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.

The closing of a 100-year-old magazine in the novel Delicious! mimics what is happening in magazine publishing today. Ladies Home Journal (131 years in print) and Jet (63 years) have just published their last print issues. They join Gourmet, American Artist, Herb Companion, U.S. News & World Report and many others titles the library has lost from the collection in the last few years.

However, the loss of these print titles has created an opportunity for the library to add something new, Flipster. Flipster is a digital magazine service offering full-color, full-page magazines available 24/7 on any computer or mobile device with internet access.

Starting this month the library has increased its magazine collection by 23 new titles. Some are titles that are familiar to most of us, and other titles are known depending upon your interests. All of them, along with 29 titles already available at the library, are offered digitally through Flipster.

Specialty titles include Equus: the Horse Owner’s Resource, Vegetarian Times, Yoga Journal, Black Belt, MuscleMag, Running Times and Clean Eating. You will also find Food Network Magazine, Men’s Health, Women’s Health, Dwell, Clean Eating and BabyBug. We get to add Newsweek back to our collection and will still have access to Jet.

To go with HGTV Magazine, Dr. Oz: the Good Life and ShopSmart, you have access to People, Time, Money, Rolling Stone, mental_floss and many more titles. Just look for the Flipster icon at http://www.joplinpubliclibrary.org.

Food critic and author Ruth Reichl was the editor-in-chief at Gourmet magazine, is the host of “Gourmet’s Adventures with Ruth” on PBS and has written several best-selling memoirs. Now she’s brought her knowledge and expertise to the world of fiction with her first novel, “Delicious!”

Billie Breslin has moved across the country and landed her dream job at the iconic food magazine Delicious! Even with her new job Billie is lonely, and to fill her days she begins a weekend job at a food shop, Fontanari’s.

Billie came to New York to escape a trauma and though it haunts her, letters to her sister show she is finding her way. She is making new friends and has an article published in the magazine. Then the magazine is shut down.

Billie is kept on staff to honor the Delicious! Guarantee: “Your money back if the recipe doesn’t work.” Alone in the mansion that has been the home to Delicious! for 100 years, Billie does her best to help with recipes, some decades old. In the pursuit of a 40-year-old recipe she finally ventures into the library, which has been closed for years.

The beautiful room is fascinating, and with the discovery of a secret room full of letters, Billie meets Lulu Swan. Lulu is 12 when she begins a correspondence with Chef James Beard. The first letter is dated November 3, 1942. Lulu is seeking help as she takes over the cooking while her father is at war and her mother now works.

Lulu comes alive through her letters, and with her words we see life on the home front during World War II. In her quest to find all the letters and her search for what happened to Lulu, Billie begins to heal.

This is a first novel and has a couple of clumsy places, but they are forgiven with the eloquence of the rest of the book. Reichl is wonderful with characters, and it is fascinating how real Lulu and her life become in just a few letters. You’ll find this very enjoyable read on the New Book Shelves at the library.

SeraphinaTeen Fiction

In Seraphina’s home city of Goredd, dragons and humans have lived a relatively peaceful existence for nearly 40 years thanks to a treaty that includes rules such as humans may not enter dragon territory, dragons must take their human shape to enter human territory, and dragons and humans may not have emotional relationships or attachments.

In fact, dragons are discouraged from showing any human-like emotions at all, and if they do, they are forced to undergo a medical procedure that will obliterate those thoughts and feelings. However, Seraphina’s father, a human, and her mother, a dragon, broke the rules with their love affair and, later, her conception.

Seraphina has spent her life concealing the secret of her parentage, but after she gains the position of music assistant at the castle and is saddled with helping to prepare for the anniversary celebration of the treaty, she unwittingly finds herself thrust into the royal spotlight and in the middle of a murder investigation.

The murder investigation is that of a palace royal: Prince Rufus was found decapitated. A dragon seems to be the most likely suspect, causing tension to run high just in time for the anniversary visit of dragon-land royals. Seraphina’s involvement in the investigation and the anniversary festivities make it an even bigger struggle to keep her secret safe, and she eventually has to decide which is more important: her anonymity or the continued peace between the two lands.

Rachel Hartman’s debut title is beyond the typical, run-of-the mill dragon story. Giving dragons the ability to transform into humans adds a thought-provoking dimension, and Seraphina makes the perfect main character. Characters, plot, pacing and setting combine for a complex fantasy that readers are sure to devour.

I seem to be on a World War II kick in my reading. I have a biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer — a Lutheran pastor, Nazi resistor and ultimately a Nazi victim — completed about half-way right now. It isn’t a small book, so I have had to renew it and re-check it out a couple times already.

Pleasure-reading time is a scarcity in my life right now. Most of the “reading” I complete is through audio books on my daily commute. That is the case with today’s book, one set in Germany during World War II. I listened to the audio version of Markus Zusak’s hit book, “The Book Thief,” from the library’s MoLib2Go.org collection.

Thanks to the recent 2013 movie, the 2006 book has had resurgence in popularity. In fact, I needed to refer to a print copy for this review, and the only copy I could find was at MSSU’s Spiva Library. So, I found myself at Spiva, which by the way has undergone some beautiful updating since I was last there, borrowing their copy to review.

The book, in the voice of the narrator, is “just a small story really, about, among other things: a girl, some words, an accordionist, some fanatical Germans, a Jewish fist fighter, and quite a lot of thievery.”

Narrated by Death himself, “The Book Thief” is a multifaceted book that tells the story of human strength in the midst of unspeakable horrors, of the power and strength of words, and of people sustaining and giving life and love to others.

Liesel Meminger is a young preteen whose little brother dies while he, Liesel, and his mother are traveling to a foster home in Munich. Her mother is being taken who knows where, and the reader knows, although Liesel does not at first, her mother will be killed by the Nazis.

Liesel, the book thief, although illiterate, steals her first book immediately after her brother’s burial. “There was something black and rectangular lodged in the snow. Only the girl saw it. She bent down and picked it up and held it firmly in her fingers. The book had silver writing on it.”

Once with her foster parents, her foster father, Hans Hubermann, quiets Liesel’s regular nightmares by teaching her to read the book she stole, “The Grave Diggers Handbook.”

Learning to read begins Liesel’s love affair with books and her periodic theft of books. She steals them from Nazi book burnings and from the mayor’s wife’s library, and receives a couple as gifts.

As it is in real life, the more Liesel reads, the better she becomes at it, and the more books become her life blood.

She begins to read aloud – to the Jew hidden in their basement, to neighborhood people as they are crowded together in a bomb shelter, to a neighbor lady. Her words provide the strength and distraction needed to survive terrible times.

She even begins to write her own story.

Death is an unusual narrator. He has only seen Liesel three times, yet she has affected even him. Death permeates the book. You know people will die; after all, this is war. You just don’t know who and when (pretty accurate for war).

How and why he knows enough about Liesel and her life to narrate this book will remain for the reader to discover.

As I was listening to the book, I could not imagine becoming absorbed in the print version. The book changes times, places and viewpoints, and I thought it would be harder to follow. Death make interjectory and aside comments. It seems as though listening would be the only way to absorb and enjoy it.

However, with the print copy in my hands now, just going through it makes me see sentences that I’d like to repeat, reread and roll around in my brain.

I think I was wrong. The print version has got to be every bit as good, if not better, than the audio

I cannot compare the book to the movie. However, “The Book Thief” is available in print, downloadable e-book, downloadable audio and DVD from Joplin Public Library. You will probably need to place a hold on it, though. This very popular title deserves the attention it is getting.

 

 

“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.

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