Lit Pairings – The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Aging and reclusive Hollywood movie icon Evelyn Hugo is finally ready to tell the truth about her glamorous and scandalous life. But when she chooses unknown magazine reporter Monique Grant for the job, no one in the journalism community is more astounded than Monique herself. Why her? Why now?

Monique is not exactly on top of the world. Her husband, David, has left her, and her career has stagnated. Regardless of why Evelyn has chosen her to write her biography, Monique is determined to use this opportunity to jump-start her career.

Summoned to Evelyn’s Upper East Side apartment, Monique listens as Evelyn unfurls her story: from making her way to Los Angeles in the 1950s to her decision to leave show business in the late ’80s and, of course, the seven husbands along the way. As Evelyn’s life unfolds – revealing a ruthless ambition, an unexpected friendship, and a great forbidden love – Monique begins to feel a very a real connection to the actress. But as Evelyn’s story catches up with the present, it becomes clear that her life intersects with Monique’s own in tragic and irreversible ways.

This book was so readable, and deliciously yummy! Reid has a great talent for writing likable characters, and that makes it impossible to put her book down. I have yet to hear from someone who read this and didn’t really enjoy it. So if you find yourself in one of those horrible reading slump this books will pull you out. And if you aren’t in a reading slump you should still dive into this one. You won’t be sorry!!

Now for the food. This book let me indulge in one of my favorite genres of eating, the old school steak house meal! Did you mouth just water thinking about it, because mine did! First we’re going to start with a Wedge Salad, because that’s just what you do! This one is from Ina (who else?) and it’s of course wonderful. Then I want a big beastly Butter-Basted Rib Eye Steak. This time of year I find myself pan searing steaks more then grilling. So to do this right you absolutely must have a cast iron skillet! If you don’t have one 1. Why not? 2. Go get one ASAP! You can find them anywhere from Walmart to Williams-Sonoma. It will live forever and you can pass it down to your children! Ok, I’m done with my rant. Now we’re going to follow up that steak with a baked potato. I’m not going to give you a recipe for this I’m just going to tell you a life changing way to make baked potatoes. Rub those taters with a little olive oil and then roll them in coarse kosher salt and dried rosemary. Put them on a baking sheet in a 450 oven until you can squeeze them and they feel soft inside 50 mins. to an hour depending on the size of the potato. When these are done they will have a crazy crispy skin that makes me cry tears of joy just thinking about it. Pair this with a nice drinkable Pinot Noir and you’ve got yourself an amazing dinner.

In the words of Julia Child bon appetit!

 

What’s Ashley Reading?: An Assassin’s Guide to Love and Treason

Some of the classics are hard to read.  Either we do not understand the language or the story is not as fast paced as the latest thriller.  However, there are so many great things about them.  They have survived the times.  The stories still speak to readers today.  One of greatest is the bard, William Shakespeare.  I read several plays during high school English, my favorite being Hamlet.  Do you have trouble with Shakespeare?  Trust me sometimes I do too.  Check out Alyssa’s blog post about her recent interest in the works of Shakespeare.

An Assassin’s Guide to Love and Treason by Virginia Boecker

First line: It is not the usual interrogation.

Summary: When Katherine’s father is killed in front of her she vows that she is going to take revenge on the person responsible, Queen Elizabeth I. She travels to London dressed as a boy to meet with fellow Catholic conspirators to hatch a plan to kill the Protestant queen. Toby, an agent of the queen, is on the lookout for any assassination plots. When he teams up with William Shakespeare and his company of players, he sets a trap for the would-be assassins. However, Katherine and Toby are drawn to each other complicating both of their missions.

Highlights: Assassination plots and William Shakespeare?! Yes please! I found the story to be lots of fun from the very beginning. I enjoyed both of the main characters. Katherine is a strong willed young girl who is determined to avenge her father. Toby is a heartbroken playwright working as a spy for the queen. I loved watching Katherine throwing off her inhibitions as she took on the role of a man. She gets to see things that women would not be privy to normally. As their relationship progresses I got more and more nervous about how the story would end. This story was fit for Shakespeare with the mistaken identities, daring murder attempts and tragic love.

Lowlights: I would have loved more Shakespeare. Any time he entered the story it became even better! His patron even mentioned how he liked to make up words, which he does throughout the story. Such a nice little historical tidbit to add into the dialog.

