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“Pond” by Claire Louise Bennett

pondStaff Indiebound pick – A.K. Mini Review:

“Enforced remembrance is, I think, a most stultifying thing.”

Bennett has control over the English language that would make one think this is the work of a much older writer. Her prose style has been described as elegant, ardent, eccentric and obsessive compulsive, which isn’t a bad thing, and in Pond we have a writer who loves to write about the inner thinking of the human mind trapped in a society.  A woman recently removed from the university begins a sorta fresh start in a small village on the coast. She talks about the past but as the narrative develops she’s more concerned with talking about the shadows and the sounds under a tree as she winks and then naps. Whole pages and paragraphs devoted to eating bananas with coffee and the growth of potato plants and a theory of an organized life found in Spanish Oranges. Pond reminds me of Whitman’s Leaves of Grass and the confessional narrative found in Albert Camus’s The Fall; throw in some absurd comedy and the fondness of watching plants grow on your windowsill, and you have one of the best books released this year. It’s about the big day and being able to find innocent adventures in adult life in a world covered in signs saying pretty much how everything can kill you. It is a novel about wanting a bike that can go up hills…

“I had a bike but I needed a new one, a different one, one with gears, one that could go up hills, one that could go up hills and carry shopping, one that felt sturdy and safe at night along roads where there is no light, one that could go up hills.”


Andrew H. Kuharevicz

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“The Drummond Girls” by Mardi Jo Link

drummondgirlsA tribute to the power of friendship, The Drummond Girls tells the story of a fiercely tight bond of eight women forged and strengthened over two decades on the wild frontier of Drummond Island in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.  What begins as a quick party weekend getaway among four friends and co-workers turns into a solemn pact to return every year, barring only pregnancy or death.  Stripped of the entrapments of life (spouses, partners, housework, kids, jobs), they faced the wild together year after year with resilience and jello shots.

Link writes: “That we ever became friends at all is miraculous.”  Their group was made up of every combination of married, single, divorced; political spectrum from conservative to liberal to “None-of-Your-Damn-Business”; and education levels from high school to post graduate.  Besides Drummond Island, what they all share is a “puritan-esque independence.”  And by that she means that “one Drummond Girl does not ask another Drummond Girl for anything very often.  When one does, no matter what it is, you do not say no.”

There is something magical about the desolate, reckless, and wild beauty of Drummond Island as described by Link: thick woods, rocky shore, bears, and wolves.  While the lives of the women from year to year were subject to the unpredictable winds of chance and change: babies, marriage, divorce, career changes, unemployment, and even death, the island remained constant.  “The island didn’t care about anything that happened on the other side of the bridge.”  Link continues: “Everything in my life that was supposed to be secure, most notably my marriage and my finances, felt unpredictable.  My weekend away with the girls had started out as just a chance to party without interference from anyone, an opportunity to go somewhere to escape our responsibilities for a little while.  But it gave me something to look forward to, and had begun to feel more stable and certain than any other part of my life.”

Link grew up in Detroit, went to MSU for journalism and now lives in Traverse City.  Her memoir, Bootstrapper: From Broke to Badass On a Northern Michigan Farm, was an Indie Next pick, received the 2013 Booksellers Choice Award from the Great Lakes Independent Booksellers Association, an Elle magazine’s Reader’s Prize, the Housatonic Book Award for Nonfiction, and was named a Michigan Notable Book. Film rights have been sold to Academy Award-winning actress, Rachel Weisz.

She has also written the true crime books, When Evil Came to Good HartIsadore’s Secret, and Wicked Takes the Witness Stand, which were each Heartland bestsellers.

Mardi Jo Link will attend The Book Nook & Java Shop’s book club fto discuss “The Drummond Girls” at 6pm Wednesday, July 5.  Immediately following at 7pm, she will give a talk at the Montague Library.

Watch Bryan on WZZM Channel 13’s “My West Michigan” morning show at 9:00 a.m. on Wednesday, July 5.  Join The Book Nook’s monthly book club at 6:00 p.m., Wednesday, July 5 to discuss The Drummond Girls at the Book Nook & Java Shop in Downtown Montague with refreshments, snacks, beverages, and camaraderie; of course, everyone is welcome. The Club meets monthly all year long.  Get 20% off the Book Club’s book selection all month, too.

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“Spill Simmer Falter Wither” by Sara Baume

spillsimmerSpill Simmer Falter Wither, set in a small seaside town in Ireland, is the story of two outcasts: a socially misfit man and a one-eyed dog, who find — and bring comfort to — each other. The title is a descriptive word play on the four seasons during which the story takes place, and it sets the novel’s sad tone.

