I usually make New Year’s Resolutions and, like many, don’t keep them. One regular resolution of mine that I usually keep, however, is reaching my set goal of reading 52 books annually. While this might sound like a lot of reading, I know many people who put my numbers to shame, and that’s okay. Everyone’s reading pace is different. And, is it cheating to turn up the speed of audiobooks? (I say no!)
So, while I’ve been keeping this resolution over the last few years, I’ve kept a little blank book with lists of the books and the year that I’ve read them. I’ve been very proud of my little notebook and was sure I could keep up this pace…until 2020 happened. Oddly enough, in a year where I should have had more time to read than ever due to lack of socializing, I failed, and stalled somewhere around book #47! Even worse, it’s January 11th and all I can do is stare at screens (and no, they are not the screens where I have loaded e-books). I haven’t downloaded an audiobook, cracked a book cover, or even (gasp!), written the year down on the fresh page in my aforementioned precious notebook that mocks me from across the room.
How can I face that notebook knowing my intentions have changed? Yes, I will read. Yes, I likely will even read 52 books this year. And yes, I’ll likely record these books somewhere. But first, I’m going to be kind to myself about this. And, when I’m ready to turn a page, I’m sure I’ll find myself immersed in my next favorite novel.
Until I have a book to recommend, be kind to yourselves and one another. And, if you are feeling like I have been feeling, know that when you are ready for distraction, information, entertainment and connection, the library will be here waiting for you. ~Carol
I can’t let 2020 end without sharing two of my most recent obsessions with you, that you too, ahem, can also realize courtesy of your local library.
First up is a book that would have made my “Top Ten of 2020” post, had I read it earlier. Big Girl, Small Town by Michelle Gallen was my Christmas weekend read and I’m still reeling from this gut-puncher of a debut. This dark and darkly comic novel is told over the course of a single work-week through eyes of Majella, a 27-year-old woman who works at the local chip shop. Majella lives with her alcoholic mom in fictional Aghybogey, Ireland, a depressed border town where tensions between Catholics and Protestants run deep and violent. Majella, who might be autistic, is just trying to figure out the changing world around her. In the week after her grandmother has been murdered, Majella is desperate to carry on with her usual routine, and returns to work. There, her descriptions of a typical night in the chip shop provide a razor-sharp commentary on her small-town and its inhabitants, and on her own life’s painful history. I laughed. I cried. I laughed some more. Place your hold in our catalog.
My second new obsession has been watching A Suitable Boy, a BBC television drama based on a (over 1,300 page!) 1993 novel by Vikram Seth, set in 1951 in a newly-independent India. This six-part miniseries is the coming-of-age story of Lata, a university student who is torn between her family duty, religious loyalty and love, as three very different men try to win her heart. This show has it all: lush settings, a lesson in Indian history, great music, and romance, of course! Acorn released episode five today and I cannot wait to watch it. Did I mention that I stream Acorn (including this show) for free from the library? You can, too! Click here to get started.
And, until next time, Happy New Year! ~Carol
Goodbye November 2020.
Perhaps I used up all of my “thankful for”s last week but I’ll confess that not only am I am not sorry to see this month go, I’m actually eager to turn the calendar’s page. Are you feeling drained by this year, too? Why don’t we right now decide to take it easy on ourselves on this grey and rainy Monday and last day of November evening blog post (or whenever you are reading this) and seek out a way to shut down for a spell and to relax?
My way tonight will be popping in The Return of the King, the third and final film in The Lord of the Rings trilogy. We (re)watched the first two films over Thanksgiving weekend, and despite the fact that we were not able to gather with loved-ones, we were still reminded how nice it is to spend some of our other “old friends.” Gandalf, Frodo, Sam and the rest of the Middle Earth gang helped fill an obvious void, and time spent with them was a bit of a respite from scrolling through news and dodging the already prevalent holiday shopping ads. It helped, too, that we chose a favorite where we know the good guys win in the end.
Do you need a brain-break too? Why not pick up your favorite ‘oldie but goodie,’ or put your favorite titles on hold and see if your DVD player still works? ~Carol
If you are looking for a smart and funny mystery, put The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman on your to-read list.
This delightful story takes place in the peaceful town of Kent, England, where four unlikely friends meet weekly in the Jigsaw Room at Coopers Chase, their retirement village, to keep their “grey cells” working. Elizabeth, Ibrahim, Joyce and Ron are members of The Thursday Murder Club, a group of septuagenarians who meet not for book club or bridge, but to pore over old cold crime case files to see if they can solve them.
It’s like Christmas for these four when the developer of their very own senior complex is found murdered, and they set out to catch the killer. The club uses their years of experience and diverse backgrounds to start digging for clues, and with their powers of persuasion and perfected coffee cake recipes, they also manage to cleverly rope a new young local policewoman into revealing key facts to them about the ongoing investigation. Will this unorthodox but brilliant gang catch the killer before he or she strikes again? You’ll have to read this complex, intelligent and engaging mystery to find out.
