Online Reading Challenge – Halfway Home!

Hello Challenge Readers!

How has the month of March been treating you? Have you found a great book or movie set in Japan? For many of us (and this is a massive over-generalization), the Japanese culture can be very foreign in a way that Europe is not. Western European culture permeates our lives here – even if we have no European blood, we easily recognize and mostly understand their literature and customs (this seems especially true of Great Britain whose power and influence at one time stretched across the globe). Japan, on the other hand, was closed to foreigners, with few exceptions, for centuries and sometimes seems to be an enigma even now.

Of course, no matter our differences we are, at heart, much the same – we love our families, we know pain and joy, great tragedy and incredible luck. It’s simply the setting and the way our society teaches us to handle these truths that is different. And isn’t that why we travel and why we read about other lives? To understand our differences and to see our similarities?

I’ve read an incredibly good book for our Japan adventure – The Dictionary of Mutual Understanding by Jackie Copleton. One day Amaterasu Takahashi opens to the door of her home in the United States to a young man with hideous scars on his face and hands. He claims he is her grandson Hideo Watanabe who she believed had died when the bomb was dropped on Nagasaki in 1945, forty years ago. She is understandably skeptical and wary and also frightened – his appearance reopens a very painful part of Ama’s life, of family secrets, betrayals, regrets and loss, pain that she has shut away and is now forced to confront.

What follows is a look back at Ama’s life, her poor, desperate youth, the daughter she protected fiercely, the husband who brought her a measure of peace. When the Allies drop the atomic bomb on Nagasaki, both Ama’s daughter and grandson were within the bomb blast and though they search for days, weeks, months, Ama and her husband are unable to find anything of their beloved child and grandchild. Eventually they move to the United States and Ama is able to fairly successfully ignore the pain of the past – at least until the man claiming to be Hideo arrives.

Descriptions of the day of the bomb and its horrible aftermath are vivid but not sensationalized. And while the fact of the bomb is a shadow throughout the book, it is not an the focus of the story. It is simply an unchangeable fact, a division between the past and the future. And while this may sound like a grim, depressing novel, it is actually about finding joy and accepting happiness and learning to not just survive, but to live.

I also liked that at the beginning of each chapter a Japanese word would be defined and explained. These words usually described concepts that are uniquely Japanese values and do not translate easily to English or to Western society. Many of these concepts are rooted in the ancient history of Japan and Buddhist philosophy and are a fascinating clue to what makes Japan distinctive. This added a lot of depth and understanding to the actions of the characters. This is one of those books that you keep thinking about long after you finish. Highly recommended.

What about you? What are you reading this month?

 

 

Now Arriving from: Seattle

Hello Fellow Challenge Readers!

How did Seattle treat you – did you find something especially good to read this month?

I read a great book this month, Where’d You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple and I loved it. Told via emails, memos, letters, text messages and narrative, the story of Bernadette and her unraveling comes together bit by bit. A brilliant architect, a petty argument nearly destroys her and she withdraws with her husband and daughter to Seattle. Bernadette’s acerbic observations of the people and world around her are very funny and her slow descent into madness is heartbreaking. Misunderstandings and missed communications spiral events into a madcap comedy-of-errors until Bernadette’s only choice, she believes, is to disappear. However Bee, her teenage daughter, will not give up on her and goes looking for her, piecing together Bernadette’s story both past and present.

Bee makes a lovely narrator. She’s as scrappy and observant and brilliant as her mother. That Bernadette is able to return and reunite with her husband and daughter is due in large part to Bee’s determination and love. I got a lot out of this book, about how lack of communication can destroy, how forgiveness can heal, how love can overcome many things, but most of all, I felt this book was about being true to yourself. When Bernadette denies her creativity and tries to be someone she’s not, she nearly kills herself and puts her family in turmoil. Despite the seemingly heavy themes, the book is laugh out loud funny and sometimes just this side of absurd – a fun read that quickly captures your attention.

Seattle plays a big part in this book, especially the first half (interestingly – and somewhat oddly (although it works) – the second half takes place mostly in Antarctica!). Some of the characters love Seattle and some hate it, so you get a pretty balanced view of both the good and the bad. Lots of rain, of course, but also lots of descriptions of the neighborhoods and traffic and businesses that keep the city running. A fun, quirky city that makes the perfect backdrop to a fun, quirky book.

