Simon the Fiddler by Paulette Jiles

Set against an atmospheric backdrop of a rough and nearly lawless East Texas near the end of the Civlil War, Simon the Fiddler by Paulette Jiles is a story of overcoming hardship, taking chances and following your dreams no matter what.

Simon Boudin is a gifted fiddler that has been dogged by hard luck. He scrapes together a living by playing at dodgy taverns scattered through the wild west. By March of 1865 he has managed to avoid conscription into either army, but his luck runs out when his volatile temper gets the better of him and he gets into a bar fight. Hauled off to jail, he is picked up by the Confederate Army and forced into service. Because he is a fiddler and a very good one, he is put into the regimental band and manages to mostly avoid harm.

Just as the Civil War is winding down, Simon and his rag-tag band are sent to play for a victorious Union colonel who is throwing a party for the officers and their families from both the North and the South. It is here that Simon meets Doris, an Irish servant indentured to work for the colonel and his family. Although their meeting is brief, Simon and Doris make a connection. Driven apart by their duties – Simon sent away with the Army, Doris leaving with the colonel – they spend the next many months working to find each other again. Doris is miserable and feeling trapped as a servant while Simon struggles to save enough money from the jobs he and his band can find, enough to buy some land and make a life with Doris.

Through many obstacles – poverty, Yellow Fever, lawlessness, abject cruelty – there is also strength through friendship, a helping hand and the belief in love. While this is a slower read than Jile’s popular (and excellent) previous book News of the World, this book has the power to draw you in, to root for characters that are flawed but striving for something better, to morn their loses and cheer their triumphs.

 

No Judgments by Meg Cabot

Meg Cabot has long been a favorite author of mine for a number of years ever since she released her Princess Diaries series in the early 2000’s. She released a new book in the fall of 2019 called No Judgments that peeked my interest from the swirly cover and the main character’s pink hair on the cover.

No Judgments by Meg Cabot is the first book in the Little Bridge Island series. Bree Beckham moved to Little Bridge Island to escape her emotionally abusive ex-boyfriend only to find herself in the path of a massive hurricane. Not believing all the hype, Bree doesn’t think that this hurricane is going to be as bad as everyone says it will be. Working at the local diner, Bree is privy to all the happenings of the locals and the news talking about the hurricane. While the locals are boarding up their homes and businesses, Bree is busy dodging calls from her famous worried mother and her intrusive ex-boyfriend.

When the hurricane lands and Little Bridge Island loses all power and cell service, as well as its connection to the mainland, the little peace that Bree made for herself begins to unravel. Not able to get back into her place, Bree’s mind wanders and when she realizes just how many islanders are now stranded off the island with no way to get back to their pets, she has to help. She can’t leave those pets to suffer in the heat with no food or water until their owners come back. She has to do something.

As Bree begins to make a plan, she has no choice but to accept that she needs help. Enter Drew Hartwell, her boss’s seriously sexy nephew. As the two travel across Little Bridge Island looking for lost pets, Bree finds herself falling for Drew. Are her feelings real? Is this island fling the result of them being thrust together by the hurricane? Could Bree and Drew last past the cleanup of the hurricane and the power being turned back on or is it just a stormy relationship meant to kill time? Bree isn’t sure what to believe in, but she knows that those pets need her help.

This book is also available in the following formats:

After the Flood by Kassandra Montag

I picked up this book to read because the cover was relaxing and the lines swirling over it looked like map lines. It turns out that I was right! Those are map lines after all and they turn out to be a key element in this book.

After the Flood by Kassandra Montag is set over a hundred years into a dystopian future where rising flood waters have crept up and overtaken the continents. This slow rise of water has obliterated and destroyed the mountaintops and known landscape and has, as a result, left in its place deep wide expanses of open water.

Myra is angry. Why is she angry? Her husband Jacob abandoned her while she was pregnant with their daughter Pearl. To top it off, he took their oldest daughter Row with him when he took off. Myra and Pearl are travelling from island to island on Bird, the boat that Myra’s grandfather made in the attic of their house before he died. Surviving by fishing and trading at the islands they visit, Myra is constantly on the lookout for any information about Row and Jacob.

Their life may be tranquil and at an even keel, but Myra knows that this peace can be interrupted at a moment’s notice. A bad wave, an interaction with violent people and breeding ships, or a fish shortage could all spell disaster for the pair. While stopped at an island to trade, Myra learns that Row may in fact still be alive. This chance encounter leads her to pack up Pearl, search for help, and start the dangerous journey to The Valley. Far up north, the trek to The Valley will be full of breeding ships and savage people looking to steal anything they can and willing to take over any unsuspecting ships. Add in the fact that The Valley might be going through an epidemic and Myra needs to get there as soon as she can to save Row.

