What’s Ashley Reading?: Misery

Misery by Stephen King

First line: umber whunnnn

Summary: After an accident in the snow of the Rockies, Paul Sheldon, is rescued by his biggest fan. Paul, the writer of the Misery novels, is found on a roadside by Annie Wilkes who takes him to her home to “care for him”. However, she is also keeping him captive. As Paul lays in agony in Annie’s farmhouse he is forced to write another Misery novel just for her and if he doesn’t she is willing to take extreme measures to punish him.

My Thoughts: I remember watching Misery years ago. I knew the basic storyline but not the details of it. Several months ago I picked up a worn old paperback at a used bookstore and decided it was time to enter the world of Stephen King once again. This is definitely not my favorite of his novels but it did keep me reading until the end.

Annie is crazy! During one scene where she is punishing Paul I literally was sick to my stomach. I had to take a moment to gather myself in order to keep reading. It was just too real and gruesome.

But during the middle of the book I struggled to keep going because it just seemed monotonous. And this may have been a ploy to show the long time that Paul spent in Annie’s custody and his mindset of time dragging on. It is understandable but it seemed more like filler than story. But the ending is where the true craziness happens. I always think of the movie Scream when reading horror movies because the villain always comes back for one last scare!

FYI: A classic King novel but in my opinion not his best.

What’s Ashley Reading?: Crazy Rich Asians

Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan

First line: Nicholas Young slumped into the nearest seat in the hotel lobby, drained from the sixteen-hour flight from Singapore, the train ride from Heathrow Airport, and the trudging through the rain-soaked streets.

Summary: Rachel Chu has been dating Nicholas Young for nearly two years. When he asks her to spend the summer in Singapore she willingly accepts. However, arriving in Singapore she learns that the humble man she knows is part of one of the wealthiest families in Asia.

My Thoughts: Before leaving for my trip to the United Kingdom I was looking for a good vacation book. I scoured several used bookstores and my own shelves at home. Finally I found a mass market paperback of Crazy Rich Asians and felt like this was perfect!

I had seen the movie, which I loved, and decided it was time to read the book too. I am so happy I did. It was fun and ridiculous! The amount of money the people in the book have is just mind-blowing. I kept gasping as prices were thrown around in the book. But other than the money I liked the characters especially Astrid. She is Nick’s cousin who is fashionable and kind to everyone. Each chapter followed different characters as they navigated the weeks leading up to the wedding of the year in Singapore.

I finished the book just as we were arriving back at King’s Cross Station in London, the night before we were to fly home. I frantically looked at all the bookstores at Heathrow hoping to find a copy of the second book but no luck. But as soon as I got back home I downloaded a copy of the audiobook for my drive home from Colorado. I have now finished book two and am currently working on book three!

FYI: A great vacation read!

What’s Ashley Reading?: Black Tudors

Black Tudors by Miranda Kaufmann

First line: In April 1645 Sir John Wynter burnt his home to the ground rather than see it fall into Parliamentary hands.

Summary: Miranda Kaufmann dives into a little known part of the Tudor world. She explores the lives of Africans in Tudor society. Using primary sources the lives of several black people are brought to readers of the twenty-first century.

My Thoughts: It sounds so stupid of me but this is never something I really considered until hearing a podcast by Historic Royal Palaces featuring Miranda. But I found it absolutely intriguing. There is never a lot of documentation about anyone from 500 years ago but nearly nothing about Africans during this time either. However, Miranda was able to piece together many different sources to discover what the lives were like for these people during this time.

I learned about a man who sailed with Sir Francis Drake as he circumnavigated the globe. And a prostitute who was highly sought after because of her soft skin. A diver who helped excavate and salvage items from the sinking of the Mary Rose, King Henry VIII’s warship. Also I discovered a woman who owned her own cow which she was able to use for feeding herself and earning an income. These people were not slaves but free. They lived alongside the Tudor population and participated in society. As a reader of all things Tudor I found this to be a perfect addition to my knowledge. I am glad I read and was introduced to these people and now I can pass on their stories to others.

It always amazes me when a historian can find these little bits of history and bring them to life for readers. It was eye opening and interesting. I would love to read more about these people and the lives they lived. My one criticism is that the author spends a lot of time laying the foundations for the time or events. But this is because there is so little about the actual individuals that she needed to give context. I wish, and maybe someday we will, we knew more about these Black Tudors.

