Online Reading Challenge – Mid-Month Check In

Hello All!

How is your month of 1800s era reading going? Have you found anything particularly wonderful? Please share what you’re reading!

I, sadly, am not faring too well. I’ve tried a couple Victorian-times mysteries and could not get caught up in either one. Admittedly, I usually don’t read mysteries, so it’s not a big surprise that they didn’t work for me. I’m still searching, but I may decide to simply indulge myself a bit and re-watch some favorite Jane Austen movie adaptations. It sounds lovely (to me!).

If you’re still looking, here are a couple more suggestions for the 1800s.

A new book, The Butchering Art: Joseph Lister’s Quest to Transform the Grisly World of Victorian Medicine by Fitzharris Lindsey should be creepily fascinating. Medicine was still pretty primitive in the 1800s. It’s thanks to the efforts of John Lister that many, many more people didn’t die and that medicine advanced to much safer measures. Lister introduced anesthesia for use during surgery, pasteurization and a greater understanding of bacteria and infection. A fascinating, gory look at the history of medicine!

If you are having trouble untangling the manners and customs of Austen and Dickens and the Victorians of England, be sure to pick up a copy of What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew by Danial Pool. This book is great fun, easy to dip in and out of or read cover to cover. All kinds of subjects are covered including society, fashion and the home. There’s also a handy glossary at the back to explain the more obscure (to us) terms like quadrille (a card game) or camel leopard (a giraffe). This book really helped me to understand primogeniture, a law which prevented the Bennet and Dashwood sisters from inheriting from their father. It also helped explain the restrictions and limitations put on women.

And now over to you – what are you reading this month?

Online Reading Challenge – April

Hurrah! It’s April which means flowers and birdsong and springtime! And, it means it’s time for the next installment of the Online Reading Challenge! This month we’re traveling to the 1800s!

“Whoa!” I can hear you say. “1800s?! Isn’t that kind of a broad time period?! Like, everything happened in the 1800s!” OK, not everything happened in the 1800s, but I admit, a lot did happen. Which just means you have even more great books (and movies) to choose from. To make it a little easier, I’ve divided some suggestions by event/era.

Regency. This is the time period of Jane Austen, which enough said. If you haven’t read Jane Austen, here’s your chance. My favorite is Persuasion, but I love the others of the “big four” (Emma, Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility) We could (well, I could) spend an entire reading year discussing these books and debating the merits of the many movies that have been made from them (by far, my favorite movie is Sense and Sensibility starring Emma Thompson although I also dearly love the BBC’s production of Emma.)

If Jane Austen isn’t your thing (which I can’t even fathom), I highly recommend the Master and Commander series by Patrick O’Brian. Set in the world of tall ships, when the British Navy ruled supreme, this is a series (20 volumes!) full of adventure, intrigue, heartbreak and humor. Highly recommended.

Civil War. There are a lot of books set during the Civil War and for good reason. It’s a time that defined the American character in many ways and it was a sharp divide between the past and the future. Look for authors Jeff and Michael Shaara and Shelby Foote. Or go classic with Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell or Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane.  Another excellent option is Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier.

Victorian. Ah, so many books. Lots and lots of mysteries in this category including Sherlock Holmes. I really liked the mysteries by Deanna Raybourn and Tasha Alexander – strong women characters and charming settings. Light and fun.

Some random recommendations include Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier about the discovery of fossils by ordinary women, Little Women by Louisa May Alcott and Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton.

You’ll notice that there aren’t any titles about the “Wild West” – we’ll be reading about Westward Expansion in a few months, so I’m keeping those titles for that time period.

I’m going to read The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry about a young widow who moves from London to the country and finds herself drawn into a mystery. Sounds intriguing!

That’s just the tip of the iceberg – be sure to stop by one of our Davenport locations for displays with lots more titles to consider. And don’t forget to tell us what you pick!

Online Reading Challenge – March Wrap-Up

Hello Fellow Reading Fans!

How was your month? What fabulous book or movie did you discover in March? Or was it an “off” month for you? Tell us about your experience!

This month I read Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel and it was a winner! I really enjoyed this book – thoughtful, complex, sometimes terrifying and ultimately hopeful. Brilliant.

Station Eleven takes place in the near future after a flu epidemic has wiped out 99% of the population and civilization as we know it has collapsed. No electricity, no running water, no food production, no (gasp!) Internet. Survivors are scattered and isolated, suspicious and wary of anyone they may come across.

In the midst of this landscape of the struggle to survive, the Traveling Symphony moves from one tiny settlement to another, along a circular route through what was once Michigan, bringing a reminder of life before the epidemic by performing Shakespeare and classical music to small but appreciative groups.

However, not everyone is welcoming. A radical group forms, headed by the mysterious Prophet, who proclaims that the Flu was divine intervention. Anyone unfortunate enough to run across him and disagree is ruthlessly hunted down. The Traveling Symphony at first manages to escape, but the Prophet isn’t far behind.

The book moves back and forth through time, showing life before the Flu and life after. There are connections between several characters, from “before” to “after”, which are fascinating to watch unfold and the origin of the title of the book is unexpected, devastating and fitting.

There are a lot of themes and emotions in Station Eleven. Fear, sometimes overwhelming, is often present. Grief, for the world that no longer exists and the loved ones that didn’t survive, is never far away. The grim, constant battle for survival is wearing. And yet, as the years after the Flu pass, people are drawn together, to create families and communities, to share resources and stories. The Traveling Symphony’s motto (taken from an episode of Star Trek) is “survival is not enough”. Humans need stories and history and art and connection. Even in the worst of times, humans will strive for something more.

Yes, this book depicts a dystopian world that is devastated and life is hard, but it also argues that humanity manages to rise above. (It helps that humans only destroyed themselves; Earth and nature have not been laid to waste). Yes, at times it is scary difficult to read – a devastating flu epidemic is not beyond imagination. But ultimately the feeling I came away with after reading this book was of hope and possibility. Highly recommended.

Now it’s your turn – what did you read this month?

Online Reading Challenge – Mid-Month Check-in

Hello Online Reading Challengers!

How is your March reading going? Are you still scrunching up your nose at the idea of science fiction? Try a movie! They’re like an adventure story, only with lots more makeup! Here are some ideas to get you started:

Mad Max: Fury Road starring Charlize Theron and Tom Hardy is a non-stop action, can’t-catch-your-breath, edge-of-your-seat survival story. But beyond all that sand and all those crazy people, there’s a lot of humanity.

Blade Runner and Blade Runner 2049. Rick Deckard (played by Harrison Ford) is a “blade runner”, stalking genetically replicated criminal replicants in a chaotic society that is nearly impossible to tell what’s real. The new film takes place 30 years further into the future and a new blade runner (Ryan Gosling) and his search for the former blade runner.

Her. Starring Joaquin Phoenix and Scarlett Johansson. Is it possible to fall in love with an Artificial Intelligence? What happens when the AI believes it has outgrown you and wants to “break up”? It’s a question that hits closer to home in this age of Alexa. Quirky, touching and cautionary.

Tired of all the scarey, dystopian visions of the future? Then go for Star Trek, which presents a future that, while we’re still not perfect, at least we haven’t blown up the Earth (yet) and have managed to live among the stars. You have lots to choose from – television series, movies, original, spinoffs, alternate universes.

Online Reading Challenge – March

Hello Readers! Here we go with month #3 of the Online Reading Challenge. This month we’re traveling to the future!

Now, don’t pull that face at me. You know, the face where you scrunch up your nose and say “I don’t like science fiction”. You just haven’t found the right science fiction book yet. PLUS – not everything on the list is science fiction! There’s plenty for everyone to enjoy! Here’s sampling.

Dystopian fiction is in its heyday right now (although there are signs that this is beginning to taper off) and there are dozens of titles to choose. The Hunger Games series (both books and movies) by Suzanne Collins has been very popular for a reason. It’s horrifying without being too graphic and really makes you think about what you would do if you were in the same position as Katniss. It takes place in a world where scarce natural resources are held by the wealthy, keep control through an annual televised event that pits children from different districts in a fight to the death. When Katniss steps in for her sister, she must use her skills to survive and to put an end to the madness.

If you’d prefer something classic, go for The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, a chilling novel set in a world where birth rates have declined dramatically and any woman who has had a child is forced to serve powerful men in an attempt to give them children. Women have no rights, no access to knowledge, property or money and live in slavery. Now also a popular Hulu series.

