Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Collision 2012 by Dan Balz

Reviewed by Jeanne

Every four years America elects a president.  Nowadays, it seems that the four years in between is spent discussing the NEXT election even as Americans all say they’re sick of politics. As I write this, however, a look at the NY Times bestseller list has two books on current politics and one on historical politics in the top five non-fiction, which means we may not be as disinterested as we profess to be.  Although partisan titles generate much of the interest, there still seems to be some room for more neutral reporting such as this book.

Balz is a political writer for the Washington Post and as such, had a front row seat for the 2012 election.  He gives a lucid, even-handed account of the missteps and triumphs by the various campaigns, from Rick Perry’s memory lapse about what departments he would cut to Obama’s disengaged performance in the Denver debate.  Interviews with some of the participants long after the election give a better perspective on some events—and I thought it spoke well that Balz was on good enough terms with these candidates to be granted an interview.

While some reviewers took the book to task for not being gossipy enough or for not being analytical enough, I found it to be refreshing.   Some of the post-election books I’ve read revel in name-calling and blaming everyone in sight, leaving the reader disliking everyone.  This doesn’t interest me.  Neither does a long legal discourse of the current election laws; Balz contents himself with noting how the laws affect the campaigns and campaign strategy.

The Republican primaries take up nearly two thirds of the book, leaving only the last section to the general election.  Given the number of candidates, the information on each is limited; some almost to the way the Romney campaign dealt with each challenge. Even so, there are interesting tidbits about each candidate’s approach to the campaign, and how their strategies and assumptions played out. For example, Jon Huntsman, who had been in China for several years as U.S. Ambassador, was stunned at the way the political climate had changed while he was away. (In case you’ve forgotten—or tried to block it out—the other candidates included Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann, Ron Paul, Herman Cain, Rick Santorum, Tim Pawlenty, and Newt Gingrich.)

There are two elements I found particularly interesting in the book.  One is the way in which the near- instantaneous public reactions to events took place.  In years past, after a debate the spin doctors would meet with reporters in an attempt to color news stories about the event, so that readers and TV viewers would get the most positive view possible.  In 2012, anyone with a computer could see reactions in real time via twitter.  By the end of the debate, there was nothing left to spin. In some ways, this is a replay of the shift decades earlier when the new medium of television showed a handsome, relaxed John Kennedy debating the untelegenic, tired Richard Nixon, changing campaigns forever.

The other fascinating element was how the Obama campaign used voter data to a degree no other campaign ever had before, and how they challenged certain assumptions.  Before an election, a great deal is made of the undecided voters.  But are these voters really undecided?  The Obama staff concluded that a good portion are not; if pushed, they have indeed already made a decision.  They may call themselves that because they don’t like their party’s nominee or because they hope to find a reason to vote that will make them happier about the choice, but when the time comes they will vote the way they’ve always voted. That meant that at the end the Obama team concentrated not on “Undecideds” but on people who tended to vote Democratic but who didn’t always vote. Their focus was getting people to go to the polls, not to try to sway those who were on the fence.

If you want a sensational view of the presidential election of 2012, look elsewhere.  But if you enjoy a neutral view of the way things work in elections, then this is a book for you.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Nevermore Fiction Picks: Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald, Saving Fish From Drowning, Spider Woman’s Daughter

Fiction topics sometimes seem to go in cycles, with more than one book at a time taking on some event or personality.  Sometimes there’s a simple explanation, as with the 50th anniversary of the JFK assassination bringing out so many books, but others are a bit more obscure.  This year sees not one but two novels about Zelda Fitzgerald, wife of F. Scott.  The first is Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne Fowler, which has been described as a fictional autobiography.  Zelda is a teenage Southern belle when she meets the dashing young officer Scott Fitzgerald at a dance.  They came from two very different worlds, but Zelda believed love would conquer all and headed north to become half of a golden couple amid the glitter of the Jazz Age.  Reviewers have been particularly taken with the way Fowler brings that era to life, with flappers, famous folk such as Ernest Hemingway, and glamorous locations in Paris, New York, and the Riviera. Like Plath and Hughes, people tend to divide up in camps favoring one partner over the other (and blaming one or the other!) The second book featuring a fictional Zelda just came out in October:  Guests on Earth by Lee Smith.  This one is set in the mental hospital in North Carolina where the young  Evalina has been sent to live after her mother’s death, a convenient way to get rid of her.  She finds a home among the staff and patients, including Zelda Fitzgerald.

