Life and Other Near DeathLibby Miller finds out (on the same day) that her husband is not at all who she thought he was, and their marriage was not what she thought it was. And that she has terminal illness.  The internal monologues make you wonder how you, too, would cope with a day like that. For me, the first half of the book was most interesting, as Libby struggles to cope with seismic shifts in every aspect of her life – her job, her home, her health, and her family.  She begins to realize that nothing at all in her life will ever be the same.  This Camille Pagan novel is written in the first-person, so we are privy to her wildly swinging emotions. Her reaction to her husband’s news is both horrifying and funny.

Life and Other Near-Death Experiences  is an odd amalgam of standard fiction and chick-lit. Some of the latter’s conventions are apparent – the tone is self-effacing and self-mocking, the main character is young (ish) and attractive, and good at her professional job – though she is a PA to a horrible boss. There is a spirit of re-invention, and, inevitably, a romance with a man who is a soul-mate, rather than someone she has stayed with, out of habit.

However, the reader (or this reader, anyway) had certain expectations about the illness that were not met, so it didn’t follow a typical airport fiction trajectory.(No spoilers here).  The tone often veers into pretty dark territory – the illness and death of Libby’s mother is a driving factor in how Libby deals with her diagnosis. The result is that the reader is thrown off balance, and isn’t quite sure where the story is going. It’s a novel with a high-concept plot that delves deeper than expected.

 

 

what phil's havingI enjoy a good travel documentary, but what really hooks me in are the ones that focus on the local food that can be found and enjoyed when you are on vacation. I’ll Have What Phil’s Having is what I would call a food travel documentary and definitely fulfilled my wish for more of a focus on food than the sites that you would see in a traditional travel documentary.

I’ll Have What Phil’s Having follows Emmy Award-winner Phil Rosenthal, the creator of the hit show Everybody Loves Raymond, as he travels around the world looking for fantastic food in various countries and cities. Phil visits six sites: Tokyo, Italy, Paris, Hong Kong, Barcelona, and his hometown, Los Angeles. At each place, he seeks out what he thinks to be the world’s best food, looking for chefs, ground-breaking style-setters, and leaders in the culinary world to expand his palate and find places where both locals and tourists go to find the best food.

What I loved about this documentary is that Phil was looking for restaurants and chefs that both kept the food traditions of their communities alive and also were working to create new foods, ideas, and restaurants. He acknowledges that he looks for places that both tourists go to, but that going off the beaten path and looking for places that the locals know of will sometimes lead you on a new adventure.

This documentary caught and held my interest because of the wide variety of food he tested, the places he visited, and because of his hilarious commentary and facial expressions as he experienced anything new for the first time. He also gives tours of the famous and historical sites around as enticement for visiting the places that he is at as well. Highly recommended.

atomicWhether you use it all the time or are new to it, everyone can benefit from some training on Microsoft Office.  The software is updated every three years and features and functions change with that update.  Also, the screen does not look the same and you have to relearn where to find important commands.

Atomic Training can help!  If you go to the Online Resources page on our website, you will find Atomic Training.  Once you are there, you will have to login with an email account and password.  It is free to sign up. A nice feature of Atomic Training is that you can select to get email reminders to keep you on task.  Atomic Training has several video tutorials that will teach you how to use Microsoft Office.  Included are videos for Microsoft Office 2010 and Microsoft Office 2013.

Once you are in Atomic Training, you will find several videos.  You can choose to watch Introduction to Office, Advanced Office training, or What’s New to 2013 Office.  Or, if you need to learn more about one part of Microsoft Office, you can do that too.  There are videos on Word, Excel, and Powerpoint.  Need something specific?  Atomic Training has tutorials on how to make a newsletter, graphs, charts and animation.

So if you are trying to learn how to use Microsoft Office, or it you need a refresher, then go to Atomic Training.  Even if you are a seasoned pro, you may learn some new tips and tricks that will help you use Microsoft Office more efficiently.PowerPointExcelWord

ReadingChallengeBWWelcome to the next month in our year long Online Reading Challenge! This month’s theme is Magical Realism.

So, what the heck is Magical Realism anyway? It’s not an official Library of Congress subject or genre, more of a made up description for books that fall somewhere between science fiction/fantasy and fiction. It is usually applied to books that are grounded in reality, but with some magical element. Usually, the magical is not the focus of the story, but it does influence what happens. It is frequently used by many Latin American authors (Isabelle Allende and Gabriel Garcia Marquez among them), but there are many other authors that employ Magical Realism.

There is a fair amount of argument among the literary elite – they appear to be a feisty bunch – about the exact definition of what is and what is not Magical Realism. For our purposes, as always, we’ll leave it up to you on how you interpret it and what you choose to read. I find that reading Magical Realism requires a little hop of faith – I don’t try to rationalize what’s going on, or explain it scientifically (magical, remember?), but just go with it.

