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!

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!

Halfway Home – Online Reading Challenge

Hello Readers!

In the midst of all the festivities and bustle of the holidays, have you been able to find some time for yourself to read? Have you found something set in New York City? We’d all love to hear what about what you’re reading!

If you just don’t have the time (or energy!) to read right now, how about a movie? Take a break from the holiday madness and watch a movie (or two). There are lots set in the Big Apple. Bonus! These have a Christmas backdrop as well!

You’ve Got Mail with Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks is that rare rom-com that is funny and sweet without being mushy. The Christmas scenes will make you nostalgic for the past and who doesn’t love Meg Ryan’s apartment?

Elf with Will Ferrell doesn’t really need an introduction. It’s become a family tradition for many and for good (hilarious) reason.

Home Alone 2 with Macaulay Caulkin uses New York City as it’s playground with iconic scenes in the toy store and Central Park. Christmas in New York never look prettier.

Miracle on 34th Street. And of course you can’t forget about this classic. It hits all the iconic New York City Christmas moments (and probably was responsible for how many of us imagine New York City to be at Christmas)

But what if you’d had enough of Christmas madness for the moment and just want to escape for a bit? Try some television shows – Friends will never get stale (in my opinion) and Sex and the City still pushes the envelope. Then there are cop shows – several billion seasons of Law and Order and it’s many offshoots, Blue Bloods, NYPD Blue. And there’s no shortage if comedy is what you crave – Seinfeld, Will and Grace, 30 Rock. No excuses – there’s plenty of New York City for everyone!

 

Now Departing for: New York City

Hello Fellow Readers!

One last journey in our 2017 Online Reading Challenge! This month we’re headed for New York City, equal parts glamorous and gritty. You’re sure to find something fabulous to read (or watch)

There is no shortage of books set in New York City. In fact, there’s almost too many – an embarrassment of riches. From classic, to modern classic to brand new there is something fabulous to read. And to watch! All kinds of movies and tv shows are set in New York City. Let’s take a look at each category.

Classic: Edith Wharton reigns supreme here with her scathing observations of the upper class society including The Age of Innocence. Or turn to Dashiell Hammett’s witty The Thin Man about the detective work of Nick and Nora Charles (the movies are also delightful). This would also be a great month to read Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, at turns poignant and moving about a girl’s coming-of-age at the turn of the last century.

Modern Classic (as defined by me!):  The Godfather by Mario Puzo about a New York mob family (a rare case where the movie is almost as good as the book). Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote (again, the movie is great and well worth watching just for Audrey Hepburn alone but be warned – the ending in the movie is very different from the ending in the book). Bonfire of the Vanities by Thomas Wolfe, a brilliant satire of the 1980s culture of greed.

New: Lillian Boxfish Takes of Walk by Kathleen Rooney trails along with Lillian as she walks through her beloved city, reminising about her life. The Devil Wears Prada by Lauren Weisberg is a sharp, often hilarious look at the fashion industry, Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay follows two young boys who unite to create a comics empire in mid-century America.

Feeling Christmasy? From the arrival of Santa in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, to the dropping of the ball at Times Square on New Year’s Eve, New York City is the very definition of a big-city Christmas. Get your holiday fix with Debbie Macomber’s Call Me Mrs Miracle or Anne Perry’s A New York Christmas among others.

I’m reading The Dollhouse by Fiona Davis which takes place at the Barbizon Hotel, switching between 1952 and the present day. There’s a mysterious death and lots of intrigue as well as some sharp societal observations. So far, so good!

There are lots more New York City titles – so many more! Stop by any of our locations and check out the displays – we’ll have books and movies (so many movies!) to help you find a great read (or viewing!). And watch this space for news about the 2018 Online Reading Challenge – it’s going to be an exciting year of reading!

Now Arriving from – China

Hello Reading Fans!

How did this month of the Online Reading Challenge treat you? Did you find something really fantastic to read? Something that opened a little window of understanding of the great mystery that is China?

I’m afraid I didn’t do so well this month – I got caught up in reading other books and never came across anything China-related that grabbed my attention. These things happen sometimes (This is why I’m not very good with traditional book clubs – the rebel in me doesn’t always want to read the chosen book!) Fortunately, there aren’t any Library Police and I can simply try again next month!

I do want to draw your attention to two favorite movies set in China that deal with the ancient history of China and are deeply rooted in mysticism. Both are absolutely beautiful

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon caused quite a sensation when it first came out and you may very well have already seen it. Beautifully photographed, superb acting and a story that requires the watcher, much like the characters, to take a leap of faith makes this a film that linger long after the closing credits. A young Chinese warrior steals a sword from a famed swordsman and then escapes into a world of adventure with a mysterious man in the frontier of the nation with serious, long-reaching consequences.

Hero, starting Jet Li, was released shortly after Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and may have been overshadowed by it, but it is stunning in it’s own right.  Set in ancient China, warring factions plot to assassinate the most powerful ruler, Qin. When a minor official defeats Qin’s three deadly enemies, he is summoned to the palace to tell Qin the story of his surprising victory. The martial arts scenes, beautifully, artfully choreographed, are worth watching alone but the message, about power and how it is wielded is relevant to all times and societies.

Now Departing for – China

Welcome to the next month in our Online Reading Challenge! This month we are headed for China, a country that, for many of us, remains mysterious and unknown with a long, complex history and multiple cultures. A great book can crack open that door of mystery in the best possible way.

China as a subject offers a large number of intriguing and interesting books. Achee Min’s The Last Empress follows the last days of the Ch’ing Dynasty as overseen by Tzu Hsi. Maligned in the Western press as a ruthless, power-mad assassin, Min offers a different view of a powerful woman that did everything for her country and her family.

Under Heaven by Gabriel Kay is set in a imaginary kingdom in ancient China during the T’ang Dynasty. To honor the death of his father, Shen Tai spends two years burying the dead at a battle site on the kingdom’s border. When he receives a gift of 250 coveted horses, he realizes he is in terrible danger and seeks an audience with the Emperor. Detailed, nuanced, completely engrossing, this is a massive novel that you can easily (and happily) get lost in.

Lisa See has written many novels of China and of the Chinese immigrant experience in America. Set in 19th century China when women had little value except to produce male children, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan is the story of a “laotong” (an arranged friendship of two young girls that is meant to last a lifetime) between Lily and her laotong, the beautiful Snow Flower. A misunderstanding between them has far reaching consequences. This is a fascinating peek into a secretive and hidden world but a warning – the part when the girls undergo foot binding is not for the squeamish (I still shudder when I think about it)

For an examination of the push and pull of between new and old that Chinese immigrants to America feel, you can’t do better than Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club. The younger generation is eager to embrace the modern world but the past and the old country, as remembered by their parents, continues to shape and influence them. Four Chinese women who immigrated to America in 1949 are drawn together to share stories and play mah-jong. Through the years we follow their triumphs and losses and those of their American-born daughters.

There are lots more choices out there. Watch for our displays at each building for more suggestions. And then let us know what you’ll be reading this month!