bestdayWhile I was reading BEST DAY EVER by KAIRA ROUDA, I made a Facebook post that said “Only 50 pages in and I want to strangle the narrator.” A friend advised that I was “allowed to put it down” and I realized I couldn’t. Just like when I tackled Flynn’s GONE GIRL, I knew I was going to have to finish this book. I needed to know what happens to the characters. I needed to know that Paul Strom was going to be punished for being truly awful.

Everything about Paul is perfect. He has the perfect life: a high-powered job, a beautiful stay-at-home wife, Mia, and two young sons. And he has planned the perfect weekend getaway with Mia at their second home in an exclusive gated community. He even assembled the perfect playlist as the soundtrack the their weekend. (Paul is prone to repetition; maybe it affected me a little.) But if everything is so wonderful, then why does Mia seem so unhappy? Why are Paul’s thoughts so dark? What are they both hiding?

As the day’s events intensify, Mia seems to know more about Paul’s darker half than he realizes. She asks questions about his work life that make him incredibly nervous. Of course, he thinks he’s too smart to be found out. She’s just a silly housewife, no threat to him whatsoever. But Paul’s overconfidence may end up being his downfall.

Written primarily from Paul’s perspective, this book is very character-driven. He is an intense, brooding, and flawed person. In many ways, he reminded me of Patrick Bateman from American Psycho. Is Paul a psychopath or just creepy and controlling? Or both? Or is he just an exaggerated character who is created to tell a story?

I think that Paul, while perhaps a bit embellished, is a very realistic character. He’s overly concerned with status and brand (he mentions a least a dozen times that he drives a Ford Flex). Maintaining a picture-perfect life is what he strives for. And maybe that’s what felt over the top about him. If he’s a psychopath, would he care about creating an illusion? Or would he just try not to get discovered? Regardless of these nitpicks, the story is both disturbing and compelling.

Even though I was angry at the narrator, I think that’s the mark of a successful book. Rouda managed to evoke incredibly strong emotions from me. I was filled with disgust for Paul. I rooted for Mia to confront her controlling husband. I wanted answers to all the questions brought up by Paul’s unsettling internal monologue. For the most part, I got those answers. But can you really trust the answers of someone as suspicious as Paul?

Sometimes, it’s fun to explore the scary things in the world. I think I prefer the more impossible side of scary, though. Give me vampires, werewolves, and Ancient Ones any day. Knowing that there are really people like Paul out there made Rouda’s book more unsettling for me. But, if you don’t mind getting inside the head of someone who is, frankly, unlikeable and unreliable, then BEST DAY EVER might be for you.


Bridget Quinn’s Broad Strokes: 15 Women Who Made Art and Made History (In that Order) is as much an artful book as it is an art history book. Indeed, I was initially drawn to the title because of its vibrant colors—broad strokes of pinks and reds—with large, bold typeface. The book’s cover and jacket are appropriately textured to the look and feel of canvas. But I shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, right? In this case, it did not disappoint, as it’s even better between the covers. A turn through smooth, thick matte-finished pages reveals a pleasing layout of double-columned text mingling with images of artworks. Plus, each chapter begins with an illuminating illustration by Lisa Congdon.

Yet the essence of this title is neither its cover nor its aesthetic appeal. The crux of the matter is that, too often, treatises on art history overlook the contributions of women. By contrast, Quinn offers a diverse sampling of women artists, spotlighting the significance of their artworks while carefully curating the stories of their lives.

Quinn introduces us to her 1987 self, a young, self-described “clueless woman-child with dyed black hair and a newly pierced nose” who “swooned with the romance” of artistic expression as it relates to humanity. As a first-year art history major, she soon realized that women-as-artists are scarcely mentioned in the standard text, H.W. Janson’s History of Art. She noted that in over 800 pages, women artists are referenced only sixteen times. Thus, Quinn made a list and set out to learn more about women artists.

While in graduate school in New York, she was assigned research regarding Adélaïde Labille-Guiard, a masterful French portraitist. After a long, presumably discouraging day “wrestling with eighteenth-century French” at the library, Quinn became despondent, dining on chocolate chip cookies and beer as she wondered why she ever decided to study art history. Finally, her aha moment: “I want to be an artist, not study them. I came to New York to be a writer.” And a good one at that.

