Before I Met You by Lisa Jewell

After someone dies, loved ones are left to pick up the pieces. That usually means sorting through personal possessions and reading through the will. Secrets can be revealed during this time leaving loved ones to wonder who exactly the deceased was in life and why they were hiding some things. Lisa Jewell discusses the topic of secrets in her 2013 novel, Before I Met You.

Before I Met You  by Lisa Jewell tells the story of two women growing up decades apart. In 1990s grungy London Soho, Betty Dean has arrived to find the mysterious Clara Pickle. Clara was listed as the main beneficiary in her grandmother Arlette’s will. No one in her family has ever heard of Clara Pickle. Arlette never mentioned her. Going through her grandmother’s possessions, Betty finds hints tucked in coat pockets and hidden in books. Betty has always dreamed of getting out of Guernsey and moving to Soho. Trying to find Clara provides Betty with the perfect reason to head to Soho and begin a new glamorous life filled with excitement and hope.

In 1920s Jazz Age London, Arlette finds herself on the doorstep of her mother’s childhood best friend. Becoming friends with the woman’s daughter, Arlette quickly becomes drawn into the bohemian lifestyle of the Bright Young People. Arlette is beautiful and charismatic, but a bit sheltered since she spent all of her life before London growing up on the quiet and secluded island of Guernsey. Arlette is looking for love, a change, and acceptance now that the war is over. Two years later, Arlette’s new life is on course to give her what she wants. Right when she is ready to settle down, tragedy strikes and Arlette heads back to Guernsey where she stays for the rest of her life.

Betty searches high and low for Clara. While doing so, she learns even more secrets about Arlette’s life in London during the 1920s. Glamour, fashion, and music all played major roles in both women’s lives. Betty uncovers photographs and stories about Arlette’s life. She soon realizes that Arlette had major reasons for keeping her past firmly in her past.

While this is an older book, I enjoyed the topics discussed throughout. The parallels between Betty’s life in Guernsey and London in the 1990s as compared to Arlette’s life in the same places in the 1920s were so striking that I was left to wonder continuously throughout whether Betty would make the same life choices as Arlette. Betty’s journey to find Clara was fascinating because she kept searching for answers even when people told her to give up.  Read the book and let me know what you think in the comments below!


This book is also available in the following format:

City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert

The cover of this book caught my eye. Flipping through the book, I realized that it revolves around the New York City theater world during the 1940s. I looked into the author and discovered that this Elizabeth Gilbert was the same author who wrote Eat, Pray, Love, among other fiction and non-fiction titles.

City of Girls  by Elizabeth Gilbert tells the story of Vivian Morris. After receiving a letter from a male friend’s daughter asking for Vivian to finally explain to her what her relationship really was to her father, Vivian uses City of Girls as a long-form letter to the woman. Ninety-five-year-old Vivian looks back on her youth with a mix of sadness, regret, pleasure, and passion. Through this book, Vivian learns about her body, sexuality, and female promiscuity. She learns how to heal from various wrongs done to her and wrongs that she has committed.

In the summer of 1940, nineteen-year-old Vivian Morris arrives in New York to live with her aunt. Having been kicked out of Vassar College, Vivian, along with her suitcase and sewing machine, is relegated to New York by her parents who just don’t know what to do with her. Luckily for Vivian, she soon finds lodging and employment at her Aunt Peg’s dilapidated theatre, the Lily Playhouse, as the seamstress. Vivian learned how to sew from her grandmother and is good at making something out of nothing. By just looking at someone’s body type or looking at an outfit/type of fabric, Vivian can figure out what is wrong, what needs to be changed, and what would look best on someone.

Vivian quickly becomes the talk of the showgirl community as word circulates that she can make glamorous costumes out of seemingly nothing. The longer she stays at the Lily Playhouse, the more interesting characters she meets. Vivian meets showgirls, sexy actors, a famous actress, a disgruntled writer, and her aunt’s friend who serves as the stage manager trying to keep the Lily Playhouse alive. Vivian’s new life brings another new and exciting chapter of discovery: sex. Vivian discovers what makes her happy and that she has the power to make herself happy no matter what other people think.

