Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Nevermore: El Pescador, Conspiracy of Faith, Jesse James

The Nevermore readers were very enthusiastic about some recent books.  As usual, it was an interesting mix of items.  Here are the highlights:

Jud read El Pescador (The Fisherman) by Mike Curtis which is about a musician named Jud. He’s also an alcoholic who has left L.A. for Mexico, hoping to find a simpler life style.  This book is not so much about plot, though there are some thrilling surf fishing scenes, but about a sense of place. Jud felt that the author really made Mexico come alive for him. He found the parts about the ex-pat Americans to be especially interesting.

Conspiracy of Faith by Jussi Adler-Olsen is an entry in the somewhat crowded Nordic Noir genre, but our reader thought it was a standout.  Set in Copenhagen, the story begins when an old bottle is found with a note inside from two boys, claiming they are being held prisoner in a boathouse.  The fact that the note is written in blood lends urgency to the plea.  Detective Carl Morck  of the cold case squad Department Q must try to find out if the boys are still alive and if the story is true.  Meanwhile, an abused woman is determined to find out why her husband disappears at times, giving her no explanation of where he’s going or how long he’ll be gone.  Adler-Olsen’s Department Q series is very popular in his native Denmark, and are just now being published in America. Our reviewer is currently reading the second book in the series and she is enjoying it as well.

Americans seem to have a fondness for bad guys:  look at all the books, movies, songs, etc. featuring Billy the Kid, Bonnie and Clyde, Al Capone, and others of that ilk.  Jud has a problem with romanticizing criminals, but even so he enjoyed Shot All to Hell by Mark Gardner, the true story of Jesse James and the James Gang’s ill-fated Northfield Minnesota Rain.  According to this book, James wanted to be a celebrity and enjoyed his notoriety. Gardner used contemporary accounts to build a detailed description of exactly how the plan was carried out, how it went wrong, and the ensuing chase that ended the bankrobbing careers of several of the gang.  Another Nevermore reader praised the book for its attention to detail and the many illustrations which he felt added a great deal.  He highly recommends the book, so we can say it gets two thumbs up!

The Nevermore Book Club meets every Tuesday at 11:00 AM in the Frances E. Kegley Conference Room on the upper floor.  Coffee is provided and doughnuts are courtesy of the fabulous Blackbird Bakery!

Monday, October 28, 2013

The Cat Sitter's Cradle by Blaize and John Clement

Reviewed by Jeanne

Dixie Hemingway, former cop and now pet sitter in Siesta Key, has had more than her share of strange encounters in both occupations, but this one may top all the others: while making her morning rounds for clients she finds an exotic bird, non-native to Florida, lying in the bushes—not far from a young woman who has just given birth.  The young woman speaks little English so when she becomes frantic after Dixie and friend Joyce offer to get help, they suspect she may be illegal. They take her and the new baby to Joyce’s house while they try to figure out what to do with mother and baby. 

Meanwhile, Dixie is dealing with a somewhat difficult new client and his equally difficult family and wondering if she’s ready to embark on a new romantic relationship. Her first foray wasn’t a disaster, but it didn’t exactly end happily either. Then Dixie finds herself involved with another murder and has to reassess some of the people she knows—or thought she knew.

I’ve enjoyed the Dixie Hemingway (no relation to Ernest) mystery series.  Dixie is strong but flawed heroine, a woman left shattered by the sudden deaths of her husband and young daughter in an accident some years before.  That’s the reason she left the police force, and the reason she’s more than a bit reluctant to form relationships. Siesta Key is vividly portrayed, so much so that I always think I’d like to visit.  Supporting characters are also strong in the series, including Dixie’s brother Michael and his partner, Paco. I also like the animals Dixie works with, all of whom have their own personalities.  We also pick up bits of information about animal care and behavior, but this is tossed in casually, never shoehorned in.  I’d classify this as a traditional mystery:  not overly violent or bloody, but with just a bit of an edge. The books are always well-plotted, bringing the various story lines to a satisfying conclusion.

I admit to a bit of trepidation about this book, however.  Dixie’s creator, Blaize Clement, passed away, leaving her son John to continue Dixie’s adventures. Even though he’s said he and his mother talked a great deal about the direction of the books, there’s always that question of an author’s voice—that unique way of expressing themselves that good writers have.  I’m pleased to say that John acquits himself well.  There were a couple of places where I wondered about phrasing or feelings, but for the most part he has captured his mother’s writing style well.  This is a good solid mystery with appealing characters.

