A Study in Scarlet by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

After a rather heavy 2013, full of some imposing works of biography, I thought it would be good to relax in 2014. And so, we’ll look at mystery novels this year.

Mystery novels can be divided into three broad areas:

  1. Cozy (little blood and lots of ratiocination), sometimes called the “classic” or the “English manor house.”
  2. Hard-boiled (PIs, dangerous dames, and a violent world).
  3. Police procedurals (the machinery of detection in action).


Over the course of the year, I’ll be looking at 4 examples of each.

To begin, I think we have to look at Sherlock Holmes, the great granddaddy of the cozy mystery, and a figure that each generation seems to need to revisit (most recently in Jeremy Brett’s TV and Robert Downey, Jr.’s film portrayals, as well as Benedict Cumberbach’s [Sherlock] and Jonny Lee Miller’s [Elementary] updated TV portrayals [depicting a new Holmes for the 21st c.], as well as numerous recreations in print [see especially Laurie King’s novels of the retired Holmes and Mary Russell, beginning with The Beekeeper’s Apprentice]).

Doyle did not invent the detective story (that honor goes to Edgar Allen Poe and his detective, C. Auguste Dupin) or the mystery novel (that honor is generally given to Wilkie Collins and his novel, The Moonstone), but he did establish something of a template in his stories of the brilliant, but quirky, Holmes, and in stories of detection narrated by a less brilliant friend, in this case Dr. John H. Watson, M.D. (NOTE: most of the Conan Doyle Holmes stories are narrated by Watson, but a few late stories are narrated by Holmes himself, and one [“The Last Bow”] is told in the 3rd person).

Doyle first introduced the character in the novel, A Study in Scarlet, which first appeared in the Beeton’s Christmas Annual (1887). Doyle was fortunate to have Sidney Paget as illustrator for the stories, and I heartily recommend you approach the work (or any of the Holmes canon) by checking out The Annotated Sherlock Holmes, ed. by William Baring-Gould, which features the Paget illustrations as well as lots of great marginalia about the Victorian world, information about historical and cultural references which needed no explanation in their day, but which are often lost on us now.

In A Study in Scarlet, we have two mysteries to consider:

  1. Who has killed Enoch Drebber, a wealthy American traveling in Europe (also how was he killed and why)?
  2. Who is Sherlock Holmes?

The novel is written (as are the other 3 novels, and most of the stories) from the perspective of Dr. Watson, an army surgeon, returned to London to recover from wounds sustained in the 2nd Anglo-Afghan War (1878-1880). And if Holmes is trying to solve the murder of Drebber, Watson is equally determined to figure out his mysterious flatmate.

At one point in the novel, Watson puts together a list of strengths and weaknesses in Holmes’ knowledge base. The areas where Holmes is deficient include literature, philosophy, and astronomy. Holmes, for instance, does not know, or care, that the earth revolves around the sun, and when Watson tells him this is so, Holmes swears that he will soon forget it. Holmes compares his brain to an attic—a neat attic with only necessary items is to be preferred to one cluttered and full of all sorts of unnecessary junk. The solar system and the recent discovery of Uranus are useless for solving crimes, and so, they take no place in Holmes’ attic. Chemistry, biology, the law, and other useful areas, are quite well known by Holmes, who, we also find out, has written a monograph on different types of cigar ash.

Holmes was based on a medical professor Doyle studied under at the University of Edinburgh, Dr. Joseph Bell. Bell apparently amazed his students with his ability to both see and observe, and he encouraged the students to enhance their abilities in observation.

This novel is not the best of the Holmes’ canon. Holmes generally shines best in the short stories, especially those contained in the collections, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes. Holmes is only in a little less than half of the novel. The second half of this novel is given to narration by the killer as he explains why he killed Drebber. But the novel does give us a glimpse of that “historic” moment when Watson first met Holmes, and, for that, it is well worth a look.

I would also recommend that anyone taking up any sustained reading of Holmes stories visit the site of the Baker Street Irregulars. This group, founded in 1934 by Christopher Morley, meets annually in New York City and provides a wealth of information for anyone wishing to “play the game” (treating the Holmes stories as if referring to a real person, and trying to resolve differences in the stories).

About the Author

Bernard Norcott-Mahany, a library technical assistant at the Lucile H. Bluford Branch, is our resident connoisseur of classic literature. He is also the leader of the Black Classics and In the Heat of the Night book groups.

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My Dearest Friend: Letters of Abigail and John Adams

When I was in high school, I went to see the Broadway musical, 1776, then playing at the Wilbur Theater on Boylston Street in Boston. The musical number I found most affecting was the love duet between John and Abigail Adams entitled “Yours, Yours, Yours” – you can see the video clip of that scene from the film on YouTube.

Set up as an exchange of letters between John Adams and his wife, the number is loosely based on some of the correspondence between the two in the year 1776. John, a delegate at the Continental Congress in Philadelphia, maintained a regular correspondence with his wife, Abigail, who was not happy with, but had gotten used to, his long absences on the business of the emerging nation. A sucker for songs of absence, I was especially moved by this number, and that number, more than anything else in the show, really brought home to me the power of words and letters.

Recalling that number years later, when I was getting married for the first time, I had hoped to find some beautiful letter from John to Abigail, or vice versa, to include among the readings at the wedding. Patti and I were eager to avoid having only biblical readings in our service. There was no Internet at the time, and the Chicago Public Library did not have much of the correspondence of John Adams, and what little I could find – well, let’s just say it was not particularly romantic.

