Online Reading Challenge Mid-Month Check-In

Hello Fellow Readers!

How is your first month of the 2018 Online Reading Challenge going? Have you found any great new titles? Let us know in the comments!

I’ve already finished my choice for this month – My Lady Jane a collabrative effort by three young adult authors – Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton and Jodi Meadows and it was so very excellent. If you’re a stickler for historical accuracy then you need to take a pass, but if you delight in witty, clever dialogue and description, are willing to let go of cold, hard, boring facts and able to accept a bit of magical realism well then, you’re in for a treat.

According to the cold, hard, boring facts, Lady Jane Grey was the great granddaughter of Henry VII. When her cousin, King Edward VI became ill, he wrote his will naming Jane as his successor instead of his half-sister Mary. Edward choose Jane because she was Protestant and would continue the reformations he and his father had instituted while Mary was Catholic and wanted to return the country to Catholicism by any means (thus the “Bloody Mary” nickname). And indeed, at Edward’s death, Jane (reluctantly) became Queen. She only lasted nine days though as Mary was able to raise an army and the Privy Council abandoned Jane. At first Jane’s life was spared but later Mary had her executed, fearing continuing support for her. And thus ends a brief reign (and life, she was only 15 or 16 when she died).

Never fear Gentle Readers! The authors of My Lady Jane have a far different ending in store for you! There are many twists and turns, but, surprisingly, the story follows the basic outline of Jane’s life – her early childhood, her relationship with Edward, her forced marriage, Edward’s terminal illness and writing of a new will to make Jane queen, her studious nature and reluctance to become queen, the Privy Council’s betrayal, Mary’s brutal claim to the throne. It’s all there, but now with lots of humor, interesting back stories and motivations, cultural and historical barriers and some sly references to the Bard himself, who may or may not have been William Shakespeare. I don’t remember having read a book that I was smiling or laughing or making unladylike snorting noises the entire time I was reading it and yet there is real tension about the outcome. This is a tough book to put down both for sheer enjoyment and for the urgency to find out what’s going to happen!

The sad part is that the book ends, the happy news is that these same three authors have collaborated again and are coming out with another title, My Plain Jane, in June of this year, which will be about Jane Eyre herself. Perhaps they’re creating a series reimagining the lives of famous Janes? Could Jane Austen be next? One can only hope.

A Column of Fire by Ken Follett

guest post by Laura

Ken Follett’s Kingsbridge series readers have patience. He released the Pillars of the Earth in 1989, World Without End in 2010, and A Column of Fire in 2017. They’re not sequels in the traditional manner. They take place in the same location hundreds of years apart and have some loosely, genealogically connected characters.

I was excited to see A Column of Fire came out in the fall of 2017. There’s quite a long waiting list to read it, so you may have time to catch up on the previous two if you’re a fan of historical fiction after you’ve gotten on the list. Just as in the previous two novels, this is a sweeping tale of romance with plenty of intrigue and this one even includes a few pirates. In contrast to the other books, A Column of Fire expands into international politics and crosses borders, reflecting the importance of interstate commerce and increased modes and routes of global travel.

It was fun to discover who the real historical figures and who the fictional characters were at the end, although one could guess. If you’re well-versed in European history during the 1500s, you will be spoiled. I had only a general knowledge so I was in suspense much of the time. Like his other novels, he includes the major historical occurrences of the time, focusing on the religious turmoil between Catholics and Protestants.

I grew somewhat tired of the predictability of the fates of some of his fictional characters. There is definitely a pattern in his writing. Real life isn’t so just and predictable and I felt cheated that he thought I wouldn’t be satisfied with a divergence from his typical ending. I’m guessing most of his loyal fans may not agree with me on that, however. Overall, I enjoyed the book and am happy I was able to read all three over the span of a couple of decades.

The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben

guest post by Laura

I will never look at trees in the same way again.

Most among us look out at a forest and see greenery. Some people may be able identify a tree species or two but most of us don’t give much thought to the beings that far outnumber humans on Earth. The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben explores the intricacies of trees in a humorous and lively narrative.

It is only a surprise that trees have social structures and can care for other trees because of the way we are taught to think (or not think) about them. It makes sense. They’re living organisms like other living creatures that have evolved to survive over millennia. Why wouldn’t they be complex organisms with the capacity to interact with one another in both communal sharing and competition?

He explores how mycorrhizal fungi play important roles in soil biology and chemistry. Plants and fungi created a symbiotic relationship long ago and the details of their nutrient exchanges are cool enough alone. He also talks about the fungal strands acting like fiber optic cables to form a network not quite like James Cameron’s Avatar but amazing nonetheless.

Thanks to Wohlleben, when I see single trees of a species alone in a park or surrounded by concrete, I think “street kids” and when I look at the giant oaks in my neighborhood, I think, “It’s a family! I wonder which one’s the mother?” and “How old are they really?” I noticed the leaves of a neighborhood tree turned color in the fall on the side not exposed to a streetlight but not the other. This had escaped my notice before.

Wohlleben goes too far in anthropomorphizing trees at times. He didn’t need to do this since his subject matter and the way he relates is are compelling enough. Yes, he turned the seemingly dry subject of woody plants into a lush account of the complex inner lives of trees and along the way, we learn why this subject is important to all of us and our future.

Online Reading Challenge – January

Welcome to the first month of the 2018 Online Reading Challenge, Travel Through Time. In January we are traveling to Tudor and Renaissance times.

“Tudor” as a time period is defined from 1485-1603 when the Tudors (Henry VII, Henry VIII and Elizabeth I) ruled Britain. As always with the Online Reading Challenge, I’m interpreting this pretty loosely; if you’ve had your fill of Henry the Eighth and his many wives, try looking further afield and read about something set during the Renaissance (which runs approximately from 1300-1700) and encompasses Europe as a whole. That’s a lot of time and a lot happens – the flowering of the arts and sciences, the lives of many great personalities, great social and religious upheaval (thanks, Henry), the age of exploration. For boring, practical reasons, our focus is largely on Europe simply because those are the books we tend to have. But by all means, if you are interested in Asian history (the Ming Dynasty and the Ottoman Empire, for example) or any other region, please feel free to read that (and tell us about what you find!)

There is no shortage of books set during the Tudor era – apparently the fascination with British royalty is a long one! Philippa Gregory is one of the more prominent – and prolific – authors writing about the Tudors. Her books tend to focus on the emotions that impacted decisions and life choices and they are told from a woman’s point-of-view. For many if not most of these women, there is very little know about them other than who their parents were, who they married and what children they bore. Gregory puts herself into their shoes and imagines their everyday lives and difficult decisions they were forced to make in a world that had little use for women. My favorite of Gregory’s titles (that I’ve read) is The Other Boleyn Girl which is narrated by Mary Boleyn who was Henry’s mistress before her sister Anne became his wife. The politics and rules of court, the bad behavior of Anne, her failure to produce a male heir all seen through the eyes of someone just outside the inner circle makes for a fascinating, intimate read.

If you are more interested in the machinations of politics, reach for Hilary Mantel’s award-winning Wolf Hall which focuses on Thomas Cromwell, Henry VIII’s chief minister and a strong advocate of the English reformation. Having just celebrated Martin Luther’s 500th anniversary of his “95 Theses”, there are plenty of books about him and the beginning of the great shift in how religion was viewed and practiced by millions.

The Renaissance produced many famous people whose artistic and scientific advances continue to inspire and influence us today – Da Vinci, Shakespeare, Raphael, Galileo, Michelangelo, and Copernicus among others. Biographies and histories about any of these people and their works would be fascinating reading.

I’m going to be reading My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, an alternate history of Lady Jane Grey, one of Elizabeth’s rivals to the throne. It comes highly recommended to my by our Young Adult librarian – I’m looking forward to getting started!

Be sure to stop by one of the Davenport libraries and check out our displays – we’ll have lots of books (and movies!) set during this era for you to browse. You’ll also want to pick up a 2018 Online Reading Challenge bookmark which doubles as a book log to keep track of the books that you read for the challenge. And be sure to let us know what you’re going to be reading in January!

 

Happy New Year!

All of the Davenport Library locations will be closed on Monday, January 1 and Tuesday January 2 in observance of the holidays. All of our buildings will reopen on Wednesday January 3 with their regular business hours – Main (321 Main Street) and Fairmount (3000 Fairmount Avenue), 9:00am to 5:30pm and Eastern (6000 Eastern Avenue), noon to 8:00pm.

Have a safe and happy holiday and a very Happy New Year!

The 2018 Online Reading Challenge is Almost Here!

Welcome to the Online Reading Challenge, 2018 edition!

2018’s theme is Travel Through Time! No TARDIS* or crazy science needed, just good old-fashioned books and movies! We’ll explore a different time period each month, but with the conveniences of modern living like indoor plumbing and pizza. Win-win!

Like previous years, the Online Reading Challenge is very low-pressure with an emphasis on discovering books and authors you may not have tried yet. You can participate every month, or only the months that interest you. Remember – there are no Library Police that will come knocking on your door if you fail to finish a book each month! Read for fun, for discovery, to learn something new, to experience times that no longer exist.

What you read for each time period is entirely up to you. You can read a book or ebook, listen to an audio book or watch a movie. It can be fiction or non-fiction, old or new. Find something that sparks your interest and enjoy! To help get you started I’ll be posting suggestions on the blog, once at the beginning of the month with the introduction of that month’s time period and sometime mid-month with more suggestions. We’ll also have displays at each building with appropriate books and movies. And, as always, we invite you to share what you’ve read – everyone loves recommendations!

Bookmarks are available at each library location with the list of the time periods we’re going to explore each month. There’s even room on the bookmark to keep track of what you read! Keep watching the blog for lots more extras!

Here’s the line-up for 2018:

January – Tudor/Renaissance

February – 1950s and 1960s

March – The Future

April – 1800s

May – Ancient

June – Childhood

July – Westward Expansion

August – Edwardian

September – Great Depression

October – Medieval

November – Alternate Histories

December – Present Day

Looks intriguing doesn’t it? It’s going to be a great year of reading!

*TARDIS is Doctor Who’s “time and relative dimension in space” time travel machine which is in the form of an old-fashioned British Police Box. Fun!

Now Arriving from: New York City

Hello Readers!

How did your reading go this month? Did you find something exciting and interesting to read that was set in New York City?

I did pretty well this month. I read The Dollhouse by Fiona Davis and really enjoyed it. It’s got a little bit of everything – deep friendships, the social status of women, bebop jazz clubs of the 1950s, prejudice, mystery and a murder. All set against the backdrop of the city that never sleeps.

In 1952 Darby McLaughlin arrives in New York City from her hometown in Ohio to take classes at the Katherine Gibbs Secretarial School and moves into the Barbizon Hotel for Women (which really did exist). Nicknamed “the dollhouse”, it housed aspiring models, secretarial students, and editors all working to gain success – or catch a wealthy husband. Darby is shy and frightened and intimidated by the rush and clamor of the big city. One of the maids takes pity on her and they become friends. However, the maid – Esme – is Puerto Rican and is considered unsuitable for Darby to associate with. Despite this their friendship flourishes and Esme soon introduces Darby to the glittering world of jazz clubs and New York City at night. But when a tragedy strikes, both their lives and those around them are altered forever.

The story of 1952 alternates with 2016 and Rose, a journalist who has just moved into the Barbizon (now mostly condos) with her boyfriend. She runs into the mysterious Miss McLaughlin one day and discovers that she is one of the few remaining tenants at the Barbizon from the 1950s. Miss McLaughlin wears a veil that hides her face and refuses to talk, but Rose’s curiosity it piqued and she begins researching the hotel and tragedy that no one speaks about. What she discovers uncovers decades of pain and cover-ups and misunderstandings.

The contrast between the two time periods is very interesting. Women’s rights and freedoms have expanded hugely, yet there are still attitudes and prejudices holding them back. Sometimes that’s an outside force and sometimes it’s what you believe about yourself. Rose compares her own recent difficulties – a hateful job, her Father’s dementia, the break-up with her boyfriend – with Darby’s and finds many uncomfortable parallels. How she handles this and learns to believe in herself and how she exposes the frequently hard choices women had to make in the fifties as well as the slow unveiling of the mystery makes for excellent reading.

I was a little disappointed in the ending – a couple too many coincidences and too many neatly tied up ends – but it was a lot of fun to read. I really liked the peek into living as a single girl in 1952 (not all innocence and Leave it to Beaver!) and the validation of the old women still living at the Barbizon in 2016. New York City played a big part in this book, with it’s unique and brash atmosphere. It’s not hard to imagine a wide-eye, Midwestern-raised Darby being initially overwhelmed and later charmed by everything the city had to offer.

What did you read this month? And how did you like it?

That’s the end of the 2017 Online Reading Challenge but don’t despair! The 2018 Online Reading Challenge begins in just a few days! Be sure to check back on January 3 for lots more information and book suggestions for the first month’s reading assignment! Or click here for a sneak peek!

Favorite Books of 2017

It probably wouldn’t surprise you to hear that most of us here at the library are big fans of reading. We get to see a lot of books (although, no, we aren’t allowed to read them on work time!) – sometimes it’s hard to pick one favorite! Here are some favorites that we read in 2017.

Evicted by Matthew Desmond. Painstakingly researched, beautifully written, and incredibly timely.  You should read it and discuss it at Stranger than Fiction book club on January 4th! (Amanda A)

Borne by Jeff VanderMeer. In a ruined future, a scavenger finds and adopts a strange creature she names Borne. Surreal to the point of feverish, fantastically weird, and heart-breaking, VanderMeer creates an eerily familiar yet fantastic world to set this exploration of what makes a person a person. Also, a giant flying bear! (Allison)

Hamilton’s Battalion by Courtney Milan, Rose Lerner and Alyssa Cole . All three of these Revolutionary War novellas follow great characters who aren’t sure where they will fit into the new country they are fighting for, but they keep fighting anyhow.  These stories are thoughtful, funny and romantic. (Holly S)

The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women by Kate Moore. My grandma was a radium girl at the Radium Dial plant in Ottawa, Illinois. I found this book to be fascinating because my grandma never really talked about her time as a radium girl, except to say that her clothes would glow in the dark at night when she was at home. I really enjoyed reading this book because it gave me an insight into what my grandma and her friends went through during this time. (Steph A)

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman. Eleanor is a unique character that lacks normal social skills but she is endearing to the reader and you want her to fine happiness. (Rachel)

The Alice Network by Kate Quinn. As exciting as any thriller with mystery, romance and heartbreak, this fascinating novel brings light to half-forgotten heroes – the women who spied for the Allies during World War I. (Ann)

Now it’s your turn – what were your favorite books that you read this year?

 

 

Happy Holidays!

All of the Davenport Library locations will be closed on Monday, December 25 and Tuesday December 26 in observance of the holidays. All of our buildings will reopen on Wednesday December 27 with their regular business hours – Main (321 Main Street) and Fairmount (3000 Fairmount Avenue), 9:00am to 5:30pm and Eastern (6000 Eastern Avenue), noon to 8:00pm.

Have a safe and happy holiday!