Thursday, December 18, 2014

Nevermore: Command, Conspiracy, History and more!

The first book mentioned in this week’s Nevermore was The Mantle of Command:  FDR at War 1941-1942 by Nigel Hamilton.  It was recommended in a previous session and our new reviewer wanted to second that recommendation.  Hamilton’s book is a thorough account of how Roosevelt took charge of the Allied War effort, often disagreeing with generals and allies alike.  Despite that heavy-sounding description, the book is a real page-turner, “history that reads like fiction,” according to the reader.  There was some discussion as to whether the author, who is British, was actually too hard on Churchill and the others.  A second volume is planned, and is already being highly anticipated!

 Bel Canto by Ann Patchett was the next book up.  The plot revolves around a group attending a concert by a famous opera singer in an unnamed South American country (but sounds a lot like Peru.) The event is interrupted when a group of terrorists take everyone hostage.  They intended to simply kidnap the country’s president but he didn’t attend because he didn’t want to miss his favorite soap opera.  Jud  said the book got off to a slow start but turned out to be an engaging and entertaining read.  As the hours turn into days and then to weeks, the book explores the way relationships develop between captives and captors.  The book shifts points of view often, telling one part through the eyes of a young soldier and the next from a Japanese businessman. It’s an effectively written book and one he enjoyed.

The same cannot be said for Rich Dad’s Conspiracy of the Rich by Robert T. Kiyosaki.  Jud called it a “dishonest book” in part because while the author says he wants to keep everything short and simple, he pads the book a great deal.  It’s mostly filler, and much of that seems to be self-promotion. The actual book shouldn’t take more than a page.

Another member said that while her book was interesting, the content didn’t match the title. The Invisible History of the Human Race by Christine Kenneally contains chapters on the history of Australia, with discussion of the convicts and the awful conditions of the orphanages. Another chapter dealt with the Melungeons, referencing Wayne Winkler’s book on the topic.  Our reviewer felt the book was more a collection of essays on various topics rather than a unified theme.  She suggested readers might wish to consult the table of contents to pick and choose which chapters to read rather than trying to read it straight through.

The Stranger You Know by Jane Casey  is a thriller about a hunt for a serial killer.  The setting is London, where Det. Maeve Kerrigan is trying to track down a man who first befriends women and then murders them.  Things get even more complicated when one of the suspects turns out to be a police officer himself.  Our reader described it as a pretty good book, and that it dealt with not only the problems of finding a killer but with the internal conflicts on the police force.

The final book was How We Got to Now: Six Innovations That Made the Modern World by Steven Johnson.  The book is delightfully entertaining, thought-provoking, and does an excellent job of explaining how certain seemingly simple things changed culture and behavior.  For example, the chapter entitled “Glass” takes the substance from a decoration in an Egyptian necklace to telescopes and microscopes and then to the discoveries each made possible.  The book was based on a PBS series of the same name.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Christmas Cat by Melody Carlson

Reviewed by Jeanne

Garrison Brown’s grandmother passed away suddenly, leaving him with many regrets.  He’d been planning to go visit her, but there were too many things requiring his attention: doctor’s appointments for the malaria he’d acquired during his stint as a missionary in Uganda, job interviews that so far had led to no lasting jobs, and such. Then there was the cat problem.  His grandmother adored felines and had a half dozen or so, and Garrison was extremely allergic.  

Since neither he nor Gram had much else in the way of family, Garrison wasn’t surprised to find out that he was her heir. What was surprising was that there were conditions:  Garrison has to find homes for all of her cats.  Not just any homes, either, but homes that meet a long list of Gram’s requirements.   Garrison is a nice young man who loved his grandmother and wants to honor her wishes, even if there weren’t a lawyer looking over his shoulder.  He’s also a bit lonely, and hopes to meet his special someone to share his life with while he makes a difference in the world.  He is smitten by Cara, a cat lover, who wants one of the cats but she doesn’t meet Gram’s rules for cat ownership.  Since Garrison can’t in good conscience let her have a cat, this puts a bit of a crimp in the relationship.  

In a clear case of judging a book by its cover, I picked up The Christmas Cat by Melody Carlson because of the picture of the  big Maine Coon cat on the front.  I was aware of Carlson’s reputation as a popular YA author who had also written some adult titles, but I hadn’t read any of her work before.

 The story itself is just about what one would expect, a sweet holiday romance with a few felines thrown in. The characters weren’t as well developed as I would have liked, but since the book was only 160 some pages, there wasn’t a lot of space to spare.

This is a nice little “feel good” book to help one get in the holiday mood.  It’s suitable for YAs or adults looking for an old fashioned clean romance with cats.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

 Reviewed by Laurie

On August 9, 2014 a new Starz Original drama series called “Outlander” was introduced to the Television World. I wasn’t sitting at the TV that night but while visiting family I had a chance to see the first three episodes and I was hooked!  When I found out that it was based on a book, I knew I had to read it.

The story begins when Claire, a nurse in World War II, goes to Scotland for a second honeymoon with her husband.  She goes for a walk and suddenly she is transported back to 1743 Scotland around the time of the Jacobite Uprising for Bonnie Prince Charlie. She doesn’t know how she got there, so she doesn’t know how to get back.  She meets James Fraser who is a brave, hot blooded young Scotsman who falls in love with her. Of course, Claire has a husband back in 1943 but she is still attracted to Jamie and of course she knows a bit about what is going to happen with the rebellion.

The time travel is the only fantasy element of the book, so if you don’t like fantasy don’t let that stop you from reading this book. The rest is filled with the Scottish Highlands, the Gaelic history, and the enchantment that only a descriptive historical romance can bring to your imagination. The book is wonderful, with a strong woman and of course a hot Scotsman in a kilt.  

The story behind the story is almost as good.  In 1988 Diane Gabaldon wanted to write a “practice book” to see if she could write a novel.  The result was Outlander which got her a book deal for two follow up books.  She won the Romance Writers of America’s RITA Award for Best Romance, putting her in the same class as Nora Roberts. Now there are eight books in the series and big thick books they are.   Am I going to read them? Yes, I will be right there in my p.j.s curled up on a comfy chair to see what comes next for Claire, Jamie, Frank, and all the others.

If you want to read the series, this is the order:

1.    Outlander

3.    Voyager

4.     The Drums of Autumn

5.    The Fiery Cross

I do want to mention that there are some sensitive topics in the book, including heterosexual and homosexual rape, domestic violence, and child abuse.  I thought she did a good job of dealing with it in a non-sensational way and it didn’t bother me except that I was a little surprised.  I just didn’t expect some of those topics.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Bad Feminist, Bad Paper, Rock 'n' Roll and More in Nevermore

  Summary by Meygan

Nevermore began with the discussion of Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay. This is a collection of essays in which Gay hones in on feminism using pop culture references such as Sweet Valley High and Orange is the New Black, politics, and her own critical opinions. Bad Feminist is a New York Times bestselling book. As a female black gay author, Gay also writes about race, friendship, and body image. The Nevermore reader likes this book but says it is hard to categorize. Still, it was a highly recommended book.

The next book discussed was The History of Rock ‘n’ Roll in Ten Songs by Greil Marcus. Nevermore readers discussed the songs that were mentioned in the book, stating whether or not they had heard the songs. One reader said she had only heard of three of the songs; another said she had heard only one. Greil Marcus is an author, music journalist, and cultural critic. This is not his first book about rock and roll music. 

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn was a popular book in Nevermore. The reviewer said she couldn’t put the book down and she just had to make sure that she finished the book before she left her house that afternoon. Gone Girl is about a husband whose wife disappears. After he becomes the prime suspect, he and his sister work together to find his missing wife. This book has been described by a Nevermore reader as being a page-turning thriller!

“Holy mackerel!” was the Nevermore book reviewer’s response to Jake Halpern’s Bad Paper: Chasing Debt from Wall Street to the Underworld. In this book, former bank executive Aaron Siegal and former robber Brandon Wilson work in cahoots with one another to purchase uncollected debts for pennies on the millions. Our reader said this reminds him of the movie “Wolf of Wall Street,” which is a movie adaptation from Jordan Belfort’s book The Wolf of Wall Street. The Nevermore reader said Bad Paper focuses on the underbelly of the debt collectors and is mind boggling how they make unbelievable amounts of money from this scheme. 

The Mantle of Command by Nigel Hamilton was highly praised and was described as being a great book. This book deals with Roosevelt during WWII and the reviewer said you are “with” Roosevelt the whole time. He said the author did a good job of presenting all of the information, especially about Pearl Harbor. He also said this is better than any other book he has seen about Roosevelt and WWII. However, the book only covers until halfway through the WWII. The Nevermore reader suspects there will be a volume 2 issued. 

A few weeks ago, a Nevermore reader finished Capital in the Twenty-First Century by Thomas Piketty. Another Nevermore reader started reading the book because he found it intriguing. He did say to skip over the introduction though because it will about put a reader to sleep! The same Nevermore reader also read Doctored by Sandeep Jauhar, which was previously discussed in Nevermore. He enjoyed the book even though the content is dark. 

The last book discussed was Love Saves the Day by Gwen Cooper, the author of Homer’s Odyssey: A Fearless Feline Tale, or How I Learned about Love and Life with a Blind Wonder Cat. The Nevermore reader stated that she likes the book so far, despite the cheesy title. However, this is the case where a reader should not judge a book by its title. This book is not a love story between a man and a woman. This is a story from the point-of-view of Prudence, a cat, who is being taken to her owner’s daughter’s house to live. She doesn’t understand what happened to Sarah, her owner, but she clings on to the hope that Sarah will be back to get her soon.