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!

 

What’s Ashley Reading?: Time’s Convert

The last several months have been filled with the project of weeding and shelf reading the juvenile non-fiction books.  This is quite a daunting task since there are TONS of books!  I was ready to take on the challenge though.  As I have been working my way through the Dewey decimal system I have found some very interesting books.  Even though they are titles geared towards children there is so much good information to be found here.  And the fact that kids LOVE to check these out is wonderful!  If you have not browsed our children’s non-fiction titles you definitely should.

I am someone who likes to learn a little bit while I read.  Before I started working at the library I read mainly historical fiction.  I love learning about the history of people and places.  Deborah Harkness’s newest book, Time’s Convert, is my latest historical fiction but with a fantasy twist.

*May contain spoilers if you have not read the All Souls Trilogy!*

Time’s Convert by Deborah Harkness

First line: On her last night as a warmblood, Phoebe Taylor had been a good daughter.

 Summary: In continuation of her best-selling series, Deborah Harkness takes us on an adventure spanning from the American Revolution to modern day as we follow the early days of vampires, Phoebe Taylor and Marcus MacNeil.  Marcus grew up in time of great change.  He saw the birth of a new country but when he meets Matthew de Claremont on the fields of battle his life was changed forever.  Phoebe, an art dealer and Marcus’s fiancé, has made the decision to become a vampire.  In the early days after her rebirth, she learns that her journey to immortality is not any easier than it was for Marcus.

 Highlights: I love Harkness and her writing.  It is immediately engaging.  I read the All Souls Trilogy several years ago which made the details of the story a little fuzzy.  However, as I started this newest installment she gave tidbits that helped me remember more of the previous novels storyline.  I was worried that in this new book I would not get to revisit characters like Matthew and Diana because the story focused on Marcus and Phoebe but Harkness must have known I would always want more of them.  She alternates her chapters between the characters and plot lines.  We jump from eighteenth century to the twenty-first and back again.

I have been fascinated with the American Revolution since middle school.  I was pleased that Marcus’s story took us back to the American colonies and the fight for liberty.  I enjoyed reading as Marcus met famous people of the time including the Marquis de Lafayette.  After seeing Harkness at a Watermark event a few years back, I learned that her focus of study is on the history of science.  It really comes through during this time when Marcus, as well as the nation, is dealing with a small pox epidemic.  The history of inoculations for the disease was fascinating and fit perfectly into the story.  I am so glad that small pox is not something that we have to worry about now because it looks truly frightening!

Phoebe is a character that I vaguely remember from the trilogy but I cannot say that I felt too strongly about her.  In this book, she has a fascinating story.  I loved seeing her progress as she fought her urges and dealt with the new strengths.  Her first night out in the world interesting.  In addition, her preference for the blood of middle-aged white women definitely made me laugh aloud!

Matthew and Diana’s twins were probably my favorite part of the story.  Each of them have their own traits from both their mother and father.  Watching their parents try to figure out how to deal with a daughter who drinks blood and son who can weave spells was entertaining.  I do not want to give too much away but I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.

 Lowlights: I wish I could get more Gallowglass!  He makes a few appearances but not enough for me.  Maybe the next book?!  Please Deborah!!

 FYI: Lots of blood, violence, magic and some sexual situations.

*I do not think it is a must but I would recommend reading her All Souls Trilogy, starting with A Discovery of Witches before picking this one up.*

What’s Ashley Reading?: The Haunting of Hill House

I have decided to do something different with my weekly blog post.  Rather than just a book review, I am going to tell you about what I am reading, watching and loving or not loving this week.  There is so much here at the library to enjoy and I want to share it with you!

I have been struggling to find something to read that completely captures me.  I go through one or two of these slumps every year when I am anticipating the next in a series or on a book hangover from a great novel.  I have tried several books lately and just had to put them back on the shelf.  Does this happen to you?  Any recommendations?  Please!

I just recently finished reading The Haunting of Hill House.  I have loved the fall weather so I figured creepy books were in order.  In addition, this will soon be a series on Netflix!

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

First line: No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream.

Summary: Hill House, a place that the locals will not go near, is going to be the home of four strangers for the summer. They believe they are going to encounter a few bumps in the night but the house has something even more sinister in mind.

Highlights: I was pleasantly surprised by this tiny novel. I remember seeing the movie (starring Catherine Zeta-Jones) years ago but I could not remember the details. For a tale of haunting it is a very slow burn. The chills come from the atmosphere of the story. An old house in the middle of nowhere with a dark and deadly past. It has many rooms and doors that will not stay open. As the doctor described the house and its construction, it reminded me of the Winchester Mystery House in California.

All of our characters have their own reasons for being there but Eleanor is the one we mainly focus on. Eleanor slowly becomes susceptible to the darkness of Hill House. As the reader, we see her changing moods and thoughts as the narrative progresses. Being inside her head made me nervous for our other characters.

I was a little surprised by the ending.  It was very abrupt but also satisfying.  I was not disappointed.  I had to stop and think for a minute about how I felt.  I would say that this is a marker of a good book.  It makes the reader think and was enjoyable at the same time.

Lowlights: The “witty banter” between the occupants of Hill House started to drive me a little nuts. I think the author was trying to lighten the mood at times with nonsense conversations but I found it annoying. I would much rather have had more insights into the characters and the history of the house.

FYI: Do not try to read this at night! Too creepy.

P.S.: Last night I watched the 1963 movie, The Haunting.  There is something about a horror movie filmed in black and white.  I kept all the lights on in the living room while watching it and I think that this was a good idea.  It was creepy and fun at the same time.  I loved the sound effects and the old house.  There were several changes from the book but for the most part it followed the story very well.  Definitely check it out!

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!