The book opens with a dog’s perspective: running wild, his left eye dangling from “some gristly tether.” And then we are inside the head of a man, peering in the window of a junk shop, noticing an ad from the local shelter seeking a compassionate and tolerant owner. The narrator, Ray, describes himself as a hulking man who lives alone in his recently deceased father’s house. He proceeds to describe his world and tell his story in first person present to the dog he adopts and names “One Eye.”

Author Sara Baume grew up wanting to be an artist, she studied art in college, and worked in an art gallery. It was when she started writing about art that she realized that writing came easily to her and was favorably recognized by others. And “Spill Simmer Falter Wither”, her first novel, is a work of art. Baume combines literature, music, and art in her writing. The sentences are meticulously and poetically crafted to evoke a certain lyrical musicality – a rhythm and sustaining cadence. Ray’s descriptions of his surroundings are like painting a still life in real time. Here is a simple, yet beautiful description of One Eye’s dish: “[n]ow the food bowl is the epicenter, to which the house is attached and everything beyond radiates from, like sun beams, like stingers of winged and boneless sharks…”

Ray’s outer self is gruff, disheveled, and anti-social, while his inner self is intellectual, compassionate, and sensitive. His house is full of stacks of books that he has spent his insular life reading. He notices everything from details about his surroundings to being curious about the motivations and thoughts of his dog and other people.

The story doesn’t have much of a plot, save for a dog fight that forces Ray and One Eye to flee town and embark on an aimless road trip and a slow unraveling of Ray’s history – how he was raised and how that affected him. The book seems to ask the question – what is a life? Is it outer focused: your achievements, the length and substance of your obituary, how others perceive you? Or is it inner focused and more existential: what goes on in your head, what you notice and pay attention to?

If you like gripping plot-based page-turners, this book is probably not for you. However, if you enjoy beautifully crafted sentences, a journey for a while inside someone else’s head and the healing companionship of a dog – I highly recommend this book.

Watch Bryan on WZZM Channel 13’s “My West Michigan” morning show at 9:00 a.m. on Monday, August 7. Join The Book Nook’s monthly book club at 6:00 p.m., Wednesday, August 2 to discuss Spill Simmer Falter Wither at the Book Nook & Java Shop in Downtown Montague with refreshments, snacks, beverages, and camaraderie; of course, everyone is welcome. The Club meets monthly all year long. Get 20% off the Book Club’s book selection all month, too.

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“The Woman in Cabin 10” by Ruth Ware

womencabin10A chilling summer page turner, The Woman in Cabin 10 is the second mystery thriller novel by British writer, Ruth Ware.  The protagonist Lo Blacklock is a journalist for a travel magazine.  She scores the assignment of a lifetime: a spot on the Aurora, an exclusive luxury cruise ship with only 12 cabins for the well-healed, set for its maiden voyage in the picturesque North Sea.  When the expedition starts out the sun is shining, the water is as sparkling as the guests, the rooms are exquisite, and the gourmet courses unsurpassed.  When Lo realizes she forgot to pack her mascara she knocks on the door of cabin 10 to borrow from a woman who answers in a Pink Floyd t-shirt.  Later in the week, the icy winds lash the deck, the skies grow dark.  After a night of dinner and drinking, Lo awakes suddenly – “… there was a splash. Not a small splash. No, this was a big splash. The kind of splash made by a body hitting water.”  When she looks outside, blood smears the glass of cabin 10’s veranda as the dark waters swallow what looks to be a woman.  When she reports what she saw and heard to the staff, her cries for help are in vain.  Cabin 10 is empty.  No blood is found.  Every passenger is accounted for.  The boat sails on as if nothing happened.

Did she just imagine it?  That’s what everyone is beginning to think.  Except for the murderer who is on the boat hiding in plain sight.  This whodunit is reminiscent of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express, with a closed number of possible suspects, keeping you guessing and on edge through to the end.  The more Lo delves, the more she becomes a target and her life is in danger.  She unravels the truth – more complicated than she imagined – and there is no going back.  How can you stop a killer when no one believes there was a murder?

With surprising twists, hair-raising turns, and a beautiful yet confining setting, this thriller will leave you unsettled long after the last page is turned.

CBS has acquired the rights to adapt and develop the novel as a movie.

Watch Bryan on WZZM Channel 13’s “My West Michigan” morning show at 9:00 a.m. on Monday, June 5.  Join The Book Nook’s monthly book club at 6:00 p.m., Wednesday, June 7 to discuss The Woman in Cabin 10 at the Book Nook & Java Shop in Downtown Montague with refreshments, snacks, beverages, and camaraderie; of course, everyone is welcome. The Club meets monthly all year long.  Get 20% off the Book Club’s book selection all month, too.

