Now Arriving From: Rome

Coliseum

So, how did your “trip” to Rome go? Did you find any books (or movies) that transported you to the Eternal City? How did you like this first month of the Challenge?

As I said in a previous post, I watched Roman Holiday which had lots of scenes of Rome and lots of Roman atmosphere. However, I didn’t find a book to read so I’d be interested to hear what you read and whether you’d recommend it.

If you are a fan of Ancient Roman history, I’m sure you had no trouble finding lots to choose from. There seems to be an abundance of historical fiction set in Rome – lots of gladiators and togas. However, contemporary Rome was harder to track down – did anyone read a book set in Rome in the present day?

Don’t unpack your passport (um, library card) just yet – tomorrow we head back to the US and the great Pacific Northwest.

Save the Date by Mary Kay Andrews

In high school and college, I read romance books as a way to escape from all the stress of school and work. Light, fluffy, sweet reads where the main characters end up together were my favorite. Add a little miscommunication into the mix with just a shadow of doubt that the main characters may not end up together, and I’m hooked! When I discover an author who fits my criteria, I gobble up the rest of their books until I’m finished. Mary Kay Andrews has hit the sweet spot for me recently.

Save the Date by Mary Kay Andrews is a solid fiction/romance read. Even though this book is considered fiction, there was definitely a strong romance feel to it and I quickly kept reading to see what would happen to all the love interests. I also really enjoyed the fact that there were multiple storylines running concurrently and they were not all mushy, gushy love. I could actually imagine a story like this happening in real life!

Cara Kryzik is a florist in Savannah, Georgia. Having been sold the shop by the previous owner for just $1, Cara is struggling to make ends meet and to break into the wedding scene in this tight-knit, high society area. She even had to get a loan from her father in order to keep the store open, something he brings up in every conversation she has with him. Coming off a fresh divorce, Cara is determined to keep her shop up and running. She may not believe in love, but she believes in beautiful flower arrangements. Cara realizes that it’s all about who you know in this town and keeping those important people happy will lead her to more and more business.

Cara’s luck begins to change once she scores the account to do the flowers for the wedding of a lifetime. She has become the go-to person to do flowers for any society wedding. Everything is peachy! Even though she desperately needs money, Cara still finds the time to help out her high society clients sort of pro-bono and even does flowers at a big discount for some of her poorer clients. She’s even dabbled a bit in wedding planning, helping make sure everything is together and ready for her clients’ big days.

Planning this almost million dollar wedding has put her in the sights of a rival florist who resents Cara for taking what he considers to be his. Add in a man who has stolen her precious goldendoodle, Poppy, and a bride who doesn’t seem all that invested in either planning her wedding or having a huge wedding despite what her step-mother and father want, and Cara finds herself struggling to make sure everyone is happy this wedding season. She must confront her own feelings about love, while working with so many demanding brides and mothers-of-the-bride. This book had me rooting for Cara to finally have no worries and to be stress-free. It’s a great read. Check it out and let me know what you think!


This book is also available in the following formats:

Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty

I’m a cover girl (not the make-up kind of cover girl), but the kind of person who is intrigued by book covers and usually picks her next read based on what cover catches her eye. That’s how I started my latest read. In my latest fit of boredom in a doctor’s office, I was scrolling through OverDrive trying to find something new to listen to. I stumbled upon Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty, an author whose book covers always caught my eye, but also an author that I had never read. The book blurb sounded promising(“Three cute kids. One small dog. It’s just a normal weekend. What could possibly go wrong?” – provided by publisher), so I decided to give it a go.

I loved it. Truly Madly Guilty is a domestic fiction romp into the lives of three different families: Erika and her husband Oliver, Clementine and her husband Sam (and their two little girls, Holly and Ruby), and Tiffany and her husband Vid (and daughter Dakota and their dog). Tiffany and family live next door to Erica and Oliver, while Erika and Clementine have been friends since childhood. Sam and Clementine seem to have everything together. Clementine is a cellist preparing for a new audition and Sam just started a new job. They are also busy parents to two adorable daughters.

