Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Nevermore: Flower Moon, Blizzard, Octopus, Burntown, Tennis Partner, Liberia

Reported by Ambrea

This week, Nevermore kicked things off with Killers of the Flower Moon:  The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann.  During the 1920s, some of the richest people in the world belonged to the Osage Indian nation of Oklahoma after oil was discovered beneath their land—and then many members of the tribe began to die under mysterious circumstances.  When local investigators attempted to intervene, they were killed.  When the death toll cracked 24, the FBI picked up the case and, under the direction of J. Edgar Hoover, used some of the latest investigative techniques to uncover a blood chilling conspiracy of epic proportions.  Our reader said she considered Killers of the Flower Moon to be captivating book.  She was equally enthralled by the crime narrative and the history of the Osage people, both of which Grann portrays to great effect.  She noted the book contained many, many names, which might make it a bit confusing; however, she highly recommended it to her fellow Nevermore readers.

Next, we took a look at Blizzard! by Jim Murphy, a short book that detailed the history of the 1888 blizzard that swamped the northeast United States.  Our reader enjoyed reading Murphy’s book.  Although she’d originally found it in the juvenile section of the library, she said the book isn’t just for young readers.  It’s incredibly detailed and precise, offering glimpses into history through the use of newspaper articles, personal accounts, photographs, and illustrations.  She was most fascinated by the effects of the 1888 blizzard, which resulted in monumental changes to how people observe, track, and record weather and how individual cities reacted to massive storms.  She said she greatly enjoyed Murphy’s book, noting it had an impressive bibliography paired with an easy-to-read format that made it enjoyable and accessible.

Nevermore also explored Sy Montgomery’s latest book, The Soul of an Octopus:  A Surprising Exploration into the Wonder of Consciousness.  In her latest book, Montgomery immerses herself in the world of the octopus by visiting aquarium tanks in New England and reefs in French Polynesia and the Gulf of Mexico.  According to the jacket cover, “She…befriended octopuses with strikingly different personalities—gentle Athena, assertive Octavia, curious Kali, and joyful Karma.  Each creature shows her cleverness in myriad ways:  escaping enclosures like an orangutan; jetting water to bounce balls; and endlessly tricking companions with multiple ‘sleights of hand’ to get food.”  Our reader was particularly impressed by the intelligence of octopuses.  (And, yes, it is octopuses, not octopi, our reader assured us.  Octopus is Greek, so it get the –es at the end.)  She said they were fascinating creatures, and she noted that Montgomery provided so much information.  She highly recommended The Soul of an Octopus to our fellow readers, calling it interesting, informative, and entertaining.

We followed The Soul of an Octopus with Burntown by Jennifer McMahon.  Eva grew up watching her father invent strange, wonderful things; however, his greatest invention was one that he claimed came from Thomas Edison, a little machine that allowed one to speak to the dead.  But her father’s inventions can’t protect them for long.  In just one night, Eva loses her home, her father, and her brother and, together with her mother, she flees into the night.  Now hiding under the name Necco, Eva is still trying to put her past behind her—until her boyfriend is murdered and her mother disappears.  For Eva, the past can’t stay buried forever.  Our reader said she enjoyed reading Burntown.  The novel skipped around quite a lot, which sometimes confused her, but it had a good, psychologically complex story that kept her hooked from the first chapter.  She recommended it to her fellow mystery/suspense readers, saying it was well worth reading.

Next, Nevermore revisited The Tennis Partner:  A Doctor’s Story of Friendship and Loss by Abraham Verghese.  In this memoir, Verghese tells the story of his relationship with David Smith.  Verghese, who is weathering the implosion of his marriage, and Smith, a medical student recovering from drug addiction, begin a tennis ritual that gives them the unexpected freedom to share their deepest, most personal struggles.  Despite their intimate friendship, Smith and Verghese’s relationship is stretched to the limits when the addictions of David’s past rear their ugly head.  According to our reader, The Tennis Partner was a “very good book.”  Intimate, thoughtful, and insightful, Verghese’s memoir was beautiful heart-breaking and unexpectedly searing.

Last, Nevermore read Mighty Be Our Powers:  How Sisterhood, Prayer, and Sex Changed a Nation at War by Leymah Gbowee.  In 2003, Gbowee was trapped in a nightmarish marriage and caught in the midst of a violent Civil War that tore Liberia apart.  But Gbowee and other women refused to back down, organizing and leading the Liberian Mass Action for Peace, a coalition which organized Christian and Muslim women to sit in public protest against Liberian’s ruthless president and rebel warlords.  Our reader read Gbowee’s memoir in conjunction with Madame President:  The Extraordinary Journey of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf by Helene Cooper, diving right into the tumultuous history of Liberia.  She said both books were wonderful, but Gbowee’s memoir was heart-wrenching, hopeful, and incredibly interesting.  It was, our reader agreed with the cover, a “gripping chronicle of a journey from hopelessness to empowerment…”

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