“Fear Nothing,” the seventh novel in the D.D. Warren series, may be her best psychological thriller yet. I am a huge fan of Lisa Gardner, but I was hesitant to read this latest work since I had heard that it was “gory.” Actually, it wasn’t bad and I thought she described the “gore” in the crime scenes with the appropriate realism.

Two main characters dominate the novel, Detective D.D. Warren and her pain-management therapist, Dr. Adeline Glen. Dr. Glen is a fascinating character, and much of the novel is told from her point of view and third person for D.D.’s chapters.

D.D. Warren has gone back to a house to revisit a particularly gruesome crime scene where the victim, a young woman, has been skinned alive. The killer left a rose and champagne at the scene. D.D. hears a sound and realizes that she is not alone. That is about the last thing she can remember from that night. D.D. suffers a painful and serious shoulder injury, an avulsion fracture, from a fall (or push?) down the stairs and discharges her gun three times.

Six weeks later, another young woman is murdered. This victim was also skinned alive and the killer left a rose and champagne, just as at the previous murder scene. The police dub the murderer the “Rose Killer.”

Pain, anger and frustration overwhelm D.D. She must rely on her husband, Alex, to help with even simple tasks such as showering, dressing and so many things she would normally do. She can’t even hold their young son. Technically, she is on disability from the Boston Police Department, but that doesn’t keep D.D from investigating the crimes, although the department requires her to see a renowned pain-management specialist, Dr. Adeline Glen.

Ironically, Dr. Adeline Glen suffers from a rare genetic disorder called congenital insensitivity to pain (a real medical condition) where she cannot feel pain. That might sound like a good thing to most persons, but as she explains to D.D., she could suffer a life-threatening injury and not know it. For that reason, she cannot lead a normal life or do the things that other people enjoy doing. An esteemed doctor, fascinated by Adeline’s disorder, adopted her when she was quite young, and he raised her to lead an ordinary life, at least as much as she could with her condition.

D.D.’s therapy is going well, but she soon discovers that Dr. Adeline Glen has been hiding some bizarre secrets. Adeline comes from a highly dysfunctional family. She is the daughter of the infamous serial killer, Harry Day, who murdered and skinned his victims and buried them under the family home. He died when Adeline was a baby. Her mother was a mental case, and her older sister, Shana Day, has been serving time in prison for 30 years for a murder she committed at age 14,as well as for murders committed while in prison.

Since the killer seems to be copying her father’s modus operandi, Adeline joins forces with D.D. to catch the predator before he murders again. D.D. is at a serious disadvantage due to her severe injury and her memory loss.

Lisa Gardner’s use of the themes of pain—both mental and physical, and the question of nature versus nurture– makes for fascinating reading in this psychological thriller. It is a dark and suspenseful novel, with some extremely creepy parts, but I couldn’t put it down. The intriguing plot, filled with twists and turns, will keep you guessing. The characters are incredibly realistic and everyone is a suspect!

I thoroughly enjoyed Kirsten Potter’s excellent narration of the audio version. Regular and large print copies of the novel are also available at the Joplin Public Library.

In 2006, Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner wrote the huge bestseller Freakonomics and followed it up in 2009 with Superfreakonomics and now bring us Think Like a Freak: The Authors of Freakonomics Offer to Retrain Your Brain. In the first two books, Levitt and Dubner used economics theories to address various questions about our world. They have received thousands of questions from readers who wanted them to apply their methods to problems faced by those readers. After giving the matter some thought (they obviously couldn’t answer everyone’s questions), they decided to share how to “think like a freak” so that people can better work out their own answers. The result is another fascinating read that may help readers to think more creatively.

First, they address the issue of exactly what they mean by “thinking like a freak”, then move on to how hard it is to say “I don’t know” and how terribly important and useful it is to do so anyway.

