Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Nevermore: Grisham, Third Reich, Tan, Lilac Girls, A.J. Filkry, Allende, Baldacci, Joshilyn, Charlatan, Long Haul, King, Fifth Risk

Reported by Laura
            The books read this week were pretty evenly matched between fiction and nonfiction. The content was of a wide variety of genres.

            The first book reviewed was The Rainmaker by John Grisham. This is the story of a new lawyer who hasn’t been able to find a law firm to hire him and finds himself stuck with no money and a mountain of debt. Consequently, he decides to take the risk of a potentially lucrative case--should he be able to win it. This inexperienced young lawyer decides to take on a big insurance company who refused a claim that could have saved a man’s life. The reader loved this book so much, she is now checking out all the Grisham she can find!

            The next book was a military history, The Last Days of the Third Reich by James Lucas. This is an account of the revenge taken by liberated Hungary, Rumania, Czechoslovakia, and Yugoslavia on the surrendered German army. The reader found it very interesting on the human side and shocking that the German army was marched until almost all were dead. It also details Hitler’s suicide and exactly what happened to his remains.

            The Bonesetter’s Daughter by Amy Tan was recommended as a really good book. The mother remembers a time when she would find bones and use them for medicine and ink. It turned out that the bones may have belonged to The Peking Man and be worth a lot of money. This is just one of the many memories she tries to hold on to as her clarity fades. As in a lot of Ms. Tan’s work, the story does a good job of focusing on the generational struggles between a daughter and her Chinese mother.

            The Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly is a good book, but the reviewer found it hard to read due to the time frame. Set during WWll, it tells the story of three different women and the varying ways their lives are affected by the war. One is a socialite, one a doctor at a concentration camp, and one a Polish teenager who is sent to the notorious women’s camp, Ravensbruck. Crossing continents, these women’s lives intertwine as they each experience a world changed by war.

            Our next book, The Storied Life of A. J. Filkry by Gabrielle Zevin, tells the story of a man who owns a book store on an island off the coast of Massachusetts. A.J. Filkry is something of a book snob and his shop begins to lose business after the loss of his wife, Alice. Things go from bad to worse when his first edition of poems written by Poe (and extremely valuable being only one of 50) is stolen. But then… someone leaves him a package that changes, not only his outlook, but his entire life.
            Of Love and Shadows by Isabel Allende tells of Irene Beltran, a young woman who was raised in wealth, but chooses to become a magazine journalist. Over time, she grows to rebel against the oppressive regime of the Latin American country where she lives. Then she meets and begins to fall for a photographer whom she joins in his search for missing people. The reviewer loves books by this author!
            Gods in Alabama by Joshilyn Jackson was really good! Arlene is raised in the south, but escapes up north as soon as she is able. Despite repeated pleas from her Aunt Fran, who raised her, she resists returning to her roots, and keeps that vow until her fiancĂ© insists on meeting her family. To save her future marriage, she returns, but comes face to face with the buried secrets she ran away to escape from in the first place.

            Our next nonfiction offering was Charlatan by Pope Brock. This intriguing story covers the rise and fall of medical con man Dr. John Brinkley. During the 20’s and 30’s, this shyster became known as the “goat gland” doctor. Pretending to have studied medicine, his claim to fame was inserting goat testicles into impotent men. “Doctor” Brinkley had a radio show and was a pioneer in the use of advertising on the air. Interestingly, he helped to launch the career of several country legends, including our own Carter Family!
            David Baldacci’s Redemption was a page turner. Amos Decker is an FBI agent who returns to his hometown to visit the grave of his murdered daughter on what would have been her 14th birthday. While there, he is approached by a man he helped convict of murder 13 years ago. The man has received compassionate release due to a terminal cancer diagnosis and is still reiterating his innocence. That same night, the man is killed and Decker is faced with the possibility that he may have helped to convict the wrong man.
            The remainder of our reviews were of nonfiction books. Our reviewer loved The Long Haul: A Trucker’s Tales of Life on the Road by Finn Murphy and found it to be a page -turner. This book is a socialized study of truckers and the people who haul furniture. Murphy has many stories to tell of his long haul trips across the country in the 18 wheeler he calls “Cassidy.”

