Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Nevermore: Plains Across, Martian, North Korea, and More!

Reported by Ambrea

Our Nevermore Book Club journeyed far and wide this week.  Our readers revisited the Oregon Trail with The Plains Across by John D. Unruh Jr. and traveled to Mars in The Martian by Andy Weir, and even stopped over in North Korea in Without You, There is No Us by Suki Kim.  Although our group only was missing some regulars this week, there were still plenty of books and opinions to share.

One of our members has been reading a number of books about the Oregon Trail. This week it was The Plains Across:  The Overland Emigrants and the Trans-Mississippi West, 1840-1860 by John D. Unruh Jr. In this book, our reader said she had a unique opportunity to witness the activities of travelers and study what really happened on the Oregon Trail.  Unruh, who wrote The Plains Across as part of his doctorate dissertation, spent an entire decade compiling information on travelers and pioneer transportation and major trail events, compiling an incredible amount of information into a single, accessible volume.  Our Nevermore readers said it was more of a textbook than recreational reading, but she found it interesting even if she left it unfinished.  She has since decided that her curiosity with the Oregon Trail has been satisfied.

Next up was Without You, There Is No Us:  My Time with the Sons of North Korea’s Elite by Suki Kim, an English teacher who spent six months in North Korea under the leadership of King Jong-il in 2011.  In her memoir, Kim reveals her experiences at Pyongyang University of Science and Technology.  Three times daily, students would sing praises of the country’s leaders, which is where Kim finds the inspiration for her title:  Without you, there is no motherland.  Without you, there is no us.  Between extreme censorship guidelines and rigid religious/political regulations, the university was utterly claustrophobic for Suki Kim—and her memoir portrays these struggles of everyday life.  According to our reader, Kim’s memoir provided great insight into the educated social classes of North Korea; however, our reader couldn’t enjoy Without You, There Is No Us for the simple reason that it was going to have or did have grave repercussions for the individuals involved.  It cast everything into a negative light and North Korean officials don’t take kindly to any perceived criticism.

The first novel of the meeting was Buried Angels by Camilla Lackberg.  When Ebba was a baby, she was abruptly abandoned by her family in 1974; now married with children of her own in mind, she and her husband have returned to her hometown to make a fresh start—until an arsonist targets her house.  Detective Patrik Hedstrom and his wife, crime writer Erica Palck, are introduced to the case and discover that Ebba’s family might not be missing after all.  Our reader, who was a little more than halfway finished with the novel, said Buried Angels was “quite good.”  Filled with a multitude of characters—which made our reader wonder, “Is anyone in Sweden not in this book?”—and laced with intrigue, danger, and mystery, Buried Angels was highly recommended by our reader.

Likewise, The Martian by Andy Weir (which was just released as a movie on October 2) received some very positive reviews from our readers.  Chronicling the odyssey of Mark Watney, as he fights to survive the inhospitable terrain of Mars and return to Earth, The Martian is a tale of survival that reaches into the depths of the solar system—think of it as Castaway on Mars.  Our readers seemed to enjoy Weir’s novel.  Marvelously detailed and full of real theoretical physics, all made accessible by Mark Watney’s colorful explanations, The Martian was a thrilling ride.  It kept one of our readers on the edge of her seat.

Having read Gone Girl and Sharp Objects, one member decided to explore Gillian Flynn’s Dark Places.  Like her previous books, this novel is a psychological thriller that plays upon the darkest parts of human imagination.  The story, which our reader described as “pretty dramatic,” begins with Libby Day:  she was seven when her two sisters and her mother were murdered and, as the sole survivor, she testified in court that her brother, fifteen-year-old Ben, was the killer.  Twenty-five years later, she’s brought back to the case only to discover that the facts she believed as a child may no longer be true—and a killer may still be on the loose.  Our reader said she enjoyed Dark Places, much better than Sharp Objects; however, she still believes that Gone Girl is still Flynn’s best book.

Last, our readers discussed Descent by Tim Johnston.  Descent, which follows the disappearance of Caitlin Courtland and the disintegration of her family, was incredibly popular at one of our prior meetings.  Two of our Nevermore members really enjoyed Johnston’s novel, having only positive comments to make; however, our latest reader said she just couldn’t stay with it from beginning to end.  It had the potential to be a great novel, but she felt she just couldn’t sink into the story and stay hooked like some of our other readers.

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