When Vivian makes a personal mistake that threatens to ruin both her personal and professional lives, she is forced to start a new life again. The consequences of her actions will take her years to unravel and understand. The new life she makes for herself will lead her down a path she never imagined for herself: a life where she understands what she actually wants and how she has to behave/act/live in order to have it. Vivian also meets the love of her life while she is making a new name for herself. This love is completely different than anything else she has experienced before, but it proves to change her the most.

City of Girls is a glittery and glamorous look at ninety-five years of life. Vivian is able to look back at her life and acknowledge how the actions that she made changed the course of her life forever. Her life would have shifted to a more traditional role and been completely different if she had chosen one different path. Vivian was never afraid of what life threw at her. She was able to live an autonomous life that was not available to many women who grew up during the same time period as her.


This book is also available in the following formats:

Girl in the Blue Coat by Monica Hesse

Did you know that the Davenport Public Library offers book clubs that you can join for free? We currently offer four book clubs that you can join: Book to Film, See YA, Short & Sweets, and True Crime Book Club. More information about the book clubs can be found on our website, by calling 563-326-7832, or by stopping by any service desk.

Girl in the Blue Coat by Monica Hesse is the September book club pick for See YA, our adult book club that reads young adult books.

Girl in the Blue Coat tells the story of a teenage girl fighting to survive in 1943 Amsterdam. Amsterdam in 1943 is now Nazi-occupied with citizens scared as family and friends are either being killed in front of them or are being shipped out of town in transports. Hanneke has found a way to help her family survive by working the black market.

Hired to work at a funeral home, her boss has ‘errands’ for her to run on the side. Hanneke is good at finding whatever people need. With a network of contacts, she hunts down cigarettes, makeup, perfume, lotions, food, etc. While out on a delivery, Hanneke is asked by a repeat customer to find a Jewish girl that the customer had previously been hiding. The girl has seemingly disappeared into thin air.

Beginning the search for the missing girl, Hanneke is drawn into the resistance. Asking questions leads her down a road filled with underground resistance, activities, and secrets. Not sure about wanting to join the resistance, but wanting to find the missing girl, Hanneke has to decide how far she is willing to go in order to save the missing girl and solve the mystery surrounding her disappearance.

Sound interesting? Want to join one of our book clubs or have questions? Stop by any Davenport Public Library location and we can help! If you can’t make it to the book club, read the book anyway and let us know what you thought about it in the comments below.

Travel Talk – Iowa, Part 3

Hello again! Here we are with our third installment of exploring Iowa for Travel Talk. This month Michelle and I are talking about some great museums. I love museums – art, history, science I love it all. In my experience, museums are beautiful places filled with endlessly interesting and inspiring displays. Guess what – the museums in Iowa are no different. Bonus – these are all within in an easy day trip of Davenport!

Here are Michelle’s picks:

The University of Iowa Natural History Museum in downtown Iowa City is a free and fascinating look at Iowa’s history.  The museum offers an up-close look at hundreds animals from around Iowa and the world.  The Hall of Birds and the Hall of Mammals are especially worth a visit. When visiting the Hall of Birds, visitors can view over 1,000 birds, many who make their permanent or seasonal residence in Iowa.  These specimens were collected throughout the years by University of Iowa professors. Make sure you find the Laysan Island Cyclorama which replicates a 1914 bird sanctuary in Laysan, an outpost of the Hawaiian atoll.  In 1914, the sanctuary was the home to over 8 million birds of 22 different species.  Across the museum is the Hall of Mammals which displays animals from around the world.  Among the highlights is the skeleton of a 47 foot Atlantic Right Whale.  A final stop should be Iowa Hall, which allows visitors to travel through Iowa’s 500 million year geological, cultural and ecological history.

The Des Moines Art Center is a gem both inside and outside, with noteworthy art on its walls along with the architects who designed the structure in three parts.  The building is designed by world famous architects Eliel Saarinen (portion built in 1948), I.M. Pei (structure completed in 1968), and Richard Meier finishing the museum in 1985.  Inside, the Art Center has a stellar permanent collection which includes works by Georgia O’Keeffe, Edward Hopper and Alexander Calder along with rotating special exhibitions.  A second part of the Art Center is the Pappajohn Sculpture Park located in downtown Des Moines.  Admission is free for both!

