven. She’s going to take a plane and live in America, “Mi Gook,” the land where her parents will smile again and stop fighting. Her father won’t be so angry and life will be good. But Young Ju soon learns that America is not heaven. Instead it is a country where her father gets drunker and angrier and meaner. Her mother works two jobs to keep food on the table and a roof over their heads. Her brother closes himself off. No one talks to each other or understands, and Young Ju must be the bridge between her family and the world.
An Na has created a wonderful character who vividly illustrates the challenges immigrants must face as they acculturate to the new world they have chosen. We see Young Ju as she tries to understand the Americans around her. An Na writes as Young Ju would hear (“Ah ri cas, ca mo ve he,” for “Alright class, come over here”) and animates the pain Young Ju feels as her father punishes her for being too American. Each vignette reveals the layers of Young Ju’s life as she grows and learns and navigates her way through the world. Each revealed layer brings the reader closer to Young Ju and the triumphant woman she can become when she finally finds the voice that will free her family from the vicious cycle they are living.
A Step from Heaven won the 2002 Michael L. Printz Award for literary excellence in young adult literature.
Check the WRL catalog for A Step from Heaven.