The Seance

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As the chill of autumn starts to creep into the air, I begin longing for a certain type of book: a slightly unsettling kind of story in which old manor houses, family secrets, superstitions, disappearances, and ghosts are all woven into a mystery with multiple twists and turns. I found just such a story in John Harwood’s latest novel, The Séance. Constance Langton, a young woman living in 19th century England, has endured a lonely childhood marred by the death of her younger sister and her mother’s obsession with spiritualism. The chance for a new life comes when Constance unexpectedly inherits a country manor house named Wraxford Hall from a distant relation. But the inheritance is tainted, for Wraxford Hall is known to be cursed, its history plagued by mysterious disappearances, occult experiments, and even murder. As she begins to investigate the tragic nature of her new home, a strange story unfolds before Constance, pulling her eventually within its malevolent embrace. And if, like me, you’re in the mood for a mystery with spectral overtones, you’ll eagerly surrender yourself to the sinister charms of The Séance.

For a list of other Victorian mysteries, check out Murder, Victorian Style, one of the many book lists created by Manhattan Public Library staff members to help you find your next favorite book. And remember to return often to our Staff Picks Page to find new and updated lists!

The Lost Symbol

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Did you know that one of Washington D. C.’s most pious and sacrosanct buildings includes on its facade a frightening carving of Darth Vader?
Dan Brown’s newest novel The Lost Symbol is filled with such fascinating facts. This book has appeal for many who are interested in art, history, symbols and secret societies. I found the story very fast paced and loved the setting of our nation’s capital. Once again the protagonist Robert Langdon is involved in solving a mystery that involves secret rites and symbols. He spends one day chasing clues all over the city to solve this quest.
Check out the Dan Brown web site http://www.danbrown.com/
for more fun, including Bizarre Facts and a symbol game.

Crazy for the Storm

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Growing up in free-wheeling Southern California in the 1970′s, Norman Ollestad was constantly pushed by his father to conquer his fears and ski, surf or play hockey with all of the energy he could muster and to play to win. His father’s uncompromising expectations helped Norman survive a horrific plane crash. He tells, in alternating chapters, about his life and adventures with his father and then the story of how, at age 11, he was able to survive a crash that killed 3 adults, among them his father, and went on to find his way to rescuers.
Beyond this being a story of survival, it is the story of the intricate relationships between sons and fathers–the love and loyalty but also the resentment of forced expectations and guilt over failures. Ollstad’s father taught him to be Crazy for the Storm – to live life to the fullest and not to be afraid of challenges, and instilled in him the persistence and courage needed to survive. Ollestad has a gift for drawing the reader into his experiences–anticipating the curl of a wave while surfing, seeing the snow glitter on a powdery downhill run, feeling the ice cutting into his hands as he tries to climb down a rock wall to safety after the crash, the great feeling of loss and guilt as he leaves his fathers body on the mountain in order to save himself. The book ends with Ollestad examining his relationship with his own young son and trying not to impose his own passions and wishes on his child, despite wanting to instill in his own son the same strength of will that his father instilled in him.
Ollestad writes with wonderfully detailed description of the places he went and the experiences he had with his father, as well as of the love they shared. The story illustrates the diffculties of a child of divorce trying to relate to both a father and a step-father, each pushing him in a different direction. It also is a thought-provoking look at the fine line between a personal challenge and adrenaline-rush inducing but dangerous behavior.

Ted Kennedy

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Last month our nation witnessed the final chapter of one of the most fascinating stories we have ever seen. Ted Kennedy was a lifelong statesman, a member of our most mythologized family, and a man with a troubled past. After the wealth of material that has been written about him and his family, True Compass, his memoir, allows us a glimpse of his life from his perspective. Whether or not you agreed with the man, his story will be an interesting read, both as a tale of one life and as a piece of our nation’s history.