And here are my recommendations.

National Czech and Slovak Museum in Cedar Rapids. Completely rebuilt after the devastating 1993 flood, the Czech Museum is a gorgeous tribute to the craftsmanship and beauty (don’t miss the crystal chandelier in the lobby) of Czech art. There are also extensive displays of the history of the Czech Republic and Slovakia. These include full size reproductions of a Communist watch tower and steerage rooms that immigrants would have stayed in on their voyage to America. There are also stunning examples of crystal, porcelain and needlework on display.

Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum in West Branch. His Presidency might not have been a success, but Herbert Hoover was a great statesman. He was instrumental in providing food relief to Europe and Russia during and after World War I and later after World War II, saving millions of lives. He and his wife Lou traveled extensively and many of the things they collected on these travels are on display. There is also a lot of information about Lou who was brilliant in her own right (to this day, she is the only First Lady to speak an Asian language – in this case Mandarin Chinese)

This is just the tip of the iceberg – there are loads of great museums throughout the state – and in Davenport itself! (the Figge, the German American Heritage Center and the Putnam, to get you started) Here’s a tip for you – keep an eye on the website of any museum you might be interested in – most of them have exhibits that run for a short period of time as well as their permanent displays. These can be a great opportunity to see art and artifacts from far-flung museums, right in your own backyard!

Now what about you – what museums in Iowa would you recommend?

The Quintland Sisters by Shelley Wood

The public has always had a fascination with multiple births. Television shows, movies, books, and news articles exist to help satisfy the public’s curiosity. The Quintland Sisters by Shelley Wood is based on the real-life story of the Dionne Quintuplets who were born in Northern Ontario in 1934. While certainly some parts of this story are fictionalized, I did some digging and found that the majority of the story presented, the historical reporting included, is true. I encourage you readers to look into the story of the Dionne Quintuplets when you have finished this book to learn more.

The Quintland Sisters tells the story of the world’s first recorded quintuplets to survive infancy. Another interesting fact? The Dionne quintuplets were all girls! Born at least two months premature on May 28th, 1934, Annette, Emilie, Yvonne, Cecile, and Marie entered into a world where no one thought they would survive the night. The quintuplets were born on a small farm in the village of Corbeil in northern Ontario, Canada, to Elzira and Oliva Dionne who were already parents to five other children. Present from the moment of birth is Emma Trimpany, a 17 year old assistant to the midwife. Uneasy about being there in the first place, Emma helps to care for the newborns while hoping that they survive the night. Disagreements arise from the moment of their birth between their parents, the doctors, and the government over everything from who is allowed to see the children, who is their legal guardian, and whether or not money should be made from the girls being alive.

After the government removes the children from their parents’ care, Emma decides to sign on as their nurse. The quintuplets are now wards of the British King. Now that the government has custody of the quints, tourism and advertising continues to skyrocket. More than 6,000 visitors a day descend upon Quintland to watch the quints play, buy anything touristy, and take a quint stone for fertility luck. While the rest of the world sees the quintuplets as 100% identical, Emma uses her artistic eye to notice the unique differences that allow those closest to the quints to tell them apart. Deciding to keep a record of her time with the quintuplets, Emma records every event and sketches those around her in her private journal.

As the quintuplets get older, the animosity between their parents and the doctors/government continues to grow. As they fight over custody and revenue gained from the quintuplets, Emma struggles to decide whether to stay in Quintland with the girls or to go out into the bigger world. Emma’s world may revolve around the quints, but her family and friends decide to move out into the world to do other things. Everything surrounding the quintuplets and their enclosed world comes to a head and Emma must figure out what to do. This novel may focus on an uncommon, but true, story, but the major themes of heartbreak, resilience, love, and family are all wrapped up in a coming-of-age story relatable to people from all walks of life.

