Thursday, June 30, 2011

Raven Report: June 28

Variety was the theme for the June 28 meeting of the Nevermore Book Club!  Recommended titles included:
Rumor of War by Philip Caputo is a memoir, not a history of the Viet Nam War.  As he says, it is “simply a story about war, about the things men do in war and the things war does to them.”   It was 1965, still early days of America’s involvement when a young and idealistic Caputo volunteered for the Marine Corps straight out of college. Nothing had prepared him for what was to come.  Rumor of War is considered one of the modern classics in war literature.  Caputo went on to become an award winning journalist and novelist.
Appalachian Spring by Marcia Bonta is a finely written, carefully observed natural history of the spring months in Pennsylvania.  She manages to convey not only information but a sense of wonder and even awe.  The writing is beautiful and evocative.  This is one of a set of four books, each set in a different season in the Appalachians.  Bonta is a well-known naturalist with many books and articles to her credit.
Bloody Kin by Margaret Maron is a mystery set in North Carolina.  Maron calls it the first “Colleton County” book because it’s set in the same county as her Judge Deborah Knott series but the Knott family doesn’t appear in this one.  (Dwight does, however.) Until this point,  Maron had set her mysteries in New York City with Sigrid Harald as the main character.  After her husband Jake dies in a hunting accident, new widow Kate Honeycutt moves to North Carolina to live on his family farm.  Jake’s family isn’t exactly welcoming to the Yankee outsider and soon Kate begins to wonder if Jake’s death was really an accident—or murder. .  Well developed characters, a good sense of place and a clever mystery are hallmarks of Maron’s work and this book is no exception.  Note:  Maron has said that Sigrid will make a guest appearance in a future Deborah Knott novel.
Also recommended was a DVD, “Get Low.”  Loosely based on a true story, the movie stars Robert Duvall, Sissy Spacek and Bill Murray.  Duvall plays Felix, a Tennessee hermit who decides to have his funeral before his death so he can enjoy it.  He also has a secret he wants to get off his chest. The cast was excellent and the movie very enjoyable, though our reviewer wanted to be sure folks knew it was not a comedy per se.  The real Felix died in 1943, five years after his “funeral.” The Nevermore Book Club meets each Tuesday at 11 am, with coffee and doughnuts from Blackbird Bakery.  Join us and let us know what you're reading!

Monday, June 27, 2011

Raven Report: History Rules!

The June 21 Nevermore Book Club had a distinctly historical flavor! The recent discussion of the new biography of Andrew Johnson had apparently inspired some members to read some fictional treatments about the Civil War:

Widow of the South by Robert Hicks is a novel based on a true event.  At the Battle of Franklin, 1864, over 9000, both Union and Confederate, lay dead.  Rather than have bodies plowed under, Carrie McGavock had nearly 1500 Confederate dead buried on her farm.  Told from several different points of view, including a Confederate sergeant and a Union lieutenant, this well reviewed first novel tells one of the many fascinating human stories of the war.

Jennifer Chiaverini's Elm Creek Quilters series has won her a legion of fans among both quilters and the sewing- challenged.  Several of her novels have had Civil War themes as does her newest, The Union Quilters.   Set in Pennsylvania, it follows the stories of a group of women whose men have gone South to fight, leaving their women to support each other during times of loneliness and hardship.

Bernard Cornwell is well known for his historical novels, including the Sharpe series which was set during the Napoleonic Wars and was turned into a television series.  He's also done novels set in other times and locations, including The Warlord Chronicles which is set in  Britain in King Arthur's time, The Grail Quest set in 14th century England and France, The Saxon Chronicles of King Alfred's day,   and  The Starbuck Chronicles, which is a Northern who goes to Virginia to fight for the South during the Civil War.

Last but certainly not least was Anna Porter's nonfiction work,  Kasztner's train: the true story of an unknown hero of the Holocaust.  Based on interviews with survivors as well as previously unpublished documents, Porter tells the story of a Hungarian Jew who managed to save thousands, yet was later accused of being a Nazi collaborator because of his dealings with some high level Nazis. 

