Tag Archives: Adult Non-Fiction

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,” 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

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

Dutch Girl by Robert Matzen

Warning: This review contains allusions to disordered eating, parental emotional abuse, trauma and PTSD.

With the release in December 2020 of the recent documentary, Audrey, providing a personal glimpse into internationally beloved actress and humanitarian Audrey Hepburn, fans of her activism, her iconic style and her legend will likely find themselves reaching for other works to provide insight and a feeling of closeness to her. I cannot more strongly recommend Robert Matzen’s Dutch Girl, an addicting biography of Hepburn’s adolescence in the Nazi-occupied Netherlands that reads like historic fiction written by your favorite World War II scholar. It is a marriage of emotion and adrenaline, crafted by a historian whose awe of his subject is apparent throughout the work, and in this intimate tribute to the origins of Hepburn’s legacy of empathy and philanthropy, it doesn’t take readers long to see his point.

Meticulously researched and assembled with the care and sentiment of a personal scrapbook, Dutch Girl is a window into Hepburn’s childhood, defined by parents whose Nazi sympathies nearly destroyed her family and contributed to the occupation and abuse of the Netherlands by Germany during World War II. We are treated to the story of a child of respectively absent and dominant personalities in a wealthy, titled family that had already begun to decline by the time Adolf Hitler rose to power, and how far that family had still to struggle. To say young, mild-mannered Audrey (so-called Adriaantje in Dutch) is the perfect perspective for readers to experience life in the Netherlands as it existed under German occupation is an understatement, and Matzen’s detailed yet fluid writing style adds to the sensation that you’re simply reading a novel about a young girl set during this time. As someone for whom ADHD makes focusing on sitting through an entire book difficult, it surprised me how quickly and easily I was sucked in to this wartime account. Even before Matzen compares the two, it’s easy to see through the story of another girl experiencing the same events from a different perspective why Otto Frank initially asked Hepburn to portray his daughter Anne when her famous diary was made into a film.

Dutch Girl sometimes veers away from a focus on Hepburn to describe significant military maneuvers by Allied or German troops and what their operations meant for Velp, the town in which Hepburn’s family relocated to try to survive the war and unwittingly placed her in both extreme danger and as privy to some of its major events in the Netherlands. But these digressions into what the S.S. was also up to at a certain time or Hepburn’s mother’s lineage and what it meant for her rarely feel distracting: Matzen is an experienced biographer who spins his historic narrative with its seemingly-unrelated factual events in an engaging way that you barely mind, and sometimes forget about Audrey Hepburn the fifteen-year-old a bit in the middle of all the excitement. When we steer back to her it is as a palate-cleanser from the adrenaline of an exciting wartime account and the emotional anchor of the book. As Hepburn’s son Luca Dotti notes in his foreword, after reading the biography, “Even I immediately forgot that there would be a happy ending for Audrey. As I read, I realized that bomb, that bullet, that German truck and its load of prisoners could simply be The End.”

We are led with Hepburn on a journey as she witnesses atrocities experienced by Jewish friends and neighbors; experiences her uncle being murdered by the SS in an assassination that would become infamous; volunteers as an errand-runner for members of the Dutch Resistance; and experiences the “Hunger Winter” of 1945 in brutal detail. But these are just the major placeholders between dozens of everyday accounts that fill the book, curated from the few occasions Hepburn ever spoke of the war and from others in her immediate community who gave accounts as well. Matzen’s thoroughness in bringing multiple facets of her experiences to life through others introduces us in depth to figures like Hepburn’s mother, the complicated and flawed Ella van Heemstra, who transitions from an outspoken supporter of Hitler’s genocidal plans to someone who finds her mind changed when it’s her own family impacted, bombed and starved, and her sons are in hiding from the threat of being drafted while she struggles to keep her daughter safe from German soldiers.

We also learn about everyday heroes of the Dutch Resistance active in Velp that Hepburn had links to: especially Dr. Hendrik Visser ‘t Hooft, an illegal-motorcycle-riding, Nazi-evading, charismatic figure in the Resistance for whom Hepburn volunteered at his hospital and who was likely the person through whom she worked with the Dutch Resistance. I have never heard his name in a history class or anywhere else, and I’m sure most people haven’t, but it was just plain fun reading about this everyday hero who used his privilege in his own community to work to safeguard his Jewish neighbors and facilitate efforts to resist fascism, even with Nazis actively marching down his streets. I now have about six books on the Dutch, German and French Resistances lined up to read, and it’s completely his fault.

From “Dutch Girl”, Robert Matzen. Somebody arrest this man…for stealing my heart.