Well, jump ahead another 30 years, and I still find myself fascinated with the correspondence between John Adams and his lady. I remember when My Dearest Friend: Letters of Abigail and John Adams came out (in 2007) that I wanted to be sure to read the book. It is not the first collection of the correspondence between the Adamses. There is the collection of the complete correspondence of John Adams, which numbers over 100 volumes – John was a man who liked to debate ideas, and who knew the most powerful and influential people of his day, so there are many and weighty letters on all sorts of subject, but primarily of a philosophical and political bent. There have been three collections of selected letters between Adams and his wife, the first edited by Charles Francis Adams, grandson of John Adams, which came out in 1876 in honor of the country’s centennial, the second edited by Lyman Butterfield, who oversaw the editing of the complete correspondence, and this current volume. This collection contains 289 letters covering the entirety of the relationship between John and Abigail (1762-1818), and it retains the original spelling (neither Adams was known for uniform spelling – the concept as we now have it did not yet exist). Joseph Ellis, in a brief introduction, says this about the edition: “This selection is the most judicious, most revealing, and most comprehensive ever published.” As it covers the entire period of their relationship, this is the most complete selection of letters.

And the letters are quite revealing. The patient Abigail is often trying to calm down her rather thin-skinned husband (for a man who made his life in politics, John is a strangely sensitive and impatient man). In the letters after 1796, both she and he share all sorts of negative comments about Thomas Jefferson, whom they had considered a friend, but who was far too partisan a politician for the Adamses. And as is fitting for a New England couple of the 18th c., the Adamses are very much convinced of the rightness of their attitude and their actions which leads to a certain rigidity.

The letters show great tenderness when it is called for – enduring one pregnancy alone, Abigail has premonitions about a miscarriage and has to endure the joys turned sorrow when those premonitions prove true. In her letters to John, we can see her great strength in enduring the sorrow, but also her vulnerability, while John’s letters show him most sympathetic to the signals his wife is sending, and responding accordingly. As we now live in a world of instant communication, it is common to maintain an epistolary conversation, but in 18th c. America, you could not count on your letter getting to its destination—this was especially true during the war—and it be weeks or months before a question was answered. And as they could not count on their correspondent receiving their letters in a timely manner, the letters often had the form of essays on various topics and were often quite reflective in nature, and were not focused so much on particulars that required prompt replies.

For the most part, John and Abigail, though very much a loving couple, were not a demonstrative couple – there are no poetic flights of fancy here (which is why I searched in vain all those years ago for the letter that would fit a wedding service). But we have a true marriage of equals here, at a time when that could not be said of many couples. Abigail uses her pen to advocate for greater rights for women in the new Republic (“Remember the ladies” she admonishes him), a request that John politely hears, but on which he does not act (it is 1776, after all).

But for all the judiciousness of their selection, I have to say I was a bit disappointed in the lack of annotation in the book. Both Adamses mention a lot of names in their letters, and having some annotation as to who those named are would make for a better reading experience. For what makes these letters especially valuable is that we have two people at the highest levels of influence in Revolutionary America, but that value is lost if the general reader (the intended audience of this collection) doesn’t know many of the names.

About the Author

Bernard Norcott-Mahany, a library technical assistant at the Lucile H. Bluford Branch, is our resident connoisseur of classic literature. He is also the leader of the Black Classics and In the Heat of the Night book groups.

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The Maid’s Version by Daniel Woodrell


Best known for his book, Winter’s Bone, Missouri author Daniel Woodrell’s new novel, The Maid’s Version, contains all the elements that make his writing truly unique, powerful, and intriguing.

Flashing back to 1929 and the small town of West Table, Missouri, The Maid’s Version, centers around Alma DeGeer Dunahew, a domestic servant for one of the more prominent families in town, and a mysterious explosion at the local dance hall which instantly kills forty-two of the area’s residents — including Alma’s scandalous sister Ruby.

Alma and many of the townspeople feel the calamity was not an accident, but a purposeful act of malice, and throughout the book, different possibilities about who might have been responsible for such an evil deed are explored.

Interestingly, the tragedy in The Maid’s Version is based on a real-life incident and possible unsolved crime that happened in West Plains, Missouri in 1928, which is Daniel Woodrell’s hometown. In fact, his family has a burial plot just 50 feet from the memorial to the unidentified victims of that catastrophic explosion.

The Maid’s Version is only 164 pages in length, almost novella sized, but it is not a quick or easy read. It delves deeply into a community’s secrets, mistrust, anger, and heartbreak. It is also heavy with themes that Woodrell commonly explores in his writing — including hardship, economic/class division, and social consciousness.

Additionally, some might accuse The Maid’s Version of meandering at times in its story development, but what it is really doing is skillfully unpeeling the layers of a small Ozark town one character at a time, often in an uncomfortable manner because the residents of West Table are not “feel-good” people. They are suspicious, complex, and appear very hard around the edges — just like the novel.

With an obvious tension, The Maid’s Version unfolds in a way that requires your complete attention. As you turn each page, you learn disturbing details about different townsfolk, their histories, their possible motives for committing the crime, and the effects that the horrific event has had on them and their descendants, even more than 80 years later.

By the end, The Maid’s Version successfully and lyrically intertwines possible reasons for the horrific explosion with the deep-rooted relationships among local families and the community until it overlaps with the story of what Alma believes truly happened on that dreadful evening.

Although The Maid’s Version won’t necessarily leave you feeling content, happy, or even satisfied at its conclusion, it is a good example of skilled literary fiction and a beautiful writing style that easily transports you into the Missouri Ozarks and into the harsh lives of the characters. You can almost physically feel their pain, anguish, and attempt at healing as they struggle to deal with a tragedy that scars them and their town forever.

Daniel Woodrell is originally from West Plains, Missouri, a former Marine, and a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. The Maid's Version is his ninth novel. His first collection of stories, The Outlaw Album, was published in 2011, and he enjoys living in the Missouri Ozarks where he is contemplating his next novel.




About the Author

Amy Morris

Amy Morris is a librarian 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, and spending time with her family. She also writes her own blog at livingkansascity.blogspot.com

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Columbus: The Four Voyages by Laurence Bergreen

School children throughout the United States learn about the discovery of America by Christopher Columbus. Historians now claim that Leif Ericson first reached North America hundreds of years before Columbus. What is the story of Columbus?

