The Other Queen by Philippa Gregory

Philippa Gregory does it again with her latest historical novel – another compelling story of a Tudor queen. This time, however, the queen is Mary, Queen of Scots whose very existence threatens Elizabeth’s tenuous hold on the throne.

The Other Queen is told in three voices – Mary, George Talbot and his wife Bess. The Talbots have been commanded by Elizabeth to host Mary but in fact, they are her jailers. Mary had fled to England on the promise that she would be given sanctuary, but instead she becomes a prisoner.

At first honored by Elizabeth’s request, George and Bess soon discover that Mary’s demands and large household (she continues to live in luxury fit for a queen) will bankrupt them and that their home has become the center of the intrigues and rebellions of Mary and her followers, bringing the very loyalty of the Talbots into question.

George falls in love with the Scots queen, Bess, an astute businesswoman, struggles to keep her lands and her marriage and Mary longs for – and plots for – freedom. These three viewpoints bring this distant historical period vividly and fully to life.

Funny in Farsi by Firoozeh Dumas

I’m reading the funniest book! It’s called Funny in Farsi: A Memoir of Growing Up Iranian in America by Firoozeh Dumas. I picked it up at the last Women’s Connection (TWC) meeting, but the library does have copies at both buildings. Dumas, an Iranian-American, is the featured speaker at the November 5 TWC meeting, when the group traditionally hosts an international author. If you can go, do — but be prepared for some belly laughs!

This book is laugh-out-loud funny. There’s one scene in particular, in which the author describes a time she is waiting in a crowded medical clinic, when the receptionist mispronounces her name. Badly mispronounces it! Now with a first name like “Firoozeh,” you would probably expect some of this, but in this case, both her first and last name (her husband is French) are really butchered.

The author freely admits that her first experience in the United States, at the tender age of seven, was a very favorable one, and that people were very kind to her and her family. She’s quick to note, however, that this was before the hostage takeover of the embassy in Iran, and that later Iranian immigrants often faced open hostility.

There are lots of anecdotes that many can identify with — her father attempting to teach her how to swim, her not-so-fun experience at summer camp, and the seemingly endless supply of relatives coming to visit. More importantly, though, this book goes a long way in gently educating us Americans that Iranians are human, too. Not to mention funny.

Dumas has also written Laughing Without an Accent: Adventures of an Iranian American at Home and Abroad. Enjoy!


The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

Already a favorite with book clubs, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is a charming novel that will make you laugh and cry about characters that seem as real as your neighbors.

During World War II Guernsey Island, situated in the English Channel, was invaded and occupied by the Germans beginning in 1940. All communication with England was completely cut off for nearly five years. The cruel practices of the German commanders and near starvation conditions forged strong bonds among the islanders.

Written as a series of letters between Londoner Juliet Ashton and the residents of the island shortly after the war, the history of the occupation of the island and the resident’s struggles to survive is slowly revealed. As the stories are told, a vivid picture of the people is painted – their strengths and weaknesses, their quirks and cleverness, their loyalty to and concern for others. When Juliet finally arrives at the island to visit, she is welcomed as part of the family and quickly takes her place in island lore.

There is a satisfying end to the book, but all of the characters suffer losses; it is their ability to move on while remembering and honoring what happened that make them so real and makes their stories come to life. Treat yourself to this novel – you’ll be glad you did.

Fallscaping by Nancy Ondra

There’s no need to limit your gardening to spring and summer – fall is also a great time in the garden. And while it might be getting a bit late to do a lot this year, now is the time to look around and see what autumn plants are looking their best in your neighborhood and in the local parks.

Fallscaping by Nancy Ondra shows you how to extend your garden into autumn with gorgeous photography, can’t miss plant combos and practical ideas. There are the usual suspects, of course – ornamental grasses reach their full glory in the fall, as do sedums, asters and mums. But Ondra also talks about also selecting plants for the color of their foliage and for berries and fruits that will persist long after flowers have faded and leaves have fallen.

There’s lots of practical advice too for all of the end-of-season jobs and for fun projects such as planting bulbs in pots, preparing tender plants for winter, garden clean-up, saving seeds, and quick fixes for bare spots in your flower beds. This beautiful and inspiring book will have you looking forward to your garden’s glorious last act.

Dewey: the Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World by Vicki Myron

One frigid winter morning in Spencer Iowa, Vicki Myron opened the public library’s book drop to discover an abandoned kitten. Starving and nearly frozen to death, Myron rescues the kitten and changes both of their lives forever.

Named Dewey Readmore Books, the kitten quickly settles into life at the library. Myron, who eventually becomes the director of Spencer Public Library, takes care of him and becomes his closest pal, but Dewey quickly makes friends with anyone that comes to the library, from the shyest child to the most preoccupied businessman. His story spreads far and wide – Japanese television made a documentary about him and his obituary ran in more than 200 newspapers when he died at age 19. Dewey: the Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World is Myron’s loving tribute to this charming and friendly cat, but it’s also the story of Spencer struggling through difficult economic times, and about Myron who faced several personal and health crisis’. It’s also a love letter to libraries and their place in a community.

