The Death of Jane Lawrence by Caitlin Starling

“She could reorder their world and keep him safe. They did not need to build a new fiction together, for she could make reality.”

It has been a while since I have had the pleasure of immersing myself in a Gothic story, so I was psyched to get my hands on The Death of Jane Lawrence by Caitlin Starling. Published in October, Starling’s third novel is a blend of horror and psychological thriller infused with all of your favorite Gothic tropes, from the old and dilapidated haunted house, to the labyrinth in the home’s family crypt, to supernatural hauntings and magical rituals (not to mention a cursed husband!). Without further ado, let’s dive into this intoxicating read.

Taking place in a fictional setting akin to post-war Great Britain, but with anachronistic cultural aspects reminiscent of the 1800s, this story revolves around two primary characters: Jane, a strong and practical female protagonist, and Dr. Augustine Lawrence, a renowned surgeon with a small practice in the town of Larrenton. Realizing she must marry in order to continue her professional work as an accountant, Jane considers several eligible men in town before offering a business-like arrangement to Augustine. In this arrangement, they would marry solely on professional grounds, with no intimacies expected or desired, in order to advance in their respective occupations. After due hesitation and consideration, Augustine agrees to the proposal under one strict condition: Jane must never stay with him at Lindridge Hall, his family’s manor just outside of town.

Naturally, this condition is quickly broken just a week later upon their wedding day. After having dinner together at Lindridge Hall, Jane leaves at nightfall to stay at Augustine’s surgery in town, but is thwarted from returning when a heavy rainstorm overturns her carriage. Resigned to walking back to the manor, certain her newly-wedded husband would understand the extenuating circumstances of her return, she quickly finds herself experiencing a very different side of Augustine – one who is terrified, haunted, and seemingly at a remove from reality. Upon waking in the morning, however, Augustine acts as if nothing out of the ordinary occurred. As circumstance after circumstance prevents her from leaving the hall, Jane begins to learn of dark secrets Augustine is hiding from her and everything she thought to be true starts to unravel around her.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this novel and appreciated the deep and complex character development of both Jane and Augustine. They are both extremely complicated characters, as is their relationship throughout the book, and I enjoyed not knowing who to trust as I read the story. I also enjoyed how every page dripped with Gothicism; it reminded me of Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia, so I would highly recommend this book for anyone who enjoyed that novel (here is a blog I wrote on that title last year). I also highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a good dose of horror heavily steeped in psychology. I know I will definitely be following Starling’s future releases and reading her first two novels!

DISCLAIMER: While I did enjoy this book, I will admit several passages were a bit hard to read due to their gruesome nature; this primarily comes from descriptions of medical procedures and magical rituals.

This title is also available in the following formats:

Overdrive eBook

In a Holidaze by Christina Lauren

Funny, inspirational, steamy, and warm-hearted, In a Holidaze contains the spirit of a Hallmark Christmas movie mixed with the wry humor of Groundhog Day. I was pleasantly surprised by its originality, heart, and sincere message about growing up and making authentic choices.

Maelyn Jones is feeling stuck – stuck in her dead-end job, stuck in her mom’s house, stuck in an unspoken, unrequited crush on Andrew Hollis. She was counting on Christmas to lift her spirits with her family and their friends’ cherished traditions, but not only did she drunkenly make out with the wrong Hollis brother, she just found out the Hollis’ parents are selling the cabin they’ve been gathering at for her whole life. In a desperate anxious spiral, she begs the universe to show her what will make her happy – which plunges her into a time loop reliving Christmas over and over. Clearly there’s something she’s meant to do, if she can only figure it out… She sets out to save the cabin (and herself) only to find herself falling in love along the way.

For me, this book was a delightful holiday interlude packed with not only humor and hijinks but also heartfelt insights into what it means to be happy and grown up. I loved that this book steered away from tropes like the standard love triangle – deep down, Mae knows exactly what she wants and doesn’t really waste time figuring it out. Her family was also a shining part of the book: endlessly supportive, well-drawn and diverse. That’s another trope avoided: Mae doesn’t have to go it alone, because her Uncle Benny quickly believes her about the time loop and tries to help her figure it out. Moreover, I think it’s important in these days of chosen family that the extended family group gathered at the Hollis cabin isn’t related biologically, but was formed through friendship.