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“All the Light We Cannot See” by Anthony Doer

Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, All the Light We Cannot See is an exquisitely written, allthelightintricately woven, expansive story of two children growing up in the throes of World War II.  Marie-Laure lives with her father in Paris near the Museum of Natural History.  Her father works there as the keeper of keys and master of its thousands of locks. When she is six, Marie-Laure loses her sight and her father, a skilled woodworker, goes to extreme lengths to help her compensate.  He creates an exact, intricate miniature of their neighborhood out of wood.  She memorizes buildings and streets by touch which allows her to navigate the real-life neighborhood on her own, granting her freedom and independence. For her birthdays, he makes complicated wooden puzzle boxes that, when solved, reveal a gift inside.  When she is twelve, the Nazis occupy Paris, so she and her father flee to the walled fortress of Saint-Malo, where Marie-Laure’s reclusive great-uncle lives in a tall house by the sea. To guard against Nazi looting, the father secrets the museum’s most valuable and dangerous jewel – a priceless blue diamond called the Sea of Flames. It allegedly bestows on its keeper the gift of eternal life, but curses all he loves with unending misfortune. Suspense is added to the novel as a Nazi treasure hunter is hot on their trail, obsessed with pursuing the fabled gem.

In a parallel story in Germany, Werner Pfennig grows up in the coal-mining town of Zollverein with his sister Jutta – both orphaned when their father is crushed in the coal mines.  When they find a broken short-wave radio behind the Children’s Home where they live, Werner repairs it – discovering an uncanny talent and interest in electronics. On the radio, they chance upon a mysterious Frenchman talking about science and how the brain can create light in darkness: “What do we call visible light?” the Frenchman asks. “We call it color. But . . . really, children, mathematically, all of light is invisible.” They spend many evenings listening to the enigmatic Frenchman over the airwaves. Werner again proves his electronic prowess when a German officer asks if he can fix an expensive Philco radio owned by a rich, powerful couple in town.  Being successful earns him a reputation that spares him from a life in the mines and lands him a spot in an elite Nazi school that emphasizes military training. When he graduates, his discipline and scientific skill launch him into the Wehrmacht, where he is tasked with finding the sources of illegal radio transmissions. He becomes dispirited when on one of his missions he tracks a radio signal to its source: “Inside the closet is not a radio but a child sitting on her bottom with a bullet through her head.” He remembers the Frenchman’s broadcasts – a time when science was a tool for wonder and understanding, not for death and destruction.

The beauty of the novel is when the author, Anthony Doer, brings these two captivating lives together from opposite sides of the war.  In 1944, when Allied forces have landed on the beaches in Normandy, Werner’s unit is dispatched to Saint-Malo to find and destroy the sender of cryptic intelligence broadcasts.  Marie-Laure, Werner, and the gem chaser all come together in the novel’s climax in Saint-Malo.  The structure of the novel, cutting back and forth in time, is pieced together as intricately as one of Marie-Laure’s puzzle boxes – the gift inside is well worth the 544-page effort.

Watch Bryan on WZZM Channel 13’s “My West Michigan” morning show at 9:00 a.m. on Monday, May 1.  Join The Book Nook’s monthly book club at 6:00 p.m., Wednesday, May 3 to discuss All the Light We Cannot See at the Book Nook & Java Shop in Downtown Montague with refreshments, snacks, beverages, and camaraderie; of course, everyone is welcome. The Club meets monthly all year long.  Get 20% off the Book Club’s book selection all month, too.

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“Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher” by Timothy Egan

shortnights2Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher is a riveting biography of the epic life of Edward Curtis and his audacious project: running against the clock to capture the life of American Indians in photographs and recordings before it all would be lost to history.

When Seattle was a fledgling town and they were giving away land for free, Edward Curtis and his father made a reconnaissance journey from the Midwest to stake out a new homestead for the family.  Just as Seattle was a voucher to a new future, Curtis vowed to make his new-found love – the camera – his path to supporting himself financially.  Success came quickly.  His studio thrived and a portrait by celebrity photographer Edward Curtis was to become the status symbol of the upper crust of the Pacific Northwest.

America’s development, growth, and harvesting of riches in the West, displaced the natives who originally inhabited the area and depended on the natural resources for their existence.  Curtis was struck by Princes Angeline, daughter of Chief Seattle, holed up in a shack down by the shore, still living off the land.  It was illegal for Indians to live in the city, but she refused to leave.  He paid her one dollar to photograph her in his studio.  She died shortly after.

Another bit of synchronicity occurred when Curtis, on one of his many excursions in the mountains, rescued a couple of men from a glacier on Mount Rainier.  Namely, George Bird Grinnell, founder of the Audubon Society and friend of Theodore Roosevelt; and C. Hart Merriam, cofounder of the National Geographic Society.  The following spring, Grinnell invited him to tag along with his camera on the largest scientific exploration of Alaska.  Grinnell again invited him that summer to join him to capture the ceremonies of the Blackfeet Indians in Montana.  It was the seed that blossomed into the project that would consume the next 30 years of his life.  Encouraged by Teddy Roosevelt, who thought it was a “bully idea,” with  financing from J.P. Morgan, Curtis captured more than 40,000 photographs and 10,000 audio recordings of the American Indian.  He is credited with making the first documentary film with narration.

