Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Nevermore: High School, Physics, Waking Lions, Laurie Frankel, Flower Moon, and Chimney Sweep

Reported by Ambrea

Nevermore started out with a look at Lindsey Lee Johnson’s debut novel, The Most Dangerous Place on Earth.  Johnson’s novel is a “kaleidoscopic narrative [which] exposes at every turn the real human beings beneath the high school stereotypes,” according to the book jacket.  The Most Dangerous Place on Earth tells the story of Abigail Cress, an Ivy League bound student who has an inappropriate relationship with her teacher; Dave Chu, a decent student being crushed by his parents’ expectations; Emma Fleed, a gifted dancer who parties as rigorously as she practices; Damon Flintov, a student just back from rehab who has something to prove; Calista Broderick, a popular student who shaped herself into a “hippie outcast”; and Molly Nicoll, an English teacher who struggles to connect with her richer, more privileged students.  Our reader said she found Johnson’s novel eye opening.  She thought it might be slightly exaggerated, given the obscene wealth of the characters; however, she considered it a very honest presentation of high school life and adolescent relationships.

Next, Nevermore switched to nonfiction with Storm in a Teacup:  The Physics of Everyday Life by Helen Czerski.  Czerski, a physicist who specializes in bubbles, offers a unique and unexpected perspective on daily phenomena, like how trees manage to “drink” water and why milk looks like it does when added to tea and why raisins cause carbonated lemonade to bubble.  Our reader thought Czerski’s book was very interesting.  He thought it was fascinating how the author was able to link complex concepts of the physical universe to the simple, almost humdrum daily routine most people lead.  He liked the simple discovers and, as a special treat, he showed his fellow readers how he was able to turn a glass upside down without spilling a single drop of water.  Using surface tension and a simple piece of cardboard, our reader was able to turn the fully filled water glass upside down and hold it, never spilling a drop.  Needless to say, we were all very impressed.

Nevermore also looked at Laurie Frankel’s latest novel, This is How It Always is.  Rosie and Penn have five children—all boys, all rambunctious—but, as time goes on, they discover that Claude, their youngest son, has dreams of being someone different.  He wants to be a girl.  Rosie and Penn are supportive of Claude, because they want him to be whoever he wants to be; however, they’re just not sure if they’re ready to share his secret with the world—and then, one day, it’s no longer a secret.  Our reader liked Frankel’s novel.  She wondered if this novel was slightly autobiographical, as the author also has a transgender child; however, she thought it was an interesting novel regardless.  She said it would make an excellent book club recommendation, because it would be so easy to find different perspectives on such a charged subject.

Next, Nevemore visited Ayelet Gundar-Goshen’s latest novel, Waking Lions.  A gripping story from beginning to end, Waking Lions tells the story of neurosurgeon Eitan Green and a deadly mistake that may cost him his family, his reputation, and, quite possibly, his life.  While speeding along a dusty, moonlit road after an exhausting day, Eitan hits someone, an African migrant, and then he leaves the scene.  The next day, the victim’s widow shows up on his doorstep with his forgotten wallet.  She doesn’t want money—she wants help, and she’ll have his if no other.  Although she hadn’t finished reading Waking Lions, our reader said it was an interesting novel.  It’s complex and it’s jarring; however, she did note that she’s “had it up to ‘here’ with all the guilt and angst.”

Nevermore revisited Killers of the Flower Moon:  The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann.  During the 1920s, the richest people in the world were the Osage Indian nation in Oklahoma after they received an unforeseen windfall from the oil discovered beneath their land.  But, one by one, the wealthy Osage were being picked off and investigators were murdered, before J. Edgar Hoover and a fledgling FBI became involved.  Our reader, like many others before her, thought Killers of the Flower Moon was interesting and unexpectedly captivating.  Written well and researched just as thoroughly, Grann’s book was an immediate hit with our current reader.  She said she was particularly entranced by the formation of the FBI.  She found it fascinating to see how more modern, according to the time, investigative techniques were used and how forensics—and Texas Ranger Tom White—influenced the floundering Bureau.

Last, Nevermore picked up Death of a Chimney Sweep, a Hamish Macbeth mystery by M.C. Beaton.  Set in isolated villages in northern Scotland, Death of a Chimney Sweep features Constable Hamish Macbeth investigating another mystery—this one the mysterious murder of Pete Ray, the affable, itinerant chimney sweep of the Scottish highlands.  Our reader loves Hamish Macbeth mysteries, and she was glad she had a chance to dive back into Beaton’s novels.  She said the story was “so light, so fast” and re-reading it was a “wonderful refresher.”  She highly recommended Death of a Chimney Sweep—or any other Hamish Macbeth mystery by M.C. Beaton—to her fellow mystery readers, especially if they were looking for an enjoyable, light mystery that borders on not-too-grisly.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Charlie All Night by Jennifer Crusie

 Reviewed by Ambrea

Allie McGuffey is a radio producer.  She’s the best in the business at WBBB, but when her boyfriend and WBBB’s prime-time radio DJ dumps her for a younger model, she’s furious—and, though she won’t say so aloud, heartbroken.  She decides she’s going to make a temporary DJ Charlie Tenniel into a star and, if there’s a little romance involved, she’s not going to say no.  Charlie, of course, has different ideas.  He’s not interested in becoming famous, even if he is interested in Allie.

When their fling starts blossoming into a full-blown relationship and Charlie starts getting some rave reviews in the community, both Charlie and Allie know things aren’t going quite like they planned.  And, as Allie gets her position back at the top radio producer at WBBB, she can’t help wondering what she’s going to do when Charlie’s time as temporary DJ is officially up?

