Killers of a Certain Age by Deanna Raybourn

Billie, Mary Alice, Helen and Natalie have worked together for ages, ever since they trained together 40 years ago. Now 60, they are set to retire and their company sends them on a lavish, all-expenses-paid cruise to celebrate. It’s not quite as generous as you might think though – someone has been sent to kill them. You see, the four women are highly skilled assassins employed by a secret agency known as The Museum and someone from the agency wants them silenced – permanently – in Killers of a Certain Age by Deanna Raybourn.

Barely avoiding the first attempt on their lives, the four escape from the cruise ship (while making it seem like they’re lost at sea) but now they’re adrift on the ocean with no money, no passports and no one they can trust except each other. But just because they’re “of a certain age” doesn’t mean they’ve lost their edge – a combination of smarts, experience and yes, the skillful application of a knife or garrote as needed – keep them one step ahead of their pursuers as they race to find out who has set a bounty on their heads.

What follows is a fast-paced, roller coaster chase across multiple countries highlighted with sparkling banter and acerbic one-liners. The women lament their aching joints and the miseries of menopause, but they never doubt their ability to out-smart anything that’s thrown at them. Each of the characters are endearing in their own right, but this isn’t The Golden Girls – these women do not hesitate to  spill blood when needed and do so without regret (though they go to great lengths to protect any innocent bystanders).

Surely this is the start of a new series – Raybourn has left plenty of room for more adventures with these four! I have high hopes that we’ll see Billie, Natalie, Mary Alice and Helen working together again soon!

 

 

Online Reading Challenge – September

Hello Readers!

Welcome to the September edition of the Online Reading Challenge! This month we’re exploring alternative histories and viewing history from a different perspective. Some of the featured titles and those you’ll find in displays at our buildings look at a historical event with a key factor changed (What If the Nazi’s had won? What If Lincoln had lived?), others take an individual’s life and examine what might have happened if they had made different choices. All of them help open your mind to how one decision may have changed a life, or all of history.

Our main title this month is the delightful My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, a rollicking, white-knuckle adventure set in Tudor England. Edward is the King of England. He’s also dying, which is inconvenient, as he’s only sixteen and he’d rather be planning his first kiss than who will inherit his crown. Jane, Edward’s cousin, is far more interested in books than romance. Unfortunately, Edward has arranged to marry her off to Gifford secure the line of succession. And Gifford is, well, a horse. That is, he an Eðian (eth-y-un, for the uninitiated) who becomes a chestnut steed every morning, but wakes as a man at dusk, with a mouthful of hay. Very undignified. The plot thickens as the three are drawn into a dangerous conspiracy, and have to engage in some conspiring of their own. But can they pull off their plan before it’s off with their heads? Highly recommended.

This title is also available as an eaudiobook and as a book on CD.

Other titles in our Book Flight include Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead. Cora is a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. Life is hell for all the slaves, but especially bad for Cora; an outcast even among her fellow Africans, she is coming into womanhood—where even greater pain awaits. When Caesar, a recent arrival from Virginia, tells her about the Underground Railroad, they decide to take a terrifying risk and escape. Though they manage to find a station and head north, they are being hunted. In Whitehead’s ingenious conception, the Underground Railroad is no mere metaphor – engineers and conductors operate a secret network of tracks and tunnels beneath the Southern soil. Cora and Caesar’s first stop is South Carolina, in a city that initially seems like a haven. But the city’s placid surface masks an insidious scheme designed for its black denizens. And even worse: Ridgeway, the relentless slave catcher, is close on their heels. 

This title is also available as an ebook, an eaudiobook and as a book on CD.

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susan Clarke. In the midst of the Napoleonic Wars in 1806, most people believe magic to have long since disappeared from England – until the reclusive Mr. Norrell reveals his powers and becomes an overnight celebrity. Another practicing magician then emerges: the young and daring Jonathan Strange. He becomes Norrell’s pupil, and the two join forces in the war against France. But Strange is increasingly drawn to the wild, most perilous forms of magic, and he soon risks sacrificing his partnership with Norrell and everything else he holds dear.

First Impressions by Charles Lovett. Book lover and Austen enthusiast Sophie Collingwood has recently taken a job at an antiquarian bookshop in London when two different customers request a copy of the same obscure book: the second edition of A Little Book of Allegories by Richard Mansfield. Their queries draw Sophie into a mystery that will cast doubt on the true authorship of Pride and Prejudice—and ultimately threaten Sophie’s life.

As always, you can find displays of these titles and many more at each of our Davenport Library locations!

Online Reading Challenge – August Wrap-Up

Hello Readers,

How did your reading go this month? Did you find something amazing?

Our main title this month was The Library Book by Susan Orlean and while, as expected, it had a lot to do about libraries and books, it is so much more than that. There is a lot about the history of Los Angeles, which in many ways is the history of the western United States. It is filled with interesting characters, from crazy directors to “unique” patrons (the reference librarian that tells about helping a person who later turned out to be the infamous Night Strangler was rather chilling). And of course, there is a lot about the fire that nearly destroyed the LA Main library in 1984. I was especially fascinated by the descriptions of fire science and firefighting and how the structure of the building plus the huge amount of fuel (books!) that was present.

The best part though is Orlean describing how the community came together to save what they could from the fire and how much it meant to people of many different backgrounds. Realizing that the library was on fire, citizens spontaneously formed lines to carry books out, bucket-brigade-style, trying to save as much as they could.

“It was as if, in this urgent moment, the people of Los Angeles formed a living library. They created, for that short time, a system to protect and pass along shared knowledge, to save what we know for each other, which is what libraries do every day.”

The idea that libraries act as community centers, “of the rare role libraries play, to be a government entity, a place of knowledge, that is nonjudgmental, inclusive, and fundamentally kind” is the message that runs throughout this book. Well written, filled with fascinating stories, this book is highly recommended.

What did you read this month? Did you find that books and reading draw people together, either immediately or across time? Was reading a positive influence, or can it also cause division? How do books (and stories) keep history and memories alive?

Be sure to share your observations on this month’s Book Flight in the comments below!

The Bodyguard by Katherine Center

Hannah Brooks is not having a good day. She’s just buried her mother, her boyfriend dumps her and she finds out he’s been cheating on her – with her best friend. Crushed by grief and heartbreak, she asks her boss for an assignment that will take her far away but instead her boss assigns her a job she really doesn’t want – working with world-famous (and very handsome) movie star Jack Stapleton in The Bodyguard by Katherine Center.

Hannah is not pleased and Jack isn’t exactly on board either. You see, Hannah is a bodyguard and despite the fact that people usually mistake her for a kindergarten teacher, she is very good at her job. In fact, the first time she meets Jack he mistakes her for the cleaning lady. Plus, he doesn’t think he needs a bodyguard – a slightly overenthusiastic fan appears to be stalking him, but he doesn’t think she poses a threat. His movie studio thinks otherwise and Hannah is assigned as his principal.

OK, so no big deal, right? Hannah is a professional and she can quietly blend into the background. Things get complicated though when, through a convoluted series of events, Hannah must pretend to be Jack’s girlfriend. To his family.

This is at a glance, a common rom-com trope – fake dating. What raises it a few notches up from the basic is the writing – sharp and fast moving, the humor – lots of bantering between Jack and Hannah as well as Hannah’s inner thoughts, and tackling real issues – grief, loss, guilt and broken relationships. It is heartbreaking and funny, a quick and satisfying read.

Welcome to the Jungle by Enid Offolter

Houseplants are enjoying a lot of popularity right now, boosted by the COVID shutdown when everyone was spending more time at home and the push for healthier indoor environment. This also means a lot of books about houseplants have come out recently (many of which you’ll find on our shelves!) and while they all have great information on choosing and caring for your plant babies, here’s one that stands out – Welcome to the Jungle by Enid Offolter.

While there’s lots of good basic information here, Offolter is talking to the enthusiast, those of us already hooked and ready to try something a little more challenging. And Offolter delivers, covering aroids (a family of tropical plants with incredible foliage) in “50 Extraordinary Plants”. Some have gorgeous variegated leaves, some have crazy shapes and fenstrations (holes and splits in the leaves). Many have become fairly easy to find (I have seen Anthirium “Polly” plants for sale at Hy-Vee and the big box stores and Wallace’s sells a variety of anthiriums, philodendron and monsteras. But many of the plants covered in Welcome to the Jungle are rare (and incredibly expensive) so poring over the gorgeous photography in this book will be the closest most of us will come to them.

The real highlight of this book though, is the writing. Offolter does not mince words about how she feels and it’s usually pretty amusing. Here’s her take on A. warocqueanum, also know as “the queen” (it has gorgeous long, dark green leaves with white veining) – “Tricky, high maintenance, sadistic diva of a plant that does its best to make you cry. Needy, temperamental and will spontaneously die, just when you thought you had it all figured out.”  Or her description of removing baby iguanas from the plants in her South Florida shade house “They are lucky they are so cute. I give them a firm talking to on the way out of my shade house. I view it as a teaching moment for them.”  The writing alone makes this a delight!

Highly recommended whether you’re already addicted to these tropical beauties or just enjoy learning about plants.

Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van Pelt

Every night Tova works at the Sowell Bay Aquarium, cleaning floors and picking up trash. She doesn’t really need the income, but she likes to keep busy. Her son Erik died 30 years ago under mysterious circumstances when he was just 18 and her husband Will died a few years ago from cancer. It is here, at the Aquarium, that she finds quiet and solace and some purpose, a balm to her loneliness in Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van Pelt.

