Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Nevermore: King, Hodgman, Winters, Scwalbe, Butigieg, Joy, Chernin, Mikulencak, Kadish, Klune, Anthony, See


Nevermore opened with comments about Stephen King’s The Dead Zone. The story revolves around one John Smith who has been in a coma and awakens with the ability to see the future—and it’s an unwelcome gift.  Our reviewer said she read the first third, skipped the middle, and read the end.  She felt if she needed to know more she could watch the movie.


She was more impressed with Vacationland by writer and comedian John Hodgman. It’s a meditation on middle age, beards, moving to Maine, growing up in Massachusetts, and whatever else crosses Hodgman’s mind.  She said it was a fun book, but not deep. 

Accidental Medical Discoveries by Robert Winters taught her that she didn’t care enough about the subject to even skip to the end.


Fortunately, she also had read The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe.  When Schwalbe’s mother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, the two of them formed their own book club, discussing everything from poetry to mysteries to the meaning of life.  She thought it was a wonderful book and was made even more wonderful because Schwalbe’s mother also liked to read the end of the book first.


Next up was I Have Something to Tell You:  A Memoir by Chasten Buttigieg, the husband of Pete Buttigieg.  Our reader thoroughly enjoyed the book.  The author writes movingly of growing up gay, being isolated, and without true direction.  He struggled to be the sort of son his parents wanted, but was unable to.  He did find himself as a teacher and performer, and was fortunate enough to meet Peter.  It’s a wonderful story with romance, acceptance, and achievement, and it’s told with warmth and honesty.


When These Mountains Burn by David Joy is a gritty mystery set in western North Carolina.  The story is told from several points of view, including that of a DEA agent, a drug addict, and his father.  It is beautifully written, with a vivid setting; our reader said you could see the places described.  Part of the plot involved the casino in Cherokee, NC and the effect it had on the people and the area.  She highly recommended the book.  

In My Mother’s House by Kim Chernin is the memoir about growing up as the daughter of an activist.  Her mother, Rose, was born in Russia, but moved to the U.S. when she was twelve.  She championed the rights of workers, advocated for tenants, and was a member of the Communist Party, which led to a jail sentence.  The book is as much about the mother/daughter relationship as it is about activism and communism.  This book has been read and recommended by more than one Nevermore member and will probably continue to make the rounds.


Mandy Mikulencak’s novel The Last Suppers is the story of a young woman who grew up near a prison where her father was a guard.  After he is killed in the line of duty, she takes it upon herself to prepare the final meals for those on Death Row.  She tries to get to know the condemned, sometimes working with their relatives to learn about the person, and records the last words before execution. Set in Louisiana in the 1950s, the book explores memories, compassion, race relations, and of course capital punishment in this wonderfully written book.  


The Weight of Ink had an interesting premise—the discovery of some historical documents during the renovation of a house—but our reader quickly bogged down.  She found the novel by Rachel Kadish to be too wordy and dense to hold her interest.


A case manager for magical children is the main character in T.J. Klune’s fantasy The House in the Cerulean Sea.  Linus has lived a relatively quiet life until this assignment to check out an orphanage which houses six children, none of whom are quite human and one of whom may be the Antichrist.  The story was surprisingly sweet and fun, and our reviewer enjoyed it.


The Elephant Whisperer by Lawrence Anthony brought the meeting back to nonfiction.  Anthony, a conservationist who founded a wildlife preserve in South Africa, is tasked with taking on a herd of elephants who have proven difficult to manage.  If Anthony can’t handle them, they will be destroyed.  Our reader loved this book which she said made her laugh and cry.  She has long had an affinity for elephants, having been able to interact with them a bit, and she found this to be a marvelous book.


Finally, Lisa See’s novel Island of the Sea Women  was praised by our next reader.  Set on the South Korean island of Jeju, the story begins in the 1930s with the friendship of two female divers and continues through the decades to the present. The Japanese occupation, the Korean War, and other events leave their mark on both women.  This is family generational saga is recommended for both its setting, fascinating look at the Korean culture and history, and the strong female friendships. Our reader was especially taken with the story of the women divers, one of the rare cases where the men raised the children and the women were the breadwinners by harvesting things from the sea.  Lisa See’s books are popular in Nevermore, with previous meetings discussing The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane and China Dolls.

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