FYI: Perfect for fans of A Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy by Mackenzi Lee.

What’s Ashley Reading?: Marilla of Green Gables

As a kid I remember walking the one block down to our local library.  My sister and I would spend hours every week browsing the shelves and picking up more items.  One of my favorite items was Anne of Green Gables starring Megan Follows.  Anne was so imaginative and fun.  I wanted to be her or at least be her best friend.  I watched the VHS all the time.  I was so happy when I started working here that we have a copy on DVD, which I have checked out multiple times.

When I saw that there was going to be a “prequel” to the Anne novels, delving into the girlhood of Marilla Cuthbert, I was immediately interested.  I needed to read this!  I hope that if you love Anne as much as I do that you will enjoy this look into life at Green Gables.

Marilla of Green Gables by Sarah McCoy

First line: It’d been a rain-chilled May that felt more winter than spring.

Summary: Before Anne there was Marilla of Green Gables. Marilla is an intelligent and strong willed young woman. She is just starting to venture into adulthood and a budding relationship with the handsome, John Blythe. When her mother dies in childbirth Marilla is left as the matriarch of the Cuthbert home. Even with her new responsibilities, Marilla ventures forth into the world and sees that there is more than just Avonlea.

Highlights: I recently read the books for the first time and enjoyed following Anne through her imaginative life.  McCoy’s book is a perfect companion to the original story. We get to know Marilla in a completely new way. She was young and was in love. I remember hearing Marilla talk about how John Blythe was her beau, which always made me wonder what happened. I am so happy that I was able to take a look into her past.

The writing was very well done. The author stayed true to the times and added little details to flesh out the Cuthbert’s lives on Prince Edward Island. I never realized how much Canada was involved in the Underground Railroad and the path to freedom for so many escaped slaves. As a narrative and a historical fiction book, this is a fantastic read!

Lowlights: It was so short! I could have read so much more in this world. Maybe it is time to revisit Anne and Gilbert?

FYI: Perfect for fans of Anne of Green Gables!

What’s Ashley Reading?: The Kennedy Debutante

Learning about the lives of important figures in history is just fascinating.  Over the years I have started picking up more biographies because of my love of historical fiction.  Nonfiction has a bad reputation as boring.  This is not always the case.  Many nonfiction books now are reading almost like fiction.  They flow well and tell a great story.  I laughed out loud while listening to Tina Fey read her biography, Bossypants!  I was shocked while reading, A Stolen Life, by Jaycee Dugard.  I cannot wait to listen to the upcoming autobiography, Becoming, by former first lady, Michelle Obama.  Everyone has a story to tell.  Browse through our biographies (92s and 920s) and see what catches your eye.

The Kennedy Debutante by Kerri Maher

First line: Presentation day.

Summary: In her debut novel, author Kerri Maher introduces us to Kathleen “Kick” Kennedy. She is the second oldest daughter of Ambassador Joe Kennedy Sr. While living in London Kick does everything a good debutante is supposed to do. She attends balls, is presented to the King and socializes with the aristocracy. However, she wants something more. When she meets Billy Hartington, the heir to the dukedom of Cavendish, she finds what she has been looking for. Their dreams are derailed when Hitler invades Poland and Kick is sent back to the United States. She becomes even more determined to return to England and the man she loves even if it means defying her family and her religion.

Highlights: A fantastic example of biographical fiction! Everyone in the U.S. has grown up hearing about John F. Kennedy and his family. However, I had never heard of his sister, Kathleen. I was fascinated by her story. She was a young debutante who was practically American royalty. She lived in England and fell in love with the heir to a dukedom. Her life though was not perfect. She had many struggles in her life.

My heart broke for her when her family and society were against her relationship because she was Catholic and he was Protestant. The author does a great job of bringing her confusion and inner battles to the reader. I cannot imagine how hard it must have been for her to make a choice between the man she loved and her family. I liked this look into the life of the Kennedys. Her parents were very strong willed and wanted their children to achieve great success, which several of them reached. Kick became the rebellious one who followed her heart.

“At the end, she said, ‘I just don’t know what to do.  It’s all mixed up in my head–my mother, my father, his mother, his father, my religion, his religion, my heart.  I don’t know what to listen to.  None of them agree.'”

I was nearly in tears (which rarely happens) while finishing this book. The family became so real on the pages and their heartbreaks became mine as well. This was wonderfully researched and written. I cannot wait to see what Kerri Maher writes next!

