At long last I read a work by eminent non-fiction author Mary Roach! She’s been on my to-read list for a long time because of her reputation for entertaining and accessible explanations of various topics, and I finally took the plunge with her most recent, Fuzz: When Nature Breaks the Law.
In this wide-ranging volume Roach explores the field of “wildlife-human conflict” – the zone in which the natural world infringes on human activity and the various methods used to control, combat, or understand that invasion. This includes the predators you’d expect: bears, elephants, leopards, and the like, but also invasive non-native species, dangerous trees, destructive birds, and the cute creatures with unexpected impacts on the ecosystem. Also covered are a wide variety of anti-wildlife strategies including frightening devices (most notably a screaming tube dude), lasers, monkey birth control, poisoned beans, and many more. The book ultimately coalesces around a meditation on humanity and its various approaches to nature – those who coexist, those who condemn, and those who struggle to know determine the right decision.
I enjoyed Roach’s humor, and that the book challenges the idea of human supremacy while still sympathizing with those whose livelihoods (or just their lives) are endangered by wildlife behaviors. I also appreciated the global scope of Roach’s survey and how vividly she renders the people she works with along the way.
If you’re a non-fiction reader, science lover, animal lover, or looking for an entertaining learning experience, give this book a try.
Nev March started writing in her teens, drawing inspiration from authors like Neville Shuts, Rudyard Kipling, Mary Stewart, and Arthur Conan-Doyle. Her love of Sherlock Holmes is apparent in her debut novel, Murder in Old Bombay.
In 2015, Nev left her job in business and returned to writing fiction. She now teaches creative writing at Rutgers-Osher Institute. Nev immigrated from India thirty years ago and currently lives in New Jersey with her family. She is Parsee Zoroastrian.
Murder in Old Bombay is the first book in the Captain Jim Agnihotri series. The plot of this book was inspired by the hundred-plus-year-old unsolved deaths of the Godrej sisters in 19th century Bombay. The author wrote a fascinating article detailing this for the website Criminal Element. Let’s talk about the book!
1892: Bombay is the center of British India. Cultures of all sort mix in the streets. Captain Jim Agnihotri is recovering in Poona military hospital from serious injuries sustained in a battle on the northern frontier. With not much to do, Captain Jim finds himself re-reading his favorite Sherlock Holmes stories and pouring over the news in the daily papers. One day, a case called the crime of the century captures his attention. Two women fell to their deaths of the busy clock tower at the university in broad daylight. One of the victim’s husbands, Adi Framji, is certain that his wife and sister did not commit suicide and writes to the paper demanding justice for them. This case fascinates Captain Jim and he soon finds himself approaching Adi and his family searching for answers. Adi hires him to investigate what really happened to the women.
Captain Jim begins his investigation and discovers that the case is full of more secrets than he originally thought. He must chase down witnesses, running across country looking for answers. Asking questions proves increasingly dangerous as Captain Jim shakes out secrets that haunt the Framji family’s past. Each member of the Framji family wants to help, including Lady Diana who insists on getting more hands-on in the investigation. The friendship between Lady Diana and Captain Jim starts to blossom and soon feelings develop. Captain Jim’s personal and professional relationships are in jeopardy the closer he gets to the truth of what happened the afternoon the Framji women died.
If that description wasn’t enough to make you want to read this book, maybe accolades will sway you! This debut novel won the Minotaur Books/Mystery Writers of America First Crime Novel Award. It was also 2021 nominees for the following: Edgar and Barry Awards, as well as Anthony, Macavity and Hammett Awards for Excellence in Crime Fiction.
Captain Jim Agnihotri series
- Murder in Old Bombay (2020)
- Peril at the Exposition (2022)
Not every book has a happy ending: A Burning by Megha Majumdar is one of those books. Going into Majumdar’s debut with your eyes wide open will allow you to fully appreciate the beautiful story she has weaved. A Burning is the story of three people who desperately want more: power, opportunity, class, love. It’s a novel of fate, the juxtaposition of betrayal and love, of innocence and guilt, and how the truth may be twisted by the media into a falsehood that others believe to be true.
Terrorists have attacked Jivan’s hometown. This attack on a train has left 104 people dead and the nation is clamoring for someone to be held responsible. Jivan is a bright young woman, trying to get out of poverty and the slums. After making a careless comment on Facebook, Jivan is wrongly accused of planning the attack and is hauled into the police station.