Laurence Bergreen in Columbus: The Four Voyages provides an in depth look at Columbus and his explorations of the New World. The Italian born Columbus grew up in Genoa, a port city of the Mediterranean Sea. He learned navigation and traveled on several sea voyages early in his life. He settled for a time in Portugal, then was a leader in maritime exploration. The exploits of Marco Polo fascinated Columbus, who dreamed of finding an opposite route to China and India and the accompanying acclaim. He sought funding for such a venture from the Portuguese king, but was refused. He then went to England and Spain looking for the necessary money. Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain agreed to his request.

With the sailing of Columbus to the West, Spain hoped to begin to build an empire. After thirty-three days at sea, Columbus and his crew found land in the Caribbean presumed to be San Salvador in the Bahamas. To his dying day, Columbus declared he had reached India, not an entire unknown continent and ocean between Europe and China. The explorer known as the "Admiral of the Ocean Sea" began to claim all of the land in the name of Spain. He expected to find gold and to bring Christianity to the native people.

On his first voyage, Columbus explored Cuba and the island of Hispaniola (Haiti and the Dominican Republic). He established a colony on Hispaniola before returning to Spain. Columbus reported on his adventures to the Spanish monarchs and then sailed back to the Indies. During his second trip, Columbus further explored the islands in the Caribbean expecting to locate China and India at any time. He worked with some success to build relations with the natives, but also used them as slaves and to collect money as a tribute to Spain. He continued to establish colonies as the start of the Spanish Empire.

Columbus went on to make two more journeys to the Americas. He explored the tip of South America and also traveled as far north as Central America. He never reached North America, but became intrigued with the Mayans and their advanced learning. Columbus had an autocratic manner and as governor of the Indies faced opposition. Other protested his leadership and tried to undermine his power. One person even confiscated his gold!

At one point, Columbus returned to Spain to protest the treatment of others. The Spanish monarchs restored his wealth and credibility. In returning to Spain for the final time, Columbus lost his ships to rot, and he became stranded on Jamaica for a year before rescue for him and his crew. He died in 1506 after years of courage in exploring new territory and establishing the Spanish Empire in the New World.

This is a good biography about Christopher Columbus. I knew that he “discovered” America, but not that he had made four journeys across the Atlantic Ocean. He had courage and fortitude for daring to cross the ocean, but his harsh demeanor with those around him led to problems. However, his exploits cannot be dismissed as he made possible the settlement of the New World and for the rise of America.

About the Author

Judy Klamm is a reference librarian in Central Reference. She has written book reviews for Library Journal and various Presbyterian publications.

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Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh

Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh began as a blog/webcomic in 2009. If you're a fan of her blog, I have no idea why you're reading a review of the book. You'll be picking up a copy no matter what I say. If you're not, here's a quick test: Go to this link.

I'll wait.

Did you find it funny? Or were you creeped out by her froggish MS Paint drawings and blond, party-hat hair? Because I can't lie: That is entirely what her book is.

It's a memoir from a woman in her 20s. She hasn't cured cancer, climbed Mount Everest while fighting a bear, or achieved any other accomplishments that society would find inspirational and uplifting. Instead, she has become famous for creating a blog with crude drawings and funny stories about her dogs, childhood, and battles with depression. You'll either love it or be completely confused.

Hyperbole and a Half: The Book is essentially Hyperbole and a Half: The Blog with about 50% more content. It's a quick, funny, and visceral read. If you've ever battled depression, or even sympathized with the idea that someone could be depressed, then you will love Allie Brosh. And not because her self-deprecating humor is hilarious (which it is), but because she makes it OK to laugh about it.

The first emotion that hits me when reading Brosh's stories is relief. I end up thinking, "Oh thank God. If she can be this open about her own life and find humor in what others would think were horrible situations, then it can't be so bad" and then I start laughing hysterically.

At one point in her memoir — between stories about eating an entire cake as a child and trying to determine if her "simple" dog is actually mentally challenged — she comes to the realization that she is suicidal and should probably ask for help. Her confession to her mother, that she doesn't so much want to kill herself but just become dead somehow, should be heartwrenching. And honestly it is, but mostly it's funny for just how ludicrous the entire situation becomes. In the process Brosh becomes more relatable and likable.

With the current publishing trend of books emerging from existing blogs, it can be hard to justify the cost of purchasing a copy (though really, isn't that why libraries exist?) but I feel that Hyperbole and a Half is worth it. There is just something about Brosh's gleefully absurd narrative style that I always find interesting, no matter how many times I read the same story.

If you'd like to take a look at Hyperbole and a Half, it is available in our Central Library's New & Notable collection. You can also put it on hold through regular Library checkout if you'd like to read Brosh's book at a more leisurely pace.

About the Author

Liesl Christman

Liesl Christman is the Digital Content Specialist for The Kansas City Public Library, managing content for the Library's blogs and social media accounts. She is an unabashed enthusiast of comic books, roller derby, and all things food.

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The Diary of Samuel Pepys

Samuel Pepys was a man of somewhat humble beginning (his father had been a tailor), but he also had family in the British government, and family that had gone to Cambridge (Pepys himself graduated from Cambridge) and these connections and this education provided him an entry into the Admiralty where Pepys spent much of his working life. As a clerk in the Admiralty, Pepys proved to be a capable administrator, instrumental in the growing efforts to make the British Navy more professional. In fact, Pepys’ personal efforts helped develop the British Navy into the great force it would become in later years.

He was a man well versed in the literature and the intellectual pursuits of his time. Having graduated from Cambridge University, he continued academic interests into his post-collegiate life, even becoming a member of the Royal Society in his later life; in addition, he was a life-long devotee of the theatre – so much so, that, at several points in his diary, he vows to spend less time at the theatre (especially on lighter fare), as he feels such activity keeps him from more serious pursuits, but it’s not long before he has slipped back again into his theater-going habit.

He was quite capable in accounting (largely self-taught) and in the technical aspects of Naval ships, armaments, and the Naval bureaucracy (again, largely self-taught, though with generous help from others in the Admiralty whom he sought out) and proved himself a most capable administrator.