Marcellus is a Giant Pacific octopus that has spent most of his life in the Sowell Bay Aquarium. He is very smart, very observant and very clever. Now close to end of his life (octopus live for only 4 or 5 years), Marcellus amuses himself by escaping his tank to make brief visits to other areas of the complex (and help himself to tasty critters in the other tanks)

One night Tova is startled to find the octopus in the staff room, tangled up in electrical cords. Carefully she frees him from the wires and helps him return to his tank. The escape remains their little secret and a friendship is born. Of course, Marcellus can’t talk to her, but he responds to her presence and emerges from his usual hiding place when she stops to talk to him. He knows that she is sad and lonely and he wishes he could help her.

One day Cameron walks into their lives. Adrift and a bit lost, an aimless young man trying to get his life on track. His father died before he was born and his mother abandoned him when he was nine, so his only family is an elderly aunt. He takes a job at the aquarium and Tova eventually takes him under her wing. Marcellus realizes immediately that there is a connection between these two. He just somehow needs to let them know too.

This is an utterly charming book. It is also a heartfelt examination of grief, connection, the importance of family and an acceptance of the march of time and preparing for your own end. This is sobering, of course, but it is the way of all living creatures, and the practical and loving ways the characters take care of themselves and of those that will live on is hopeful and uplifting. Marcellus’ thoughts (which appear in separate chapters) are shrewd and his opinions about the humans are funny and insightful. You will learn a lot about octopus’ and you will fall in love with Marcellus.

Highly recommended.

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

Reminiscent of Jean Eyre and Wuthering Heights, The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield is filled with the misty landscapes of Yorkshire, mysterious events, possible hauntings and shocking family secrets. It is a Gothic novel set in contemporary times.

The book opens when Margaret Lea, a young woman who has done some freelance writing and works in her father’s book shop receives a letter from a famous writer, Vida Winter. Ms Winter has never told the truth about her life, spinning a new story with every interview. Now nearing the end of her life, she wants to tell the real story and she wants Margaret to write her biography.

At first skeptical that Winter will now tell the truth, and wondering why she – a young, little know writer – was chosen, Margaret makes the trip to Yorkshire to meet with the reclusive Winter. True to a Gothic setting, the weather is damp and gloomy and Winter’s house is large and imposing. Winter is imperious and demanding, but she does indeed tell Margaret the truth of her past, spinning one story after another.

We meet the twins Adeline and Emmeline, whose parentage is murky. They live in isolation with their mother and uncle in a decaying mansion above the village. The local people describe the family as “odd” and “not quite right” and the twins, who run wild, indulge in dangerous and even cruel acts. A doctor and a governess take an interest in the twin’s behavior which ends in disaster. As more and more servants leave and the house continues to collapse, a fire breaks out and all is lost. Or has something – or someone – survived?

Margaret is haunted by her own twin story and feels the wrench of losing her sibling. The mysteries and atmosphere surrounding Ms Winter’s house play on Margaret’s mind and she becomes obsessed with the tragedies of the past.

This is a fascinating book that is hard to put down. The twins were pretty creepy, which suited the story perfectly. There is plenty of tension and twists – I never saw the final surprise coming, although it fit with what had happened. With a dramatic and satisfying conclusion, this would be a great book to curl up with on a dark and stormy night.

If you are taking part in the Online Reading Challenge this year, this book is a good choice for our August theme of reading and stories and how they connect us.

 

 

 

I Must Betray You by Ruta Sepetys

guest post by Noel H

Bucharest, the capitol of Romania, 1989. Christian Florescu is a discontented teenager living under the harsh and oppressive dictatorship of Nicolae Ceausescu where there is little food, little hope for a future, and 1 of every 50 people is an informer ready to turn you in for the slightest infraction. He dreams of becoming a writer, but his country has rules against free speech; a person could be imprisoned, tortured, even killed for speaking their mind in I Must Betray You by Ruta Sepetys.

Christian’s discontentment turns to dread when he is approached by the Securitate, Romania’s secret government spy ring, and is forced to become the thing he despises most: an informer. Unwilling to become a traitor to his own people, Christian resolves to use the Securitate against themselves and be a double agent. As clever as he is, he soon learns there is so much more to this pervasive web of deception than he could ever imagine.

Ruta Sepetys often writes historical fiction based in places and times largely forgotten by common historical memory. Her diligent, honest account of a fictional life set in a real nightmare comes to us at a unique time. Sepetys tells a story of a society where civilians live every day under constant surveillance not just from the government, but from their fellow citizens. Families cannot speak too loudly in their own homes not just for fear that it’s bugged, but that their parent or sibling is an informer. This phenomenon seems Orwellian, like something that can only be found in fiction, but have you ever been talking to a friend about desperately wanting an air fryer for you new apartment and then, suddenly, you can’t stop seeing adds for air fryers? Here and now, we live in a world of surveillance. So far, it’s benign enough – after all, you do want an air fryer – but for how long will this benevolence last?

Despite Christian’s knowledge that he is surrounded by those who could betray him, he still strives to strengthen the relationships he holds dear. It’s his unwillingness to sacrifice these relationships that both condemn him to his fate and save him from it. I Must Betray You does not shy away from the moral discrepancies that occur when we are forced to operate in a society of secrecy and deceit. Yet, it reminds us that, despite the very real risk that accompanies trust, we cannot survive alone.

Online Reading Challenge – August

Readers! Welcome to the August edition of the Online Reading Challenge. This month we cover one of our favorite topics – books and how reading can create connection and community.

The Main Title this month is The Library Book by Susan Orleans. I loved this book – it’s so well written, covers a wide range of topics and there’s lots of action. Of course, it was especially interesting to me because of the library connection, but there’s lots packed in here, including fire science, history and crime. A dazzling love letter to a beloved institution—and an investigation into one of its greatest mysteries. On the morning of April 28, 1986, a fire alarm sounded in the Los Angeles Public Library. As the moments passed, the patrons and staff who had been cleared out of the building realized this was not the usual fire alarm. The fire was disastrous: it reached 2000 degrees and burned for more than seven hours. By the time it was extinguished, it had consumed four hundred thousand books and damaged seven hundred thousand more. Investigators descended on the scene, but more than thirty years later, the mystery remains: Did someone purposefully set fire to the library—and if so, who? 

This title is also available in Large Print, Book-on-CD and as an ebook.

Alternate titles in this month’s Book Flight are:

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Ann Shaffer. In 1946, as London emerges from the shadow of World War II, author Juliet Ashton is having a terrible time finding inspiration for her next book. Then she receives a letter from Guernsey Island, and learns of a unique book club formed on the spur of the moment as an alibi to protect its members from arrest by the occupying Germans during the war. Captivated, she sets sail for Guernseyand what she finds there will change her life forever.

Also available in Large Print and as an ebook.

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. In a society in which books are outlawed, Montag, a regimented fireman in charge of burning the forbidden volumes, meets a revolutionary school teacher who dares to read. Suddenly he finds himself a hunted fugitive, forced to choose not only between two women, but between personal safety and intellectual freedom.

Also available as a Book-on-CD and as an ebook.

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield. When her health begins failing, the mysterious author Vida Winter decides to let Margaret Lea, a biographer, write the truth about her life, but Margaret needs to verify the facts since Vida has a history of telling outlandish tales. A compelling emotional mystery about family secrets and the magic of books and storytelling. 

Also available as an e-audiobook and in Large Print.

Look for these books and many others on display at each of our buildings.

Online Reading Challenge – July Wrap-Up

Hello fellow Reading Fans!

How did your reading go for the July Online Reading Challenge? Not surprisingly, July was a pretty tough month. Reading about the Holocaust – even about people who survived the nightmare – is emotionally exhausting. As horrible as it is though, it’s important that we remember. We cannot become complacent and ever believe that “it can’t happen here” or think that mankind is not capable of mass cruelty.

I read the main title this month, We Were the Lucky Ones by Georgia Hunter. This book, set in the very center of the horrors of World War II, there is optimism and hope and pure, gritty endurance. As difficult as it is to read about what happened, there is a thread of belief to hang onto – it’s right there in the title.

Sol and Nechuma Kurc and their five adult children live in Radom, Poland located just south of Warsaw. The Kurc’s are affluent and hard-working, respected in the community, well-educated and sophisticated. None of this matters when Germany invades Poland in 1939. The Kurcs’ watch with disbelief as more and more restrictions are placed on Jews, then persecution and outright cruelty. The family begins to separate as the siblings and their spouses leave to join the Polish Army or seek better conditions in Lodz or are trapped beyond the Polish border. They are desperate to keep in contact, but as the war descends on them. it becomes impossible. Flung as far as Siberia, Tel Aviv and Rio de Janeiro family members face starvation, imprisonment, fierce battles and betrayal but never stop searching for each other.

Based on the true story of the experience of the author’s grandfather, this book is a page-turner as the family struggles to survive by courage, smarts and sheer dumb luck – whatever it takes to make it one more day. Highly recommended.

What did you learn from the book you read this month? Would you have had the strength to keep living under such horrible conditions? What did the importance of family hold for the characters? What about people who may have helped the Germans – usually under threat of death – were they collaborators, or were they doing whatever they could to survive? How can we fight such blatant racism and mass genocide today – has humankind learned from the past?

Be sure to share your observations on this month’s Book Flight in the comments below!