Happy Thanksgiving!

The Davenport Public Library will be closed on Thursday, November 23 and Friday, November 24 in observance of the Thanksgiving holiday. All three of our locations – Main (321 Main Street), Fairmount (3000 Fairmount Street) and Eastern (6000 Eastern Avenue) will reopen with regular business hours of 9am to 5:30pm on Saturday, November 25.

Have a safe and happy Holiday!

Online Reading Challenge – Halfway Home!

So, how is your St Petersburg/Moscow/Russia reading adventure going?

I admit I’m struggling a bit this month. I wanted something a bit light and modern and, guess what – apparently that doesn’t exist in Russian fiction. Russian authors, historic and modern, tend to write really dark, really tragic stories steeped in mysticism and history. And it’s always cold.

Obviously, this is a huge exaggeration but I still could not find anything that wasn’t deeply sad (and not bittersweet sad but depressingly sad). I think a lot of this has to do with tradition and with Russian history which seems especially harsh with despotic leaders, crushing military battles and the bleakness of Soviet communism. And Siberia truly is extremely cold. Surely someone, somewhere has been happy? And warm? Sadly, I’m still looking for that book (please let me know if you’ve found one!)

Instead I’m going to watch the DVD of Anna Karenina starring Keria Knightly. Yes, very sad and tragic (and cold), but I’ve read that the costumes are exquisite and the production is very theatrical. I’ll let you know what I think.

If you’re still searching for a Russian connection, you might try a DVD too. The Americans, a TV series starring Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell is about a young Russian couple that have been sent to America as “sleepers” – KGB agents that are infiltrating the United States by posing as Americans. It’s gotten lots of great reviews. Or check out The Last Station starring Helen Mirren and Christopher Plummer about Leo Tolstoy’s later years when, to his wife’s horror, he said he planned to give up everything to live in poverty. Child 44 stars Tom Hardy and Gary Oldman about a disgraced Soviet police officer that has been exiled to the countryside and is now searching for a serial killer.

So tell me, what you reading (or watching) this month?

The Crown – Now on DVD!

Good news if you’re a fan of English history or royalty. Or, you know, a fan of excellent film making and story telling. The first season of The Crown, starring Claire Foy and Matt Smith is now available on DVD!

Opening with the young Elizabeth about to marry Philip, season one of this brilliant series follows the first ten years of her reign, from her accession to the crown upon the death of her father King George VI through the turbulent years guiding postwar England into a new, modern era. There is a strong push/pull between the old ways – which just won World War II – and the inevitable new. English society, with its long-held class structure and tradition, struggles with the changes and the Royal family, as an example to the country, must show the way, often with great personal sacrifice.

Highlights from the first season include Elizabeth and Philip’s sometimes rocky early marriage as Philip struggles to find his place as consort and yet maintain some independence (Parliament at first refused to allow him to take flying lessons); Elizabeth’s sister Margaret falling in love with a divorced man (very scandalous, especially after Edward VII abdicated to marry a divorcee); Elizabeth’s coronation; the question of how to treat the disgraced Edward VII and the reluctant stepping down of Winston Churchill. Throughout, Elizabeth remains serene (at least on the surface) and steadfast in her devotion to her country. The demands put on her, not just by the government and her duties, but by her advisors and family, is staggering.

Beautifully filmed, superbly acted (Claire Foy won an Emmy for her role), sparkling storytelling, this is a series well worth bingeing on – if you don’t have Netflix (who produced it) or missed it when it first came on, now is the time to catch up – season two begins December 8!

For more background both on the events and how they actually happened (the writers took some liberties although they stayed close to the facts) as well as insights on filming the series, pick up The Crown. Volume 1: the Official Companion by Robert Lacey. The book includes side-by-side shots from the time period with shots of the same event from the film – the similarities are striking. In addition, Lacey provides more information on why things happened like they did in more detail than can be done in the series. It makes for fascinating reading (and watching)!

Now Departing for: St. Petersburg, Russia

Hello Online Reading Challenge Readers!

November has arrived and that means it’s time for our next destination – St. Petersburg!

