Affinity

"Affinity" by Sarah Waters

Sarah Waters is good at creating creepy moods and her novel "Affinity" is very creepy, indeed. The story takes place in 19th century London, so there are a lot of fog banks, old buildings and mysterious servants to heighten the suspense. The main character, Margaret Prior, does not fit in her world. She, having recently recovered from a suicide attempt, is invited to visit the women inmates of Millbank Prison. These isolated and misbegotten women might benefit from interacting with ladies such as Margaret. There are innate dangers, however, and Margaret is warned by the experienced and stern staff to abide by their seemingly harsh rules.

Wonderstruck

"Wonderstruck" by Brian Selznick.

Did you enjoy the movie "Hugo" or its book counterpart, the Caldecott winning "The Invention of Hugo Cabret"? Then I've got a great book for you! "Wonderstruck" is the newest offering by imaginative author Brian Selznick. Written in the same style as "The Invention of Hugo Cabret," Selznick's novel continues his tradition of blending two separate stories that are told in both words and illustrations into one masterful tale.  The first of two alternating stories is set in 1977, where 12-year-old orphan Ben is struck deaf by lightning moments after uncovering a mysterious clue to his unknown father's identity.  Throwing caution to the wind, Ben runs away from his hospital in Minnesota to New York City searching for answers to this mystery.

Maybe I’m Amazed

"Fab" by Howard Sounes

"Fab: an intimate life of Paul McCartney" is, even at 563 pages, a quick read for a Beatle fan. Author Howard Sounes conducted more than 200 interviews in preparation for writing this book in addition to reading other McCartney biographies, news articles and lyrics. "Fab" is not an authorized biography of the pop music icon, and it ends before Paul's most recent marriage. Paul's romances with Jane Asher, Linda Eastman and Heather Mills comprise much of the book. It is, as the title indicates, intimate as the author used information from Paul's grade school friends, Scotland neighbors and librarian (!), longtime minders and factotums, and closest co-workers and backup musicians. Such folks provide concrete examples of McCartney's virtues and vices, especially the ones that have deep roots in his character.

Literary Recluse Revisited

Salinger by Shane Salerno

A hot topic right now is the new documentary film about author J.D. Salinger. The documentary is accompanied by a book entitled "Salinger" by David Shields and Shane Salerno. SLCL has several copies. It's a long book--700 pages! But with eight years of research and interviews behind it, one might expect that.

A Closer Look at a Western Legend

"Shot All to Hell" by Mark Lee Gardner

 

In "Shot All to Hell: Jesse James, the Northfield Raid, and the Wild West's Greatest Escape," Mark Lee Gardner examines an infamous episode in the history of the American West. In September of 1876, the James-Younger gang attempted to rob the First National Bank in Northfield, Minnesota. The failed robbery set off a prolonged manhunt that resulted in the death or capture of the entire gang save Frank and Jesse James.

While Gardner claims to present the "most accurate account" of these events, he admits the difficulty in separating fact from legend. Eyewitness accounts disagree; the captured outlaws made numerous false statements; and newspaper accounts were often based on rumor and speculation.

Twisted Rhymes and Characters

"Spinster Goose" by Lisa Wheeler

"Spinster Goose: Twisted Rhymes for Naughty Children" by Lisa Wheeler and Sophie Blackall is an amusing adaptation of well-known Mother Goose rhymes. There is a forward by Mother Goose which explains how she sends naughty children to her sister, Spinster Goose who has a school for miscreants. In rhyme and in amusing artwork, a host of bad children are dealt with at Spinster's school.

Illustrated Gettysburg

"The graphic history of Gettysburg" by Wayne Vansant

There is much to like in "The graphic history of Gettysburg: America's most famous battle and the turning point of the Civil War" by Wayne Vansant. Vansant's drawing style is simple and clean; despite the subject, the book is not excessively gory. Small splotches of red indicate someone was shot. The use of color also helps tell the many characters apart, as the plot shifts from Southern warriors to Northern quickly.

Vansant depicts how intimate war was at the time, with men fighting hand -to-hand, bayonets fixed. Facial expressions and body postures of combatants and horses hint at the unpredictability of this kind of fighting. Several anecdotes about specific soldiers make the story even more personal and poignant.

Hanging out at Brokeland Records

"Telegraph Avenue" by Michael Chabon

Michael Chabon's "Telegraph Avenue" is a fast-paced, fun tour of the troubled lives of several residents of Oakland and Berkeley, California. This novel displays Chabon's characteristic complex plotting. Archy Stallings and Nat Jaffe, owners of a used record store/neighborhood hangout called Brokeland, are concerned about the future of their business after learning that a well-funded chain will open a large music store nearby. Their wives, Gwen and Aviva, also work together as midwives. They face a crisis in their long-standing conflict with a hospital and the medical establishment in general.

Tragic

"Tragic" by Robert K. Tanenbaum is the twenty-fifth book in the superb legal thrillers featuring New York District Attorney Butch Karp. The story opens with Butch and his family attending a Shakespeare in the Park production of "Macbeth." Themes from the Bard's tale are entwined throughout the book. They include guilt, penitence and the acceptance of personal responsibility. The author blends these themes with a tautly written tale of corruption, murder for hire and conspiracy.

Vince Carlotta lost a heavily contested election for President of the North American Brotherhood of Stevedores Union to Charlie Vitteli.  After a meeting with Vitteli, Vince is murdered in an apparent robbery. The police investigation, guilty consciences, and Karp's determination to discover the truth leads to two trials filled with drama, humor and pathos.

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