Friday, September 26, 2014

Rumble by Ellen Hopkins

Reviewed by Meygan

I am addicted to Ellen Hopkins’ books. For those of you who have never read anything by Ellen Hopkins, you should be warned that her novels are controversial. Her first Young Adult book Crank is about her daughter’s drug addiction to meth. She also writes about teenage prostitution, suicide, bullying, and other divisive subjects. Needless to say, schools and parents have tried to ban her books from coming in contact with a student or child. I am enthralled by her decision to write about these topics that some authors wouldn’t dare to touch with a ten foot pole, so I looked forward to reading her newest novel Rumble. The characters were believable; the plot was tense. So why did I feel so disappointed?

In Rumble, I was introduced to Matthew (he prefers “Matt”) who is head over heels for a pretty blonde girl, but then again what teenage boy isn’t? Her name is Hayden and although she is his girlfriend, he feels that she is becoming a stranger to him. On top of worrying about his relationship, Matt is also dealing with the loss of his brother who killed himself after being bullied because he was homosexual. Matt seeks comfort from Hayden but is disappointed to find out that she would rather spend time with her “church going” friends, who he feels judge him and come in between his relationship with Hayden. Matt is an atheist who believes that death ends everything. Throughout Rumble, he is trying to deal with forgiving those he feels played a part in his brother’s death as well as forgiving himself. He also begins to question some of his own beliefs.

As I mentioned before, the characters are believable. They deal with typical teenage problems such as bullying and relationship problems. The characters met my standards for what I expect from an Ellen Hopkins book. I also found myself unable to put down the book. It is around 550 pages and I read it in three days. Of course, Ellen Hopkins writes her stories using poetry, so the book is probably really half the size. (There goes my bragging right.) I guess I was most disappointed with the climax of the story. When Matt is finally having that “coming-of-age” moment, the story feels rushed. I wanted to know more about Matt’s relationships with his parents and his girlfriend. Then again, Hopkins is known for writing sequels, so perhaps in a few years my questions will be answered.

As far as Matt’s acceptance, or lack of acceptance, towards the unknown after death, well, I feel that part was realistic and easy to appreciate. I had empathy for Matt and I am a sucker for a guy with a broken heart. As far as Hayden goes, I wanted her to get hit by a bus. (I am NOT a sucker for a conniving back stabber.) I would recommend this book to lovers of Young Adult books and/or readers who like to read about the true encounters that a teenager may face. While Rumble wasn’t my favorite Ellen Hopkins book, it isn’t the worst YA book (or adult book, for that matter!) I have read. 

If you’re intrigued by Hopkins, I highly recommend Identical and Burned.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Nevermore: Fabulous Fiction & Fascinating Facts

 Reported by Meygan

This week’s Nevermore began with a discussion of Kim BarnesA Country Called Home. The book was recommended because the author is good at setting up coincidences and the effect of those coincidences. The story takes place in the 1960’s in a rural town in Idaho. Thomas and his wife Helen seek opportunities in their new hometown, while Helen hopes to get away from what she knows in Connecticut. The book’s ending is realistic. As our reader said, “Not everyone gets a happy ending.” The four main characters are immersed in life and you will be intrigued by their situations. This book will be available at the library soon. 

I Always Loved You by Robin Olivei interested another Nevermore reader. It’s a fictional account of Mary Cassatt. American Mary moves to Paris after the Civil War in hopes of becoming an artist. When her artwork is rejected, her father begs her to move home and find a husband before it is too late. She is later introduced to Edgar Degas and from moment her life is never the same. The book makes readers question, What would have happened to her if she had never met him? and makes readers think of art as something other than a commodity. 

The Spymistress by Jennifer Chiaverini is a new novel that one of our Nevermore readers recently finished. The setting is in Richmond, Virginia during the Civil War. The reader states that she learned new facts about the Civil War such as there were approximately 16,400 prisoners in Richmond during the war. The book is about a Southerner who is for the union and if that isn’t interesting enough, her sister-in-law is for the Confederacy. One of our other readers suggested that if she enjoyed The Spymistress then she should read Mary Chestnut’s Diary

Last week, Charles Frazier’s Nightwoods was mentioned in Nevermore and inspired another reader to check out the book. Although she is not finished, she is captivated by what she has read so far. 

Our most discussed book was Jo Nesbo’s The Son, a novel about a teenager in prison who is blamed for crimes that he doesn’t commit just so the Wardens do not have to investigate. The book is realistic fiction and can be compared to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series and the Wallander series. The reader said the plot was good right to the very end and is one of the better “Nordic crime” books she has read. A Nevermore member stated that she believes most of Nesbo’s plots are convoluted, but she reader of The Son said she didn’t think she would feel the same way about this novel because the plot was so good. 

