Author Archives: carissamiller

Beautiful Little Fools by Jillian Cantor

Beautiful Little Fools
by Jillian Cantor
Harper Collins (February 2022)
343 pages
Link to Beautiful Little Fools in LFPL’s collection
Link to titles by Jillian Cantor in LFPL’s collection

The Great Gatsby has been one of my favorite books since I first read it as a high school junior sitting in a classroom in the same town Daisy and Jordan grow up in. Heck, I even had my senior prom at the hotel where Daisy gets married in the book. After reading Gatsby I wanted more about Daisy I wanted her backstory. And ever since The Great Gatsby ended up in the public domain last year I’ve been looking forward to Gatsby retellings that didn’t fall flat, like the first two that I read. However, Beautiful Little Fools by Jillian Cantor was everything I wanted in a Gatsby retelling including the title being taken from my favorite line in the book. She gave me not only Daisy’s backstory but Jordan’s as well and in the process turned it into a mystery. Through the pages of Beautiful Little Fools, you see not only 1920s New York but WWI-era Louisville.

Beautiful Little Fools gives the reader the story before Gatsby, Gatsby as seen from the women of the novel and what happens after Gatsby. Cantor made Beautiful Little Fools a mystery giving you the point of view detective working the case. Cantor writes Detective Frank Charles as the way I imagined a 1920s police detective to be. The author gives readers this wonderful retelling and doesn’t take away from the source material nor try to make any changes to Fitzgerald‘s characters. If one isn’t familiar with the original story the reader can still enjoy Beautiful Little Fools as its novel, however, you will be spoiled for the ending of The Great Gatsby don’t say I didn’t warn you.

– Reviewed by CarissaMain Library

The Guncle by Steven Rowley

The Guncle by Steven Rowley was a book I picked up because of the title and back cover blurb. Titular character Patrick or Gup (“Gay Uncle Patrick” for short) finds himself the temporary guardian of his niece and nephew after they lose their mother. What follows is an adventure as the three of them tackle their new normal and Patrick tries to figure out parenthood. This book will have you laughing and crying along with Maisie, Grant, and Patrick.

I listened to the audiobook which is read by the author and only adds to the book as you are hearing the words the way the author wanted them to be heard. We get to hear Maisie’s developing attitude and Grant’s lisp, as well as Patrick’s changing tone and nuances. I kept finding reasons to listen to the audiobook because I wanted to know what was going to happen next.

I especially wanted to know how Maisie and Grant – at eight and six – were handling losing their mom because at twenty-eight and nineteen my sister and I were a mess when it happened to us. Like Maisie and Grant, we also had a Guncle, who despite his own doubts and grief stepped in to help, making the book personal. I think The Guncle wrapped up nicely but still leaves room for a sequel or even a companion novel.

I highly recommend the audio version but if you don’t like audiobooks I do recommend reading the book. There’s something for everyone in The Guncle and now I’m going to dive into Rowley’s backlist.

– Reviewed by CarissaMain Library

The Only Woman in the Room by Marie Benedict

Do you find yourself looking at your cellphone multiple times a day? Enjoy access to Wi-Fi, GPS, or Bluetooth? Would it surprise you to know that these inventions that we take for granted everyday were made possible by a woman?

This woman didn’t get the recognition that she deserved until the 1990s for something she created during WWII. A woman that the majority of the US wrote off as nothing more than a pretty face. She is the Hollywood actress, Hedy Lamarr. But Hedy was more than just a pretty face, she also had a deep interest in science and a personal history that made her determined to find a way to to defeat Germany in WWII.

The Only Woman in the Room by Marie Benedict, who’s also written Carnegie’s Maid, tends to write historical fiction about lesser known women or women who historically were standing in their husband’s shadows. However, in the case of Hedy Lamarr, you cannot exactly say she’s lesser known or standing in her husband’s shadow. In Hedy’s case it’s simply being overlooked as just a pretty face. Hollywood and history saw her as an actress and a pretty face because, gasp, at the time many believed that a woman couldn’t be both beautiful and smart.

The novel focuses on the years 1933 to 1942. It may only be a brief period of time but Hedy had a heck of life in those nine years. It shows what life in prewar Vienna was like for a Jewish woman hiding in plain sight. We see how Hedy went from the darling of the Vienna stage to the wife of an arms dealer to Hollywood’s it girl.

