Online Reading Challenge – Mid-Month Check-In

Hello Fellow Challengers!

How is the month of February going for you challenge-wise? There have certainly been plenty of snow days which invite lots of cozy reading and movie watching. Unfortunately, it also requires a fair amount of shoveling and scraping-off-the-car time too!

If you’d like some more suggestions for this month’s Food theme, how about trying a movie? There are some great ones!

Ratatouille – Rats in the kitchen is not appealing at all, but somehow Disney makes it adorable. Animated.

The Hundred-Foot Journey starring Helen Mirren. Can two very different restaurants learn to exist across from each other? And even learn from each other?

Chef starring Jon Favreau. A discouraged, out-of-work chef starts a food truck allowing him to regain his creative purpose as well as his estranged family.

Burnt starring Bradley Cooper. A chef who had it all then loses it because of his reckless lifestyle attempts a comeback. A great look at the chaotic professional kitchen.

Food, Inc – A hard look at the industrialization of our nation’s food supply and how it’s affecting farmers, consumer health, worker safety and our environment.

 

Travel Talk – Researching Your Trip

Hello Travel Fans! This month we’re tackling one of my favorite things about travel – planning your trip!

I admit, I’m pretty organized and enjoy the process of research (Hey, I’m a librarian! No surprise there!) and list making and exploring ideas. It’s akin to daydreaming, imagining all the possibilities. Of course, at some point reality takes over and you realize a sunrise hot-air balloon ride or a week at the Ritz is not going to happen. That’s when research comes to the rescue.

Before you get started, decide on a few basics. Know where you’re going (hopefully somewhere that you’re very excited to see), know what you’d like to do there (museums, historic sites, unique experiences) and what time of year you’re going. Have a rough idea of your budget (Ritz or hostel?). Are you going on your own (we’ll talk more about solo travel later this year), with family or friends or with a tour group?

OK. You’ve got a handle on the basics. Here are some resources.

Mango. If you’re going to a foreign country be sure to go to our Online Resources from our home page and navigate to Mango (listed here), an awesome language learning program that’s FREE! It’s simple and intuitive to use and will give you a strong grounding in the basics. It’s always smart to know a few common phrases. (You will need your Davenport Library card number to access Mango)  Michelle adds: After you create a profile, download the Mango app to take your language on the road!

The library. Yeah, you saw that one coming, didn’t you? We have lots of travel guidebooks at the library. While there is a ton of information online, there’s still something about leafing through a book, finding something that catches your eye, or for studying a map. If you can’t find the area you’re planning to visit, check at the desk and we’ll try to find something from another location.

Instagram. This might seem like an unusual place to research a trip, but I can personally vouch for it. Go on Instagram and do a search for your vacation spot and you’re likely to find several hashtags to follow. You can refine your search to special attractions too (#chicago #artinstituteofchicago #thebean). You’ll also probably find the local chamber of commerce or tourism board which are, of course, going to post lots of glamorous photos. For a more realistic look, dig a little deeper and look for people who actually live in the city or country you’re visiting (this will be easiest with big cities like New York or London) Before I went to Paris I started following accounts such as @paris.with.me@everydayparisian @lostncheeseland among many others. @davidlebovitz was especially helpful since he’s not afraid to show the nitty gritty as well as the beautiful all with dry wit. Accounts like these will give you a glimpse of the current weather, what people are wearing, ideas for what’s currently going on. And after your trip, they can be fond reminders of favorite memories.

More ideas from Michelle:

Flight trackers – A good way to find a reasonably priced ticket is to sign up for a flight tracking alert.  I have used Google flights with great success.  You type in your dates and location where you want to go and Google will email you when a fare decreases or increases in price.  With help from Google flights, I recently got a round trip to Europe for $513.00.  The decrease in fares are usually short-lived so you have to act fast.  

Email newsletters – Prior to your trip, sign up for travel newsletters that will provide tips and tricks on a specific region.  For European travel as an example, try EuroCheapo by Tom Meyers.  His newsletter covers relevant topics for a first time travelers and for those who are looking for more out of the way spots.  

