Six Book Saturday

Yesterday was not a day for lighthearted posts, dear readers.  But we also want to remind you that the Library is a place to come if you have troubles, if you need answers, or if you are looking for a temporary escape from the rest of the world.  And in the spirit of that final concept, we wanted to give you a chance to see some of the new books that arrived on our shelves this week, in the hopes they might offer some escape, some insight, and some solace.

Smoke and Ashes: Fans of Abir Mukherjee’s historical mysteries featuring WWI veteran Captain Sam Wyndham and the fascinating Indian Sergeant “Surrender-Not” Banerjee will be delighted to hear that their next adventure has arrived.  Living in India in 1921, Captain Wyndham is battling a serious addiction to opium that he must keep secret from his superiors in the Calcutta police force. When Sam is summoned to investigate a grisly murder, he is stunned at the sight of the body: he’s seen this before. Last night, in a drug addled haze, he stumbled across a corpse with the same ritualistic injuries. It seems like there’s a deranged killer on the loose. Unfortunately for Sam, the corpse was in an opium den―and revealing his presence there could cost him his career.  With the aid of his quick-witted Indian Sergeant, Surrender-Not Banerjee, Sam must try to solve the two murders, all the while keeping his personal demons secret, before somebody else turns up dead.  This is a series that features some sensational historical research, and has plenty of twists and turns to keep mystery fans enthralled!  BookPage agrees, calling this third series installment “Riveting. Mukherjee has a substantive grasp of colonial Indian history, and his books have the feel of a modern-day and much more progressive Kipling, full of high intrigue and derring-do, yet overlaid with the day-to-day reality of a struggle with addiction.”

The Devil Aspect: We’ve got some great historic mysteries and thrillers this week, friends, and Craig Russell’s new book is proof!  Set in Prague 1935, this book follows Viktor Kosárek, a psychiatrist newly trained by Carl Jung, arrives at the infamous Hrad Orlu Asylum for the Criminally Insane. The state-of-the-art facility is located in a medieval mountaintop castle outside of Prague, though the site is infamous for concealing dark secrets going back many generations. The asylum houses the country’s six most treacherous killers–known to the staff as The Woodcutter, The Clown, The Glass Collector, The Vegetarian, The Sciomancer, and The Demon–and Viktor hopes to use a new medical technique to prove that these patients share a common archetype of evil, a phenomenon known as The Devil Aspect. As he begins to learn the stunning secrets of these patients, five men and one woman, Viktor must face the disturbing possibility that these six may share another dark truth.  Meanwhile, fear grips the city of Prague as a phantom serial killer emerges in the dark alleys. Police investigator Lukas Smolak, desperate to locate the culprit (dubbed Leather Apron in the newspapers), realizes that the killer is imitating the most notorious serial killer from a century earlier–London’s Jack the Ripper. Smolak turns to the doctors at Hrad Orlu for their expertise with the psychotic criminal mind, though he worries that Leather Apron might have some connection to the six inmates in the asylum.  Steeped in the folklore of Eastern Europe, and set in the shadow of Nazi darkness erupting just beyond the Czech border, this novel earned a starred review from Booklist, who called it “One of the most memorable thrillers of the year; it’s also unique: the premise is strikingly original, and the mood created by the juxtaposition of the patients’ memories and the real-time horrors is utterly chilling.”

Real Queer America: LGBT Stories from Red States: Ten years ago, Samantha Allen was a suit-and-tie-wearing Mormon missionary. Now she’s a senior Daily Beast reporter happily married to another woman. A lot in her life has changed, but what hasn’t changed is her deep love of Red State America, and of queer people who stay in so-called “flyover country” rather than moving to the liberal coasts.  In this moving, funny, and insightful book, Allen takes us on a cross-country road-trip stretching all the way from Provo, Utah to the Rio Grande Valley to the Bible Belt to the Deep South. Her motto for the trip: “Something gay every day.” Making pit stops at drag shows, political rallies, and hubs of queer life across the heartland, she introduces us to scores of extraordinary LGBT people working for change, from the first openly transgender mayor in Texas history to the manager of the only queer night club in Bloomington, Indiana, and many more. Capturing profound cultural shifts underway in unexpected places and revealing a national network of chosen family fighting for a better world, this is a book that the Los Angeles Times called “necessary for anyone in — or allied with — the queer community, especially those of us who see the bad news day after day. [Allen is] sharing the beauty of the spaces that LGBTQ+ people have carved out for themselves, and she’s giving credit where credit is very much overdue, because it’s the queer folk who live and stay in red states — whether by choice or due to a lack of options — who have to survive there and work to make them better.”

