The Innocent Wife by Amy Lloyd

I stumbled upon The Innocent Wife by Amy Lloyd when scrolling through RiverShare OverDrive looking for my next read. I spend a lot of time commuting for both my work and my fiancé’s job. Having books easily accessible whenever I need them is one of the major reasons that I use the RiverShare OverDrive app available through the Library. (It sure beats having to haul a backpack full of books when a weekend work trip for my partner pops up at the last minute!) Anyway, I found The Innocent Wife on our last road trip and decided to give it a try.

The Innocent Wife by Amy Lloyd tells of the burgeoning love between Samantha and Dennis. Their love isn’t all sunshine, rainbows, and flowers though, as readers are quick to realize. Samantha lives in England and spends her time outside of work obsessing over the case of Dennis Danson. Dennis is a prison inmate who, over twenty years ago, was arrested and thusly imprisoned for the brutal murder of a young girl in Florida. Dennis’ case is full of mysteries as it comes out that multiple other girls disappeared in the same area around the same time. No one was ever arrested for those disappearances though, nor where any of the missing girls’ bodies found. Many residents of the area believe that Dennis abducted and killed the girls, but that police only had enough evidence to convict him of the murder that landed him in prison.

Dennis is now the subject of a true-crime documentary that has succeeded in grasping the attention of the  national media and social media. People online and in person have come to believe that Dennis was wrongly convicted and that they are the only ones who can uncover the truth. Samantha finds herself on these message boards and reaches out to Dennis to talk to him about his case. As the two communicate through letters, Samantha quickly finds herself wooed by his charm and kindness towards her. Uprooting her entire life, Samantha decides to travel to Florida, meet Dennis in person, and begin campaigning for his release.

As soon as Samantha steps out into the balmy Florida heat, she begins to feel uneasy. She continuously pushes her feelings to the back burner in order to put Dennis and the campaign for his release first. After all, everyone would have cold feet meeting someone in person for the first time, right? That would be awkward for anyone. Nevertheless Samantha decides to marry Dennis(NOT A SPOILER, GUYS! It’s called The Innocent Wife after all…). After they are married, major developments happen in Dennis’ case and Samantha is forced to face some uncomfortable realizations about both Dennis and herself. Her confidence in Dennis’ innocence begins to waver, but with the intense media scrutiny and their marriage, she still feels the need to stick by him. Samantha doesn’t know Dennis as well as she thought she did despite her initial unwavering support of his innocence. The more time she spends with Dennis, the more she realizes that she might not want to know the real truth about his past.

Give this book a read and let me know what you think. I had complicated feelings toward Samantha as a main character that almost made me want to read something else. There are also several other characters that both intrigued and slightly appalled me. I’m curious about your opinions.


This book is also available in the following format:

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!

 

Now Departing for: New York City

Hello Fellow Readers!

One last journey in our 2017 Online Reading Challenge! This month we’re headed for New York City, equal parts glamorous and gritty. You’re sure to find something fabulous to read (or watch)

There is no shortage of books set in New York City. In fact, there’s almost too many – an embarrassment of riches. From classic, to modern classic to brand new there is something fabulous to read. And to watch! All kinds of movies and tv shows are set in New York City. Let’s take a look at each category.

Classic: Edith Wharton reigns supreme here with her scathing observations of the upper class society including The Age of Innocence. Or turn to Dashiell Hammett’s witty The Thin Man about the detective work of Nick and Nora Charles (the movies are also delightful). This would also be a great month to read Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, at turns poignant and moving about a girl’s coming-of-age at the turn of the last century.

Modern Classic (as defined by me!):  The Godfather by Mario Puzo about a New York mob family (a rare case where the movie is almost as good as the book). Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote (again, the movie is great and well worth watching just for Audrey Hepburn alone but be warned – the ending in the movie is very different from the ending in the book). Bonfire of the Vanities by Thomas Wolfe, a brilliant satire of the 1980s culture of greed.

New: Lillian Boxfish Takes of Walk by Kathleen Rooney trails along with Lillian as she walks through her beloved city, reminising about her life. The Devil Wears Prada by Lauren Weisberg is a sharp, often hilarious look at the fashion industry, Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay follows two young boys who unite to create a comics empire in mid-century America.

