Hurrah! It’s Spring!

Well, according to the calendar, it’s Spring again. This being the Midwest, Spring is likely to struggle a bit to really take hold, but it is definitely moving from winter to spring, the best season of all.

This also means it’s time to take a look at the new crop of gardening books. There are always new ones being published early in the year, taking advantage of cabin fever and greening grass. Here are just a few:

The Flower Powered Garden: Supercharge Your Borders and Containers with Bold, Colorful Plant Combinations by Andy Vernon.

Niki Jabbour’s Veggie Garden Remix: 224 New Plants to Shake Up Your Garden and Add Variety, Flavor and Fun by Niki Jabbour

Martha’s Flowers: a Practical Guide to Growing, Gathering and Enjoying by Martha Stewart

My Floral Affair: Whimsical Spaces and Beautiful Florals by Rachel Ashwell

Color Me Floral: Stunning Monochromatic Arrangements for Every Season by Kiana Underwood

The Less is More Garden: Big Ideas for Designing Your Small Yard by Susan Morrison

Vegetables Love Flowers: Companion Planting for Beauty and Bounty by Lisa Ziegler

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Sisters First: Stories from Our Wild and Wonderful Life by Jenna Bush Hager and Barbara Pierce Bush

I find myself frequently wondering about the lives of celebrities and political figures outside of the spotlight. While I never wish to live their lives overrun with media attention and constant scrutiny, my desire and curiosity about their normal day-to-day lives still lingers. Books and documentaries are one way that I am able to satisfy my curiosity to learn more, so I’m always on the hunt for more.

Pouring over OverDrive recent releases, I found Sisters First: Stories from Our Wild and Wonderful Life by Jenna Bush Hager and Barbara Pierce Bush. I remembered hearing one elderly relative refer to the Bush family as the Bush Dynasty and as a result, the Bush twins lived in my mind as royalty. After all, both their grandfather and father were presidents, so that must mean they would grow up to be presidents too, right? My young mind always wondered what it would be like to grow up in such a politically minded family where the whole world had a vested interest in all of the decisions your father and grandfather made on a daily basis.

Sisters First: Stories from Our Wild and Wonderful Life was an intriguing look into the lives of former first daughters Jenna Bush Hager and Barbara Pierce Bush. When they were very young, they watched their grandfather become president. The stories the twins tell of their grandfather, though, are less of him being president, and more of him being a doting grandfather who just wants to spend more time with his grandchildren. Twelve years after their grandfather became president, the twins were right back again watching their father take the oath.

Living a life with their father as president meant that Jenna and Barbara had increased security. Secret Service agents followed them around throughout their college years (College was hard enough! I can’t imagine having to check in with Secret Service agents continuously!). The paparazzi and Secret Service agents seemed to control and follow their every movements. Every teenage mistake they made could be found splashed across the national headlines the next day.

Despite the constant attention, Jenna and Barbara worked hard to form their own individual identities separate from their father’s and grandfather’s histories. They were still trying to figure out what their futures would look like, still forging friendships and intimate relationships, even with the extraordinary circumstances that ruled their day-to-day lives. This book provides a glimpse into the little known and seldom discussed personal lives of political families and the impact being born into a political dynasty has on the young children involved.

Jenna and Barbara fill this memoir with equal parts political and personal, funny and poignant stories of their childhood, young adult, and current lives within the Bush family and the greater world. Their lives may not have been the typical American story, but it’s all they knew. As the tagline of this book says, the Bush twins lived a ‘wild and wonderful life’ that was piled full of adventures, bonds, love and loss. I enjoyed the broad-sweeping stories present in this narrative that covered everything from their childhood to their current lives.

If you get the chance, I recommend that you listen to this book as an audiobook. Both Jenna and Barbara narrate their respective sections with their mother narrating at the very beginning. Hearing their voices lent both more credibility and a sense of relatability as each sister told of the events that forged them to become the people they are today. I really enjoyed seeing history through the eyes of the Bush twins as young children, then teenagers, and then young adults.


This book is also available in the following formats:

The Blue Zones of Happiness: A Blueprint for a Better Life by Dan Buettner

New York Times best-selling author Dan Buettner’s second book delves deeper into what factors aid in an individual’s happiness, as well as “the macrocosm” of one’s dwelling in a specific place, be it a small town, city and even how a country’s national policies can play an important role in individual lives. Buettner expounds on how the actual environment, green space, traffic, etc. play a huge role in one’s personal happiness. The Blue Zones of Happiness is full of useful information that is both realistic and constructive. You will enjoy reading this book and taking a more realistic look at the current place, be it a farm, city, small town and state where you live.