These supportive family dynamics and her parents’ easy willingness to treat Mae as an adult make the book as a whole a breath of fresh air, especially when paired with the message that life’s too short to live in a way that’s not true to yourself and what you really want. The author also keeps the book well-paced and doesn’t get bogged down in too many repeated days, focusing instead on how quickly things can change and go in unexpected directions. As a result, the exploration of the time travel and higher powers behind it can seem light and sketched-in, but the character development and thankfully inevitable happy ending makes up for it.

If you need a restful read or a holiday book to add to your TBR list, definitely try In a Holidaze for good-spirited time traveling fun.

Dark Roads by Chevy Stevens

Chevy Stevens’ latest novel Dark Roads is a dark and unsettling novel. It tells the stories of the missing and the dead, those left behind and those struggling to prove the truth.

Women have been going missing for years in British Columbia. The Cold Creek Highway runs almost five hundred miles through the wilderness in British Columbia. Locals pass warnings to women who decide to travel along the highway. Hitchhiking is strongly discouraged, but both motorists and hitchhikers alike have been disappearing for decades. No one has been brought to justice and women continue to live in fear.

Hailey McBride and her family have lived in Cold Creek for years. Her father instilled in her many truths: how to respect the wilderness, survive the land, and to, most importantly, never travel the highway alone. After he died, Hailey spiraled out of control. Stuck living with her aunt, her young cousin, and her aunt’s police officer husband, Hailey yearns for some normalcy. Her aunt’s husband wants to control Hailey. He keeps showing up wherever she is, issues vague threats, and gives off strong menacing vibes. Hailey starts traveling the highway alone to hangout with friends. Soon she becomes overwhelmed with everything and decides to vanish into the mountains with the help of her friend. Hailey hopes that the locals will believe she left town, but rumors start spreading that she was instead taken by the highway killer.

Flash forward a year – Beth Chevalier arrives in Cold Creek. Her sister Amber, who was friends with Hailey, was found murdered in Cold Creek and Beth needs closure. Beth starts waitressing at the local diner, just like Amber had done. Beth needs answers, but as she begins digging, the truth she seeks puts her in incredible danger. If Beth isn’t careful, she could end up a victim of the highway killer too.

This book is available  in the following formats:

Straight off the Shelf: To My Beloveds: Letters on Faith, Race, Loss, and Radical Hope by Jennifer Bailey

“For them, [radical] hope was and is not the same thing as optimism. It is not a feeling nor a desired future state that is the substance of our longings. Hope is the everyday practice of believing that the material conditions of the world can be better and that we have the capacity to bring about that change in the here and now.” 

For this next blog in the “Straight off the Shelf” series, I have selected a new book from our religion section entitled To My Beloveds: Letters on Faith, Race, Loss, and Radical Hope by Jennifer Bailey. Without further ado, let’s learn a bit more about the author and her first book.

Reverend Jennifer Bailey is an ordained minister and public theologian, as well as a renowned social activist who studies and speaks on the intersection of religion and public life. On top of dedicating many years to working in nonprofit organizations, she has also helped found two major institutions: (1) the Faith Matters Network, a womanist-led organization helping to provide spiritual resources to community organizers, faith leaders, and activists; and (2) the People’s Supper, which hosts thousands of dinners across the country in an effort of bringing people together to engage in constructive conversations about important issues. Additionally, Bailey has been named one of the 15 Faith Leaders to Watch by the Center for American Progress and is an Ashoka Fellow, Nathan Cummings Foundation Fellow, Aspen Ideas Scholar, On Being Fellow, and Truman Scholar.

In her debut book, Bailey presents her readers with an epistolary work exploring how hope can be found in the face of racial and social injustice, down the avenues of grief and loss, and when the “cold and slow creep of hopelessness” enters into your thoughts and mind. From the letter entitled “As She Lay Dying” written to a motherless child, to “Who Will Take Care of My Baby?” written to those contemplating suicide, to “You are Beautiful. You are Brave” to a mother with a child in her belly, this book touches on the ways in which grief, loss, and despair can be “composted” into hope, courage, and purpose through activism and leadership work. Throughout these “love letters,” Bailey touches on the three major pillars comprising the foundation of radical hope:

  • Memory as an antidote to death
  • Imagination as a pathway to resurrection
  • Living as a testament to the possibility of the present

Drawing from both scripture and the powerful words of Toni Morrison, Bailey gives her “beloved” readers the means to find radical hope in their lives, even in the midst of life’s greatest struggles, pains, and heartaches.

