The Dressmaker by Rosalie Ham

 

The Dressmaker by Rosalie Ham is a great read. Sharp, twisted, vengeful, and delightfully macabre with the sense that justice no matter how dark it might be, is nice when served with a slice a fashion.

The story enfolds in a 1950’s small Australian town called Dungatar where all the characters come together in their dark histories and lucid small town cantor. This is where the story begins and ends with Tilly Dunnage who has just returned from Paris haute couture fashion houses where she’s become an esteemed and accomplished dressmaker, to visit her ailing mother Molly Dunnage.  The town and Tilly have a cloud of bad energy encircling the twisted past of Molly’s daughter who was separated from her mother and sent away suddenly when she was a child.

The dark twists and turns of this novel will keep you reading, and the revenge Tilly erroneously or knowingly (reader’s interpretation) bestows upon the town and it’s misfits is quite laughable in a dark and entertaining sense. However, there are moments of sadness sprinkled throughout but overall a good and enjoyable read.

Darkest Hour on DVD

Darkest Hour follows Winston Churchill’s early days as England’s Prime Minister, as he battles doubts (his own, those of the politicians and even the King) and leads England into it’s great trial yet.

Europe has fallen to the Nazi invasion, nearly the entirety of the British Army is trapped at Dunkirk and America remains neutral. England stands alone. Should Churchill sue for peace and try to come to terms with Hitler, or fight what seems an impossible war? The politicians around him want to negotiate, feeling that they are in a better position now than if England falls. To fight German will come at great cost – is Churchill willing to shoulder that burden?

Gary Oldman, as Churchill, is masterful. He delivers some of Churchill’s best lines (“We will fight on the beaches. We will fight on the landing grounds….We shall never surrender.” and “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat.”) with assurance and drama that matches the serious situations. Physically, Oldman does not particularly look like Churchilll, but he captures his quirks, gestures, mannerisms and voice unerringly.

The film does take a few liberties, and fudges a couple of dates, but the overall atmosphere – of England united against a great evil – feels very real. A great choice for fans of World War II history.

The Room on Rue Amelie by Kristin Harmel

After falling in love with and marrying a Frenchman, California girl Ruby moves to Paris despite her parents’ concerns. It’s 1938 and Europe is on the verge of war. Ruby insists on staying, even after war is declared and soon finds herself involved in the French Resistance, facing great danger and heartbreak.

The Room on Rue Amelie by Kristin Harmel takes a look at the homefront in Paris, the deprivations, the very real danger and the fear. At first, the French residents have difficulty believing that anything awful will happen to them, that the French government will protect them. The reality is that the French government flees before the invading Germans, food becomes scarce and citizens turn a blind eye to the rounding up and deportation of Jews.

Ruby, however, cannot look away; she agrees to shelter a Jewish child and begins helping the Resistance smuggle downed Allied pilots out of the country. Along with the stress and struggles of daily life, she and her husband grow apart, watches neighbors and friends fall to Nazi aggression, suffers personal loss and falls in love.

As expected, I enjoyed the setting and the time period and found the glimpse of the French home front to be very interesting. However, I never really connected with the heroine – she seemed very detached and almost untouched by the events surrounding her. I think that descriptions of conditions and hardships were minimized which made everything somewhat distant. But maybe that’s just my interpretation. Did any of you read this book? And if so, what did you think?

If you’re looking for other books about the homefront in France during World War II, I’d highly recommend All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr (one of my very favorite books), The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah or Sarah’s Key by Tatiana Rosnay.

Phantom Thread on DVD

Set in 1954 London, Phantom Thread   is about the couture fashion of the House of Woodcock. Led by master dressmaker Reynolds Woodcock, they dress royalty, movie stars and heiresses and rub shoulders with glittering high society.

I’m not sure what to say about this movie – after a promising start, it left me confused and a bit uncomfortable. There’s a abrupt change of focus about halfway through that completely altered the tone of the movie.

The start is lovely – exquisite dresses, beautiful music, a very 1950s vibe set in a fine London townhouse. It’s a fascinating peek behind the scenes of a fashion house – the draping of fabric, the sewing with antique lace and luscious satin, the fittings with wealthy women. It’s quickly obvious that Reynolds (played by Daniel Day-Lewis) is both talented and a tyrant whose fussy demands are met by his sister and his employees without question. All that changes when Woodcock brings home Alma, a young waitress and the woman that becomes his muse and his lover.

This is when the movie starts to veer into strange. Alma appears to be quiet and docile but this calm exterior hides an iron will. She begins to clash with Reynolds and when she realizes her place in the house may not be secure, she takes things into her own hands.

I’m not sure I’d recommend this movie. As I said before, the first half is lovely and interesting and Daniel Day-Lewis (which he claims is his last movie and is now retired) is as riveting as always, but the second half of the movie mostly left me puzzled. Have you seen this movie? And if so, what did you think?