The series doesn’t have to be read in order, unless you’re like me and just prefer to do it that way.

Update:  According to a Facebook posting, John has finished the next book in the series, The Cat Sitter’s Nine Lives, which will be out in 2014.  He is now at work on the tenth book, as yet untitled.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Nevermore: Bunker Hill, Stranger In a Strange Land, Where You Can Find Me & Weird Things Customers Say

Jud opened the Nevermore Book Club by reading some excerpts from Weird Things Customers Say in Bookstores by Jen Campbell, such as “I really enjoyed Anne Frank’s first book.  Did she write a sequel?” or “Did Charles Dickens ever write anything fun?”  Much laughter ensued, getting the meeting off to a rousing start.

The next book up was Bunker Hill by Nathaniel Philbrick which was described as “delightful.”  Philbrick examines a critical time in American history, showing the reader that events are not nearly as predictable as many of our history books would have us believe.  He really brings events to life, showing who we are as a country and how we got there. Just as he did with Mayflower and The Last Stand, Philbrick brings a fresh perspective and insights to events in a way that’s both enlightening and entertaining.

Another Nevermore member has decided to read some classic science fiction.  He’s currently working his way through Robert Heinlein’s classic Stranger in a Strange Land.  It’s the story of a young man, the last survivor of an expedition to Mars.  Raised by Martians, Valentine Michael Smith has no concept of what human society is like; he’s never even seen a woman.  Our reviewer enjoyed it even though it’s more social commentary instead hard science.

Where You Can Find Me by Sheri Joseph is a novel about a kidnapped child who is returned to his family after three years.  Desperate to try to rebuild the family away from the sensationalist press, his mother takes Caleb and his younger sister to Costa Rica where her mother-in-law lives.  Our reviewer thought it was emotionally tough to read at times but it’s also alternately suspenseful and moving.

The Nevermore Book Club meets every Tuesday at 11:00 AM in the Frances E. Kegley Conference Room on the upper floor.  Blackbird Bakery supplies us with fabulous doughnuts and the library supplies the coffee!

Monday, October 21, 2013

Appalachia as I Remember It by Arnold R. Smith

Reviewed by Kristin

Appalachia: As I Remember It is a true telling of some of the events that the author experienced growing up in southeastern Kentucky in the 1930’s and early 1940’s.  The family members are true characters, but the surrounding friends and neighbors are fictional, probably made up from a combination of other people that the author knew.  I was interested in this book because my paternal grandparents were growing up in the same area in about the same time period.

Full of stories about growing up in a simpler time, “Arnie” shares tales of raising bees, working to buy a stained glass window for the church, going fishing, and setting off firecrackers in the school basement during a play.  Each chapter is a vignette that covers one incident or one aspect of the mountain way of life.  From family dinners to learning to drive on steep mountain roads, Arnie and his buddies had a memorable childhood.

Growing up in Leslie County, the neighboring Perry County with the “big city” of Hazard was a fascinating place to the author.  I especially enjoyed the lines:  “Mom said people from Hazard were too wrapped up in material things.  ‘Just like Sodom and Gomorra,’ she’d say.  ‘Now mind you, there’s a lot of good people in Hazard; but the bad always rubs off on the good, not the other way around.’”  Hazard is where my dad’s family came from, and I can tell you that it is a small town!  I guess the size of towns is relative to your perspective.

Just like my own family, the author’s family eventually moved to the Cincinnati area.  Always looking for a better life for their families, many coal country families left the hills of southeastern Kentucky as the mining fortunes changed mid-century.

The author has a nice, homey style that makes this short book an enjoyable read.  If you grew up in the hills, or had family members that did (and then told you stories), these tales will resonate with a familiar and pleasurable tone.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Low Country Bribe by C. Hope Clark

Reviewed by Jeanne

When the hog farmer suggests it might be worth her while to fudge some paperwork, Carolina Slade thinks he’s joking.  Surely he knows it’s illegal to offer a bribe to a Department of Agriculture employee.  At first she’s inclined to brush it off, but what if someone else heard and thinks Jesse was serious?  They’d both be up on charges, so Slade grits her teeth and calls in a report. The next thing she knows, an agent is in investigating her as well as the farmer.

Lowcountry Bribe  by C. Hope Clark is a South Carolina mystery with a feisty female detective but Carolina Slade is no simpering Southern belle.  Instead, she’s an honest civil servant whose life falls apart when she tries to do the right thing.  In short order, her shaky marriage falls apart, her job is in jeopardy, and she’s afraid not only for her own life but for the lives of her kids. 