Erika and Clementine have been friends for so long that they can have whole conversations just by looking at each other. Their friendship is immensely complicated though. The real story of Erika and Clementine’s friendship unfolds throughout the book. I was reminded of unpeeling an onion or a head of lettuce. There are so many layers to their relationship that just when I thought I had them figured out, I didn’t really know anything at all.

One day, Vid, Erika’s boisterous neighbor, invites everyone over to his house for a barbecue. Clementine is delighted because that means that Vid and Tiffany will be able to be a buffer between her and Erika. Erika and Oliver are the uptight, childless, responsible, and type-A couple, while Sam and Clementine are more care-free and go with the flow. Plus Clementine has always felt an obligation to Erika, due in part to the fact that her mother always forced her to hang around Erika even when she didn’t want to. This barbecue is just what they all needed: a chance to relax and enjoy good food, good company, and good music. A series of unfortunate events both leading up to that day and the events of the day of the fateful barbecue changes everything for all three seemingly perfect families. They are left reeling and feeling guilty for their actions.

Truly Madly Guilty is told from multiple characters’ points of view, as well as by switching back and forth between present day and the day of the barbecue. Readers are given crumbs of information throughout the book, but what really happened at the barbecue isn’t revealed until towards the end of the book, about 3/4s of the way through. I really liked all the background information that was given before we found out what happened the day of the barbecue. I’ve read reviews that disliked all the build-up, but I really enjoyed being able to guess what could have possibly happened.

This story is read in OverDrive by one narrator who manages to change her voice subtly for each character she is voicing, so much so that it seems at times that there is more than one narrator for this book. I was easily able to keep all of the characters separate in my mind, a feat I was amazed at given how many different points of view are represented within. I enjoyed Truly Madly Guilty and am looking forward to reading more Liane Moriarty books in the future.


This book is also available in the following formats:

Holding Up the Universe by Jennifer Niven

I’ve been reading a lot of young adult fiction in my spare time. A vast majority of them have dealt with sad topics: mental illness, suicide, death, endings of relationships, abuse, homelessness etc. These are all topics that teens deal with on a daily basis, so I appreciate the fact that there are resources out there that teens(and their parents/guardians/loved ones) can turn to if they need some help. However, reading all these angsty books with no break and with no happy ending in sight is throwing me down a rabbit hole of sadness. I needed a break or a book with a happy realistic ending, not a sad realistic ending. Enter Jennifer Niven.

I’d read All The Bright Places by Jennifer Niven last year and had loved her work (fair warning though: this book has a sad realistic ending dealing with mental illness and suicide). Flipping through a review magazine, I found Holding Up the Universe, also by Niven. The premise sounded like it could possibly end well and I was willing to risk it because I had loved her previous book so much.

Holding Up the Universe tells the story of Libby Strout and Jack Masselin. It is told from both of their points of view, alternating chapter to chapter. Libby Strout was once known as “America’s Fattest Teen”, a teen whose house had to be partially demolished in order to get her out of it. Back in school for the first time in years, no one can see past her weight. She’s still just the fat girl even though she’s lost 300 pounds. After her mom’s death, Libby is left picking up herself, her father, and their grief. She is ready for the new start high school has to offer.

Jack Masselin is the quintessential high school popular boy. He has swagger and the ability to give people what they want. He is able to fit in. While he seems like he has it all together, Jack has a major secret. He cannot recognize faces. Jack has prosopagnosia, the inability to recognize people by their faces. Everyone he meets, he has to try to figure out who they are by their identifiers: big hair, beauty mark, Mohawk, etc. Jack gets through life by being the funny, charming guy, but doesn’t let people get close.

