army

217th General Hospital posting in Swindon, England, 1944

Hello and welcome to the April Online Reading Challenge! This month’s theme is The Good War – World War II in Fiction. There are lots of amazing titles this month – it’s going to be hard to pick just one!

First off, no war is “good” – terrible things happen during every war. But World War II is sometimes called the “good” war because we (the Allies) were fighting true evil (the Nazis) and the only way to stop them was through force. On the surface, at least, it was a war fought for noble reasons. It’s also a war when ordinary people took on an extraordinary task, fought by a generation (the “greatest generation”) that faced this challenge with the same grim determination that got them through the Great Depression. It is a time period that has been romanticized, but we should always remember that there was great pain and suffering as well.

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Orderlies from the 217th General Hospital unit, Paris France 1945

World War II has long been one of the most popular subjects in the library, both in fiction and non-fiction. While many of the people who actually lived during that time period (1939-1945) are now gone, many of us have heard stories from our parents and grandparents, so it is still vivid in our memories.

There is no shortage of excellent books set during World War II; the problem is narrowing the list to manageable proportions! Here are a few of my favorites to get you started.

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. Set primarily in France and Germany, it moves between two main characters, one a blind French girl living in a small town along the Normandy coast, the other a young German soldier who is recruited into Hitler’s army as the lesser of two evils. These two very different lives are, with the imminent invasion of the Allies, about to intersect in unforeseen ways. I love this book – the beautiful, evocative writing, the examination and contrast of opposite sides, the almost unbearable suspense – come together to create a truly memorable experience.

City of Thieves by David Benioff. Most of the World War II fiction that we see is set in England, France or Germany (I don’t have scientific proof of this, just observation as a librarian) This novel brings focus to the home front in Russia, specifically the siege of Leningrad. A young man jailed for theft and an army officer convicted of deserting are given a choice – find a dozen eggs within the next week, or be executed. In a city where many have been reduced to cannibalism and many more have died of starvation, it is a nearly impossible choice. That these reluctant partners find kindness, friendship and even some joy, elevates this book above the usual war novel. Another excellent book set during this time is The Madonnas of Leningrad by Debra Dean, focusing on the docents and art historians of the Hermitage and their efforts to protect its priceless art.

Other books that shed light on forgotten or little known incidents of World War II include Sarah’s Key by Tiatiana de Rosnay which focuses on the deportment of Jews from Paris, Corelli’s Mandolin about the occupation of the Greek islands, first by the Italians and then by the Germans, and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer about Guernsey Island, the only part of England that was invaded by the Germans during the war. For a look at the war in the Pacific, try A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute or Tales of the South Pacific by James Michner. For a look at a dark period of American history, try Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford, set during and after the internment of Japanese-Americans during the war.

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The Arc ‘d Triumph, Paris, France, May 8, 1945 (VE Day)

My choice for this month is The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak. This has long been on my “to read someday” list. Narrated by Death, it is set in Germany at the start of the war and focuses on ordinary citizens trying to survive day by day. It sounds grim, but also hopeful (which I need!) as one of the main characters finds and shares books as a way of coping. If I have time I may try to read Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein which is about a young woman that has been shot down behind enemy lines. It comes highly recommended.

What about you – what book or books are you planning to read this month? Do you have any favorites set during World War II that you would recommend? Let us know in the comments! And if you haven’t already, don’t forget to stop by the library and pick up a Reading Challenge bookmark!

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The Davenport Public Library is pleased to announce that we have been chosen to participate in the testing for a new delivery system designed to get your books to you as quickly as possible! This system combines the best attributes of technology with good old-fashioned customer service and we believe it will revolutionize the library world – and yours as well!

In association with Drones R Us®, the library will now deliver your requested items via drone! After you have read and signed the Drones R Us® contract and personal liability waiver, your library account will be synced with their exclusive Drone Book Delivery System Interface. Then, when a book you have reserved becomes available for you, a Drones R Us® drone will be dispatched to your home with your book. Books will be packaged in pink hat boxes tied with a white satin ribbon and will be limited to no more than 4 items per delivery.

pinkhatboxIt’s easy to activate this free service! Simply access your library account (or stop at the Customer Service Desk at any Davenport Library location) and go to the “Contact Information and Preferences” section. Carefully read the Drones R Us® contract and personal liability waiver, confirm that the address listed is current and check the box labeled “Yes! Drone Delivery”. Then sit back and wait for the distinctive humming buzz of your next book arriving at your doorstep via the Drones R Us® drones!