A wide collection of works documenting the life of Audrey Hepburn as a starlet and later ambassador have been produced, but as the kids say, Dutch Girl just hits different. It tells the story of a complete human whose world was so much more than many know, and relatable at every turn despite taking place nearly a century ago in what likely felt like a completely different world. Artists and performers pushing themselves physically to the limit to pursue their dreams around multiple side-hustles can see themselves in Matzen’s account of Audrey’s post-war struggles, newly arrived in a different country and flinging herself from ballet to theater while still a teenager in order to earn enough money to support herself and her mother. Her complicated, lifelong relationship with food first as a child studying a physically intensive sport, nearly starving along with her entire family on “war rations”, and joyfully, chronically overeating when once again able and describing herself as a “…swollen, and unattractive, as a balloon…” when from a lifetime of photographs we know this to be an untrue perspective on her own body, will resonate with many. Children of domineering parents may recognize the origins of Hepburn’s self-criticism in her mother early on in this account of her childhood, only to be proven right towards the end of the book at Hepburn’s self-deprecating account of her mother’s casual, backhanded insults of her even at the height of her Hollywood career.

While it is impossible for those of us living in 2021 to comprehend the horrors of World War II, it feels almost familiar to read, over a year into pandemic quarantine, of a young girl forced to shelter in a basement with her family, sneaking out for a bit to get some sun in the backyard one day (and almost getting bombed by the war literally playing itself out in her backyard). It feels like a balm, or even a promise, to read about that time in her life when hope was in short supply and then celebrate with her as Matzen describes the final liberation of Velp by Canadian troops with accounts of joyful reunions with long-lost neighbors and families reuniting to rebuild. The war never ended for Audrey Hepburn in many ways that she barely let on in her lifetime, but her actions as a tireless advocate for those devastated by wars and disasters speak more loudly than the quiet interviews that earned her a reputation for mystery ever could.

Review by Sarah, Middletown Branch

William S. Burroughs and the Cult of Rock ‘N’ Roll by Casey Rae

David Bowie and William Burroughs, photo by by Terry O’Neill 

I didn’t read much as a child. As a late teen, I discovered good literature via my love for Rock & Roll. And I continue to do so as an old man.

I had a need to find the sources of The Beatles, Bob Dylan, and Lou Reed’s references in their lyrics and interviews. Once I found The Beats, Thomas Wolfe, Henry Miller, Nelson Algren, and Hubert Selby, the flood gates broke and unleashed a “word hoard” that has drowned me. But, I believe, literature is a good way to die. Or live.

The writer who has influenced all the rockers that I mentioned before is WILLIAM S. BURROUGHS.

Paul McCartney chose him to be on the cover of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. And through Paul, Burroughs was a big influence on The Beatles’ avant-garde development in the mid 60’s. Bob Dylan read Naked Lunch (1959) and it influenced his lyrics and poetry collection, Tarantula, which is like reading Burroughs’s later cut-ups. Lou Reed was very influenced by Burroughs’ subject matter in Junky, Queer, and Naked Lunch, reflected in many songs such as “Lonesome Cowboy Bill” and “Heroin.”

Lou Reed and William S. Burroughs, photo by Victor Bockris

Bill lived a very hard and lonely life. But an exciting life.

Born in 1914 in St. Louis to a prominent family, Harvard educated, but bored and a total misfit, he began hanging with seedy people in seedy places. Bill was a founding member of The Beat Generation that began in the late 40’s with the meeting of Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsburg.

He began doing morphine around age 30 and was a heroin junkie for a large part of his life. This made for him a very peripatetic life around the globe (Tangiers, Paris, London) until he landed in NYC in the mid 70’s. He was always running from the law. He was in his early 60’s and managed to get another bad heroin addiction in NYC. His assistant helped him move to Kansas to get away from drugs. He was on the methadone program and smoked weed until his death at age 83.

This book is not a biography but a travel through Burroughs’ life and those that choose him as a friend and an influence. And the list is long of musicians that sought Bill out at his place in NYC (known as “the Bunker”) or to his modest home that he owned, late in life, in Lawrence, Kansas. David Bowie (pictured above), Iggy Pop (pictured below), Kurt Cobain, Mick Jagger, members of Hüsker Dü, R.E.M., and Sonic Youth to name a few. Many just mined his writings for their band name (Soft Machine, Steely Dan, and Mugwumps – an early version of The Mama and Papas – to name a few), or for song titles/lyrics.

Iggy Pop and William S. Burroughs

This book explores every musician inspired by Bill’s very wild life and writings. The irony in such a book is that Bill had no interest in Rock & Roll or Punk Rock (which he is oftentimes called the Godfather of Punk Rock). But he took a great interest in the musicians that visited him. And he formed a few friendships with men young enough to be his grandsons.

He was very fond of Kurt Cobain, who visited him 6 months before Kurt committed suicide. As Kurt drove away, Burroughs remarked to his assistant, “There’s something wrong with that boy; he frowns for no good reason.”

