2020 has been something else! To escape, lately I’ve been reading one historical fiction novel after another. Not only does taking a peek at the trials and tribulations across centuries help me feel like we really don’t have it that bad, but it is also really entertaining.
The atmospheric The Lost Orphan by Stacy Halls is set in 1754 in London. Bess is a street hawker of shrimp who is forced, due to poverty, to give up her illegitimate day-old daughter to the nearby foundling hospital, with the intention to reclaim her one day. Six years pass before Bess has enough money to do just that, but instead learns that the girl has already been taken, years previously, by someone claiming to be Bess. As she seeks to find out what happened to her little girl, Bess’s story is contrasted with that of a wealthy woman who, under the guise of protecting her own young daughter from the dangers of London, does not allow her to leave the confines of their home. This captivating novel about family, secrets, class, equality, power and the meaning of motherhood is a good reminder that the struggle between the haves and have-nots is indeed a very old story.
The Exiles by Christina Baker Kline is another page-turning historical about the plight of less fortunate women. It is set in the early 19th-century in Van Diemen’s land, a penal colony in Australia, where thousands of convicts were shipped from overcrowded English prisons and forced to provide free labor to the settlers there. This novel follows the journey of two such young English women, Evangeline and Hazel, both of whom were wrongly accused and imprisoned. Their stories intertwine with that of an Aboriginal girl, Mathinna, who at the age of eight is adopted as a “curiosity” by white colonists who attempt to “civilize” her. Impeccably researched, this novel educates and enthralls. I read it in one sitting.
Perhaps you also need an escape. Find it in these and other books when you Reconnect@RRPL.
For me, the answer to “why democracy?” is an easy one. America’s democratic system of government grants me many freedoms that other countries’ citizens are not automatically given.
Two of my favorites are my freedom of speech and the right to vote for my choice in our elections. And while I admit that it’s hard for me sometimes when I see neighbors’ yard signs in support of a candidate running against the one I support, I’m sure glad I’m able to put up my own yard sign. When I feel myself getting aggravated by such a display, it’s important for me to take a step back and realize that this disagreement is actually our country’s Constitution at work. I take a deep breath and know that it’s not just okay that my neighbor might not agree with me, it is their right, too!
During these five days for democracy, think about how opposing yard signs make you feel. And then take your own deep breath and be grateful that you too live in a country where you can express such a thing.
So, help celebrate these 5 Days for Democracy and sign up here to receive emails this week that will help you better understand, celebrate and think of ways to improve what democracy does for you. Oh, and don’t even think about stealing any yard signs!
There are so many fans of A Man Called Ove, and Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, and books along those lines, that there is indeed a hashtag for books starring lovable curmudgeons. I am not sure why this is a trend but let’s face it, Charles Dickens gave us Ebenezer Scrooge and we’ve wanted more ever since. So stop your scowling, because I may have found your next new favorite book!
In The Brilliant Life of Eudora Honeysett by Annie Lyons, Eudora is an 85-year-old with no friends or family in her life. Although in decent physical shape (she swims laps at the local pool almost daily), Eudora considers herself done living. Having cared for her mother at her own end, Eudora never wants to be in a position where she is forced to rely on someone else when she can no longer care for herself. She’s decided she will end things on her own terms and has written to a clinic in Switzerland that promises to allow her to do just that. Eudora is eagerly awaiting to be accepted into this program when she meets and is befriended by her new neighbors’ daughter, Rose, an adorable, wise-beyond-her-years 10-year-old with a built-in wild fashion sense and an inability to take “no” for an answer.
Rose inserts herself into Eudora’s world, bringing along another older neighbor and widower named Stanley. Their kindness and exuberance for life forces Eudora outside of her comfort zone, and she finds herself not only trying new things, but also reflecting on her past and the possibilities of what might lie ahead.
Although you’ll need a handkerchief nearby (not a Kleenex—Eudora is a classy lady), this novel is ultimately a feel-good story that will lift your spirits and make you laugh out loud.
I was late to reading Michael Connelly’s excellent, hard-boiled crime novels starring Harry Bosch as a tough, no-nonsense war veteran and LAPD cop, a modern-day Philip Marlowe, who goes after justice no matter what it takes. Connelly started writing about Bosch in 1992 and there are now 20 books in the series. I’m not yet through with them all but am enthralled and entertained so far by the series’ fast-paced action, its true-to-life descriptions of relationships and police work, and its gritty and bustling setting of Los Angeles, where just about anything can and does happen.
Late to the party as I am, I guess it also makes sense that I’ve only just discovered that the series “Bosch” was adapted for television in 2014 by Amazon who has just ordered its seventh and final season. With the weather turning chillier, I’m looking forward to working my way through all of them.
So far, I’ve binged-watched the first season, which stars Titus Welliver who magnificently embodies Bosch. Let me tell you, he’s not the only thing about this series that won’t disappoint. Unlike most TV adaptations, in fact, each of the characters in “Bosch” feel as real and complex as they are portrayed in the novels and some of the novels’ characters get even more developed on the screen. This is likely due to the fact that Michael Connelly serves as an executive producer and writer for the show. And, despite updating Bosch’s timeline as well (in the books he is a Vietnam vet but has served in the Gulf war and Afghanistan on the show), everything else rings just about right for this reader/viewer.
Want to jump in? No, I can’t buy you an Amazon Prime membership, but I can tell you to start reading the series with book #1, The Black Echo
One of my favorite reads this summer was Miss Cecily’s Recipes for Exceptional Ladies by Vicky Zimmerman.
When you look its adorable frosting-filled cover, you just know this book is going to be a sweet read and it is, but there is also a good bit of depth in here to balance out the sugar!