Feeling Christmasy? From the arrival of Santa in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, to the dropping of the ball at Times Square on New Year’s Eve, New York City is the very definition of a big-city Christmas. Get your holiday fix with Debbie Macomber’s Call Me Mrs Miracle or Anne Perry’s A New York Christmas among others.

I’m reading The Dollhouse by Fiona Davis which takes place at the Barbizon Hotel, switching between 1952 and the present day. There’s a mysterious death and lots of intrigue as well as some sharp societal observations. So far, so good!

There are lots more New York City titles – so many more! Stop by any of our locations and check out the displays – we’ll have books and movies (so many movies!) to help you find a great read (or viewing!). And watch this space for news about the 2018 Online Reading Challenge – it’s going to be an exciting year of reading!

Bright Futures and Nikki Grimes’ Bronx Masquerade 10th Anniversary Edition

Nikki Grimes’ Bronx Masquerade is deserving of the 2003 Coretta Scott King award and would be a welcome addition to classroom reading lists because it would foster understanding  and self-expression while encouraging us to celebrate our differences. While it has been a long time since I was in junior and high school, I’m pretty sure school (which is not nearly as beautiful of a word as library) and my teachers conspired to make me hate reading.   At least, that’s what I felt at the time, and still do to this day in many ways.  Not only could I not  identify with my teachers or parents or the books on our assigned reading lists, but I was really winging it when it came to being a teen. And being a teen was brutal at times: I was an incredibly intuitive person with so much to say yet I lacked the language proficiency to fully communicate my emotions and experiences with the people who guided me.

But that’s where art, poetry, and amazing teachers come into play.

When you’re not legally an adult, you rely on the adults in your life–parents and teachers, mainly–to help you through this thing called life. You rely on them to provide you a platform to share your story, and you hope they don’t drop the ball.   And then there are the teachers–the good, the bad, and everything in-between. Hopefully you had the kind of teacher movies like Dead Poet’s Society, Dangerous Minds, Mr. Holland’s Opus, and School of Rock celebrate. In my experience,  “good” teachers facilitate self-directed learning opportunities, foster curiosity, and help students identify and build upon their strengths. That’s a tall order, since much of the work good teachers do is an extension of what good parents do. In Bronx Masquerade, Mr. Ward is one of those teachers who deeply impacts his students in ways they can only begin to understand. He makes his entrance early on when he assigns a lesson about The Harlem Renaissance and other works by popular and lesser known African American authors. The classroom environment begins to take on a life of it’s own: students no longer shame their peers for wanting to read and feed their intellects. Eager to relate hip-hop and rap to the rhymes and rhythm of poetry, students begin writing and sharing original poetry.  The act of writing and the resulting community they find in Mr. Ward’s class profoundly changes them.

In terms of format, Bronx Masquerade  introduces you to a cast of characters, most of whom are Black and Latino with a White and Asian minority, whose lives intersect around poetry and Mr. Ward. Each subsequent chapter introduces you to a new character: Diondra, Amy, Art, Raul, Natalina, Porscha,  Mai Tren, Wesley. Aside from Poetry itself, Tyrone is the central character around which all of the characters revolve.  By the end of the book, Tyrone’s life has changed for the better, and “Open Mic Friday” is at the center of the positive change. As other students begin to read and perform their poetry, sometimes in the style of a poetry slam and often incorporating musical rhythms and beats, Tyrone’s guard begins to come down.And most notably, for the first time, he can envision  a real future for himself and his peers, a future that seemed distant and dismal at the beginning of the book.

By the end of the book, it is clear that through poetry and community, Tyrone has developed a new understanding of himself and his peers. Most remarkably, the opportunity to create and share his writing under the wing of Mr. Ward has literally changed the course of his life that now includes a bright, beautiful future.

Online Reading Challenge – Halfway Home!

So, how is your St Petersburg/Moscow/Russia reading adventure going?

I admit I’m struggling a bit this month. I wanted something a bit light and modern and, guess what – apparently that doesn’t exist in Russian fiction. Russian authors, historic and modern, tend to write really dark, really tragic stories steeped in mysticism and history. And it’s always cold.

