Booth by Karen Joy Fowler

Reviewed by Katy Zignego (Library Staff)

Booth, as the title would suggest, is a fictionalized biography of not just presidential assassin John Wilkes Booth, but his entire family as well. (And they were a particularly interesting family!) I think it was the author’s intent to show John Wilkes within his family milieu to both humanize him and suggest how he came to be an Angry White Man With a Gun. I don’t think the author entirely succeeds in this aim, and as a result the novel stumbles where it might have soared.

If you are not up on the nineteenth-century theater, you probably don’t know that John was merely the least of the Booth family members performing upon the stage. His father, Junius Booth, was considered the greatest tragedian of his time, and his brothers Junius Jr. and Edwin were well-regarded actors in their own rights. Even his brother-in-law, Sleeper Clarke, a comedian, was better known than John. Sisters Rosalie and Asia and a largely absent brother, Joe, round out the six Booth siblings who survived to adulthood.

Each chapter is told from the viewpoint of a different sibling, which gives the narrative a strange and halting gait. The sisters are by far the most compelling narrators, especially Rosalie, an invalid who hears the ghosts of her dead siblings and tipples gin in her tea. I would have like to see the entire book written from Rosalie’s point of view. The author also inexplicably chose to preface each chapter with a quotation and a short vignette from the life of Abraham Lincoln–John Wilkes Booth’s fated victim. This breaks up the cadence even more, with no benefit to the novel that I can discern.

The author has obviously done extensive research on the Booth family, and the descriptions of daily life are beautifully drawn and highly realistic. I think she might have had better luck writing a nonfiction biography of the Booth family, or else a less ambitious novel focusing on a single sibling (Rosalie is my pick, but Asia Booth Clarke would be good too).

Located in Adult Fiction (FIC FOWLER)

Love and Saffron: A Novel of Friendship, Food, and Love by Kim Fay

Reviewed by Emily Terasa (Library Staff)

Joan Bergstrom of Los Angeles sends a fan letter to Imogen Fortier, a monthly columnist living outside of Seattle. What follows is a charming novel of friendship, food, and love, told through letters between the two characters.

I love epistolary novels (works of fiction that are written in the form of letters or other documents), and this one was short and charming. I loved seeing how the relationship between the two characters grew as time went on, and I also loved all the references to different types of food. This was the perfect, quick read for a warm spring evening.

Located in Adult Fiction (FIC FAY)

Carnegie’s Maid by Marie Benedict

Reviewed by Holly (Library Patron)

This historical fiction was a pleasant quick read. If you liked Downton Abbey, this book would be a must read. Downton Abbey provided me with a great deal of background knowledge of the historical period and the life experience of a servant. Some of the events seem kind of coincidentally unbelievable. But if you like historical FICTION this might be a good book for you!

Located in Adult Fiction (FIC BENEDICT)

The Bloodless Boy by Robert J. Lloyd

Reviewed by Katy Zignego (Library Staff)

The Bloodless Boy is the very compelling title of Robert J. Lloyd’s debut historical mystery novel. Set in Restoration London among the lights of the fledgling Royal Society, The Bloodless Boy sparkles with historical detail and page-turning action. The author’s website says he is hard at work on a sequel, and I cannot wait to read it.

The story does begin a bit slowly, taking several chapters to introduce the characters and set up the mystery. Three men are summoned to the bank of London’s River Fleet to inspect the body of a young child who has been drained of his blood. Justice Sir Edmund Bury Godfrey, Curator of the Royal Society Robert Hooke, and Hooke’s assistant Harry Hunt then embark upon an investigation into the murder. Harry Hunt eventually emerges as the main character, and develops into a regular Indiana Jones of intellect and action. Any fan of Dan Brown or Bernard Cornwell will instantly recognize the type.

Sometimes Harry’s escapes seem a bit far-fetched–can one really use pitch to seal a doorway so tightly that a raging fire can’t get through?–but it’s all in good fun. And as a romp through the colorful Restoration period and the checkered history of early modern science, The Bloodless Boy is quite fun.

Located in Adult Fiction (FIC LLOYD)

The Forest of Vanishing Stars by Kristin Harmel

Reviewed by Holly (Library Patron)

This book was a very interesting read. The story is set in the geographical region of Poland/Russia during WWII. The plot has many twists and turns. It begins with the main character being abducted and taken to the forest to be raised by an older woman. The main character, Yona, lives in the woods and learns survival skills from the old woman. As the war becomes a more dominating factor many people, mostly Jewish, are attracted to the woods and live there to avoid the wrath of Nazi soldiers. The characters are well developed and readers can feel along with them as their circumstances evolve. Also reading the Author’s Note at the end of the book gives readers historical references and empowers this fictional novel. If you generally like reading WWII period pieces, this is a must read.

Located in Adult Fiction (FIC HARMEL)

Go Tell the Bees That I Am Gone by Diana Gabaldon

Reviewed by Katy Zignego (Library Staff)

I have been reading the Outlander books for about twenty years, and I say now with the greatest affection that it’s time for the saga to end. The adventures of Jamie and Claire–and now their children and grandchildren–have been ever so entertaining, but I sincerely hope that the next book–the tenth in the series–will be the last.

