Posts Tagged ‘True Crime’

Best ‘New to Us’ Books in 2013: Stephen B’s Picks

December 18, 2013

My name is Stephen Bank and I have been working in Wake County Public Libraries for over 12 years. My favorite genre is mysteries, but I also like Historical Nonfiction and sometimes human interest stories as you will see from the following 5 short blogs.

Snow in August by Pete Hamill
Having been raised in a multi-ethnic neighborhood in New York City, I have found no one who captures the essence of the Big City like Hamill. This touching story takes place in Brooklyn just after WWII, where an extraordinary relationship develops between 11 year old Michael Devlin and Rabbi Judah Hirsch, a Polish refugee. Michael’s Dad was killed in the war and he and his Mom are just surviving. The relationship between Michael and the Rabbi teaches us how all people can live together in all types of circumstances.   Read my full-length post here.

The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson
It’s 1890 and Chicago politicians will do anything to bring the next World’s Fair to their city. As various factions battle against other sections of the United States for the Fair, something very diabolical is going on. Chicago wins the rights to the World’s Fair and now there will be the infighting from those factions who want to profit from producing the Fair. There is also a serial killer loose, but at first no one realizes that the dead women have not died of natural causes! We are really dealing with the two stories, the Fair and the murders.  Larson’s unbelievable research makes you feel like you are there, living in Chicago. And this is a true story!  Read my full-length post here.

The  Informationist  by Taylor Stevens
In this book you will meet one of fiction’s most interesting leading protagonists, Vanessa “Michael” Munroe.  Abandoned in darkest Africa by her missionary parents as a teenager, Vanessa has to learn every possible survival skill…which she does. As an adult, she is self-sufficient and capable of anything, including killing to save herself and her clients. She is not evil and she hires herself out to secure information for clients.  She is fascinating and if you become “hooked” as I did you will seek out Stevens’ two successive novels with ‘Michael’ as the main heroine. If you do some research on author Stevens and her background, it may become clearer to you how she arrived at this talent and the development of ‘ Michael ‘ as a leading character!  Read another review here.

Sworn to Silence by Linda Castillo
This was a new discovery for me. This book is the first in a series of books where our main protagonist is Kate Burkholder, the chief of police of Painters Mill, Ohio. I always thought that the main Amish community was in Pennsylvania but there is a strong Amish community in Ohio. The Amish and English residents have lived besides each other for years but not entirely peacefully! Although they were peaceful, there always was some resentment of the Amish.  Kate was brought up in the Amish community but a series of brutal murders convinced her that she didn’t belong there.  Despite that, she returned to Painter’s Mill after some big city training to be the new Police Chief. A new murder and Kate is convinced she must find the culprit before there is another murder. Castillo has followed this initial story with several other books with Burkholder as her leading protagonist. Not only is this a solid read but you will learn some things about the Amish communities.

The Homecoming of Samuel Lake by Jenny Wingfield
This is the different selection, one I would not ordinarily select but it was suggested by a fellow librarian I trust. Samuel Lake is preacher, a good one but one who has alienated his parish enough that they don’t renew his contract. Now it is time for Samuel and his wife, Willadee and their three children to return to her family’s farm in south Arkansas and the annual reunion of the Moses’ family. And that is the catch…..family!  You will fall in love with Samuel and Willadee’s precocious eleven year old daughter, Swan. And as you get to meet and know the rest of the Moses clan, you will see the good and the bad. If you have an extended family as I do, you will understand their trials and tribulations.  Samuel has to face his own demons … why can’t he hold on to a congregation? Plus there certainly are members of the Moses’ clan that will present their own challenges. This book will touch your heart, I promise.

Best New Books of 2013: Melissa O’s Picks

December 12, 2013

Here it is! My favorite blog post of the year. It is difficult to narrow down my favorite books of the year to only five, but here is a sample from all over the library. As you can see, I have wide ranging interests, so you never know what I might stumble across to share with you!

The Good Nurse by Charles Graeber
This book combines the suspense of a crime drama, the anxiety many of us feel about going into the hospital, and a serial killer into a frightening edge-of-your-seat tale! This is the true story of Charles Cullen, a registered nurse who was implicated in the deaths of as many as 300 patients during his career and was finally arrested in 2003. The most terrifying aspect of the story is how he managed to be so successful as a serial killer.  For more information read a review of this book or check out the author’s website.

Nobody by Jennifer Barnes
Have you ever felt invisible, overlooked, or unimportant? Of course, it is all in your head. But what if it wasn’t? What if you COULDN’T be noticed? Meet Claire, a Nobody who does not know she is one. Until the day someone tries to kill her.  But how can he notice her when no one else does? And why would anyone care enough to want to assassinate her? With a nice mix of Sci-Fi, action, and romance this is a fun read.

Suspect by Robert Crais
This is a must read for any mystery, action thriller, or dog lover! A new favorite, this book grabbed me from the first pages as it brings together two damaged souls: a cop and a former war dog. Both are recovering from devastating injuries. Both have lost their partner. Can Scott and Maggie help each other heal? And will they ever be able to protect and serve again? You cannot help but root for this duo as they fight to solve the mystery of Scott’s partner’s death.

The Elite by Kiera Cass
The second book in Cass’s dystopian series (after The Selection) immerses you in political intrigue, romance, and … reality TV? Torn between two loves, America Singer is vying for the hand of Prince Maxom even as she is drawn back to her first love. But this prince doesn’t woo his princess in the way you would expect. He selects his bride through a televised competition. Think “The Dating Game” meets “The Real Housewives!” A fun read and I am looking forward to the next installment.

Frozen In Time: An Epic Story of Survival and a Modern Quest for Lost Heroes of WWII by Mitchell Zuckoff
Two stories are woven together in this suspenseful retelling of a tragic and heroic rescue effort from WWII.  The book begins with the November 5, 1942 crash of a US cargo plane in Greenland. The rescue effort saw another plane crash, and the vanishing of a Grumman Duck amphibious plane. The modern day quest for those lost men and the retelling of the months long rescue is a riveting tale. What made it more special is describing the book to my grandfather, an Army lieutenant throughout war, and having him recall hearing about these lost men over 70 years ago.

Thunderstruck by Erik Larson

June 10, 2013

Erik Larson’s Thunderstruck is about events that mainly took place during the late Victorian era and during the reign of Edward VII.  It was a time of great progress, great superstition, and great wonders: spiritualism gained in popularity, magicians were celebrated entertainers, and scientists, researchers, and inventors could be major celebrities.  The German Max Planck originated the quantum theory, another German, Albert Einstein, launched the theory of relativity, and an Italian-Irish young man, Guglielmo Marconi, sent wireless signals across the Atlantic – something science at the time claimed to be impossible (due to the curved shape of the planet).

Science and magic were not always distinctly separated. Magic could contain scientific elements and science could seem magical. And while magicians might use scientific advancements to trick the crowds, the progress of science was so rapid that scientific claims sometimes were viewed as little more than magic tricks.  Some colleagues ridiculed Einstein for his theories and Marconi’s claims were often doubted.  The opposition remained fierce no matter what the young inventor did; no PR stunt or demonstration seemed to be able to do away with the negative criticism of the non-believers.

But opposition died down after his invention, the wireless Marconi system, in the most spectacular and public way had been part of a manhunt that reached from Europe to North America. The wanted man was a Dr. Crippen, a mild-mannered American gentleman living in London, who had (so it was believed anyway) committed the most grisly crime imaginable.

In Thunderstruck, the author tells the story of Marconi and Crippen, and how the two – so to speak – came to meet. Larson’s book can be described (and perhaps dismissed) as creative non-fiction as he actually manipulates the reader. Sometimes, for example, it seems as if he is writing about concurrent events when, in fact, they are separated by several years. But is the research solid? Yes, it is. And is it a good read? Oh, yes.

Find and reserve this book in the library. 

The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson

May 28, 2013

I first met Erik Larson when I read ” In The Garden of Beasts “”.   It was the brilliant story of Germany between the Great Wars and the American family that lived there during the thirties. I was able to feel I was there with Ambassador William Dodd and his family as they slowly grasped what Hitler was doing and how it would affect the whole world in just a few years.

Now I am traveling back to 1893 and the Chicago World’s Fair to meet two polar opposite figures…..one the brilliant architect of the Fair, Daniel Burnham and the other, our first recognized serial killer, Herman Webster Mudgett aka H.H Holmes.  Although they never met, their stories will cross over in the telling of this tale.

The construction of the fair, if it hopes to top what Paris’ Exposition has just done, will require the cooperation of a lot of people.  It will need the brain power of some of the best architects that the US has produced….and that’s a lot of egos to deal with!  Meanwhile our serial killer is operating under the ‘radar’ as the people responsible for the Fair try to accomplish their mission in just 27 months!