Although she presents herself and her subject seriously, Quinn’s prose is informal and playful at times. She doesn’t shy away from insightful mini-digressions or the occasional bad word, for which she charmingly apologizes for in the dedication. Quinn warmly and skillfully weaves personal experience with the larger narrative and draws a parallel between visual art and literature. Through her writing, she paints portraits of women into the landscape of art history.

It’s worth mentioning that the fifteen women Quinn wrote about for this title are not the exact women whose names she discovered in Janson’s text, though three are common—Artemisia Gentileschi, Rosa Bonheur, and Lee Krasner. Additionally, she includes Judith Leyster, Adélaïde Labille-Guiard, Marie Denise Villers, Edmonia Lewis, Paula Modersohn-Becker, Vanessa Bell, Alice Neel, Louise Bourgeois, Ruth Asawa, Ana Mendieta, Kara Walker, and Susan O’Malley.

Arranged in fifteen chapters that chronicle the lives and art of as many women, each section could be read as a stand-alone biography. I recommend, however, that first-time readers read the book in its entirety, from beginning to end. Doing so helps contextualize the adversities and obstacles that these women overcame (or didn’t), as well as those that contemporary women artists continue to face.

Don’t get me wrong—it’s not all about adversities and overcoming obstacles. It’s also about creation, passion, unconventional self-portraits, diversity, autobiographical abstraction, love, tragedy, sugar sculptures, expertise, mastery, Art Before Dishes, and so much more. But don’t take my word for it; check it out for yourself. You’ll find this title in Joplin Public Library’s new nonfiction section.

In what might be considered a flash afterward to her book, Quinn draws attention to the fact that she started by discovering sixteen women artists in the third edition of Janson’s History of Art, yet she presents only fifteen in this title. Answering her own question, “Why one short?”, Quinn writes, “I’ve left room for myself. For you. For anyone who wants it.” She began and ended Broad Strokes with three simple words: “Let’s get started.” Shall we?



I have read a lot of serious books lately. With the summer reading program coming to an end and my last semester of graduate school starting, I thought I would take it easy.

“Funny Girl,” librarian BETSY BIRD’s new middle-grade fiction anthology, was the perfect choice. “FUNNY GIRL: FUNNIEST. STORIES. EVER.” promises big things with its subtitle, and it does not disappoint.

The anthology offers something for every type of reader, including comics, epistolary short stories, personal essays and how-tos. The anthology includes stories from an all-female cast of beloved and award-winning authors and illustrators such as Cece Bell (author/illustrator of “El Deafo”), Libba Bray, Kelly DiPucchio, Shannon Hale, Rita Williams-Garcia and the one and only Raina Telgemeier of “Drama” and “Smile” fame. The more well-known authors will be enough to draw readers in, but each story is fun and interesting in its own right.

Some of the highlights include: Alison DeCamp’s “Dear Grandpa: Give Me Money,” in which a young girl named Trixie corresponds with her (very humorous) grandfather in an attempt to get money to compete with a rich neighbor; Cece Bell’s interrupting chicken-style comic starring a familiar Founding Father; and Kelly DiPucchio’s cringe-worthy poems, among others. Many of the stories emphasize, either implicitly or explicitly, the importance of goofy, self-assured humor, as well as the importance of such humor in the face of bullies, friend trouble and the impending doom that is adulthood.

Although I picked up Bird’s book as stress relief, the book does offer some important messages: First, you can find humor in almost anything, including a germ-obsessed mom who burns bathtubs and a rain-ruined perm on your grandma. Second, girls are allowed to be funny.

These are important messages in a world that often tells girls and boys that they have to be one specific thing to be accepted.

This anthology excels on multiple levels. On an individual level, the stories are well-written, laugh-out-loud funny and authentic. As a whole, Bird’s collection is inclusive, well-rounded and well-structured. Adults and young readers alike will find plenty to enjoy and laugh about in “Funny Girl.”


A person’s age, a person’s gender, the amount of money one brings home annually, even the political party one most closely aligns with; in the grand scheme of things, none of these demographic descriptors allowed for reprieve come this time last year. In the year 2016 Americans of all shapes and sizes were inundated with one of the most interesting and heated presidential races in campaign history. As political personalities made their way into morning drives to work, lunchtime perusals of current events, or evening viewings of local news channels, not many people in America could escape the theatrical events unfolding in the political landscape of the day. John Dickerson, political director of CBS News and moderator of Face the Nation, knows this reality all too well, and he capitalizes on it in his recent work Whistlestop, which came out during the thick of last year’s political campaigns.  

Whistlestop is a retelling of a political journalist’s favorite stories throughout the history of presidential campaigning. Dickerson takes the historical significance of the Whistlestop method of campaigning, and allows that image to drive home his overarching theme: “If there is a constant to the American campaign story, it is that elites can’t predict the future very well.” That’s right, voters are constantly “undoing [the] certainties” of the political press. This compilation of oral histories captures that truth in a way that is simultaneously entertaining and potentially motivating, as it takes the reader to various points in history, that at times eerily mirror the present, and yet validate their own unique placement in the annals of record keeping. So again, regardless of one’s political inclinations, this book has the potential to engage any reader through the method of good, old-fashioned storytelling. Dickerson makes use of natural language to draw in his reader, and he has a good pace and overall flow throughout these narratives. Whistlestop is not recorded chronologically, but rather topically, so it does have an anachronistic feel to it at times. This is evidenced in how Dickerson places Andrew Jackson’s unexpected surge as a primary candidate in 1824 in the middle of the book, rather than closer to the front, as one might expect. Still the same, Dickerson’s weaving of the stories throughout the overall narration alleviate some of the distraction this method might otherwise induce.  

From Ronald Reagan’s famous “I am paying for this microphone, Mr. Green” moment to Grover Cleveland’s opponents taking up the war cry “Ma, Ma, where’s my Pa?” this book is jam packed with entertaining clips of campaign history. Some accounts retell specific incidents, such as Edmund Muskie’s emotional tirade against the Union Leader’s publisher William Loeb, where the famous question “was Muskie crying?” first made its appearance. Like this retelling, Dickerson unearths the backdrop of the story. In doing so he clearly identifies another primary aim of this book, which is to note that throughout campaign history there are very few single moments that shift the course or trajectory of the race, but rather several smaller circumstances that lead to the moments most will often remember. In other sections of the book, Dickerson outlines the major events and themes that impacted an overall campaign, while not necessarily focusing on one single event within. This is demonstrated in his treatment of JFK’s 1960 run for office, which is entitled “The Catholic Candidate.” 

A beautiful component to this book is Dickerson’s ability to transcend political issues and to allow readers to make their own conclusions. There is no party biased agenda here. This is simply a text that allows its readers to surmise their own villains and heroes of each story, even if Dickerson does provide some evidence within the overall narratives. So, if one is interested in political history, or desires to escape the tumultuous political landscape this country dwells in, this book might be just what the doctor (or maybe President?) ordered. One can find this riveting narrative in the nonfiction shelves of the Joplin Public Library.

Gizelle's Bucket ListPerhaps it was too soon, I told myself as I picked up the book from the new non-fiction shelf here at the Joplin Public Library.

A little more than a month earlier, we’d had to put the family Collie, our beloved Molly, to sleep at the estimated age of 12. The house still felt quieter without her sweet presence, and my dog, Buster, seemed to miss her. But the book seemed like it would be a fast read, and the cute photographs were enticing. Determined to be strong, I grabbed it and headed to the library’s self-checkout machines.

“Gizelle’s Bucket List: My Life with a Very Large Dog” was a mixed experience for me. I found myself smiling at the familiarity and ugly crying by the time I reached the final page.

From the moment 19-year-old Lauren Watt and her mother meet the female brindle English mastiff puppy, it’s love.

“The puppy felt so right in my lap,” Watt writes. “I looked down at her and couldn’t believe this was real. Years later, I’d recognize this look as the way a few of my friends gazed at their shiny engagement rings, like they are about to start their lives, like their adventures were about to begin. … I felt as though I’d fallen under a spell, enchanted.”

(I felt a similar emotion when I first saw a picture of my current dog. I’d spent nine long months grieving the loss of my first dog, but the moment I saw a picture of Buster, I just knew he was the one. It was time to move on.)

A handful of cash and one check later, Watt and her mother head home, having named the puppy Gizelle, after the innocent princess in the movie “Enchanted.”

Gizelle fit right into the family pack, and she started to grow. And grow. Watt grows up with her, eventually graduating from college and heading to New York City, giant dog in tow. Somehow, she finds an apartment big enough for herself, her canine companion and a human roommate.

