New Reading Challenge in 2017!

challenge-logo-2017Hello Fellow Readers!

2016 is almost over which means it’s time to start thinking about our next Reading Challenge. In 2017 we’re going to travel the world! Don’t worry about buying plane tickets or packing a bag though, we’re going to explore the globe through the magic of books!

Just like last year, the 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 – kind of like travel which opens your eyes to cultures and sights beyond your own backyard.

Unlike last year, we’re going to include non-fiction (great for history buffs), movies and music as part of a well-rounded experience. You can read a book or listen to it on audio, watch a movie or delve into the music of the culture or any combination of these. All without leaving your home! (Well, you might want to plan a trip to the library to pick up your books and movies!)

There will be new bookmarks available at the library beginning in January and we hope to have some free printables for you over the course of the year – more bookmarks, a reading journal, inspirational quotes, etc. Watch the blog for updates.

Here’s the lineup for 2017:

January – Rome

February – Seattle

March – Japan

April – Paris

May – Kenya

June – San Francisco

July – Alaska

August – Texas/American Southwest

September – London

October – China

November – St Petersburg/Leningrad

December – New York City

Looks like fun, doesn’t it? So grab your passport (um, library card!) and join us in 2017!

 

A Year Between Friends by Maria Vettese and Stephanie Barnes

yearbetweenfriendsMaria and Stephanie both live in Portland, but are 3191 miles apart. That’s because Maria lives in Portland, Maine and Stephanie lives in Portland, Oregon. Over the years these friends have shared their lives with each other through letters and photographs. They have managed to forge and maintain a deep bond across the distance, exchanging recipes and practical life tips and sharing the ups and downs of life. They are small town neighbors in the new world of technology.

Collaborating since 2007, Maria and Stephanie continue to document their lives in their blog, 3191. Twice a week they post a diptych, a picture from of them showing what’s going on in their separate lives right now. The focus is on the small and ordinary – flowers, children at play, bounty from the garden, the outdoors and sleeping cats. Recipes and crafts are shared and advice requested and given. A Year Between Friends follows the same format, beginning in January and running through December, with an emphasis on the small pleasures of a life well lived. There are big events too – Maria loses her Mother unexpectedly early in the year, and gives birth to a baby girl in late July. And they aren’t always apart – Stephanie makes the trip cross country after the birth of baby Luna to spend time with Maria and her family.

The photography is exquisite –  you can learn a lot about perspective, cropping and lighting by studying these pictures. The real value, of course, is the stories they tell, of how different and yet how similar these lives are, their mutual appreciation of the beauty around them and the love and support they bring to each other.

Besides the photos and letters, A Year Between Friends includes several crafts, most of which are lovely and practical and simple to make (although I’m not sure about the pinecone ornament – no mater how charming, that’s a lot of sewing!) There are also recipes; I’m not a cook, but I’d be happy to eat just about anything shown here!

This is a lovely, quiet book, an excellent choice to end or begin the year (or anytime really), inviting you to step back and take a look at your life and what is really important. What is it you want to remember when you look back? A child’s smile? A walk through a summer-green forest? Cookies fresh from the oven? A friend’s laughter? A Year Between Friends shows just how special the ordinary can be.

 

December Reading Challenge – Holiday Stories

online colorHello and Welcome to the final Reading Challenge for 2016! This month we’re going to take a look at Holiday Stories, perfect for this month of festivals and celebrations.

There are no shortage of Holiday Stories to read so you should have no trouble finding one no matter what kind of book you prefer. Classics (A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens), mysteries (Fields Where They Lay by Timothy Hallinan or Christmas Caramel Murder by Joanne Fluke) (and what is with all the murder mysteries set during Christmas?!), bestselling authors (The Christmas Train by David Baldacci and A Lowcountry Christmas by Mary Alice Monroe) and romance (A Baxter Family Christmas by Karen Kingsbury and Comfort and Joy by Kristin Hannah) Try a keyword search with the terms “christmas fiction” or “christmas mystery” in the catalog or check the displays at the libraries for lots more titles.

There are a couple of books I’d like to highlight. One is considered a classic but you may not have read it and it’s well worth tracking down. It’s A Christmas Memory by Truman Capote, an autobiographical novella. In it, a young boy stays with a distant relative; both are somewhat outcast from their family, living on the fringes, lonely souls that understand each other. Together they make a special fruitcake, gathering the ingredients and making the recipe with love and attention. This is a not a saccharine happily-ever-after story (a great antidote to those Hallmark movies), but instead is sad and wistful. It carries a powerful message of love and memory and the weight of family and the past that the Christmas season brings. Poignant and beautiful and have lots of tissues on hand.

Another, much lighter book (but still thoughtful and complex) is Winter Solstice by Rosamund Pilcher. This is a great one to curl up with on a wintry day. A tragedy causes five lives to intersect in unexpected ways, leading them to an idyllic country house. Set in Scotland with it’s grand traditions of Christmas and Hogmanay, this heartwarming book explores the meaning of family and connecting and opening yourself up to possibilities.

This is also the season of crazy as in, everyone is crazy busy. Cooking, decorating, shopping, wrapping, entertaining – who has time to read a book?! For you I recommend going to the Children’s picture book section and looking through some of the most beautiful books available. Many carry a message, but they are all almost guaranteed to put you in the Christmas spirit and can be read very quickly. Many are short enough that it wouldn’t be too much of a hardship for the family to gather together, abandon their phones and tablets for a few minutes and listen to someone read the book aloud. My recommendation and very favorite Christmas book is The Polar Express by Chris van Allsburg (skip the movie, SKIP THE MOVIE!) Gorgeous illustrations and a truly magical story make for the perfect reminder of Christmas joy.

Of course, Christmas is not the only holiday in December, but it does dominant the book selection. A good alternative is My True Love Gave to Me: Twelve Holiday Stories that includes Hanukkah, Winter Solstice and New Years as well as Christmas, quick reads that will get you in the holiday spirit no matter your favorite December holiday.

What about you – what is your favorite Christmas book? And what will you be reading this month?

 

 

 

Online Reading Challenge – November Wrap-Up

online colorHello Fellow Readers!

November is nearly over – how did you do with the Reading Challenge this month? If the fact that we had to keep restocking the displays at the library are any indication, this was a popular topic. It’s always interesting to take a peek into another life and see how that person lived – and in the process we learn a lot about ourselves as well!

When I looked through the titles for the Other Lives Challenge, I noticed that many (not all, but many) were about unknown or behind-the-scenes women – the wives of famous men or the anonymous women that supported great works. Women have historically been regulated to the background and their voices considered too unimportant to record but through fictional biographies we can gain some insight into what they accomplished and how they lived.

For this month’s challenge I read The Lady and the Unicorn by Tracy Chevalier which is a fictional account of the famous Lady and the Unicorn tapestries. Created in the late 1400s in France, very little is known about the artist that created the scenes depicted in the tapestries, the weavers that crafted them or the noble family that commissioned them. Chevalier researched not only the customs and lifestyle of the time period, but also the craft of weaving in the 1400s, an art form that was practiced and mastered in Brussels where the tapestries are believed to have been made.

There is a lot of history in this book including the lifestyles and customs of the 15th century, the art of tapestry weaving and the guilds that protect the quality of the tapestries, the role of women both noble and common. The narrative jumps to a different person each chapter, from the artist Chevalier imagines painted the scenes, to the wife of the nobleman who commissions the tapestries, to the wife of the weaver tasked with such an enormous commission, to the rebellious daughter of the nobleman. There is no clear interpretation of what the tapestries represent and much speculation about the women and scenes even today, but Chevalier has spun a story that intertwines various characters and how the making of these tapestries touched and influenced many lives.

I’ve been lucky enough to see the actual tapestries (they are on display in carefully regulated conditions to preserve them at the Cluny Museum in Paris). They are extraordinarily beautiful, full of detail and color and life and exquisite craftsmanship. The Lady and the Unicorn makes for fascinating reading and is the next best thing until you can visit them yourself.

News of the World by Paulette Jiles

newsoftheworldCaptain Jefferson Kyle Kidd travels throughout north Texas, reading aloud news articles of interest to the small, scattered communities of a still very wild West. The year is 1870. The Captain has lived through three wars and has no desire to see another, keeping to himself except to collect coins earned from his readings, remembering the past but always moving forward, forever restless.

One day the Captain is given $50 in gold to return a 10-year-old girl back to her only living relatives, a 400 mile journey through hostile, difficult country. Taken by the Kiowa after they killed her parents and little sister four years earlier, Johanna has forgotten how to speak English, has no knowledge of white people’s rules and manners and wants nothing more than to return to her Kiowa family.

Gradually, with patience and kindness and shared hardship, Johanna and the Captain learn to trust each other. The Captain helps Johanna re-learn English and tries to reintroduce her to the white man’s world. Johanna becomes a fierce defender of the Captain, loyal against impossible odds.

When they finally reach their destination and the Captain delivers Johanna to her only living blood relatives, he realizes that she is viewed as an unwanted burden and that her life with them will be harsh and abusive. Can he leave them with her white family, or will he find another way to rescue her?

A wonderful, complex book, News of the World frequently reminded me of Lonesome Dove (although much shorter) – an epic journey across difficult terrain through a mostly lawless land where an individual must depend solely on his own resolve and resources. Kindness and softness are in short supply, danger lurks everywhere and the weak are not given any allowance. The Captain is a wonderful character – intelligent, thoughtful and authoritative, he has a sly, dry wit and a kind heart that he keeps carefully hidden. Johanna, nearly silent at first, gradually adapts and even thrives in the circumstances she’s been thrown into – her resilience is remarkable. A lovely book about the human spirit set against a wild, untamed landscape. Highly recommended.

 

November Reading Challenge – Other Lives

online colorNovember already! Time for our next-to-last reading challenge. This month it’s Other Lives – fictional biographies about famous people.

We all have seem to have a fascination with the lives of other people, whether they’re an important historical figure or the latest pop star. How did they achieve their success? How do they maintain it? What was their downfall, their fatal flaw? What is their lasting legacy? How did they live their daily lives and how did they react when life became difficult?

Despite the prevalence of social media and the current obsession with sharing, we don’t really know the how another person’s mind works. This is where fictional biographies step in – a writer steps into a person’s life and tries to imagine what they must have gone through and how they felt. Of course, fictional biographies are still fictional – no amount of research can bring back casual conversations and lost letters. A really good author, backed with lots of research and study can transport you, the reader, to another time and place, bringing insight and understanding that isn’t possible from the outside.

Here are some exceptional titles to get you started:

Loving Frank (Frank Lloyd Wright) by Nancy Horan.   In 1903 Mamah Borthwick Cheney and her husband, Edwin, commissioned the renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright to design a new home for them. During the construction of the house a powerful attraction developed between Mamah and Frank, and in time the lovers, each married with children, embarked on a course that would shock Chicago society and forever change their lives.

The Paris Wife (Ernest Hemingway) by Paula McLain.  Meeting through mutual friends in Chicago, Mary Hadley is intrigued by brash “beautiful boy” Ernest Hemingway, and after a brief courtship and small wedding, they take off for Paris, where Hadley makes a convincing transformation from an overprotected child to a game and brave young woman who puts up with impoverished living conditions and shattering loneliness to prop up her husband’s career.

Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker (Mary Todd Lincoln) by Jennifer Chiaverini.  Elizabeth Hobbs Keckley was born a slave. She earned her freedom by the skill of her needle and won the friendship of First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln with her devotion. In her sweeping historical novel Chiaverini illuminates the extraordinary relationship the two women shared, beginning in the hallowed halls of the White House during the trials of the Civil War and enduring almost, but not quite, to the end of Mrs. Lincoln’s days.

The Girl with the Pearl Earring (Johannes Vermeer) by Tracy Chevalier. In seventeenth-century Delft, there’s a strict social order -rich and poor, Catholic and Protestant, master and servant -and all know their place. When Griet becomes a maid in the household of the painter Johannes Vermeer, she thinks she knows her role. What no one expects is that Griet’s quiet manner, quick perceptions, and fascination with her master’s paintings will draw her inexorably into his world.

Other titles to try include Memoirs of a Geisha (based partly on Japan’s most famous geisha) by Arthur Golden, The Other Boleyn Girl (Anne Boleyn’s sister) by Phillippa Gregory (indeed, almost everything by Phillippa Gregory can be categorized as fictional biography), Clara and Mr Tiffany (Louis Comfort Tiffany) by Susan Vreeland, Wolf Hall (Thomas Cromwell) by Hilary Mantel, and The Aviator’s Wife (Anne Morrow Lindbergh) by Melanie Benjamin.

My choice this month is The Lady and the Unicorn about perhaps one of the most famous of unknown historical figures. No one knows who the lady is in the famous Lady and the Unicorn tapestries, now hanging in the Cluny Museum in Paris. Created in the late 15th century, there has been much speculation but no definitive answer about the mystery. This book, by Tracy Chevalier attempts to answer those questions. I’m looking forward to hearing her version of this story!

What about you? See anything that interests you? What will you be reading in November?

 

 

Online Reading Challenge – October Wrap-Up

Hello Fellow Book Lovers!

How was your October reading adventure – did you meet the challenge to try a Young Adult book? There are a lot of great ones – I hope you were able to find one you liked!

In October I read Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly. This book was recommended to me a long time ago and it kind of dropped off my radar. Now I wonder, why on earth didn’t I read it right away? It’s remarkable.

revolutionAndi is a depressed, modern-day teenager, mourning the breakup of her parents marriage and the death of her little brother. Her Father decides that accompanying him to Paris over winter break will be just the thing to help her break through her depression. Andi, of course, is less than thrilled but changes her mind when, poking through some antiques, she comes across a diary written by a girl who lived in Paris during the French Revolution. Alexandrine is feeling many of the same turbulent emotions as Andi as she struggles to survive the horrors of the war. As Andi delves further into the diary she begins to feel a kinship with Alexandrine that crosses culture and time and allows her to put her own suffering into perspective.

I had a little trouble with this book at first – Andi is very angsty and very angry at the beginning of the story and I had to force myself to push through. But the historical details, the weaving of the love of music (by both Andi and Alexandrine) throughout the story and an ending that is intense and gripping add up to a book that is very hard to put down. Beautifully written, complex and with just a tiny bit of magical realism, this is a wonderful all-encompassing read.

Now it’s your turn – what did you read in October? Tell us how you did with the Young Adult theme!

Online Reading Challenge – Mid-month Check

online colorHello Readers! How are you finding this months Reading Challenge – are you enjoying a great Young Adult read, or are you skipping this month? If you’re still searching for a Young Adult novel to try, here are a few suggestions.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. This book was a huge sensation a couple years ago and for good reason. On the surface, it’s a fairly typical story – a boy and a girl meet and fall in love and face many obstacles. However, the obstacles here are more serious than a typical story – both have cancer. Yes, it’s often a sad story (I cried several times while reading this), but it’s also frequently laugh-out-loud funny and the characters – both main and minor – are terrific. But what I took away from this book that has stayed with me long after finishing it, is the message, that life is worth living and no life is useless. An amazing read (as are all of John Green’s books) – very highly recommended.

I’ll Be There by Holly Goldberg Sloan. Raised by an unstable father who keeps constantly on the move, Sam Border has long been the voice of his silent younger brother, Riddle. Everything changes when Sam meets Emily Bell and, welcomed by her family, the brothers witness the warmth and protection of a family for the first time. But when tragedy strikes, they’re left fighting for survival in the desolate wilderness, and wondering if they’ll ever find a place where they can belong. Part survival story, part family dynamics, I’ll Be There reads like an action-packed thriller that is nearly impossible to put down with great characters that you will love.

Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins. Amber already mentioned this book in her introduction to Young Adult books, but I wanted to tell you a little more about it. Anna has been sent to Paris to spend her last year of high school. At first she is miserable and lonely but as she makes friends and begins to explore her new city, Anna comes into her own. More than just an education, Anna gains confidence and strength of character and makes lifelong friends – and meets the love of her life. This is a fun read, especially if you love Paris, beautifully written. There are two follow-up books by Perkins, following secondary characters in Anna and the French Kiss first to San Francisco (Lola and the Boy Next Door) and then back to Paris (Isla and the Happily Ever After) tying all three together beautifully. Enjoy!