On their way to The Valley, Myra and Pearl are hit with obstruction after obstruction with death and strangers littering their path. They eventually end up on board the boat, Sedna. This boat couldn’t be more different than Bird: Sedna has a fully able crew and seemingly all the supplies they could ever need (food, ammo, weapons, building/boat materials). Myra slowly discovers that in order to make it to Row and rescue her, she will have to betray and deceive everyone around her. Is Myra willing to sacrifice Pearl in order to save Row? Is Row even there? Could this all be for nothing? Myra has to decide what she’s willing to do to find out the truth.

This book is also available in the following format:

Start French by Michel Thomas

If you find languages interesting, have I got a treat for you!  There is an excellent language learning series by Michel Thomas that is great listening!

I began with Start French. I always wanted to learn a little French, but it was offered during music class at my high school, so I could only choose one. I chose music and took an afternoon Spanish class for my foreign language. I’ve always found French to be a challenging accent to get, and reading the words on a page just didn’t work for me.

Enter Michel Thomas and his method.

When I popped his CD into my car, suddenly my commutes and errands turned into listening in on fun little conversations. He introduces basic words and phrases in a way that builds successively on one another, feels natural, and is a little easier to remember than trying to memorize nouns and conjugate verbs. He also relates the French word to the root of the English word, helping form connections in your brain to both words and their shared meaning.

After some time, I began talking with the recorded Thomas and enjoying being able to speak un peu de francais. I couldn’t help but share my discovery with family members and friends. My Dad wanted to try Start German. He has been listening to it before bed each night and greets the day with a guten Morgen!

This series is also currently available to check out in Irish, Italian, and Spanish. Also coming soon…Norwegian!

Dying in the Wool: A Kate Shackleton Mystery by Frances Brody

We meet amateur sleuth and former World War I nurse, Kate Shackleton a few years after the conclusion of the war in her small village of Bridgestead, England in the first book of the Kate Shackleton Mystery series, Dying in the Wool  by Frances Brody.  Kate is still reeling from her husband being declared missing in the war but, at the same time,  continues to hold out hope that he is alive.  As a nurse in the war, Kate has picked up the skills of a sleuth in helping a few fellow nurses find missing loved ones.  She has gained quite the reputation as a novice detective and based on her reputation one fellow nurse, Tabitha Braithwaite, calls on Kate for a mystery of her own.

Tabitha is engaged to be married within weeks and her wish before she walks down the aisle is to find her father, Joshua Braithwaite, who mysteriously disappeared and no trace of him was ever found.  Was Mr. Braithwaite, the owner and operator of a textile mill, a victim of someone with a grudge, did he stage his own disappearance or is the truth something more sinister?  Kate has little time to dig to the bottom of the mystery before Tabitha’s wedding day.  She meets a cast of characters in the village, including many mill workers who may have a grudge against the powerful mill owner and are potential suspects.  Kate, along with Sykes, a former detective who she hires as an employee, get closer and closer to finding the truth with potential murderous results.  Told in alternative chapters merging past and present, Dying in the Wool  gives the reader a glimpse into British society and culture in the early 1920s within a cozy mystery.

One of the most unique aspects of this mystery is the detail that Brody adds to the novel regarding the British textile mill industry immediately following WWI.  It is clear she has done her research, giving the reader a sense of the intricacies of how this industry was run.  Readers of Jacqueline Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs series may want to consider starting this series (the eleventh book in the series came out in November).  I’m already nearly done the second book, A Medal for Murder, and am looking forward to the third!

Online Reading Challenge – April

Welcome to the April edition of the Online Reading Challenge! Here is a low-pressure challenge that can help distract you – perfect for this crazy time.

This month our movie inspiration is: Downton Abbey!

Lose yourself in the elegant and refined world of the English upper class where every whim is handled by the staff. Or venture into the world of “downstairs” with the hardworking servants and their endless duties. To give us a wide range of topics to choose from, I’m including the wildly popular Downton Abbey television series, so our time period runs from the early 1900s (just after the Titanic sank) to the 1930s and beyond. A lot happened during that time – a devastating world war, the rise of women’s rights, a decline of the English aristocracy, and the Great Depression. Here are some book suggestions to get you started.

Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey by Fiona Carnavon is a non-fiction account of Highclere Castle, where Downton Abbey was filmed, and its dramatic, true history written by the current Countess. Also available as an ebook.

Below Stairs by Margaret Powell shows, in vivid detail, just how hard those servants worked and how hard their life could be.

American Heiress by Daisy Goodwin. A lot of the English aristocracy fell into financial ruin while trying to maintain large estates. Many of them married their sons to rich American women in exchange for a title. This is the fictional story of one of those young women.

The Poppy Wife by Caroline Scott. The aftermath of World War I and the survivors struggling to come to terms with what they’ve witnessed.

If you’re looking to read a classic, Henry James and Edith Wharton are the gold standard. For modern/newer classics, try Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro about an English estate that is bought by a rich American and how the servants adapt or Atonement by Ian McEwan about how a wrong accusation reverberates through several lives for many years.

For mystery lovers, there are several good series to explore including the Below Stairs series by Jennifer Ashley (servants solving crimes), the Inspector Ian Rutledge series by Charles Todd (recently returned veteran of World War I who struggles with PTSD), the Maisie Dobbs series by Jacqueline Winspear (young woman sets up her own private investigation agency just after World War I).

I’m going to read the first title in the Bess Crawford mystery series by Charles Todd, A Duty to the Dead. Bess is a British nurse serving in France during World War I and in this book, makes a promise to a dying soldier that leads her to a case of murder and intrigue. I’m looking forward to this! What will you be reading this month?

Usually at this point I remind you that there will be displays at each library with lots of title suggestions. However, it looks like we may not be open to the public for some time so instead I’ll remind you that you can still call the library and have a book held for you at the Fairmount drive up window. I also strongly urge you to take advantage of our free ebook service Overdrive which has thousands of titles available to read on your tablet or computer, including many of the titles mentioned here.

Until we meet again, stay safe and keep reading!

Online Reading Challenge – March Wrap

 

Hello Challenge Readers!

How was your March reading? Did you find something wonderful to read? Hopefully not anything too creepy (unless that’s what you like!)

As I said before, I’m not too interested in reading about serial killers so I passed on those and went for a straightforward murder. (Nothing creepy about that, right? ha!) I decided to read A Better Man by Louise Penny, a book that had been gifted to me and wow, it was great!

A catastrophic flood, a missing woman and tensions at work greet Chief Inspector Armand Gamache when he returns to the Sûreté du Québec (the national police force in Quebec, Canada) after serving a suspension in the 15th installment of Louise Penny’s popular series.

Gamache has been demoted and now his former second-in-command Jean-Guy Beauvoir is temporarily his supervisor – as well as being his son-on-law. Gamache had been Beauvoir’s mentor and the two share a close bond complicated now by their change in position and the fact the Beauvoir and his wife (Gamache’s daughter) will soon be moving to Paris. In addition, heavy rain and a sudden thaw have caused ice jams on the many rivers of Quebec, threatening dangerous flooding and diverting all personnel to cope with the national emergency. Into this chaos a father reports that his daughter is missing – she had been repeatedly abused by her husband and was desperate to escape and now she cannot be found. The father appeals to Gamache’s love for his own daughter – what would you do if it was her? – and Gamache is drawn into a complicated, twisted, emotional mystery.

This is the first novel by Louise Penny that I’ve read and boy am I hooked now. Penny is a masterful writer, conjuring up a cast of colorful characters in a beautiful setting (I desperately want to go to Quebec now!). It’s not sugar-sweet idyllic because people are, well, people, full of messy emotions  and always managing to get themselves tangled up in one situation or another. The mystery is interesting, but the heart of the novel is Gamache, his calm, wise counsel, his brilliant mind, his love for his family and his staff. Now I’m well on my way to reading the entire series from the beginning!

Now it’s your turn – what did you read for March?

Play the Forest School Way by Jane Worroll and Peter Houghton

As I write this, many of us are at home doing our part to mitigate the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Schools are not meeting in person for a few weeks, and many are going stir-crazy, wondering what to do with the extra “together” time at home.

I have an apt book to recommend: Play the Forest School Way: Woodland Games, Crafts and Skills for Adventurous Kids by Jane Worroll and Peter Houghton. (I love that the author of this book about being in the forest is named Jane. It’s so Tarzan.) Playing in the outdoors is something we can do with our families to get out an enjoy ourselves while still avoiding the spread of sickness among friends and neighbors.