Winter in Paradise by Elin Hilderbrand

Elin Hilderbrand’s books are the perfect combination of complex drama and noteworthy characters.  Her latest book, Winter in Paradise, is the first book in a planned three-part series.  At the beginning of the novel, we meet Irene Steel on a cold and snowy New Year’s in Iowa City.  Patiently waiting for her husband, Russ, to return from his business trip, she decides to meet a friend for an early dinner.  Irene’s world is turned upside down later that evening when she receives a cryptic phone call telling her that her husband has been killed in the Caribbean island of St. John in a helicopter crash.

Irene is blindsided with the news of her husband’s  unexpected death.  Not only did she think her husband was only a few states away for work, she had no idea why he would be on a small island in the Caribbean.  Irene, along with her two grown sons Baker and Cash, gather from across the country and make their way to the island to make the necessary arrangements.

Upon their arrival, Irene and her sons begin to learn the magnitude of Russ’ deception and delve unwillingly into his secret life.  The pieces of the puzzle all start to come together when the trio befriends various residents of the island and learn more about the husband and father that they thought they knew.  Along with the ripple effect of his death, the three must come to terms with secrets in their past too.  Just when the reader comes to end of the book, another exposed secret throws everything into a state of flux, setting the stage for the next book in the trilogy.  With the cliffhanger at the end of Winter in Paradise, I am anxiously awaiting book two in the series, which will hopefully be released this year!

 

Travel as a Political Act: How to Leave Your Baggage Behind by Rick Steves

I’ll admit that my husband and I have been making fun of Rick Steves for years – in a good way of course. Sorry Rick. That said, we obviously love him as we have been watching his show on PBS pretty religiously for nearly twenty years. We love you Rick Steves! and this book is no let down. What a joyful read with deep insight and critical comparative thinking about countries he has traveled. He compares them to the United States and sheds a light of unbiased realism and intellectualism that can’t be ignored.

In the first chapter of Travel as a Political Act: How to Leave Your Baggage Behind Rick Steves boldly begins “Many of today’s elected leaders have no better connection with real people–especially ones outside their borders–than those “divinely ordained” kings did centuries ago.” Rick Steves recommends traveling on purpose…..to learn and connect with people across our own borders. In his words…”travel broadens our perspectives personally, culturally, and politically”. He delves into Brexit, refugees, Trump, Nativism, Terrorism, and climate change. This is a well-written perspective from a master teacher traveler. I highly recommend Travel as a Political Act: How to Leave Your Baggage Behind to crack open your mind just a little bit more, or to crack open your heart and let some love of your fellow human beings enter. Don’t be afraid to travel or fear the unknown. The world is yours for the taking….be fearless and travel widely.

Kingdom of the Blind by Louise Penny (audiobook version)

Every year in the late summer or early fall, I anxiously anticipate a new mystery by Louise Penny in her continuing Chief Inspector Armand Gamache series set in Three Pines, a small village in Quebec.  The fourteenth book in the series is Kingdom of the Blind and it is clear that Penny’s writing is as strong as ever.  I usually listen to the audiobook version of Penny’s books.  The narrator is Robert Bathurst, a former character on Downton Abbey (Edith’s suitor Sir Anthony Strallan) and his voice brings the Canadian inspector alive.  If you are new to the Chief Inspector Armand Gamache series, start with Louise Penny’s first book, Still Life.

The book begins with Armand Gamache, the former head of the Surete du Quebec,  who is waiting to hear the verdict concerning his botched drug raid, which was a complete disaster.  As the case hangs over his head, the drugs that eluded his squad begins to snake through the streets of Montreal with deadly precision.  Gamache also learns of the betrayal of one of his “second chance” recruits, who has slipped back into addiction.

While waiting for the internal investigation to end, Gamache, along with friend and Three Pines resident Myrna Landers, have learned that they been named as executors of a woman’s estate whom neither of them know, along with third man who is a stranger to them.   Why would this woman, who referred to herself as “The Baroness” appoint Gamache and Myrna as two executors when she was an outsider to their close-knit group in Three Pines?

After one of her beneficiaries is found dead in The Baroness’ dilapidated former home, Gamache is determined to find out more about the self-proclaimed royal and her family secrets.  The case of the Baroness runs parallels with Gamache’s fate in the drug raid and its consequences.  But, the Baroness is not the only one with secrets.  Gamache has secrets of his own that will be revealed when all the pieces fit neatly into place.

 

 

Applause for the Late Mac Miller’s Heart-Felt Swimming

Sonically and lyrically, “Come Back To Earth,” perfectly establishes the feel of Swimming and encapsulates all the thematic elements of the album: breakups, vulnerability, addiction,  despair, hope, and painful self-awareness. People connect with Mac Miller because he wasn’t afraid to wear his heart on his sleeve. He perfectly sums up what depression feels like when he wrote:  “And don’t you know that sunshine don’t feel right / When you inside all day / I wish it was nice out, but it looked like rain /Grey skies and I’m drifting, not living forever /They told me it only gets better.”

Now, the lyrics “I’ll do anything for a way out of my head” are just haunting.

It wasn’t until after Mac Miller died  from a powerful combination of cocaine, fentanyl, and alcohol that I heard his most recent album, Swimming, and immediately started listening to his other work, Best Day Ever, and The Divine Feminine, among others.  Like the inimitable artists who preceded him in death – Prince and Tom Petty, most recently – Miller’s reputation as a real-deal artist is not diminished due to his struggle with addiction. In a short lifespan, he managed to eat, breath, and sleep his craft, so much so that he was always writing, creating, performing, and improving. Just 26 years old after dropping his self-produced August 2018 album, Miller made an inspired appearance on NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert Series, mere months before his body was found.  His NPR performance immediately struck me as genuine as he bantered with his band and addressed the audience in between songs.  Plus,  Thundercat’s willingness to back you up is evidence of your awesomeness . But moreso: Mac Miller makes me feel  something, and simple though that criteria may appear, it’s an indicator for great artistry. Even though he suffered, he nobly shared his vulnerability, sadness, and hope through his music.

The late Mac Miller

Initially, the song “2009” was one of my fast favorites on the album, probably because of the self-reflective quality that the song conveys, both lyrically and instrumentally. The narrator appears to have looked back on his life having realized some hard-won truths but is ready to embrace a hopeful future. My favorite lyric is when he refers a conversation the narrator had with a woman and he cleverly characterizes her as an angel: “She tell me that I get her high ’cause a angel’s s’posed to fly”. The track has a dreamy wisdom about it that comes through the stripped-down instrumentation. Much of Miller’s music simply makes me feel good. 

Track number three, “What’s the Use” is a funky, laid back, feel-good groove featuring Snoop and that signature Thundercat bassline and  that hits in all the right places and might be my favorite tune on the album because, hello, FIVE STRING BASS in the house

Then you have the trumpet-heavy funk and disco dance tune, “Ladders”, that seems to encapsulate the hope and despair Mac embodied in his music. Such a big, bright song evokes a wild night living large in the city but against the backdrop of a sad truth looming in the near future: that the sun would rise and the fun would be over.  “Somehow we gotta find a way / No matter how many miles it takes / I know it feels so good right now / But it all comes fallin’ down / When the night meet the light /Turn to day.  Where was it Mac wanted to go? Check out his live performance of ladders and the all-star 11-piece band on the The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.

Melodically and rhythmically, “Self-Care”(co-written by Dev Hynes of Blood Orange)  is easily one of my favorite tunes on the album (but I’m hard-pressed to find a bad song on the album). Eerily, the music video portrays Miller lying in a coffin and nearly buried alive as he sings: “Somebody save me from myself, yeah /Tell them they can take that bullshit elsewhere / Self care, we gonna be good /Hell yeah, they lettin’ me go”. Given the trendiness of the concept of “self care” in a society marked by millenial backlash against the backdrop of growing social isolation in spite of vast widespread advancements in technology, Miller wanted to take better care of himself: he was envisioning a better life, but the question would be:  how am I gonna get there?

