Blog: Staff Picks

staff picks

Haunt Me Still

This new novel from Jennifer Lee Carrell, continues the adventures of Kate Stanley. At the end of Interred with their Bones, Kate and Ben Pearl had parted ways after a harrowing search for Shakespeare's first folio.

Haunt Me Still starts off with Kate being invited to direct a private production of Macbeth. Also known as the cursed play. And cursed it is in this book. Kate goes to Scotland at the request of her friend. She is meeting with Lady Nairn, who was a Shakespearean actress before she left the stage to marry a Scots lord with a large collection of Shakespeare memorabilia. Once Kate and Lady Nairn agree to stage the play, things start to happen.

An elderly woman from the village (whom is widely considered to be a witch) is murdered. Kate finds a mysterious 1,000 year old knife that seems to possess magical powers. Lady Nairn's 15 year old niece is practicing witchcraft. And Ben shows up. The play seems to be coming alive, along with the curse.

From Scotland down to London to New York and back, through the British Museum and the Scottish highlands the hunt for the magical mirror, the lost play and the missing 15 year old goes on. All must be found before more people connected with the production die.



The Lake Shore Limited, by Sue Miller

The Lake Shore Limited, by Sue Miller, is a complex novel about love, family,and the devastating effects of tragedy. The tragedy is 9/11 and the lives are of people affected in the aftermath. The story contains a story within it-- the play entitled, "The Lake Shore Limited." This stage production takes place six years after 9/11. In the play, the lead character awaits news of a Chicago subway bombing in which his wife has been a victim. His detachment masks the guilt he feels for not loving and not grieving appropriately.

The play is a mirror of the of its playwright, Wilhelmina "Billy" Gertz. Like the protagonist in the play, she, too, has lost someone violently in the 9/11 crash of a plane. She no longer loved Gus, who she deemed too young and immature for her. Billy was going to end the relationship at the time of the crash. But now, she must play the grieving "widow." Her feelings are complicated by Gus's sister, Leslie, who assumes she is as devastated by the loss as she is.

There are two other characters of note in this book. Sam is a divorced architect with whom Leslie has had an innocent flirtation. Inappropriate as it seems, she introduces him to Billy after the opening of her play. And like the character in her play, Billy is very ambivalent about entering into any relationship.

Last, Rafe, the actor who plays the husband in Billy's play, is struggling with a loss of affection for his dying wife. He watches her horrible demise from Lou Gehrig's disease, and feels remorse that he uses his personal grief to make his acting more convincing.



The Devil and Sherlock Holmes

David Grann (The Lost City of Z) has written a new book based on a collection of his previously published articles. The Devil and Sherlock Holmes: Tales of Murder, Madness and Obsession contains more than tales about Sherlock Holmes.

Divided into 3 parts the book is a collection of short stories. Each part deals with a different psychological trait of a human, but the stories don't read like any psychological study. They range from the strictly factual, "The Chameleon" to the absolutely heartbreaking, "Which way did he run?" a story about a fireman who survives 9/11 but has amnesia relating to the events.

The stories are easy to read, they are like reading a magazine article (Grann writes for the New Yorker among other publications), and very well written. The stories are fascinating, mostly because while they are true they are almost unbelievable - it's like reading a work of fiction. Grann writes another winner with The Devil and Sherlock Holmes.

The Devil and Sherlock Holmes: Tales of Murder, Madness, and Obsession



The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

Non Fiction that reads like Fiction!
Normally I don't read Non Fiction, but this book is a wonderful exception.
Science writer Rebecca Skloot spent years talking to the family of Henrietta Lacks, an impoverished black woman whose tissues were removed from her body without her permission.

These cells grew so quickly that the hospital lab shared them with other hospitals for their own research. Known as "HeLa" cells, they have been used to make significant medical discoveries. Yet, her descendants cannot afford medical care.

A riveting story which raises many issues that you will keep thinking about long after you have finished it.



31 Bond Street

First time novelist Ellen Horan has written a great book. Action, romance, mystery and some moral attitude all make up the book that is 31 Bond Street.