    Our reviewer found Saving Fish From Drowning by Amy Tan to be very different from her other books and not just because it’s narrated by a ghost.  Bibi Chen doesn’t let her untimely death get in the way of going on the art and culture tour she had arranged so she joins them in spirit form.  The tour crosses over into Myanmar when they’re taken deep into the jungle by a group of natives.  Culture clashes and confusion abound. Our reviewer thought that the portrayal of Burma was very interesting, and noted that Tan had strong political views that came through in this book.  Others noted the dark humor of the novel.

Finally, fans of Tony Hillerman can look forward to reading Spider Woman’s Daughter by his daughter Anne Hillerman.  Officer Bernadette Manualito, wife of Jim Chee, sees Joe Leaphorn shot and critically wounded.  Even though she’s on administrative leave, Bernie sets out to honor her promise to Leaphorn to find his assailant. The book is true to the originals, though Anne’s tone is a bit different than her father’s. Both have an obvious love and empathy for the region and its people.  The mystery itself is competently done, even though there’s a lot of explaining at the end.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Anthem for Jackson Dawes by Celia Bryce

Reviewed by Kristin

Megan can’t believe she has to be on the pediatric ward of the hospital.  After all, she is fourteen. Well, almost fourteen.  Having cancer is bad enough, but being in a ward with flying elephants on the wall makes it even worse.  The only other teenager is a rather forward boy named Jackson who seems to be loved by all the little kids, parents and nurses.  Megan just can’t stand how he is so cheerful in dealing with the fact that he is sick too.

Though Megan finds Jackson annoying, she is also drawn to him.  Even Megan’s mother is dazzled by Jackson’s appeal.  Jackson has a kind of charm and is able to convince the staff to let him wander about the hospital as he pleases.  The younger children enjoy his antics, and he is kind and comforting to them as they also face being sick in the hospital.  Megan’s friends have promised to text and to visit, but that turns out to be harder than it sounds.  Many of Megan’s friends find her illness hard to understand.  Even her best friend Gemma doesn’t quite understand what Megan is experiencing.  Megan begins to look forward to her interactions with Jackson, and finds herself missing him when he is not there.

Because the book is set in England, some of the language is slightly different.  The exclamations of “Rubbish!” and “Brilliant!” add to the flavor of the setting.

As is natural for all children and teenagers, (and perhaps any person dealing with a serious illness,) Megan is very egocentric and feels that she and her problems are the center of the universe.  Part of her growing-up process is realizing that there are others affected by her diagnosis.  Megan has the support of her mum, dad and 96-year-old grandad.  As the family is dealing with her cancer, Megan begins to see that the adults have vulnerabilities as well.  While the adults are in the background, this story focuses on Megan’s experiences.  The book does describe some of the side effects of her treatment, but it does not dwell on them.  The story is much more about the interactions between Megan and her home and hospital friends.

