Author Archives: heatherlee

Bunch of random and awesome nonfiction I read one rainy weekend…

The Book of Extraordinary Deaths: True Accounts of Ill-Fated Lives by Cecilia Ruiz

First off, this is one of those quirky, dark but humorous books that isn’t for everyone.  Fortunately, I like dark and quirky.  I like it a lot actually.  If you go in for bizarrely ironic tales of untimely demise this is the book for you.  For example, a dude tripped over his own 4-5 foot-long beard while attempting to escape from a fire.  A cactus crushed another guy to death.  A French undertaker died when a pile of coffins fell on top of him.  I mean you can’t make this stuff up.  It’s short and sweet, yet lovely and clever. Each character comes to life within the telling of their peculiar ends and the accompanying beautiful illustrations.

In Paris: 20 Women on Life in the City of Light by Jeanne Damas

I went to Paris alone for the first time about 5 years ago and the city still lingers in me.  I was terrified as I had never traveled alone or been overseas but I loved every second!  It was exhilarating and exciting and extraordinary! ALL THE E WORDS! 

However, I can only dream of being as chic and nonchalant as the women in this book.  It’s an elegant little book with 20 profiles of inspiring women living in Paris.  Included are fabulous recommendations for the best red lipsticks, the best places in Paris to be kissed, best florists, best vintage clothes shops and more.  I got a real kick at imagining myself back in the city of light and imagining I can pull off the sophistication and smartness Parisian women seem to possess.

Disney Villains: Delightfully Evil: the creation – the inspiration – the fascination by Jen Darcy

I’m not a Disney fanatic…but I am what I’d call a huge Disney fan.  I adore the Disney villains.  Possibly more than the heroes sometimes. Maleficent being my favorite villain of all time.  Although, I think she’s a tad misunderstood.  They should’ve just invited her to the party. 

In this eye-catching coffee table book each villain is outlined in detail and includes information on the animators, directors and the voice actors who brought the character to life.  My favorite part being a catalog of all the rides at the various Disney parks that include villains, such as the Alice in Wonderland Maze and the Haunted Mansion Holiday.  It made me want to start saving for a trip to Disney ASAP.

— Review by Heather, St. Matthews

The Trial of Lizzie Borden by Cara Robertson

Lizzie Borden took an axe
And gave her mother forty whacks
When she saw what she had done
She gave her father forty-one.

I remember singing this rhyme as a child. I found it fascinating and morbid and terribly ghoulish.  So began my obsession with all things true crime, the tale of Lizzie Borden being one.

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I find true crime to be an irresistible genre, whether in books, movies or television, it holds my attention like no other category.  Making a Murderer, The Staircase, Amanda Knox, Forensic Files, you name it, I’ve probably watched it.  As a teen and young adult I very much wanted to be an FBI profiler and read John Douglas books prolifically. I studied serial killers and during my undergrad study in a major of psychology my two favorite courses were Deviant Psychology and Homicide.  I never became an FBI profiler but being a librarian is pretty rad in itself and when a new book came out recently about the trial of Lizzie Borden, I was on it.

I knew of the basics of the case and some of the theories, she did it naked, she had a mysterious lover, maybe she and Bridget Sullivan did it together…etc., etc., etc.

Yet the case still holds a deep fascination for me and many other people.  If she did commit the murders, how did she do it without having a speck of blood on her?  There’s an hour time lapse after her stepmother was killed to when her father was murdered.  So she’s got an hour at least with other people in the house and she spoke to her father before he went to lie down in the parlor.  If she did do it how in the world did she hide that she had murdered her stepmother for AN HOUR?  AAGHH.  I HAVE SO MANY QUESTIONS.  So my skepticism that she could have done it is strong.  However, who else would commit such a very personal attack? Makes my head spin…

The Trial of Lizzie Borden: A True Story by Cara Robertson was a treat to read.  Robertson being a lawyer herself, the book is incredibly well organized and researched.  I learned of the particulars of the day of the murders, Lizzie’s arrest, the intricacies of the trial, newspaper accounts, local accounts by members of the Fall River society and the sensation the murders and trial triggered in the community and the world.  The mystery of Lizzie’s burned dress, the curious disappearance of a hatchet handle, possible missteps by the local police and more puzzling details are included.  Robertson gives a gifted account of the time period as well, being the Gilded Age of America, and how cultural and gender expectations of the time affected Lizzie and the trial. 

