The Trip to Spain on DVD

Guest post by Laura

I wish I had known there were two previous “Trip” movies because I would have watched those first. I feel I was watching the twilight of what was probably a great run for actors Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon. My aspiration to visit Spain someday was the impetus behind my selection of The Trip to Spain. I certainly got what I was hoping to see in breathtaking scenic views and Spanish cuisine.

There were times I laughed so hard at the banter and celebrity impressions I couldn’t stop but about two-thirds of the way in it began to wear thin. I think this was by design since I could see that happening in real life to people with strong personalities after spending that much time together.

This film is a commentary about the fickle nature of success in Hollywood and coming to terms with becoming middle-aged men, all while lodging at gorgeous hotels and running for fitness on narrow cobblestone streets. Each man is in a different stage of life, Rob has an up-and-coming career, a wife and young children and Steve is facing a stalling career, has a twenty-year old son, and a complicated long-distance relationship with an American woman. I think there are enough issues between them for both to be relatable to many viewers.

Since our libraries have the previous two movies, The Trip, and The Trip to Italy available, I plan to watch them as well. I’ll view them as travelogues with a side of drama and humor.

Beatriz at Dinner on DVD

Guest post by Laura

Salma Hayek plays the lead in this thought-provoking “comedy.” Although I laughed at times throughout the film, it would be more accurate to categorize Beatriz at Dinner as a drama. Hayek is finally given a break from the stereotypical sexy Latina spitfire role in which she in normally cast. She doesn’t disappoint in her portrayal of a spiritual, non-materialistic healer with a strong desire for fairness and justice. Although this character could easily have been a blonde hippie, Beatriz’s backstory as an immigrant from Mexico deepens the storyline.

The movie takes place in the grand Southern California home overlooking the ocean of one of her massage clients. Her car breaks down and her client, who also considers Beatriz a friend, convinces her husband to let her stay for his dinner with his business partners. The evening enfolds with much drama spurred on by far too much liquor and the uncomfortable pairing of people from opposite ends of the socio-political and economic spectrum in this country. Jon Lithgow matches Hayek in his performance as a Trump-era capitalist and verbal sparring ensues.

The ending has become a Google search phrase, as evidenced by my starting to type it and it popped up. I was satisfied with the movie until the end, which disappointed me at first. I read an interview with the director, Miguel Arteta, who explained, “we have gotten really used to having our ending be predigested for us.” He goes on to say he wanted an open-ended conclusion to make people start thinking for themselves. After reading the interview, I have created my own justification for the end in my mind. It worked! He got me to think for myself and not accept a neat and tidy ending fed to me by Hollywood.

Like a complex novel that merits re-reading, I might have to view Beatriz at Dinner again to dissect all of the layers and nuances. While it’s not a movie to invite your friends to watch for a lighthearted good time, it is worth watching as a Latino director and a Latina actress’ take on our current political climate.


Online Reading Challenge – February

Hello Reading Fans!

Here we go with the second month of the 2018 Online Reading Challenge – the 1950s and 60s. Kind of an abrupt change from last month, yes? There is lots choose from and a broad range of subjects – Civil Rights, the changing role of women, the Korean and Cold Wars, the Space Race, the arrival of the Beatles. You’re sure to find something that catches your interest! Here are some ideas to get you started.

Maeve Binchy has written several books set in the fifties, mostly set in postwar Ireland. Circle of Friends is particularly lovely, following several young people as they find their way in society that has been changed dramatically by World War II. Brooklyn by Colm Toibin also has Irish roots, but this time from the point of view of an Irish immigrant finding her way in Brooklyn, New York (the movie made from this book is also well worth watching).

If space travel peaks your interest, reach for The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe, a hefty volume about the birth of NASA and the space program. Again, the movie is quite good too. If you’re looking for elegant and wealthy, try The Swans of Fifth Avenue by Melanie Benjamin, a novel about how Truman Capote gained access to New York’s high society (and then wrote about them in books such as Breakfast at Tiffany’s, another great pick for this month)

Civil Rights gained much needed attention during these decades and there are many inspiring books about the life and works of Martin Luther King, Jr that are worth reading. If you missed the flurry of interest in The Help by Kathryn Stockett when it first came out, now would be a great time to read it – it’s very eye-opening, especially to someone like me who grew up far from the South. And don’t miss Margo Shetterly’s Hidden Figures, an incredible (true) story about the African-American women who made the exploration of space possible.

Surprisingly, many of Agatha Christie’s mysteries were set in the Fifties (I always think of her books being written in the 20s and 30s). Try At Bertram’s Hotel, where English classes collide and there are more red herrings than you can shake a stick at. If hard-boiled is more to your taste, reach for James Ellroy’s L.A. Confidential, set in the corrupt Los Angeles police department of the 1950s.

Finally, for the cooks. This book just arrived at the library – Retro Recipes from the ’50s and ’60s by Addie Gundry. Pineapple Upside Down Cake anyone? (Please, someone try some of these recipes and tell us about the experience!) I don’t think any of these dishes are going to show up on your Whole 30 plan, but they’re a fun, nostalgic look back at that era.