The ninth book in the Outlander series, Go Tell the Bees That I Am Gone, seems to acknowledge that the end is drawing nigh: author Diana Gabaldon teases the idea of Claire’s eventual death right in the title. (Spoiler: She doesn’t die.) But the 800 or so pages of GTTB only advance the story about one year, plodding through the seasons on Fraser’s Ridge one meal and bear attack at a time.

The reason for the slow development is that the reader is following five major storylines: one for Jamie and Claire, one for their daughter Brianna, one for their nephew Ian, one for friend Lord John Grey, and one for William (whose connection to the family is a major spoiler and so won’t be revealed here). When you split 800 pages into 5 sections, each storyline only gets a modest 160 pages. So instead of a rushing river of pounding narrative–as it was in the days of just Jamie and Claire–Outlander has become a delta of meandering streams.

I don’t want to see this grand adventure series continue into books eleven, twelve, and fifteen, following each of the different storylines to yet more storylines. Outlander gained its popularity on the strength of Jamie and Claire’s epic love story, and they don’t deserve to become supporting cast in their own saga. My message to Diana Gabaldon, as both an adoring fan and a discerning reader, is this: Bring Jamie and Claire’s story to a close with a bang, not a whimper.

Located in Adult Fiction (FIC GABALDON)

The Devil and the Dark Water by Stuart Turton

Reviewed by Katy Zignego (Library Staff)

The Devil and the Dark Water is billed as a classic locked-room mystery, and that is certainly what it delivers–and not much else. Though the mystery is a first-rate challenge for the armchair detectives, those who prefer a little bit of literary merit with their mysteries will be left unsatisfied.

The setting is a ship, bound for Amsterdam from Batavia in 1634, at the height of the power of the Dutch East India Company. Among the ship’s passengers are the governor general, his wife and daughter, his mistress, and his second-in-command, while locked in the ship’s brig is Sammy Pipps, the world’s greatest detective. Also aboard are Sammy’s bodyguard, a priest and his assistant, a greedy captain, a feckless purser, and innumerable bloodthirsty soldiers and sailors. And, apparently, a demon.

As the demon wreaks havoc abovedecks and below, the governor general’s wife teams up with Pipps’s bodyguard to stop whatever (or whoever) has summoned the evil. But every time they seem to be approaching a solution, a new problem appears. All the twists will definitely keep the reader guessing, but I found myself not really caring much about the outcome because I didn’t care about the characters. They are flat and uninteresting, and the dialogue falls somewhere between stilted and downright unnatural. The setting, which might be so evocative, is used almost entirely as a prop for new discoveries and given zero ink in its own right. And it’s best not to get me started on the historical accuracy.

Read The Devil and the Dark Water if you don’t have any friends handy to play Clue with. If you want a mystery with great 17th-century Dutch period detail, try The Miniaturist instead.

Located in Adult Fiction (FIC TURTON)

Hour of the Witch by Chris Bohjalian

Reviewed by Katy Zignego (Library Staff)

Hour of the Witch, the newest offering from New England author Chris Bohjalian, takes the reader to Salem, Massachusetts, in the decades before the Salem Witch Trials of 1692. Mary Deerfield, a young Puritan woman, attempts to sue her abusive husband for a divorce, and the scrutiny brought by the divorce case leads to her arrest and trial as a suspected witch.

While the divorce storyline puts a new twist on the usual witch trial story, I was ultimately unsatisfied with the novel. I was never able to believe in Mary Deerfield as a Puritan woman of the 1660s. While Bohjalian spends a considerable amount of ink expounding upon the philosophy of the Puritans, the reader gets the impression that Mary has never bought into the Calvinist worldview. In fact, she seems more like a modern rational humanist who has time-traveled back to the 17th century and is not happy about it.

This is not a problem unique to this novel or novelist, and a good foundation of historical detail can make up for a lot of character shortcomings. But only the very best historical fiction can boast characters who feel completely true to their time, and Hour of the Witch does not live up to that standard.

Located in Adult Fiction (FIC BOHJALIAN)

Westering Women by Sandra Dallas

Reviewed by Holly (Library Patron)

This was a wonderful book. It was set in the mid-1800’s. And the basic premise is a wagon train of women who answered a poster announcement regarding a journey to California in search of a husband. The author did a great job with both plot twists and character development. Granted some of the plot twists were unbelievable but somehow you wanted to believe. And the characters were so strong. The contrast between the present and when the story took place, will make readers think how very different life was then and how much things have changed. This was an excellent book choice for a Book Club!!!

Available through the Bridges Library System

Katherine of Aragon: The True Queen by Alison Weir

Reviewed by Emily Terasa (Library Staff)

I’ve always had a fascination with Henry VIII and his six wives, and I’ve been interested in this series by Alison Weir, where she writes about one wife in each book. But the books are long, so I’ve never picked them up before. When I saw the first audiobook available on Hoopla, I knew I had to dive in and start listening!

The first book follows Henry’s first wife, Katherine of Aragon, from when she first arrives in England at age 16, to her first wedding with Arthur, and finishes with her tumultuous marriage to Henry. I knew a some of her life story, but through this book I learned a lot more and I enjoyed getting to know Katherine (even though she frustrated me with her decisions at times). If you like Philippa Gregory, or other historical fiction novels about real people, I would highly recommend starting this series!

Located in Adult Fiction (FIC WEIR)

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