Month: December 2012

Check It Out Blog

Murder at the End of the World

The Last Policeman audiobook cover

If you knew the world were going to end in six months, would solving crimes still matter? Young Detective Hank Palace insists it does, and he is determined to prove that the apparent suicide found in a former McDonald’s restroom is really a murder victim. In The Last Policeman by Ben Winters, the impending asteroid strike has led most people to abandon their jobs and embrace life without consequences, but Palace won’t let this go. Reader Peter Berkrot’s superb narration balances the earnest with the hard-boiled, leading us through changing directions and multiple red herrings while keeping us thoroughly invested. The Last Policeman is a satisfying mystery that takes full advantage of its pre-apocalyptic setting, offering keen insights into human thought and behavior.

More Than a Hundred Thousand Photos Hidden Away

Vivian Maier is the Emily Dickinson of photography. Dickinson didn’t publish her poetry; she tucked it away in drawers. Similarly, Maier received no acclaim in her own lifetime for her captivating street photography – not because her work wasn’t any good, but because the world didn’t know it existed. Maier’s photos were hidden away, mostly as undeveloped film, in storage lockers. Maier worked as a nanny in Chicago for near forty years. On her days off, she walked the streets taking pictures. Richard Cahan and Michael Williams collected a gorgeous sampling of her black and white work in Vivian Maier: Out of the Shadows.

LISTS: Musicians That Died Unfortunately Early

Are You Experienced? album coverFebruary 3, 1959 was christened as The Day the Music Died by Don McLean in his iconic song, “American Pie.” It was the day that Ritchie Valens, the Big Bopper, and Buddy Holly died in a plane crash near Clear Lake, Iowa. Rock and roll is full of untimely ends, but the music lives on.

Click here for musicians that died unfortunately early.

A Shakespearean Conspiracy Set in Siena

Juliet book coverWhen Julie is 25, her Aunt Rose dies, and Julie’s inheritance is a key to a safety deposit box in Siena, Italy. The safety deposit box contains a silver crucifix, a pile of paper, a promise of family treasure, and a battered, old copy of Romeo and Juliet. Julie knew the story of Romeo and Juliet, but she didn’t know Shakespeare based his play on real families in Siena, not Verona – and she was a descendent of Giulietta Tolomei, the real Juliet. If you like historical thrillers like Diane Setterfield’s The Thirteenth Tale or Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code, try Anne Fortier’s fast-paced Shakespearean conspiracy, Juliet.

Giving Back to Half the World

Half the Sky book cover

“More girls have been killed in the last fifty years, precisely because they were girls, than men were killed in all the wars of the twentieth century.” Wow. But as startling as statistics like that may be, Pulitzer Prize winners Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn know that people don’t respond to numbers — they respond to stories. Accordingly, Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide focuses on people: those who have been victimized, those who are working to combat untenable situations, and those who have survived unimaginable horror and are now fighting back themselves. This extraordinary work celebrates the victories, the progress, and the solutions, and it gives specific options for each of us to respond to a call to action. As we pause to reflect on our own blessings at this time of year, it is also good to be reminded that most of us know very little of real need or oppression. What can one person do? Read this life-changing book and find out.

If reading the book seems too much, check out the audiobook (expertly read by Cassandra Campbell) or the documentary series on DVD. Your only regret will be that it took you this long to have your eyes opened.

Old Saint Nick Actually Existed

Today’s Santa is an amalgamation of the Dutch figure Sinterklaas and imagery created by the illustrator Thomas Nast and the poet Clement Clarke Moore in “The Night Before Christmas.” Surprisingly, the legendary Sinterklaas was based on a real person – Saint Nicholas of Myra, a fourth century bishop famed for his generosity. Adam C. English examines the historical Saint Nicholas in The Saint Who Would be Santa Claus: The True Life and Trials of Nicholas of Myra.

LISTS: Murder and Fantasy for the Holidays

Holiday Grind book coverIt is four days before Christmas. Old Saint Nick is practically here. You have officially, almost, survived the holidays without running over any Scrooges in the mall parking lot. But that doesn’t mean that someone else hasn’t.

Click here for cozy mystery Christmas books.

Click here for thriller/suspense holiday novels.

If dead bodies under the mistletoe aren’t your scene, click here for fantasy and sci-fi holiday novels.

Charles Dickens…the Complusive Performer

Charles Dickens and the Great Theatre of the World book cover“Literature was his wife, the theatre was his mistress, and to the very end he was tempted to leave the one for the other,” writes Simon Callow of Charles Dickens in Charles Dickens and the Great Theatre of the World. Callow theorizes that it was Dickens’ love of the theater that added such drama and power to his written work. Dickens loved being a part of the theater, and audiences would sob uncontrollably, laugh till the rafters shook, sit in glassy-eyed wonder, and fight for admission to see him perform. Callow’s slim, candid biography is the perfect follow-up to anyone who enjoyed Dickens by Peter Ackroyd or Claire Tomalin’s more recent biography, Charles Dickens: A Life.