Online Reading Challenge – Mid-Month Check

Hello Challengers!

How is your Reading Challenge month going? Have you found a great crime novel, or are you still searching? July can be a crazy busy month so if you find yourself short of reading time, or would just like something quick and relaxing, why don’t you try a movie? There are some great options.

The Sting with Robert Redford and Paul Newman. Maybe the perfect movie with a nuanced plot, a clever scam, amazing acting and great atmosphere (and ragtime music!), this one is hard (impossible!) to beat.

Inception with Leonardo DiCaprio. The ultimate crime – mind theft – comes to life in this amazing, twisty, stylish film. I find it best to just sit back and enjoy the show and not worry too much about all of the plot twists. It’s very much worth the ride!

Catch Me if You Can with Tom Hanks and Leonardo DiCaprio. Based on the true story of a con man and the FBI agent who pursues him, Frank W. Abagnale, Jr. passed himself off as a pilot, a lawyer, and a doctor all before his 21st birthday.

White Collar. This charming television series stars Matt Bomer and Tim DeKay about a con man and an FBI agent that team up to solve white collar crimes. Except, just who’s side is the con man on?

Of course, there are several hundred (ok, I exaggerate!) Law and Order seasons and spin-offs and multiple series about detectives from Miss Marple to Sherlock Holmes. Your choices are almost endless!

 

Time After Time by Lisa Grunwald

She appears suddenly, out of thin air, on a cold December morning, wearing an out-of-style dress and no coat, confused but not lost. It’s early and Grand Central Station is quiet, filled with the bright light of the just-rising sun. Joe Reynolds, on his way to work, stops to ask if she needs help. She tells him she’s fine and they part ways and Joe never expects to see her again.

Except he does, exactly one year later, at the same place and time. Joe has not been able to forget about her and admits that he has always hoped to see her again. Joe finds out what her name is (Nora Lansing) and they spend some time together, wandering around Grand Central Station. Joe offers to walk Nora home but a few blocks from the station she disappears again.

Dumbfounded and intrigued, Joe starts researching Nora and the address she had given him; what he discovers shocks and unsettles him, but what he is sure of is the connection he had with Nora and that he must see her again.

Set starting in 1937, Time After Time takes place almost entirely at Grand Central Station which Grunwald brings vividly to life. Filled with people constantly on the move, it is also home to multiple shops, restaurants, hotels, classrooms, an art gallery and even a tiny hospital, all orbiting around the trains and their schedules. Against this lively backdrop, Joe and Nora fall in love and learn how to be together under unique circumstances.

This book has a lot going for it including a historical setting (the World War II era), intriguing facts about the trains and about Grand Central Station (which is nearly a character in the book itself), Manhattenhenge (which is critical to this story),  interesting characters (some real, some fictional) as well as a love story that stands firm no matter the hardship, across time itself. Highly recommended.

 

Travel Talk – Iowa, Part 2

Hello Travel Fans!

It’s time for our next installment of travel in Iowa! This month Michelle is describing some of the beautiful, natural places to explore in Iowa – it’s not all corn fields here! Over to you Michelle.

Reiman Gardens at Iowa State University in Ames – Part of Iowa State University in Ames, Reiman Gardens is a serene space that offers 17 acres of outdoor gardens, an indoor butterfly garden, tropical plant conservatory and endless learning opportunities.  Did I forget to mention it is also the home of Elwood, the world’s largest concrete gnome?  The gardens also feature periodic exhibitions and this summer’s exhibition is “Toys & Games,” in which toys inspired by nature are sprinkled throughout the gardens.  The gardens are open daily and offer something for everyone!

Effigy Mounds near Harpers Ferry – Effigy Mounds National Monument is a perfect day trip in the far northeastern part of the state.  The free trails allows visitors to hike near the animal shaped mounds constructed during the Late Woodland Period (between 800 and 1600 years ago).  According to the National Park Service, these mounds were a regional cultural phenomenon.  Mounds of earth in the shapes of birds, deer, bison lynx and turtle abound.  Some archeologists believe the mounds were built to mark celestial events or seasonal occurrences.  Others speculate the as boundaries between or markers between groups, but it is unclear exactly what was the purpose of the Mounds.  Hiking up to the bluff overlooking the Mississippi River gives a beautiful view of the surrounding area.  Also, near Harpers Ferry are the picturesque towns of Marquette, McGregor and Pikes Pike State Park, which is also a great place to see views of the river.

Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge – The Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge is just south of Des Moines near the Colfax and Mingo exit in Prairie City.  Visit the extensive learning center and walk the number of trails that offer a variety of easy hikes.  To see the bison and elk you will drive through their habitat and be prepared to see them up close – or not, depending on the day.  Even if you do not see as many bison or elk as you would like from your car, the learning center has binoculars in order to spot the herds up close.