            Note to Self is a collection of inspiring essays originally shown on a popular segment of CBS This Morning. Gayle King has gathered the best of the best from Joe Biden to Kermit the Frog. The premise is what you would say to your younger self to help navigate the pitfalls of life. Our reviewer found it interesting and thought provoking as it made her think about what SHE might say if asked to write such a note. What would YOU say?
            Our last review is for The Fifth Risk by Michael Lewis, a quick read and wonderful book. Mr. Lewis is a risk expert and covers the top risks facing our country. Data has been collected for years from various sources, including the National Weather Service. The greatest risk is what we don’t see coming! The fifth risk is identified as the risk posed by incompetent government leaders. This book comes highly recommended.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

The Hunger by Whitley Strieber

Reviewed by Christy

            John is dying. His long time love Miriam expected it but not so soon because, after all, John is only around two hundred years old. Though the word is never mentioned, Miriam and John are vampires, together for centuries. Miriam has been through this before. Her companions will begin to age rapidly, become more ravenous with time, and eventually experience “eternal death”. Usually they can live anywhere from four to eight hundred years. But not John. So Miriam sets out to find a new companion to take his place.
            Miriam has her sights set on a young scientist named Sarah Roberts. Sarah believes she may have discovered the antidote to aging, which is what catches Miriam’s attention. The Hunger is not exactly action-packed but a slow, quiet horror. It doesn’t shy away from blood but also doesn’t overindulge in it either. I did feel like I was pushing myself to finish it at times but overall it held my interest enough to keep going. One thing I particularly appreciated about Strieber’s take is that there are new rules on the old vampire lore. They can go out in sunlight, and they don’t have to be invited in to enter your house. Though it is never stated explicitly, it is hinted at that Miriam was born a vampire, and that her species is going extinct. She can turn humans into her kind but, unlike her, they do not actually live forever. (A fact she chooses not to share with them.) And I don’t want to spoil anything but finding out what “eternal death” entails is pretty horrifying.
            I also really liked the little glimpses into Miriam’s past throughout the ages. I don’t know if I would recommend The Hunger to a reader who wants a fast-paced horror. I do, however, think it’s a solid read with a very dismal ending that packs a punch.

Monday, October 28, 2019

The Spook in the Stacks: A Lighthouse Library Mystery by Eva Gates

Reviewed by Jeanne

Lucy Richardson loves her job at the Bodie Island Lighthouse Library, a real repurposed lighthouse.  Lucy even has an upstairs apartment she shares with Charles, a charming and regal Himalayan cat, making this an ideal job.  Even more exciting is the prospect of having an important local history collection donated to the library, complete with funds for building a climate-controlled storage/ research area. It’s not a done deal, however, and a nearby college library is also in the running for the offer. When the potential donor is found murdered, Lucy is determined to clear the library’s reputation as well as save a new friend from a murder charge.

This fourth book in the series is enlivened by the Halloween setting, somewhat appalling to Lucy who is no fan of skeletons, fake spider webs, or bats.  Lucy’s arch-rival takes the opportunity to retell (and embellish) local ghost stories, especially those featuring the lighthouse, much to Lucy’s dismay. Also, the book club is reading and discussing some of Washington Irving’s work. I’m a sucker for a good book discussion, and it made me want to re-read The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.

While the mystery is competently handled, it’s the characters that really catch my attention.  There’s book collector Theodore, with his fake British accent and bow ties, the irritating Louisa Jane, and the indispensable Ronald, the children’s librarian with a flair for the theatrical.  The North Carolina setting is also a plus, and I found it great fun to imagine living in a lighthouse library.  (A bit mindboggling as to how they fit a children’s area, book stacks, archives, etc. in a lighthouse, but I decided it’s like Dr. Who’s Tardis:  much bigger on the inside.)  A bit of romance rounds out the story.

If you’re looking for a good cozy mystery, this series might just fit the bill.

The earlier titles are
By Book or By Crook
Booked for Trouble
Reading Up A Storm

Note:  Eva Gates is a pseudonym for Vicki Delany who writes several other mystery series under her own name, including the Sherlock Holmes Bookshop Mysteries.

You can see pictures of the real lighthouse here: Bodie Island Lighthouse.