Situated on the Baltic Sea in western Russia, St Petersburg has an interesting history. It’s relatively new (for Europe), having been established by Peter the Great in 1703. It served as the capital of Russia from 1713 to 1918 when the central government moved to Moscow. It has had several name changes, from St Petersburg to Petrograd (in 1914) to Leningrad (in 1924) and now back to St Petersburg (in 1991). It is considered more “Western” due to its proximity to the rest of Europe, than Moscow which is thought of as more traditional. St Petersburg has more tourist traffic and it has less of the “Soviet bloc” architecture than Moscow and, while there is no shortage of art and culture in Moscow, St Petersburg is considered to be more of a cultural mecca.

There are some great books set in St Petersburg, but somewhat limited in quantity. Because of that, I’m expanding this month to include Moscow (or, really, any setting in Russia you’d like to read about). Here are a few titles to get you started.

One of my favorite books is City of Thieves by David Benioff. Set during the siege of Lenningrad (as it was called then), it brings this horrific chapter of World War II vividly to life. Yet amongst the suffering there is friendship and joy and hope. I wrote about it in more detail here. Highly recommended.

Russian Winter by Daphne Kalotay follows the memories of a retired Russian ballerina who lived through the Stalinist era. Her memories of the dark, Postwar years and what she did to survive are equal parts haunting and beautiful. Read more about it here.

If you like history, you may wish to read more about the last Tsar of Russa, Nicholas II and his family’s tragic story. Try The Romanov Sisters by Helen Rappaport or The Romanovs: the Final Chapter by Robert Massie or the greatest mystery, Rasputin: Faith, Power and the Twilight of the Romanovs by Douglas Smith

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles is a relatively new book that has been getting a lot of positive buzz. Shortly after the Russian Revolution, a member of the nobility is sentenced to live the rest of his life in a hotel in Moscow. His watches and observes the changes that his country and the world go through, all from his small room above the city.

Of course, if you wish, you can go the classic route – Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky. Let me know how that goes!

Watch our displays at each building for more ideas of some great reads set in Russia.


Now Arriving from – China

Hello Reading Fans!

How did this month of the Online Reading Challenge treat you? Did you find something really fantastic to read? Something that opened a little window of understanding of the great mystery that is China?

I’m afraid I didn’t do so well this month – I got caught up in reading other books and never came across anything China-related that grabbed my attention. These things happen sometimes (This is why I’m not very good with traditional book clubs – the rebel in me doesn’t always want to read the chosen book!) Fortunately, there aren’t any Library Police and I can simply try again next month!

I do want to draw your attention to two favorite movies set in China that deal with the ancient history of China and are deeply rooted in mysticism. Both are absolutely beautiful

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon caused quite a sensation when it first came out and you may very well have already seen it. Beautifully photographed, superb acting and a story that requires the watcher, much like the characters, to take a leap of faith makes this a film that linger long after the closing credits. A young Chinese warrior steals a sword from a famed swordsman and then escapes into a world of adventure with a mysterious man in the frontier of the nation with serious, long-reaching consequences.

Hero, starting Jet Li, was released shortly after Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and may have been overshadowed by it, but it is stunning in it’s own right.  Set in ancient China, warring factions plot to assassinate the most powerful ruler, Qin. When a minor official defeats Qin’s three deadly enemies, he is summoned to the palace to tell Qin the story of his surprising victory. The martial arts scenes, beautifully, artfully choreographed, are worth watching alone but the message, about power and how it is wielded is relevant to all times and societies.

Speaking American – How Y’All, Youse, and You Guys Talk by Josh Katz

America may be a melting pot, but we prize our individuality and differences. These often show up in our language which has been influenced by heritage, location and history. By region, by state and even by city, these quirks and differences are shown off in Speaking American by Josh Katz.

Some of the differences are in pronunciation (for instance, how do you pronounce “caramel” – with 2 syllables or 3? If you’re from the Midwest, you probably use two. Most of the South and New England use three syllables). Other differences are in the actual word we use such as “green onion” vs “scallions”, “yard sale” vs “garage sale” vs “tag sale” (When I first heard Martha Stewart use the term “tag sale” – which is unique to the area around Connecticut – I thought it was something very fancy. I didn’t realize it was a plain old garage sale!)

