Friday, March 1, 2024

The Lost Library by Rebecca Stead and Wendy Mass

 



Reviewed by Jeanne

When Al takes the last few remaining library books out of the store and puts them in a little free library, Mortimer is crushed.  There goes the last bit of his home, the place where he and his sister lived before disaster struck.  Alas, his cries are not understood—Al simply thinks the fluffy orange cat is hungry.  Besides, she is trying to take care of her friends—well, her supervisor who was the head librarian and one of the library patrons, but she’s very fond of both of them—and she misses the library.  That’s why she puts out the  library books, feeling that the books need to be read.

The little free library has an immediate effect on sixth grader Evan.  He is absolutely thrilled to find books, and takes two of them home.  He soon realizes that these are library books, but he’s never heard of a library in Martinville.  What could have happened, and why does no one want to talk about it?  Evan decides to open his own investigation into the matter.

This is a juvenile book, but as far as I’m concerned, a good story is a good story.  And I found this to be a particularly charming one. There are multiple viewpoints in the story, which enriched the tale.  I was charmed by it, and by the little surprises the author provided.  I did figure some things out somewhat quickly but that didn’t impair my enjoyment a bit. Mostly I liked the character interactions, people who care about one another, and what we will do for those we love.

I also was delighted by the description of the Wednesday Book Club, because it sounded very much like our adult Nevermore Book Club.  Members read whatever book they like and then tell the club about it. 

This may not be a book for every adult, but this adult ended up buying her own copy to keep.

Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Nevermore: Disc Golf, Speckled Beauty, Just One Damned Thing After Another, March Forward Girl

 


Nevermore, February 20, 2024

Reported by Kristin

One of our Nevermore members Zoomed in to meet with us, because she was out of town but still wanted to share with us the joy of Disc Golf, specifically The Definitive Guide to Disc Golf by Justin Menickelli and Ryan Pickens. Our reader explained that this book discusses a little of the sport’s history, starting in the late 1960s. Technique is also described, and all the advantages of the exercise, but her final comment was, “There are all these different nuances, but all I want to do it get it into the basket!” KM

Another reader picked up The Speckled Beauty: A Dog and His People by Rick Bragg. The author tells the story of Speck, a dog who was definitely not a good boy, yet helped heal Bragg in a time when he needed it most. Our reader enjoyed this book, noting that “this dog in is trouble non-stop!” WJ

Just One Damned Thing After Another interested another reader, as she immersed herself into the first of The Chronicles of St. Mary’s series by Jodi Taylor. Dr. Madeleine Maxwell seems to find herself in situations of not just studying history, but going back in time to revisit it. Our reader found that the time travel locales were extremely detailed, and she thinks that she will likely continue with the series. MH

Finally, a Nevermore member reviewed what she called “a very powerful book”—March Forward, Girl: From Young Warrior to Little Rock Nine by Melba Pattillo Beals. Written for young adults but suitable for all ages, this memoir from one of the Black students who desegregated Little Rock Central High School in 1957 is an incredibly moving view of the Civil Rights movement. MS

 

Also mentioned:

Nora Bonesteel’s Christmas Past by Sharyn McCrumb

The Last of the Moon Girls by Barbara Davis

This Impossible Brightness by Jessica Bryant

The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics by Daniel James Brown

Always Look Up by Michael J. Fox

And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie

Harvest by Catherine Landis

A Guide to Gardening with Southwest Virginia Plants

Around the World in 60 Seconds: the Nas Daily Journey: 1,000 Days, 64 Countries, 1 Beautiful Planet by Nuseir Yassin

The Dead Romantics by Ashley Poston

Twilight in Hazard: An Appalachian Reckoning by Alan Maimon

Monday, February 26, 2024

The Dead Romantics by Ashley Poston



Reviewed by Kristin

Florence Day escaped her small hometown of Mairmont, South Carolina, after years of being known as the funeral home director’s daughter who solved a murder at age thirteen with help from the victim’s ghost. Most of the adults in town and her fellow students thought that she was downright weird, or a liar. Florence ran to New York City and became a ghostwriter for famous romance author Ann Nichols. Her writing was respected and admired, even with another name on the cover. Florence was good at writing these love stories, until she was dumped and could no longer believe in love.

With a looming deadline, Florence goes to meet her new editor Ben Andor. Or shall we say, her extremely hot and sexy new editor. She goes into the meeting under the guise of being Ann Nichols’ assistant, and lacks the courage to ask if Ben knows that she is the actual author of Ann’s last several bestsellers. She leaves with a “message for Ann” that she has one more day to submit her latest manuscript, because promotion and printing schedules wait for no one.

Florence is in despair about her ability to finish the last scenes of the romance. Nothing rings true, but then tragedy interrupts and she is called home to Mairmont to bury her father. Suddenly, her deadline falls into the background.

Florence has a strict policy of ignoring ghosts, but once back at her family’s funeral home she sees a familiar shape. No, it’s not her father. That actually would be a bit of a relief while she is under the weight of grief missing him. It’s Ben Andor. Her editor is ghostly, and no longer in New York City, but in Florence’s southern hometown.

