Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Nevermore: Marie Colvin, Dan Rather, Feather Thief, Gilead, The Sum of Us, Slaughterman's Daughter, Rainier Erupts, Exiles


 Reported by Jeanne

The Nevermore Book Club opened with a rave review for a movie.  A Private War is a dramatization of the last years of war correspondent Marie Colvin.  Colvin was an American who wrote for The London Times and who covered conflicts around the world.  She lost an eye while reporting in Sri Lanka, but that didn’t prevent her from continuing her career in dangerous situations. Her final assignment was in Syria. Our reviewer couldn’t praise it highly enough.


Fittingly, the next entry was a book by Dan Rather, also a news reporter.  What Unites Us: Reflections on Patriotism is divided up by categories, including “Freedom,” “Community,” and “Responsibility,” which are then subdivided under headings such as “Audacity,” “Environment,” and “Service.”  Our reviewer felt that Rather is an excellent writer, praising him for being both succinct and enlightening as well as patriotic.  She singled out his observation that the public has lost a great deal by having the news consist of sound bites instead of in-depth reporting.


This was followed by the historical novel The Slaughterman’s Daughter  by Yaniv Iczkovits. Written originally in Hebrew, the novel is set in 1895 in Russia where two Jewish sisters set out to track down the missing husband of the older sister, Mende.  Younger sister Fanny has always been something of a wild child, even training in their father’s profession of being a ritual slaughterman.  This training comes in handy on the journey which comes to involve bandits, the Russian secret police and the czar’s army.  Our reader recommended it highly, saying that it’s different, interesting, and enjoyable.

Rainier Erupts! by Thomas Hopp postulates what would happen if Mt. Rainier were to, well, erupt.  This novel follows several points of view, from scientists trying to predict events to one family struggling to survive.  Hopp presents a vivid picture, made more real to our reader because she has been to the area.  She said this was a good but not great book and added, “If you like a book about things going wrong, you’ll like this book."


The title of the Pulitzer Prize winning novel Gilead by Marilynne Robinson refers to the town of Gilead, Iowa where the Reverend John Ames seeks to write an account of his heritage to leave to his young son. Ames is in his seventies, and he knows there isn’t much time left to tell about his father and grandfather, both of whom were also men of God but who certainly did not see eye to eye.  It’s also a meditation on life, faith, and theology, wrapped up in beautiful prose.  “I wasn’t ready for this book before, but I am now,” commented the Nevermore member. She praised the book specifically for its “superb storytelling.”

Up next was the collection of American Short Stories which one of our readers has enjoyed dipping into for something light and refreshing. She particularly recommended “The School” by Donald Barthelme and treated us to a reading of the first few lines.


The Exiles by Christina Baker Kline has made the rounds of our readers, all of whom have been drawn into this historical novel which begins in 1840.  The book weaves together the stories of three women: an Aboriginal girl named Mathinna who has been taken away from her mother by a white aristocrat; a Scottish orphan who is caught stealing bread; and a London governess, also accused of stealing.  The latter two are convicted and shipped off to Australia as punishment. Our reviewer said the book was well worth reading and also put in a good word for Kline’s other novels, especially The Orphan Train.

The Feather Thief by Kirk Wallace Johnson is a true story that reads like fiction.  Author Johnson was fly-fishing with a friend when he first heard the story of the American student who stole hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of feathers from a British museum in order to make Victorian fishing flies.  Fascinated, Johnson began to research the story and wrote this incredible account not only of the theft but also about the mania for rare birds that drove some species to extinction or near-extinction.  Our reader found it to be an excellent book, both thrilling and informative.


Heather McGhee’s The Sum of Us:  What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together was described as a book that “sometimes makes you so mad and so depressed, but you still think everyone should read it.” The author believes that segregation hurts everyone, both the dominant group and the minority group, and causes the dominant group to become less flexible and compassionate.  Our reader pointed out that while everyone says they want diversity, their actions say something else.  People make choices that are more about their own comfort levels, going for the familiar.

Finally, there was a recommendation for a Netflix offering, “The River Runner.” It’s a documentary about kayaker Scott Lindgren, and our viewer thought it was both powerful and beautiful.

The session ended with a quotation from Bertram Russell: “The fundamental cause of the trouble is that in the modern world the stupid are cocksure while the intelligent are full of doubt.”