Hidden Among the Stars by Melanie Dobson

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:

The Glass Ocean by Beatriz Williams, Lauren Willig, and Karen White

The three women who wrote this book are all talented writers on their own, so when press started surrounding The Glass Ocean, I knew this novel would be something special. I’m usually pretty skeptical of books with multiple authors, but this book was a perfect blend of all three writers’ specific styles. I’m not sure how they managed this blend, but I couldn’t pick out who wrote what. Perfect.

The Glass Ocean by Beatriz Williams, Lauren Willig, and Karen White crafts a well-written historical mystery with a hint of romance. Three women are linked years apart: two in the past and one in the present. All three are also tied to the RMS Lusitania, a passenger liner doomed from the minute it set off. Heading from the United States to England in April 1915, the RMS Lusitania ferried a large number of people heading to a new life, running away from the old, or heading back home. Whatever their reasons, the RMS Lusitania was seen as the perfect way to get wherever they were going.

April 1915. Caroline is a southern belle with a marriage in crisis. Her husband, Gilbert, used to be attentive, but as of late, something has seemed off. Caroline is hoping that this trip to London will reignite the spark that they are missing. The first-class accommodations afforded to them on the Lusitania will certainly help. What Caroline doesn’t account for is her old friend Robert Langford. He turns up on the ship, throwing all of Caroline’s well-laid plans out the window. Does she want to reconnect with Gilbert or start something new with Robert? Trapped on this ship and feeling restless, Caroline must decide how she wants her life to turn out.

Also on the ship is Tessa Fairweather. Her accommodations are much less lavish than Caroline’s. Having secured second-class lodgings, Tessa is returning home to Devon. Or is she? Tessa has really never left the United States and is traveling under an assumed name. She’s the daughter of a con man and has the ability to forge and steal almost anything. Tessa has been told that after she accomplishes this heist on the Lusitania she can start a whole new life. As Tessa begins scoping out this heist, though, it quickly becomes apparent that her partner is holding something back from her and that this heist is not as straightforward as it seems.

Flash forward to May 2013. Bestselling author Sarah Blake is struggling. Her finances are low, she can’t find an idea for her next book, and her mother has Alzheimer’s. Desperate to find a way to solve her problems, Sarah decides to open the chest her mother made her promise never to open. In said chest, Sarah finds items that belonged to her great-grandfather, who died when the RMS Lusitania was sunk by a German U-Boat in 1915. Searching through his belongings, Sarah discovers something that has the ability to change history forever. Needing to validate her discovery she heads to England to hopefully gain help from newly disgraced Member of Parliament, John Langford. After all, given that his relative, Robert Langford, was on the RMS Lusitania, his family archives might hold the key to Sarah understanding what she found in her chest.

This book was a delightful mix of three different characters whose lives were all drastically affected by the sinking of the RMS Lusitania in 1915. Read this book and let me know what you think!

Speeches of Note compiled by Shaun Usher

Speeches of note: an eclectic collection of orations deserving of a wider audience – compiled by Shaun Usher (is) “An illustrated collection of 80 of history’s most interesting, profound, and sometimes unknown speeches from a range of scintillating personalities such as Winston Churchill, Maya Angelou, Barack Obama, Abraham Lincoln, Groucho Marx, and Tina Fey”– Provided by publisher.

This is an incredible compilation of speeches. Definitely worth your time to read. Highly recommend this book for anyone lacking inspiration in their life or in need of the greater element of the human spirit that we only sometimes exude – if ever. All the speeches in this book are….and no understatement here…..incredible. I especially enjoyed: President Theodore Roosevelt’s speech in 1912 after just having been shot….he went on to give his speech and said, “Friends, I shall ask you to be as quiet as possible. I don’t know whether you fully understand that I have just been shot—but it takes more than that to kill a Bull Moose.” – seriously??? do you know of any politician who would go on today to give a speech for an hour and thirty minutes after just having been shot??? this is madness and no….I mean wow…this man…too bad he was not elected again in 1912 just think of what more he could have done – as we have him to thank in part for the United States National Park Service and protected lands through his conservationist actions.; Meghan Markle gave a beautiful speech on gender equality in 2015 to the United Nations (UN) on International Women’s Day; Malala Yousafzai’s first ever public speech at the UN which called for worldwide access to education; Donovan Livingston, a Master of Education graduate student, made a beautiful, verging on poetic, speech that echoed the need for change for students of color calling on all teachers and faculty to be that change – his speech created tremors  throughout the world via the internet giving Livingston instant international acclaim; and lastly, Anna Quindlen’s commencement speech that was never delivered….and..it made me cry. Check out this book. It is incredibly wonderful, inspiring, and moving.

