What’s Ashley Reading?: Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey

Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey by Fiona Carnarvon, the Countess of Carnarvon

First line: This is a book about an extraordinary woman called Almina Carnarvon, the family into which she married, the Castle that became her home, the people who worked there, and the transformation of the Castle when it became a hospital for wounded soldiers during the First World War.

Summary: Written by the current Countess of Carnarvon we are taken into the past to meet the woman that helped inspired the hit television series Downton Abbey. Almina was the daughter of Alfred de Rothschild. Her dowry was used to help support the struggling estate. Almina opened the house to be used as a hospital during World War I and her husband was part of the team who discovered the tomb of King Tut. Using information from letters and diaries of the occupants of Highclere Castle, we get the true story of this great house.

My Thoughts: I have been a fan of the series Downton Abbey from the start. I watched each season religiously. I even got my mother hooked on it. I knew that much of the inspiration for the story was drawn from real life events. I have been meaning to pick up this book for years and with the upcoming movie I figured it was the right time.

It is easy to see that author had access to many primary sources and a wealth of information. She fleshes out the woman who saved the family from ruin and brought them into the 20th century. I loved hearing about her life before and after her marriage. She did so much for the house but my favorite part by far was the discovery of King Tut’s tomb. From a hobby in the desert and a final chance to find something worth the money they find one of the greatest discoveries of all time.

There is a follow up book called Lady Catherine, the Earl, and the Real Downton Abbey. It is next on my list.

FYI: The Downton Abbey movie is released in theaters on September 20, 2019. (Several of our staff plan to see it this weekend. Hope to see some of you there too!)

What’s Ashley Reading?: Tidelands

Tidelands by Philippa Gregory

First line: The church was grey against a light grey sky, the bell tower, like a watchtower, dark against the darker clouds.

Summary: It is 1648 in England. The country is in turmoil. Alinor is a poor woman living on Sealsea Island with two children. Her husband disappeared several months before and left his family with nothing. One night while Alinor is holding vigil at the local church she stumbles upon a man hiding in the churchyard. He asks for her help to guide him to the home of the local land owner. She learns that he is a priest who is working as a spy for the imprisoned King Charles I.

For her silence about the mysterious visitor she earns the respect of the Peachey family. As she gains favor from her landlord she also draws the suspicions of her neighbors. In this time of witchcraft and superstition, Alinor is in danger of being accused of using spells to bewitch them to advance her ambitions.

My Thoughts: I absolutely loved this book. It is a beautiful story. The descriptions of the land are as vivid as a picture. It is easy to imagine the small island village in the south of England where life is controlled by the tides.

Alinor is a poor simple woman but she stands out from all the other people on her island. She is knowledgeable about herbs, she can read and write. Gregory does an amazing job writing about strong and interesting women. Alinor has been abandoned by her husband but she is able to continue to survive using her own gifts.

The time of Charles I is not one that I am very familiar with. Wikipedia is one of my best friends while reading about a new era in history. I have heard of the English Civil War and the Oliver Cromwell but I have never spent much time reading about it. Gregory did extensive research in order to bring the turbulent time to life. The fear of witches, the hatred of the king and the devastating poverty are just a few issues she covers. It was a time of great change.

A connection is being made here.

Throughout the novel I was constantly worried for Alinor. She is a wise woman. Many of her neighbors come to her for help in delivering babies or curing a sickness. But it is easy for people of the time to turn on women like her. I kept waiting for something to happen her. I was completely invested in her life. As I read the last few pages I was praying that it would not end. I want to know what will happen next for Alinor and her family.

We are SUPER excited!

Last week I was lucky enough to get to travel to Denver and meet Philippa Gregory. My cousin, Alaina, accompanied me to the event. It was a on my bucket list to meet and have a signed copy of one of her books. I was beyond excited to meet her. She was absolutely lovely to listen to. She did several readings from Tidelands and answered audience questions. I love attending author events. For me it is like meeting a movie star. I was literally shaking and nervous. I am so happy that I made the eight hour drive to Denver to meet her. It was surreal.

