Online Reading Club – Mid-Month Check In

Hello Readers!

How is your reading going this month? Have you found something good, or are you still searching? If you’re short on time, here are a couple of movie suggestions that fit into our Education theme!

Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark with Harrison Ford and Karen Allen. Remember? Indiana is a professor of archaeology! Granted, there aren’t a lot of classroom/professor scenes but nevertheless, beyond the bullwhip and fedora and deathly fear of snakes, he was a teacher. It does beg the question though – how come none of my college professors looked like Harrison Ford?

Dead Poet’s Society with Robin Williams. When a new English professor shakes up the established teaching curriculum at a strict boarding school he changes the lives of his students forever. A homage to the beloved teachers that do so much to inspire and motivate us.

Mr Hollands Opus starring Richard Dreyfuss. A frustrated composer learns that his true calling is teaching others and his legacy becomes not a piece of music but the generations of students he has taught.

Legally Blonde with Reese Witherspoon. Blonde and beautiful does not equal dumb and unmotivated. When El is dumped by her boyfriend, she follows him to law school where she finds out that she has a brilliant legal mind and that she doesn’t need a loser boyfriend to succeed. Fun and light.

Travel Talk – Armchair Traveler

This month in Travel Talk we’re going to explore travel books. I’m not talking about those giant coffee table books that are filled with artsy, professional photography (although those can be fun too). I’m talking about the books that you can settle down with and read, follow someone into a different culture or country and vicariously experience their adventures. These are the kind of books that will give you travel fever, all from the comfort of your armchair. Here are a few of my favorites.

Miles from Nowhere by Barbara Savage. This is the book that really hit me with the travel bug, not only to see new places, but that you didn’t have to be rich and fancy to go places. Barbara and her husband go on an around-the-world bicycle trip that is full of highs, lows and some scary moments. The writing style is fun and engaging and you’ll find it nearly impossible to put down. A great eye-opener into many different cultures and attitudes. Highly recommended. (Just don’t read the back of the book until after you finish)

A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson. Is there anyone that hasn’t read this book yet? Come on – it’s easily one of the funniest books I’ve ever read! Although the chapter on bears might scare you into never camping (or walking in the woods)! Bryson and his friend Katz undertake hiking the Appalachian Trail, underestimating it’s difficulty and the commitment required. Katz is extremely casual in his approach; Bryson is his usual keenly observant, riotously irreverent self and comes away from his experience with a new appreciation of the land and nature. Highly recommended.

Wild by Cheryl Strayed. After making several poor life decisions, Strayed gets the crazy idea to walk the Pacific Crest Trail which runs from Mexico to Canada. It’s a long, rigorous hike and Cheryl is not prepared, but she sticks with it and along the way she finds herself. The long days of isolation and forced self-reliance help her find a reserve of strength within herself that she had never known, cleared her mind, settled her emotions and helped set her priorities. An inspiring story of growth and renewal.

These are all memoirs, but a great armchair travel books doesn’t have to be non-fiction. Any novel that sets you in a different place can give you wanderlust; for me that’s just about anything set in Paris or London or on the prairies and mountains of America.

What about you – what have you read that makes you want to dust off your suitcase? Let us know in the comments!

That’s What Frenemies Are For by Sophie Littlefield and Lauren Gershell

Making friends as an adult is difficult. Sophie Littlefield and Lauren Gershell talk about the delicate balance between friends and enemies, as well as the different lengths that people are willing to do to in order to make friends in their newest book, That’s What Frenemies Are For. Hidden motives abound for all in this novel that grabs you by your private school, Manhattan socialite education and refuses to let go.

That’s What Frenemies Are For by Sophie Littlefield and Lauren Gershell talks about how easily influence and cache in different groups can change as readers follow the life of a Manhattan socialite who finds the next biggest craze in the form of a peppy spin instructor and an underperforming fitness studio. Her decision to rehabilitate the studio and the instructor in order to impress her friends and get back her social cache proves to turn into more than she can handle.

