Love, Death & Rare Books

Robert Hellenga’s latest is told from the point of view of Gabe Johnson, the last in a line of booksellers. His grandfather and father operated a Chicago institution, Chas. Johnson & Sons, a bookstore and rare book dealer. If you’re interested in learning arcane details about the physical book – such as binding, end papers, foxing, plates, tooling and watermarks – Love, Death & Rare Books is for you. As is usual with Hellenga’s books, there are a lot of references to the classics. Erudite throwaways about French literature,  Native American rarities, sailing, shipping, the Great Lakes and philosophy abound.

The first part of the book is set in Chicago – from mid-century to the early 2000’s, when independent bookstores were battling chains and then online sellers. It ends on the shores of Lake Michigan, where Gabe starts over in a new venture, adapting to a new way of selling books, a new part of the country, an idiosyncratic house and its previous owner. Throughout, there is rich evocation of the natural world, geographical landmarks, businesses and neighborhoods.

Hellenga is from Galesburg, and it’s fun to pick up on references you’d recognize if you lived in central Illinois, or the Quad Cities. A coffee shop in the town where Gabe eventually settles is named after “Innkeeper’s” (a marvelous cafe and store in Galesburg), and a municipal worker in Gabe’s new town embezzles city funds so she can buy expensive, purebred horses, not unlike a similar occurrence in Dixon.

There are always many layers and levels of enjoyment to be found in Hellenga’s novels, and this one certainly follows in that tradition.

Reese Witherspoon Celebrity Book Club – May pick

Reese Witherspoon’s Hello Sunshine has announced a new book pick! Every month, Reese picks out a book that she loves to share with her book club. All of the books that she chooses have a woman at the center of the story. Since the launch of this book club in 2017, Reese has hand-picked over 35 books for her community to read.

Her May pick is The Henna Artist by Alka Joshi. For more information about what the book is about, check out the blurb below provided by the publisher.

Escaping from an arranged and abusive marriage, seventeen-year-old Lakshmi makes her way alone from her 1950s rural village to the vibrant pink city of Jaipur. There she becomes the henna artist—and confidante—most in demand to the wealthy women of the upper class. But trusted with the secrets of the wealthy, she can never reveal her own…

Known for her original designs and sage advice, Lakshmi must tread carefully to avoid the jealous gossips who could ruin her reputation and her livelihood. As she pursues her dream of an independent life, she is startled one day when she is confronted by her husband, who has tracked her down these many years later with a high-spirited young girl in tow—a sister Lakshmi never knew she had. Suddenly the caution that she has carefully cultivated as protection is threatened. Still she perseveres, applying her talents and lifting up those that surround her as she does.

Vivid and compelling in its portrait of one woman’s struggle for fulfillment in a society pivoting between the traditional and the modern, The Henna Artist opens a door into a world that is at once lush and fascinating, stark and cruel.

Want to make sure that you don’t miss any of Reese Witherspoon’s Hello Sunshine book club picks? Join our Best Sellers Club and have her picks automatically put on hold for you when they are announced every month.

This book is also available in the following formats:

Virtual Book Club – The Hate U Give

Practice social distancing with us and join our Virtual Book Club this Wednesday, May 20th at 2pm, to discuss The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. We discuss a new book every week! Information about how to join the book club is listed further down in this post.

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas is a riveting read. Curious what this book is about? Check out the description from the publisher below:

Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.

Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil’s name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.

But what Starr does—or does not—say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life.

This book is available in the following formats:

The Hate U Give is also available as a movie in two formats: DVD and blu-ray.

Virtual Book Club
Wed, May 20, 2020 2:00 PM – 3:00 PM (CDT)

Please join my meeting from your computer, tablet or smartphone.

https://global.gotomeeting.com/join/147920589
Access Code: 147-920-589

You can also dial in using your phone.
(For supported devices, tap a one-touch number below to join instantly.)

United States: +1 (571) 317-3122
– One-touch: tel:+15713173122,,147920589#

New to GoToMeeting? Get the app now and be ready when your first meeting starts: https://global.gotomeeting.com/install/147920589

Bix by Scott Chantler

Despite living in the Quad Cities nearly 20 years I have only a rudimentary knowledge of local jazz legend Bix Beiderbecke. I feel like I am missing out on an important part of local lore.

