Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Nevermore: The Irish Game, Being Mortal, Shattered Genius, Good Advice, and Assorted Cats

There are only two privately held paintings by Vermeer in the world.  The Queen of England owns one.  The other is held by a family in Ireland.  In The Irish Game, Matthew Hart tells the true story of how the Irish painting was stolen, recovered, and then stolen again.  The book won rave reviews from our Nevermore reader who found it a fascinating tale and one well told.  The author brings together a number of subjects which had a bearing on the case: security systems, art history, Irish politics, international crime, art restoration, gangs, and even illegal drugs. The book comes highly recommended.

Also highly recommended was Being Mortal:  Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande.  Gawande believes that modern medicine and culture focus more on sustaining life at the end than in making the last years or months comfortable and pleasant.  He explores what makes life enjoyable for an elderly person and how nursing homes, hospice, assisted living, and family caregivers fail or succeed. He asserts the need for quality of life and for the elderly to still be allowed to make their own decisions.  Our reviewer found it both thought-provoking and enlightening, and readers agree: 87% of readers gave it five stars and another 11 % gave it four.

On a similar theme, an older book by Dr. David Dosa also asks some of these same questions.  Making Rounds with Oscar is ostensibly about Oscar, a nursing home cat who seemed to know when someone was in his last hours.  Dr. Dosa wrote a paper about Oscar which drew international attention, encouraging him to look further.  He does, but much of the book examines how the elderly are treated by both institutional personnel and by families.  I found it to be a thoughtful book, one which made me not only think about how elderly relatives had been treated but also how I would like to be treated myself one day.  It’s a low-key, non-threatening book, which makes it ideal to start a conversation.

Shattered Genius by David Storm examines the German General Staff which began when the area was still Prussia.  It was a group of officers who were selected on merit and who studied all aspects of warfare, and which proved extremely effective throughout the nineteenth century.  World War I was their first great defeat and, in accordance with the Treaty of Versailles, they were disbanded.  However, there was a core group who remained active in a different guise and was ready to be utilized.  Much of the book is devoted to the World War II General Staff and their relationship with Hitler.  Our reviewer enjoyed the book and proposed a longer review later.

In a lighter vein, Zac Bissonnette has been good enough to compile a collection of Good Advice from Bad People:  Selected Wisdom from Murderers, Stock Swindlers, and Lance Armstrong.  Bissonnette has a brief quotation from a person, and then follows it with a short biography of the person which demonstrates that he or she does the opposite. Our reviewer thought it was a lot of fun, and a good, quick read.

She also recommended Careers for Your Cat by Ann Dziemianowics which details how you can determine what profession would best suit your cat.  She even provides a Meowers-Briggs Personality test to help you determine if your cat is living up to his or her potential. Our reviewer said that while she only laughed out loud a couple of times, it did make her smile a lot, and she recommends it as a fun book.  Note:  both the books listed above were downloaded from the library’s READs program!

Monday, April 27, 2015

Endangered by C.J. Box

Reviewed by Kristin

Joe Pickett is back.

A Wyoming game warden, Joe is used to people breaking the law in all kinds of ways.  A large number of sage grouse have been killed at a site and Joe is responsible for gathering the evidence that might lead to the perpetrator.  As a threatened population, sage grouse have been a hot topic in Joe’s world, and someone has wiped out the entire lek, or flock.  Agents from the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are very concerned with the documentation of the kill site.

At same time, a young woman has been found in a ditch, bruised, battered and unconscious.  When the sheriff of Twelve Sleep County calls, Joe immediately fears it is his adopted 18-year-old daughter April who has been running around with her hot-headed bull-rider and rodeo champion boyfriend Dallas Cates.  Joe’s wife Marybeth makes it from her job at the library to the hospital quickly, and finds that it is April.