The book encourages all of us to look objectively at the environments in which we live and find areas to make change. His scenarios and qualitative data are a resource for local communities and towns and city councils looking to make their spaces more pedestrian and green space friendly whilst at the same time improving upon the health and well-being of the lives of its’ local citizens, making the areas more attractive for new business and providing leverage and economy to flourish.

One example Buettner gives is Boulder, Colorado. In the late 1960’s and early 1970’s corporate redevelopment companies wanted to build into the mountains and foothills and build the city up, meaning high-rises and tower building. However because of a concentrated effort to keep the mountain views open and a campaign of environmental activism in keeping the city limits drawn and the green spaces pedestrian friendly and high-rise free, today Boulder is a thriving city economically and considered one of the best places to live in the world.

The Blue Zones of Happiness is a great tool if you are interested in solutions for your own neighborhood or as a tool to educate elected officials and make aware the importance of healthy, environmentally and pedestrian friendly spaces that improve upon community members’ healthy lifestyles such as walking and bicycling. This book is a useful manual for individuals and communities to take the initiative toward happier, healthier lives.

Making Chocolate: From Bean to Bar to S’more by Todd Masonis

Making ChocolateIt is well past Valentine’s Day yet I can’t escape the chocolate that entered our home last month. My mother-in-law usually sends a box the size of my six-year old full of all types of chocolates—Hershey’s, Lindt, Ghirardelli, Godiva, Dove, and Reese’s—because what if we were trapped inside for two years and couldn’t leave the house to get more chocolate? Girl Scout cookies also make their annual appearance around this time and there is less than a month to go until chocolate bunnies will be hopping their way into my stomach. It is a hard time for a chocoholic with no will power.

It seemed inevitable that I would be browsing some of the library’s newest books and come across Making Chocolate: From Bean to Bar to S’more by Tom Masonis, a collaboration by several people who create and sell their own chocolate out of a store in San Francisco called Dandelion Chocolate. The detail used to describe the chocolate-making process, from selecting beans to choosing equipment to creating mouth-watering chocolate, is exhaustive and would certainly be an asset to anyone who is interested in making their own chocolate. Honestly, I was more interested in looking at the gorgeous photography and drooling over pictures of desserts than I was in understanding the five factors of viscosity or figuring out what a nib profile is. I also enjoyed reading about how beans are sourced and how different beans provide different flavors.

The biggest take-away for me was the handy guide to hosting a chocolate tasting event. I cannot wait to gather some friends to try a tasting of my own based on the steps laid out in the book. Although I consider chocolate a perfectly acceptable breakfast food and the authors of the book recommend tasting your chocolate first thing in the morning before your palate can become distracted, I will probably choose a more socially acceptable time for my gathering. I can’t wait!

If you are looking to expand your chocolate repertoire for your own tasting party, try Chocolate Manor in Davenport or the newly opened branch of Shameless Chocolate located right across the river in Moline.

Online Reading Challenge – March

Hello Readers! Here we go with month #3 of the Online Reading Challenge. This month we’re traveling to the future!

Now, don’t pull that face at me. You know, the face where you scrunch up your nose and say “I don’t like science fiction”. You just haven’t found the right science fiction book yet. PLUS – not everything on the list is science fiction! There’s plenty for everyone to enjoy! Here’s sampling.

Dystopian fiction is in its heyday right now (although there are signs that this is beginning to taper off) and there are dozens of titles to choose. The Hunger Games series (both books and movies) by Suzanne Collins has been very popular for a reason. It’s horrifying without being too graphic and really makes you think about what you would do if you were in the same position as Katniss. It takes place in a world where scarce natural resources are held by the wealthy, keep control through an annual televised event that pits children from different districts in a fight to the death. When Katniss steps in for her sister, she must use her skills to survive and to put an end to the madness.

If you’d prefer something classic, go for The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, a chilling novel set in a world where birth rates have declined dramatically and any woman who has had a child is forced to serve powerful men in an attempt to give them children. Women have no rights, no access to knowledge, property or money and live in slavery. Now also a popular Hulu series.