With a cast of diverse characters, tight plotting, and plenty of red herrings, The Thursday Murder Club is a laugh-out-loud cozy mystery that has already made it on my “favorite reads” list this year. Check it out today! -Carol
In need of a pick-me-up? Pick up What You Wish for by Katherine Center!
In this novel, Samantha Casey is a school librarian in Galveston, Texas who loves her job and brings joy to all she does. But she wasn’t always that way. At her last school in California, Samantha was quiet, less confident and secretly in love with a enigmatic teacher who didn’t know she existed. Because she couldn’t be with this man, Samantha felt as though she needed to leave in order to change– she did, and she didn’t look back.
When the beloved principal at her Texas school dies, Samantha learns that his replacement will be Duncan Carpenter, the very same man she worked with (and loved from afar at her last school)! Samantha knows this former teacher-turned-principal will be perfect for the job. After all, this was “the guy,” her old crush, whose own wacky outlook, positive energy and love of life and teaching inspired her transformation into a more outgoing person.
But when Duncan arrives on the scene, he is nothing like the man Samantha remembers. He is no longer carefree, fun, or full of laughter. Instead, he is now a suit-and-tie wearing, rule-enforcing, scowling stick-in-the-mud who seems eager to change everything good about the school and destroy its legacy. Is it Samantha’s turn now to help Duncan rediscover who he really is, and teach him to take chances in life and love?
Pick up What You Wish For if you are in the mood for a light romance, but know that it also has some real substance to it. The engaging characters in this novel experience difficult situations and show personal growth, even as the book’s witty dialogue speeds the story along to its ultimately happy ending. Sounds like the perfect read to me. –Carol
If you are looking for a thrilling series to watch after the kids go to bed, dive into The Americans and be prepared for six seasons of excitement. This spy thriller series from the FX network is set during the Cold War, and follows Elizabeth (played by Keri Russell) and Philip Jennings (played by Matthew Rhys), two Soviet KGB intelligence officers posing as an American married couple living in a Virginia suburb of Washington, D.C., with their two unsuspecting children.
Season One, which premiered in 2013 begins in the aftermath of the inauguration of President Ronald Reagan in January 1981, and the series’ final season takes place in December 1987, shortly before the leaders of the U.S. and the Soviet Union signed the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. Not only does the action and suspense in this Golden Globe and Emmy-award winning show refuse to disappoint, the nostalgic treats it delivers with its pitch-perfect 80s soundtrack, outrageous costume design of wigs and clothes and gas-guzzling cars will make you glad the ‘80s are over, even as you can’t help but love this walk down memory lane.
Make no mistake: This show is dark in theme and execution. The protagonists are constantly forced into no-win scenarios, in which they must make choices about how to follow their orders and complete their missions, how to raise their children, and how not to get caught, all while trying to balance their loyalties and maintain their relationship to one another. History says they are the “bad guys” on the losing side but I think you’ll find yourself rooting for them anyway.
Place a hold for the first season on DVD today.
It’s been a good book week in my house. I just devoured The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue, the newest novel by V. E. Schwab. This story is about a young French woman in the 18th-Century, who makes a deal with the Devil in order not to marry. Consequently, she can live forever but cannot be remembered by anyone whose life she touches. It’s a little spooky, a lot romantic and has just the right amount of slow-building tension, making it perfect for these chilly, rainy October days.
What else is good for chilly, rainy days? Baking, of course. I like simple recipes like this Beer Bread from Food.com. Even better that it doesn’t require too many ingredients or too much time spent in the kitchen. This bread will be going into my oven in a couple of hours and will make a delicious and hearty snack along with a hot cup of tea later this evening while I tuck into the new Tana French novel, The Searcher. I can’t wait!
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.
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.
One of the things I most appreciate about being a citizen of the United States of America? I can make a difference each time I vote! And in-between elections, I can contact elected representatives, from local to Federal, when an issue is important to me!
From Monday, September 28 to Friday, October 2, Rocky River Public Library, our fellow public library systems in Cuyahoga County, and City Club of Cleveland are asking you to participate in Five Days for Democracy—a week dedicated to spending just a little bit of time each day thinking about what democracy means to you, why it’s important, and why it’s worth fighting for.
When you sign up, you’ll receive an email each day packed with opportunities to explore different facets of our democracy, in all its aspirations and failings. From listening to a podcast to watching a video, reading an article or responding to a call to action, each day you’ll pick one challenge to complete. And maybe you’d like to start reading a little something right now, like a little prep work for the week? Check out on of the many titles suggested in the 5 Days for Democracy collection!
Five days. Five challenges. Five ways to strengthen your role in our democracy.
Sign up at Five Days for Democracy and get ready to embrace your voting power!