You will be overwhelmed by the details and research that went into the writing this book.  Larson may well have spent years in accumulating what is truly an amazing story. And remember you will be getting two stories for the price of one.  An unbelievable tale of an unbelievable period in the history of Chicago and the United States.

Find and reserve this book in the library.

Little Princes by Conor Grennan

October 17, 2011

At first Conor Grennan thought his three-month stint volunteering in a Nepalese orphanage would be a fun way to start his trip around the world, an opportunity to get in some good mountain climbing, and, of course, an impressive conversation starter with the babes at the local bars.  But as soon as he arrives at the door to the Little Princes Orphanage, Conor realizes he is totally unprepared—what was he thinking?  He has no siblings, no young cousins, nieces or nephews, has never done any babysitting—he has no experience with children whatsoever!

Conor soon catches on, and, in spite of his bone-wearying exhaustion at the end of each day, he learns to love the experience and the children of Little Princes.

One day, not long before Conor’s scheduled flight out of Nepal, a woman arrives at the orphanage’s door, claiming to be the mother of two of the Little Princes orphans.  It is then Conor realizes that the children of Little Princes are not orphans—they are trafficked.

What follows is a story of adventure, integrity, and devotion told with self-deprecating humor that inspires one to believe that one ordinary person can make a difference in even the most remote and dangerous places.

There is much about the Nepalese culture in Little Princes to provide opportunity for discussion.  There is also a civil war occurring during the events, which facilitated the child trafficking.  Religious traditions (Buddhist and Christian) are briefly mentioned in the book as Conor considers his own spirituality, but this is a very small part of the book.

Find and reserve this book in our catalog.

For the Thrill of It: Leopold, Loeb and the Murder that Shocked Chicago by Simon Baatz

February 25, 2011

Johnny Cash once sang “But I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die. When I hear that whistle blowin’, I hang my head and cry.” to illustrate the senselessness of crime and the regrets that a convict might have. Wealthy and extraordinarily intelligent teenagers Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb killed a boy just to see if they could get away with it. They had no motives other than proving themselves to be Nietzchean Supermen who were above the law, and they had no regrets afterward. They thought they were smart enough to leave no trace that would lead anyone to suspect they did it. And they almost got away with it. Almost.

Simon Baatz writes a gripping and thorough look at the murder that captivated the country for weeks in 1924. He details the killers’ lives and the factors that played into their decisions before narrating the events of the crime, the investigation, the trial, and the aftermath. For true crime fans, this book shows how a simple, mundane detail can unravel the most painstakingly planned crime.

Find it here!

The Monster of Florence by Douglas J. Preston and Mario Spezi

March 15, 2010

This week I will be featuring recent favorites of the East Regional Library’s Travel Book Club!

Welcome to the dark side of Italy.

Monster of Florence

Beginning sometime in 1968 or 1974, depending upon which authority you listen to, a killer (or killers) brutally murdered young couples as they made love under the new moon on secluded lovers’ lanes around Florence. The murders went on until 1985, gripping Florence in an unaccustomed terror. The crimes were so horrific that the press dubbed him Il Mostro di Firenze, or The Monster of Florence.

The Monster of Florence is fascinating and very intriguing especially given that the serial killer(s) has still never officially been found. In the first part of the book, the author describes the brutal murders carried out by the Monster. Twelve (or possibly fourteen) dead bodies, lovers killed in the light of the moon. Gruesome, disturbing, and yet fascinating. Equally interesting is the Clouseau-like police work as two different police agencies try to solve the murders. The second half of the book details the author’s attempt to research the murders twenty years later with the help of Italian journalist Spezi.

The Monster of Florence portrays a stark contrast of gruesome crime scenes with the stunning background of Tuscany. It seems impossible that the bucolic hills could hold sinister secrets of such horrors. Preston and Spezi reveal the reality of living in Italy, with all of its quaint charm and its imperfect legal system. It’s not all capos and Mafia that make the headlines there. It’s at least one impotent psychopath with a sick desire to prove his power over other human beings. Not only will the Monster’s bloody path horrify you, the treatment of these two authors will, too.

Side note: In late 2008, film studio United Artists announced its purchase of the film rights to The Monster of Florence. It is anticipated that actor Tom Cruise will star in the movie.

Click here to find this book in our catalog.


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