No spoilers here. All of this is pretty much covered in the jacket copy or the first chapters. Florence has several friends and family members who might be seen as a bit stereotypical, but mostly likeable. Reconnecting with her family and trying to carry out her father’s final wishes keep Florence busy, from breakfasts at Waffle House to the cemetery where she is definitely not supposed to be walking at night. And then there is Ben, who fades in and out of her vision with stunning regularity, who is turning out to be much kinder and relatable than he appeared in his New York office. Could it be that Florence is starting to believe in love again, with a ghost?

Before starting this review of The Dead Romantics, I made the mistake of checking Goodreads. It seems that readers either love this book, or hate it with a fiery passion. The first negative review was funny though, if you like the sort of review that rips every chapter apart with the kind of detail that tells you the reviewer paid a whole lot of attention to a book that they then claimed not to like.

I have enjoyed several of Ashley Poston’s books. She has written the Once Upon a Con young adult series, including Geekerella, The Princess and the Fangirl, and Bookish and the Beast. Also The Seven Year Slip, which I reviewed a few months ago. The Dead Romantics was Poston’s first foray into adult fiction. You definitely have to suspend your disbelief to fully enjoy Poston’s writing, but I have found it fun and worth my reading time.

P.S. I do have one issue with this book that cannot be overlooked. At one point in the days before the father’s funeral, the family goes out to the cemetery and takes great joy in scrubbing and power washing the headstones. If that was any kind of historic cemetery—which was implied—power washing would likely disintegrate the older stones. The proper tools and cleaning supplies, maybe. But not a power washer. Also, while you’re grieving and preparing a family member’s funeral? That was just a bit beyond my ability to believe.

Friday, February 23, 2024

Murderabilia: A History of Crime in 100 Objects by Harold Schechter

 


Reviewed by Jeanne

True crime exerts a strong fascination. Long before movies, television shows, podcasts, and internet sites catered to public interest, there were books, newspaper articles, pamphlets, and yes, even songs to immortalize murders, kidnappings, and other crimes.  In this book, author Schechter has an illustration of an item connected with the crime and puts it in context with a brief explanation.

The book is arranged chronologically, starting with the murder of Naomi Wise in 1808. The photo is of her tombstone, but the “object” is actually a murder ballad.  Her story became “Little Omie,” a song that has been recorded numerous times, including versions by Doc Watson, Bob Dylan, and Elvis Costello.  It follows a pattern that goes back centuries and has crossed continents, that of a young woman murdered by the man she loves.

The final entry in the book is from 2014, and shows a soil sample from the “Slender Man” site, where two school girls stabbed a friend.  The two had concocted the plan in order to prove themselves worthy to a fictitious internet creature. 

In between are items as varied as Al Capone’s rap sheet, the death mask of Burke (as in the infamous Burke and Hare), a message from the Black Dahlia killer, John Wayne Gacy’s business card, and the remains of a pressure cooker from the Boston Marathon bombing.  Most of the stories are from the U.S., though there are a few international ones as well.  The summaries run about two pages.   

Schechter has written several other true crime books, including Hell’s Princess (about the infamous Belle Gunness) and Ripped from the Headlines: The Shocking True Stories Behind the Movies’ Most Memorable Crimes so this is territory he knows well. 

 I will confess—no pun intended—that I didn’t read the entire book.  There’s a limit to the amount of real life murder I want to read in a sitting.  I did look up some cases, such as the Lindbergh kidnapping, just to see how Schechter described it. In a nutshell, he covered the evidence but acknowledged that in the years since there have been questions as to Hauptmann’s guilt.  He didn’t go into detail.

 If you are a true crime aficionado, this may be a good browsing book for you. 

Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Nevermore: Nettle & Bone, Absolution, The Rhine, Lessons in Chemistry

 Reported by Rita

Nettle & Bone by T. Kingfisher
To save her sister and topple a throne, Marra is offered the tools she needs if she completes three seemingly impossible tasks with the help of a disgraced ex-knight, a reluctant fairy godmother and an enigmatic gravewitch and her fowl familiar
.

This sci-fi fantasy is a really fun read! – CW        4.5 Stars        


Absolution by Alice McDermott
Sixty years after they lived as wives of American servicemen in early 1960s Vietnam, two women reconnect and relieve their shared experiences in Saigon in the new novel by the author of The Ninth Hour.

A wonderful book about friendship. - DC    5 Stars

 


The Rhine : Following Europe's Greatest River from Amsterdam to the Alps by Ben Coates
The Rhine is one of the world's greatest rivers. Once forming the outer frontier of the Roman Empire, it flows 800 miles from the social democratic playground of the Netherlands, through the industrial and political powerhouses of Germany and France, to the wealthy mountain fortresses of Switzerland and Liechtenstein. For five years, Ben Coates lived alongside a major channel of the river in Rotterdam, crossing it daily, swimming and sailing in its tributaries. In The Rhine, he sets out by bicycle from the Netherlands where it enters the North Sea, following it through Germany, France and Liechtenstein, to its source in the icy Alps. He explores the impact that the Rhine has had on European culture and history and finds out how influences have flowed along and across the river, shaping the people who live alongside it. Blending travelogue and offbeat history, The Rhine tells the fascinating story of how a great river helped shape a continent
.