I hope you enjoyed learning a bit more about this new title! If it piqued your interest and/or you would like to read more about spiritual activism, here are some similar books in our library collection:

Do Better: Spiritual Activism for Fighting and Healing from White Supremacy by Rachel Ricketts

Written by spiritual activist and attorney Rachel Ricketts, this book considers the intersection of spiritual activism with racial justice and white supremacy and guides readers through how they can engage in this kind of advocacy. Here is a brief description from the publisher:

“Do Better is a revolutionary offering that addresses racial justice from a comprehensive, intersectional, and spirit-based perspective. This actionable guidebook illustrates how to engage in the heart-centered and mindfulness-based practices that will help us all fight white supremacy from the inside out, in our personal lives and communities alike. It is a loving and assertive call to do the deep—and often uncomfortable—inner work that precipitates much-needed external and global change.”

Reparations: A Christian Call for Repentance and Repair by Duke Kwon and Gregory Thompson

Written by an evangelical pastor and the executive director of Voices Underground, an organization dedicated to preserving the historical truth of America’s racial history, this title considers how white churches can and should respond to racial injustice, as well as how reparations can start being made. Here is a brief description provided by the publisher:

“A compelling theological and historical case for the American Christian church’s responsibility to repair its racial rift with Black brothers and sisters. Kwon and Thompson examine attitudes of white supremacy, bring to bear the Bible’s teachings on repentance and restitution, and present concrete and creative ways to make reparation at the local level.”

White Too Long: The Legacy of White Supremacy in American Christianity by Robert P. Jones

Author of The End of White Christian America, Robert P. Jones takes a deep look at the manifestations of white supremacy throughout the history of several sects within the Christian church and considers their complicity in racial injustice. Here is a brief description provided by the publisher:

“As the nation grapples with demographic changes and the legacy of racism in America, Christianity’s role as a cornerstone of white supremacy has been largely overlooked. But white Christians from evangelicals in the South to mainline Protestants in the Midwest and Catholics in the Northeast have not just been complacent or complicit; rather, as the dominant cultural power, they have constructed and sustained a project of protecting white supremacy and opposing black equality that has framed the entire American story.

With his family’s 1815 Bible in one hand and contemporary public opinion surveys by Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) in the other, Robert P. Jones delivers a groundbreaking analysis of the repressed history of the symbiotic relationship between Christianity and white supremacy. White Too Long demonstrates how deeply racist attitudes have become embedded in the DNA of white Christian identity over time and calls for an honest reckoning with a complicated, painful, and even shameful past. Jones challenges white Christians to acknowledge that public apologies are not enough accepting responsibility for the past requires work toward repair in the present.

White Too Long is not an appeal to altruism. Drawing on lessons gleaned from case studies of communities beginning to face these challenges, Jones argues that contemporary white Christians must confront these unsettling truths because this is the only way to salvage the integrity of their faith and their own identities. More broadly, it is no exaggeration to say that not just the future of white Christianity but the outcome of the American experiment is at stake.”

Best Sellers Club January Authors: Beverly Lewis and J.A. Jance

Want the hottest new release from your favorite author? Want to stay current with a celebrity book club? Love nonfiction? You should join the Best Sellers Club. Choose any author, celebrity pick, and/or nonfiction pick and the Davenport Public Library will put the latest title on hold for you automatically. Select as many as you want! If you still have questions, please check out our list of FAQs.

New month means new highlighted authors from the Best Sellers Club! January’s authors are Beverly Lewis for fiction and J.A. Jance for mystery.

___________________________

Our January fiction author is Beverly Lewis. Lewis was born in Lancaster, Pennsylvania – the heart of Amish country. She started writing short stories and poetry when she was nine. Before she became an author, Lewis worked as a schoolteacher and a musician. Her first book was published in 1993, a children’s chapter book. Her first adult fiction was the trilogy entitled The Heritage of Lancaster County. She specializes in tales of Plain country life. She has written over 80 books, many of them award-winning. Lewis is known for writing both inspirational and historical romance.

Lewis’s newest book is The Beginning, published in September 2021.

Curious what this book is about? Check out the following description provided by the publisher:

Susie Mast’s Old Order life in Lancaster County’s Hickory Hollow has been shaped by events beyond her control, with the tragic deaths of her Dat and close-in-age brother casting a particularly long shadow. Now twenty-two, Susie remains unmarried despite her longtime affection for friend Obie Yoder. Believing Obie might never show romantic interest in her, Susie accepts Del Petersheim’s invitations–it is only after Obie leaves to take an apprenticeship that Susie realizes her mistake.