Julia Summers has it all: two children who love her, an adoring husband with a successful job, an apartment in the city, and a house in the Hamptons. Having finally made it to the top of her friend group, Julia influences almost everything the group does. Nothing happens without her approval or without her knowing about it. As a result, Julia is stunned when she finds others in her friend group suddenly vying for her position of power and cutting her out of decisions. When everyone starts to head to the Hamptons for the summer, Julia’s family is stuck in the city when catastrophe hits their Hamptons’ house.

Stuck in the city for the summer, Julia is desperate to reinvent herself before her friends come back. Looking for the newest fad, Julia finds Flame. Flame is the biggest new elite fitness craze that has the possibility to be even better if they just changed a few things. While going to Flame, Julia takes classes from Tatum, a giggly, energetic instructor who Julia decides to transform in the guise of improving Flame’s profit margin and helping to get the word out about the business.

Julia takes on the task to overhaul Flame and Tatum, but in a sneaky way that she hopes isn’t completely obvious to everyone around her. Things slowly start to spiral out of Julia’s control when she discovers that Tatum isn’t as docile as she initially thought. Julia’s comeback doesn’t go as expected and Tatum starts to take over everything herself.

With Julia’s relationships with her friends in turmoil, Julia turns to her family for comfort. Much to her surprise, her husband’s business goes belly up in a most unexpected way. Left with almost no support system and friends who have completely turned their backs on her, Julia has to rethink everything that she had previously held so dear. What does she really want out of life? What is most important to her? Is her perfect life worth it?

The Biggest Little Farm on DVD

guest post from Laura V

The Biggest Little Farm documentary follows John and Molly Chester as they transition from L.A. apartment dwellers with cool jobs to organic and biodynamic agriculture farmers. He is a filmmaker and she was a personal chef and food blogger. Molly continues to blog and has written a traditional foods cookbook. This beautifully touching story unfolds in a captivating manner and has breathtaking camera shots that had me wondering how John achieved them.

The story’s main characters include John, Molly, a rescued dog named Todd, a regenerative agriculture guru named Alan York, Emma the pig, their son Beauden, and the living, breathing, 210 acre farm north of Los Angeles. The film opens with a wildfire quickly approaching the farm. We come to realize how utterly catastrophic this would be as we view footage of hundreds of animals and thousands of fruit trees. They close the film by bringing the story back to the fire as we find out what happened.

I’m guessing that much acreage near Los Angeles had to have cost more than they personally invested or garnered in contributions from their friends but financial details weren’t addressed. Alan guided them through the steps necessary to regenerate the overused, unhealthy soil to basically build a thriving ecosystem that could be somewhat self-sustaining. Somewhat is the operative word. It was heart wrenching to see one problem after another crop up after so much effort. It was equally heartwarming to see them find a solution to a problem right before them, like using existing organisms as natural control for a pest infestation with some modifications in their structure or practices.

I felt the young couple’s exhaustion and thrills along with them since I’m trying to use regenerative practices (no till, composting, rain garden, using predatory insects for pest control) in my gardens and yard with difficulties that now seem almost trivial. It was honestly difficult to understand how they tackled such a large project in such a short amount of time. I can’t imagine they slept much for a few years. Although they didn’t mention the name of the organization from which the volunteers were recruited, I believe they may have been from WWOOF, World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms.

This documentary is as honest as one can get within the short span of a film. The adorable opening animated sequence highlights Molly’s optimistic outlook on what she pictures the farm to be. The reality is much harsher but the rewards are literally life-changing for them, their employees and volunteers, vegetation, soil microbes, and carbon sequestration for the planet’s overall health. I know they’ll continue to experience problems with pests, predators, weather, and climate change but it looks like they’ll be able to handle whatever comes their way.