He is best known for a diary which he kept from January 1, 1660 through May 31, 1669. This diary is perhaps the most famous diary in English. Its fame is due, in part, to Pepys’ position as a middle-manager in the British government during the Restoration; as a result, we get a lot of first-hand information about the workings of the government of that time, and to the important events which Pepys narrates as an eyewitness – the restoration of Charles II as king in 1660, the Second Dutch War of 1665-1667 (which the British lost), the Great Plague of 1664-65 and the Great Fire of London in 1666, which destroyed a large part of the city, though Pepys’ house escaped.

Pepys makes plenty of personal observations of his colleagues in government, some quite astute, others rather petty, and Pepys keeps a fairly detailed record of his romantic adventures (some of it bordering on sexual harassment, and some of it clearly harassment) with serving girls and some married women in his circle, and from the lower classes. Pepys never intended his diary for public consumption, and he even wrote the diary in coded shorthand, which was not fully decoded until the late 19th c. He also used French, Spanish, and Latin words and phrases (coded as well) to describe the more salacious elements of his sexual adventures, again with the idea of keeping prying eyes from learning much.

When he thought that keeping the diary (which he generally did late at night in poor lighting) was ruining his eyesight, he gave it up. In fact, he gave up writing altogether, choosing to dictate all matters relating to his work; as he could not trust private matters and observations such as he entrusts to his diary to the discretion of his secretaries, he gave up the diary altogether. Pepys had a good long career after 1669, being elected to Parliament, and also becoming a member of the Royal Society which he served in an official capacity.

Reading the whole diary (it usually comes to 9 or 10 volumes, roughly one per year) is a daunting task, and it will likely provide more information than you ever imagined anyone would want about 17th c. England (my apologies to the handful of Restoration scholars and British Naval historians in the KC Metro). There are, however, abridged editions, which collapse the whole diary into a single volume, such as The Shorter Pepys, edited by Robert Latham. There is even (you might have to look high and low for this) a nice audiobook abridgment of the Diary read by Kenneth Brannagh.

Pepys writes in a rather simple but clear style – but, as this was not a work intended for public consumption, or even for the eyes of his friends, it is not written in a more formal style. For me, the fact that the work was not intended for other eyes, and yet still provides such a wealth of detail about the personal and professional life of a man, consistently set down at night or in the early morning – that makes the work compelling. For we get a wonderful view of a man determined to figure out his world, even as he tried to make his way in that world, and we get a very honest picture of his struggle to make his way and to grow and of the man himself, warts and all. For me, that’s a good reason to take a crack at Pepys.

About the Author

Bernard Norcott-Mahany, a library technical assistant at the Lucile H. Bluford Branch, is our resident connoisseur of classic literature. He is also the leader of the Black Classics and In the Heat of the Night book groups.

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River of Doubt by Candice Millard

How many individuals choose to explore the unknown? One former United States President looking for adventure braved weather, insects, and illness while doing this very thing.

Kansas City author Candice Millard in The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey provides an intimate look at the expedition Roosevelt took in 1914 on the River of Doubt (since renamed Roosevelt River) in Brazil. After losing the 1912 Presidential election to Woodrow Wilson, Roosevelt went home to New York to lick his wounds. He did not want to think his life of service had ended. Also, his drive to explore and be outdoors after his days of ranching in the Dakotas and hunting in Africa had never left him.

An invitation for a series of speaking engagements in South America led the former president to investigate the possibility of engaging his passion for natural history by going down the unexplored River of Doubt in the Amazon rain forest. With assistance from the American Museum of Natural History, a trip with Roosevelt leading took shape to venture down this tributary to the Amazon. Both Americans and Brazilians joined this expedition, including Roosevelt’s son Kermit. Equipment and supplies were collected and the group set out on their journey.

To reach the start of the river, the men and their gear traveled on land for hundreds of miles. By the time they reached the river, several men left to explore other rivers as it had become apparent that supplies would be in short supply for those on the River of Doubt.

A trip through the Amazon rain forest meant thick vegetation, unknown animals and natives, and plenty of biting insects. Roosevelt and his men also encountered heavy rapids that caused long portages through dense underbrush.

The trip went slowly as river hazards and other difficulties came up. Several times boats were lost to the rapids and needed to be replaced. Their food provisions had to be rationed to make them last for the entire trip. They found little to eat along the way even with the forest and river. The constant presence of mosquitoes caused most of the men to suffer malaria. The trip had a murder and the drowning of another member. The expedition endured its worst setback when Roosevelt suffered a minor leg injury while working to free a canoe from the rapids. This injury became infected and the former President nearly died. The party spent the rest of their time on the river working to relieve his suffering. Their food supplies continued to dwindle.

Beaten down with hunger and disease, the group met up with some rubber tappers. Once assured the Roosevelt’s party had peaceful intentions, these tappers provided food, better canoes, and their knowledge of the river. They guided the men to a junction of the River of Doubt where Roosevelt’s men met a relief party. Their journey came to an end without going all the way on the river. Once home, Roosevelt faced detractors who said he did not make the trip that he did. To the end of his life, he fought for recognition of his Brazilian adventure. His leg injury cut short his life as he never fully recovered from it. However, Theodore Roosevelt got his grand adventure leaving him with tales that rivaled those from Africa and the Dakotas.

I enjoyed this tale of hair raising adventure. The suffering of Roosevelt and his perseverance despite it, moved me. I don’t know that I enjoyed all the encounters with insects, but the story held my attention throughout the book. For a different view of a former politician this is a good read. Prepare to be inspired and awed at the same time.

About the Author

Judy Klamm is a reference librarian in Central Reference. She has written book reviews for Library Journal and various Presbyterian publications.

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Will The Real Norman Bates Please Stab Up?

Most of us are familiar with Psycho, Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 classic suspense film about a timid serial killer who “wouldn’t hurt a fly,” but have you ever read Robert Bloch’s dark novel by the same name which inspired the legendary screen gem?