The Cates family immediately jumps to Dallas’ defense, claiming that Dallas was injured in the rodeo ring a few days before and in no way could be responsible for harming April.  His mother Brenda is very controlling of her husband Eldon, and their songs Bull, Timber, and Dallas.  If Momma says her precious boy Dallas didn’t do it, she will do whatever it takes to make everyone believe her.

Some of April’s belongings are also found at the compound of an anti-government, paranoid local.  With a sign that says “Stay Out, Survivors will be prosecuted”, Tilden Cudmore is not exactly a welcoming neighbor.  How is he connected?  With April in a medically induced coma recovering from her injuries, no one can say for sure.

Nate Romanowski also puts in an appearance in this Joe Pickett story.  After being in federal custody for four months, the Feds make a deal with him in order to try to reel in an even bigger fish.  Nate feels tethered by the terms of his release, but events intervene and all plans go awry quickly as he leaves with his girlfriend Liv Brannon.

C.J. Box paints pictures of the great outdoors.  I enjoy his books because they take me places I have never been.  I can see the high winding roads that lead to an elk hunting camp.  I can see the rushing rivers of a spring melt, filled with fish and fishermen.  I can see the precipice where an eagle has built her nest.  I may not ever climb the highest mountain or even camp under the stars, but I can always read authors like C.J. Box, Nevada Barr, Dana Stabenow and Sue Henry.  This connection to the natural world around me makes me enjoy our local, not-so-wild, outdoors as well.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Home with Henry: A Memoir by Anne Kaier

Reviewed by Jeanne

The guy in the blue truck seemed surprised that a middle aged woman in a gray coat would hold up traffic, but I enjoyed that momentary feeling of power.

When Anne Kaier sees the orange lump of fur in the road, she carefully drives over it, not wanting to be the one to further desecrate the body. When she looks in her rear view mirror and sees the tail move, she turns around and goes back.  She intends to just move the body out of the road, but when she feels the warmth behind his ears she takes him to her vet instead.

As it turns out, the cat isn’t badly injured.  He is, however, nearly feral, but Anne has committed herself to him. She dubs him Henry, and takes him home where he hides in her spare bedroom. Her resident cat, Lucille, doesn’t seem to mind the newcomer but is happy to still have Anne to herself.  Anne is determined to try to break through to her new addition.  She spends time in the room reading aloud, coaxes him with treats, and finally starts dismantling his little world in an effort to force him out.  

This is a slim little book, but one that’s difficult to characterize.  It’s definitely not a “how to” book, nor is it a rapturous celebration of all things feline.  It’s mostly a gentle, thoughtful book about an older, still single woman succeeding on her own terms.  It’s not maudlin, it’s not strident, and it’s not a cry in the wilderness.  It’s about relationships, trust, and being comfortable in your own skin, though the author makes all these points without preaching or pontificating or navel-gazing.  I was not surprised when I checked the author’s bio to find she is an award-winning essayist and a poet.  She writes cleanly and well.  At only 102 pages, she covers a lot of territory but in a painless way.  The book is written as a journal, and I was interested to see what each day would bring.

I enjoyed my visit with Anne and with Henry. I would like a chance to visit with them again.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Nevermore: Rick's Cafe, Moonshine Mystery, Karin Fossum, and Cats

Summary by Jeanne

Rick’s Café is the true story of how one woman decided to bring a bit of movie lore into reality.  Author Kathy Kriger was a diplomat assigned to Morocco when she decided to try to create a real café modeled after the one in the classic film Casablanca. Starting a business is never easy; being a foreigner and especially a woman, made the task all the more difficult.  Our reader found her to be near heroic and said the book, while slim, made for a fascinating read. A second reader complained that it was slow going but persevered, especially after watching the movie.

Many of our readers have enjoyed Scandinavian authors who became popular after Steig Larsson’s Girl With the Dragon Tattoo took off.  One of our readers had just finished his first book by Karin Fossum and had stared his second.  The Caller features her long time detective, Inspector Sejer, investigating a series of increasingly nasty pranks. Our reader said it was every bit as good as the first one.  The characters are very well developed.