For something futuristic but a bit less depressing, try The Martian by Andy Weir. It’s the future but not so distant that the technology is beyond comprehension. A mission to Mars goes horribly wrong when a dust storm forces the group to evacuate. They believe that one of their members, Mark, has died but in fact he has survived. He is now tasked with living alone, with few provisions, until the next scheduled Mars mission – in four years. A survival story, a tribute to ingenuity and perseverance, The Martian is a great read (and an excellent movie)

You might also try some JD Robb books, shelved in the Mystery section. A pseudonym for the popular author Nora Roberts, this series is set in a relatable future where the technology is advanced but human emotions and actions continue to create suspense and mystery. Great can’t-put-down books.

I’m going to read Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel. Twenty years after a flu epidemic has wiped out most of civilization, a small traveling troupe of actors attempts to keep art and culture alive. Here’s hoping it’s not too dystopian!

For lots more suggestions, be sure to stop by any of our Davenport locations for displays of books and movies. And be sure to pick up a bookmark/reading log while you’re there!

Now it’s your turn – what are you going to read this month?

 

2018 Online Reading Challenge – February Wrap-Up

Hello Fellow Readers!

How did the month of February treat you reading-wise? Did you discover something great to read (or watch)? I had another good month, reading The Midwife by Jennifer Worth which I loved.

The Midwife is about young Jenny Worth’s experiences as a midwife in one of the poorest areas of London. The time is the early to mid 1950s and the setting is the East End of London, an area that is still feeling the effects of being heavily damaged in WWII.There is a lot of sadness and suffering in these stories, but there is also joy and laughter, community and life.

Jenny’s comfortable upbringing doesn’t prepare her for the hardships she encounters in the slums, but her compassion and understanding grows quickly. Some of the stories are very funny and some are heartbreaking. As you would expect from a book set in England, there are many eccentric characters and lots of “stiff-upper-lip”. I choose this book because it was about nursing and although I never entertained the idea of pursuing that career myself, my Mom was a nurse in the 1940s (she retired after serving in the US Army during World War II to become a farm wife and raise her family). Although The Midwife takes place 5-10 years after she practiced, I gained a lot of insight into medicine and health practices similar to what my Mom worked under and found it fascinating.

Now, some untangling of the title of this book. It was originally published with the title The Midwife: a Memoir of Birth, Joy and Hard Times which is actually the first of three books (the other two are Shadows of the Workhouse and Farewell to the East End). The BBC created what became a very popular tv series based on these books, using the title Call the Midwife and the books have been republished with the new name. The beloved series is running on PBS here in the United States with DVDs available of the earlier seasons.

Now it’s your turn – what did you read for this month of the Online Reading Challenge?

 

Offal Good: Cooking from the Heart, with Guts by Chris Cosentino

Guest post by Laura

I visited Ireland a couple years ago and ate an Irish breakfast every morning. It consisted of black (blood) sausage, white sausage, an egg, bacon that seemed like plain ham, and a grilled tomato. I felt sorry and a bit embarrassed that the breakfast buffet at a hotel frequented by Americans was out of white sausage but had plenty of untouched black sausage. I hate wasting food.

Various cultures have utilized animals in nearly their entirety from snout to tail when preparing food throughout human history. That practice has been largely lost in the United States. I read Offal Good by Chris Cosnetino after seeing the intensely close-up photo of an animal organ and was intrigued. Cosentino is creative in his recipes and both smart and wicked with his humor beginning with the pun in the book title – offal is pronounced awful. One of his recipe titles requires a knowledge of Spanish slang for a body part to get the joke.

The recipes’ accompanying photos are beautiful and even a skeptic might admit they look delicious in their presentation. I appreciated his identification of the various parts of the animal as well as describing the differences in preparation among the same part of different animals. My interest in organ meats is twofold: they are rich in vitamins and minerals that muscle meat doesn’t provide and it seems more ethical to consume the entire animal rather than discarding parts deemed undesirable by some arbitrary cultural standard.

I decided to try one of the simpler recipes with an ingredient I’m somewhat familiar with, beef tongue. If you haven’t tried tacos de lengua at a local Mexican restaurant, give them a shot. I was squeamish at first and it took a couple of tries for me to adjust to the springy texture, but then again, I felt the same way about shrimp once upon a time. I found beef tongue at a local butcher shop.

I honestly had to quell a bit of revulsion at first but I quickly convinced myself I was just getting in touch with the origins of my food. I was finally being honest. Meat doesn’t spring from a neat Styrofoam-plastic-wrapped container as many of us would like to think. I quickly got in touch with my curious and hungry side and grilled superb thinly-sliced meat using the minimalist recipe provided. The taste was rich and deep. I give the recipe a thumbs up!