Jack and Libby’s lives become entangled together in the aftermath of a cruel high school game. Sitting squarely in community service and group counseling together forces them to make a connection. This connection changes both of their lives, forcing them to confront issues that neither of them realized they are carrying. Will their connection change their world for the better or for the worse? Add in cruel high school students, family issues, obesity, brain injuries, and the possibility of love and Jack and Libby are in for a crazy ride of self-esteem, self-reliance, and teenage angst. Holding Up the Universe was the exact book palette refresher I needed.

Tippi: a Memoir by Tippi Hedren

 

If you do not know the name Tippi, you probably know her face. Tippi Hedren starred in Alfred Hitchcock’s,The Birds, playing the character Melanie Daniels. The role was Hedren’s film debut in 1963. Previously, she had modeled and starred in commercials. It was a television commercial that caught the eye of the famous director. Hitchcock told his staff to find the girl in the advertisement and they did what they were told. Tippi received a phone call letting her know that, “a famous director was interested in her”. No one would tell her who the famous director was but she was thrilled to find out that it was Alfred Hitchcock. Tippi signed a contract with him and starred in two of his films: The Birds and Marnie.

You may have heard that Tippi Hedren has said that Hitchcock sexually harassed her. And that he sexually assaulted her. While Tippi goes into some detail about the harassment, she will not reveal the full story of the assault. So if that is your only interest in the book, then you will be disappointed. There is a movie about Tippi and Hitchcock working together and there are scenes where Hitchcock is being inappropriate. The Girl (which was Hitchcock’s nickname for Tippi) was a HBO movie that is now on DVD. And if you don’t subscribe to HBO, you are in luck. You can check it out from the library. I watched the movie before I read the book ( I know, I know. Bad librarian!) and it made me interested to learn more about Tippi Hedren. Hence, that is why I read the book and why I am now writing this blog.

So even though Tippi went through a difficult time being an actress for Alfred Hitchcock, she continued to work in other films. But the big story in Tippi is that she ended up being the caretaker of several large cats. I do not want to tell the entire story, or how Tippi and her husband, Noel Marshall, thought it would be a great idea to have their own pride of lions to make a film about. The stories about her adventures in raising lion cubs are quite funny (and sometimes scary). Tippi also had tigers, cheetahs and leopards. There was also a Liger. Eventually they were forced to move out of Hollywood so they could live somewhere large enough to take care of all the big cats. They even acquired an elephant. Now the place is called Shambala. You can learn more about the place and the ROAR foundation at Shambala. Or read the book, Tippi: a Memoir.

The Birds
Marnie
The Girl

 

 

 

The Queens of England

People! Have you been watching the new series about Queen Victoria on PBS? Mark your calendar immediately – this is one of those must-see, highly addictive historical series that Masterpiece Theater is famous for (i.e. Downton Abby)

Opening just as the 18-year-old finds out her uncle has died and she is now the Queen of England, Victoria stars Jenna Coleman and airs on Sunday nights. As we have come to expect from Masterpiece Theater, the costumes and jewels are lavish and the sets are breathtaking (Filmed mostly in Yorkshire with various manors and castles standing in for Buckingham and Kensington Palaces and Westminster, you’d be hard put to tell the difference on screen) Coleman does an admirable job with this massive role, playing the young Queen who, in the early episodes, struggles to find her way. Sheltered and controlled by her mother and her mother’s partner (who had planned to rule thru Victoria), Victoria breaks with them quickly and forges ahead on her own. Nowadays, when we think of Queen Victoria, we tend to think of the old woman, heavy and dressed entirely in black with a dour expression. We often forget that she was once a young girl who loved to dance, who fell in love, who ruled the largest Empire in the world. In Victoria we catch a glimpse of that young girl, her naivete, her mistakes, her growth and her courage. It is fascinating to watch.

Victoria is currently showing on PBS. You can catch the first couple of episodes (there are 8 all together) online on pbs.org or you can request the DVD from the library. I recommend that you do!

While you wait for the next episode (or to fill your life-of-the-royals needs), here are some further recommendations.

Young Victoria starring Emily Blunt. Covering almost the same time period of Victoria’s life as the PBS show, this is another beautiful, superbly acted look at the young Queen, focusing on the romance between Victoria and Albert (which will begin in episode 3 of Victoria)

Mrs. Brown starring Judy Dench takes a look at the elderly Queen, still deeply in mourning for her beloved Albert, who meets and forms a deep friendship with the Scotsman who looks after her horses. Was there more than friendship?

For a great book about her life, try Victoria the Queen by Julia Baird or Becoming Queen Victoria by Kate Williams. For a closer look at their famous romance, check out We Two: Victoria and Albert by Gillian Gill or A Magnificent Obsession by Helen Rappaport.

If you’d rather go a little more modern, there’s a terrific series, The Crown, now running on Netflix about Elizabeth II – it just won Golden Globes for Best Performance by an Actress (Claire Foy who plays Elizabeth) and Best Television Drama. Each season will cover about a decade of Elizabeth’s life, with the first season starting just before she married Phillip and ending shortly after Winston Churchill (superbly played by John Lithgow) retires as Prime Minister. It’s promised to come out on DVD eventually, but no release date has been announced so either queue it up on your Netflix account, or find a friend that already subscribes!

 

 

 

 

Angel Catbird by Margaret Atwood

Angel Catbird is author Margaret Atwood’s first official foray into graphic novels. In the book’s preface, Atwood tells readers about her life and her journey to the creation of Angel Catbird. She talks about her love of drawing and how she has loved comics in their varying forms. Atwood also talks about how Angel Catbird has a science and conservation side to it. Nature Canada and CatsandBirds.ca has included facts and statistics about birds and cats in banners throughout the book.

Angel Catbird tells the story of Strig Feleedus, a young genetic engineer, who was headhunted by a major company to help figure out and finish a secret project. He figures out the hole in the project, fixes it, and is on his way to meet his boss when he, his cat, and an owl are hit by a car. Feleedus is accidentally mutated by his own experiment, which results in his DNA being merged with a cat and an owl. He becomes Angel Catbird! This experiment is wanted for use by a nefarious person, Feleedus’ half-rat boss, and Feleedus soon discovers that he in not the only human who has either had his DNA mutated or was born with mutated DNA. Sinister plots are discovered and Feleedus and company must work together to save themselves and the people around them.

Animal puns galore run throughout this graphic novel. I wasn’t sure what to expect when reading this, but I was pleasantly surprised. Angel Catbird becomes an unlikely superhero whose adventures are not at all what I was expecting.


Atwood is also the author of The Handmaid’s Tale, a dystopian novel that she wrote in 1985 that is being made into a television series starring many famous actors. The series will be released on Hulu on April 26, 2017. Talk about the show has been blowing up all over social media with the trailer garnering much speculation and excited responses from fans the world over. Want to watch the trailer? Hulu just released it and it’s haunting. I can’t wait to watch it.

Margaret Atwood has written many, many novels, pieces of short fiction, children’s books, one graphic novel, works of poetry, nonfiction, television scripts, radio scripts, has done recordings, edited works, and even wrote a play. She’s widely known and people flock to her work. Her work has been translated, so far, into more than 25 different languages. Her critical articles and reviews have appeared in newspapers and magazines all over the world. If you’ve never read anything by Atwood, I highly recommend you check her out. If you’re already familiar with her, try reading your favorite again or maybe pick up a new-to-you piece.

Want to try something by Atwood? I highly recommend you check out her website (http://margaretatwood.ca/). It’s fabulous! This site is very easy to navigate with a full bibliography, a section with interviews, and a section for works about Atwood herself. It’s one of the best author website I have seen.

Friends! Romans! Readers!

Lend me your ears!

OK, maybe not that funny but I couldn’t resist. It’s time for a halfway check of the first month of the 2017 Online Reading Challenge – how are you doing with this month’s reading?

