Online Reading Challenge – September

Hello Fellow Challenge Readers!

Welcome to the September edition of the Online Reading Challenge! This month our spotlight author is: Ann Patchett!

Ann Patchett is one of my favorite authors. I love her smooth, unfussy writing style and the depth and complexity of her characters. The story lines and locations of her books are wide ranging, from the Amazonian rain forest to an unnamed South American capital to a family home in the suburbs, but while the locations are fascinating and integral to the plot, it’s the characters that really draw you in.

Because Patchett’s books are so varied in setting and subject, it’s hard to pin down authors that are exactly like her. Look for books centered on ordinary people facing difficult moral issues that examine how different people respond to significant events.

Plus, if you haven’t yet read any of Patchett’s books, I highly recommend that you choose of of hers! Bel Canto may be her most well-known book about a lavish party at an unnamed South American capital that is interrupted and held hostage by terrorists, or State of Wonder about a woman going to the Amazonian rainforest to search for her missing colleague and a controversial scientist. Her most recent book is The Dutch House, an intriguing look at a complex family dynamic and the grand house at the center of their dramas.

Patchett also wrote Truth and Beauty, a non-fiction account of her friendship with poet Lucy Grealy who suffered from a disfiguring disease and struggled with addiction and depression. A portion of the book takes place in Iowa City where they were both enrolled in the Iowa Writer’s Workshop.

If you’ve already read all of Ann Patchett’s books, or would like to try someone else, here are a few suggestions.

In the Midst of Winter by Isabel Allende

The Immortalists by Chole Benjamin

My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout

Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver

At the Water’s Edge by Sara Gruen

The Most Fun We Ever Had by Claire Lombardo

Don’t forget, we’ll have displays of Ann Patchett books and read alikes at all three Davenport library buildings.

I am planning on reading A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles about a Russian aristocrat who is sent to live in a hotel room for life. It has been highly recommended to me by more than one person, so I’m hoping for a great reading experience!

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

Online Reading Challenge – August Wrap-Up

Hello Readers!

How did your August Challenge reading go? Did you find a fun, action-packed David Baldacci or similar book to read?

Here is my confession. I didn’t particularly like the book by David Baldacci that I read, and I’m not really interested in trying another. I can understand, though, why he is so popular – lots of gritty action, a flawed but righteous hero, corruption and wrong-doing stopped at the last possible moment. The plots are complex (convoluted?) and the action is non-stop. Great escape fiction, but not what I wanted to read right now!

I read The Innocent which introduces Will Robie, a paid assassin working for a clandestine, secret government organization. Robie is a loner, keeping himself apart from “ordinary” people living everyday lives. Each job is delivered to him via flash drive, all equipment (i.e. guns) that he’ll need are waiting for him at his destination, his exit route already outlined. Robie plans each job meticulously, studying the location and all possible escape routes in detail. When the job is done and he moves on to the next, he doesn’t think again about his target (or targets). It’s a job with clear parameter’s and no regrets.

Everything changes when he is tasked with killing a mother of two young children, a woman that has no obvious ties to global wrong-doing. When his back-up finished the job for him (killing one of the children as well as the woman), Robie breaks away, saves the second child then goes on the run. He has multiple escape plans, a safe house unknown to the agency and a fast track to disappear. Again, his plan is interrupted when he encounters another person on the run – Julie, a 14-year-old runaway who has just witnessed the murder of her parents and is hiding from the murderer. At first reluctantly, then as a team, the two work together to find the people who want them dead.

Ok, I think I missed a couple of twists and turns, and for a story about two loners this book had a lot of added characters, many with mysterious names (The Blue Man). It did deliver on action though and, while not necessarily my cup of tea, it was hard to put down.

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

One, Two Three by Laurie Frankel

Laurie Frankel’s new book, One Two Three  examines love and loyalty, how to let go of the past and how to move toward a new future, all through the eyes and actions of three sisters (triplets) in this lovely, bittersweet story of one family and how they cope with disaster.

17 years ago, the tiny town of Bourne became briefly famous when its water turned green and was declared unfit for use.  Belsum Chemical Plant was forced to close but was never held responsible. High concentrations of cancer, birth defects and neurological disorders wasn’t considered enough to convict the company in court. Belsum disappeared, leaving the town and it’s citizens broken, to cope with the lingering damage on their own.