 

 

Makes you want to jump in your car and explore these beautiful places, doesn’t it? I especially love the Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge. You can almost imagine what the Great Plains must have been like before cars and wagon trains.

What about you – what’s your favorite outdoor area to visit in Iowa?

Mario Switch Games

Guest post by Wesley B.

If you own a Nintendo console, you’re doing yourself a disservice if you aren’t playing any Mario games – the mustachioed plumber is Nintendo’s mascot for a reason. The Switch is no exception to this rule, and we have several Mario Switch games available here at the Library!

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe and Super Mario Party likely need no introduction. Either can be played alone, but they shine in their multiplayer modes (which the Switch is perfectly suited for). While Super Mario Party fails to fully recapture the magic of some of the earlier games in the series, it’s still a great way to spend an evening battling, betraying, and bickering with your friends – and laughing uproariously the whole time. Mario Kart 8, on the other hand, is probably the definitive Mario Kart game ever made. Chock full of courses, characters, and karts, there’s enough content here to last quite a while, and it’s customizable enough to be just as fun and accessible to newcomers as it is to series veterans.

Unlike the previous two games, Mario Tennis Aces might have flown under your radar. However, it’s just as strong a candidate for game night with your friends as the other two. You can play singles or doubles, one-off matches or tournaments, and with conventional or motion controls. Plus, unlike Mario Party and Mario Kart, it has a robust single player campaign!

And then of course we have the more traditional single-player platforming experiences: New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe and Mario Odyssey. Mario Bros. is classic 2D Mario at its finest. It starts off a little slow, but before long the levels start to get fiendishly difficult. Odyssey, on the other hand, is the latest 3D Mario entry, and in many ways the culmination of all the games that came before it. With over 900 Moons to find across its 16 worlds, it should keep you busy for quite a while.

Last but not least, I want to leave you with a recommendation for a strange game whose very existence is surprising, and that has no right to be as good as it is: Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle. This game is actually developed by Ubisoft, not Nintendo, and is a new genre for Mario: turn-based strategy. While some people may be turned off by the Rabbids, strange creatures previously relegated mostly to background roles in Ubisoft games, they’re depriving themselves of a shockingly great game. You’ll eventually unlock eight characters, from whom you choose three to make your battle team. Each character has customizable skill trees as well as a variety of weapons to choose from, lending a surprising amount of depth to this bright and cartoonishly stylized game.

Online Reading Challenge – July

Hello! Welcome to the July edition of the Online Reading Challenge!

We’re going over to the dark side this month, since July’s subject is: Crime!

Crime is actually a pretty popular subject at the library, between True Crime books (lots of serial killers and murderers in the 364.1523 Dewey section) and Mysteries (the majority of which involve a murder). There are (sadly) plenty of other crimes to consider, some that don’t even involve bloodshed! Here are some suggestions.

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote. A classic murder story that, even many years after it came out, will give you chills and make sleep difficult. Based on an actual murder, Capote delves into the background of the Clutter family and the two men who killed them. A masterpiece.

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones follows the devastation and long-term consequences to a man and his family when he is wrongly accused of rape and sentenced to 12 years in prison.

We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver. Kevin has been convicted of killing nine students when he went on a shooting spree at his high school. Kevin’s parents are devastated and try to come to terms with what their son did.

Prefer something a little less grim? Try Lawerence Block’s Bernie Rhodenbarr series about a burgler based in New York City. Bernie takes great pride in a well-executed burglary and is offended when a dead body intrudes. Much lighter than Block’s Matthew Scudder PI series (which is excellent if you’re looking for something hard-hitting).

As always, check out the displays at each Davenport Library location for lots more suggestions!

I don’t usually read crime novels and only a few mysteries so it took me awhile to settle on a title. I finally decided to read Not a Sound by Heather Gudenkauf. It caught my attention for several reasons including that it’s set in Iowa and that the protagonist is deaf. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Now, what about you? What will you be reading in July?

 

 

 

Online Reading Challenge Wrap-Up

Hello Readers! How was your June reading about the movies? Did you find a hidden jewel (reading-wise)? Please let us know.

I read The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid and enjoyed it immensely. I was actually pretty skeptical about this one; the reviews were good, but it’s a subject (the glitz and glamour of Hollywood) that doesn’t really interest me. Boy am I glad I gave it a chance!

Starting during the last days of the Golden era of the Hollywood movie industry when the studios still controlled everything up to and including how each movie star would look and behave, Evelyn is determined to get out of New York City’s Hell’s Kitchen and make it big in the movies. She will – and does – do anything to make her dream come true. Blessed with good looks and grim determination, Evelyn schemes and manipulates her way to the top. She’s not always likable, but she is honest and forthright about what she wants and most of the people she uses know exactly what they’re getting (they often benefit too). Evelyn is also talented, a bombshell that can act, and she works very hard.

