Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Nevermore: Deadly Company, Poor People, In Country, Behind Closed Doors and I Used to Believe I Had Forever

Reported by Ambrea

Nevermore kicked things off with a curiously grisly book, sharing In Deadly Company:  Fifty Murderous Men and Women by Don Lasseter.  In Deadly Company profiles “fifty of the most heinous killers in modern history,” as the book jacket attests, and offers detailed insight into their past, their crimes, and, ultimately, their fate.  Detailed and full of interesting information, our reader found she liked reading Lasseter’s book.  It was a dark, gruesome read; however, she said she didn’t think it was all bad.  There was a silver lining beneath all the terrible stories:  All the killers listed were ones who were captured and convicted for their crimes.

Next, Nevermore looked at Poor People by William T. Vollmann.  Like In Deadly Company, Poor People proved to be rather grim reading about poverty.  For his book, Vollmann traveled the world to interview the impoverished.  He offers glimpses into the poorest cities in the poorest countries in the world, taking his readers from the slums of Klong Toey to the streets of Petersburg, Russia, to the homeless camps in Miami, Florida.  More than offering a portrait of the lives of the homeless and the destitute, Poor People allows the impoverished to tell their stories as they have lived them.  Our reader said Vollman’s book was heart-breaking, enlightening, and intriguing all at once.  She also noted that Vollmann provides a better picture of poverty in the United States that the rest of the world.  Although he does a wonderful job of painting an image of the rest of the world, he simply has a sparser gathering of information about foreign nations versus the United States.

From poverty, Nevemore went back in time to the Vietnam War with In Country by Bobbie Ann Mason.  Summer, 1984:  Sam Hughes has struggled to reconcile her father’s picture with the vague history she knows of him for her entire life.  She knows he lived in Kentucky, she knows he joined the military, and she knows he went to Vietnam—and she knows he never came back.  Sam, desperate to know more about her father and the war that claimed him, sets off on an incredible personal journey that leads her to answer she never expected to find.  Our reader raved about In Country.  She called Mason’s novel a poignant picture of loss and war and memory—and she loved every minute of the story.  She compared Bobbie Ann Mason to Flannery O’Connor for her ability to work beautiful prose and, moreover, her ability to paint an intimate portrait of rural areas.

Next, Nevermore continued with a curiously humorous collection of stories, poems, essays, and plays by William Saroyan.  Saroyan—a poet, playwright, novelist, script writer, and short story writer.  A jack-of-all-trades in the writing world—compiled I Used to Believe I Had Forever, Now I’m Not So Sure in 1968, an eclectic collection that, according to our reader, feels “very down home, simple” but without compromising the integrity of the work.  Our reader said he enjoyed reading Saroyan’s work.  Although he hadn’t read more than a few articles in Saroyan’s collection, he said he’d enjoyed many of the short stories and he’d appreciated the author’s ability to communicate easily with his audience.  Overall, he gave I Used to Believe I Had Forever very high marks.

Last, Nevermore showed off a brand new psychological thriller:  Behind Closed Doors by B.A. Paris.  Grace Angel seems to have the perfect life:  a beautiful house, a wonderful husband, a fantastic marriage—except looks can be deceiving.  Jack isn’t the affable gentleman he claims to be, neither is he the doting husband nor the charming romantic who took her to Thailand for their honeymoon; in fact, Grace knows better.  And she knows she has to get out.  Behind Closed Doors was a chilling, breathlessly thrilling novel that had our reader sitting on the edge of her seat.  She noted she enjoyed Grace’s narrative, she enjoyed the pace of the novel and the straightforward direction of the plot; moreover, she said she was invested in the story shortly after she began.  While she admitted that some of the story was hard to stomach—“If you’re an animal lover,” she warned, “don’t read it.”—she wanted to find out what happened to Grace and, ultimately, she was satisfied with the way it ended.  She highly recommended it to her fellow readers.

Monday, November 28, 2016

He's So Not Worth It by Kieran Scott

Reviewed by Ambrea
Ally Ryan had her entire school year ruined when her former friend, Shannen, decided to publicly ridicule her in front their entire high school class and their parents.  Now, she’s torn between her mother who wants to spend the rest of the summer at the Jersey Shore and her Dad who is suddenly back in her life, thinking they can reconnect after two years of radio silence.

Meanwhile, Jake—Ally’s former boyfriend—is desperately trying to fix their shattered relationship and do damage control with his parents after they force him to take a summer job.  Hanging at loose ends, Jake and Ally find themselves drifting farther apart as their lives change directions…and their friends drive a deeper wedge between them.

I had some very strong feelings about Kieran Scott’s novel, He’s So Not Worth It—and not all of them are good.

First off, I will note that Scott is a decent writer and she creates quite believable characters facing life-like tragedies, challenges, and troubles, and her novel is strangely compelling.  However, He’s So Not Worth It isn’t really my style, and it’s definitely not something I expected to plow through in a couple of days.

Several things are happening all at once in this book:  relationships being formed, relationships being torn asunder, friends and family and acquaintances shuffling around like a deck of cards.  It rather reminds me of a soap opera—or a train wreck—because it’s difficult to look away from the ensuing carnage.  I stayed with it until the end, which, confidentially, surprised me.

Annie was probably the best part of the novel.  Her mad cap adventures across the city in pursuit of gossip about Cresties—that is, people who live on the Crescent, the richest neighborhood in town— borders on obsessive, but her field notes were so fun and relatable that I couldn’t help enjoying her eccentricities.  She, like the reader, is strangely drawn into the world of the Cresties and she’s great for giving readers a bigger piece of the story.

However, I must also admit that I pretty much disliked everyone else in He’s So Not Worth It.  I found I just didn’t understand the culture that Ally finds herself thrust back into, I don’t understand the world of the Cresties—or the locals who live at the Jersey Shore—or how they can live the way they do.  For the most part, it’s infuriating to see their lives spiraling out of control, to see them acting completely ignorant of other ways of life besides their own.

Maybe, I missed something.  Maybe, I’m seeing too much of the story through the eyes of Ally, who has found herself ostracized from this decadent, rich world of the Cresties and recognizes her peers for who they are—and sometimes even calling them out for the things they do.  Then again, maybe I just don’t understand crazy people.

Regardless, I didn’t like many of them.

I mean, so many of Ally’s peers are just horrible people.  Even Jake is a bit of a self-involved tool who needs a reality check and a good kick in the backside, and he’s one of the good ones!  You have people like Shannen, who doesn’t care what kind of havoc she wreaks, so long as she gets what she wants.  I understand she’s going through a tough with her parents’ divorce, but that doesn’t give her the right to unleash a veritable Armageddon on other people’s lives (namely, Ally’s).

You have Hammond, who needs to take a chill pill and realize that his girlfriend—excuse me, ex-girlfriend—is going to stay mad at him, because he kissed another girl and found himself actively attracted to another person when he was still in a relationship.  (Girlfriends tend to stay mad about those things, FYI.)  Jake, who can’t grasp the concept of what it means to have responsibilities, who can’t understand why Ally is so angry at him for keeping a huge secret from her (and, subsequently, breaking her heart).  Cooper, who needs serious psychiatric counseling for his alcoholism and his volatile relationship with his mother, which causes fallout to rain down on everyone.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg.  I’m not even including the parents.

And, while I liked Ally, even she managed to fall into a self-destructive spiral that nearly ruined her relationship with her mother, her father, her best friend, and pretty much everyone she cares about.  She has a good head on her shoulders and I can see why she has a problem dealing with her father’s abandonment and his sudden return, her parents’ arguments that ultimately dissolve into venomous vocal sparring matches, and her mother’s unexpected relationship with a new man whom Ally doesn’t like.  It makes sense why she’s having problems, but she has these moments where I can’t help thinking, “What is wrong with you?”

I just don’t understand their world.  I don’t get their drama, or why things have to spiral so far out of control before people stop, step back, and think, “Huh?  Maybe I shouldn’t do that anymore?”  I get it, they’re teenagers, but do they have to be so very, very careless and, in a word, stupid?  These are kids who have their whole lives ahead of them, they have the world at their fingertips because of the wealth and prestige of their families.  They literally can do anything they want with their lives—and they’re out drinking on the beach, screwing around, ruining their own and other people’s lives.

I just don’t get it.

Honestly, it all makes me kind of sick and I can’t say I left this novel with a satisfied feeling.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Head Ball Coach: My Life in Football by Steve Spurrier

Reviewed by Jeanne

Love him or hate him, Steve Spurrier left his mark on SEC football starting with his years as a player and then as coach to Florida and South Carolina.  His press conferences were legendary; reporters could always count on a great quote from, as someone dubbed him, the Ol’ Ball Coach.  (Spurrier reportedly hated that version.  He always referred to himself as the Ball Coach or Head Ball Coach.)
In Head Ball Coach:  My Life in Football, Spurrier begins at an ending:  his unexpected resignation as the South Carolina coach.  As with most things, he decided to do it his way and, instead of waiting to be fired or struggle to hang on, he went out in the middle of the season on his own terms.  