Online Reading Challenge – Mid-Month Check In

Hello Readers!

How is your October going, reading-wise? Have you found something to read yet? Or are you still looking? Maybe a movie will be your choice this month. Here are a few suggestions.

A Knight’s Tale starring Heath Ledger. The rousing story of lowborn William Thatcher’s quest to change his stars, win the heart of an exceedingly fair maiden and rock his medieval world. Follow this fearless squire and his band of medieval misfits as they careen their way toward impossible glory that’s part romance, part road trip and part exuberant swashbuckling.

Kingdom of Heaven starring Orlando Bloom and Eva Green. Balian, a young Frenchman in Medieval Jerusalem during the Crusades, having lost everything, finds redemption in a heroic fight against overwhelming forces to save his people and fulfill his destiny as a knight.

The White Queen produced by the BBC and based on the novel by Phillipa Gregory. A riveting portrayal of one of the most dramatic and turbulent times in English history. A story of love and lust, seduction and deception, betrayal and murder, it is uniquely told through the perspective of three different, yet equally relentless women – Elizabeth Woodville, Margaret Beaufort and Anne Neville. In their quest for power, they will scheme, manipulate and seduce their way onto the English throne.

Monty Python and the Holy Grail. OK, admittedly, this one is somewhat lacking in historical accuracy. But! So funny! So British! “It’s just a flesh wound”! “Your mother was a hamster and your father smells of elderberries”! The quest for the Holy Grail by King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table is retold in the inimitable Python fashion. Enjoy.

Symphony for the City of the Dead: Dmitri Shostakovich and the Siege of Leningrad by M.T. Anderson

symphony for the city of the deadBiographies or any sort of nonfiction relating to the siege of Leningrad that occurred amidst World War II can become depressing to read because of the many, many atrocities committed and the vast number of people who died. Symphony for the City of the Dead: Dmitri Shostakovich and the Siege of Leningrad by M.T. Anderson is the opposite of the traditional heavy nonfiction. Anderson breaks up his story of Shostakovich and the evolution of Leningrad by dropping in back-and-white historical photographs that allow readers to put a face to a name. This inclusion breaks up the chaos and destruction happening within his descriptions of Stalin’s purges and the eventual siege of Leningrad by bringing in pictures and maps to connect the history presented with an actual physical place and actual people. It may seem easy for people to ignore and write off atrocities committed, but I find that when authors choose to add pictures into their books, the subject matter becomes even more real and life-changing.

Symphony for the City of the Dead: Dmitri Shostakovich and the Siege of Leningrad really brought to life for me the importance of art and culture to a nation and its citizens, both in a negative and a positive light. Anderson tells readers the story of Stalin and his purges: how he rid the country of top military officials, science experts, and a wide variety of other people and effectively set his country up for more widespread disaster when Hitler invaded and he had no experts to ask for advice. This book focuses on art and culture, specifically music and Dmitri Shostakovich. This Russian composer escaped death at the hands of Stalin and instead found himself navigating the tricky tight-rope of composing the music that Stalin finds appropriate while still staying true to himself. Shostakovich’s Seventh Symphony is the one that he writes for Leningrad, “The City of the Dead,” and this book effectively sets the stage for discovering Shostakovaich’s mindset around that time and also the necessary cultural and political framework that he was up against. Highly recommended!

Check out the following fiction and nonfiction books for more information about the siege of Leningrad and related topics!

the madonnas of leningradcity of thievesleningrad siege and symphonyinferno the world at warstalin the court of the red tsarabsolute war