Friday, May 25, 2018

The Disappeared by C.J. Box

Reviewed by Kristin

Joe Pickett is a Wyoming game warden, that is when he isn’t being fired, re-hired, or re-assigned by whichever governor happens to be in political power at the moment.  While Joe loves the wilderness environment in which he works, the human critters seem to cause much more trouble than the elk, bears, trout, and eagles.  Those truly wild creatures are just out to survive, whereas the people have much more complicated motives.  Joe has run into more than his share of murders in this long running series by C.J. Box.  From rodeo stars to off-the-grid hermits, someone is always trying to get ahead, get what they think should be theirs, or just get even.

Kate Shelford-Longden is a British businesswoman who came to the Silver Creek Ranch for a holiday.  Guests at the luxury resort are outnumbered by staff two to one, with every need anticipated and fulfilled.  Months earlier, Kate travelled to Wyoming, enjoyed herself thoroughly, then disappeared on her way back to the airport.  Now the British tabloids are obsessed with what happened to “Cowgirl Kate.”  Newly elected Governor Colton Allen doesn’t like the scandal and the potential damage to his state’s tourist trade, so he decides to send Joe in to investigate discreetly.

Joe heads south from Saddlestring to Saratoga in below zero temperatures.  He is tired of being manipulated by the powers-that-be, but he is happy to have a chance to see daughter Sheridan who is working at the Silver Creek Ranch.  Besides, an insider’s view never hurts when investigating a missing person case.  A recent college graduate, Sheridan is working as a wrangler at the resort before settling down to a “real” career.

Master falconer Nate Romanowski has a favor to ask his game warden friend.  Permits for trapping and hunting with eagles have suddenly gone scarce, as political winds blow this way and that.  Nate thinks that Joe might have a little bit of influence with state and federal officials, although Joe feels powerless within the wildlife agency that signs his paychecks.  Buffeted amidst the bureaucratic currents, both Nate and Joe seek answers to questions about their state’s natural resources.

I always enjoy the western stories woven by Box, but I can count on one hand the times that I have laughed out loud while reading this series.  As Joe, Sheridan and Nate find themselves deep within the current situation, the mental image created by the words: “What do you mean you shot him and then hit him with a fish?”—that line stayed with me through the remainder of the book.  Box usually throws in a game changing twist at least once before the conclusion of the Joe’s adventure.

Well-developed characters shine as the action moves forward; plus, Joe’s wife Marybeth is a librarian and extremely efficient in navigating databases which might give Joe a clue or two.  (Always the way to my heart—include a savvy woman who knows her way around books and other library resources.)  Readers new to the series may want to begin with Open Season, published in 2001, and continue with a new volume every year through 2018.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Nevermore: Dead Wake, Human Comedy,Ishi, Wodehouse, Friends Divided

Reported by Ambrea

Nevermore kicked off their meeting with Dead Wake:  The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson.  On May 7, 1915, as World War I entered another month, the luxury ocean liner Lusitania was torpedoed and sank in only twenty minutes—killing nearly 1,200 passengers.  In his book, Dead Wake, Larson carefully chronicles the events that led up to the sinking of the Lusitania and, as the cover states, “an array of forces both grand and achingly small…[that] all converged to produce one of the greatest disasters of history.”  Our reader thought the book was unbelievable, in a very good way.  Well-written and reached, Dead Wake was a riveting story that kept her glued to the pages.  Although it didn’t have any pictures, which she found disappointing, she still said it was a very good read and highly recommended it to other readers, even if they aren’t fans of history.

Next, Nevermore continued with The Human Comedy by William Saroyan.  In Saroyan’s classic novel, Homer Macauley—fourteen-years-old and full of determination to become the fastest telegraph messenger in the West—lives in California’s San Joaquin Valley with his mother, his brothers, and sisters.  It’s a peaceful life, despite the ongoing threat of World War II, but, as Homer continues to deliver messages throughout the town, he comes face-to-face with the best and worst of human emotion.  Our reader absolutely loved reading The Human Comedy.  He said Saroyan’s novel is “one of the greatest books you’ll ever read,” noting that it’s full of emotion and heart, grief and beauty.  He admitted he had read it at least three times, but he still loved it—and he highly recommended it to his fellow Nevermore readers.