Life List: a Woman’s Quest for the World’s Most Amazing Birds

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What would drive a woman to miss her mother’s funeral, alienate three out of her four children, play roulette with her health by postponing two surgeries, miss her eldest daughter’s wedding, neglect her husband to the point that he asks for a divorce, continue even after being gang raped, take a trek dangerously beyond her abilities, survive a boatwreck that could easily have been fatal,and travel in countries where there is no rule of law? ….. The answer is birding.
Life List is the biography/ adventure story of a Phi Beta Kappa from Swarthmore, mother of four, who needed something else to inspire her in life. Phoebe spends eighteen years, circling the globe to record sight of nearly 8400 birds that made her life list a winner in the Guinness Book of World Records. Phoebe Snetsinger’s story is told by Olivia Goldsmith in such an interesting, non-judgemental way that by the end I could have sympathy for a person totally obsessed with self-fulfillment of her own personal quest at the expense of family and friends.

Alive Day by Tom Sullivan

> Dr. Brendan McCarthy had to rebuild his life following an accident that blinded him. In Alive Day , McCarthy is asked to work with a Marine who has been disabled in Iraq and is depressed, angry and suicidal. McCarthy and his service dog Nelson work to reach the Marine and try to help him realize that his life is not over. The story is a quick read and can be a bit saccharine at times, but the overall message of trust, hope and love made this a book that I enjoyed. The author, Tom Sullivan, is a writer and actor who has been blind since infancy and his descriptions of blindness and the relationship between the character and his service dog offer insights into how much dogs can be of assistance to the blind or disabled and how much of a team a person and a dog can become. He demonstrates through his characters how much we all need to rely on others for support and strength.

Pursuit by Karen Robards

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Fans of Karen Robards will be pleased with her latest romantic thriller Pursuit. Jessica Ford is a young attorney working for a large law firm in Washington, D.C. Her boss asks her to pick up the First Lady at a bar where she is hiding from her Secret Service detail. After a fiery automobile accident where Jess is the only survivor, Jess finds herself on the run from the police and the Secret Service, unsure of why she is being chased and not knowing whom to trust. She teams up with agent Mark Ryan and the action is fast-paced as they try to learn why they are being pursued and where the conspiracy surrounding them will lead. The romance heats up along with the action–Robards excels at romantic suspense fiction and this latest offering is sure to please fans of that genre.

MY HEART REMEMBERS by Kim Vogel Sawyer

>My Heart Remembers by Kansas author Kim Vogel Sawyer, is a historical Christian fiction that tells the story of three separate people related by birth, but thrown apart by circumstance. They first face the fire, the orphanage, and at last, the train. The hope for a new family is lost with the realization of others desires: no one wanted three children. Separated with heart break, yet holding on to the future of finding one another again, each one takes with them a treasure from their life together, clinging to the vision of that distant reunion. Ride with Maelle, Mattie, and Molly as they live the life set before them, each one on a different road destined to meet again.

Brooklyn: a novel

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Brooklyn by Colm Toibin immersed me in the world of 1950′s immigrants. Eilis had no decent job prospects in Enniscorthy, a poor, small Irish town several years after World War Two. Her older sister Rose arranges for Father Flood, an Irish priest that now lives in Brooklyn New York, to sponser her as an immigrant to his parish in America. Eilis endures a difficult ship crossing, the trials of fitting in with other single woman in a boarding house, and boring work in a ladies’ department store. Eilis falls for an an Italian American plumber, not the ideal mate, and then a death calls her home to Ireland. The conclusion is devastating as Eilis is torn between two countries and two men.

We are able to adapt to a new life in a new culture many times with relative ease…out of sight, out of mind. Then when we go back home we adjust so quickly it’s as if we never left. The feeling of guilt can wash over us as we realize the people we have left and wonderful times we have forgotten. I found my thoughts directed toward this paradox as I finished reading Brooklyn.

On a Highland Shore

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Ever since reading The Outlander by Diana Gabaldon, I’ve been a bit of a sucker for books about men in kilts. This has occasionally caused me to pick up some disappointing books, but this time my obsession served me well. On a Highland Shore by Kathleen Givens is set in Scotland in the 1200′s. Life is lived with the constant threat of Norsemen raiding from the north, and marriages are for the purpose of strengthening the clan. Margaret McDonald is looking forward to marriage to Lachlan Ross when she is given cause to question his ability to make a good husband. While deciding whether or not to go through with the marriage, her village is raided and Irishman Gannon McMagnus comes to help defend Scotland’s shores, causing her doubts to grow.

This is fascinating historical fiction, detailing battles, family life, and Scottish pagentry, with a lovely romance thrown in.