My Plain Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton and Jodi Meadows

The Janeites (authors Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton and Jodi Meadows) are back with a fix-it for another sad Jane story (after the lovely My Lady Jane) and that makes a lot of their fans very happy.

My Plain Jane takes on the fictional Jane Eyre and the very real Charlotte Bronte, except that here, Jane is a real girl. It opens in Northern England in 1834 where both girls are living in a less-than-comfortable boardinghouse where it’s always too cold and there’s never enough food. Both girls have big dreams, but their prospects are meager at best. The twist is that Jane can see and control ghosts. Of which there seem to be a great many.

The ghosts do not frighten Jane, nor do they harm her. In fact, the ghosts are very fond of Jane. However, no one else knows Jane’s secret and when she is seen whispering to what appears to be thin air, she is labeled as odd and awkward and is a social outcast. Charlotte (who is also something of an outcast) is her only (non-dead) friend. Everything changes when handsome Mr Blackwood from the Royal Society for the Relocation of Wayward Spirits arrives to perform some ghostbusting. Jane tries to help the ghost but in the process, Mr Blackwood (who can also see ghosts) realizes Jane’s talent and tries to recruit her to the Society. Jane wants nothing to do with them (believing they are cruel to ghosts) and flees the school to become a governess to a certain brooding Mr Rochester. Who is hiding something in the attic. Hmmmm.

Charlotte is busy observing and taking lots of notes all this time.

What follows is the adventures and mis-adventures of the girls as they struggle to find a path for themselves during a time when a woman’s choices were very limited. They are smart and loyal and very brave (although they don’t think of themselves as brave) Like the previous book, there are many asides to the reader, lots of funny commentary and lots of action. There is also a lot of literary references to many famous books which kind of took me by surprise. I did like the previous book more – I think that’s because the characters were actual, historical people and I enjoyed the clever ways the authors stuck with the facts but with a new perspective. Don’t pass on this one though – it’s a lot of fun to read!

 

 

 

The Lost Book of the Grail by Charlie Lovett

The Lost Book of the Grail   by Charlie Lovett is a book lover’s dream, a celebration of the preservation of knowledge, a reverence for the past, an appreciation of tradition and loyalty. It’s also a cracking good story!

Arthur Prescott is very content with his life, thank you very much. True, he’s not thrilled with his job at the boring, modern Barchester University, but working here means he has access to the library at the Barchester Cathedral. Here he can indulge in his greatest love, the search for the Holy Grail, comfortably surrounded by the modest collection of medieval manuscripts. Founded by St Ewolda in 560 A.D., Arthur is convinced that the key to finding the Grail is hidden somewhere in the cathedral.

Into this idyllic, tech-free world waltzes a young American, Bethany Davis, who has come to digitize the ancient books at Barchester Cathedral. Digitize! Arthur is properly scandalized and horrified and deeply concerned that Ms Davis will discover his secret passion for the Grail. When he learns that Bethany is also an avid fan of the Grail and the search for it, things begin to change and when the future of the Cathedral and its library are threatened, this odd couple team finds a way to work together. Arthur begins to appreciate some of the advantages of technology, learns how to email, opens himself to new adventures and makes many discoveries, some profound and some personal.

This would be a great choice for anyone who was a fan of Dan Brown’s The DaVinci Code but without the murderous psychopath chasing them. The beginning of each chapter has a brief flashback to what was happening to Barchester in the past, from it’s earliest years to the Reformation to World War II, then back to the present – the contrasts are intriguing and it’s fun to watch how the actions of the past are interpreted today. Arthur and Bethany and the supporting characters are thoughtful and interesting and there is quite a bit of (dry, British) humor. And the ending is incredibly satisfying. Highly recommended.

 

Loving Vincent on DVD

Lovely, fascinating, mesmerizing are all excellent ways to describe the short film Loving Vincent. Unique also works – it is unlikely you’ve ever watched anything quite like this movie.

Loving Vincent takes place one year after the apparent suicide of Vincent Van Gogh in the French town of Arles. A postmaster insists that his son deliver Vincent’s last letter to Theo Van Gogh, his brother. The son is reluctant but soon becomes invested in discovering more about Vincent’s last days. Vincent was a social misfit and suffered from mental illness, but the mounting evidence indicates that he had been feeling much better and was not suicidal (in fact, he had just ordered more paint and canvases the day before he was shot) The people of Arles are divided on how they feel about the situation – some hated Vincent, some tolerated him and others truly appreciated him. Was it suicide? An accident? Or was it murder?

As intriguing as the story is, it is its presentation that will really grab your attention. More than 100 artists hand painted each scene, bringing Van Gogh’s paintings to life. Created in Van Gogh’s distinctive style and color palette, it is mesmerizing to watch one famous painting after another become animated. The story flows naturally, the paintings serving the story and adding depth and emotion to Van Gogh’s world. It is a journey well worth taking.

Happy Independence Day!

The Davenport Library will be closed on Wednesday, July 4 in observance of the holiday. All of our locations will reopen on Thursday, July 5 with their regular business hours:

   Main (321 Main Street) 9am to 8pm

   Eastern (6000 Eastern Avenue) 9am to 5:30pm

   Fairmount (3000 Fairmount Street) noon to 8pm

Have a safe and happy holiday!

 

Online Reading Challenge – July

Hey Folks! It’s time for a new month of reading with our Online Reading Challenge! What will you read this month?

The theme for July is Westward Expansion. Most of us probably immediately think of cowboys and Native Americans and the “wild west” and while there are several very good Westward Expansion books with exactly this setting, you don’t have to limit yourself to that era. In reality the “wild west” only lasted a few decades, no matter that it holds such a vivid place in our imagination. Westward expansion  started with the arrival of colonists on the East coast of the continent, continuing through US history as the population pushed westward, including into Alaska.

Unfortunately, Westward Expansion also encompasses some of the worst of American history, the treatment of Native Americans which ranged from poor to horrific. This might be the time to read more about their history. Try the modern classic Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: an Indian History of the American West by Dee Brown or The Earth is Weeping: the Epic Story of the Indian Wars for the American West by Peter Cozzens for insights into the story of these proud people.

There are a lot of great books to read in this category, including some American classics. Try My Antonia by Willa Cather for an evocative, breathtaking view of life on the prairies. Two of my personal favorites are Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry – a chunk of a book that nevertheless ends too soon – and News of the World by Paulette Jiles – a slim volume packed with heartfelt emotion. Both of these titles recall a time when the West was still raw and life was difficult. They depict a time that is, at first look, similar to traditional stories of the West, but in fact both show great depth and the complexity of the time.

Now might be the time to try a classic Western – Max Brand, Zane Grey or Louis L’Amour. For a woman’s view of the West, take a look at the novel The Diary of Mattie Spenser by Sandra Dallas or the non-fiction Frontier Grit: the Unlikely True Stories of Daring Pioneer Women by Marianne Monson.

I’m setting my sights on Undaunted Courage by Stephen Ambrose about the journey of Lewis and Clark. It’s been on my list for a long time and I’m looking forward to following their epic adventure.

As always, there will be displays with these titles and lots more at each of our library locations. And let us know what you plan to read!

 

Online Reading Challenge – June Wrap-Up

Hello Everyone!

How was your reading in the month of June? Did you find something new and wonderful, or did you revisit a childhood favorite? It was a month full of possibility with the potential for a lot of fun. Let us know how it went for you!

This month I went with a children’s classic, A Wrinkle in Time by Madelaine L’Engle. Winner of the Newbery Medal in 1963 (the Newbery is awarded each year to the best children’s book in writing), this is a dramatic adventure story filled with alien creatures, distant planets and fantastical imagery. It’s also a story on a more intimate level – the value of friends and family, loyalty, accepting others as they are, being courageous and, most of all, the power of love.

Meg’s father has been missing for many months and she feels his absence keenly. She doesn’t know what has happened to him, only that he was working on something called a tesseract and no on can explain where he’s gone. When her little brother Charles Wallace introduces her to three strange women living in the woods behind their house, it sets them, along with their friend Calvin, on an incredible journey.

While I enjoyed this book – there’s quite a lot of action and even some scary bits where you just want to know what happens – I think I would have liked it even more if I had read it when I was a kid. Maybe my imagination is too “stuck” now to let go with the flights of fancy described here, or maybe I’m just not scientifically inclined (this book really celebrates math and the sciences). I did love Meg and how brave she was, even when she didn’t feel brave. She’s a young teen, at that awkward and unsure stage, but she’s smart and she’s strong. A role model for anyone.

What did you read this month? What did you think of your choice? Let us know in the comments!

 

Happy Summer 2018

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It’s summer at last (although it has felt like summer for several weeks now!). Time to kick back and relax and spend some quality time with a good book.

Still looking for a great beach read (or lazy-laying-in-the-hammock read)? The Daily Beast has a list of the best summer reads of 2018 that ranges from thriller, to tear-jerker to in-depth investigation. Or try the list of 40 Summer Beach Reads from Woman’s Day, books that are a couple years old and easier to find. And NPR published this list of 100 Best Beach Books Ever which, really, can just become your “to-read” list for any time of year.

And, because it’s summer, take some time to get outside (maybe with a book in hand?). Next time you’re at Eastern I highly recommend that you take a walk around the prairie gardens that surround the building. As you can see from the pictures here (which I took yesterday), it has become quite colorful and beautiful. Not pictured is the birdsong, the sense of peace and calm, and the open skies. Well worth a visit!

