Pirio Kasparov is a miracle, remarkable, or an anomaly depending on who is describing her – fishermen, her rescuers, or the U.S. Navy. Pirio was on a lobster boat that sank in the foggy North Atlantic after being rammed by a tanker. She spent 4 hours in 48 degree water before being rescued by the Coast Guard. Boat owner and friend, Ned Rizzo, did not survive.

As you read Pirio’s story in  Elisabeth Elo’s novel North of Boston you find a character more complex than a one word description. The only child of Russian immigrants she is a little damaged, smart, tough, courageous, and proud she is American.

As she tells her doubting father, in America the authorities will find the tanker that destroyed the lobster boat and killed her friend. But finding the tanker proves problematic for the Coast Guard. Pirio can only provide the color and according to the logs no boats of that color were out of the harbor that day.

Pirio wants answers, not only for herself but for Ned’s son, Noah. Noah’s mother, Thomasina, and Pirio have been friends since they were both banished to boarding school. They were rule breakers and drinking buddies. Pirio changed her lifestyle but Thomasina can’t and counts her sobriety in days.

Noah and Pirio share a special bond. Noah is a pal and because of circumstances sometimes Pirio’s responsibility. So for him as well as herself she wants to find who is responsible for Ned’s death.

Also the Navy is eager to study her. They want to know how she could survive for 4 hours in water that would kill most people in minutes. She feels a duty to help but the base in Florida is a long way from Boston and the answers she seeks.

She begins by questioning Ned’s former co-workers. He worked for years at a commercial fishing company, Ocean Catch. His acquisition of the lobster boat was recent. In fact its last voyage was also its first.

Someone else is raising questions about Ned. “Larry” says he is Ned’s friend but no one knows him. Pirio then suspects he is an insurance investigator but his real identity is reporter Russ Parnell. Russ’s prime interest is not the accident but in Ocean Catch and the voyages the fishing trawler Sea Wolf takes.

At first Pirio’s sleuthing is done around her hours at Inessa Mark, the perfume company her parents founded. But as she uncovers more evidence her search to find out what happened consumes her.

She soon begins to believe that there was nothing accidental about the tanker ramming the lobster boat. When clues point to Ocean Catch and the Sea Wolf she joins forces with Russ Parnell to find Ned’s killer and uncover the truth.

Following clues, and sometimes ignoring her instincts, Pirio finds herself in the far north and running for her life. Can she and Russ uncover the truth while evading ruthless killers who will go to any length to keep their secret?

This is Elo’s first novel. It took me a few pages to get accustomed to the author’s style but once into the story it was easy to get lost in the telling. Cold water survival, the perfume industry, Russian immigrants, commercial fishing, and whales are woven into a compelling story of suspense.

Pirio is an interesting character and indications are she will reappear in future novels. She has a difficult relationship with her father and she still misses her mother who died when Pirio was 10 years old. You get glimpses of their story throughout the novel. If there are additional Pirio novels, it will be interesting to see if we learn more.

If you are a Tess Gerritsen, Dennis Lehane, and/or Lisa Gardner fan this will be right up your reading alley. However, I recommend it to anyone who likes suspense.

If you are a Tess Gerritsen, Dennis Lehane, and/or Lisa Gardner fan this will be right up your reading alley. However, I recommend it to anyone who likes suspense.

The Secret Place” by Tana French

Tana French’s latest novel, “The Secret Place,” takes place in one day at St. Kilda’s, an elite all-girls boarding school near Dublin, Ireland. In the commons room at St. Kilda’s, there is a bulletin board called the “Secret Place,” where the girls can post secrets, complaints, frustrations — even their innermost thoughts — anonymously.

It is on this bulletin board that Holly Mackey discovers Chris Harper’s photo, along with a note that says, “I know who killed him.” Chris Harper, a boy from a neighboring all-boys school, was murdered on the grounds of St. Kilda’s a year earlier, and the case has gone cold. Holly takes the card to Detective Stephen Moran. Moran played a minor role in “Faithful Place,” French’s first novel.

Detective Moran has been working cold cases but has aspirations of joining the Dublin Murder Squad. Moran teams up with Detective Antoinette Conway, who first worked the case a year ago, only to reach a dead end. Conway is all business. She has an attitude and few friends among the males in the department. Conway is not eager to work with Moran, but she is determined to solve the case this time. Moreover, Moran knows that if they solve the case, it could be his ticket onto the Murder Squad.

Moran and Conway soon narrow their focus to the rivalry between two cliques of teenage girls at St. Kilda’s who despise each other. Holly belongs to the “good-girl” group, along with Julie, Rebecca and Selena. Joanna is the leader of the “evil-girl” group called the Daleks (named after the cyborg villains from Dr. Who).

From their interrogations, both detectives believe most of the girls know more than they are telling. Evidence seems to point to Holly as a suspect. Holly’s father, Detective Frank Mackey, the main character from “Faithful Place,” makes a cameo appearance when he arrives on the scene to protect his daughter.

Chris Harper managed to get in the middle of the two feuding groups when he met one of the girls secretly. He gave her a pink flip phone and he had a red phone, and they were only to be used for texting each other. As Moran and Conway delve further into the case, it appears that Chris gave away more than one pink phone and that he saw more than one girl. The tightly held secrets of all the girls begin to be revealed …

I am a huge fan of Tana French’s novels. She excels in her character development and her vivid description of details. In “The Secret Place,” she deviated in style from her previous novels, the most obvious being in the narration, alternating between the past and the present. The past, the point of view of Holly and her friends, explains events that led up to Chris’s death, along with each chapter telling exactly how long Chris has left to live. I found the teen narration to be grating at times with all the teenage slang— ohmygod! Hel-lo?, OMG. Stephen’s narration presents the current point of view and chronicles the investigation and the interaction between himself and Detective Conway.

Tana French writes skillfully about the tangled web of friendship, love and loyalty. This is a well-developed, cleverly plotted mystery, but not a book that you can race through.

“The Secret Place” was a compelling and absorbing read (or listen, in my case), but it ranks as my least favorite of French’s novels. However, if you are a fan of French’s writing, it is definitely worth reading. All of her novels are standalone but carry over one of the characters from the Dublin Murder Squad into her next novel.

I prefer listening to the audiobook versions of French’s novels because I enjoy the Irish dialect and accents. There are two narrators, Stephen Hogan and Lara Hutchinson, and they alternated in the narration.

The Joplin Public Library has “The Secret Place” by Tana French in regular and large print and audiobook formats, and it is available for download from molib2go.org.

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.

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