I’m going to read Call the Midwife by Jennifer Worth, a memoir of a young woman who worked as a midwife in the poorest areas of London in the 1950s. It’s also a popular television series on PBS (and on DVD).

That’s just a small sample of what to read this month. Be sure to visit any of our Davenport Library locations for displays with even more choices! And don’t forget to pick up a bookmark/reading log!


2018 Online Reading Challenge – January Wrap-Up

Hello Online Reading Challenge Readers!

We’ve come to the end of the first month of the 2018 Online Reading Challenge already. Did you enjoy reading something set during the Tudor/Renaissance era? Did you find something especially wonderful? Let us know in the comments!

There seems to be an endless supply of books about the Tudors and the tangled political plots in pursuit of the throne (and a male heir). But there was plenty of other interesting things going on during this time period – did anyone find something set in Renaissance Europe, or Asia or Africa? It would be fascinating to compare!

Hang onto your library card, we’re about to leap several centuries forward in time to the 20th century and the pivotal and tumultuous 1950s and 60s! Still lots of political intrigue but now with indoor plumbing!



Victoria and Abdul on DVD

This is the Queen Victoria that most of us are probably familiar with – elderly, dour, overweight, always dressed in black. She is mostly a figurehead now with the ruling of the country handled by the Prime Minister and her councilors. She has outlived most of her contemporaries, despises her children (especially Edward, the heir apparent), is in poor health and has few interests. And then, into this dull and tedious existence steps an unexpected bright spot – Abdul.

Victoria and Abdul is the story of the unusual (but true) friendship between the Queen of the most powerful country in the world, and a commoner from India. Sent to England to present the Queen with a coin created in honor of her Golden Jubilee (he was chosen because he was tall), Abdul looks past the trappings of the Crown and sees the person. He is optimistic, cheerful and respectful and, when she asks questions about his country and his life, he answers her easily, weaving colorful, poetic pictures of a life very different from her own. Victoria emerges from her shell, delighting in new interests.

However, not everyone is happy about the friendship between Victoria and Abdul. There is a lot of racism against Indians in England (there is a great deal of unrest in colonial India resulting in several battles during this time; India did not become independent from England until 1947) and there is a concerted effort to remove Abdul from Victoria’s circle, testing the bonds of loyalty.

This is a lovely movie, beautifully acted by Judy Dench and Ali Fazal with gorgeous imagery and costumes. It is also somewhat melancholy; Victoria doesn’t have much to live for at this point in her life – she still misses Albert, who died nearly 40 years before, and everyone around her is basically waiting for her to die. That the one bright spot in her life, Abdul, is discouraged and kept away is very sad. If you’ve been watching Victoria on PBS (which is excellent), it’s also a bit of a shock, the contrast between the young, vibrant and very active young Victoria and the elderly woman she becomes.

Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve

guest post by Teague Shosh

There is no shortage of post-apocolyptic books to read these days and looking at the books I’ve read over the past several years it is clear that I have an obsession a healthy interest in all things dealing with our planet earth in the future.  There is something so captivating about a story describing the collapse of earth as we know it and the subsequent reconstruction of a new society rising from the chaos—all from the safety of my twenty-first century life.

My brother recently asked if I had read the book Mortal Engines that Peter Jackson has based his next movie on and suggested I check out the trailer.  I usually try to avoid seeing even a smidgeon of a movie based on a book until I have read it, so I grabbed a copy of Mortal Engines by Phillip Reeve and dug in.

Mortal Engines is the first in a four part series, The Hungry City Chronicles.  It is a post-apocalyptic steam punk novel that takes place hundreds of years after the Sixty Minute War destroyed earth and made the land an unstable place to live.  Cities are now giant machines run by steam, rolling on wheels, and searching for increasingly scarce resources to survive.  These Traction Cities rule most of the earth, except for the Dead Continent (North America) and pockets of resistance can be found in The Anti-Traction League who wish to stop the movement of cities and slow the consumption of earth’s remaining resources.  Technology is almost non-existent and scavengers hunt for relics from the past to build on their knowledge of robotics, mechanization, and computers.

Mortal Engines begins on the city of London as fifteen year-old orphan and aspiring Historian Tom Natsworthy witnesses an attack on a prominent citizen and suddenly finds himself tossed into the Outland.  Tom struggles to make his way back to London with the help of Hester, who is also alone, but angry and seeking revenge.  The two unlikely friends embark on an adventure that uncovers a secret plot by London that changes everything Tom thought he knew about his city and the world.

Although the book was originally published over fifteen years ago, the idea of cities on wheels battling for survival was new to me and I thoroughly enjoyed seeing Reeve’s innovative take on this genre.  After reading the descriptions of traction cities, with level after level stretching to the sky reflecting the increasing wealth of its citizens the higher you go, it is easy to see why Peter Jackson decided to turn the book into a movie.   I watched the trailer when I finished the book and it is clear that Mortal Engines is going to provide a beautiful visual experience when it comes to theaters at the end of this year.  Before then, you should read this entertaining book to find out more about Tom, Hester, and a host of other colorful characters surviving on a very different sort of earth than the one we live on today.


Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer

guest post by Laura

An expert storyteller, Kimmerer recounts her journey of learning to embrace the science of biology from the viewpoint of two different cultures, Potawatomi and mainstream American culture in Braiding Sweetgrass. From the Potawatomi creation story to the cautionary tale of the greed of the monster, Windigo, she weaves her way through the wisdom of various indigenous cultures juxtaposed with current stories of endangered species and environmental destruction.

Kimmerer makes a case for listening to the wisdom of peoples who had learned over millennia how to live in a reciprocal manner, taking in restrained amounts and giving back to the Earth. One example of this is the three sisters. What looked like a messy garden to the new settlers to the Americas was a strategic planting method of corn as support, beans as nitrogen fixers, and shade/weed prevention from the squash.

This beautiful tome is difficult to read at times when she talks about the mistreatment of the peoples of the First Nations as well as the destruction of once-thriving ecosystems. Kimmerer is no pessimist despite the many sad tales she recounts. She gives anecdotal and even research evidence from one of her graduate students that humans and nature not only can co-exist harmoniously, in some cases nature thrives only when humans tend to it.

The main audience for this book may be environmentalists but this is also the story of the author raising two daughters as a single mom. Those who enjoy indigenous history and folklore will also enjoy the tales. She finds neighbors who become friends, gardens, and fights a humorous losing battle in reclaiming a backyard pond from nature.

Online Reading Challenge Mid-Month Check-In

Hello Fellow Readers!

How is your first month of the 2018 Online Reading Challenge going? Have you found any great new titles? Let us know in the comments!

I’ve already finished my choice for this month – My Lady Jane a collabrative effort by three young adult authors – Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton and Jodi Meadows and it was so very excellent. If you’re a stickler for historical accuracy then you need to take a pass, but if you delight in witty, clever dialogue and description, are willing to let go of cold, hard, boring facts and able to accept a bit of magical realism well then, you’re in for a treat.

According to the cold, hard, boring facts, Lady Jane Grey was the great granddaughter of Henry VII. When her cousin, King Edward VI became ill, he wrote his will naming Jane as his successor instead of his half-sister Mary. Edward choose Jane because she was Protestant and would continue the reformations he and his father had instituted while Mary was Catholic and wanted to return the country to Catholicism by any means (thus the “Bloody Mary” nickname). And indeed, at Edward’s death, Jane (reluctantly) became Queen. She only lasted nine days though as Mary was able to raise an army and the Privy Council abandoned Jane. At first Jane’s life was spared but later Mary had her executed, fearing continuing support for her. And thus ends a brief reign (and life, she was only 15 or 16 when she died).

Never fear Gentle Readers! The authors of My Lady Jane have a far different ending in store for you! There are many twists and turns, but, surprisingly, the story follows the basic outline of Jane’s life – her early childhood, her relationship with Edward, her forced marriage, Edward’s terminal illness and writing of a new will to make Jane queen, her studious nature and reluctance to become queen, the Privy Council’s betrayal, Mary’s brutal claim to the throne. It’s all there, but now with lots of humor, interesting back stories and motivations, cultural and historical barriers and some sly references to the Bard himself, who may or may not have been William Shakespeare. I don’t remember having read a book that I was smiling or laughing or making unladylike snorting noises the entire time I was reading it and yet there is real tension about the outcome. This is a tough book to put down both for sheer enjoyment and for the urgency to find out what’s going to happen!

The sad part is that the book ends, the happy news is that these same three authors have collaborated again and are coming out with another title, My Plain Jane, in June of this year, which will be about Jane Eyre herself. Perhaps they’re creating a series reimagining the lives of famous Janes? Could Jane Austen be next? One can only hope.

A Column of Fire by Ken Follett

guest post by Laura

Ken Follett’s Kingsbridge series readers have patience. He released the Pillars of the Earth in 1989, World Without End in 2010, and A Column of Fire in 2017. They’re not sequels in the traditional manner. They take place in the same location hundreds of years apart and have some loosely, genealogically connected characters.

I was excited to see A Column of Fire came out in the fall of 2017. There’s quite a long waiting list to read it, so you may have time to catch up on the previous two if you’re a fan of historical fiction after you’ve gotten on the list. Just as in the previous two novels, this is a sweeping tale of romance with plenty of intrigue and this one even includes a few pirates. In contrast to the other books, A Column of Fire expands into international politics and crosses borders, reflecting the importance of interstate commerce and increased modes and routes of global travel.

It was fun to discover who the real historical figures and who the fictional characters were at the end, although one could guess. If you’re well-versed in European history during the 1500s, you will be spoiled. I had only a general knowledge so I was in suspense much of the time. Like his other novels, he includes the major historical occurrences of the time, focusing on the religious turmoil between Catholics and Protestants.

I grew somewhat tired of the predictability of the fates of some of his fictional characters. There is definitely a pattern in his writing. Real life isn’t so just and predictable and I felt cheated that he thought I wouldn’t be satisfied with a divergence from his typical ending. I’m guessing most of his loyal fans may not agree with me on that, however. Overall, I enjoyed the book and am happy I was able to read all three over the span of a couple of decades.