Unfortunately, Susie’s cares are soon multiplied due to her mother’s worsening health and her younger sister’s desire for answers about her adoption. Once again, Susie faces the possibility of loss. Will family secrets and missed opportunities dim Susie’s hopes for the future? Or is what seems like the end only the beginning?

This book is also available in the following format:

________________________________

Our January mystery author is J.A. Jance, a New York Times bestselling author. Jance is well-known for writing the J.P. Beaumont series, the Joanna Brady series, the Ali Reynolds series, and five connected thrillers about the Walker family. She has also written a poetry volume, as well as other collections she co-wrote with other writers. Jance started writing in 1982. Her first book, a slightly fictionalized story of a series of murders that happened in Tuscon in 1970, was never published. Soon after her agent told her she thought tat Jance was a better fiction wrter than non-fiction, and thus the first Detective Beaumont book, Until Proven Guilty, was born. She likes to say that her everything in your life is usable as a writer. Her books and life history certainly mirror that sentiment. Jance primarily writes mysteries.

Jance’s latest book is Nothing To Lose, book 25 in the J.P. Beaumont series. This book is set to be published on February 22, 2022.

Curious what this book is about? Below is a description provided by the publisher.

The newest thrilling Beaumont suspense novel from New York Times bestselling author J. A. Jance, in which Beaumont is approached by a visitor from the past and finds himself drawn into a missing person’s case where danger is lurking and family secrets are exposed.

Years ago, when he was a homicide detective with the Seattle PD, J. P. Beaumont’s partner, Sue Danielson, was murdered. Volatile and angry, Danielson’s ex-husband came after her in her home and, with nowhere else to turn, Jared, Sue’s teenage son, frantically called Beau for help. As Beau rushed to the scene, he urged Jared to grab his younger brother and flee the house. In the end, Beaumont’s plea and Jared’s quick action saved the two boys from their father’s murderous rage.

Now, almost twenty years later, Jared reappears in Beau’s life seeking his help once again—his younger brother Chris is missing. Still haunted by the events of that tragic night, Beau doesn’t hesitate to take on the case. Following a lead all the way to the wilds of wintertime Alaska, he encounters a tangled web of family secrets in which a killer with nothing to lose is waiting to take another life.

This book is also available in the following format:

The Personal Librarian by Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray

Marie Benedict is a master writer of historical fiction. She is one of my favorites as she writes historical novels that focus on women. (Marie Benedict is actually a pseudonym used by Heather Terrell.) A list of her novels can be found below at the end of this review.

Her latest published novel, written with Victoria Christopher Murray, is The Personal Librarian. This novel tells the story of Belle da Costa Greene, JP Morgan’s personal librarian. Belle grew to be an incredibly important and powerful woman in New York City, despite the fact that she was hiding a  secret that had the power to destroy her life and the lives of people in her family.

In her twenties, Belle was hired by J. Pierpont Morgan to curate his massive collection of rare manuscripts, books, and artwork. He had recently built the Pierpont Morgan Library and needed someone to organize its works. Belle and JP Morgan worked together for years to create a library that would hold up to his legacy. She traveled the world and became known for her impeccable taste, as well as her shrewd and unique ways to negotiate for works that both Morgan and Belle wanted to add to their world-class collection.

Belle had a major secret though. She is actually Belle Marion Greener, the daughter of Richard Greener, who was the first Black graduate of Harvard and was a well-known advocate for equality. Belle instead passes as white, by saying that she has Portuguese heritage. She doesn’t have Portuguese heritage though, as Belle is African American. Her mother’s decision to have her family pass as white tore her marriage apart, wreaking havoc on the small semblance of normalcy that they had created for their family.

The Personal Librarian tells the story of Belle, a woman well known for her intellect and style, but whose secret led her to carefully craft the white identity that let her have the lifestyle she desired. She spent her life walking a tightrope that could have snapped at any moment. Belle’s legacy lives on in this novel created by Benedict and Murray.

