Book Review: Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
Already well-known as a webcomic creator, Canadian author Emily Carroll makes her print debut with Through the Woods – a collection of five short illustrated stories of horror.
If you loved reading Alvin Schwartz’ Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark when you were a kid, this is your book. Carroll's comics are just disturbing enough to keep you reading but with an expressive style of illustration that is both simple and beautiful.
Among the subjects of Through the Woods:
· A group of rural sisters, left alone by their father, who disappear one by one at night.
· Two young friends who conduct sham séances until one is haunted by a very real apparition that only the other can see.
· A young girl who meets her brother's bubbly and energetic new fiancée for the first time and discovers his paramour is far more sinister than she appears.
Of the five stories, "A Lady's Hands are Cold" strikes me as the weakest if only because it shows its inspiration too easily: Mix together the folktales of "Bluebeard" and "The Juniper Tree" and add a dash of "The Tell-Tale Heart." But even with that flaw, the story is a gorgeous piece of visual storytelling.
Simon and Schuster has marketed Through the Woods as a teen book. But in the vein of much of the young adult literature published nowadays, Carroll's stories are easily accessible to people of all ages and will be a quick and unsettling read for adults and teens alike.
You can read more of Emily Carroll's comics on her website, emcarroll.com.
Mozilla Hive KC Reception & Launch
Learning takes place anywhere and anytime. Not just in school. Therefore, Hive KC aims to connect diverse learning experiences to give kids more ways to engage, learn, share, and explore. Hive KC brings together schools, educators, cultural institutions and youth-serving organizations throughout the metro area to do just that.
On September 9th get more information about membership, innovation funding, participation strategies, and events.
Membership is open and free and geared toward leaders in K-12 Education, out-of-school programs, youth STEAM initiatives, and community and neighborhood relations. Join us to start a collaborative movement that builds a strong Hive in Kansas City.
Mozilla Hive KC Reception & Launch
September 9th 5:30 to 7pm
Central Library, 14 West 10th Street, 2nd Floor
Imagine That: Books that Inspire Imagination
The youth have a hold on some of the most lively and energetic imaginations, so it's only right that children's books should reflect that same enthusiasm. No matter the subject at hand, children's books not only seek to teach, but value change, wonder, and dreams. Below are a few hand picked selections of titles that just might insight, explore, and inspire imagination.
Rules of Summer by Shaun Tan, is a simple, yet amazingly grand and eloquent story about two brothers and a summer they’ll never forget. First, to enjoy summer you have to follow the rules. Fortunately big brother knows all of the rules: Don’t leave a red sock on the clothes line, don’t eat the last black olive, never forget the password. But if your older brother is making all of the rules, no matter how absurd,when will you finally get to enjoy summer? A relationship will be tested and the story is told beautifully through its layout and approach. The clean, repetitive phrasing mixes with fantastical, darkly themed illustrations more breath taking than the last. This story makes for some truly inspiring imagination.
George’s younger brothers cannot stop being nuisances. Everywhere George goes, his brothers need to follow and cause chaos! But when a giant cardboard box from the new washing machine is left around, George decides it’s time for him to go to a place where he can be alone. With the addition of some drawn buttons and levers, George is whisked off to a land of emptiness. George then pours out of his Nowhere Box a slew of fun and exciting things - roller coasters, pirate ships, George has it all! But what fun is your Nowhere Box if you don’t have any pirate enemies or someone to ride the coaster with? George realizes that he knows just where to find great pirate enemies, and possibly good dragons too! George sets a course for home to show his brothers that nowhere can be fun too! The Nowhere Box by Max Zuppardi is not only a great book about developing a strong imagination, but also about playing nice with your siblings.
Zoe is an explorer like no other! At least, that's what she imagines when she is playing at the neighborhood playground with her sister. Zoe is on the hunt for the mysterious and wild Addiebeast (named respectfully and imaginatively after her younger sister)! Zoe and Addie's mom tells them it's time to leave, but Zoe has one last quest up her adventurous sleeve! Through the jungle the relentless explorer climbs trees and sneaks through dense underbrush hoping to locate her career-defining discovery! Will Zoe ever catch her Addiebeast? You'll have to read to find out! Zoe's Jungle represents the epitome of youth playtime, by using limited and realistic resources to make an embarking discovery and to have a good time adventure. A great book for learning to look at surroundings in a different way and learning to incorporate elements for positive play and interaction.