Joy and 52 Other Very Short Stories: Erin McGraw’s stories are very, very short, but they pack a remarkable amount of emotion, humor, and profundity.  I each of them, narrators step out of themselves to explain their lives to us, sometimes defensively, sometimes regretfully, other times deceitfully. Voices include those of the impulsive first-time murderer, the depressed pet sitter, the assistant of Patsy Cline, the anxiety-riddled new mother, the aged rock-and-roller, the girlfriend of your husband―human beings often (incredibly) unaware of the turning points staring them in the face. Crossing time, states, class, and religions, McGraw’s stories dance on the edge of pain and humor, causing you to wince even as you laugh, and guarantee you won’t be forgetting these bite-sized marvels any time soon.  Publisher’s Weekly gave this collection a starred and a boxed review (high praise indeed!), noting that McGraw is “a master of the form . . . McGraw is wise and occasionally laugh-out-loud funny, with a seventh sense for the perfect turn of phrase . . . This quintessential collection of stories serves as an homage to the form while showcasing McGraw’s stunning talent and deep empathy for the idiosyncrasies, small joys, and despairs of human nature.”

The Wolf and the Watchman: Named the Best Debut Novel of 2017 by the Swedish Academy of Crime Writers, this book is being compared to some of the most beloved authors of recent memory, from Stieg Larsson to Umberto Eco, and so it’s quite a treat to share it with you here.  One morning in the autumn of 1793, watchman Mikel Cardell is awakened from his drunken slumber with reports of a body seen floating in the Larder, once a pristine lake on Stockholm’s Southern Isle, now a rancid bog. Efforts to identify the bizarrely mutilated corpse are entrusted to incorruptible lawyer Cecil Winge, who enlists Cardell’s help to solve the case. But time is short: Winge’s health is failing, the monarchy is in shambles, and whispered conspiracies and paranoia abound.  Winge and Cardell become immersed in a brutal world of guttersnipes and thieves, mercenaries and madams, as their gruesome investigation peels back layer upon layer of the city’s labyrinthine society. The rich and the poor, the pious and the fallen, the living and the dead—all collide and interconnect with the body pulled from the lake.  This delightfully dark tale also earned a starred review from Kirkus, who noted that “Natt och Dag examines the effects of a brutal murder on those who investigate it—and explores the psychological causes for the crime…Chilling and thought-provoking. Relentless, well-written, and nearly impossible to put down.”

The Lives of the Surrealists: Surrealism did not begin as an art movement but as a philosophical strategy, a way of life, and a rebellion against the establishment that gave rise to the First World War.  And in this fascinating book, Desmond Morris (himself a Surrealist) concentrates on the artists who are associated with the movement as fully-rounded people. Unlike the Impressionists or the Cubists, the surrealists did not obey a fixed visual code, but rather the rules of surrealist philosophy: work from the unconscious, letting your darkest, most irrational thoughts well up and shape your art. An artist himself, and contemporary of the later surrealists, Morris illuminates the considerable variation in each artist’s approach to this technique. While some were out-and-out surrealists in all they did, others lived more orthodox lives and only became surrealists at the easel or in the studio. Focusing on the thirty-five artists most closely associated with the surrealist movement, Morris lends context to their life histories with narratives of their idiosyncrasies and their often complex love lives, alongside photos of the artists and their work.  Publisher’s Weekly also gave this delightful tome a starred review, saying, “Each of these biographical entries is thoughtfully accompanied by a lesser-known work of art by each artist, along with photographs of the artists as they appeared in their most active years. Alternatively funny, ribald, and at times genuinely moving, Morris’s fittingly off-kilter tribute to the Surrealist movement itself and the eclectic men and women who carried its torch is a true joy.”

Until next week, beloved patrons–Happy Reading!

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