Online Reading Challenge – Wrap-Up

Hello Fellow Readers!

How did your “spy reading” go this month? Did you read something that kept your interest during this difficult and confusing time?

I read Code Name Helene by Ariel Lawhon, a fictionalized account about a real person. Well, I meant to read this book this month, but, sadly, it didn’t happen. I blame the pandemic as I found myself constantly distracted. They claim that Shakespeare wrote King Lear while in isolation during the Black Plague, but he didn’t have 24/7 news or social media to block out! Here’s to hoping my reading mojo comes back soon!

I did get started on Code Name Helene and it certainly has potential. So here’s a quick overview of what it’s about and my initial impressions.

Nancy Wake left Australia in the 1930s as a young woman, seeking adventure. She traveled throughout Europe as a journalist and socialite, making contacts with the wealthy and the powerful. She was free-spirited, independent and stubborn, walking into danger without hesitation. As the Nazi’s gain power in Germany, she struggles to raise the alarm but finds that many people, such as her editor, don’t want to hear what she is telling them. Unable to stand aside and do nothing, Nancy becomes a spy for the Allies. Known for her signature red lipstick, ferocious wit and her fearlessness, Nancy eventually becomes one of the most powerful leaders of the French Resistance, frequently putting herself and her loved ones in danger.

The story jumps across timelines, from the late 1930s to the end of World War II and from the point-of-view of several characters. I often enjoy this style of storytelling, feeling that it gives a more complete view of what happened and the results and consequences. However, I was having more trouble keeping track of characters, locations and dates with this book – perhaps it was my pandemic-induced distraction, but I found it hard to really fall into the world of this novel.

Nevertheless, Code Name Helene has great potential as a superior spy novel with it’s brave heroine set during one of the pivotal periods of history.

Now it’s your turn. What did you read this month? Tell us in the comments!

Online Reading Challenge – Mid Month Check-in

Hello Readers!

How is your reading going so far this month? It’s a crazy time so you wouldn’t be blamed if your usual reading habits have veered off course. Maybe a movie or documentary would appeal to you? Here are some to look for that center on spies, real and imagined.

Since access to the library and our collections is still limited, let’s started with a couple of free online services that we offer! First up is Acorn TV which is a treasure trove of British and foreign television series and films. Here you’ll find the documentary David Janson’s Secret Service that examines the real-life versions of some of Ian Fleming’s most iconic characters – “M”, “Q” and James Bond himself. Another documentary available on Acorn TV is The Spy Who Went Into the Cold  about the devastating betrayal of top MI-6 official Kim Philby and his defection to the USSR in 1963.

A service just added to the Library’s digital content line-up is IndieFlix  an eclectic mix of independent shorts, documentaries and feature films. You’ll find lots of classics including the brilliant Notorious staring Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman about a woman asked to spy on a group of Nazi’s living in South America. Or check out British Intelligence starring Boris Karloff about German spies placed in the home of a high-ranking British official during World War I.

At this time the Library is planning on reopening the drive-up window at Fairmount beginning on May 18. There will be strict guidelines to follow to protect both patrons and staff, but you should be able to start picking up reserves again. Fill your “spy” section of the Online Reading Club with a James Bond film like Skyfall or something humorous like The Kingsmen or The Spy Who Dumped Me. If you’re in the mood for bingeing a television series, try Turn: Washington’s Spies about spies during the Revolutionary War or The Americans about Russian double agents living in the United States.

Online Reading Challenge – May

Here we go, continuing with the Online Reading Challenge! This month our inspiration film is: Casino Royale!

That’s right – Bond, James Bond. Or anything about spies, real or imagined. Usually seen as super-cool and very secretive, they have been fodder for lots of great stories. Here are some titles and authors to get you started.

John le Carre has set the standard for writing excellent, intriguing spy stories. His most well-known book, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, considered a masterpiece, delves into the intricate, complicated world of spycraft at the height of the Cold War. Others by le Carre to read include Smiley’s People, Agent Running the in Field, The Constant Gardener and The Spy Who Came in from the Cold.

Other authors that deliver lots of action and intrigue include the Jack Ryan series by Tom Clancy (starting with The Hunt for Red October taking place on nuclear submarine), The Jason Bourne series by Robert Ludlum (the first being The Bourne Identity where a CIA agent has lost of his memory).

The Cold War provided a huge amount of material for spy novels, what with the paranoia and secrecy and fear of that time, but wars have also been fertile ground. Ken Follet’s Eye of the Needle, about a German spy in World War II, is a favorite of many. Or read the excellent The Alice Network by Kate Quinn that details the exploits and sacrifices of women spies in World War I.

Other authors to consider include Alan Furst, Fredrick Forsyth, Vince Flynn and Daniel Silva. And, oh yes, Ian Fleming.

I am planning on reading Code Name Helene by Ariel Lawhon, based on the real-life story of Nancy Wake, a socialite who spied on the Nazi’s and became a deadly member of the French Resistance.

As of this writing, the library is still closed to the public. When we open again (soon, I hope!) there will be displays at each building with lots of titles to choose from. Also, be sure to look at our collection of e-books with Overdrive. You’ll find lots of titles about spies – simply type “spy novels” or “spies” in the search bar on Overdrive!

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!

Online Reading Challenge – Mid-Month Check

Hello!

I hope this finds you safe and healthy – these are crazy times we’re living through, aren’t they? I also hope you’re finding the Library’s online services helpful – though we miss seeing you at one of our locations, using e-books or e-audiobooks is a great alternative!

Usually at our Mid-Month Check, I suggest movies or television series that you can check out from the library that fit with that month’s theme. This month, of course, we aren’t checking out physical items so instead, I’m going to point you toward another great online resource available through the Library – Acorn TV! Acorn is a collection of mostly British television series that you can stream for free! There’s an amazing collection of shows to watch, perfect for staying-home and, since so many of them are British, a lot of them will fit into this month’s theme of Downton Abbey! Here’s a selection to get you started.

Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries – set in the 1920s, this delightful series actually takes place in Australia (but it still counts!) with the fashionable Miss Fisher solving a variety of intriguing mysteries.

Victorian House of Arts and Crafts – this is a fun documentary that follows 21st century craftsmen as they work on renovate a Victorian-era house using 19th century tools and techniques.

Keeping the Castle is another documentary, this one about the expense and upkeep of one of those huge country estates in the modern age.

The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes is a series featuring classic mysteries with a variety of investigators set in the same time period as Sherlock Holmes.

It’s easy to get started with Acorn TV; simply go to the Davenport Library homepage, click on Digital Content, then click on the Acorn TV. You’ll need your library card number and an RB Digital account (also free) Licenses check out for one week with unlimited renewals.

Of course, you can also watch something from your own collection of DVDs or your streaming services (there are no Library Police!) Mostly, I recommend finding something fun and distracting!

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 – Mid-Month Check

Hello! How is your month of serial killers going? I sincerely hope you’re reading about serial killers and not actually meeting any! Of course, Silence of the Lambs has other aspects you can read about – the FBI, murders even um, cannibalism. I chose to go with a plan old murder by Louise Penny and I’m very happy with my choice.

If you’re still looking, maybe a movie would be a good alternative. Here are some ideas.

Wind River with Elizabeth Olsen and Jeremy Renner.  An FBI agent teams with a town’s veteran game tracker to investigate a murder that occurred on a Native American reservation.

Sicario starring Emily Blunt and Josh Brolin.  After an idealistic FBI agent is recruited by a to pursue a drug lord, she begins a perilous mission that  pits her against a shadowy consultant with a dangerous agenda.

Dirty Harry with Clint Eastwood. A rooftop sniper named Scorpio has killed twice. Streetwise San Francisco police detective Harry Callahan will nail the perp one way or another-

Now You See Me. An elite FBI squad in a game of cat and mouse against The Four Horsemen, a super-team of the world’s greatest illusionists.

Natural Born Killers with Woody Harrelson and Juliette Lewis. The story of a husband and wife who are serial killers involved in a cross-country killing spree that elevates them from fugitives into media celebrities.

Television series that fit the bill include The X-Files, Criminal Minds, White Collar, Fringe and Bones and Dexter.

And of course, there’s always Silence of the Lambs. Watch it with a nice Chianti.

Online Reading Challenge – March

Fellow Readers! Welcome to the March edition of the Online Reading Challenge. This month our inspiration film is: The Silence of the Lambs!

Urk. What was I thinking when I choose this film? I am not a fan of serial killers, which, ok, is kind of a silly statement since I imagine most people don’t really want to meet one face-to-face. [Side note: There’s a fascinating anecdote in the excellent book The Library Book by Susan Orlean where she interviews a reference librarian who refers to a patron he had helped a few times. Turns out the patron was Richard Ramirez better known as The Night Stalker who terrorized Los Angeles in 1985. Way to close for comfort!] However, reading about serial killers is a bit safer and delving into the mind/motivations of a murderer can be fascinating.

