Online Reading Challenge – Mid-Month Check In

Hello Readers!

How is your October going, reading-wise? Have you found something to read yet? Or are you still looking? Maybe a movie will be your choice this month. Here are a few suggestions.

A Knight’s Tale starring Heath Ledger. The rousing story of lowborn William Thatcher’s quest to change his stars, win the heart of an exceedingly fair maiden and rock his medieval world. Follow this fearless squire and his band of medieval misfits as they careen their way toward impossible glory that’s part romance, part road trip and part exuberant swashbuckling.

Kingdom of Heaven starring Orlando Bloom and Eva Green. Balian, a young Frenchman in Medieval Jerusalem during the Crusades, having lost everything, finds redemption in a heroic fight against overwhelming forces to save his people and fulfill his destiny as a knight.

The White Queen produced by the BBC and based on the novel by Phillipa Gregory. A riveting portrayal of one of the most dramatic and turbulent times in English history. A story of love and lust, seduction and deception, betrayal and murder, it is uniquely told through the perspective of three different, yet equally relentless women – Elizabeth Woodville, Margaret Beaufort and Anne Neville. In their quest for power, they will scheme, manipulate and seduce their way onto the English throne.

Monty Python and the Holy Grail. OK, admittedly, this one is somewhat lacking in historical accuracy. But! So funny! So British! “It’s just a flesh wound”! “Your mother was a hamster and your father smells of elderberries”! The quest for the Holy Grail by King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table is retold in the inimitable Python fashion. Enjoy.

Online Reading Challenge – October

Hello Online Reading Challenge Readers! Welcome to October!

This month we’re going to explore the Medieval (or Middle Ages) time period which lasted roughly from 600 to 1500. In Europe, it is generally considered to end with the fall of  King Richard III in 1485 when the Tudors came to power but there was no general announcement declaring the start of the Renaissance. A lot of the books from our suggestions will bleed into the Renaissance but remember, there are no Library Police! Read what interests you!

There are a couple of go-to authors for this time period that have written multiple books. If one of them especially appeals to you, you’ll be set with great reading material for a long time.

Bernard Cornwell. Best known for his Sharpe series (set during the Napoleonic Wars), Cornwell has also written series set during the Middle Ages including The Warlord Chronicles (set during Arthurian Britain), The Grail Quest (set in 14th century Europe) and The Last Kingdom series (set in Saxon times of the 9th century)

Philippa Gregory. Well loved for her series of books about the Tudor queens, Gregory has also written extensively about the Plantagenets, the family that was overthrown by the Tudors. Titles set during the Middle Ages include The White Queen, The Red Queen and The Kingmaker’s Daughter.

Sharon Kay Penman writes huge, extensive books about the Middle Ages. They are an investment in time but well worth it as you are swept into the story. Titles include The Sunne in Splendor and Lionheart. I especially recommend Here Be Dragons about the illegitimate daughter of King John of England who is forced to marry a minor Welsh lord.

Other interesting books from this time period include The Lady and the Unicorn by Tracy Chevalier, The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco and, for the classics, The Canterbury Tales by Chaucer. I also recommend Ellis Peters’ Brother Cadfael mystery series. And it will take some tracking down but don’t miss Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey. An older book, it follows a present-day police officer, laid up because of a broken leg, investigating the true story of Richard III (he might not have been the monster that Shakespeare presented). It’s intriguing and insightful and reminds us that the victors write the history books; there’s always another side to the story.

I am planning on reading Philippa Gregory’s The White Queen. I’m hoping the appeal of English historical fiction will get me back on the Challenge track! What about you? What are you reading this month?

Online Reading Challenge – September Wrap-Up

Hello Online Challenge Readers!

How did your month of September go, reading-wise? Did you find something wonderful, or did this month fall short for you? Make sure to share!

I’m afraid, after a string of 8 straight good-to-excellent reads, September fell short for me. I was all set to read Love and Ruin by Paula McLain, but it never caught my interest enough to stick with it. Maybe it was the subject matter – the main characters were often abrasive and made many poor decisions. Maybe it was my mood or the weather, or the fact that I had other things going on and taking up my time. Who knows why a book and reader fail to connect? Often it’s just timing – the right book at the right moment. And what doesn’t work at one time, might be perfect later. Fortunately, I know where there are hundreds of other books, all free for checking out! There’s always another great read waiting!

