Always Look on the Bright Side of Life: A Sortabiography by Eric Idle

Always Looks on the Bright Side of Life is a sort of biography by Eric Idle – famous actor, writer, performer, comedian and singer-songwriter and famous along with the other Python comedian-writer British gents John Cleese, Terry Jones, Graham Chapman, Terry Gilliam, and Michael Palin, for the cult classics Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Monty Python’s the Life of Brian, and Monty Python’s the Meaning of Life to name a few. Eric Idle’s jet-setter lifestyle is a story of the rich and famous Brit rockers and British comedians spanning nearly five decades.

Can’t help but being a big Monty Python fan! So if you are interested in a bit of the Pythons back history from the viewpoint of one its members then you will enjoy Eric Idle’s personal story –  part memoir, part autobiography in this quick interesting read. Much of Idle’s stardom and famous relationships are unique….being friends with the likes of George Harrison, Mick Jagger, David Bowie, Carrie Fisher, Robin Williams, and Steve Martin to name a mere few, putting it in the readers face that he really “lived” a rock n’ roll lifestyle. His comedic writing is famous, his many songs and lyrics – especially “Always look on the Bright Side of Life” has become a legendary song as it is ironically the number one song played at British funerals making him a legend in his own lifetime…which Idle perhaps seemly discontent with the legend status seems to dislike and perhaps inadvertently fears a bit, being, no pun intended, idolized.

In his concluding chapters the true meaning of the book begins to emerge towards the end as to why he wrote the book in the first place. Eric Idle painstaking goes over the deaths of many of his actor/comedian/singer-songwriter friends that have recently died, especially David Bowie, Robin Williams, and Carrie Fisher, all of which he was very close to and the question of their mortality and his own mortality and legendary status seems to have been what spurred the writing on the account of his own life, mixed with a bit of personal history and the life and death of his close friends. Good read even with the bit of fluff about the lives of the rich famous intertwined throughout. He has really lived a glamorized and full life. Highly recommend.

Vox by Christina Dalcher

This book was all over reading lists before it even came out. When Vox was released, the hype grew even bigger. What I discovered when reading reviews of this book was that people either really loved or didn’t like it. I firmly fall in the ‘love it’ category and I hope you all like it as well.

Vox by Christina Dalcher runs in a similar vein of The Handmaid’s Tale as another example of a specific segment of the population being silenced/put into service by a different group. While reading this book, I noticed that I was growing increasingly agitated at the restrictions placed on women.

Jean McLellan is a cognitive linguist. Happily married with four children, Jean lives a pleasant life. Her husband Patrick is the science advisor to the President and seems to have an inside track to what’s happening. With the rise of the ‘Pure’ religious movement, Jean quickly realizes her basic freedoms are starting to be taken away. When the ‘Pure’ movement succeeds in infiltrating the government, Jean knows she’s in trouble.  She saw the signs, but failed to respond appropriately. Women representation in government is decreasing, the ‘pure’ religion is gaining traction, and female freedoms are being lost at an increasing rate. Jean did nothing. Her friends and family warned her and pleaded with her to do something, but Jean continuously believed that America would never go very far. She was wrong.

One day, all women were fitted with a bracelet snapped around their wrist that worked as a word counter. This permanent bracelet limited them to 100 words per day. 100! ALL DAY! That’s it. Don’t even try to go over 100 because each over will result in severe consequences. The ‘pure’ movement controls all. Religion has a higher say than science. As a result, Jean, as a linguist specialist, is very worried about what would happen to women the longer they are silenced and limited to 100 words.

Having somewhat adjusted to this horrible new normal, Jean is startled when she is approached by the President’s men saying her professional services are required. Meeting with the powers that be, Jean is told that the President’s brother has suffered a severe brain injury that impacts his ability to use language. Jean, plus some of her previous work colleagues, are needed to research a way to help him. Obviously Jean leverages her unique skill set to negotiate a deal in her favor. Jean is now in a position to help the female population, but has to do so sneakily. Complications ensue (obviously). Once Jean is reunited with her previous colleagues, they must race against time to solve the problem presented. Jean’s past plays a large role in her decision to behave the way she does with the overall message in the book being: use your voice before they take it away.