Lowlights: While I appreciated the insight into Kick’s years of separation from Billy and the personal struggle to come to terms with what life with him would entail, I felt that it stretched out a little too much. For several chapters we watch as she continues to debate and think about her choices. I felt that this made us understand how important it was but at the same time, it slowed the plot down.

FYI: If you love the Kennedys or World War II historical fiction than I would highly recommend this!

What’s Ashley Reading?: The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein

There are many different versions of Frankenstein.  They range from the classic film with Boris Karloff to hilarious Young Frankenstein starring Gene Wilder.  It has been 200 years since his first appearance.   What fascinates us with this monster? 

On a trip to Germany in 2002, my family and our German family visited Frankenstein Castle outside of Darmstadt, Germany.  Even though it is not the actual home of the monster it is still very formidable.  I could easily picture the Gothic tale happening in the ruins.

The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein by Kiersten White

First line: Lightning clawed across the sky, tracing veins through the clouds and marking the pulse of the universe itself.

Summary: In this retelling of Mary Shelley’s classic novel, Frankenstein, we see the story unfold through the eyes of the Frankenstein family’s ward, Elizabeth. She is brought to Frankenstein manor as a playmate and helper to the strange eldest son, Victor. As they grow up the two become dependent on each other. However, when Victor disappears with no word, Elizabeth must search for him and bring him home. When she finally finds Victor, she learns the truth of what he has been doing those many months he has been gone. She has kept his secrets for years but can she keep this one?

Highlights: Kiersten White did a great job of fleshing out the story and adding to the original. I think that she made it even darker than the original. Which I really loved. I liked the character of Elizabeth. She was secretive, cunning and not shocked by the things that Victor did. For a woman of the time she relied on the men in her life. She tried to guarantee that she would be taken care of by any means necessary.

Lowlights: I read Frankenstein several years ago and was not as impressed as I had wanted to be. I love to read classics. I love Dickens and Stoker. I listened to the audio version and it was rather slow moving for the first two thirds. There is more description and little conversation. The last third was more engaging and fast paced. I would recommend reading this one instead of listening to the audio.

FYI: If you love Frankenstein then you should read this!

Lit Pairings – Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

 

Kirsten Raymonde will never forget the night Arthur Leander, the famous Hollywood actor, had a heart attack on stage during a production of King Lear. That was the night when a devastating flu pandemic arrived in the city, and within weeks, civilization as we know it came to an end.

Twenty years later, Kirsten moves between the settlements of the altered world with a small troupe of actors and musicians. They call themselves The Traveling Symphony, and they have dedicated themselves to keeping the remnants of art and humanity alive. But when they arrive in St. Deborah by the Water, they encounter a violent prophet who will threaten the tiny band’s existence. And as the story takes off, moving back and forth in time, and vividly depicting life before and after the pandemic, the strange twist of fate that connects them all will be revealed.

If you didn’t already know Station Eleven is this year’s Wichita Big Read. There are lots of great events going on now through November 15 in Wichita, at our library and at other surrounding libraries. You can find our events here https://derbylibrary.com/events/programs.

So without spoilers for those who haven’t read the book it’s a post apocalyptic novel that stemmes from a world wide pandemic. In a recent library podcast, Novel Idea the Library Podcast  we were asked what our final meal would be before the collapse of modern civilization. Give this podcast a listen to find out what mine is. You won’t be disappointment!

 

What’s Ashley Reading?: I’d Rather Be Reading

I love to buy books!  I think many of us here at the library have this same problem.  I want to have copies of my favorite books on hand in case I want to reread them or to decorate my apartment.  So when a big book sale is going on I always try and get there to pick up a few treasures.

The library has a running book sale but every so often we have more books than we know what to do with.  That is when we have a bag sale!  What is better than getting a Derby Library bag stuffed full of new and old books?!  We currently have this sale happening at the library running through November 3rd.  Come in and see what is here.  New books are added every day.

I’d Rather Be Reading by Anne Bogel

First line: “Can you recommend a great book?”

Summary: Told through a series of essays by author and blogger, Anne Bogel, we get a look into what makes reading a full time hobby of hers. She gives the reader tips on how to organize their bookshelf, tells us what got her hooked on reading and the love of her library next door. This cute little book is perfect for the book lover in your life!