I have read a lot about Burroughs’ life and some of his books, yet there are stories told here that I have never heard before. For example, there’s a very funny one about his first visit from Al Jourgensen, the leader of the band Ministry.

William S. Burroughs is a writer that you should know and this book is a good way to begin. Or if you already familiar with him, it is a good book to add to your knowledge of him.

Reviewed by Tom,Main 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

A Grief Observed by C. S. Lewis

“It is hard to have patience with people who say, ‘There is no death’ or ‘Death doesn’t matter.’ There is death. And whatever is matters. And whatever happens has consequences, and it and they are irrevocable and irreversible. You might as well say that birth doesn’t matter.”

― C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

In 1961, C. S. Lewis published A Grief Observed, a book about the death of his wife and his journey through his grief.  Nearly sixty years later, people are still connecting with Lewis’  words.  I read A Grief Observed last January, a few years after losing a dear friend.  Lewis affirmed my thoughts and feelings again and again and I wished that I had read it years before when I was in the midst of my grief. Death affects all of us. The loss of a loved one is at some point brought before us and yet still we often fumble in our interactions about grief and with the griever. I think Lewis says it best when he says:

“I see people, as they approach me, trying to make up their minds whether they’ll ‘say something about it’ or not. I hate if they do, and if they don’t.”

― C. S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

You can’t help but feel Lewis’ deep love and subsequent anguish at the loss of his wife. His words ring true as he describes the anguish, the emptiness, the anger and finally the desideratum surrounding a life partner taken too quick. Lewis puts words to an experience all face but few can articulate in quite a poignant manner. He writes:

“No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid. The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness, the yawning. I keep on swallowing. At other times it feels like being mildly drunk or concussed. There is a sort of invisible blanket between the world and me. I find it hard to take in what anyone says. Or perhaps, hard to want to take it in. It is so uninteresting. Yet I want the others to be about me. I dread the moments when the house is empty. If only they would talk to one another and not to me.”

– C. S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

How often have those who have been in a period of loss felt that restlessness with a listlessness that makes it hard to be? You can’t really sit still because you need to move before you drown further in the sadness that has grabbed hold of all of you. If you are there and you need help facing life after death, I highly recommend A Grief Observed. I recommend it for anyone who wants to witness fierce love and loss and becoming who you will be without, all that you were before.

“Her absence is like the sky, spread over everything.

But no, that is not quite accurate. There is one place where her absence comes locally home to me, and it is a place I can’t avoid. I mean my own body. It had such a different importance while it was the body of H.’s lover. Now it’s like an empty house.”

― C. S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

– Review by Catherine, Main Library

The Art of Simple Living: 100 Daily Practices from a Japanese Zen Monk for a Lifetime of Calm and Joy

“Does for mental clutter what Marie Kondo has done for household clutter.”

Publishers Weekly

This sounds like a pretty heavy book, in length and depth. It is the latter. But it is “simple” heavy in its depth. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be reading it. I have a great interest in Zen, but most books are beyond my ken. I am 55 years old, and I have endured a great amount of suffering, physically and emotionally (lesson 76). Thus, I often feel that I have a lot of the Buddha within me without learning terminology, sutras, and koans. I’ve learned a little of Zen and Taoism via other authors such as Jack Kerouac, Gary Snyder, and Hanshan.

The author here, Shunmyo Masuno, breaks down 100 practices into small segments that are easy to digest and also, easy to put down and pick right back up without losing a beat. Because of chronic pain, my life has become a very cluttered existence. Both in the brain and all around me physically. So I saw this new book laying on a cart and with its sky blue cover, I was drawn it. And like a Satori, I realized that I need this book. And so I picked it up.

We are born with nothing. NOTHING! But along the way, we pick up attachment after attachment and we don’t realize the weight we are carrying within and without. And until they weight us down so much that we live in fear and anxiety, we are not mindful of how big a burden we carry with everything from ideas to cars and houses.

After reading half of this book, I realized that WOW, I KNOW all these lessons. And it is true that these lessons are simple to understand and if you have lived long enough, you may know them as well. So, for me, these lessons are a reminder to put to use what I already know. Be mindful of your life. Every second of it.

America, Louisville, and often your workplace are full of anxiety. Learning to be calm has been helping me with all three. I tune out the world and all its trivial news and problems. I now worry only about what is in front of me. I cannot change the past, and can only change the future by being calm and seeking within. The best way to calm yourself is to be in Nature. Go take a hike. If you cannot hike, lay on a blanket in the park. Stare at flowers.  But you need to find time alone and away from the cares of the world. Empty the Mind of all the woes and worries that the world puts in it. Let go of attachments. But when you buy something, treat it with love. Respect it.