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Shalko by Louis L'Amour

Reviewed by Susan

The Library got a new copy of this book, so I decided to revisit one of my favorite authors. Louis L’Amour was undoubtedly one of the best western writers of all time. Congress awarded him the Congressional Gold Medal for his work. President Reagan awarded him the Medal of Freedom. They just don’t come better.

Shalko (SSB LAM Main) meets his high quality standard. Unknown to many, a band of renegade Apaches are raiding across the border. At the same time, Baron Frederick von Hallstatt sets out on a hunting expedition which is really camping trip complete with white tablecloths, wealthy friends and a beautiful fiancĂ©e. Trained in European military tactics, he wouldn’t mind a “tussle” with the natives.

Shalako is a loner who loves the wild country and owns nothing but his horse and gun. He discovers a man who was ambushed by the Apaches. Backtracking, he discovers the man was the hunting party’s guide. There he meets the beautiful and independent Irina Carnarvon. From a wealthy family, she has traveled wild territory before with her father. She is also engaged.

An attack on the group is imminent. Some of the party’s wagoners had their own plans of robbery and abandoning the group to the tender mercy of the Apaches. It soon becomes a battle of survival which will test the mettle of all the main characters.

Louis L’Amour spins a tale that is action packed with a spicing of romance. Values and strength of character are a theme that runs throughout his stories. Shalko is no exception. He also philosophizes about independence. He portrays a clash of cultures, European social status vs. western independence, but ties it up with respect for both. Even the death of the Apache leader is recognized with honor: “Brother! Warrior!”

Louis L’Amour’s books are worth a reread. Every time I read one, I leave just feeling good.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Buried Prey by John Sandford

Reviewed by Doris

This is book 21 in John Sandford’s Lucas Davenport/ Prey series.  If you have been a fan of Sandford’s as I have been from the beginning, you have been through all of the ups and downs in Lucas’ personal life and the countless cases he has solved. This outing into Davenport’s Minneapolis/St. Paul setting is excellent. Divided into parts—Then and Now—the pace is fast, the characters are often familiar but with a few new twists, and the story is intriguing to downright gripping in the last chapters. Simply put, Sandford is at his best.

NOW—a condemned house is being razed when the bulldozer turns up a horrific find.  The bodies of two young girls, wrapped in plastic, obviously buried for a long time, bring Minneapolis homicide Chief Marcy Sherrill and her homicide team to the site. Sherrill’s old buddy (and former lover) Lucas Davenport turns up at the scene too because he knows these victims. 

THEN--In the summer of 1985 it is a hot afternoon and two little girls named Jones don’t come home from playing in their neighborhood.  Working against time the Chief of Detectives pulls a very young Lucas Davenport out of his patrol car and makes him a detective for a day or two so more police are working the case.  Lucas is excited to work the case because he wants to move to detective permanently and this is a high profile opportunity to show he can. Lucas gets word that a guy named John Fell thinks he might know the person who took the children. Davenport works the streets to find John Fell, but the man has vanished.  Piecing together clues as he can, Lucas finds Terry Scrape, the street person Fell told others might have the girls. Lucas’ gut tells him Scrape is innocent and Fell knows more about what happened. Sure that Fell is the murderer Lucas asks for more time to find him, but the police are in a hurry to solve the case as the media pressure mounts and it is obvious the girls are gone for good.  Lucas pushes aside his feelings that things are really wrong, and he helps hunt down Scrape. When everything does go wrong the police department declares the case closed.

  Lucas is credited with breaking the case and is moved to the detective division, but he knows mistakes were made and Fell is out there somewhere probably taking and murdering other children.  