Other books mentioned:

Migrations by Charlotte McConaghy

Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs? Big Questions from Tiny Mortals about Death by Caitlin Doughty

Read My Pins by Madeleine Albright

Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom

Shadowlands by William Nicholson

Jack’s Life: The Life Story of C.S. Lewis by Douglas Gresham

Forget the Alamo by Bryan Burrough

Monday, September 13, 2021

The Duchess Deal by Tessa Dare


 Reviewed by Ambrea

 The Duke of Ashbury—Ash to his friends, if he had any—is a man faced with a problem:  he needs an heir, but, in order to get an heir, he first needs a wife.  Not necessarily a tall order for someone with a title and wealth beyond measure, but Ash has suffered a disastrous end to his military career, he’s badly scarred, he’s been jilted by his fiancĂ©e, and he’s become a curmudgeon and a recluse.  He fears he’ll have no luck convincing any lady to marry him—that is, until he meets Emma Gladstone.

 Emma has spent the last several years as a seamstress, so she’s no stranger to hard work or demanding nobility, but even the Duke of Ashbury manages to surprise her.  He broods, he glowers, he menaces.  He has a sharp tongue and a quick temper, and he has the audacity to ask her to marry him on the spot.  She knows a marriage would never work between them—or would it?

 Admittedly, Tessa Dare’s books are sometimes hit-or-miss for me.  For instance, I really liked reading Romancing the Duke, but I didn’t much care for Do You Want to Start a Scandal?  (Truthfully, I can’t even remember picking it up, but if Goodreads says I’ve read it, I’ve read it.  Probably.)  Likewise, I enjoyed When a Scot Ties the Knot, but I felt only lukewarm toward A Lady by Midnight, I wasn’t a fan of the Once Upon a Winter’s Eve novella, and I kind of hated How to Catch a Wild Viscount.

 But I’ve found The Duchess Deal, which is narrated by Mary Jane Wells, is an absolute treat.

 I originally listened to the audiobook last year and I enjoyed it so thoroughly that I finished it within two days.  I listened to it a second time a few months later—and, earlier this year, I listened to it again, because I have definitely fallen head-over-heels in love with this story.

 The Duchess Deal is humorous and fun, light and sweet, and, in a way, it’s comforting.  I always know it’s going to have a happy ending and, more to the point, I know that I’m going to enjoy Ash and Emma’s banter as they navigate their marriage—and their baggage—and, in time, create something meaningful.  I loved the way they interacted and, in particular, I loved how wonderfully Mary Jane Wells narrates the novel.

 Although I think the subplot with the “Monster of Mayfair” was a bit unnecessary—not unenjoyable, just not needed—I really liked reading and listening to The Duchess Deal.  In fact, I think I can honestly say it’s one of my favorite romance novels of all time.  (Historical romance, that is.  My favorite contemporary romance novel is currently a tie between Jennifer Crusie’s Faking It and Tawna Fenske’s Making Waves, but that’s a different conversation.)

 Overall, The Duchess Deal is a great read.  It’s light, it’s fluffy, it’s humorous and sweet; it isn’t overwrought or terribly angsty, and it isn’t overinflated.  It falls into that Goldilocks category—not too short and not too long, not too saccharine sweet and not too dark.  It’s just right.

Friday, September 10, 2021

The Only Plane in the Sky: An Oral History of 9/11 by Garrett M. Graff


            Reviewed by Christy

 Everyone of a certain age remembers where they were on September 11, 2001. I was 15 years old, and stuck in gym class followed by lunch. After initial rumblings of “something” happening, it was several class periods before I got any real information. (It was before smartphones after all.) While I remember those two classes vividly, the rest of the day is a total blank.

            In the subsequent years, I’ve watched retrospectives and read survivor accounts but I wanted to better understand the lead up to that day, as well as the devastating aftermath that reverberated throughout the world. For that, however, I will have to read something else. Fortunately, the author warns in the prologue that this was not that kind of book so I adjusted my expectations. The Only Plane in the Sky focuses on the stories of ordinary people on probably the most extraordinary day of their lives. We do hear from some big names such as Dick Cheney, Rudy Giuliani, and even Robert DeNiro, but mostly it’s every day folks who share their experiences.

            It probably goes without saying that this is an extremely difficult read. I think most people, listening to these stories, try to put themselves in others’ shoes. But it’s almost unfathomable. We hear from widows and widowers, schoolchildren whose nearby schools were evacuated, mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers. One man called his parents to tell them he was okay, and then went back into the World Trade Center to try to help others. He never came out again. The stories lay heavy.

            However, it is a worthwhile read. I appreciate the way the narrative was organized. It’s roughly chronological, jumping back and forth between the Twin Towers, the Pentagon, and Shanksville, Pennsylvania. It also has a small section from the perspective of those who were children or young adults on 9/11 – from a couple of months old all the way up to college students. It briefly touches on a few Muslim children (and adults) who almost immediately began experiencing prejudice after the attacks. I appreciate that it was addressed but it does feel slightly glossed over.

            The Only Plane in the Sky is a valuable resource for learning the stories of regular citizens on an unprecedented, historical day. Most of us can pinpoint the moment we learned of the attacks. With books like these, we can start to step outside of our viewpoint.