Catch and Kill: Lies, Spies and a Conspiracy to Protect Predators by Ronan Farrow

guest post by Lexie R

I am only slightly embarrassed to admit that when I need a break from the serious news of the day, I turn to celebrity gossip. I love reading about the secret inner-workings of the entertainment industry, the behind-the-scenes machinations that make the celebrity machine look so effortless, and the blind items about who is misbehaving. So when journalists like Jodi Kantor, Megan Twohey, and Ronan Farrow broke the news about accusations of producer Harvey Weinstein’s decades of abusing women, I thought to myself, “I’ve read about this on blind items sites a hundred times, how is it that none of these people knew about this?” Well, as is made clear in Ronan Farrow’s gripping new book Catch and Kill: Lies, Spies, and a Conspiracy to Protect Predators, it sure seems like a whole lot of people did, in fact, know.

Catch and Kill takes the reader through the process of how Farrow investigated what was previously only whispered about: claims that mega-producer Harvey Weinstein routinely harassed and abused women for decades. If you were a “Friend of Harvey”, you made it in the entertainment industry; if you weren’t, you didn’t. For a non-fiction work that everyone knows the ending to, I found Farrow’s account to be breathless, fast-pasted, and engaging. Though I had read Farrow’s reporting of the accusations against Weinstein, there was a lot I didn’t know about how the story was investigated and all the hurdles Farrow faced in trying to report it. What was most startling was Farrow’s account of NBC executives who, after months of reporting and collecting firsthand accounts and even an audio recording of Weinstein admitting to an assault, suddenly wanted him to stop talking to sources and drop the story. This part of the story is still ongoing, with NBC disputing Farrow’s claims and alleging that he had no story until he went to The New Yorker and published it a month later.

One of the more thriller-esque parts of the book was the way he weaved in details about Weinstein apparently hiring an Israeli intelligence agency to follow Farrow and gather information on him in an effort to smear his reputation. Every few chapters or so we get a glimpse of two men sitting outside Farrow’s home in a silver Nissan or just so happening to be at the same restaurant as him, and later the precautions Farrow had to take when it because clear that he was in fact being followed and his phone was being targeted. But even in such serious parts of the book Farrow managed to include some levity; my favorite of these such moments was the revelation that the private investigators assigned to tail Farrow’s boyfriend Jon Lovett (of podcasts Pod Save America and Lovett or Leave It) gave up because Lovett’s routine was too boring (to which Jon replied “I’m interesting!…I went to an escape room!”)

All throughout the book, Farrow makes it clear that though he received many acclaims for bringing this information to light, the real heroes of story are the women who risked everything to come forward and speak up about what had been done to them. Many of these women held onto their stories for years because they had seen others lose their careers after trying to speak up; for them to do so at this time was courageous and Farrow is quick to point that out at every turn.

This is a great read if you’re interested in the incredibly thorough process of reporting, real-life espionage, and demolishing institutions that empower and encourage abusers. Highly recommended.

Dead Cells Video Game

guest post by Wesley B

Although I’ve been playing video games for well over two decades, on the historical scale, gaming is a relatively young medium. As such, it’s not surprising that it has undergone many changes – growing pains, one could say – as it struggles to come into its own as an artform. Over the past decade, big budget AAA games have settled into a fairly rigid formula; fortunately, at the same time there has been an indie game renaissance, with brilliantly creative developers putting new spins on classic genres.

Two of the most popular genres in indie gaming today, despite formerly being rather niche, are roguelites and metroidvanias. The primary feature of roguelites is permadeath; when you die, that’s it. While some progress, such as items or skills, might persist between deaths, each run starts over from the beginning, giving you just one life to make it to the final boss. Metroidvanias (a portmanteau of the two franchises that cemented and popularized the genre, Metroid and Castlevania), on the other hand, are (typically 2D) platformers with an emphasis on exploring large, interconnected maps. Usually you acquire power-ups throughout the game, which then allow you to reach previously inaccessible areas.

Dead Cells, one of my most-played games on my Switch, is a hybrid of these two genres: a roguelitevania, if you will. While its genre might be an awkward mouthful, the game itself is a masterclass in elegant simplicity. You play as a headless prisoner brought back to life in a ruined kingdom. Using a combination of two weapons (which you choose from a huge assortment of swords, daggers, hammers, whips, shields, bows, spells, and more) and two skills (chosen from various grenades, traps, and abilities), you fight your way out of the prison, then through different areas of the kingdom. The art style is gorgeous, with each region looking dramatically different with radically varied color palettes, and the animation is tight and fluid, important in a game where twitch combat is of the utmost importance.

The game is hard, and when you inevitably die, you’re brought back to life in the prison to try, try again. Fortunately, as you fight you collect cells, which you can invest in various upgrades that carry over between runs. While the game is never easy, you can at least give yourself progressively more of a fighting chance, so you never feel like you wasted your time when a run is cut short. Even when (if) you finally beat the game, there is a hard mode for even more of a challenge, plus new daily challenges each day, where you play a region with various modifiers, competing with other players for the high score. Dead Cells is hard to master, but even harder to put down.

Online Reading Challenge – November

Readers! It’s November! That means it’s time for our new topic for the Online Reading Challenge and this month it’s – Education!

Education is a topic that affects all of us, whether we barely made it through high school or have several advanced degrees. Plus, I’m a big believer in “never stop learning” – exploring and finding out about new interests and topics should never stop.

When I was putting together this month’s list of books, I found a lot fewer books on education and schooling than I expected, so I’ve supplemented with books about books (some of which you may remember from our month of Reading!) Of course, you’re free to read whatever you’d like. Maybe you’ll picked up a new hobby and would like to learn more about it or you’re suddenly fascinated with the economic growth of Iceland. Dive in! Enjoy! Here are a few more standard titles to get you started.

Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins. I loved this book, not only for the setting (Paris!) but for the way Anna grew from a self-conscious, frightened girl into a confident young woman. When her parents send her to Paris for her final year of high school, Anna is angry and defiant but gradually her reluctance changes to acceptance and happiness as she learns how to rely on herself. A fun and charming book.

The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach. One small miscalculation, wholly accidental and unintentional, changes the lives of two college baseball players and those around them forever. Lots of baseball and heartbreak.

The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Richardson. Based on true stories, this book follows Cussy Mary Carter as she travels by horseback in the Appalachian Mountains delivering books to isolated farms on her route during the Great Depression. She encounters danger (not everyone approves of the books she delivers), prejudice (Cussy’s unusual skin color causes many to fear and shun her) and hazardous conditions but remains resolute. Cussy is a great character – brave, determined and moral.

I’m planning on reading Looking for Alaska by John Green which takes place at a prep school in Alabama. It is described as wrenching and joyful coming-of-age story. As a huge fan of Green’s A Fault in Their Stars, I have high hopes for this one!

Now it’s your turn. What will read in November?

 

Online Reading Challenge – October Wrap-Up

Hello Fellow Reading Fans!

How did your October Challenge reading go this month? The topic of Nature gave us a lot of options – I hope you found one you liked!

I had a good month; I read (and am now hooked on) the Joe Pickett mystery series by C.J. Box. I’ve actually read several in the series (there are 19 so far with number 20 coming out early next year), but I’ll just talk about the first in the series, Open Season.

Joe Pickett is the new game warden in Twelve Sleep, Wyoming near the Bighorn Mountains. It’s beautiful country, teeming with wildlife and natural resources, but it also seems to attract some people who prefer to live outside the law. Unlike his predecessor, Joe refuses to look the other way or accept bribes and that makes him unpopular with the hunters and fishermen who don’t follow the rules. When two outfitters are murdered and a third man dies in Joe’s backyard, the local sheriff decides that the third man killed the first two, them committed suicide and declares the case closed.

However, this just doesn’t add up for Joe and he begins poking around, looking for clues. The secrets and conspiracies he begins to unravel could be catastrophic for some – including himself and his family. Box navigates the various political issues that are part of modern Wyoming (economic, ecological, environmental) with a delicate touch, showing that each viewpoint has valid concerns, but also has radicals that won’t allow compromise. Joe is a man of few words and often gets himself in trouble by his refusal to back down or look away. He adores his wife and daughters and loves the beauty and wildness of the countryside. He isn’t bigger-than-life heroic, but is determined and observant and able to find solutions that others don’t – or won’t – see.

I especially enjoyed Box’s writing style. Descriptive without being flowery, the harsh but beautiful landscape, unforgiving weather and wildlife of Wyoming comes to life vividly – you can almost smell the sagebrush or see the flow of a pronghorn herd racing across the plateau. This ability to put the reader into the physical story reminds me a lot of Tony Hillerman and his mysteries set in the Southwest. I highly recommend the Joe Pickett mystery series – but be careful, you’ll likely get hooked!

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

Commendably Creepy Campfire Tales – Halloween

When thinking about the Halloween season, there is no more iconic way to celebrate the holiday then gathering your friends and family around the campfire and sharing short scary stories. In this blog post, I have collected some of the best scary short stories for you to share with loved ones around the campfire this Halloween season.

Haunted Nights edited by Lisa Morton and Ellen Datlow

This anthology of short stories all feature tales that focus their themes around the Halloween holiday itself. Urban legends, trick or treating, haunted Jack-o-Lanterns and more are all in this collection of short horror goodies.

The Bazaar of Bad Dreams by Stephen King

What better way to celebrate the season of horror than by reading a collection of works from the King of Horror fiction. This collection features a story about a man who is cursed to relive his life, death and birth over and over again in a never ending cycle, specters that haunt men in their dying days and many other creepy and deeply personal stories.

Scream and Scream Again! edited by R. L. Stine

The best part about the Halloween season is getting to share the frights with the whole family. This collection of short horror stories for Juvenile readers is exactly the thing to provide frights for those of all ages. Collected from some of the best selling authors across the horror and mystery genre, this anthology collection is sure to bring a chill down your spine as you bundle up around the campfire to share in the terrifying tales of this autumn holiday.

These titles and many more horrifying tales are all available at your Davenport Public Library. For more recommendations like these to get you into the Halloween spirit, check out our Halloween LibGuide for more wretched recommendations.

Putting in a Good Word for the Werewolf – Halloween

Werewolves, the fluffiest of the Halloween creatures. They have haunted the streets of London and became enthralled in love triangles in the Pacific Northwest. They often serve as allegory for humanities most animalistic tendencies. This collection of werewolf novels is meant to horrify and inspire self reflection. Are we really that different from the monsters we create in our fiction?

Cabal by Clive Barker

This Novella follows Boone, a man who believes he is a serial killer, but has no recollection of killing anyone. As he becomes convinced that he is indeed a murderer after visits with his psychiatrist, he begins looking for the mythical city of Midian a place that offers protection for monsters called the Night Breed. This horrifying tale has many twists and turns that keep the reader on their toes and his a wholly unique experience to read.

Hemlock Grove by Brian McGreevy

At the core of it, Hemlock Grove is a mystery. When girls are showing up dead and the two protagonists Roman and Peter are singled out as the most likely suspects, it is up to them to get to the bottom of the case and nab the real killer. the catch, Peter is a werewolf. This story is one that is full of interesting revelations that keep the reader on the edge of their seat for the whole ride so I won’t spoil any more than just stating the premise.

Red Moon by Benjamin Percy

5% of the population are werewolves. They are drugged so as to keep them from transforming into their wolf forms and it has been made illegal for werewolves to use their powers. Red Moon is all about asking a question that is a common werewolf trope “who is the real monster?”. Dealing with themes such as terrorism, domestic surveillance, prejudice and many more. This werewolf epic is well-worth the read.

These titles and many more horrifying tales are all available at your Davenport Public Library. For more recommendations like these to get you into the Halloween spirit, check out our Halloween LibGuide for more wretched recommendations. And always remember to beware the full moon.

 

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