“Die Again” is the eleventh installment in the excellent Rizzoli and Isles popular crime/thriller series by Tess Gerritsen, featuring medical examiner Dr. Maura Isles and Boston police Detective Jane Rizzoli. It has been approximately two years since the previous novel in the series, “Last to Die,” was published, so I have been eagerly awaiting this latest installment.

A postman spots a dog in the window of a house with a human finger in his mouth and calls 911. Maura and Jane are summoned to a grisly crime scene where they discover the victim, famous hunter and taxidermist Leon Gott. The man is unrecognizable in his present condition.

Gott had been gutted and mauled and was hanging from his feet in his house among the animal trophy heads that lined his walls. Jane and Maura determined that the man had been dead for several days. Gott had been commissioned to stuff a local zoo’s rare snow leopard that had to be euthanized. Gott was preserving the pelt of the snow leopard, but that valuable pelt is missing.

Rizzoli and Isles learn that local shock jock Jerry O’Brien, who frequently brags about his hunting trips to Africa, had contacted the zoo when he heard the snow leopard was going to be euthanized. He offered a huge sum of money for the pelt on the condition the transaction is kept quiet.

The case gets even stranger when at the same zoo, a worker is killed by another big cat. Then another victim is discovered with similar parallels to the first case. Can the deaths be connected? Is there a serial killer on the loose?

The novel alternates between the present investigation in Boston and a past seven-day safari in Botswana, Africa. Six years ago eight persons met to go on the safari. Thriller writer Richard persuaded his girlfriend, Millie, to accompany him on the safari. Millie had no idea what she was in for when she agreed to go on the trip. She only went to please Richard in hopes of rekindling the romance they once had.

Millie was not enjoying the experience at all. Just a couple of days into the trip, things started to go horribly wrong. When their vehicle broke down the group became stranded in the bush with no means of communication with the outside world.

Millie begins to wonder if they will even survive as members of the safari start vanishing. Is it wild animals, or is a human behind the disappearances?

Meanwhile, back in Boston Jane and Maura are beginning to believe the murders in Boston are linked somehow to the disappearances in Africa. There’s a killer out there, and one of them must travel to Africa to uncover the truth.

I enjoy the way the novel alternates between Boston and Africa, with Millie narrating the chapters set in Africa. Gerritsen’s descriptions of Africa, the natural beauty together with the dangerous elements, are superb.

The crime thriller has a brilliant storyline with its intricate and compelling plot twists. Gerritsen’s character development is always great, and this novel is no exception. If you are a fan of the series, you already know Jane and Maura and their fantastic interaction. Millie and Johnny, the safari guide, are powerful characters as well in this novel.

Tess Gerritsen’s novel was definitely worth the wait; it’s her best, in my opinion. Despite being part of a series, “Die Again” can be read as a stand-a-lone. This novel is available in regular print and MP3 sound recording at the Joplin Public Library.

I’m a movie and tv buff from way back, so I was intrigued by the new documentary recently added to our collection, “Casting By.” It is a history of casting for film and television going back more than fifty years, focusing on the amazing career of Marion Dougherty in particular. There is some coverage of other casting directors, particularly Lynn Stalmaster. If you’ve watched much television from the 60’s through the 80’s, you’ve seen his name numerous times. He also did the casting on lots of movies in the 60’s and 70’s. Juliet Taylor, who has been casting Woody Allen’s films since the mid-70’s, was a protégé of Dougherty and appears in the film as well.

Most people have very little idea of what casting directors actually do. In the early days when the movie studios had hundreds of actors under contract and the “star system” was in place, it was generally a matter of seeing which wholesome ingénue or dastardly villain-type on the roster was available to slot into a production. Things changed when television began big-time in New York in the 50’s. There were no actors under contract to most of the television studios in New York, so they needed a new way to find actors. Marion Dougherty was one of the pioneers in the art of casting, interviewing actors and going to plays (on and off and off-off Broadway) in search of talent. She gave many an actor, including James Dean, Christopher Walken, Dustin Hoffman, Robert Duvall, and Jeff Bridges among many others their first jobs in television as well as first movie roles for Glenn Close and Danny Glover among many. Of course, the television or film director always has the last say on casting, but often leaves the casting director in charge of lesser roles entirely, so a great many actors owe their starts almost entirely to Dougherty and a lot of them appear in the documentary relating anecdotes about their early casting experiences with, primarily, Dougherty.

Dougherty was renowned for her tenacity in casting. If she thought someone was really right (or wrong) for a part, she could be a real bulldog. When “Midnight Cowboy” was being cast, she sent Jon Voight in, but he was rejected. The director and several others has Michael Sarrazin in mind for the role, but Dougherty kept lobbying for Voight. Fortunately for movie fans, she got her way.

