Who Can You Trust? Books with Unreliable Narrators

Posted on Friday, April 12, 2024 by Anne

It’s been over 10 years since “Gone Girl” by Gillian Flynn hit the shelves giving readers a taste of (spoiler alert!) one of the most unreliable narrators ever. In the years since several authors have tried their hand at keeping readers on the edge of their seats using the same technique, some more successfully than others. Here are few I’ve come across recently that I can recommend.

Cover of the book "The Coworker" by Freida McFadden which has a red high heel in front of a blood-spattered elevator doorFreida McFadden is one of the hot new authors in the thrillers and suspense genre. I put off giving her a try until recently and am sorry I did. My first venture into her work, “The Coworker,” will certainly not be my last! Dawn Schiff and Natalie Farrell are coworkers who have nothing in common. Dawn is the company accountant and is incredibly detail-oriented and deliberate in her work. She is also quite quirky and a bit of an outcast in the office. Natalie, on the other hand, is the company’s most successful sales rep and highly popular with her colleagues. One day Dawn, who is always punctual and reliable, doesn’t show up at work. Curious, Natalie goes to Dawn’s house and discovers a horrible crime scene. With Dawn presumed murdered, Natalie is soon under suspicion — it turns out that Natalie was quite the bully towards Dawn. I became very caught up in the story’s many twists and turns — and not just because Natalie was not quite what she seems, but because Dawn has some secrets of her own! Continue reading “Who Can You Trust? Books with Unreliable Narrators”

May First Thursday Book Discussion: Zero Days

Posted on Wednesday, April 10, 2024 by MaggieM

book cover for Zero DaysIf you don’t normally read high-intensity suspense or thrillers, hold onto your socks (and your passwords) before you pick up the First Thursday Book Discussion book for May.

I listened to Ruth Ware’s “Zero Days,” while I was traveling last weekend. The audiobook was so intense and the narration so convincing that it spilled over into my mental state. Suddenly, I felt like I was on the run instead of just driving myself to the airport. Thinking that this was a little more zest than I needed, I told myself, “I’ll turn it off as soon as I see how she gets out of this jam.”

An hour and several close calls later, I was still listening, and I kept listening.

Suspense is a genre I rarely, if ever, dip my toe into, so this was a big stretch for me — and it was intense. Ware keeps the twists, scrapes and scrambles coming one after another, resulting in a book that is indeed hard to put down or turn off. But that’s not all Ware has in store. Her novel brings some interesting modern dilemmas and issues to the forefront, and if you’re less than fluent in tech terms, you might find yourself learning something, too.

Is Ware the ‘new Agatha Christie,’ as the publisher’s teaser claims?

Read “Zero Days,” and bring your thoughts to the next First Thursday Book Discussion on May 2, at noon in the Children’s Programming Room at the Columbia Public Library.

New DVD List: April 2024

Posted on Monday, April 8, 2024 by Decimal Diver

Here is a new DVD list highlighting various titles recently added to the library’s collection.

” – Website / Reviews
This Oscar nominated film is the tale of a woman brought back to life by a brilliant and unorthodox scientist. Seeking the worldliness she is lacking, Bella runs off on a whirlwind adventure across the continents.

” – Website / Reviews
Based on the stage musical of the same name, which in turn draws inspiration from Alice Walker’s 1982 novel, this film is a decades-spanning tale of one woman’s journey to independence.

” – Website / Reviews 
In this comedic drama, an ordinary family man (Nicholas Cage) finds his life turned upside down when millions of strangers suddenly see him in their dreams and his newfound stardom takes a nightmarish turn.

” – Website / Reviews
From the director of “The Wrecking Crew,” this documentary follows legendary 1970s session musicians who found success while performing with iconic singers Phil Collins, James Taylor, Carole King and others.

” – Season 1Website / Reviews
A comedy series that follows an aspiring London filmmaker trapped in his recruitment job. When an old friend fixes him an opportunity, he must decide between going all in or giving up his dream entirely.
Continue reading “New DVD List: April 2024”

The Roads Less Traveled: A Survey of Speculative Fiction’s Alternate Histories

Posted on Friday, April 5, 2024 by David Litherland

Astronomical Clock in Prague

“History is written by the victors.”

-Winston Churchill (attributed)

What If… ?

