Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Nevermore: King, Patterson, Newman, Metzl, Gotist

Reported by Lauren

This week’s meeting started off strong with one Nevermore reader sharing a horror novella by the master himself, The Sun Dog by Stephen King. One of his lesser-known works as it was published as part of a 1990 short-story collection, it’s about a teenage boy named Kevin who receives a camera, a Polaroid Sun 660, for his birthday. Everything seems fine until Kevin realizes every photo he takes contains a vicious, snarling dog that moves closer and closer to the forefront with each shot. He’s terrified of course, but when the sleazy pawn shop owner hears about this gift, he must have it for himself. Our reader called it “super scary, basically a Cujo 2!” and warned us not to read it before bed.

                Next we discussed one of James Patterson’s newer novels The Chef. Our reader loved this book, saying the descriptions of the featured dishes were mouth-watering. The plot is also exciting. It’s about a police detective named turned chef named Caleb Rooney living in New Orleans who is asked to help investigate the threat of a terrorist attack during Mardi Gras. Rooney also happens to be under investigation himself for a murder he didn’t commit. Like a typical Patterson novel, suspense, action, and romance abound, but the food was her favorite part!

                Our next reader reviewed a dystopian novel called The Country of Ice Cream Star by Sandra Newman. Set in futuristic America, a plague called the Posies has wiped out the adult population, killing everyone before they reach the age of twenty. The main character, a young girl named Ice Cream Star, sets off on a journey across the country in search of a cure that is rumored to exist. Our reader called this novel sadistic and bleak, but said the rhythmic prose was riveting. The way the characters spoke reminded her of a futuristic Gullah dialect, and kept her reading until the end. While she wouldn’t call this book one of her favorites, it definitely stuck with her.

                Sticking with futuristic novels, our next reader shared Genesis Code by Jamie Metzl. Metzel is an expert on biogenetics as well as Asian affairs, so the novel was very realistic. Set in 2023, the United States has defaulted on its debt and is now owned by China. When young women start mysteriously dying, an investigative journalist named Rich is determined to figure out what’s happening. However, the tyrannical government owns all news publications and does everything in their power to squash the story. Our reader thoroughly enjoyed the action, suspense, and realistic science this book offers, and was eager to read more of Metzl’s work, both the fiction and the nonfiction. 

                Our last reviewer picked up Enough About You: The Narcissist’s 7-Step, 1-Minute Guide to Sacred Spirituality, a Self-Empowered Career, and Highly Effective Relationships by Mimi E. Gotist on a whim. She enjoyed the snarky humor, and could empathize with the writer as she offered advice on how to get over it and move on when your relationship with a narcissist ends. Gotist uses her writing to satirize the self-help genre; almost every element of this book is humorous. Even the blurbs reviewing the book are hilarious. For example, “N. Bonaparte” writes, “Thanks to Mimi E. Gotist, history will finally understand me!” Our reader recommended this short novel if you’re looking for a laugh.

Monday, July 29, 2019

A Risky Undertaking for Loretta Singletary by Terry Shames

Guest reviewer Kevin Tipple is back with his review of a mystery novel.  Check out his blog Kevin's Corner for more book reviews and book news, as well as links to topics of interest.

 Reviewed by Kevin Tipple

A Risky Undertaking for Loretta Singletary is the eighth book in this long running and very good series. This time Chief of Police for Jarret, Texas, Samuel Craddock becomes increasingly concerned about the disappearance of his neighbor and friend, Loretta Singletary. Until he really sat back and thought about it, he hadn’t paid much attention to the fact that in recent weeks Loretta started dressing different and had a new hair style. Samuel Craddock was used to how Loretta was, her routines such as the one that included her walking over from her house early in the morning bringing home made cinnamon rolls warm from her oven, and the fact that she kept her life fairly private. She is not one to talk about her personal business or share a lot of confidences so he wasn’t paying much attention to the changes she was making in recent weeks.

Then she upset the routine by going missing and can’t be found anywhere. The easy explanations of Loretta taking a trip to visit family, shopping with a friend, don’t fit. Loretta is gone and no one has a clue where she has gone. By poking around a bit in her home and asking a lot of questions of everyone in her life, Samuel Craddock begins to piece together the idea that she has signed up for one of those dating sites. In her case, one that caters to seniors and folks that live in small towns. A little research also convinces him that such sites are dangerous for anyone and that is especially true for the older folks.

When another woman in a nearby town is killed, Chief of Police Samuel Craddock’s fear almost becomes flat out panic. The other woman’s personal circumstances mirrored Loretta’s and she used the same dating site. If the local church going folks would quit arguing over the long tradition of the goat rodeo, Chief Craddock would sure appreciate it as there is far more important matters at stake.

A Risky Undertaking for Loretta Singletary by Terry Shames is another excellent entry in the long running series. The author skillfully weaves together a complicated tale of increasing suspense and mystery as the pages go by. Along the way there is plenty of background detail in two secondary storylines regarding life in Small Town Texas and how everyone knows your business. Those secondary storylines work to relieve the suspense a bit and provide a dash of humor here and there while not slowing down the overall pace of the book.

Make sure you take the time to return to the world of Samuel Craddock and Jarrett, Texas. You will be glad you did. 
A Risky Undertaking for Loretta Singletary: A Samuel Craddock Mystery
Terry Shames
Seventh Street Books
April 2019
ISBN# 978-1-63388-490-8
Paperback (also available in eBook format)
272 Pages

Material supplied by the good folks of the Dallas Public Library System.

Kevin R. Tipple ©2019

Friday, July 26, 2019

Skyward: My Low-G Life by Joe Henderson, Lee Garbett, and Antonio Fabela

Reviewed by Ambrea

Willa Fowler has spent her life living in low gravity.  After G-Day—the day when Earth’s gravity shifted—Willa grew up in a world where people can float through the air and literally leap buildings in a single bound.  Granted, if a person jumps too high they can literally float off into space, but that’s never been much of a problem for Willa.  But when she’s caught up in a secret plan by her father to restore earth’s original gravity, she may just realize that living in a world without gravity is just as dangerous as it is exhilarating.

I happened to see Skyward:  My Low-G Life by Joe Henderson, Lee Garbett, and Antonio Fabela on the OWL website.  Initially, I liked the cover art:  bright, eye-catching and intriguing, it looked like just the kind of thing I would read.  I happened to be in the market for a good superhero comic—except it wasn’t a superhero comic and I fell completely prey to judging a book by its cover.  Luckily, Skyward is a great comic, even if it wasn’t quite what I was expecting.

The comic opens with G-Day and those first, fatal seconds of low to no gravity.  Fast forward twenty years, we meet a grown-up Willa and discover the world is a much different place.  Suddenly, readers encounter a planet where street signs are unrecognizable relics, penthouse views are the norm, and magnetic shoes are all the rage among the wealthy.  I was particularly intrigued to see what happens to rainstorms, as well as how people adapt to new circumstances and how social dynamics reformed to accommodate an upside-down world.

I also loved the main character.  She’s quick, she’s tough, she’s feisty, and she’s unbelievably smart.  She doesn’t appear to be afraid of anything, but she also recognizes when she can rely on her friends and when she needs to make a strategic retreat.  She has a complex background that involves loss and tragedy that shapes her in unexpected ways—place secrets from her father’s life that will continue to shape her future.

Overall, I really enjoyed reading Skyward.  The story is quick, action-packed and enjoyable; the panels are colorful and well-drawn; the pace is superb, creating a whirlwind ride that can leave you a little breathless.  Although it can seem a little wild and, you know, “out there,” given the lack of gravity, but it’s an interesting science fiction concept that I’ve never really encountered.   Personally, I’ll be excited to catch the next collection—Here There Be Dragonflies—when it comes out in February 2019.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams

Reviewed by James Baur

Premiering in 1944, The Glass Menagerie after a rocky start became a famous play and won the New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award. Like other plays of the period, The Glass Menagerie focuses on the drama of family life and explores topics such as feeling “stuck” in life and achieving ones’ dreams. What makes this play stand out is its unique usage of a narrator that both speaks on the events of the story and takes part in them. As such, the events are presented as he looks back on them in his mind. This really works to the play’s advantage, allowing for much more dramatic conversations, placement of music, and scene descriptions. The narrator claims that his memory isn’t the most reliable, so it’s up to the audience to think about what really happened in these scenes.