The rest of the book covers his storied career, not necessarily in chronological order.  He played quarterback at Florida, was drafted by the 49ers into the NFL, and coached at Georgia Tech and Duke before ending back at Florida where he was welcomed as hometown boy made good.

In fact, his actual hometown is a bit closer to us.  One of my favorite chapters was “Johnson City Dreams,” in which he recounts playing baseball at Kiwanis Park—yes, baseball! He also played basketball and for a time considered that to be his best sport.  It wasn’t until his senior year that he began to show real promise as a quarterback in football, but even so the parades at Johnson City weren’t for football but for baseball.  Science Hill High School took the Tennessee State Championships for both 1962 and 1963. 

Spurrier was recruited by several colleges, but “recruiting” then wasn’t anywhere near the elaborate wooing that goes on these days.  He was interested in Tennessee but their offense at the time was based more on running not passing, which was Spurrier’s strong suit.  Instead, he visited a number of schools.  Florida was a bit of an afterthought, but ended up being his choice in part because it was January and the temperature in Gainesville was about 40 degrees warmer than it had been in Johnson City.

Another favorite chapter is entitled “Things I Probably Said.”  Spurrier’s own favorite came while he was South Carolina’s coach and commented on the annual game with Georgia:  “I always sort of liked playing them that second game because you could always count on them having two or three key players suspended.”

So if you’re feeling a little nostalgic and want to read about the way college football used to be, or you just want to hear some stories about great SEC rivalries, then pick up Head Ball Coach.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Nevermore: Smoke and Mirrors, Missing World, Civil War, and More!

Reported by Kristin

Nevermore began with one reader praising Elly Griffiths’ second installation in her series starring DI  Stephens and magician Max Mephisto:  Smoke and Mirrors.  In Brighton, England in late November 1951, two child actors are found dead in the snow.  To add to the horror of dead children, candy is sprinkled around the bodies, causing the press to dub this the “Hansel and Gretel” case.  Despite the morbid subject matter, the book is recommended enthusiastically.

Next up was The Missing World by Margot Livesey.  Main character Hazel is hit by a car, suffers a blow to the head, and loses her memory of the last three years.  Unfortunately, her ex-boyfriend Jonathan takes advantage of the situation and tries to control her life again as Hazel comes out of a coma but continues to suffer seizures.  Our reader described the character’s interactions as almost sitcom-like.

Dakota: A Spiritual Geography by Kathleen Norris was chosen by another reader upon reflection of current events in Standing Rock Native American Reservation.  As a newcomer to a land with so little water and so much isolation, Norris found herself exploring the wisdom held by Native Americans, Benedictine monks, and other high plains residents.  Our reader described it as a very spiritual book with a significant message.

One of Nevermore’s history buffs brought up a well-written book:  A Disease in the Public Mind:  A New Understanding of Why We Fought the Civil War by Thomas Fleming.  Beginning with the state of affairs before the Revolutionary War, Fleming discusses the roles of slaves in the northern and southern colonies.  As slavery began to diminish in other parts of the world, political leaders and private citizens began to question their conscience and some began to advocate for the abolishment of slavery.  The North and South became increasingly polarized over these issues, eventually leading to states’ secession and war.

Moving from North America to South America, the next book up was Turn Right at Machu Picchu: Rediscovering the Lost City One Step at a Time by Mark Adams.  As a travel magazine editor, Adams had travelled to Machu Picchu previously, but had taken the easier tourist route.  For this experience, Adams decided to walk (with mules and guides managing all the supplies) the “original” route travelled by Hiram Bingham a century ago.  Our reader said that this was a fun book but she was glad that she had not been the one walking amidst the giant spiders, snakes, and other dangers.

 How to Keep House by Sam Martin garnered a few chuckles because it is part of the tongue in cheek series “The Lost Art of Being a Man”.  With 1950’s style illustrations, in this book the man of the house is the one wearing an apron, ironing the clothes, and washing the windows while the woman sits back in an easy chair reading.  Joking aside, the book offers tips for modern householders who may not have learned how to remove stains from clothing, troubleshoot a malfunctioning vacuum cleaner, or replace a windowpane.

Finally, author Anne Wetzell Armstrong was touted as one of the most important (though largely unknown and unappreciated) novelists to live in the Bristol area.  Her novel This Day and Time is a tribute to the rural Big Creek community that she came to know after moving from Michigan to Tennessee as a child.  Armstrong also published several articles in the 1920’s about the emerging role of women in the workplace.