PT Sir is a gym teacher from Jivan’s former school. He used to care highly for Jivan until she disappeared from school one day and never came back. He can’t understand why she could be so ungrateful and why she never thanked him for all he did for her. One day, PT Sir discovers a rally in a field for the right-wing political party. He becomes enraptured with what they have to say. He decides that the only way to improve his circumstances is to become a part of that party’s power. PT Sir soon finds that the price of his ascent is Jivan taking the fall.
Lovely is an outcast. She has dealt with hatred and disgust from the public her entire life, but that hasn’t stopped her from dreaming big. She wants fame, she wants glory, but most of all she wants to be the leading lady in a movie. Society isn’t quite so sure that she is what they want. Lovely also holds Jivan’s alibi and freedom in her hands. By speaking up and setting Jivan free, Lovely will have to say goodbye to everything that she desires and holds close.
The fates of these three people are so closely woven together that their slightest action ripples consequences to the others. It’s a short read, but its shortness packs a lot of complexness.
This book is also available in the following formats:
Have you joined our Best Sellers Club yet? We have started a new club for Davenport Public Library patrons that allow you to have automatic holds put on new releases from your favorite authors, stay current with three different celebrity book clubs, or receive nonfiction picks chosen by our librarians four times a year.
One of the celebrities on our Best Sellers Club is Jenna Bush Hager. The Read With Jenna book club picks a new book every month to read.
A Burning by Megha Majumdar is Jenna Bush Hager’s June 2020 pick. Curious what the book is about? Check out the following blurb provided by the publisher:
After a fiery attack on a train leaves 104 people dead, the fates of three people become inextricably entangled. Jivan, a bright, striving woman from the slums looking for a way out of poverty, is wrongly accused of planning the attack because of a careless comment on Facebook. PT Sir, a slippery gym teacher from Jivan’s former high school, has hitched his aspirations to a rising right wing party, and his own ascent becomes increasingly linked to Jivan’s fall. Lovely, a spirited, impoverished, relentlessly optimistic hjira, who harbors dreams of becoming a Bollywood star, can provide the alibi that would set Jivan free–but her appearance in court will have unexpected consequences that will change the course of all of their lives. A novel about fate, power, opportunity, and class; about innocence and guilt, betrayal and love, and the corrosive media cycle that manufactures falsehoods masquerading as truths–A Burning is a debut novel of exceptional power and urgency, haunting and beautiful, brutal, vibrant, impossible to forget.
This book is also available in the following format:
Reese Witherspoon’s Hello Sunshine has announced a new book pick! Every month, Reese picks out a book that she loves to share with her book club. All of the books that she chooses have a woman at the center of the story. Since the launch of this book club in 2017, Reese has hand-picked over 35 books for her community to read.
Her May pick is The Henna Artist by Alka Joshi. For more information about what the book is about, check out the blurb below provided by the publisher.
Escaping from an arranged and abusive marriage, seventeen-year-old Lakshmi makes her way alone from her 1950s rural village to the vibrant pink city of Jaipur. There she becomes the henna artist—and confidante—most in demand to the wealthy women of the upper class. But trusted with the secrets of the wealthy, she can never reveal her own…
Known for her original designs and sage advice, Lakshmi must tread carefully to avoid the jealous gossips who could ruin her reputation and her livelihood. As she pursues her dream of an independent life, she is startled one day when she is confronted by her husband, who has tracked her down these many years later with a high-spirited young girl in tow—a sister Lakshmi never knew she had. Suddenly the caution that she has carefully cultivated as protection is threatened. Still she perseveres, applying her talents and lifting up those that surround her as she does.
Vivid and compelling in its portrait of one woman’s struggle for fulfillment in a society pivoting between the traditional and the modern, The Henna Artist opens a door into a world that is at once lush and fascinating, stark and cruel.
Want to make sure that you don’t miss any of Reese Witherspoon’s Hello Sunshine book club picks? Join our Best Sellers Club and have her picks automatically put on hold for you when they are announced every month.
