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!

 

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?: 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!

 

Lit Pairings – The Last Time I Lied by Riley Sager

Two Truths and a Lie. The girls played it all the time in their cabin at Camp Nightingale. Vivian, Natalie, Allison, and first-time camper Emma Davis, the youngest of the group. But the games ended the night Emma sleepily watched the others sneak out of the cabin into the darkness. The last she–or anyone–saw of them was Vivian closing the cabin door behind her, hushing Emma with a finger pressed to her lips.

Now a rising star in the New York art scene, Emma turns her past into paintings–massive canvases filled with dark leaves and gnarled branches that cover ghostly shapes in white dresses. When the paintings catch the attention of Francesca Harris-White, the wealthy owner of Camp Nightingale, she implores Emma to return to the newly reopened camp as a painting instructor. Seeing an opportunity to find out what really happened to her friends all those years ago, Emma agrees.

Familiar faces, unchanged cabins, and the same dark lake haunt Nightingale, even though the camp is opening its doors for the first time since the disappearances. Emma is even assigned to the same cabin she slept in as a teenager, but soon discovers a security camera–the only one on the property–pointed directly at its door. Then cryptic clues that Vivian left behind about the camp’s twisted origins begin surfacing. As she digs deeper, Emma finds herself sorting through lies from the past while facing mysterious threats in the present. And the closer she gets to the truth about Camp Nightingale and what really happened to those girls, the more she realizes that closure could come at a deadly price.

This was the perfect summer read! You could feel the heat and the camp atmosphere because here in Kansas we were living it! Now as we slowly edge out of summer maybe we can remissness by making some of our favorite camp food at home.

To start out your day you might want French Toast Sticks. Instead of reaching for those sad but tasty frozen ones, why not make a delicious and easy Overnight French Toast Bake that could feed a crowd? One of my favorite sleep away camp meals is Sloppy Joe’s, and this slow cooker version will sever you well no matter what the season is. Then, to finish up your camp themed day why not make Easy S’mores Bars? You may or may not decide to eat them while singing Kumbaya in front of your fireplace, and I won’t judge you for it!

What were your favorite foods at camp? Drop me a line and let me know!

Book Review: My Plain Jane

My Plain Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows

First line: You may think you know the story.

Summary: You may know the story of Jane Eyre but you may not know the whole story. When Jane goes to live at Thornfield Manor as a governess, she meets the brooding Mr. Rochester. She falls in love with him despite his ever-changing moods and hopes to marry him. However, her dear friend Charlotte Bronte and ghost hunter, Alexander Blackwood, have discovered that Mr. Rochester has some very dark secrets. They must save Jane and fast!

Highlights: I did not know what to expect when starting this book. I have never read Jane Eyre but I have seen several movie adaptations. I knew the basics of the story line but this was vastly different.

To start, one of the characters is the author, Charlotte Bronte. She is a small bespectacled girl with a desire to write stories. She is constantly taking notes and commenting on everything around her. Just as I would imagine she would be. Secondly, there are ghosts and lots of them. Some are just floating around, some cause trouble and others are dear friends of Jane Eyre. Lastly, this story is laugh out loud funny. There are many little remarks that made me chuckle. In addition, there were several Princess Bride references! Yes!

I think I am going to have to go pick up a copy of Jane Eyre now.

Lowlights: Having not read the original work I was not disappointed in the new version. I can see where some readers may not enjoy this because it is so different from the source material. The middle of the story was a little long and drawn out but the ending was fun and worth the read.

FYI: Also in the series is My Lady Jane about Lady Jane Grey.

Book Review: Still Star-Crossed

Still Star-Crossed by Melinda Taub

First line: In Fair Verona’s streets, the sun was hot.

Summary: Weeks after the tragic deaths of Romeo Montague and Juliet Capulet, the city of Verona is deep in grief. The city seeks someone to blame and with tensions so high, Prince Escalus must do something to re-build trust and ignite hope. He turns to Juliet’s cousin (and Romeo’s first love), Rosaline, and Romeo’s kinsman, Benvolio, for help. By bringing these two together in matrimony and uniting the houses, Escalus believes the city of Verona will finally find peace. The only problem is that Rosaline and Benvolio can’t stand the sight of each other and blame the other for their loved one’s death. Set against Shakespeare’s brilliant backdrop and filled with infatuation, betrayal, and death, Still Star-Crossed answers the question we all have once the curtain closes on Romeo and Juliet’s story; what happens next?

Here I made this for you. ‘Twas finished weeks ago. I should have known better than to expect your attentions when you had no further need of me.” She thrust a scrap of cloth at him. “Here.”
He took it. It was a handkerchief, embroidered with the Montague crest. “Thanks.”
“You’re welcome. Go choke on it.”