Life in the Big Apple is an adventure for Watt and her giant dog. Daily walks turn into encounters with colorful strangers, thanks to Gizelle’s attention-getting presence. The duo go for night-time runs in Central Park, Watt feeling totally safe in the dark with her dog by her side. Gizelle shows off superstar moves in a costume contest at a dog park.

When Gizelle develops a mysterious limp at the age of six, Watt begins to face the fact that her best friend won’t be around forever. The limp eventually leads to a devastating diagnosis: Gizelle has bone cancer. Watt is heartbroken: “Never, ever could I have imagined this news would hurt so badly, that it would take my breath away, that finding out would feel like I could not ever go on. I sat down, and I sobbed.”

Always a list maker, she resolves to write down things she wanted to do with Gizelle, as well as things Gizelle loved to do. She creates Gizelle’s Bucket List.

The pair take road trips. They eat the best lobster rolls and doughnuts. They enjoy ice cream while sitting on a wooden boat dock. They visit the beach. They ride in a canoe. They play in piles of autumn’s colorful leaves.

All too soon, Watt resolves that it’s time to say goodbye and make that final vet visit. The last pages of “Gizelle’s Bucket List” are difficult to read, especially if you’ve ever lost a pet. Watt doesn’t shy away from the realities of putting her dog to sleep.

Ultimately, “Gizelle’s Bucket List” is about learning to live in the moment and love as unconditionally as a dog does, lessons we all could benefit from. Take a journey with Lauren Watt and Gizelle; you won’t regret it.


Reviewed by Tammie Benham

The intensifying pace of the first book in National Book Award finalist and Printz Award winner Laura Ruby’s new series, York.  Book One: The Shadow Cipher, left me anticipating the next installment.  The setting for this middle grade novel (3rd to 7th yorkgrade) is a familiar but altered version of New York City.  Some landmarks are recognizable, some are slightly different, others are invented.  All are captivating.

Twins Theo and Tess Biedermann and their friend Jaime Cruz live in one of the five original Morningstarr buildings in New York City, 354 W 73re Street.  Designed by extraordinarily brilliant twins, Theodore and Teresa Morningstarr and left to their best friend and heir when they disappeared in 1855, Theo, Tess, and Jaime, along with a diverse set of characters, now inhabit the building.  They love the temperamental and eccentric electromagnetic elevator that conveys them to their chosen floor via randomly selected horizontal and vertical patterns, taking a different route each trip. They love the Morningstarr seals placed in the windows.  They love their view of the Hudson River.  They also realize if not for this building they couldn’t afford to live in the City and would likely end up in some remote location, like Hoboken, or Idaho.

When nefarious real estate developer Darnell Slant, who is known for gobbling up Morningstarr buildings, sets his sites on their building, Tess and Theo decide the only way to save their home is to solve the Old York Cipher left behind by the Morningstarr twins.  The Cipher promises treasure to anyone who can solve it and has encouraged many to search.  The twin’s Grandfather is himself a member of the Old Cipher Society. Tess and Theo have been solving puzzles their entire lives and now have the motivation of saving their home to help them solve the greatest puzzle of all: the solution to the Old World Cipher.

As with any good adventure, things don’t always go as planned.  Finding what they believe to be an alternate set of clues leads the twins and Jaime, accompanied by Tess’s cat, “Nine,” who is a mix of serval, Siamese, and “who knows what else…a sprinkling of wolf maybe,” on a journey through the magnificent city created by the Morningstarr twins. Dodging the henchmen of Darnell Slant, the threesome travels through a world where trolleys run by a mysterious secret guild wind above, around, and under buildings, and the river.  Giant mechanical insects eat dirt and sometimes humans. Towering skyskrapers have eccentric elevators.  The machines left behind by the Morningstarrs seem to be watching them, and possibly leading them.  At times the threesome wonder why solving the new set of clues is so easy when others have struggled for a century to solve clues.  Are they solving the cipher, or is the cipher solving them?

Driven by believable characters, the reader discovers Tess struggles with anxiety, which her family has dubbed “catastrophizing,” imagining the disastrous consequences that could occur at any time. Nine serves as her therapy animal.  Theo has the makings of a brilliant architect but is overcoming having been bullied regarding his eccentricities.  Jaime has lost his mother, has a father who constantly travels, and lives with this Grandmother, whom he calls Mima.  He is a budding artist and his talents help the trio of would-be sleuths see clues in a different way.  There is some feel-good humor and a few laugh-out-loud situations interspersed in the drama.