When Richard Donner was casting “Lethal Weapon”, Dougherty suggested Danny Glover. The result was a big break for Glover and a life-changing moment for Donner. Donner replied to Dougherty when she suggested Glover, “But he’s black.” Since the script did not specify a race, he had assumed “white.” The realization of his own inherent racial assumptions had a profound effect on Donner, and possibly helped other directors become more amenable to “color-blind” casting.

Sadly, not everyone is forward-thinking or willing to share the credit along with the work. Taylor Hackford appears in the film and does himself no favors. Casting directors still get less respect than many others in the business, and Hackford is a leader among the disparagers. He is apparently among the movers-and-shakers who prevent film credits from reading “Casting Director” (hence “casting by”) because he feels the film’s director is the be-all and end-all of the film. “There’s only one director.” I would think most filmgoer’s are smart enough to figure out the difference between the movie’s Director and people like “Director of Photography” or “Casting Director.” Apparently, Mr. Hackford does not.

It is also sad to note that, among the major contributors to a film, there is no Academy Award for casting. A few of the people (like Hackford) in the film would point out that the Director has final call on casting. However, as others point out, the Director also has last say on costumes, sets, cinematography, and everything else but the people in charge of those things (and lots of others) get Oscars.

A fascinating look at the other side of the camera, with the quibble that the DVD does not have closed-captioning, which is almost universal these days. By the way, we have over 500 other documentaries for your viewing pleasure, so feel free to come check some out.

Working at the Circulation desk gives me the chance to see many interesting books come across the counter. Many times a patron will check out something that I know I’ll want to read when it comes back. “The Enemy Among Us: POWs in Missouri During World War II” by David Feidler was one such book.

 

I pride myself on being a history buff but I hadn’t realized that we had held prisoners of war in the United States, much less in Missouri, during World War II. In World War I, America held about 5,000 German sailors captured from ships, but that was all. But in WWII, after Pearl Harbor, America was in the middle of the war, for the long haul.

 

No one was thinking about POWs at first, but Great Britain’s resources had become strained from their prolonged time in WWII and the amount of war prisoners they were already holding. The United States agreed to help hold POWs, and it was decided that it would be more efficient to keep them in America. Transporting POWs once was cheaper than transporting supplies to the war zone to keep the prison camps stocked, and it reduced chances for escape with prisoners rejoining the war.

 

Almost half a million POWs consisting of mainly Italian and German soldiers, with a small number of Japanese, were held in America. Almost 15,000 were housed in Missouri in 30 different camps. There were four main camps, including Camp Clark in Nevada and Camp Crowder in Neosho, six boat camps and a variety of branch camps close to work sites.

 

Camps were set up not only with housing barracks, but also mess halls, latrines, and recreation areas. The compounds also had POW canteens for the prisoners to buy not only necessities but also luxuries such as cigarettes, sodas, toiletries, chocolate and even beer.

 

Canteens were part of the guaranteed treatment of prisoners under the Geneva Convention. Prisoners received a $3 monthly allowance — the same allowance given to enlisted American soldiers — and could also earn 80 cents a day working. The U.S. Army prided itself on their treatment of POWs not only because of the Geneva Convention, but because they wanted to ensure fair treatment of American POWs and give returning German and Italian prisoners a positive outlook of democracy and the American lifestyle. At times, there was backlash from the American public and media over the perceived lush lifestyle of POWs, especially when the everyday person in American was facing rationing.

 

The German and Italian soldiers were used as labor during the war, helping fill a need for manpower with so many American men serving overseas. They were used to help staff positions in the prison camps, including laundry, kitchen and maintenance duties, and also filled labor needs off-camp as well. POWs detassled corn, picked potatoes, sorted shoes, as well as many other jobs. While the laborers were paid only 80 cents a day, the Army charged the going labor rate for them, resulting in the Army earning millions dollars from the internee labor program.

 

 

One of the most interesting facts that I learned from this book was that at the end of the war, the POWs were not immediately shipped back home and released. It took over a year after the end of the war for the last German soldier to be shipped back overseas. Once returned to Europe, the Germans were required to work in Great Britain, France and five other countries to help rebuild their economy and infrastructure, and to punish the Nazis. America finally had to put pressure on France in April 1947 to release the POWs they were still holding as laborers.

 

I was also fascinated to learn that prisoners of war were treated much nicer and more humanely than the Japanese-Americans held in U.S. internment camps during this same time period. Because the Japanese-Americans were citizens and not POWs, the Geneva Convention rules of treatment did not apply to them. While America can be proud of our treatment of prisoners of war, our treatment of our own citizens was shameful.