FYI: Philippa Gregory is my favorite author! My favorite book is The Other Boleyn Girl.

Random Reading Thoughts: How do you get out of a reading slump?

Drawing of book wity images coming out of it representing a story narative
Tell us in the comments how you get out of a reading slump.

If you’re a reader, you’ve experienced it: a reading slump. You know, that week, or month, or longer, when no matter what book you pick up, you just can’t seem to get interested in it.

If you’re in a slump now, here are 10 tips to help get your reading back on track. If you’re not in a slump, save this for later, because you know one will hit sooner or later.

1. Reread one of your favorite books. Not a re-reader? Give it a shot. There’s a reason we love our favorite stories and revisiting them can rekindle the feeling we had when we first read them.

2. Read a book completely out of your comfort zone. Normally read romantic comedies? Try a thriller. Love mysteries? Give a fantasy novel a shot. Picking up something completely unusual for you can pique your interest.

3. Judge a book by its cover. Go ahead. Do it! That cover that just grabs your attention? The book inside might just do the same and help break you out of a rut.

4. Pick up a nice short, easy to read book. If you’re in a slump, picking up that giant doorstop of a book might feel like too much. Give yourself permission to read a short, fluffy, brain candy kind of book.

Sometimes a new format can kick your reading back into gear.

5. “Read” in a different format. Do you usually read on an e-reader or mobile device? Try print. Always read print books? Listen to an audiobook. Consuming that story in a new way may prod your brain to respond more actively to the story.

6. Visit the library or a bookstore. Just browsing the shelves and being around books might get your brain back into a reading mode.

7. Participate in a reading challenge. Reading challenges abound on the internet, challenges with a few books or a lot of books. Locally, check out the Wichita Eagle #READICT Challenge group on Facebook. The Eagle’s annual challenge is to read 12 books from 12 categories.

8. Or, participate in a read-a-thon. The library has a month-long read-a-thon coming up Oct. 1-31, where you can journey through the Forbidden Forest as you read.

9. Join a book club. It can be motivating to have a deadline to finish and then meet and discuss what you loved — and didn’t — about the book. The library has three active book clubs, all open to everyone.

10. Take yourself on a reading date. Set aside some time for just you and your book. Find a comfortable place and have a cup of your favorite tea or coffee. Take a couple of hours and surrender yourself to the words on the page. Have a few books to choose from, in case the first “date” doesn’t quite work out.

Lit Pairings – Vintage 1954

Vintage 1954 by Antoine Laurain

When Hubert Larnaudie invites some fellow residents of his Parisian apartment building to drink an exceptional bottle of 1954 Beaujolais, he has no idea of its special properties.

The following morning, Hubert finds himself waking up in 1950s Paris, as do antique restorer Magalie, mixologist Julien, and Airbnb tenant Bob from Milwaukee, who’s on his first trip to Europe. After their initial shock, the city of Edith Piaf and An American in Paris begins to work its charm on them. The four delight in getting to know the French capital during this iconic period, whilst also playing with the possibilities that time travel allows.

But, ultimately, they need to work out how to get back to 2017, and time is of the essence.

Every once in a great while I just want a sweet little read to put me in a good mood. When I’m over the thrillers and the horror that usually occupy my reading lists, Antoine Laurain seems to always be there for me. His books are short, sweet and most importantly French!

Of course a book set in 1954 Paris gives me unlimited amounts of food inspiration. If I were to recreate a day from this story I would start out the morning with a Bloody Mary at Harry’s Bar. This recipe includes celery salt which I understand the original from Harry’s didn’t, so you’ll need to make your own judgement call there. Around mid day I’d pack a Traditional French Picnic and head to a cozy spot with a good book. Then after what I’m sure would be a wonderful afternoon of snacking, reading and lazing about I’d stop by the fish market on my way home and pick up a Whole Trout to roast and perhaps a nice bottle of Sauvignon Blanc to go with it.

