Although not the first to express the concept, in 1789 Benjamin Franklin wrote in a letter to a friend, “In this world, nothing is certain except death and taxes.” He was actually talking about the durability of the new U.S. Constitution, but the phrase began a life of its own.

Specifically, death — its surety, customs, information and philosophy surrounding it — is the subject of the book reviewed this week.

The title “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes and Other Lessons from the Crematory” by Caitlin Doughty caught my eye as I was reading another library’s newsletter. It sounded interesting and had good reviews, so we added it to the Joplin Public Library collection.

“Smoke Get in Your Eyes” is more than just a day-to-day account of Caitlyn’s life in the funeral business. In her book she weaves information about death traditions from all over the world and insights into the business of funerals in the United States.

The author’s interest in death began when she was eight years old and witnessed a little girl fall to her death in an accident at a local mall. She says, “Until that night I hadn’t truly understood that I was going to die, that everyone was going to die.”

Many of today’s children do not know much about death. This would have been unheard of even 100 years ago. Death has been removed from our daily lives, yet as Franklin told his correspondent, it is a sure thing.

Fast forward a few years. Caitlin goes through college, earning a degree in medieval history, writing her thesis on the late medieval witch trials in which well over 50,000 people were executed for supposed sorcery.

After college, wanting to gain entrance into the death industry, she takes a job in Los Angeles as an assistant at Westwind Cremation & Burial, learning the ropes and art of cremation.

She saw this job as a “way to fix what had happened to the eight-year-old me. The girl kept up at night by fear, crouched under the covers, believing if death couldn’t see her than he couldn’t take her.”

She details her experiences in learning the trade. Some are gross; some are sad; some are just downright interesting. While telling these tales Caitlin also weaves stories of death practices throughout the world and challenges our ideas about death and dying.

Wanting to dispel fear of dying, the author seeks to restore death and dying as a part of life. Since leaving the crematory, she has become a licensed embalmer, although she has serious issues with it and is establishing an alternative funeral practice.

As part of her demystifying process, Doughty has established theorderofthegooddeath.com website and also has a quirky and cheesy but interesting series of YouTube videos, “Ask a Mortician.”

If this books sounds at all intriguing, you may also be interested in “Does This Mean You’ll See me Naked – Field Notes From a Funeral Director” by Robert D. Webster. Joplin Public Library has this book only in downloadable e-book format.

“Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” is available in print at Joplin Public Library. There are already people on the hold list for it, so get your name added right away. You’ll find the book interesting, informative, disturbing and thought-provoking.

playSeveral weeks ago the Joplin Public Library opened its expanded and redesigned play space area in the Children’s Department. To the casual observer this transformation seemed to take a mere week to pull off, but for those staff members working behind the scenes, the process took much longer.

It began in November 2013, when the library director and I attended training in New York. The training was hosted by Middle Country Public Library system, the founding member of the Family Place Libraries network—a network that includes more than 300 public libraries across the nation. The mission of Family Place Libraries is to increase the role of the public library as a community hub for healthy child and family development, parent and community involvement, and lifelong learning beginning at birth.

After we attended the training, it was clear to both the library director and me that we wanted to be a part of the Family Place Libraries initiative. We started planning how to incorporate the key components of all Family Place Libraries—a specially designed welcoming space; a resource collection for parents; developmentally appropriate programming for parents and children, including a parent-child workshop; and outreach efforts to reach non-traditional library users—into daily Joplin Public Library operations.

On Sept. 12, after a lot of hard work by many people, we opened the newly created play space, with the hope that not only would it start us on our way to Family Place inclusion, but that it would be a wonderfully welcoming space for families to learn, grow, play and have fun.

And that is similar to what Roni Cohen Leiderman and Wendy S. Masithe, the authors of “Let’s Play and Learn Together,” hope to give to readers with their book. Not a space for play, but ideas for play—a repertoire of 375 activities, songs and games that families with younger children can enjoy doing together.

According to the authors, “Play is much more than just fun and games. It is vital for cognitive, social and emotional development because it helps children develop their dexterity, imaginations, and communication skills while promoting friendships, empathy, and conflict resolution.” In short, play is one of the key things a parent/caregiver can do to ensure their child’s future success.

The pair have structured their book to include two main sections—“Play Ideas for Learning and Love” and “Play Activities and Ideas for Making Life with Your Child Fun and Hassle Free.” And each chapter is subdivided to focus on infants, toddlers and preschoolers, so it is easy to see at a glance what activities are developmentally appropriate.

This is a fun guide that not only provides creativity play solutions, it provides them without the use of bells and whistles. All one needs is a sock to make a puppet, chalk for hopscotch and a few spare cardboard boxes to create a train. The authors provide so many great ideas that almost any parent can do and it is hard to decide which to try first. Personally, after reading only the first chapter of this book, I had at least three ideas that I knew I just had to try with my family. I recommend this title for anyone who has the opportunity to interact and play with children.

  The second book in Robert Galbraith’s Cormoran Strike series, The Silkworm, finds the private detective in much better financial shape. He is doing well enough that he takes a case where payment is doubtful instead of continuing a case with an affluent but disagreeable client.

Leonara Quine’s husband, Owen, is missing. She thinks he went to an author’s retreat but can’t find him and he is not answering her calls. This is not the first time he has gone incommunicado so she can’t go to the police for help. With a child at home who requires constant care Leonara needs Strike to find Owen and bring him home.

Strike with the help of his assistant Robin traces Owen through London’s literary and publishing world. In talking with agents, editors, publishers, authors, and the missing man’s girlfriend Strike learns that Owen has penned his next great novel. A seemingly staged argument in a public place leads Strike to believe the disappearance may be a publicity stunt for the book.

That is until he discovers Owen’s horribly mutilated body in an empty house. Owen has been murdered in the same gruesome manner as the character in his unpublished novel. A murder straight from the pages of an unpublished work should limit the number of suspects.

However, Strike finds the novel was read by or readily available to a lot of people, many with a motive to kill. Quine’s novel depicted most of the people in his life in cruel and slanderous parody. The ones with the most motive to kill, his editor, publisher, agent, lover, rival author, and his wife, had all read the unpublished book.

Strike found Owen so technically his job is done but the detective in him can’t leave a case unfinished. Then the police decide Leonara is the prime suspect. Strike’s job turns from finding a missing husband to hunting a diabolical killer and proving Leonara innocent.

Robert Galbraith, better known as J.K. Rowling, has penned an intriguing character in Cormoran Strike. First introduced in The Cuckoo’s Calling, Strike is an imposing figure at 6’ 3”, burly with part of a leg missing due to an IED in Afghanistan. He retired from the special investigations unit of the military police after the explosion and started his detective agency. He is intelligent, intuitive, and keenly observant to every detail. He runs investigations with the organized discipline and ethics he learned in the military.

His personal life however is in shambles. As we meet him he is broke, as the few clients he has aren’t inclined to pay, and homeless. He just ended his engagement to longtime girlfriend Charlotte and she has the flat and 9/10s of his possessions. He is private and a bit of a loner keeping the true state of his life from the half-sister and aunt and uncle who are closest to him.

The other central figure in the series is Robin Ellacott. Her association with Strike begins as a one week temp position. He can’t afford her but by the end of the week she has proven herself to valuable to lose. She wants to stay and Strike agrees to keep her on at a reduced salary much to the dismay of her new fiancé, Matthew. Matthew would rather she be in a higher paying job and away from Strike.

The smart, beautiful Robin has a secret ambition to be a detective. She is in her dream job but struggles to keep Matthew happy while proving her worth to Strike. Robin’s character develops more slowly than Strike’s and the desire to see what she will become helps drive the series.

Read alikes for this series are Robert Parker and Kate Atkinson. I would add John Sandford and Lee Child to the list. The library has both the print and audio versions of the books. The audio narrator is Robert Glenister who does an excellent job of bringing Cormoran Strike to life.

I’ve always been interested in the communist witch hunts of the 50’s and some of my favorite acting moments are from the movie In the Heat of the Night, so I was immediately drawn to Lee Grant’s memoir, “I Said Yes to Everything”.

