Darkest Hour on DVD

Darkest Hour follows Winston Churchill’s early days as England’s Prime Minister, as he battles doubts (his own, those of the politicians and even the King) and leads England into it’s great trial yet.

Europe has fallen to the Nazi invasion, nearly the entirety of the British Army is trapped at Dunkirk and America remains neutral. England stands alone. Should Churchill sue for peace and try to come to terms with Hitler, or fight what seems an impossible war? The politicians around him want to negotiate, feeling that they are in a better position now than if England falls. To fight German will come at great cost – is Churchill willing to shoulder that burden?

Gary Oldman, as Churchill, is masterful. He delivers some of Churchill’s best lines (“We will fight on the beaches. We will fight on the landing grounds….We shall never surrender.” and “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat.”) with assurance and drama that matches the serious situations. Physically, Oldman does not particularly look like Churchilll, but he captures his quirks, gestures, mannerisms and voice unerringly.

The film does take a few liberties, and fudges a couple of dates, but the overall atmosphere – of England united against a great evil – feels very real. A great choice for fans of World War II history.

The Room on Rue Amelie by Kristin Harmel

After falling in love with and marrying a Frenchman, California girl Ruby moves to Paris despite her parents’ concerns. It’s 1938 and Europe is on the verge of war. Ruby insists on staying, even after war is declared and soon finds herself involved in the French Resistance, facing great danger and heartbreak.

The Room on Rue Amelie by Kristin Harmel takes a look at the homefront in Paris, the deprivations, the very real danger and the fear. At first, the French residents have difficulty believing that anything awful will happen to them, that the French government will protect them. The reality is that the French government flees before the invading Germans, food becomes scarce and citizens turn a blind eye to the rounding up and deportation of Jews.

Ruby, however, cannot look away; she agrees to shelter a Jewish child and begins helping the Resistance smuggle downed Allied pilots out of the country. Along with the stress and struggles of daily life, she and her husband grow apart, watches neighbors and friends fall to Nazi aggression, suffers personal loss and falls in love.

As expected, I enjoyed the setting and the time period and found the glimpse of the French home front to be very interesting. However, I never really connected with the heroine – she seemed very detached and almost untouched by the events surrounding her. I think that descriptions of conditions and hardships were minimized which made everything somewhat distant. But maybe that’s just my interpretation. Did any of you read this book? And if so, what did you think?

If you’re looking for other books about the homefront in France during World War II, I’d highly recommend All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr (one of my very favorite books), The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah or Sarah’s Key by Tatiana Rosnay.

Phantom Thread on DVD

Set in 1954 London, Phantom Thread   is about the couture fashion of the House of Woodcock. Led by master dressmaker Reynolds Woodcock, they dress royalty, movie stars and heiresses and rub shoulders with glittering high society.

I’m not sure what to say about this movie – after a promising start, it left me confused and a bit uncomfortable. There’s a abrupt change of focus about halfway through that completely altered the tone of the movie.

The start is lovely – exquisite dresses, beautiful music, a very 1950s vibe set in a fine London townhouse. It’s a fascinating peek behind the scenes of a fashion house – the draping of fabric, the sewing with antique lace and luscious satin, the fittings with wealthy women. It’s quickly obvious that Reynolds (played by Daniel Day-Lewis) is both talented and a tyrant whose fussy demands are met by his sister and his employees without question. All that changes when Woodcock brings home Alma, a young waitress and the woman that becomes his muse and his lover.

This is when the movie starts to veer into strange. Alma appears to be quiet and docile but this calm exterior hides an iron will. She begins to clash with Reynolds and when she realizes her place in the house may not be secure, she takes things into her own hands.

I’m not sure I’d recommend this movie. As I said before, the first half is lovely and interesting and Daniel Day-Lewis (which he claims is his last movie and is now retired) is as riveting as always, but the second half of the movie mostly left me puzzled. Have you seen this movie? And if so, what did you think?

Online Reading Challenge – Mid-Month Check-in!

Hello All!

How is your reading going this month? Have you found something set in the Ancient world to read, or are you taking a pass? I am about halfway through reading Circe by Madeline Miller which I am enjoying a lot. I’ll tell you more about it and have my final review at the end of the month.

If you’re still looking for ideas, be sure to check the comment from Lin on the May 1 blog post – they have given us a nice list of favorites from this time period!

If you’re running short on time, try a movie or documentary! Here are a few suggestions:

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Everything Old is New Again

Just like dress styles or design ideas, crafts go in and out of fashion. I order crafts/sewing/art books for the library and I’ve noticed a recent upswing in the popularity (reflected by the number of books being published) in some “old-fashioned” crafts. What’s fun about them is that a younger generation is taking these crafts and interpreting them with a modern twist. Here are some examples.