The hallmark of sapience, from which we derive our taxonomic name homo sapiens, is hypothesis. The ability to plot possible effects from our choices is the greatest strength our enlarged frontal lobe grants us; to be able to plan for possibilities allows us to be proactive rather than relying on instinctual reaction. This intellectual capability leads to planning, planning leads to action, and the possible futures collapse into the single arc of cause and effect that makes up history.

Of course, this forethought can also be turned retrograde; it is a preeminent preoccupation of a hypothetical mind not to wonder about what has happened, but what could have happened. For most of the choices we make throughout life, though, this question is moot, as we cannot change what has already happened. Yet, we still delight in (or, perhaps, dread) this retroactive hypothesis to the point that there is an entire niche of stories that spans across fantasy, science fiction, and historical fiction that speculates on this very idea. What if we had, like Robert Frost’s much-misread poem, taken that road less traveled by?

Below is my usual survey of read/reading/should-have-read books of speculative fiction, plucked from my most recent booklist, that dares the reader to ask “What if…?”

… The Napoleonic War was fought with dragons? “His Majesty’s Dragon” by Naomi NovikBook Cover: His Majesty's Dragon

This novel’s point of divergence is an ancient one: in this world, dragons developed alongside humanity in the evolutionary history of the world. But, other than that, the course of (human) history has continued on (approximately) the same course, barring a few differences that are spoilers.

It is the year 1804, and the War of the Third Coalition is just beginning. Napoleon is extending his grasp over continental Europe and the eponymous alliance stands against his expansionist aspirations. Captain William Laurence of the British Royal Navy captures a French vessel and, with it, an unhatched dragon egg of unknown origin. Soon, the dragon hatches, and forms a nigh-symbiotic empathic bond with Laurence, leading him to join His Majesty’s Aerial Corps as a newly minted dragon rider. What trials and tribulations will the pair face as Napoleon’s forces seek to reclaim what is theirs, as one of the world’s first Great Wars commences?

I first read this cross between “Sharpe’s Rifles” and “Eragon” in high school, and was surprised at the amount of historical fact that had worked its way into this fiction about dragon combat and Regency-era society. Novik weaves a tale so engrossing and embedded in its historical fiction setting that it is almost easy to forget it’s a fantasy book! That is, until a boat being carried by dragons to invade England comes under attack by the acid- and fire-spitting predecessors of the RAF while Will Laurence and Temeraire have a psychic strategy planning session above the clouds. But other than that, it’s easy to forget! Novik has written many more novels in this series, in which we see this timeline further diverge from the history we all know, as we see what impact giant, flying, intelligent, and fire-breathing reptiles have on the course of human history.

Book Cover: 11/22/63… John F. Kennedy’s assassin was stopped by a time traveler? “11/22/63” by Stephen King

Despite the date that this novel takes its title from, the point of divergence for this book is (technically) in 2011, when a time slip from the back room of a diner to September 9th, 1958 is discovered.

By traveling back in time through the previously mentioned wormhole, English teacher Jake Epping seeks to change the course of history by preventing Lee Harvey Oswald from ever pulling the trigger from the Book Depository. By going back to the same date each time he steps through the store room of the diner, he dons the guise of George Amberson in order to drastically alter the course of history.  Of course, nothing is as simple as it seems when it comes to time travel and its consequences.

This novel was very nearly my usual third book, in the “I really should have read this by now” part of the blog, but I decided to save myself the shame of having two in the same blog by finally cracking this one open. While there is no disputing King’s mastery of horror, my opinions on his bibliography fall into the camp where, when he steps out of his usual wheelhouse, like with this book, “The Green Mile,” and “The Body” (which became the film “Stand By Me”), King’s skill with storytelling really shines. I’m hoping that “11/22/63” will fit squarely in that category as well, from the bit that I’ve read; this novel’s proving to be a real page-turner that blends the impetus of the premise with a personal, character-driven tale. There is a heavy amount of detail which has taken some extra time to absorb, as King seems to want to fill out every bit of minutiae of the late 50s/early 60s. I’ll have to see if this continues throughout the book, because that might become a bit cumbersome in a book which, weighing in at over 800 pages, falls very much into “tome” territory. However, I’m enjoying it so far, and I am anxious to see what repercussions come of Jake’s attempts to change the past.

