Imagine Your Story – Unplugged

Do you feel like if you might scream if you have to read one more email, attend yet another meeting online or answer another group text message? If so, then I feel your pain. I was right there with you a week and a half ago. I managed to complete my workdays without taking anyone’s head off, but then I realized, for me, it was time to unplug.

I’ve heard that unplugging for just 24 hours can be beneficial and can help people feel more centered and grounded in the present moment. But gosh, it seems harder than ever to unplug, right? We are in the middle of a pandemic. We are being forced to attend more virtual meetings than ever, order online more, stream everything, and text everyone that it seems impossible to avoid technology. But maybe this is the perfect time to do it.

A 2011 study from the University of Maryland demonstrated that when students unplugged from technology, they spent more time with friends and family, got more exercise, and cooked and ate healthier foods. That all sounds pretty good.

This past weekend, I left my phone alone, chose a paper book over my e-reader, avoided the video game console, and just let my brain relax. It wasn’t easy. I had to bow out of my weekly family Zoom meeting, miss an installment of a TV show I’ve been watching, and (sigh) put on my reading glasses to read, but think I ultimately benefited from it. I got lots of spouse and cat-time and some daydreaming in, got a bit of extra sleep, and crossed a few chores off my list. It was worth it.

So, how about it? Unplug for a day and see how it makes you feel. I won’t even be mad if you read my blog post a day late.

~Carol

 

Imagine Your Story – Toughen Up

Lately it’s a challenge to feel strong enough to handle what life has been throwing at us. In order to do that for myself, I’m striving to step up my physical and mental fitness games in order to be ready for anything. But, I find that it’s harder and harder to focus on the “love” part of the love/hate thing I’ve got going on with my treadmill and actually get motivated!

In the past couple of weeks, to mix it up, I’ve started adding to my consistently, inconsistent virtual boxing routine and aforementioned treadmill relationship by investigating what the library had to offer me. I was reminded, when searching the catalog, of the vast collection of exercise DVDs our library owns. Additionally, through our digital services, I can find ways to motivate myself even more. For example, using Hoopla I am able to borrow access to some really great yoga classes. My current favorite is “Gaiam: Athletic Yoga, Yoga For Flexibility with Kevin Love.” And, yes, you read that correctly. Our very own Cleveland Cleveland Cavaliers player Kevin Love is available to do yoga with you, in your home…and for that, you are welcome.

When I need strength building of the mental health variety, I usually find myself turning to Lynda Hudson’s guided meditations which I check out through the library’s Overdrive page. Lynda’s calming voice always get me to relax or to fall asleep faster. She’s even got an eBook for exercise motivation. Perfect timing, Lynda!

Are you looking for ways to change up your routine? I bet you’ll find something that will strengthen, entertain or at least surprise you when you check out our Digital Library.

Looks like it is time for me to go “move it” and spend 20 minutes with a certain Cavs player. Don’t worry, my husband is just in the next room.                     ~Carol

Imagine Your Story – Book to TV, done right

I feel like it was a million years ago that I read and loved The Alienist by Caleb Carr. Published in 1994 (so, not a million years, per se), this novel was the first in Carr’s dark historical fiction series featuring Dr. Laszlo Kreizler as an ahead-of-his-time psychologist whose ability to profile criminals helps track down serial killers. Kreizler is assisted by Times reporter and friend of Teddy Roosevelt, John Schuyler Moore, and society woman-turned-trailblazing policewoman Sara Howard. This team is not afraid of gritty scenes and certainly finds them in 1890s New York City when a string of street children are gruesomely murdered. In this novel and its two sequels, Carr’s magic is his character development and slow building suspense.

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In 2018, I was thrilled when “The Alienist” was was released as a TNT television series, starring Daniel Brühl, Luke Evans, and Dakota Fanning. For me, it checked all the boxes for good murder mystery viewing: lush period setting, beautiful fashion, brooding intensity, and fine acting.

I’m even more excited that the second season, “The Alienist: The Angel of Darkness,” debuted last night! After watching the two hour premiere, not only am I a little extra sleepy today, I am already looking forward to next week’s episode to see what will befall my favorite characters.

