The Verifiers by Jane Pek

An illustrated cover shows a woman dressed all in black, casting a stark shadow, heading over a suspension bridge. The image is blurred into a bright orange background.

by Angie E.

Jane Pek’s The Verifiers is a mix of speculative fiction and whodunit, and it takes place in a world where people rely on matchmaking services to find their soulmate. Sounds familiar, right? But in this book, these services are on steroids. They use algorithms more complicated than a Rubik’s cube and are worshipped by society.

Claudia Lin is no stranger to bucking her family’s traditional expectations; she has no desire to pursue a conventional career or to follow her mom’s dream of finding a “nice Chinese boy.” She’s also accustomed to keeping secrets from them, such as being
gay and her recent recruitment by Veracity, an exclusive online-dating detective agency. A master of uncovering lies, having honed her skills through a lifetime of reading detective fiction, Claudia has never used a dating site or had much to do with the digital world.

That all changes when Iris Lettriste, a mysterious client, hires her to investigate two suitors, one of whom she’s never even met. The company who hired her is ready to put Claudia’s expertise to the test. But Claudia’s lack of experience with the digital world and her devotion to detective fiction make her an ill-suited candidate for the job. Her specialty is exposing liars, but this task requires more than just uncovering deceitful spouses, job applicants, and online daters.

Even so, Claudia’s got a hunch that something fishy is going down with Iris. Then Iris disappears from both the real world and the digital world, leaving Claudia high and dry. To make matters worse, Iris deletes all her profiles. What’s going on here? Claudia’s adventure is starting to sound like something straight out of her favorite fictional detective ‘s playbook:

  • Was Iris killed?
  • Did she harm herself?
  • Was she even Iris at all?
  • Maybe she was her own sister?
  • And what’s the deal with her being a broke, heartbroken dropout from journalism school?
  • Or was she a fearless investigative reporter about to expose the dating industry?

Pek takes an already intriguing, sometimes zany, mystery up a notch with a protagonist who’s smart and sarcastic but also rather a bit of an underachiever. The family drama is complex and juicy, and there’s social commentary on how much technology is taking over our lives. Claudia is all about classic noir elements: the mysterious client, the amateur sleuth, and all those pesky red herrings. But here’s the kicker – this book puts a modern spin on things that’ll have you hooked from page one.

If you’re not already one of those people always questioning whether the people you meet online are really who they claim to be, you will be. The Verifiers is also about whether we’re letting algorithms control our lives and if we’re sacrificing our freedom
for the sake of convenience and fantasy. I mean, sure, we could just delete our apps and stop searching for truth and happiness online, but who’s really going to do that?

Reads of Acceptance book discussion group meets virtually. Register to join the discussion of The Verifiers on Thursday, April 27 at 7 pm. Books are available for pick-up from the Central Branch; ask for a copy at the Customer Service desk.

Angie is an Instructor & Research Specialist at Central Branch and is a co-facilitator for Reads of Acceptance, HCLS’ first LGBTQ-focused book club. Her ideal day is reading in her cozy armchair, with her cat Henry next to her.

Arrow Through the Heart

Black and White photo shows Andy Gibb performing in a white suit.

By Angie E.

“What really surprised me was how well people who knew him still talk about him,” Matthew Hild tells Closer magazine about his experience with writing his new book Arrow Through The Heart: The Biography of Andy Gibb. “People remember him as the kindest and sweetest person. They all said he had a vulnerability about him that didn’t prepare him for being a star.”

Born in Manchester, England, Andy was the youngest brother of the Bee Gees. He began his solo career in 1977 with the single “Words and Music,” which reached the top of the charts in Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom. In 1979, he was nominated for the Grammy Award for Best New Artist.

Despite Andy’s own achievements as a musician and singer, with hits like “I Just Want to Be Your Everything,” “Shadow Dancing” and “Thicker Than Water,” he spent much of his life struggling to be his own person, separate from the gigantic success of The Bee Gees. This constant insecurity and his heartbreak over the end of his relationship with Dallas star Victoria Principal are thought to have led to Andy’s battle with substance abuse and depression which, over time, destroyed his health and damaged his reputation.

By early February of 1988, it seemed as if he had made inroads in beating his addiction; he started working on a new album. Less than a month later, though, things took a turn when he complained of chest pains and was admitted to the hospital. On March 10 Andy died from myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart muscle.

Hild shares that Andy Gibb and Karen Carpenter once shyly held hands during a Broadway production of The Pirates of Penzance in New York City. They had been introduced through a mutual friend of theirs, Olivia Newton John, and though Andy and Karen never dated, they stayed in touch. Reading about the fragile nature they had in common and that touching moment in the theater just hit me so hard as I read Hild’s words.

Cover of "The Very Best of Andy Gibb" album, complete with feathered hair and undone shirt and vest.