The big picture of Lee Grant’s career is that she got off to a big start in theater and then in Hollywood, getting an Oscar nomination for her first film, “Detective Story” at the age of 24. Almost immediately after that Grant was blacklisted. From the age of twenty-four until she was thirty-six, prime years for an actress, Grant remained blacklisted and was not allowed to do any film or television work. Fortunately for her, the theater did not accede to the blacklist and she was able to continue working in that venue. Her first Hollywood role after her blacklisting ended was as the victim’s widow in In the Heat of the Night. Numerous roles followed, both large and small, in television, movies and theater making hers one of the most successful post-blacklist careers. Too soon, though, middle age occurred and roles became less desirable.

In 1975, the American Film Institute created a program to help women get into directing, and she took part in the first round. As she puts it she would no longer “have to depend on the kindness of strangers” to create. Her husband produced her short film for the AFI, leading to a long collaboration with Grant directing and her husband producing.

After seeing herself onscreen in a B-movie she did in Canada, Grant realized that she was beginning to look her age and that future acting jobs would not be leading lady parts, but old ladies. She decided to step away from being in front of the camera all the time and move behind it more. Her first commercial film was a documentary about women striking at a bank in Minnesota, “The Willmar 8.” She has gone on to do many other documentaries, including “What Sex Am I?” (one of the first looks at the LGBT community) and “Down and Out in America” which won the 1986 Best Documentary Oscar and has also directed a number of films for television.

The book is an interesting read. Grant is nothing if not candid. Her language is frequently salty, and she spares no one, including herself. It is a pretty even mix of her personal (hard to say “private” given her candor) and professional lives. Some of it is funny, much sad. Her personal relationships have been, for the most part, less than rosy. Her first marriage brought her stepsons who she loved a great deal, but lost after the marriage ended. Her second marriage has lasted many years, but has certainly not been of the storybook variety. Her relationships with her daughters have gone, in one case, from idyllic to awful to good and, in the other case, from bad to worse to better. Her friendships have similarly been all over the map. Many one-time friends became enemies, others have remained steadfast ending only in death. Much space is devoted to her second husband, parents and maternal aunt all of whom had profound (if not always good) impact, less to children and in-laws.

There are, of course, anecdotes about actors, directors, and others like one-time boyfriend Burt Bacharach, and those she has worked with or with whom she was associated via the blacklist. Indeed, the blacklist runs through nearly the entire narrative, rearing its ugly head from time to time both professionally and personally. Joe McCarthy and HUAC have a lot to answer for. Summing up, an interesting life to read about and an interesting, if not particularly happy, life to have lived.

Red Rising by Pierce BrownAdult Fiction

Darrow is a miner beneath the surface of Mars. He and his fellow Reds spend their lives underground in a dangerous, unforgiving world so future generations will be able to successfully and safely inhabit the surface of the planet. The Reds are the lowest in the castes of colors. From Red to Gold, slave to ruler, each color serves its purpose.

Darrow is content with his role. He understands that his sweat and blood, his obedience and incredible skill as a Helldiver are necessary to supply the surface with the miraculous terraforming helium-3. He must suffer so others will thrive.

This contentment begins to unravel when Darrow’s mining crew—his family—fairly and rightfully mines more helium-3 than any other. As a reward, the Lambda clan should receive the Laurel—the increased rations and luxuries usually won by the Gamma clan. When the Gammas receive the Laurel despite having been beaten, Darrow’s faith and his obedience are shaken.

Then a tumbling of heartbreaking events lands Darrow on the surface of Mars as part of the Sons of Ares, a terrorist organization that reveals the truth: Mars has been habitable for generations. Huge cities thrive on its surface. Luxuries and amenities abound for people of every color caste except the Reds who are kept both literally and figuratively in the dark.

Now Darrow must decide how far he’s willing to go to bring justice to his people. The first step is to infiltrate the Golds—the ruling caste—by becoming one of their most elite. No matter how brutal that process may be.

