Friday, January 30, 2015

The Lady and Her Monsters: a Tale of Dissections, Real-Life Dr. Frankensteins, and the Creation of Mary Shelley’s Masterpiece by Roseanne Montillo

Reviewed by Christy H.

The pull-quote on the cover of my edition of this book states that it “rattles enjoyably through a lurid and restless landscape.” I completely agree – mainly because the verb “rattles” conjures up visions of a rickety old roller coaster whose course you cannot predict. Montillo swings from the real-life “mad scientists” who spent their evenings grave robbing (or hiring someone to do it for them) to Mary’s scandalous love affair with Percy Shelley to even an erupting volcano in 1815! Back and forth, crisscrossing along the way, it’s somewhat difficult to get your bearings. So many names were thrown at me I often wondered if I should start taking notes just to keep them straight.

While I can’t say anything specifically needed to be edited out (I enjoyed every tidbit I read), it certainly would’ve benefited for some kind of organization. Some parts were needlessly messy and confusing. On more than one occasion Montillo skipped over the death of one of Mary’s children only to bring it up later in the book in regards to her depression. Or possibly it was the same child’s death she was referring to a few times, it isn’t clear. I still don’t know how many children Mary had in all. (One survived into adulthood.)

            That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy this book. It’s very enjoyable for anyone who takes an interest in science, literature, horror, history, science fiction, or just celebrating talented women and their work – pretty much something for everyone. It begins by alternating between Mary Shelley’s childhood and the popular science experiments of the time. (Hint: they involved cadavers and electricity.) From there, it tumbles through the history of these experiments and the history of Mary - taking detours for mini biographies on Percy Shelley, Lord Byron, and principal others. While convoluted at times, it is a fun little read, especially for fans of Frankenstein. Speaking of which, that aforementioned volcano in 1815 caused intense weather anomalies in 1816 - including the severe thunderstorm that kept Mary, Shelly, Byron and company holed up in a house on a lake with nothing much to do except tell ghost stories. Mary’s story, legend tells, eventually became the classic novel Frankenstein.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Nevermore: Story of the Jews, Invisible histosry, Dreadful Deceit, Google, and Outsmarting Criminals

The Story of the Jews by Simon Schama is a companion book to the PBS/BBC series of the same name.  Both cover the history of the Jewish people from the beginning to 1492 with the opening up of the New World to Europeans.  Schama is a well-regarded historian who has the knack of making history easily accessible to the non-historian.   He blends history, culture, and art into his telling, and uses personalities to really bring the telling to life.  Our reader is now in the section on the Middle Ages in Europe, which he says is “a bad time and a bad place to be a Jew.”  One of the central questions dealt with in the book is what does it mean to be Jewish?

This led into the next book entitled The Invisible History of the Human Race by Christine Kenneally which asks some of the same questions.  How much of our identity is DNA and how much is environment?  The book has made the round of several Nevermore readers, with mixed reviews.  Suffice it to say some chapters are more interesting than others.

A Dreadful Deceit:  The Myth of Race from the Colonial Era to Obama’s America by Jacqueline Jones theorizes that race is a myth, a social construct that blinds society to the real cause of inequality, locale and economic status.  She makes her argument by using the examples of six Americans of African descent who succeeded no matter the era and who defied stereotyping.  Our reader was not quite convinced but found the individual stories intriguing.

 Google:  How Google Works by Eric Schmidt, Google’s former CEO, and Jonathan Rosenberg , former Senior Vice President of Product, is a look behind the scenes at the building of  one of the world’s most fascinating companies.  Much of the book is devoted to the management principles of Google – allowing worker creativity, hiring innovative thinkers, the importance of evidence and knowledge, etc.  The book is accessible and entertaining as well as informative.

To quote the ever quotable Monty Python, “And now for something completely different.”  Miss Felicity Prim enjoys her job working for dear Doctor Poe and enjoys life in New York City right up until the day she is mugged.  She decides that the proper thing to do, after self-defense courses, is to move to a smaller town and embark on a new profession.  She has one in mind:  Criminal Outsmarter.  She’s read any number of detective stories and is fully knowledgeable of the expected accouterments: faithful animal companion, steady sidekick who can serve as comic relief, local constables who are pleased at having a civilian helper, etc.  She plans to start out small, with a missing person or perhaps a lost object and work her way up to more advanced crime solving, but her plans have to be changed when she discovers a dead body in a hidden basement of her new home.  The Outsmarting of Criminals  by Steven Rigolosi was a delightful book, according to Jeanne, full of lines that beg to be read aloud to someone but without ever becoming too precious.