… FDR had been assassinated before WWII? “The Man in the High Castle” by Philip K. DickBook Cover: The Man in the High Castle

This novel’s point of divergence can be traced down to a single event on a single day: In our timeline, Giuseppe Zangara attempted to assassinate Franklin D. Roosevelt on February 15th, 1933, but missed and instead killed the mayor of Chicago. In Dick’s history, Zangara was more successful, and that led to a much darker outcome to World War II.

“The Man in the High Castle” imagines a different flavor of Cold War: instead of the allies-turned-rivals story of the USA and the USSR, Philip K. Dick imagines a similar political rivalry arising between a victorious Third Reich and a greatly expanded Empire of Japan, both controlling swathes of the now-occupied United States. The novel follows several characters who live under this new regime, and the acts of intrigue and espionage that filled our mid-20th century fiction about the Cold War play out between the Germans and the Japanese.

Once again, I find myself baring my inadequacies to you, dear reader. While I have read “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” I have not delved much further into the other great works by Philip K. Dick. This novel is the one that made him successful and won him his only Hugo. It also began the resurgence of alternate history in science fiction, which boomed after “High Castle’s” publication.

From my scant research on it, in order to save myself from spoilers, this novel also uses a novel (pardon the pun) technique within the plot to further examine the idea of alternate history, as much of the story involves itself with a book published in-universe that speculates as to an alternate alternative history; what if the Nazis had lost WWII? This book comes off as nearly as improbable in the story as the real novel does to us, but it is quite an interesting way to examine alternative history as a genre!

Of course, perhaps this blog post could lead to an alternate history itself? Perhaps I should write another one with all of these novels reversed in their positioning to explore the myriad paths that my reading history could have taken? Or perhaps that it simply too much work for a joke bit? I encourage you to ask yourself, what if…? Find an answer or two in my most recent booklist here!

Unbound Book Festival: April 18-21, 2024

Posted on Wednesday, April 3, 2024 by Reading Addict

Stacks of books forming a wallStation Eleven book coverSea of Tranquility book coverThis is the ninth Unbound Book Festival that Columbia has hosted and the festival keeps getting better and better. Emily St. John Mandel will be this year’s keynote speaker Friday, April 19, 2024 at The Missouri Theatre at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are available through Unbound’s website and are, thankfully, free — as is the entire festival. Mandel is the author of our past 2015 One Read title, “Station Eleven” which was a finalist for a National Book award and a Pen/Faulkner award and won the 2015 Arthur C. Clarke Award, the Toronto Book Award, and the Morning News Tournament of Books. It has also been made into an HBO mini-series. Mandel’s newest book is “Sea of Tranquility” which will take you on a journey across the Atlantic by steamship, across the Canadian wilderness, around the world, and to the moon.  Continue reading “Unbound Book Festival: April 18-21, 2024”

Nonfiction Roundup: April 2024

Posted on Monday, April 1, 2024 by Liz

Below I’m highlighting some nonfiction books coming out in April. All of the mentioned titles are available to put on hold in our catalog and will also be made available via the library’s Overdrive website on the day of publication in eBook and downloadable audiobook format (as available). For a more extensive list of new nonfiction books coming out this month, check our online catalog.