The Trial of Lizzie Borden is a page turner and kept me on my toes.  While I was reading late at night I’d turn to look down my long, dark hallway past my bedroom and fear the figure of Lizzie staring me down at the end of it.  I spooked myself pretty badly a couple times.  And yet…I still cannot say what I believe in terms of her guilt or innocence.  Robertson leaves it to you, the reader, to be judge and jury and I still can’t find myself on one side or the other.

— Review by Heather, St. Matthews

Circe by Madeline Miller

Circe was the daughter of Perse, one of the Oceanids, and Helios, the Titan sun god. You may know her as a witch.  That is all I knew. Yet she is so much more. Yes, a witch. A sorceress. A nymph. A goddess. A phenomenal woman. 

Madeline Miller’s account of Circe’s life is nothing short of extraordinary.

After finishing this book, I feel Circe in me. I feel her pain, her happiness, her anger, her fire, her strength, her sorcery. Her peace. I feel it all. You will as well.

You will rage with her.  You will feel her sorrow and loneliness as it was your own.  You will feel her vengeance and revel in it.  And Circe’s power? UNMATCHED.  I never thought you could truly feel such power through a book.  No, that is not correct.  I have felt the power OF books and OF stories my entire life.  I have felt the power of characters but I have never finished a book feeling the power of a goddess.

Her role in all of Greek mythology is untold. She influenced and was involved with all of them.  Albeit from afar, in her exile at Aeaea.  Helios, Hermes, Athena, Pasaphae, Perses, Aeetes, Daedalus, Odysseus, Jason, Medea, Ariadne, the Minotaur…Circe played a part in each of their tales and so many more.

Be ready to wrestle with Circe’s growing discovery of the price of immortality.  What it means to love and hate as a goddess. Or more importantly, as a mortal.  What we all feel to err.  To fall short.  To not be able to take back grave mistakes.  To atone for our sins.  To live in this wretched world and keep moving forward.  And this is me being dramatic and cliche, but the blessed agony and ecstasy of it all.  But what else is life?

(As a bonus, I would highly recommend the audio book. I used LFPL’s downloadable audio platform RBDigital to listen and the narrator, Perdita Weeks, is divine in her own right.)

Review by Heather, St. Matthews

The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin

This book left me with so many questions. I’ve come to believe the power of this story is in the larger questions it fosters.

If you could know the exact date of your death would you want that knowledge? What would you do with it?  How would you live your life?  And even if you didn’t really believe the old woman when she gave you your date would it still haunt you?  Follow you?  Even chase you through the years?  Would you inadvertently attempt to cram as much as you could into your short time here on earth?  Or would you give in to the futility of it all?

Do our personally held beliefs play a significant role in shaping our destinies?  It is destiny?  Fate?  Free will?  Providence?  Doom?

How do our families shape us and change us and what roles do we play in their fates?

Is it better to live with uncertainty or foresight?  Which gives us the greater path?  The greater freedom?  Or are either capable of giving any freedom?

Predictable and yet surprising at the same time, a novel completely centered on death but full of life at the same time. Add a dash of magical realism and you have The Immortalists.

Formats Available: Regular Tyle, Large Type, eBook

Review by Heather, St. Matthews

The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn

Anna Fox is agoraphobic, unable to leave her home.  She hides away and has her groceries (and plenty of wine) delivered.  She spends her time watching old suspense movies and spying on her neighbors.

When a new family moves in across the way from her Anna immediately starts watching them through her camera lens.  By all looks of it they appear to be the perfect family; a father, a mother and their teenage son.  But when Anna looks out her window one night she sees something she shouldn’t, something horrible.  When Anna attempts to contact the police about what she saw, her world begins to unravel. 

As the reader you begin to question Anna’s memory, her ability to discern fantasy from reality and you begin to realize something is off in Anna’s family as well. I love a good unreliable narrator and The Woman in the Window is a superb twisty thriller.  Finn sets the story against the background of film noir seamlessly.  The level of Hitchcockian suspense is so perfectly delicious and chilling that every time I had to put the book down I just couldn’t wait to get back to it!