A Nip of Murder by Carol Miller is the second in the Moonshine Mystery Series set in the hills of Virginia.  Daisey McGovern has opened her dream bakery and things are going quite well… until some thieves steal 90 pounds of cream cheese.  Even worse, one of them manages to get himself killed in the process. The second book is every bit as good as the first.  Miller uses humor to good effect without going over the top, and avoids being condescending about the rural setting.  Our reader recommended it.  You don’t have to have read the first book to enjoy this one.

Cats just seem to inspire redecorating.  Jackson Galaxy’s new book Catification has some good tips that are worth sharing about cats, cat behavior, and how human habitation fits into those plans.    However, Bob and Frances Walker were pioneers in decorating for felines and humans.  Their house has been featured on several TV programs and the library has two books featuring gorgeous photographs:  The Cats’ House and Cats Into Everything.  Bob is a gifted photographer and some of the shots have to be seen to be believed. Cat lovers should definitely treat themselves to these books!

Monday, April 20, 2015

I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson

Reviewed by Meygan Cox

Noah and Jude have a special bond. They can read each other’s mind, finish one another’s sentences, and sense when the other is upset or in danger. No, they don’t have magical powers—they are twins with souls that appear to be intertwined. Aside from loving one another, Noah and Jude also love making art (Noah- drawing and painting; Jude- creating angels from nature) and their artistic, whimsical, beautiful mother. There is not much in life that they love more than their mother. Until one day, life changes. Jude no longer wants to create art. Instead, she wants to wear makeup (lots of it, especially red lipstick), and over time her shorts and skirts get shorter while her sun-like hair grows longer. Her mother keeps asking her if she wants to be “that girl”, which irritates Jude to no end.  Jude can feel herself growing closer and closer to the ocean’s waves and a boy who is older than her and further away from her mother and Noah. 

Meanwhile, Noah meets Brian, an eccentric, brainiac, jock who he can’t help but to fall head over heels in love. While Noah has a hunch that Brian likes him back, Brian doesn’t make a move. Therefore, Noah doesn’t either. Just to rub salt into Noah’s wounds, Brian even starts flirting with girls. Noah can’t help but to feel that Brian is just doing it all as an act to disguise who he is deep down inside. One night, Noah and Brian find themselves at a party playing 7 Minutes in Heaven. But instead of Noah spending his time in Heaven with Brian, a girl by the name of Heather is the lucky winner. After leaving the closest, Noah searches for Brian to tell him how he feels but is flummoxed to see Brian entering the closet with Jude. Something in Noah snaps, and he finds himself ripping up Jude’s artwork and doing anything else that will emotionally destroy her. Needless to say, the family is falling apart and what was once happiness and daydreams has become a cold, harsh reality.

There are so many events that take place into this book that I cannot possibly expand on each dramatic detail. Just when I thought I had reached the climax of the novel, I felt the reading rollercoaster I was on take a plunge and go a completely different way than I had imagined. While I became good at putting together the pieces of information Jude and Noah were telling me, I still found myself gasping or holding my breath, frantically turning the pages to hear the end of the tale. The author’s writing style is nothing less than wonderful. I had never read a Jandy Nelson novel before, but now I must read them all. Her words are like poetry and there were times that I felt like I was reading Dickenson or Whitman. Her quotes are outstanding. Some made me tear up, some made me smile so hard that I felt like my face would crack, and some were like a sucker punch straight to the gut.  It has been a while since I have felt like this about a novel. You know, that feeling of reading a book and falling deeply in love with the story, trying to inhale every word as if it were spring rain. Whoa. That is what this book does to me! 

This book won the 2015 Michael J. Printz award, which is awarded yearly for the best young adult book. Aside from the fact that I could write sonnets about this book, I will sum up my review by saying screaming, “GO READ THIS BOOK!!!”