This book is also available in the following formats:

Marie Benedict’s other novels are listed below as well as who they are about:

  • The Other Einstein – Mileva Maric, Albert Einstein’s first wife, a woman who was a physicist
  • Carnegie’s Maid – Clara Kelley, lady’s maid in Andrew Carnegie’s household
  • The Only Woman in the Room  – Hedy Lamarr: inventor, screen star, and scientist
  • Lady Clementine – Clementine Churchill, Winston Churchill’s wife
  • The Mystery of Mrs. Christie  – Agatha Christie’s mysterious eleven day disappearance in 1926
  • Her Hidden Genius – to be published in January 2022, which tells the story of British scientist Rosalind Franklin who discovered the structure of DNA. Her research was used without her permission by Crick & Watson to win the Nobel Prize.

Did You Know It Was a Book First? Ragdoll by Daniel Cole

It’s an age-old story: I was flipping through a streaming service and started watching something new, only to do a search later and realize it’s based on a book! In this case, the show is Ragdoll, from AMC+, based on a book of the same name by Daniel Cole. If you’re like me and love comparing page to screen adaptations to their original source material, here’s the breakdown of this grisly murder mystery, then and now.

ON THE PAGE

We meet Willam-Oliver Layton-Fawkes (nickname Wolf, for obvious reasons) at the trial of the Cremation Killer, where due to irregularities in Wolf’s investigation and chain of evidence, the suspect is acquitted. When the verdict comes down, Wolf drags the accused out of the defendant’s box and almost beats him to death on the courtroom floor. The book then flashes several years into the future, when a demoted Wolf goes with his friend and former partner Emily Baxter to a bizarre crime scene, where one corpse is made of parts from six different people. Thanks to the maneuverings of Wolf’s ex-wife Andrea, the press runs with the case and turns it into a sensational firestorm after a list is uncovered – with six new victims predicted, along with the dates they’ll be killed, the last being Wolf himself. Wolf works to solve the case alongside a troubled Baxter dealing with alcoholism and a buried attraction to Wolf, as well as Andrea, struggling to navigate the pressures of the news team and her own ambition continually driving her to violate privacy and sensationalize a horrifying event. Meanwhile, rookie Edmunds has his own theories about the killer, which he chases despite the damage it’s doing to his marriage to pregnant Tia. Along for the ride are Wolf’s good friend and current partner Finlay and unit boss Simmons, who discovers he doesn’t like being in charge while his people are thrust again and again into danger.

ON THE SCREEN

Our main character’s name is now Nathan Rose, and he does attack the acquitted Cremation Killer on the courtroom floor. In the show, however, more time is devoted to the direct result of that attack: Rose’s time at a mental hospital. His confused memories of that time, and of his friend there, Joel (on his own quest for justice) suddenly rise to the surface when Rose and Baxter (sober, witty, fighting for respect as a woman in the police) come to a crime scene where one corpse is made up of six different people. When the list of upcoming victims comes to light, delivered mysteriously to the police station, Rose quickly realizes that it’s all connected to the Cremation Killer, and that shadowy time in Rose’s past. He launches his own secret investigation to try and avert more murders (and atone for his own role in the ones that have occurred) as the police try to protect the victims on the list. Matters are complicated by frenemy Andrea (Rose’s on again, off again lover) in the media, and the resistance of the listed victims to accept protection. One very important change: intrepid rookie Edmunds has been transformed into a young American transplant named Lake Edmunds, an extremely young and liberal lesbian who struggles to fit in with the old boys’ club which Simmons and Finlay have been reduced to represent – though she remains determined to unravel the mystery, even if she has to do it on her own.

Without giving too much away, the changes made in the show (specifically what’s revealed and when) work really well to ratchet up tension and heighten the drama for the viewer, including a deeper sense of Rose’s emotional life.  In the book there’s a greater emphasis on the puzzle and trying to make it all fit together, using the dates the murders are predicted for to make it a race against time. While Andrea is less prominent in the show, which means less exploration of the pressure inherent in media work, the Ragdoll show still attempts to show the struggles of professional women through its focus on police procedure; Baxter and Edmunds have a number of conversations about the double standards women are held to. On a less serious note, I personally appreciated Rose’s name change; invoking a rose makes him seem complex and sensitive where, for me at least, “William-Oliver Layton-Fawkes, nickname Wolf” is a bit on-the-nose for an aggressive British police detective.

If you’re looking for a new crime thriller, serial killer story, or addictive binge-watch, I definitely recommend Ragdoll for an intricate puzzle that dives into questions of guilt, responsibility, justice, friendship, memory and identity.