Embroidery. The somewhat fussy image of embroidery and hand stitching is giving way to a looser, more irreverent style that often borrows from mixed media artists.

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Macrame. Maybe it’s the “boho” movement in interior design, but macrame is back and it’s going far beyond plant hangers. Sleeker and more sophisticated, it’s enjoying an artistic resurgence.

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Sewing. Sewing is suddenly cool. Younger sewers have discovered the joy of creating clothing that really fits, made in the materials in colors they want. Movements such as Project 333 and Me Made May have fueled the desire for intentional clothing instead of mass-produced clothes from the mall.

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Crafts. Crafts in general are enjoying new popularity as people again discover the joy of working with your hands. “Offline is the new luxury” as we search for an antidote to the technology we’re surrounded with.

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Online Reading Challenge – May

Hello Readers! Welcome to the Online Reading Challenge, May edition! This month we’re going to explore books set in Ancient Times.

This is another fairly broad time period. “Ancient times” is roughly described as prehistoric/dawn of civilization to the fall of the Roman Empire. That’s a lot of history people! Let’s break it down into a few categories.Of course, this isn’t official and there’s a fair amount of overlap but remember – there are no Library Police! Read what you’d like!

Prehistoric/Early Civilization – The go-to authors for this time period are Jean Auel and Kathleen O’Neal Gear and W. Michael Gear. Auel’s Clan of the Cave Bear was a huge sensation when it came out and was very popular for many months. Be prepared for a thick, immersive read! The Gear’s, a husband and wife team, have written, together and separately, dozens of books about prehistoric North America, focusing on the Native American peoples, starting with People of the Wolf.

Egyptian – Delve into one of the earliest civilizations with Agatha Christie’s Death Comes as the End. A departure from her usual setting, this book is nevertheless a mystery masterpiece.

Roman – There is no shortage of books set during ancient Roman times. Check out Robert Harris for thrilling and action-packed titles including Pompeii and Imperium. A nice bridge between Egypt and Rome, Cleopatra’s Daughter by Michelle Moran is the story of Cleopatra and Marc Antony’s children, left to the Roman conquerors after their parents committed suicide.

As for myself, this is not a time period that I’m particularly interested in and I’m still considering what to read. Anyone have any favorites they’d like to recommend?

Be sure to stop by any of the Davenport library locations for our Online Reading Challenge display – there will be lots of titles at each for you to browse through!

Online Reading Challenge – April Wrap-Up

Hello Fellow Reading Fans!

How did your  “1800s” reading go in April? Exciting? Interesting? A non-starter?

I struggled a bit to find something to read this month. I think the “1800s”, while full of many excellent titles, was a bit to broad. There was almost too much choice. A more defined time period, while limiting choices, would make it easier to find a real gem. In fact, I had decided I would re-watch some favorite Jane Austen movies, but at the last minute I found a book that grabbed me and wouldn’t let go. That book was The Last Runaway by Tracy Chevalier.

Honor Bright, a young Quaker woman living in England in 1850, is jilted by her intended and decides, at the last minute, to join her sister who is immigrating to America to marry. The month-long Atlantic crossing is very difficult for Honor and further tragedy strikes during the journey to Ohio. Honor finds herself homesick, alone and struggling to find her place in a strange land.

America is very different from the England Honor grew up in; where England is settled and solid, America is raw and constantly changing. Survival is a constant struggle and comforts are meager. While people are kind, they are not particularly welcoming, absorbed in their own problems and struggles. And political tensions run high, often pitting neighbor against neighbor as the question of slavery begins to reach its boiling point – Honor has landed in a tiny settlement near Oberlin, Ohio, known as a safe stop for runaway slaves following the Underground Railroad.

Honor’s Quaker religion teaches her to despise slavery and she quickly begins helping the runaways that she encounters at her family’s farm. She soon learns that ideals can suffer in the harsh light of reality; her family forbids her from helping the runaways even though they agree with her views and new laws threaten hefty fines and imprisonment if defied. When a crisis is reached, Honor must decide between her beliefs and the law. Which path will she take and at what cost?

Much like Honor, this book is deceivably simple – a straightforward story line with a clearly drawn situation. But also like Honor, there is a lot of hidden depth here. How do you stand up for your beliefs against the majority? How do you battle loneliness and homesickness when you know you can never return home? How do you find purpose and meaning? There is a lot of  rich imagery, of the beauty and harshness of nature, of the quilts Honor expertly sews and the differences from their English counterparts. I enjoyed the view of a mid-1800s life on what was essentially the frontier, and a glimpse of the Quaker religion, practices and principals. Throughout the book, Honor hangs on to the Quaker belief that “there is Light in everyone” even when people are at their worst; a lesson that has never gone out of style.

