Conversations from the Cubicles: North, South, East and West

Off the Shelf

Betty: Guess what I just got done reading?

Kris: Hmmm. No clue.

B: (sigh) Then I guess that means you aren’t psychic. I just finished “Spoonbenders” by Daryl Gregory, and it was a delightfully quirky read.

K: We’ve established I’m not a mind reader, so go on.

B: In “Spoonbenders,” I met the Amazing Telemachus Family comprised of human lie-detectors, fabulous psychics, and sleight-of-hand artists, or maybe they’re just a bunch of charlatans. I cannot, I will not reveal the book’s secrets or mention the Chicago mob or shadow government agencies. I will say that this family puts the “fun” in dysfunctional. Amusing, amazing, it was totally enjoyable to be plunged into the world of magic and just wonder, “What exactly is real?”

K: Speaking of real, my books are very much grounded in reality. In fact, my first pick, “The Song and the Silence” by Yvette Johnson, is nonfiction.

B: This is the book that has you planning a trip to the Mississippi Delta, right?

K: That’s right. Actually, it’s one of several I’ve read over the past few years set in the Deep South. “The Song and the Silence” is part-memoir in that Johnson shares some of her life story, particularly her experiences with race while growing up in a predominantly white area of California.

B: What’s the history part?

K: In adulthood, Johnson learned that her maternal grandfather, Booker Wright, was a waiter in a white-owned restaurant and also owned a restaurant in a black neighborhood of segregated Greenwood, Miss., in the 1950s and 1960s. Wright became a civil rights icon after appearing in the 1966 NBC documentary “Mississippi: A Self Portrait,” and he paid a price for his honesty. I watched Wright’s segment on YouTube after reading the book, which provided a great deal of context, and I was amazed by his courage.

B: I actually saw a documentary about Booker Wright on TV. It was a tragic story explained very well.

K: Absolutely. It was on Dateline and featured Johnson. What’s next?

B: So I’m reading “Final Girls” by Riley Sager. Final girls refers to the last girl standing in a slasher movie – the one who lives – and I know what’s going to happen, I just don’t know what’s going to happen.

K: O-kay?

B: Say, for example, in a movie a lone girl is standing in front of an old, wooden basement door. She is pausing, but you know she is going to open it and go down there. In that moment, you KNOW, but you don’t know.

K: What’s down there?

B: Well, you can hope for a fluffy, little bunny, but you’re probably wrong. 

K: So “Final Girls” is like a slasher movie?

B: Not as full-out scary, but yeah. Quincy is the only survivor in a cabin-in-the-woods massacre. Now living in New York, she has corresponded with two other “final girls,” and when one of them is found dead, it begins to look as though someone wants to put an end to the final girls.

K: There is a death in my second pick, too, although it’s not nearly as gruesome as your book sounds. I knew at the beginning of “Sycamore” by Bryn Chancellor that Jess Winters went missing in December 1991, and it appears her remains have been found in 2009. I learned how Jess died, but that became of secondary importance. What I enjoyed about the book was how the town of Sycamore, Ariz., came alive through the perspectives of multiple characters. Time shifted from 1991 to 2009 and back again, and the story unfolded slowly but in a way that I couldn’t stop reading.

B: I couldn’t stop reading Wendy Webb’s newest, either. There’s a reason she is called the “Queen of the Northern Gothic.”

K: What does that mean?

B: Do you even remember when gothics were popular? “The End of Temperance Dare” is a throwback to the novels of Victoria Holt and Barbara Michaels, which often featured a young damsel in distress. There would be a huge, creepy house, several suspicious romantic interests, a murder or mystery, and something supernatural or unexplained.

K: And does this one hit those marks?

B: Oh, yeah. It takes place in a big old mansion on Lake Superior that was originally used as a tuberculosis sanitarium but is now being used as an artist’s retreat. Of course, many of the patients passed away during their stay, but more ominous are the stories surrounding the original owner and his daughters and how they died. When Eleanor Harper comes to be the next director of the retreat, she has no idea what is in store for her. This was a fun read.

K: Now I know you’re not psychic, either, or you’d know I’ve read Wendy Webb’s books, and I love them all.

B: I didn’t know that, but I know what you’re off to do now.

K: Same thing as you.

B: Read?

K: Read!

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