January’s Best Sellers Club Nonfiction Picks

Have you joined the Best Sellers Club? If not, you’re missing out! Four times a year, our librarians choose four nonfiction titles for our Best Sellers Club to read: a biography, a cookbook, a social justice, and a true crime title. Below you will find information provided by the publishers on the four titles our selectors have picked for January.

Social Justice pick

Being Seen: One Deafblind Woman’s Fight to End Ableism by Elsa Sjunneson

A Deafblind writer and professor explores how the misrepresentation of disability in books, movies, and TV harms both the disabled community and everyone else.

As a Deafblind woman with partial vision in one eye and bilateral hearing aids, Elsa Sjunneson lives at the crossroads of blindness and sight, hearing and deafness—much to the confusion of the world around her. While she cannot see well enough to operate without a guide dog or cane, she can see enough to know when someone is reacting to the visible signs of her blindness and can hear when they’re whispering behind her back. And she certainly knows how wrong our one-size-fits-all definitions of disability can be.

As a media studies professor, she’s also seen the full range of blind and deaf portrayals on film, and here she deconstructs their impact, following common tropes through horror, romance, and everything in between. Part memoir, part cultural criticism, part history of the Deafblind experience, Being Seen explores how our cultural concept of disability is more myth than fact, and the damage it does to us all.

Librarian Anna has the following to say about her Social Justice pick:

‘Published in October, this title considers the ways in which ableism is embedded within our culture and how it manifests in our society, especially through books, movies, and TV. As a deafblind woman with partial vision in one eye and bilateral hearing aids, author Elsa Sjunneson asserts the consistent misrepresentation of disability coursing through these prominent modes of media is ultimately harmful to society as a whole, not just the disabled community, and that things need to change. Serving as both a memoir and cultural critique, she reflects on her experience living in a world that is not “built” for her, while also exploring the harm of false representation through her expertise as a media studies professor.

I primarily selected this title for the BSC due to several positive reviews it received from acclaimed journals and reader communities upon publication. I also selected this title due to the aforementioned intersection of memoir and cultural critique, as Sjunneson’s experience living with a disability in an ableist world, paired with her expertise in the ways in which this ableism is perpetuated through tropes in media, lends such a powerful and insightful voice in the fight for social justice for this community. Finally, I had the privilege of watching a couple of short interviews with Sjunneson, and it was truly eye-opening and moving to hear her experience and passion for just representation. While I found it inspiring, she emphasizes in the book that she herself does not wish to be viewed as an inspiration; rather, she hopes readers will be inspired to start doing the hard work of “dismantling the ableist system we live in.” ‘

________________________________

True Crime pick

Boys Enter the House: The Victims of John Wayne Gacy and the Lives They Left Behind by David Nelson

As investigators brought out the bagged remains of several dozen young men from a small Chicago ranch home and paraded them in front of a crowd of TV reporters and spectators, attention quickly turned to the owner of the house. John Gacy was an upstanding citizen, active in local politics and charities, famous for his themed parties and appearances as Pogo the Clown.

But in the winter of 1978–79, he became known as one of many so-called “sex murderers” who had begun gaining notoriety in the random brutality of the 1970s. As public interest grew rapidly, victims became footnotes and statistics, lives lost not just to violence, but to history.

Through the testimony of siblings, parents, friends, lovers, and other witnesses close to the case, Boys Enter the House retraces the footsteps of these victims as they make their way to the doorstep of the Gacy house itself.

Librarian Anna has the following to say about this True Crime pick:

‘Published in October, this book explores and documents the lives of the victims of John Wayne Gacy, the notorious “Killer Clown” who is recorded to have heinously taken the lives of at least 33 young men in Cook County, Illinois, throughout the 1960s and ‘70s. Rather than delve into details about the killer himself, however, this title reverses the typical true crime framework and puts the victims first, shining a light on the lives almost lost to history as “footnotes” and “statistics” and who have too often simply been “dismissed as runaways, throwaways, hustlers, [and] homosexuals.” Incorporating testimony from interviews with family, friends, lovers, and other individuals associated with the known victims, Nelson pieces together the lives of several of these young men all the way up until their final moments in Gacy’s clutches.