 Full of history and interesting information, this book is highly recommended. A good travel guide. – WJ  5 Stars

 


Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus
In the early 1960s, chemist and single mother Elizabeth Zott, the reluctant star of America's most beloved cooking show due to her revolutionary skills in the kitchen, uses this opportunity to dare women to change the status quo.

This book made our reader laugh-out-loud. Elizabeth’s dog, Six-Thirty, named after the time of day she found him, is the best character! – VC  4 Stars

 

Also Mentioned:

The Secret Recipe of Ella Dove by Karen Hawkins

Trust by Hernan Diaz

The Echo of Old Books  by Barbara Davis

A River Enchanted by Rebecca Ross

Beartown by Fredrik Backman 

Us Against You
by Fredrik Backman

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter: The Member of the Wedding  by Carson McCullers

A Midwife’s Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard, Based on Her Diary 1785-1812 by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich

A Matter of Life and Death: Inside the Hidden World of the Pathologist by Sue Armstrong

The Pioneers: the Heroic Story of the Settlers who brought the American Ideal West by David G. McCullough

The History of Bees by Maja Lunde

New Books:

The Lost Tomb: and Other Real-life Stories of Bones, Burials, and Murder by Douglas J. Preston

 Around the World in 60 Seconds: the Nas Daily Journey: 1,000 Days, 64 Countries, 1 Beautiful Planet by Nuseir Yassin

 

New to Us:

The Star Garden: A Novel of Sarah Agnes Prine by Nancy E. Turner

Monday, February 19, 2024

Twilight in Hazard: An Appalachian Reckoning by Alan Maimon

 



Reviewed by Kristin

Twilight in Hazard caught my eye because in 1949 my dad was born in Hazard. Actually, he was born in one of the tiny communities along the Right Fork of Big Creek, about five miles southwest of Hazard. Times were tough then as the coal veins were being tapped out, and times remain tough in 2020s Hazard, as described by Alan Maimon.

Maimon had been a New York Times reporter based at the Berlin, Germany bureau. As he contemplated returning to the United States in 2000, he wasn’t committed to living in any particular geographic area and he decided that he wanted to go somewhere unlike any place he had previously lived. When a position at the Louisville Courier-Journal became available—specifically the Eastern Kentucky bureau based in Hazard—Maimon decided to give it a try.

At that point, the coal companies were looking for an easier way to get coal out of the ground. Sending workers or machines in to hack at veins of coal just wasn’t efficient, and many had turned to strip mining, or mountaintop removal. Of course, this resulted in fewer jobs and the dramatic change of scenery, not to mention water pollution and the occasional rockfall with devastating consequences.

Maimon did not just write another book about a poverty stricken area. He looks at the root causes of the problems of Eastern Kentucky, including the opioid pill mill doctors who were instrumental in medicating and addicting a higher percentage of the local population than the rest of the country. He also looks at local and national political candidates and office holders, noting which ones kept promises and which ones vanished in the wind. He looks at education (and the lack thereof), and how many Eastern Kentucky communities lose a large number of their young people to the outside world.

By the end of Maimon’s time in Hazard and Eastern Kentucky, he was also lamenting the failure of news outlets as papers shrunk in staff, column inches, and thickness. It is an alarming nationwide trend as online sources become increasingly polarized and readers/viewers choose their sources, seeing only what they want to see. Maimon describes the closing of regional news bureaus, physical papers only being printed three times a week, (sound familiar?) and the eventual demise of family owned and even corporate owned newspapers.

I really enjoyed this work of non-fiction. I have read other histories of Hazard and Perry County, but most of those focused on the earlier decades when I still had family living in the area. This is a more up to date work that examines the failures, successes, and hopes for the future for this area.

Friday, February 16, 2024

Pickled to Death: A Down South Café Mystery by Gayle Leeson


Reviewed by Jeanne

Amy’s Aunt Bess is a woman on a mission.  Mabel Hobbs has been bragging about her prize winning pickles, even proclaiming that no one else could hold a candle to her in that department.  Those can be fightin’ words.   Aunt Bess is determined to prove that Mabel isn’t the only Pickle Queen around so she comes to the Winter Garden fair armed with a pickle entry of her own. 

While Mabel’s title of Pickle Queen may be dubious, it’s undeniable that she was crowned—fatally so, in fact.  Unfortunately, Aunt Bess was right beside her when it happened so she becomes the obvious suspect. She’s got a secret weapon, though:  her crime solving niece Amy is on the job and she is determined to uncover the real murderer. Unless, of course, the murderer is the streaker who conveniently ran through the crowd—he could do with a bit more covering.

Local readers will find a lot that sounds very familiar in Winter Garden, which I have to confess, is part of its charm to me.  The descriptions of the county fair bring back a lot of fond memories, and of course the Ray Stevens jokes have that darn song stuck in my head.  (“Don’t look, Ethel!”)

I always enjoy a visit with Amy and her friends and family. I will have to say that it was shorter than I expected and that the ending seemed rather abrupt.