Highlights: This book is a must for any Shakespeare lover. Taub’s writing mirrors all the good points of Shakespearean language while still making it feel accessible. Our main characters, Rosaline and Benvolio, are exquisite. Rift with prejudice, flaws, and despairing grief, they feel so human and relatable while still capturing the reader’s attention with their gentleness. The betrayals in this story are also incredibly tantalizing as are the villains. Melinda Taub makes Shakespeare’s city of Verona feel so real. She includes little details (some of them references to other plays), and it’s fun to see Romeo and Juliet come to life in a new way.

Lowlights: Obviously if you’re not a fan of Shakespeare or Shakespearean dialogue, this might be a difficult read for you. Also, the betrayal in this story, while believable, was not particularly clever. I figured out who the traitors were about mid-way through. The story does also slow down a little in the middle of the book, and Rosaline’s affection for one particular character is annoying after a while, especially when this character betrays her trust. Overall, though, the flaws of this novel are flaws that any critic of Shakespeare would give one of his plays which shows how closely to Shakespeare Melinda Taub wrote this book.

FYI: This book was actually turned into a TV series on ABC that was executive produced by Shonda Rhimes. I haven’t watched the show yet, and it was canceled after only one season, but it might be worth checking out!

Go to Hogwarts and Read!

Most muggle students are in the thick of their first month of school, but I have recently been facing an academic feat of my own; taking my O.W.L.s. That’s right! I have been taking my Ordinary Wizarding Levels at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Well, maybe not actually taking them, but I’ve been participating in the Magical Read-a-thon created by Book Roast on YouTube, and it’s been both an exciting and challenging experience!

What is the Magical O.W.L.s Read-a-thon?

Here is Book Roast’s announcement video about the read-a-thon. Though the read-a-thon itself was hosted back in the spring, I’ve decided to jump into it on my own.

In a nutshell:

The Magical O.W.L.s Read-a-thon is a month-long challenge to successfully “sit and take exams” by reading a book based on each challenge inspired by a course one would take at Hogwarts.

Book Roast created this fancy Hogwarts letter which explains what each course’s challenge is and the grading score. To pass one’s O.W.L.s, a reader must complete five books from five different subjects (no doubling up!), but a reader could potentially finish 12 books if they so desired.

My Experience

In classic Hermione fashion, I set out to complete all 12 O.W.Ls for this challenge. I went through each subject and chose a book then created my own very official exam schedule to keep track of each challenge.

My exams started on August 5 and I have until September 5 to finish.  I’ve earned an O or Outstanding Score on my O.W.Ls after having finished eight books, but I don’t know if I’ll be able to meet my final goal of 12. The biggest challenge I found with this read-a-thon was actually locating books that met both the criteria of the course and my own personal criteria (currently interested, already on my TBR, and under 300 pages). I’ve also had to change the book that I chose a number of times because it either wasn’t a captivating read or I lost interest in reading the book in the first place. Overall, though, this challenge has been so much fun and is such a creative way to get some reading in.

If you are interesting in taking your O.W.Ls then go for it! Print off the course descriptions from Book Roast’s letter, choose your books, set a month-long beginning and end date, maybe design an official Hogwarts exam schedule of your own, and get to reading. If you manage to get through your O.W.Ls, then you can join me in taking the N.E.W.Ts

…but that’s for another blog post!!

Lit Pairings – The Dying of the Light by Robert Goolrick

Diana Cooke was “born with the century” and came of age just after World War I. The daughter of Virginia gentry, she knew early that her parents had only one asset, besides her famous beauty: their stately house, Saratoga, the largest in the commonwealth, which has hosted the crème of society and Hollywood royalty. Though they are land-rich, the Cookes do not have the means to sustain the estate. Without a wealthy husband, Diana will lose the mansion that has been the heart and soul of her family for five generations.

The mysterious Captain Copperton is an outsider with no bloodline but plenty of cash. Seeing the ravishing nineteen-year-old Diana for the first time, he’s determined to have her. Diana knows that marrying him would make the Cookes solvent and ensure that Saratoga will always be theirs. Yet Copperton is cruel as well as vulgar; while she admires his money, she cannot abide him. Carrying the weight of Saratoga and generations of Cookes on her shoulders, she ultimately succumbs to duty, sacrificing everything, including love.

Luckily for Diana, fate intervenes. Her union with Copperton is brief and gives her a son she adores. But when her handsome, charming Ashton, now grown, returns to Saratoga with his college roommate, the real scandal and tragedy begins.

Let me start by saying I’ve read and loved all of Goolrick’s books. He has a way of writing human nature and tragedy like no one else. While reading I become consumed and often find myself flipping to the authors picture in the back of the book and wondering how such a kind faced man came up with such heartbreaking stories.

As you can image a book set in Virginia must have some amazing food. Every scene that included a meal had be drooling and running for my kitchen to try to find something, anything that would sate my appetite. There were traditional southern favorites like Paper Bag Fried Chicken  and Ham Biscuits but there were also unknown (at least to me) mentions of Sally Lunn  , a bread that’s similar to brioche and Sugar Toads, a type of puffer fish that is apparently crazy tasty.

If you make any of these recipes or especially if you find Sugar Toads, drop me a note and let me know how delicious it all was!

Booktube-A-Thon 2018

From planning programs to signing up summer readers to a full week of editing our Moviecraft films, it has been one busy summer, and I have definitely been neglecting my reading. Goodreads tells me every time I log in that I am four books behind on my yearly reading goal. For shame! Now with summer winding down, I think it’s time to catch up on that goal, and what better way to tackle a lot of reading at once then with a read-a-thon! Luckily, the annual Booktube-A-Thon starts on Monday, and as Spongebob says

What is the Booktube-A-Thon?

According to the Booktube-A-Thon website,

“The BookTube-A-Thon is a week-long readathon hosted by Ariel Bissett! The first BookTube-A-Thon took place in 2013, co-hosted by Raeleen Lemay, and is now in its fifth year! It is the largest readathon on YouTube and an opportunity for the BookTube community to come together to celebrate reading by creating bookish content and reading lots of books!”

This year’s Booktube-A-Thon starts on Monday, July 30 to Sunday, August 5. It is a wonderful way to have fun with reading, push yourself to prioritize reading, and see all kinds of video and reading challenges on YouTube. Here is this year’s announcement video with all the details.

The best way to get ready for any read-a-thon is to plan a TBR (to be read) pile, and as with most week-long read-a-thons, there are seven challenges that readers are dared to complete. If you do, you get a super cool 2018 Booktube-A-Thon Certificate in your email!

My TBR Pile

Reading Challenges Announcement Video

Challenge 1: Let a coin toss decide your first read

So whether I’m lazy and didn’t want to pick two books or I’m courageous because I upped the risk, I actually had a random number generator pick my book instead! I made sure that all of my TBR books for the week were under 300 pages because I’m trying not to set myself up for failure.

I’m reading: The Count of Monte Cristo Manga by Alexandre Dumas, Crystal Silvermoon, and Nokman Poon

Challenge 2: Read a book about something you want to do

Fun fact about me: I’m a mermaid! No, really, I actually practice swimming in a mermaid tail. It’s so much fun and a really good workout. I’ve had this book on my Goodreads TBR for a while, and it’s just the right length. I want to be a mermaid and living in Kansas, I’m as landlocked as I can get.

I’m reading: A Survival Guide for Landlocked Mermaids by Margot Datz

Challenge 3: Read and watch a book to movie adaptation

I wanted to pick a book that would be a quick-read and a movie that I readily had access to so I chose this one because the movie is on Hulu, and I’ve never watched a comic book to movie adaptation before.

I’m reading: I Kill Giants by Joe Kelly and JM Ken Nimura

Challenge 4: Read a book with green on the cover

No matter the version of this book, it seems every one of them has green on the cover, and it’s a classic fantasy story that I’ve been wanting to try for a while.

I’m reading: Dragonsong by Anne McCaffrey

Challenge 5: Read a book while wearing the same hat the whole time

I’m not really a hat person, but I have a few hats crammed into my closet, specifically a black fedora that makes me feel super fancy. I used a random number generator again to pick this book.

I’m reading: Stolen by Lucy Christopher

Challenge 6: Read a book with a beautiful spine

While straightening books in the middle grade section, I actually pulled this book of the shelf to look at it because the spine caught my eye so much. The illustrations on the cover are incredible, and I can only hope the book is just as awesome.

I’m reading: If the Magic Fits by Susan Maupin Schmid

Challenge 7: Read seven books

This last challenge is a “freebie” and an encourager to get through seven books. Once again, I threw my number of Goodreads Want-to-Read books into a random number generator and out popped this book.

I’m reading: Bonfire by Krysten Ritter

The last two read-a-thons that I attempted left me sleep-deprived and sick with a cold. Hopefully with a TBR that I’m really excited about and with a few books that should be quick reads, I’ll be able to get through the Booktube-A-Thon unscathed. If you’re up for the challenge and thinking of trying the Booktube-A-Thon, let me know in the comments and share your TBR pile!

Happy reading!