 

While no numbers have been tallied, quite a few Italian and German POWs returned to America to live after the end of the war because of the positive impression they gained from their time as prisoners. Many others wrote back and forth with not only their guards but other Americans they became friends with during their internment. There have been POWs reunions with prisoners returning to see the camps they called home during WWII.

 

This is a wonderful book for anyone who would like to learn more about the Italians and Germans who lived and worked in Missouri as POWs. David Fiedler has done a great job researching this topic and has included some wonderful pictures that bring the time period alive. You can find this book at the Joplin Public Library in our new nonfiction section.enemy

February 2, 2015 promises to be an exciting day for children’s librarians around the country. The American Library Association’s Midwinter Meeting is scheduled for that morning and as part of the meeting the winner of this year’s Newbery Medal award will be announced.

The Newbery Medal is the best known and most discussed children’s book award in the country. It is awarded annually by the Association for Library Service to Children, a division of the American Library Association, to the author of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children. It was the first children’s book award in the world and every year librarians, book reviewers, book sellers, writers, bloggers, and a host of others try their best to guess which book will be crowned the winner.

This year, I have been following the predictions since early summer and have read nine of the most frequently mentioned contenders. They are as follows.

deafo“El Deafo”by Cece Bell
The author relates, in a graphic novel format, her childhood experiences with hearing loss. She details the difficulties of learning to lip read, her decision not to learn sign language, her experience with wearing a very powerful hearing aid, called The Phonic Ear, and how it affected her friendships and overall school experience.

“Absoluteindexly Almost” by Lisa Graff
Ten-year-old Albie may not be the smartest, tallest, or most musical in his class, but thanks to Calista, his new nanny, he develops a different perspective on his talents. Despite his parent’s lack of understand and attention, he learns to persevere and to take pride in his achievements, no matter how small.

fish“The Fourteenth Goldfish” by Jennifer L. Holm
When Ellie’s mom brings her grandfather to stay with them, she hardly recognizes him—instead of a seventy-year-old man, he’s a thirteen-year-old teenage. Unbelievably, her scientist grandfather has found a way to reverse the aging process, and not only will he be staying with them, but he will be attending Ellie’s middle school. Relationships are the key in this unlikely tale of friendship and love, and ultimately Ellie learns a lot more than just historical facts from her grandfather.

cross“The Crossover” by Alexander Kwame
In this sports-centered story about family and brotherhood, twelve-year-old basketball superstar Josh Bell uses eye-catching and powerful verse to relate a year of his life. In the end, he and his twin brother Jordan realize that breaking the rules can come at a terrible price on and off the court.

Magic“A Snicker of Magic” by Natalie Lloyd
Felicity Pickle and her nomadic family are new to Midnight Gulch, Tennessee—a town which legend claims was once a magical place. She hopes that with the help of some of this often-mentioned magic, her new friend Jonah, and a little luck she will finally be able to make her dream of finding a place to call home come true.

wset“West of the Moon” Margi Preus
In nineteenth-century Norway, fourteen-year-old Astri, has been sold, by her aunt, to a mean goatherder. She spends her days working tirelessly, dreaming of ways to save her younger sister from her money-hungry aunt, and joining her father in America.

counting“Counting by 7s” by Holly Goldberg Sloan
Willow Chance may be a twelve-year-old genius, but her lack of social skills makes life hard for her. After both her parents are killed in a car accident she must work to overcome her social ineptness, figure out how to connect to those around her, and eventually find herself a new family.

wild“The Last Wild” by Piers Torday
Twelve-year-old Kester Jaynes has been locked away at a school for troubled children for six years, but after a daring escape it becomes obvious that it now falls on him to try to save the last animals living in a diseased-ravaged post-apocalyptic world.

girl

“Brown Girl Dreaming” by Jacqueline WoodsonThrough verse, author Jacqueline Woodson relates the story of her childhood. She shares what it was like to grow up as an African American in South Carolina and New York in the 1960s and 1970s.

Each year the Newbery Award committee members have a tough job and this year does not appear to be an exception. In just reading these nine titles, I would be hard-pressed to select my favorite. I can, however, can give you my top four, in no particular order—“Counting by 7s”, “A Snicker of Magic”, “Absolutely Almost”, and “The Fourteenth Goldfish”. Do not forget the actual winner will be announced on the morning of February 2. Visit www.ala.org after the award meeting to see the complete list of winners and honors.

