The Good: What Happens in London by Julia Quinn
This is the perfect Regency romance. It’s funny (actually funny, not just peppered with lines that the characters laugh at but the reader never would), heartwarming (but not schlocky), and steamy (but not gratuitous). There’s a fussy, arrogant Russian prince, a heroine who scorns novels and reads every word of the Times, and a dashing hero who wears funny hats. It’s historically accurate (mostly), but it never gets boring by slogging through too much detail. I devoured this in just two very enjoyable sittings. (Available via WILBOR)
The Bad: A Lady Never Lies by Juliana Gray
Oh, dear. This is the kind of book that always made me hate romance novels. It’s nonsensical, it’s boring, its characters have no substance, and the romantic moments are gratuitous and badly written. Gray tries to heighten the drama by having everyone be cagey about their pasts/financial situations/parentage but honestly, it goes over like a lead balloon. Three single young women and three single young men accidentally rent the same Tuscan castle for the summer! They decide to keep both leases and stay in separate wings! They make a wager not to interact with one another to prove some bologna 21st-century-argument that the author has needlessly inserted into an allegedly historical novel! I wonder what will happen!!!???
The Awesome: Soulless by Gail Carriger
I never thought I’d like a book about vampires, werewolves, and parasols, but I was deeply mistaken. Soulless is a steampunk novel (steampunk: a sub-genre of SF in which the industrial revolution of Victorian times has gone into hyperdrive, producing steam powered dirigibles and other retro-futuristic contraptions and necessitating a lot of metal eyewear with round lenses). Alexia Tarabotti is half Italian and half an orphan, hardly a favorite in London society, but her appearance and parentage aren’t her only problems: in the middle of a ball, she has just been attacked by a vampire. The encounter breaks all the rules of supernatural etiquette AND destroys her plate of treacle tart! Miss Tarabotti soon finds herself in the thick of a mystery, one with potentially deadly consequences for the supernatural vampires and werewolves she befriends and for herself. Alexia is fierce, fun, and generally unforgettable. The romance is well balanced against the world building and it makes sense for the characters, all of which are interesting, exciting, and well written. Brava, Ms. Carriger! I can’t wait to read the other four books in this series. (Available via WILBOR)
“Line up every kind of plant and animal on Earth and one of every four will be a beetle.” If your reaction to this fact is an uncomfortable mix of fascination and horror, get your hands on The Beetle Book by Steve Jenkins. In this fact-filled picture book (written for children, but hey, this twenty-something learned a lot reading it), there are big, beautiful illustrations of bugs: hissing cockroaches, June bugs, fireflies, dung beetles, ladybugs, and hundreds of other creepy crawlies – all of them beetles. The full-color bugs are set against ample white space and accompanied by thematically grouped facts. Small (or big!) all-black silhouettes on every page show the actual size of the beetles that have been magnified for illustrations. Staring down the five-inch mandibles of a six-spotted green tiger beetle gets a lot easier when its 3/4-inch-tall silhouette reminds you just how tiny the beast really is!
A few other great books for the budding naturalist or the latent scientist:
- A Butterfly Is Patient by Dianna Hutts Aston, an artistically illustrated look at the life cycle of a butterfly. Lots of facts and gorgeous images make this appropriate for all ages. (if you like this, look at her others: An Egg is Quiet, A Rock Is Lively, and A Seed is Sleepy)
- Step Gently Out by Helen Frost and Rick Lieder, a poem about the beauty and variety of nature illustrated with huge, zoomed-in photos of insects and plants.
- You Are Stardust by Elin Kelsey and Soyeon Kim, a rumination on the interconnectivity of nature and humanity accompanied by lovely, lighthearted illustrations.
Novelist and nature writer Richard Horan embarks on an adventure across America to reveal that farming is still the vibrant beating heart of our nation in Harvest.
Horan went from coast to coast, visiting organic family farms and working the harvests of more than a dozen essential or unusual food crops–from Kansas wheat and Michigan wild rice to Maine potatoes, California walnuts, and Cape Cod cranberries–in search of connections with the farmers, the soil, the seasons, and the lifeblood of America.