One of our Nevermore members looked at two books about Ishi, a man considered the last surviving member of the Yahi Indians.  She started with Ishi:  A Biography of the Last Wild Indian in North America by Theodora Kroeber, which details the recovery of Ishi in 1911 and his subsequent care under Alfred Kroeber and the University of California’s Museum of Anthropology.  She also checked out Ishi’s Brain:  In Search of America’s Last “Wild” Indian by Orin Starn, which offers an alternative view of Ishi as the last of the Yahi and the tragic events that led to his discovery and beyond.  Our reader said she was fascinated by both books, because they offered equally compelling but conflicting ideas about Ishi and the Yahi Indians.  She found them both to be enlightening of Ishi’s history, as well as what happened to him after his death.

Next, Nevermore checked out Friends Divided:  John Adams and Thomas Jefferson by Gordon S. Wood.  According to the book jacket:
“Thomas Jefferson and John Adams could scarcely have come from more different worlds, or been more different in temperament.  […]  They worked closely in the crucible of revolution, crafting the Declaration of Independence and leading, with Franklin, the diplomatic effort that brought France into the fight.  But ultimately, their profound differences would lead to a fundamental crisis, in their friendship and in the nation writ large, as they became figureheads of two entirely new forces, the first American political parties.”
Our reader said Friends Divided was an interesting look at the friendship and rivalries of two very different men who were critical in shaping the American republic.  He noted he learned a substantial amount about the American Revolution without actually having to follow the battles, and he thoroughly enjoyed the writing.  He called it a superb book, commending Wood for being such an excellent writer and thoughtful historian.

Nevermore concluded with a visit from P.G. Wodehouse and Mulliner Nights.  Mr. Mulliner is a storyteller.  Each night while sipping his Scotch and lemon, lounging in his favorite pub at Anglers’ Rest, Mr. Mulliner recounts tales of adventure and other, whimsical shenanigans to all who will listen.  Our reader said she returned to Mulliner Nights, because she needed “an old savior.”  P.G. Wodehouse is one of her favorite authors and, listening to Mr. Mulliner, was just what she needed to lift her mood and give her a shot of “Buck-U-Uppo.”  She highly recommended it to her fellow readers, noting that if they needed a laugh or just a change of pace from some dark grisly mystery, Mr. Mulliner would be the perfect cure.

Monday, May 21, 2018

How to Be Interesting (In 10 Simple Steps) by Jessica Hagy

Reviewed by Jeanne

One reason I like BPL Book Bingo (new round starting soon!)  is that it encourages me to read books I would not have read otherwise.  One of my few remaining spaces was “Read a self-help book.”  My first choice was The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo but after only a few pages I realized in this case I was beyond help. I decided that perhaps I could learn to be interesting instead.

Also, the book had pages with short text and large diagrams.

It turns out that the entries started as blog posts for Forbes magazine. The ten steps form chapters with a theme, or rather a piece of advice, which is explained within the chapter.  For example, the first section is “Go Exploring.” There are diagrams and hints that follow that piece of advice, including “Unplug,” turning off devices and talking to people that you meet while you explore a new place sans map. Open yourself up to new experiences and take the risk of looking silly or being embarrassed.

Sure, all the advice is relatively simple but I have to admit I didn’t ‘get’ some of the diagrams. I’m going to file that under "take the risk of being embarrassed."  I also had reservations about some suggestions like “Shower in the dark.” While one part of me thought it would be an interesting sensory experience, another part thought it would be a good way to end up in the ER.

But I understand where Hagy is going with all this and I rather like it.  She’s not saying to make drastic and unsustainable changes, but to make small ones.  To listen to others, to speak up for ourselves.  To try a food we’ve never tried before. To turn off the noise for just a little while.  To take a walk. To look at the world and really see it instead of being lost in our own thoughts. The simple, concrete suggestions are achievable—well, maybe not that shower in the dark thing—and might indeed make life (and us) more interesting.

Friday, May 18, 2018

The Countess of Prague by Stephen Weeks

Reviewed by Jeanne

Countess Beatrice von Falkenburg, half English and half Czech, is married to a man with titles and not much more.  His father gambled away the real assets except for some breweries, but now new industrial breweries are threatening even that modest income. They’re so impoverished that they have to rent a palace in Prague in an effort to keep up at least some appearances. Then comes a call from General Albrecht Schonburg-Hartenstein, aka Uncle Bertie.  He has a pretty puzzle for his niece to help solve, as she once solved the mystery of the missing silver spoons—in Uncle Bertie’s pocket. This particular puzzle involves a body found in the river but there’s contradictory evidence as to its identity, as the man it’s supposed to be is apparently alive and well.