In Beth Hoffman’s second novel, Looking for Me, Teddi Overman is living her dream. She discovered her passion at the age of ten. An old tired dining chair abandoned in a rural Kentucky ditch caught her eye. Despite the steamy summer heat, she lugged the chair a half mile to her home.

She saw beauty where others, including her mother, saw junk. With her grandmother’s help she restored the broken down chair to its former beauty. More old furniture found its way home with her and she began to sell her restored pieces.

When she was 17 years old one of those pieces went to Jackson T. Palmer, owner of an antique shop in Charleston, South Carolina. She shared with him her dream to have her own shop. He shared with her a business card and a lesson about undervaluing her talent.

As high school graduation approaches Teddi finds herself at odds with her mother over the future. Her mother wants Teddi to go to secretarial school and buys her a typewriter for a graduation gift. Teddi is equally determined to follow her dream.

With a trip to a business college looming on the horizon Teddi packs her bags and steals away from home soon after high school graduation. She leaves behind her parents, grandmother and brother Josh. With business card in hand she heads to Charleston and finds Jackson Palmer. Through good fortune and hard work Teddi does realize her dream but at what cost?

Teddi’s story bounces back and forth between the present and the past. Her work, her remaining family members and her friends are the present in Charleston. The past is the family farm in rural Kentucky with her father, deeply unhappy mother, grandmother, and little brother.

Despite an age difference of several years Teddi and her brother share a special bond. Josh thrives as a young boy on a farm. They share secret places and Josh gifts her with feathers and knowledge about his passion, nature. His affinity with nature and animals deepens as he ages until by the time he is a teen it is almost mystical.

Teddi makes the trek from Charleston to the family farm as often as she can manage. On one such visit, Josh heads into the wilderness and never returns. Several searches turn up nothing and eventually he is presumed dead.

Teddi, however, cannot accept that Josh is dead. She continues to search and leave messages for him. But as years pass she eventually learns to deal with his disappearance; until she finds reason to believe Josh is alive.

Although the mystery of Josh’s disappearance helps drive the story, this novel is about Teddi and those she interacts with both now and in the past. It is not my usual mystery novel nor is it a romance, even though it has a romantic element.

It’s a novel about choices made and their consequences. It is about how you react to the hand your dealt and learning that people and relationships are not always what they seem.

If you read and liked Debbie Macomber’s “Susannah’s Garden” or Luanne Rice’s “Summer’s Child”, I think you’ll enjoy this one. The library has it in regular print and large print.

I don’t know much about the art or auction worlds, so I thought perhaps our new book “Breakfast at Sotheby’s: An A-Z of the Art World” by Philip Hook might enlighten me. Mr. Hook is a Director at Sotheby’s and has also been a Director at their only real competitor, Christie’s, as well as having been an independent art dealer.

The book is not, strictly speaking, an “A-Z.” Each of the five chapters is broken down into sections alphabetically, but that seems more of a conceit than an actual design. For example, the first chapter “The Artist and His Hinterland” contains sections labelled “Bohemianism,” “Branding,” “Brueghel,” “Creative Block,” “Degas,” and so on in alphabetical order, but it’s hardly dictionary-like. It strikes me as odd that the subtitle would then be “An A-Z of the Art World,” but, that quibble aside, the organization of the book is fine and it was enlightening and interesting.

The first chapter concerns why specific artists are (or aren’t) in demand. Quality of work aside, values are strongly influenced by the artist’s history, personality, output, and so on. Van Gogh’s tragic life and early death highly impact the value of his paintings. Hook writes with tongue firmly in cheek throughout the book, commenting in a later chapter “The cruel retrospective verdict of today’s art market is that most of these artists would have left more satisfactory imprints on the sands of artistic time had they died in the First World War than they did by surviving. To be callous about it, perhaps more of them should have been deployed in the front line of the trenches, literally an avant-garde. On the German side, two great Expressionists, August Macke and Franz Marc, were killed in action. Sad, of course, but in terms of ensuring a strong market for their consequently rare work, these last two may have got it right. In general, the younger an artist dies the better.”

The second chapter looks at styles and subjects that are in demand. Or, in the case of still lifes of dead animals, aren’t. Looking to buy a Mondrian painting? Don’t pay much if there’s no red. Seems there just has to be some red in a Mondrian for it to be work anything. Miro? Look for blue. Earth tones aren’t popular, especially in a Miro.

Chapter three covers why people like certain paintings better than others, including color and emotional impact. There’s a really interesting bit here about framing, including the tidbit that in the past, the auction houses were frequently surprised at the prices being paid for some old masters. Turns out, they were anticipating prices based on the paintings they carefully appraised, but didn’t take into account the old (and pricey!) frames the painting were in. Those, in fact, were what people were bidding on!