Of course, there is a price to be paid for this somewhat brutal approach to life. She has, at most, two or three friends, the public make assumptions about her based on scandal sheets and she is unable to be with the one person she does love. Despite the veneer of glamour and money, she does not escape pain or heartbreak – a husband that beats her, another that cheats on her, a difficult relationship with her daughter.

The book devotes a section to each husband. It’s fascinating to see her reasoning for marrying each – some she truly loves, some she marries to further her career, some she marries for convenience. Each marriage reflects a stage of her career, another step in the cultivation of her image. The writing is sharp and snappy and just a bit hard-edged, very fitting for a woman that won’t back down from her dreams despite the odds.

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

Free Solo on DVD

Imagine clinging to the sheer side of a mountain, no ropes, no superpowers, no safety harness. One slip and you will fall to your death. Now imagine going climbing this way – on purpose! People do – they are called free climbers and they climb mountains using only the strength of their hands and the agility of their feet.

Free Solo, which won an Oscar earlier this year for Best Documentary Feature, follows one of the best free climbers in the world, Alex Honnold, as he attempts to climb what has long been considered unclimbable – the sheer, 3000 foot wall of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park. Filmmakers Jimmy Chin and E. Chai Vassarhelyi knew the route that Honnold would be taking and were able to set up cameras along the way in advance and as unobtrusively as possible. Tension mounts as Honnold debates when to go (good weather is critical), trains for the most difficult sections and confers with other free climbers.  However, it is Honnold’s decision alone on when to climb and very early one morning, he slips away and, without fanfare, begins to climb.

The climb itself is harrowing to watch. The documentary goes into some depth about free climbing and what makes El Capitan so difficult. Judicious use of drone footage (the filmmakers were very concerned about not creating a distraction while Honnold is climbing) gives the viewer a clue to the immensity of this task. There is only one alternative if Honnold misses a step, or chooses the wrong foothold and that is dying.

Free Solo also reveals some of Honnold’s lifestyle and personality. He himself claims in the documentary that he is probably somewhere on the Asperberger’s spectrum. His demeanor is quiet and withdrawn, nearly emotionless. When asked if he worries about the dangers (many free solo climbers have died while climbing) of his sport, he shrugs and says that he accepts this and seems unconcerned about how any friends or family he would leave behind might feel. He is, in many ways, not terribly likable, but his skill and focus are admirable.

Beautifully produced by National Geographic, Free Solo will give you a thrill ride without the threat of dying.

Ancient Greece

Guest post by Wesley B.

I’ve always wanted to visit Greece. Something about the combination of its natural beauty – the snow-kissed mountains visible from the sunny beaches – and its immense historical legacy is irresistible to me. Unfortunately, I have not yet had the chance to make my pilgrimage there. Fortunately, few places are easier to experience vicariously through their cultural artifacts – and we have lots of them here at the Library!

A.N. Whitehead once wrote, “the safest general characterization of the European philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato.” So, if you’re interested in philosophy – and, as Plato’s teacher Socrates argues, we all should be – what better place to start than with the acclaimed ancient Athenian? We have several volumes of his writing available to check out, and despite the accumulated weight of their age and reputation, I find them to be highly accessible. This is partially due to their dramatic structure – Plato’s works are structured as conversations between Socrates and other notable Greek figures – but also to their subject matter. The dialogues explore issues that are still just as relevant today, such as truth, beauty, justice, and, above all, how to live a good life.

If you’re more literarily inclined, we also have several translations available of Homer’s epic poems, The Iliad and The Odyssey. Though The Iliad is a war story, it’s a war story filled with love – the war itself is launched by Menelaus, the king of Sparta, to reclaim his wife, Helen, who had been abducted by the Trojan prince Paris. Achilles, the greatest of the Greek heroes, withdraws from the war due to a perceived slight, until his lover Patroclus is killed, sending him into a divine rage that turns the tide of the war. The Odyssey takes place after the war has ended, and is a rousing adventure that shows the cunning Odysseus overcoming all sorts of obstacles to return home to his family.

Of course, it’s not all dusty old tomes – we have shiny new tomes as well! In the aforementioned Odyssey, one of the obstacles Odysseus has to overcome is Circe, the witch of Aeaea, who turns his crew into pigs, and attempts to do the same to Odysseus. She does this because… well, actually, Homer doesn’t give her a motive. It’s taken for granted that she does it because she’s a witch, and bewitching men is simply what they do. Unsatisfied with this explanation (or lack thereof), Madeline Miller gives us a different perspective in her aptly titled novel Circe. The first person account of the goddess’s life starts well before her meeting with Odysseus, and continues past that point, covering a broad swath of Greek mythology. More importantly, it allows Miller to flesh out her subject’s inner life, humanizing the divine figure and transforming her from an antagonist to someone we empathize with deeply. Simple yet elegant, Miller’s prose echoes Homer’s poetry while still asserting her (and Circe’s) voice as unique.