This is a coming-of-age book with a teenage girl going through a tougher than usual time.  Along the way she finds different friendships than she might have expected.  Because it is about young adults with cancer, this book immediately reminded me of The Fault in Our Stars by John Green.  Although this is a young adult book, I still found it to be a touching story that will appeal to people of all ages.  The characters remain innocent with only a touch of romance involved.  I won’t give away any huge plot twists, but I will say that this story will make you laugh and cry as the characters go through the ups and downs of illness and friendship

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Dawn to Decadence, Josephine Earp, Richard Burton & Barnaby

Jud opened Nevermore with From Dawn to Decadence:  500 Years of Western Life by Jacques Barzun.  The book examines the way that various revolutions—political, religious, artistic—affected European culture, leading to the world as we know it today. The book begins right after the Protestant Reformation, and examines many of the pivotal figures in the history of ideas, leading to what the author sees as a post-decadent society in which humanity seems to have lost its way.   Barzun is very good at bringing the arts into his discussions, which may be why Jud enjoys his writing so much, referring to it as his favorite sleep-inducing literature. Light reading it is not, but it is a well done and insightful tome from a respected scholar.

Another sort of Western history—the American West, that is—was brought up with Lady at the O.K. Corral:  The True Story of Josephine Marcus Earp by Ann Kirschner.  Josephine was Earp’s fourth common-law wife and had quite a colorful history of her own, albeit one that she mostly wanted to be kept quiet.  She was the daughter of a Prussian Jewish couple and spent her early years in New York where she acquired her distinctive accent.  The family moved to San Francisco in 1870 when Josephine was ten.  She later ran away from home and became (among other things), an actress and dancer before she met Wyatt.  Our reviewer is finding it to be a very interesting account of a woman and an era.  He also is intrigued by a different view of Wyatt Earp than is usually encountered.

The Richard Burton Diaries is a compilation of the private diaries of the British actor starting from his teenage years up until 1983. Burton wrote of his daily life, including his encounters with other celebrated folk but our reviewer says there aren’t a lot of juicy details.  There are, however, many accounts of bodily functions.  All in all, it’s an unvarnished look at an acclaimed actor who struggled with insecurity and jealousy while remaining a sharp observer of the world. Editor Chris Williams supplies annotations to flesh out some entries.

Finally, Jud brought in Barnaby by Crockett Johnson. Today Johnson is best known as the author of the Harold and the Purple Crayon books, but a decade earlier he had a small but avid following for his strip Barnaby whose fans included Dorothy Parker and Louis Untermeyer.  Barnaby is a little boy who has a fairy godfather—a short, stubby, somewhat inept, cigar-chomping, Irish fairy godfather named Jackeen J. O’Malley who is given to exclaiming “Cushlamochree!”   Barnaby’s parents believe he’s making this all up, of course, even after Mr. O’Malley decides to run for Congress.  The campaign is still believable today, even though the strips ran in 1942. 

Monday, November 18, 2013

Judging a Book By Its. . . Title

Comments by Jeanne

While not as popular as judging a book by its cover, book titles can help make or break a book.  Some are just so nondescript they’re forgettable which is why I can’t remember any just now.  Other titles are so popular that they’ve been used repeatedly by many authors.  If someone asks for The Search or The Quest or The Rescue, there are many possibilities.  Is it The Search by Nora Roberts, Grace Livingston Hill, Iris Johansen, or Jerry Jenkins?  Even saying that it’s an Amish story only helps a little, because there are books by that title by both Suzanne Woods Fisher and Shelley Gray Shepard.

A few years back I remember great confusion over two “big” books due out, one by Douglas Preston& Lincoln Child and the other by Patricia Cornwell.  Both were entitled The Book of the Dead. One was delayed in publication for a few months and I always wondered if it was because of the titles. 

Then there are the titles based on famous poems or phrases.  Just take a look for the lines of “Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening” and you’ll find books entitled And Miles To Go, Miles to Go, Promises to Keep, and Before I Sleep.  There are variations galore on “Now you see me/him/her,” quotations from Shakespeare, the Bible, popular songs, and nursery rhymes.

Then there are great titles that become classics but do have the potential to mislead readers. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is certainly in that category because it baffled readers  hoping to repair their Harley; To Kill A Mockingbird is not a guide to hunting; and nobody knows what A Catcher in the Rye is.