Unfortunately I can’t travel back in time to Paris in 1954, but I think I can still recreate this food day right here in the present. I’m going to give it a go before fall sets in. Let me know if you do the same!

What’s Ashley Reading?: The Escape Room

The Escape Room by Megan Goldin

First line: It was Miguel who called 911 at 4:07 a.m. on an icy Sunday morning.

Summary: Vincent and his financial team from Stanhope and Sons is told to attend a team building exercise on a Friday night. When they arrive they enter an elevator that takes them up several floors where it stops and the clues begin. As the team tries to figure out how to get out of the escape room they realize that the clues are very specific. However, as the clock clicks on they are not let out of the room. Tension begins to mount and the team begins to let their fears and secrets come to the surface. Will they survive the escape room?

My Thoughts: Following a popular trend with thrillers now we have a book split into a two part narrative. We meet Sara Hall, a young business school graduate who is looking for a job. She lands the job of her dreams at Stanhope and Sons in New York City. She works on big accounts and makes tons of money. But the hours are long, the work is grueling and the people are not very nice.

The other side is the team in the elevator. It is a group of very unlikeable people stuck in a very tight space together. I really enjoyed these scenes as their true personalities came to the forefront. We find out what secrets they have and how truly terrible they are. I could honestly say that I did not care for any of them but I was very interested to see where their story ended.

Even though the ending was rather predictable it was loads of fun! Our staff did an escape room for our Christmas party last year. We had a great time. There are tons of clues and just a short amount of time to put them together. If you have a chance to try one you should but maybe not in an elevator. 😉

FYI: Great for fans of Ruth Ware and Shari Lapena.

What’s Ashley Reading?: The Chelsea Girls

The Chelsea Girls by Fiona Davis

First line: In the dead of night, during the dreary month of March, the Chelsea Hotel is a quiet place.

Summary: Hazel Ridley is from a stage family. Her father spent years on Broadway, her mother as his manager and her brother was an aspiring actor but Hazel has never been able to find her big break. She decides to sign up for the USO tour. When she arrives in Italy she meets Maxine the leading lady of the troupe and they quickly become close friends.

Upon Hazel’s return to New York City she finds an apartment at the Chelsea Hotel in order to work on her idea for a play based on her time in the war. With Maxine as the leading lady it appears that the show is going to be a hit until her name appears on the list of suspected Communists. As the Red Scare begins to take over the country, Hazel is worried that her show and life may not be what she once believed it would be.

My Thoughts: Like Davis’ other works, this centers around a New York City landmark, the Chelsea Hotel. It plays just as much of a role as the characters. It is the home of creative types during the twentieth century including Mark Twain, Andy Warhol and Arthur Miller. The hotel has a fascinating history. As with other historical novels I love to look at pictures. It is a gorgeous old building.

The Chelsea Hotel in New York City

I learned more about McCarthyism and the Red Scare while reading The Chelsea Girls. It seems like a scary time. The Cold War is going on. You do not know who you can trust. Neighbors are turning in neighbors. This brought it more to life than many of the history textbooks I have read throughout my school years.

I was rather disappointed in The Chelsea Girls. In her previous novels there is a dual narrative with one being in the past (usually the 1920s) and one being modern. It was not so in this case. It did switch between the two main women but it did not seem to have the same magic as her others do. I liked it but it is probably my least favorite.

FYI: Try her other books, The Address, The Dollhouse and the The Masterpiece.

The Wheel of TBR: September 2019

When it comes to reading, I’m not much of a planner. Or at least, I used to not be. I’ve known various readers who have a pre-determined to-be-read (TBR) list for the month or even for the next six months, but I never understood how a reader could plan exactly what they were going to read for a period of time longer than a week. What if I don’t feel like reading that book at the time I need to read it? What if I discover a new book that grabs my attention more than the ten books I planned to read in the month? And what if I don’t read what I planned?

This all changed over the summer when I participated in two read-a-thons. If you’re curious about what a read-a-thon is, feel free to check out my previous blog post about them here.

I did the Book Junkie Trials Read-a-thon in the month of July and managed to read a whopping seventeen books in the month! Then in August, I participated in the Magical Read-a-thon: NEWTS 2019 and read eighteen books in the month!!

I’ve never read this much in such a short amount of time, and I think my success has been actually coming up with a list of books to read ahead of time and sticking to that list as much as possible. I knew exactly how to plot out my reading by knowing the length and content of every book. I also had a destination in mind. After I finished a book, I didn’t mindlessly roam until I found another book that caught my interest or left my decision up to fickle emotions. The books on my list were books I was genuinely interested in, and I prioritized just those for the month.

I haven’t found any read-a-thons to participate in for September, but I did find this awesome YouTuber named Codie who creates a monthly to-be-read list using a wheel! Each space on the wheel is a topic and with every selection, she finds a book that fits.

I decided to make my own Wheel of TBR just to see what came up. After having read so many books in the past few months (and with many of those books being smaller), I thought to just go for ten books. Spin the wheel, and let fate decide.

Here were the topics I included. Of course, if you make a wheel of your own, you can include whatever topics you want!

  • Young Adult Fantasy
  • Adult Fantasy
  • Paranormal Romance
  • Tome Tackle (book over 500 pages)
  • Short Read (book under 200 pages)
  • Graphic Novel/Manga
  • Middle Grade
  • Erotica
  • Random Pick– Select a random book from my goodreads list
  • Highest Rated – organized books on goodreads by rating
  • Poetry
  • Mystery/Thriller
  • TBR Vet – a book that has been on my goodreads forever
  • Non-Fiction
  • Classic

I used WheelDecide to make the wheel, and I spun ten times. After I got my selections, I made my September TBR list from books on my Goodreads, books I had on my own shelf at home, and books that I’d recently discovered.

These are my Wheel of TBR September Selections:

I’ve spent the last week of August gathering these books from the library or by requesting them through Interlibrary Loan. I’m so excited to start with one of these books for the month and see if I can make my way through them all!

Do you think having a set TBR pile for the month would help you read more? Would you make a Wheel of TBR and let fate be your guide? Let me know if you give this a try!

Happy Reading!

P.S. If you’ve ever wanted to try a read-a-thon of your own, be on the lookout in the month of October. The library is planning something very special!

What’s Ashley Reading?: The Perfect Wife

The Perfect Wife by J. P. Delaney

First line: You’re having that dream again, the one where you and Tim are in Jaipur for Diwali.

Summary: When Abbie wakes up in a hospital bed she has no memory of how she got there. There is a man who tells her she is his wife and that something terrible happened to her five years before. And through his determination and technological advancements he was able to bring her back. She is the prototype for a new technology called CoBots.

As Abbie acclimates to her new life she starts to wonder what happen to the real Abbie. Using Abbie’s memories, old text messages and the built in intuition she follows the clues to find out how and why Abbie disappeared.

My Thoughts: This was a lot of fun. It was modern day science fiction thriller. At the beginning there is a separate narrative by an unknown character who gives us a look into the past and the real Abbie. I was constantly trying to figure out who it was and I never would have guessed. I like the idea of being able to “bring back” someone who has died but it is also a little sad. I know that there is one person I would love to “see” again but this may make it harder too.

So many different scenarios were flying through my head while trying to figure out the ending. There were lots of twists and turns which make it a great psychological thriller.

FYI: Check out Delaney’s other books Believe Me and The Girl Before.

Big Changes are Coming to the Library!

Derby Public Library to launch partnership, new catalog Aug. 19

Derby Public Library is pleased to announce the creation of a new library consortium, KanShare Libraries. Beginning Aug. 19, Derby Public Library, Andover Public Library and Park City Public Library will share a common catalog and patrons of the three libraries will be able to check out items from any of the three libraries with their current library card.

