I have inadvertently been reading a lot of historical fiction about World War II. How is this inadvertent you ask? I put a bunch of audiobooks on hold through OverDrive and as it so happened, five came ready at the same time. The last two that I’ve listened to have all been about World War II with the main women both playing the violin and one of the main men named Max. During the second book, I had to pay very close attention, so I wouldn’t mix up the books. Hidden Among the Stars was the second World War II fiction I listened to this week. It may be time for a lighthearted read…
Hidden Among the Stars by Melanie Dobson slips from the past to the future in this gripping tale of hidden treasure, a castle, and ordinary people fighting to resist evil any way possible. This piece of inspirational fiction unites 1938 Vienna, Austria with 2018 United States.
1938. Austria. Hitler’s troops are sweeping into Vienna, much to the chagrin of Max Dornbach. With political views that differ from his parents, Max has no desire to shun his Jewish friends. Max offers to help his Jewish friends hide their most valuable possessions, so they won’t fall into the hands of the Nazis. Max works closely with the father of Luzia Weiss, a young Jewish woman he has grown to love. Smuggling those goods to his family’s summer estate near Hallstatt, Max quickly finds himself needing the help of Annika Knopf. Annika’s father is the current caretaker of the summer estate, meaning that Annika and Max have grown up together. Annika has loved Max for as long as she can remember and has thusly decided to help him however she can. Her loyalty and love for Max is stretched when Max brings Luzia with him on one of his trips to the summer estate. Agreeing to hide Luzia in the castle, Annika doesn’t realize the full extent of what is on the line until the Nazis come to Hallstatt and destroy the castle. Luzia and the treasure have disappeared, throwing everyone’s lives into turmoil.
Flash forward eighty years. Callie Randall may not be living the life she thought she’d have at this point, but she’s mostly happy with what she has. Callie is running a small local bookstore with her sister where she is known as Storygirl with amazing striped socks. Callie also runs a blog where she writes stories about different authors. While working on her current article, Callie stumbles upon a cryptic list in an old edition of Bambi that introduces her to the bewildering world of Annika’s story. Digging into Annika’s life, Callie finds that this story may be connected to the life of a close dear friend of hers. In order to find the truth, Callie must venture outside of the safe place she has built for herself. She soon finds herself on an adventure with a chance for new love and long-awaited for answers.
This book is also available in the following formats:
If you could read a book and get a glimpse into another society, would you? By reading fiction books, I will often find a topic that intrigues me that will then push me to read a nonfiction book about the same topic. It’s an enjoyable cycle! Historical fiction is one of the biggest genres that leads me to nonfiction books. I love fact-checking the fiction book to see how closely the author wrote to what happened in real life. Historical fiction that focuses on remarkable women is one of my favorites. Stephanie Barron’s latest works falls under this category.
That Churchill Woman by Stephanie Barron chronicles the life of one of history’s most remarkable, controversial, and influential women: Winston Churchill’s scandalous American mother, Jennie Jerome. Jennie was born in Brooklyn to a prosperous American financier father and a mother with high social ambitions for both herself and her daughters. Eventually ending up in Europe with her mother and siblings after a scandal rocked her parents, Jennie realizes that she is responsible for securing her own destiny. Jennie is wealthy, privileged, and raised by her father to be fiercely independent. The moment she landed in Victorian England, Jennie and her family took the area by storm.
Jennie runs into Lord Randolph Churchill at a party and decides she wants to marry him when she is just nineteen years old. The shocker? They have only known each other for three days when Jennie decides to marry him. Once they are married, she is instantly swept into a crazy whirlwind of British politics and the social climbers that surround Bertie, Prince of Wales. Jennie is now the new Lady Randolph Churchill, a brash American woman who thinks for herself and is careless of English society rules. She becomes a London sensation, traveling without her husband to Marlborough House and gathering admirers and critics along the way. Since Jennie knows about politics and is also a gifted piano player, she uses her talents to begin shaping her husband’s rise in Parliament. Jennie is also widely known as the mother of Winston Churchill. She uses her talents to help navigate Winston’s journey into manhood. He had a difficult childhood, but Jennie made sure to be at his side.