A review in Pitchfork states so eloquently that the feeling  of a work of art is indeed as valuable as the other more technical components of song crafting:  “As always, Miller remains a step behind the prestige artists he emulates—Chance the Rapper, Anderson.Paak, and, increasingly,Frank Ocean, whose nonchalant songcraft looms large here. Swimming is less virtuosic than those artists’ recent works, but no less heartfelt, and the album’s wistful soul and warm funk fits Miller like his oldest, coziest hoodie. He may be unable to escape his own head, as he laments on the opener “Come Back to Earth,” but he’s decided to make himself as comfortable as possible while he’s trapped there.”

Co-written by Pharell Williams (does he collaborate with everyone?) , “Hurt Feelings” (awesomely described in this article as “weirdly cocksure”)  is another super-catchy tune on the album with a beat that’s perfect for head bobbing, and oddly enough, one of the tunes I crank in the morning to psych myself up for work or life.

Check out “Swimming”  for honest, heart-felt poetry from a young soul who lived the life he rapped about only to die far too young, long before he had a chance to love himself back to life.

Online Reading Challenge – February

Hello and Welcome Back Challenge Readers!

A new month means it’s time for a new topic for our Challenge and this month it’s : Food.

(Oh, this could be trouble. I feel like I’m putting on a few pounds just thinking about all the great descriptions of food….)

There is a veritable feast of choices (haha, see what I did there?) with this topic. Let’s get started with some suggestions.

If you’re interested in fiction try Laura Esquivel’s Like Water for Chocolate where a woman’s emotions are infused into the food she prepares. Chocolat by Joanne Harris brings more magical, this time to the world of sweets. For something as light and sweet as angel food cake (more food jokes!), reach for Jeanne Ray’s Eat Cake, a delightful story about a woman saving the day with her baking. (Fun Fact: Ray is award-winning author Ann Patchet’s mother!) Like graphic novels? They you must read Relish: My Life in the Kitchen by Lucy Knisley which sets the standard for excellence in graphic novels.

For many years my number one, go-to, loved-by-everyone book recommendation was Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe by Fannie Flagg. It seems like everyone has read it by now but if you haven’t, you’re in for a real treat, by turns (very) funny, heartbreaking and bittersweet, it’s a joyful celebration of community brought together by a diner.

There are lots of food mysteries too including the Tea Shop mysteries by Laura Childs and the Hannah Swenson mysteries by Joanne Fluke.

For non-fiction there’s Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle where she and her family spend a year eating only what they can raise themselves or purchase from neighboring farmers. Julie and Julia by Julie Powell follows Powell as she sets out to cook every recipe in Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking. The Gourmet Cookie Book is a unique way to study history – it lists the single best cookie recipe from Gourmet magazine (now defunct) from 1941 to 2009. The recipes reflect things such as food shortages and rationing during World War II and the trend for new and exotic in later years. It’s fascinating!

And it seems like any memoir set in France (A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle) or Italy (Under the Tuscan Sun by Francis Mayes) is going to have large, lovely portions dedicated to the joy of eating.

Finally, the library has a huge selection of cookbooks from exotic coffee-table worthy tomes to practical, simple meal plans. You’ll find a wide range of ethnic and specialty topics, many with gorgeous, mouth-watering photography. (My Mom used to read cookbooks like a novel, reading and relishing each recipe whether she planned to attempt to make it or not.) If anyone should happen to read one of those lovely cookbooks and happen to drop off some homemade cookies or bread or cake to prove that they finished this month’s Challenge, well, that would just be a shame, wouldn’t it?

I’m not the cook that my Mother was (Although I’m quite accomplished at eating! ha) so I’m going to pass on the cookbooks. Instead I’m planning on reading Delicious by Ruth Reichl about a woman who takes over a food magazine just as it collapses. Reichl has written some award-winning memoirs (which would also be great for this month’s Challenge) with gorgeous titles such as Comfort Me with Apples, Garlic and Sapphires, Tender at the Bone and a new one coming out in April, Save Me the Plums. Oh gosh, I’m so hungry now….