This book is aimed at parents of primary school-age children but many of the activities can be enjoyed by people of all ages. Those of you who enjoy crafting will find ideas for making nature jewelry and whittling, among many other suggestions.

The idea of a “Journey Stick” is shared, where you collect items on your nature hike, affixing them to a stick (I imagine a hobo stick with a kerchief tied to the end). Use the found objects to re-tell the story of your outing or create a brand new one from your imagination!

For now, these ideas should be enjoyed in solitude or with the immediate members of your household, but you can remember and use them later while camping or with outdoor groups when it is safer to socialize again. With a little creativity, we can not only survive this quarantine but thrive if we learn to appreciate our immediate surroundings in ways we haven’t taken the time to do before.

If you like this book, you may want to check out A Year of Forest School: Outdoor Play and Skill-Building Fun for Every Season by the same authors.

 

 

The Hating Game by Sally Thorne

Sometimes I am overcome with the urge to walk the shelves and immerse myself in books. It centers me, lets me interact more with patrons, and also check the condition of books. With the recent closure of the Library to patrons, I found myself searching for books that I remembered patrons telling me to read. Up popped The Hating Game by Sally Thorne. Thorne was mentioned to me by a regular who thought I would enjoy a contemporary romance. She was right!

The Hating Game by Sally Thorne tells the story of two publishing companies, Gamin Publishing and Bexley Books, that are forced to merge in order to survive, as well as the people affected by this merger. Lucy Hutton and Joshua Templeton find themselves squaring off a daily basis as a direct result of this. Lucy and Joshua are executive assistants to the co-CEOs of the newly merged publishing company. The two are not friends, to put it nicely. They may have similar jobs, but that doesn’t mean they have to like each other. In fact, Lucy and Joshua hate each other and they aren’t shy about saying so. They show their feelings through passive aggressive games they play throughout the day, constantly working to frustrate and intimidate each other.

This status quo of hate and frustration continues on until their bosses announce a new job opening in the company. Lucy and Joshua are both put up for the promotion that will result in one being the other’s boss. Things couldn’t get worse. Even more consumed with beating the other, tensions rise until their dynamic abruptly shifts with an unexpected kiss. Both up for promotion, this high-stakes game of professional sabotage ratchets up as the two struggle with whether or not the feelings they have for each other are real or if this is instead another game.

I found The Hating Game to be serious, sharp, funny, full of happiness, and chock full of delicious chemistry and tender moments. This office romance about two sworn enemies had me hooked from the beginning and hoping that the two would end up together. Give this book a read (or a listen) and let me know what you thought about it in the comments below.

According to author Sally Thorne’s websiteThe Hating Game is being made into a movie starring Lucy Hale, Robbie Amell, and Gina Torres as revealed in 2019. Hopefully that comes to fruition!


This book is also available in the following formats:

Spring Garden Books

I read a quote recently where someone asked if we could unplug 2020, wait a few minutes and then try restarting it. It’s been a long year already, hasn’t it – and we’ve got quite a bit of 2020 left! We may not be able to unplug and start over, but spring, which officially begins today, offers a fresh start of it’s own. Here are some recent gardening books that are guaranteed to brighten your day!

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Floret Farm’s A Year in Flowers by Erin Benzakein. Not only is this is a seriously gorgeous book, it’s packed with great information on how to grow and arrange your own cut flowers. Erin is something of a star in the flower grower world and she just announced that she has filmed a documentary about running a small business which will air on Chip and Joanna Gaines’ new Magnolia television network sometime in October.

Garden Alchemy: 80 Recipes and Concoctions for Organic Fertilizers, Plant Elixirs, Potting Mixes, Pest Deterrents and More by Stephanie Rose. The best way to ensure a lots of beautiful flowers and vegetables is to start with beautiful soil. Lots of tips and ideas in this book!

Gardening in Your Front Yard: Projects and Ideas for Big and Small Spaces by Tara Nolan. Stop wasting all of that land in front of your house – gardens are beautiful, add to the value of your house and are much better for the environment and wildlife than the mono-culture of grass.

Mastering the Art of Flower Gardening: a Gardener’s Guide to Growing Flowers, from Today’s Favorites to Unusual Varieties by Matt Mattus. You’ll want to keep your stack of seed and bulb catalogs close by while paging through this beauty – lots of inspiration for your next garden!

Small Garden Style: a Design Guide for Outdoor Rooms and Containers by Isa Eaton. Small doesn’t mean lacking in style and interest; this book will help you create a lovely garden no matter the size. Even a small front porch can benefit from a beautiful container garden!