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The Death of Mrs Westaway by Ruth Ware

Ruth Ware knows how to write a novel full of twists. Bonus: if you listen to the audiobook version of really any of her books, you will be treated to some pretty neat accents. The Death of Mrs. Westaway, her latest book, is dark, dramatic, mysterious, and full of family drama.

Hal reads tarot cards on Brighton pier, a job that does not pay the bills very well. This makes it hard for her to afford food, rent, etc. Hal’s mother used to read tarot cards, so after she died a few years earlier, Hal easily slipped into the job she had watched her mother do for years. Struggling to make ends meet, Hal is at her wits end when a mysterious letter arrives detailing that she has been bequeathed a large inheritance. Reading said letter, Hal knows that this can’t possible be true, but the timing of the letter seems like a gift. She decides to accept the inheritance and head to the giant, cold, and gloomy Trepassen house. Leaving for Trepassen, Hal knows that doing so is a mistake. Having taken a loan from a loan shark with massive interest, Hal also knows that she has no other options to even begin paying back what she owes without taking this inheritance. Onward she goes.

Traveling down to the English coast, Hal pours over the letter looking for clues about the family that she is heading to meet. She is at a loss as to how to introduce herself, but knows that the cold-reading skills she has honed as a tarot card reader should help her claim the money and trick the others. Arriving amidst rain, Hal is led into the funeral of the deceased. Observing family and friends, Hal begins to feel that something is off with the whole situation. Something is just not right.

Following the family back to Trepassen house, Hal gets her first look at this massive, cold, and dour house. Just looking at the place, Hal feels like there are many, many secrets hidden within the walls. The family is both tight-lipped and easy to share, a concept that throws Hal off. Left to sleep in a tiny bedroom at the very top of the house by herself, Hal and the others begin to sort through the messiness of the deceased’s will. As they get further and further involved, the wrongness that Hal initially felt grows stronger as the situation begins to spiral more out of her control. Not knowing who to trust nor who is telling the truth, Hal begins her own investigation into what is really happening. This novel reads like a bit of a detective story with Ware knowing how to spin a crafty and spooky atmosphere rich with crime, gothic, and murderous twists.


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Clock Dance by Anne Tyler

When Anne Tyler’s previous book A Spool of Blue Thread was released in 2015, multiple patrons, friends, and other librarians told me I needed to read it. Sadly, I never got around to doing so since I was consumed in so many other great books at the time and it slipped from my mind. When her latest, Clock Dance, started popping up on lists months ago, I knew I needed to read it based on the popularity of her previous novels. For once, I was ahead of the game!

Clock Dance by Anne Tyler is the story of one woman’s life journey from an 11-year-old schoolgirl forced to step into her mother’s shoes in 1967 to a 61-year-old woman hoping for grandchildren in 2017. Tyler presents many characters throughout this novel. She does a wonderful job giving each vibrant backstories and rich present lives. I found myself thoroughly invested in each character’s life as they work to survive day to day.

When Willa Drake looks back on her life, she can count on one hand the moments that define her. In 1967, Willa and her younger sister Elaine come home from school to discover that their mother has disappeared. Again. Willa is forced to become a mother figure to her sister and waits hoping her mother will come home soon. In 1977, Willa is away at college trying to decide if she wants to marry her current boyfriend. During a trip home to see her family with said boyfriend in tow, Willa sees that she needs to form an identity separate from that of her parents. In 1997, Willa lives across the country with her husband and two children. Enjoying a life full of various activities, Willa’s world is thrown upside down when her husband dies. Only 41 years old, Willa struggles to put her life back together while taking care of her boys.

