In the Midst of Winter : a novel / Isabel Allende

Isabel Allende’s newest novel In the Midst of Winter is a page turner filled with suspense. Part love story, part history, part current immigration issues where baby boomers learn to love again while covering up a crime scene and dealing with their own histories of violence, love lost, and innocence begot.

A story about three separate individuals, Evelyn, Lucia, and Richard whose previous lives become intertwined in a series of flashbacks and unfortunate events including military overthrow, drug escapades in Rio, and gangs in Guatemala. Richard a college professor living and working in New York, Lucia, Richard’s colleague who he has helped obtain a year professorship in New York who also happens to be Richard’s tenant living in the freezing basement of his Brooklyn brownstone, and Evelyn a DACA refugee turned illegal alien come together in Allende’s imaginative fictional concoction of romance, murder, suspense, and drama. The three characters are brought together by a harrowing snow storm in New York when Richard hits Evelyn’s car, embarking all three of them on a journey none would have ever expected.

The reader will enjoy reading this fictional tale where boomers despite their trials of hurt and loss learn that there is still life left in them to live and love left within them to give.

Online Reading Challenge – January

Welcome to the first month of the 2018 Online Reading Challenge, Travel Through Time. In January we are traveling to Tudor and Renaissance times.

“Tudor” as a time period is defined from 1485-1603 when the Tudors (Henry VII, Henry VIII and Elizabeth I) ruled Britain. As always with the Online Reading Challenge, I’m interpreting this pretty loosely; if you’ve had your fill of Henry the Eighth and his many wives, try looking further afield and read about something set during the Renaissance (which runs approximately from 1300-1700) and encompasses Europe as a whole. That’s a lot of time and a lot happens – the flowering of the arts and sciences, the lives of many great personalities, great social and religious upheaval (thanks, Henry), the age of exploration. For boring, practical reasons, our focus is largely on Europe simply because those are the books we tend to have. But by all means, if you are interested in Asian history (the Ming Dynasty and the Ottoman Empire, for example) or any other region, please feel free to read that (and tell us about what you find!)

There is no shortage of books set during the Tudor era – apparently the fascination with British royalty is a long one! Philippa Gregory is one of the more prominent – and prolific – authors writing about the Tudors. Her books tend to focus on the emotions that impacted decisions and life choices and they are told from a woman’s point-of-view. For many if not most of these women, there is very little know about them other than who their parents were, who they married and what children they bore. Gregory puts herself into their shoes and imagines their everyday lives and difficult decisions they were forced to make in a world that had little use for women. My favorite of Gregory’s titles (that I’ve read) is The Other Boleyn Girl which is narrated by Mary Boleyn who was Henry’s mistress before her sister Anne became his wife. The politics and rules of court, the bad behavior of Anne, her failure to produce a male heir all seen through the eyes of someone just outside the inner circle makes for a fascinating, intimate read.

If you are more interested in the machinations of politics, reach for Hilary Mantel’s award-winning Wolf Hall which focuses on Thomas Cromwell, Henry VIII’s chief minister and a strong advocate of the English reformation. Having just celebrated Martin Luther’s 500th anniversary of his “95 Theses”, there are plenty of books about him and the beginning of the great shift in how religion was viewed and practiced by millions.

The Renaissance produced many famous people whose artistic and scientific advances continue to inspire and influence us today – Da Vinci, Shakespeare, Raphael, Galileo, Michelangelo, and Copernicus among others. Biographies and histories about any of these people and their works would be fascinating reading.

I’m going to be reading My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, an alternate history of Lady Jane Grey, one of Elizabeth’s rivals to the throne. It comes highly recommended to my by our Young Adult librarian – I’m looking forward to getting started!

Be sure to stop by one of the Davenport libraries and check out our displays – we’ll have lots of books (and movies!) set during this era for you to browse. You’ll also want to pick up a 2018 Online Reading Challenge bookmark which doubles as a book log to keep track of the books that you read for the challenge. And be sure to let us know what you’re going to be reading in January!

 

Happy New Year!