The fourth chapter covers the provenance, or history, of artworks. There is some really interesting information here about the art that was stolen, in one way or another, in Nazi-controlled or Soviet-overrun Europe and what is still going on with that issue as well as other “missing” or stolen art. The last chapter, “Market Weather,” discusses what affects the art market in general, aside from the particulars of any given piece of art.

One last thing—Hook was one of the experts on the original (British) “Antiques Roadshow” and there are some entertaining bits about that, as well. I found the book to be interesting and very readable for someone without much background in art.

If you aren’t reading the following Teen authors, you should resolve to start in 2015.

Each of these 12 authors (one per month, for your convenience) has more than one book or series, some of which cross genres, so there should be plenty to choose from.

Feed by M.T. AndersonM.T. Anderson

Anderson journeys into the future in “Feed” and takes the commercialization of society to an interesting and disturbing conclusion. In his “Octavian Nothing” books, he imagines the Revolutionary War that includes an African American boy being raised as part of a science experiment.

Girl Stolen by April Henry

April Henry

A new queen of high-interest, teen mystery-thrillers has been crowned in April Henry. Her books are short, action-packed, and terrifyingly fun. Perfect for reluctant readers and those needing a good, quick read.

Five Flavors of Dumb by Antony John

Antony John

John, a Missouri resident, seems to have a genre-crossing theme of finding inner strength and hidden powers. In the contemporary “Five Flavors of Dumb” Piper has a severe hearing impairment and is challenged with finding the rock band Dumb a paying gig. In “Elemental” and its sequels, Thomas is the only person in his community who doesn’t have the power to control an element, but he may not be a powerless as he feels.

13 Little Blue Envelopes

Maureen Johnson

Johnson’s early books (“13 Little Blue Envelopes,” etc.) started as realistic fiction with charming characters. More recently, her “Shades of London” series includes paranormal elements and explores historical mysteries through charming modern eyes.

(If you’re on Twitter, Maureen Johnson is fun to follow.)

Ask the Passengers by A.S. King

A.S. King

A.S. King takes real life issues facing today’s teens (like bullying in “Everybody Sees the Ants”) and packages them with believable and likable characters who deal with these issues in completely relatable ways. King is a powerhouse writer of contemporary, realistic fiction.

Scowler by Daniel Kraus

Daniel Kraus

Kraus writes about pretty horrible things, but he makes each scene so compelling that you can’t help but keep reading. In “Rotters” the main character takes up the family business–grave robbing. In “Scowler” the main character’s three most precious toys are alive and one of them is murderously evil.

I Hunt Killers by Barry Lyga

Barry Lyga

From a comic book geek in “The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl” to the son of a serial killer in “I Hunt Killers,” Barry Lyga isn’t afraid to explore what Life can throw at his main characters. Each book’s characters are believable people with complex lives and emotions.

The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness

Patrick Ness

The “Chaos Walking” trilogy is rife with characters that Ness makes you love. It’s also rife with gut-wrenching and horrible things that happen to these characters, but the emotional journey is worth it. Promise. In “A Monster Calls” Conor’s mother is dying of cancer. He is visited by a monster (but not the monster of his nightmares) who will tell him three stories and requires Conor to tell the fourth story–Conor’s truth. Prepare to cry, sensitive readers! And prepare for cliffhangers!!

Terrier by Tamora Pierce

Tamora Pierce

Pierce’s world building is as amazing as her writing. Every detail is fully realized and palpable. I would never have thought a police procedural set in a fantasy world would work, but the “Beka Cooper” series is perfectly amazing.

Unwind by Neal Shusterman

Neal Shusterman

Like most of the authors on this list, Shusterman explores complex issues and the people embroiled in them. The “Unwind” series, set in the near future, dares to imagine a solution to the abortion debate that would make King Solomon proud. In the “Everlost” books Shusterman wonders what happens if you’re knocked off the path to wherever you go after you die.

Winger by Andrew Smith

Andrew Smith

Smith commands different genres with the best of them. His writing, no matter the genre, is one of the strongest on the list. He’s clever and creepy and completely real.

Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

Maggie Stiefvater

Maggie Stiefvater’s popularity was cemented with “Shiver” during the paranormal romance craze, but she is no one hit wonder. Her subsequent books abound with great characters and even better writing.

This list is missing some great authors, of course. I intentionally left out the household names in Teen Fiction (Sarah Dessen, Scott Westerfeld, etc.) as well as the Books-Into-Movies authors (Suzanne Collins, John Green, Veronica Roth, etc.), so I’m hopeful there are some authors you’re not familiar with. Let me know how you like their books. Even if you don’t like them.

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