On the other hand, there are some that sound so intriguing that one wants to read the book just to see if it can possibly live up to that title or to at least find out what the heck it means.  Here are some of my favorites:

If I’d  Killed Him When I Met Him by Sharyn McCrumb

Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

I Still Miss My Man (But My Aim Is Getting Better) by Sarah Shankman

When In Doubt, Add Butter by Beth Harbison

Maybe He’s Just a Jerk by Carol Rosen

He’s Just Not That Into You by Greg Behrendt

So Long, And Thanks for All the Fish by Douglas Adams

Beware the Naked Man Who Offers You His Shirt by Harve Mackay

Mama Makes Up Her Mind and Other Dangers of Southern Living by Bailey White

Saturday. . . My Day to Wear the Underwear! by Allen Jennings has a title that both intrigues and hints at what it was like to grow up in "'old' Fries, Virginia."

Finally, there’s the great title which prompted this column:  Chose the Wrong Guy, Gave Him the Wrong Finger by Beth Harbison.

Kristin favors titles by Lewis Grizzard, especially Elvis Is Dead and I Don’t Feel So Good Myself.  She also likes The Grass is Always Greener Over the Septic Tank by Erma Bombeck and Monsters Eat Whiny Children by Bruce Eric Caplan.

And, at a recent meeting of the Nevermore Book Club Jud serendipitously presented a book about craft beer-making which he said he had picked up because of the title:  The Audacity of Hops by Tom Acitelli.

Does anyone else have a favorite title?

Friday, November 15, 2013

Nevermore Visits Paris, Snail Shell Cave, the Appalachian Trail, and Earth

Paris by Edward Rutherfurd continues his line of fascinating novels of one place over a long span of time, telling the story though families of various social classes—some real, some fictional.  This novel covers about 800 years, including the construction of Notre Dame, the court at Versailles, the rise of the impressionists, the Nazi occupation, and the 1968 student revolt.  His other books include Sarum, London, and New York.  Jud compared him to James Michener; Ken Follett has also done a similar structure with his recent historical novels.
A more current and much more satirical look at the world comes via Matt Haig’s The Humans, a science fiction novel in which a member of an alien race comes to Earth to prevent humans from solving a mathematical equation which will allow them to make huge technological leaps.   To accomplish his task, the alien murders  a leading mathematician and assumes his identity, or tries to.  It seems there’s a great deal about humans that he doesn’t know and that includes how one should act with one’s family.  Our reviewer found the premise fascinating and particularly enjoyed the commentary on human society. The book is funny, touching, and thought-provoking, and is recommended. Haig is an award-winning British author.

David Miller was a software engineer with a good job and a young family when he decided to take a break and fulfill a dream.  With his family’s support, he set out to walk the over 2000 miles of the Appalachian Trail.  The resulting book of his adventures, AWOL on the Appalachian Trail, has been praised for its honesty and attention to detail.  Many have said his book encouraged them to try the trail on their own, though Miller himself has expressed some surprise that they found blisters, injuries, and exhaustion to be so inspirational.  Other reviewers have praised the book for striking the right balance between practical advice and personal revelation.  The title is a bit of a play on words, since Miller’s trail name was Awol. Jud found it to be interesting, entertaining, and informative.  

Another book which caught Jud’s eye also is a play on words.  Tom Acitelli’s book on beer is entitled The Audacity of Hops. After the groans died away, Jud explained that the book covers the transformation of American beer culture from one or two national brands such as Schlitz or Pabst into a nation craving variety and microbrews.  In fact, the microbrew glamour was so potent that some of the large breweries bought or created their own “microbreweries” such as Coors’ Blue Moon.   A similar phenomenon occurred when Starbucks made coffee connoisseurs of part of the population, creating a demand for specialty coffees and making old standby brands seem outdated.