Some differences are broad – most of the country pronounces aunt as “ant”, but North Dakota, most of Minnesota and New England pronounce it “ahnt” (although I had a third grade teacher that humiliated me in class for saying “ant”. She was not a good teacher.) And some differences are very fine, for instance, most of America calls a sandwich on a long roll a “sub” but from New Jersey thru Maine there are five different names other than sub – “hoagie”, “hero”, “wedge”, “grinder” and “Italian sandwich”.

I found this book utterly fascinating. I’m a born and bred Iowan so I have that Midwestern speech pattern down pat. I lived in Wisconsin for a couple of years, where they made endless fun of my saying “pop” instead of soda (this from people who call drinking fountains “bubblers”!) and I was told I had a Southern accent. Having a sister-in-law from Virginia (where I visit often), I can assure you that my accent it not, by comparison, Southern!

Speaking American is a lot fun with quick, often humorous descriptions and full color maps that show the prevalence of each word or pronunciation. A great peek into what helps make America unique!

The Alice Network by Kate Quinn

This is a book about two wars, of the price paid both by those who died and those who survived, of sisterhood and loyalty and immeasurable bravery. The Alice Network by Kate Quinn alternates between the two World Wars. The similarities are chilling with threads that tie the two together in more ways than one.

1915. Eve Gardiner is one of thousands of file clerks in London, unremarkable in appearance, quiet and demure, but because of her upbringing she speaks flawless French and German. She is bored and feels useless so when a Captain from British Intelligence recruits her to be a spy, she leaps at the chance. After a few short weeks of training, she is sent to Lille in occupied France and takes on the role of a shy, simple waitress in a restaurant that caters to German generals. The information she gleans from their overheard conversations is passed on to her contact, the “Queen of the Spies” Louise de Bettignies who becomes a bright and shining light for Eve in a dark and dangerous world. The work is exhilarating and treacherous, even more so when the owner of the restaurant takes an interest in her. One misstep and all will be lost.

1947. Charlotte (Charlie) St. Clair is young, unmarried and pregnant. Her wealthy parents send her to Switzerland to have her “Little Problem” taken care of and to preserve her (and their) reputation. Charlie is heartbroken over the recent suicide of her brother (a soldier who came home from the war but never left it) and the complete lack of information of what happened to her beloved French cousin Rose who she is convinced is still alive. In London, Charlie slips away from her Mother and contacts the one person she thinks might be able to help her – one Evelyn Gardiner. Evelyn’s hands are horribly disfigured and she is bitter and angry (the first thing she does to Charlie is to pull out a Luger and threaten to kill her) but eventually she agrees to go to France with Charlie see if they can find Rose. Accompanied by Evelyn’s driver Finn, they make their way to a France that is still torn and broken by the war. The horrors of World War II are very much still evident, but the shadows cast by World War I are still present too.

The book alternates between these two story lines, chapter by chapter. The connecting threads between the stories is gradually revealed, leading to an explosive final confrontation. It is one of those books that’s difficult to put down when you’re reading it and nearly impossible to forget about when you’re finished. I certainly found this to be true.

There are a lot of books about the World Wars, especially WWII, but The Alice Network manages to take a closer look at two lesser known subjects – the women who spied for the Allies during World War I, and the aftermath of the war in the countryside of postwar France. What really adds weight to the book though, is that many of the people and heart-stopping incidents depicted are true – there really was a network of female spies in German occupied countries during WWI and it really was called the Alice Network and was led by Louise de Bettignies, one of the most accomplished and successful spies the Allies had. Most of the things that happen in the book – the secrets the women uncovered, the danger and brutal punishments they suffered – actually happened. And in Charlie’s timeline, there is one episode that she comes across that is absolutely true (and absolutely chilling) but probably little-known outside of France. Evelyn and Charlie are fictional, but what they see and feel and experience are very real. Don’t miss the author’s notes at the end for more about these nearly forgotten heroines. And don’t miss this book.