All of the Davenport Library locations will be closed on Monday, January 1 and Tuesday January 2 in observance of the holidays. All of our buildings will reopen on Wednesday January 3 with their regular business hours – Main (321 Main Street) and Fairmount (3000 Fairmount Avenue), 9:00am to 5:30pm and Eastern (6000 Eastern Avenue), noon to 8:00pm.

Have a safe and happy holiday and a very Happy New Year!

The 2018 Online Reading Challenge is Almost Here!

Welcome to the Online Reading Challenge, 2018 edition!

2018’s theme is Travel Through Time! No TARDIS* or crazy science needed, just good old-fashioned books and movies! We’ll explore a different time period each month, but with the conveniences of modern living like indoor plumbing and pizza. Win-win!

Like previous years, the Online Reading Challenge is very low-pressure with an emphasis on discovering books and authors you may not have tried yet. You can participate every month, or only the months that interest you. Remember – there are no Library Police that will come knocking on your door if you fail to finish a book each month! Read for fun, for discovery, to learn something new, to experience times that no longer exist.

What you read for each time period is entirely up to you. You can read a book or ebook, listen to an audio book or watch a movie. It can be fiction or non-fiction, old or new. Find something that sparks your interest and enjoy! To help get you started I’ll be posting suggestions on the blog, once at the beginning of the month with the introduction of that month’s time period and sometime mid-month with more suggestions. We’ll also have displays at each building with appropriate books and movies. And, as always, we invite you to share what you’ve read – everyone loves recommendations!

Bookmarks are available at each library location with the list of the time periods we’re going to explore each month. There’s even room on the bookmark to keep track of what you read! Keep watching the blog for lots more extras!

Here’s the line-up for 2018:

January – Tudor/Renaissance

February – 1950s and 1960s

March – The Future

April – 1800s

May – Ancient

June – Childhood

July – Westward Expansion

August – Edwardian

September – Great Depression

October – Medieval

November – Alternate Histories

December – Present Day

Looks intriguing doesn’t it? It’s going to be a great year of reading!

*TARDIS is Doctor Who’s “time and relative dimension in space” time travel machine which is in the form of an old-fashioned British Police Box. Fun!

Now Arriving from: New York City

Hello Readers!

How did your reading go this month? Did you find something exciting and interesting to read that was set in New York City?

I did pretty well this month. I read The Dollhouse by Fiona Davis and really enjoyed it. It’s got a little bit of everything – deep friendships, the social status of women, bebop jazz clubs of the 1950s, prejudice, mystery and a murder. All set against the backdrop of the city that never sleeps.

In 1952 Darby McLaughlin arrives in New York City from her hometown in Ohio to take classes at the Katherine Gibbs Secretarial School and moves into the Barbizon Hotel for Women (which really did exist). Nicknamed “the dollhouse”, it housed aspiring models, secretarial students, and editors all working to gain success – or catch a wealthy husband. Darby is shy and frightened and intimidated by the rush and clamor of the big city. One of the maids takes pity on her and they become friends. However, the maid – Esme – is Puerto Rican and is considered unsuitable for Darby to associate with. Despite this their friendship flourishes and Esme soon introduces Darby to the glittering world of jazz clubs and New York City at night. But when a tragedy strikes, both their lives and those around them are altered forever.

The story of 1952 alternates with 2016 and Rose, a journalist who has just moved into the Barbizon (now mostly condos) with her boyfriend. She runs into the mysterious Miss McLaughlin one day and discovers that she is one of the few remaining tenants at the Barbizon from the 1950s. Miss McLaughlin wears a veil that hides her face and refuses to talk, but Rose’s curiosity it piqued and she begins researching the hotel and tragedy that no one speaks about. What she discovers uncovers decades of pain and cover-ups and misunderstandings.

The contrast between the two time periods is very interesting. Women’s rights and freedoms have expanded hugely, yet there are still attitudes and prejudices holding them back. Sometimes that’s an outside force and sometimes it’s what you believe about yourself. Rose compares her own recent difficulties – a hateful job, her Father’s dementia, the break-up with her boyfriend – with Darby’s and finds many uncomfortable parallels. How she handles this and learns to believe in herself and how she exposes the frequently hard choices women had to make in the fifties as well as the slow unveiling of the mystery makes for excellent reading.