Their music had been a huge part of my childhood and early teen years, as had the Bee Gees, and their music still means so much to me today. Both singers were known for their gentle and caring sides and for having lovely voices. Both lost their lives way too soon.

Andy’s voice, even more gentle and sweet than his older brother Barry’s, had always spoken to my heart. Even now I remember how I felt the first time I heard the sincerely passionate “I Just Want to Be Your Everything” in Harmony Hut at Security Square Mall and can still smell the print from the many issues of Teen Beat Andy adorned.

It was this part of me that resurfaced last week as I browsed the new non-fiction section at Central and spotted the cover of Arrow Through The Heart. I gasped and immediately pulled the book off the shelf, startled to see it and its serious treatment of a singer often relegated to “teen idol” status in pop culture history. As tragic of Andy’s story is, I am so glad Matthew Hild decided to put this book out into the world. It’s not sensational or salacious in nature at all and gives a voice to an underrated singer and lost soul.

You can listen to Andy Gibb, free, on Hoopla, where you’ll findThe Very Best of Andy Gibb as well of other albums, including: Shadow Dancing, After Dark and Flowing Rivers.

As music critic Amy Hanson writes about The Very Best of Andy Gibb on “Laugh if you must, dismiss if you’re so inclined, but no matter what anyone may argue, it cannot be disputed that Andy Gibb realized many of his aspirations across this LP and, in so doing, became a vital part of the late ’70s music scene.”

Angie is an Instructor & Research Specialist at Central Branch and is a co-facilitator for Reads of Acceptance, HCLS’ first LGBTQ-focused book club. Her ideal day is reading in her cozy armchair, with her cat Henry next to her.

Giving Henry James a Second Chance

An Impressionist sort of painting of a public park featuring a woman dressed in black and white who is holding an orange parasol.

by Angie E.

A friend recently told me she recently checked out and watched the 1949 film The Heiress and that she was oddly enthralled and affected by it.

“That’s based on a Henry James novel called Washington Square.” I said excitedly. “You should read it sometime! It’s absolutely heartbreaking.” Her face grew a bit stricken as she said, “Oh, Lord, no! I can’t do that.” She sounded like I had just suggested an unexpected root canal, and I had to wonder if maybe she had had a bad experience with Henry James at some point in her reading life. Maybe I should say a particularly bad experience, as she would not be alone in her feelings on him. Biographer Susan L. Mizruchi writes that a law professor she knew once confided in her, “I never read a James novel that I did not want to hurl across
the room when I finished.”

It is kind of true: Henry James can be off-putting to a lot of readers, especially in his writing style. He appears stuffy and unapproachable in nearly all known pictures of him. You might even wonder: what could he possibly have to say to today’s readers? Despite all this, I unapologetically love Henry James. I named my tuxedo cat after him and have read almost everything he ever wrote. I buy all my favorite titles of his in every imaginable edition, just to see the different ways covers treat his novels and to read yet another introduction (or afterword).

I’m determined to sell someone besides me on Henry James. It’s not that he doesn’t already have his fans (though probably not in the same number as Dickens or Austen), or that I’m the first person to ever hear of or love him. Joseph Conrad, a contemporary of James, once said: “His books stand on my shelves in a place whose accessibility proclaims the habit of frequent communion.” Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth is also a fan of Henry James and well-deserving of a read with her terrific Girl In A Band (reviewed here).

Washington Square remains my favorite of his and is the book I would give to anyone who believes that Henry James is as dry as day-old toast. In her slim biography on Henry James, literary critic Rebecca West writes, “The book so beautifully expresses the woe of all those people to whom nothing ever happens, who are aware of the gay challenge of life but are prevented by something
leaden in their substance from responding. It’s a work of genius and a story of how a plain and stupid girl was jilted by a fortune hunter when he discovered that she would be disinherited by her contemptuous father on her marriage. It has in it a wealth of feeling.” Even critics of James often say that Washington Square is his most accessible title.

I remember when I discovered him back in college, Washington Square touched me profoundly. James could see right through the veneer of proper society and heavy clothing to the heart that beats in anyone who has ever been manipulated or spurned in the name of love…or lack of it. And he had a feel for emotions and social observations that were ahead of their time. Whether it’s the 19th century or the 21st, the power of emotions can bring down even the most staid of persons and are something all people from all times can understand.

But if I can’t sell you on Henry James with any of the above, consider, for a moment, this passage, both lovely and far from uptight, that I have held on to many times in my life: “Don’t melt too much into the universe, but be as solid and dense and fixed as you can. We all live together, and those of us who love and know, live so most. We help each other—even unconsciously,”

Washington Square is available as a book, an audiobook on CD, and as an e-book via Libby.

You can download the selection here, in the public domain and completely free of charge.

Angie is an Instructor & Research Specialist at Central Branch and is a co-facilitator for Reads of Acceptance, HCLS’ first LGBTQ-focused book club. Her ideal day is reading in her cozy armchair, with her cat Henry next to her.