First released in 1959, the Psycho story really began in November 1957. Robert Bloch was living in the small town of Weyauwega, Wisconsin, approximately 35 miles from Plainfield, Wisconsin — a place where a horrific scene was about to be exposed.

It was there that police were beginning to search the farm of lifelong resident, shy handyman, and somewhat odd character Ed Gein after a local woman was reported missing. A thin-air hunch led officers to Gein and his farm, but they were not prepared for the complete horror of what they found.

Not only was the missing woman found dead in his shed, but body parts from at least 15 other women were located on his property. Further inspection of his home uncovered dishes, furniture, lamps, clothes, and other items made from human skin and bone. Even more demented, they discovered a “female jumpsuit” Gein had made for himself from human skin.

As the magnitude of the crimes unfolded, officials learned that Gein had been stealing the bodies of female corpses from fresh graves for years, including his own mother, who was a dominating, religious woman in life. Eventually, Gein was convicted of murdering two women and declared insane.

Upon hearing about the nearby news, Robert Bloch became intrigued with the thought that in a small town where everyone knew everyone else’s business, this quiet neighbor down the road turned out to be a monster who was never suspected of “killing a fly” or anything else. Better yet, it gave Bloch an idea — an idea that turned into the story of a loner named Norman Bates who ran the quiet and peaceful Bates Motel.

Psycho is a quick read, roughly 200 pages, and is cleverly written. Like the movie, it doesn’t give away until the last pages whether Norman Bates’ mother is really dead or alive. This would have made reading Psycho at the time of its initial release a fun, suspenseful ride.

As far as comparing the book to the movie, there are many similarities between the two, but there are also several differences. In the novel, Norman Bates does not look like the thin, brooding Anthony Perkins. He is middle-aged, overweight, and wears glasses. This gives the written story a slightly different dimension than the movie, but it works well for Bloch’s twisted tale.

Besides Psycho, Bloch wrote more than 30 books, hundreds of short stories, many screenplays and more during his long career. Two of his other books include Psycho II and Psycho House, but neither one was well received or had the sinister appeal of the original Psycho.

Additionally, Bloch wrote for several television shows including The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, I Spy, and Night Gallery. He also wrote three episodes of the original Star Trek series. Bloch died in 1994 after a battle with cancer.

If you would like to read Psycho, it is available for checkout from the Kansas City Public Library. Also available is The Bad Seed by William March, another classic and disturbing novel about a child serial killer that was written during the same era as Psycho. Both are great selections if you are looking for a creepy read during this spooky Halloween season.

About the Author

Amy Morris

Amy Morris is a librarian 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, and spending time with her family. She also writes her own blog at livingkansascity.blogspot.com

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Reality Boy by A.S. King

Most of us have enjoyed a reality show from time to time. My personal summer favorite is So You Think You Can Dance. When we’re watching reality shows, it’s so easy to forget there are real people with real lives that go on after the lights have dimmed and the cameras have been turned off.

All of what we’ve seen on reality shows has been edited to fulfill the producers’ vision of the show. In Michael L. Printz Honor recipient A.S. King’s addictive new book Reality Boy, Gerald Faust and his family have lived with the aftermath of their time on the fake reality show, Network Nanny.

It’s been 10 years since Gerald and his family were on the reality show and he’s never been able to outgrow the nickname “The Crapper” from the behavior that gained him notoriety on the show. The family was on the show after his mother sent a letter pleading for help with six-year-old Gerald’s violent outbursts.

Gerald, now 16, is unable to deal with his anger issues, has no friends and is bullied at school. His parents don’t understand why he and his sister are fighting as much as they did when they were younger. Anyone with siblings knows how bad the fights can be but Gerald and his sister’s fights go beyond normal sibling rivalry.

He feels as if he lives his life wrapped in plastic wrap. To save himself from real life, he's learned to escape into Gersday, a day where there is always ice cream and bright, lovely people. Lately, it’s easier to space out and be in Gersday than to deal with reality.

In the evenings and on weekends, he works at the local coliseum wrapping hot dogs as a concessions cashier. Working several registers away from him, Hannah catches his eye, but he can’t imagine that anyone would consider dating “The Crapper.”

Flashbacks of scenes from Network Nanny are interspersed with Gerald’s present day story. As the episodes unfold, we begin to learn along with Gerald that life inside their house was not all that the parents and the nanny thought it was. It’s a true testament of how some parents wear blinders and only see what they want to see in their children.

With the popularity of reality shows and memoirs, I’m sure in several years we’re reading the memoir of a child who was on one of the popular family reality shows. The memoirs of one of the Gosselin and Duggar children could be appearing on book shelves in the future about what life was really like on the show and their return to “normal” lives after the shows ended.

With Reality Boy, A.S. King has once again proven she is a true master of young adult magical realism with compassion. It’s easy to form a strong connection with her characters. They may be troubled but they don’t want pity nor do they flaunt it, they want what every teenager wants understanding and love. I’ve noticed that I miss the narrator after I've closed the book, and need quiet time afterwards to sit and think before diving into another book because no matter how good it may be it just won't measure up.

About the Author

Erica Voell

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.

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Staff Picks: The Halloween Edition

Looking for some chills and thrills this month? We have some suggestions for you!

Our staff here at The Kansas City Public Library has picked some of their Halloween favorites. This diverse list includes a little of everything: children's picture books, graphic novels, classic Lovecraft, and modern Horror literature.

Do you have a favorite scary story? Please share it in the comments below!