If you are ready to dive in, just know that both the TV series and books are dark and violent–you can’t have a criminal profiler if there isn’t a criminal, right? Disclaimers aside, find sometime for a book that will stay with you throughout the years and pick up Caleb Carr’s 1995 Anthony Award for Best First Novel, The Alienist, or set your DVR.

-Carol

Imagine Your Story – Books

I have a book to recommend, but first I have a few disclaimers: 1) This novel is about a boy who is the only survivor of a plane crash that kills 191 other people. 2) This book made me cry. 3) The plane crash is described and it’s scary–especially to people like me who really don’t love to fly. 4) I was only able to read this book knowing I wouldn’t be getting on a plane any time soon.

Whew, now that we’ve got all of that out of the way, I’m relieved.

And, if you are still reading this blog post, then maybe you will take a chance on Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano. Edward Adler is 12-years-old when his brother and parents and 183 other people are killed in a plane crash that he survives–but that is just the beginning of his remarkable story. He’s not magic or anything. He is just a lucky kid, you might think, until he wakes up alone in a hospital, emotionally and physically broken. He moves in with his Aunt Lacey, who has just lost her sister, and her husband John, who is determined to protect Edward from the endless barrage of strangers obsessed with the crash, who might want to exploit him. With the help of a slew of people, including his therapist, Dr. Mike, and his new neighbor and friend Shay, Edward must learn to go on living.

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So, yes this book will break your heart. Not only is Edward’s story sad, but readers hear some of his fellow passenger’s personal stories as well. If that wasn’t enough, alternating narratives within this novel share glimpses of the grief of their loved ones.

But this book will lift you up too. It will make you see how people can truly care about one another, and give you hope for humanity. At least it did for me.

So, read this novel about loss, love, and friendship to get in touch with your empathetic side. After all, who knows what might be troubling people who cross our paths every day. Just be sure to keep a tissue handy.

-Carol

Imagine Your Story : Historical Fiction That Educates, Too

This week had me occupied with a book recommendation from my husband. While we generally agree on films, food and other critical-to-marriage subjects, books are where he sticks to nonfiction, but where I enjoy more of the make-believe varieties.

So when he reads fiction and then wants to talk about it, I am in. And, spoiler alert, he was right (and now that I’ve blogged about it, has bragging rights). The King at the Edge of the World by Arthur Phillips is that good. In this book, set in 1601, the Protestant Queen Elizabeth I is dying without an heir. Her likely successor is James VI of Scotland, who outwardly professes to be Protestant, but raised Catholic and with a Catholic wife, whose religious convictions are difficult to decipher. Those who wish to see England’s crown pass to a Protestant heir, including spy and stage actor Geoffrey Belloc, are desperate to know James’ heart on the matter.

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A man without a dog in this fight is Ottoman Muslim Doctor, Mahmoud Ezzedine, who, banished to England because of unfortunate events, has been forced to become an expert on the nuances of Christianity and English politics. If Ezzedine has has any hopes of seeing his family again, he must assist Belloc. Ezzedine is made to be a judge of that which he knows little, in order to save a realm of which he cares little, in the faint hope he can return to the world he came from.

Today, it can be hard for some people to see beyond their perceptions of a person’s culture. This is one of the themes in this historical fiction/mystery hybrid novel. The doctor becomes a good spy, because while he might be distrusted for his foreignness, his foreignness also makes him invisible. Unseen, what will this man do to become free?

Not only is this book entertaining on so many levels, it may also have you reconsidering your own preconceptions of other cultures and people. In my opinion, that’s good fiction that educates.    ~Carol

Imagine Your Story – Twins, Two Ways

Wow! I just yesterday finished The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett and it has been taking up much of my brain space over the last 24 hours. If you haven’t heard of this brand new, of-the-moment novel yet, listen up. The story is set from the 1950s through the 1990s and begins in Mallard, Louisiana, a town whose population is composed mostly of light-skinned African-American people whose founder believed the lighter they are, the better they are. There, readers meet twins Stella and Desiree Vignes, descendants of their town’s founder, who run away when they are sixteen. The two separate when Stella decides to embark upon a life passing as a white woman – a secret she intends to keep from everyone, including her white husband and daughter. Following the trajectory of these sisters’ vastly different lives had me on the edge of my seat and I literally couldn’t put down this book. Not only is it thought-provoking and timely, it is also an exceptionally well-written look at relationships between mothers and daughters and the men they love that had my heart aching. Read this one. I know your book club will.