As the Churchill family becomes more influential, scandal and tragedy begin to strike them. Jennie has had lovers besides her husband, but none mean as much to her as Count Charles Kinsky. Kinsky is a man who loves horses like she does and passionately loves Jennie the way her husband can’t. Once Bertie, Prince of Wales, catches wind of their affair, Jennie is forced to rethink their love as she quickly realizes just how much her every move is judged in public. She must decide how to balance duty and desire, a choice which has consequences that ripple across the Atlantic. Jennie’s decision takes her to a new level of scandal as her children’s lives and all of those around her are greatly affected. This novel is a loving portrait of a woman who helped shape the Churchill era. Jennie’s legacy may be of a difficult and scandalous woman, but the balancing act she works out between obligation, desire, duty, love, and freedom is a testament to the soul of a woman who through sheer force of will was able to alter the course of history.
Girls Burn Brighter by Shobha Rao is the story of two young girls who are trying to find their place in a world that values men higher than women. Poornima and Savitha are the eldest girls in their respective families in India. Chance leads the girls together where they strike up a once-in-a-lifetime friendship. Poornima’s mother died when she was young, leaving her to fill the mother role to all of her younger siblings long before she was actually ready to fulfill it. Working hard to help her father provide for the family, Poornima quickly realizes that even though her family isn’t dirt poor, they’re still scraping by. To help supplement their income, Poornima’s father hires Savitha to work one of their sari looms, thus allowing Poornima’s family to bring in more money while also giving Savitha money for hers. Poornima and Savitha begin to turn to each other for comfort. Savitha’s family is more impoverished than Poornima’s, but Savitha quickly shows Poornima how to find joy and beauty in the little day to day parts of life. Savitha’s infectious personality finally allows Poornima to imagine the possibility of a fulfilling life beyond the arranged marriage her father is so desperately looking for her to fill.
Just when Poornima and Savitha have reached a comfortable rhythm, a devastating act of cruelty and violence occurs that destroys their newfound joy. As a result, Savitha is ruined and driven away from their small village. Poornima is wrecked and decides to do everything in her power to find Savitha, so they can live a happy life together. Poornima’s journey takes her away from everything that she is accustomed to and everything that she holds dear. Poornima finds herself searching India’s dark underworld for any sign of Savitha. Willing to do anything to find her, Poornima goes on a journey across India and even ends up traveling to the United States.
This novel alternates between both Poornima and Savitha’s perspectives. They have never lost hope that they will eventually find each other, even when circumstances turn dangerous. Rao tackles many urgent issues facing women across the world: immigration, feminism, human trafficking, and domestic abuse, just to name a few. These issues provide a solid foundation for Rao to explore how friendship and the will to survive can help women work towards a better, more hopeful future.
This book is also available in the following formats:
I’m an anxious flyer. The whole process terrifies me. To keep myself calm, I usually avoid fiction that has anything to do with planes or crashes. Jessica Barry’s novel, Freefall, was a notable exception as from the very beginning, readers know that the main character survived! A novel involving a plane crash with a positive outcome? Yes please!
Freefall by Jessica Barry is a psychological thriller following the lives of Maggie Carpenter and her daughter Allison. Maggie lives in Owl Creek, Maine. At home one day, Maggie isn’t surprised to see a police officer at her front door, given that he’s the husband of one of her best friends. What he has to say, however, shocks her to her core. Allison is dead. She died in a private plane crash in the mountains in Colorado. People keep telling Maggie that Allison’s death was a terrible accident, but she finds that hard to believe. Allison has always been a survivor. Looking for answers, Maggie digs deep into Allison’s life and the situation that led to her death. Maggie lost touch with her daughter over two years ago, but she hopes that Allison’s life hasn’t changed that much since then. Her research pulls up startling revelations that Maggie isn’t prepared to know, but what she finds gives her more hope that Allison is alive. Maggie must do everything she can to find Allison, even if that means looking through every detail of her daughter’s life.
While Maggie learns more about Allison, Allison herself is struggling to survive. She has survived the plane crash and is wounded. Hiking through the mountains, Allison is running from her past. As she fights her way to freedom and struggles to survive in the wilderness, Allison has to come to terms with the mess her life has become. She has lost her perfect fiancé and the luxurious way of life to which she has become accustomed. As she trudges through the forest looking through any signs of civilization, Allison frequently flashes back to previous moments in her life. Engaged to wealthy pharmaceutical CEO Ben Gardner, Allison thought she had it all. How did she end up with so many dark secrets? How did she end up willing to leave it all behind? How will she survive? What if the people after her get to her mother? Allison must make it back to her mother in time. Hoping against all hope that Maggie is safe, Allison fights to get to Maine no matter the consequences.