I was a little disappointed in the ending – a couple too many coincidences and too many neatly tied up ends – but it was a lot of fun to read. I really liked the peek into living as a single girl in 1952 (not all innocence and Leave it to Beaver!) and the validation of the old women still living at the Barbizon in 2016. New York City played a big part in this book, with it’s unique and brash atmosphere. It’s not hard to imagine a wide-eye, Midwestern-raised Darby being initially overwhelmed and later charmed by everything the city had to offer.

What did you read this month? And how did you like it?

That’s the end of the 2017 Online Reading Challenge but don’t despair! The 2018 Online Reading Challenge begins in just a few days! Be sure to check back on January 3 for lots more information and book suggestions for the first month’s reading assignment! Or click here for a sneak peek!

Favorite Books of 2017

It probably wouldn’t surprise you to hear that most of us here at the library are big fans of reading. We get to see a lot of books (although, no, we aren’t allowed to read them on work time!) – sometimes it’s hard to pick one favorite! Here are some favorites that we read in 2017.

Evicted by Matthew Desmond. Painstakingly researched, beautifully written, and incredibly timely.  You should read it and discuss it at Stranger than Fiction book club on January 4th! (Amanda A)

Borne by Jeff VanderMeer. In a ruined future, a scavenger finds and adopts a strange creature she names Borne. Surreal to the point of feverish, fantastically weird, and heart-breaking, VanderMeer creates an eerily familiar yet fantastic world to set this exploration of what makes a person a person. Also, a giant flying bear! (Allison)

Hamilton’s Battalion by Courtney Milan, Rose Lerner and Alyssa Cole . All three of these Revolutionary War novellas follow great characters who aren’t sure where they will fit into the new country they are fighting for, but they keep fighting anyhow.  These stories are thoughtful, funny and romantic. (Holly S)

The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women by Kate Moore. My grandma was a radium girl at the Radium Dial plant in Ottawa, Illinois. I found this book to be fascinating because my grandma never really talked about her time as a radium girl, except to say that her clothes would glow in the dark at night when she was at home. I really enjoyed reading this book because it gave me an insight into what my grandma and her friends went through during this time. (Steph A)

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman. Eleanor is a unique character that lacks normal social skills but she is endearing to the reader and you want her to fine happiness. (Rachel)

The Alice Network by Kate Quinn. As exciting as any thriller with mystery, romance and heartbreak, this fascinating novel brings light to half-forgotten heroes – the women who spied for the Allies during World War I. (Ann)

Now it’s your turn – what were your favorite books that you read this year?

 

 

Happy Holidays!

All of the Davenport Library locations will be closed on Monday, December 25 and Tuesday December 26 in observance of the holidays. All of our buildings will reopen on Wednesday December 27 with their regular business hours – Main (321 Main Street) and Fairmount (3000 Fairmount Avenue), 9:00am to 5:30pm and Eastern (6000 Eastern Avenue), noon to 8:00pm.

Have a safe and happy holiday!

French Country Cooking by Mimi Thorisson

I have been following Mimi Thorisson’s blog for over two years now, and although it is changing and she is moving on to a website with future endeavors alongside her husband, I’m always excited to go back to it and find recipes and inspiration for travel. That said, her latest cookbook, French Country Cooking, published in 2016 and new to our shelves at Davenport Public Library this past autumn, are just as inspiring and wonderful to read. The exquisite photos taken by Oddur Thorisson, Mimi’s husband, inspire one to daydream to the shores and lands of another place……to France, the Médoc region with world class wines and local markets provisioning its patrons with fresh produce, seafood and meats of the current season.

One will enjoy the mostly easy to follow recipes…I say mostly, in that some of the ingredients might be hard to come by in the states unless you’re in a big city or on the east or west coasts or you can always order hard to find items online.

The recipe we tried, pg. 194, Pork Shoulder Grilled over Grapevine Branches turned out wonderfully. We have a small grill which worked just fine versus Mimi’s open fireplace grill. The recipe is straight forward and easy to follow. If you don’t have grapevine branches, try some type of fruit tree dried wood to add to the fire such as  dried apple, apricot, or pear dried tree branches to add flavor to the smoke from the fire.

Ingredients: 1 1/2 lb Pork Shoulder cut into 4 slices; Fine Sea Salt & Freshly Ground Pepper; 1 Tbsp. Unsalted Butter; 2 Garlic Cloves.

  1. Prepare medium-hot fire in a grill. Add dried grapevine branches, if desired to increase the smoky flavor.
  2. Season the meat with salt and pepper. Grill the pork until browned, golden, and cooked through, about 7 minutes on each side.
  3. Just before serving, spread the butter over the pork and scatter the sliced garlic on top.

Try one of the main courses over the holidays or for fun for New Years! The desserts are always a fun way to start if you have never tried French cuisine.  I’m looking forward to trying Mimi’s Pomegranate meringues recipe for the new year.

Bon appétit! Happy eating!

Mercy For Animals: One Man’s Quest To Inspire Compassion and Improve the Lives of Farm Animals

Nathan Runkle, author of Mercy for Animals: One Man’s Quest to Inspire Compassion and Improve the Lives of Farm Animals is just one of those people whose passion is apparent from the moment he opens his mouth. Like his speaking voice, Runkle’s writing style is remarkably elegant and concise. I was shocked that he struggled with reading and writing as a young student because he is a remarkably articulate speaker and writer.

Like the farm and dairy investigation transcripts contained in its pages, this book is not for the faint-of-heart. In creating transparency within the culture of American food production practices, Runkle and his team pull the curtain back, so to speak, to reveal the brutality inherent in factory farming operations. In short, this book is about how Runkle founded Mercy for Animals, a non-profit organization devoted to raising awareness about the lives of sentient farm animals and the system of which they are a part. At the core of this book lies the fundamental belief that the lives of all beings deserve respect and dignity.

Anyone who has been on the receiving end of bullying or oppression will sympathize with the plight of Mercy for Animals. The sickness, disgust, and perhaps solidarity you will feel when you go behind the scenes at a factory farm will empower you to make changes in your lifestyle and better yet, how you relate to and think about animals. In short, this book spotlights Runkle, his twenty-year career, and the other investigators who obtained jobs in hatcheries and slaughterhouses across the United States and abroad in order to spotlight what goes on behind closed doors. Their work created the pressure necessary in order to affect change even at the level of national policy. The exploitation and commodication of animals and workers in a billion-dollar industry forms the bedrock of modern animal agriculture as it’s impossible to pack 60,00-100,000 chickens into a warehouse without grave consequences. Opposition to this industry was established alongside the industry itself, and you can bet Runkle smartly contextualizes his book alongside Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle published in 1908, among others.

As Runkle learned, investigators document every minute of footage with objective language rather than evocative language. For example, when the book discusses what “thumping” means in the pig-farming industry, investigators refrained from using “emotional” language. Instead, undercover investigators might describe “thumping” as a “standard practice” entailing slamming “defective” piglets into the concrete to kill them rather than saying “workers grabbed helpless piglets by their legs and swung them violently into the concrete to crush their skulls” (which is exactly what happens). In other words, investigators are not permitted to purposefully appeal to the emotions of readers and must instead focus on relaying facts and behaviors. But as Runkle knew, there really is no nice, flowery way of making a lifetime of suffering sound like standard operating procedures (even though euphemism and secrecy lies at the heart of the animal agriculture industry). As many consumers know, myself included, the majority of meat and dairy foods we consume are produced not by “humane” family farms peppered with “happy cows” grazing in green pastures but rather from massive mechanized farming operations deliberately located in remote areas out of sight…and out of mind. I’d say slaughtering 12,000 pigs per day constitutes massive AND industrial –the opposite of humane family farms. Although that seemingly innocuous cellophane-wrapped animal product in the grocery store reveals only the end product of factory farming, the animals on our plates endured a lifetime of suffering. Floors caked with excrement, dust, blood, and decaying animal bodies is commonplace–not some grotesque bit of propaganda created by bleeding-heart, tree-hugging hippies to get you to care about animals. The respect we extend to our beloved family companion animals is virtually non-existent in the lives of farm animals. After a delve into the animal liberation literature, try singing “Old MacDonald” in the year 2018 and hearing it as more nursery rhyme then pantomime.

This post isn’t the equivalent of a virtual finger-wagging, either. It has taken me decades to finally come to terms with–to accept–that the lifestyle choices I made every day absolutely matter. If you’re not particularly “sold” on animal rights, you might then take note that Runkle’s book also illuminates how the poor and people of color are particularly vulnerable fodder for the meat, dairy, and egg industries. While Runkle is more immediately concerned with the plight of farm animals and the suffering they endure at human hands, the suffering is not theirs alone as workers labor in harrowing conditions enduring illness and injury alongside the animals. I cannot help but speculate that the implications of killing and processing suffering animals in order to make a living are devastating–physically, emotionally, spiritually. But as gruesome as the reality of farming operations is, Runkle remains optimistic and steadfast in his mission to help people reconnect to the compassion they already have in their hearts for animals.

Runkle’s optimism is key as the work of Mercy for Animals isn’t for nothing: this organization and others like it are disrupting market forces and supply & demand chains that mask injustice and exploitation. Overall, this book was very well-written and executed. A powerful, animal ethics movement is gaining momentum, changing the way we relate to animals, to our environment, and each other. From a local standpoint,  I’m also excited that “plant-based” and vegan lifestyles have arrived and are celebrated more every day here in the Quad Cities, as evidenced by the Quad Cities own first Veg Fest, to be held August 11th, 2018 at Schwiebert Park on the Rock Island riverfront.

 

 

Dear Martin by Nic Stone

The topic of race relations is coming to a major forefront in young adult literature. (Not that it hasn’t always been present, but new books have been getting major press about it in recent months). One such book is Dear Martin by Nic Stone. Wanting to see how this book handled the topic and also having read and blogged about Angie Thomas’ The Hate U Give in May 2017, I decided to see what direction Stone went.

Let’s start by talking about this book. Dear Martin by Nic Stone dives into the sticky world of race relations in America. Justyce McAllister is college-bound, hopefully, and finds himself torn between where he grew up and the school he now attends. A slew of other factors influence him: the fact that he’s on the debate team, his family, his friends, his teachers, his on-again/off-again girlfriend. All those factors dig at Justyce as he works to try to figure out what exactly he wants to get out of his life and what he feels he is entitled to in this life. Justyce is seventeen years old, the age when kids are told that they have to know what they want to do for the rest of their life. Picking a college, picking friends, picking a significant other, picking who you hang out with and what you do on a daily basis all directly influence your choices. All of those factors also directly influence how other people see you.  Struggling to deal with episodes of police brutality and racial profiling that directly affect him, Justyce decides to write letters to the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as a way to try to figure out what Martin would do in his situation (Hence the title Dr. Martin, pretty self-explanatory). Justyce’s life seems to get worse and worse. No matter how he tries to better himself, there seems to always be someone bent on knocking him to the ground.

Watching Justyce’s life unfold throughout his letters to Martin and through the snippets of his life that readers are privy to, we gain a better understanding of the rough dichotomy that Justyce finds himself in. He constantly is left to wonder where he actually fits in, who he should hang out with, and why his actions and people’s opinions of him seem to be at odds some days. I found myself rooting for Justyce throughout this book and hoping that his life would continue to get better.

First thought after finishing Dear Martin? Oh man, I wish this book was longer. There is so much content jam-packed in this book that at times I was hoping for the author to expand just a little more. That said, this book was powerfully written and deals with tricky subjects in a way that the intended audience, young adults and kids in high school, would easily understand and relate to. Even though I was not the intended audience, I found myself deeply involved in this book and wondering how everything would turn out. I would recommend this book, but with the caveat that you read The Hate U Give, as well. The two fit so well together.


This book is also available in the following format:

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