If you want to totally twin-out, I have one more twin-focused read. This one is a bit lighter but still tugs at the heart-strings. The Grammarians by Cathleen Schine is the perfect novel for word nerds. It tells the stories of Daphne and Laurel Wolfe, red-haired twins who begin speaking their own private languages as toddlers and are obsessed with words and grammar ever since. Unfortunately, they are equally obsessed with an old dictionary that their late father gave them, something that drives a wedge between them. Watch these wicked-smart girls become adults, figure out their careers and raise families, drifting apart even as they can never lose that twin connection.

And, yes, these are very different reads. I guess, maybe, just like twins can be.                     ~Carol (not a twin)

Imagine Your Story – Book Recommendation

In case you need an excuse to pick up a new mystery series, I’ll give you two. First of all, Rosalie Knecht’s sleuth Vera Kelly is a smart, cynical New Yorker and CIA-trained sleuth who must navigate life in early to mid-1960s–an interesting time to be a spy and challenging time to be a woman. Secondly, it’s PRIDE month, and Vera is a lesbian, and is also forced by the times (and clauses in her employment contracts) to lead a double personal life in addition to her professional one.

In her first outing, Who is Vera Kelly?, Vera is approached and trained by the CIA. Her  surveillance mission to Argentina to infiltrate local student revolutionaries and wiretap government offices for potential coup information comprises most of the novel’s action. Along the way, flashbacks into Vera’s youth show her struggles to get close to others, to fit in, and to build healthy relationships.

Book two, Vera Kelly is Not a Mystery, takes place a year later. Vera is done with the CIA, fired from her latest job because a co-worker outed her, and dumped by her girlfriend Jane. Desperate to make a living and keep her apartment, but without references to get hired, Vera opens her own private detective agency where she struggles to be taken seriously. When a Dominican couple finally hires her to track down a boy, Vera uncovers much more than a missing persons case and ends up, yet again, in another foreign country with a fake passport, reexamining her priorities.

Both books in this series are part spy thriller, part character study, and part historical fiction and will check all the boxes if you like introspective slow-burning mysteries with plenty of international action and a bit of tame romance. What’s truly great about Knecht’s two-fer (and my fingers are crossed that there will be more) is that Vera is vulnerable and unsure of her self–at work, in life and in relationships. Vera has personal problems and regret. She’s not sappy, but it’s hard for her to change. Vera Kelly is just like us.

Will she solve her cases? (Spoiler alert) Yes. Will she find true happiness? I sure hope so. Read her story and I think maybe you will, too.  ~Carol

Imagine Your Story – TV & Video-gaming on the New Frontier

It’s true confession time–I’m a bit obsessed with a video game. Red Dead Redemption II is a survival game set in 1890s in a fictionalized representation of the Western, Midwestern, and Southern United States. Players become Arthur Morgan, a member of a notorious gang, and are encouraged to follow the game’s story-line in order survive the decline of the Wild West, government forces, rival gangs, and other adversaries. Usually, this kind of a game is a bit too shoot-em-up for my style, but I find that as Arthur, I can mount a horse, ignore the missions the game wants me to embark on, and instead just ride on and on, enjoying the gorgeous landscape of early 19th-Century America. Don’t laugh –the scenery in this game is indeed that good. In fact, the game designers actually were inspired by 19th-century painters like Rembrandt and American landscape artists who were members of the Hudson River School when they created this game. After an hour of play, I’m relaxed from all the flora and fauna around me and, oh yeah, did I mention that I get to be a cowboy too?