Next, things get tougher. Chapter 3 is titled “What’s Your Problem” and concerns the issue of knowing exactly what question to ask. In other words, how to define the problem. For example, “What’s wrong with our schools>” is a question often asked because children don’t seem to be learning all they should. But the question “Why do American kids know less than kids from Estonia and Poland?” frames the problem in an entirely different way and opens up possibilities outside of school. So, instead of looking for problems in schools, you set out to compare what is different (aside from schools) in those countries. Poverty? Parenting? Healthcare? And so it goes. The first thing to do to solve a problem is to properly define the parameters. Of course, Levitt and Dubner are terrific writers and storytellers, so (believe me) they explain all this in a much more engaging manner than I have here.

The following chapters develop the idea of how to approach problems with a more open and creative mindset and then move on to the wonders of incentives and how to use them to motivate people. There’s a particularly interesting bit there about a charity that managed to cut their expenses and increase donations by promising not to ask for future donations. They did a mailing with a reply card with three boxes, labeled (in brief) This will be my only gift, don’t ask again or Just contact me twice a year or Please keep me up to date. Oddly, only about a third of responders picked the first option and the rest wanted to be contacted with some frequency. So, they saved all the money they would have spent repeatedly contacting the third who opted out, and still increased donations by 46 percent! They go on to explain why they believe the tactic worked, which is pretty interesting itself.

I’ll close with a real “ah ha!” moment the book had for me. Along with most people, my email spam box fills regularly with Nigerian scam junk. I have often wondered “Why the heck do they say they’re Nigerian? Everyone knows this is a scam!” Of course, had I been thinking like a freak, I would have known the answer. Ahem. Not everybody knows it’s a scam and some people are just extremely gullible and compliant. What better way to maximize your efforts in con artistry than by targeting only the people who are likely to take your bait!? If you send out 100,000 letters and maybe 5,000 people are intrigued enough to write back, but become suspicious after a few emails back and forth, you’ve expended a lot of time and energy for no profit. If, however, you send out 100,000 letters and just 10 credulous and accommodating people respond and give you all their money without hesitation, which would you prefer to do? Picture here a forehead slap and a “Wow! I could have had a V-8!” moment.

I heartily recommend reading this one, and I’m going to do my best to Think Like a Freak from here on out.

We see them all too often in our community: stray dogs wandering the neighborhood, running in and out of traffic, scavenging for food and water. It’s not uncommon for people to look the other way and assume that the dog will be okay. Reading “Good Dog” might make you think twice before turning away next time.

Ivan is a good dog. He just wants to figure out where he belongs. Is it on his own? Too lonely, and too hard to find adequate food and water. With a human? He’s not sure he’s cut out for the domesticated life. With other dogs? In his quest to find his place, Ivan joins with a pack of dogs and, while he enjoys the companionship and benefits, finds the personalities and politics difficult to accept.

Don’t worry – I’ll tell you right now that Ivan’s ending is not a sad one, so no need to break out the Kleenex. And the story is not a complicated one with extremely detailed, colorful drawings and dialogue bubbles popping up everywhere. In fact, I found that the black and white illustrations and low-key, to-the-point language were a refreshing change that added to the retro feel of “Good Dog.”

I’ve run out of space here, but don’t let that keep you from the Joplin Public Library’s graphic novel collection. If none of selections above appeal to you, you might try “Lost Cat” by Jason, “Number Cruncher” by Si Spurrier and P.J. Holden, or “A Contract with God” by Will Eisner, all relatively new additions to our collection. And there is always the Teen Department, whose shelves are well-stocked with graphic novels.