What about you? What delicious book do you plan to read in February?

 

 

Online Reading Challenge – January Wrap-Up

Hello Fellow Readers!

How did your reading/listening/movie watching go in January? As I mentioned earlier in the month, I outdid myself and read two medicine-related books! And they were both great!

My Name is Mary Sutter by Robin Oliveira. Opening just as the Civil War begins, this book is about a young midwife who yearns to be a surgeon. However, it is nearly impossible for a woman to be admitted to medical school or even to intern with a doctor and Mary has been turned down repeatedly. However, the outbreak of the war creates possibilities and Mary leaves her comfortable home in Albany and travels to Washington alone in an effort to help the wounded. Women as nurses (let alone doctors) are viewed with suspicion and considered unnecessary since, at this exuberant beginning, everyone believes the war will be over in three months. Mary ends up volunteering at an understaffed, poorly supplied, decaying hospital acting more as a cleaning person than a nurse. Gradually the doctor (there is only one doctor for the dozens of wounded) trusts Mary and allows her to assist him, her training as a midwife making her comfortable with blood and suffering. It is training that she will need when the wounded begin pouring in with horrific injuries, many requiring amputation and many that they are helpless to cure.

The Civil War lasted much longer than three months, of course and the reluctance to accept women as nurses was quickly abandoned. Woefully unprepared for the human cost, doctors and nurses struggle to care for patients under brutal conditions. Mary’s story as she navigates harsh realities is fascinating and her courage and strength are inspiring.

The Winter Soldier by Daniel Mason is set during World War I and takes place on the Eastern Front of the war, far removed from the trenches of France but no less horrific. Raised in comfort in opulent Vienna, Lucius has not even completed his medical training when the war breaks out. He volunteers as a surgeon and is sent to a remote outpost in the Carpathian Mountains where a church has been requisitioned as a hospital. Supplies are nearly nonexsistent, the weather is brutal and the only medical personnel is a nurse, some orderlies and Lucius himself who has never actually performed an operation.

Margarete, the nurse, subtly assists Lucius when he must perform amputations almost immediately. Over time they become a team, working to heal their patients and keep them safe. Safe because not only do they have to grapple with injury, disease, shell shock and weather, they must watch out for recruiters who comb the hospitals looking for “deserters” to return to the front. So desperate are they for men, the Army will force anyone back into the war no matter their injury, so long as they can walk.

Relatively safe from the immediate fighting, this changes when the Austrian army suddenly retreats. Caught in the chaos, Lucius and Margarete are separated and lost to each other. Lucius finishes his war in the relative safety of Vienna and then goes in search of Margarete.

I really enjoyed both of these books – they are hard to put down. The wartime action is gripping and both Mary’s and Lucius’ personal stories add another layer – each spends some time at home during their wars and the contrast between battle and home is shocking. The grim realities of war are difficult to read about, but the sad fact is, war has always created many opportunities for the advancement of medicine whether through the discovery of new drugs or new techniques. Reading about some of that and how medical staff coped is fascinating. Both are highly recommended.

Now it’s your turn – what did you read this month?

The Force by Don Winslow

I find most of my reads while I’m looking through journals at work or when patrons suggest authors to me that I should try. Don Winslow came to my attention both ways. One day I saw his newest book in a journal I was flipping through. The next day a patron came to the desk and, through conversation, suggested I should try one of his books. As I’m a believer in coincidence, I knew I needed to give him a try.

Wanting to start with a standalone first to see if I liked him before I dragged myself into yet another series, I decided to start with Winslow’s newest standalone, The Force . This book is a fantastic representation of Winslow’s crime writing abilities. He is a gifted crime writer, proving that he really understands the subject matter that he chooses to write about.

In The Force, readers are brought into the world of Denny Malone and the mean streets of New York. Malone says at the start of this book, ‘Our ends know our beginnings, but the reverse isn’t true’. If you knew how your life, your job, or your relationship was going to end at the beginning, would you change your decisions? What about at the end of your career? If you could go back and change, would you? At the beginning of this novel, Malone finds himself contemplating all the decisions that he has made throughout his life. This book serves as a glimpse into everything that happened in Malone’s life that led him to where he is now.

Denny Malone just wants to be a good cop. When he started work as a police officer, all he wanted to do was make a difference for the public that he served. Now Malone is the king of Manhattan North. Working as a highly decorated NYPD detective sergeant has changed Malone from the straight and narrow cop that he started out to be to his current position as the real leader of what is known as ‘Da Force’. Malone is a cop who knows that there are lines that, once you cross them, can never be uncrossed. Knowing that doesn’t stop him from crossing those lines, a little at first and then bigger and bigger. People in Manhattan North, cops and the public alike, know not to mess with Malone or his team because he isn’t afraid to use his position of power to get what he wants.

While Malone is working to clean up Manhattan North from drugs, guns, and gangs, there is decidedly some shady activity going on behind the scenes. While Malone and his team are credited with the biggest heroin bust in the city’s history, some(okay A LOT) of their actions surrounding said bust were not 100% legal. Since that bust, Malone and his partners have stolen millions of dollars worth of drugs and cash. If word got out of what they had done, they would all be in a great load of trouble.

Malone is going about his daily life surrounded by other corrupt cops, politicians, lawyers, and judges just struggling to provide the best for the public, his family, and himself. Called into a meeting that quickly turns sour, Malone is faced with a choice that, no matter where he turns, will end badly. He finds himself balancing on a thin tightrope being pulled in multiple directions. Malone must choose who to betray: his family, the woman he loves, his partners, the police force, or his brother. Will he end up betraying them all? While Malone finds himself going through this struggle, the city he loves so dearly, New York, is on verge of collapse. A racial confrontation between the police and the public could destroy the city, let alone the nation.

The topics covered in this novel are incredibly relevant to today.  Several of the events discussed within happened in real life. I really enjoyed how Winslow pulled events from today’s headlines and incorporated them into the fictional world that he created for Winslow and his fellow police detectives. Read this book and let me know what you think!


This book is also available in the following formats:

Watching You by Lisa Jewell

I am a huge fan of mystery and psychological thrillers and Watching You by Lisa Jewell is a fabulous addition to the genre.  The twists and turns in this thriller will keep you guessing until literally the last paragraph.  The book begins with a murder in an affluent English town but the reader does not know the who, what, when, where or how.  With an opening such as this, the tension grows and every character’s motivations are suspect until the true killer is revealed.

Newlyweds Joey Mullen and her husband Alfie have just moved to the exclusive neighborhood of Melville Heights in Bristol, England.  Unable to afford rent on their own, they take up residence with Joey’s brother and sister-in-law.  As a newcomer in the neighborhood, Joey befriends Tom Fitzwilliam, the beloved local school headmaster who lives two doors away and her initial friendship turns quickly from infatuation to obsession.  But, unbeknownst to Joey,  someone is watching through their photographic lens.  It is Tom’s teenage son, Freddie, who documents the goings on in Melville Heights and sees the blossoming relationship his dad is starting with Joey.

But Joey isn’t the only person in this neighborhood who is obsessed with Tom Fitzwilliam.  Bess, a young student at the school, is observed slipping in and out of the headmaster’s office by Jenna, another teen in the neighborhood and the speculation grows.  Does Tom have secrets to hide?   To add to the intrigue Jenna’s mother is convinced a group of neighbors, headed by Fitzwilliam, is stalking her.  Young Freddie and Jenna join forces and with their prying eyes discover a decades old suicide which will bring motivations for murder to light.  Everyone has a reason, but who is willing to kill in order to keep a secret and enact revenge?

About half way throughout the book I thought I knew the ending, but I was completely shocked at the culprit and the twisted motivations behind the killing.  I highly recommend Watching You for suspense and thriller fans!

 

 

 

 

 

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