The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories by H.P. Lovecraft

"As the original master of horror, Lovecraft has so thoroughly influenced the genre that the themes and elements of his stories may seem familiar to readers even if they’ve never before paged through any of the author’s works. While Lovecraft’s writing style tends to be a tad verbose (why only spend a few words describing the slimy fishflesh of leviathan god-beasts when you can do it in lengthy paragraphs?), the mythology he created set the bar for tales of mystery and monsters in such a way that “Lovecraftian” has become the de facto term for a certain type of fiction. Lovecraft’s terrifying visions have earned him fans such as writer Stephen King, who called the author “The Twentieth Century's greatest practitioner of the classic horror tale,” and visual artist H.R. Gieger, designer of the titular creature in the Alien movies. Nearly a century after they were written, Lovecraft’s stories—and the dark creations that inhabit them—still exude an eerie, visceral menace." - Andy, Senior Graphic Designer

Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill

In Joe Hill's debut novel, aging heavy metal star Judas Coyne is a collector of the morbid, macabre, and strange—until he purchases a dead man's suit online, supposedly possessed by the man's ghost. Only it turns out to be real. From there Heart-Shaped Box rapidly descends into a terrifying and relentless story that does not let the reader catch their breath until the very end. Suggested by Kaite, Director of Reader's Services. Joe Hill's most recent novel NOS4A2 was also highly recommended by Suzanne in Public Affairs!

The Red Hourglass: Lives of the Predators by Gordon Grice (non-fiction)

"In The Red Hourglass: Lives of the Predators an enthusiastic rattlesnake-eater describes the taste as having 'a wild richness.' The same could be said of Grice’s book: it is wild—even exotic—because the subjects are so unknown and the events described so thrilling. Of the deadly recluse spider, Grice writes, 'we understand almost nothing about the venom and its attendant array of human suffering.' More is known of the black widow spider and Grice’s captivating tale contains personal narrative and a trove of history, including an account of a Dr. Blair’s 1933 experiment in which he provoked a black widow into biting him for ten minutes. Horrific pain lasted for days. Grice’s writing is rich in gripping detail. He rears the widow, recluse, tarantula and others in terraria and has observed them closely. Grice knows and tells their previously unknown lives." - Jill, Customer Service

Hellblazer by Jamie Delano, Garth Ennis, Warren Ellis, et al.

Equal parts con-man and occult magician, John Constantine, originally created by author Alan Moore as a supporting character in Swamp Thing in the 1980s, is one of the most unrepentant antiheroes in the world of graphic novels/comic books. Hellblazer, the DC/Vertigo title based around him, is a gritty, adult horror comic that consistently pushed boundaries over its 25 years of publication, from writer Jamie Delano's British political commentary, to Garth Ennis' more introspective stories. My personal pick from the series would be the Dangerous Habits story arc, in which Constantine attempts to trick the devil to escape his impending death from lung cancer. (Just forget about the Keanu Reeves film adaptation.) -Liesl, Public Affairs

Sharp Teeth by Toby Barlow

A spine-chilling werewolf novel written entirely in verse. It sounds crazy, but it works. As Kaite, our Director of Reader's Services, wrote in her Booklist review of Sharp Teeth, it's "spicy as a taco, as relentless as the pounding surf, and as lulling as a moon-drenched beach, Barlow's hip werewolf saga is highly recommended for adults and YAs who just don't get all the fuss about Stephenie Meyer's Twilight Series."

We have some selections for younger audiences as well:

Stay Out of the Basement by R. L. Stine

"R.L. Stine’s Stay Out of the Basement from his series Goosebumps, transforms everyday plants into frightening experiments gone wrong. Stine easily scares readers to stay out of basements of botanists forever and avoid unusual green food." -Skyler, Public Affairs



Skeleton Man by Joseph Bruchac

"This book is creepy-scary. Molly's parents didn't come home one evening and when Social Services gets wind of her situation, they place Molly with a creepy man who claims to be her great uncle even though she's never heard of such a relative before. Molly's story is framed by the Mohawk myth that her father used to tell her about a skeleton man." -Jamie, Central Youth Services Manager


The Hallo-wiener by Dav Pilkey

"What Halloween picture book focuses on the serious topic of bullying and stars an adorable dachshund? That’s Dav Pilkey’s The Hallo-wiener! Pilkey’s story centers on Oscar, a dog whose peers tease him and whose mama inadvertently makes matters worse. When mean cats wreak havoc on Halloween, though, Oscar’s diminutive height and embarrassing hotdog costume save the day. The colorful and cartoonish pictures and plentiful puns pack a humorous punch. For preschool or elementary-aged kids who want to laugh while gaining appreciation of their unique traits, this book is a great pick. It also lightens the tone when mixed with more spooky fare." -Anna, Library Outreach

Still hungry for more Horror? Kaite has also contributed to the RA for All: Horror blog, and John Horner, from Missouri Valley Special Collections, originally wrote this poem for the anthology, October Nightmares and Dreams. Happy Halloween!

About the Author

Liesl Christman

Liesl Christman is the Digital Content Specialist for The Kansas City Public Library, managing content for the Library's blogs and social media accounts. She is an unabashed enthusiast of comic books, roller derby, and all things food.

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The Education of Henry Adams by Henry Adams

The Education of Henry Adams is, by any reckoning, a peculiar autobiography. It is written in the 3rd person (as if Adams (1838-1918) were writing about someone else and not himself), and Adams fails to include every major event of his life in his work, leaving out twenty whole years (1872-1892), years that included his entire marriage and his wife’s suicide — Adams jumps from 1872, when he recently become a professor in Medieval History (a position Harvard created for Adams), to “Twenty Years Later.” Not only does he leave out whole decades, but he even fails to mention some important matters in those years he does cover. His goal, he says, is to present an extended meditation on his “education,” both the formal education he learned in school, and also what learning he acquired as government functionary, reporter, professor and political hanger-on. He claims repeatedly that such education as he received in school was woefully inadequate for the life he found himself living. His schooling was based on an 18th c. model, which did not prepare him for the challenges he found in late 19th and early 20th c. America.

The world the adult Adams found himself in dismayed him – he felt that his education prepared him for a life of certainties, but the modern world, a world he characterized by reference to the dynamo, was one of constant change, and so the education he received, with its emphasis on the Classics and the Humanities, most appropriate from the Middle Ages through the 18th c., no longer fit, nor could he find any teacher who could ready him for the world in which he lived.