In 2017, Willa is 61 years old yearning for her sons to give her grandchildren. Given how little the two talk to her and from what she knows about their scant love lives, Willa doesn’t think she’ll ever be a grandmother. One day, Willa receives a phone call out of the blue from a stranger saying she needs help. Can Willa fly out to Baltimore and be her savior? Dropping everything, Willa and her second husband jump on a plane and head to Baltimore. Once there, Willa steps in to care for a young woman she’s never met, her nine-year-old daughter, and a dog named Airplane. Willa hardly ever makes impulsive decisions, but when this spur of the moment trip ends up introducing her and her husband to places, people, and experiences she’s unfamiliar with, Willa discovers that change can be a good thing. While her husband is anxious to get back to their familiar, Willa finds comfort in these complete strangers who have accepted her as one of their own.


This book is also available in the following formats:

Online Reading Challenge – December

Here we go! The final month of the 2018 Online Reading Challenge! Let’s go out with a bang!

The time period for December is – Present Day! This is pretty vague I admit. After all, isn’t the sentence I just wrote already in the past? Ha! Bit of brain twister, right? Let’s define Present Day as a book written about a time period when indoor plumbing is common but flying cars aren’t. Which gives you a fairly broad range of books to choose from.

This might be an ideal time to read something that’s been on your “to read” list, or a book that got a lot of buzz recently that you haven’t gotten around to reading yet. Remember, there are no Library Police, so if an outhouse or a little magic shows up in your book, no one will come knocking on your door with a court summons. Find something you want to read and enjoy!

Just, no flying cars please.

To get you started here are a few of my favorite contemporary fiction titles.

Where’d You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple is both funny and touching. I read it for last year’s Reading Challenge when we “visited” Seattle and wrote about it here.

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zeven. A quick read about a curmudgeon book store owner finding, to his astonishment that despite his best efforts to avoid everything and everyone, life presents him with a second chance.

Bel Canto by Ann Patchett. Patchett is probably my favorite contemporary author and I would recommend any of her titles. Bel Canto is probably her most well-known, about a hostage situation in South America and how it changed the wealthy people who were held.

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Bachman. This is a real treat of a book, charming and funny about the importance of connection and finding family in unexpected places. Even if you don’t know how to fix a window. My review is posted here.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. I cried and I laughed out loud while reading this – sometimes from the same page. It is, in my opinion, a modern masterpiece about love, not giving up and finding meaning and purpose in each life. I wrote more about it a couple years ago on the blog.

This is just the tip of the iceberg – there are lots more excellent candidates. Be sure to look for the displays at each Davenport Library building for even more suggestions.

I’m going to read The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion which I have heard many good things about. A romantic comedy about a socially awkward professor looking for love in a very methodical way, I’m looking forward to something funny and uplifting. Have you read it? What did you think? And what are you going to read this month?

Breaking News – the Online Reading Challenge 2019 begins on January 2! Watch the blog for details, coming soon!

Online Reading Challenge – November Wrap-Up

My Friends, it has happened. I have experienced an Epic Failure this month – I did not complete a book for our Alternate Histories challenge.

It’s not the fault of the book (The Jane Austen Project by Kathleen Flynn), it just wasn’t the right time for me to connect with it. Does that ever happen to you? Where the book just doesn’t work for you, even though you think it should? I have had this happen more than once; I often (although not always) return to the book later and everything clicks. So I’ll put this book on my TBR (to-be-read) list and try again another day.

However! All is not lost – I did finish watching the first season of Outlander (from the Diana Gabaldon books) and enjoyed it so much that I’m going to continue to watch more seasons (two more are available on DVD; season four is currently airing). At the end of season one, Claire and Jamie have decided that they’re going to try to change history and therefore save the Scots. This is, of course, the great temptation of time travel – changing what went wrong. But what are the ripple effects of one change, even a small one? What is the cost and would it prevent the tragedy, or is it doomed to happen no matter what? Intriguing questions, if impossible to answer.

What about you – what did you read that was intriguing and interesting? Or was this an epic fail for you too? Let us know in the comments!

Spoonbenders by Daryl Gregory

What would you do if one day you realized that all the stories your family has told you throughout the years are actually true? Matty is just now realizing that the crazy stories he’s heard are really true and not just the ramblings of his upset uncle railing against the government.

Spoonbenders by Daryl Gregory tells the story of the amazing Tellemachus family, a group of psychics whose powers span generations. Three generations have now descended on one town, sharing secrets, houses, and jobs. The lives they have built together are now starting to crumble, thanks to actions sent in motion many, many years ago by the patriarch of the family, Teddy.

Teddy Telemachus met young Maureen when the two were at a college signing up for an experimental study. Fascinated by her good looks and psychic powers, Teddy made it his mission to get to know her better. Flash forward to the mid-1970s. Teddy and Maureen are married with three children in tow: Irene, Frankie, and Buddy. The Telemachus family is famous! They’re known on the talk show and late-night television circuit for performing tricks and feats that no one can understand. Those Telemachus people must be magic! Teddy is a conman with no actual magical talent, Maureen can astral project, Irene can detect lies, Frankie is telekinetic, and Buddy is clairvoyant. Teddy clearly knows how to work a situation to get what he wants and uses that to provide for his family.

Late one night on a talk show, the Telemachus family is faced with a skeptic whose only goal is to discredit their entire way of life. Teddy believes that after they prove this well-known skeptic wrong, the family will be set for life. Things don’t go to plan though. The magic fails to happen and the family is destroyed. Forced to go into hiding, they soon find themselves living in Chicago trying to rebuild the family name. None of the grandchildren have shown powers yet, at least that’s what Teddy tells the skeptic who keeps showing up and the CIA agents at the door. When one of his children gets involved with the mafia, Teddy discovers secrets running through the family that he wishes didn’t exist. One of these secrets: Irene’s son, Matty, has some Telemachus magic running through his veins. Fighting to stay alive, the Telemachus family realizes that they have to set aside their petty issues and come together to fend off the CIA, mafia, and skeptic threats knocking at the door. Is it too late? Only Buddy knows the answer to that and he’s not talking. You’ll just have to read and see for yourself.

Davenport’s Favorite Book

The votes are in!

According to the PBS Great American Read, America’s all-time favorite novel is To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee!  If you read my first blog post about the Great American Read, you know that To Kill a Mockingbird is also my personal favorite. I was thrilled when I learned the results in the Grand Finale episode. Host Meredith Vieira shared that it started out in the number one spot since the day voting began, and it never wavered.

You may now be wondering what is Davenport’s favorite book?  Ever since PBS kicked off the first episode of The Great American Read on May 22, 2018, we’ve had a display featuring these books at each of our three Davenport Public Libraries. We put out a ballot box, asking for your favorites. I also took votes in the form of responses to my blog posts about the Great American Read.  In all, 124 votes were submitted. The favorite book among Davenport Public Library users is (drumroll, please)…

Harry Potter! Earning just shy of 13% of all votes, the bestselling series by J.K. Rowling was the top pick of voters at Main, Eastern and on the blog. (Fairmount showed no clear favorite, but submitted 26 votes for 23 different books.) Second favorite overall was Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series, with almost 9% of the votes. In third place was Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, with a solid 6% of votes. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen took fourth place with almost 5% of votes. We had a four-way tie for 5th place – Anne of Green Gables, Charlotte’s Web, Memoirs of a Geisha and To Kill a Mockingbird.

If you’re wondering about any titles from the Great American Read list that was not mentioned here, I have tagged to this blog each book title that received at least one vote from our wonderful Davenport Public Library patrons.

Thanks for voting and keep reading through the list!

 

My Way by Willie Nelson on CD

Guest post by Laura V.

I became a Willie Nelson fan around 2005. This was also about the same time I became enamored with Patsy Cline and Lyle Lovett. Old-style country is one of the many music genres that has my heart. I also like old-school jazz like Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra so this was a fusion of tunes I was eager to hear.

Nelson and Sinatra were good friends so what better way to honor an old friend’s memory? It’s a bit odd to hear Nelson backed by jazz music but the steel pedal guitar and the harmonica brings the music back home to Nelson’s Texas roots. He interprets the well-known and often covered songs in his one-of-a-kind style, a kind of slow half-speaking, half-singing conversation with the audience.

I was not completely awed by My Way but I really enjoyed “Summer Wind” and I found myself a little misty-eyed with his version of “My Way”, the last track of the album. Sinatra fans and Nelson fans alike should give this release a listen.

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