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A new book about the Sylvia Likens trial, another about Ray Bradbury, & others featured at Irvingtion

October 21, 2014 by Reader's Connection

The Read Local series at the Irvington Library will run from October 28th through November 25th, and will include appearances by authors who have written or edited a new book about Ray Bradbury, a collection of columns about Indy, two stories of true crime in Indy, and a collection of commencement speeches by Kurt Vonnegut.

All programs begin at 6:30 p.m.


October 28 – Jonathan Eller


Ray Bradbury Unbound

Eller will discuss Ray Bradbury Unbound, the book which continues the story he began with Becoming Ray Bradbury (2011).




November 4 – Dan Wakefield


If This Isn't Nice, What Is? : Advice for the Young

Wakefield edited Kurt Vonnegut’s If This Isn’t Nice, What Is? : Advice for the Young. Vonnegut was much in demand as a commencement speaker, and Wakefield will talk about putting this collection of speeches together.




November 18 – Robert L. Snow and Forrest Bowman


Killers in the Family

Robert Snow, who served with the Indianapolis Police Department for thirty-eight years, will discuss his new book Killers in the Family: Inside a Real Family of Criminals Bound by Blood, which tells of the 2008 string of robberies and murders committed in Indianapolis by the Reese family.



Sylvia: The Likens Trial

Forrest Bowman was counsel for sixteen-year-old Coy Hubbard and thirteen-year-old John Baniszewski who, along with John’s mother Gertrude, his seventeen-year-old sister Paula, and fourteen-year-old Richard Hobbs, were charged with first degree murder in the 1965 torture death of sixteen-year-old Sylvia Likens, who had been boarding with Gertrude. Bowman’s new book Sylvia: The Likens Trial tells the story of the trial as he saw it.


November 25 – David Hoppe


Personal Indianapolis

In a recent interview, Hoppe said that he didn’t really like books that were collections of columns, because a column is so often a response to headlines, and “there is definitely a sell-by-date.” But he has gathered NUVO columns that he felt could “stand on their own as essays” and put them in a book called Personal Indianapolis: Thirteen Years of Observing, Exhorting, and Satirizing the Hoosier Capital.



Fall Writing Workshops

October 20, 2014 by Reader's Connection

Through the month of November, the Indiana Writers Center will be presenting workshops for writers.

Workshops on writing mysteries, on writing speculative fiction, and on just getting started, are scheduled at a number of library branches.

Click on the workshop titles to see the schedules.

This is of course an introduction to writing fiction about murders. Some of the basic tools for constructing a mystery novel will be explored: the genre expectations and boundaries, setting, characters, suspense, opening scenes, plot and pacing. Attendees will be doing some writing.

Have you been thinking about writing for a long time? Would you like to connect with other writers in the Indianapolis area? This class will offer writing exercises, and there will be lively conversation about writing and the writing life.

Oh, no! Your blogger has found another excuse to post his selfie!

Speculative fiction is the genre of possibility. If you’d like to write some variety of horror or fantasy or science fiction or some other spec genre (?), this class will clarify what speculative fiction is, along with world-building and exploring the marketplace.


As the Kings Turn

October 17, 2014 by Reader's Connection

Here’s a review from Selector Emily Chandler. I asked Emily if this book could go on this year’s gift suggestion list, despite her reservations about it, and she said yes.

The King’s CurseI admit, I had never read one of Philippa Gregory’s books before now. Surprising, considering how fascinated I am with that period in British history and watching the many film adaptations that have been made from her novels. Indeed, my impulse to pick up The King’s Curse stemmed from having seen the Starz film adaptation of her novel The White Queen. The King’s Curse is the fourth in that series, spoken in the voice of Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury.

Her connections to the throne were significant. She was niece to kings Edward IV and Richard III; a cousin to Elizabeth of York, wife of Henry VII; a lady-in-waiting to Queen Catherine of Aragon; and a governess to Princess Mary. As such, Margaret often had a front-row seat to the volatile ruling of the Tudors until her untimely end by Henry VIII. As a Plantagenet, Margaret’s life under Tudor role constantly hung in the balance, hovering on the fringes of the court’s inner circle and heavily dependent on the king’s favor. Her story is a prime example of the uncertainty of the time she lived in and how one false step could be a person’s last.

Gregory’s portrayal of Margaret was fascinating and creates a compelling story. Indeed Gregory’s impressive bibliography reflects her attempts to weave the real person into her character as much as she could. As such, the reader can envision that Margaret could at times have been feeling similar thoughts and feelings to those that Gregory associated with her- the anger, the arrogance, the helplessness, the frustration, the sorrow, the fear, at the actions of the throne. There was a rich complexity and pragmatism woven into her character- neither saint nor sinner, resilient yet unbending in her beliefs, arrogant yet compassionate, loyal yet rebellious. The book also shows off Margaret’s reputed intelligence, using the resources she had in both good times and bad to survive and stay in the king’s favors. Unfortunately, her luck eventually ran out, and she was arrested and executed for treason. But, considering she managed to avoid execution from a blood-thirsty king until she was 67, she was obviously a woman who did her best to live her life and stay off the King’s radar as much as possible.

