The Dutch House by Ann Patchett

A beautiful Victorian house situated in an upscale Philadelphia neighborhood becomes the focal point for a family broken by secrets and jealousy in Ann Patchett’s newest book The Dutch House.

Danny Conroy is just six when his mother leaves and never returns. His father is withdrawn and taciturn – not a model of warmth and caring. However, his sister Maeve, who is 12 when their mother leaves, steps in and becomes his greatest ally. The bond between the siblings is very strong and loving and only strengthens when, out of the blue, their father remarries.

The new stepmother, Andrea arrives with her two little girls. The kids all get along fairly well, but Andrea has no interest in Danny and Maeve and works diligently to exclude them from the family.  Maeve is moved from her favored large bedroom to an smaller room so that one of the little girls can have it and the housekeepers, who helped raise Danny and Maeve, are shunted aside. Their father becomes more and more distant, finding as many excuses as possible to be absent.

The Dutch house (as it is known in the neighborhood) stands central to all of these trials. Built by old money, their father purchased it with all of the furniture and family portraits of the former owners included. It was a symbol to Danny and Maeve’s father of his success, but it was also, with it’s overwhelming opulence and expensive furnishings, what drove their mother away. Andrea married their father because she wanted the house and the status that it gave her.  When Danny and Maeve are forced to leave the house it haunts them for years.

Now, this all sounds pretty glum and it’s true that the book is sometimes sad, but it is also about forgiveness, redemption and letting go of the past. I loved the relationship between Danny and Maeve, a brother-sister duo that rang true – great loyalty and love but they also aren’t afraid to poke at each other. Patchett’s writing style is lovely – smooth and graceful but never fussy. Her characters are like us – smart and funny and flawed, but never beyond saving. Read this for the intriguing story, the gorgeous writing and an ending that brings hope and recovery.

 

I Owe You One by Sophie Kinsella

Sophie Kinsella was one of my favorite authors in high school. I stopped reading her when I went away to college, but recently started reading her books again when I discovered her newest book, I Owe You One.

I Owe You One tells the story of Fixie Farr. For as long as she can remember, Fixie has felt the urgent need to put things right. If a friend needs help, if a shelf is stained, if a picture is crooked, Fixie has to fix it. She starts to fidget, bouncing and moving around until things are back to normal.

This trait is something that her friends and family members often take advantage of, but Fixie has trouble acknowledging this. Ever since her father died, Fixie started to take his motto: ‘Family First’ even more to heart. If any family member asks for help, she is always willing to help for anything.

Stopping at a coffee shop on her way home, a handsome stranger asks her to watch his laptop so he can step out to take a call. Fixie agrees and actually ends up saving the laptop from destruction. As a result, the grateful owner Sebastian writes an IOU on a coffee sleeve, attaches his business card to it, and tells Fixie that he owes her and to let him know how he can help her. Fixie does not believe that this was genuine and laughs off his offer. She would never accept an IOU from a complete stranger.

When she arrives back home, her childhood crush Ryan shows up unexpectedly. Ryan is having a hard time getting a job, believing that he deserves much more than a mediocre job since he used to work in Hollywood. Learning that Seb owes Fixie a favor, they decide to ask Seb to give Ryan a job.

Seb and Fixie begin to have a relationship as IOUs flow back and forth between the two. These range from small insignificant and life-changing ones. Throughout all of these interactions, Fixie finds herself wanting to leave her current ‘family first’ focused life to find a life that makes herself happier. As tensions come to a head and her mother’s return home from a long vacation looms closer, Fixie realizes that she must make a change if she wants her family to start taking her seriously.

I enjoyed listening to this book. Watching Fixie grow throughout this book and seeing her character develop had me rooting that she would get the life that she wanted. Give this a read and let me know what you think.


This book is also available in the following formats:

Stolen Justice: The Struggle for African American Voting Rights by Lawrence Goldstone

“Whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government; whenever things get so far wrong as to attract their notice, they may be relied on to set them to rights.”              -Thomas Jefferson

An election year is an exciting time to be in Iowa. It is also a good time to take the opportunity to raise your awareness of the history of voting in our country.

Does it seem like a tall order to go out on a cold, dark night and spend several hours at a caucus when there is work to be done or family to look after at home?  Does it feel like a chore to remember to diverge from the usual daily route to go cast a vote on election day? I am reluctant to admit to you that it has, at times, been so for me.

We would do well to remember that so many before us have suffered mightily to secure such rights and bring us to where we are today. Let us pause this February -Black History Month- during this election year to reflect on the historical significance of African American voting rights in particular.