Highlights: I recently started following Anne’s blog (Modern Mrs. Darcy) and her Instagram account. She LOVES books and everything book related. This short little book was quick read that is easily relatable. She knows exactly what it means to be a book lover. I felt like she was talking directly to me. Moreover, learning that I am not the only one who is obsessed by reading and all things books.

I loved her idea of a book twin. Someone who has similar reading likes and dislikes. Someone who can vet books for you and you for them. Her tips and tricks make me want to reorganize my bookshelves and add more shelves too. I never even considered having shelves dedicated to authors I have met or organize based on colors.

Lowlights: The essays are nothing groundbreaking but are a fun read that are easy to connect with as a reader.

FYI: The author also has a podcast, What Should I Read Next.

What’s Ashley Reading?: The Spellbook of Katrina Van Tassel

October is here!  The fall weather is arriving and Halloween is approaching.  That means bring on all the scary movies and books.  We have a great selection of horror movies and Halloween classics.  I recently watched the previous season of American Horror Story and really enjoyed it.  I always watch Hocus Pocus several times during the month of October and pick up several spooky books to get me into the holiday spirit!

The Spellbook of Katrina Van Tassel by Alyssa Palombo

First line: Washington Irving got it wrong.

Summary: When schoolteacher, Ichabod Crane, comes to the village of Sleepy Hollow he meets the daughter of a wealthy farmer. Their friendship and shared loved of books and music lead to a love affair that will sweep them both off their feet. Katrina’s admirer, Brom Van Brunt, is determined to win her and scare off the newcomer. Then on All Hallow’s Eve Ichabod disappears without a trace. Katrina enlists the help of her friend and rumored witch, Charlotte Jansen, to assist in finding Ichabod using any means necessary.

Highlights: I really enjoyed this book. It was fun twist on the original classic. I have seen the movies and loved the TV series. However, this was just different enough from them that it made it fresh and new. The book is a mix between historical fiction, romance and ghost story. There were lots of interesting details about the time and culture of the Dutch settlement in Sleepy Hollow. The romance was a main theme but it was not a bodice ripper by any means. I loved the dark undertones of the Headless Horseman haunting her dreams and roaming the village on All Hallow’s Eve. This is a great read for October!

Lowlights: The story seemed to drag on a little bit in the middle. In addition, I think that title is a little misleading. I expected more witchcraft and magic. Katrina and her friend, Charlotte, do seem to have some sort of second sight but it was not what I had expected.

FYI: If you like this then try the author’s other book, The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence.

What’s Ashley Reading?: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Over the six years I have been working here at the library I have found so many things to love.  One of those is audio books.  I listen to them on my phone and in my car.  I have such a long list of books to read that listening has helped knock a few off.

My favorite series to listen and relisten to is Harry Potter.  The narrator, Jim Dale, is wonderful.  He has different voices for each character.  He brings the story to life and makes for a very enjoyable road trip.  I recently picked up book three, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, for the umpteenth time.  Each time I read/listen to it I find little things I missed before and I love it even more after each read.

*Beware of spoilers if you have not read Sorcerer’s Stone and Chamber of Secrets.*

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J. K. Rowling

First line: Harry Potter was a highly unusual boy in many ways.

Summary: Harry Potter is in this third year at Hogwarts.  He is the boy who lived.  He defeated the Dark Lord.  However, when Sirius Black escapes from Azkaban he finds himself once more in danger.  As the Dementors surround the school, Harry’s school year proceeds as normal with Quidditch and classes until he learns that Black is coming to kill him.

Highlights: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is my favorite of the series!  I have loved it since the first time reading it.  I have reread it numerous times.  I think one of the main reasons is that it is a little different from the rest of the books.  Voldemort does not play a strong role in the story and we learn more about what happened on that fateful Halloween night.  What happened to Harry’s parents?  Who were they?  They became more fleshed out.  They had friends.  They went to Hogwarts. 

Rowling builds so much of the world in this book.  The Knight Bus alone is pure genius.  I love Ernie and Stan.  I was so excited that Universal Studios even has a replica of the Knight Bus outside Diagon Alley.  In addition, we get to spend more time in the wizarding world.  Harry explores more of Diagon Alley and visits the town of Hogsmeade.  While reading I wanted a nice hot cup of Butterbeer.  I’ve had the iced version at Universal but warm sounds rather tasty as well.