Help! We Need a Title, by Herve Tullet is a story about a ragtag group of illustrations trying to come up with a story for its very interested reader, which just happens to be you! Starring a Magical Fairy, Dog, Pig, Snake Cyclops, and Stick Drawing, this group is dedicated to finding the right story for you. The characters break the fourth wall to speak directly to you, the audience! Each character helps to try and add the elements of a great story into play, but writing a story is a lot harder than it seems for our group. They even enlist the help of the author himself for some quick pointers on top-notch storytelling! Hopefully it pans out well for our characters in the end! Help! We Need a Title, is a great story book for your young abstract reader. The introduction of certain elements like fourth wall breaking, recognizable but unrelated characters, and the overall aesthetic and drawing technique will surely make this book one of the more unique options on your shelf, as well as introduce different ideas about books, reading, and writing to your youth.
About the Author
Shaun Teamer is a creator and storyteller. He enjoys using his imagination to create cool stories and drawings. Shaun can be found at the Kansas City Central Library, imagining fun, new blogs to write about.
The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
I was astounded by this book. Madeline Miller's achievement with The Song of Achilles cannot be overstated. Here's a novel that's absorbingly readable for a modern audience, but that still has the poetry of Homeric sagas. What's most impressive to me is the balance she finds between exploring the universality of human nature throughout the ages and maintaining the innate alien-ness that I experience every time I read The Iliad - the culture of archaic Greece was so very different from this world we live in today. She lets the truth of that age live and breathe without trying to tame or update it.
And yet, I recognize myself in this story.
Far more than any of that, though - of all the authors I've read who've attempted to tackle The Iliad, Ms. Miller is the only one who almost managed to make Achilles a likeable character in my eyes.
I know this sounds like qualified praise, but for me this is an astounding achievement. The Iliad is my favorite work of literature. I continually come back to it, to revisit its Bronze Age world of war and violent heroism.
That being said, I've never felt anything but contempt for Achilles. He may be the "Best of the Greeks" - but at the end of the day, he's petulant, whiny, self-absorbed, and childish.
Yes, I understand that honor was a Really Big Deal in the Bronze Age and that Achilles was truly insulted by Agamemnon; and yes, Agamemnon is imperious and overbearing - but Achilles is selfish and petty in equal measure. I can't find within me any respect for a man who cares more about a perceived insult to his person than about saving the lives of thousands of people.
That's a part of the alien-ness of ancient Greece, I suppose. Given the depth and strength of my antipathy for Achilles, it's amazing to me that, for most of The Song of Achilles, I genuinely like the guy. I have real sympathy for him. There are moments when I feel like I finally understand why he acted as he did at Troy (his Homeric hissy fit). There are moments of true revelation, when I feel like I can begin to see how he might have been justified.
Of course, ultimately, he has to do what he does in The Iliad, which means he must take it too far. The story can't happen without it. Which means that, ultimately, he loses my sympathy again. But I've never been so close to finding my way past my dislike of this character. I'm thankful for this journey.
Book Review: The Drop by Dennis Lehane
Looking for an interesting new book to add to your fall reading list? Then consider The Drop by Dennis Lehane.
Set to be released on September 2, 2014, The Drop is part love story, part crime novel, part mystery, and part faith-based fiction. Add in a lonely bartender, the Chechen mafia, an abused puppy, a vengeful ex-con, a rogue cop, a sketchy bar owner, and a mentally unbalanced woman and your picture of The Drop begins to form.
Originally created as the short story "Animal Rescue," which appeared in the 2009 anthology, Boston Noir, Lehane turned the story into a screenplay before ultimately developing it into a novel.
The Drop begins a few days after Christmas. Bob Saginowski is a dead-end bartender at Cousin Marv’s, a mafia-owned drinking establishment in a gritty Boston neighborhood. Outside of going to mass every morning, where he mysteriously refuses to take communion, Bob has no social life, no friends, and no prospects for the future.