Formats Available: Regular Type, Large Type, Audiobook, eBook

Review by Heather, St. Matthews

Riverdale

When I was a kid my parents played oldies all the time around the house (they both grew up in the 60’s) and we listened to the oldies radio station all the time in the car.  My very favorite was “Sugar, Sugar” by The Archies.  YES, the cartoon band!

I still love this song and as a children’s librarian I use it in storytime all the time to dance with toddlers and babies.  This song introduced me to  Archie Comics which I loved as a child. Yeah, those comics you bought in the grocery store checkout lane and detailed the never ending drama of Betty and Veronica’s competition for Archie.

My love for all things Archie and Betty and Veronica has never died.  So when the new CW show Riverdale started in 2017 I was ECSTATIC.  If you are looking for a blast from the past and also loved Archie as a kid I highly recommend checking out our Archie graphic novels.

You should also check out the show Riverdale, which is so much fun. Oodles of drama and mystery with all the classic characters that you know and love including Archie, Jughead, Betty and Veronica, Cheryl Blossom (my FAV!), Kevin Keller, Midge, Moose and Reggie.  And don’t forget, Josie and the Pussycats!

It’s like my childhood all brought back with a sexy edge and updated storylines.

The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa

I highly recommend The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa.

Sabrina the Teenage Witch is getting a new television reboot as well to coincide with Riverdale as Sabrina’s hometown of Greendale is right down the road from Riverdale.  Now just as a warning this isn’t your 90’s Melissa Joan Hart kind of SabrinaThe Chilling Adventures of Sabrina is dark and bloody and fantastic!  If you like dark and bloody kinds of things, that is…

[EDITOR’S NOTE: The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina will be coming to Netflix in September]

Afterlife with Archie by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa

Afterlife with Archie by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa is a spooky take on Riverdale as Jughead’s beloved Hot Dog becomes a zombie due to a very ill fated attempt to save his life with the help of Sabrina. Soon the entire town is in the fight of their lives against a zombie horde led by their former friend, Jughead.

Betty and Veronica by Adam Hughes

Betty and Veronica by Adam Hughes is my very favorite of all the Archie graphic novels so far.  Betty and Veronica are America’s sweethearts and best friends.  Until they turn on each other in a battle for Pop’s Chocklit Shoppe!

[EDITOR’S NOTE: Check out The Art of Betty and Veronica for a look at the first 70 years of the duo’s story]

Josie and the Pussycats by Marguerite Bennett

In this series opening Josie gets the band together in her hopes of achieving musical fame but are her ambitions more important than the girls’ friendship?

So many new Riverdale and Archie titles have been coming in and I can’t wait to read them all!

Check out all things Riverdale at LFPL!

Formats Available: Graphic Novel

Review by Heather, St. Matthews

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

Possibly one of the most intriguing books I’ve ever read.  I’m going to warn you straight out, it’s weird.  The flow is different from any other book I’ve read.  You’re confused at first by the syntax and tide.  Then all of the sudden a few chapters in….you get it.  It clicks.  From then on it’s a remarkable supernatural and thought-provoking ride.

 

Lincoln in the Bardo describes the death of President Lincoln’s beloved 11 year old son Willie.  When he dies he becomes stuck, so to say, in a sort of purgatory set in the graveyard where he was buried.  Over a single night the book is told by an incredible chorus of ghost voices.  These ghosts understand that Willie cannot linger in this limbo with them.  Children cannot remain where they exist.  So they set out to help him move on to the next destination, with the help of his bereaved father.

An extraordinarily powerful and moving story that left me speechless by the end.

Review by Heather, St. Matthews

The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter by Theodora Goss

Phenomenal book! Full of brilliant brave, strong women! It’s Charlie’s Angels as if written by Mary Shelley! I can’t use enough exclamation points!

The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter includes all of the gothic horror of Moreau, Hyde/Jekyll, Holmes and Watson, Dracula and Van Helsing. I didn’t think it was possible to put all of my favorite things in one story but Goss did it.