There are many new characters and each of them adds to the story in their own ways.  Even the animals like Buckbeak and Crookshanks.  I love the character of Sirius Black.  He is very complex.  I do not know what it is that draws me to his character but he is always my answer for my favorite character.  Plus, Remus Lupin is hands down the best Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher.  The lesson with the boggarts is lots of fun to read.

 Lowlights: Nothing.  This book is FANTASTIC!

 FYI: Check out the audio book voiced by Jim Dale.

Can Shakespeare Make Sense?

We all know him, that 16th century bard with the weird hair and a penchant for killing off everybody in his plays. You’ve probably had to endure the musings of that Prince of Denmark or the fawning of the young lovers in a high school English class and perhaps you’ve even been dragged to a bloody production a time or two. You might have even encountered one of the countless adaptations while searching for something to watch on Netflix or seen one of his quotes on a museum wall, but for most of us, Shakespeare is fairly unreachable. As Mare Winningham, a well-known actress and decorated Shakespearean performer, once said:

“It’s practically in another language.”

Only in the last ten years have I really considered giving Shakespeare a chance, and even still, it’s required a scholarly mood. However, in the past month, I think I’ve finally cracked the code on how to actually enjoy, and dare I say, even adore Shakespeare.

It all started with a discovery on YouTube. One of my favorite actresses is Joanna Vanderham. I loved her performance in BBC’s The Paradise, and in a passing video search of her other works, I found this rehearsal video of Othello on the Royal Shakespeare Company’s channel. It’s so cool! Joanna plays Desdemona, and it showed her and another actress performing their characters with the director’s input. I’d never read Othello so I became instantly intrigued by the story, and this director’s take on it. After watching all of the rehearsal videos on YouTube, I found that I can actually watch this production online (and I don’t even have to leave my house!)

Antony Sher in RSC’s production of King Lear

Digital Theater is this really awesome streaming site that lets you watch many Royal Shakespeare Company productions. These shows are legit. They’re directed by esteemed professionals and performed by trained Shakespearean actors who live and breathe this stuff. One of the actors, Antony Sher, even writes books about his year in study of each character. So I rented Othello and was entirely engrossed. Shakespeare was coming to life for me just in seeing it actually come to life. I must confess, though, that at times I got lost so that’s where my next tool in this toolbox comes in.

SparkNotes has this website called No Fear Shakespeare, and it’s phenomenal. It’s basically a line by line translation of Shakespeare’s works, but the translations aren’t watered down. In fact, the translations sometimes are even beautiful in their own right. For the first time in all my reading of Shakespeare, I truly understood everything that was going on. I saw how devious Iago really was, why Cassio felt so ruined, and why Othello behaved erratically. Once I watched the RSC performance, I went back and read the entire play on the SparkNotes. I read Shakespeare’s lines first and then read the translations just to make sure I grasped it. I took my time with it instead of rushing through and losing meaning. I even kept a file for all of my favorite lines. By the end of Othello, I truly felt the story.

“To mourn a mischief that is past and gone

Is the next way to bring new mischief on.”

– Iago, Othello

So You Want To Actually Like Shakespeare?

Pick a play that you’re generally interested in. It could be something as popular as Romeo and Juliet or more lighthearted like Much Ado About Nothing or The Taming of the Shrew. Then I’d recommend reading a summary of the entire story.  Shakespeare isn’t about spoilers and surprises. It’s about feeling for the motivations of these characters and finding lines that are treasured gems so get a grasp of the basic plot first (and for some plays, that’s a feat in itself). Then if you can, I’d recommend renting a performance of it on Digital Theater (the prices are shown in pounds, but when you rent a show, it converts the price to dollars automatically). Watch it, have the No Fear Shakespeare tab open, and just revel in the performance, art direction, and style. After you’ve seen the play, I would then actually give reading the play on No Fear Shakespeare a chance. Read the original lines and use the translation for guidance. With the story having sunk into your soul a bit, you’ll find that lines jump out at you with so much more meaning.

This is definitely a different way of reading. It’s slower, more methodical, and requires a little time for your brain to settle into it, but I promise, if you give this a try with even one of Shakespeare’s plays, you’ll really feel different about it. For me, I’m planning King Lear next. Antony Sher’s  performance looks like a masterpiece.

Good luck, Shakespearean fellows!