In this novel we meet Kate. She is a 39-year-old advertising agent for a local grocery store. She is in love with her boyfriend Nick. The two are all set to move in (and Kate thinks, eventually marry) when Nick gets cold feet and asks for a break, and Kate finds herself hurt and, worse, moving back home with her mom.
To get her mind off her troubles, Kate volunteers to give food demonstrations at a retirement home. There, she meets Cecily, a 97-year-old who is always complaining, and won’t even taste what Kate has cooked. Kate loves a challenge and forces herself into clever and cantankerous Cecily’s world but isn’t always happy to hear her advice about Kate’s boring job or her thoughts about waiting around for a man. When Cecily gives Kate a cookbook from the 1950s, it becomes more like a self-help manual for Kate, and cooking her way through the recipes gives Kate the confidence to demand better things.
This is a perfect summer read about good food and good friendships, that also requires a box of Kleenex close at hand. As you root for Kate to get her life together, it is Cecily who is the real star here, with her jaw-dropping insults, fascinating life story, and brusque but well-meaning advice- and, bonus, her character is based on the author’s own grandmother.
I just loved seeing these two women become unlikely friends. Check this one out if you are looking for that perfect heartwarming and totally delicious read. -Carol
I don’t know about you, but I just can’t rationalize paying for all of the streaming TV out there. Instead, I like to get caught up on the popular series by checking them out from the library because it’s free! Sometimes that means I’m a little late to the party, but I don’t mind. The shows (if you are as good as avoiding spoilers as I am) are just as good, and in reality, I don’t always have the time to do the binge-watching necessary to keep current with several series. (There is reading to be done after all!)
My latest free score was checking out the first season of Barry on DVD. This dark comedy airs on HBO and stars Bill Hader as Barry Berkman/Barry Block, a Marine turned hit-man who is lonely and dissatisfied. After traveling from his hometown of Cleveland to Los Angeles to “work” (aka, murder someone), Barry finds himself drawn to a community of aspiring actors. Barry inadvertently steps into an acting class led by Gene Cousineau, who is played by Henry Winkler, and decides to quit the life of crime in order to become a full-time performer, but just can’t seem to keep his bloody past from creeping into his new life. While the content is dark, it is also, often, hilarious, and this viewer couldn’t help but root for the guy who was, at times, literally hurting the people he loves.
Sound like your cup of tea, too? Place your hold on series 1 of Barry in our catalog today. And, then, we can (impatiently) wait together for the DVD release of season 2.
This past week, I read two new historical fiction novels, set in very different centuries. What they have in common was their settings, as both take in the U.K. during flu pandemics. More striking was that both books are luminous depictions of motherhood, pregnancy and loss.
Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell gives readers an imagined look at the grief shared by a playwright and his wife, in Stratford, England in the 1590s, when they lose their son Hamnet to illness. Beautifully rendered, this novel is also about the couple’s courtship and marriage. Ultimately, however, this is the wife’s story. Agnes, in this book (though history tells us Shakespeare’s wife was named Ann), is a complex character whose own childhood comes alive here. An herbalist and healer, Agnes is a devoted wife and mother who isn’t sure she can handle returning to business as usual or the changed dynamics of her marriage after her son dies. She is further challenged her husband writes the play “Hamlet” (a name interchangeable with Hamnet) a mere four years after Hamnet’s death. And, while death from the “plague” wasn’t uncommon, with the removal of the lens of history, it is obvious that the impact of such a loss was just as devastating to a family as it is now. This book is already one of my favorites of 2020.
I dove further into women’s work in The Pull of the Stars by Emma Donoghue, a full-of-heart novel set in a war and illness-ridden Dublin in 1918. Over the course of three days, readers follow Julia Power, a nurse in an over-crowded hospital, who has been tasked with caring for pregnant women who have been quarantined by the flu. Under horrible conditions, Julia forms eye-opening, meaningful relationships in this short time with her coworkers, a 22-year-old orphan named Bridie Sweeney and a character based on real-life woman doctor and Irish patriot, Dr. Kathryn Lynn, who in this story, is wanted by police even as she saves lives. Though this book, too is filled with loss of life, it is ultimately a story of strength, survival and love. And, despite its graphic depictions of the on-goings of a maternity war and disease, I literally couldn’t stop turning the pages.
Too soon? Not for this reader. I’m guessing I won’t be the only one feeling this way. Make sure to reserve your copies of both of these books in our catalog here or request a digital copy hold here.
I recently finished Friends and Strangers by J. Courtney Sullivan, and I am still digesting this novel that focuses on the relationship between Elizabeth, a writer, and Sam, the college-aged young woman who Elizabeth has hired to watch her baby Gil.
Elizabeth has moved from Brooklyn to a small university town to be closer to her husband’s parents and is unhappy. Although she loves their new baby, she is beginning to resent her husband for wanting more kids, for quitting his job to try to become an inventor, and especially, for moving her away from her friends.
A published writer, Elizabeth is struggling after an unsuccessful second book to find inspiration and is under pressure to return to work in order to write a third, due to her husbands (aforementioned) unemployment status and because she’s loaned her life savings to her unreliable sister. At her wits’ end and feeling alone in the world, Elizabeth begins take a bit too much interest in the personal life of her nanny Sam, and the line between employer and employee begins to blur.
After several weekend dinners over wine, secrets are spilled, and Elizabeth begins to think that she knows what is best for Sam’s future. Despite good intentions, there is overstepping of boundaries and eventual betrayal in this new-found friendship.
Friends and Strangers would be a perfect choice for a book club to discuss, as it explores a myriad of topics—class and privilege, motherhood, coming of age, and the dangers of assuming that a person’s experiences are just like your own. I found myself struggling to put this book down until its satisfying conclusion. ~Carol
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.
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