Category Archives: Reviews

In Vino Duplicitas by Peter Hellman

For whatever reason I’ve spent most of my life thinking of the true crime genre as play-by-play retellings of gruesome murders and unsolved disappearances, and have only dipped into that section when in the mood for something really spooky. Recently however an account of the Isabella Gardner Museum heist came across my desk, and now to my great delight I have a backlog of thirty-something books on great art and jewel heists, solved and unsolved, ancient and modern. Likely for the same reason Robin Hood movies keep getting made, there’s just something addictive about stories of fabulous thefts, especially ones where the wealthy get a comeuppance (and nobody is really hurt once the insurance companies pay out anyway) that captivates the imagination…if told with that sense of adventure in mind. In Vino Duplicitas, a summation of the greatest wine fraud event in this century, doesn’t disappoint when it comes to a criminally twisted tale or imaginative telling.

As a wine journalist and appreciator himself, author Peter Hellman’s talent in explaining a fairly blue-blooded hobby to the everyday reader is evident from page one. He doesn’t just toss names and dates around and expect the reader to understand his context like elite wine collectors: Hellman leverages his experience describing wines and what makes them special to draw the reader in from the preface, before even diving into the story of infamous wine forger Rudy Kurniawan. An immigrant to the United States with an expired student visa and alleged access to a family fortune abroad, Kurniawan began infiltrating the world of wine in the early 2000’s. Armed with easy charm, a naturally talented palate, and enough real rare wines to generously uncork for his friends at every opportunity, he was accepted as a comrade and expert by elite names in predominately older, wealthy, white circles. They saw the passionate young man with a formidable collection of his own who hosted large parties at expensive restaurants (with a notable habit of always having the empty bottles and corks shipped back to his home as “mementos”) as a breath of fresh air, and once accepted by the wine connoisseur boy’s club, Kurniawan exploited their trust in his taste to mix counterfeit rare wines and unload them at auctions in the U.S. and internationally for untold millions of dollars.

Had his reach of his scheme not exceeded its grasp, he might have gone on counterfeiting wines for years longer than he successfully did: his marks found it unthinkable that another hobbyist would be so blasphemous as to violate the integrity of the hobby they loved, but after a point it was also unthinkable that so many bottles of wines thought lost or extinct could suddenly be procured by one person. Once the proprietors of the French wineries Kurniawan specialized in replicating started talking to each other and investigating the source of the “Frankenstein wines.” However, Kurniawan’s days were numbered, and the FBI agents who had been dogging his tracks closed in. The book then recounts how the situation devolved into several millionaire wine collectors suing each other alongside Kurniawan in a legal flurry of betrayal and wounded pride, desperate to make an example out of anyone they could. Even a member of the politically recognizable Koch family was swindled by Kurniawan.

Despite his admissions of the lasting damage Kurniawan dealt the rare wine world and many testimonies from angry hobbyists, Hellman even still seems to hold a note of respect for something about him – perhaps his undeniable palate, perhaps the sheer amount of chaos he sowed, or perhaps like many of us who will read this book, the understanding that sometimes it’s fun to see the underdog triumph over the decadently wealthy, even if that underdog is just a shady little criminal. As the author himself supposes, “…do these folks not bear some responsibility for not doing their due diligence before throwing silly quantities of money at Kurniawan wine? Absent the guile of a consummate con man, they would have held tight to their money and their common sense.” Hellman, who includes his own conversations with Kurniawan during the time he was active among the scores of referenced others who once counted him as friend and confidante, clearly researched his book extensively as a labor of love for years during and after the fallout from Rudy Kurniawan. Using his professional profile as a wine writer the way Kurniawan used his gifted palate, Hellman was able to conduct incredibly candid interviews with almost everyone touched by Kurniawan’s schemes, from legacy winemakers to federal agents to lifelong connoisseurs, everyone who contributed to the book seemingly eager to spill the beans on the fraud that had walked among them.

In Vino Duplicitas is juicy enough as a crime story to stand on its own, but what really made the ride enjoyable for me was Hellman’s passion for the art of wine, a subject I’m generally ignorant of as a fancy hobby for the rich with little impact on me, personally. But Hellman takes us on a leisurely tour through his narrative, pausing at useful intervals to explain the story behind the 1945 Chateau Mouton Rothschild, harvested just after the Germans were driven from France and its label emblazoned with a “V” for “victory”, and to recount the raptures of one of Kurniawan’s mentors after the con man shared with him a 140-year-old Volnay Santenots the man described as, among other things, a “mythical creature”. If a wine is rare or special, Hellman will describe for you in lush detail exactly what it is that makes that wine unforgettable. Hellman takes the reader by the hand and invites them to the lavish dinners at which Kurniawan wooed his marks, gatherings of supposed friends dining in the kind of decadence most of us can only dream of, and as a wine journalist given a glimpse of this world as an outsider himself (a working professional, not there for pleasure), Hellman seems to relate to the reader in that regard. He certainly taught me several things about wine over the course of the story I would otherwise never have picked up. Other writers without a personal interest in the world Hellman crafts for us could not have told the story of Rudy Kurniawan with half as much charm or intrigue.

I would heartily recommend In Vino Duplicitas to any fans of crime or heist television such as Catch Me If You Can or Leverage; to anyone who enjoys the schadenfreude of witnessing extremely bamboozled billionaires; and to anyone who’s always wanted to know more about the exclusive art of wine, perhaps from a helpful friend willing to share with us just what makes wine special enough for some to risk everything for.

– Review by Sarah, Middletown Branch

In Calabria by Peter S. Beagle

Publishers Weekly Best Book of 2017
Locus 
2017 Recommended Reading List

Claudio Bianchi sees a unicorn on his farm.  He can’t keep it a secret for very long.  Then there are two of them.  Then comes trouble.  This is basically a story about a middle-aged man who meets a much younger woman, which is a typical plot. However, this story is far from the average romance.

Claudio lives on a small hillside farm in Southern Italy.  His companions include cows, pigs, a goat, and three cats.  Later, Giovanna shows up while delivering the mail.  She sees the unicorn and everything in Claudio’s solitary life begins to change.  Claudio is also a very amateur but quite dedicated poet.  His writing, like every other aspect of his life, takes on new meaning.  Is it the unicorn or is it Giovanna?  Maybe it is both of them that change him.  This story shows that it may take a few miracles, but good can prevail.

The one thing I don’t like about this book is that the author writes in gruesome detail about the murder of one of Claudio’s cats.  Otherwise, this is a nice, sweet, quaint romantic story about a poor, Italian farmer and the sister of the village postal carrier.  A romance, that is, which is interrupted by violence, monsters, gangsters, and thugs.

– Review by Elaine, Main Library

3 Dead Princes by Danbert Nobacon

The heroine of this humorous, satirical fantasy is Princess Alex, also called “Stormy” (her middle name).  She goes on an accidental and occasionally chilling adventure, fulfills a witch’s prophesy, and manages to kill off three princes. In her effort to save her homeland, Morainia, from the threatening Oosarians she becomes a legendary, almost magical, figure.

The clever, specialized vocabulary used in this story is well defined in the Glossary.  But, this was the only part of this book that I did not like.  It obviously required significant creativity and effort.  It somewhat detracts from the story and slows down reading of an otherwise fast moving and charming fantasy in which time has yet to be “invented”.    

It may seem odd that this not very anarchistic and would-be fairy-tale with a teenage heroine is found in the adult Science Fiction section of the library.  The story appeals to both age groups but it might be more popular as a Teen book. 

– Review by Elaine, Main Library

Two Tales about Northern Ireland

Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction, and fiction shines a light on real events so well it seems true. That’s the case with Northern Spy by Flynn Berry a mystery/thriller set in Northern Ireland in present day, and Say Nothing by Patrick Radden Keefe the true story of a murder and mayhem in Northern Ireland during the height of The Troubles.

In Northern Spy, Tessa – a producer for the BBC – claims to be largely non-political. Like everyone living and working in Northern Ireland she is impacted by conflict between Irish republicans and British loyalists, but she herself has never been involved. Then one day she looks up to see news footage of her sister Marian pulling a ski mask over her head and participating in an armed robbery. Tessa insists her sister must have been kidnapped or coerced into participating in the heist, but eventually comes to realize the sister she thought she knew so well has been secretly working for the IRA for years. When Marian tells her she may have a path for peace Tessa has to decide where her loyalties lie and how far she will go protect everything that is dear to her. This book is a fast read. The chapters are short and the plot moves quickly. This is a great read for anyone who likes mysteries and political thrillers.