Adams is a great writer, especially great at introspection and at describing that introspection. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this work, fascinated by Adams’ constant “visions and revisions” of his life and the events therein. To a large extent, despite its gaps, this is a work which probably reflects the lived experience of Adams accurately. Even the giant gap of twenty years tells us a lot. In a work on “education,” clearly married life must have played a large role in shaping Adams in the middle of his life; and surely the great anguish of his wife’s suicide must have caused him to reflect, and ultimately to cope with his loss, and that is surely an “education.” But on these subjects, Adams is silent. At no point does he mention a wife, or that he was ever married. At one point he discusses his negotiations with Augustus Saint-Gaudens who sculpted the memorial for the grave site of Marian Hooper Adams. But in discussing the negotiations, he simply refers to the “Adams memorial,” with no mention made of the woman memorialized.

As a liberal arts major in college, I don’t find myself agreeing with Adams’ assessment of his own education, both at Harvard or afterwards. He had been a success serving as his father’s secretary in England during the tense negotiations to keep England neutral in the US Civil War; he was a popular and successful professor at Harvard, despite his personal misgivings; he was a successful historian – his works on the United States during the administrations of John Adams and Thomas Jefferson as well as his work on Mont Saint-Michel are considered masterpieces; and he was a popular author in his day, his novel, Democracy, being one of the great political satires of 19th c. America.

And yet, Adams somehow felt that he hadn’t lived up to his potential, and that the schooling he received in school and in the world did not prepare him to realize that potential. Fascinating.

There is an ice-breaking activity that I’ve done in many workshops over the year – people are asked to consider whom they would invite to dinner and share that in a discussion with others. After reading this work, I think Henry Adams has probably risen to the top of my imaginary list.

For those of you interested in the Adams family in general, I would also recommend a 4 DVD series (you can find it in the library) called The Adams Chronicles, which tells the story of John Adams, John Quincy Adams, Charles Francis Adams, Henry Adams, and Brooks Adams. It is well worth a viewing.

About the Author

Bernard Norcott-Mahany, a library technical assistant at the Lucile H. Bluford Branch, is our resident connoisseur of classic literature. He is also the leader of the Black Classics and In the Heat of the Night book groups.

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New & Notable, Quick & Easy

Looking for some instant literary gratification?

New & Notable, a Kansas City Public Library collection and concept now being piloted at the Central Library, 14 W. 10th St., features a wide assortment of newly released and best-selling books and some unique features — 14-day checkouts, no holds or renewals — designed to keep the catalog fresh and well-stocked. Readers can pop in, browse the shelves, grab a good read, and pop back out.

It’s a new, quick, and convenient way to use the Library.

“There’s no wait,” says Central Library Director Lillie Brack. “You can come in and find lots of popular titles on the shelves, slip in and out during lunch, or grab a weekend read or two on your way home from work on Friday. There’s little or no standing in line; a self-checkout machine is nearby. And there’s no waiting on holds.”

Update, Nov. 25:

New & Notable is now available at the Plaza Branch, in addition to the Central Library!

The collection, located just inside the Library’s main entrance, houses multiple copies of the latest fiction and nonfiction releases and other sought-after titles, many of them on current bestseller lists. Among current offerings: Stephen King’s Doctor Sleep, his long-anticipated sequel to The Shining; James Patterson’s Gone; Reza Aslan’s Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth; and Missourian Daniel Woodrell’s first novel since 2006’s Winter's Bone, the historically based The Maid’s Version.

The offerings augment the Library’s full collection, where the same titles are available via conventional checkout, holds and renewal.

The New & Notable format is available for now only at the Central Library. Plans are underway to extend it to the Plaza Branch by the end of the year and, in time, the collection could be extended to additional Kansas City Public Library locations.

The President is a Sick Man by Matthew Alpeo

How much information should the public know about a President's health? Should they know if they undergo major surgery? One American leader worked to keep his illness hidden from public view.

Matthew Alpeo in The President is a Sick Man explores a little known fact of American Presidential history. Soon after Grover Cleveland took the oath of office for the second time, he noticed a lesion in his mouth. Doctors who looked at it felt it should be removed as it would likely be cancerous. In 1893, cancer struck fear in everyone, and no one talked about it openly. Former President Ulysses S. Grant died of oral cancer so Cleveland wanted to keep his illness a secret.

The Panic of 1893 had settled over the country. Businesses and railroads were shutting their doors. Another problem swirled around whether gold or silver should back the currency of the United States. Many people were out of work. News of the President's health would only add to the sense of unease.

Cleveland's family doctor assembled a team of medical professionals to perform the surgery. They were sworn to secrecy. No one knew about the operation except one cabinet member. Vice-President Adlai Stevenson knew nothing. The surgery took place on a private yacht while it cruised Long Island Sound from New York to the Cleveland summer home on Cape Cod. It looked as if the President simply enjoyed a very slow, leisurely cruise at the start of his vacation.

No one knew what the President endured. After the surgery, he could hardly talk. He did not appear at any July Fourth celebrations just days after the procedure. When Cleveland got to his summer home, a press release stated that except for a little rheumatism, the President enjoyed excellent health. Reporters did not see or hear from him. Rumors about his health were rampant including one that he had had surgery for cancer. Those reports continued to be denied. For clarification, a press release related that the President had undergone some needed dental work while on the yacht, nothing more. The cabinet remained in the dark about the chief executive and the Vice-President left for a West Coast tour.

Some time after the President had recovered, a newspaper reported learned the true story from a doctor who helped with the operation. This account hit every newspaper in the nation. Once again, Cleveland's associates denied the surgery and claimed the President spent time resting from the strain and burdens of the Presidency. The reporters who broke the story became discredited.