Top Picks

The Wide Wide Sea by Hampton Sides book coverThe Wide Wide Sea: Imperial Ambition, First Contact and the Fateful Final Voyage of Captain James Cook” by Hampton Sides (Apr 9)
On July 12, 1776, Captain James Cook, already lionized as the greatest explorer in British history, set off on his third voyage in his ship the HMS Resolution. Two-and-a-half years later, on a beach on the island of Hawaii, Cook was killed in a conflict with native Hawaiians. How did Cook, who was unique among captains for his respect for Indigenous peoples and cultures, come to that fatal moment? Hampton Sides’ bravura account of Cook’s last journey both wrestles with Cook’s legacy and provides a thrilling narrative of the titanic efforts and continual danger that characterized exploration in the 1700s. Cook was renowned for his peerless seamanship, his humane leadership, and his dedication to science — the famed naturalist Joseph Banks accompanied him on his first voyage, and Cook has been called one of the most important figures of the Age of Enlightenment. He was also deeply interested in the native people he encountered. In fact, his stated mission was to return a Tahitian man, Mai, who had become the toast of London, to his home islands. On previous expeditions, Cook mapped huge swaths of the Pacific, including the east coast of Australia, and initiated first European contact with numerous peoples. He treated his crew well, and endeavored to learn about the societies he encountered with curiosity and without judgment. Yet something was different on this last voyage. Cook became mercurial, resorting to the lash to enforce discipline, and led his two vessels into danger time and again. Uncharacteristically, he ordered violent retaliation for perceived theft on the part of native peoples. This may have had something to do with his secret orders, which were to chart and claim lands before Britain’s imperial rivals could, and to discover the fabled Northwest Passage. Whatever Cook’s intentions, his scientific efforts were the sharp edge of the colonial sword, and the ultimate effects of first contact were catastrophic for Indigenous people around the world. The tensions between Cook’s overt and covert missions came to a head on the shores of Hawaii. His first landing there was harmonious, but when Cook returned after mapping the coast of the Pacific Northwest and Alaska, his exploitative treatment of the Hawaiians led to the fatal encounter. Continue reading “Nonfiction Roundup: April 2024”

I Want to Thank You

Posted on Friday, March 29, 2024 by Karena

…for reading this blog; for being here, on the library’s website, for including us in your knowledge-seeking journeys, for participating in our community of library people, for sticking with me through this long-winded sentence… for trusting that I will eventually get to a point — one that will add value to your day, that will be worth the read (I will do my best); for engaging with the library’s content (We have so much to share with you!), for allowing us to be part of your lives, in ways big and small. Thank you!

When’s the last time you wrote a thank you note? Maybe it was after a gathering, to thank people for their attendance or gifts. Maybe it was for work, as was the case for Gina Hamadey, whose story starts when she was tasked with handwriting individual thank you notes to fundraiser donors. Hamadey experienced something interesting while writing those notes: “I felt hopeful, optimistic, and present — a mood that would carry into my day.” She found the process so uplifting that she didn’t stop at the end of the work assignment. Instead she made a goal: to write one thank you note every day for a year, to incorporate gratitude into her life in a lasting way. So she did! And then she wrote a book about it: “I Want to Thank You: How a Year of Gratitude Can Bring Joy and Meaning in a Disconnected World.” Continue reading “I Want to Thank You”

Reader Review: How To Be a Stoic

Posted on Wednesday, March 27, 2024 by patron reviewer

How to be a Stoic book coverThe writings of ancient Greeks and Romans may seem like old, dusty stuff, but in “How To Be a Stoic” the author brings to light a worldview called Stoicism. The thoughts of Epictetus and his peers and colleagues, when translated into modern English, do have power and relevance for our own times. I was surprised at first, and then became very interested in Stoicism. This offers me real, useful ideas that can help me deal with life’s bumps and challenges, difficult people, and frustration with politics and other things. I am delighted that Stoicism emphasizes how I can try to become a better person, even when painful events, mistakes, and bad things happen. It can work compatibly with religious views, or not, making this a wide-open philosophy. I will be reading more books by this author, and by other writers, about modern Stoicism.

Three words that describe this book: Surprising, concrete, comforting

You might want to pick this book up if: You would like to live a better and more meaningful life, without necessarily having a religious “faith” or other system.

-Lynn

This reader review was submitted as part of Adult Summer Reading. We will continue to share reviews throughout the year. 

Reader Review: The Black Book

Posted on Monday, March 25, 2024 by patron reviewer

In “The Black Book,” a young Chicago cop, Billy Harney, from a family of cops, gets involved in a bust involving a lot of powerful citizens at a brothel. However, the only missing item to pull the case all together is the madame’s black book. Everyone is out to find the black book including Billy’s sexy, semi-crazy partner Kate, Billy’s twin sister, Patti, who will stop and nothing to protect her brother, the assistant state attorney, Amy, who Billy ends up falling for, and many others including some potential bad cops. During the search for the missing black book, major players are murdered and the evidence points to Billy. This book kept me wondering which character had the black book and which character was the murderer.

Three words that describe this book: Suspenseful, Shocking, Mysterious

You might want to pick this book up if: You like political or police involved stories that keep you hanging until the final few chapters of a book.

-Anonymous

This reader review was submitted as part of Adult Summer Reading. We will continue to share reviews throughout the year. 

Hitchcock Film Fest on Kanopy

Posted on Friday, March 22, 2024 by Abbey Rimel

Kanopy cover image of the documentary film, "Hitchcock/Truffaut." A Quirky red font on a black background with the title and the two directors posing together. Hitchcock stands and gesticulates with his right hand. Truffaut sits looking up at Hitchcock and leans on his chin with his left hand.

Pop some popcorn and kick off your very own Hitchcock film fest with this documentary that centers on the famous week-long interview of Alfred Hitchcock by fellow filmmaker Francois Truffaut: “Hitchcock/Truffaut The Timeless Legacy of Alfred Hitchcock.” While revealing a lifelong friendship between the two directors, the film makes some interesting points about the work of Alfred Hitchcock. For instance, his status as an auteur was granted him by the filmmakers of the French New Wave, his silent film career informed his style as cinema transitioned to talkies, and his vision was singular and highly controlled with only a few collaborators allowed into his process.

 

Kanopy cover image for Hitchcock's film "Blackmail." This vintage poster has a mostly yellow background and shows a detective in an art studio, pulling a red curtain aside to see a canvas study of the female form on an easel. The text reads: MYSTERY, DRAMA, SUSPENSE, ACTION. Featuring Anny Ondra, Cyril Ritchard, John Longden, Donald Calthrop, Sara Allgood. Directed by Alfred Hitchcock.Once you’ve gotten a little background knowledge on this famous director, Kanopy is loaded with a considerable sampling of his work, most notably his early silent films. You’ll also find “Blackmail,” Hitchcock’s first talkie, and you’ll see his budding talent for suspense in “Jamaica Inn” and “Dial M for Murder.”

Finally, I wouldn’t be a worthy librarian if I didn’t also mention that this interview between Truffaut and Hitchcock also spawned a classic text, often considered a seminal work in the study of cinema. You can check out “Hitchcock/Truffaut (Revised Edition)” right here at your local library!

If the Truffaut documentary and other Kanopy holdings tempt you to explore more of the Hitchcock catalog, you can easily find films that show the director in full mastery of his art at the library. Classic films like “Vertigo,” “Rear Window,” “The Birds,” and “Notorious” are waiting for you on our shelves. Sure, you could pay for them on streaming platforms like Apple TV or Amazon Prime, but why?

Kanopy’s Hitchcock Films

The Ring,” 1927
Silent Film
A young boxer gets revenge in and outside of the ring.

Champagne,” 1928
Silent film
This film was panned by critics and later dismissed by Hitchcock himself as a movie searching for a plot.

The Farmer’s Wife,” 1928
Silent film
Local landowner seeks a wife.

Kanopy cover image of Alfred Hitchcock's "The Manxman," in black and white. This close up of a young couple leaning into each other is typical of the silent era, with thick drawn on makeup presumably to highlight the expressiveness of the actor's faces. The Manxman,” 1929
Silent film
Fisherman Pete and lawyer Philip vie for the heart of Kate, the landlord’s daughter.

Blackmail,” 1929
Feature film
Hitchock’s first talkie.

Murder!,” 1930
Feature film
A former juror seeks to exonerate the woman he convicted of murder.

The Skin Game,” 1931
Feature film
Landed gentry defend tradition.

Rich and Strange: East of Shanghai,” 1931
Feature film
Money breaks apart a married couple.

Number Seventeen,” 1932
Feature film
Thieves attempt to elude a determined detective.

The Man Who Knew Too Much,” 1934
Feature film
A young Peter Lorre does his creepy best in this film about an ordinary couple whose child is kidnapped in Switzerland. Hitchcock would later remake this film (1956) with bigger Hollywood names and an altered plot (but he still hired Lorre the second time around!).Kanopy cover image for "Jamaica Inn," which appears to be a movie still featuring Maureen O'Hara and Charles Laughton in costume. Large yellow font with the movie title and director.

Jamaica Inn,” 1939
Feature film
Based on the novel by Daphne Du Maurier. A young woman discovers she’s surrounded by criminals, but that doesn’t stop her from trying to foil their evil ways!

Dial M for Murder,” 1954
Feature film
A slimy ex-tennis pro plots to have his wife murdered and spends the rest of the time trying to cover up his misdeeds.