That Wild Wild West

Westerns are not my bag. They cover a very short piece of history (usually post-Civil War to the early 1900’s), they’re often trite, and too many of them bore me. You can run down a checklist for almost every one: Horse? Check. Damsel? Check. Angry Indian? Check. Sheriff?  Check. Big shootout? Check.

Clichéd

No doubt, much of my boredom has to do with Hollywood Westerns. Though I’ve never seen the entire Terror of Tiny Town, I’ve suffered a few westerns. I did like Tombstone, and the remake of True Grit, Young Guns, Maverick, and yes, I admit, I did enjoy The Lone Ranger – three times. Maybe I’m un-American, but I can’t stand John Wayne or his films, and while I was excited to watch High Noon (it was mentioned in the TV show M*A*S*H*, and actor Harry Morgan appeared in both), it was a terribly disappointing, tragically dull film to someone used to modern Hollywood. It turned me off from ever attempting My Darling Clementine or Shootout at the OK Corral. So while I can handle modern westerns, those old classic hallmarks aren’t found on my shelves.

Nor had I ever read a real “Western,” although a couple of Best-Western Literature lists include children’s books like the Little House on the Prairie series, as well as Old Yeller (you could probably throw in Young Pioneers, Caddie Woodlawn, Seven Alone, and the sequel to Old Yeller, Savage Sam), and those I loved just fine. If you read through twenty different lists of what’s considered the best of Old West literature, you’ll find ten books are on every list, so let’s call them the Best Westerns of Literature (not to be confused with Best Western, the hotel, or Western Lit as opposed to Asian):

The Virginian – Owen Wister
Hondo – Louis L’Amour
Lonesome Dove – Larry McMurtry
True Grit – Charles Portis
All the Pretty Horses – Cormac McCarthy
The Shootist – Glendon Swarthout
Riders of the Purple Sage – Zane Grey
The Time it Never Rained – Elmer Kelton
The Ox-Bow Incident – Walter Van Tildenberg Clark
Shane – Jack Schaefer

Fresh and Award-Winning

I could have lived the rest of my life just fine without Westerns, except for one thing: someone I knew was writing one. I’ve seen Howard Weinstein for many years at various conventions, attended some of his writing workshops, and we know each other at least in passing. Howard’s written more than 18 books, from science fiction to dog training to Mickey Mantle, and some 65 comic books. To make sure he got it right, he visited several of the places he wrote about, making sure he got the details, and over a year or more I listened to him talk about his work and read excerpts from it. It was interesting, but… It was a western.

Galloway’s Gamble was published last September, and now it’s won an award: The Western Fictioneers Peacemaker Award for Best First Western Novel. So I had a quandary: support a fellow writer in his award-winning endeavor, or ignore his success on a project he loved dearly. I thought I’d done my duty by having the library order a copy, but I buckled down and opened my first western.

photo courtesy of Howard Weinstein

Galloway’s Gamble is the story of Jake and Jamey Galloway, two brothers who shift about aimlessly looking to find their purpose and not doing well at it. They join the Civil War too late, they miss marrying the girls they had their eyes on, they get taken by a cheating card shark, and horse-shy Jake just can’t manage to hang onto a hat. Yet, little by little, they take steps and missteps to change their fortune, and wind up trying to save their little Texas hometown from the villainous cattle baron Wilhelm Krieg and the corrupt banker Silas Atwood. 

As a western, I can’t judge Galloway’s Gamble, since I’ve read nothing to compare it to, but winning an award is pretty good sign. As a novel, you certainly don’t have to like westerns to enjoy it. The story of the Galloway brothers is a timeless tale of the little man against the powerful, with a cast of characters that never lets you walk away for long – you have to pick it back up and find out what happens. While the influence of films like Maverick is evident (which is not a bad thing), there isn’t an overwhelming number of bullets, horses, swaggering men in hats, and no cliché’d slang that could be a turn-off to the casual reader. Instead, you get a solid, interesting story that just happens to take place in the late 1800’s.

Give it a try. If you like it (and I’m sure you will), you might find some of the classic westerns to your liking, too. I think I’m going to go watch Maverick again.

What’s Happening at Cheshire Library in November

Concerts, classes, crafts, and more are on the calendar in November at CPL. And don’t forget the big Fall Book Sale – check out the Event Calendar for all of our November offerings!

Chocolate for the Holidays

Saturday, November 3, 2018, 2:00 – 4:00PM

Long time chef, chocolate expert and former Cheshire Library Assistant Director Maria Brandriff will demonstrate how to make both decadent truffles and some healthier chocolate treats to give as holiday gifts.   Recipes and ample samples will be available. Registration is required.

Sunday Concert: Rani Arbo & Daisy Mayhem

Sunday, November 4, 2018, 2:00 – 3:00PM

This New England-based folk quartet is now in its15th year and features Rani Arbo (fiddle, guitar), Andrew Kinsey (bass, banjo, ukulele), Anand Nayak (electric and acoustic guitars) and Scott Kessel (percussion). This band’s steadfast brew of wit, camaraderie, and musicality leaves audiences everywhere humming and hopeful, spirits renewed. Join us for the first concert of CPL’s 2018-2019 Sunday concert series, made possible by the Friends of the Cheshire Public Library! No registration required.

Family Zumba

Mondays: November 5, 19, and 26, 2018, 4:00 – 4:30PM

Perfect for younger Zumba fans and their grown-ups. Family Zumba features kid-friendly routines and up-beat music! Caregivers are encouraged to attend and participate. This class helps develop a healthy lifestyle and incorporate fitness as a natural part of children’s lives by making fitness fun. No registration required.

Transcend Physical Reality for Your Healing and Empowerment

Monday, November 5, 2018, 6:3- – 8:00PM

Would you like to be able to raise above your everyday consciousness and create a new reality in your mind, so real that it shifts physical reality? You have all the power you need within you, but first you need to be able to transcend physical reality and look deeper into the essence. Your ability to transcend physical reality has tremendous healing power. You are not a victim but a director of your life.  Author and healer and former Cheshire resident Sue Maisano will help you understand how to transcend physical reality to heal/empower yourself and achieve your true heart’s desires with least resistance. Registration is required.

South Asian Festival

Tuesday, November 6, 2018, 3:00 – 4:00PM

Join us for an afternoon filled with exciting activities for children of all ages! Create your own Rangoli artwork, apply henna skin art, learn the origins of henna, create fun crafts, and more! Registration is not required for this event. (Please note public schools are not in session this day.)

Finish That Book

Tuesdays: November 6, 13, 20, 27, 2018, 5:00 – 8:00PM

National Novel Writing Month, is an annual, Internet-based creative writing project that takes place during the month of November. Participants attempt to write a 50,000 word manuscript between November 1 and November 30.  Join other writers for a quiet and relaxing space to write. Drop in, no registration required.

Trivia Night @ The Waverly Inn

Wednesday, November 7, 2018, 6:30 – 8:00PM

Join us for a special Trivia Night at The Waverly Inn (286 Maple Ave, Cheshire). Come by yourself or bring friends, test your knowledge of pop culture, current events, history, music, and of course, literature! It’s all for Pride, not for Prize. Don’t forget to bring your appetite, as the Waverly Inn has tasty eats to purchase. Registration begins October 24, and is required for this adult program.

Friends of Cheshire Public Library Fall Book Sale

Thursday November 15 – Sunday November 18, 2018

Thousands of gently used books, cds, and dvds. All proceeds benefit the Friends of Cheshire Public Library, who make all of our fantastic programming possible! Members of the Friends get a sneak peek on Wednesday night, and memberships will be available for purchase at the door. Support the Friends!

  • Wednesday, November 14, 6:30 – 8:00PM: Preview Night (members only)
  • Thursday, November 15, 9:00AM – 8:00PM
  • Friday, November 16, 9:00AM – 4:30PM
  • Saturday, November 17, 9:00 AM – 4:30PM
  • Sunday, November 18, 12:00 – 3:00PM: “Bag of Books” Sale

Create Holiday Cards

Wednesday, November 28, 2018, 6:30 – 8:00PM

One of the many joys of the Holiday season is sending cheerful cards to the ones you love. Join Sue Bernier and create 3 Holiday cards using “Stampin Up” rubber stamps and paper. Attendees 15 years old and up. Registration is required, starting November 14.

How to Find a Read-alike

If you are like me, when I find a series I love I burn through it in record time and then am left mourning that I have finished the series. Finding a new series can be difficult, so invariably I turn to NoveList for help.

NoveList is an online database available through Cheshire Library’s website (for other libraries, check your local library’s website to see if NoveList is offered there) that offers recommended reading lists. You can sort by age and genre and even by topics such as “fast-paced and amusing” or “moving and haunting” and even “snarky and compelling”. However my favorite part of NoveList is the Read-alike links.

