Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Nevermore: Moloka'i, East Africa, Vikings, Navajo, and the Todd Family

Reported by Ambrea

Moloka’i by Alan Brennert was first on the list for Nevermore this week, opening our meeting with an extraordinary epic set on the Hawaiian Islands during the nineteenth century.  At seven-years-old, Rachel Kalama dreams of exploring the world like her father and of having a future beyond her tiny island—and then she contracts leprosy.  Quarantined at Kalaupapa on the island of Moloka’i, Rachel is separated from her family and friends. She feels sequestered, and that her life has been cut grievously short.  But, as she adjusts to her new surroundings and meets others confined to the island, she realizes that her life is only just beginning.  Our reader said Moloka’i was a beautiful, moving novel filled with evocative imagery and endearing characters.  Brennert’s novel was, she pointed out, both interesting and compelling.  She was fascinated by the author’s ability to convey the culture and language, the tone and feeling of Hawai’i, which seemed to show that Brennert had experience with the islands; moreover, she was pleased by the historical detail and accuracy of the author.  Overall, she said it was a very good book and definitely worth reading.

Next, our readers looked at A Guide to the Birds of East Africa by Nicholas Drayson.  Mr. Malik is a widower who has fallen in love with Rose Mbikwa, a tour guide for the East African Ornithological Society, but she barely realizes he exists.  Just as Malik is mustering the courage to ask Rose to the Nairobi Hunt Club Ball—a premier social event for Kenya—his grade school nemesis, Harry Khan, appears and sets his sights on Ms. Mbikwa.  To resolve the situation, Malik and the Asadi Club cook up a competition:  whosoever identifies the most species of birds in a week will ask Rose to the ball.  A Guide to the Birds of East Africa received some good reviews from Nevermore.  Our reader said it was an enjoyable novel with wonderful characters and a lovely setting that really conveyed the flavor of Kenya.  She said it was a quick, fun book to read, and she found it thoroughly entertaining.

Nevermore also looked at Vikings:  Warriors, Raiders, and Masters of the Sea by Rodney Castleden. This book offered insight into the Scandinavian settlements documented by archaeology as well as by oral history.  From the eighth century to the eleventh, the Vikings traveled to various parts of the world and left remnants of their culture as far as Byzantium and Newfoundland.  In Vikings, Castleden attempts to trace the lineage of the Vikings and fully expose their history to readers, not simply the bloody and brutal aspects of legend and myth.  Our reader said it was an interesting book.  “[Although] it plays down the Viking backgrounds of the Normans,” she stated, she found Castleden’s DNA studies—which traced threads of Viking DNA to both the Danes and the Anglo-Saxons, among other ethnicities—very fascinating.  She also liked that the author discussed prominent historical individuals, such as Leif Erikson or Erik the Red, among others.  It was an interesting and informative book that she was happy to recommend to another member of Nevermore.

Next, our readers examined Kate Atkinsons’ novel, A God in Ruins.  Continuing the tumultuous lives of the Todd Family, which began with Life after Life, Kate Atkinson delves into the life of Teddy, Ursula’s beloved younger brother.  Teddy, who never expected to survive the terrible trials of World War II, has returned home and must learn to live a life beyond combat.  His story, interwoven with the stories of his wife and children and other family members, provides an unexpectedly magical story about the effects of one’s choices on the life we live.  Our Nevermore members had nothing but positive things to say about A God in Ruins.  It was both enjoyable and interesting, covering a rather large span of time in the Todd family and offering a detailed analysis of their lives.  One reader said it wasn’t a particularly dark narrative; however, it does shine a light on complicated familial relationships and delves deep into the choices people make, as well as the effects they have. It also introduces many, many new characters.  He had a list of thirty-five characters just by page 40, he admitted, and he was very interested to see how their stories would eventually intertwine.

Last, our Nevermore readers looked at Rock with Wings by Anne Hillerman, which continues the Leaphorn and Chee Mysteries begun by her father, Tony Hillerman.  In this latest installment, Jim Chee and Bernadette Manuelito set out for a nice, relaxing vacation—until a drug bust gone wrong and a missing woman pull them in different directions.  With retired Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn offering guidance, Chee and Manuelito find themselves pitted against a series of mysteries that will baffle and challenge them.  Although Rock with Wings has received some positive reviews overall, one reader found she wasn’t particular interested in Hillerman’s latest novel.  “It isn’t bad,” she pointed out, “but it isn’t great.  It’s not super interesting.”  She found she wasn’t pulled in by the plot of the story or intrigued by characters.  It simply wasn’t her cup of tea.


  1. Oh, how I miss the Nevermore bookclub members and the meetings on Tuesday mornings. However, because of Bill Wade's recommendation of David McCullough's book "Brave Companions," I'm in Medora, North Dakota, learning more about Theodore Roosevelt, the Marquis de Mores, and Harold Schafer. What an adventure......

    1. We miss you! Have your ears been burning? I think your name comes up at every meeting. Usually along the lines of, "Oh, Charlotte would have loved this!" or "That sounds like a Charlotte book." Thanks for the comment!