OK, now it’s your turn – what did you read this month? Let us know in the comments!

 

Relish by Lucy Knisley

Guest post by Teague

My daughter loves to read graphic novels and I am always on the hunt for new authors.  After stumbling across the amazingly hilarious Harry Potter book recap comics by Lucy Knisley, I knew I had found another gem.  While Knisley’s Harry Potter comics might be enjoyed by all ages, her books are geared toward adults.  I just finished reading Relish: My Life In the Kitchen, Knisley’s autobiographical account of her life as the daughter of a chef and gourmand.  Knisley entertains and educates as she tells tales of a life surrounded by food.  In between chapters, Knisley shares some of her favorite recipes or offers practical information about understanding certain cuisine.  My favorite is a Cheese Cheat Sheet.  As someone who adores cheese, but can only place it into two distinct categories (delicious and not delicious), this section was quite informative.

Many have a hard time seeing graphic novels as “real” literature or may feel that this genre isn’t for them.  I think that anyone who loves stories and loves to read will find a graphic novel to suit their interests.  The images in a graphic novel serve to reinforce the story, not replace it, and many of the stories told by these authors are simply magnificent.

If you are looking for other graphic novels to try, I suggest Maus by Art Spiegelman or the March books by John Lewis.  These are both very different from Relish and are examples of how unique each graphic novel is.  If you are interested in juvenile graphic novels for your child (or yourself!) to enjoy, I highly recommend Kazu Kibuishi’s Amulet series, Cece Bell’s El Deafo, and anything by Raina Telegemeir-particularly Smile, Sisters, and her graphic take on an old favorite of mine, The Baby-sitters Club.  There are so many different types of graphic novels available that it was difficult to choose only a handful to mention.  I encourage you to read several different graphic novels to determine what you like.  Happy exploring!

Bad Girls from History: Wicked or Misunderstood by Dee Gordon

Guest post by Laura

This compilation of notorious female historical figures in Bad Girls from History is intriguing. Some are so infamous they are still well-known today, such as Bonnie Parker of Bonnie and Clyde, but most were new to me. The chapters are divided into “Courtesans and Mistresses,” “Madams, Prostitutes and Adulterers,” “Serial Killers,” “Gangsters, Thieves and Con-Artists,” and “The Rebel Collection.” It was fascinating to note how many of the ladies in the murderous category had life insurance policy payouts as their motive! Apparently there weren’t any fraud divisions at insurance agencies back then?

I was in awe of some of the rebellious ladies such as Mary Wollstonecraft, Grace O’Malley, and Fanny Campbell. Each of these defied conventions of the time and led the lives they wanted. I wish I could have known more about the lady pirates Anne Bonny and Mary Read but perhaps there are scant historical records.

As I began reading each biography in the first chapter, I noticed similarities between them. It became clear that in the paternalistic systems prevalent in most societies for millennia, women had fewer rights and opportunities to earn a decent living than men. It was a blessing to be born beautiful and it would appear beauty was one of the few marketable and profitable characteristics one could bank on. So many women in this chapter became mistresses or courtesans to men of high society as the most advantageous route to earn a living. It also became clear that child marriages as well as lack of government oversight of children led to abuse, child-trafficking, and even murder.

Since this writer is British, I found a few phrases and references unfamiliar but overall I enjoyed the book. Gordon did an excellent job with her extensive research and the result is an interesting peek into the lives of misbehaving (Western) women throughout history.

The Glass Castle on DVD

Guest post by Laura

I was hesitant about watching yet another depressing movie about a dysfunctional family but the preview I saw while watching another Lionsgate film was enticing so I gave it a shot.

The Glass Castle is a 2017 movie based on the 2005 memoir by Jeannette Walls. Brie Larson plays the author, Woody Harrelson plays her alcoholic father, Rex, and Naomi Watts is her passive, artist mother, Rose Mary. The family moves constantly due to Rex’s debts and run-ins with the law until they end up in Rex’s home town where a family secret is revealed. Rex and Rose Mary are both highly intelligent so the children end up faring well despite their lack of formal education.

Jennifer Lawrence originally signed on as the lead before becoming too busy. Larson was wonderful in this role so it worked out well. I thought all of the acting was great, including the child actors playing the Walls children at various stages.

It was amazing that young Jeannette Walls had the ability to perceive her household situation with the accuracy of someone far beyond her years. She seemed to be the pillar of the family. Despite all of the turmoil, she was able to finally find the shining moments in an otherwise turbulent family.