Scoundrel: How a Convicted Murderer Persuaded the Women Who Love Him, the Conservative Establishment, and the Courts to Set Him Free by Sarah Weinman

Reviewed by Jayne S (Library Staff)

The book starts with Edgar Smith dying of old age in prison. Then it backtracks to 1957 when he murders a young girl and is convicted and sentenced to death in the electric chair.

He starts appealing to the courts, successfully delaying his execution, while gaining the attention of the conservative TV host of Firing Line, William F. Buckley. Buckley is convinced that he is innocent and helps Smith obtain a book editor to publish his account of what Smith says really happened.

The book bogs down in the middle, with endless correspondence with Buckley, court dates, and an unlikely romantic relationship with the book editor.

Ultimately he gets out and Buckley celebrates with him in NYC, but then things go downhill for Smith again, culminating with a kidnapping and attempted murder.

I did not like this book – it dragged, and since the author reveals the conclusion at the start of the book it did not build any momentum. I was just happy to be done with it. I do not recommend it.

Available through the Bridges Library System

Madly Marvelous: The Costumes of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel by Donna Zakowska

Reviewed by Melissa Beck (Library Staff)

I checked out this oversized book thinking I would flip through the pictures and take in the details of the gorgeous clothes from Amazon’s brilliant comedy, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. However, to my surprise, I ended up reading every single riveting word of it.

I found it fascinating to see Donna Zakowska’s process and point of view for creating each look. It opened my eyes to the nuanced story she’s telling with color throughout the series, the external representation of each character’s mental landscape, and the impressive attention to detail paid to countless extras.

The concise text is balanced nicely with glossy images of initial sketches, fabric swatches, cast fittings, and final shots of the clothing onscreen. If you’ve enjoyed watching The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, this is a must-read. (Oh, but make sure you’ve watched through the end of season 3 first as there are many spoilers throughout.)

Available through the Bridges Library System

Nothing to Envy by Barbara Demick

Reviewed by Emily Terasa (Library Staff)

My aunt and I love to give book recommendations to each other, and she kept telling me I should read the book Nothing to Envy. So I finally picked it up and I’m glad I did because it gave me some small insight to the very secretive world of North Korea.

The author, Barbara Demick, follows the lives of six North Korean citizens over fifteen years, including when Kim Il-sung dies and the famine that kills 1/5 of the population. She shows their everyday life, from working jobs where they don’t get paid, to scrounging for any scrap of food they can find, and from falling in love to getting sent to prison camps. Since she is interviewing these people after they have defected, we are able to witness how each one encounters the disillusionment needed in order to decide to try and leave the only country they have ever known.

I’ve always enjoyed learning about different countries and cultures, and while I’ve read a few books about North Korea, I definitely learned a lot from this one, because it spanned over fifteen years and featured normal people. I definitely recommend reading this book if you are interested in how the normal North Korean citizen lives.

Available through the Bridges Library System

All That She Carried by Tiya Miles

Reviewed by Katy Zignego (Library Staff)
All That She Carried, winner of the 2021 National Book Award for nonfiction, is a must-read for anyone interested in American history, genealogy, or museums. Author Tiya Miles begins with a cotton sack–carried by a nine-year-old girl named Ashley and embroidered with Ashley’s story by her granddaughter 70 years later. From the sack and its five-line message, Miles traces the lives of Black women from the 1830s through the 1970s.

Miles uses almost every discipline in her quest to find out all she can about Ashley, her mother Rose, her daughter Rosa, and her granddaughter Ruth. She points out that because women–especially enslaved women–have rarely been viewed as worthy of mention in the historical record, a researcher has to get very creative when searching for clues about their lives. Genealogy, botany, art history, sewing, and literary criticism all take center stage in different chapters. In this multidisciplinary approach Miles emulates the former occupant of her Harvard office, distinguished women’s historian Laurel Thatcher Ulrich. (You’ll remember her from the oft-quoted line, “Well-behaved women rarely make history.”)

My only quibble with the book is Miles’s writing style. She has also written novels, and in this nonfiction book I worry that she takes too much poetic license in her descriptions. The act of writing history does require some imagination, but “hard” history should never give more detail than the author is prepared to back up with research. (I’m looking at you, Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard.)

I sincerely hope that Tiya Miles continues with her innovative approach to seeking and writing Black women’s history. I look forward to more excellent books from her in the future.

Available through the Bridges Library System

Leaving the Witness: Exiting a Religion and Finding a Life by Amber Scorah

Reviewed by Jayne S (Library Staff)

This is the biography of one young woman’s religious life.

Amber has devoted her life to the Jehovah’s Witness religion. She volunteers to preach in China, even though it is illegal there and she could be arrested.

She needs to support herself but opportunities are limited since her schooling ended when she married after high school. But due to her Chinese language skills, she is hired by a Chinese language learning podcast.

As her marriage deteriorates, she confides with a chatroom friend about her life and her religion. He challenges her beliefs, and she starts questioning her faith.

The journey to start over without her religion is daunting. Everything she believed to be true is gone.

This was an interesting read, it gave me insight on a religion that I know very little about.