In his book Stolen Justice: The Struggle for African American Voting Rights, Lawrence Goldstone chronicles the struggles encountered and overcome by black Americans whose voting rights have been suppressed. Goldstone shows us many of the ways voter suppression and oppression has happened through violence, misinformation and even through the manipulation of laws.

Have you heard about the widely respected mid-19th century Harvard University professor by the name of Louis Agassiz who promoted a science called polygenism?  Polygenism purported that blacks and whites developed from different ancestors and that blacks were not even human. Agassiz and others like him imposed this idea as so-called proof that blacks were inferior and unsuited for anything but menial labor.  Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life was published in 1859 and changed that theory.  According to Goldstone, “Agassiz furiously condemned natural selection as ‘a crude and insolent challenge to the eternal verities, objectionable as science and abominable for is religious blasphemies.'” Though polygenism eventually died, racial inequity did not.

Learn more by checking this book out from the Learning Collection at The Library at Main.

Online Reading Challenge – Mid-Month Check

Hey Readers! How’s your February reading? Need a few more suggestions? Here are some movies that would count for our month of Gone with the Wind.

Lincoln with a virtuoso, Oscar winning performance from Daniel Day Lewis, this movie follows an Abraham Lincoln worn down by the war as he works to ensure the passage of the 13th Amendment near the end of the Civil War.

Cold Mountain, another Oscar winning film (for Best Supporting Actress Rene Zellwinger), brings to life Charles Fraizer’s novel of a Confederate soldier who deserts and tries to return to his young wife. Also starring Jude Law and Nicole Kidman.

Mercy Street, a television series that originally aired on PBS, is set in 1862 in Alexandria, Virginia which is located near the border between North and South. The Union has taken over a hotel owned by Southern sympathizers and have made it into a Union Army hospital.

Ken Burns’ documentary The Civil War brought visual storytelling to a whole new level when it aired on PBS. More than a recounting of battles, it delves into the lives of those involved, from the Generals to the ordinary soldier to those left at home.

And of course, there’s Gone with the Wind our inspiration for the month and well worth watching (or re-watching!)

 

The Hidden Half of Nature by David R. Montgomery and Anne Bikle

guest post by Laura V

After reading Montgomery’s most recent book, Growing a Revolution followed by Josh Axe’s Eat Dirt, the parallels I had begun to see my separate explorations of regenerative agriculture and human gut health seemed to align beyond a shadow of doubt. Then I stumbled upon one of Montgomery’s earlier books, The Hidden Half of Nature, in which he explains the biological backgrounds and importance of the two similar systems.

Montgomery and Biklé go about transforming a backyard full of lifeless dirt into a thriving ecosystem, above and below ground. Through extreme composting, they mimic the natural buildup of soil via decaying matter on an accelerated time frame nature could never accomplish. It is when Biklé finds herself stricken with cancer that the couple decides to fortify their gut microbiome with specific foods just as they “fed” their soil to provide a hospitable environment for good microbes. Dietary changes ensue and we get a biology lesson on the digestive system that probably no one learns in school…yet.

The biology lesson was interesting but I admit to my mind wandering a bit during those parts. I’m not a scientist so I just need a broad picture of what I’m learning, not so much the details. It was fun to learn about Lynn Margulis, a rebel biologist who in 1970 first hypothesized chloroplasts and mitochondria originated from ancient bacteria. The segment on the discovery of penicillin and other antibiotics was also amazing history.

What I found most fascinating and frustrating is throughout the industrial revolution and rise of synthetic chemical fertilizers, there have always been scientists or farmers who have sounded warnings that went unheeded. These scientists or citizen scientists showed tests crops in which fertilizing with compost, crop rotation, and no-tilling yielded heartier and more nutritious plants. I think the hubris of the scientific age along with chemical companies’ grip on agriculture has effectively buried all of these voices of reason under a field of increasingly useless dirt.

The study of both soil and human microbiology is relatively new and exciting. It is terrible to learn the percentage of nutrients plants have lost since the use of synthetic chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and fungicides in the pursuit of greater yields. It’s no wonder people might have weight problems while eating large quantities of high calorie, low nutrient foods. On the flip side, people have lost their internal partners in nutrient absorption and natural defenders against bad germs due to the overuse of antibiotics.

Ever since men began to see hidden life under a microscope, we’ve been at war with pathogenic microbes, not understanding we’ve also been killing the allies that have been helping us thrive for millennia.

The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware

Ruth Ware is a suspenseful mystery author who has consistently put out a new bestseller every year since 2015. Her newest book, The Turn of the Key,  takes the idea of a ‘smart’ home and juxtaposes that high modernity against the ruggedly beautiful Scottish Highlands.

Rowan Caine wasn’t looking for a new job when she stumbled upon the advertisement online looking for a new live-in nanny. The description made the job sound too good to be true. Being a nanny to a wealthy family living in the Scottish Highlands sounded like a dream, plus the pay didn’t hurt. Heading out to the interview, Rowan becomes increasingly nervous when she arrives at Heatherbrae to see all the technology that essentially runs the home for you. After getting the job, Rowan moves in to Heatherbrae and everything starts to change.

The family is made up of three young girls, an older girl away at boarding school, a father seldom home, and a mother with never-ending boundless energy. Throw in two rambunctious big dogs and a handsome handyman and Rowan can’t comprehend why the family has such a hard time keeping a nanny. As soon as she moves in, Rowan begins to struggle with learning the technology that runs the home. Even the simplest tasks are controlled through hidden panels in each room. Consoling herself with the fact that the mom will be around for a few weeks to help her establish a routine with the girls, Rowan is shocked when both mom and dad take off the day after she arrives, leaving her alone with the children, the dogs, and the increasingly creepy house.

Desperate to show she is capable, Rowan tries to do her best. It doesn’t take long before she begins to question her decision to take this job. Strange noises in the night and notes left around for her to find combined with the house’s technology seeming to revolt against her at every inopportune moment leave Rowan shaky and shattered. The housekeeper doesn’t like Rowan, plus one of the children, Maddie, is becoming increasingly difficult and is acting like it is her life’s mission to make Rowan miserable. The noises from the attic above keep her awake throughout the night, affecting her sleep and her ability to care for the three youngest children. When the oldest girl, Rhiannon, arrives home from boarding school, Rowan’s life slips from bad to worse when Rhiannon starts acting out and disappearing for hours and sometimes all night. Once Rhiannon begins digging into Rowan’s past and finds her secrets, Rowan begins to wonder how and if she will survive her time at Heatherbrae.


This book is available in the following formats:

The Truth Is Out There

Whispered Tone.

Pssst! Over here!

You’ll never guess what I found when I was using Fold3 to write an article for our newsletter. Project Blue Book Military Records! That’s right, reports of UFO Investigations as documented by men who witnessed the events and conducted the investigations. I found the official UFCS Index Cards and reports the US Government made at the time the sightings were made.

From Des Moines, Iowa, yes, Des Moines. On June 24, 1947, a United States Air Force pilot observed an object make a pass at his aircraft at 20,000 feet. The object appeared to climb to approximately 35,000 feet. This 25-second incident was reported eight days after the observation occurred and was not further investigated.

On June 28th 1947, 30 miles northwest of Lake Meade, Nevada there was a sighting of “5 or 6” circular objects at 6,000 feet, estimated speed 285 MPH, with a heading of 120°.  The investigating agent considered the man making the report, “very sincere in the explanation and was not the exaggerating type. He merely stated what he saw and drew no conclusions.”

How could this information be lurking in an unclassified, military, genealogy database in plain sight?

At 7:50 a.m. on June 27, 1950, in Texarkana, Texas a object whose shape is listed at “Flat Top & Round dishpan” of “Bright Aluminum” color was reported moving “plenty fast,” by two witnesses. The military investigator who spoke with them states, “The character and integrity of the observers is beyond reproach. Both are employed in supervisory capacities and possess above-normal intelligence.”

On February 23, 1968, in Evansville, Illinois a 14-year-old playing basketball with a friend say a white object “brighter than a star” covered half the night sky in “2 min. or less,” heading east. The letter he received from a Lt Colonel included an 8-page form to fill out to document his experience.

Want to read more? Log into the Fold3 database and “Browse All Non-military Records,” then look for “Project Blue Book – UFO Investigations.”

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I Know You Know by Gilly MacMillan

Gilly MacMillan released her first book, What She Knew, in 2015. I have been a fan of her books as she writes thrilling psychological suspense. I read a lot of books in this genre, so I know that although many people write thrillers, it takes a lot for them to succeed in crafting a story where readers do not guess the ending. MacMillan’s 2018 release I Know You Know ended with a twist that I didn’t see coming.

I Know You Know is the story of the murders of Charlie Paige and Scott Ashby that happened twenty years ago. The city of Bristol was rocked by the murders of those two young boys whose bodies were dumped and subsequently discovered near a dog racing track in town. Police believed that they found the man responsible and successfully convicted him, but years later, residents around town still have questions that have never been answered.

Cody Swift was best friends with young Charlie and Scott all those years ago. He isn’t satisfied with the conclusion that the police came to and decided to head back to his hometown of Bristol to seek out the truth himself. Cody is planning to record his findings and release them on his new podcast, Time to Tell.

At present at a construction site near where the boys were discovered twenty years ago, human remains have been found. DI John Fletcher, one of the police who found the boys, is left to wonder if the remains found have any connection to what happened to the boys.

Charlie’s mother Jessica Page is not thrilled that Cody is back in town poking through old wounds. The remains just found are also bringing the police back to her door. Jessie has secrets that she would like to stay hidden, but Cody seems determined to shed light all over her past. Jessie isn’t the broken woman that she was all those years ago. She is now married with a 16-year-old daughter and has no desire to relive that trauma from so long ago.

This novel transitions back and forth between both investigations: the original about the boys and the new one focusing on the recently discovered remains along with the possible connection to the boys. While I enjoyed the back and forth between the two as well as the addition of the podcast format, I did have trouble differentiating between the past and the present while listening to the audiobook. The print version highlights the parts about the old case, but that did not translate to the audio, and as a result it was sometimes difficult to tell when something happened. I adjusted to this issue and was able to finish the book, but be aware if you decide to give this a listen!


This book is also available in the following formats:

Online Reading Challenge – February

Hello Challenge Readers! Welcome to February!

This month our film is a favorite of many – Gone with the Wind starring Clark Gable and Vivian Leigh. Set in the deep South before, during and after the Civil War, it is a triumph of storytelling and cinematic excellence (that famous burning of Atlanta scene is not easily forgotten). The dashing hero, the vain heroine, the elegance of plantation life (possible only with the enslavement of people), the horror of battle and the struggle to rebuild highlights one of the most important time periods of American history.

There are a lot of directions you can go when looking for a book related to this film. You can go straight to the heart and read Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind which stands as an excellent choice on it’s own. There are also a lot of books about the making of the film itself which was nearly as dramatic as the movie!

A lot of popular books have been written about the Civil War including classics like Little Women by Louisa Alcott and The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane. Anything about Abraham Lincoln – and there are lots of books about Lincoln – would be appropriate. Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier is an award-winning novel about a soldier that goes AWOL and begins the long walk home while Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker by Jennifer Chiaverini looks at the controversial First Lady. For an in-depth description of battles turn to Shelby Foote (Shiloh) or Jeff Shaara’s Civil War series which includes The Killer Angels.

We cannot not overlook the terrible price paid by millions – the enslavement of African Americans. For a glimpse of slavery and its long lasting consequences try Twelve Years a Slave by Solomon Northup or go for a classic such as There Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston or Roots by Alex Haley. Several recent titles such as Underground by Colson Whitehead and Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi would be excellent choices as well as any title by Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison, especially Beloved.

Be sure to stop in at any of the Davenport Library locations and check out the Online Reading Challenge display where we’ll have these titles and lots more for you to choose from.

I’m going to be reading The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd, a fictionalized account of abolitionist and member of the woman’s suffrage movement Sarah Grimke and her slave Hettie and their struggles during the Civil War era. It promises to be an excellent book.

What about you? What are you planning to read this month?

 

Online Reading Challenge – January Finish

Hello Fellow Readers!

We’ve reached the end of January and the finish of our first month of the 2020 Online Reading Challenge. How was your reading month? Were you able to find a good book or watch a movie somehow related to our theme of Casablanca?

I had an very good January, reading the excellent The Last Train to London by Meg Clayton, a remarkable story of courage and determination during the dark times just before and during the early years of World War II.

The book opens in the late 1930s when Hitler’s rise to power is throwing a dark cloud over Europe. The world watches in disbelief as threats against Jews grow but Truss Wijsmuller, a Dutch woman, is not standing by; she begins escorting Jewish children out of Austria to safety at great danger to herself. Most of the children are orphans, but as conditions worsen, parents begin making the heartrending decision to send their children away, desperate to protect them.

At first the Jews of Vienna believe they are safe – after all they have been loyal Austrians for generations and many no longer practice the Jewish faith. Vienna has long been a center of art and sophistication, Mozart and opera – surely nothing bad will happen here. However, within days of Anschluss (the annexation of Austria by Germany), the rights of Jewish citizens have been stripped, their property and businesses seized and families forced from their homes.

The Last Train to London depicts real events, part of the Kindertransport rescue that saved nearly 10,000 children’t from Nazi-occupied Europe. Truus Wijsmuller was a real person, known to the children as Tante Truus, kind and warm-hearted but with the courage and determination to confront Adolf Eichmann (who was the creator of the “Jewish solution” that sent millions to their death) and insist that he allow 600 children to leave and immigrate to England. Clayton personalizes the novel by telling a story of two young adults caught up in the chaos and despair – Stephan, son of a wealthy Jewish businessman and Zofie, the daughter of an anit-Nazi journalist. Their fate becomes entwined with Tante Truus and a nearly impossible dream to escape. This is a white-knuckle, can’t-put-down novel of both the horrors humans are capable of, and of the great kindness and compassion of ordinary people. Highly recommended.

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

 

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