Finally, Snail Shell Cave by Larry Matthews and Bob Biddix is a gem of a book about a cave in Rutherford County, Tennessee.  The book was published by the National Speleological Society and details the layout of the cave inasmuch as possible, considering that much of it is under water.  There are some wonderful photos that made the more claustrophobic attendees shudder. Cavers—and there are a lot in this area—would relish this book, while armchair spelunkers will enjoy the chance to explore the cave from a much warmer, drier, and safer vantage point.

The Nevermore Book Club meets every Tuesday at 11:00 am in the Frances E. Kegley Conference Room.  Coffee is available and doughnuts are provided by the Blackbird Bakery.  Everyone is welcome!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light, by Patrick McGilligan

Reviewed by William Wade

If you like the films of Alfred Hitchcock you will love the book Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light, by Patrick McGilligan.  It is not only the latest study of the man; it is the best.  But be warned: it is not a small book.  It takes all of 800 pages to cover his life story and analyze his films.  One good way to approach it is to select one of your favorite Hitchcock films, as “Psycho” or “Rear Window,” look it up in the index, and then read what McGilligan has to say about its making.  And just as you can’t eat one M&M without wanting another, you’ll be reading about another film, then another and so on.

What makes McGilligan’s book so appealing is that he approaches his topic with the same thoroughness that was characteristic of Hitchcock’s preparation.  “Hitch,” as he was known, developed each film thoroughly in his own mind down to the last detail before the cameras were turned on.  He wanted every scene nailed down, in some virtually every frame.  In “Psycho” Janet Leigh plays the role of a working girl from Phoenix, Arizona, who steals from her boss.  Hitchcock sent a crew to Phoenix to photograph streets and typical residents; he even photographed closets and wardrobes to be certain that Janet Leigh was a typical working girl of Phoenix.  In “Rear Window” there were thirty-one apartments which could be seen in the courtyard from the windows where Jeff (Jimmy Stewart) sat with a broken leg.  Hitchcock fully furnished twelve of these with their own independent stories, and that became a great appeal of the movie.  Hitchcock had his favorite actors and actresses – Cary Grant, Jimmy Stewart, Grace Kelly, Kim Novak, and others - and his method of direction was to assume that they had sufficient intelligence and ability to pay their rolls properly without much hands-on direction from him.  He expected to have a camaraderie of understanding with his actors that made detailed direction unnecessary. 

Those only familiar with his American films need to be told that Hitchcock, born in England in 1899, had an illustrious career as director there with more than forty films to his credit before coming to challenge Hollywood about the beginning of World War II.  One might have thought he would have been welcomed with open arms, Hollywood moguls competing with each other for a chance to sign him up.  Not so: he paid his own travel costs in coming to America and through the years found Hollywood producers far less than accommodating.  But he persisted, and the golden years from 1945 to 1965, with films as “Saboteur,” “Lifeboat,” “Spellbound,” “Notorious,” “The Paradine Case,” “Strangers on a Train,” “Dial M for Murder,” “Rear Window,” “To Catch a Thief,” “Vertigo,” “North by Northwest,” and “The Birds,” made Hitchcock legendary.

All in all this is a grand and masterful study, so don’t be surprised if you find yourself reading all 800 pages before putting it down.   You’ll relish McGilligan’s commentaries on the films that are familiar to you, and you will find delight in reading about those made in England during his early years.  And you’ll seek out these lesser known films, not satisfied until you have mastered the complete repertoire.

 Our guest reviewer, Dr. Wade, is an active member of the Nevermore Book Club.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Nevermore: Athena Doctrine, Nicholas Sparks, Lee Smith, & Googled

Jud began an intense discussion of changing gender roles by mentioning The Athena Doctrine: How Women (And the Men Who Think Like Them) Will Rule the Future by John Gerzema and Michael D’Antonio.  These two male authors surveyed 64,000 people in thirteen countries and discovered that two thirds of all surveyed thought the world would be improved if men approached life more like women.  Examining attributes that are traditionally perceived to be either masculine, feminine, or neutral, the authors analyzed the opinions of the survey respondents and then wrote each chapter about a particular country or group of countries.  Most of the Nevermore members concurred with the premise that societies that enable women will have more success in the future.