The Stranger In The Woods: the Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit

Fresh out of college as a 22 year-old, I packed 45 pounds of my belongings, including clothing, books, and camping gear into my backpack with guitar-in-hand and boarded a plane for Maine. Apparently, I thought living out of a backpack (and then a car) and laboring in the backwoods of Maine in mid-July when the black flies were thick and most brutal, was a brilliant idea. I mean, I was armed with my zeal for life, my college degree, and my personal copies of The Maine Woods, On The Road, Howl, and A Coney Island of the Mind.  I was going “suck the marrow out of life”, as Thoreau mused.

Cute idea, Erin. Really adorable.

Two weeks into my backwoods adventure I called my parents and whined (cried, actually) into the payphone that I wanted to come home. Every muscle in my body ached from doing manual labor. I was sleeping in a tent for weeks on end,  hanging pulley systems high into the treetops, quarrying rocks out of the earth and drilling them into moveable sized stone steps, and then effectively building staircases and hiking trails all over the state of Maine. But I was like a moose caught in the headlights and it took me some time to adjust to my new life.”You’re not coming home,” my dad informed me.  “You’ll wish you had stuck it out if you give up now. Give it two more weeks, and if you’re still adamant about leaving, you can come home.”

Seven months later I (again) cried into the payphone while talking with my parents, and this time it was because I didn’t want to come home. The woods changed me, and to this day, I still have dreams that I’m trying to find my way back to Maine. I’m so thrilled my dad wouldn’t allow me to just throw in the towel.

So, you might understand why I would cackle uncontrollably to hear Mark Bramall, narrating in the thickly-accented voice of Christopher Knight, describe Henry David Thoreau–one of my inspirations for joining the Maine Conservation Corps–as a “dilettante.” Yeah, so basically the one and only Henry David Thoreau, famous Transcendentalist who wrote Walden and The Maine Woods is, according to Christopher Knight, is a mere amateur. A dabbler. And if that proclamation isn’t an indication of how hardcore of a hermit Knight is, then you require a level of convincing beyond what I can provide.

A.K.A.: dude is savage. And his story is controversial. You’ll have to read it to decide if you’d consider him laudable or loathe-able. You might think it relatively easy to flat-out condemn a guy who dropped out of society and lived off of the refuse of other working people for nearly three decades. And you wouldn’t be hasty, either. I mean, he was charged for over 1,000 break-ins. Even author Finkel says he did not aim to portray Knight as some kind of hero.

Here is what Finkel says of Knight in one of his entries on Goodreads:

“He confessed to 1,000 break-ins, one of the most extensive burglary cases in U.S. history. He tormented people. But — he also never physically harmed anyone, never carried a weapon, never stole anything of great monetary value, never shattered a window or kicked down a door. He had a wildly unusual idea for how to live, and he lived in a way radically different from any other human you will ever encounter, and he has an awesome and daunting brain — he is, I feel certain, a genius — and he has insights into modern society and solitude and the meaning of life that you will find nowhere else. “Take the good with the bad,” Knight told me, when speaking of how he should be portrayed in my book, and I did. I firmly believe that in the good are some incredible insights, and in the bad is a fascinating true-crime tale. And please note — Knight is receiving no money from this project.”

Not only is Knight’s story of solitude fascinating (in that he claimed to have spoken only one word in the nearly 30 years he was alone in the woods), but the journalism and storytelling is particularly noteworthy.You will learn the details surrounding Christopher Knight’s arrest and makeshift scavenger camp, his love for Lynyrd Skynyrd, his interest in Rush Limbaugh and Dostoevsky, how he didn’t completely freeze to death during 27 brutal Main winters, and his insight that one year in jail was more damaging to his psyche than 27 years alone in the woods. Also, this book will intrigue and perplex you and leave you with much to contemplate, perhaps in solitude. Oh, and you’ll learn the storied history of hermits, including the bizarre and curious traditions of “ornamental hermits“, who were hired by rich people to hang out, not bathe, and subsequently create a “rustic” ambiance thereby increasing property and estate values.

Oh, and for the record, moneybags, I’ll gladly perch on your lands like a woodland sprite sans deodorant and makeup if the price is right, even at the cost of confirming your suspicions that I’m just some huge hippie masquerading as friendly neighborhood librarian  #Noshame.

 

 

 

Online Reading Challenge – Mid-Month Check-in!

Hello All!

How is your reading going this month? Have you found something set in the Ancient world to read, or are you taking a pass? I am about halfway through reading Circe by Madeline Miller which I am enjoying a lot. I’ll tell you more about it and have my final review at the end of the month.

If you’re still looking for ideas, be sure to check the comment from Lin on the May 1 blog post – they have given us a nice list of favorites from this time period!

If you’re running short on time, try a movie or documentary! Here are a few suggestions:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Everything Old is New Again

Just like dress styles or design ideas, crafts go in and out of fashion. I order crafts/sewing/art books for the library and I’ve noticed a recent upswing in the popularity (reflected by the number of books being published) in some “old-fashioned” crafts. What’s fun about them is that a younger generation is taking these crafts and interpreting them with a modern twist. Here are some examples.

