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.
"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.
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.
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" 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.
The busy fall publishing schedule begins this month with a number of new books from celebrated authors.
M.L. Stedman gives a glimpse into life as a lighthouse operator beginning in post-World War I Australia in her debut novel, "The Light Between Oceans." The isolation of living on a remote rock is brought home in this novel. The main plot poses a very difficult moral dilemma for Tom Sherbourne, the lighthouse keeper. His decision eats away at him for years and when he changes course, his life implodes.
This is the kind of novel you might read if you need a good cry. The characters' mistakes which drive the plot are completely understandable. There are no good guys--just frail humans.
--Julie C., Headquarters
Add "Royal Affair" to the growing list of Mads Mikkelsen's tour de force performances. The film is a historical drama centering on a German doctor brought in as a personal physician to King Christian VII of Denmark. Christian was considered mad and alienated his wife, Queen Caroline of Britain. Mikkelsen's character, Dr. Johann Struensee, was a commoner but well-read and familiar with Voltaire and other champions of the enlightenment. Struensee befriended Christian and urged him to introduce reforms like orphanages and banning torture of prisoners. Simultaneously, Struensee found Queen Caroline articulate and perspicacious and they began a passionate affair. According to an interview with writer/director Nikolaj Arcel, the plot hews close to the truth and was based on the Queen Caroline's letters and diaries.
Great actors are often defined by their ability to become their characters. Gary Oldman, a chameleon-like actor, is underrated because audiences don't even realize the same man played both the obsessive terrorist in "Air Force One" and the calculating but subdued cold war agent, George Smiley, in the remake of "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy." Enter Dane Mads Mikkelson who is similarly convincing in a wide array of roles. He played a driven resistance fighter in the stylish "Flame and Citron," a period piece that took place in Copenhagen 1944. Then he played Le Chiffre, one of the creepier bad guys to face James Bond.