Last week’s recommended memoir The World According to Bob by James Bowen was picked up by another reader. One of our members read it and gave her opinion. We learn that although Bowen isn’t a saint in the book, we can tell how much he has overcome. Relocating from Australia to London for his aspirations to become a singer, Bowen finds himself homeless after his music gig has failed him. He becomes addicted to drugs, including heroin. The reviewer stated this book is a quick read and provides an insightful dimension to street life. 

The next book was Homer’s Odyssey about a blind kitten that was adopted by Gwen Cooper. The reader liked this book but felt that the book focused more on the author than the cats. A Nevermore member stated that she felt the same way about Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World

Another member is still reading The Trigger by Tim Butcher which tells the story of Garvilo Princip, the young man who shot and killed Archduke Franz Ferdinand, sparking the First World War. The reader is finding the book difficult to get through because she wants to get to the facts. (Apparently the author is longwinded.) She did say that she was interested in the background of the story, so she would continue to read it until she got her answers. It’s a timely book because this year marks the 100th anniversary of WWI.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Tibetan Peach Pie: A True Account of an Imaginative Life by Tom Robbins

Reviewed by Kristin

Author Tom Robbins claims that Tibetan Peach Pie: A True Account of an Imaginative Life is not an autobiography or a memoir, but just a collection of true stories he has been telling the women in his life for years.  (And trust me, there are a lot of women.)  The short chapters certainly read like a memoir and are even arranged roughly chronologically.  Robbins is better known for his fiction writing and his experiences in the artsy/hippie/drug counterculture of the 1960's and 1970's.

While I enjoyed the entire book, I think the early chapters where Robbins describes his antics in Blowing Rock, North Carolina are the most amusing.  In this tourist town, he claims to have successfully sold the sunsuit off his own back at the precocious age of four, in exchange for a nickel to buy an orange Popsicle.  As the chapters rolled on, I certainly believed that young boy was fully worthy of his nickname: “Tommy Rotten”.

Robbins had an early obsession with the circus, and even talked his parents into letting him go on the road with a show the summer he was nine years old.  The circus company was perfectly willing to have another worker to care for the animals in exchange for a seat beside the ring.  Unfortunately, Robbins only had the chance to shovel monkey manure till the next town, whereupon his father came to pick him up, urged on by a worried mother.  His circus days may have been over, but his lifelong urge to explore has continued.

Robbins includes his long history with a wide variety of women almost as an aside to the business of the stories he is telling.  And this is a really long history, since he's about 82 now.  He has three sons from previous marriages or relationships, but when he writes about meeting Alexa, the woman he has been married to since 1987, sparks fly off the page and it's enough to make anyone believe in true love.

From North Carolina to Virginia to Washington state, with an Air Force detour overseas during the Korean War, Robbins (as he tells it) has had a very interesting life.  Since the 1970's he has written eight novels, none of which I have read, but which are certainly on my to-read list now.  I was simply delighted by some of the individual sentences within the tales in this volume.  He has an artful way with words that compelled me to keep reading.  If this has piqued your interest, drop everything and head to the library for some Tom Robbins today.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Homer's Odyssey by Gwen Cooper

Homer’s Odyssey: A Fearless Feline Tale, or How I Learned About Love and Life with a Blind Wonder Cat by Gwen Cooper*

Reviewed by Meygan

*Not to be mistaken for the epic Greek poem, although I did feel incredibly smug when people admired the way I read “The Odyssey” for fun.  

According to the ASPCA, there are ninety million cats residing in approximately thirty-eight million homes in the United States. That is ninety million novels that could have been written, published, and possibly become a bestseller. So what makes Cooper’s story about her frisky solid black cat, Homer, any different? Well, first of all, Homer is blind. What’s so special about a blind cat? you ask yourself. That’s when Cooper’s humor and vivid details come in to piece together the story.  

Cooper wasn’t looking to adopt a third cat when her veterinarian called her about a two-week old kitten that had lost his sight due to an infection. Cooper questioned, just like most of us cat people do, How many cats can I have until people start thinking I am crazy? But as soon as she saw Homer, she fell in love. And by the second chapter, I had fallen madly in love with Homer as well. (I do need to mention that I DO love every kitten and cat that I encounter. So much, in fact, that I believe my husband is currently writing a contract with a lawyer stating that under no circumstances am I allowed to bring home anything else that has a mouth to feed. I wish I were kidding.) Homer is lively to say the least, especially for a cat that sees nothing but darkness. But Homer quickly learns his whereabouts to the many homes he is introduced to. (He especially becomes acquainted with the words, “No, Homer!”) The first chapters are mostly about the many adventures of Homer and his two “sisters”, Vashti and Scarlett. If I had to title these chapters, I would name them Homer and the Case of the Buzzing Fly; Homer Learns Not to Jump So High; Homer and the Case of the Burglar; Homer, Vashti, and Scarlet and the “Something Stinks, Who Done It?” Mystery. 

Although I loved hearing about Homer, Vashti, and Scarlett, I have mixed feelings about the ending of the book. Don’t get me wrong—I know that Cooper had to talk about herself every once in a while to lead readers to Homer’s next extravaganza, but I was disappointed in the ending. The first twenty chapters or so were superb. Cooper writes with such honesty with a hint of humor that will captivate readers. Then the narrative takes to turn. 

Throughout the book, Cooper plays with the idea of meeting Mr. Right, falling in love, and living happily ever after. She expresses the fear that this might never happen. Cooper is sweet and hilarious and someone that readers will want to find true love. Well, that day finally came for Cooper, and I couldn’t have been more disappointed in her choice. 

Do I think Cooper “used” her blind cat to gain attention for this novel? No, honestly, I do not. At least, I don’t think that was her intention. I do not want to give away any major spoilers, but Homer’s disposition changes towards the end and although I realize he is no longer the spunky kitten he was once, I believe the major change is because of Cooper’s love interest. There were parts of the book towards the end that made me so upset that I felt like ripping the book in half. However, the copy I was reading belonged to the library; needless to say, Cooper’s book was unharmed. I guess in the end I wanted more cats and less Gwen Cooper. Was that too much to ask for? 

Please don’t let my review of the ending deter you from reading the book. Cooper is an admirable writer. She’s witty, gets to the point, uses great sentence structure and vocabulary choice, and will probably make you want to adopt a cat after finishing Homer’s Odyssey. (No more cats, I repeat my husband’s words.) 

Unlike Old Yeller *spoiler alert*, Homer’s Odyssey ends on a happy note with

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Nevermore: Little Tree, Nightwoods, Judge Crater & How Not to Be Wrong

The ever-lively Nevermore opened with a discussion of The Education of Little Tree by Forrest Carter.  The book was first published in the late 1970s as a memoir of a part Cherokee boy growing up in the Smoky Mountains region during the 1920s and 30s. Orphaned at a young age, Little Tree was sent to live with his grandparents who taught him how to live simply, respecting the Earth and its creatures.   It was a warm and loving story laced with humor, mountain lore, and more than a dash of spirituality.  As the book grew in popularity, it was claimed that the author was actually Asa Carter, a segregationist who wrote speeches for George Wallace.  This brings up all sorts of questions.  Can a reader separate the author from the work?  Who has the right to tell the stories of a minority? Does knowing that the story is fiction and not memoir change the work itself? And what of Asa himself—was this his way of conning the public or did he have a true conversion?  As usual, there were plenty of answers but no consensus but then that’s the fun of Nevermore!

Another book with a mountain setting is Charles Frazier’s Nightwoods.  Set in North Carolina in the 1950s, it’s the story of a solitary woman who is living in an abandoned lodge as a caretaker.  Her life is upended when she becomes the guardian of her sister’s children after the sister is murdered.  The book was compared to Lee Smith’s but the writing is darker.  In short, this isn’t a happy book but then not all good books are happy ones.  Frazier is best known for the novel Cold Mountain.

The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress is a debut novel by Ariel Lawhon.  It’s a fictionalized version of  the Judge Crater case which mesmerized the nation back in 1930 when the famous (or infamous) judge got into a cab and simply disappeared.  Like the Jimmy Hoffa case decades later, theories abounded as to what happened. (No one ever dug up Giants Stadium looking for Carter, however.)  Lawhon spins an intriguing tale of political corruption, scandalous affairs, and the streets of New York in the Jazz Age.  Our reviewer enjoyed the book, especially the author’s notes as to what was factual and what was speculation.  

How Not to Be Wrong: The Power of Mathematical Thinking by Jordan Ellenberg really impressed one of our Nevermore readers to the point that he brought in visual aids to illustrate some points.  The idea is that mathematics is being taught incorrectly.  Instead of making it all about memorizing formulas, it should be about the philosophy behind math and how math actually touches our lives in many ways every day.  The book is fun and thoughtful, showing us how much math is real and not an abstract concept.