Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Nevermore: Typos, Money, The Peripheral, and All the Light

 Summary by Jeanne

The first book up this week was Just My Typo which, true to its title, is a collection of misprints.  The examples are both old and recent gathered from a variety of sources. The book is divided into chapters based on the type of error, from legal filings to printed books to students’ mistakes.  There’s even a section devoted to the modern scourge, auto-correct.  Some are amusing letter transpositions, such as “This crud is from the finest milk” from a cheese menu; others are sins by omission (“French widow in every room,” claims a hotel’s ad) while others are misplaced words—or omitted words.  A personal favorite involves a newspaper report about Prince Charles’ denial of an extramarital affair made, the paper explained, after “claims that the Prince has been secretly Mrs. Parker-Bowles for more than a decade…”  Not all the errors are amusing.  One lottery ticket holder spent over five years in litigation over what the holder says is a $500,000 winning ticket and what the state of Florida says is a misprint. Drummond Moir compiled this amusing little collection.

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr got rave reviews from our readers.  The setting is World War II where the lives of a blind French girl and a young German man intersect. The book goes back in time to explore the background and childhoods of the two main characters.  The plot description can’t do the book justice.  Our reviewer praised the book’s structure and well developed characters.  Doerr avoids the usual stereotypes to create a very satisfying novel.  It’s a quick read with short chapters but it all works beautifully.  The book is highly recommended.

Another book with short chapters is William Gibson’s The Peripheral but our reader was finding it difficult to get into. This is SF author Gibson’s return to futuristic fiction. The story takes place at a time after ecological and economic collapses have eliminated eighty per cent of the human population, leaving the remnants to eke out a living.  A young woman named Flynne is persuaded to take over a job for her brother beta-testing a new game—or so she thinks. It turns out to be something different and possibly deadly.

Last up was Money:  An Unauthorized Biography by Felix Martin which our reader hadn’t actually started.  The book tries to trace the history of money from its ancient beginnings to the present.  He examines ancient Greece and Mesopotamia for the origins of money, and takes a look at monetary theory from John Locke to the Federal Reserve. It will come as no surprise that the author is an economist.  The book was originally published in Great Britain—in fact, the title entry card still uses the British spelling “Unauthorised.”

The Nevermore Book Club meets every Tuesday at 11:00 am to discuss whatever books the members are reading at the moment.  Join us for coffee and for doughnuts from Blackbird Bakery!

Monday, March 2, 2015

Season of the Dragonflies by Sarah Creech

Reviewed by Jeanne

For four generations, the Lenore women have crafted scents. It all started back when Great-Grandmother Serena ran away with a handsome young man to the rainforest of Borneo and discovered a wondrous, magical plant which became the main ingredient—the very secret main ingredient.  These perfumes don’t just smell nice.  They enhance the strongest traits of the wearer, enabling her to rise to the top of whatever profession she is suited for. The scents are sold only to a select few, and never to those who would compete in the same profession.

The business has been passed down from mother to daughter until now.  A business which has thrived is now threatened from several sides.  Willow, the current matriarch, finds herself struggling to remember things.  Mya, the elder daughter, has always been considered the heir and has spent her life learning the trade at the expense of her personal life.  She is chaffing to take over from Willow’s control and may be willing to cross some lines to do it.  Younger daughter Lucia fled the business and the magic to marry an artist, but now that marriage is falling apart and she has nowhere to go.

Nowhere, that is,  but back home to the family farm in Virginia.  She dreads facing her mother and Willow, knowing she’ll be seen as a failure.  She’ll stay just long enough to decide what to do next. She has no idea that things are about to go very, very wrong.

In addition to the family tensions, a pop star client has reneged on her word and is threatening blackmail. Worst of all, the magical plants seem to be dying.  One way or another, it appears the company is doomed.

At its core, Season of the Dragonflies is a tale of mothers and daughters, sisters and suitors. It reminds me a bit of Sarah Addison Allen’s books with the blend of romance, family relationships, and magic.  It also seems to take to heart the motto “Virginia is for Lovers.”  The female characters are strong and interesting, ready to make their own choices instead of passively waiting.  Sometimes these choices are the right ones, but they accept the responsibility.  A sheen of magic shimmers through the book, from the perfume itself to the dragonflies that seem to follow Lucia to Mya’s deer.  Creech uses the Blue Ridge Mountain setting to good effect, tying the most of the characters closely to the land.  The male characters don’t have as much depth or personality, but then they are just the means to an end.  This is a fantasy, after all, and we just want to get to the “happily ever after.” 

This is a debut novel. I expect we’ll be hearing more from Ms. Creech in the future.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Blood Rubies by Jane K. Cleland

Reviewed by Jeanne

Josie Prescott, owner of Prescott’s Antiques, has been asked to film a segment for a new reality TV show featuring Ana Yartsin, a local celebrity chef.  There’s a wedding theme, featuring cakes made in the shape of Faberge eggs, because Ana’s family owns a marvelous snow globe with a real Faberge egg—or what is supposed to be a Faberge egg.  That’s where Josie comes in, as she and her team will be trying to authenticate the egg.  If it is indeed what it’s supposed to be, then it could be worth millions. 

Before the show finishes filming, disaster strikes.  The groom is murdered—and the weapon is apparently the snow globe egg, now smashed to bits. Or was it? Some of the remains are definitely fake, leaving Josie to wonder if the actual egg has been stolen to sell or if someone knew it was a fake all along.  

I have enjoyed all the Josie Prescott mysteries and this one is no exception.  Cleland does a wonderful job of planting clues as well as enlightening readers about the antiques trade. There are many fascinating tidbits dropped about antiques and collectibles sure to send readers to attics and closets to check out some of their own possible treasures, but the story never bogs down with these details.  The mystery itself is well-done, and the book is nicely paced.  Although you don’t need to read these in order, I will say that there has been character growth and development along the way. 

Josie is a good, salt of the earth character while being a strong and independent business woman, which is refreshing.  She’s quick to figure a profit margin, and know what her company can and can’t do.  She’s a warm and friendly person but also one who can size people up dispassionately. She has a Significant Other in Ty, who is a trainer for Homeland Security, a knowledgeable staff ready to research everything from a vintage Chanel handbag to an antique armchair or Art Deco chess set.  She’s sensible, steady, and intelligent, not given to the hand-wringing drama in which some heroines indulge, and which I find increasingly tiresome.  That’s not to say Josie can’t make impulsive decisions; she just doesn’t manufacture crisis where none exist.  There so many little details that I appreciate in this series that don't often show up in others.  For example, when questioned by the police, Josie always checks with her lawyer even though the police chief is a friend.  It's just a sensible thing to do.

If you like a good follow the clues mystery with solid characters and dollops of interesting information, I’d highly recommend the Josie Prescott Antiques Mystery series. 

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Perfect Fifths by Megan McCafferty

Reviewed by Meygan

I have learned that some nostalgic longings are better left in the past. What I once found oh so cool and was obsessed with tends to make me question my childhood taste when I re-read or re-watch something as an adult. Now, this doesn’t apply to everything. There are some cartoons that I watched that I still enjoy just as much as I ever did (Scooby Doo, The Flintstones, The Powerpuff Girls), but most of the time trying to re-live my childhood memories just makes me incredibly sad that what I once loved is now garbage. 

With that said, I use to love Megan McCafferty’s Jessica Darling series. I first came across this series when I was in middle school, and I couldn’t get enough of the love story between Jessica Darling and Marcus Flutie. When Jessica meets Marcus, her luck is spiraling downhill. Not only does her best friend Hope move, but Jessica has to deal with her teenage hormones going out of control and the oh-so-handsome, promiscuous Marcus Flutie doesn’t help. By the time Jessica realizes that she loves Marcus, she also realizes that she doesn’t know a whole lot about him. He is mysterious and at time reticent about his personal life. As the series continues, Jessica and Marcus grow apart but do manage to grow as individuals.   

In the last book of the Jessica Darling series, Perfect Fifths, Jessica and Marcus collide into one another at an airport, which to no surprise, Jessica is running late. Jessica misses her flight, causing Marcus to purchase a ticket just so he and Jessica can catch up on the last three years. Since they both have nowhere to go that night, they share a hotel room. Will they rekindle their romance? What will they do about the sexual tension that bridges them together? 

I was disappointed in the final ending to the series. I feel like I waited nine years for an anticlimactic and somewhat silly ending.  The 13 year old me loved the first book, titled Sloppy Firsts, and I couldn’t wait to discover Jessica’s and Marcus’ happy ever after or happy never after. I felt that the series became worse as it went on, so I shouldn’t have been too surprised when I gave Perfect Fifths one star on Goodreads. Perhaps it is because most of the book took place in one scene, and I don’t particularly care for that in books or film. Also, I felt that Marcus had outgrew Jessica and that he should have given up on her narcissistic, smart a… uhm… rear end. 

Here is the complete series order: Sloppy Firsts, Second Helpings, Charmed Thirds, Fourth Comings, and Perfect Fifths.

Note:  The first three books are considered young adult novels, but the last two novels have content  more suitable for adults.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Anne Perry and the Murder of the Century by Peter Graham

Reviewed by Jeanne

In 1954, New Zealand was rocked by news of the brutal murder of a woman by her daughter and her daughter’s friend.  The trial was a sensation because of the nature of the murder, but the girls’ behavior during the trial—smiling, laughing, and seemingly unrepentant—intensified the scrutiny.  Their close relationship inspired much speculation.  The event was one of those seminal moments in a country’s history that shaped a generation, much like the kidnapping of the Lindbergh baby did in the U.S. a couple of decades earlier.