All that changes one night, however, when Bob discovers a severely beaten puppy in a trash can on his way home from work. He also meets Nadia, a mysterious woman who volunteers to help him care for the injured canine.
Things are going good for Bob until the puppy’s abuser, a crazy ex-con, hunts Bob down and demands the dog back. To make things worse, Cousin Marv’s Bar, which is used as a location for funneling gangster money known as “drops,” is robbed, and the local mafia boss shows up demanding to know what really happened to the cash.
From here, the book builds quickly in intensity to its climax on Super Bowl Sunday - when the bar is scheduled for the year’s biggest drop, and the lives of all the characters converge for a dangerous and surprising conclusion.
Overall, The Drop is an entertaining read. It is short, just over 200 pages, which doesn’t allow it to have quite the character or plot depth of other Lehane novels like Mystic River or Gone, Baby, Gone. It does, though, have just enough meat on its bones to satisfy most readers, probably because Lehane’s engaging writing style and ability to connect readers with his offbeat characters are still clearly recognizable in this suspenseful and occasionally darkly humorous story.
Lehane's screenplay for The Drop has also been turned into a major motion picture, due to be released in September. The movie stars Tom Hardy and James Gandolfini, which sadly was Gandolfini’s last film before his untimely death in 2013.
About the Author
Amy Morris is a senior library technical assistant at the Westport Branch. She earned a B.A. in English, with an emphasis in creative writing, from Avila University. Besides reading and writing, Amy enjoys traveling, art, being creative, playing the piano and spending time with her family. She also writes her own blog at livingkansascity.blogspot.com
Book Review: The Long Goodbye by Raymond Chandler
The Long Goodbye (1953) is the sixth of seven mystery novels by Raymond Chandler featuring Los Angeles P.I. Philip Marlowe. Some see it as the pinnacle of Chandler’s career as a mystery author, while others see it as less powerful than The Big Sleep and Farewell, My Lovely, two early novels.
Whatever its power, it may be the most personal of Chandler’s novels, or at least we get a more personally engaged Marlowe here. Much of the novel involves Marlowe trying to help out an unlikely friend, a wealthy drunk, Terry Lennox. Earlier Marlowe novels do not show Marlowe getting emotionally involved with clients or with anyone else. He has a friendship with a man in the DA’s office named Bernie Ohls, but that is more of an acquaintanceship than a friendship.
In a letter to his editor, Bernice Baumgarten, which accompanied a draft of the novel, Chandler expresses his growing dissatisfaction with the formulaic nature of detective fiction, a genre he had become weary of. A paragraph here is significant:
“It has been clear to me for some time that what is largely boring about mystery stories, at least on a literate plane, is that the characters get lost about a third of the way through. Often the opening, the mise en scene, the establishment of the background, is very good. Then the plot thickens and the people become mere names. Well, what can you do to avoid this? You can write constant action and that is fine if you really enjoy it. But alas, one grows up, one becomes complicated and unsure, one becomes interested in moral dilemmas, rather than who cracked who on the head. And at that point one should retire and leave the field to younger and more simple men.”
I cannot help but think that the final swipe was aimed at people like Mickey Spillane who had become quite popular in the 1950s, while the more cerebral Marlowe had lost some steam as Chandler’s own disenchantment in the genre, disgust with life in Hollywood, and continued dependence on alcohol took their toll.
As a mystery novel, The Long Goodbye is not as sharply written as his first novels, The Big Sleep and Farewell, My Lovely. At times, you get the sense of Marlowe as some guy just hanging around waiting for something to happen. But we do have Marlowe’s attraction for Terry, a friend for whom he is willing to take risks. Marlowe’s fondness for Lennox is peculiar — there is nothing about Lennox that seems to justify such loyalty as he elicits from Marlowe and others. The book opens with Marlowe reminiscing over his first meeting with Lennox, the way a person in love would recall that first meeting. Marlowe also has a chance at romance with a Linda Loring, a woman tangentially involved in the investigation of Lennox’ past. So we have Marlowe getting close to two people, where no such closeness was evident in earlier adventures of this lone knight riding down the dark streets of LA, the city of fallen angels.