I primarily selected this title for the BSC due to its highly anticipated demand, as well as due to the positive reviews it received from acclaimed journals and reader communities upon publication. Another major reason I selected this title is because of the acute and unique focus on the victims. While many of the previous selections have revolved around the lives and actions of the killers themselves, this title allows Timothy McCoy, Billy Kindred, and Rob Piest, among many others, to have a voice and live on in memory, rather than be overshadowed as “one of Gacy’s victims.” Finally, I selected this title due to the fact that, at the end of October, Francis Wayne Alexander (another victim of Gacy’s) was identified using DNA samples; I find it absolutely fascinating that the forensic knowledge and tools we have today can be used to solve mysteries such as this and bring families closure, even so many years later.’

________________________________

Biography pick

The Last King of America: The Misunderstood Reign of King George III by Andrew Roberts

The last king of America, George III, has been ridiculed as a complete disaster who frittered away the colonies and went mad in his old age. The truth is much more nuanced and fascinating–and will completely change the way readers and historians view his reign and legacy.

Most Americans dismiss George III as a buffoon–a heartless and terrible monarch with few, if any, redeeming qualities. The best-known modern interpretation of him is Jonathan Groff’s preening, spitting, and pompous take in Hamilton, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Broadway masterpiece. But this deeply unflattering characterization is rooted in the prejudiced and brilliantly persuasive opinions of eighteenth-century revolutionaries like Thomas Paine and Thomas Jefferson, who needed to make the king appear evil in order to achieve their own political aims. After combing through hundreds of thousands of pages of never-before-published correspondence, award-winning historian Andrew Roberts has uncovered the truth: George III was in fact a wise, humane, and even enlightened monarch who was beset by talented enemies, debilitating mental illness, incompetent ministers, and disastrous luck.

In The Last King of America, Roberts paints a deft and nuanced portrait of the much-maligned monarch and outlines his accomplishments, which have been almost universally forgotten. Two hundred and forty-five years after the end of George III’s American rule, it is time for Americans to look back on their last king with greater understanding: to see him as he was and to come to terms with the last time they were ruled by a monarch.

Librarian Rachel has the following to say about her pick:

‘King George III of England is often portrayed as dim-witted, tyrannical and evil. However, after extensive research, Andrew Roberts has found that the king was wise and humane and battled a mental illness, incompetent ministers, and enemies. This book sheds light on the real King George III and lays the rumors to rest.’

________________________________

Cookbook Pick

The Sweet Side of Sourdough: 50 Irresistible Recipes for Pastries, Buns, Cakes, Cookies and More by Caroline Schiff

Sourdough isn’t just for savory baking! The robust tanginess of sourdough adds that little bit of something extra to your favorite cakes, bars, tarts, sweet breads and more that you didn’t know you were looking for, and pastry chef Caroline Schiff couldn’t make it easier to do. Set yourself up for sourdough success with her best tips for building and maintaining a starter and then bake your way to sweet sourdough bliss.

Add a new layer of flavor to pie and tart crusts in mouthwatering recipes like Spiced Pear, Crème Fraiche and Almond Galette, Apple Maple Crumble Pie and Malted Milk Chocolate Ganache Tart. Make breakfast the most delicious meal of the day with pastries like Orange Ricotta Drop Biscuits and Dark Chocolate Chunk Scones that are the things of your wildest sourdough dreams. And every special occasion is made even more special with cakes that perfectly balance the sweet and sour, like Grapefruit Brown Sugar Brulée Cake, Raspberry Coconut Cake with Lime Glaze and Apple Sour Cream Crumb Cake.

Caroline’s reliable recipes take your favorite sweet treats up to the next level AND give you exciting, innovative ways to use your trusty sourdough starter.

Librarian Ann says this about her January pick:

‘Did you try your hand at sourdough bread baking during the COVID shutdown? Did you get tired of maintaining the starter, or just tired of the same flavors? Then The Sweet Side of Sourdough by Caroline Schiff is for you! The tanginess of the sourdough is a great compliment to sweet treats such as cakes, cookies, pies and sweet breads. Recipes cover everything from breakfast pastries to desserts for after dinner. Expand (or begin!) your sourdough knowledge with these fun and innovative recipes!’

_______________________________

Join the Best Sellers Club to have the new nonfiction picks automatically put on hold for you four times a year.

Cul-de-sac by Joy Fielding

Joy Fielding is a new author to me – I have never read anything written by her before, but she is fairly popular with patrons at the library. Her latest title Cul-de-sac is a twisty psychological suspense thriller that focuses on secrets hidden within one community.