Now, this may be a theme that many of you are just not interested in and that’s fine. You can skip this month and join us again in April, no problem (remember – no such thing as Library Police!) But I would encourage you to at least take a look at some of the authors and titles – you might be surprised to realize you’ve already read some of these books! Here’s a sampler to get you started:

Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel – When Tita is forced to prepare the wedding feast for the man she loves who is marrying her sister, her emotions are transferred to the food she makes, affecting all who eat it. Charming and bittersweet, this love story takes place in turn-of-the century Mexico and contains a powerful message of the role of women in society.

Chocolat by Joanne Harris – The perfect book for chocolate lovers as well as Francophile’s, this story takes place in a tiny village in France. The sudden arrival of Vianne Rocher introduces joy and sensuality to the straitlaced community when she opens a chocolate shop of delights. In addition, Vianne is able to detect each buyer’s secret unhappiness and offers clever cures. A delicious treat!

Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman –  For more than two hundred years, the Owens women had been blamed for everything that went wrong in their Massachusetts town. And Gillian and Sally endured that fate as well; as children, the sisters were outsiders. Their elderly aunts almost seemed to encourage the whispers of witchery, but all Gillian and Sally wanted was to escape. One would do so by marrying, the other by running away. But the bonds they shared brought them back-almost as if by magic…

Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen – In a garden surrounded by a tall fence, tucked away behind a small, quiet house in an even smaller town, is an apple tree that is rumored to bear a very special sort of fruit. This luminous novel tells the story of that enchanted tree, and the extraordinary people who tend it.

Mama Day by Gloria Naylor – On the island of Willow Springs, off the Georgia coast, the powers of healer Mama Day are tested by her great niece, Cocoa, a stubbornly emancipated woman endangered by the island’s darker forces. A powerful generational saga at once tender and suspenseful, overflowing with magic and common sense. I once recommended this book to a friend who called me at home the minute she finished it to tell me how much it affected her – an extraordinary novel.

My reading choice for this month is Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, about a circus that mysteriously appears, stays for a few days and then disappears again but only after entertaining guests with extraordinary acts. I’ll admit right now – I’m cheating just a little bit with this one. I had read about two thirds of the book and, even though I was enjoying it, had to set it aside as other books and projects demanded my time. I’m looking forward to finishing it now! And, I intend to read another title for this theme as well – I’ll let you know what title I choose.

So, what about you? See anything that catches your interest? Anything you’d like to recommend to others? And what do you plan to read this month?

Remember, the Online Reading Challenge bookmarks are now available at each of the Davenport Library buildings – they’re a great way to keep track of your 2016 reading list.

Check here if you need to more information about the Online Reading Challenge.

Happy Leap Day! (And Happy Birthday Christie who is 8 years old today!)

So, how did you do with the first month of the Reading Challenge? Did you discover a great new book? Or did the Journeys theme fall flat for you? Please let us know in the comments – tell us what you read and how you liked it!

I really enjoyed this months’ theme – in fact, as I was preparing book lists and setting out displays, I kept running across more titles I’d like to read! The idea of embarking on a journey, whether by physically traveling or through emotional growth, is a powerful one. Humans are blessed with great curiosity  – what’s around the bend in the trail, what are my limits and how can I move past them, how can I build a better mousetrap? It is one of our best characteristics, and following someone on their journey – and thinking about how we would have done – is one of the best ways to feed this curiosity. After all, I’m never going to climb Mt Everest – and have no desire to – but reading about someone’s trek is still eye-opening and mind-expanding.

road to little dribblingThis month I read The Road to Little Dribbling by Bill Bryson. A treat for Anglophiles or fans of dry humor or anyone curious about England both past and present, will enjoy this book. Bryson is very funny, poking fun at silly conventions and laws (which England seems to have in abundance!), despairing at the of encroachment of modern “improvements”, liberally shot through with fondness and love for his adopted country.

This is not a straight line march from south to north and, in fact, Bryson doesn’t walk the entire way (although he loves tramping through the countryside and does so frequently); this is more of a meander, from Britain’s southernmost point to the far north. Bryson and Great Britain are well suited to each other – their love for and indulgence of the eccentric mesh nicely. Bryson is an expert at digging up interesting tidbits of history and trivia and making them fascinating. He is also very, very funny in a very dry, British way.

This is a great book to dip into to quickly read a chapter or two and easy to come back to later. It’s also great for adding many more places to visit when I travel to England! Highly recommended.

wildAs a (completely unnecessary) bonus, I also worked on reading Wild by Cheryl Strayed. This is one of those books that I had started but hadn’t finished even though I liked it. As of this writing, I’m not quite done – I still have about a third of the book to go – but I am enjoying it a great deal.

