Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Nevermore: Beavers, Dust, Magicians, DNA, and Truth

Reported by Ambrea

This week, Nevermore brought an assortment of new books to our meeting, including some wonderful things from our new shelves, and some interesting nonfiction about the natural world.  Kicking things off, one reader introduced a book by Hope Ryden titled Lily Pond:  Four Years with a Family of Beavers.  Our reader was especially excited about reading Lily Pond.  After having read it several years ago, she couldn’t wait to return.  She was thrilled with the prospect of revisiting a noted naturalist’s studies of these busy, busy beavers and the beavers—named Lily and Inspector General—themselves.  Written in the tradition of Jane Goodall, Lily Pond is an interesting (and sometimes amusing) account of the natural world and some of its more industrious workers.  She said it’s a great book to read and, pointing out the beaver family tree that charts Lily and Inspector General’s offspring, it’s highly informative.

Next, our reader returned to a book familiar to Nevermore, revisiting The Dust That Falls from Dreams by Louis de Dernières.  A sweeping epic that follows the McCosh, Pitt, and Pendennis families through the turmoil and trials of the Great War, The Dust That Falls from Dreams is a startling and immersive story that that traces the lives of these sons and daughters who find their lives turned completely upside-down.  Louis de Dernières’s novel received some very positive reviews in the last meetings, and our reader was likewise intrigued by the premise of the novel; however, she thought the “ending seemed tacked on.”  Although she enjoyed the novel as a whole, saying it was a lovely book that delved deep into family dynamics, she wasn’t entirely satisfied with its conclusion.

Switching gears, Nevermore looked at a lovely little fiction book called The Magician’s Assistant by Ann Patchett.  Sabine, who has spent the last twenty years as the wife and faithful assistant to the magician Parsifal, suddenly finds herself a widow and gripped by the realization that her husband’s family, which he claims to have lost in a tragic accident, is very much alive.  Reeling with the death of Parsifal and the discovery of a new branch of in-laws, Sabine finds herself taking a journey to unravel the mystery of her husband’s forgotten family, which will lead her from the sunny skies of Los Angeles to the windswept plains of Nebraska.  Our reader said, “It’s a pretty good book—I mean, it’s a very good book.”  He enjoyed the dynamic between the families, their dialogue and their interactions, and he liked the way the author played out a complicated situation.  It’s an enjoyable novel, he told the group, and he highly recommended it to other readers.

Our reader also introduced a brand-new nonfiction book to the meeting:  Herding Hemingway’s Cats by Kat Arney.  An in-depth study on DNA, specifically how in influences everything from eye color to cancer risks to predilections for alcoholism, Herding Hemingway’s Cats takes a long hard look at the DNA incorporated in all living cells and the “molecular switches” that tell genes when and where to work.  Our reader originally though the book was about cats (in particular, Hemingway’s curious feline polydactyls); however, he quickly discovered it’s actually about genetics in general.  Although he said he enjoyed most of the book, he noted that it’s very dense and sometimes difficult to understanding.  He found much of the information fascinating, but he didn’t read the entire book; rather, he picked out some of the “sweet stuff” to highlight for the other members of Nevermore and shared some fascinating facts about six-toed cats, unusual mutations, and lactose intolerance.

Last, Nevermore looked at a brand new novel by Annie Barrow titled The Truth According to Us.  During the summer of 1938, Layla Beck is given an ultimatum by her father, a senator:  get a job with the Federal Writers’ Project (a New Deal employment program released by Franklin Roosevelt), or else.  Left with no alternative, Layla quickly leaves on assignment for Macedonia, West Virginia.  She’s stuck with reporting the history of the remote mill town, a task she’s less than thrilled to receive; however, as she settles into Macedonia and meets the Romeyn family, she is quickly drawn into their complex world and realizes that her assignment is a little more complicated than she ever suspected.  Our reader thought Barrow’s latest novel was an intriguing mix of history and fiction, combining some of the best elements of both to create an engaging and fascinating story.  Overall, she thought The Truth According to Us was a good novel and recommended it to other readers.

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