Three sisters are born here as the disaster is unfolding. Mab, Monday and Mirabel are very different from each other but understand each other on an almost telepathic level. When Belsum Chemical makes plans to return to Bourne, promising jobs but no further regulations, the sisters and their mother fight back. But what can a girl in love with the son of the family who owns the chemical plant, a neuro-diverse girl with autism and a girl confined to a wheelchair who cannot speak do? Each are brilliant in their own way and together they create a fearsome opponent.

I really enjoyed this book. There is a lot of humor and heart in the story, from the way the townspeople support and accept each other to the way the girls’ mother loves and tends to each one. The sisters are amazing – it’s fun to watch them blossom and become their own person, yet stay connected to each other. Each girl has a voice in the book, with the multiple chapters rotating between them, One, Two and Three (their names for each other) which gives you different viewpoints of what is happening as they campaign for the chemical plant to do right by them and the town. Highly recommended.

Radar Girls by Sara Atkinson

Here is a World War II story with a slightly different point-of-view – that of the women who monitored the radar stations in Hawaii in Sara Atkinson’s Radar Girls.

The Japanese attack Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 shattered the quiet, isolated world of Hawaii in a few, terrifying minutes. Battleships lay in ruins, hundreds were dead and the fears of an imminent second attack were very real. Suddenly, the United States was at war and Hawaii was on the leading edge.

Daisy Wilder and her mother live in a ramshackle house on the beach near Pearl Harbor. The attack turns their lives upside down – her mother leaves for the mainland while Daisy stays behind so that she can join the WARDS, the Woman’s Air Raid Defense System who become known as the Radar Girls.

Daisy, along with dozens of other women recruited into the WARDS, help guide pilots onto blacked out air-strips and track unidentified aircraft across the Pacific. The job requires a lot of skills in mathematics and mapping, as well as the ability to stay calm under pressure, to work quickly in difficult conditions and to work long hours. The women that join the WARDS are a diverse group from many different backgrounds, but despite differences, they come together to form an unbreakable bond.

Against the background of the work the women are doing, there are several other stories – a romance between Daisy and the son of a wealthy rancher which seems doomed from the start, the search for a lost horse, the fear and concern those left on the island have for the men that are fighting. There is a lot of tension and buildup for the battle of Midway, one of the most dangerous and important naval battles of the war.

I really enjoyed the setting of this book, especially the descriptions of Hawaii and it’s people and culture. You can almost see the ocean and feel the breeze on the beach. I also appreciated learning more about another lesser known aspect of the war effort that was actually a key component to eventual victory.

Take a Road Trip this Summer!

When I was growing up my family would take a vacation every August, visiting National Parks and historic sites. Road tripping is a great way to see and appreciate this country, its beauty and diversity. I have lots great memories of these trips and feel fortunate to have seen and traveled across so much of the United States and Canada.

As we (cautiously) come out of quarantine, you may be feeling the itch to travel again, but still not sure about flying yet. Why not take a road trip? These books will show you the way.

The Road Trip Survival Guide by Rob Taylor. This handy little book has all the essential information – planning, packing, food (there’s nothing quite like road trip snacks!) and safety with lots of practical tips. It’s filled with ideas such as figuring out how many days to take (always schedule some wiggle room), coming up with a theme for your trip – for instance, follow a Historic Trail such as Lewis and Clark or the US Civil Rights trails or go looking for Epic Tallest Trees (Washington, Oregon, California), recipes for snacks and ideas meals, and how to handle the inevitable problems (no vacation is without at least one!)

The second half of this book has several suggested itineraries which you can either follow or use as a jumping off point. There are ten for the United States, five for Canada and three for Mexico. They cover everything from rural to city, east coast to west. The emphasis is on exploring the outdoors and smaller cities and places that are a little off the beaten path. All of them are family friendly with recommendations for economical food (visit local supermarkets for snacks and lunches) and lodging (stay in smaller towns when possible) If you were hesitant about hitting the road, this book will get you out there with confidence!

If you’re stumped for where to go and what to do, check out Travel North America (and Avoid Being a Tourist) by Jeralyn Gerba and Pavia Rosati. This book is chock full of fun and off-beat travel ideas. The emphasis is on low-impact travel, slowing down and giving back. There’s a chapter on spas and retreats (“the woo-woo ways”), another on choosing a destination by season (wildflowers in spring, the Northern Lights in winter), several road trip itineraries based on a theme (American southwest for art pilgrims), exploring lesser known gems of several cities and practical ideas for traveling with others (“how to travel in a group – without being a jerk”), not just with kids but with elderly members of the family as well.  In addition, this book is loaded with great photos – you’ll be dreaming of and planning several trips in no time!