31 Bond Street is about love, deception, slavery, murder and power mongers in New York City in the years before the Civil War. Based on the story of the actual murder of a man named Harvey Burdell, the book starts with the murder and then moves back in time. The arrest of Emma Cunningham, who was either the most conniving woman who ever lived or an innocent woman caught up in horrific circumstances makes for a very good read indeed.

Emma gets arrested for the murder after she was placed under house arrest by a corrupt coroner and a prosecuting attorney out to make a name for himself. She is a widow who is living in Burdell's house as the "housekeeper." The corner and the prosecutor are trying to make new careers as New York politicians.

The book alternates between the murder investigation, the events leading up to the pairing of Cunningham and Burdell and the thoughts of defense attorney, Henry Clinton. These three characters were actual people involved in the murder trial. The book is factual and contains small reprints from newspapers of the time.




No not that Matterhorn. This title refers to a new book by first time author Karl Marlantes. Matterhorn is his labor of love. 600 pages long and thirty years in the making, Matterhorn tells the story of a company of Marines who are sent out to secure a hill known as the Matterhorn during the Vietnam War. No sooner do they secure the hill then they are ordered off it . Then they are ordered to retake it.

The story is told from the point of view of a young second lieutenant, Mellas. He quickly realizes that his patriotic ideals will only take him so far in the jungles of southeast Asia. The story line encompasses everything a novel about a war should.

There are the commanding officers who are incompetent, nonsensical military operations, soldiers who are there for patriotic reasons and some who are there for a reason they don't understand. There are conflicts within the ranks and between the ranks.

The story is not for the faint of heart, the battle scenes are graphic. As is the dialogue. The book can be confusing at times. It starts with a number of names, ranks and military speak. The story also rambles at times. I did finish the whole book and am glad I did. It is a well rendered telling of one man's experience in Vietnam.



New Science Fiction and Fantasy!


Spellwright By Charlton, Blake
2010-03 - Tor Books
Nicodemus is a young, gifted wizard with a problem. Magic in his world requires the caster to create spells by writing out the text, but he has always been dyslexic, and thus has trouble casting even the simplest of spells. Yet he has always felt that he is destined to be something more than a failed wizard

Able One

Able One By Bova, Ben
2010-02 - Tor Books
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Able One
By Bova, Ben

Can an experimental defense system stop North Korean missile strikes? "Able One" is a timely thrill-ride by one of science fiction's most respected novelists.



Films You May Have Missed

We've gotten a couple of DVDs that didn't do great in the theaters, but which were fabulous when I took them home on DVD.  How about trying one of these?:

While everyone was talking about District 9, for me Moon was the sci-fi film of the year.  It's a throwback to 70s science fiction, and reminded me of (former Glencoe resident) Bruce Dern's Silent Running.  Sam Rockwell plays a man whose multi-year shift working for a mining company on the moon is coming to an end.  Strange things start to happen.  Kevin Spacey voices the ship's helpful(?) robot and the film was creatively helmed by David Bowie's son Duncan Jones.  A simple, gentle sci-fi film.

I almost didn't watch Steven Soderbergh's The Informant! because I found the advertising campaign (and DVD cover) unbearably quirky.  I'm glad I did take it home because the movie really worked for me.  It's a very stylish and tongue-in-cheek look at Mark Whitacre's role as a whistler-blower who exposed Archer Daniels Midland's price-fixing in the early 1990s.  The first half of the movie is fun as it shows a man who loves playing spy, and just as I was wondering how it could sustain itself for another 45 minutes it heads in another direction, as we find out that Mark Whitacre is not exactly who we thought he was.  Creative casting of supporting roles really helps this movie stand out.

Both of these movies are creative, quirky and deserving of your time.



The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton

I do not know when I have enjoyed reading a book more.

This is a big sprawling old fashioned saga, spanning over 100 years time, filled with intrigue, romance, history, fairy tales, and good writing.

Cassandra's grandmother Nell wills her a house in Cornwall that she knows nothing about, as well as a child's white suitcase containing a lavishly illustrated book of fairy tales.

Of course Cass travels from her home in Australia to see the house in Cornwall, and there she discovers a house full of secrets, with a secret walled garden behind it (yes! think The Secret Garden by F.H. Burnett!)