The secondary characters are equally endearing, especially the mysterious Aunt Esther who may be helping the twins solve the clues or may hold part of the cipher.  Jaime’s Mima keeps the trio fed, but also is portrayed as someone who will not be left in the dark.  Flashbacks give some hints to the origins of our hero and heroines and everything seems to be hinting at something further.  This very engaging first installment in a planned trilogy will leave you breathless and wanting more.


With the opening of the new building it was a busy summer. I did however manage to find time to read some fun, relaxing cozies.

Cozies or cozy mysteries are crime fiction with amateur detectives. Usually they are set in small towns, involve a dastardly deed, contain a bit of humor, maybe a little romance, very little violence and have a satisfying ending. In my experience with the genre the ones in series also feature an interesting cast of characters.

Gone Gull   Donna Andrews pens the bird themed Meg Langslow series. This is a long running series and #21, Gone Gull, just came out. Artist Meg and her extended family are spending the summer teaching at her grandmother’s new craft center on Biscuit Mountain.

When random acts of vandalism turn deadly Meg has plenty of suspects. There is the rival art academy, a developer with designs on Biscuit Mountain, and seekers (including her grandfather) of a rare gull. If you are new to cozy mysteries, this amusing series is a good place to start reading.

The titles in the Dixie Hemingway series by Blaize Clement also have an animal theme. Dixie is a pet sitter in Siesta Key, a barrier island off the west coast of Florida. She starts her days early taking care of cats, dogs, birds, fish and other assorted pets.

Dixie’s first career was as a deputy in the Sarasota County Sheriff’s office. The tragic death of her husband and daughter ended that career. In an attempt to ease her grief and depression her brother volunteered her services as a pet sitter and Dixie found a new vocation.

cat sitterThe first in this 11 book series is Curiosity Killed the Cat Sitter. Early one morning Dixie arrives to feed and groom Ghost, an Abyssinian cat, only to find a man seemingly drowned in the cat’s water dish. Lieutenant Guidry is handling the murder case but Dixie starts snooping when her client doesn’t return and can’t be reached. Dixie goes from snooping to investigating when she becomes Guidry’s prime suspect.

This book sets the tone for the series, somewhat darker than most cozy mysteries but still with touches of humor. Dixie is a complex but likeable character and the pets have personality. As the series progresses you may notice some subtle changes as authorship changed. Blaize Clement passed away in 2011 which is when #7 was published and her son John took over the series. Despite some differences the quality of the series was not affected.

The latest book, The Cat Sitter and the Canary, came out in 2015. In this one murder becomes personal when a note left on the victim indicates Dixie is next. This book had a surprise ending so I hope it’s not the last in the series.

skating     Joelle Charbonneau’s cozy series is centered on a skating rink. Rebecca Robbins grew up at the rink owned by her mother but escaped small town life to become a mortgage broker in Chicago. In the series debut, Skating Around the Law, the death of her mother makes Rebecca the new owner. Her return to Indian Falls to manage the business is only temporary. As soon as the rink sells, it’s back to the big city.

Selling suddenly becomes complicated when the local handyman is found dead in the ladies locker room. His head in the toilet, Mack Murphy has apparently drowned. The death is ruled a homicide but the sheriff is more interested in gardens than crime. Rebecca becomes determined to find the killer before her plan for the rink is as dead as Mack.

Rebecca is the central figure in this series but she is surrounded by a delightful cast of characters. There is her grandfather or “Pops” who helped raise her and is now the Romeo of the geriatric set. Lionel Franklin, the local vet, is very easy on the eyes and a distraction to Rebecca’s plans to sell and get back to Chicago. In addition there is George who teaches skating, Deputy Sean Holmes who finds her snooping to be very annoying and Elwood. Elwood is a hat-wearing retired circus camel with as much personality as he has hats and he has a hat for every occasion.

So far there are only 4 titles in the Rebecca Robbins’ mysteries and all are entertaining light reading. They are a good read-alike for Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum novels. If you are a Plum fan, you might enjoy these while you’re waiting for Stephanie’s next adventure to publish (mid-November 2017).