What about you – how did your reading go in September? And, have you ever picked up a book and found, no matter how badly you wanted to read it, it just wasn’t for you? What have been your epic book fails? Let us know your experiences in the comments!

Online Reading Challenge – Mid-Month Check-in

Hello Readers!

How is the month of September going for you? Are you reading something inspiring/thoughtful/entertaining? If you’re still looking or are short on time, maybe a movie would be a good option. Here are some to consider.

Places in the Heart. Starring Sally Field, John Malkovich and Danny Glover, this film takes a look at surviving the Dust Bowl. Battling prejudice, injustice and devastating weather, the three main characters – a recent widow, a blind man and a black man – form an unlikely alliance.

Cinderella Main starring Russell Crowe and Renee Zellweger. No longer able to box after breaking his hand during a fight, James Braddock turns to manual labor. Desperate for money, he agrees to one more fight which, to everyone’s surprise, he wins, returning him to the violent and unpredictable sport. Based on a true story.

The Grapes of Wrath starring Henry Fonda. An American classic, this film takes a hard look at the reality of the struggle to survive during the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl. Heartbreaking and often difficult to watch it is nevertheless highly recommended.

Water for Elephants starring Reese Witherspoon and Robert Pattinson is set against the backdrop of a small-time circus operating during the Great Depression. A secret romance threatens to destroy many lives and nearly ends in tragedy.

Online Reading Challenge – September

Hello! It’s September! Time for our next Online Reading Challenge! This month the theme is: the Great Depression.

Well, that isn’t a very cheerful thought, is it? A devastating economic crash coinciding with severe drought and dust storms brought a decade of struggle and suffering. Yet this time period also gave rise to what Tom Brokaw called “the Greatest Generation”, a generation that would make it through the Depression and go on to fight in World War II. It also produced some great literature and the time period continues to be popular with authors. There’s lots to explore and experience through books (and movies), but I have expanded this month’s definition to “between the wars” which will include the Roaring 20’s. The choice is yours! Here are some ideas to get you started.

If you want to go classic/literary, you’ll find lots and none of them are “stuffy”. If you have never read The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck first of all, shame on you. Second, go read it now. (The movie, starring Henry Fonda, is also excellent). Ernest Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls is set during the Spanish Civil War, a precurser to WWII. Surely everyone has read To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee by now, but if not, it’s highly recommended. Lost Horizon by James Hilton is an adventure story about the discovery of the mysterious Shangri-La.

The 1930s saw a dramatic rise in the popularity of professional and organized sports. One of my favorite books (easily in my top three) is Seabiscuit by Laura Hillenbrand, not only for the tales of horse racing (which I love) but for the setting. Under Hillenbrand’s skillful hands, the 1930s come to life with the reality of a hardscrabble existence, the vivid characters, the hopes and dreams of people fighting for a better life. Another favorite is The Boys in the Boat by Dan Brown about a team of scrappy rowers that go to the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Both of these qualify as can’t-put-down.

For many years my go-to book recommendation for patrons was Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe by Fannie Flagg. Everyone loved it, no exceptions. The movie took away some of it’s shine (the book is better), but it’s still very much worth reading.

More great fiction set during the 1930s include Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen, Atonement by Ian McEwan, Shanghai Girls by Lisa See and The Persian Pickle Club by Sandra Dallas. There’s lots of great non-fiction too including Little Heathens by Mildred Kalish about farm life in Iowa, A Square Meal: a Culinary History of the Great Depression by Jane Ziegelman and The Worst Hard Time by Timothy Egan.

See? I told you – lots of great books to choose from! Be sure to visit our Davenport library locations for displays of these and many more titles.

As for what I’m going to read, I’m planning on reading Love and Ruin by Paula McLain which is about Martha Gellhorn, a famous war correspondent and Hemingway’s third wife. As always, I reserve the right to change my mind!

Now, what about you? What are you going to read this month?

Online Reading Challenge – August Wrap-Up

Hello Fellow Fans-of-Reading!

How was your August? Did you find something wonderful to read that was set during the Edwardian Era? Or maybe you watched a movie – tell us about you read or watched!

I started the month planning to read The Alienist by Caleb Carr, a book that has been popular for several years and now has a television series based on it on TNT. I tried to read it, I really did. But. It just wasn’t my cup of tea. I’m a strong believer that, if a book isn’t working for me, I abandon it. I know some people will stick with a book to the bitter end, disliking it the whole time, but there are too many titles on my “to read” list. So I dropped The Alienist and instead picked up The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson. Much better.

The Summer Before the War starts in June 1914 and is set in the idyllic English countryside. Beatrice Nash, whose father has recently died, has come to Rye to be a Latin teacher. She soon becomes involved the lives of the people around her, learning about their secrets and dreams. When war is declared in late July, there is a burst of patriotic fervor and excitement with men and boys joining up to “advance their careers” and proclaiming that they’ll “be home by Christmas”. The reality of the war soon begins to creep into their lives, both on a national and personal level, and the old ways of thinking are slowly torn away.

I very much enjoyed this book. It wasn’t necessarily ground-breaking, but it is much more than a simple, quaint story. It was interesting to read about the very constricted lives women were allowed and how Beatrice had to fight for her job even though she was far more qualified than her (male) competition. I was also fascinated by how the strict codes of society dictated everyday life, such as who could dine with who, and how merely talking to someone considered disreputable could ruin your own standing. The war eats into these rules as death and pain impact everyone no matter your place.

Beatrice is a wonderful main character – witty, smart and confident in her abilities but struggling to make her way on her own in a world that scorns spinsters. She finds compassion from unexpected sources and strength from within to face a time when everything changed.

Now it’s your turn. What did you read this month and how did you like it?

Online Reading Challenge – Mid-Month Check In

Hello Again!

How is your month of Edwardian reading going? Have you found something that has grabbed your interest? If you’re still looking, maybe a movie would be the ticket – there are some gorgeous films set during this time period. Here are a few to consider:

A Room With a View – From the famous production team of Merchant and Ivory, this gorgeous film of love and romance stars Helen Bonham-Carter and Daniel Day-Lewis and is set in the idyllic Italian countryside.

Howard’s End – Another beautiful Merchant and Ivory production, starring Emma Thompson and Anthony Hopkins, brings the rigid rules of Edwardian society into sharp focus.

Edwardian Farm – Find out how the other half lives when two archaeologists and a historian recreate farm life for a full year using practices from 1906 England. Fascinating!

The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady – So beautiful! Filmed on location in England and Scotland, this drama follows artist Edith Holden through the changing seasons.

Murdoch Mysteries – Follow Detective William Murdoch as he solves murder mysteries in Edwardian Toronto using the latest scientific methods.

Parade’s End – From the end of the Edwardian era through World War I, this epic story of romance and betrayal stars Benedict Cumberbatch and Rebecca Hall.

Mary Poppins – For something much lighter and happier, you can’t go wrong with Mary Poppins. It’s magical and fun and surprisingly thoughtful. Don’t miss it.

Miss Potter – The charming story of Beatrix Potter’s efforts to publish her first books and gain some measure of independence as a single woman in Edwardian England. Lovely and heartbreaking. Starring Renee Zellweger and Ewan McGregor.

Online Reading Challenge – August

It’s August already, Reading Fans! Time to take a look at our next challenge!

This month we’re exploring the Edwardian Era. Technically, the Edwardian Era lasted from 1901 to 1910, which is the time that Edward VII ruled England following the death of Queen Victoria. However, it is popularly considered to run from the 1890s to the start of World War I in 1914.

The coming of war lends a certain bittersweet feeling to this time period, the last golden days of the English Empire and the innocence that would soon be shattered. The Summer Before the War by Simonson embodies this “on the brink” time beautifully, set in a small English village. Cavendon Hall by Barbara Taylor Bradford is a novel about the intrigues of a wealthy family and their servants (think Downton Abbey). Rutherford Park by Cooke is another English country house family drama set in this time period.

It’s not all about the landed gentry in England though. The Titanic sank in 1912 and there is lots of fiction and non-fiction about the sinking and its consequences. The Dressmaker by Kate Alcott is gives us a personal account of the disaster and the aftermath when an accomplished seamstress joins a famous fashion designer on the Titanic as her personal maid. Or try A Night to Remember by Walter Lord, a classic about the ships final hours.

Other notable events during this time include the first manned flight at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina (The Wright Brothers by David McCullough) and the golden age of arctic exploration (Shackleton’s Heroes by Wilson McOrst). American classics by E.M. Forster (Howard’s End and A Room With a View) or Edith Wharton (The Buccaneers) are great choices. For mystery lovers, check out the Molly Murphy series by Rhys Bowen.