At the end of a quiet suburban cul-de-sac live five families. Someone in this cul-de-sac will be shot dead in the middle of a hot July night. Who is responsible? What drove them to murder? What secrets live in each of the five houses?

Maggie and Craig are recent arrivals to Florida. Maggie is a jumpy perfectionist, while her husband Craig could never quite be what she needed. They packed up their two kids and moved from California to Florida hoping for a new start. Maggie wants to leave behind the bad memories that destroyed their perfect California lives, but she finds that even sunny Florida can’t fully dispel the shadows she sees lurking everywhere.

Nick is a respected oncologist. His wife, Dani, is a successful dentist. Even though she is a doctor in her own right, others look down at her and treat her as just Nick’s wife. Dani and Nick have their own deep secrets that they have even managed to hide from their two children for years.

Julia is an elderly widow. Her son and his fourth wife want her to sell her house and move into an assisted care facility. To combat this, Julia’s troubled grandson has recently moved in to help her, much to her son’s chagrin. Her grandson’s bad habits have followed him to Julia’s house though.

Olivia and her husband Sean are going through a rough patch. Sean recently lost his job at a prestigious advertising agency, meaning that Olivia has had to find a job to support the family. Sean resents his wife, has started drinking heavily, and his depression is getting worse. Despite searching for a job, he is unable to find one. He spirals out of control, leading to increasingly violent fantasies.

Aiden and Heidi are newlyweds. They recently moved into their house, which Aiden’s mother purchased for the two. Their marriage is already floundering and is made even worse by Aiden’s mother’s constant intruding. Heidi has repeatedly expressed her displeasure to Aiden, but he is reluctant to stop her since his mother controls all of the money.

Each house has their own secrets, while each also has access to guns. This makes for a deadly combination. Someone will not survive the night.

This book is also available in the following formats:

Did You Know It Was a Book First? The Witcher series by Andrzej Sapkowski

I love comparing books to their TV or movie adaptations – ask me about The Devil Wears Prada sometime. Right now, as the new season of The Witcher launches on Netflix, I’m reflecting on my recent read of The Last Wish by Andrzej Sapkowski, the book which first introduced Geralt of Rivia to the world – and eventually rocketed him to fame in video games and now as played by Henry Cavill. Here’s my breakdown of this iconic fantasy franchise, then and now.

ON THE PAGE

I expected a much darker, gritter fantasy than this actually turned out to be. This first book, The Last Wish, acts as a series of short vignettes as highly-trained and lightly superpowered Geralt goes on his adventures fighting monsters for money, and in fact most of these vignettes read as retellings of classic fairy tales. I identified, among others, one like Snow White and one like Beauty and the Beast, both of which seem to echo the source material with wry humor and a good dose of feminist reality check. Along the way, interspersed chapters start to hint at a larger story to come, linked to Geralt’s history with sorceress Yennefer – who’s finally introduced in the book’s final story revealing how Geralt and Yennefer first met. Important themes include what makes a monster, lesser vs. greater evils, and the losses in lifestyle and belonging that happen as society changes. While obviously standing apart from the rest of society, Geralt is very human and sympathetic, and his good friend Dandelion adds even more lightness and humor.

ON THE SCREEN

The show (currently only available on Netflix, and not on DVD or Blu-Ray) takes full advantage of its medium to expand as much as possible – Yennefer gets her own dose of screen time instead of only being seen from Geralt’s perspective, and Geralt’s backstory including his childhood is explored in much more detail. Geralt himself, however, is much less talkative in the show than in the books, which may be because in a visual medium, more nonverbal communication is possible. Another obvious change is one in translation – in the books Geralt’s troubadour friend is identified as Dandelion, but on the show they kept his Polish name, Jaskier, which actually literally translates to ‘buttercup’ in English. And of course, because The Last Wish functions more as an introductory book than a plot-driven one, the stories in the show are also from later books than the one I read, and expand more on various battles and events. In the interest of full disclosure, I drew most of these insights from others’ perspectives, as at the time of writing I haven’t yet seen enough of the show to comment.

Speaking for myself, I think I’ll enjoy both equally as each uses their medium to full advantage; I prefer a chatty, relatable Geralt but I love the idea of showing Yennefer’s perspective and keeping Dandelion’s original name. I’m definitely looking forward to reading more books in this series and catching up with the show. If you’re into fantasy that’s exciting but not too heavy, I recommend reading The Last Wish for a bit of adventure, or at least background context for your next binge-watching session.