 

 

Online Reading Challenge – August

Hello Fellow Readers!

New month, new author for our Reading Challenge. This month’s author is : David Baldacci!

There will be no shortage of authors that are similar to Baldacci and, for that matter, no shortage of David Baldacci books to read. He has written 40 novels for adults (and that number keeps growing). He has several different series with recurring main characters, but they all have some of the same elements in common – a gritty thriller with lots of action, a main character that is usually a loner and often an ex-cop or ex-CIA or ex-military.  There’s a mystery that needs to be solved, requiring the main characters special skills/persistence/past history. These make great “beach reads” that don’t require much deep thinking but are fun and quick to read.

If you’ve already read everything by David Baldacci and/or you’d like to branch out, here’s a list of similar authors – all of which are pretty popular in their own right.

James Patterson

Lee Child

Brad Thor

Michael Connelly

Tess Gerritsen

Patricia Cornwell

Walter Mosley

Brad Meltzer

Daniel Silva

Harlen Coben

Iris Johansen

Kathy Reichs

There will be displays at all three Library locations with lots of titles to choose from.

I’ve actually never read anything written by David Baldacci, so I’m going to try one of his books. There are almost too many to choose from and opinions on each title swing from “the best book ever” to “Baldacci has lost his touch, this was terrible”! I finally settled on The Innocent, the first in his series about Will Robie, who is a “master assassin”. Hmmmm. Not so sure about this, but I’ll give it a try.

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

Online Reading Challenge – July Wrap-Up

Hello Challengers!

How did your reading go this month? Did you enjoy reading a Jodi Picoult book, or maybe one of the read-alikes?

For this month’s challenge I read Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult. It covers a difficult subject (which is typical of most of Picoult’s books) but it was also fascinating, engaging and thoughtful and it takes the time to look at the issues from both sides. I’m still thinking about this story days after finishing it.

Nineteen minutes is all it takes for Peter Houghton to walk into his small town high school, kill 10 students, wound many others and completely change the course of hundreds of lives. Why did Peter go on this rampage, what was the trigger that sent him to the school that day with loaded guns and how do those left behind move on?

Always sensitive and nerdy, Peter has been relentlessly bullied throughout school. At home he lives in his recently deceased brother’s shadow who was everything he is not – athletic and popular. His best friend abandons him to join the popular crowd, the cruelty of the bullying escalates and the school administration is unwilling/unable to help beyond platitudes. Humiliated in front of the entire school, Peter sees no way out.

So, who is at fault? Is Peter a monster or misunderstood? Are his parents at fault – did they give him too much attention or not enough? Was it the school that stated no tolerance for bullying, but tended to look the other way when it involved popular kids or jocks? Was it Peter’s fellow students who, even if they didn’t condone the bullying, did nothing to discourage it and even participated?

This book is often difficult to read. While descriptions of the actual shooting are not graphic and are scattered in small bits throughout the book, Picoult does not mince on the horror and fear. Peter is sometimes a sympathetic character – the constant bullying is very difficult to read – but he is also  sullen and withdrawn and unpleasant. Many people in the town blame Peter’s parents and yet, they’re as confused and grief stricken as everyone else, blaming themselves and yet not know what they could have done to prevent the shooting. The court trial is tense and dramatic as more and more evidence is presented and people are forced to confront the fact that their small, quiet town is far from perfect or safe.

Well written and with multiple point-of-views, Nineteen Minutes would make an ideal book club book with lots of discussion points. Because there has been so many of similar school shootings in the news over the past decade, I would recommend that you read this with caution. It is, however, well worth reading.

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

 

PGA Tour 2K21 Video Game

guest post by Anthony

When I was a kid I loved playing the Tiger Woods PGA Tour golf games but it has been quite a while since I last played one. I’ve been an avid golfer for most of my life though I’ve fallen off a little bit over the last couple of years. This summer I’ve been making an effort to get out on the course a lot more often and it’s been fun to get back into one of my favorite hobbies. It has been so much fun in fact than in addition to playing golf in real life I’ve also been eager to get back into playing virtual golf as well. PGA Tour 2K21 is the more recent golf simulation game that has come out and I’ve been really enjoying my time with it.

The game looks amazing with a multitude of real life PGA Tour courses on offer, including our local TPC Deere Run which hosts the John Deere Classic over in Silvis, Illinois.  The team behind the game scanned all 15 of the real courses from the game so all the bunkers, water hazards, and fairways match their real life counterparts. The visuals and sound effects do a lot to showcase the beautiful courses and the gameplay mechanics make it almost as much fun to play as real golf. Swinging a golf club in the game is intuitive and when you make mistakes it is easy to see what you did wrong, something that is not quite as easy to figure out in real life.