I do have to say the first few chapters aren’t the most exciting to read, but they do have you turning the page wanting to know what happens next. The book picks up the pace once she marries Friedrich Mandl and Hedy comes into her own. Though trapped in a dangerous marriage she used both her beauty and brains to escape. And once Hedy did escape, she knew she had to speak out, had to do more if possible.

“I had stared the leaders of our enemies in the eyes and turned my ear to their voices, and I knew the terror they meant to wreak upon our world.” (The Only Woman in the Room)

Benedict was able to take this amazing woman off the screen and out of Hollywood legend, highlighting her brains instead of her beauty. I love that Benedict shows readers that these aren’t mutually exclusive qualities. The book made me want to find out more about Hedy so I’ve also picked up a few of the biographies the library has in the system, such as Hedy’s Folly: The Life and Breakthrough Inventions of Hedy Lamarr, The Most Beautiful Woman in the World by Richard Rhodes, and Hedy Lamarr: The Most Beautiful Woman in Film by Ruth Barton.

– Reviewed by CarissaMain Library


When Books Went to War by Molly Guptill Manning

“The stories that helped us win World War II”

Ever wonder why Mass Market Paperbacks became a thing? Why books that were some enough to fit in a pocket or be easily toss in a bag become so popular?  If you are like me it probably never crossed your mind, you just read the books. What lead to production of mass market paperbacks? Or the event that turned The Great Gatsby into an American classic? Those questions and more are answered in When Books Went to War: The Stories That Helped Us Win World War II by Molly Guptill Manning. 

I’m a bit of a WWII history nerd but I didn’t know about the push to get books to the troops. Nor did I know about the Armed Services Editions that would eventually become our modern day mass market paperbacks. Who would have thought that a World War would change how the average person consumed books? After reading this it should have been obvious that soldiers, sailors, and Marines would have been desperate for a mental break, and what better way to escape than in the pages of a book. Isn’t that why most readers read?  I should have known from my dad’s own experience in Beirut in the early 80s as part of the peace-keeping force where he said books made the time more bearable when letters from home were few and far between. Books let him escape for a while, because they were the only option for downtime he had. He still has his dog-eared and taped up copy of the Lord of the Rings trilogy that got him through it. It doesn’t matter if it’s a foxhole in WWII or in a tent in the desert, books are precious and are a welcome escape from the world. Reading about servicemen and their earnest desire for books made a war one only reads about in the pages of a history book made it more real. It allowed me to walk in their shoes if only for a moment.  

I enjoyed reading this book and learning about the role that libraries and librarians played in the efforts of collecting books.  Even if, thanks mostly to the general public, the books weren’t useful to the military. Because even today people see donating books to the library as getting rid of books they themselves don’t want,  not realizing that it might not be able to used, much like what was happening during WWII. When what the boys overseas wanted was books to escape they wanted novels. And that’s where the publishers and magazine houses came into play to get easy to transport books to the troops. 

Thanks to the Armed Services Editions making readers were that hadn’t been before. That plus the GI Bill helped to create a literate postwar middle class.  

– Reviewed by CarissaMain Library

American Princess by Stephanie Grace Thornton

Alice Lee Roosevelt was called “the other Washington monument” and after reading American Princess by Stephanie Grace Thornton I understand why. She was the precocious eldest child of Theodore Roosevelt, of whom he was quoted as saying, “I can either run the country or I can control Alice; I can’t do both.” Known as the “original White House Wild child,” this is the first piece of historical fiction to be written about Alice Roosevelt that I’ve read and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Theodore Roosevelt is a favorite president of mine and Alice has always fascinated me. I wondered if what was said about her was true, so I picked up the book to satisfy my curiosity. Despite the book being historical fiction, I feel like I’ve learned a bit more about Alice Roosevelt.

Being a historical fiction novel, I assume that Thornton took artistic liberties with the story so I don’t know what is fact and what is fiction, but I am reminded of the Mark Twain quote,” fact is stranger than fiction”. If only a hand full of events are true then, Alice marched to her own drum at a time when women and young girls didn’t have much freedom. Alice is our narrator beginning with her rebellious teenage years and ending in her eighties. The author’s note at the end has only helped to stoke my interest in Alice Lee Roosevelt. Alice Roosevelt Longworth, from White House Princess to Washington Power Broker (Alice’s biography) adds more to her story by letting us know who she truly was. Alice Lee Roosevelt was a unique first daughter, and her life seems to reflect that.