Davenport Library had it’s own library cat many years ago, also named Dewey. A stray kitten that walked in the front door at the Annie Wittenmyer Branch (where the doors were often propped open because of lack of air conditioning), our Dewey made himself right at home. We kept him for almost two years, until we found him a forever home where he lived (and ruled) for the rest of his 14 years.

Escape by Carolyn Jessop

Escape is an amazing true story about a young woman who belonged to the fundamentalist polygamist sect of the Mormon church. Carolyn Jessop tells how at the age of 18 she was chosen to marry a 50 year old man with three existing wives.

The underlying question for me is what makes a woman have 8 children in 15 years and live in a house with 50 others (6 sister wives and 45 + children) but only one husband? Carolyn Jessop truly helps me understand (albeit not agree with) how her situation could possibly exist today – being a third generation in this “cult” as she calls it, is all she’s ever known.

After years of abuse from husband, sister wives and the sect in general, Carolyn secures a plan of escape with her 8 children ranging in ages from 15 yrs. to 18 months. This is the same FLDS controlled by Warren Jeffs that has recently been all over the news.

Her story is organized and told objectively. It also made for some awesome conversations!

Cake Love by Warren Brown

Who doesn’t love cake? Sweet, moist, delicious – a piece (or two) of cake makes the perfect final touch to a great meal – or a great late night snack! And a homemade, made-from-scratch cake? Divine. But not everyone has the time or skill for homemade cakes. If only we had our own personal bakery chef….

Warren Brown comes to the rescue with Cake Love, demonstrating the how and why of baking a cake (the best ingredients, the essential skills, the most useful pieces of equipment) and then provides lots of inspiration. Baking a cake from scratch isn’t really very difficult and can become a canvas for a lot of creativity. Brown encourages experimenting with flavors and techniques and to not get hung up on perfection – homemade cakes always get respect. Because, who doesn’t love cake?

As well as clearly illustrated instructions on baking techniques, Cake Love includes a wide range of recipes for all kinds of cakes from the familiar (Chocolate Pound Cake) to the innovative (Sassy, flavored with orange, mango and cayenne-pepper), frostings, glazes and fillings, and tips on how to assemble and decorate the finished cake. The cakes here are all about flavor and texture, not about being fancy, and are meant to be made with love and eaten with gusto.

Because, who doesn’t love cake?

Simply Sublime Bags by Jodi Kahn

Ahh, yet another use for duct tape – making handbags!

Fun, whimsical, fresh Simply Sublime Bags by Jodi Kahn has 30 great ideas for no-sew or very-little-sew bags of all shapes and sizes. Use of unusual and unexpected materials is emphasized, from hardware store finds to placemats to pillowcases to candy wrappers, and creativity is encouraged. They range in size from coin purses and makeup bags to totes for the beach. Directions are clear and straightforward and, as promised, require little or no sewing (not all of them call for duct tape, but a few do!)

The great thing about this book is that the results are practical and pretty and are not only fun to make, they’re fun to use!

A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson

The Appalacian Trail (AT), a continuous hiking trail spanning the eastern United States from Georgia to Maine, has been the source of many adventures and stories but by far the funniest (and arguably the best) is A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson.

Bryson, middle-aged and overweight, decides to reconnect with nature and America by hiking the often arduous AT. He recruits long-time friend Stephen Katz who is even less athletic than Bryson (he packs for the hike by filling his backpack with candy bars – and nothing else) and sets off optimistically. What ensues is both laugh-out-loud funny and thoughtful, beautiful and provocative. Although the pair end up hiking only parts of the trail (the beginning and the end plus several day hikes in the central section), their experience is no less authentic than those of a thru-hiker.

Along the way Bryson (one of our best writers) fills you in on the history and lore of the trial, the varied accounts of the towns scattered along its length, the unique and beautiful landscape and wildlife of the areas crossed (although the chapter on bears is likely to keep you awake at night whether you’re in a tent or at home), insights into human nature and the value of keeping your friends – even those that drive you nuts.

But most of all, you’ll laugh. A lot.

100’s 101

Are you trying to figure out what to do with your life, the meaning of life, or making plans for what happens after you stop breathing? Walk to the 100’s range of the Davenport Public Library. The 100’s are the destination for philosophy, psychology, new-age spirituality, and the supernatural. Here are a few brand-new “100’s” you might enjoy:

Thanking the Monkey
By Karen Dawn of the Washington Post is a look at the issues of animal rights, past and present, pulling quotes from celebrities in the use of animals as pets, entertainment, food, and test subjects

Just Who Will You Be
Maria Shriver pens this bestseller, which addresses living a full life when the foundations of one’s self image are taken away. Shriver was forced to resign upon husband Arbold Schwartzenegger’s election as California governor after 25 years as a national news anchor/reporter.

Ghosts Among Us
Van Praagh, the New York Times bestselling author and co-executive producer of the CBS series The Ghost Whisperer, shares his knowledge and life experience about ghosts. Contains true ghost stories and details about their active participation in our lives.