A Brief History of Montmaray by Michelle Cooper

It turns out there’s a cult following of Michelle Cooper’s Montmaray Journals series.  Now, I’m one of them.  The audio version of  A Brief History of Montmaray took me across several states (and back).  Sometimes I was so engrossed that I didn’t notice how low the gas gauge was – a lack of attention that can be dangerous on some stretches of South Dakota highway.

It’s written as the secret diary of (Princess) Sophie FitzOsborne,  one of the ruling family of the  island kingdom of Montmaray.

Sophie’s view of herself, and  her  family  evolves as she learns more of the tragedies surrounding her family’s history, including her aunt’s disappearance. The cast of characters include her very eccentric Uncle John (the king), her siblings and cousin – all  with their own obsessions and quirks. There’s a secret language that the cousins have developed – she encodes parts of her diary in this language, in case the book falls in the wrong hands. There are also secret tunnels, the possibility that the crumbling castle may have connections to the Holy Grail, a jeweled egg gifted by the Romanovs, and perilous rescues and invasions by sea and air.

It is 1936, and world events are overtaking the seclusion of the tiny country in the waters off the coasts of France and Spain,  in the Bay of Biscay. The remaining FitzOsbornes are very aware of the political turmoil in Europe, especially the Spanish Civil War and rising fascism in Germany.  German soldiers land on the shores of Montmaray one day, as part of the historical/archaeological research wing of the Nazis, and life is never the same again.

At the end of the first volume, there are still many mysteries to be solved.  I can’t wait to hear more from this charmingly eccentric family.

It Ends with Us by Colleen Hoover

It Ends with Us by Colleen Hoover is a twisted love story that had more depth than I was expecting. This begins with Lily escaping back home after her father’s funeral. Lily grew up in a very small town in Maine where everyone thinks that they know everyone else’s business, but as readers are quick to realize, Lily’s whole family has deep dark secrets that she can’t seem to escape from no matter where she goes. Back in Boston after her father’s funeral, Lily hopes to settle back into the life that she has made for herself since she graduated from college.

As she’s struggling to regain her composure, Lily has a run-in with a gorgeous neurosurgeon named Ryle Kincaid. Lily’s life all of a sudden seems perfect. Ok, maybe. Maybe Ryle seems a little bit too assertive and arrogant and a tad bit stubborn, but if you were a neurosurgeon still in training, working insanely busy days and doing VERY long surgeries wouldn’t you act the same way?! Despite his flaws, Ryle is brilliant, knows exactly what he wants, is sensitive, and even though he doesn’t want a relationship, he still has a soft spot for Lily. If he only could get over his complete aversion to relationships, Lily thinks he would be the perfect man.

Flash forward some months and Lily finds herself bumping into Ryle again as she starts her new business. This second chance encounter ends with the discovery that both Lily and Ryle can’t get the other out of their heads. Ryle decides to make an exception to his ‘no-dating’ rule just for Lily, but Lily is left wondering why he had that rule in the first place.

Lily and Ryle’s new relationship, combined with Lily’s new business and Ryle’s crazy work schedule, leads Lily to reflect on her very first love – Atlas Corrigan. Besides being her first love, Atlas is a messy connection to her past that Lily was glad to escape. In her tumultuous past, Atlas was the one good thing that brightened up her depressing circumstances. Reading through old journals that she shoved in the back of her closet, Lily finds herself remembering things she wishes she could forget. She also keeps wondering while Atlas never came looking for her like he promised that he would. Lily believed they were kindred spirits and he was her protector.

As Lily and Ryle progress further into their relationship, Atlas suddenly reappears. This reappearance comes at a crucial time in Lily’s life and in her relationship with Ryle. Lily quickly finds everything she has worked with Ryle to build is threatened and is forced to think about what she really wants in life. Does she want to follow in her mother’s footsteps? Or break the cycle? Should she choose Ryle or Atlas? Or will she choose to put herself first?


This book is also available in the following format:

Happy Independence Day!

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

   Main (321 Main Street) 9am to 8pm

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

   Fairmount (3000 Fairmount Street) noon to 8pm

Have a safe and happy holiday!

