Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Nevermore: Mississippi, Mortuaries, and Mysteries

Reported by Ambrea

Nevermore started things with Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin, a thriller set in the heart of rural Mississippi.  During the 1970s, Larry and Silas were friends.  Their worlds were vastly different—Larry was the child of middle-class white parents; Silas was the son of a poor, black single mother—but their unexpected friendship did not last long.  When Larry took a girl to the drive-in and she was never heard from again, Larry’s and Silas’s lives diverged.  Twenty years later, another girl goes missing—and, suddenly, Larry and Silas are brought together again to confront the past.  Our reader Tom Franklin’s novel was a great book.  “It’s a very good, very fast read,” she said and she highly recommended it to her fellow mystery fans.  She noted it was a surprisingly engaging story that delves deep into the psychology of a small Southern town.

Next, Nevermore looked at Down Among the Dead Men:  A Year in the Life of a Mortuary Technician by Michelle Williams.  When Williams turned thirty, she made an impulsive decision:  she became a mortuary technician.  At times comical and heart-breaking, Down Among the Dead Men is an insightful memoir that explores life and death and the realities of both that morgue technicians explore on a daily basis.  Our reader said Williams’ book was “really very funny,” which she didn’t expect; moreover, it was very interesting.  Williams is an adept writer, making her story accessible yet entertaining.  She also uses wit, humor, and heart to create a memoir that, while the focus is death, isn’t ghastly.  Overall, it was an enjoyable book that our reader recommended to fellow fans of Mary Roach.

In Two Days Gone, a thriller by Randall Silvis, Ryan DeMarco is confronted by a grim and startling mystery:  what causes a man who has everything to suddenly destroy everything he held dear?  Thomas Huston has everything—a brilliant career, a wonderful home, and a family he loves—but then, in a single night, Huston goes missing and his family is found murdered.  DeMarco doesn’t quite believe Huston could have killed his whole family; however, he has no real proof except a half-finished manuscript and a trail of bodies...and a sinking suspicion that nothing is what it seems.  Our reader praised Two Days Gone, saying it was a fantastic page-turner with a gripping story, a macabre murder, and a fascinating detective.  Grim and suspenseful, Two Days Gone was a phenomenal novel that, according to our reader, “always left you guessing.”

Nevermore also picked up The Breakdown by B.A. Paris, bestselling author of Behind Closed Doors.  When Cass decided to take a shortcut home from work, she didn’t expected to come across a woman by the side of the road—and she didn’t expect to later find out that same woman had been murdered.  Since then, she’s been forgetting everything:  where she left her car, if she took her medication, her alarm code and more.  But she hasn’t forgotten one thing:  the woman by the side of the road and the nagging sense of a guilt that she could have saved her.  Our reader said The Breakdown is her favorite book from this year; in fact, she admitted that she loved this book.  Unexpectedly haunting and incredibly gripping, Paris’s latest novel was a fascinating, suspenseful story that left you hoping for the best, suspecting the worst, and wondering who you can trust.

Keeping to our theme of thrillers, Nevermore checked out The Waters of Eternal Youth by Donna Leon, the 25th novel in the Commissario Guido Brunetti Mystery series.  In this latest mystery, Commissario Brunetti finds himself investigating the fifteen year old case of a teenage girl who was thrown into a canal in Venice and left with irreparable brain damage.  Although he hesitates to tackle the case, knowing the statute of limitations has certainly passed, he decides to investigate and see if there really is something to the girl’s case.  Our reader told Nevermore she enjoys reading Donna Leon’s novels, saying it’s like “having a travelogue with a mystery thrown in.”  Incredibly detailed and finely crafted, The Waters of Eternal Youth is both an interesting examination of Venice and a thrilling story of an unsolved crime.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Less Than a Treason by Dana Stabenow

Reviewed by Kristin

Dana Stabenow left her readers on edge four years ago with a cliffhanger at the end of the last Kate Shugak book, Bad Blood.    This was no small, inconsequential cliff either—we were left wondering if Kate herself was alive or dead, not to mention Mutt, her beloved dog/wolf hybrid.  Spoiler alert:  If you haven’t figured it out from the fact that there is another book in the series—Kate survives.  Mutt, well, you’ll just have to read and find out.

Although severely injured, Kate left the hospital against medical advice and has holed up in a box canyon on a nearly vertical 160 acre Alaskan homestead, tearing down Old Sam’s decrepit cabin and building another with her bare hands.  When a group of orienteers (hikers using maps and compasses to navigate from place to place) travels straight through her metaphorical back yard, Kate is disturbed, even more so when one of the group tumbles back to her cabin after tripping over some human bones.

A Native Aleut and private investigator, Kate is used to her independence.  Although romantically involved with state trooper Jim Chopin, after her injury Kate felt the need to lick her wounds in peace.  After a significant inheritance from his father, Jim has resigned his law enforcement position.  Used to flying all over the area in which the roads are impassable more often than not, Jim starts airplane shopping like most of us might shop for a car.  When Kate and Jim finally do reunite, sparks fly.