Obviously, this is a huge exaggeration but I still could not find anything that wasn’t deeply sad (and not bittersweet sad but depressingly sad). I think a lot of this has to do with tradition and with Russian history which seems especially harsh with despotic leaders, crushing military battles and the bleakness of Soviet communism. And Siberia truly is extremely cold. Surely someone, somewhere has been happy? And warm? Sadly, I’m still looking for that book (please let me know if you’ve found one!)

Instead I’m going to watch the DVD of Anna Karenina starring Keria Knightly. Yes, very sad and tragic (and cold), but I’ve read that the costumes are exquisite and the production is very theatrical. I’ll let you know what I think.

If you’re still searching for a Russian connection, you might try a DVD too. The Americans, a TV series starring Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell is about a young Russian couple that have been sent to America as “sleepers” – KGB agents that are infiltrating the United States by posing as Americans. It’s gotten lots of great reviews. Or check out The Last Station starring Helen Mirren and Christopher Plummer about Leo Tolstoy’s later years when, to his wife’s horror, he said he planned to give up everything to live in poverty. Child 44 stars Tom Hardy and Gary Oldman about a disgraced Soviet police officer that has been exiled to the countryside and is now searching for a serial killer.

So tell me, what you reading (or watching) this month?

The Most Dangerous Place On Earth

As someone who devours non-fiction, biography, and memoir, I was surprised to have finished this work of fiction in just shy of two days. To be fair, the book is a quick read (even for self-professed slower readers such as myself).  The Most Dangerous Place on Earth is the debut novel of Lindsey Lee Johnson with impeccable prose and superb character development.  I could even see the book being turned into a film. In a nutshell, the book is broken into  time periods: Eighth Grade, Junior Year, and Senior Year. Within those general time periods, each chapter is further subdivided with titles such as: The Note, The Lovers, The Striver, The Artist,  The Dime, The Ride, The Dancer, The Pretty Boy, and The Sleeping Lady.  Each chapter spotlights each of the core characters whose lives revolve around a tragic incident involving Tristan Bloch, an awkward but brave outcast with an overbearing mother. Over the course of four years, we follow each protagonist as s/he navigates the tough terrain of junior high and high school, further complicated  by  parents, teachers, and digital culture. In many cases, each of these young people–although living in million-dollar beach homes–is forced to establish his or her individuality and navigate adolescence while also living in the shadows of abuse, neglect, and addiction at the hands of the grown ups who are supposed to protect and guide them. As is the case with many young people, these characters can sense when things are awry at home and school; but they lack the agency to be able to articulate those experiences, sometimes in a healthy way. Always looming in this novel is what lies unspoken–what is between the lines.

At the center of this story is Molly Nicholl, a newbie teacher and transplant from central California who is hired on in the English Department at Valley High in the affluent city of Mill Valley in Northern California, roughly a 6-hour drive from Los Angeles. As Molly begins to feel out the culture at Valley High, she finds herself at odds with the other seasoned faculty who are  burnt-out on their jobs, presumably after many years teaching. As Molly reconfigures her classroom into two concentric circles (note, also, the circular themes throughout the novel) so as not to carry on her predecessor’s tradition of an authoritarian, old-school classroom, she endures pushback from teachers who believe she is crossing the line with regard to her relationship with the students. After a car crash and the exploitation of a female student on social media, Molly is questioned about the inappropriate nature of her commenting on her student’s social media threads–even though her comments stemmed from genuine concern about the well-being of her students . Early on in the book, Molly is eager to dig deeper into the lives of her students–to see them not merely as students but also as human beings who have complex lives and much promise.  Molly once asks “Isn’t it our job as teachers to help our students?” She was quickly put in her place when her co-worker says: “No, your job is to teach.” But what does it mean “to teach”? What does teaching–truly teaching–entail?

I think my teacher and parent friends would enjoy this book, especially because it sheds light on a number of questions–namely: What is the role of the teacher? How can teachers truly effect change and the lives of their students if they are forced to keep students at arm’s length? Can teachers truly be effective if they relate to their students on only the most basic, superficial levels? Is it the role of teachers to dig beneath the surface to enable students to identify and pursue their interests? Are teachers supposed to protect and help their students? How can parents and teachers be better aligned for the benefit of the student?  Must there always be such a deep and wide chasm between young people and adults–one in which “adultness” itself is often dishonest, distrustful, and cynical? I have to say that by the end of the book–and yes, it’s just the idealist in me–I feel like Molly compromised too many of her ideals in an effort to play it safe. I mean, on one hand, I can certainly see why she would opt to play it safe, given the events leading up to her transition from newbie mover-and-shaker to cautious, jaded professional.  In one particular scene, Molly receives an essay from Callista who has accepted and processed, through the therapeutic act of writing, her role in the tragedy of Tristan Bloch. This was the moment that Molly had been waiting for the past three years: to play an encouraging and inspiring role in helping  students reconcile their places in the world and hopefully help them tap into their potential. I mean, here was Callista sharing a deeply painful experience with her teacher and in a sense, looking for encouragement and validation. But Molly, perhaps afraid to assume a role other than “superior” or “teacher” misses the opportunity entirely. Instead, she writes Callista a typical response that an English teacher–not a mentor–would write. However, the implications of Callista’s writing–how she knew the fine details of the path Tristan took to the bridge–were curious, troubling. Again, the power of the unspoken demands attention.

This books asks far more questions than it answers; so if you’re ok with ambiguity, you’ll love this book. I’m still wondering about these characters–what becomes of them, if they ever get to realize their true potential. Reading this book also forced me to look back on my own experiences in junior high and high school, which, like most young people, was a mixed bag of good, bad, and ugly. When I was young, I did not have vast social networks at my fingertips and cyber bullying wasn’t yet a thing. So much happens to young people online–entire worlds exist out of the reach of unwitting adults. While I tended to despise the parental and authoritarian figures in this book, I was nonetheless sickened by how these students treated each other. But unfortunately, I also got the sense that Emma, Damon, Callista, Ryan, Elisabeth, Nick, and others were just on their own, abandoned even. I certainly found fault with the parents: what is the role of the parent in providing guidance and support to their children? How can effective parenting provide a more equitable, just world? In essence, how can effective parenting be the anti-thesis to bullying, suicide, sexism, and abuse? How should parents be meaningfully involved in the lives of their children without being overbearing and suffocating? These are just some of many, many questions I have after finishing this fantastic debut by Lindsey Lee Johnson, which has drawn some comparisons to Thirteen Reasons Why.

Now Departing for – China

Welcome to the next month in our Online Reading Challenge! This month we are headed for China, a country that, for many of us, remains mysterious and unknown with a long, complex history and multiple cultures. A great book can crack open that door of mystery in the best possible way.

China as a subject offers a large number of intriguing and interesting books. Achee Min’s The Last Empress follows the last days of the Ch’ing Dynasty as overseen by Tzu Hsi. Maligned in the Western press as a ruthless, power-mad assassin, Min offers a different view of a powerful woman that did everything for her country and her family.

Under Heaven by Gabriel Kay is set in a imaginary kingdom in ancient China during the T’ang Dynasty. To honor the death of his father, Shen Tai spends two years burying the dead at a battle site on the kingdom’s border. When he receives a gift of 250 coveted horses, he realizes he is in terrible danger and seeks an audience with the Emperor. Detailed, nuanced, completely engrossing, this is a massive novel that you can easily (and happily) get lost in.

Lisa See has written many novels of China and of the Chinese immigrant experience in America. Set in 19th century China when women had little value except to produce male children, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan is the story of a “laotong” (an arranged friendship of two young girls that is meant to last a lifetime) between Lily and her laotong, the beautiful Snow Flower. A misunderstanding between them has far reaching consequences. This is a fascinating peek into a secretive and hidden world but a warning – the part when the girls undergo foot binding is not for the squeamish (I still shudder when I think about it)

For an examination of the push and pull of between new and old that Chinese immigrants to America feel, you can’t do better than Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club. The younger generation is eager to embrace the modern world but the past and the old country, as remembered by their parents, continues to shape and influence them. Four Chinese women who immigrated to America in 1949 are drawn together to share stories and play mah-jong. Through the years we follow their triumphs and losses and those of their American-born daughters.

There are lots more choices out there. Watch for our displays at each building for more suggestions. And then let us know what you’ll be reading this month!

Circling the Sun by Paula McLain

Circling the Sun by Paula McLain had been sitting in my wish list in RiverShare OverDrive for a few months before I decided to give it a listen. The plot grabbed my interest, but every time I scrolled through my list to find a new book, I never picked it because the cover wasn’t appealing. Well, I finally decided to read it when I discovered that our Info Café Blog’s Online Reading Challenge had Kenya listed as the country for May. Circling the Sun takes place in Kenya! It was a win-win. Now that I’ve finished it though, I wish I had started reading this book a lot sooner.