In the graphic biography Bix by Scott Chantler, the musician’s story is illustrated rather than told. With the use of wordless, static, straight panels we get a sense of Bix’s confining young life when in school and interacting with his parents, particularly his father. As a reader, I can feel the panels trying to fit him into a box, making me feel claustrophobic for the protagonist. Finally the panels begin to float and dance on the page whenever music is in the scene — whether hearing it pass on a riverboat, trying the trumpet for the first time or upon entering a Chicago jazz club.

Once Bix makes the decision to leave Iowa and dedicate his career to music he leads a life typical of young adults: work, good times, and romance. Just when I started to think of Bix as a nice guy who got swept up in talent and fame come scenes that show an in-demand, cocky musician willing to lie and manipulate. In this graphic biography, we don’t hear Bix speak until this part of the book — about a third of the way through. His first conversation? A lie he tells his girlfriend. Bix becomes difficult to work with and unreliable. Static panels return to show drinking as a default reaction to everything — both good and bad. As his drinking spiraled out of control, my heart broke for the lost talent.

I was pleased to catch the familiar scenes of Davenport in the early pages. It took me the better part of an afternoon to read, but the time was spent getting a better sense of of who Bix was beyond his connection to the Quad-Cities. The life of Bix Beiderbecke doesn’t fit neatly into a box. He wasn’t just a ground-breaking, successful jazz soloist. He wasn’t just a wide-eyed innocent guy in over his head. This graphic novel treats its subject with compassion and care while not forgiving him for his self-destructive behavior. Through artful storytelling I have a better understanding of Bix’s multilayered life.

Bix is available on Overdrive as well as physical format.

Virtual Book Club – American Dirt

Practice social distancing and join us on Wednesday May 13th to discuss American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins. Virtual Book Club meets every Wednesday at 2pm to discuss a different book every week. For information about how to join in the virtual book club, directions are further down below.

American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins was chosen as an Oprah book club book. Curious what the book is about? Check out the below description from the publisher:

“También de este lado hay sueños. Lydia Quixano Perez lives in the Mexican city of Acapulco. She runs a bookstore. She has a son, Luca, the love of her life, and a wonderful husband who is a journalist. And while there are cracks beginning to show in Acapulco because of the drug cartels, her life is, by and large, fairly comfortable. Even though she knows they’ll never sell, Lydia stocks some of her all-time favorite books in her store. And then one day a man enters the shop to browse and comes up to the register with four books he would like to buy-two of them her favorites. Javier is erudite. He is charming. And, unbeknownst to Lydia, he is the jefe of the newest drug cartel that has gruesomely taken over the city. When Lydia’s husband’s tell-all profile of Javier is published, none of their lives will ever be the same. Forced to flee, Lydia and eight-year-old Luca soon find themselves miles and worlds away from their comfortable middle-class existence. Instantly transformed into migrants, Lydia and Luca ride la bestia-trains that make their way north toward the United States, which is the only place Javier’s reach doesn’t extend. As they join the countless people trying to reach el norte, Lydia soon sees that everyone is running from something. But what exactly are they running to? American Dirt will leave readers utterly changed when they finish reading it. A page-turner filled with poignancy, drama, and humanity on every page, it is a literary achievement.”

Virtual Book Club
Wed, May 13, 2020 2:00 PM – 3:00 PM (CDT)

Click the link below or copy/paste to join our book club. Join the meeting from your computer, tablet or smartphone. You will need the access code listed below to join.

https://global.gotomeeting.com/join/905164389
Access Code: 905-164-389

You can also dial in using your phone.

United States: +1 (872) 240-3311
– One-touch: tel:+18722403311,,905164389#

New to GoToMeeting? Get the app now and be ready when your first meeting starts: https://global.gotomeeting.com/install/905164389

Want to check out the book from the library? We have this book available in the following formats. Reminder that the library is currently closed, so the OverDrive options are your only ways to get this book at the moment.

Mrs. Mohr Goes Missing : A Zofia Turbotynska mystery by Maryla Szymicazkowa

Set in southern Poland at the turn of the century in 1890, Mrs. Mohr Goes Missing , is the first book in a new series by Maryla Szymiczkowa, a pseudonym for two Polish authors.  The book offers a  unique look at the culture, lifestyle and social climbing of the upper class society in Cracow, which comes alive through our heroine, Zofia Turbotynska.  Zofia is the  wife of a university medical professor who is looking to strengthen (and elevate) her social status with a variety of charitable endeavors but finds her true calling as a newly minted sleuth.