What about you – did you find a great Seattle read this month? Let us know in the comments!

 

Halfway Home from Seattle

Hello Readers!

How is your Seattle reading going? Have you found any gems? If you’re still looking, here are a few more recommendations.

The Boys in the Boat by Daniel Brown. I’ve recommended this book many times and have yet to hear from anyone that was disappointed. At its most basic, it’s the true story about the young men who represented the US in rowing in the 1936 Berlin Olympics, but there’s so much more. The majority of these athletes came from difficult backgrounds made worse by the Great Depression and worked hard not only to stay on the team, but to stay in school. The bulk of the story takes place at the University of Washington in Seattle and gives you a feel for 1930s Seattle and the great shifts that were beginning in its economy and outlook. Also, the book is can’t-put-down good.

The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein. This book is one of my all-time favorites. It’s funny and heartbreaking and beautiful. Told from the point-of-view of the family dog Enzo, it follows the story of Danny Swift as he works to become a professional auto racer. Along the way Denny falls in love, marries and has a daughter. After his wife dies, Denny must fight for his daughter. Through it all, Enzo, who wishes for opposable thumbs and the ability to speak, is Denny’s silent, loyal supporter. To be honest, Seattle does not have a starring role in this book, but Garth Stein lives in Seattle which gives the setting real authenticity.

Or go grunge, put on a flannel shirt and listen to some Kurt Cobain and Nirvana. (Did I get that right? The grunge movement completely missed me) Try Montage of Heck or Nevermind. Or try a documentary about the grunge movement such as Soaked in Bleach. Remember, you don’t have to read a book – watching a movie or listening to music also count (um, so long as it has something to do with Seattle!)

I’m still reading Where’d You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple and so far, I’m loving it. It took me several pages to catch onto the rhythm of the writing – it’s told through a combination of texts, emails, letters and narrative – and figure out the cast of characters, but I caught on soon enough. I’m loving Bernadette’s snarky remarks and her brand of crazy (although I suspect there’s more going on) So far, it’s been a great read.

Now, over to you – what are reading/watching/listening to this month?

Now Departing for: Seattle

It’s time for our next stop on our 2017 Online Reading Challenge! This month we’re exploring Seattle in the beautiful Pacific Northwest. Home of Pike Place Market, the first Starbucks, the Space Needle and lots of rain (although I’m sure there’s much more to it as well!). It’s also the setting for some great books and movies so this month’s Challenge should be a lot of fun too. Some suggestions to get you started:

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford.Set in the ethnic neighborhoods of Seattle during World War II and Japanese American internment camps of the era, this novel tells the heartwarming story of widower Henry Lee, his father, and his first love Keiko Okabe.

Boneshaker by Cherie Priest. Steampunk. Zombies. Air-ships. Mad-scientists. All in a toxic and ravaged Civil War era Seattle. Don’t say we can’t mix things up.

Joy for Beginners by Erica Bauermeister. Six women gather to celebrate their friend Kate’s recovery from cancer, where she strikes a bargain with them: to celebrate her new lease on life, she’ll do the one thing that’s always terrified her, but if she does, each of them will also do one thing that they’d find difficult.

Second Watch by J.A. Jance (all of the JP Beaumont series is set in Seattle) Second Watch shows Beaumont taking some time off to get knee replacement surgery, but instead of taking his mind off work, the operation plunges him into one of the most perplexing mysteries he’s ever faced. His past collides with his present in this complex and thrilling story that explores loss and heartbreak, duty and honor, and, most importantly, the staggering cost of war and the debts we owe those who served in the Vietnam War, and those in uniform today.

If you’d rather watch your Challenge this month (and remember – that’s totally allowed!), check out 10 Things I Hate About You with Heath Ledger and Julia Stiles, based (very) loosely on The Taming of the Shrew and is full of sharp and witty dialogue, Sleepless in Seattle (of course) with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan or any season of the television series Frasier, possibly the best tv show ever unless you don’t like superb comedic acting, clever writing and engaging characters. Also look for Say Anything, the modern classic love story.

