Murder on the Orient Express

By David Dyer,

Murder on the Orient Express is probably one of the most recognizable mysteries. At least that’s what everyone has been telling me for years.  Yet I (an avid mystery fan) haven’t read it. Being that summer is right around the corner and the new movie adaptation is out on DVD, I decided to kick the book to the top of my backlog and see what all the hype was about!

Quelle surprise, who would have guessed that Agatha Christie, one of the most prominent mystery writers ever manages to truly captivate with Hercule Poirot? A big man with an egg shaped head and ridiculous mustache solves an enthralling mystery while stranded on a train where everyone is a suspect. With everyone having a potential motive, suspicion abounds and keeps the reader guessing.

To my chagrin as a passionate mystery reader, I hadn’t been aware of just how many modern tales are inspired by this classic story. I was delighted to see the origin of so many modern mystery tropes. While this may make the plot somewhat predictable for the genre aficionado, there’s a reason so many other writers ape Christie’s story and style. I was reminded of the time I watched Psycho. Both pieces are so popular that in all likelihood the twists are known. While the experience wasn’t ruined by knowing the twist ahead of time, it is a shame that I couldn’t enjoy it fresh as when it was written.

Minor nitpick aside, I really enjoyed the story and recommend it to mystery fans and non-fans as well. I recommend reading it not as a mystery novel per se, but as an archive of tropes that have become beloved and popular today. Perfect for mystery buffs old and new!

Review by Wimberly W.

The Force Doth Awaken

By David Dyer,

                And thus I persevere. Prey, know my name:
Nearby, the sun shines bright; I am its Rey.
Rey, The Force Doth Awaken

I am inclined to like ideas that sound absurd on premise. It is always thrilling to see someone’s crazy idea succeed because it reminds me that any idea in the whole universe can be transformed into something for someone else to enjoy.  I was instantly sold when I found a brand new book on the shelf that imagines Star Wars: The Force Awakens as a play by written Shakespeare.  I couldn’t wait to see where this off the wall premise would take me!

The Force Doth Awaken by….Shakespeare as transcribed by Ian Doescher is a surprisingly true to form reimagining. Doescher works magic, convincing you that this is by the bard himself, from a list of cast members with brief character descriptions, through stage directions listed after bits of dialogue, to even the simple woodcut illustrations sprinkled throughout detailing how things would actually look (BB8 has a feathered hat!).  It doesn’t matter if you’re a fan of Shakespeare or just someone with passing interest, you will cackle seeing familiar scenes from the movie ‘shakespeared’.

Even if you have no interest in Shakespeare, it is still a fantastic book for those who enjoy the ever popular Star Wars series. Extra scenes have been added for the sake of drama, like a soliloquy by Leia about how she will never abandon her son no matter what atrocities he has committed…or for the sake of comedy as in the exchange between a veteran Stormtrooper and a new recruit about how Rey’s adventures are totally different from Luke back in A New Hope… no matter how many similarities. Once you get past the novelty of the idea, the book is surprisingly deft in how it expands the story in multiple directions. Plus there’s a Hamilton the Musical reference which is unexpected and amazing. I dare you to find it!

I recommend Star Wars: The Force Doth Awaken to Star Wars fanatics, Shakespeare aficionados, and anyone who enjoys something a bit out of the ordinary.

 

Review by Wimberly W.

What She Left Behind

By David Dyer,

What She Left Behind by Ellen Marie Wiseman chronicles the lives of two women, both seventeen years old at the beginning of the story, living approximately sixty years apart. Clara’s story begins in 1929. She has fallen in love with a man of whom her overly strict, cruel parents do not approve. After an argument wherein she takes a stand for her own life and refuses to marry the man they have chosen for her, they send her to an insane asylum.

Sixty years later in 1995, Izzy has seen her share of heartache. Her mother was convicted in the murder of Izzy’s father and sentenced to life in prison. After a series of bad foster homes, Izzy finally found her forever home with loving foster parents. She and her foster mom embark on an adventure digging though artifacts of Willard Hospital, where Clara was forced to live so many years before. It is there, photographs and old journals, that Izzy is able to recreate what happened to a woman whose life will soon intertwine with her own.

It is a bittersweet story that, after such tragedy, does find something of a happy ending. What She Left Behind takes you through the sickening practices often found in asylums from times past, and how one could be admitted despite having no actual mental illness. The number of women who were committed to these horrific institutions due simply to a parent unwilling to care about a child’s opinion, or a husband stating that his wife was “unfit,” is quite astounding.

If you have an interest in history and/or drama, this is a compelling book that I highly recommend, as it will stay with you long after you’ve read it.

Review by Amanda F.

The Orphan’s Tale

By David Dyer,

This heartfelt historical fiction transports you back to a time of despair for many in Germany, in the midst of World War II. The tale is narrated by the older, more experienced Astrid and the naïve, sensitive Noa, two women who, at first glance, don’t seem to have much in common. Turbulent circumstances bring the two together on a traveling circus train and they discover a bond that forever changes the course of their lives.

Sixteen year old Noa is on her own, having been kicked out of her home by her parents due to an out-of-wedlock pregnancy by a Nazi soldier. The infant is adopted, causing Noa an anguish only a mother torn from her child could know. Later, after stumbling into a train car at the station where she works, she makes a horrifying discovery: it is full of abandoned, presumably Jewish infants, all near death. She impulsively takes a little boy and goes on the run.

Astrid finds her once perfect world shattered after she is tossed out by her German soldier husband, due to her being Jewish. With her background as an experienced aerialist, she finds work and shelter with the Circus Neuhoff as she hides from the Nazis. When Noa is offered work by the kind circus owner, Astrid assumes responsibility for her and teaches her the high flying, dangerous life of an aerialist.

These two women whose worlds collide in the middle of a remarkably arduous time in history, navigate their way through devastating losses, poverty, and secrets that threaten to ruin their lives and those of the people they love. Together, they also find the true meaning of learning to trust, forgive, and eventually, the power of friendship. Definitely recommended for lovers of historical fiction, family stories, or just those with a taste for drama.

Review by Amanda F.

Face of Deception

By David Dyer,

Eve Duncan has had a very tough life. While growing up on the wrong side of the tracks with a drug-addicted mother, she found herself pregnant at an early age. The birth of her daughter spurred Eve and her mother to turn things around. However, this momentary happiness is shattered when her child is lost to a predator. Instead of collapsing, she finds solace in a new life as a forensic sculptor. Eve’s abilities bring her to the attention of millionaire computer magnate John Logan, who hires her to reconstruct a face. But who is it? A dark skeleton to tarnish Logan’s Boy Scout image? Or has Logan gone the way of Howard Hughes, seeing conspiracies everywhere?

This fast-paced thriller features damaged characters doing their best to find their way through a fairly convoluted conspiracy. The enemies are known, but their motives remain hidden for most of the novel. Instances of fairly graphic violence occur off stage and the reader is presented with the aftermath, fortunately without long detailed descriptions. The details and discussion of forensic sculpting offer an intriguing look into this rare profession. This book is the first in a series featuring Eve Duncan and is recommended for thriller and suspense readers.

Review by staff member David D.

The Beekeeper’s Apprentice

By David Dyer,

“You cannot help being a female, and I should be something of a fool were I to discount your talents merely because of their housing.”

“I was merely going to say that I hope you realize that guilt is a poor foundation for a life, without other motivations beside it.”

~Sherlock Holmes, The Beekeeper’s Apprentice

Of all the books I have recommended while working here at the library, the one that has received the most positive response also happens to be my favorite book of all time, The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, the first in an ongoing series by Laurie R. King.

In this novel, a young woman named Mary Russell is growing up in an abusive household headed by her adoptive aunt. To escape the abuse, Mary often sneaks out of her home to read while walking in the British countryside. One day while reading and walking, she literally stumbles over an elderly gentleman studying bees by the road. It is soon revealed that he is none other than the legendary Sherlock Holmes, long retired from the detective lifestyle.

From this point, the novel focuses on the dynamic between Mary and Sherlock as England inches ever closer to World War I. Mary is a product of the turn of the century, a studying theologian and self-proclaimed feminist in a time when women’s issues were just being acknowledged. While she is highly intelligent, years of abuse and heartache resulting from the loss of her parents have left her without a lot of opportunity to grow.

Sherlock Holmes makes a fantastic secondary protagonist, and this debut novel does away with many preconceptions of the great detective. Where Holmes in the original Conan Doyle books would never become associated with any woman as a working partner, in this story he is older, wiser, and much more aware of the ways the world is changing. This leads him to accept the fact that it would be foolish to let this young woman’s intellect falter under any circumstances, and compels him to become a mentor to her, coming out of retirement along the way.

As a big case unfolds, the two kindred spirits learn from each other, giving the reader a view of a unique friendship that is rarely present in other books. Mary grows into an intelligent young woman under Holmes’ care, and the focus on the humanization of Holmes brings about a narrative usually unexplored in other Sherlockian novels.

The Beekeeper’s Apprentice by Laurie R King is great for mystery fans and those who enjoy books with a focus on character-driven narratives. I hope it becomes a new favorite to many more people.

Click here to find this book in the catalog.

Review by staff member Wimberly W.

Rise to Rebellion

By David Dyer,

After becoming interested in the new musical Hamilton, I was curious if perhaps history was more interesting than I found it to be in school. Together with the exciting book cover image, I was cautiously optimistic when I picked up Jeff Sharra’s historical novel Rise to Rebellion. Much to my surprise, this unknown-to-me author wrote something that did what 16 years of American education couldn’t do: He wrote a book that made me interested in American History.

Jeff Sharra masterfully pulls back the curtain on key events, beginning with the Boston Massacre through the signing of the Declaration of Independence. What makes this book stand out is the way that Sharra shifts narrators in each chapter. In one chapter, we follow along with John Adams as he writes to his wife about the first Constitutional Convention and in the next, we find ourselves with Benjamin Franklin as he is put on trial for leaking English royal correspondence to the colonies. The author doesn’t just recite facts, he entwines the history with a glimpse into the thoughts and vastly different viewpoints of the historical figures. It seems like a key priority for Jeff Sharra to take the glorification from names such as George Washington and Paul Revere and instead present them as real people, with real thoughts and distinct motivations. We delight in learning not only what they did, but who they were. Seeing the people behind the events brought the history alive in a way that never happened for me in school. I now know more about why these events were important at the time and how they still resonate today.

Further, I really appreciated that some of the chapters were narrated from the perspective of British soldiers. Reading and seeing the perspective of the “other side” helped explain why the English wanted to tax the colonies, and did a fantastic job humanizing the British soldiers. Through masterful writing, Jeff Sharra presents both sides in a realistic and human light. By ripping away the traditional good versus evil veneer, he reminds us that the founding fathers were real people with their own clashing personalities, motivations, and issues and this is what elevated his book to a true masterpiece for me. I highly recommend it!

Review by staff member Wimberly W.