Friday, February 15, 2019

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Reviewed by Christy

            Evelyn Hugo, born Evelyn Herrera, is a star of the highest order. Coming of age in the 1950s and shining the brightest in the 60s and 70s; she is A list Hollywood royalty. She fought ruthlessly for that position, and she had to make seemingly unbearable sacrifices. But in her later years, she has become a bit of a recluse. Holed up in her glamorous New York City apartment, she lives a quiet life of philanthropy. It isn’t until her daughter dies of breast cancer that Evelyn makes the news again: she is auctioning off some of her most notable gowns with all the proceeds going to breast cancer research. She also wants Monique Grant to do a feature on her for Vivant magazine. No one is more surprised than Monique that anyone, let alone an Old Hollywood idol, would specifically request her to do an interview. Monique is a talented writer but still low man on the totem pole.
            When Monique arrives to interview Evelyn, she discovers that this is no ordinary interview. Evelyn isn’t just going to talk about the upcoming auction. She is going to tell Monique everything about her life, her loves, and her secrets. Everything. And she wants Monique to turn it into a bestselling tell-all. Flabbergasted, Monique can’t make sense of this proposition. It would completely transform her life and give her the career she’s always wanted. But why her?
            I absolutely loved this novel. When Evelyn tells her story, it is completely immersive.  Although Evelyn is a fictional character (though loosely inspired by Elizabeth Taylor and Ava Gardner), it was easy to forget that I wasn’t reading about real people. Many behind-the-scenes stories of Hollywood then, and now, have shown what kind of situations actors learn to navigate – whether it be lascivious producers or the iron fist control of the studios. Evelyn does things that are unpleasant to witness, and she does them without shame or regret.
            The story is divided into sections, by husband. And while Evelyn did love a few of her husbands, her marriages were mostly business deals. Her true love was someone she could not love publicly. It was heartbreaking to see Evelyn forced to hide her love (and suppress her Cuban heritage) but she simply saw it as a matter of fact. I wasn’t as interested in Monique’s side of the story or why Evelyn chose her but those parts are relatively small in comparison.
I picked up this book after seeing a lot of hype for it by book reviewers on YouTube, otherwise I’m not sure I would’ve bothered. I have to say, I think it lives up to the hype. Evelyn isn’t always likeable. She does some truly heinous things to get power and then to keep it. But she is captivating, and I loved every second of her story.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Nevermore: Kellerman, Wendelboe, O'Grey, Olmstead, Mayhew

Reported by Ambrea 

This week, Nevermore explored a new thriller by Jonathan and Jesse Kellerman, titled A Measure of Darkness.  Deputy coroner Clay Edison is a busy man.  Between his recent suspension for digging into an old case to his brother recently getting out of prison, he doesn’t have much time in his schedule.  Then one night he’s called to a crime scene in an East Bay neighborhood with multiple victims—and one who’s death is a complete and utter mystery that will put Clay directly into the line of fire.  Our reader found the Kellermans’ novel to be strange, but thrilling.  “It took me to the last page to put it all together,” she admitted, which she found to be an enjoyable quality in a successful mystery/thriller.

Staying in the vein of thrillers, Nevermore shared Hunting the Saturday Night Strangler, a Bitter Wind Mystery series by C.M. Wendelboe.  After two victims were discovered, strangled to death, retired police detective Arn Anderson and TV reporter Ana Maria Villarreal become involved in the case.  They fear these deaths might be a pattern, the problem is getting the Cheyenne police department to believe them—and escaping the notice of the killer before he strikes again.  Our reader said Hunting the Saturday Night Strangler wasn’t a bad novel.  She described it as falling a bit on the mediocre side, as it was so predictable; however, she did note the story had interesting moments and she was particularly taken with the descriptions of Wyoming.

Next, Nevermore checked out Walking with Peety by Eric O’Grey.  Eric was gravely overweight, depressed, and increasingly sick.  After visiting a new doctor, who suggested adopting a shelter dog, Eric met Peety—an overweight, middle-aged, forgotten dog who had seen better days.  Eric had his doubts, but their bond was immediate and, over the next year, Eric lost 150 pounds, escaped the onset of diabetes, and Peety became a healthy, happy companion.  Our reader picked up Walking with Peety, because “I thought it would be fun,” she said.  The book itself was very inspirational and very sweet, but she said the best part was the pictures.  She loved the pictures that accompanied the story, and she recommended the book to her fellow readers looking for something sweet, slightly sentimental but ultimately stirring.

Nevermore also looked back in history at an intriguing book produced by Frederick Law Olmstead, titled A Journey through Texas; Or, A Saddle-trip on the Southwestern Frontier.  Published in 1857, before Olmstead became one of America’s foremost landscape architects, A Journey through Texas was Olmstead’s personal trip through Texas to see the landscape and describe the varied peoples living on the southwestern frontier.  Our reader said Olmstead’s book was “fascinating to read.”  She enjoyed it immensely, calling it her “favorite” among the stack of books she borrowed over the holiday.  She particularly loved the descriptions of the landscape by the author, saying it transported her to antebellum Texas and gave her incredible insight into the population during that time.

Stepping back a little further into history, Nevermore explored The Most Disgusting Jobs in Victorian London by Henry Mayhew.  Victorian London was a very dirty place; however, labor was cheap and plentiful—and large numbers of people were employed in filthy jobs to deal with the human and animal waste that littered the city.  Mayhew dives deep into the lives of these people who served in these dirty, filthy jobs, combining historical research with contemporary journalism to create an interesting if a little too informative book.  The Most Disgusting Jobs in Victorian London followed as a close second to A Journey through Texas as our reader’s favorite book.  She said she was fascinated by the history Mayhew incorporates into his work, and she was intrigued by all these jobs of which she’d never heard.  “Mud-larks,” “bone grubbers” and “rag pickers” were just a handful of the most interesting ones she came across.

Monday, February 11, 2019

She Sheds and She Sheds Style by Erika Kotite

Reviewed by Ambrea

Like the man cave, “she sheds” are a place where a person can get away and enjoy the peace of their own space.  For the most part, these sheds are lovingly decorated but fully functioning spaces that are outside of the house—such as in a shed.  (However, they can be made however and wherever the builder so desires.)  These spaces are small, impactful places where ladies can go to simply getaway or indulge in their creative pursuits.

Needless to say, I was intrigued.  I love gardening in the spring and summer, so the thought of having a place to prepare and store seeds, hang my tools, and yet still have an enjoyable space of my own was a wonderful idea.  Plus, who doesn’t want a hideaway where they can sit and read for a couple hours in peace?  I picked up both She Sheds:  A Room of Your Own and She Sheds Style:  Make Your Space Your Own by Erika Kotite to start some research.

I quickly realized that she sheds can be a lot more intricate than simply plotting a pre-fabricated shed into your backyard.  In Kotite’s books, she details the ways in which she sheds can be built—discussing building resources, offering tips on re-purposing and recycling handy materials, as well as reviewing how to build a she shed from a kit—and delves into the decorating side to cover everything from functional and fabulous to barnyard chic.

Honestly, it’s quite a lot to take in when you know absolutely nothing about building or refurbishing a shed.  And that’s not even getting into the tiny details like electrical wiring, paint palettes, architectural details, and decoration.  It’s a bit daunting to say the least.

Although Kotite has many easy projects, as well as several budget-friendly suggestions, her books can feel a little overwhelming.  I liked many of the ideas I saw; in particular, I was very interested in the designing and building a she shed from a kit (which is detailed in She Sheds) and I loved the herringbone pattern brick floor she mentions in She Sheds Style.  However, I noticed many of the sheds she featured were incredibly complex and, in some cases, seemed humongous.  I realize all of the she sheds featured are just examples and a person can customize a she shed how they like, but I couldn’t help but feel that these projects were just way too much for me.

Plus, I had questions, like:  how do you keep a shed cool and breezy?  (I know from personal experience that they can get miserably hot in the summer, and I wouldn’t want to spend five minutes there let alone let it serve as a “getaway.”)  How do you combat humidity, especially if you’re planning to store materials that could be damaged?  What are your lighting options if you don’t have electricity?  How do you keep the mosquitoes or other creepy crawlies away?  I have more, but those were the most pressing and I don’t think they were quite answered.  I may not have done a deep enough reading, though.

Overall, I think She Sheds and She Sheds Style were interesting books.  They have helpful information, they have beautiful pictures, and they are enjoyable to browse.  I know I was certainly inspired to build my own shed; however, I think I’ll keep it simple and very budget friendly.  Dutch doors and wrought iron d├ęcor are cute and all, but maybe not realistic for my garden shed.

Friday, February 8, 2019

When the Lights Go Out by Mary Kubica

Reviewed by Kristin

Jessie Sloane and her mother Eden have only had each other.  While they don’t fit the mold of a traditional nuclear family, it works for them, and it’s not that unusual for children to grow up with a single mother these days anyway.  When Eden is diagnosed with cancer, Jessie faces losing her mother when she is barely out of her teens.  In her last days, Eden encourages Jessie to stretch her boundaries, to try new things, and to find herself.

In her mind-numbing grief, Jessie attempts to rebuild her life alone without her mother.  Her sorrow is compounded by an inability to sleep, and Jessie’s days and nights blur together as she finds more questions about the mother she thought she knew.  When Jessie applies for financial aid to attend a local college, a discrepancy with her social security number leads to even more questions about the life she and her mother had together.

Mary Kubica skillfully weaves together Eden’s 20-years-earlier story of her marriage to Aaron and their desperate attempts to conceive a child alongside Jessie’s present day quest to uncover her past.  Jessie’s insomnia makes her actions appear disjointed and nonsensical at times as the narrative reveals decisions she makes in an attempt to move on with her life.  As the story progresses, the tension rises to a fever pitch that had me fearing for Jessie’s life.

I had never read any of Kubica’s work before, but will definitely be seeking out her earlier titles:  The Good Girl, Pretty Baby, Don’t You Cry, and Every Last Lie.  She has published a psychological thriller every year since 2014 and is showing no signs of slowing down.  Kubica definitely kept me guessing and turning pages late into the night and I look forward to her other novels of suspense.

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Nevermore: The Blood, Animal Farm, White Rage, Last Day, River Bodies, Ravenmaster

Reported by Kristin

Nevermore loves a good mystery, and The Blood: A Jem Flockhart Mystery by E. S. Thomson is no exception.  Third in the series, this time Jem and sidekick Will Quartermain are on a floating hospital called The Blood, where the investigators find much more sinister goings-on than might be expected in a medical establishment.  Our reader said that you don’t have to read the books in series order to enjoy them, and that most of the villains are intriguingly hiding in plain sight.

Next, a book club member enthused about the Netflix show Trotsky, and how it had inspired her to re-read the classic Animal Farm by George Orwell.  Reading it again as an adult, our reader easily was able to understand the human individuals represented by the animal characters.  Snowball the pig is very similar to Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky.  Czar Nicholas is represented by the farmer Mr. Jones, while the Old Master seems to be a mix of Karl Marx and Vladimir Lenin.  Our reader’s enthusiastic reprisal of this school reading list standard was entertaining and enlightening.

Turning to non-fiction, White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of our Racial Divide by Carol Anderson made our next reader think deeply about the deep racial divisions within the United States.  From the post-Civil War era to today, people of color have been systematically discriminated against in subtle and not-so-subtle ways.  Our reader did not just give a positive review of this difficult to read book; she said she “highly, highly, highly recommends it.”

Going back in time, The Last Day:  Wrath, Ruin, and Reason in the Great Lisbon Earthquake of 1755 by Nicholas Shrady was another interesting read.  Long before the creation of the Richter scale, the earthquake was probably a “9,” hitting Lisbon, Portugal on a Sunday morning.  Shaking for over ten minutes, buildings tumbled, tsunamis formed and the city burned.  The destruction and the rebuilding of the city captivated our reader.

The next book didn’t get such a positive recommendation: River Bodies by Karen Katchur.  Becca Kingsley is a veterinarian who has returned to small town Pennsylvania to be with her dying father.  When a local murder may be connected to a cold case from twenty years ago, Becca becomes involved.  Our reader said that unfortunately this thriller was somewhat mediocre, and could have benefited from having 50-60 pages of the “whodunit” revelation removed.

Finally, another reader enjoyed The Ravenmaster: My Life with the Ravens at the Tower of London by Christopher Skaife.  Folklore claims that if the ravens are ever removed that Britain and the Crown would fall.  Skaife had served the palace for decades before becoming responsible for the ravens.  Our reader enjoyed that the book contained so many details about the keeper himself, but also about the pageantry surrounding the care of keeping of the ravens.