This book is told from both Maggie and Allison’s perspectives giving readers a glimpse into how far a mother and daughter are willing to go when the other is in danger. Even though they are separated by distance and their relationship is strained, both Maggie and Allison feel a tug connecting them as each works to protect and keep the other from coming to any harm.
Also I forgot to mention that Maggie is a retired librarian! How cool is that?? Read this book and let me know what you think of it in the comments below.
This book is also available in the following formats:
Hello Challenge Readers and welcome to April! This month we’re going to be reading about a favorite topic of all of ours – Reading! The choices range from books about bookshops and libraries, to brave librarians (is there any other kind of librarian?!) to books within books. There’s no shortage of great titles! Here are a few of mine.
First and foremost, The Library Book by Susan Orlean. Centered on the 1986 fire that destroyed a huge part of the Los Angeles Public Library, Orlean delves into such diverse subjects as architecture, fire fighting, the history of Los Angeles and the presence of libraries in our lives. Beautifully written, it’s a love letter to libraries. (There’s a waiting list so if you haven’t read this, get your name on the list right away even if you don’t read it for the April Reading Challenge!)
The Giant’s House by Elizabeth McCracken is a very unusual romance between a small town librarian and a 7 foot tall giant. McCracken’s observations about librarys and librarians is spot on and the platonic love story is poignant and beautifully written.
Mr Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan mixes a magical realism and an epic search for the answer to a hundred year old puzzle. The clues are hidden in books in a mysterious bookstore in San Francisco, patronized by an odd collection of characters. A fun and twisty read. Bonus: the cover glows in the dark! Really! I checked!
Want to read something classic? Try Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 or Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Science fiction readers will love Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next series about a police force that guards anyone from getting into a book and changing it. For something more serious, try The Book Thief by Markus Zusak set in Nazi Germany or Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi about educating girls in Iran. Love graphic novels? Then The Night Bookmobile by Audrey Niffeneger is a great choice. Prefer something lighter? Try The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett which answers the question, what would happen if Queen Elizabeth became an avid reader? And if you haven’t read it yet now is the perfect time to read The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society which is lovely and fun but with a serious undertone.
As always, there will be displays at each Davenport library location with lots of titles to choose from.
I am planning on reading The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield which has been on my list for a long time. Although, I’m also considering The Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler. Or even The Library at the Edge of the World by Felicity Hayes-McCoy. Hmmmm. So many good choices. Any recommendations? And what will you be reading in April? Let us know in the comments!
You may already be familiar with the Community Experience Passes that are available at the Davenport Library. These passes give you free access to great local attractions such as the Putnum Museum, the Figge Art Museum and the German American Heritage Center. They are quite popular and we strive to add more experiences to our collection whenever possible. Today we are pleased to announce the addition of our newest Community Experience Pass – the Skip the Line I-74 Bridge Pass!
As you know, crossing the Mighty Mississippi River via the I-74 Bridge can be, shall we say, a bit frustrating these days. Traffic back-up, long lines, major detours – it all adds up to a great deal of waiting and perhaps a bit of colorful language. Yet for many, this is a vital pathway that must be tackled frequently, even daily. That’s where the Skip the Line I-74 Bridge Pass comes in! By-pass all the struggle of getting across the river and arrive at your destination happy and relaxed! It’s a Quad-Citians dream come true!
And they couldn’t be easier to use! Simply present your pass at the Grant Street exit if you are Illinois-bound or, if you’re heading to Iowa, at the 7th Avenue exit. A disgruntled construction worker will approach your car. Show him or her your pass and then use the code “there are no oranges in the canoe”. The seemingly unhappy worker will smile sunnily and reply “the albatross flies at midnight” and wave you toward the secret passage. That’s it! Easy peasy! Of course, if the construction worker seems confused and does not smile, you’ve run into someone that isn’t in on the secret. It’d be best if you abandoned your car and flee.
Community Experiences Passes are restricted to Davenport Library card holders only. They check out for one week and have unlimited use during that time. Passes can also be reserved, but not for a specific day or week. Overdue charges are steep – $30 per day! So enjoy your worry-free travel week, then return the pass promptly!
April Fool! (sadly)
Starting a new relationship means that you are not just in a relationship with your new partner, but that you have to build relationships with their family and friends. Sometimes those relationships are positive, while others start rocky and only get worse. In Sandie Jones’ new novel, The Other Woman, Jones examines the relationships that exist between a woman and the intense bond she shares with the man she loves.