Her favorite organization of the moment, Helcel House, is a retirement home run by a bevy of nuns who she finds in panic one morning upon the disappearance of an elderly resident, Mrs. Mohr.  Mrs. Mohr is finally located dead in an attic room that would be impossible for her to reach in her immobile condition.  Zofia starts her own investigation after the police rule the death an accident.  Soon thereafter, another resident of Helcel House goes missing and then a third disappears and Zofia is confident that someone is targeting the elderly residents of the home.  Investigating the cases with only her cook and one inquisitive nun in her confidence, Zofia is able to solve the complex case near the end of the book while gathering all the parties together at the Helcel House for an unveiling of the real killer.

Its glimpse into the changing landscape of Poland is what initially caught my attention.  As mysteries are my genre of choice, the cultural context and hierarchy of their society was fascinating as well.  The author provides a nice summary at the beginning of the book that details the complex history of Poland during the 1800s, which includes being partitioned by the empires of Prussia, Russia and Austria.  If you like the feel of a cozy mystery with a rich historical glimpse into the past, Mrs. Mohr Goes Missing is a great choice.

Harleen by Stjepan Sejic

When I start something new, I have to start at the very beginning. Lately, I’ve been wanting to take a deep dive into the world of graphic novels, but I know I’d quickly get overwhelmed. However, Harleen might be the perfect fit to both start at the beginning and jump into an established universe. The new graphic novel from Stjepan Sejic tells the fall-from-grace origin story of Batman and Gotham City’s favorite antihero — Harley Quinn.

We meet a restless Dr. Harleen Quinzel looking for funding to develop a method for detecting stages of deteriorating empathy. What are the trigger points throughout a lifetime for creating a sociopath? After presenting her theory at a conference she encounters a classic Joker / Batman duel on the streets of Gotham City.

The outcome of this fight is:

  • a demoralized Gotham City Police Department and the rise of the Executioners, a group of masked officers taking justice into their own hands.
  • newly disfigured District Attorney Harvey Dent taking leadership of the Executioners and veering into his own villainous ways.
  • Joker in the Arkham Asylum as a subject of Dr. Quinzel’s study, newly funded by the Wayne Foundation.

When Dr. Quinzel meets her new patient, the Joker (Mr. Jay, she respectfully calls him), she becomes infatuated with him. As she reflects often, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Dr. Quinzel alternates between falling for his manipulation that he is the perfect candidate for her study, therefore an asset to her career, and believing she can cure the Joker from his mental illness.

Dent and the Executioners stage a breakout of the Arkham Asylum. In an effort to protect the Joker, Quinzel kills a security guard, falls into the arms of the Joker and is baptized Harley Quinn.

The characters are complex and intriguing. More than once, I found myself questioning if Harleen and the Joker were  manipulating other characters, themselves or me, the reader. Harleen and Harvey Dent struggle to keep a grasp on reality, while the Joker seems eager to get back to a world chaos and madness.

Clear flashbacks and subtle flash-forwards compel the story through a coherent timeline. There is so much set up for future stories, I’m looking forward to reading anything else that comes out of Sejic’s Harleen story and going further into this universe.

Virtual Book Club

Practice social distancing with us and join our Virtual Book Club that meets every Wednesday at 2pm! We meet to discuss a new book every week. Follow us on social media and our website to get the link for each Virtual Book Club.

Tomorrow, Wednesday, May 6th, we will be discussing Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng. This 2017 novel has been made into a hit show recently released on Hulu in 2020 starring Reese Witherspoon, Kerry Washington, and Rosemarie DeWitt. We hope you join us to discuss this book!

Curious what Little Fires Everywhere is about? Check out the following blurb from the publisher!

In Shaker Heights, a placid, progressive suburb of Cleveland, everything is planned – from the layout of the winding roads, to the colors of the houses, to the successful lives its residents will go on to lead. And no one embodies this spirit more than Elena Richardson, whose guiding principle is playing by the rules. Enter Mia Warren – an enigmatic artist and single mother – who arrives in this idyllic bubble with her teenaged daughter Pearl, and rents a house from the Richardsons. Soon Mia and Pearl become more than tenants: all four Richardson children are drawn to the mother-daughter pair. But Mia carries with her a mysterious past and a disregard for the status quo that threatens to upend this carefully ordered community. When old family friends of the Richardsons attempt to adopt a Chinese-American baby, a custody battle erupts that dramatically divides the town–and puts Mia and Elena on opposing sides. Suspicious of Mia and her motives, Elena is determined to uncover the secrets in Mia’s past. But her obsession will come at unexpected and devastating costs. Little Fires Everywhere explores the weight of secrets, the nature of art and identity, and the ferocious pull of motherhood – and the danger of believing that following the rules can avert disaster.