Catalog change will affect patrons Aug. 17-18

Because of the new catalog and creation of the consortium, the Derby Public Library’s current catalog will be offline Aug. 17 and 18. The library will remain open and community services will be available, including passport application processing, and fax and notary services.

Park City Library is a member of KanShare Libraries.

No items will be due on those days, nor will items be able to be renewed. Items on hold can still be picked up, but no new holds will be able to be placed until the new catalog launches Aug. 19.

Public-use computers and public Wi-Fi will also be available in the library Aug. 17 and 18. However, patrons will not have access to the computer catalog to check their account, search for items, place items on hold, or renew items. This will also affect use of the library app.

These dates are a good time to take advantage of the many digital services the library offers, including Sunflower eLibrary via Libby or your computer, online learning resources through the library website, audiobooks and magazines from RBDigital, and e-books, audiobooks and video content available in the Hoopla app.

Partnership offers many patron benefits

The consortium also brings some changes that directly affect checkouts at the Derby Library. The number of magazines, DVDs, music CDs, and audiobooks that patrons are able to check out at one time has been increased.

The partnership of these three libraries will mean that library patrons will be able to seamlessly request an item from one library and pick it up at the library of their choice. Items will be transferred from one library to another via courier, so patrons will be able to choose where they would like to pick up items they’ve placed on hold.

Andover Public Library is also a member of KanShare Libraries.

For example, an Andover cardholder will be able to put a book on hold from Derby and pick it up in Andover if they desire. Additionally, library patrons will be able to visit any of the libraries in the consortium and check out items using their current library card. Those items can then be returned at any library in the consortium.

Other regional libraries, including Goddard, El Dorado, Rose Hill, Mulvane and Augusta, are scheduled to join the consortium later this year or in the first several months of 2020.

What’s Ashley Reading?: The Turn of the Key

The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware

First line: Dear Mr. Wrexham, I know you don’t know me but please, please, please you have to help me

Summary: Rowan Caine stumbles upon an advertisement for what appears to be the perfect nanny job. It is for a family with four children, in a big house in Scotland, and a yearly salary of fifty five thousand pounds. When Rowan arrives for her interview she is blown away and a little intimidated by the house. It is a smart house. Everything is connected to apps that can be managed from a cell phone.

After her initial interview she is offered the job which seems like a dream come true. However, she does not realize that appearances can be deceiving. On her very first day she is left alone with the three younger children while the parents are at a weeklong conference. The adjustment for the girls is not going as smoothly as she had hoped but she is trying her best to befriend them.

When strange happenings start to disturb her nights she begins look into the history of the house and what could be causing these strange noises in the attic. With each new night she gets less and less sleep as the mysterious sounds gradually increase. Will she be able to make it through her first week or will she leave in the middle of the night like the other nannies before her?

My Thoughts: I really enjoyed Ruth Ware’s previous novel, The Death of Mrs. Westaway, but I think this one blew it out of the water. I seriously considered giving this 5 stars because it was very hard to put down. There was the perfect mixture of spookiness and suspense.

I love how the house appears to be a big old Victorian but inside it is very modern. I love the idea of a smart house but at the same time it is also a little scary. I completely understand Rowan’s unease with the cameras and app enabled features. And the fact that this house is basically out in the middle of nowhere. Anyone could easily be spooked by any sounds in the night.

I enjoyed the way that the novel was laid out. It is done in a series of entries in a letter from Rowan to a solicitor while she is in prison for the death of a child. She eludes to what happens but we do not get the full details until the end.

This is full of twists and turns. When you think you have had the big reveal another one appears. I loved every minute of reading this. I would highly recommend this to anyone who is looking for something that they cannot put down. Trust me. I had to force myself to sleep instead of reading one more chapter.

FYI: Warning: a child does die in the book.