This book is a very different kind of journey, involving both physical travel and emotional growth. After the death of her beloved mother, Cheryl finds herself floundering, repeatedly making poor choices (infidelity, heroin use, pushing away people she loves). Desperate to break out of this cycle, she latches onto the idea of hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, an arduous, long distance hike that would include desert heat, mountain snow, encounters with bears and rattlesnakes, food and water shortages and days and days without seeing another human.

Throughout the course of the book (and the hike), Cheryl thinks about her past and how it has shaped her, how the choices in her life have set her on this path (literal and metaphysical), how her grief has paralyzed her from moving forward with life. There are some cringe-worthy moments – the emotion is very real and very raw. She is also a complete hiking novice, making some terrible decisions (pack too heavy, shoes too small, the wrong fuel for her camp stove, etc etc) But the trail and the vast wilderness hone her skills; she becomes stronger with each step (both physically and emotionally), smarter and more confident. She grows into the person she is meant to be and she is eventually able to put the past aside and move on.

This all sounds very dreary and deep, but the book also has a lot of humor and light. Strayed comes to love the wilderness and describes it beautifully, she often pokes fun at herself and she meets many kind and helpful people in her journey. Her writing is fluid and natural and a joy to read. For anyone that has lost a loved one and wondered how to move on without them, this book will help make sense of that most difficult of journeys.

Those are my Journey books – what about yours? Please add a comment to this post and let us know!

Tomorrow we start with a new theme – Magical Realism! It’s going to be awesome – be sure to check back tomorrow for more information and reading suggestions.

orphan blackOrphan Black is an action thriller television series that debuted in 2013 on BBC America. The fourth season is set to begin in April 2016.

Orphan Black begins by introducing viewers to Sarah Manning, a woman back in the states and on the run from an abusive relationship who is trying to get in contact with her young daughter whom she hasn’t seen in over 10 months. She’s getting ready to take the train when she sees a woman commit suicide right in front of her. Interesting twist: this woman looks exactly like Sarah. She decides to assume the dead woman’s identity and lets herself into the woman’s apartment.

Everything seems to be working out perfectly when she realizes the woman has $75,000 in the bank. She decides to drain the woman’s bank account and then skip town with her daughter and her foster brother. Her plans are cut short when unfinished business from both the dead woman’s past and her own past come barreling into her life, leading Sarah down a deadly trail of thrilling mystery that all lead her to the stunning conclusion: she is a clone, there are more of her out there, and that someone is trying to kill all of them. Sarah has no choice but to continue to live a double life as herself and the dead woman, as she meets other clones and realizes that they are all entangled in a complicated plot as genetically identical individuals who all grew up in very different circumstances.

Highlighted by a tour de force performance by Tatiana Maslany (she plays all of the clones, giving each of them distinct personalities, speech patterns and behaviors), this is compulsive television viewing.

Washington 2I am a lover of American History, but I must admit that my presidential knowledge is limited. Somehow, I don’t think I’m alone in needing to brush up on my presidential repertoire. To start, we have to see what you already know. There were two different quizzes I plucked from the internet that will test your knowledge of the 43 presidents. The first one gives you five minutes to input as many president’s names as you can remember. Thankfully you do not have to know when they served, but you do need a first and last named, spelled correctly. I found that it took me about three minutes to input all the names I knew for sure, which was little more than half. Then I just sat there willing my brain to dig a little deeper, feeling oh so tempted to steal a hint from the internet. Seem a little tough? Well the second quiz tests your knowledge of what the presidents looked like when they were in office. As an added bonus, it is a multiple choice. Unfortunately I somehow did a little worse on this one. Sound like fun? Give them a try.

Can You Name the Presidents Quiz 1

Can You Name the Presidents Quiz 2

How did you do? Well if you find that naming presidents is your expertise then I congratulate you! If you are interested on how to get your score up, check out these resources.

Book Resources

 

The History Buff’s Guide to the Presidents by Thomas Flagel

The Complete Book of U.S. Presidents by William A. DeGregorio

U.S. Presidents for Dummies by Marcus A. Stadelmann

 

On DVD

the ultimate guide to the presidents

The Ultimate Guide to the Presidents by The History Channel

 

Websites

Tips and Tricks for Memorizing the Presidents of the United States

Order the Presidents

4 Fun Ways to Memorize the U.S. Presidents

 

Apps

Memorize U.S. Presidents for iPhone

U.S. Presidents for Android

the 5th waveA brand new movie to hit the theaters recently is The 5th Wave. This movie is one of many young adult books that have been made into movies with producers and directors hoping to score big with both young adult readers and fans of somewhat dystopic literature. In order to fully prepare myself for the movie, I decided to dive into the book to see if I liked it.