West Michigan will be hearing and seeing a lot about Edward Curtis in the coming months.  This book was selected in conjunction with the Community Read led by The Muskegon Museum of Art in preparation for their upcoming exhibit: Edward S. Curtis: The North American Indian which will open on May 11 and run through September 10.  The exhibit, sure to garner national interest, will feature 723 photogravures and the complete 20  bound volumes which were sold as a subscription from 1908-1930 (the museum owns subscription #70 out of 222). The exhibit will also include original field recordings of Native music, historic objects related to Curtis’s work, and examples of cultural artifacts represented in the photogravures. There will be many opportunities for book discussions, film screenings, lectures, and an evening with author Timothy Egan at the Frauenthal Theater on May 17.  All of the events surrounding the exhibit can be found on the museum’s website www.muskegonartmuseum.org.

The Book Nook will also be hosting events this summer in conjunction with the exhibit, including a screening of a documentary about Edward Curtis “Coming to Light;” the documentary by Edward Curtis “In the Land of the Head Hunters;” and “The Indian Picture Opera,” a recreation of the traveling Magic Lantern slide show Curtis created In 1911 in an effort to promote his book sales.  Stereo-Opticon projectors put Curtis’s stunning images on screens in America’s largest cities…. one scene dissolving into another. A small orchestra played music derived from Indian chants and rhythms, and Edward Curtis lectured on the intimate stories of tribal life.

Watch Bryan on WZZM Channel 13’s “My West Michigan” morning show at 9:00 a.m. on Monday, April 3.  Join The Book Nook’s monthly book club at 6:00 p.m., Wednesday, April 5 for a discussion of Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher at the Book Nook & Java Shop in Downtown Montague with refreshments, snacks, beverages, and camaraderie; of course, everyone is welcome, and the Club meets monthly all year long.  Get 20% off the Book Club’s book selection all month, too.

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“Hidden Figures” by Margot Lee Shetterly

hiddenfiguresHidden Figures is the extraordinary true story of the black female mathematicians at NASA whose calculations, prior to computers, facilitated some of America’s greatest achievements in space.

This eye-opening story shows that before John Glenn orbited the earth, or Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, a group of dedicated female mathematicians known as “human computers” used pencils, slide rules, and adding machines to figure the math and trajectories that would launch rockets, and astronauts, into space, and more importantly bring them safely home.

What is astounding about this account is that, not only was this accomplished by humans rather than computers, but they were female and black in a time when significant roles for females, let alone blacks, were limited. Hidden Figures follows the interlaced accounts of Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, and Christine Darden, some of the sharpest minds of their generation. Formerly consigned to teaching math in segregated public schools of the South, opportunity came during the labor shortages of World War II – anyone with the smarts, regardless of skin color or sex, were sorely needed in America’s aeronautics industry. Eagerly, these heretofore unnoticed mathematical masterminds answered their country’s call, moving to Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory in Virginia.

The story moves from World War II through the Cold War, the Civil Rights Movement and the Space Race. Even as Virginia’s Jim Crow laws required them to be segregated from their white counterparts, these women helped America achieve a decisive victory over the Soviet Union in the Cold War and Space Race. For over three decades they faced challenges, forged alliances, and used their intellect to change their own lives, and their country’s future.

A movie was made from the book staring Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monáe, and Kevin Costner; it was released on Christmas Day, 2016.

Katherine Johnson, one of the women featured in the book and film, is still living. She was awarded the Presidential medal of freedom in 2015. She was born before the 19th amendment was ratified, giving women the right to vote, and she grew up going to segregated schools.

The author, Margot Lee Shetterly, was born in Hampton, Virginia, in 1969 where she knew many of the women she later wrote about in her debut book. Her father worked as a research scientist at NASA-Langley Research Center, and her mother was an English professor at Hampton University. In 2013, Shetterly founded The Human Computer Project, an organization whose mission is to archive the work of all of the women who worked as computers and mathematicians in the early days of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

Watch Bryan on WZZM Channel 13’s “My West Michigan” morning show at 9:00 a.m. on Monday, March 6. Join The Book Nook’s monthly book club at 6:00 p.m., Wednesday, March 1 for a discussion of Hidden Figures at the Book Nook & Java Shop in Downtown Montague with refreshments, snacks, beverages, and camaraderie; of course, everyone is welcome, and the Club meets monthly all year long. Get 20% off the Book Club’s book selection all month, too.

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