New and popular titles at Juniata County Library

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“To Die but Once” (Book 14 in the Maisie Dobbs series) by Jacqueline Winspear

In the newest installment of her historical fiction series, Winspear provides a reliably good mystery, describing the bravery exhibited by everyday Britons as the fear of invasion becomes ever more real. In May 1940, Maisie Dobbs–nurse, spy, psychologist and enquiry agent–is caught up in the strange death of a local lad. Maisie’s life has been fraught with difficulty since the death of her husband in a plane crash and her subsequent miscarriage. She’s compensated for her anguish by plenty of daring deeds, including working as a nurse in the Spanish Civil War and as a spy in Hitler’s Germany. Just as she’s seeking to adopt Anna (In This Grave Hour, 2017, etc.), a refugee child living in her home in Kent, Maisie’s approached by local publican Phil Coombes, who’s desperately worried about his son, Joe. Although only 15, he’s apprenticed to Yates and Sons, painters and decorators, and has been traveling the country applying a fire-retardant paint to air-base buildings. The paint has apparently given him massive headaches, and now he’s vanished. Maisie, who still has enough gas coupons to run her car, agrees to try tracking him down while her assistant, Billy Beale, checks out Yates. When Joe is found dead on the railroad tracks, the police think he probably jumped, but Maisie is suspicious even before the coroner finds a strange lesion in his brain. In truth, there’s something a bit off about the whole Coombes family. Their standard of living is a cut above what Maisie would expect their pub to provide. And when she discovers that Mrs. Coombes is the sister of a well-known and dangerous criminal, she becomes convinced that the government paint contract involves a nasty scam and uses all her contacts to search for the truth. Her life is made even more stressful when her godson and a friend steal off to Dunkirk to help rescue the desperate remnants of the British army trapped between the advancing Germans and the English Channel. All told, Britain teeters on the brink as World War II ramps up. You can find this book in the New Adult Fiction section.

The Triumph of Christianity: How a Small Band of Outcasts Conquered an Empire by Bart D. Ehrman

How does a religion gain 30 million believers in 300 years? In his latest bestselling exploration of Christianity, noted New Testament authority Ehrman (Religious Studies/Univ. of North Carolina; Jesus Before the Gospels, 2016, etc.) attempts to find an answer to my above question. In an accessible and intriguing writing style, he consults other scholars while looking at data, present literature and varied historical facts to explain the explosion of Christianity under the latter Roman Empire. The author begins in the usual place, with the life of Emperor Constantine, who converted to the Christian faith in 312 and changed the landscape of religious life in Europe from then on. In doing so, Ehrman makes the important point that it is difficult for historians to say what Constantine converted from. Indeed, having swept across the Western world, Christianity erased much of the pagan culture it replaced, leaving current scholars with little evidence of what once existed or even how Christianity made its swift advance. The author points out that conversion in the early years of the faith was not done “by public preaching or door-to-door canvassing of strangers” but instead by “everyday social networks and word of mouth.” With the notable exception of the biblical Paul, “the most significant Christian convert of all time,” few other traveling evangelists are identified in early Christianity. Converts were instead made by personal contact with other believers, yet at a rapid pace. Ehrman notes a number of characteristics that made Christianity attractive to Roman pagans–e.g., the emphasis on the church as family, care for the less fortunate, and promise of an afterlife–and once the emperor himself had joined, the door was opened to phenomenal growth. The author concludes with a look at post-Constantinian roadblocks to Christianity and the church’s own early forays into intolerance and violence. You can find this book in the New Adult Nonfiction section.

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Vince Giordano has been the director of the Juniata County Library since 2015.

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