But I digress. In all, this was a compelling and interesting read about the Tudor rule and a satisfying addition to the series. The Tudor rulers are a fascinating lot, and one can appreciate the karmic irony that despite Henry’s VIII misogynistic and obsessive machinations for a male heir, his most successful progeny was his second daughter Elizabeth, who became one of the most powerful rulers in British history. The only quibbles I had with this story were with the length. Honestly, it could have much shorter as the middle was uneventful and boring, and did not provide any additional relevance to the story other than an accurate chronology of her life. Moreover, the reader was constantly reminded of two points- that she was a Plantagenet and that her young brother was executed on orders by Henry VII. These reminders were overly used, and eventually eye-rolling. Cutting out some of those references would not have taken anything away from the story.

The King’s Curse is also available as a downloadable e-book, and is on order as an audiobook on CD and in large print.


Awards Galore!

October 16, 2014 by Reader's Connection

The winner of the Man Booker Prize and the finalists for the National Book Award have been announced.

The Man Booker Prize, which was open to American authors for the first time this year, has been awarded to Australian novelist Richard Flanagan for his novel The Narrow Road to the Deep North.

The Narrow Road to the Deep NorthFrom bestselling Australian writer Flanagan comes a supple meditation on memory, trauma, and empathy that is also a sublime war novel. Initially, it is related through the reminiscences of Dorrigo Evans, a 77-year-old surgeon raised in Tasmania whose life has been filtered through two catastrophic events: the illicit love affair he embarked on with Amy Mulvaney, his uncle’s wife, as a young recruit in the Australian corps and his WWII capture by the Japanese after the fall of Singapore. Most of the novel recounts Dorrigo’s experience as a POW in the Burmese jungle on the “speedo,” horrific work sessions on the “Death Railway” that leave most of his friends dead from dysentery, starvation, or violence. While Amy, with the rest of the world, believes him dead, Dorrigo’s only respite comes from the friends he tries to keep healthy and sane, fellow sufferers such as Darky Gardiner, Lizard Brancussi, and Rooster MacNiece. Yet it is Dorrigo’s Japanese adversary, Major Nakamura, Flanagan’s most conflicted and fully realized character, whose view of the war–and struggles with the Emperor’s will and his own postwar fate–comes to overshadow Dorrigo’s story, especially in the novel’s bracing second half. Pellucid, epic, and sincerely touching in its treatment of death, this is a powerful novel. — Publishers Weekly

The Narrow Road to the Deep North is also available as a downloadable e-book and a downloadable audiobook.



National Book Award finalists in the fiction, nonfiction, poetry and young people’s literature categories can be viewed at the National Book Award site, where you can also see the longlist titles that got dropped. I’m sad about Spencer Reece’s The Road to Emmaus and Nigel Hamilton’s The Mantle of Command.

If you click on the Lila cover art, you go to the NPR treatment of the finalists, which is interesting in part because NPR originally goofed up when writing about Marilynne Robinson’s fiction, and because the comments about the goof start off with one by Andrew Halberstadt, who may be my nephew Andrew.

Okay, that isn’t interesting to you.

The National Book Award winners will be announced on November 19th.


The Ploughmen

October 15, 2014 by Reader's Connection

The Ploughmen

Sitting in his Montana jail cell, killer John Gload tells deputy Valentine Millimaki how at age fourteen he committed his first murder–killed a woman in her home, walked out, stopped after a while to eat an apple.

“About two miles later I sat down on a railroad berm to catch my breath. It was an interesting moment. By the time I ate that apple, I didn’t feel a thing about that woman.” He rolled his eyes up to regard Millimaki, his hands still open on his knees in a sort of offertory pose. “Val, I knew right then I’d never in my life have to do a regular day of work again.”

Gload is 77 years old, now, and the law has finally caught up with him. Millimaki is low deputy on the totem pole and is stuck with the graveyard shift at the jail, where Gload, for some reason, takes a liking to him. The deputy is a troubled man, himself, with a marriage coming apart, and the two of them form a strange bond.

I’m sure you’ll agree that Kim Zupan’s The Ploughmen sounds like a wonderful holiday gift. Anyone who likes dark crime novels might enjoy it, but I have to include a WARNING FROM THE SURGEON GENERAL: ANY READER WHO IS ALLERGIC TO OVERWROUGHT PROSE IS LIKELY IS LIKELY TO ENTER A COMA WHILE READING.

The tops of the hills behind the house were softly aflame with scarlet sunset. I grumbled while reading sentences like that, and there are a lot of them. But since reading The Ploughmen I’ve read a better-behaved crime novel, a “smart, literary mystery,” according to its cover blurb; and the characters from that book have already slipped my mind, whereas Gload and Millimaki stay with me.

Have I mentioned the deputy’s other low-man duty, searching for missing persons, which leads him on harrowing, poetic quests? I loved the book, despite my grumbling, and may reread it. Let’s close with a passage that works for me. Millimaki’s wife is a nurse, and he is on his way to a party that he doesn’t want to attend.

On the sandy bluff the surgeon’s house where he was to meet his wife appeared fortresslike against the dusk, its roofline a complex topography of hips and gables and Dutch hip dormers and a phallic tower with a dome of hammered copper which at that hour beaconed its russet affluence to the working-class homes on the river below. From the hilltop eminence the prefabs and double-wide trailers looked like shoe boxes or children’s blocks set haphazardly beside a papier-mâché stream. The department made calls with equal frequency to the homes of the wealthy for spousal abuse and ODed teens and skeletal anorexic wives on the roadway in their teddies strung out and waving handguns at the passing cars. Millimaki had discovered fairly quickly that the problems of the rich were much the same as those of the unrich, though in the savage glare of the booking-room lights their sportswear and excellent dental work made for more attractive photographs.