FYI: Some language from sources can be a little crude.

What’s Ashley Reading?: Daughters of a Dead Empire

Daughters of a Dead Empire by Carolyn Tara O’Neil

First line: I saw the fire first.

Summary: In this alternate history about the Russian Revolution, Anastasia Romanov has escaped the Bolsheviks and is running for her life. She stumbles into a village where she meets a young Bolshevik girl, Evgenia, who grudgingly helps this mysterious aristocratic girl. As the two girls with very different views of the world try to survive they learn that the world is not as black and white as they originally thought.

My Thoughts: Ever since high school I have been fascinated by Anastasia Romanov. The thought that this young girl escaped a tragic death is a mystery that has boggled many for years. Unfortunately, Anastasia did not escape but I still enjoy reading fiction about what her life after escaping death would have been like.

At the beginning I was very annoyed with both of the girls but I think that was what the author was intending. Each of them were stubbornly only believing what they knew rather than considering other points of view. But as the story progressed each one was faced with the realities of the Revolution and destroying the beliefs they held so dear.

I enjoyed the growing relationship between the girls. There was no romance in the book. It centered on friendship and the internal battle between conscience/ideologies and love.

As well as being entertaining it was informative too. I learned about the involvement of Czech soldiers in the Russian Revolution. They had their own battalion and were promised independence for the Czech people if the Imperial Army won the Revolution.

Since this took place during the Russian Revolution there was lots of violence. However, the violence was not always focused on the armies but much of it hurt the peasants they were fighting for. It is easy to forget that many civilian deaths happened alongside soldier deaths. It was hard to read but it was real and needs to be remembered.

FYI: Lots of death, violence and torture.

Snapshot of History in 1950

This article was written by Justin Ball

Whether you realized it or not, the United States Federal Census from 1950 is going to be available to the public today!  April 1st!  This is not an April Fool’s joke, people.

The more genealogy-oriented staff here at the Derby Library have been counting down the days to this event.  But why?  Well let’s talk about the census real quick.

Every ten years the United States conducts a federal census which is designed to count every resident in the United States.  This data is used to determine the number of seats each state has in the U.S. House of Representatives and is also used to distribute billions of dollars in federal funds to local communities.  The first federal census in the United States was in 1790.  The records themselves are not released to the public until 72 years have passed.  So the 1940 census was released to the public in April of 2012.  The 1950 census will be released in April of 2022.  That is right now!

What does that have to do with you?  Well, the Census gives us a snapshot of history at the moment it is taken.  It shows how Americans were living, where they were living, who they were living with, and so much more.  Have you ever wanted more information about your family history?  The census is exactly what you and genealogists are looking for, I dare say it is the backbone of genealogy research in America.

I’m going to show you an example of a local family in the 1940 census right here in Derby, Kansas so you can get an idea of what kind of information you could find about your family.

Justin J. Butterfield and his son, Philo Butterfield

Justin J. Butterfield was a former mayor of Derby and ran the Farmers and Merchant State Bank in Derby for a number of years.  His son Erland Philo Butterfield (who went by Philo) worked as a teller at the Bank, eventually becoming the president of the bank.

Using Ancestry.com, we will bring up the 1940 Census and navigate to the state of Kansas, county of Sedgwick, Rockford Township, city of Derby.  The Butterfields were visited by an enumerator on April 19, 1940.

Beginning on line 28 we find Erland P. Butterfield as the Head of the Household.  Erland is living with his wife Nellie and his two sons, Darrell and Mandell.  The census shows each of their relation to the head of the household, gender, age.  Were they attending school?  If so what was the highest grade completed.

We learn from this census that Erland was born in Nebraska.  His occupation is listed as a cashier in the banking industry.  His income is listed as $1500.  His wife and children were born in Kansas but not much more information is found about them.  Check out the actual image below.  Where was your family located in 1940?  What information might be listed in the census for them?  Maybe you will find out something that you didn’t know.  Family secrets are more common than you might think.  You can then start going backwards and finding your family in each census and seeing how their lives have changed.  The next chapter is here with the 1950 census and we are all excited about it. 

Darrell Butterfield, son of Philo Butterfield

If you are interested in starting to research your family tree, give us a call and we can help start you on a path that, in my case, may very well consume a lot of your free time.  The Derby Library also has a free subscription to Ancestry that can be used inside the library if you are interested.  Come check us out!