I became a fan of this series as soon as I picked up volume 1. “Saga” is the story of Marko and Alana, two soldiers whose cultures are at war with another. They fall in love and go on the run, and Alana later gives birth to the couple’s daughter. Their fledgling family is threatened by bounty hunters, assassins and soldiers.
In volumes 2 and 3, their journey continues as they encounter Marko’s family and search for a reclusive author who might have some answers for them. New characters are introduced, such as Marko’s former fiancée, and old ones’ roles are expanded – namely The Will, a mysterious bounty hunter and my favorite character thus far.
This science fiction/fantasy series has something for everyone. On the surface, there’s romance, monsters, violence, adventure. Beneath, there are meditations on family, child abuse, war and peace, and bigotry. The artwork is colorful and gorgeous, the writing sharp and witty. I look forward to more volumes in the “Saga” series.

A popular genre at Joplin Public Library continues to be graphic novels – not just for the teens and children, but for the adults. In fact, on a regular basis, the library adds graphic novels to its adult collection. Below are some that I’ve been devouring lately.

Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosch

Although this one is more of an episodic memoir with lots of cartoons by the author, I regard it as a graphic novel because the illustrations convey so much of the story. I hadn’t read this prior to its selection by my book club, nor was I familiar with the author’s blog that is the source for most of this book’s material, but I fell for it from the first page. You have to love someone who re-creates a drawing she made when she was 5 years old because she doesn’t really know what else to use as an introduction.

The subtitle of “Hyperbole and a Half” is “unfortunate situations, flawed coping mechanisms, mayhem, and other things that happened.” This lengthy description pretty much sums it up. Brosch lays it all out there, from her quirky behavior as a child (obsessed with sugar, she once crawled through the window of a locked bedroom to gain access to her grandfather’s birthday cake, all of which she ate) to her battle with chronic depression.

Dogs figure prominently in Brosch’s world. When she was a kid, her family decided to adopt a Helper Dog to keep their other one, Simple Dog, company. Unfortunately, Helper Dog turned out to have some issues. This story’s title says it all: “Helper Dog Is an —hole.” As an adult, she acquired her own Simple Dog and Helper Dog. Her tale of moving across the country with them and their difficulty adjusting had me laughing with sympathetic understanding.

And if you’re ever having a bad day, flip to “Dinosaur (The Goose Story),” about a wayward goose that finds its way into Brosch’s yard and house. It’s epic. And lest you think she’s making everything up, she provides screen shots of video she took of the goose.

It is that time at the library again—SUMMER READING! We have activities, books, programs, and a summer reading club that will help fill those seemingly endless days of summer. If you have not done so already, be sure to drop in and pick up a Gameboard for your child so they can earn two FREE books.

Babies, toddlers, preschoolers, and school-age children can ALL participate, and thanks to a special summer reading rule, any child who participates can get a FREE card no matter where they live.

After picking up the Gameboard chances are you will be looking for books to read and this column should help. Here are several titles that are sure to pique your child’s interest (and maybe yours, too). Happy Summer Reading!

Picture Books
“Pete the Cat: I Love My White Shoes” by Eric Litwin—In this book readers are introduced to the coolest cat around. Pete has brand new white shoes and no matter what he accidentally steps in he keeps his positive attitude flowing.

More picture books that you might enjoy: “Extra Yarn” by Mac Barnett; “Bark, George” by Jules Feiffer; “Llama, Llama Red Pajama” by Anna Dewdney; “Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site” by Sherri Duskey Rinker; “Caps for Sale” by Esphyr Slobodkina; “Are You Ready for Some Fun” by Jan Thomas; and “Press Here” by Herve Tullet.

Easy Reading & Beginning Chapter Books
“We Are in a Book” by Mo Willems—Elephant and Piggie are at it again and this time they have discovered they are the stars in a book. Perfect for early readers and funny to top it off, this one will leave readers clamoring to get their hands on the rest of the series.

More easy reading and beginning chapter books that you might enjoy: “Henry & Mudge” by Cynthia Rylant; “Ivy and Bean” by Annie Barrows; “Captain Awesome to the Rescue” by Stan Kirby; and “EllRay Jakes is a Rock Star” by Sally Warner.