            The play focuses on the Wingfield family. Tom, the narrator, is dissatisfied with his life and seeks adventure. However, his obligations to family have prevented him from acting on these desires. Laura, Tom’s sister, is a very shy and sensitive woman who collects small glass statues – the titular “glass menagerie."  Amanda, the mother, seems to be stuck in the past and thoughtfully reminisces on the days of her youth. Finally, and most interestingly, we have the father figure, Mr. Wingfield, only present in the form of a smiling picture on the wall. He isn’t dead, however. Mr. Wingfield chased his own desires and abandoned his family. Each character faces a problem and desires a change in their life, but the way of accomplishing it isn’t immediately apparent.

            The play offers many little subplots, from Tom’s work life to Amanda attempting to arrange a date for the chronically shy Laura. Each share in common this failure to find something that makes them happy. Many will claim that the “glass menagerie” is simply a reference to Laura’s fragile emotional state, but it actually applies to each member of the family and serves as a sort of ironic message to the audience. Whether it is Tom afraid to emulate his father and walk out on his responsibilities, Laura being too nervous to get very far, or Amanda being stuck in her past, they all are afraid to “rock the boat” so to speak. They seem to think that one little knock will shatter this glass menagerie that the story speaks so much of. The story doesn’t end favorably for everyone by any stretch of the imagination, and this is largely because their behaviors do not change throughout it. In fact, the only person that escapes the life presented in the play makes a rather drastic action that may not have even been the morally right choice. The Glass Menagerie seems to urge the audience to make a decision when the time comes instead of endlessly lingering on it. While it may not be the correct one, the only way to find out is by trying.   

            The play is especially enjoyable to read, as the drama is amped up intentionally. Tom uses the excuse that memory allows for things to be presented more dramatically and somewhat unreliably. The stage notes include images and words flashing onto the stage and music appearing at different intervals. The reader will also get a pretty quick idea of the problems of each character and their personalities. They seem to be overstated and larger than life, which adds to entertainment value. The play is not written in any sort of intimidating dialect, and it isn’t very lengthy either. I would highly recommend The Glass Menagerie as an introduction to the genre of American plays for the adult reader. The action is quick, the message is interesting and contemplative, and the interesting “memory” mechanic of the play ensures a unique read, even for one experienced in other plays.

James Baur is a student at Valparaiso University, in Indiana who lives in Bristol when not away at school. While he studies Japanese and Accounting, he has always had a strong interest in literature and drama, especially classic works. 

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Nevermore: Davis, McCall Smith, Atwood, Andres

Reported by Christy

In Helen Humphreys’ The Lost Garden, Gwen Davis is put in charge of the farming of potatoes for the war effort. The women she is supervising, however, are much more interested in the Canadian soldiers stationed at the estate. In order to gain control, Davis arranges frequent evening dances where her girls can mingle with the soldiers. In doing so, she discovers feelings she’s never felt before, and she also stumbles on a hidden, forgotten garden with its own secrets. Our reader found this book “pleasant” and a “quick read."

In Alexander McCall Smith’s The Department of Sensitive Crimes, no case is too small or weird to tackle for a Swedish team of criminal investigators. Cases include a stabbing of a man in the back of the knee and a woman’s missing imaginary boyfriend. Our reader enjoyed this novel, calling it “too fun."

Margaret Atwood’s The Heart Goes Last tells the story of Stan and Charmaine who are living in their car and trying to survive amidst societal collapse. The couple decides to participate in the Positron Project where they will have jobs, food, and a nice, clean house for alternating months. Every other month they will become prisoners in the Positron prison system. The couple is fine with this arrangement until Charmaine makes a decision that will ultimately put Stan’s life in danger. Our reader found this book to be “frightening."

Mere days after Hurricane Maria ravaged Puerto Rico, Chef Jose Andres traveled to the island to help the only way who knew how: by feeding people. Andres tells his story in We Fed an Island: The True Story of Rebuilding Puerto Rico, One Meal at a Time. Our reader called Andres “passionate” and found his story “inspiring."