For something futuristic but a bit less depressing, try The Martian by Andy Weir. It’s the future but not so distant that the technology is beyond comprehension. A mission to Mars goes horribly wrong when a dust storm forces the group to evacuate. They believe that one of their members, Mark, has died but in fact he has survived. He is now tasked with living alone, with few provisions, until the next scheduled Mars mission – in four years. A survival story, a tribute to ingenuity and perseverance, The Martian is a great read (and an excellent movie)

You might also try some JD Robb books, shelved in the Mystery section. A pseudonym for the popular author Nora Roberts, this series is set in a relatable future where the technology is advanced but human emotions and actions continue to create suspense and mystery. Great can’t-put-down books.

I’m going to read Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel. Twenty years after a flu epidemic has wiped out most of civilization, a small traveling troupe of actors attempts to keep art and culture alive. Here’s hoping it’s not too dystopian!

For lots more suggestions, be sure to stop by any of our Davenport locations for displays of books and movies. And be sure to pick up a bookmark/reading log while you’re there!

Now it’s your turn – what are you going to read this month?

 

Online Reading Challenge – February

Hello Reading Fans!

Here we go with the second month of the 2018 Online Reading Challenge – the 1950s and 60s. Kind of an abrupt change from last month, yes? There is lots choose from and a broad range of subjects – Civil Rights, the changing role of women, the Korean and Cold Wars, the Space Race, the arrival of the Beatles. You’re sure to find something that catches your interest! Here are some ideas to get you started.

Maeve Binchy has written several books set in the fifties, mostly set in postwar Ireland. Circle of Friends is particularly lovely, following several young people as they find their way in society that has been changed dramatically by World War II. Brooklyn by Colm Toibin also has Irish roots, but this time from the point of view of an Irish immigrant finding her way in Brooklyn, New York (the movie made from this book is also well worth watching).

If space travel peaks your interest, reach for The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe, a hefty volume about the birth of NASA and the space program. Again, the movie is quite good too. If you’re looking for elegant and wealthy, try The Swans of Fifth Avenue by Melanie Benjamin, a novel about how Truman Capote gained access to New York’s high society (and then wrote about them in books such as Breakfast at Tiffany’s, another great pick for this month)

Civil Rights gained much needed attention during these decades and there are many inspiring books about the life and works of Martin Luther King, Jr that are worth reading. If you missed the flurry of interest in The Help by Kathryn Stockett when it first came out, now would be a great time to read it – it’s very eye-opening, especially to someone like me who grew up far from the South. And don’t miss Margo Shetterly’s Hidden Figures, an incredible (true) story about the African-American women who made the exploration of space possible.

Surprisingly, many of Agatha Christie’s mysteries were set in the Fifties (I always think of her books being written in the 20s and 30s). Try At Bertram’s Hotel, where English classes collide and there are more red herrings than you can shake a stick at. If hard-boiled is more to your taste, reach for James Ellroy’s L.A. Confidential, set in the corrupt Los Angeles police department of the 1950s.

Finally, for the cooks. This book just arrived at the library – Retro Recipes from the ’50s and ’60s by Addie Gundry. Pineapple Upside Down Cake anyone? (Please, someone try some of these recipes and tell us about the experience!) I don’t think any of these dishes are going to show up on your Whole 30 plan, but they’re a fun, nostalgic look back at that era.

I’m going to read Call the Midwife by Jennifer Worth, a memoir of a young woman who worked as a midwife in the poorest areas of London in the 1950s. It’s also a popular television series on PBS (and on DVD).

That’s just a small sample of what to read this month. Be sure to visit any of our Davenport Library locations for displays with even more choices! And don’t forget to pick up a bookmark/reading log!

 

2018 Online Reading Challenge – January Wrap-Up

Hello Online Reading Challenge Readers!

We’ve come to the end of the first month of the 2018 Online Reading Challenge already. Did you enjoy reading something set during the Tudor/Renaissance era? Did you find something especially wonderful? Let us know in the comments!

There seems to be an endless supply of books about the Tudors and the tangled political plots in pursuit of the throne (and a male heir). But there was plenty of other interesting things going on during this time period – did anyone find something set in Renaissance Europe, or Asia or Africa? It would be fascinating to compare!

Hang onto your library card, we’re about to leap several centuries forward in time to the 20th century and the pivotal and tumultuous 1950s and 60s! Still lots of political intrigue but now with indoor plumbing!

 

 

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.

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!

 

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!