heartlandA pioneer in the local field-to-fork movement showcases the fantastic bounty of America’s Midwest with recipes from his storied St. Paul restaurant in Heartland: Farm-Forward Dishes from the Great Midwest.

Lenny Russo, chef at Heartland in St. Paul, was inspired by the lakes, fields, farms and orchards of his adopted homeland to create 100 delectable recipes including Midwestern Cassoulet, Sweet Corn-Black Barley Cakes, Chocolate-Sorghum Custard Tart, Freshwater Bouillabaisse, Wild Rice Salad with Baby Kale and Blue Cheese, Fennel-Cured Whitefish with Danish Brown Bread Salad and dozens more. (description from publisher)

online colorHello Readers! How is your July challenge coming along? Find anything amazing? Or are you going to keep yourself safely grounded in 2016?

I have been reading 11/22/63 by Stephen King. Well, I’ve been attempting to read it. King is very…….wordy, isn’t he? And this is a very long book. He’s a great storyteller, but this is not my favorite writing style. I’m not sure I’m going to finish a Time Travel book this month, but don’t let that stop you – this is such a fun and intriguing trope and kind of mind twisting – what would you change? what would be the consequences and ripple effects?

If you are struggling to find a Time Travel book that intrigues you, you might want to look at some of the alternate history books that are out there which also play around with the question of what if? What if the Nazi’s had prevailed and won World War II? (Try Fatherland by Robert Harris) What if Alaska became a Jewish refugee settlement in 1941 and Israel no longer existed? (Read the hilarious The Yiddish Policeman’s Union by Michael Chabon) What if the Black Death had killed 99% of Europe’s population instead of one-third? (Find out in The Years of Rice and Salt by Kim Stanley Robinson) What if Roosevelt lost the 1940 Presidential election and now anti-Semitism is accepted in America? (Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America examines this idea.) What if dragons had been used by the English to help defeat Napoleon? (I’m not kidding and it’s actually a terrific book, especially if you’re a fan of Patrick O’Brien’s Master and Commander series or a fan of Jane Austen. Really. Naomi Novik creates a believable and fascinating world in His Majesty’s Dragon, the first in the Temeraire series)

The only question left now is, where will you travel to? Let us know in the comments!

Titles mentioned in this post include:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

american-flagThe Davenport Public Library will be closed on Monday July 4th in observance of the Independence Day holiday. All of our locations will reopen on Tuesday, July 5 with their regular business hours – Main and Eastern 9am to 5:30pm and Fairmount noon to 8pm.

Have a safe and happy holiday!

online colorHello Fellow Avid Readers! July has arrived – time for fireworks, backyard barbeques, Bix and best of all, our next Online Reading Challenge!

July’s theme is Time Travel, a fascinating and intriguing type of fiction that attempts to answer the question, what if? What if you could go back in time, what would you do? Would you make a different decision that would change the course of your life? Would you be able to change the course of history? Prevent terrible disasters? Play the stock market? What if Hitler had won the war? What if JFK hadn’t been assassinated? How would the world be different?

There are lots of great books that fall into this category and while all of them have at least some elements of science fiction (time travel!) many of these titles are far more interested in how the past has shaped us and how changing the past might make us into a different person. They tend to fall into two board categories – changing world history or changing personal history. Here are some great titles to get you started.

The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. This one doesn’t easily fall into one of the above categories but more about how the very act of involuntary time travel affects one person (the traveler mostly but also the people around him) both physically and emotionally. Coping with disappearing suddenly (most employers probably wouldn’t take kindly to that) and reappearing in some unknown location and time – without clothes – can be, understandably, stressful. Finding someone to love and building a life with them seems nearly impossible and yet Henry and Clare manage to create their own version of a happy life. I loved this book – funny and suspenseful with a sweet/sad ending. I could barely put it down and cried and cried at the end (but read it anyway) My best advice for reading this is – go with the flow. Don’t try to make sense of the intertwining timelines or you’ll make yourself crazy, just trust the author. And skip the movie.

