Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Nevermore: Grantchester, Blair Mountain, Paris, Pakistan, & Bagdad

Reported by Ambrea

 This week, Nevermore revisited a few familiar titles, including Seven Brief Lessons on Physics by Carlo Rovelli and What If? by Randall Munroe, but readers also displayed some new books that took them traveling from Britain to Budapest, from the rivers of Paris to the mountains of West Virginia.  We started with a second visit to a familiar police procedural:  The Man Who Went Up in Smoke by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö, in which Investigator Martin Beck sets off to Budapest in search of missing journalist Alf Matsson. Although one reader enjoyed reading her copy of Sjöwall and Wahlöö’s novel, our second reader wasn’t nearly as thrilled with the offering.  “It was terrible,” she said, offering an honest review of it.  Despite finishing The Man Who Went Up in Smoke, she admitted she was bored for much of the novel and decided, at the end, she just couldn’t find anything to like about it.

Next, our readers looked at The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George.  Monsier Perdu is a literary apothecary, a procurer of books and dispenser of novels on his floating bookshop barge—and he always has the right book for just the right person.  His intuitive prescriptions of books help heal broken hearts and mend emotional wounds.  But when Perdu suddenly comes across a letter from the once-great love of his life, he sets sail for the south of France to bring closure to his own story.  Already a favorite with our library staff, The Little Paris Bookshop received rave reviews at Nevermore.  Our reader thought it would be a cutesy, sweet sort of book, but he said it turned out to be a great novel with incredible emotional impact.  “[It] surprised me the power of this book,” he told his fellow Nevermore members.  Even the subplots had substance, he noted, and the characters were excellent.

Nevermore also took a look at Sidney Chambers and the Shadow of Death by James Runcie.  Noted as a cross between Agatha Christie’s mysteries and G.K. Chesterton’s beloved Father Brown—and inspiration for the hit television show, GrantchesterSidney Chambers and the Shadow of Death is an intriguing mystery set in Grantchester, England, in 1953 during the coronation year of Queen Elizabeth II.  Sidney Chambers, vicar of Granchester and honorary canon of Ely Cathedral, is drawn into a series of unexpected mysteries and, together with his friend—and Cambridge inspector—Geordie Keating, he finds himself set up as an unconventional clerical detective.  Our reader enjoyed Runcie’s first novel in his Grantchester Mysteries series, saying it was very well-written and incredibly interesting.  Although she said the narrative of the plot was a little bit slow, she said the novel was very good, overall.

Shifting gears, our Nevemore readers looked at a classic memoir of India during World War II with Home to India by Santha Rama Rau.  A teenaged girl who had spent much of her life and education abroad in London, Rau returned to India in the thick of the Second World War when their father, a diplomat, was stationed in South Africa.  Simultaneously moving and heart-wrenching, Home to India is one girl’s incredible account of trying to reconnect with her native country and her gradual involvement in the complex, nuanced world of Indian politics and art.  Our reader borrowed Rau’s memoir from her fellow Nevermore reader, who highly recommended it, and said it’s an incredibly interesting piece of work.  “What I know about India comes from PBS,” she admitted, so Home to India was an insightful and enlightening memoir that corrected her misconceptions and introduced her to a new side of Indian culture, art, education, and politics.

Like the memoir of Santha Rama Rau, A Different Kind of Daughter by Maria Toorpakai is a moving account of one young woman’s attempts to make a place for herself in the world and craft her own identity.  In A Different Kind of Daughter, Toorpakai recounts her harrowing journey from the violent alleys of Peshawar, a frontier city in north Pakistan, to the international spotlight as an advocate for oppressed women and an internationally renowned squash player.  Toorpakai spent much of her childhood disguised as a boy, learning how to fight on the streets of Peshawar, before finally channeling her considerable talent and determination into athletics—and, finally, squash.  Our Nevermore reader absolutely loved Toorpakai’s memoir.  She said she learned so much about Pakistan, about its history and its turbulent political climate; however, she also learned a great deal about Toorpakai and her fight to compete in the sport she loved.  It’s a moving account of liberation and dogged determination, but it’s also a well-written narrative that delves deep into the social and political issues of the modern world.

Last, Nevemore looked at The Devil is Here in These Hills:  West Virginia’s Coal Miners and Their Battle for Freedom by James Green.  West Virginia is at the heart of the coal country, a state wracked by divisive and deadly altercations between labor unions and the powerful corporations which mined there.  In The Devil is Here in These Hills, Green recounts some of the most harrowing events in West Virginia’s history and introduces readers to some of the most prolific characters in the fight for unionization and civil rights of coal miners.  Our reader was incredibly pleased with Green’s book.  Wonderfully written and highly detailed, it offers insight into the formation of the coal mining industry from the sudden push into the wilderness in search of coal and the formation of constricting company towns during the 1870s to the violent skirmishes at Blair Mountain.  Our reader was especially interested in the Battle of Blair Mountain.  Distinguished as the largest labor uprising in the history of the United States, the Battle of Blair Mountain was the first and only time the U.S. Army dropped bombs on American soil—and American citizens.  He was fascinated to learn so much about events that had such an impact locally on the region and abroad.

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