Located in Adult Nonfiction (289.9 SCO)

Forever Young by Hayley Mills

Reviewed by Jayne S (Library Staff)

I loved the Disney Hayley Mills movies when I was growing up. Nothing better than Pollyanna, The Parent Trap (the original!), Moonspinners and That Darn Cat!

Hayley gives the background information on how she was selected by Walt Disney and what he was like. She had many wonderful co-stars and she mentions them favorably. She also did stage work and lists a lot of British actors that I have never heard of, that however, dragged the book down a bit.

She had the typical growing up insecurities; growing up in front of a camera was difficult. She attended Hollywood studio school while filming, child actor Kevin Corcoran (aka Moochie) enlightened her with the facts of life during her time there. Otherwise, her parents kept her very sheltered, and when she was not filming she attended a British boarding school and later a Swiss finishing school. She received her juvenile Oscar award via the mail, she was not allowed to attend the Hollywood ceremony.

She married a much older man when she was twenty. At twenty one she petitioned to get her movie earnings released to her, but due to poor financial advice she lost it all.

I enjoyed the insight into the 1960s actress’s life, it was a fun, fluff read.

Located in Adult Nonfiction (921 MILLS)

The Boys: A Memoir by Ron Howard and Clint Howard

Reviewed by Jayne S (Library Staff)

Ronny Beckenholdt? Famous child actor in the 1960s?
Does Ronny Howard ring a bell?

This is just one tidbit about the acting family that the brothers share – their father changed his name from Harold Beckenholdt to Rance Howard, and forever after the family surname became Howard.

Ron and Clint tell the story of their parents growing up in Kansas and Oklahoma and yearning to become successful actors. Ron’s mom suffered a tragic injury, gave up acting and then devoted herself to raising her children. Rance struggled to get his “breakout” role that would propel him to stardom, while his two sons became successful child actors under his guidance.

Ron and Clint take turns giving their recollections of their times on the Andy Griffith Show, Gentle Ben, Happy Days and various parts in movies. Their father was their acting coach and guardian on the sets and picked up parts for himself along the way, but never achieved his leading man goal.

Ron gave insight on how his acting experiences drove his desire to pursue directing films for a living. Clint aged out of child roles and dealt with drug addiction, but still managed to pursue a career as a character actor.

This memoir is a story of love and appreciation for Rance and Jean Howard, and how they kept the family grounded with Hollywood glamour all around them. It was a heartwarming read and I thoroughly enjoyed it. If you grew up with Opie and Richie Cunningham you’ll love it too!

Located in Adult Nonfiction (792.092 HOW)

Crying in the H Mart by Michelle Zauner

Reviewed by Holly (Library Patron)

This book is the personal journey of its author through an extremely difficult time in her life, her mother’s fight and eventual death due to cancer. As such it was often depressing and reveals a lot of details that are not pleasant to read. Throughout the book the author details many memories that were linked to Korean food. I found this to be overbearing as I was not familiar with most of the dishes and their names occupied a large portion of the text. Even so the story describes a very personal reflection of her mother/daughter evolution through her perspective as the daughter. Overall, it was ok.

Available through the Bridges Library System

Poison for Breakfast by Lemony Snicket

Reviewed by Melissa Beck (Library Staff)

When I first flipped through this book, I had no idea who it was written for. Children? Adults? Mystery readers? Breakfast enthusiasts? Having a keen interest in breakfast myself and a history of enjoying Lemony Snicket’s writing, I thought it’d be worth taking a chance on.

Part mystery, part philosophy, this meandering little book follows the author through a one-day investigation prompted by a note he receives in the morning which reads “You had poison for breakfast.” Liberally sprinkled with humorous statements and sage observations, it is classic Snicket–he still tells you what words mean but also makes you think deeply about ordinary subjects.

I laughed out loud more than once and was delighted by the Notes section at the end where the author gives titles to books and movies he described (which I assumed were fictitious) and credits quotes he referenced throughout. Plus, the mystery is resolved in a clever and surprising manner (though I’m not sure why I would expect anything less).

After having read the whole book, I still have no idea who it was written for, except to say with certainty that it WAS written at least a little for me, as I enjoyed it very much.

Available through the Bridges Library System

Made in Abyss by Akihito Tsukushi

Reviewed by Jess H (Library Staff)

Made in Abyss follows Riko, a twelve year old girl living in Orth, the city that rests on the rim of a great pit. Her goal is to become a white whistle, a cave raider who traverses the vast depths of the abyss in search of rare and valuable treasures. Currently, she is a red whistle, an apprentice only allowed to explore the first layer of the abyss. On one of her expeditions, she finds a mechanical boy, Reg, who she smuggles home.

This first volume sets up Riko and Reg’s journey into the bewildering and dangerous abyss in search of answers to Riko’s questions about her mother and Reg’s questions about his past and purpose.

The thing that really sets Made in Abyss apart from other manga works is its worldbuilding. The mysteries are set up wonderfully and seeing the creatures and relics of the great pit are enticing enough to keep me reading. That said, some of the art and dialogue are a bit… awkward. There were some questionable choices in terms of representing these minor characters in compromising situations which can be uncomfortable to see/read. As stated on the back of the book: this manga is for older teens and adults due to explicit content.

Located in Teen Manga (TEEN MANGA TSUKUSHI)