For The Silence of the Lambs, a film about an especially notorious serial killer helping the FBI hunt down another notorious serial killer and starring Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins, you can choose to read about serial killers, the FBI, even ordinary garden-variety murderers. If you’d really like to push the limits, you could even choose to read about cannibalism (such as Alive by Piers Paul Read or anything about the Donner Party) Just, no fava beans please!

If you’re interested in reading about actual serial killers, head for the 364.1523 Dewey area of the library. You’ll find lots of true crime books including The Devil in the White City by Eric Larsen about the hunt for a serial killer during the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893 and Helter Skelter by Vincent Bugliosi about the Charles Manson killings in California. For a look at the beginnings of the FBI reach for Killers of the Osage Moon by David Grann, the story of the murders of members of the Osage Tribe in 1920s Oklahoma.

Some fiction books worth considering include The Perfect Husband by Lisa Gardener, The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold, The Alienist by Caleb Carr and, of course, The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris.

Several mystery series deal with the FBI and/or serial killers including Catherine Coulter’s FBI Thrillers and Brit in the FBI series, Allison Brennan’s Lucy Kincaid series and Max Revere novels, P.J. Tracy’s Monkeewrench series and Jeffry Lindsay’s Dexter series (from the point-of-view of the serial killer)

As always, stop by any of the three Davenport Library locations for displays with lots more title suggestions!

I’m going to read a plain-old garden-variety murder mystery, Louise Penny’s A Better Man from her Chief Inspector Gamache series. I haven’t read any Louise Penny books, but know she has lots of fans and lots of excellent reviews. I’m looking forward to getting started!

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

Online Reading Challenge – February Wrap-Up

Greetings Readers!

What did you read for our Gone with the Wind themed reading month? Did you find something interesting?

February was a good month for me – I read The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd. This was one of the books chosen by Oprah for her book club, so many of you may have read this already. I hadn’t and I’m glad I got the chance/encouragement to read it now.

Set in the early 1800s thru the 1830s, The Invention of Wings follows two main characters – Sarah Grimke, the daughter of a wealthy, Southern plantation owner and her slave Hetty “Handful” Grimke who was given to Sarah on her eleventh birthday. Sarah is horrified; she already has strong anti-slavery feelings and does not want to own a human being. Her parents force her to accept Handful and their stories are now set to be entwined for the rest of their lives.

At first the girls (Handful is the same age as Sarah) are almost friends. They share secrets and play together and Sarah teaches Handful how to read. However, the reality of their situation – slave and owner – forces distance between them. Both are trapped, Sarah by the dictates of her parents and the fact that she is female and her choices are restricted. Handful’s life is, of course, much harsher, filled with cruelty and unfairness. Both long to be free to pursue their own lives. Sarah eventually defies her parents and moves to Philadelphia and begins following the Quaker faith in part because of their anti-slavery stand. Handful remains behind, fighting to survive including a terrible punishment for a minor “crime” that will change her life. Sarah reaches out to her again and again but is limited in what she can do until Handful is finally ready to attempt to break free.

Sarah Grimke was a real person who became a vocal abolitionist and woman’s rights suffragist in the 1830s. She and her sister Nina (who also appears in the book) became famous – and notorious – for their unapologetic and outspoken views. Handful is not based on a real person, but her experiences are drawn from countless stories of slaves. This creates a very personal, very painful glimpse of slavery not only the physical pain but the emotional and mental toll – the loss of dignity, of autonomy, of control. A powerful and thoughtful book.

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

Online Reading Challenge – Mid-Month Check

Hey Readers! How’s your February reading? Need a few more suggestions? Here are some movies that would count for our month of Gone with the Wind.

Lincoln with a virtuoso, Oscar winning performance from Daniel Day Lewis, this movie follows an Abraham Lincoln worn down by the war as he works to ensure the passage of the 13th Amendment near the end of the Civil War.

Cold Mountain, another Oscar winning film (for Best Supporting Actress Rene Zellwinger), brings to life Charles Fraizer’s novel of a Confederate soldier who deserts and tries to return to his young wife. Also starring Jude Law and Nicole Kidman.

Mercy Street, a television series that originally aired on PBS, is set in 1862 in Alexandria, Virginia which is located near the border between North and South. The Union has taken over a hotel owned by Southern sympathizers and have made it into a Union Army hospital.

Ken Burns’ documentary The Civil War brought visual storytelling to a whole new level when it aired on PBS. More than a recounting of battles, it delves into the lives of those involved, from the Generals to the ordinary soldier to those left at home.

And of course, there’s Gone with the Wind our inspiration for the month and well worth watching (or re-watching!)