Sparkling with lively prose and a winning blend of profound seriousness and delightful humor, Harvest carries the reader on an eyeopening and transformational journey across the length and breadth of this remarkable land, offering a powerful national portrait of challenge and diligence, and an inspiring message of hope. (description from publisher)
The 2013 Newbery award winner, Katherine Applegate’s The One and Only Ivan, is everything you might expect it to be, plus a little extra. Ivan is a silverback gorilla, a natural-born protector and warrior of the animal kingdom; as the narrator, his stream-of-consciousness thoughts and memories make up the novel. After poachers pluck the infant Ivan away from his home in the jungle, his domain of 27 years is a run-down circus, and his only friends are the other few animals there. But with the arrival of Ruby, a baby elephant, Ivan suddenly has someone to protect, and he sets off on a course to change all their lives for the better.
Like other winners, Applegate tackles a delicate, powerful subject and makes it accessible to children. Also like others, the writing is elegant and spare, made accessible to a young audience but no less sophisticated for it. There’s humor and heartbreak, but they don’t exactly balance each other – if you can’t handle sad animal stories you will have to stay far, far away from Ivan. Despite a hopeful, happy, neatly-wound-up ending, the grim tone of this book and its experimental structure make it an unusual book for children, but one that I’d recommend to them as wholeheartedly as I would recommend it to an adult. It’s a story of friendship and adventure and creativity, and a great addition to the list of Newbery winners.
Peer behind the ‘closed’ sign in the world’s greatest restaurants, and you may glimpse a packed table whose seats are elusive even to the most in-the-know diner: the daily staff meal in Come In We’re Closed.
This insider’s look goes behind the scenes to share the one-of-a-kind dishes professional cooks feed each other. Join authors Christine Carroll and Jody Eddy as they share these intimate staff meal traditions, including exclusive interviews and never-before-recorded recipes, from twenty-five iconic restaurants. Enjoy more than 100 creative and comforting dishes made to sate hunger and nourish spirits, like skirt steak stuffed with charred scallions; duck and shrimp paella; beef heart and watermelon salad; steamed chicken with lily buds; Turkish red pepper and bulgur soup; homemade tarragon and cherry soda; and buttermilk doughnut holes with apple-honey caramel glaze.
It’s finally time to come in from the cold and explore the meals that fuel the hospitality industry; your place has been set. (description from publisher)
If you’ve seen Ocean’s Eleven (or virtually any other high-tech/high-energy heist film), you’re familiar with the plot of Star Wars: Scoundrels. Danny Ocean – I mean, Han Solo – enlists a crack team of a eleven people with specialized skills to steal a ridiculous amount of money. Headed up by Han, Chewbacca, and Lando Calrissian, this handful of ne’er-do-wells makes a bold attempt to steal 163 million credits in a make-or-break heist that could get Han out from under Jabba’s thumb for good. Or, it could get him (and all his accomplices) killed. There are two surprises at the end of this novel – one of them involving a whip and a gigantic boulder – and for those two alone, it’s worth reading. It’s also a lot of fun to re-enter the world of Star Wars and Han Solo: they’re enduring favorites for a reason, and this well-told, twisty tale does justice to that legacy.
Scoundrels takes place in the immediate aftermath of the destruction of the first Death Star (aka, right after A New Hope). The general public has only sketchy information about that debacle: they know that Alderaan is a cloud of space debris, and that the Death Star is now gone, but rumors of Rebel involvement are hardly realistic – surely a scrappy ill-funded few could never stand against the might of the Empire? And that, the central theme the original Star Wars is built upon, is what makes Scoundrels a success too. Surely this band of misfits can’t beat down the impossible odds against them and come away alive, let alone successful? But instead of Palpatine’s evil Empire, it’s a high-security vault owned by a powerful criminal organization. And instead of Danny Ocean, it’s Han Solo (who absolutely, positively, shot first).