Now Departing for – China

Welcome to the next month in our Online Reading Challenge! This month we are headed for China, a country that, for many of us, remains mysterious and unknown with a long, complex history and multiple cultures. A great book can crack open that door of mystery in the best possible way.

China as a subject offers a large number of intriguing and interesting books. Achee Min’s The Last Empress follows the last days of the Ch’ing Dynasty as overseen by Tzu Hsi. Maligned in the Western press as a ruthless, power-mad assassin, Min offers a different view of a powerful woman that did everything for her country and her family.

Under Heaven by Gabriel Kay is set in a imaginary kingdom in ancient China during the T’ang Dynasty. To honor the death of his father, Shen Tai spends two years burying the dead at a battle site on the kingdom’s border. When he receives a gift of 250 coveted horses, he realizes he is in terrible danger and seeks an audience with the Emperor. Detailed, nuanced, completely engrossing, this is a massive novel that you can easily (and happily) get lost in.

Lisa See has written many novels of China and of the Chinese immigrant experience in America. Set in 19th century China when women had little value except to produce male children, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan is the story of a “laotong” (an arranged friendship of two young girls that is meant to last a lifetime) between Lily and her laotong, the beautiful Snow Flower. A misunderstanding between them has far reaching consequences. This is a fascinating peek into a secretive and hidden world but a warning – the part when the girls undergo foot binding is not for the squeamish (I still shudder when I think about it)

For an examination of the push and pull of between new and old that Chinese immigrants to America feel, you can’t do better than Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club. The younger generation is eager to embrace the modern world but the past and the old country, as remembered by their parents, continues to shape and influence them. Four Chinese women who immigrated to America in 1949 are drawn together to share stories and play mah-jong. Through the years we follow their triumphs and losses and those of their American-born daughters.

There are lots more choices out there. Watch for our displays at each building for more suggestions. And then let us know what you’ll be reading this month!

Now Arriving From – London

Hello Fellow Reading Fans!

How did September go for you? Did you find something fabulous to read that was set in London? There certainly isn’t a lack of great reading material set in the English capital. With so much history and culture and so much influence on the world (an Empire that at one time spanned the globe), the possibilities for excellent reading material are nearly endless.

I chose to read a fairly new novel, Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave. Set in London during World War II, it focuses on the home front during the London Blitz and the hardships suffered and bravery shown by those left behind. Typical dry British wit and stiff upper lip attitude contrast with the very real terror and danger of London under siege making for a tense and absorbing read.

When war is declared in 1939, Mary immediately leaves her school in Switzerland and races back to London, convinced that she will miss out on the “action” and volunteers at the War Office. Instead of becoming a spy as she has imagined, she is assigned a position teaching children who have not been evacuated. She is disappointed and frustrated, but then the Blitz begins and she is suddenly in the midst of the “action” and it’s brutality. A growing friendship with her boyfriend’s roommate, who is stationed in Malta, brings the horrors of the front lines to the story and shows that there are many ways to be brave both at home and in the field. A fascinating, bittersweet look at wartime London.

Now it’s your turn – what did you read in September? Let us know in the comments!

Hello Sunshine by Laura Dave

Sunshine Mackenzie is living her best life – a hugely popular YouTube cooking star, she has published several cookbooks and is about to get her own television show. She has a beautiful home, a loving husband and millions of fans on the verge of mega-stardom.

And then she gets hacked.

In a single day she loses her reputation, her home, her fortune and her husband when someone hacks into her Twitter account and starts revealing secrets that start showing the cracks in Sunshine’s perfect facade. She and her team scramble to contain the damage but it’s too late, the truth is out there and the media is eager to expose every lie and blemish. Finally, with nowhere else to go, she must return to her hometown and her estranged sister and confront what she has become and where she came from.

Hello, Sunshine by Laura Dave examines living authentic in an inauthentic age. Even us ordinary people present a carefully crafted image of ourselves and our lives through the many social media platforms that are so prevalent now. I know for myself, I only post beautiful photos of my garden or my cat doing something cute, not the pile of dirty dishes in the sink. Does that make our lives any less authentic? Is what we post “real life”, or just a facade? It’s an interesting debate to consider and Hello, Sunshine raises lots of interesting questions. Well worth a read.