I picked up Charlie All Night on a whim because I was interested in the story and I’d never read one of Jennifer Crusie’s books.  Two birds, one stone—right?  And I’m so glad I decided to read it, because I absolutely loved this book.

Charlie All Night is full of humor and heart.  Although I know Allie sets her eyes on Charlie for all the wrong reasons—and, on more than one occasion, I just know their romantic entanglement is going to blow up in their faces—I found their interactions both hilarious and heart-warming.  Allie and Charlie seem to get along well:  they fight and bicker like any couple, but they seem to harbor a genuine affection for one another.  They’re not afraid to laugh at one another’s failings or jokes, which I loved.

I liked how their relationship grew.  I mean, yeah, they sort of turn everything into a mess (if it isn’t Charlie accidentally publicizing their relationship over the air, then it’s Allie saying just the wrong thing to get her boss on her tail), but it’s just so funny how they manage to work together and, eventually, fall in love.

Personally, I enjoyed Charlie All Night and I had so much fun reading it.  I devoured it all in one evening, and I can’t wait to read more from Jennifer Crusie.

If I do have one complaint, it’s that I don’t really understand the secondary plot involved.  The real reason Charlie is visiting Allie’s town and posing as a temporary DJ at WBBB is because he’s secretly investigating the radio station and everyone in it; however, the plot line sort of gets pushed to the wayside.  Readers aren’t left hanging without a resolution, but it’s kind of secondary to Allie and Charlie’s relationship.  It doesn’t develop much, and I wasn’t very interested.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Man Overboard by J.A. Jance

Reviewed by Kristin

A computer hacker named Odin and an artificial intelligence called Frigg—what could go wrong in this scenario?  Odin does feel as powerful as a Norse god with goddess Frigg by his virtual side.  He is on a mission, and it will certainly end with death.

Roger McGeary is nervous about going on a cruise, but he begins to hit his stride with the older women surrounding him and eventually (with a little liquid courage) loosens up enough to enjoy himself.  Roger was the classic Dungeons and Dragons nerd in high school, where he and his friend Stu Ramey had their own little world, far from the popular kids and pretty much any girls.  Now they are both well-paid cybersecurity experts, even if still socially awkward.

Roger has come a long way from his childhood spent with an emotionally abusive mother.  As a teen, Roger’s family life spiraled downward.  After a suicide attempt, his mother even had him committed to a psychiatric institution for years.  Although Roger’s life has improved, a sudden burst of words across the screen of his phone shocks and sends him into crisis mode.

It turns out that Roger is not the only target of the hacker.  More lives are at risk as Odin preys on the weaknesses of others as well.

Although I prefer Jance’s Joanna Brady series (a woman sheriff in Arizona) and her J.P. Beaumont series (a private investigator in Washington state), I have grown fond of the characters in the Ali Reynolds books.  Ali and husband B. Simpson (just don’t call him by his first name: Bart) are a team working well together at their investigation firm High Noon Enterprises.  Stu Ramey and Cami Lee are the very talented hired help.  I really liked that we got to know Stu better in this book.  His character was given more layers through his childhood friend and family circumstances.  Cami seems to gain confidence as she jets around the world investigating what may have been a suicide.  Another interesting character is Leland Brooks, Ali’s longtime house manager, who may need to find a replacement for himself as he cares for a long term companion who has fallen ill.
The character of Frigg is also intriguing.  “She” is an artificial intelligence, an AI who begins to develop direction of her own as Odin’s thoughts and actions verge toward the dangerous.  The world of cybersecurity is portrayed well here without being too detailed for the average reader.

Man Overboard is the twelfth in the Ali Reynolds series.  I recommend starting at the beginning with Edge of Evil and getting to know Ali and her whole crew.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Nevermore: Midnight Sun, Small Great Things, How Will I Know You, and One Foot in Eden

 Reported by Kristin

Midnight Sun by Jo Nesbo was then praised as one of the author’s best books.  Ulf is hiding from a most dangerous drug lord called the Fisherman.  In the frozen far north, Ulf is taken in by a family deep in the woods.  The family allows him to stay in their cabin, gives him food, and even a weapon so that he may go out to hunt.  Our reader particularly liked the book because the story was communicated without showing a lot of graphic violence.

Nevermore continued with another novel:  Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult.  As usual, Picoult tackles difficult social issues in this gripping story of a labor and delivery nurse who saves a baby’s life when the child goes into cardiac arrest.  Most parents would be eternally grateful, but these parents are white supremacists who are not willing to have Ruth, the African American nurse, touch their baby.  The parents press charges, leading to a breathtaking trial.  Our reader said of Picoult, “She always has a zinger at the end.”

How Will I Know You? by Jessica Treadway takes place in a small town in New York where a high school senior is found dead.  What first appears to be a case of accidental drowning turns into a murder investigation when it’s discovered that she was strangled.  The local police chief suspects an African American graduate student who was having an affair with the girl’s mother.     The story is told from several different perspectives.  Our reader thought it was an okay book.

Last was One Foot in Eden by Ron Rash.  An Appalachian tale of crimes of passion set against a beautiful landscape, this Southern gothic murder mystery tells of love gone wrong.  Opening in the 1950’s but carried through to the 1973 dam construction and the subsequent flooding of the town, the story is told by various narrators.  Rash’s lyrical words created a strong story that our reader enjoyed very much.