“Red Rising” is incredibly good. From the first lines: “I would have lived in peace. But my enemies brought me war” I knew I was hooked. By page 50, tears streaming down my face, I knew this was one of Those Books. The kind of book that, when read at the right time, has the power to impact readers like no other book can.

Darrow starts out as a wide-eyed teenaged boy who is smart enough to know that his society’s caste system is rigged against him, but is naïve enough to believe that it’s serving a greater good. As events unfold, Darrow transforms into an angry and determined man who has but a single focus—vengeance.

Darrow narrates his story, so not surprisingly, he is the most developed character, but his narration gives life to the characters around him and makes his world feel real. The pacing is just about perfect. Slow where it needs to be and break-neck to keep the pages flying. The connections between the characters aren’t as palpable as I would have liked, but they’re still fairly solid. With just a touch of romance, Brown keeps things spicy without making it trite or gratuitous.

When you read the cover of “Red Rising,” you’ll see all the comparisons to other, super popular books that “Red Rising” is garnering. They’re accurate comparisons, but “Red Rising” doesn’t really need them beyond the first few chapters. It competently stands on its own in the Science Fiction and Dystopian genres and should, by all means, be read by fans of “Hunger Games,” “Ender’s Game” and the like. Just know that you’re getting something different and new with this one too.

Note of warning: this is the first book in a series. Book 2 is not out yet and “Red Rising” ends with quite the cliffhanger.

Greg Iles’ thriller, “Natchez Burning,” begins in the mid-1960’s. Albert Norris is a black business owner whose Music Emporium is one of the few places frequented by blacks and whites alike. It also serves as a secret rendezvous for interracial couples. One terrible night everything changes when Ku Klux Klansmen set the music store on fire and burn Albert alive. Brody Royal, a Klan member and the richest man around, discovered that his daughter had been meeting a black musician who worked for Albert and hired some other KKK members to take care of the matter.

Dr. Tom Cage, a physician who treats blacks as well as whites, is a well-known and respected citizen and pillar of the community. In 2005, Dr. Cage is accused in the death of Viola Turner, the beautiful black nurse who worked with him in the 1960s. Viola left Natchez 40 years ago but had come home to die. Lincoln Turner, Viola’s son, knows that Dr. Cage was treating his mother for cancer and believes the doctor murdered her.

Penn Cage, former prosecutor and current mayor of Natchez, is frustrated that his father, Tom Cage, refuses Penn’s help in defending himself. Did Dr. Cage and Viola have an affair 40 years ago? Did his father assist in Viola’s death? His father does nothing to help his defense by refusing to answer Penn’s questions, claiming doctor-patient confidentiality.

Penn joins forces with Henry Sexton, a local journalist from Ferriday. Penn wants to get to the bottom of Viola’s murder, even if it means dredging up dark secrets from the past about his father and the possibility exists that he will also put his family in danger.

For many years, Henry Sexton has been investigating several unsolved murders from the 1960s. Henry believes that the Double Eagles, an offshoot extremist group of 20 or so members of the KKK, committed the murders.

Viola’s brother disappeared along with some other black men, and the prospect exists that the Double Eagles may have murdered them. The ambitions of the Double Eagles went higher, though, stretching as far as the assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King.

In “Natchez Burning” Iles tackles the violence of the civil rights era head on. Politics, greed, race, forbidden love and dark family secrets play important roles in this epic novel. It is tense and disturbing, so if violence in books troubles you, you may want to think twice about reading it. The crimes include murder, rape and other forms of torture—crimes that took place during this disturbing period of our nation’s history and are still happening in the present.

I was intrigued when I learned that the author bases the novel on actual people and events. Stanley Nelson, editor of the Concordia Sentinel, investigated and wrote about the murders. Henry Sexton’s character is based on the actions of Stanley Nelson. The Albert Norris character in the novel was real-life Frank Morris, whose shoe shop was torched in 1964. The Double Eagles group is based on a KKK splinter cell named The Silver Dollar Group. Iles bases the Dr. Tom Cage character on his own father.