This small book can help you on your journey to finding ENLIGHTENMENT. All the answers are within you. Seeking them outwardly is not the solution. I personally have trouble with ‘being positive.’ I usually hate people when they point this out. But after reading this book, I am trying hard to be POSITIVE without advertising it to anyone. Work hard to be happy in the moment. And BE IN THE MOMENT! Or as Ram Dass put it: BE HERE NOW. This book will make you think about how you spend/waste your time. And in the end, that is what life is.

We have this book both in Hardcover and in eBook. Reserve it here!

Reviewed by Tom, Main Library

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.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is lizzieborden.jpg

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

“We didn’t know it then, but our fairy tale was about to begin.”

“In those first few weeks, I had no idea that our story would be one so full of love.  When I adopted Juniper, I thought she needed me, but every time I see her snaggletoothed smile, I realize I need her, too.” – Jessika Coker, author of Juniper

The world presents before us a dichotomy: the good and the bad.  While this may well be a grossly oversimplified view of our world, my point is that we experience in our lives both good and bad, highs and lows, etc., and it seems far too easy to become focused on those less pleasant aspects of our lives here on earth.

With this in mind, I felt it appropriate for my review this month to be of a book whose focus is the pleasant, a simple “feel-good” story.  And why not?  It is immensely satisfying and uplifting to read about the wonderful things of which people are capable, and Juniper, the Happiest Fox is a book that very much accomplishes this.

To begin, I must place before you an admission: due to the literature of my youth and of conventional folklore, the fox is an animal towards whom I have always felt a certain level of disdain.  Despite not owning fowl or other animal stock vulnerable to the fox, I have always felt a great sense of mistrust toward them.  And then there is the fact that I am the proud owner of a Wire Fox Terrier, who, as her breed name implies, finds as primary quarry the fox.  Well, Ms. Coker and her slim book have revised my feelings regarding this widely-decried “beast.”

Ms. Coker is a person who has since childhood felt a great love for all animals, and as she aged and collected experiences in veterinary clinics and animal rescue organizations, the fox became an especially beloved creature for her.  One day, she received word that there was a litter of kits in need of a good home.  When she arrived, the runt, who was no larger than the hand of a small child, called to her heart, and since in Native American culture juniper is employed to keep negativity at bay, it seemed the perfect name for this tiny ball of fur with an unforgettable snaggletooth that added to her perfection.

Thus, the adventures, filled with trials and tribulations, began for Ms. Coker and her Juniper.  This is a short read filled with anecdotes and lovely pictures that depict the love and affection that is possible between man and “beast.”  I would recommend this for anyone in need of a pick-me-up in a world that, perhaps, offers too many opportunities for pick-me-downs.

“Juniper gives me hope.  She is my constant reminder that there is still, goodness, purity, and unconditional love in this world.  The world can be heavy, but there’s still a little bit of magic if you know where to look.” – Jessika Coker, author of Juniper

Formats Available:  Book, eBook

Reviewed by Rob, Crescent Hill

Is This Guy for Real? The Unbelievable Andy Kaufman by Box Brown

Andy Kaufman skirted the line between nonsense and reality in his performances where during his comedy career; he brought many unique characters to life.  Two of the most recognizable are Latka Gravas, a lovable kook on the TV series Taxi, and Foreign Man, a character he created for Saturday Night Live. Kaufman and his work  were immortalized in a film called Man on the Moon, where Jim Carrey portrayed him.. Author Box Brown has now brought Kaufman’s life to another generation in a biographical graphic novel, Is This Guy For Real? The Unbelievable Andy Kaufman.  

The novel follows his life beginning as child and his appreciation of performing arts, music and wrestling.  He enjoyed wrestling so much that he created parodies of his favorite stars bit of humor to the violent world of pro-wrestling. For a time, he put his dream of becoming a wrestler on hold while honing his showman skills with improvisational comedy and television appearances.  However, he felt this was not the direction in which he wanted to go. He finally jumped into the wrestling ring, putting on amazing acts and stirring up trouble along the way. His most notable appearance was the controversial debacle with former wrestler Jerry “The King” Lawler.

Box Brown’s simplistic pencil drawings and limited color illustrations capture the story of a young man who was sensitive, thoughtful, and very funny. He uses traditional boxed-in scenes throughout the entire book which reads like an original comic strip. The nostalgic style draws (pun intended) you into the story, while moving swiftly through Kaufman’s short life.  Brown has made this book more than a biography of Kaufman by including footnotes about the world of professional wrestling without interrupting the flow of the story.  There is also an in-depth bibliography of references, websites, television episodes, and personal interviews, as well as a list of books by people in the wrestling industry.

If you enjoy this journey into the life of a comedian turned wrestler, check out Brown’s book about another famous wrestler, Andre the Giant.  

Format Available: Graphic Novel

Review by Micah, St Matthews Branch