Online Reading Challenge Wrap Up

So. That was quite a month, wasn’t it? How did you do with your Online Challenge reading? I have to admit, I haven’t been reading as much lately. With the extra time at home, I had thought I would get lots of reading done, but I’ve found that I get distracted easily. I think it has to do with this new normal that we are living through, adjusting and absorbing how life is now and wondering what it will be like in the future. What about you, are you having issues adjusting?

I did read a book for this month’s theme which was inspired by the film and television series Downton Abbey. I read A Duty to the Dead by Charles Todd, the first in the Bess Crawford mystery series. While I enjoyed the book, I found it slow in parts and it didn’t grab my attention completely.

Bess Crawford is a nurse serving in the British army during World War I. She is injured when the hospital ship she is on, the HMHS Britannic, is sunk by a German mine (a true event) Home again in England to recuperate, she is haunted by a promise she made to Arthur Graham, a soldier she cared for who died in France, a promise that she has yet to fulfill. At her father’s urging she takes the time now while she is home to lay this promise to rest.

Traveling by train to Kent, Bess pays a visit to the Graham family estate and delivers Arthur’s cryptic message to his family. They are startling unimpressed and, while polite, seem to have no interest in pursuing the matter further. Delayed on her return, Bess stays with the Grahams a few extra days and discovers a complicated family dynamic with a mysterious brother hidden away in an insane asylum. Bess gets caught up in the dramas of the small local village (jumping in to help the local doctor in an emergency) and the mystery surrounding the Graham family.

There was a lot I liked about this book – the brave, level-headed Bess, the time period and the settings. The sinking of the HMHS Britannic at the beginning of the book was very interesting and exciting, but I found the pace of the rest of the book slowed and even dragged at times. It is the first of the series though and it will be worth trying more titles in this popular series in the future.

How was your reading this month? Did you read anything good? Let us know in the comments!

The Wild Robot

An uncharacteristic thing has happened to this librarian lately: I haven’t felt much like reading. Of all the strange happenings in our world right now during this COVID-19 pandemic, this was yet another unexpected experience. I have no shortage of reading material. I have a reliable device I can use to download a variety of digital books. This seems like the perfect time to work my way through that looming stack of print books on my table waiting to be read.

And yet, my heart is just not in it. I sit down for about five minutes and then I am distracted and put it down and go do something else.

There has been one exception, however. I happened to be in the middle of reading The Wild Robot by Peter Brown with one of my children before bedtime each night before all this began. The chapters are short, and at one chapter a night, it was taking us a while to work our way through this 279-page book about a robot stranded on an island. But each night I read it aloud, the Wild Robot and its island populated by many animals and no humans endeared itself to me more and more.

You might think that reading a book with no humans in it during a pandemic is a lonely choice in an already lonely situation. Or perhaps on the contrary, you think it is a logical and fitting choice to read about being stranded on an island when it often feels exactly like that as we are isolated in our homes. I think there was something reflective about this mechanical protagonist who gradually (though paradoxically) becomes more humane through time and experience that captured my interest and my heart. Human interaction right now -when it does happen- is less warm and personal, more technological. Somehow the mirror image of a technological being becoming more warm and personal through challenging life experiences was a sort of balm to my woes.

Brown’s writing made reading effortless for me once again. His animal characters have unique personalities. The events that happen on his remote island, both tragic and joyful, are magically relatable. I have always been a fan of anthropomorphism. I am even more so now.

I wish I could point you to a digital version of this title that you can download immediately for free through the library, but our library currently only owns this in print. If you would like to request it for purchase in digital format, you can log into your library account using either the Libby or Overdrive apps and request this title. Be aware that it ends on a cliffhanger and you will probably want to read its sequel, The Wild Robot Escapes.

In the meantime, here are some similar books with anthropomorphic characters available digitally when you log into Overdrive with your Davenport Public Library account that you may enjoy: