Friday, November 29, 2019

There There by Tommy Orange

Reviewed by Christy

            As they’re prepping for the Big Oakland Powwow in California, thirteen different Native Americans reflect on their lives, pasts, and the history of Natives as a whole.

There There is told from alternating, multigenerational perspectives, which in my opinion, isn’t an easy feat. Orange mostly pulls it off, though I did have to flip back a few times to refresh my memory on certain characters. However, I was never bored with certain viewpoints, and I didn’t think any of it dragged which is more important to me than whether or not I have to focus more to keep track. There’s teenage Orvil Red Feather who will be dancing for the first time after discovering old regalia in the closet and watching powwow footage on YouTube. His grandmother, Opal Viola Victoria Bear Shield, is raising him and his younger brothers but never talks much about their Native heritage. Because of this, Orvil is keeping his intention to dance a secret but, unsurprisingly, Opal knows all about it and intends to sneak in and watch him. Opal’s sister Jacquie Red Feather is coming to the powwow as well. Jacquie, a recovering addict and Orvil and his brothers’ true grandmother, has never met her grandsons but is starting to think maybe she is ready. Dene Oxendene will be at the powwow filming Native participants who want to tell a story, any story, into his camera. Those are just a few of the interesting characters we meet, and then there are a couple of men planning to go to the powwow for darker reasons.

            I really liked this novel, and I’m glad I stepped out of my comfort zone a little bit to read it. I enjoyed the slow little reveals of how some of the characters were connected, and the “intermissions” throughout that gave a little backstory on Native history in America. Opal and Jacquie, for example, were children during the Native occupation of Alcatraz in the early 70s which I had never heard of. To this day, thousands of indigenous people travel to Alcatraz to dance before sunrise to honor their ancestors on what is called Unthanksgiving Day. This book was enjoyable and sad and interesting all at the same time. I’m glad I got a little peak into a culture and history I knew nothing about.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Nevermore: Trigiani, McCall Smith, Guiet, Kate, Carroll, Atwood, Coelho, West, Phillips, Steinem

Reported by Laura

All of the book club members are fans of Adriana Trigiani and Big Cherry Holler was no exception. Book two in the Big Stone Gap series finds Ava Maria and Jack going through a rough patch after 8 years of marriage. They have already weathered incredibly rough times, including the death of their 3 year-old son, Joe. More difficult times are ahead as Ava begins to wonder if Jack even loves her anymore. Definitely worth a read.

            Espresso Tales by Alex McCall Smith is the 2nd book in the 44 Scotland Street Series. It focuses on Bertie, a six year-old boy whose mother wants him to dress and act like a girl. Bertie, on the other hand, just wants to be a regular little boy and have friends. As always, the author tells the story with gentle humor and sympathy for his characters.

            The Orphan’s Song is Lauren Kate’s debut adult novel. In the past she has had great success with the YA genre. This historical tale, set in 1736 Venice, follows the intertwined fates of two Venetian orphans. Violetta and Mino meet on the rooftop of the Hospital of the Incurables, an orphanage and music school run by the Catholic Church that keeps boys and girls separated. They dream of escape, but Violetta’s beautiful voice is discovered by the resident Maestro and music overtakes her life. Mino, meanwhile, leaves to search for his long-lost mother. This intriguing love story covers heartbreak and betrayal, but moves beautifully to an unforgettable conclusion. The reviewer felt it was a wonderful story and worth a read.

            Scholars of Mayhem by Daniel C. Guiet is written by the son of the only American of a team of Allied secret agents who were dropped into Nazi-occupied France. Mr. Guiet’s father performed epic feats of irregular warfare to ensure German tanks were kept away from Normandy after D-Day. This was accomplished by any means necessary, including blowing up bridges. The reviewer especially enjoyed reading about the contributions of the women officers involved in the mission. 

            Our next reviewer thought Notorious Royal Marriages by Leslie Carroll was a lot of fun to read. It tells the stories of all six wives of Henry Vlll and covers the marriages of the Duke of Windsor and Wallis Simpson all the way to Princess Diana. The first part of the book is written in historical fashion, but the second half reads more like a gossip magazine. It is written in such a way that it would be easy to skip to certain chapters that are of interest to the reader.

            Margaret Atwood’s The Testaments is the long awaited sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale. Our reviewer thought it was even better than the original! Set fifteen years after the first offering, this book focuses on the Marthas who train the handmaids and introduces some new characters. It consists of the explosive testimony of three female narrators from Gilead. As the story progresses, there are signs that the regime of Gilead may be rotting from within. Definitely worth a look if you are already a fan.

            The Devil and Miss Prym by Paul Coelho asks the age-old question, are humans inherently good or evil? Set in a small mountain village, the story begins when a strange man arrives bearing eleven gold bars. He strikes up a friendship with Miss Prym, the local barmaid, and says he will give her one of the gold bars for her help. He has proposed that if the town kills one person, he will give the remaining ten bars to help save the dying town. The reviewer enjoyed this book so much, she wants to read all of the author’s books.

            The next reviewer felt that The Fountain Overflows by Rebecca West was one of the best books she had ever read. She has very fond memories of her mother and aunt reading it and categorizes it as an escape book. The story is set in the 1890’s and centers around the lives of a family whose mother is a former concert pianist. She tries desperately to get her young twins to follow in her musical footsteps, rather than those of their father, who is a gambler. The family experiences many adventures throughout the book, which is written with beautiful language. It came highly recommended. 

            The reviewer felt the mystery, Disappearing Earth by Julia Phillips, was a really neat book. The story covers the year following the abduction of two young sisters with each chapter covering one month. Set on the Kamchatka Peninsula at the Northern edge of Russia, this book shows the beauty of the country and the effect of the kidnapping on the tightly woven community. Unfortunately, another little girl goes missing, but few look for her as she is considered a native. In addition to the mystery and beauty of the area, this book also focuses on the racism against the indigenous peoples, who are immediately suspect when a crime is committed.

            The last book reviewed was Gloria Steinem’s Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions. This semi-biographical book covers a wide-range of topics; often times funny, others poignant. The reviewer felt it was really good and emphasized how women have been held down for so long. It made her feel part of the sisterhood and offered a feeling of camaraderie.

Monday, November 25, 2019

The Big Bad City by Ed McBain

Once again, we welcome back Kevin Tipple with a review.  Catch up with more reviews, book news, and interesting links at his blog, Kevin's Corner.

“So if you came here thinking, Gee, there’s going to be a neat little murder takes place in a town house and some blue-haired lady will solve it in her spare time when she isn’t tending her rose garden, then you came to the wrong city at the wrong time of the year. In this city, things were happening all the time, all over the place, and you didn’t have to be a detective to smell evil in the wind." (The Big Bad City, Page 32)
The detectives of the 87th precinct, let alone the other precincts of New York City have their hands full. That was before a suspect in the precinct cage knifed a fellow suspect before being shot by Detective Carella. That resulted in two teams of paramedics being brought in and the obligatory visit from Internal Affairs Detectives on a mission to determine what the heck happened. It doesn’t help that it is August and the air conditioning in the precinct house is seriously on the fritz.
Then there are the murders.
One murder is the dead young lady found in Grover Park in front of a park bench. One could tell by looking at her throat she had been strangled. Detectives Brown and Carella had been ready to call it a day and go home when their boss, Lieutenant Brynes sent them out on the case. A case that is going to become incredibly complex.
The burglar nicknamed “The Cookie Boy” continues to do his deal of breaking into places and stealing stuff before leaving a container of homemade chocolate chip cookies behind.  Detectives Mayer and Kling have been on that case quite a while. A case that may now involve two murders.
The detectives are not the only ones on the hunt in the city. So too is a man bent on revenge. His target is one of the detectives of the 87th precinct. Like some of the other two legged predators that travel through New York City, murder is on his mind.
The Big Bad City: A Novel Of The 87th Precinct is a complicated police procedural with many moving parts. Like others in the series, it is a solidly good read. As noted in the above quote, this is not a read for cozy readers who prefer sanitized language and situations.

The Big Bad City: A Novel Of The 87th Precinct
Ed McBain
Simon & Schuster
January 1999
ISBN# 0-684-85512-7
Hardback (also available in various formats including paperback and digital)
272 Pages

My reading copy came from the downtown branch of the Dallas Public Library System.

Kevin R. Tipple ©2019