The relationship with Lennox does not develop, and there is only a hint that the relationship with Loring may develop. Linda Loring reappears in Chandler’s next and last novel, a weak effort called Playback, and shares the bill with Marlowe, now her husband, in the unfinished Poodle Springs. It is intriguing to wonder how Chandler might have played with the idea of a lonely man in a committed relationship, had death not cut his efforts short. I think that Chandler was largely played out when he got to this novel, and that he envisioned The Long Goodbye (as the title suggests) as his own farewell to the genre. But Linda Loring seems to give the cynical Marlowe, vulnerable and wounded, hope for the future, and perhaps her relationship with Marlowe would have turned the tide for Chandler. We’ll never know, as Chandler died a few years after the publication of The Long Goodbye. It was only with the help of Robert B. Parker, the author of the Spenser novels, Chandler’s more romantic follower, that the married couple of Mr. and Mrs. Philip Marlowe come to life.
Even late Marlowe such as this retains some of the vinegary bite of the early stuff. Marlowe, in two separate passages takes aim at modern symphonic music and its aficionados. In a catalog of blondes, which begins, “There are blondes and blondes, and it is almost a joke word nowadays…”, Marlowe snidely dismisses the “brainy” blonde, who reads “The Waste Land or Dante in the original.” “She adores music and when the New York Philharmonic is playing Hindemith she can tell you which one of the six bass viols came in a quarter of a beat too late. I hear Toscanini can also. That makes two of them.” And later, unable to sleep because he’s pondering a case, he notes: "At three A.M. I was walking the floor listening to Khachaturyan working in a tractor factory. He called it a violin concerto. I called it a loose fan belt and the hell with it."
Some say that The Long Goodbye is too loosely constructed, and too sentimental, and they may be right. But Chandler was never much for tight plotting, but could scarcely be beat in setting up a scene and for the crispness of his language, an ability he still demonstrates in the penultimate work of his career.
If you want to check out Marlowe on video, I’d recommend Howard Hawks’ The Big Sleep with Bogart as Marlowe, Edward Dmytryk’s Murder, My Sweet with Dick Powell as Marlowe, Robert Altman’s The Long Goodbye with Elliot Gould as Marlowe, and for a truly bizarre viewing experience — I watch it every Christmas as part of my Christmas ritual — Robert Montgomery’s The Lady in the Lake with Montgomery as Marlowe.
Community Builders: FYI Book Club
FYI Book Club dives into Laura McHugh"s "brilliant" first novel, The Weight of Blood
(This article first appeared in The Kansas City Star on July 11, 2014.)
A masterful first novel challenges readers.
And a challenging one: McHugh, who lives in Columbia, moors her story in the voices of two strong characters, a mother and daughter who never knew each other.
Lucy's mother, Lila, vanished when Lucy was still an infant; years later, as Lucy probes the disappearance of one of her classmates, she learns there may be ties to her own mother's disappearance.
"McHugh gives us the epiphany in the first chapter," said reader Catherine Morris of Kansas City at the recent meeting of the club, "and now the reader must go along to discover what it is."
Participants were eager to discuss the dual narration from Lila and Lucy, the author's interesting choice to start the story with Lila's contemporary voice and then move backward to Lucy's.
Carla Norcott-Mahany of Kansas City said she liked having both women's viewpoints written in the present tense.
"It seemed as if their experiences were happening concurrently, even though we knew they were years apart," she said. "This technique keeps the suspense high as we watch both women's stories play out."
Morris didn't quite agree.
"This may have been the author's intent, but it didn't quite work for me," Morris said. "McHugh could have solved this time shift by including dates along with the chapter headings."
Laura Patton of Overland Park felt the dual voices were "a good anchor for keeping track of the shifting of the time periods. What I did find confusing at first was when certain characters appeared in both Lucy and Lila's lives."
"There were people from the same family, sometimes the same people, but at different points in their own lives," Patton said.
"It was like solving a jigsaw puzzle to see how all the community members fit together and what was their significance in each young woman's life."
Readers enjoyed delving into the complexity of the supporting characters, particularly the two primary male characters, brothers Crete and Carl.
Kathie Newell of Kansas City, Kan., asked participants if they felt Carl was a strong or weak character.
"He succumbs to so many of his brother Crete's demands, too many in fact," Newell said. "Carl needed to rebel in some way to show Crete he couldn't exert this much control over Carl's life forever."
Kristen Zane of Overland Park admitted that she didn't find many redeeming qualities in the secondary characters.
"I had no sympathy for Crete," Zane said. "He was too creepy, and this pervaded the novel's tone."
But Norcott-Mahany said she liked seeing characters who she felt weren't completely good or evil but flawed and realistic.
"Even Crete wasn't completely slimy," she said. "He loved Lucy, and while he appeared threatening, he never hurt her. And Carl is a master at juggling his emotions regarding Crete. Even Jamie, the town druggie, isn't totally bad. He's a bit of a hero at the end of the book."
Readers mentioned the supporting female characters of Ransome and Birdie.
Zane felt that Birdie was a bit too eccentric and cliched as a rural character. Marilyn James of Kansas City felt Ransome was the most conflicted of all the women.
"She was indebted to Crete, and she knew he was doing something wrong," James said, "but she wouldn't be any help to anyone if she didn't keep herself alive. She tried to make amends when she gave Lucy the baby quilt she made from Lila's clothes."
Patton summed up the discussion praising the beauty of McHugh's writing: "She did a lovely job of getting inside the psychology of ordinary people — their brains, their hearts and the remorse they feel when they are the survivors."
FYI BOOK CLUB
The Kansas City Star and the Kansas City Public Library present a “book of the moment” selection every six to eight weeks and invite the community to read along. If you would like to participate in a book discussion led by the library’s Kaite Stover, email email@example.com. Watch for the next selection, The Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman, to be introduced in FYI.
About the Author
Kaite Mediatore Stover is the Readers Services Manager at the Kansas City Public Library. She is a regular guest on KCUR's Book Doctors segment and moderator of The Kansas City Star’s FYI Book Club. She can tap dance, read tarot cards, and doesn’t bite.
Book Review: Landline by Rainbow Rowell
Reading Landline by Rainbow Rowell made me long for the old-fashioned landline phone – for the days when a phone fit your hand perfectly and your ear with the warmth of the voice at the other end, for the excitement a phone ringing and not knowing who was calling.
Landline is a unique story about a marriage and a landline telephone with a time travel element. One person has been in the marriage for fourteen years, while the other hasn't yet proposed. It's about the wonderful and complicated moments of falling in love, being in love, and the complexities of marriage, work, and children. While it may sound a bit like The Time Traveler's Wife, it couldn't be more different.
Georgie McCool — yes, that's her real name — is a successful TV sitcom writer. She and her writing partner have landed the perfect opportunity and have about a week to pull together four episodes for a meeting with the executive at their dream network. The week falls during the Christmas holiday and Georgie decides she needs to stay home to work instead of heading to Omaha with her husband Neal and two daughters. Once again Georgie's career takes priority.
Her mother insists she come over for dinner the first night Neal is gone. Has Neal become fed up and left for good? She can't stand the thought of going home to her house alone and stays at her mother's house. She finds an antique yellow rotary phone in her childhood bedroom closet, and plugs the phone in to give Neal a call. He sounds different and over a few phone calls Georgie begins to realize that landline-Neal is in 1998. She realizes this may be her chance to save her marriage. Humor and flashbacks to their early relationship help Georgie with the struggle of talking to Neal without ruining their future together. Landline-Neal doesn't know how she's screwed up.
While I was reading Landline both times, I couldn't help but recall the days of lying in bed or on the couch talking late into the night with a boyfriend. Those late nights when all that mattered was that time on the phone, and it was worth losing sleep and waking up groggy the next morning. The warmth and closeness of someone's voice on a landline is lost with cell phones. Now there is the delay or tunnel sound to deal with and the nights of long conversations have moved into short conversations or conversations over text. I wonder how teens and twenty-somethings fall in love now without those long heart-to-heart conversations over the phone?