The Other Woman is a twisty thriller that centers around how far someone is willing to go to get what they want. After a bad breakup, Emily has finally met the man of her dreams. Adam is perfect and everything she has ever wanted in a man. Emily thinks that her life couldn’t be any more perfect until she meets Adam’s mom, Pammie. Right from the start, Emily notices the odd and slightly off relationship that Pammie and Adam share. Thinking that Pammie is just overprotective of her son, Emily tries to work things out. Quickly things spiral out of control. Pammie is overbearing, overprotective, and, worst of all, extremely critical of everything Emily wears, says, or does around her. Nothing Emily does could ever be right. No one else notices Pammie’s bizarre behavior though. Mentioning this to Adam only serves to anger him and tarnish his mother’s perfect reputation in his eyes. Emily decides to stay the course.
Adam and Emily’s relationship progresses and flourishes as they begin to make plans to spend the rest of their lives together. Emily and Pammie’s relationship? Still rocky. With each new milestone Emily and Adam reach, Pammie seems to lose control even more. When Emily finally secures a forever relationship with Adam, she quickly learns that Pammie will do anything to keep her and Adam apart. Pammie wants Emily gone forever. Emily wants Adam forever. Those wants are not compatible. These two formidable women face off against each other in a battle of wills that will leave their relationships and lives in tatters.
This book is also available in the following formats:
In college, I read primarily romance novels, but now that I work in a library surrounded by an infinite number of books, I find that I’m straying away from those old comforts. In an effort to reintroduce myself to romance novels, I have been reading a lot of ‘romantic suspense’ by Sandra Brown and other authors. I recently found Before We Were Strangers by Brenda Novak and decided to give this romantic suspense author a try.
Before We Were Strangers by Brenda Novak tells the story of how far one woman is willing to go to dig up her family’s dark secrets. Sloane McBride’s mother disappeared when she was five. Something happened to her mother the night she left, but no one wants to talk about it. Sloane was in the house the night her mom left and heard some things that she believes could have to do with her mother’s disappearance. Sloane heard her parents arguing and the things they were talking about made her skin crawl. In the midst of their arguing, a thump reverberated throughout the house. After that noise, the house went completely quiet. The next morning, Sloane discovered that her mother was gone. According to her father, her mother left and was never coming back.
Her father insisted that her mother just up and left, a situation that doesn’t sit well with Sloane given what she overheard that night and the fact that her mother was very loving and devoted to her two children. After their mother left, Sloane and her brother are raised by their strict and domineering father in their small Texas hometown. Desperate to escape, Sloane moves out of the town as soon as she turns eighteen and eventually ends up working as a model in New York. Despite all the distance between Texas and New York, Sloane is still haunted by what could have happened to her mother.
Thinking herself strong enough to stand up to her father and brother now that she has been away for ten years, Sloane decides to head back to Texas to finally find out the truth of what happened to her mother. Returning to this small town means that Sloane has to deal with her jilted ex-boyfriend, an angry best friend, a disappointed brother, and a father who will do anything to keep her from finding the truth. The more Sloane digs into her mother’s disappearance, the more dark family secrets she uncovers. As she learns more about what happened, Sloane is left to wonder how much of a coverup went into hiding what happened to her mother and just how each person she is investigating fits into this mysterious puzzle.
This book is also available in the following formats:
Have you ever read a book where you were consistently confused about what is real and what isn’t? I felt that way all through JP Delaney’s newest book, Believe Me. Just when I thought I knew what was going on, a twist would come from out of nowhere and I would be back at square one, trying to figure out what was happening.
Believe Me by JP Delaney tells the story of a young actress desperate for money. Claire is a struggling British actress who, through a series of nasty circumstances, finds herself living in New York without a green card. Not sure what else to do and needing money and a job, Claire becomes resourceful in order to find work. Since she is an actress, Claire eventually finds employ working as a decoy for a firm of divorce lawyers. Her job is simple: she has been hired to entrap straying husbands. She is to get close, but not too close, in order for him to proposition her, while she stays slightly aloof. The firm needs evidence of their straying, but they must not be coerced.
Claire’s newest job seems straight-forward: the client warns her to be careful and is insistent that Claire doesn’t fall for any of her husband’s tricks. Claire’s meeting with the client’s husband hadn’t gone as well as she had hoped which frustrated them all. Moving on, Claire is surprised when that wife ends up violently murdered and the cops are convinced that the husband is to blame.
The cops decide to take advantage of Claire’s lack of a green card and her prior association with the suspect. They entreat Claire to use her acting skills and her work as a decoy to hopefully lure the husband unto a confession.