I have to admit, I haven’t found any books that really grab my interest. If you are a fan of ancient Rome you will find no shortage of books to read – mysteries, romances, fiction all abound in what is obviously a very popular historical time period. While many of these titles are well worth reading, none of them grabbed me, so I took a different route and watched a movie instead. (And that’s not cheating, remember – movies and non-fiction are allowed! Also, no such thing as Library Police.)

I picked a classic, where the city of Rome is as much of a star as the actors – Roman Holiday starring a luminescent Audrey Hepburn and ruggedly handsome Gregory Peck (and co-starring Eddie Albert, who I only remember from watching reruns of Green Acres!) Directed by William Wyler and with costumes by Edith Head, the movie is a call back to the golden age of Hollywood. It’s also the movie that made Hepburn a star and earned her an Academy Award at the age of 24.

Filmed entirely in Rome in 1953, the movie follows a young Princess Ann (Hepburn) who slips away from her gilded cage to have some fun before her royal duties completely take over her life. She meets up with American journalist Joe Bradley (Peck) who, realizing who she is, offers to show her around the city. He is, of course, hoping for an exclusive story but instead finds himself falling in love. Set against some of the most beautiful landmarks of Rome – the Spanish Steps, the Trevi Fountain and the Colosseum (both inside and out) – the couple (trailed by Joe’s friend Irving (Albert) who is taking pictures of the princess on the sly) enjoy an idyllic day including coffee at a sidewalk cafe, a wild Vespa ride through the twisting streets of the city and a dance party on a barge on the Tiber River. It has all the elements of a romantic comedy, set in one of the most romantic cities in the world.

Although I was surprised by the ending, I enjoyed this movie a lot. Despite the picture on the DVD case, the movie is in black and white and you really do feel like you’re stepping back in time. The stunts and lack of fancy CGI might have made it seem awkward and forced, but instead its charm and heart make it a joy to watch.

So tell me – what have you been reading (listening to, watching) this month?

A Place for All People – Opening Celebration!

Davenport Public Library, Saint Ambrose University, and the Davenport Civil Rights Commission Celebrate Opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture with Smithsonian Poster Exhibition and Russell Lovell’s “Iowa: Bright Radical Star”

On Sept. 24, 2016 the Smithsonian Institution opened its newest museum, the National Museum of African American History and Culture. The celebration will reach beyond Washington, D.C. to Davenport as the Davenport Public Library, in partnership with Saint Ambrose University and the Davenport Civil Rights Commission presents “A Place for All People: Introducing the National Museum of African American History and Culture.” The commemorative poster exhibition will be on view January 18, 2017 through March 4th, 2017 at the Davenport Public Library – Main Library, located at 321 Main Street.

Organized by the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES) in collaboration with the National Museum of African American History and Culture, “A Place for All People” highlights key artifacts that tell the rich and diverse story of the African American experience.

The Davenport Public Library will be hosting a series of events at the library centering around this display on January 18th, February 4th, February 16th, and May 4th. Please stay tuned for more information about times and locations for the other events!

The opening celebration will be held on Wednesday, January 18th at 6:30 pm at the Davenport Public Library – Main Library. This event will feature Professor Emeritus Russell Lovell from Drake Law School presenting “Iowa: Bright Radical Star”, an exploration of Iowa’s trailblazing role in expanding and protecting civil rights beginning in 1893 with Iowa’s rejection of the Fugitive Slave Act. There will be light refreshments and a drawing for 3 books.

Also on display at the Main Library will be the Putnam Museum’s exhibit “Davenport’s Civil Rights Movement: 1945-1974”. The exhibit explores the people and events of those tumultuous years by putting local efforts in the national context. Following World War II, local residents, such as Charles and Ann Toney and the Catholic Interracial Council, worked several fronts to bring equality and fair treatment to all Quad Citians. This display incorporates photographs, documents and biographies about local Civil Rights leaders.

We’ll be giving away three books at each event: “How to Build a Museum: Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture”, “National Museum of African American History and Culture: A Souvenir Book”, and “Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race”.

 

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