The case remains compelling to this day, more because of the personalities involved than the brutality of the crime.  Juliet Hulme was the daughter of two prominent British citizens.  Her father, a well-known physicist, was the Rector of the local college, while her mother was a marriage counselor and had a radio program.  The family was part of the social elite.  The London Blitz and Juliet’s health problems had kept her away from her family for several years, time she had spent in the Caribbean and South Africa.  At age 13, she was thought well enough to join the family in New Zealand.  Meanwhile, Pauline Rieper had undergone health issues of her own with osteomyelitis, which also left her somewhat alienated from her family.  Unlike Juliet, Pauline’s family was definitely lower middle class, but the two girls shared a fierce intelligence and a love of film and music stars as well as a sense they were special and meant for great things. They believed they would go to Hollywood where they would write movies and act in them alongside their beloved movie stars.

The girls had also developed an elaborate fantasy world.  They believed they were special, able to see the heaven they dubbed the “Fourth World”, an ability Pauline believed only about ten people in the world had.  They created their own religion, with gods and saints composed of the performers they most admired:  James Mason, Mario Lanza, and a changing cast of others.  Pauline wrote, “Juliet and I decided the Christian religion had become too much of a farce and we decided to make up one of our own.”  

The intensity of the relationship began to disturb some of the adults, including Pauline’s mother.  They felt the girls were too fixated on one another.  Things really began to fall apart when Juliet’s father lost his job and his marriage, and the family planned to move back to England. Both girls were determined that Pauline should accompany the Hulmes. Honorah Parker Rieper, Pauline’s mother, was equally determined that she should not.

This was given as the motive for Honorah’s murder: the girls believed if she were removed, so would all obstacles to the girls’ leaving together. 

Peter Graham was shielded from news of the event as a child, but when he began his legal career he found a colleague had actually worked on the case.  His interest was piqued, but it was decades before he began to examine the case in depth.  From my point of view, it was well worth the wait.  Graham brings both honesty and genuine curiosity to the subject, writing without preconceived notions of what he would find. He researched extensively and it shows, but the writing is so clear that the reader never feels bogged down in detail.  Graham uses Pauline’s diaries to provide insight on the girls as well many interviews with those still living and as much documented material as possible. 

This was not my first book choice when I decided to read about the case.  In a clear case of judging a book by its title, I was put off by the name Anne Perry and the Murder of the Century.  I didn’t want to read a book geared toward scandal and sensationalism, and the title indicated to me that the book was trying to cash in on Perry’s name—and that is most definitely NOT what the book is about.  Juliet Hulme’s life after the trial gets only a brief chapter and the "Anne Perry" name is invoked very little.  In fact, when the book was first published the title was So Brilliantly Clever, reflecting a line from Pauline’s diaries.  I can say without reservation that, had Juliet’s new identity never been revealed, I would have enjoyed the book just as much.  However, Graham does call some of Perry’s statements into question, such as the assertion that part of the girls’ release was that they have no contact with each other; in fact, they were released “without condition.”

This book is more concerned with the psychology of the crime along with social context than sensationalism.  It’s well written and compelling, and certainly memorable.  He does draw some comparisons between this case and the notorious Leopold/Loeb case, based on some of the personality traits of the murderers. (The American title also reflects that, as the best known book on that case is The Crime of the Century:  The Leopold-Loeb Case by Hal Higdon.)

Graham doesn’t offer any simple solutions.  In fact, one of my favorite parts is near the end of the book in which various theories are presented, including some contemporary with the crime as well as more modern views.  Graham leaves the reader with questions that are unanswerable but are still interesting to ponder:  what would have happened if the girls had never met?  Or if Pauline’s mother had agreed to allow her to go with the Hulmes? Would the girls’ murderous impulses have emerged or was it all a perfect storm? 

The book also offers the reader some closure on others whose lives were affected by the crime.  While The Search for Anne Perry by Joanne Drayton provided some information on the Hulmes, this book was more thorough in its approach and addressed what became of the Rieper/Parker household.  After the murder, it was discovered that Pauline’s parents were not legally married, making the children illegitimate and causing the struggling family even more financial difficulty.  

In the end the book also acknowledged some themes I had wondered about, including the fact that both Parker and Hulme apparently became quite devout in a religion after their incarceration: Parker became Roman Catholic and Hulme converted to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.  Graham doesn’t belabor the point but does note that the religion the girls created has some parallels to the more orthodox religions they eventually adopted.
I would highly recommend this book to anyone with an interest in true crime, especially of the historical variety.  

(Note:  "Heavenly Creatures," the film by Peter Jackson, is based on the Parker-Hulme case.)