Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Nevermore: Kurt Vonnegut, Bernard Cornwell, Julia Whitty, Christopher Scotton, Joe Nesbo, Hope Jarhen

Reported by Ambrea

This week, our readers started with Timequake by Kurt Vonnegut.  As read from the cover synopsis, “At 2:27 p.m. on February 13th of the year 2001, the Universe suffered a crisis in self-confidence.  Should it go on expanding indefinitely?  What was the point?”  Suddenly, the Universe stops expanding and contracts, before promptly expanding once more, causing a shift in the time stream.  The whole world is set back ten years and, under the guidance of science-fiction writer Kilgore Trout everyone must relive every minute of every day just the same as they did—even if it means marrying the wrong person, committing a crime, or making the very same mistakes.  Our reader greatly enjoyed Vonnegut’s novel, calling it a frenetic collection of his stories, his nuggets of wisdom, and his jokes.  “[This book is] not so much a unified thread story as a collection of stories, beliefs…[and more] that Vonnegut shares,” he said of Timequake.  It’s an unusual novel, but it’s easily enjoyable and full of Vonnegut’s renowned sense of humor.

Next, our readers looked at a brand new title to the library:  The Secret Wisdom of the Earth by Christopher Scotton.  A distinctly Southern tale, The Secret Wisdom of the Earth tells the story of Kevin, who, after the unexpected loss of his younger brother, is forced to spend the summer at his grandfather’s home in Medgar.  Stuck in a small mining town in the Kentucky mountains, Kevin becomes fast friends with Buzzy Fink and finds himself rallying with the rest of the town to stop the local coal company from destroying another mountaintop.  Our Nevermore reader said she enjoyed Scotton’s latest novel.  She said it was just the sort of book she liked, having an interesting story and being fun to read.  Overall, she enjoyed her time with The Secret Wisdom of the Earth and recommended it to other readers at the meeting.

Skipping from rural Kentucky to medieval England, our Nevermore readers discussed The Last Kingdom by Bernard Cornwell.  Uhtred, a dispossessed nobleman, stars in a central role in the conflict between the Danes and Alfred the Great.  After seizing three of England’s four kingdoms, the Danes are poised to attack Alfred’s last stronghold—and Uhtred finds himself caught in the middle of the battle, forced to choose his original homeland or the Danes who captured and, subsequently, raised him as a child.  Cornwell’s novel received a positive review from our Nevermore reader, who, as a lover of historical fiction, said she enjoyed reading The Last Kingdom.  However, she also said it had “more battles than I [could] handle” and, as the first in a long series of books by Cornwell, it was a little more of a commitment than she wanted.

Next, our readers abruptly switched gears and jumped straight into A Tortoise for the Queen of Tonga by Julia Whitty.  Featuring a collection of short stories about the natural world—a forlorn tortoise who is forced to live with human beings, a lion caught in the midst of an animal safari, a pair of orcas at Ocean World who stage a revolt—and humankind, Whitty’s book is a compilation of animal and human interactions that don’t always go as planned.  Thanks to twenty years of experience in making nature documentaries, Julia Whitty has funneled her creativity into a whimsical and intriguing hodgepodge of tales.  Our reader said she really enjoyed A Tortoise for the Queen of Tonga, explaining that she really enjoyed the interplay of characters and the emotional impact behind each story.

In the same vein as A Tortoise for the Queen of Tonga, which examines the natural world through its interactions with mankind, Hope Jarhen’s Lab Girl explores the natural world through a scientific viewfinder—through a biologist’s eyes.  In her memoir, Jahren recounts her childhood in Minnesota to a Scandinavian family that was both traditional and modern (a mother with uncompromising expectations, and a father who fostered her interest in science), her love of biology, and her unexpected relationship with a brilliant man named Bill, who eventually became her lab partner and her best friend.  Our Nevermore reader was thrilled with her advanced reader’s copy of Lab Girl and highly recommended it to her fellow book club members, saying it was a wonderful opportunity to view science from the female perspective.  It’s definitely worth reading, she added one final time.  (Side note:  Hope Jahren’s Lab Girl is set for publication in April 2016.)

Last, our readers looked at The Bat by Jo Nesbø.  Harry Hole, an investigator for the Oslo Crime Squad, is dispatched to Australia to observe a case:  the murder of a twenty-three-year-old Norwegian celebrity who met an untimely end in Sydney.  Befriending the lead detective on the case, Harry finds himself being drawn into the investigation, pulled toward a killer who has managed to go undetected for years without discovery.  As an ardent fan of Nesbø’s work, our reader had high hopes for the first book of the Inspector Harry Hole series; however, she found herself unexpectedly disappointed.  She couldn’t figure out how the characters all managed to come together and, moreover, she didn’t quite understand why Harry became involved at all—or why it felt more like a travelogue than a suspense novel.  “And it was funny.  Jo Nesbø isn’t [supposed to be] funny,” she pointed out.

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