The Lineup: Xochitl

Xochitl’s Lineup

Book: Did You Ever Have a Family? by Bill Clegg

A terrible accident kills a daughter, her father, her mother’s boyfriend, and her fiancé the night before the wedding. Since it’s a small town, rumors fly and having a space to grieve is difficult for the few family members left. So difficult that one of them goes across the country for a clear mind. The book is told in no particular order from many people’s points of view, all leading to a true resolution. This was a super emotional read. Going through multiple points of view during different times and nothing in order, I came into it thinking I would be confused and wouldn’t enjoy it. I’m glad I was proven wrong. Despite timelines seeming like they’re going all over the place, it was pretty easy to grasp the story early on, and I felt the flow of the story was better this way than it could’ve been from just one point of view and sequentially. Bill Clegg tells the story of grief and broken families with imperfect people. There weren’t any main characters, but I would say that the mothers really drove this story. This is definitely a depressing book, but I felt like the book ended in the best way that it could, with comfort and resolution.

I read it on our Libby app but we also have physical copies in our catalog.

TV Show: Succession

I am finally catching up with the rest of the world and have started watching Succession. It is brilliantly funny. Succession takes a look into the lives of a family that has built its massive wealth by managing the news, media, and theme parks from all over the world. The family is messy and two-faced, with the main siblings fighting for power amongst one another and doing anything they can to get it. No one is likeable in this series, and I think that’s why I’m obsessed with it. Also, the soundtrack is killer, as well as the acting. It doesn’t seem like a comedy from this description, but I think it’s because it is actually dark humor in the true sense. The stuff that happens to this family and the stuff that they do is just so surreal that you just have to laugh. It’s hard for me to take breaks while watching Succession. I am almost done with the latest season.

There are a lot of adult themes and scenes, so I would refrain from watching if you’re underage or not comfortable with watching that.

You can find it on HBOMax and we do have the first two seasons on DVD at the Derby Public Library.

Music/Album: Wasteland, Baby! By Hozier

The album that has been on constant rotation these past few months has been Hozier’s Wasteland, Baby! This genre is one I do not listen to much of. My Spotify statistics can verify that I mainly listen to R&B, but this album has a lot of influences from gospel, soul, and blues artists—the beginnings of my favorite genre. Hozier is a powerful singer and a remarkable lyricist. His debut album caught my attention for the first time back in November, and I had it on constant repeat. Naturally, I found myself listening to his second one, and it became an instant favorite, moreso than his debut. Themes of activism and love found throughout this album resonate with me, and the blend of folk with different genres is done so well. My favorite songs on the album are “No Plan” and “Dinner & Diatribes.”

We have the album available to checkout at the Derby Public Library or you can stream it on any music streaming service you use.

Hobby: Lego (Batman Car)

Following the theme of “stuff I usually don’t do,” I have accidentally found myself creating a LEGO collection. I did not grow up with LEGOs and never saw the appeal of them as I got older. Last month I built a set meant for someone else, and thus my newest and most expensive hobby was born.

I mainly started off with smaller sets of franchises I liked, then worked towards more difficult sets with lots of pieces. Admittedly, I love doing puzzles, so it’s not that farfetched that I got into LEGO building. My newest build was a Technic set of Batman’s car in the latest movie, and it was a beast. I loved every minute of it and can’t wait to pick out my next LEGO set.

Movie: Sabrina (1995 version)

I adored the 1954 version of Sabrina, starring Audrey Hepburn, so I was pretty excited to see how the 1995 version would hold up. It was just as comedic and romantic as the original. Sabrina’s actress was phenomenal in the role, and I especially liked her solo parts. Harrison Ford’s character was also entertaining, and certainly different from the majority of the roles he does. My favorite difference between this version and the older one is that the Paris scenes are actually filmed in Paris. It made the film look more authentic and helped with the growth of Sabrina’s character on screen. Maybe because I usually find romantic endings to be cheesy, my favorite part of the movie was Sabrina’s time in Paris. I think if you’re looking for something familiar and sweet, I would give this movie a watch if you haven’t.

We have the DVD to check out in the library catalog.

Terese’s Thoughts: Women Talking

Women Talking by Miriam Toews

First Line: My name is August Epp—irrelevant for all purposes, other than that I’ve been appointed the minute-taker for the women’s meetings because the women are illiterate and unable to do it themselves.

Summary: In an isolated Mennonite community, it has come to light that some of the men have been using a powerful poisonous spray, typically used to sedate livestock, to knock out and sexually assault women and children during the night. They awaken with no memory of the experience. But this all happens before we meet the women and girls of Molotschna. The title of this book is apt, as the “action” consists of the women talking in a barn, trying to decide whether they should:

  1. Do nothing
  2. Stay and Fight
  3. Leave

The men of the village, meanwhile, have been taken into custody but will be returning soon. As pressure mounts, the women argue, laugh, and try to define what it means to believe in God, to forgive, to be free, and to love. They name as their goals safety for themselves and for their children, and the freedom to think. Through it all, they are also enjoying each other’s company.

My Thoughts: One of the reviewers I trust, Molly Young, raves about Miriam Toews. She recommended starting with Women Talking so I picked it up. I will admit, the subject matter made me apprehensive to start reading. I thought it might be too dark, too depressing– especially since the book is based on real events. And while it is true that those events are depressingly grim, the book is anything but. For me, there is something so restorative and fortifying about spending an evening surrounded by women. (It’s also typically a lot of fun!) Reading this book had the same effect on me.

The only man in the barn is the minute-taker August, an awkward outcast and appreciator of the random fact who is in love with Ona, a nervous and thoughtful dreamer. The following conversation between the two is an example of the frequent, whimsical interludes from the tense atmosphere in the barn, and it tickled me:

“Did you know, I say, that there is a butterfly called the Comma?

Ona gasps.

It’s such an untoward reaction, so comical.

Is that so? she asks.

Yes, I say, it’s called the Comma because–but Ona stops me.

No, she says, let me guess. Because it flits about from leaf to stem to petal, pausing only briefly on its way? Because its journey is its story, never stopping, only pausing, always moving.

I smile and nod. Exactly, I say, that is why!

Ona punches the palm of her hand: Aha! She goes back to her seat.

But it’s not true, this is not why the Comma butterfly has its name. And of course there are periods within texts, journeys. Stoppage. The real reason, banal, is that the butterfly has a shape on the underside of its wing that resembles a comma. I don’t know why I let her believe otherwise, but someday, perhaps, it will be clear.”

FYI: Miriam Toews herself grew up in an isolated Mennonite village in Canada (not the one this book is based on).

What’s Ashley Reading?: The Book of Cold Cases

The Book of Cold Cases by Simone St. James

First line: The Greer mansion sat high on a hill, overlooking the town and the ocean.

Summary: It’s 1977 in Claire Lake, Oregon. The city is reeling with the murders of two family men on lonely roads at night. With the bodies, a note written by a woman asking to be caught. When the police and the town decide that it is none other than the richest girl in town. Beth Greer lives in the exclusive part of town, seems unfriendly and is seen leaving one of the crime scenes. However, the courts are unable to convict her. For the next forty years she lives quietly in her mansion until a blogger happens to meet her looking for answers.

It’s 2017 in Claire Lake, Oregon. Shea Collins is working as a receptionist in a doctor’s office but at night she runs a blog where she discusses cold cases. Most prominent on the blog is the Lady Killer case which took place in Claire Lake in 1977. Many theories circulate on who actually committed the murders and when Shea gets the chance to interview the main suspect, Beth Greer, she pushes down her fears from childhood to finally get some answers.

My Thoughts: This sounds like your normal thriller with a killer and a secret. But with St. James, that is never the case. She brings in the creep factor that I had to put the book down one night, hoping that I would be able to sleep. And it was not an overly scary scene but it was written perfectly to scare with little detail. Even with the scary bits I could not put this down. I had a third of the book left to read and I decided to just sit down and read till it was done. I had to find out the ending and what twist the author was going to throw at us. It did not disappoint. It was scary, exciting and fulfilling for the characters and the reader. I just finished this and I already want her next book!

FYI: A little scary and some violence against children.

In The News: Foreverland

Foreverland: On the Divine Tedium of Marriage by Heather Havrilesky

A couple weeks ago, I was flipping through the Memoir edition of The New York Times Book Review. After reading the first sentences of Walter Kirn’s review of Foreverland by Heather Havrilesky, I had to stop, sit up a little straighter, and start again. Was this a take down? 

First of all, the title of the review is

“Heather Havrilesky Compares Her Husband to a Heap of Laundry.”

Tone set. The review begins by informing the audience that Havrilesky dedicates the book to her husband. In Kirn’s words, she “pays him this brief honor as a prelude to writing endlessly about his flaws.”

In the next paragraph, Kirn describes the relationship between the author and her husband as “a marriage between a neurotic perfectionist and a formidably patient man…” Ouch. Kirn’s criticisms become less personal as he questions the universality of Havrilesky’s sweeping statements about what marriage is and means.  

I was too caught up in the juiciness of the review that I hadn’t yet considered whether these criticisms were fair. It may not be my most endearing trait, but I love a good piece of author gossip. For example, this profile of actor Jeremy Strong that Michael Schulman wrote for The New Yorker and the resulting backlash from celebrities such as Jessica Chastain. And then there was the time food author Alison Roman gave an interview in which she criticized Marie Kondo and Chrissy Teigen and the internet went nuts. (There was a follow-up interview with Roman about a year later in The New Yorker where she had the chance to contextualize her comments.)  

Getting back to Foreverland, a few days after reading the review, I saw Havrilesky was a guest on Longform, a podcast I regularly listen to. To my surprise, she is still married to the heap of laundry from the book. She expressed disappointment and felt her work had been misunderstood. For one thing, she is a published cartoonist and humorist. As Havrilesky points out in the interview, the book is meant to be not only truthful but also funny.

Apparently, the ladies on the TV show The View were also critical of Havrilesky for bad mouthing her husband. The author defended herself by saying that she was trying to present an honest portrait of what marriage looks like—the good bad and ugly. She suggested misogyny was at play in some people’s negative and personal attacks on both her book and her character.  

My Thoughts

I should start by saying, I haven’t yet read the book. I hadn’t initially planned to, but now I feel obligated to. And I want to. 

As I said, I was at first all jazzed about the bad review. I was all “yeah! Take that lady!” But after hearing her speak, I had to reconsider. It is one thing to criticize a person’s writing, but it’s quite another to decide and print in an internationally renowned newspaper that an author is a “neurotic perfectionist,” and to imply that she is a bad person and a bad wife.  

I don’t doubt that misogyny has played a role in the negative reviews of Havrilesky’s book. But I also wonder if some people feel threatened by her freedom to be so honest about her feelings towards her husband and about marriage. The author apparently writes in the book about developing a crush on another man. Some may say it’s cruel to be open with her husband about that. I’m inclined to think it takes a lot of guts. It must feel freeing to have her husband truly know her. I wonder if some people don’t envy that transparency—envy her dedication to being who she is no matter the cost.

As she says in the interview, although her husband was not initially thrilled with her including this chapter in the book, ultimately, the book has brought them closer together. Now, whether Havrilesky’s marriage is something the masses want to read about depends on her writing. I’ll withhold my judgment on that until after I’ve read the book.  

  • Foreverland can be found in the New Books section of the Derby Library.

What’s Ashley Reading?: Nine Lives

Nine Lives by Peter Swanson

First line: Jonathan Grant, unless he let her know ahead of time that he couldn’t make it, always visited on Wednesday evening.

Summary: Nine people have received a letter in the mail with no return postmark and inside is a list of nine names. None of the names seem familiar to the people on the list. Many of them assume that it is some technical error until one of them is found murdered. Coincidence? Maybe. Until another of the people on the list is found shot in the back while out on his morning run. Detective Winslow is also on the list and she is determined to find out what the connection is and who is hunting them.

My Thoughts: I love Peter Swanson’s books. This is my third one but I need to go back and read his older stuff soon too. The way he incorporates classic mysteries into his stories also give me more books to read but adds an extra layer of intrigue into the plot. In this one he uses the similarities with And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie.

Each of the chapters were really short and they were organized into how many people are left on the list. As it counted down the suspense continued to build as I waited for the next death or a big reveal. And just before Swanson gave the reader a big hint of who was behind the deaths, I figured it out. It was genius. As a reader, and one that has read a lot of Agatha Christie lately, I can see he enjoys her work and draws inspiration from it too.

But I think my favorite part of Swanson’s newest book was the relationships in it. The characters that lived longer into the story were given interesting storylines that made me want to read just for their interactions. It made their impending doom much more heartbreaking.

FYI: Lots of death.