NOW—Haunted for years that other children have died because Fell escaped him, Davenport offers to use his resources from the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension to help Marcy solve the old case. He wants John Fell.  Bit by bit Lucas pieces together who John Fell really is then a totally unexpected tragedy that rips at his heart turns solving the case into an obsession.  This is when the pace picks up and the action really takes off. Lucas ends up odds with his wife, his friends, his partners, and himself over the case, but he cannot stop himself. Eventually he will have to make a choice that could be fatal.

John Sandford has always done a great job with his characters and plotting. Buried Prey brings new dimensions to the series. It also continues Sandford’s tradition of plot twists that surprise you and move the story in a direction the reader might not expect. Overall, this has been my favorite book of the new summer crop.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Raven Report: Double the Fun!

by Jeanne

We had a special Saturday edition of the Nevermore Book Club in conjunction with Believe in Bristol’s State of the Arts events.  Director Jud started the session with a challenge:  he would show us five musical instruments which we may not even have heard of ere now and we would be able to remember them an hour later.  Skepticism was rife, but using the principles from Moonwalking with Einstein:  the art and science of remembering everything by Joshua Foer he was sure we could do it.

And he was right!  In fact I still remember the ophicleide, bombarde, doumbek, oud and mbira though I confess I had to do some looking to find out how to spell “ophicleide.” I’m still not really sure what all the instruments are, but I do remember them!

As usual with book club, one topic leads to another.  I had A Presumption of Death by Jill Paton Walsh which uses the characters created by Dorothy L. Sayers in her series of mysteries featuring Lord Peter Wimsy.  We talked about one writer using another’s characters, the difference in reading a book written during the 1940s and one written in 2006 but set in the 1940s, and how changing attitudes can sometimes cause a problem with older books meant for children.

Doris started another interesting discussion with Pray for Silence by Linda Castillo.  Police Chief Kate Burkholder is called to investigate a case where an Amish family has been slaughtered.  Since Kate was raised in an Amish family, this case causes her to revisit her own past.  Books set among the Amish have become very popular in the last few years and we discussed some of the aspects of Amish culture, but almost before we knew it the time had just flown by!

Tuesday’s Nevermore had an even wider selection of books being championed by readers!  Jud had the new book by David Sedaris, Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk.  It’s a collection of animal fables rather like Aesop if that old Greek had been possessed of a darkly comic, cynical humor and a taste for the absurd.  Sedaris isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, and neither is Jasper Fforde, but both have devoted followers.  One of Our Thursdays is Missing is Fforde’s latest entry in his BookWorld series, in which characters pop in and out of classic novels and different literary genres may be at odds. (Peace talks are going on between Women’s Literature and the Racy Novel, for instance.)  Literary jokes abound, of course. 

Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life by Karen Armstrong provided a change of pace.  Armstrong is a former Catholic nun and respected writer on religion who worked with a number of religious leaders to compile a “Charter for Compassion.”  Thoughtful, moving and empowering, this is a great choice for anyone wanting to live a more aware life.

The Room by Emma Donoghue, the novel about a child and his mother held prisoner, is still making the rounds of readers.

The new Tom Clancy book, Dead or Alive, features the return of Jack Ryan, Jr. as he seeks out the terrorist known as the Emir. It was in the process of being read, so no verdict as yet!

The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford alternates between the 1940s and 1980s when Henry Lee, a young Chinese boy, befriends a Japanese girl prior to the Japanese internment.  In the 1980s, the discovery of an item thought lost causes Henry to remember his first love. 

Erik Larson, best known for Isaac’s Storm and Devil in the White City, has a new book out.  In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin is the riveting true story of the William Dodd family, who moved to Germany in 1933 when Roosevelt appointed Mr. Dodd ambassador to the Third Reich.  Initially charmed, Ambassador Dodd begins to grow increasingly uneasy with the way new laws begin to shape the society.  Meanwhile, one of his daughters is infatuated with the dashing Nazi officers, including the first chief of the Gestapo. Of course, we read it with the full knowledge of what was to come; the principals were living it. 

Monday, June 13, 2011

Consigned to Death

Consigned to Death by Jane K. Cleland

Reviewed by Jeanne

Josie Prescott used to work for a prestigious New York auction house before she turned whistleblower and testified against them in a price fixing case.  Now she’s moved to New Hampshire to start over with an antique shop of her own.  Things are going well:  in fact, she may be getting an important collection for sale. Elderly client Nathaniel Grant wants to sell his possessions and he’s approached Josie to do an appraisal.  She just needs to meet with him again to finalize the deal but when she goes to the house, no one answers and Josie returns to her store disappointed and a bit puzzled.  Could he have forgotten their appointment?

The police detective who comes to her shop doesn’t think so. In fact, he seems to think the meeting did take place.  That would certainly explain how Mr. Grant came to have a knife sticking out of his chest—a knife which has Josie’s fingerprints on it.

Full disclosure:  I won a copy of this book.

I hadn’t read any of Jane K. Cleland’s books, but thought the setting sounded interesting.  I’d enjoyed the Lovejoy TV series (ah, Ian McShane, you rogue, you!) and to a lesser extent the books. I just found the print Lovejoy a bit less endearing – annoying, even—though I liked the books’ information about antiques.  I hoped this would be similar.

I did indeed enjoy this book.  I was rather surprised to find that this was a first book by this author.  I find most first novels have a certain amount of “fact dumping,” in which the narrator tells us things we need to know instead of working the information in organically. Cleland has a deft hand there, especially in the way she introduced background characters.  The working of the antiques consignment business was well done.  There was less about the history of individual antiques than I expected, but the description of the way the auction business works was interesting and enlightening.  (I actually think that the subtitle "A Josie Prescott Antiques Mystery" is a bit misleading; it really should be "Auction House Mystery," but I suspect the publisher thought antiques would sell better than auction.)

I especially liked the little side-steps around cozy convention:  Josie has a thriving business with employees instead of moping around an empty fridge, the police aren’t idiots, Josie calls a lawyer before being questioned; and while Josie does find the detective attractive but she doesn’t start flirting.  These are small things, but ones that made an impression on me.   This probably says more about the current mystery conventions than anything else.  Some things I didn’t even realize I expected until Cleland gave it a bit of a twist.

The characters were likeable and felt well developed.   Josie was competent and sensible, the detective was professional, and –hold on to your hats!—so was Josie’s lawyer. The mystery was well done, though I found the fingerprint explanation a bit too thorough.  It was one of few times I felt that the author had to work to explain something.

Some of the reviews at Amazon complained that Josie mentioned her late father too frequently.  I noticed that, but I found it reasonable that she would think of some of her father’s precepts because she learned about running a business from him.  Had she moaned and moped over his loss, I probably would have felt differently.

I enjoyed Consigned to Death. It’s refreshing and a cut above the usual first novel.  I’ll be reading more in the series.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Raven Report: This week at Nevermore: June 7, 2011

News Flash!
There will be a special Saturday Nevermore Book Club on June 11 at 11:00 A.M. in connection with Believe In Bristol's "State of the Arts" series!  Join Jud & some BPL staffers for book talks, coffee and -- of course!--tasty treats from the Blackbird Bakery!

We now return you to our regularly scheduled Raven Report to tell you what a little bird told us!

Director Jud Barry brought in two books, Andrew Johnson by Annette Gordon Reed and The Sonderberg Case by Elie Wiesel.  With Andrew Johnson, Jud argued that Johnson actually had a more difficult task than did Lincoln:  that of reconciling the two sides of a country that remained deeply divided.  Johnson accomplished more change politically than did the war itself, yet his role has been overshadowed by his predecessor.  The Sonderberg Case is a moral dilemma disguising itself as a mystery novel and it too is rooted in a country’s past.  When a German man is found dead at the base of a cliff, his nephew pleads both “guilty” and “not guilty.” The movie critic turned reporter assigned to cover the trial finds some unsettling similarities between himself and the accused man, causing him to question what he thinks he knows about his life and his past.