Say Nothing is also about two sisters, Dolours and Marian Price. While the fictional Tessa and Marian in Berry’s book were not raised to be political, the real Price sisters were raised in a well-known republican family. Marian and Dolours were participants in several high profile bombings in the UK in the 1970’s. Both sisters spent time in jail, both were subjected to force feedings when they tried to go on hunger strikes, and both received widespread press coverage. Keefe’s investigation also turned up audio recordings, interviews Dolours Price gave to oral historians at Boston College that seem to implicate one or both sisters in the murder of Jean McConville, a single mother of ten children in 1974. Keefe’s book is wonderful at examining 400 years of conflict through the lens of a handful of IRA members and one murder. There’s a surprise twist at the end that is guaranteed to leave you with goosebumps. Say Nothing is perfect for fans of Erik Larson who want a fast-paced, well researched look at the ongoing struggle in Northern Ireland.

– Review by Jenny, Middletown Branch

The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson

In 1935, the administration of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt founded an important federal program intended to provide employment opportunities to the throngs of workers left unemployed as a result of the Great Depression: the Works Progress Administration.  And it is from this unprecedented federal program that the Pack Horse Library program was born, a program whose primary purpose was the distribution of books via horse to isolated communities in the eastern Appalachian counties of Kentucky.  Those who engaged in this venerable work became known as Pack Horse Librarians.

When Kentucky native Kim Michele Richardson learned about this program, she became fascinated with those who worked so hard to bring enlightenment to so many and set off on a multi-year research endeavor.  The result?  In 2019, Ms. Richardson published her debut work of fiction, The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek, which tells the story of Pack Horse Librarian Cussy Mary Carter, called the book woman by those she served.  While a fabricated character, the research Ms. Richardson executed in preparation for her writing of this book is obvious.

Cussy is a well-drawn character for whom it is easy to cheer, since her life is one with many difficulties.  Among these challenges is the fact that she is one of the last of the “blue people of Kentucky,” a group of Kentuckians of the past who, due to a genetic disorder, possessed skin the color of blue and were treated with disdain and prejudice by many.  Add to this poverty and a lack of opportunities of any kind, and one is left with a rather sympathetic character.  But Cussy is not one to let any obstacle stand in her way, and her journey is one fraught with both hardship and danger, but also of love and deep friendship.  And the reader accompanies Cussy through this amazing story, sharing in her losses and triumphs.

Reviewed by Rob, Crescent Hill

Now the only thing overdue at the Library is you!

Your Louisville Free Public Library has gone fine free!

LFPL no longer charges fines for overdue items. With this change, LFPL officially joins library systems across the country who recognize that fines statistically do not ensure the return of borrowed materials. They merely create a barrier to library services that disproportionately affects the people who need access the most.

While this proposal eliminates overdue fines, library items not returned will still result in a patron being billed for the replacement cost and blocked from additional checkouts until the items are returned or paid for.

Why is LFPL going fine free?

  • To provide more equitable access to the library’s materials and resources.
  • To encourage previous patrons to come back to the library and attract new users.
  • To improve customer service and the patron’s overall library experience.

What this means for you:

  • You will no longer accrue a daily late fee on overdue materials.
  • If you have overdue fines (not replacement costs) accrued before we were fine free, you are no longer required to pay those fines.
  • You are still responsible for your items. We encourage you to return all items in a timely manner.
  • The library will continue to send you courtesy reminders to return your items.
  • Past replacement fees for lost or damaged items still apply.

2021 Eisner Awards Nominations

These are often called the comic book world’s version of the Oscars

Comic-Con has announced nominations for the Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards 2021. The nominees are for works published between January 1 and December 31, 2020 and were chosen by a blue-ribbon panel of judges.

All professionals in the comic book industry are eligible to vote.

The deadline for voting is June 30, 2021. The results of the voting will be announced in July in a virtual ceremony as part of Comic-Con@Home.

For a list of items in the library that are Eisner Award-winning works, click here.


Hey, if you are interested in discussing comics, manga, or comics-related media, please join LFPL’s Graphic Novel Discussion Group.

Upcoming meetings will take place on the following dates:

  • Patriotism & Superheroes – Saturday, July 03, 2021 – 2:30 PM – 3:30 PM
  • Free Comic Book Day – Saturday, August 14, 2021 – 2:30 PM – 3:30 PM (yes, there will be free comics for attendees!)

 Article by Tony, Main Library

When Setting Matters

We all know that setting is important to every story but in some books it takes on a life of its own. There are books where the setting feels like an extra character, not just an extra character, a vital character. There are proper terms for these sort of settings, integral setting, symbolic setting, and antagonist setting to name some. If you are seeking authors who know how to create a scene, look no further. Check out these books below.

Cover art

The Guest List by Lucy Foley

The Guest List is set on the wild and isolated Cormorant Island off the coast of Ireland. Guests arrive for the wedding of glamour couple, Julia Keegan and Will Slater but things take a dark turn when a storm starts brewing and guests are left stranded. The setting is eerie with a Lord of the Flies vibe. You can almost feel the dread in the air. The guests and the islands secrets start to come to light and emotions run high in this dark and twisted tale.

Mexican Gothic - Wikipedia

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Mexican Gothic is set in 1950’s Mexico. Strong-willed, Noemí Taboada travels to the countryside after her father receives a concerning letter from her newly married cousin. Married to a wealthy Englishman, her cousin, Catalina lives in High Place, an estate set high in the hills tucked away from the small village. Catalina’s husband and family are serious and menacing. Noemi works to uncover the cause of her cousin’s illness and strange behavior and in turn exposes deadly family secrets.

The Sun Down Motel

The Sun Down Motel by Simone St. James

The Sun Down Motel takes place in upstate New York. The timeline shifts between 2017 and 1982. Carly Kirk arrives in Fell, New York to investigate the disappearance of her Aunt Viv. Viv disappeared in 1982 while working at The Sun Down Motel and Carly is looking for answers. As part of her investigation, Carly begins working at the Sun Down Motel. She retraces her Aunt’s movements and begins to uncover some disturbing events. The hotel seems to be trying to tell her something important. Will she figure it out before it’s too late?

Ghost Wall

Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss

Ghost Wall takes place in the northern England countryside. Silvie and her family join some of her father’s fellow professors and their students in an anthropological reenactment. The group must live and work as if they are part of the Iron Age, gathering roots and hunting from the surrounding forest and bog. Things take a turn when the group decides to build a ghost wall like those of their ancient counterparts. The spiritual turn provides a perspective into the role of ritual and lore and it’s consuming power.

Tokyo Ueno Station by Miri Yu

Tokyo Ueno Station takes place at a park in Tokyo, Japan near Ueno Station. It spans from 1964 to 2011 and is the story of Kazu and his life living homeless in the park. In the story Kazu is our ghost guide who leads us through his life, the history of the park and his friends that live in the park with him. Kazu’s story is one of thousands and yet unique to him. The park is both a refuge for those that call it home and a constant upheaval. A National Book Award winner, Miri takes us on a spectral look at the outcast of society.

– Review by Catherine, Main Library

Phoebe Bridgers: A Career in Progress

If you watched the Grammy’s this year, you might recognize this name from the four nominations she brought in for Best New Artist, Best Alternative Music Album, Best Rock Performance, and Best Rock Song, all in response to her 2020 studio album Punisher. Many parts of Bridgers‘ discography have been put into my personal rotation as of recent and we carry some of them in our system, so I’d like to point out her relatively short career to supplement the buzz around these Grammy nominations. She has put out a lot of work in a short amount of time, but I have a feeling this is only the beginning.


Strangers in the Alps by Phoebe Bridgers

Released in 2017 on Dead Oceans Records

Despite not having as much visibility as her 2020 album, this got plenty of play from the Indie music sphere with over six million views for Motion Sickness. This album lacks the complex production you’ll see on Punisher, but the simplicity is just as effective here and paints a clear image of Phoebe’s intentions that will grow over the years. While still appealing to a wide variety of Indie fans, the Alt-Country inspired rhythms on cuts like “Motion Sickness” will encourage square dancing as much as melancholy. Phoebe writes her songs in the Folk tradition and almost always has a hauntingly gloomy tone with shockingly direct lyrics and an affection for minor resolutions and quiet moments. This record fits snugly into Indie Folk standards like Sufjan Stevens or Elliott Smith and her character is strong enough to remind me of female titan energy found in Fleetwood Mac or Alison Krauss

Boygenius by Boygenius

Released in 2018 on Matador Records

After Phoebe’s debut album, she joined forces with Julien Baker and Lucy Dacus to form a supergroup named Boygenius to release a self-titled EP. This term “supergroup” can apply to any project comprised of members that are recognized in other musical outfits, but not every one of them is necessarily “super”. In this case, the term is applied appropriately, presenting a sweet bunch of songs that caters to each of their strengths. When you survey their solo careers, genres like “Indie”, “Folk”, and “Rock” will all come up – sometimes exhibiting hybrid combinations of those terms. On this release, they have the support to individually focus on each style and compliment each other to seamlessly weave an elaborate tapestry that takes on a life of its own. Even with such a star-studded cast, this release is humbly bold, patient, and strong.