Rowell's fans of Eleanor & Park and her earlier book Attachments will fall in love with Georgie and cheer for her and Neal. I've determined that Rowell's books are dangerous to my sleep, because each of her four books have kept me up way past my bedtime reading.
About the Author
Erica Voell is the Youth Collection Development Librarian at the Kansas City Public Library. She enjoys gardening, sewing, knitting, seeking out gluten-free vegetarian cuisine around the city - and yes, being a good librarian, she is owned by a cat.
Join Us for TEDxYouth@KC
TEDxYouth@KC invites those 25 and younger to be a part of our annual TEDxYouth event that will take place in November. We are looking for passionate and engaged individuals that are putting their idea worth spreading into action. We are also looking for those youth interested in event planning, set design and construction, and video production for TEDxYouth@KC.
Join us on Saturday, August 16th at 1 p.m. to learn more, give input, and participate in the creation of an amazing TEDx event. The presentation will be hands-on and interactive and attendees should expect to be there for two hours. So come out and have an impact on this event. If you don’t show up, you can’t be heard.
Show Me Missouri!
Show Me Missouri!
Just because we live, work, and play here does not mean that we are experts on Missouri. The library is full of resources about your state. Learn more about it, and fall in love with the many interesting facets of this place we call home.
In the middle of the United States, Missouri is where famous people like author Mark Twain, scientist George Washington Carver and President Harry S. Truman were born. Call us stubborn like the Missouri mule (our state animal), but you can’t fault us for wanting to see the sources. To verify where I found this information, go to the Kansas City Public Library’s America the Beautiful database which is full of facts about all of the states.
Other than being in it, KC is also home to the Country Club Plaza, the Steamboat Arabia museum, the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art and the National World War I Museum at Liberty Memorial. In addition, we boast the first sizable museum focused on the history of jazz.
Another way that the Library can take you on a virtual tour of Missouri is through books. One such book is S is for Show Me: A Missouri Alphabet by Judy Young/ Illustrated by Ross B. Young. In it, your imagination can travel from A to Z through great sites and events here. For example, did you know that the first ice cream cone was invented for the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904? What a delicious bit of trivia!
About the Author
Anna Francesca Garcia earned her Master of Library and Information Sciences Degree from the University of North Texas. August marks her tenth year working in public libraries. She has done so in both Nevada and Missouri. Currently, Anna is Kansas City Public Library’s Education Librarian..
Community Builders: Volunteer Spotlight
Melanie Griffey is a petite woman with a warm presence and a ready smile. As a 43 year veteran teacher of Kindergarteners, and first and second graders, she gives new meaning to the term "retired." On Tuesdays she offers her considerable skills at the Plaza branch. She also volunteers with Children's Centers for the Visually Impaired teaching visually impaired children, The Children's Place (with the 4 year olds) and on Wednesdays she and her husband fill backpacks for Harvesters.
I was at Plaza Tuesday morning preparing to make popcorn—my official post at Ron Freeman's science program—when I had time for a brief chat with Melanie. Melanie was busy with her first task of the day, wiping off all the toys with Clorox wipes.
KT: Haven't you been here three years now?
MG: I think so. Being retired, I lose track of time.
KT: We are so happy to have you. Why did you choose the library?
MG: When I retired I knew I wanted to stay connected to kids and books and it was a no brainer to see if there was a need here at the Plaza children's section.
KT: What do you do here?
MG: Anything they want me to do. I usually start with the toys and then do the children's POSH [Pull On Shelf Holds] list. Sometimes I cut things out or get supplies together to support the pre-school story hour and craft activities.
Over 100 kids and their caregivers came to the library that morning shooting marshmallows, building marble runs, and setting off rockets. Melanie was unphased by the chaos. As I stood in a pool of spent kernels I looked over to see her fixated on the POSH list and watched as she placed each book in its exact spot on the shelf.
MG: I feel so privileged to have found great things to do in my retirement.
No, Melanie, the privilege is ours.
About the Author
Katie Taylor is a Development Associate and volunteer coordinator for the Kansas City Public Library.