Chapter Books
“The False Prince” by Jennifer Nielsen—Book one in the Ascendance Trilogy introduces readers to a street-smart orphan named Sage. He and three other orphans have been chosen to play a dangerous game of political deceit—one that will lead to the “winning” orphan being installed as the country’s prince.

More chapter books that you might enjoy: “The One and Only Ivan” by Katherine Applegate; “Fever 1793” by Laurie Halse Anderson; “The Penderwicks” by Jeanne Birdsall; “Ruby Holler” by Sharon Creech; “City of Ember” by Jeanne DuPrau; “Among the Hidden” by Margaret Haddix; and “Esperanza Rising” by Pam Munoz Ryan.

For mystery and suspense fans, here are some titles you may want to add to your summer reading lists.

Julia Spencer-Fleming is one of my favorite authors and her latest, Through the Evil Days, reminded me why. She is a master at building suspense with almost non-stop action while still having the characters drive the story.

Number eight in the Clare Fergusson/Russ van Alstyne series has Clare and Russ leaving for a delayed honeymoon. A week on a frozen lake is an odd destination but Russ needs time to adjust to impending fatherhood and Clare has a decision to make that could end her future with the church. A double homicide and a kidnapped child who needs anti-rejection meds have the rest of Russ’s police force racing against time. Then the ice storm of the century hits. Russ and Clare are stranded and soon find themselves fighting for their lives against the elements and desperate killers who have a kidnapped and now very sick little girl.

          

Irene Hannon’s Heroes of Quantico series has strong characters and plenty of action. It is labeled Christian Romantic Suspense but the religious aspects are subtle with the action and relationships driving the narratives.

The first in the series, Against All Odds, features Evan Cooper, a member of the FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team (HRT). He is normally called in after a kidnapping but his current assignment is to prevent one. A Middle Eastern terrorist is holding hostages and Monica Callahan’s father is the negotiator. Besides money and the release of prisoners this terrorist wants revenge. Half a world away Monica is the leverage he needs to get what he wants and he proves, even with protection, she is vulnerable. Can Evan control his growing attraction to Monica and, with his team, protect her?

An Eye for Eye is next and involves another HRT member, Mark Sanders. Mark is temporarily assigned to the St. Louis office while recovering mentally and physically from a shooting incident. Jogging on a hot August morning he runs into his high school sweetheart, Emily Lawson. Mark only has time to learn that Emily is a clinical psychologist and widow when their reunion is interrupted by a sniper’s bullet. His quick action saves them but the danger isn’t over. The sniper is still out there and to find him they have to figure out who is the target, Mark or Emily?

The third book, In Harm’s Way, involves Nick Bradley and Rachel Sutton. Nick, an FBI agent working in St. Louis, meets Rachel when she brings a tattered doll into his office. She found the snow encrusted doll in a parking lot and is unsettled by the bad vibes she feels when holding it. Nick keeps the doll but dismisses Rachel’s feeling that something bad occurred involving the doll. Then he stumbles onto a link between the doll and a kidnapped infant. Rachel becomes the target of unwanted media attention and as the FBI races to find the missing baby, also the target of a woman who’ll do anything to keep the child she stole.

      

For a lighter mystery try Vicki Doudera’s series about amateur sleuth Darby Farr. Darby is a real estate agent in Southern California but she solves mysteries on both coasts. The first in the series, A House to Die For, takes place in her hometown, Hurricane Harbor, Maine. Summoned home to finish a sale for her dying aunt, Darby must find who killed the potential buyer and why before she can complete the deal.

After mysteries in Florida, California, and back to Maine Darby is in the Big Apple for Deal Killer. In the city to visit boyfriend Miles they are soon involved with million dollar real estate deals, Russian politics, and murder. With a multitude of suspects, can Darby figure it out before someone else dies?

Doudera always has plenty of suspects and subplots in each book but can sometimes leave things unresolved. That said, I was entertained reading the series and I like the characters; I hope you do too.

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