I was pleased to discover that “Natchez Burning” is the first book in a trilogy since the ending left some loose ends. I believe it’s the author’s best work yet. He always writes best-selling novels, but the writing in this one is superb. I am looking forward to the rest of the trilogy.

“Natchez Burning” is nearly 800 pages long and the audiobook almost 36 hours. I listened to the audiobook narrated by David LeDoux, who did an excellent job with all the characters“Natchez Burning” is available in print, audiobook and downloadable audiobook formats at the Joplin Public Library.

There are a variety of murder mystery genres to fit just about any taste. Selections range from historical-based mysteries for just about every time period, mysteries featuring authors and/or historical figures (such as Jane Austen solving crimes), hard-boiled detectives and little old ladies sipping tea while solving crimes, forensic-based mysteries, and even mysteries featuring animals. One of the more popular genres now seems to be the food-based mysteries featuring recipes. The Joplin Public Library carries a good selection of choices for those interested in one of these tasty books.

Isis Crawford has just had her tenth book come out in the “Catered” series, A Catered Fourth of July. Sisters Bernie and Libby are busy running their shop, A Little Taste of Heaven, but in between making lemon meringue pies and gingersnap cookies, they still have time to stumble across bodies and find killers. Each book features recipes at the end, but even if you don’t want to whip up a treat in the kitchen, these books are a fun read for mystery fans.

Continuing the cooking theme, Diane Mott Davidson is another writer who has mixed muffins with murder in her books. Goldy Bear is a caterer who is starting a new life for her teenage son and herself after a nasty divorce, but her tendency to stumble across dead bodies doesn’t help. Goldy also turns to cooking whenever she’s stressed, so food plays an integral role in the novels. These books tend to feature recipes with complicated instructions and expensive ingredients, so while I won’t fix any of the desserts myself, it’s still fun to read about them. Diane Mott Davidson’s first book in this series is Catering to Nobody, and while you don’t have to read them in order it does make it easier to follow the later books.

Another author who likes to feature more labor-intensive recipes in her mysteries is Katherine Hall Page. Faith Fairchild runs a catering business, and also enjoys cooking for her pastor husband and their two children. Unfortunately, Faith seems to stumble across a high number of bodies (which nobody seems to find amiss) and always manages to suss out the killer before the police can. Her newest book, The Body in the Piazza, has Faith and her husband traveling to Italy, so the recipes include Biscotti and Spaghetti alla Foriana.

If you want a mystery with more plain cooking instead of hoity-toity recipes, Joanne Fluke’s series featuring Hannah Swensen is a sweet treat. Hannah runs a cookie shop, and, again, she seems to find a lot of dead bodies. (At some point, I’m thinking the cops just need to follow these ladies around instead of waiting for the phone call.) Fluke’s series is lighter and less serious than the previous two, and the recipes reflect it as well. One of her books feature a recipe that calls for a pound of meat, a pound of frozen potatoes and a can of cream of “your choice” soup to make what is called a Minnesota Hot Dish. I’ve actually made some of the cookie recipes from these books, and the Chocolate Highlander Cookies have become a family favorite at Christmas. My mother-in-law even asked for the recipe! While Blackberry Pie Murder is the newest book, I recommend reading this series in order from the beginning.

Finally, we have the Magdalena Yoder series by Tamar Myers. Magdalena is a Mennonite who runs an inn in Hernia, Pennsylvania. Due to the ineptitude of the police chief who is a cousin (and everyone in the town seems to be a cousin of some sort), Magdalena ends up investigating a lot of murders. This has got to be one of the funniest mystery series, and Magdalena is not your normal heroine. These books feature some of the oddest characters, including a sister who carries a small dog in her bra. These Pennsylvania Dutch mysteries feature lots of home cooking recipes mixed with lots of humor. While the earlier books in the series would have to be requested via inter-library loan through our Reference desk, we do have 10 different ones in the series. Gruel and Unusual Punishment is the oldest one in the series in our collection.

While I would hesitate to have any of these women cook for me because they would most likely find a dead body (probably mine), I have no problem picking up their books. Murder and food seems to go well together when picking out an entertaining mystery to read, and these authors are some of the more popular in this genre.

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