I will probably never try a few recipes because I can’t completely erase my cultural biases. This book is an interesting romp through some seriously amazing cuisine that Americans are overlooking. Perhaps millennials will latch onto the growing trend of cooking with offal and will nudge it into the mainstream.

The Black Book by James Patterson and David Ellis

If you’re familiar with James Patterson’s books, then I’m sure you’ve noticed that Patterson likes to co-write his books with other authors. Over the past year, I had decided to do an informal test of sorts: I would read a variety of Patterson books and see if I could discern a style and/or writing difference between the books that he writes with different authors. Well I can say, not even halfway through my test, that I was correct: the books he writes with various authors have definite differing writing styles!

My current favorite pairing? James Patterson and David Ellis. I’ve made my way through all of the books they have written together and blogged about most of them as well. The Black Book by James Patterson and David Ellis was my latest read. This book has all the elements that hook me in fiction: murder, thrills, suspense, crime, fast-paced, entertainment, etc. The blurb hooked me in and I knew I would enjoy it. Now onto the description!

Billy Harney’s family is a family of cops. His father is the Chief of Detectives while Billy and his twin sister, Patty, are also detectives. Being a cop, especially in Chicago, means that Billy is willing to risk anything for his job. It’s just what you have to do to solve a crime.

Billy soon finds himself embroiled in a massive crime conspiracy with far-reaching implications when he is shot in the head and left for dead. Billy is believed to be dead when he is discovered alongside the bodies of his former partner, Kate, and an assistant district attorney, Amy. Billy’s sister and father are on hand right after the bodies are discovered. Both emotionally distraught and furious about the theories being thrown around, Patty and her father demand re-tests and to be included in the investigation.

With Billy suspected of the murders of both Amy and Kate, investigators are anxious to figure out what Billy remembers about the shooting. There’s a slight problem: Billy remembers absolutely nothing about the shootout, as well as the two weeks before. Billy becomes an outcast in the police force and is publicly ridiculed when he is charged with double murder. Rumors swirl through the community as everyone tries to figure out what really happened in the bedroom where such carnage took place.

Told through flashbacks to the past and glimpses into the present, readers are privy to Billy’s valiant attempts to clear his name. With visits to counselors and walks through the neighborhood, Billy retraces his steps to try to figure out what he was working on that resulted in two murders and his own injury. His memory of the two weeks before refuses to come back no matter what he does, but what Billy does remember is the department’s intense desire to find a little black book that is proving crucial to a major investigation. Without it, the perpetrators will be set free, but with it, multiple high-ranking city officials and famous individuals could get in serious trouble.

Desperate to prove his innocence, Billy is willing to do anything to remember the crime that happened in that bedroom as well as what happened in the two weeks before. Digging into the past proves increasingly dangerous as Billy discovers that everything he thought was true is not. Everyone he thought he could trust: double crossers. The only solid person he can truly rely on is himself and the only events and recollections he can trust are the scattered pieces he can pick from his messed up memory.

The Black Book by Patterson and Ellis was an engaging read that had me constantly trying to figure out what had really happened. I really enjoyed the flashes to the past juxtaposed alongside the present. This book also gives the point of view of Billy’s sister, Patty, which adds necessary suspense and drama. Give it a read (or a listen) and let us know what you think!


This book is also available in the following formats:

The World of Laura Ingalls Wilder by Marta McDowell

Guest blog post by Laura

The seeds of my relatively new hobbies: gardening, landscaping with native plants, and what my friends call “pioneer” cooking, may have been planted long ago by my favorite childhood books. I would disappear into the Little House in the Big Woods or Little House on the Prairie both by Laura Ingalls Wilder for hours at a time. I also spent time with the Island of the Blue Dolphins, a fictional account of the true story of a Native American woman’s story of survival while stranded alone on an island, by Scott O’Dell.

In The World of Laura Ingalls Wilder, McDowell aptly describes the various places Pa Ingalls’ wanderlust took his young family. They lived in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Kansas, and South Dakota. Some locations were still Indian Territory at the time the young Ingalls family built homesteads. Finally, Laura and her husband Almanzo settled permanently in Missouri.

I was absolutely amazed at the speed in which forest and prairie were decimated and towns emerged. Laura and Almanzo traveled from South Dakota to Missouri by covered wagon in 1894 and she went to visit her cosmopolitan daughter in San Francisco by train in 1915 and by Buick 1925! McDowell includes a section on Visiting Wilder Gardens and Growing a Wilder Garden for those interested in road-tripping or attracting pollinators.

It was fun to see the Moline Wagon Company and John Deere mentioned. I learned I have planted some of the native plants Laura found on the landscapes of her youth. Some of the herbal remedies she used were familiar, but most were new to me. I also enjoyed seeing the names of familiar seed catalogs that regularly show up in my mailbox over a hundred years after Laura may have ordered from them: Stark Bros. & Gurney.

I was happy to get a second look, this time through mature eyes, at the literary heroine of my childhood. She was a remarkable, intelligent woman, and her daughter was an amazing character in her bold independence for a woman of her time. Laura clearly passed along the pioneer spirit to her.

This is my favorite passage from the book and sums up her view of the world: “Laura didn’t curtain its windows so she could see the changing pictures of the world outside. Depending on the time of day, the season of the year, and the weather, the scenes framed in the glass panes shifted, but were a constant draw. She appreciated ‘the forest trees in the wood lot, the little brook that wanders through the pasture, the hills and valleys, and the level fields of the farm lands.’ Living close to nature was a fundamental thing. Along with love and duty, work and rest, nature was a key ingredient in her formula for happy life.”

My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent

Coming-of-age stories usually prove hit or miss with me. I’ve noticed that the ones where the main character has an idyllic childhood that transitions over to a smooth adult life, with some pretty obvious life quirks along the way, do not engage me at all. I need my coming-of-age stories to have some serious life issues, entertaining if not slightly off the wall relationships, and some sort of crisis that forces the main character to really examine their life thus far. (As you can probably tell, I’ve read my fair share of coming-of-age tales.) As a result, I’m usually hesitant when I come across an adult fiction book with a young person as the main character. My latest read, My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent, is a coming-of-age story that I discovered was listed on multiple book lists. Because of the press surrounding this book, I decided to give it a go.

I’ll admit that when I first started this book, I was skeptical: skeptical of the main characters, skeptical of the press it received, and skeptical that I would actually like this book. I’m glad I decided to stick with this book through to the end because I finally understood all the hype. My Absolute Darling was much better that I thought it would be.

My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent tells the story of fourteen year old Turtle Alveston. Turtle is the living embodiment of the term survivor. Living off the beaten path in the woods along the northern California coast, Turtle has the run of the wilderness for miles. She knows the creeks, woods, rocky islands, and tide pools like the back of her hand. Throw her into the wild and she can do literally anything. This is all due to the intense training done by her father, Martin.

Turtle’s mother died when she was young, leaving Turtle to grow up at the hands of her father, Martin, with some help from her grandfather. Martin is slightly crazy, holds deep and somewhat fanatic beliefs on a variety of subjects, and is tortured by events from his past. Raising Turtle to be a survivalist in a cabin out in the middle of nowhere, Martin tries to do his best, but it quickly becomes clear that the life the two are living is not safe and they cannot go on the way they have been for very much longer.

Turtle may have absolute command of the outside physical world, but her personal world is in utter chaos. Dealing with middle school is torturous: the other kids don’t understand her and while her teachers are trying to help her, Turtle knows she can’t let them get too close otherwise they will realize her truth. Outside of school, Turtle’s life is limited to her father, their cabin, and to the woods, whenever she is able to sneak away from her father to enjoy it.

A chance encounter with a high-school boy named Jacob completely changes Turtle’s life. Jacob and his friends are care free, live in big clean houses, and think Turtle is amazing. The fact that she knows so much about the wild and can clearly handle herself blows them all away. Turtle enjoys their company and finally has her first healthy relationship in years. Hanging out with Jacob and his friends gives Turtle her first real friendships and the fact that Jacob is pretty cute gives Turtle her first teenage crush. This new group of friends is exactly what Turtle needs to finally realize the truth behind Martin’s actions and to see that the way Martin behaves towards her, and towards others, is not healthy. She can’t live like that anymore. With her newfound courage and the survival skills her father has instilled in her since birth, Turtle starts to think that she can escape from her father. Turtle must learn to trust herself and believe she is willing to do whatever it takes to escape.

I really enjoyed this book even though I didn’t understand all the press and awards it was receiving until almost the very end of the book. If you’re thinking of giving up on this book, don’t! Promise me you’ll stick through to the end! Let me know what you think if you decide to give it a go. I hope you’ll be just as pleasantly surprised as I was.


This book is also available in the following formats: