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.


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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!

 

How to Walk Away by Katherine Center

The description of this book caught my eye at once.  How to Walk Away by Katherine Center is all about finding joy and love even when it seems like your life has hit rock bottom. As I was reading this book, I noticed that each main character goes through a major life-changing moment that, if the individual lets it take over their life, has the ability to derail everything and completely destroy all.

Margaret Jacobsen has her life together. She has very clear goals for herself and has met every one of them. She worked really hard in order to make sure she was set up for success in the future. Margaret has a new dream job, a beautiful new condo, and a boyfriend she’s 99% sure is going to propose to her on Valentine’s Day. The culmination of her every wish is within her reach. Margaret couldn’t be more excited about the prospect of her future.

Heading out with her boyfriend, Chip, for a romantic Valentine’s Day, Margaret realizes that the date he has planned for them is not what she would have thought. At. All. Game to try because Chip is so excited, Margaret goes along and sure enough, Chip proposes! In the midst of their celebrating, on what should have been one of the happiest days of her life, everything Margaret has worked so hard for her entire life is ripped violently away from her. Now Margaret is in the hospital and realizes that there is a possibility her life will never be the same. She is broken physically, mentally, and emotionally.

Chip is no help. He hardly ever comes to visit her, expects to be forgiven, and goes rapidly downhill by wallowing in his own self-pity. Her sister, Kitty, mysteriously left town three years ago and has been completely silent the whole time. Now Kitty is suddenly back in town and old family resentments are bubbling back to the surface. Her mother tries to micromanage Margaret’s situation, while her father struggles to keep the peace between everyone.

This family drama happens simultaneously as Margaret is dealing with her intense medical problems. Her physical therapist, Ian, is also one of her problems. The nurses all say that he is too tough for her and she needs someone nicer. When Margaret and Ian meet for the first time, she instantly understands their reluctance to have Ian work with her. Ian is incredibly brusque, never smiles, and is all business. He is the exact opposite of all the other physical therapists and even her own family. Ian refuses to pity her and treats her as a capable person who has the power to change her own circumstances. After spending time working with Ian, Margaret comes to realize that sometimes the thing she needs is not what she wants and the thing she wants may not be what she needs.  This statement rings true for multiple other characters. Love, happiness, joy, contentment, and hope all have the capacity to pop up in our lives when we least expect it.


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Pieces of Her by Karin Slaughter

Karin Slaughter is one of my go-to authors. I have yet to run across a book of hers that I haven’t liked. Slaughter writes suspenseful mystery thrillers that leave you wondering about past lives, secrets kept, and relationships both broken and sustained throughout the years. I like my fiction a little bit dark and twisty. If I don’t figure out the whodunnit and why until almost the end, even better. For me, Slaughter writes successful fiction because I’m consistently surprised with the twist her fiction takes.

Pieces of Her by Karin Slaughter is her newest book. I. Was. Blown. Away. This novel takes a close look at the relationships with parents and their children. While we may think we know our ancestry, this novel proves that these thoughts may be completely and totally wrong. There are so many different pieces to each person. (Play on the title, get it??) We also have different identities. One woman can be a mother, daughter, granddaughter, wife, etc, with each separate part of herself hiding something from the other.

In Pieces of Her, Andrea discovers that she never really knew her mother, Laura at all. Even though she has a very close relationship with her mother, even living in her garage apartment, one day throws everything apart. Andrea knows that her mother has spent her entire life cloistered in their tiny beach town of BelleIsle. Her mother has no secrets, but is seen as a steadfast and trustworthy member of the community. With Laura’s life changed by a cancer diagnosis, Andrea moves back home and becomes enmeshed in her life. This cancer scare is a deviation from the norm, but Andrea knows her mother’s reactions are only a result of her cancer treatment.

Heading to the mall one afternoon with her mother, Andrea soon sees a completely different side of Laura. The violent scene that erupts in front of Andrea shows her that her mother was a totally different person before her, more so than her simply not having a child. The intense media scrutiny and the police’s desire to find answers brings unwanted attention to Laura and she quickly shuts down. Laura changes in front of Andrea’s eyes, telling Andrea to run away from the whole situation with only slight clues of where to go. Laura refuses to speak to anyone, instead lying low and trying to protect her daughter by pushing her away. Andrea leaves town, following the tiny bit of clues her mother has left for her. Digging into her mother’s secrets, Andrea quickly discovers that if she can’t figure out the real truth of her mother’s past, there might not be a future for either of them.

Reviewer’s note: Karin Slaughter is not shy when it comes to using graphic scenes, violence, and blood in her books. This book is no exception. If you’re squeamish, I would steer clear. In my opinion, this novel only benefits from her descriptions.


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Rust & Stardust by T. Greenwood

True crime is one of my favorite subjects to read about and watch. Learning more about the inner workings of different perpetrators and their reasonings for behaving in such a way is fascinating. The lasting implications crime has on the victims and various affected families/friends also intrigues me. Society generally only cares about a crime for the first few months. After the publicity dies down, the whole situation will fade into the background. Reading about real life crimes allows me to believe that I am keeping these situations alive and the victims will continue to be remembered.

Rust & Stardust by T. Greenwood was my latest true crime fiction read. This novel is based on the experiences of Sally Horner, an 11-year-old kidnapping victim who was abducted in 1948 from a Woolworth’s in Camden, New Jersey by 52 year-old Frank La Salle. Sally’s abduction is also considered to have inspired Nabokov’s Lolita.  From what I read about this case, this novel is fairly close to what actually happened. Granted the dialogue between Sally and Frank can never be 100% known and neither can be what really happened while they traveled the country, nevertheless, this account gives readers a look into a dark time in a young girl’s life.

Camden, NJ. 1948. 11 year-old Sally Horner just wants to fit in. She watches a clique of girls at her school form a club and yearns to be a part of it. Living with her mother and older sister, Sally has always felt like she exists on the outside of everything. After walking up to this group of girls one day, the girls tell Sally that she has to steal something from the local Woolworth’s in order to become part of their group. Walking into Woolworth’s with all the girls around her, Sally wanders the aisles looking for something to steal. Seeing a notebook, Sally grabs it and begins walking out. Almost to the door, Sally is suddenly stopped by an older man who says he saw her stealing. Having watched her walk through the store, Frank has convinced her that he’s an FBI agent who can have her arrested at any minute. Telling her that he has to take her to see a judge, Frank says that Sally has to do exactly what he says or she will go to jail. This chance encounter has far-reaching ramifications for poor Sally.

52 year-old Frank LaSalle is not an FBI agent. He has just been released from prison. Living out of his truck/camper, Frank is on the lookout for his next victim and his next scheme. Sally Horner stands no chance against him. Convincing her that he is an FBI agent, Sally introduces him to her mother and they somehow convince her to let Sally leave with Frank. Thus begins the scariest two years of Sally’s life as Frank physically and mentally abuses her. Travelling from Camden to San Jose, Sally meets many people and hopes one of them will recognize her. Her family, old friends, and new acquaintances are all forever altered, just like Sally, as a result of her abduction.

Given that this novel is based on the real-life kidnapping of Sally Horner and her captor Frank LaSalle, I found it to be intriguing and a possible explanation of what happened between the two. While there are certainly many fictionalized sections, the over-arching storyline is pretty close to the truth. With the additional information about Vladimir Nabokov and his controversial Lolita, this story is finally able to give more voice to young Sally Horner. With her death happening only four years after her abduction, Sally was unable to tell her full story like other abduction victims. This book is certainly not a light read, but its close relation to true events allows readers to gain a better understanding of these tragic circumstances.


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