Circling the Sun tells the story of Beryl Markham, a real-life record-setting aviator who lived a life of adventure full of strife and unconventional desires. She was born in England and then brought to Kenya by her parents because her father wanted to farm, despite the fact that he had no experience doing so. Her mother left her and her father in Kenya when Beryl was very young to move back to England. As a result, Beryl was raised in a very unconventional way by her father and the native Kipsigis tribe who worked on her father’s estate and lived close by. Growing up without what the English considered to be a ‘traditional’ female role model, Beryl because a bold young woman who was not afraid to share her opinions, to try new things, and who understood the balance of nature, something that her father passed down to her.

Once Beryl reached a certain age, her father decided that she needed to have a more traditional life and thus threw the cozy life Beryl is familiar with into utter chaos. Her relationships began to dissolve and she was left floundering and confused about what exactly she was supposed to do with her life. Taking the skills she learned from her father as a horse trainer, she decided to become the first woman horse trainer in Kenya, which of course proved to be a very tricky process. Her decision to become a horse trainer led her more deeply into the European Expat community in Africa where she met and became entangled in a messy love triangle with safari hunter Denys Finch Hatton and Karen Blixon, who was the author of the classic memoir Out of Africa. Their tangled relationship and Beryl’s continuous desire to try more, to do more, and to be able to fend for herself leads her to journey all over the world and to meet many remarkable people.

I thoroughly enjoyed listening to this book, but I did find myself confused sometimes about who different characters were referring to. I know this was probably because I listened to the book and missed seeing the names in print, but I still was able to figure it out at the end. I also highly encourage you to listen to/read the epilogue where the author gives readers a glimpse into the real life of Beryl Markham and what happened to her, her friends, and family after the book ended.

The author also mentioned the book West with the Night that Beryl Markham actually wrote! She praised it highly and Ernest Hemingway even reviewed it with his quote directly on the cover. This book is on my to-be-read list and I can’t wait to read more about Beryl’s life from her own point of view.


This book is also available in the following formats:

Now Departing for: Kenya

Welcome to the May edition of the Online Reading Challenge! This month we’re headed for Kenya!

When I think of Kenya (a country I’ve never visited) I think of large expanses of open savannah grasslands, wide skies and lots of wildlife. I’m afraid I know very little of the people who live there or much about it’s history – but that’s what this year’s Reading Challenge is all about, isn’t it? Exploring new places!

You have a variety of titles to choose from. Try The Constant Gardener by John LeCarre, about the dark side of capitalism and the long-reaching effects of corruption and political intrigue (and it’s also a movie) Suzanne Arruda has written mysteries set in 1920s Kenya including The Leopard’s Prey and Treasure of the Golden Cheetah.  Love, Life and Elephants: an African Love Story is a memoir by Daphne Sheldrick about her lifelong work with the elephants and wildlife of Kenya. Circling the Sun by Paula McLain follows the remarkable story of an independent woman, Beryl Markam (author of West with the Night)

For movies you can’t beat Out of Africa, an adaptation of Isak Dinesen’s time spent in Africa trying to establish a plantation. Starring Robert Redford and Meryl Streep, it is both sweeping and intimate and incredibly beautiful. Or search out The Flame Trees of Thika, a gorgeous, heartbreaking story of an English girl growing up in Kenya and starring Hayley Mills.

Unfortunately, the number of books and movies that we have available that are set in Kenya is pretty slim, and the majority of them view the country through the eyes of white settlers. Because of this, I think it’s fine to read a book set in another African country this month if you’d prefer (remember, no Library Police!) It is a disservice and rude to imply that all of Africa is the same when in fact it is made up of a diverse range of nations and cultures with unique (often ancient) histories.  But if you’re having difficulty finding a book set in Kenya that interests you, feel free to explore a different African country.

I am planning to read A Guide to the Birds of East Africa by Nicolas Drayson. It’s fiction, not an actual bird guide and reviews describe it as “charming” in the same vein as Alexander McCall Smith’s books. “Charming” is always a good idea.

What about you – what are you going to read this month?