A perfect selection for fans of historical fiction, those that have read America’s First Daughter by Stephanie Dray and want to read about another presidency from the daughter’s point of view.

– Reviewed by CarissaMain Library

Reading Behind Bars by Jill Grunenwald

I’m not going to lie, the title was the first thing that drew me to this book. Even though I am a library assistant, my bachelor’s degree is in Criminal Justice and Criminology so I’ve always wondered how a library would work in a prison. I knew they existed because of the classes I took in college but I didn’t learn how they would work.

Reading Behind Bars: A True Story of Literature, Law, and Life as a Prison Librarian by Jill Grunenwald answered the questions I had and even questions I didn’t even ask.
This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is prisonlibrary.jpgWhen the author graduated from library school in 2009 there were more librarians than jobs. Gruenwald took the only one that she could find, a position for a librarian at a minimum-security prison outside Cleveland, Ohio. What follows is a memoir of her time at the prison, the inmates and officers she meets, as well as the lessons she learned.

One thing which I discovered while reading this book is how similar working in a prison library is to working in a public library.  You still have the same patron looking for the newest James Patterson or other bestselling authors. You still have patrons asking random (sometimes off-the-wall) questions, seeking legal advice, and wanting the daily paper.

But I also learned what makes them different. A patron looking for the latest bestseller may be stymied due to prison rules and regulations about content. Further, budgetary considerations mean that patrons have to wait until a book is available in paperback. Also, prison libraries are subject to quite a bit of censorship, which for the most part is something that doesn’t exist in public libraries.

Reading Behind Bars isn’t a fast-paced memoir, but it was an informative read about one librarian’s first  job and the lessons she learned along the way. This is an important memoir for librarians and library employees. Any reader, as well as those employed in the criminal justice field, may learn something from this memoir.

– Reviewed by CarissaMain Library

Outlander series by Diana Galbadon

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I’m pretty sure that the majority of America knows about the TV show, Outlander. Most people have been introduced to Jamie and Claire through Starz hit show, including me, an avid reader who must read the book before watching adaptations. However, that wasn’t the case with Outlander. I was three episodes in before I discovered that this awesome TV show was a book, and not just one book but an eight-book series! So I stopped watching and picked up the first book from my library.

I was hooked from the very beginning. Claire visits Craigh na Dun, a stone circle near Inverness, with her husband Frank.  She ends up falling through the stones to 18th Century Scotland, arriving on the eve of what would become known as the Rising of 45, the last of the Jacobite rebellions. This set up gave my adult self what my childhood history nerd self could only dream about, traveling back in time to witness first hand a historical event. And it is set during one of my favorite periods of history, the Scottish Highlands before 1745.

The Clans system, still intact, plays a strong role in the storyline and how the characters interact with each other. Claire, a modern woman, is definitely not prepared for the past. Soon after arrival, she is rescued from Black Jack Randall (her husband Frank’s ancestor) by a ragtag group of Highlanders led by Jamie Frasier. Jamie Fraser is pretty much a man of the 18th Century. He’s used to the mild and submissive women of his time, not one as strong-willed and slightly foul-mouthed as Claire.

These two seem the least likely to fall in love. Love, at first sight, it is not; Claire can’t stand his old fashioned views and he calls her “Sassenach,” meaning “outlander” or “outsider” as an insult. Eventually, this turns to a term of endearment. The two become part of a hasty marriage to protect Claire from the English, but it’s not a happily ever after. Claire gets sent back through the stones and the couple ends up being separated by over two centuries.

While Outlander is the love story of Jamie and Claire it is also a family saga of survival. Both Claire and Jamie survive a war and terrible times but still manage to find each other again, as well as expand their family through blood, marriage, and adoption. Outlander was Jamie and Claire’s love story while Dragonfly in Amber is the story of war and how they became separated. The follow-up installment, Voyager, is the story of how they find each other again. Drums of Autumn, my favorite book in the series, is the story of their family, blood or otherwise.

The series has something for everyone – history, time-travel, romance, and adventure – which is what made the series so enjoyable for me. When I read historical fiction I don’t mind romance but I don’t want it to take over the story. I want the history of the time to play a role as well as a nice balance. Gabaldon does that well you can tell that she does her research on the period  before sitting down to write. Each book is filled with rich historical detail that translates well to the screen.

If you’ve read the books and enjoyed them I would recommend watching the show. Keep in mind the show is an adaption of the books, so scenes may differ. If you’ve only seen the show and are experiencing Outlander withdrawal (a.k.a. Droughtlander), I would highly recommend reading the books. The library has copies of the first eight books as well as the DVDs of the first three series.

Reviewed by CarissaMain Library

Mystery Book Discussion Group

Do you like reading Mysteries? Do enjoy discussing what you’ve read but can’t find anyone to discuss them with? Then come to the Mystery Book Discussion Group at the Main Library where we discuss a different mystery every month.

We meet on the third Tuesday of the month from 2:00 pm  to 3:00 pm in the Boardroom on the second floor of the North Building.

Dates and selections for the first six months of 2019 are:

The Bone Garden by Tess Gerritsen

What would you do if you discovered a skull while working in your garden? Well, that’s what happens to Julie Hamill in The Bone Garden by Tess Gerritsen. Finding that skull causes a whole of drama for Julie when the forensic team finds the rest of the skeleton. But there’s good news the skeleton according to the forensic anthropologist has been there for at least two hundred years; meaning Julie garden and yard isn’t a crime scene. However, this discovery leads Julie on a quest to find a relative of the previous owner. Once she meets him she gets sucked into trying to solve a two-hundred-year-old mystery surrounding her house and the family of the previous owner.

What Julie discovers leads her to another mystery in 1830’s Boston, this time a series of murders. When Irish immigrant Rose Connolly witnesses a murder not realizing that it is tied to her own sister’s death in childbirth. That seems eerily like Jack the Ripper has crossed the Atlantic. A group of medical students including Oliver Wendell Holmes and the fictional Norris Marshall realizes that Rose could be the next victim, Norris does everything he can to protect her. After “meeting” Rose Julie is determined to find out what happened to her as well as solving the mystery of the skeleton in the garden.

Tess Gerritsen does an awesome balancing both mysteries the murders in the 1830’s and the mystery of the skeleton and the house in the present. Each mystery is given the right amount of book time, and unlike other novels, with dual time periods, The Bone Garden doesn’t switch time periods with every chapter. They switch when the narrative needs the switch and it just flows into the next time period. She blends the historical characters such as Oliver Wendell Holmes in with fictional characters allowing them to co-exist in a fictional mystery.

Fans of Tess’s other books – as well as fans of the history, science, and mysteries in general – will enjoy this tale.

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

Reviewed by CarissaMain Library

The Crossing Places by Elly Griffiths

The Crossing Places by Elly Griffiths, the first book in a new series, finds archaeologist Ruth Galloway entangled in a murder case; something she didn’t quite want. Detective Chief Inspector Harry Nelson shows up at Ruth’s office because the police think they have found the body of Lucy Downey, a young girl who had been missing for ten years. Unfortunate for the police, but an awesome find for Ruth, the body is actually that of an Iron Age girl.

However, Ruth’s expertise draws her deeper into the case when another young girl goes missing.  Then Inspector Nelson starts getting letters again much like the ones he received when Lucy Downey first went missing. Nelson shows them to Ruth because he hopes that she can help him divine what clues they might hold.

I didn’t know what to expect with The Crossing Places going in because I tend to read cozy mysteries. I hadn’t picked up an actual crime novel or forensic mystery since I graduated college with my Criminal Justice degree. I went into this one completely on a whim (other than the fact that I picked it for my February mystery book discussion). I figured the police, the archaeologist, and a forensic plot would be a change for the group.

After reading The Crossing Places, I felt that Galloway and Nelson are something of a British version of Bones, but better. I was never able to get into the Temperance Brennan series by Kathy Reichs, which Bones is based on. With The Crossing Places, I didn’t seem to have that problem. I guess it’s because I love BBC dramas and mysteries so much, and this book reminded me of them.

Right now the Ruth Galloway series is a 10 book series, of which the library currently has books 1-9. I look forward to the next book in the series, The Janus Stone.

Formats Available: Book, eBook

Reviewed by CarissaMain Library