The library does not accept any responsibility for misdirected items, broken windows, dented cars or head gashes that may result from a Drones R Us® drone delivery. Activate service at your own risk. 

 

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P.S. April Fools.

 

ReadingChallengeBWHere it is, the end of March and the finish of another month in our Online Reading Challenge. So, how’d you do? Did you read anything amazing? Or was this month just kind of “meh”?

My March book was The Night Circus by Erin Morganstern. This is a lovely, magical story with many layers and, at its heart, a love story.

A circus, consisting of multiple black and white striped tents, mysteriously appears in the night. It stays for a few days, performing only at night, delighting the locals with various fantastic and magical acts, then disappears again as if it never existed. There is no schedule for when or where it will appear again, but it draws a loyal following wherever it opens.

What most people don’t realize is that the circus is actually a stage for a duel being played out by two fierce competitors, each pitting one of their students against the other. The students, Celia and Marco, have been trained since childhood. The purpose of the duel is never explained to them nor is the fact that the duel is to the death until long after they have fallen in love with each other. What would you do to save the one you love? Would you sacrifice yourself? Or allow them to sacrifice themselves to save you? What would you do to spare the innocent people caught in this mad game, one you never asked to be a part of?

Beautifully written with a large supporting cast of unique and interesting characters, The Night Circus is by turns charming and fun, serious and suspenseful. I especially loved the stories of Poppet and Widget and their performing kittens, but there are many characters to love. The story jumps back and forth through time, and changes viewpoint multiple times which can make it difficult to keep track of what is happening, but also adds to the secretive and not-knowing-all-the-answers of the action. I recommend it highly, but be prepared for a sometimes wild ride!

So, what is your opinion of Magical Realism?  What is the appeal of magical realism in fiction? I think it has something to do with the fact that, no matter how sophisticated we become, or how much we tie ourselves to technology, there is a basic need for joy and delight and the unexpected. I think we also wish for the impossible sometimes, for an outcome that can only happen with the aid of something inexpiable.

Let me know in the comments what you thought of this month’s reading choices and any recommendations that you might have!

closedThe Davenport Public Library will be closed on Tuesday, March 29th so that staff may attend an all-day in-service. All of our buildings will reopen on Wednesday March 30th with their usual business hours – Main and Fairmount be open 9am to 5:30pm and Eastern Avenue will open noon to 8pm.

spring flowersThe Davenport Public Library will be closed on Friday, March 25 for the Good Friday holiday. All of our buildings will reopen on Saturday March 26 with their regular business hours, 9am to 5:30pm.

Have a safe and happy holiday!

Spring has finally arrived! Even though it was a mild winter, I’m still anxious for spring and flowers and gardening to start again. Here are some of the newest books on gardening available at the Davenport Library – reserve some spring inspiration now!

 

growyourownweddingflowersGrow Your Own Wedding Flowers by Georgie Newbery. Filled with gorgeous pictures for inspiration, and written in a friendly, no-nonsense style, this practical book makes growing and arranging your own wedding flowers both achievable and fun, whether you are a beginner or advanced gardener or flower arranger.

 

 

containerthemegardensContainer Theme Gardens by Nancy Ondra. There’s something here for every setting and every style, including a meadow in a box, a pond in a pot, a simple salad garden, and a combination that will attract hummingbirds.

 

 

gardeningwithlesswaterGardening With Less Water by David Bainbridge offers simple, inexpensive, low-tech techniques for watering your garden much more efficiently — using up to 90 percent less water for the same results.

 

 

flowerworkshopThe Flower Workshop by Ariella Chezar  walks you through the nuts and bolts of creating a variety of small flourishes, tonal arrangements, branch arrangements, handheld bouquets, wreathes, garlands, grand gestures, and more–all accompanied by detailed photography.