I am planning on reading The Alienist by Caleb Carr about the beginnings of forensic science set in New York City. This is a little outside of my comfort zone, so we’ll see how it goes!

What about you – what will you be reading this month?

Online Reading Challenge – July Wrap-Up

Hello Reading Challengers!

How did your reading go in July? Did you read something wonderful set during the time of Westward Expansion?

I set out to read Undaunted Courage by Stephen Ambrose. Real world disclaimer here: I haven’t finished it yet. But – but! – not because I didn’t like it – in fact I’m loving it! It’s just that other obligations got in the way. I have every intention of finishing it and soon. I’m about a third of the way through, so here are my impressions so far and why I’m loving it so much.

Undaunted Courage is about Lewis and Clark’s “voyage of discovery” when they crossed the western half the North American continent, beyond the known frontier. Before their journey, most of the information about the land was made up of myths and legends and less-than-reliable reports of itinerant fur trappers.

The book opens with an in-depth look at Meriwether Lewis’ youth and upbringing in Virginia where he managed his family’s plantation. He also served in the militia and then worked as an aide to the newly elected President Thomas Jefferson who was a neighbor back in Virginia. I had not realized how well Jefferson and Lewis knew each other, and how much they worked together. At first, already pressed for time, I had planned to skim this part of the book, thinking it would be dull but it isn’t! It’s fascinating! It shows the unique circumstances that shaped Lewis, what they taught him, how they influenced his life viewpoint and how one day they would prepare him for this great adventure. It is also a eye-opening insight into how and why the Founding Fathers thought and operated. It’s like reading about the building blocks of this new nation that would become America.

Jefferson, President, diplomat and political strategist, was also an enthusiastic amateur scientist. He wanted to create friendly relations with the Indians and find a waterway to the Pacific Ocean, but he also desperately wished to find out what the land was like – the soil, the weather, the plants and the animals. Jefferson, like most scientists of his day, believed that mastodons still roamed the land, that there were active volcanoes and that the mountain range between the Mississippi River and the Pacific was no higher than the Appalachians.

Lewis was the perfect choice to lead the expedition and Jefferson undertook to teach him as much science as possible before he left including astronomy, rudimentary medicine, botany, preservation of specimens and map making. Lewis engaged an army friend William Clark (brother of Revolutionary War hero George Rogers Clark) as co-commander and, after a great deal of planning and several setbacks the Corps of Discovery set off.

I’ve just read to the part where they will make their first winter camp, about six months into the journey. They have encountered the Sioux and other tribes, have already discovered many new species of birds, animals and plants and have seen sights never before known to white Americans. Lewis writes about flocks of carrier pigeons so numerous they block out the sun, of the great migration of buffalo, elk and antelope – something not seen by a living person for 100 years now, plentiful game and fruit, endless rolling prairie under a sea of grass. I try to imagine what they must have seen, the wildlife, the endless prairie untouched by fences or roads and am awed (I also think about the difficulty of traveling where there are no roads, no hotels, no GPS and progress on a good day was 30 miles and am grateful to living in the present.)

It’s kind of a cliffhanger that I’ve left it at – after this winter camp they will venture into truly unknown territory – so yes, I look forward to reading the rest of this adventure. What about you? What adventure did you read about this month?

 

 

Online Reading Challenge – Mid-Month Check-in

Howdy Readers! How’s your Westward Expansion reading experience going this month?

I am working away at reading Stephen Ambrose’s Undaunted Courage which recounts the journey of Lewis and Clark. It has been a bit of a slog so far – interesting but maybe too detailed – but I haven’t gotten to the actual journey yet. Things should pick up then.

If you’re still searching for a book to read be sure to stop by any of the Davenport Library locations and check our displays which have a variety of interesting titles. Or reach for a DVD – we have a wide range to choose from. You can go classic/nostalgic and check out a television Western which used to be so popular – Rawhide, Gunsmoke, Little House on the Prairie, Bonanza or The Virginian. We also have a huge collection of John Wayne and Clint Eastwood westerns.

If you’d like to look beyond the stereotypes, there are some excellent documentaries that are well worth watching. Lewis and Clark: the Journey of the Corps of Discovery and The West, both produced by Ken Burns, are beautifully done.

For a modern, often violent look at the Old West try There Will Be Blood or The Revenant or the remake of True Grit.