The Paris Opera on DVD

I love taking a peek behind the scenes of anything creative – movies, fashion, art, crafts. I love to see how the magic is made, the skill and passion and focus that goes into creating something special. If you feel the same be sure to check out The Paris Opera on DVD.

The Paris Opera follows new director Stephane Lissner as he navigates through his first season at the world famous art institution. The Paris Opera actually comprises two major venues, the opulent Palais Garnier and the more modern Opera Bastille as well as schools and training centers for both opera and ballet plus extensive craft workshops. Ballets, operas and concerts are regular events at both locations and require intense coordination on multiple levels. Amidst this controlled chaos, Lissner must negotiate politics, strike threats, wage disputes, replacing key personnel at critical times and, after a massive bull is hired to appear in an opera, calm the fears of the chorus who will be on stage with him.

The film focuses on what goes on backstage, long before and after a show is presented. The rigorous training the ballet dancers undergo, the auditioning of a new, young opera singer, the hammering out of new choreography, the building of sets and sewing of costumes. The Paris Opera relies heavily on new technology – lights run by computers, for instance, but also the more traditional skills – wig making, costumes, makeup. You see very little of any performances, just glimpses and usually from the wings of the stage – the utter exhaustion of a ballet dancer after she has finished her solo, the opera singer soaked with perspiration trying to make herself presentable before taking her bows, the lighting director singing along with the singers on stage, the maids who clean, the chorus practicing just before going on stage, the cleaning and ironing of the costumes. It is an endless cycle of creation and recreation and while talent plays a part, it is mostly possible through hard work and dedication.

Online Reading Challenge – Mid-Month Check In

Hello All!

Are you enjoying the June Reading Challenge? Have you found something fun to read? Or are you still looking for the right title?

I’ve started reading my book (A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle). I’m still trying to keep all the “mrs’s” straight, but I’m quickly getting caught up in the story. What I’ve found interesting is how other people react when I ask if they’ve read this book. I heard a lot of enthusiastic yeses; everyone seemed to love it. Best response, though, was from a co-worker who told me that A Wrinkle in Time was the book made her a library patron. When the teacher at school that was reading it to her class wasn’t reading fast enough for Shelley, she asked her Mom to take her to the library so that she could check out a copy. Thus began a lifelong love affair with reading (and, I hope, libraries!)

Another great story came from a Challenge reader that commented she is going to read a book written in 1898 that had been a childhood favorite of her mother. I love this idea! It shows how books are a bridge – to the past, to the future, to knowledge, to entertainment and that they can also be a connection to the people in our lives. Books (stories) are magic.

Let us know what you’re reading and, maybe, why you chose what you did!

 

 

Online Reading Challenge – June

Hello Fellow Readers!

It’s a new month and that means it’s time for our next Online Reading Challenge! This month it’s – Childhood.

I’ve got to admit, I’ve been looking forward to this month’s challenge. It’s pretty wide open to interpretation, so there are lots of possibilities. Let’s look at some suggestions.

Read a Children’s Classic You Missed.These are the books that tend to stay with us always and that have a big impact on how we view the world. Also, to be considered a classic, they have to be good enough to be read by multiple generations of children. You can’t go wrong with A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle, any title by Beverly Cleary, the Little House on the Prairie series by Laura Ingalls Wilder or my favorite, Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White (I still remember laying on the couch in my grandparent’s farmhouse, sobbing at the ending).

Revisit a Childhood Favorite. Did you read lots of Nancy Drew growing up? Try re-reading one and see how it holds up. Or, if you read the more recent titles (the “re-boot”), try reading one of the original titles. The same goes for the Babysitter’s Club or the Boxcar Children series. Or dig up that title that was so amazing when you read it as a kid – is it still amazing or has it lost some of its magic?

Read What Your Children/Grandchildren Are Reading. Find out what’s so awesome about Harry Potter (lots) or Percy Jackson or the Wimpy Kid. Pick a title that he or she is reading right now and read along – think what fun it’ll be to discuss it later and learn what they think of the book!

Try Something New. Children’s literature is pretty amazing and not just for kids. I highly recommend Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo, Smile by Rainia Telgemeier, Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan, and Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson as well as many others. These books deal with difficult subjects in thoughtful and sometimes humorous ways and never talk down to their audience. You’ll also find lots of great books on the Newbery shelf (the Newbery is the award given annually for excellence in children’s literature)

Adult Books with a Child Narrator. Although somewhat uncommon, there are some excellent adult fiction books told from the point-of-view of a child including Room by Emma Donoghue, Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time by Mark Haddon, and the Flavia de Luce mystery series by C. Alan Bradley.

I am planning on reading A Wrinkle in Time, a classic I somehow missed. I’m assured it’s very good, so I’m very much looking forward to reading it!

As always, we’ll have displays at each of our buildings with lots more great titles to choose from. Some of these books are pretty slim – maybe you’ll have time to read more than one! So what about it, what are you reading this month?