Other picks of the week:

Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay was originally published in French, and has been translated into more than a dozen languages, which gives you an idea of its wide appeal.  The novel tells the story of Julia Jarmond, a journalist who becomes intrigued with the history of her new apartment in Paris.  In 1942, a Jewish family was living there when the Nazis came for them.  Sarah, the young daughter of the family, locks her four year old brother Michael in a cupboard to save him.  The family believes they will soon be returning, but instead they are shipped to Auschwitz.  The story moves back and forth between Julia and Sarah, and highlights a little known incident during World War II, in which Parisian Jews were rounded up and deported.  This book has been called moving and suspenseful. 

Cleopatra:  A Life by Stacy Schiff is the Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer’s attempt to separate fact from fiction about one of history’s best known women.   Contrary to popular belief, Cleopatra was neither Egyptian nor was she a great beauty: she was a Ptolemy, the Greek family who ruled Egypt at the time, and her allure was due more to her intelligence and charisma than physical attributes.  Schiff manages to give a fascinating portrait of a woman and a place that will keep the pages turning.

Veil of Night by Linda Howard has wedding planner Jaclyn Wilde dealing with Carrie Edwards who is a certified bridezilla, so it’s not too surprising that someone bumps Carrie off.  Things get even stickier when the detective assigned the case shows up and proves to be someone with whom Jaclyn had a one night stand.  Howard is known for her romantic suspense, and this book fills that bill.  This is a great beach book!

The Nevermore Book Club meets Tuesdays at 11:00 A.M.  Everyone is invited to join us for books, coffee, talk, and doughnuts from the fabulous Blackbird Bakery!

Monday, June 6, 2011

The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown

Reviewed by Jeanne

Rose, Bianca and Cordelia are the titular sisters, children of a Shakespeare scholar and his wife. After growing up in a small college town, they’ve gone their separate ways. Now that their mother has been diagnosed with breast cancer, each sister returns as is her nature: Rose rushes home to act as caretaker; Bean flees for home from a secret shame; and Cordy, tired of drifting, wanders home.
And that is where Brown begins to weave her magic.

In one of my earlier incarnations, I worked in the YA/children’s section. In that capacity I read more “teen problem novels” than I care to remember. In fact, I can’t remember them. There was always a teen suffering from alcoholic parent/unintended pregnancy/serious illness/runaway—well, you get the idea. Not all these books were bad, it was just that so many were formulaic, paint by the numbers tales that most just ran together in my mind. So when I read a book description about three sisters whose troubles drive them home, I was underwhelmed. And, it must be said, a bit intimidated. Sure, I’d loved that Shakespeare class in college in which the professor explained all the jokes but that was thir—er, several years ago and I didn’t remember all that much. I didn’t want to read a book and feel like a cultural illiterate.

Then the glowing reviews started, saying this is a book for people who love books, who love a touch of magic, who love literature and complex characters and beautiful writing. And, someone added helpfully, you really didn’t need to know all about Shakespeare to enjoy the book.

The reviews were right.

I was drawn in from the very first, a bit reluctantly. I wasn’t sure I wanted to know these sisters who seemed to have made such a mess of their lives and who didn’t seem inclined to change but then they charmed me with the wonderful way they use words, and I ended up falling in love with them all. Each sister feels defined by her role in the family, embracing or rebelling against her position, each certain that the other is the favored daughter. Their parents are loving but a bit disconnected: the father with his absorption with the Bard, the mother in a gentle world of her own populated by books and family. The girls have carved out their own roles in an effort to stand out: Rose is the one who takes charge, sure that everything will fall apart without her, and equally certain that no one else is capable of handling things. Bean is the rebel, the child who would try anything, grown into a woman who values appearance above all, who must be the sleekest, most fashionable person in the room and is both snarky and truthful. Cordy has been the more passive sister, siding first with Rose and then with Bean as the spirit moved her, willing to let her sisters set the agenda.