Book Review: The Greek Coffin Mystery by Ellery Queen
The Greek Coffin Mystery is the fourth Ellery Queen mystery novel, and was published in 1932. The book was written by two cousins, Daniel Nathan (aka Frederic Dannay) and Manford Lepofsky (aka Manfred Bennington Lee), who coauthored the original novels under the pseudonym Ellery Queen. Ellery Queen is also the name of the novels’ detective as well, so that the illusion is created that the author of the books and the main character are one and the same. The novels, though, are not written in the first person, as are many of the hard-boiled detective novels, a device that gives the reader the sense that s/he is being told the story by the investigator him/herself.
The mystery can be summed up as follows: an elderly and wealthy Greek art dealer and collector, George Khalkis, dies, and at his funeral, it is noted that his will has gone missing. The District Attorney is informed, and Inspector Richard Queen of the NY Police is brought in to investigate. Tagging along is his college-aged son, Ellery. When it has been determined that the will is most likely in the coffin with the dead man, the coffin is opened only to reveal the body of an ex-convict who has been murdered. The will, though, is not found in the coffin.
And so the investigation begins in earnest to determine which of the guests or acquaintances of the dead collector was responsible for the death of the ex-convict, a man who had been involved in art forgery, and who seems to have made off with the will.
This book is typical of the classic mystery school, with the mystery as puzzle being key. The police are involved in the investigation, but like Lestrade and Gregson in the Sherlock Holmes stories, they are present only to provide access to the machinery of the police to the gifted amateur.
Like many of the early Ellery Queen novels, the title consists of "The + National Adjective + Common Noun + Mystery" (e.g. The Roman Hat Mystery, The French Powder Mystery, and The Dutch Shoe Mystery precede this novel). In those first three mysteries, the character of Ellery is more closely modeled on S.S. Van Dine’s Philo Vance, a patrician who loves to solve mysteries, and who is rather impatient with (as he sees them) the dim-witted police. Ellery even wears pince-nez glasses, and seems a lot like the arrogant and patrician Vance, which is somewhat surprising, given that his father is a police inspector who rose through the ranks – the chemistry between Ellery in those first few novels and his dad is a lot like (but with fewer comic payoffs) that between Dr. Frasier Crane and his retired police officer dad in Frasier.
The Greek Coffin Mystery presents a younger Ellery (this adventure takes place before the earlier published novels), with Ellery still in college. Ellery, though he is given to strange reveries, is not coldly arrogant in this novel. He also seems much more conversant with the classics of literature here than he had been in the earlier novels, where he seemed downright proud of his ignorance of the classics. He is more approachable than in the earlier novels, but he does display a young man’s confidence in his own infallibility and in a key chapter midway through the book, Ellery delivers a brilliant analysis of the case and offers up his own solution, which proves to be erroneous.
Ultimately Ellery, and his father, Inspector Queen, do get the culprit, but not before the reader is addressed by the authors with a “Challenge to the Reader,” in which the point is made that the reader has seen all the clues and so can, before the solution is given in the final chapter, attempt his/her own solution. Though all of the classic mystery authors are expected to engage in “fair play” and provide all the clues to the readers, Ellery Queen is unique in hitting the literary PAUSE button and issuing a direct challenge to the reader. Despite having all the clues, most readers will find it an almost insurmountable challenge, but that’s part of the fun of these brain-twisting puzzlers.
Though I chose to read The Greek Coffin Mystery this time around, I might as well have read any of the Ellery Queen novels using the formulaic title of The National Adjective Common Noun Mystery. All these novels are equally focused on the puzzle.
Interested readers might also want to look into some of the radio shows from the 40s — you can find some on The Internet Archive — these radio dramas follow the same sort of formula as the books, though Ellery is generally accompanied by a secretary, Nikki Porter. By the late 30s, when Ellery went to radio, the fictional Ellery has become a mystery novelist, who also solves mysteries, a creative approach later used on TV (in the 1950s and 1970s). The intriguing part of the radio shows was that each show had a panel of “experts,” often including some celebrity, who were asked to offer their solution to the mystery before Ellery himself gives the solution and the reasoning behind it.
So whether you choose to read, or listen to, or watch some Ellery Queen, you’ll find an intriguing puzzle, and a direct challenge to you to see if you can solve the puzzle. If you pay close attention, you just may do it.
Teen Review: Great
Great, by Sara Benincasa
Teen Reviewer: Keely McLouth
What would your life be like if your mother was famous? Most of us think Life would be amazing!, but that is not the answer for Naomi Rye. Not only are her parents divorced, Naomi has to spend a whole summer with her uptight, famous mother. In this intruiging story, Naomi is prepared for her usual summer of famous people and fake friends.
When Naomi's model friend Delilah catches the eye of a famous blogger, she'll get caught in a web of secrets and lies. Not to mention her sort-of boyfriend only seems to care about one thing. As Naomi finally starts to live on the "fabulous side of life", will she start to become someone she's not? Will she get so caught up in the drama that she forgets about her real life in favor of the "reality show" kind of life she's experiencing?
In this unique tale, Naomi learns who she really is. I think the beauty of it is that it shows all the sides everybody really has. But there's still one question buzzing throughout the book: Can she keep a secret?
Community Builders: Westport Branch and Collection Development
This week, Building a Community of Readers will begin to highlight the wonderful things happening in different departments and branches of our Kansas City Public Library community. Building a Community of Readers is not simply an invitation to visit your local Library. We seek to empower Kansas Citians to join our efforts to become a more engaged city.
The Library is full of movers and shakers, unafraid of change, who are devoted to finding new and innovative ways to make the Library experience better.
Our journey begins with the lovely people who choose which books go on the shelf—Collection Development. I met with Debbie Stoppello, Collection Development Manager, located on the second basement level of the Central Library building.
Immediately, Debbie set me straight; Collection Development is much more than buying books. The Collection Development department manages and maintains print and electronic collections, databases, and special collections such as the Kauffman collection.
Collection Development is one of our newest departments, which used to fall under Collections Management. In the old system, development was decentralized—each branch was responsible for its own collection. Under their new system, they take a holistic approach to development. With the centralization, the department can make decisions for the whole Library system, and has successfully saved the Library thousands of dollars through their evaluation process.
With different branches, serving different demographics, and working rather autonomously, it can be challenging choosing what is best for collections overall, but the Collection Development department makes every effort to find new ways to streamline their system.
In November of 2013, Megan Garrett was promoted to Branch Manager at our Westport Branch. For one of her first undertakings, Megan met with Debbie Stoppello and Erica Voell from Collection Development to reorganize Westport’s collection.
They created a list of things that had not been checked out recently, or were needed at other branches. With the proximity of the Westport branch to both the Plaza branch and Central, Westport receives many returns. During the weeding, reorganizing, and shifting period, the team was able to send some great books to the two other Libraries. For months the three of them worked diligently on the collection.
In the end, Westport’s adult fiction was moved downstairs to improve circulation, the teen collection remained upstairs, but with a new space for teens, non-fiction moved upstairs, and new books are now displayed front and center, to give many patrons better access to what they want.
I asked Megan how the patrons responded to the new system. She said they have been positive, if not at first a bit confused. But, that is what our great Library staff is for. “We’re happy to help them find the stuff they are looking for,” Megan said.
The project was completed in April, in time for the monthly board meeting, which was held at the Westport branch.
Debbie and Erica’s work in Collection Development, and their work with Megan in the Westport branch are just a couple of many examples of teams of people who are working to make the Library a part of a sustainable community.
Many people can see when changes need to be made, but it takes someone special to decide that they are the person to do it. The Library is made up of those people, who work every day to make the experience inclusive to all people, regardless of background, and to add to the wonderful landscape of Kansas City.
Keep up with Building a Community of Readers to learn more about the exciting projects happening to turn Kansas City into one of the most literate cities in the country.
A city that reads is a city that leads!
About the Author
Alex Krause is the Building a Community of Readers Project Director. Originally from Omaha, she has been in Kansas City long enough to stop using the excuse that she’s “new to this town.” Alex enjoys traveling, the outdoors, dabbling in cooking, and will quickly tell you of her years in a Pantomime Troupe.