Years after Cleveland's death, one of his surgeons revealed the truth about the President and his surgery to set the historical record straight. It came out into the open what had been a secret for many years. The newspaper reporter received his exoneration for his original article and had his reputation restored. Modern medical technology revealed that the tumor removed from Cleveland's mouth was a very rare form of cancer which does not spread. Since Cleveland, some Presidents have been more open about their medical histories while others have kept health secrets from the American public. No one however will likely go as far as Cleveland did at concealing surgery for a serious medical condition.

For anyone looking for an interesting read about the President, this would be a good choice. It shows a slice of American history at the end of the nineteenth century with the news media at that time. I enjoyed this fast read and recommend it highly.

About the Author

Judy Klamm is a reference librarian in Central Reference. She has written book reviews for Library Journal and various Presbyterian publications.

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And The Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini

Khaled Hosseini’s newest offering, And The Mountains Echoed, is flying off the shelves at the Kansas City Public Library. Is this because the author of The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns has created yet another haunting literary masterpiece that you won’t be able to stop reading?

After two international megahits, with The Kite Runner spending more than a hundred weeks on The New York Times bestseller list and A Thousand Splendid Suns debuting at #1, Hosseini’s And The Mountains Echoed is being greeted with high expectations from readers and critics alike.

So how does And The Mountains Echoed, a sweeping novel about family and humanity, rate? The honest answer is somewhere in the middle.

The story begins with Saboor, a poor Afghani farmer from the remote town of Shadbagh, taking his ten-year-old son, Abdullah, and three-year-old daughter, Pari, on a mysterious trip to Kabul to visit their Uncle Nabi, who works for a wealthy gentleman.

Since the loss of their mother, Abdullah has become Pari’s main caregiver, and the two children are never apart. Abdullah is curious about their trip, but not necessarily frightened. However, the closer they get to Kabul, the more ominous the journey feels — and for good reason. The two motherless siblings are about to be separated, quite possibly for life.

From there, the book digs in and not only unfolds the fate of Abdullah and Pari, but the touching and occasionally unexpected destinies of generations of their extended family. The power of sibling bonds along with morality, betrayal, honor and sacrifice reverberate off every page as major themes.

And The Mountains Echoed does give us many recognizable Hosseini writing trademarks with the crux of the novel happening in Afghanistan. The storytelling is solid, the characters are haunting, and the plot tugs at your emotions.

What’s different about And The Mountains Echoed is that it feels so much more layered than Hosseini’s prior works — sometimes to the point that the narrative fights itself. Overall, it tries too hard to present itself as an “epic saga” rather than letting go and allowing the effortless beauty of Hosseini’s words guide the reader naturally.

Also, the novel feels a bit splintered. So many characters and secondary plots are introduced during various time periods and in different settings throughout the chapters, that the reader has to consciously stop during several points and think — just to keep everything straight. Unfortunately, these interruptions do take some of the emotional punch out of the plot.

Eventually, Hosseini does bring all the different elements together in And The Mountains Echoed — like an intricately woven spider web. The reader learns the fate of the characters and finally understands how everything and everyone threads together, but even so, this complex story leaves your mind and emotions feeling a bit tangled at the end.

As for the title for the book, And The Mountains Echoed is partly derived from William Blake’s poem, Nurse's Song (Innocence), with an opening stanza that reads:

When voices of children are heard on the green

And laughing is heard on the hill,

My heart is at rest within my breast

And everything else is still

Have you read And The Mountains Echoed yet? If so, leave a comment and let other readers know your thoughts about the book, or if you would like to reserve a copy and have it delivered to your closest Kansas City Public Library branch, simply place a hold on the item through our online catalog.

About the Author

Amy Morris

Amy Morris is a librarian 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, and spending time with her family. She also writes her own blog at livingkansascity.blogspot.com

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Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein

Elizabeth Wein first introduced a new generation to World War II in her historical young adult novel, Code Name Verity, one of my top books of 2012. We meet “Verity” after her plane has crashed and she’s being held hostage in a hotel by the Nazis during the German occupation of France during World War II. To save herself, she’s willing to give up wireless codes.

Maddie, the pilot of the plane that crashed, is presumed dead from the photos that the Nazis have shown “Verity.” Through “Verity’s” confession, we learn more about how she came to be a hostage, we learn of the women who were part of the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force and her unlikely friendship with Maddie.

With so many plot twists and turns, giving a full description of the story would give too much away. I dare not reveal too much for fear of ruining the surprises for others. (The audiobook is also worth seeking out.)

Rose Under Fire, published on September 10, 2013, picks up a year after Code Name Verity leaves off. It's August 1944, Rose Justice grew up in Pennsylvania flying planes from a young age. She is now an Air Transport Auxiliary pilot and is flying Allied planes from Britain to points in Europe during the War.

The men and women at the airfield exchange stories of pilots who were able to tip flying bombs as known as "toppling Doodlebugs." When a woman pilot is killed others suspect her of trying to tip a flying bomb away from its target.

Rose loves flying and she takes her job very seriously. On a mission to France to transport an Allied plane back to England her fate is forever changed when she encounters a flying bomb and disappears.

Six months later she is in a Paris Ritz hotel room unable to leave the room, get dressed or eat, able only to write of her whereabouts for those long months. Through her journal, she writes of her days at Ravensbrück Concentration Camp in Germany. After a nauseating ride in the back of a truck to the camp, Rose meets Elodie Fabert, a member of the French Resistance who has been transferred from another camp. In those first hours, Elodie and Rose bond and though physically separated at the camp they manage to communicate through their own unique ways.

As Rose is transferred to different blocks at the camp, she meets a number of remarkable fellow prisoners: Róża, one of the many women known as Rabbits who were subjected to Nazi medical experiments; Irena, a former Soviet pilot; and Lisette, a popular French novelist whose husband was Jewish. Her entire family had been shot. During the long, horrific days at the camp, Rose is assigned to such jobs as making bomb parts and clearing corpses. She copes by writing poems and songs, and is determined to learn the name and tell the story of every Rabbit.

About the Author

Erica Voell

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.

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