Embroidery. The somewhat fussy image of embroidery and hand stitching is giving way to a looser, more irreverent style that often borrows from mixed media artists.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Macrame. Maybe it’s the “boho” movement in interior design, but macrame is back and it’s going far beyond plant hangers. Sleeker and more sophisticated, it’s enjoying an artistic resurgence.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Sewing. Sewing is suddenly cool. Younger sewers have discovered the joy of creating clothing that really fits, made in the materials in colors they want. Movements such as Project 333 and Me Made May have fueled the desire for intentional clothing instead of mass-produced clothes from the mall.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Crafts. Crafts in general are enjoying new popularity as people again discover the joy of working with your hands. “Offline is the new luxury” as we search for an antidote to the technology we’re surrounded with.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Online Reading Challenge – May

Hello Readers! Welcome to the Online Reading Challenge, May edition! This month we’re going to explore books set in Ancient Times.

This is another fairly broad time period. “Ancient times” is roughly described as prehistoric/dawn of civilization to the fall of the Roman Empire. That’s a lot of history people! Let’s break it down into a few categories.Of course, this isn’t official and there’s a fair amount of overlap but remember – there are no Library Police! Read what you’d like!

Prehistoric/Early Civilization – The go-to authors for this time period are Jean Auel and Kathleen O’Neal Gear and W. Michael Gear. Auel’s Clan of the Cave Bear was a huge sensation when it came out and was very popular for many months. Be prepared for a thick, immersive read! The Gear’s, a husband and wife team, have written, together and separately, dozens of books about prehistoric North America, focusing on the Native American peoples, starting with People of the Wolf.

Egyptian – Delve into one of the earliest civilizations with Agatha Christie’s Death Comes as the End. A departure from her usual setting, this book is nevertheless a mystery masterpiece.

Roman – There is no shortage of books set during ancient Roman times. Check out Robert Harris for thrilling and action-packed titles including Pompeii and Imperium. A nice bridge between Egypt and Rome, Cleopatra’s Daughter by Michelle Moran is the story of Cleopatra and Marc Antony’s children, left to the Roman conquerors after their parents committed suicide.

As for myself, this is not a time period that I’m particularly interested in and I’m still considering what to read. Anyone have any favorites they’d like to recommend?

Be sure to stop by any of the Davenport library locations for our Online Reading Challenge display – there will be lots of titles at each for you to browse through!

Online Reading Challenge – April Wrap-Up

Hello Fellow Reading Fans!

How did your  “1800s” reading go in April? Exciting? Interesting? A non-starter?

I struggled a bit to find something to read this month. I think the “1800s”, while full of many excellent titles, was a bit to broad. There was almost too much choice. A more defined time period, while limiting choices, would make it easier to find a real gem. In fact, I had decided I would re-watch some favorite Jane Austen movies, but at the last minute I found a book that grabbed me and wouldn’t let go. That book was The Last Runaway by Tracy Chevalier.

Honor Bright, a young Quaker woman living in England in 1850, is jilted by her intended and decides, at the last minute, to join her sister who is immigrating to America to marry. The month-long Atlantic crossing is very difficult for Honor and further tragedy strikes during the journey to Ohio. Honor finds herself homesick, alone and struggling to find her place in a strange land.

America is very different from the England Honor grew up in; where England is settled and solid, America is raw and constantly changing. Survival is a constant struggle and comforts are meager. While people are kind, they are not particularly welcoming, absorbed in their own problems and struggles. And political tensions run high, often pitting neighbor against neighbor as the question of slavery begins to reach its boiling point – Honor has landed in a tiny settlement near Oberlin, Ohio, known as a safe stop for runaway slaves following the Underground Railroad.

Honor’s Quaker religion teaches her to despise slavery and she quickly begins helping the runaways that she encounters at her family’s farm. She soon learns that ideals can suffer in the harsh light of reality; her family forbids her from helping the runaways even though they agree with her views and new laws threaten hefty fines and imprisonment if defied. When a crisis is reached, Honor must decide between her beliefs and the law. Which path will she take and at what cost?

Much like Honor, this book is deceivably simple – a straightforward story line with a clearly drawn situation. But also like Honor, there is a lot of hidden depth here. How do you stand up for your beliefs against the majority? How do you battle loneliness and homesickness when you know you can never return home? How do you find purpose and meaning? There is a lot of  rich imagery, of the beauty and harshness of nature, of the quilts Honor expertly sews and the differences from their English counterparts. I enjoyed the view of a mid-1800s life on what was essentially the frontier, and a glimpse of the Quaker religion, practices and principals. Throughout the book, Honor hangs on to the Quaker belief that “there is Light in everyone” even when people are at their worst; a lesson that has never gone out of style.

OK, now it’s your turn – what did you read this month? Let us know in the comments!

 

Bad Behavior has blocked 2246 access attempts in the last 7 days.