 

The Little Book of Lykke (Looka): Secrets of the Worlds Happiest People by Meik Wiking

Meik Wiking’s concise The Little book of Lykke (Looka): Secrets of the Worlds Happiest People  is a practical, quick read, with international statistics and easy to read graphs that gives a nice synopsis of his company’s (the Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen) analysis and overall synopsis of the worlds happiest people and how not necessarily money, but time allocated and spent, from work schedules, to parental paid leave, welfare, healthcare, commute times, compassion, kindness as well as getting to know your neighbors, and helping others all play important parts in the overall happiness of individuals. Denmark is the place to be if you’re into free higher education, equal pay, equal parental leave, free healthcare, and a work culture and society that promotes walking, riding bicycles, and taking public transportation that is effective and efficient. Well…but you might say I’m not going to move to Denmark or planning on marrying a Dane. Which is good that The Little Book of Lykke gives small and big examples of things to do or changes to make in your daily life.

As an American, one can only imagine, that the United States scores very low in most of these categories, especially some of the more important ones like welfare, healthcare and parental paid leave. I just heard on NPR recently that… “suicide rates have increased in nearly every state over the past two decades, and half of the states have seen suicide rates go up more than 30 percent. In the wealthiest country in the world we American’s are somehow still missing out on how to take care of each other, especially our children and our elderly. Wiking’s book focuses on measuring happiness and he provides tools and encouraging tips on small changes to begin making in one’s daily life. Each chapter has several “happiness tips”. In the promotion of trust and kindness he suggests set time aside weekly to practice “Five Random Act of Kindness to do This Week:

  1. Leave a gift on someone’s doorstep.
  2. Learn the name of the person at the front desk, or someone else you see every day. Greet them by name.
  3.  Make two lunches and give one away.
  4. Talk to the shy person who’s by themselves at a party or at the office.
  5. Give someone a genuine compliment. Right now.

“The point of all this is that while we can improve trust levels in the short-term by training our empathy muscles and teaching our kids to cooperate rather than compete, there is something we need to address in the long-term to improve trust and happiness…And it is judging our societies not by the success of those who finish first but how we lift back up those who fall.” So perhaps we as individuals are not going to be able to change suicide rates in our state or country, we can however, start making small changes like walking or biking to work one day a week, or being supportive of a neighbor or a co-workers endeavors. Start a community garden. Create a rewards system that promotes those around us that lift other up. Or move to Denmark. That’s what I’m thinking.

Happy Summer 2018

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

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

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

A Day In The Life of Marlon Bundo

Every once in awhile, you come across a book that is not only well-written, but that had the potential to be revolutionary. A Day In The Life of Marlon Bundo is one of those books, especially because it is a bold, humorous, and heartening tribute to “any bunny who has ever felt different”.  Similarly, it is also a jab at the “Stink Bugs” of the world who don’t understand how others can lead lives unlike their own.  Check out this video of the reading, too!!

Most appropriately, this book is hot-off-the-press and just in time to hit the shelves for Pride Month, a national observance during the month of June. I am proud to work in a public institution that not only celebrates but encourages people to learn about and embrace people whose lives look differently from theirown. This wonderful book acknowledges and honors the LGBTQA community and its allies through recognizing same-sex marriages as legitimate and valid, in spite of  public figures and politicians who use their platform to discourage them.

In short, Marlon Bundo is a hula-hooping male rabbit who happens to favor the company of Wesley, another male rabbit. Marlon Bundo also lives with his Grandpa — the Vice President–who happens to be Mike Pence,  the current Vice President of the United States. When Marlon Bundo and Wesley decide that they would like to marry,  they are scornfully told that their relationship would not be recognized by law or by “The Stink Bug”, who is depicted as a lead decision-maker who is “In Charge” although he is “very stinky.” The Stink Bug tries to proclaim that “Boy Bunnies Have to Marry Girl Bunnies”; but Marlon Bundo and Wesley knew differently, that the Stink Bug’s vision is simply near-sighted and skewed.  To the astonishment of Marlon Bundo and Wesley, many of their peers come forward and begin to share how they are different from what the Stink Bug says is “normal.”  For example, Pumpernickel, the badger, eats his sandwiches crust-first while a hedgehog, Dill Prickle, reads the end of the book before the beginning!

By the end of the book, the community votes and agrees that two male rabbits should be able to marry if they love each other and want to spend their lives together because, essentially, “it doesn’t matter if you love a girl bunny or a boy bunny, or eat your sandwich backward or forward” as “stink bugs are temporary” and “Love is forever.”

Authors Marlon Bundo and Jill Twiss have written an important book that acknowledges and celebrates our differences.

 

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

I listened to this book on my last road trip and after I returned to work, I discovered that it was one of PBS’s Great American Reads! (Check out the Library for a display of these books or look online for a printable list of all 100 books. You can also vote for your favorite at any Davenport Library location.) I was already trying to read my way through as many of those books as I could,  so I was happy that I had stumbled upon Americanah  and that I could check this book off my list!

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is the story of race, identity, and struggling to find yourself both away from home and at home. Ifemelu and Obinze fell in love when they were very young, living in military-ruled Nigeria. Both Ifemelu and Obinze were attending a Nigerian university when a series of university strikes began. Without a solid education and no other real plans in motion, Ifemelu and Obinze decided to leave the country.

Ifemelu decides to leave Nigeria and head to America. She and Obinze work out a plan. Once he finishes school, he will leave Nigeria and come to her. In America, Ifemelu has academic success, but struggles to fit into black America. This novel wonderfully describes the African experience and how it differs between the USA, England, and Nigeria. Ifemelu may have found her way at an American university with academic success, but she struggles with understanding the differences between what is accepted in America vs what was/is accepted in Nigeria. To help her cope, Ifemelu decides to start a blog that talks about race issues in America. Obinze’s life is complicated in a different way. Not being able to head to America, he instead moves to England and ends up becoming an illegal immigrant. His journey is complicated like Ifemelu’s and he struggles to find himself amongst a country that wants to send him back home.

Flash forward years and Ifemelu and Obinze find themselves in the same country again, trying to deal with past resentments, hurt feelings, and denials. Their current lives are under scrutiny as they each try to juggle their foreign selves with accepted culture and identity standards in place in Nigeria. Reuniting in newly democratic Nigeria after years abroad, both Ifemelu and Obinze have issues to work through as they deal with their new selves, the new Nigeria, and the unique relationship/reunited passion between each other and their native homeland. Some issues are spoken, while others lie under the surface only called out when they directly influence others in the open. These cultural subtleties make up a vast swath of this book and the author is adept at bringing them to light. This is fiction with a message, yet the message is conveyed in an appealing and socially conscious way.

This book takes a deep look at race and immigration, specifically the intricacies of race and how that experience is different between the USA and Nigeria. In frequent conversations throughout this novel, readers are given a glimpse into what it means to be black in Africa and what it means to be black in the USA. The author takes readers on a tour of various countries as seen through the eyes of Ifemelu and Obinze. Their life stories play out over many years and many countries as they both struggle to find themselves amongst countries who value the same culture in different ways.

I recommend listening to this book. While it may take you a little bit to understand the accents like it took me, I ultimately felt like it was worthwhile. The accents allowed me to fully engage with the book and realize that I was gaining a glimpse into a culture entirely different from mine. When I finished listening to this book, I realized that if I had read a print copy, I would have lost the accents completely, would have probably given the characters an incorrect accent, or would have imagined the characters with only slight accents. There really is something positive to be said about listening to books with narrators who really know how to correctly portray the characters.


This book is also available as:

Not That I Could Tell by Jessica Strawser

  Not That I Could Tell by Jessica Strawser is a mysterious read about a group of neighborhood women who are all connected to each other. Yellow Springs is a small Ohio town that is rocked by the sudden and shocking disappearance of young mother Kristin and her twins.

The women of Yellow Springs are excited to realize that their baby monitors all reach one of the women’s backyard. They gather around a firepit one Saturday night to relax and take a night off from husbands, kids, and life in general. They drink too much and share more than usual. After all, everyone has secrets.

On Monday morning, whispers begin to circulate around town that one of the women is missing. Kristin, the adorable twin mom, who seems to have everything together and under control with her handsome doctor husband, has disappeared into the night without a trace with her two children. As police begin investigating, they dig up secrets surrounding each woman. Instead of finding answers about what happened to Kristin, whether she’s dead or alive, police discover that Kristin doesn’t seem too worried about her impending divorce, even with her husband moved out. Kristin’s husband, Paul, finds himself at the center of the investigation as he moves back into the family home and starts packing up their belongings to move on with his life.

Kristin’s closest neighbor, Clara, is having difficulties with Kristin and her children’s disappearance. Clara’s past is troubled. With the police searching the neighborhood and interviewing the neighbors, this incident is triggering memories of her past that Clara would really like to forget. Soon Clara unwittingly finds herself dragged right into the center of the investigation. When she’s thrust into the spotlight, Clara’s suspicions begin to rise.

Each neighbor is forced to closely examine their own lives behind closed doors as secrets begin to leak out and suspicions about what really happened thrown around. Kristin and the twins’ disappearance becomes a cold case, leaving the neighborhood feeling confused, betrayed, and worried that something sinister could be lurking around their idyllic town of Yellow Springs.

This book was an interesting read as it sheds light on what really is happening behind the scenes and how real life usually always varies from what is presented in the media. While I had issues with some characters, I liked how the author went beyond the surface details and let us see the divide between what we present to the public and what is actually happening behind closed doors.


This book is also available in the following format:

The Identicals by Elin Hilderbrand

Growing up, I always wished that I had an identical twin sister. I blame The Parent Trap movie for that wish. Having someone who looked exactly like me who would be there to trick our friends and family into thinking they were the other person sounded like so much fun. I met a set of identical twins in middle school, realized just how confusing that would actually be, abandoned that desire, and stuck with my normal, not identical, siblings. A lot easier that way. I had forgotten about my twin sister desire until I picked up The Identicals by Elin Hilderbrand and got a glimpse into what it is like to have an identical twin as an adult.

The Identicals by Elin Hilderbrand tells the complicated stories of Tabitha and Harper Frost. One twin lives on Nantucket, while the other lives on Martha’s Vineyard: a distance of only two and a half hours away by ferry. Yet that two and a half hour separation is widened by years of disagreements, arguments, and resentment that continuously builds because the two never talk to each other. While the two may look exactly like each other, that doesn’t mean they are alike AT ALL. Their personalities, life decisions, and clothing choices only prove to illustrate this point.

Harper and Tabitha have spent their entire lives trying to separate themselves from the other twin and from their other parent. You see, when Tabitha and Harper were young, their parents divorced and each parent took one of the twins to live with them year round with vacations thrown in so the other twin got to see the parent that they didn’t live with. This awkward situation left the twins with some major resentment towards each other and weird interactions with the other parent.

A major family crisis forces the two women together after many years apart. This forced reconciliation sounds like a recipe for disaster, but add in the twin’s mother and Tabitha’s teenage daughter and things are bound to get interesting. Each twin’s personal life keeps forcibly making itself known to the other twin which results in confusion amongst others as they try to figure out which is which. Tabitha and Harper may not want to have to band together through this family crisis, but they sure know how to appear like they like each other. These false appearances can only last so long though and the twins are soon forced to turn to each other for real.


This book is also available in the following formats:

Ink In Water: An Illustrated Memoir (Or, How I Kicked Anorexia’s Ass and Embraced Body Positivity)

Anyone who has struggled with addiction or compulsion will likely  appreciate Ink In Water and find it inspiring. Davis, described as a “young punk artist” by Library Journal, tells an autobiographical story about incredibly painful life experiences revolving around disordered eating, recovery, loss, and finally–helping others overcome similar disorders. Now a personal trainer, coach, author, and “body image advocate”, Davis’s memoir reveals how she first developed an eating disorder and got ensnared in the negative feedback loop that accompanies the psychology of self-harm.

The illustrations depicting Davis at the height (or really, rock-bottom) of her disorder show an emaciated, isolated individual who was starving herself to death. But by the end of the memoir, illustrations show a woman who has learned to cut herself some slack. In contrast, the woman in the final pages of the memoir is strong, determined, and no longer fears taking up space. To the contrary, Davis is interested in building herself up, through the practice of weight-lifting and strength training. Rather than shrinking and trying to make herself smaller, she embarks on a lifelong journey of recovery by focusing her mental and physical energy on becoming stronger.

While this graphic novel is largely about learning to love yourself, it also did a wonderful job of showing what a loving, supportive relationship can look like. I got a little teary when reading about how Davis’s partner essentially doubled-down on being loving and supportive through the hard times (rather than turning away from her when she was at her worst). When Davis experiences a particularly devastating loss of one of her best friends, mentors, and sponsors, her partner plans a trip to New York City to help her get out of her head.  Their relationship beautifully demonstrates how loving partnerships allow for being openly vulnerable and loved and supported in spite of individual faults or shortcomings.

Check it out. I didn’t really even start regularly reading graphic novels until I picked up a work of graphic medicine. As someone who genuinely enjoys non-fiction (I know — crazy!), graphic memoirs have been a really nice change of pace. This book reminds me of how resilient we are, and that we can get better and come back even stronger after being in the grips of something that threatens to destroy us.