The Davenport Public Library will be closed on Monday February 18 in observation of President’s Day. All three buildings will reopen their regular hours on Tuesday – Main and Eastern Avenue 9:30am to 5:30pm and Fairmount Street noon to 8pm.
Have a safe and happy holiday!
The recent news that the skeleton of King Richard III of England has been found (under a car park in Leicester) may have you thinking about this seminal figure of English history, a lightening rod for controversy from his lifetime to the present. Was he the cruel, twisted, power mad monster responsible for killing the two Princes in the Tower? Or was he a benevolent, innovative leader, wrongly maligned by history?
Most of us know about Richard through Shakespeare and his scathing depiction of him as an evil hunchback in his play Richard III (it is fact that Richard suffered from severe scoliosis) However, take a minute to remember the ruler Shakespeare lived under – Elizabeth I, direct descendant of Henry VII who defeated Richard at the Battle of Bosworth, claiming (rather tenuously) the throne of England. History, as Tey points out, is written by the victors. While we’re unlikely to answer the question definitively, it’s a fascinating question to debate by examining the life of Richard and the times he lived in. Rather than digging through dense academic tomes though, I’d like to point you to Josephine Tey’s The Daughter of Time, an excellent detective story that will entertain as well as give you lots to think about.
In The Daughter of Time, Scotland Yard Inspector Alan Grant is laid up in the hospital, recovering from a broken leg. To save off boredom he begins reading history and becomes intrigued by the mystery surrounding Richard III. With the help of a researcher, he applies his investigative skills to study the controversial King’s life and the people around him. Written in the early 1950s, Inspector Grant does not have the advantage of google or wikipedia, instead using old-fashioned observation and deduction. The story builds and the evidence grows; Tey is masterful in creating tension and complex characters true to their time period. By the time Inspector Grant is ready to leave the hospital, he is convinced by his findings – will you be too? Can truth indeed be the daughter of time?
Rachel Hartman’s Seraphina is my new favorite book of dragon fantasy. In it, dragons – an unfeeling, coldly mathematical species which can fold themselves into human shape – have shared an uneasy peace with Seraphina’s homeland of Goredd for 40 years. Prejudice and naked hatred between the two races exists everywhere, and on the eve of the peace treaty’s fortieth anniversary, tensions are running high. Add to this mix a murdered prince (whose missing head strongly suggests dragon involvement) and a smart, curious young woman with a unique ability to understand dragon culture and you have a recipe for intrigue. Seraphina is a gifted musician and the assistant to the court composer, which makes her a minor member of the royal court. Her talent is making her famous, but she has secrets to keep; preserving those secrets while at the same time investigating a royal murder and befriending the presumptive heirs (Princess Glisselda and her fiancé, the bastard Prince Lucian) puts Seraphina in a lot of tight spots. Her friends; her life; her sanity; her secrets – what will Seraphina sacrifice to protect the peace?
I have no complaints about this novel; it’s perfectly paced, gorgeously written, and well imagined, all of which shines through a multi-layered and complicated plot that never gets out of Hartman’s control. The characters are inspirational in their intelligence and bravery yet relatable in their worries and failures. There’s intrigue and mystery as well as philosophy and breathless action, and even a bit of romance. Seraphina’s romance with Lucian is wonderfully subtle and genuine – a true meeting of the minds. Hartman is so busy writing about their meaningful conversations and compatible personalities that I’m not even sure I know what Lucian looks like! Seraphina has more important things to think about than the color of his eyes.
Here are some of the new releases from popular authors that are coming out in January. Reserve your favorites today!
Lawrence Block – Hit Me
Jackie Collins – The Power Trip
Joanne Fluke – Red Velvet Cupcake Murder
Lisa Gardner – Touch & Go
J.A. Jance – Deadly Stakes
Jonathan Kellerman – Guilt: an Alex Delaware Novel
James Patterson – Alex Cross, Run
Jodi Picoult – The Storyteller
J.D. Robb – Calculated in Death
Dana Stabenow – Bad Blood
For more new titles, be sure to check out Upcoming Releases on the Davenport Public Library webpage!