This book is also available in the following formats:
Girls Burn Brighter by Shobha Rao is the story of two young girls who are trying to find their place in a world that values men higher than women. Poornima and Savitha are the eldest girls in their respective families in India. Chance leads the girls together where they strike up a once-in-a-lifetime friendship. Poornima’s mother died when she was young, leaving her to fill the mother role to all of her younger siblings long before she was actually ready to fulfill it. Working hard to help her father provide for the family, Poornima quickly realizes that even though her family isn’t dirt poor, they’re still scraping by. To help supplement their income, Poornima’s father hires Savitha to work one of their sari looms, thus allowing Poornima’s family to bring in more money while also giving Savitha money for hers. Poornima and Savitha begin to turn to each other for comfort. Savitha’s family is more impoverished than Poornima’s, but Savitha quickly shows Poornima how to find joy and beauty in the little day to day parts of life. Savitha’s infectious personality finally allows Poornima to imagine the possibility of a fulfilling life beyond the arranged marriage her father is so desperately looking for her to fill.
Just when Poornima and Savitha have reached a comfortable rhythm, a devastating act of cruelty and violence occurs that destroys their newfound joy. As a result, Savitha is ruined and driven away from their small village. Poornima is wrecked and decides to do everything in her power to find Savitha, so they can live a happy life together. Poornima’s journey takes her away from everything that she is accustomed to and everything that she holds dear. Poornima finds herself searching India’s dark underworld for any sign of Savitha. Willing to do anything to find her, Poornima goes on a journey across India and even ends up traveling to the United States.
This novel alternates between both Poornima and Savitha’s perspectives. They have never lost hope that they will eventually find each other, even when circumstances turn dangerous. Rao tackles many urgent issues facing women across the world: immigration, feminism, human trafficking, and domestic abuse, just to name a few. These issues provide a solid foundation for Rao to explore how friendship and the will to survive can help women work towards a better, more hopeful future.
This book is also available in the following formats:
This is the Queen Victoria that most of us are probably familiar with – elderly, dour, overweight, always dressed in black. She is mostly a figurehead now with the ruling of the country handled by the Prime Minister and her councilors. She has outlived most of her contemporaries, despises her children (especially Edward, the heir apparent), is in poor health and has few interests. And then, into this dull and tedious existence steps an unexpected bright spot – Abdul.
Victoria and Abdul is the story of the unusual (but true) friendship between the Queen of the most powerful country in the world, and a commoner from India. Sent to England to present the Queen with a coin created in honor of her Golden Jubilee (he was chosen because he was tall), Abdul looks past the trappings of the Crown and sees the person. He is optimistic, cheerful and respectful and, when she asks questions about his country and his life, he answers her easily, weaving colorful, poetic pictures of a life very different from her own. Victoria emerges from her shell, delighting in new interests.
However, not everyone is happy about the friendship between Victoria and Abdul. There is a lot of racism against Indians in England (there is a great deal of unrest in colonial India resulting in several battles during this time; India did not become independent from England until 1947) and there is a concerted effort to remove Abdul from Victoria’s circle, testing the bonds of loyalty.
This is a lovely movie, beautifully acted by Judy Dench and Ali Fazal with gorgeous imagery and costumes. It is also somewhat melancholy; Victoria doesn’t have much to live for at this point in her life – she still misses Albert, who died nearly 40 years before, and everyone around her is basically waiting for her to die. That the one bright spot in her life, Abdul, is discouraged and kept away is very sad. If you’ve been watching Victoria on PBS (which is excellent), it’s also a bit of a shock, the contrast between the young, vibrant and very active young Victoria and the elderly woman she becomes.
After their only child, 7-year-old Benny, dies unexpectedly of meningitis, Frank and Ellie Benton find their once perfect life in Ann Arbor empty and unbearable. When Frank is subsequently offered a new job in Girbaug, India, they grasp at the opportunity for a fresh start. Ellie adapts beautifully, volunteering as a counselor in a free clinic, and relishing in the vibrant color and boisterous activity that is India. Frank, on the other hand, struggles, never quite fitting in or understanding the vast cultural differences. He does, however, befriend a young boy, Ramesh, and becomes consumed with offering this child every opportunity, despite the father’s jealous objections. In the meantime, as Frank neglects his business, labor difficulties continue to fester into riot proportions.
As a ready, I could viscerally sense impending disaster, and even partially predict it. Still, I was caught unawares at the ending and left to marvel at this storyteller’s technique. The Weight of Heaven would make an excellent book club choice. As there are several issues with varying viewpoints presented, the book certainly promises to reap a wealth of healthy discussion.