I’m planning on reading Where’d You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple which has been on my “to read someday” list for ages and has been a favorite with our patrons.

What about you? Do you know what you’re going to read for the Seattle leg of our journey? If you’re still looking for ideas, be sure to stop by any of our locations and check our Reading Challenge displays!

 

 

Now Arriving From: Rome

Coliseum

So, how did your “trip” to Rome go? Did you find any books (or movies) that transported you to the Eternal City? How did you like this first month of the Challenge?

As I said in a previous post, I watched Roman Holiday which had lots of scenes of Rome and lots of Roman atmosphere. However, I didn’t find a book to read so I’d be interested to hear what you read and whether you’d recommend it.

If you are a fan of Ancient Roman history, I’m sure you had no trouble finding lots to choose from. There seems to be an abundance of historical fiction set in Rome – lots of gladiators and togas. However, contemporary Rome was harder to track down – did anyone read a book set in Rome in the present day?

Don’t unpack your passport (um, library card) just yet – tomorrow we head back to the US and the great Pacific Northwest.

Friends! Romans! Readers!

Lend me your ears!

OK, maybe not that funny but I couldn’t resist. It’s time for a halfway check of the first month of the 2017 Online Reading Challenge – how are you doing with this month’s reading?

I have to admit, I haven’t found any books that really grab my interest. If you are a fan of ancient Rome you will find no shortage of books to read – mysteries, romances, fiction all abound in what is obviously a very popular historical time period. While many of these titles are well worth reading, none of them grabbed me, so I took a different route and watched a movie instead. (And that’s not cheating, remember – movies and non-fiction are allowed! Also, no such thing as Library Police.)

I picked a classic, where the city of Rome is as much of a star as the actors – Roman Holiday starring a luminescent Audrey Hepburn and ruggedly handsome Gregory Peck (and co-starring Eddie Albert, who I only remember from watching reruns of Green Acres!) Directed by William Wyler and with costumes by Edith Head, the movie is a call back to the golden age of Hollywood. It’s also the movie that made Hepburn a star and earned her an Academy Award at the age of 24.

Filmed entirely in Rome in 1953, the movie follows a young Princess Ann (Hepburn) who slips away from her gilded cage to have some fun before her royal duties completely take over her life. She meets up with American journalist Joe Bradley (Peck) who, realizing who she is, offers to show her around the city. He is, of course, hoping for an exclusive story but instead finds himself falling in love. Set against some of the most beautiful landmarks of Rome – the Spanish Steps, the Trevi Fountain and the Colosseum (both inside and out) – the couple (trailed by Joe’s friend Irving (Albert) who is taking pictures of the princess on the sly) enjoy an idyllic day including coffee at a sidewalk cafe, a wild Vespa ride through the twisting streets of the city and a dance party on a barge on the Tiber River. It has all the elements of a romantic comedy, set in one of the most romantic cities in the world.

Although I was surprised by the ending, I enjoyed this movie a lot. Despite the picture on the DVD case, the movie is in black and white and you really do feel like you’re stepping back in time. The stunts and lack of fancy CGI might have made it seem awkward and forced, but instead its charm and heart make it a joy to watch.

So tell me – what have you been reading (listening to, watching) this month?

Now Departing for: Rome

Hello and Welcome to the first month of the 2017 Online Reading Challenge!

This year we’re going to travel the world, “visiting” a new country or city each month, giving us a chance to experience a little of other cultures without the annoying airport security lines! Grab your passport (library card) and let’s take off!

Our first stop is Rome, a city that wears it’s ancient history proudly. Once the center of the known world, it remains a favorite for travelers and adventurers alike.

There is no shortage of books set in or about ancient Rome. Mystery lovers should take a look at the popular murder mysteries by Lindsey Davis or John Maddox Roberts. For fiction, try any of several titles by Colleen McCullough or Robert Harris.

If you’re looking for a travel guide, go to 914.563 where you’ll find information on Rome and Italy. For Roman history (and there’s lots of it!) look in 937.

There are lots of DVDs to try too – the HBO series Rome (caution: mature themes!) is spectacular or look for Gladiator or Ben Hur. I, Claudius, an older PBS series has minimal production values (in sharp contrast to modern films) but the acting and story lines are amazing and you’ll be hooked immediately.

For more contemporary setting, try Stuart Woods Foreign Affairs or The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman. You might also check out the movie When in Rome, a romantic comedy. And there’s always Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code (and yes, I know it’s mostly set in the Vatican but I’m still counting it). Remember, there are no Library Police! If you would prefer to read something set in Italy, or only a bit in Rome, go for it; it still counts!

As for me, I’m going to start by watching Roman Holiday with Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck. I’ve never seen this movie and figure it’s high time I fixed that. I’m also going to see about reading a book set in Rome – I’ll let you know how that goes.

Now, what about you? What are you going to read (or watch or listen to) this month?

Ciao!

Online Reading Challenge – Year End Wrap-Up

Hello Fellow Readers!

We’ve come to the end of another year and the end of the 2016 Online Reading Challenge. I hope you tried something new and found and enjoyed books you might not have otherwise. The main goal of our Reading Challenge is to have fun while expanding our horizons.

Did you read any Holiday themed books this month? I have to confess, I didn’t succeed this month. I tried a couple of titles, but found them dreadful (nothing really wrong with them, just not my cup of tea) and, with all of the other activities going on in December, I didn’t have a lot of time for leisurely reading (I did manage to read – and loved – A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman which I blogged about earlier this month, so it wasn’t a complete wash) Some months are like that though and now that the holidays are (nearly) over, I’m looking forward to lots more reading time.

Speaking of more time to read, have you seen the news about the 2017 Reading Challenge? We’re going to travel the world, reading about a different location each month. This time I encourage you to read any genre you’d like including non-fiction, and to watch movies or listen to music. It’s a chance to not only find great new authors and titles, but an opportunity to get a taste of a different culture. Bookmarks listing the lineup for the year will be available at each Davenport Library location beginning January 3rd and I’ll have updates on the blog each month with suggestions and ideas. Also beginning in January you’ll have a chance to sign up for a great new feature, the Info Cafe newsletter! Every few weeks we’ll send out a short newsletter that will highlight some of the most interesting recent blog posts and keep you updated on the Reading Challenge. Watch for more information next week!

Happy New Year from the bloggers at the Info Cafe! May your 2017 be filled with lots of great reading!

 

Online Reading Challenge Mid-Month Check

How is your Holiday reading going this month? Have you found time amid the hustle and bustle to enjoy a good book? Admittedly, it can be pretty hard in December, but remember, many of the best Holiday stories are quick, light reads, or children’s books with beautiful illustrations. And they almost always help get you in the holiday spirit!

Need some suggestions? Here are some new books that have just arrived in the past couple of weeks.

The Angel of Forest Hill by Cindy Woodsmall (NEW Romance) An Amish romance set in West Virginia, Rose comes to help Joel Dienner and his family after the death of the Joel’s wife and the mother of his three children. How Rose and Joel navigate a new relationship forged by need and come to love each other, against the backdrop of a snowy Christmas makes for a charming and gentel read.

A Shoe Addict’s Christmas by Beth Harbison (NEW Fiction) Accidentally locked into the department store she works at after it closes on Christmas Eve, Noelle is visited by a woman who claims to be her guardian angel. It’s “It’s a Wonderful Life” only with shoes and shopping!

The Mistletoe Murder by P.D. James (NEW Mystery) Here are four of P.D. James’ best short stories, originally commissioned to run in newspapers or magazines during the holidays. Just like her books, these stories are cunning and full of sly humor and two of them feature her most famous detective Adam Dalgliesh. A must read for any mystery fan.

The Twelve Dogs of Christmas by David Rosenfelt (NEW Mystery) When a simple dispute with a neighbor turns into a murder investigation, defense lawyer Andy Carpenter suddenly has his hands full and may be facing a dangerous killer. Puppies and Christmas and murder! What more could you want? (Well, not the murder part, please!)

Keep reading (it might be the only thing keeping me sane some days!) and Happy Holiday!

 

 

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?