One Nevermore reader was pleasantly surprised by The Longest Ride by Nicholas Sparks.  This is the intertwined story of two men:  ninety-one year old Ira Levinson, trapped in his car after an accident; and a young rodeo rider named Luke.  While waiting for help, Ira hears his dead wife, Ruth, encouraging him and reminding him of events in their life together.  When Luke is injured, he also is encouraged by college girl Sophie.  Set around Wake Forest, North Carolina, readers are treated to the flavor of this region.  Although there are two distinct story lines, Sparks manages to weave them together by the conclusion of the book.  Our reader enjoyed this book and said she did not find this book as “fluffy” as most of Sparks’ other books.

Another reader is currently involved in Guests on Earth by Lee Smith, a novel set in an Asheville, North Carolina mental institution in 1936.  Thirteen-year-old Evalina Toussaint meets and is influenced by the Highland Hospital’s famous patient, Zelda Fitzgerald.  Our reader said this was a commentary on the very different kind of treatment provided for mental illness in the past.

Another non-fiction read was introduced by Jud was Googled: The End of the World as We Know It by Ken Auletta.  This book has an emphasis on artificial intelligence and specifically how Google has risen to be a powerful influence in how we all find information, as well as how Google has managed to make itself profitable through a new model of advertising.  Discussion included comments on how sometimes you need a human being to help you find a more obscure, but more relevant, result.

Reported by Kristin

Friday, November 8, 2013

Magic’s Pawn, by Mercedes Lackey

Reviewed by Holly White
In the first Valdemarian book, Arrows of the Queen, Talia reads a book of ancient legends about Vanyel, the greatest of all the Herald Mages.  In Magic’s Pawn, Mercedes Lackey begins a trilogy which will tell Vanyel’s story, set centuries before the events in Arrows.
Vanyel was the firstborn son of holdowner Withen, destined to take over rulership of the hold after his father.  But it was the last thing Vanyel wanted to do.  Withen and his swordmaster Jervis tried to train Vanyel to war, but Vanyel had no talent for such things.  His dream was to become a Bard or at least a minstrel.  Ultimately, Jervis broke Vanyel’s arm during training, temporarily, at least, putting a stop to either future.  Once he was healed, Vanyel was sent away in disgrace to Haven, the capital of Valdemar, to stay with his aunt, a Herald named Savil.
In Haven, several important things happened.  Vanyel was allowed to be educated, even in music, but found that he had no Gift for Barding.  Disheartened to have his dreams snatched away, he came to depend more and more on his romantic relationship with Herald Tylendel to feed his self-esteem.  Vanyel was a bit jealous of the bond between Tylendel and his Companion.  He also had trouble comprehending why someone would want to be a Herald in the first place.  Tylendel tried to explain the virtue of putting others before oneself and fighting for them, but to no avail.
Then Tylendel’s cousin involved Vanyel in the intrigues of a long-standing family feud, and tragedy upon tragedy ensued, culminating in Herald Tylendel being repudiated by his Companion, something which had never happened before. Unable to deal with being repudiated,Tylendel committed suicide leaving Vanyel bereft beyond belief.
However, with Vanyel’s bereavement came a blessing; he was Chosen by Companion Yfandes, giving him the incredible love and acceptance of a Companion of his own.  However, at the moment of Tylendel’s death and Vanyel’s Choosing, also came the awakening of all Vanyel’s mage Gifts.  Most Heralds had one or maybe two strong Gifts; Tylendel’s four Gifts had been rare, but now Vanyel had them all.  Having these Gifts come upon him so strongly and all at once, without training to shield himself, Vanyel’s mind was now a raw, aching grief with no one strong enough to give him the healing he needed.  With no training to shield others from the power of his Gifts, he was also now a danger to others. 
Savil took Vanyel away from Haven, to some mage friends for healing and training.  With time, Vanyel’s mind and emotions began to heal, but he still resisted the idea of being a Herald.  Then a nearby village was attacked and Vanyel was the only available protection for the innocent villagers.  But the foe was a stronger one than even his teachers had ever had to face, and Vanyel would have to call upon powers that no one, least of all himself, suspected that he had. 
Magic’s Pawn is, so far at least, the earliest book chronologically in the Valdemarian world.  It is the first in a The Last Herald-Mage Trilogy, and is followed by Magic’s Promise, and Magic’s Price.  I would recommend this book for adults or young adults who love stories of adventure, magic, and peril.  My next review will be for Magic’s Promise, which continues the tale of Vanyel and his adventures.
 Note:  Holly's introduction to the world of Valdemar can be found here.
For earlier reviews, please check the entries for the first Friday of each month. 