Better Oblivion Community Center by Better Oblivion Community Center

Released in 2019 on Dead Oceans Records

The following year, Phoebe starts a second supergroup project, this time with the elusive and legendary Conor Oberst of Bright Eyes fame. Considering the professional gap between these two, I find this collaboration surprising. Conor Oberst is known as a godfather of Indie Folk, producing monumental releases in the genre over his nearly 30 year career. Though Conor is not new to collaborations, his presence is generally seen as a rare blessing, so the fact that Phoebe works alongside him suggests a promise in her style. The duo leans into their Rock tendencies here and produce jaw-droppingly magical moments, like on Sleepwalkin’ and Dylan Thomas. The aura from their chemistry creates a breathtaking environment inhabited by the rare forms of these musicians. If Boygenius distills the hallmarks of each members sound, BOCC illuminates their hidden potential.

Punisher by Phoebe Bridgers

Released in 2020 on Dead Oceans Records

The very next year, Phoebe releases an album that is as delicate as it is crushing. Everything is turned up to 11, even when most of it comes in at a whisper. This is still a singer-songwriter record, but the production choices make this a very unique addition to the likes of this style. There is a plethora of blissful soundscapes with loads of electronics and orchestration, but its subtlety still allows Phoebe’s quiet voice the leading role. Phoebe has a lot of personal things to say on this record, but in not too many words and with rich and devastating emotion. The first time I listened to the title track, I replayed it 28 more times to linger on the heart-string it just plucked. Much of this album is brooding but she offsets it with moments of triumph, like on the Grammy nominated single “Kyoto“, making this album more complex than just a sad anthem. This release is brilliant and I’m eager to see what she brings on the next one.


The first time I heard the name “Phoebe Bridgers,” I assumed the music to be another dime-a-dozen dreamy Indie outfit. Especially considering how late her career started, I was sure it was going to be an overplayed sound from the early 2010’s (ex: Helplessness Blues by Fleet Foxes). Well, I am pleasantly embarrassed to admit that my assumption was foolish and pedantic. Phoebe gives this sector of Indie a lot of life and it’s encouraging me to be more open about other music that falls under this same umbrella. Thanks, Phoebe.

— Reviewed by Noah, Bon Air

The Conductors by Nicole Glover

The Conductors by Nicole Glover
Murder and Magic, #1
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (2021)
422 pages // 14 hours on Audio
Link to the book in LFPL’s catalog

An often overlooked time period, at least in my personal historical fiction reading habits, is the Reconstruction Era immediately following the end of the Civil War, especially as it was for formerly enslaved people living in the American North. Nicole Glover’s debut speculative mystery novel The Conductors is an interesting depiction of that time period, a slow-paced mystery set in a world where Black folks can work magic, and featuring chosen and found family.

Hetty and Benjy were Conductors on the Underground Railroad who are now trying to find their place in post-Civil War society in Philiadelphia’s Seventh Ward, along with some of the people they helped escape from slavery. They are married but it was a marriage of convenience, something they’ve fallen into to allow greater freedom of movement for each of them. Although the magic system isn’t as well explained as it could be at times, I was really enchanted with the use of constellations as the source of the magic’s power, both from a historical perspective as well as the striking imagery it brings to the world. Hetty and Benjy used their magic skills to help them guide other enslaved people to freedom, but magic can be used for evil here too.

When an acquaintance stumbles across the dead body of an old friend and comes to Hetty and Benjy for help, they know they can’t trust the police to pay attention to the murder, much less solve it or prevent others from happening. Hetty and Benjy quickly realize they’ve gotten into something more sinister than they had expected, and have to work together to learn things about their community that some would prefer remain hidden. For those interested in speculative historical mysteries with found family, I strongly recommend checking out The Conductors.

The Conductors includes mention, discussion, and/or portrayal of enslavement, physical restraint, scars, discrimination, bigotry, racism, colorism, murder, infertility, alcohol consumption, drug use as a coping mechanism, war, gun violence, injury, broken bones, drowning, explosions, torture, funerals, death, grave robbing, miscarriage, and crossdressing as a disguise.

The second book in the series, The Undertakers, is due out in November of 2021, but it can be read as a standalone if series aren’t your thing.

– Review by Valerie, Newburg Branch