Happy Memorial Day!

The Davenport Public Library will be closed today in observance of the holiday. Both buildings will re-open as usual tomorrow – Main at 9:30am and Fairmount at noon.

And don’t forget, starting June 1 (tomorrow) the library will begin following new hours. This is in anticipation of the opening of the Eastern Ave Branch on July 10.  Be sure to stop by the Main Library or the Fairmount Branch Library and pick up an Hours Bookmark!

Please have a safe and festive day!

I Capture the Castle Book Covers

“I know of few novels—except Pride and Prejudice—that inspire as much fierce lifelong affection in their readers.” – Joanna Trollope

When most people ask me what my favorite book is, they do so while thinking that they already know the answer. Being the flamboyant Harry Potter fan that I am, they are a bit shocked when exclaim “I Capture the Castle!” followed by a deep sigh–a deep sigh that signifies how much I wish I was curled up and reading that book right that very moment.

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith

My first copy of I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith (who also wrote the wonderful children’s book The Hundred and One Dalmatians) was given to me by my aunt (who was notorious for her excellent book recommendations) when I was in my early teens. I say “first copy” because that book is long gone having been lent to friends who then lent it to friends who then lent it to friends. So I bought myself another copy; one with a quote by J.K. Rowling on the cover (who is also a big fan of the book. If you go to her website at www.jkrowling.com and click on the spectacles, you will see Dodie Smith’s classic sitting on Rowling’s bookcase not far from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.) and have been rereading it and lending it to more friends ever since. I have even been known to check out a copy of the book from the library while my own is being borrowed, and was recently surprised by finding a cheerful yellow flower pressed between the pages of a copy from the University of Iowa.

Cassandra MortmainI Capture the Castle takes place in 1930’s England where seventeen year old Cassandra Mortmain begins to journal her everyday experiences about her family and surroundings in order to prepare herself for a career as a writer. Luckily, her family and surroundings provide ample opportunity for expression: Cassandra happens to live in a crumbling castle on the English countryside that she shares with her father, a former famous author who has retreated into himself after a decade-long writer’s block, her step-mother, an eccentric artist’s model who holds the family together while also spending a great deal of her time walking naked around the grounds, and her beautiful, gold-digging older sister, who is determined to marry the wealthy American who just inherited the neighboring estate. But it is Cassandra’s own heart that keeps the pages turning as she grows as a young lady and learns how to break and be broken. I have never met a narrator so lovely as Cassandra, and reading her journals feels truly as natural as listening to my own thoughts. And so I will continue to read and reread and reread.

With the recent record-breaking amount paid for a single painting – a portrait by Pablo Picasso painted during a single day in March 1932 – which sold for a staggering $106.5 million in early May in New York, it reminded me of one of my favorite books on the artist, Life with Picasso, written by Francoise Gilot.  Gilot, who lived with Pablo Picasso for nearly a decade, is the mother of two of his children, Paloma (the fashion and jewelry designer) and Claude and she continues to have a successful art career.

Gilot initially published this memoir of their life together, which spans the years 1944 until 1953, in 1964 after their relationship ended. The two met in Paris during World War II when she was a 21 year old art student and he was 62 years old and was already a world famous artist.  Gilot found inspiration working next to Picasso while creating her own artwork. The book is a fascinating read into the  process of how Picasso created his paintings, sculptures and prints as well as how he dealt with those who were around him and part of his inner circle.

This is highly recommended not only for fans of the artist but for those who enjoy a glimpse into the biography of an legendary and talented individual told from the viewpoint of someone who was living her life next to his for many years.

I’m going to cheat a little. All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot would be my choice, but I love all four in the “All Creatures” series.

The story begins with the author’s arrival in Yorkshire during the Depression when veterinary jobs were scarce. A city boy, James has to quickly learn how to care for horses and cows in very primitive conditions.

He soon learns to love the beauty of the Dales and his eccentric clients. His tales of caring for beloved pets as well as farm animals can be heartwrenching as the patient doesn’t always survive.

There is plenty of humor in his hilarious descriptions of the Yorkshire dialect, way of life, and diet, as well as his volatile boss Siegfried and Siegfried’s irresponsible yet charming brother Tristan.

Not only are the books laugh-out-loud funny but you come to know the village of Darrowby, James, Siegfried and Tristan so well that you never want to leave the little world that Herriot has created.

Song of Years (1939) The state of Iowa was still young and wild when Wayne Lockwood came to it from New England in 1851. He claimed a quarter-section about a hundred miles west of Dubuque and quickly came to appreciate his widely scattered neighbors, like Jeremiah Martin, whose seven daughters would have chased the gloom from any bachelor’s heart. Sabina, Emily, Celia, Melinda, Phoebe Lou, Jeannie, and Suzanne are timeless in their appeal — too spirited to be preoccupied with sermons, sickness, or sudden death. However, the feasts, weddings, and holiday celebrations in Song of Years are shadowed by all the rigors and perils of frontier living. This novel captures the period in Iowa’s history of Indian scares and county-seat wars, as well as the political climate preceding the Civil War. Mrs. Aldrich based this novel largely on her grandfather’s adventures in Iowa and the stories she heard as a child. from bessstreeteraldrich.com

I read this book while I was in high school. I would lay on my bed with the breeze coming though the windows and am transported onto the Iowa prairie. Bess’ description of the prairie, and every breathless detail made the characters believable, and the characters stay with me long after I finished the story. This book would appeal to readers on many different levels. First of all, there is the historical aspect of the struggle of life on the prairie when Iowa was just becoming state. Second, there is the story of a young girl, unsure of herself, growing to womanhood and finding out who she really is as she faces events that are out of her control. We witness Suzanne’s first infatuation, her crushing disappointment when she realizes her feelings are not returned, and, eventually, a true love that will outlast anything. The reader realizes that though the times may change, the emotions of growing up do stay the same.  Sometimes we need a good, old-fashioned story. It still remains my favorite book of all time.

What book would you reach for, given the opportunity and time, if you could re-read a favorite book? There’s so much pressure to keep up with the latest/newest/hottest, that you can sometimes forget the simple pleasure of re-visiting an old friend. This week some of our blogging librarians talk about the one book (or book series) that they would re-read.

I’ll start things off with my choice, Patrick O’Brian’s brilliant Master and Commander series which follows the adventures of British Naval Captain Jack Aubrey and his friend, surgeon Stephen Maturin. Set during the Napoleonic Wars when Britain ruled the seas, there is no shortage of action and bloodshed but there is also no shortage of laughter, intrigue, nuance, humor, suspense, romance and political manuvering. The enduring friendship between Jack and Stephen is the bedrock of the books, through the waxing and waning of fortunes and luck. Jack, who is a brilliant seaman but bumbling and inept on land both with the ladies and the law, and Stephen, an outsider, a scientist, a sometime spy and an opium addict may seem like an odd couple, but their love of music brings them together.

To call these books great historical fiction is to sell them short; this is great fiction – beautifully written, effortless details that do not overwhelm the story, storylines that will move you to tears or to laugh out loud, adventures that will keep you up late at night to find out what happens (do not start reading the last third of Desolation Island right at bedtime – you’ll be up until 3am!) The quality of the writing and characters does not waver, an amazing feat considering there are 20 complete volumes!

I love these books for the way it’s so easy to completely immerse yourself in them, for the adventures big and small, and most of all for Jack and Stephen, as friends you can always count on.

Then you may very well enjoy Lisa Lutz’s series about the nutty, but lovable Spellman family. Unfortunately, there are only four books in this series.

The Spellman Files introduces us to Isabel, the narrator, her incorrigible younger sister Rae, her parents, or “the Units” as she calls them, who run the family business. Because that is a private investigation firm, they spend much of their free time spying on each other – literally making secret tape recordings.

The series is written in the style of reports for a client, complete with footnotes,  (Isabel calls each book a “document.”)

Isabel, like Stephanie, has many personal issues. Rather than eating too much junk food, Isabel drinks too much. She has a hard time with commitment and, though she loves her family,  they also drive  her nuts.

She has a cast of eccentric friends that recur in each book. Petra, a hair stylist and Isabel’s best friend from high school, Morty, an octogenarian lawyer who tries to keep Isabel out of jail, and Henry Stone, a police detective, though normal himself, albeit exceptionally neat and healthy, gets ensnared by the Spellmans.

As will you,the reader….

Authors and publishers aren’t fools.  It was a cold and calculated move.  When those drafts were turned in over half a year ago – long before they warmed up the presses – they knew what you were going to do once you put away the winter wardrobe.  Folks are starting to think about getting the heck out of dodge, and along with gas prices is a rising need to clutch a bestseller…in a hammock, passenger seat, or an audiobook blasting out of your center console.

That was kind of a roundabout way of pointing out it probably wasn’t a coincidence that several heavy hitters are dropping in June.  Reserve them now.

Eric Van Lustbader — Bourne Objective

James Patterson — Private

Janet Evanovich — Sizzling Sixteen

Laurell K. Hamilton — Bullet

Dean Koontz — Frankenstein: Lost Souls

In Velva Jean Learns to Drive, ten-year-old Velva Jean dreams of someday singing at the Grand Ole Opry.  Her plans change suddenly, though, when her daddy disappears on one of his frequent adventures and her mama falls ill and dies.  This leaves her and her brother, Johnny Clay, in the care of a resentful older sister, with plenty of time on their hands for mischief.  As soon as she turns 16, Velva Jean marries the charismatic evangelist, the Rev. Harley Bright, a moonshiner’s son and former fellow mischief-maker.  All this takes place in the beautiful Appalachians in North Carolina during the 1930’s, just as the Civilian Conservation Corps is carving out the Blue Ridge Parkway right through their mountainous backyard.  At a time when most of her friends and neighbors had never even seen an automobile, Velva Jean somehow finds the strength to defy the social expectations of the day and follow her own dreams.

The author, Jennifer Niven, brings an authenticity to Velva Jean’s voice.  Her own grandparents, the McJunkin’s, grew up near Asheville, and the summers she spent visiting them. plus her own research into her family’s history, seem to have paid off with this delightful coming-of-age novel.

Sarah Silverman has found herself in some fairly high-profile tussles over the years regarding ironic portrayals of discriminatory language in a comedic setting.  Instead of more of the same, Silverman’s first book recounts these public drubbings over taboo subjects, as well as showing some of her more vulnerable and hurtful formative experiences.  It is refreshing to see what shaped the comedienne so often portrayed as the cruel bully.  But, fans of her show might find the ribaldry stops with the book’s off-color title.