In reality, taming the wilderness was neither all that fun or easy, and I get to see that in live action too, while I’m watching “Barkskins” on the National Geographic channel. This TV adaptation of Annie Proulx’s 2016 novel is set in the colonial region of New France in the last years of the 17th-century. It chronicles the deforestation of the New World, beginning with the arrival of two immigrants to New France, René Sel and Charles Duquet, who are tasked with work as wood-cutters, or “barkskins.” As you might imagine, it’s a rough life for these men, and on all sides there is threat of death as English and French vie for land and power. The show, lavishly set with wood-built settlements of the main town, dark candle-lit interiors and rustic pathways where we would have modern city streets, creates the feel of danger around every corner and puts viewers right in the action. Part western, part soap opera, part saga of good versus evil, this show is 100% totally binge-able. I dare you to look away.

Want some adventure in your life? Place a hold for Barkskins in book format in our catalog here.  And, don’t forget to place holds on all your favorite videogames, including Red Dead Redemption II for  Playstation 4 and Xbox One

Until next time, happy trails. ~Carol

 

Imagine Your Story – Books

I may have mentioned that I’m finding it a bit hard to stick with an entire book right now. So when I find a novel that compels me to read it in one sitting, not only do I want to celebrate, I want to share!

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My eBook for Something She’s Not Telling Us by Darcey Bell became available on Saturday morning and as soon as I started it, I knew my chore list was shot. This fast-paced and suspenseful domestic thriller stars unreliable (and mostly unlike-able) characters who have shady pasts and who make many bad choices and stir up plenty of family drama.

Floral shop owner Charlotte has the perfect life, including money, a fabulous apartment, a beautiful daughter named Daisy, a handsome husband and a super successful business. Unfortunately, she is wracked by anxiety, is overprotective of her family, and can’t always sleep at night. Adding to her woes is her brother Rocco, who barely has his life together and whose taste in girlfriends has always been horrible, each one less tolerable than the last. But when Charlotte meets his newest girlfriend Ruth, she thinks maybe this time Rocco got it right.

In Ruth’s eyes, however, it is Charlotte who isn’t perfect. Ruth, who didn’t have a good relationship with her mother, thinks that Charlotte doesn’t appreciate what she has. Ruth longs for a daughter just like Daisy–or maybe even Daisy herself. Before too long, Ruth will turn Charlotte’s life upside down and will take readers on a journey filled with twists, turns, and plenty of juicy secrets.

Like cotton candy, this novel won’t overly fill you up or ruin your appetite for your next read, but it sure tastes good as a treat. If this sounds like your type of read, place a hold in our catalog here.

Imagine Your Story – Sympathetic Serial Killers

I admit it, I love a good serial killer story. And, no, the quarantine didn’t drive me to it; I just like the way that authors let us readers live inside of the mind of fictional characters, and some of those characters happen to be serial killers.

If we want to trace the beginnings, though, while I’m sure I was influenced by all the baddies that Stephen King had to offer back in the day, I first, truly fell for a serial killing character in The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith. I admit to reading this one after seeing the flick starring Matt Damon and Jude Law. Reading it really made me fall for Ripley, though. So misunderstood, so handsome, so deadly.

Next up was when I met Dexter in the novels by Jeff Lindsay-and my friend tells me the series is great too. But here, too, I encountered an utterly handsome and charming guy, who is almost perfect– minuses for working as a blood spatter analyst (yuck!) and for regularly murdering people (but he only murders bad people!)? So, who wouldn’t fall for that kind of guy…am I right?

Oh, and then there is Patrick Bateman from Brett Easton Ellis’ American Psycho, who was, to be honest, fun reading about, but I wouldn’t want to run into personally. Ew, actually, he was pretty demented, Let’s just skip him.

Which brings me to today’s obsession–Villanelle. My latest serial killer obsession is the star of Killing Eve, a BBC show that just concluded its third season. This British black comedy-drama spy thriller television series follows Eve Polastri (the amazing Sandra Oh), as a British intelligence investigator who has been tasked with capturing the psychopathic assassin Villanelle (Jodie Comer). As the chase progresses, the two develop a mutual obsession. I’m with you, Eve. I can’t wait for season four either!

I get it if these murderous types aren’t your cup of tea, though. Just wait a week and I’ll likely be back to birds and kittens.