The game has a couple of main modes. The two biggest are the PGA Tour mode were you create a golfer than work your way up from the Korn Ferry Tour to the PGA Tour, while unlocking new gear, clothes, and sponsors along the way. This is the main mode that I’ve been playing and I’ve been having a lot of fun with it. The other main mode is multiplayer. I’ve played a couple of games online with friends and it plays just like single player does, just with other humans instead of the computer. It’s fun to be able to play on a bunch of tournament level courses that I will likely never have the opportunity to play on in real life. I can play them a lot better in PGA Tour 2K21 than I probably could in real life as well.

PGA Tour 2K21 is available on Nintendo Switch and XBox One.

Online Reading Challenge – July

Greetings Challenge Readers!

It’s time for a new Author in our Challenge and this month it’s: Jodi Picoult!

A popular and prolific writer, Picoult will be on many favorite author lists. Picoult is a good storyteller, easily drawing the reader into her books which usually tackle difficult ethical dilemmas that throw ordinary families into extraordinary situations. A prolific author, some of her most popular titles include My Sister’s Keeper (organ donation), Nineteen Minutes (a school shooting), Small Great Things (racism), A Spark of Light (hostage situation) and Vanishing Acts (parental kidnapping). In each, Picoult is able to present a balanced view, trying to understand various points-of-view which lift them beyond good vs evil. They provide a great insight into some of the most troubling issues of our time.

There is no shortage of great books that tackle difficult topics. If you’ve already read everything by Picoult and/or would like to try a similar author, check out one of these titles. There will also be displays at all three buildings with these titles and more to consider.

This is How It Always Is by Frankel (transgender child)

Things You Save in a Fire by Katherine Center (aging parents)

Dear Edward by Ann Napoliano (lone plane crash survivor)

Black and Blue by Anna Quindlen (domestic abuse)

Evvie Drake Starts Over by Linda Holmes (widowhood)

Midwives by Chris Bohjalian (medical trial)

The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff (polygamy)

All Fall Down by Jennifer Weiner (addiction recovery)

Summerland by Elin Hilderbrand (fatal car crash)

While these may seem to all be very depressing, in fact all of them offer hope and are a great way to understand a situation you may never encounter, but has affected others deeply.

I am planning on reading Nineteen Minutes about a school shooting, an event that has become far too common in the last few years. It was a hard decision though, as many of Picoult’s books are intriguing.

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

Online Reading Challenge – June Wrap-Up

Hello Fellow Readers!

We’re halfway through the year – how is your Challenge going? Did you find something good to read during this month of Alice Hoffman?

I chose to read The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman. Although it was written after Practical Magic (one of Hoffman’s most popular books) this one actually takes place chronologically  before Practical Magic begins. In The Rules of Magic we learn a little more about the curse that haunts the Owens family, about the aunt that helped raise Jet and Franny (and their brother Vincent) who in turn one day will be tasked with raising Gillian and Sally whose story will unfold in Practical Magic.

Members of the Owens family possess magic and trying to deny it or hide from it will not save them from the family curse, that everything they love will leave them. Jet and Franny and Vincent’s parents work hard to make the siblings hide their magic, but it persists in each of them, just below the surface. One summer, when they’re young teens, their mother allows them to spend the summer with their Aunt Isabelle at the family home place in a rural town. At first they miss Manhattan, but they soon discover that their magic is growing stronger and that their aunt is happy to encourage them. It becomes a summer of rebellion and revelation as they each begin to find how to live with their legacy.

In time, despite their best efforts, each sibling falls in love and for each one, in one way or another, the family curse prevails. But isn’t that part of everyone’s life, that we seek out love, that we love recklessly and without regret and that someday, maybe today, maybe years from now, that love will no longer be with us.

It has been several years since I read Practical Magic and I wasn’t sure I would be able to make a connection, but I found this book can stand pretty much on it’s own. The writing is lyrical, which sounds kind of pretentious, but describes it best – Hoffman evokes the mysterious, tangled atmosphere of Isabelle’s house as well as the depth of emotions the characters feel with the same delicate touch, never maudlin but always real. In many ways, I found this book to be sad with so much heartbreak and sacrifice but also, ultimately, hopeful that the legacy of the past passes on to the next generation and the sacrifices made were worth the pain. As Hoffman concludes, “the only remedy for love is to love more”. A beautiful book.

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