I picked this up because two different patrons brought the book up in conversation as being one very good first mystery.  Clark writes very well, avoiding clichés of all sorts, and really knows her territory, both geographically and governmentally. She’s also good at keeping up the tension as the plot unfolds, revealing corruption and murder.  Slade is a tough cookie but she’s also a real woman who loves her kids, cooks dinner, and is afraid at appropriate moments—true courage not false bravado.   

And I think one of the things I liked most is that this book portrays a hard-working civil servant who is trying to do the right thing. That's a bit of a rarity.  It's easy to portray government workers as slackers, too bound up in bureaucracy to be of any real help-- anyone who's had to wait in line at the DMV would instantly relate-- but to show someone in what's usually regarded as an unsympathetic occupation as being dedicated, honest and admirable.

In short, this is one nifty little mystery.  The second book in the series is Tidewater Murder.

Friday, October 11, 2013

The Real Horse Whisperer

Remember the book The Horse Whisperer by Nicholas Evans?  Okay, there was also a little movie made with Robert Redford.  Anyway, the titular character was a man who used compassionate techniques to help troubled horses and people.  While this book was fiction, the main character was based on a very real person:  Buck Brannaman, internationally known for his natural training methods which are designed to create a strong bond between horse and rider. Brannaman is also known for his traditional cowboy skills, such as roping. He spends much of his time traveling to present clinics on horsemanship and to serve as a motivational speaker.

Brannaman is the author of several books, including The Faraway Horses which is part biography, part philosophy and part equine training manual. It also is the basis for an award-winning documentary film called “Buck.”  Main owns a copy of this title as well as his book Ranch Roping:  The Complete Guide to a Classic Cowboy Skill.

Recently one of our patrons attended one of Brannaman’s personal appearances and got both books autographed for us.  Check them out!

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Nevermore: Like Catching Water in a Net, Good Lord Bird & Golden Buddha

The Nevermore Book Club is nothing if not eclectic.  Here are some books featured at a recent meeting:

Like Catching Water in A Net  by Val Webb examines the world’s religions for common signs, seeking to find the essence of what humans mean by “Divine.”  She doesn’t limit her examination to the major religions, but also seeks out lesser known belief systems, including some ancient ones. One online reviewer compared it to Karen Armstrong’s A History of God, but with a broader approach.  Others commented on the non-denominational aspect of the book, making it suitable for those of many religious persuasions and for those people interested more in the spiritual and less in specific religious doctrines. Nevermore described it as being spiritual, mystical, and ecumenical.
The Good Lord Bird by James McBride is a novel set during the pre-Civil War era, when John Brown is attempting his insurrection.  Henry, a young slave boy, is mistaken for a girl and dubbed “Onion” by Brown narrates the story, giving his view of events leading up to Harper’s Ferry.  Comparisons to Mark Twain pop up in several reviews, since there are some similarities to Huck Finn in the narrator’s voice.  A number of historical characters in addition to Brown show up, including Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass.

Just to add a popular touch, someone brought up Golden Buddha by Clive Cussler.  This is the third in his new Oregon Files series which features Juan Cabrillo and the seagoing marvel disguised as near derelict ship the Oregon.  Cabrillo and company are out to make money, but like to right some wrongs while they’re at it.  This time they’ve been hired to find an ancient statue stolen by the Chinese in an effort to restore the Dalai Lama as leader of Tibet.  As usual, Cussler keeps readers turning the pages, dazzling with technological wonders and derring do.

The Nevermore Book Club meets every Tuesday at 11:00 am in the Frances E. Kegley Meeting Room on the upper floor of the library.  Join us for coffee, Blackbird Bakery doughnuts and discussions about some great books!

Monday, October 7, 2013

Fifty Shades of Grey by E. L. James

Reviewed by Laurie

I wasn’t sure if I should read this trilogy or not.  I mean, I’d heard all the rumors.  I envisioned it would be something like The Story of O (yes, I’m a product of the 60s). So I did what anyone would do in my situation:  I asked my 23 year old daughter if she thought I was “old enough” to read Fifty Shades.  She basically told me I could handle it and I started reading it.

It’s the story of this naïve young student named Anastasia who goes to interview wealthy, young, handsome entrepreneur Christian Grey. Sparks fly. They’re both intrigued by each other but young Mr. Grey has some um, unusual preferences and some demons from his past that may be too much for Anastasia to handle.

This is a book you will either love or hate. There is page after page of sex.  Just as some books are too descriptive, this is too sexually explicit in sections.  It’s not well written.  The characters can be annoying and the same vocabulary is used again and again.   There is a contract which defines their (very explicit) sexual relationship which had terms I did not know.  There are also some sexual items used which I didn’t know.  Of course I asked my daughter for definitions.

As I said before, this is a book you will love or hate.  I loved it.  I think it’s one of the best modern day romance series I have read.  I would even be willing to read it again, and I just might before the movie comes out.   How can I say that after I’ve just told you all the things wrong with it? When all is said and done, it’s a very good love story.  I just can’t resist a conflicted man and an innocent girl.  Ah, romance….

In case you want to read all three, the books in order are Fifty Shades of Grey, Fifty Shades Darker and Fifty Shades Freed.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Oathblood by Mercedes Lackey

Reviewed by Holly White

Oathblood, the third in the Vows and Honor trilogy, which also includes Oathbound and Oathbreakers, surprised me.  It turned out to be less of a sequel, and more of a series of short stories about Tarma and Kethry.  Not that they are not good short stories, but I was just expecting the next novel-length book in the series. Now that I look back on it, however, I can see that the story was more or less complete at the end of Oathbreakers.  That being said, they were interesting in themselves, and some of them do help to flesh out the story of Tarma and Kethry more.  Some of them were, in fact, short stories taken from the novels I had already read.  Some took place chronologically before, during, and after the novels.  I will give a brief synopsis of each one here, including where the story falls chronologically if I can.

Tarma and Kethry’s story seems to fall into four distinct sections: 
1.    Before they met
2.    After they met and became traveling mercenaries (covered in Oathbound)
3.    When they joined with the mercenary group called Idra’s Sunhawks (covered in Oathbreakers)
4.    When they at last settled down and fulfilled their dream of establishing their training school (hinted at in the ending of Oathbreakers).

“Sword-sworn” takes place before Oathbound.  This one details the near-annihilation of Tarma’s clan, tells how Tarma and Kethry met, and explains what made them decide to become blood-sisters.

All the following stories are set during Oathbound but do not appear as part of the narrative unless noted.

Turn-about”  is part of the Oathbound narrative.  This is the story of how they cleverly stopped the bandits that had been raiding a merchant caravan, and then devised a fitting punishment for the chief of the bandits.

“The Making of a Legend” takes up the story of  Leslac, the pesky minstrel, who had been publicizing Tarma and Kethry’s exploits and altruism without ever having met them.  Leslac spread the word that they would save damsels in distress, but that they deigned to accept mere money in return, much to the detriment of their purse, and to their annoyance.   This story tells what happened when they actually did cross paths.

“Keys” is also a part of  Oathbound.  This tells the story of how Kethry solves a murder mystery in order to save Tarma’s life.

 “A Woman’s Weapon” is the tale of how our heroes prevented a murder from taking place, and turned the tables on the would-be murderer. 

In “The Talisman,” the women defeat a mage who has let power go to her head.

I like “A Tale of Heroes;” it’s one of those romantic stories where, even though you can see how it’s going to end, you still want to read it, because you can see how all of the pieces are going to fit together in the end with a nice little “click.”  It’s very satisfying to read and find out how that comes about.

Friendly Fire” shows how Tarma and Kethry react to a “Murphy’s Law” kind of day.

 The next three stories are set after Oathbreakers and none are included in the book

Wings of Fire” hints at what life is like for the women after their school has been established and tells about a daring rescue our heroes perpetrate with a surprising plot twist.  This story also incorporates Mercedes Lackey’s personal love and admiration for birds of prey.

“Spring Plowing at Forst Reach” is also set during the school years. It tells how they tamed a friend’s horses for spring plowing using a “horse whispering” technique, and how they found steady work for two dear ex-merc friends into the bargain.

“Oathblood” is a longer short story, probably the real sequel to the second book in the series. This story goes into much more detail about life in the training school, and how the women find their place. After being kidnapped by fanatics, two of their young students cleverly use various parts of their training to stay alive.  Tarma and Kethry attempt a rescue with the help of an unexpected ally.

I really enjoyed this book of stories about Tarma and Kethry.  It would also stand well on its own, but again, I always get more out of sequels if I have already come to know and love the characters elsewhere.  If you love Oathbound and Oathbreaker, you will love these as well. The final story "Oathblood," especially, gives a lovely denouement to the climactic ending of Oathbreaker

The next review will be about By the Sword which is a stand-alone novel about Kethry's granddaughter. Look for it the first Friday in November!