This trip home will be a revelation, changing them all in ways they never expected and asking them to reconsider and recreate themselves. The fun is watching them do it. I found I identified in part with each sister, and cheered them on enthusiastically.

Yet the book doesn’t drip with self-importance or bury its characters under the weight of Literature with a capital L. They do toss around Shakespearean quotations with abandon, but it’s still understandable; in fact, if the quotations weren’t italicized, I’m not certain I would have recognized that many were quotations except for an odd word or phrasing. Those that are a bit obscure are explained as in this scene in which the father says he’d like to speak to the girls about something but seems to have a hard time starting:

“He coughed.
’Marry sir, ‘tis an ill cook that cannot lick his own fingers: therefore he that cannot lick his fingers goes not with me,’ he said finally.
‘Um, what?’ Bean asked.
‘I think what your father means is that since breast cancer may be hereditary, it’s important that you do self-exams,’ our mother said, patting his hand as he nodded uncomfortably.
Oh. Right. We’re sure that’s exactly what Shakespeare was trying to say.”

The most interesting literary device was the narrator who embodies the three sisters, telling us a bit about how each feels while remaining detached. This voice sounded familiar but it took awhile for me to remember why: it’s similar to the device used in The Waltons, when the voice of the adult John-Boy would reminisce, looking back to a time in his life with the perspective years can bring. It’s effective but non-intrusive.

Like Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen, this is going to be one of those books I’ll be recommending to folks for years to come. Look for a copy in Adult Fiction under the author's last name.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

This Week At Nevermore Book Club

Director Jud Barry surprised a few folk by bringing in a fiction book, Room by Emma Donoghue (F DON New Fiction, Main. The story is told from the point of view of a five year old boy Jack who lives in Room with Ma. The only other person is the frightening Old Nick, who comes at night after Ma hides Jack in Wardrobe. Gradually it becomes clear that the boy and his mother are captives: Old Nick kidnapped Ma when she was nineteen years old and has held her for seven years. While the subject may sound grim to say the least, the book has been praised for its imaginative use of language. Jack is an innocent who doesn’t understand the precariousness of their situation; he doesn’t find Room to be a prison. Room is the only world he has ever known. His mother has made a life for them there, telling him stories, playing games, teaching him as best she can and making him feel as safe and loved as possible. The result is a book you won’t soon forget.

Doris took a selection of most requested new fiction books to show off. There are a number of new books by favorite authors out now from Susan Wittig Albert’s new China Bayles (Mourning Gloria), the first of Iris Johansen’s Eve Duncan trilogy (Eve) to Miss Julia Rocks the Cradle by Ann B. Ross.

Other books:

War by Sebastian Junger (958.1047 JUN Main) follows a single platoon for more than a year for a tour of duty in Afghanistan. Junger was embedded with the troops, so he is able to give a first-hand account of life as a soldier in an inhospitable landscape. Publishers Weekly called it “an unforgettable portrait of men under fire.” Our reader thinks it should be a “must read.” Junger is also the author of The Perfect Storm.

The Syringa Tree by Pamela Gien is another novel told from a child’s point of view, but this one is set in South Africa during apartheid. Lizzie, the white daughter of a surgeon, is deeply attached to her nanny, Salamena, and to Salamen’s daughter, Moliseng. She is devastated when the law requires Moliseng to be sent away to Soweto. This compelling book has been compared to the works of Alan Paton, Nadine Gordimer and Doris Lessing. Side note: this novel began life as a one-woman play, performed by the author. It won an Obie for “Best Play” in 2001.

The Nevermore Bookclub meets Tuesdays at 11 am in the Frances Kegley Conference Room. The library supplies coffee and the Blackbird Bakery supplies doughnuts! Everyone is welcome.