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. Well, I hardly need to introduce this book – who hasn’t heard of it and its many sequels and popular television adaptation? It’s popular for a reason – lots of action and angst and romance (not to mention a fair amount of sex!) this adventure tale of a 1940s era nurse finding herself in the Scottish Highlands during the time of Bonnie Prince Charlie has got it all. Be careful, once this story has grabbed you, you’re not likely to return the 21st century Iowa for some time. Besides the sequels and television adaptation, there are companion books to help you keep track of what’s going on and yes, even a cookbook (The Outlander Kitchen). Yum – haggis!

Books by Connie Willis. Willis seems to specialize in books about time travel and most of them are serious and dark. Lincoln’s Dreams returns us to the bloody battlefields of the Civil War, The Doomsday Book takes us to England in 1438 and the Black Death and Blackout goes to England’s darkest hours of World War II. All of these books are beautifully written, with characters that you care about and the ability to transport you to another era. However, they are all rather grim. My recommendation would be to search out To Say Nothing of the Dog, an unexpectedly light and funny return to the Victorian past, loosely based on Jerome K Jerome’s Three Men in a Boat, this is a delightful romp, perfect for summertime reading.

Other titles well worth considering include Replay by Ken Grimwood,  with a theme similar to Bill Murray/Groundhog Day; The One That Got Away by Leigh Himes where a woman gets to go back and marry a different man; Kindred by Octavia Butler where a modern black woman is transported to the antebellum South; and The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells by Andrew Sean Greer with a woman thrust into two pasts, one in 1914 and one in 1941.

And what am I planning to read this month? Before I tell you, I have to make a confession. I’ve never read a Stephen King book. Ever. Mostly because I’m a wimp that is easily scared. But I’m going to change that this month and read 11/22/63. A high school English teacher finds a portal that allows him to step back in time and leads him to attempt to prevent the assassination of JFK. It’s gotten excellent reviews and looks like a real page-turner – I’ll let you know how it goes.

Now it’s your turn – what are you going to read this month? Let us know in the comments!

 

online colorWe had some sizzling hot temperatures this month – just right for some indulgent Summer Reads! How did you do? Did you find something wonderful, or did the month slip by too fast?

I read Enchanted August by Brenda Bowen and it certainly put me in a summer vacation mood – four strangers rent an idyllic cottage on a quiet island on the coast of Maine for a month and something magical happens – relationships are repaired, spirits lifted, strangers become friends. Based on the beloved classic Enchanted April (which takes place in 1920s Italy), Enchanted August is a modern retelling that is charming, fun and relaxing to read. I recommend it highly!

For totally unnecessary extra credit, I started reading Picnic in Provence by Elizabeth Bard because who wouldn’t want a summer escape to Provence? A follow-up to her popular Lunch in Paris, this follows her growing family and their move to Provence. It’s lovely, full of evocative descriptions of the gorgeous countryside, the layers of history and, especially, the incredible food. Mostly, when I’m reading this I feel hungry (and a bit envious because – Provence!) I haven’t finished yet, but it’s been a lovely read so far. (I also recommend her previous book because – Paris!)

Now it’s over to you – what did you read this month? And don’t forget to come back tomorrow when we introduce the next topic in our year of Online Reading Challenges!

Books mentioned in this post:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

online colorHow’s your summer going? And how’s your June Reading Challenge – Summer Reads – coming along? Find anything especially good, or are you still trying to decide what to read?

I’m working on Enchanted August by Brenda Bowen. It’s going well, in fact, I would have finished it by now except for other distractions (like the garden). So far it’s been charming, lighthearted and funny, perfect for summer. I’m looking forward to carving out some time to finish it soon!

If you’re still looking for a Summer Read, here are some more suggestions.

Mysteries by Nevada Barr. Each of Barr’s 18 mysteries is set in a National Park and, while they don’t all take place in the summertime, they do take place in favorite vacation sites as we follow Ranger Anna Pigeon on her various postings (Although, really – who would hire this woman? Someone is always getting killed when she’s around! Wouldn’t people get a little suspicious – or nervous – about having her come to their park?) The mysteries are engaging and suspenseful, the main character is gritty and real and very likable and the settings – various National Parks, Monuments and historic sites across the country – are vividly described. I haven’t read all of her books but my favorite Barr mystery is Firestorm. It takes place in Lassen Volcanic National Park in California and takes place during a terrible fire that Rangers and National Guard from across the country are fighting. I could barely set the book down the suspense was so great, as Anna uncovers a murderer in their midst.

Again, not always set in the summer, but often during hot and sunny weather – the mysteries of Tony Hillerman. These beautifully written, atmospheric mysteries set in the Four Corners area of the American Southwest follow the cases of Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee, their uneasy partnership, the clash of old and new, of ancient rivalries and always, the unrelenting desert, both beautiful and terrible. I don’t have a favorite Hillerman mystery simply because I love all of them. Do yourself a treat and pick one up.

Still looking? All of these classics are set during the hot summer months including To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway, A Midsummer’s Night Dream by William Shakespeare, and Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Or try some more recent summer scorchers such as Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walters which jumps between two summers, one on the Italian coast and one in Hollywood, or The Vacationers by Emma Straub where a beautiful beach rental in Spain does not magically fix a dysfunctional family.

Now, if only summer lasted a lot longer, just so I could get to all these books!

online colorHey look! Suddenly it’s summer! And what does summer bring to mind? Relaxing by the pool or on the beach, epic family road trips, hot, sunny days and warm, humid nights, outdoor festivals and campfires and enjoying life. Preferably with a good book nearby.

June’s Reading Challenge theme is Summer Reads, but we’re going to interpret that pretty loosely. There are lots of books that take place in the summer at the beach, but there are also lots of books set by the lake, or the campfire, or even a comfy porch. Mostly they’re fun books that recall the lazy days of summer. That’s a pretty broad guideline so make this month something you want to read!

If you are looking for a great reads with a summer feeling, here are a few suggestions.

The Guest Cottage by Nancy Thayer. When her husband announces that he’s leaving her for another woman, Sophie Anderson realizes she has no idea what’s next. Impulsively renting a guest cottage on Nantucket from her friend Susie Swenson, Sophie rounds up her kids, Jonah and Lacey, and leaves Boston for a quiet family vacation, minus one. Thayer has several popular books, all set on beautiful Nantucket Island.

Enchanted August by Brenda Bowen. Our very own blogging librarian Lynn wrote about this book recently and gave it a rave review.

Outer Banks by Anne River Siddons. Four young women bound by rare, blinding, early friendship—they spend two idyllic spring breaks at Nag’s Head, North Carolina, the isolated strip of barrier islands where grand old weatherbeaten houses perch defiantly on the edge of a storm-tossed sea. Now thirty years later, they are coming back to recapture the exquisite magic of those early years…to experience again the love, the enthusiasm, the passion, pain, and cruel-betrayal that shaped the four young girls into women and set them all adrift. Siddons has several other popular books, most set in North or South Carolina.

A Lowcountry Wedding by Mary Alice Monroe. Nothing could be more enchanting than a summer wedding–or two!–in Charleston’s fabled lowcountry. A centuries-old plantation, an avenue of ancient oaks dripping moss, a storied ballroom, a sand dune at sunset. Yet when a stranger arrives, a long held family secret could silence the bells ringing for the Muir sisters. Scandals surface, family bonds are questioned, and promises are broken and renewed. In A Lowcountry Wedding Monroe delves into the heart of marriage, commitment, and family ties. Part of the Lowcountry Summer series, Monroe has written lots of books set in the South.

Martha’s Vineyard mysteries by Philip R Craig. Set on the quintessential summer vacation destination, Craig’s mysteries are set on the beautiful and quirky island of Martha’s Vineyard, told by  year-round resident and unofficial private detective, JW Jackson. Bonus – the books include lots of delicious recipes that take advantage of fresh seafood. Yummm!

The Shell Seekers by Rosamund Pilcher. Although this isn’t exactly a “summer” read, it’s one of those big, engrossing books that draws you in immediately and, despite it’s size, doesn’t last long enough, perfect for the lazy days of summer. I know people that re-read this title regularly they love it so much. And while it might not be set during a summer heat wave, at its center is a valuable painting of children searching for shells on the beach. (It also takes place on an island – England!)

What about you – anything on this list or in this theme appeal to you? Have you thought about what you might read this month? (And, have you noticed – most of these books take place in the South or on the East coast – any suggestions for a summer book visit to another part of the country?!) I’m going to go with Lynn’s recommendation and read Enchanted August – it seems just right with humor and great location. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Let us know in the comments – what are you reading? And what would you recommend to the rest of us?