The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey is the first book in a trilogy (the second book is The Infinite Sea, but the third book, The Last Star, won’t be released until May 24, 2016!). The 5th Wave concentrates on the life of Cassie Sullivan, a teenage girl living with her mother, father, and brother when things start to change. While she’s in school, everything goes dark. All the lights go out and everything electronic stops working. Looking up into the sky, they see a giant ship. An alien invasion has begun.

The Earth is quickly decimated by the alien invasion. Cassie realizes that everything is happening in waves, the largest of which is when a plague is unleashed killing the majority of the world’s population, including her mother. Leaving their home, Cassie, her brother, and father are forced to rely on each other. When further tragedy strikes, Cassie is left to rescue her brother and to keep her promise. The problem is, she has no idea where he might be, only a vague idea that he could be at an army base. On her way to rescue him, Cassie is forced to confront the idea that the aliens may have been living amongst the human population for years and that the very person she has come to trust most could actually be an alien.

I found this book to be extremely intriguing because alongside Cassie’s story, Yancey designates different sections to other characters, so you are able to see how the invasion affects people besides Cassie as well. This adds depth to the book, which I really enjoyed. Check out this book or see the movie and let me know what you think!

love may fail2I was looking for an audiobook to listen to in the car when I came across Love May Fail by Matthew Quick.  I really enjoyed reading his previous novel, Silver Linings Playbook (and watching the movie adaptation) so I checked it out without bothering to look at what this book was about.  If you have kids in the car with you, then you do not want to listen to this book.  Read it instead.

Love May Fail starts by introducing us to Portia Kane, who is currently sitting in her clothes closet, drunk, waiting for her husband and his lover to arrive.  After a hilarious confrontation, Portia decides to leave and gets on a plane.  While she is intoxicated.  She stumbles to her seat and finds herself sitting next to a nun.  Sister Maeve is kind and listens to Portia tell her tale of woe.  Before they part, Sister Maeve gives her a note and her address, in case Portia would ever want to write to her in the future.  And it is a good thing that Portia writes to her.  It turns out that they are looking for the same thing.

The plane lands in Philadelphia, Portia’s hometown.  We quickly realize why Portia would want to escape this place after the first encounter with her mother.  Her mother is kind but clearly mentally unstable.  After dragging her mother to a nearby diner, Portia runs into a former classmate and learns that a beloved high school English teacher was forced to retire after a brutal attack.  This teacher was the only decent man that Portia Kane ever had in her life.  Determined to find him and bring him back to the classroom, Portia begins her quest.

Some people believe that God has a master plan that brings people together.  Other people call it destiny.  Whatever you call it, in Love May Fail, you will see how one chance encounter can lead you to the person that you are looking for.  Matthew Quick brings multiple characters together through chance encounters that lead Portia to her former teacher, Mr. Vernon.  But just because you find the person that you are looking for, it does not mean that there is always a happy ending.  Mr. Vernon is a broken man when Portia finds him.  Will she be able to convince him that life is worth living?

Love May Fail is full of dark subject matter, but it is a very funny book.  Portia Kane is a believable flawed middle aged woman that is trying to find the one person that she believes has goodness inside him.  Along her journey, Portia encounters other characters that help her on her quest.  And she may find that there are other people that are good along the way.

 

lady killerSometimes you just need to take a break from the superhero comics and step into something completely different. If you happen to be in that mood, join me and check out Lady Killer. This graphic novel will be a refreshing break from those men in tights comics who insist on saving the damsel in distress. (Be sure to read the introduction – It’s something you definitely don’t want to miss!)

In Lady Killer, readers are introduced to Josie Schuller, a 1950s housewife who seems to have everything: a fantastic husband, two adorable daughters, and perfect domestic bliss. She does have all that, plus much more! Josie also works outside the home without her husband even realizing what she really does. She isn’t just a lady who goes door-to-door selling Avon though. Josie is a killer.

Yes, I said that right. She’s a killer, an assassin to be specific. Josie doesn’t kill people the way you would expect a lady killer to either. She’s not afraid to get dirty, even though she may seem a little bit delicate with her perfectly done makeup and outfits. Josie is ruthless and has been with the agency for 15 years, performing assassinations whenever asked. Now that she has a family and is working to keep up her picture-perfect life at home, her employers are starting to worry that maybe her priorities are no longer “correctly” in order the way they wish. As a result, Josie soon finds her life to be under attack and she is forced to decide how she really wants her life to be, while hopefully keeping her family blissfully unaware of what mommy really does all day long.


miss meadowsIf this description caught your attention and you’re looking for something similar, check out Miss MeadowsThis movie stars Katie Holmes as Miss Meadows, a perfect, prim, and proper school teacher who under the surface is a vigilante who seeks to right all the wrongs in the world however she can and with any means necessary, like a vigilante Mary Poppins. Right on par with Lady Killer.