If you type in a book title or author, NoveList will produce a list of results that include three very handy links: Title Read-alikes, Author Read-Alikes and Series Read-alikes.

What is a Read-alike?

A read-alike is a book, author, or series that shares some of the basic characteristics  of another book, author, or series. It means that if you enjoy, say, author Marcia Muller, you may also like books by Laurie R. King, Kate Wilhelm, or Iain Pears,

For example, type in  Lord Peter Wimsey (one of my favorite British mystery sleuths), click on Series Read-alikes, and you will get a list of recommendations that include the Phryne Fisher mysteries by Kerry Greenwood (stories that have also been turned into a wonderful BBC drama: Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries) and the Adam Dalgliesh mysteries by P.D. James, among many others.

Bingo! Two more series just waiting to be devoured.

Try NoveList. It works! Cheshire Library cardholders can link to NovelList from the Reading Resources page on the CPL website. Scroll down and you’ll find a Reading Resources link on our homepage or click on How Do I…? in our upper left menu and click the Find a Good Book link.

This Year’s Best Crime Novels So Far

Today we are featuring a guest post by Cassie Peters:

Crime novels offer glimpses into the minds of those who choose to either take the law into their own hands or ignore it entirely. Through the author’s words, we are able to contemplate, observe, and judge the motivations that make the criminals tick. If learning about the underworld is within your literary interests, here are some of the best crime novels of 2018. Following a long tradition of crime-based literature, many of these novels are brilliant subversions of the well-known and popular genre. Get ready to take a harrowing leap into the minds of 2018’s fictional criminals.

The Outsider by Stephen King

Terry Maitland is a Little League coach, family man, and all-around beloved pillar of the community who was arrested for the mutilation and murder of a young boy. Honest cop Detective Ralph Anderson struggles with deciphering all available evidence for fear of convicting the wrong suspect, until his wife Jeannie asks all the right questions that leads the investigation to the truth. Meanwhile, time-warping details both obscure and provide glimpses into hidden, deeper truths. Stephen King’s The Outsider is a masterful twist on the classic crime genre. A smooth and effortless tale of modern day crime with just the right amount of noir, politics, and psychedelics. Not a lot of writers can so pleasurably disorient readers like King.


Hellbent by Gregg Hurwitz

An orphan who at 12 was enrolled in a top-secret government training program for assassins escapes to become an unlikely vigilante in Hellbent. The novel is the latest in author Gregg Hurwitz’s international bestselling series of books in the Orphan X series. It’s a sordid look into the all-too-fragile lives that evolve on their own amid government motives and conspiracies. Crime and conspiracy take on a humanitarian form via bullet train-paced prose. 

The Perfect Nanny by Leila Slimani

What if Mary Poppins was a sociological suspense-thriller that didn’t hold anything back? There’s nothing mystical or magical about Leila Slimani’s The Perfect Nanny, but she manages to masterfully subvert expectations via her sublime prose. It’s no secret that the lives of the characters in the story are in danger, including young children.  The mystery is whether or not you’ll be able to make it through the slow simmer of how a wholly trustworthy figure can transition into a rationally irrational monster. Library Journal says, “What initially feels like routine, unremarkable women’s fiction morphs into a darkly propulsive nail-biter overlain with a vivid and piercing study of class tensions”.  Peppered with social realist truths amid subtle but constant mounting dread, The Perfect Nanny submits a poverty-stricken view of Paris that culminates in one of the most satisfyingly horrible endings yet.

Into the Black Nowhere by Meg Gardiner

FBI rookie Caitlin Hendrix is assigned to the FBI’s elite Behavioral Analysis Unit to find a serial killer who leaves behind grisly clues. In this  dark, disturbing portrait of murder from the perspective of a career forensic psychologist, Agent Hendrix works with the FBI’s serial crime unit and a legendary FBI profiler to dissect the motivations behind a killer based on the available evidence. Into the Black Nowhere is a gripping novel that doubles as a crash course in sociology, critical thinking, crime research methodology, psychological testing, and criminal theory. Based on the exploits of the infamous Ted Bundy, Gardiner’s novel succeeds at a creating a realistic depiction of how serial killers function that is horrendous and unflinchingly educational at the same time. Don’t worry – you won’t need an actual degree in forensic psychology to enjoy this book. However, you should be prepared to learn a thing or two about the criminal mind – insights that might be too dark or true to be forgotten. Watch your step.

This feature post written for Cheshire Library Blog by Cassie Peters.

Devil in the White City

NOTE: This post deals with a difficult subject matter, serial killers, so if you’re easily disturbed, you might not want to read any further.

A book kept passing through my hands and it seemed intriguing – psychopath, history, award-winning – probably good, and I read it at last. The Devil in the White City  by Erik Larson tells the true story of the great Chicago World’s Fair of 1893, a celebration of Columbus’s 400th anniversary of discovering the new world and an attempt to outdo the 1887 Paris World’s Fair, which amazed the world with the new Eiffel Tower, the tallest structure in the world. The fair covered more than 600 acres – almost six times the size of Disney’s Magic Kingdom – and attracted more than 27 million visitors in its 6 month-run (versus 20 million visitors to Magic Kingdom in 2016). It also chose Tesla’s AC electric current to power it because it was cheaper than Edison’s DC current, cementing the road for America’s future electrical grid.

Chicago was no charming city, known for stink (stockyards), grime (trains and soot), crimes and vice. And in this mix lurked a serial killer, H.H. Holmes. Holmes’s background was a perfect mix of known factors of psychopathic development – strict, cold, abusive parents with severe religious obsession. By the age of 6, Holmes liked to dismember animals, and by his teens was implicated in the death of a young boy but cleared due to the pitiful state of investigations. He fled to Chicago, where he became a con artist, bilking insurance companies, furniture companies, and drug supply stores. He also charmed single ladies, killed them, reduced them to skeletons, and sold them as medical supplies. He built an elaborate hotel nicknamed “The Castle,” complete with gas jets in the rooms, soundproof rooms, and a personal crematorium in his basement. When finally cornered for killing his long-time assistant, Holmes confessed to 29 killings, though only 9 could be proven, but his total might have been as high as 200. He was hung for his crimes. Leonardo DiCaprio bought the film rights to the book, and a film is in production with Martin Scorsese as director (it had a tentative 2017 date, but is still in process).

Serial killers – those that kill large numbers of victims over time – are rare as far as murder goes, but the extent of their crimes garners a lot of press. Connecticut has its own serial killer in Amy Archer Gilligan of Windsor, who killed as many as 48 of her nursing-home patients for insurance claims between 1885 and 1917. Some of the more notorious American serial killers include:

Jeffery Dahmer (1991), who killed (and ate) at least 16 young men and boys. Not a high count for a serial killer,  it was the cannibalism that made him famous. He was beaten to death in prison not long after his conviction. Some things scare even murderers.

John Wayne Gacy (1978), who dressed as a clown for kids’ birthday parties and killed more than 33 men.  Stephen King said “It” was fiction.

Charles Cullen (2003), convicted of 40 murders while he was a nurse, but possibly responsible for up to 400, making him the most prolific not only in New Jersey, but the USA. Carl Watts (1982) was also a nurse, convicted of six murders but possibly as many as 130.

Ted Bundy (1975), one of the most famous and perhaps sickest, who killed more than 30. He decapitated at least 12 victims and kept the heads in his apartment, and often performed sex acts on rotting corpses (I warned you). He was executed in Florida.

Gary Ridgeway (2001)  the “Green River Killer”, with 49 proven deaths, 71 confessions, with a probable total closer to 90.

Ed Gein (1957)– Gein was convicted of only two murders, but if you’re looking at psychopaths, Gein is King. Gein had a bizarre attachment to his mother (back to that cold/abuse/super-religious thing), and would go to graves and dig up women’s bodies, skin them, and save parts attempting to wear his mother. Gein was the inspiration for Psycho, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and Silence of the Lambs. He was diagnosed as schizophrenic, incompetent, and died in a mental facility.

What predicts a serial killer? Most professionals look for early abuse, neglect, brutality, bullying, and mental illness. Animal cruelty, especially in young children, is a warning sign. Killers are often charismatic (Holmes, Bundy, Jim Jones, too) and manipulative, gaining friendship and trust.  Lack of empathy for their victims is  always present. Some do it for attention, especially media attention. One interesting point: 70% of serial killers had experienced significant head trauma as children; with what we now know about violence among football players and boxers who receive blows to the head, could this be a risk factor?

So hug your kids. Be patient. Be kind to them and to others, and teach them to be kind as well. Take bullying and animal cruelty seriously, and report it to authorities. You don’t know how many lives you might save.