Even though I have never been to Alaska, the characters here ring true to me.  Kate can be dark and brooding with her mysterious scars, but is well respected within the Native community.  Her grandmother was highly regarded, and the other Aunties do their best to keep Kate close.  The “Park rats,” other Natives who live on private property within the national park, have strengths and foibles like any other group of neighbors who must depend on one another.  Jim may be the handsome stranger, but he has been taken into the group because of his affiliation with Kate.  Even Mutt has been an outstanding character throughout the series with her faithfulness amidst her wildness.

Stabenow makes a tiny jab at United States politics without actually naming the 2016 presidential election; Kate goes to vote after bemoaning the horrible choices of candidates, including some detailed descriptions of the candidates’ characters.  She also throws in a little pop-culture as Kate realizes that a certain person reminds her of a character from Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  These connections with the “real world” don’t detract from the fictional landscape within Alaska’s Quilak mountains, but just provided (to me, at least) a couple of chuckles.

Althought it was worth the wait, I certainly hope that Stabenow will publish another Kate Shugak mystery before another four years have passed.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Living with Memories by Janette Carter

Reviewed by Kristin

Living with Memories came to my attention just a few days ago as someone returned it to the library.  Janette Carter, daughter of A.P. and Sara Carter of Carter Family music fame, writes of growing up in southwestern Virginia.  Although a slim volume, this book contains an authentic voice of a woman who felt blessed to grow up in this area within her loving family.

Growing up in Scott County, Virginia, Janette lived her life surrounded by music.  Her parents sang together, and later were joined by Maybelle Carter (Sara’s first cousin and sister-in-law).  Their first public appearance was during a trip to visit family in Charlottesville, Virginia.  When their car broke down and they had no money for repairs, they organized a quick musical show, enlisted a storekeeper to advertise, and earned enough money to fix the car and continue home.  With the thought that their music might bring in some outside money, A.P. talked Sara and Maybelle into taking a trip to Bristol in August 1927 to audition for Ralph Peer.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Sprinkled with poems and song lyrics, Janette’s account of her life in a musical family feels intimate and personal.  She acknowledges that she is not a writer, just a country girl who has a story to tell, and thanks her daughter Rita Janette for assistance in spelling and grammar.  Reading her stories of working a hardscrabble farm makes me remember my own Kentucky grandmother and her stories of all they did to make ends meet during the Great Depression in the coal camps.

The Carter family came from Poor Valley, which struck another chord with me as another branch of my family owned land in Poor Valley in Washington County, although many generations ago.  I probably still have long lost cousins living there today, tying our family to the land in the way that these low and flowing mountains tend to do.

I enjoyed this book very much, and would recommend it to anyone who has an interest in the country music legacy begun
in these hills, or anyone seeking to understand the roots of rural Appalachia today.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Nevermore: Midnight Sun, Behind Closed Doors, The Smear, Mortuary Technician, Brothers of the Sea, Eaters of the Dead

Reported by Jeanne 

Nevermore started the week with a review of Midnight Sun by Jo Nesbo, an award-winning Norwegian author best known for his Harry Hole mystery series.  This standalone novel features Jon, a hitman who is fleeing a vindictive employer known as the Fisherman. He finds a sanctuary of sorts in a small village where he also finds himself becoming emotionally attached to a widow and her son.  But Jon—known to the villagers as Ulf—knows that it’s just a matter of time before someone will come looking for him. Our reviewer enjoyed it, and gave it four out of five stars.  He especially praised Nesbo for his ability to create complex characters.

Behind Closed Doors, a debut novel by B.A. Paris, also won praise from its reader.  Grace and Jack appear to the be the perfect couple, but appearances are deceiving in this domestic thriller.  Our reader said it featured a psychopath with amazing nasal abilities—this person could smell fear—and that it’s a good page-turner.

The Smear by Sharyl Attkisson takes a behind the scenes look at how political campaigns, spin doctors, and special interest groups all try to shape the news to influence the public, especially voters.  Our reviewer said that while it was not fast reading, it was interesting.

More engaging was the next nonfiction selection, Down Among the Dead Men:  A Year in the Life of a Mortuary Technician by Michelle Williams. While the book could be a bit graphic at times, it’s a fascinating look at what goes on behind the scenes at a hospital mortuary.  Learning the causes of death, dealing with funeral homes, and some of the more unusual –um—clients make for engrossing reading.  Our reviewer did say that since the author was English a number of British expressions appear in the book but that didn’t detract from her enjoyment.

The 1966 novel Brothers of the Sea by D.R. Sherman is set in Seychelles when a boy and his father struggle to survive. Fifteen year old Paul is saved by a dolphin and the two form a deep friendship. The reader said this was a great book, and it was one of the saddest stories he’d ever read.

Finally, Michael Crichton’s early novel The Eaters of the Dead made quite an impression on one member.  Based on the writings of an Arab traveler around 921 A.D. and drawing from Beowulf, the story revolves around a band of Vikings who have to fight a mysterious monster. Our reader was most taken with the descriptions of Viking life and found the book to be “fascinating.”