This seems like an easy job to Claire. After all, she is paid to lure men into propositioning her. How hard could it be to lure a man into confessing? Claire takes on a new identity and voice that the police feel will catch the killer’s eye. The closer she gets to the target though, the more Claire wonders if she is actually the decoy or the prey. Is she the hunter or the one being hunted? The further she gets into the investigation, the more questions are raised.
The twist at the end of this novel hit me so hard that 1) I audibly gasped and drew the attention of everyone in the grocery store around me and 2) I had to rewind and listen to the ending multiple times before I fully understand what was going on. I love when books do this to me. Read this book and let me know what you think!
This book is also available in the following formats:
Film lovers, rejoice! Letterboxd is a super-slick social app for tracking your favorite movies! As a lover of film, I found myself wondering where to locate the “Goodreads of film,” and low-and-behold: I found it. Letterboxd gives users the options of importing data from other social sites that you use (IMDB, Delicious, iCheckMovies, etc) if you don’t want to start from scratch. Personally, I have never tracked my favorite movies despite watching several per week! Up until now, IMDB had been my go-to for online film discussion but I view the discussion component of Letterboxd as more robust (though I’ll still turn turn to it for go-to information on actors/actresses and filmography).
Letterboxd describes itself as follows on it’s “About” page:
Letterboxd is a global social network for grass-roots film discussion and discovery. Use it as a diary to record and share your opinion about films as you watch them, or just to keep track of films you’ve seen in the past. Showcase your favorites on your profile page. Rate, review and tag films as you add them. Find and follow your friends to see what they’re enjoying. Keep a watchlist of films you’d like to see, and create lists/collections on any given topic. We’ve been described as “like GoodReads for movies”.
As you begin to navigate the app or site, you’ll notice
You can browse by:
- List: browse lists or create your own! Examples include: 2019 Oscars, From Willem Dafoe to Willem Dafriend, Men/Boys Crying, Transgressive/Weird Films, Praise-worthy, beautiful, mesmerizing, deserving, diversity-bred movies that were made by people with lots of talent with a ton of effort solely for the purpose of making something good that were snubbed over movies made by people with no talent, and Recommendations For Everyone Who Wants To Watch More Movies By Female Directors But Doesn’t Know Where to Start.
- People: Like any other social app, you can browse and track new film by drawing on your network and browsing the lists of other individuals who are using Letterboxd.
- Year: You guessed it. Explore by decade!
- Popularity: Browse by weekly, monthly, yearly, and “all-time” popularity ratings (based on user feedback). This week’s most popular films are: Fyre, Favourite, Glass, Bohemian Rhapsody, Roma, Green Book, Spider Man: Into The Spiderverse, A Star Is Born, Black Klansman, Vice, and If Beale Street Could Talk. Keep in mind that the film most likely to be most popular during the week will be the most current titles where-as the “of all time” category lends itself to a larger historical spectrum: La La Land, Get Out, Mad Max, Pulp Fiction, The Dark Knight, Whiplash, Moonlight, Alien, The Shape of Water, Silence of the Lambs, etc.
- Rating: You’re probably familiar with making decisions based on ratings. I know I am! Browse by Highest & Lowest ratings!In looking at the lowest-rated films listed, I’ve gotta say I’m in agreement with my fellow Letterboxd users as Krampus, for example, was easily among the most terrible movies I’ve ever endured. Definitely don’t recommend.
- Other: This browsing category includes “Most Anticipated”, “Coming Soon” and an A-Z list (or you conduct a good, old-fashioned title search as well).
- Genre: Most genres listed are typical and traditional (Action, Adventure, Western, Horror, Romance, Science Fiction Thriller, Fantasy), so if you’re looking for avante guard, weird/transgressive, cult classics, documentaries, or films made by Black directors, specifically, you might want to have a look at some of the lists or create your own!
Additionally, the sorting feature is pretty cool as you can skip quickly to genre ratings sorted from Highest to Lowest. According to the Letterboxd community, the Top 3 Horror films in order are: Get Out, The Shining, and A Quiet Place. Fun fact: A Quiet Place was written by Scott Beck and Bryan Woods, local Quad Cities natives!.
Film lovers and anyone who wants to discover great (or awful) film should definitely check out Letterboxd and start your film diary so you have your newest recommendations and favorite stand-bys at the ready anytime you’re chatting up friends and fellow film buffs! Check out the Official Letterboxd Top 250 List (updated weekly) to get some inspiration!