And if you want something that’s not a tome at all, we have you covered there too! Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, the latest entry in Ubisoft’s long-running series, tells the story of Kassandra, a Greek mercenary. While trying to find her estranged family, she becomes embroiled in a massive cult conspiracy spanning all of Greece, all set against the backdrop of the Peloponnesian War. As you might expect, there’s a lot of assassinating to be done, but unlike older games in the series, the large (and beautiful!) open world is filled with characters to talk to, do quests for, recruit to your ship’s crew, and even romance! And perhaps most thrillingly (to me at least), you can have your very own dialogues with Socrates.

Red, White and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston

What do you do when you fall in love with the last person you ever expect to? And they live thousands of miles (including an ocean) away in another country? How do you stay true to your homeland and your family and still create a life with someone that has become incredibly important to you? Red, White and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston attempts to answer these questions and lots more in this charming, funny, fast-paced romance.

Alex is the son of the first woman President of the United States. He is just finishing up his graduate degree and is eager to join his Mother’s re-election campaign. He has long mapped out a path of a political career for himself and is anxious to begin. Henry is a Prince, literally. He is the grandson of the Queen of England and fulfills many royal duties, part of the long tradition of his family.

There is animosity between Alex and Henry from the first time they meet, a feeling that is confirmed and intensified with each meeting until they come to blows at the wedding of Henry’s older brother which causes Alex to fall into (and ruin) the magnificent royal wedding cake. International diplomacy steps in, in the form of their respective families PR teams, and the two are forced to spend time together to assure the world that the sons of the two superpowers are actually ok with each other.

Of course, once they spend time together, they (reluctantly) begin to like each other, become friends and then confidants. They are both in unique positions, their roles in their families to be unfailingly supportive and are always under intense scrutiny. Their connection grows into attraction and love and now they have the added stress of keeping their romantic relationship a secret. Alex’s mother is facing a difficult re-election and Henry’s family will not approve of a gay son. Inevitably, the secret is leaked and all hell breaks loose. Through it all, Alex and Henry struggle to stay true to each other and their values and to find a way to be together.

I don’t typically read romance novels, but this one has been getting a lot of buzz and has great reviews and I can see why. It is snappy and fun and moves at a breakneck speed. The characters, both the main couple and the various supporting cast, are all appealing and relate-able (Well, mostly. One lives in the White House and the other lives at Kensington Palace!) In many ways this is a typical romance novel. A couple meet and hate each other; couple spends time together and start to like each other; couple falls in love; couple must overcome one or more obstacles to be together. The big difference of course, is that the couple in question are homosexual although this is treated as mostly incidental (but not completely without political consequences) There is a lot of politics in this book – all of the characters are fictional of course, but the issues they face are many that are prominent in today’s political arena – immigration (Alex and his sister are half-Mexican, their father being from Mexico), marital status (the US President is a divorced woman), gender equality, duty to country, conservative vs liberal (in both the US and England). If politics are not your cup of tea, you might want to skim over some parts. Otherwise don’t miss fun romance!

Online Reading Challenge – Mid-Month Check

Hello Challengers!

How’s is your June reading going?  Still looking for something related to the movies? You could always just watch a movie. You could watch a movie adapted from a book – even though the book is better 99% of the time, a well-done movie adaptation can add a lot of visual depth to a favorite story (I recommend watching one of the many Jane Austen adaptations) Or you could watch a movie about the movies. Here are a few suggestions.

Sunset Boulevard.  Pursued by creditors, Joe swerves into a driveway of a seemingly abandoned Sunset Boulevard mansion where he finds Norma Desmond, an ex-screen queen dreaming of a dramatic comeback.

The Artist. In 1927, George Valentin is a silent movie superstar. However, the advent of the talkies will kill his career and he will sink into oblivion. For young extra Peppy Miller, it seems the sky’s the limit as major movie stardom awaits. Though their careers are taking different paths their destinies will become entwined.

La La Land. A jazz pianist falls for an aspiring actress in Los Angeles. This original musical about everyday life explores the joy and pain of pursuing dreams.

Ed Wood.  A stranger-than-fiction true story of the early career of Edward D. Wood, Jr., the once voted worst movie director of all time.

The Aviator. Follows the life of Howard Hughes who comes to Hollywood with an interest in getting into the picture business. It doesn’t take long for Hughes to jump from producer to director of his first major film project, a World War I air epic.