Happy reading!

Hello Fellow Challenge Readers! How was your May? Did you read something new and wonderful? Or did you pass on this month’s challenge?

I have to admit, this was not my favorite theme. Nor did it turn me into an avid Graphic Novel fan. However, it did encourage me try something that I probably wouldn’t have otherwise, and I did enjoy the books I read. And while I’m unlikely to pick up another Graphic Novel unless someone recommends it highly (I still find the pictures to be distracting), I did learn a bit about the whole genre and gain a greater appreciation for them. Win win!

nimonaI read two books this month. The first was Nimona by Noelle Stevenson. Sharp and witty with surprising depth and heart, Nimona is about a young girl (we think) who appoints herself as Ballister Blackheart’s sidekick. Blackheart is the designated villain of their country (after his former friend Ambrosius Goldenloin accidentally cut off Blackheart’s hand during a duel when they were in school training to be heroes) and spends his time terrorizing the peasants, with Goldenloin in hot pursuit. Nimona comes up with many nefarious, clever plans to reign down terror, but Blackheart (who really isn’t terribly evil) insists on conservative actions that actually harm no one. Nimona gets frustrated with Blackheart, but remains loyal and always has his back. When true evil arrives, it is the teamwork – and unlikely friendship – of Blackheart and Nimona that stand against it.

As expected, I found the illustrations distracting, but less so as I kept reading. It helps that the illustrations are clever and drawn in an interesting style. It’s the story that I really liked, drawing me into the lives (and snark) of the characters. A great read with a satisfying, although somewhat bittersweet, ending.

relishThe second Graphic Novel that I read was Relish: My Life in the Kitchen by Lucy Knisley. This is Lucy’s story of growing up, shown through her experiences with food.

Somewhat unusually, Lucy grew up with two parents who were enthusiastic foodies. She was never a picky eater and learned to try to appreciate most foods. A new culture (such as her visit to Japan) was an opportunity to learn more about the country via the meals and food related customs she experienced. Her life is influenced and improved by her relationship with food and the opportunities it brings – jobs, friends, culture, unique experiences. This book is often very funny and always interesting, and bonus!, includes several (illustrated) recipes.

Once again, I found the illustrations to be distracting at first – they add a lot to the book, both humor and detail, but I didn’t always know where to start, or I’d accidentally miss a section. However, I did enjoy the style of the drawings and found myself looking for quirky, humorous asides tucked into them.

Yes, I would recommend both of these books, whether that person was a Graphic Novel fan or a newbie. And I might even try another Graphic Novel someday!

What about you – what did you read this month? Did you find something you really liked, or was this month a loss? What about any Graphic Novel fans out there – what did you read? And what would you recommend for someone that still new (and a bit hesitant) with Graphic Novels – what should they read next?

Thanks all for reading along! See you next month with Summer Reads!

american-flagThe Davenport Public Library will be closed on Monday May 30th in observance of Memorial Day. All of our branches will reopen on Tuesday May 31st with their regular hours: Main and Eastern 9:00am to5:30pm and Fairmount noon to 8:00pm.

Have a safe and happy holiday!

complete book of chalk letteringUbiquitous at boutiques and cafés, on Etsy and Pinterest, in stationery and home decor, the art of chalk lettering is hotter than ever. Valerie McKeehan, an Etsy standout whose work has been featured in magazines and websites from Good Housekeeping to RealSimple.com to Martha Stewart Living, teaches us everything we need to know to create gorgeous hand-drawn chalk designs in The Complete Book of Chalk Lettering.

In over 60 lessons, learn the ABCs of lettering (literally) and basic styles: serif, sans serif, and script. Next, how to lay out a design, combine various styles into one cohesive piece, add shadows and dimension. Master more advanced letter styles, from faceted to ribbon to “vintage circus.” Use banners, borders, flourishes. And finally, 12 projects to show off your newfound skills: including a Winter Wonderland Snow Globe; a smartphone-themed birthday card to text friends and family; a one-of-a-kind party invitation to create, photograph, and mail; and a bake sale sign guaranteed to put everyone who sees it in the mood for a cupcake! (description from publisher)