Before long the young Countess is drawn into a case involving a Tontine, a British scientist, a theatre, various street urchins, and some heads of state.  

This is the first of a proposed ten book series, which made me hesitate about starting it.  I’m wary of books that are announced as first in a long series because there’s no guarantee the author will finish all of them or else that he’ll take years and years and years to do it.  Just ask any fan of Robert Jordan or George R.R. Martin.  However, I decided to throw caution to the winds and give it a try.

Beatrice—Trixie to her family—is a high-spirited young woman who is just bored enough and just clever enough and just inquisitive enough to take on her uncle’s challenge.  She ends up going undercover at points and learns quite a bit about life among the servants and even lower classes.  At the beginning of the story, she is fairly clueless about those outside of the Nobility but near the end she comes to realize that perhaps her early definition of “impoverished” needs revision.  I’ll admit I did some suspending of disbelief, but it was such a fun ride that it wasn’t difficult.

Most enjoyable to me were the descriptions of Prague itself.  The author currently lives there, and has done a good deal of research in order to recreate the atmosphere of the city in 1904, when the series begins.  The dress, mannerisms, transportation, all the details of daily upper class life form the backdrop to an intriguing mystery, part of which involves some historical figures. The prickly interactions between King Edward VII and his German nephew Wilhelm were especially entertaining. 

 Trixie even takes a trip to London to visit her brother, who is trying his hand at investing, possibly “the first von Morstejin to try to earn a living in more than two centuries.” She’s more than a little appalled to discover her brother’s living conditions.  His flat (not a house! Horrors!)  which includes a cooking machine that runs on electricity—but no servants.

The plot was clever, the setting was charming, and the Countess is delightful. If you enjoy historical mysteries, you might want to give The Countess of Prague a try. By the way, this one is a self-contained mystery, so there’s no pressure to commit to read the promised nine books to follow.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Nevermore: Charming Billy, Manhattan Beach, Midnight Sun, Astrophysics, Coal Miners' Wives, Vonnegut

Reported by Kristin

Nevermore kicked off the week with Charming Billy by Alice McDermott. The 1998 fiction National Book Award Winner, this novel takes readers on a journey through Billy’s life, albeit beginning with the stories people are telling about him at his funeral.  Billy was a thoughtful and giving man, but tortured by his own alcoholism.  Our reader said that there was no better title for this book, as Billy certainly was charming.

A new bestselling novel, Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan was enjoyed next.  Set in the 1930s and World War II, Anna Kerrigan becomes the first female diver to repair American war ships.  Anna is also devoted to her beautiful younger sister, who is an invalid due to injuries at birth.  The story is told from alternating points of view: Anna, her father Eddie, and night club owner Dexter Styles.  Their lives intertwine through the years, forever changing the lives of the Kerrigan family.

Another reader enjoyed Midnight Sun by Jo Nesbo.  The author is well known for his Harry Hole novels, but this story features Jon Hansen, a drug dealer and hit man who has fled Oslo for a tiny village, and calls himself Ulf.  Wanting to avoid his bosses, Jon befriends a local who allows him to stay in her family hunting cabin.  Our reader said that this was a very fun book, and she particularly liked that there wasn’t as much violence as in a typical Nesbo book.

Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neil deGrasse Tyson keeps showing up periodically at Nevermore.  This reader enthused that Tyson included it “all” in here: black holes, dark matter, quarks, cosmic background noise, the Kelvin temperature scale, and so much more. Tyson has a reputation for being the best known figure we have today who makes science understandable.

Carol A. B. Giesen interviewed eighteen West Virginian women for the collection of stories that makes up Coal Miners’ Wives: Portraits of Endurance.  These women varied in age, from under twenty to over eighty, but all had moving stories of what it was like to be living under constant awareness of the dangers faced by their coal miner husbands.  The women shouldered much stress, but had no ability to change their lives.  Our reader found it a very grim story, but very important to read.

Wrapping up with what was termed a “really fun book,” God Bless You, Dr. Kevorkian by Kurt Vonnegut is a series of “interviews” of the dearly departed, as posed by a public radio reporter.  Originally broadcast as ninety second spots on a New York radio station, Vonnegut asks questions of such varied people as Adolf Hitler, Isaac Asimov, William Shakespeare and Eugene Debs.  The kicker is that in order to do these do these interviews, Vonnegut needed a round trip ticket (via Dr. Kevorkian) to and from the pearly gates in order to speak to those beyond the grave.