Monday, January 26, 2015

The Search for Anne Perry by Joanne Drayton

Reviewed by Jeanne

In 1994, an up and coming young director named Peter Jackson decided to prove to critics that he could create movies that were more than "splatstick," horror films with dark humor.  As his subject, he chose a true life crime tale that shocked New Zealand fifty years earlier:  the Parker-Hulme murder in which teens Pauline Parker and Juliet Hulme had brutally beaten Pauline's mother to death.  The trial was a sensation.  The girls were found guilty and sentenced to prison.  Upon their release, they were given new identities and, according to some sources, told never to have any contact with each other. 

Jackson’s movie, "Heavenly Creatures," was a critical success.  It also brought up questions about where were these girls now.  Soon, one enterprising reporter found at least one answer.

Juliet Hulme was none other than the acclaimed murder mystery author Anne Perry.

Perry's editor was contacted.  She thought the tale preposterous and didn't hesitate to say so.  She also called Perry, who instead of laughing it off,  became very quiet.

Juliet Hulme had indeed been found.

In her book, In Search of Anne Perry, Drayton begins with Anne as an impoverished young writer, struggling to make her first sale.  She succeeds with a murder mystery set in Victorian times, The Cater Street Hangman, which turns out to be the first in a series of books starring Thomas and Charlotte Pitt.  Drayton details plots and themes of Perry's books, along with the struggles she has with her publisher.  Occasionally, there are glimpses of Perry's younger days in California and her conversion to Mormonism.  Then, about mid-way in the book, Drayton goes back and tells the story of the murder and its aftermath.  The rest of the book is divided between recapping book plots and how Perry handled the revelation.

I had been among those shocked when Perry's identity was revealed and had read a few articles about it.  I was curious, but I didn't want to read too much because of the sensationalism most pieces were employing.  This book is definitely not sensationalist.  Frankly, I thought it was too circumspect at first and I tired of reading plot summaries. I also realized that, while this wasn't listed as an authorized biography, there were photos which were from Anne Perry's collection, which meant that she was at least cooperating with the author.  I did feel that Drayton was trying to be fair but I also felt she was accepting Perry's contention that she had admitted her guilt, done her time, and repented so that should be an end to it. There were some curious omissions too; while much time was spent on recounting novel plots, little time was spent explaining the elaborate fantasy world that Parker and Hulme created. Some threads of the story seemed to be dropped, too; at least twice there is great excitement about one or more of the novels being turned into a movie or TV series, but in the end little comes of it.  ("Cater Street Hangman" was filmed as a possible start to a series but that never happened.  We are also told that it is Prince Edward's production company which is interested, and there is a meeting with the Prince.  What does this have to do with anything else?  I’m not sure. I did find it a bit odd that very little connection was made between this and the dreams of Hollywood the girls shared, planning to become starlets and write and direct all their films.)

I finished the book feeling most sorry for Pauline's family, which was torn apart by the murder and subsequent revelations. I was left wondering what became of Pauline’s father and siblings. I was also intensely curious about the movie "Heavenly Creatures," which Perry hated so much, sight unseen.  I bought a copy and watched it.  From what I read, Jackson's version followed the facts fairly closely and gave a better picture of the "Fourth World," the fantasy world created by the girls. 

The bottom line is that, while I'm glad I read the book, as far as I'm concerned the search for Anne Perry goes on.

Friday, January 23, 2015

I Work at a Public Library by Gina Sheridan

Reviewed by Meygan 

I will be honest with you all. I have loved the library ever since I was a child. That is why when I heard about a job opening at the Bristol Public Library, I was elated. However, I was a little apprehensive. I came from a car dealership where every minute was spent hustling and bustling over paperwork. Will there be enough to do? Will the minutes excruciatingly tick away? A week after working in a public library I decided that there will never be a boring day here. From the laugh-out-loud questions to the moments that have touched my heart, some of my best interactions with people have come from the library. That is why when I saw a book entitled  I Work at a Public Library, I knew I had to read it. 