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Nevermore: Zealot, Crime of Privilege, Alzheimer's Prevention

 Zealot:  The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth by Reza Aslan has been a much anticipated book with Nevermore readers. Aslan has said that his intention was to place Jesus in the context of the times in which he lived in an effort to understand how he was viewed at the time rather than relying on later texts, written long after the Crucifixion. The book is about historical facts and records, not about faith. Since historical records about Jesus are relatively sparse outside of the Gospels, much of the book is about the region and cultures of the time with an emphasis on the political situation.  The area was under Roman rule at the time with Herod as King of Judea.  There were a number of “messiahs” whose mission was to deliver the country from Rome and Roman influence.  According to Aslan, the term “messiah” at the time had much more of a political connotation instead of a religious one; a “zealot” was both nationalistic in wanting a Jewish state without foreign influences and religious in promoting the belief in one God who rules over all. Some of these zealots used violence against the Roman and Jewish establishments in an effort to further their goals. Our reader said that the book wasn’t an easy read, especially for the devout, but did find it to be interesting and informative. 

The novel Crime of Privilege by Walter Walker is about a young lawyer, George Beckett, who is contacted by the father of a murder victim.  The case was never solved. Beckett agrees to look into the case, only to find there are hints that there may be a connection to the powerful and wealthy Gregory family who controls much of Cape Cod.  There are personal considerations as well:  Beckett owes his job to the Gregory family. Our reader was underwhelmed with the book, saying it was too predictable.

Alzheimer’s Prevention Program by Gary Small and Gigi Vorgan uses the latest scientific research to design a program to help prevent or at least delay symptoms.  While genetics are responsible for some cases, Small and Vorgan argue that diet, exercise, stress relief, proper rest, and mental stimulation can help boost the brain. Timing is crucial; one shouldn’t wait until symptoms manifest to start their program.  Our reviewer found the book interesting, informative, and very accessible.  The degree of anxiety people have about dementia can be gauged by how many people were taking notes!

Monday, November 4, 2013

The Whole Enchilada by Diane Mott Davidson

Reviewed by Kirstin

Diane Mott Davidson has created her own little universe in Colorado with the Goldy Schulz series.  Goldy, a caterer, has the usual amateur sleuth habit of sticking her nose where it does not belong, and often endangering herself as a consequence.  After the first couple of books in the series, she marries Tom Schulz, local policeman (thus freeing herself from the unfortunate appellation “Goldy Bear”, owner of  Goldilocks Catering, “where everything is just right.”)

The Whole Enchilada is the 17th installation featuring Goldy Schulz.  In this outing, Goldy’s old friend Holly collapses and dies immediately following a birthday party for their teenage sons.  Holly had been part of their support group—dubbed “Amour Anonymous—for abused wives along with Goldy and Marla.  Soon, Goldy is digging through their past memories, as well as interviewing hairdressers from more than a decade earlier.  Goldy herself is put in danger as she is injured by someone’s sabotage, then physically attacked, and then someone who looks like her is killed.

I don’t recall that Holly was ever mentioned in any of the earlier books, so it was a little strange to have a new character show up who had obviously been important to Goldy in the past.  This was just one of the things that I felt the author was trying to layer on to Goldy’s history, in order to have one more acquaintance, friend, or business associate to be murdered (thus making Goldy’s emotion and involvement in solving the crime slightly more believable.)

I found it a little hard to believe that Goldy had actually taken notes during the “Amour Anonymous” meetings, therefore leaving a written record that she could now try to reconstruct into clues as to who might have wanted Holly dead.  This seemed like an awkward device to introduce clues as Goldy and Marla are digging through old notebooks in Goldy’s basement.  Other clues are disclosed by riddles that Holly had woven into her artwork.  It just seemed a little far-fetched to have these clues sitting in plain sight just waiting to be interpreted.

Of course, Goldy always gets her crook, being given leeway by her law-enforcement husband and all others around her.  This is not a spoiler, just what readers can always expect from Goldy.

While not giving too much away, I will say that the end of the book ties up several story lines and takes Goldy through some major life changes.  Of course this makes me wonder if this could be the end of the series.  Could this be true?  Perhaps it is time for Goldy to live happily ever after as the sun goes down on her Colorado town.  Perhaps she is simply beginning a fresh chapter in her sleuthing life.  Loyal fans will just have to wait and see.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Nevermore: Bell, Bristol House, Accursed and Suburbs

Genius at Work:  The Life and Times of Alexander Graham Bell by Dorothy Harley Eber was counted as quite a find by one of our Nevermore members.  While Bell is best known as the inventor of the telephone, he had a wide variety of interests in the sciences.  At his summer home in Nova Scotia, he had a small laboratory build so he could work on his many projects.  This book includes interviews with former employees and neighbors as well as information from family journals and letters.  Best of all, there are many splendid photos of Bell with some of his interests: hydrofoils, aircraft, etc.  There are also a number of family photos.  Our reviewer thought it was a marvelous introduction to a multi-talented man.  The book comes highly recommended.

The End of the Suburbs:  Where the American Dream Is Moving by Leigh Gallagher takes a look at how economic and societal changes are changing our communities. For years, the ideal was the house outside the city with a yard and lots of space. The result was a loss of walking communities, leading to traffic jams and congestion as people had to drive to their destinations instead of walking or taking public transportation.  Now smaller families, cost of transportation in both time and money, and an aging population are reversing that trend, leading people back into the cities. While Gallagher uses numbers and statistics to back up her assertions, she also introduces the reader to real people who explain the changes in lifestyle.  The book is a fascinating look at where we’ve been and where we’re headed told in a style that’s both thoughtful and entertaining.

While the novel Bristol House  by Beverly Swerling sounds as if it might be local, it’s actually set in London where Anne Kendall has been hired to locate several pieces of ancient Jewish artifacts that disappeared centuries earlier, during the reign of Henry VIII.  She rents a flat in Bristol House, and comes to believe that she’s being haunted by the ghost of a monk.  With its blend of history, mystic touches, romance, and ancient shady organizations, our reviewer felt it read more like a Dan Brown novel than anything else.  She did finish the book because she wanted to know what happened but was less than taken with the supernatural elements.

Another novel with supernatural elements is Accursed by Joyce Carol Oates.  Princeton, New Jersey  in the Gilded Age appears to be a genteel town but there are dark forces at work. Daughters of the town’s elite are disappearing, and there’s a strange, vaguely European stranger hanging around.  The book is termed a Gothic and is peopled with some famous characters such as Woodrow Wilson and Jack London. How much you like this novel may hinge on how well you like Oates’ work.

The Nevermore Book Club meets every Tuesday at 11:00 AM in the Frances E. Kegley Conference Room upstairs.  Doughnuts from the Blackbird Bakery are served!