 

 

flowerchefThe Flower Chef by Carly Cylinder is a modern, comprehensive guide to floral design that caters to all readers–from beginners who have never worked with flowers before and are looking for a new creative outlet, to decorators, party planners and photographers looking to liven up their spaces.

ReadingChallengeBWHello Fellow Readers! Here we are at the middle of March already. How are you doing with reading a Magical Realism title? Is this a theme that you’re enjoying, or are you struggling to find a book that catches your fancy? Remember, the Online Reading Challenge is all about exploring new genres and finding great books to read.

My choice for Magical Realism is Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, about a magical circus that appears and disappears mysteriously. There’s a lot more than this going on though, including a complicated game with dire consequences, the twisted ties of family and the binds of love and friendship. I’ve already finished (although, I’ll admit I cheated a bit – I had started this a few months ago so I only had a few chapters left) and it’s quite good. It jumps back and forth through time and between several different characters which may bother some readers, but I enjoyed the varying perspectives.

Since I only had to read part of this book I’m going to tackle a second Magical Realism book, The Dress Shop of Dreams by Menna Van Praag. This book is lighter than air, about a seamstress that, with a few extra stitches, can set your deepest desire free. Something fun and light is always a good idea.

Are you still looking for a title to read? Here are a couple more suggestions:

The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh – The Victorian language of flowers was used to convey messages of romance but for Victoria Jones, it’s been more useful in communicating mistrust and solitude. After a childhood spent in the foster-care system, she is unable to get close to anybody, and her only connection to the world is through flowers and their meanings. Now emancipated from the system with nowhere to go, Victoria realizes she has a gift for helping others through the flowers she chooses for them. An unexpected encounter with a mysterious stranger has her questioning what’s been missing in her life.

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender – Being able to taste people’s emotions in food may at first be horrifying. But young, unassuming Rose Edelstein grows up learning to harness her gift as she becomes aware that there are secrets even her taste buds cannot discern.

The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein – Nearing the end of his life, Enzo, a dog with a philosopher’s soul, tries to bring together the family, pulled apart by a three year custody battle between daughter Zoe’s maternal grandparents and her father Denny, a race car driver. This is one of my very favorite books – beautifully written, filled with great sorrow and deep joy and thoughtful insights only an outsider can see. Yes, the outsider is a dog (magical, remember?) but his viewpoint is no less valid in this amazing book. Read it.

Let us know what you’re reading in the comments! And don’t forget to stop by the library for a Reading Challenge bookmark!

ReadingChallengeBWWelcome to the next month in our year long Online Reading Challenge! This month’s theme is Magical Realism.

So, what the heck is Magical Realism anyway? It’s not an official Library of Congress subject or genre, more of a made up description for books that fall somewhere between science fiction/fantasy and fiction. It is usually applied to books that are grounded in reality, but with some magical element. Usually, the magical is not the focus of the story, but it does influence what happens. It is frequently used by many Latin American authors (Isabelle Allende and Gabriel Garcia Marquez among them), but there are many other authors that employ Magical Realism.

There is a fair amount of argument among the literary elite – they appear to be a feisty bunch – about the exact definition of what is and what is not Magical Realism. For our purposes, as always, we’ll leave it up to you on how you interpret it and what you choose to read. I find that reading Magical Realism requires a little hop of faith – I don’t try to rationalize what’s going on, or explain it scientifically (magical, remember?), but just go with it.

Now, this may be a theme that many of you are just not interested in and that’s fine. You can skip this month and join us again in April, no problem (remember – no such thing as Library Police!) But I would encourage you to at least take a look at some of the authors and titles – you might be surprised to realize you’ve already read some of these books! Here’s a sampler to get you started:

Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel – When Tita is forced to prepare the wedding feast for the man she loves who is marrying her sister, her emotions are transferred to the food she makes, affecting all who eat it. Charming and bittersweet, this love story takes place in turn-of-the century Mexico and contains a powerful message of the role of women in society.

Chocolat by Joanne Harris – The perfect book for chocolate lovers as well as Francophile’s, this story takes place in a tiny village in France. The sudden arrival of Vianne Rocher introduces joy and sensuality to the straitlaced community when she opens a chocolate shop of delights. In addition, Vianne is able to detect each buyer’s secret unhappiness and offers clever cures. A delicious treat!

Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman –  For more than two hundred years, the Owens women had been blamed for everything that went wrong in their Massachusetts town. And Gillian and Sally endured that fate as well; as children, the sisters were outsiders. Their elderly aunts almost seemed to encourage the whispers of witchery, but all Gillian and Sally wanted was to escape. One would do so by marrying, the other by running away. But the bonds they shared brought them back-almost as if by magic…

Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen – In a garden surrounded by a tall fence, tucked away behind a small, quiet house in an even smaller town, is an apple tree that is rumored to bear a very special sort of fruit. This luminous novel tells the story of that enchanted tree, and the extraordinary people who tend it.

Mama Day by Gloria Naylor – On the island of Willow Springs, off the Georgia coast, the powers of healer Mama Day are tested by her great niece, Cocoa, a stubbornly emancipated woman endangered by the island’s darker forces. A powerful generational saga at once tender and suspenseful, overflowing with magic and common sense. I once recommended this book to a friend who called me at home the minute she finished it to tell me how much it affected her – an extraordinary novel.

My reading choice for this month is Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, about a circus that mysteriously appears, stays for a few days and then disappears again but only after entertaining guests with extraordinary acts. I’ll admit right now – I’m cheating just a little bit with this one. I had read about two thirds of the book and, even though I was enjoying it, had to set it aside as other books and projects demanded my time. I’m looking forward to finishing it now! And, I intend to read another title for this theme as well – I’ll let you know what title I choose.

So, what about you? See anything that catches your interest? Anything you’d like to recommend to others? And what do you plan to read this month?

Remember, the Online Reading Challenge bookmarks are now available at each of the Davenport Library buildings – they’re a great way to keep track of your 2016 reading list.

Check here if you need to more information about the Online Reading Challenge.

Happy Leap Day! (And Happy Birthday Christie who is 8 years old today!)

So, how did you do with the first month of the Reading Challenge? Did you discover a great new book? Or did the Journeys theme fall flat for you? Please let us know in the comments – tell us what you read and how you liked it!

I really enjoyed this months’ theme – in fact, as I was preparing book lists and setting out displays, I kept running across more titles I’d like to read! The idea of embarking on a journey, whether by physically traveling or through emotional growth, is a powerful one. Humans are blessed with great curiosity  – what’s around the bend in the trail, what are my limits and how can I move past them, how can I build a better mousetrap? It is one of our best characteristics, and following someone on their journey – and thinking about how we would have done – is one of the best ways to feed this curiosity. After all, I’m never going to climb Mt Everest – and have no desire to – but reading about someone’s trek is still eye-opening and mind-expanding.

road to little dribblingThis month I read The Road to Little Dribbling by Bill Bryson. A treat for Anglophiles or fans of dry humor or anyone curious about England both past and present, will enjoy this book. Bryson is very funny, poking fun at silly conventions and laws (which England seems to have in abundance!), despairing at the of encroachment of modern “improvements”, liberally shot through with fondness and love for his adopted country.

This is not a straight line march from south to north and, in fact, Bryson doesn’t walk the entire way (although he loves tramping through the countryside and does so frequently); this is more of a meander, from Britain’s southernmost point to the far north. Bryson and Great Britain are well suited to each other – their love for and indulgence of the eccentric mesh nicely. Bryson is an expert at digging up interesting tidbits of history and trivia and making them fascinating. He is also very, very funny in a very dry, British way.

This is a great book to dip into to quickly read a chapter or two and easy to come back to later. It’s also great for adding many more places to visit when I travel to England! Highly recommended.

wildAs a (completely unnecessary) bonus, I also worked on reading Wild by Cheryl Strayed. This is one of those books that I had started but hadn’t finished even though I liked it. As of this writing, I’m not quite done – I still have about a third of the book to go – but I am enjoying it a great deal.

This book is a very different kind of journey, involving both physical travel and emotional growth. After the death of her beloved mother, Cheryl finds herself floundering, repeatedly making poor choices (infidelity, heroin use, pushing away people she loves). Desperate to break out of this cycle, she latches onto the idea of hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, an arduous, long distance hike that would include desert heat, mountain snow, encounters with bears and rattlesnakes, food and water shortages and days and days without seeing another human.

Throughout the course of the book (and the hike), Cheryl thinks about her past and how it has shaped her, how the choices in her life have set her on this path (literal and metaphysical), how her grief has paralyzed her from moving forward with life. There are some cringe-worthy moments – the emotion is very real and very raw. She is also a complete hiking novice, making some terrible decisions (pack too heavy, shoes too small, the wrong fuel for her camp stove, etc etc) But the trail and the vast wilderness hone her skills; she becomes stronger with each step (both physically and emotionally), smarter and more confident. She grows into the person she is meant to be and she is eventually able to put the past aside and move on.

This all sounds very dreary and deep, but the book also has a lot of humor and light. Strayed comes to love the wilderness and describes it beautifully, she often pokes fun at herself and she meets many kind and helpful people in her journey. Her writing is fluid and natural and a joy to read. For anyone that has lost a loved one and wondered how to move on without them, this book will help make sense of that most difficult of journeys.

Those are my Journey books – what about yours? Please add a comment to this post and let us know!

Tomorrow we start with a new theme – Magical Realism! It’s going to be awesome – be sure to check back tomorrow for more information and reading suggestions.

ReadingChallengeBWHello Fellow Book Lovers!

Here we are at the mid-point of the first month of the Online Reading Challenge. How are you doing? Have you picked out a book to read yet? Have you started reading, or maybe you’re already finished – let us know in the comments!

As I mentioned before, I’m reading The Road to Little Dribbling by Bill Bryson. It’s going well, although I do have a problem – it’s very difficult to read it in public since I am constantly chuckling, snorting, and laughing out loud. Bryson has not lost his edge, with many pointed, on-the-mark observations, but his humor has been softened (well, a bit) with time and is often aimed at himself. It is easy to tell that he truly loves his adopted country and, while he might sometimes despair, he also delights in it’s beauty and endless variety.

I should be able to finish this book in a couple days; for (completely unrequired) extra credit, I think I will try to finish Wild by Cheryl Strayed. I actually bought a copy of this book (something that, as a librarian I don’t do all that often) to take on a trip, but only read a couple of chapters even though I was enjoying it. Does that ever happen to you? An interesting book comes to you, but, for one reason or another, it doesn’t get read. Sometimes I come across a “to read someday” book several times before it either drops off the list or I finally read it. This time I’m going to try Wild again and see if it sticks.

In other news, the promised Reading Challenge bookmarks are now available! They’re great for keeping your place in your book of course, but these also list the theme for each month with space for you to write in the title you read. A fun way to keep track of your progress! You can find the bookmarks at each of the Davenport Library buildings in the literature displays and with the Challenge book displays.

Finally, are you still looking for the perfect Journeys title? Here are a couple more ideas to consider.

The Life of Pi by Yann Martel Follow along with Pi when finds himself alone in a lifeboat, his only companions a hyena, an orangutan, a wounded zebra, and Richard Parker, a 450-pound Bengal tiger. Soon the tiger has dispatched all but Pi, whose fear, knowledge, and cunning allow him to coexist with Richard Parker for 227 days while lost at sea.

State of Wonder by Ann Patchett. Patchett is easily by favorite contemporary author, but I hesitated to read this when it first came out and it became one of those “someday” books. When I did finally read it, I found I could hardly put it down again. It has mystery, action, love stories, medical mysteries, the ties of family and a heroine in the darkest Amazon rain forest. Highly recommended.

Undaunted Courage by Stephen Ambrose. A modern classic of the ultimate American journey, follow along as Lewis and Clark open up the great American frontier, treking where no white man had ever been.

Master and Commander by Patrick O’Brian. I am a huge fan of the entire Master and Commander series (20 volumes) and as a result probably know a lot more about early 19th century British naval practice than one might expect from a 21st century American woman. If you like Jane Austin, adventure, action, humor, historical fiction, and interesting characters you’ll like this epic tale of the improbable friendship of Jack and Stephen, all taking place against the backdrop of  the beautiful tall ships of the Napoleonic era. It’s brilliant.