I Work at a Public Library is a collection of anecdotes from Sheridan and others about working in a public library. Sheridan offers stories ranging from a humorous tale of a man needing books on different countries when really what he wanted was a book on Hawaii to sentimental stories about an 83 year old man and his quest for Krispy Kreme donuts.  The inspiration for the book was Sheridan’s favorite quirky patron Carol whose nickname was “Cuckoo”. To give you an idea of Carol, I will share two of my favorite Carol stories. When Carol is asked to check to see if she still has a DVD out that needs to be turned in, she replies, “I’d rather do two hundred million things than listen to you.” Also, when Carol hears that Sheridan will no longer be working at that particular library, she tells Sheridan that certain people there will miss her. When Carol is asked if she will miss Sheridan, she replies, “Maybe so. But don’t let it go to your head.” That, ladies and gentleman, are just a few moments that a librarian may experience on a typical day to day basis.

Another of my favorites was the patron who asked the librarian to please make a phone call for her and when she called, she reached Sexy Connections, where a person “can meet their soulmate or just have a good time!” To make matters even worse, the volume on the phone was so high that the whole library heard who the librarian had called. Another favorite was when a patron approached the librarian with a photo she had taken of a man’s “back side”. When the librarian asked if the man had mooned her, the woman replied, “No, he just had plumber’s crack. Big time, wouldn’t you say? Anyway, I didn’t want to have to be the one to tell him. I’m erasing this picture right now. You see me erasing it, right? I’m not a pervert!” While I have yet to be mooned or asked to call an adult hook up line, I already know to not say, “That will NEVER happen to me!” 

I joked with my co-worker that we should keep a list of everything funny and unusual that happens to us and post to a blog.  She said, “We don’t need to as it’s already been done!”  Sherridan’s blog is but there are several others including

Even if you do not work in a public library, I encourage you to read this book if you like reading short, funny conversations.  And if you do work in a public library then you may feel the joys and pain of Sheridan’s I Work at a Public Library!  If you are a library worker, past or present, why don’t you leave us a favorite story in the comments section?

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Nevermore: Money, Mozart, Earth from Space, Lila, and the Battle of Kursk

Reported by Meygan

Nevermore began with Money: The Unauthorized Biography by Felix Martin. Our Nevermore reader states this book starts out really interesting and raises the issue of what IS money. The beginning of the book begins with the theory of money from the point of view Adam Smith, John Locke, and even Aristotle. 

Mozart in the Jungle by Blair Tindall was discussed next. This is a memoir of a young woman who tries to make it as a classical musician in New York. This book isn’t as happy and hopeful as one would think. In it, the woman writes about how sometimes a person has to sleep with someone to get to the very top and yes, sometimes there are drugs involved when trying to become a famous musician. There is a TV series about this book with the same title. The Nevermore reader said, “I can’t believe I am saying this, but the TV series is better than the book!” He says it is because the characters in the TV series have some bit of admirableness to them while not so much in the book. He also said that if you are a parent of a young person who aspires to be a classical musician then you may end up taking their musical instrument away after reading this book!

Next was You Are Here: Around the World in 92 Minutes: Photographs from the International Space Station by Chris Hadfield. This book features pictures from all over the world that were taken from space. There are several lines of information about each picture, explaining where the picture was taken and some background information to the area. The reader said it is outstandingly different than what you’d expect. He said it could easily be read in a half hour or less and it features a map with a page number listed for where each picture was taken.

Lila by Marilynne Robinson was discussed next. In this novel, Lila, who is homeless, walks into a church to get out from the rain where she meets minister John Ames. They quickly fall in love and marry. But Lila’s past wasn’t always the easiest. When she was a toddler, she was stolen by a drifter who took her in as her own. While they do form a sisterly bond, there are dark moments too.  The Nevermore reader said this is a pitiful book and sad because they are gypsies who must steal everything in order to survive. Someone pointed out that the author writes non-traditional Christian fiction and can be compared to Flannery O’Conner because they both use faith to tell dark stories. The Nevermore reader said aside from the kind preacher, she didn’t get much faith out of it because it is such a dark book. (Note: the book takes place in Gilead, the setting of two of Robinson's previous books, Gilead  and Home.)

The last book discussed was Armor and Blood: The Battle of Kursk: The Turning Point of World War II by Dennis Showalter. This book was very much enjoyed, but we were warned that if we wanted just an overview of WWII then this book was not for us. This book is full of detail (lots and lot of detail!). There are pictures, so that does help those who need a break! The reader said he would argue that the Battle of Kursk wasn’t the turning point of the war, despite the title. The reader also brought along information about German and Russian casualties, tanks that were used, and other various information about the Battle of Kursk.