The story begins with Mary Jekyll, who has just buried her mother and is orphaned and broke and desperate for a way to make money. She’s also very interested in the secrets of her father’s shadowy past…one clue leads her to believe that if she could locate her father’s former friend, Edward Hyde, there is a reward for his capture and this could solve some of her urgent money troubles.

But her hunt leads her to Hyde’s daughter, Diana, a wild, untamed and hilarious young girl suddenly shoved into Mary’s care. With the help of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, Mary becomes involved in a spectacular adventure and mystery and befriends more remarkable women, all of whom have been created through frightening experiments.
The women uncover a secret society of wicked scientists and they band together to fight the forces of evil and take back their identities.

It’s such a fun read, I highly recommend reading it as I did with the windows open and rain falling outside, crisp fall air and a large ginger cat at your feet. Or another colored cat, doesn’t have to be a ginger. Or a dog. Whatever your preference. But it’s the perfect book to curl up with during the autumn season.

Review by Heather, St. Matthews

Into the Water by Paula Hawkins

 

For all the troublesome women out there…

Danielle Abbott has always been obsessed with the Drowning Pool. An area of her town’s river that has taken numerous women’s lives, including now, her own. Was it an accident? Suicide? Or something more?

Danielle had many enemies and she has left behind an angry teenage daughter who is harboring dark secrets from her best friend’s earlier drowning. Hawkins weaves together the secrets of the town and deaths as each chapter takes the voice of a different character and their viewpoint and involvement. Into the Water had me hypnotized and kept me guessing until the very end and even then I didn’t get it right! Hawkins is quickly becoming a master of psychological suspense.

I felt notes of magical realism peppered throughout the mystery. The way the Drowning Pool pulls you in and swept away so many women’s lives is eerie and otherworldly. Hawkins is particularly adept at capturing the way the past holds on to us and just how deceiving and destructive memories can be.

Just as addicting as Girl on the Train, Paula Hawkins has a diehard fan in this librarian.

Review by Heather, St. Matthews

Dorothea Lange

I was recently introduced to the photography of Dorothea Lange and I became instantly intrigued and immediately reserved several books on her. The first being a new children’s non-fiction book called Dorothea Lange: The Photographer Who Found the Faces of the Depression by Carole Boston Weatherford. In this picture book biography I learned Lange had polio as a child and although she survived, it left her with a limp. A limp that caused her classmates to bully and avoid her. This later would influence Lange’s empathy toward people’s “otherness” and apartness.

When the Great Depression struck Lange took her camera to the streets. She photographed men waiting in bread lines and sleeping on sidewalks. The Depression had stolen their livelihoods and they had nowhere to go. Lange took their photos for the world to truly see them. This becomes a recurring theme in Lange’s work; seeking the downtrodden and showing the world their stories.

Weatherford’s book also includes beautiful illustrations about this inspiring and motivated woman.

Next I chose an adult non-fiction title, The Photographs of Dorothea Lange, where again I learned her most significant body of work was in the 30’s and 40’s documenting the Depression years. But my favorite work of Lange’s stems from her experiences working for the government photographing starving migrant workers in California. She also has some incredibly heartrending photographs of Japanese Americans interned on the West Coast during World War II. Lange managed to capture some of the darkest episodes of America’s history and her black and white photos evoke such emotion and empathy.

 

Finally, I chose a teen non-fiction title, Restless Spirit: The Life and Work of Dorothea Lange by Elizabeth Partridge (Lange’s goddaughter), which is a more personal portrait of a woman who struggled to balance her passion for her career and her love for her family. Dorothea Lange was way ahead of her time. She existed during a period in America when women mainly stayed home with their children and husbands. Lange basically farmed out her children to others to be on the road pursuing her dreams. It’s easy to see and hear her frustration in her writings and photos of her love for her children but her desire and need to pursue her art.

All three books give a wide view of Lange’s intimate triumphs and failures. She was a complex and driven woman. I think she should be required reading and viewing for all Americans to understand our history.

Anyone interested in photography, American history or humanity will find her work exceedingly powerful and compelling.

Formats Available: Regular Print

Reviewed by Heather, St. Matthews