Monday, December 31, 2018

1,000 Books to Read Before You Die: A Life-Changing List by James Mustich

Note:  Since the New Year is traditionally the time to make resolutions, we offer our favorite, the one we'd put at the top of all our lists:  to read more books.  Here is a review of a book that might just get you started.

Reviewed by Kristin

A hefty volume to challenge you, 1,000 Books to Read Before You Die:  A Life-Changing List by James Mustich suggests a wide variety of literature with inherent cultural value.  The book is much more than a checklist; each recommended title is described in about one page.  Other well-known works by the author are also mentioned, as well as supplemental photographs and supporting images.

In other words, it’s a beautifully illustrated menu for the book-hungry reader.

I paged through the book just to see how many of the 1,000 books I had already read.  I’m not sure whether my total is below or above average, but it was about 100.  I was pleased to see the breadth of works included.  Children’s literature is well-represented as well as classical works by Homer and Euripides.  Modern works such as Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates take their place in history alongside The Secret of the Old Clock, the first Nancy Drew mystery by Carolyn Keene.  I was delighted to see Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier, one of the bedrocks of modern romantic suspense.

I find myself inspired to read some of the recommended titles.  Yesterday I picked up Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders, but I will admit that I found the multiple ghostly characters difficult to follow.  That’s okay—I think it’s important to acknowledge that not every book is for every reader, and sometimes it’s okay to put the book down in favor of another.  Next I plan to seek out The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers.  I never realized that McCullers was a woman, and that she wrote her most well-known novel at only age twenty-three.

The authors are arranged alphabetically, with certain multi-author works listed by title.  This ordering makes the mixing of genres interesting.  Science fiction, classical works, poetry, mysteries, history, art—this book has something for everyone.  Pick it up and you may find some of your dearest memories, or you may find your new favorite book.  As Mustich claims, this could be a life-changing list.

Friday, December 28, 2018

Christmas at the Cat Café by Melissa Daley

Reviewed by Jeanne

After a rough patch in life (as recounted in Molly and theCat Café), life has become sweet for Molly and her kittens.  She loves living with her human Debbie in the cat café, a novelty in the Cotswolds, and her five kittens are growing up into beautiful cats.  Even Jasper, the handsome tuxedo street cat who is the kittens’ father, has begun to come inside and enjoy the benefits of a home.

Into this picture of domestic bliss comes a storm in the form of Debbie’s sister Linda who has had a spat with her husband and decides to move in with Debbie.  Linda has brought along her dog, much to Molly’s horror, and proceeds to try to rearrange things to her liking.  She even decides to “help” at the café and brings in an aloof Siamese to draw in trade, the exotic cat being ever so much better than Molly and her kittens who are just “moggies.”

It’s not only the human family that is fracturing—there are spats and upsets in Molly’s own.  Will the families ever reconcile?

This is a lovely little holiday read with just the right amount of sweetness and frustration.  Molly is a delight, a wise little cat trying to understand the ways of humans and to look out for those she loves.  Debbie is a good person who tries to make peace with everyone:  her rather sullen teenage daughter, her shopaholic, self-centered sister, etc., at the expense of her own happiness. Debbie’s boyfriend Jim is being crowded out of her life and even the success of the café seems shabby under Linda’s scrutiny. 

The distinctly British setting is a plus for me, as is the way the book is resolved. This isn’t to say that all returns to the status quo but the ending was satisfying.

I finished the book with a happy sigh, and wished there was another to read.  I like spending time with Molly and family—both human and feline.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Nevermore: Infinite Wonder, White Darkness, Red Moon, Watermark, Someone Like Me, Mr. Britling Sees It Through

Reported by Jeanne

Infinite Wonder by astronaut Scott Kelly was the first book examined at Nevermore this week, much to the delight of the group.  Kelly spent a year in space at the International Space Station where he took numerous photos of the earth—no easy task when you consider that the planet doesn’t hold still for a snap.  There is a great deal of training involved. The resulting photos were greatly admired.

Another book portrayed an Earth landscape that is still alien to most of us.  White Darkness by David Grann described the 2008 expedition of Henry Worsley to Antarctica, following the expedition of his hero, Ernest Shackleton.  The text has Grann’s trademark writing (Lost City of Z, Killers of the Flower Moon) but our reviewer was most impressed by the incredible photographs.

The next book was Someone Like Me by Mike Carey, a dark psychological thriller about two women dealing with dark forces.  Liz is a single mother whose dark side emerges after an attack from her abusive ex-husband, while teenage Fran is still recovering from being kidnapped a decade earlier.  Our reader said she gave up on the book because she really didn’t like reading the point of view of someone who is psychotic.  She skipped ahead but it was more of the same, so she gave up.

Science fiction showed up this time in the form of Kim Stanley Robinson’s Red Moon.  In the not too distant future, China has a colony on the moon. American Fred Fredericks is sent to work on a new communications system, but that job is sidetracked when he is accused of murder.  Our reader enjoyed this as she has Robinson’s other works and praised it for some powerful scenes.

Watermark by Michael Hewes is a debut thriller set in Gulfport, Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina.  Matt Frazier has returned to what’s left of his home when he makes a discovery that will embroil him in a high stakes conspiracy.   Our reader thought it was well done and especially liked the setting.  She thought he did an excellent job of taking readers through the aftermath of the storm.  Nevermore members have read several non-fiction books about Katrina, and this one had a ring of truth to it.

Finally, Mr. Britling Sees It Through by H. G. Wells begins in the summer of 1914 and ends in October of 1915.  It has been described as a masterpiece of fiction about the Great War, though it was published in 1916 long before the war ended.  The main character, Mr. Britling, is a famous author and usually viewed as Wells’ alter ego by critics.   The book itself is more an examination of British and features three young men, an American, a German, and Mr. Britling’s son, who may or may not survive the conflict.  There’s a moral aspect to it as well; while Wells didn’t subscribe to any organized religion, he did believe in the possibility of personal good.  The book was a best seller in its time.  Our reviewer said, “If you love World War I, you’ll love this book,” but went on to say that it was moving and worth reading. 

Monday, December 24, 2018

'Twas the Night Before Christmas. . .

A Visit from St. Nicholas by Clement Clarke Moore

Thoughts on a Christmas reading tradition by Kristin

Reading the poem A Visit from St. Nicholas by Clement Clarke Moore (more commonly known as ‘Twas the Night before Christmas,) has been a long-standing tradition in my husband’s family.  We continued the reading with our children, and for many years they sat listening raptly as visions of sugar-plums danced and the jolly old elf laid a finger aside of his nose.

Then the teenage years arrived.

The “children” still listened, although they weren’t completely enraptured as in earlier years.  My husband teaches physics, and is fully accustomed to using his lecture voice to reach the back seats in the room.  He really, really, really loves this Christmas tradition, and I’m sure he’ll continue it forever, as his parents and grandparents did.  But for a few years, the storytelling might be a little rocky.

Kid: "Eight reindeer on your roof? That's going to be some major roof repair!"
Physics Dad: "They're magical reindeer. They have mass but no weight. Now let me read the story!"
Kid: "Tiny reindeer? Have you seen reindeer? They're massive!"
Physics Dad: "You're seeing them from a distance. It's all a matter of perspective! But that just proves my point that they're magical, they can be massive but exert no normal force on the roof!"

Finally the laughter subsided and we were able to hear “Now, DASHER! now, DANCER! now, PRANCER and VIXEN! on, COMET! on CUPID! on, DONNER and BLITZEN!”  The story’s familiar lines continued their ebb and flow, followed by the Nativity story.  This year too, you can be sure that round about nine o’clock on Christmas Eve in our house you will be able to hear…

'Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;

The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads;
And mamma in her 'kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled down for a long winter's nap,

When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.

The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below,
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer,

With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name;

"Now, DASHER! now, DANCER! now, PRANCER and VIXEN!
To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!
Now dash away! dash away! dash away all!"

As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky,
So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,
With the sleigh full of toys, and St. Nicholas too.

And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.
As I drew in my hand, and was turning around,
Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound.

He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot;
A bundle of toys he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a peddler just opening his pack.

His eyes -- how they twinkled! his dimples how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow;

The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath;
He had a broad face and a little round belly,
That shook, when he laughed like a bowlful of jelly.

He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself;
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread;

He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And filled all the stockings; then turned with a jerk,
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose;

He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.
But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight,