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!

Online Reading Challenge – Young Adult Books

online colorIt’s October and we’re starting on a new genre for our Online Reading Challenge – Young Adult!

Feeling a little unsure about reading a Young Adult book? Not sure that there will be anything in this area that you’d enjoy? Think again! Young Adult books have come a long way in the last couple of decades – you will find compelling stories and stellar writing, the kind of books anyone will want to read.

Still need some convincing? Listen to our own Young Adult Librarian, Amber. A huge fan of the genre, Amber also buys the books for this area for the Davenport Library, so she knows Young Adult books, inside and out. Here’s some words of wisdom from her:

–if you are new to YA, start where you are familiar! YA covers all genres and types of literature so if you like historical fiction, read a book like Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly or Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein. If you like science fiction, read Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card or Little Brother by Cory Doctorow. If you like romance, read Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins or To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han. Or start with an author you already enjoy; many “adult” authors have also written Young Adult books including James Patterson, Jasper Fforde, Jodi Picoult and Sophie Kinsella.

–Part of what makes Young Adult literature so appealing and universal is that authors are able to explore complicated and emotional topics through narrators who are dealing with these topics for the first time and are able to be more honest, more passionate, more open than many adult characters are able to be. When asked why she chose to write young adult romances at a YA Lit conference in 2012, Stephanie Perkins replied that it was because she had such an intense romantic experience as a teen. People often remember every little detail of their first kiss, their first dance, their first heartbreak, and yet sometimes can barely remember the name of a person they dated in their thirties. We remember every time we were bullied in high school, the first time someone close to us passes away, and the confusion of a national tragedy happening.

Amber’s listed a bunch of great suggestions and believe me, you can trust Amber’s recommendations! I’m going to read Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly, historical fiction set in France. What about you? What are you going to try this month?

Online Reading Challenge – September Wrap-Up

September was a fun month, wasn’t it? What better topic for book lovers to read about than books and bookstores and libraries? It’s win-win. And there are a lot of great titles to choose from – makes it hard to pick just one!

The title I settled on for Books About Books was The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield. With elements of a Gothic ghost story, secrets from the past and conflicting, tangled stories, this reads more like a mystery than straight fiction.

When Margaret Lea, an unremarkable biographer that helped her father in his bookstore, received a letter from thirteenth-talereclusive author Vida Winter requesting that Margaret write her biography, she is understandably skeptical. Winter is infamous for weaving one fantastic tale about her life after another, stories that conflict and confuse. Where does the fiction stop and the truth begin? It is now up to Margaret to untangle the stories and present them, cohesive and whole, or as close to the truth as possible.

This is an engrossing read, with imaginative leaps and unexpected twists that challenges you again and again – what exactly is the truth?

What about you – what brilliant book did you discover this month? Or did you pass on this month’s reading challenge? Remember, the challenge is to help you find great titles that you might not have tried before – have fun with it! And stop by Monday for information on the next Online Reading Challenge!

Online Book Challenge or Changing Horses in the Middle of the Stream

online colorHello Fellow Readers!

Here’s your mid-month check up for this month’s Online Reading Challenge! How’s it going – have you found something to read this month that gets you excited?

I had every intention of reading The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald, but it just didn’t grab me. I wasn’t liking any of the characters and the portrayal of Iowa was not sitting well with me. Maybe I should have stuck with it a little longer; maybe it would have grown on me. But, you know what – life’s too short to read books you don’t like, no matter how highly recommended they come. (And lots of people like this book – check out our own blogger Rachel’s review – so don’t take my word for it!)

So, I’m changing horses in the middle of the stream and reading The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield instead. This is another title that has been highly recommended to me, about a writer who is hired to help a mysterious author write their biography. Lots of intrigue and secrets and research. I’m hoping this one grabs – and keeps! – my attention.

If you’re still looking for that great Book About Books, I’d steer you towards The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin, a quick read that is by turns sweet and sharp and often very funny, about a bookseller on a remote island that unexpectedly finds love.

Let us know what you’re reading – everyone likes a good recommendation (whether we end up reading the book or not!)

Soup for Syria

soup for syriaAcclaimed chefs and cookbook authors the world over have come together to help food relief efforts to alleviate the suffering of Syrian refugees in Soup for Syria. Each has contributed a recipe to this beautifully illustrated cookbook of delicious soups from around the world. Contributors include: Yotam Ottolenghi, Sami Tamimi, Anthony Bourdain, Alice Waters, Paula Wolfert, Claudia Roden, Chef Greg Malouf, Chef Alexis Coquelet, Chef Chris Borunda, Chef Alexandra Stratou, Necibe Dogru, Aglaia Kremenzi, and many others.

– Celebrity chefs contribute favorite recipes to help feed Syrian refugees

– Fabulous soups from around the world-from hearty winter warmers to chilled summer soups

– Easy-to-follow instructions with stunning color photos throughout

– Recipes made with no-fuss ingredients found in your local supermarket

All profits from the sales of the cookbook will be donated to help fund food relief efforts through various nonprofit organizations. Most Syrians hope that one day they will be able to return to their country and rebuild their lives. (description from publisher)

The Mathews Men by William Geroux

mathews menOne of the indelible images of World War II is of an explosion at sea – a U-boat attack, a ship in flames and an ocean full of men swimming for their lives through oil and debris. The Mathews Men tells the story of what it was like to be on those ships in an almost unknown epic sea battle that took place just off the coast of America. Its heroes were the men of the U.S. Merchant Marine, celebrated at long last in William Geroux’s unforgettable new book.

Mathews County, Virginia, is a remote outpost on the Chesapeake Bay with little to offer except unspoiled scenery. Its men had gone to sea for generations, but in 1942, Mathews mariners suddenly found themselves in the crosshairs of a lethal fleet of U-boats bearing down across the Atlantic. The Germans were determined to sink every American merchant ship they could, to strangle the flow of fuel, arms, and supplies to the Allies. The U.S. Navy initially lacked the inclination and resources to protect the unarmed vessels, and the carnage was staggering. Ships were sometimes torpedoed before the eyes of tourists on American beaches.

Nearly every family in tiny Mathews had a personal stake in the U-boat war, and none had a greater one than that of Captain Jesse and Henrietta Hodges and their seven sons. The Hodges family would experience the war in all its horrors and triumphs around the world, from the Gulf of Mexico to the Indian Ocean to the Arctic Circle. Drawing on interviews with the last living Mathews mariners, family records, diaries, letters, and official documents, Geroux describes how men survived torpedo explosions, flaming oil slicks, storms, shark attacks, and harrowing lifeboat odysseys – only to ship out again as soon as they’d returned to safety. Merchant mariners often died terrible deaths, and suffered a higher casualty rate than any branch of the U.S. military except the Marines, but were denied veterans benefits for decades.

This is a story of valor without glory, of the men who made sure no Allied invasion force was ever thrown back from a beachhead into the sea for want of supplies or weaponry. Merchant mariners landed at D-Day and delivered the crew of the Enola Gay to the Pacific, and when the war was over, it was Merchant Marine ships that brought the troops home. Geroux evokes in vivid, human detail a war beyond the familiar battlefields and its toll on the families back home. Unrecognized by the government, unheralded in the history books, the achievements and sacrifices of the Merchant Marine have been largely ignored – until now. (description from publisher)