Online Reading Challenge – October Wrap-Up

Hello Fellow Readers!

How was your October reading Challenge-Wise? I hope it was a good month for you.

I have to admit – I just about baled on this month. I just couldn’t get excited or interested in anything Mob or gangster related. But at the last minute I picked up a children’s/young adult book and, well, it was pretty good.

Al Capone Throws Me a Curve by Gennifer Choldenko is actually the fourth in the series and reading this one kind of makes me want to go back and read the first three! It’s not as dark and violent as say, The Godfather, but it also doesn’t sugar-coat or romanticize the criminals or what they’ve done.

“Moose” Flanagan lives on Alcatraz Island with his parents and his older sister Natalie where his father works as the assistant warden at the prison during the Great Depression. Natalie has many problems (what we would probably now diagnose as autistic) and her care puts a strain on the family and a lot of responsibility on Moose. There are other families with kids on the island including the Warden’s troublemaker daughter Piper and Moose’s friend Jimmy. Moose wants nothing more than to be a normal high school kid and to spend the summer playing baseball. Things aren’t always that simple though, especially when your home is on an island where some of the most notorious, dangerous criminals – including Al Capone – live.

The reality is that Moose spends a lot of time looking after Natalie, making sure she is safe and keeping her out of trouble. Moose is used to this and knows how to help her when she gets frustrated or frightened, but this summer it’s much harder. First he takes the blame for a big mistake that Natalie makes and when she gets lost and ends up inside the prison, he has to put everything on the line to get her out.

This book was a quick, fun read but it’s also full of insight – the family dynamics of caring for a special needs child, the love that Moose has for his sister, the price of trying to belong with the wrong people, the difficulty and rewards of growing up and letting go. There’s also a lot of interesting information about how the prison at Alcatraz operated, the social dynamics of the prisoners and the lives of the people working on the island. A great read!

Now it’s your turn – what did you read for October?





Online Reading Challenge – October

Welcome Readers!

Time for a new Reading Challenge. This month our film inspiration is The Godfather, often considered one of the best films ever made and phrases and scenes from it permeate American pop culture. Unusually, it’s sequel, The Godfather Part II, is usually ranked even higher.  While the original tended to romanticize the mob culture, Part II is unflinching in it’s dark portrayal of organized crime.

Hmmm. Kinda dark, right? There are quite a few well-written, interesting books set in this world. Hopefully there is one that grabs your interest. Here are a few titles to get you started.

The Godfather by Mario Puzo.

Gangster by Lorenzo Carcaterra

Road to Perdition by Max Allan Collins

I Heard You Paint Houses by Charles Brandt

Donnie Brasco: Unfinished Business by Joseph Pistone

The Firm by John Grisham

Al Capone and the 1933 World’s Fair: the End of the Gangster Era in Chicago by William Hazelgrove

The Girl She Used to Be by David Cristofano

I’m not sure what I’m going to read this month. I’m not really in the mood for dark, ruthless crime. Maybe I’ll opt for a movie this time instead!

We will have displays of books for this month at the library, so if you’re not sure what to read (or watch) stop in and browse the selection!

Online Reading Challenge – September Wrap-Up

Hello Readers!

How did your reading go this month? Did you find something to read inspired by You’ve Got Mail?

I read The Lions of Fifth Avenue by Fiona Davis which turned out to not only be fascinating, but something of a tense, twisty mystery. The majority of the story takes place inside the New York Public Library, offering a peek behind the scenes of this iconic building and it’s history.

Did you know that the New York Public Library had an apartment for the live-in custodian and his family? Many large public buildings (including libraries) that were built in the early part of the last century had them since maintenance of the coal burning furnaces required constant care. Can you imagine growing up in a library, with all of it’s treasures at hand? The apartments are now abandoned or used for storage; a few have been converted to programming space. Fiona Davis centers her story around the apartment in the New York Public Library and the (fictional) people connected to it in two different time periods.

In 1914, Laura Lyons is living in the New York Public Library apartment with her husband Jack and their two children, Harry and Pearl. Jack is the head custodian of the building which means he puts in long hours at work. In his free time he is pursuing his true passion – writing a novel.  Laura has ambitions too, of becoming a journalist, but society and lack of money keep her a virtual prisoner at home. When a chance to attend journalism school comes up, Laura seizes the opportunity despite the strain it puts on her home life. She discovers a group of women who are fighting for women’s rights and discussing radical political ideas causing Laura to see her life in a new light.  But while Laura’s world is expanding, several rare, valuable books disappear from the library’s collection and suspicion eventually falls on the Lyons family, leading to tragedy.

Woven around Laura’s story is that of Sadie Donovan in 1993, Laura’s granddaughter and temporary curator of the NYPL Berg Collection, an extremely valuable treasury of rare books and literary artifacts. Sadie is ambitious and hard-working but when books begin to disappear from the Berg Collection in the same mysterious way that they had in 1914, Sadie finds herself trapped by accusations in almost the same way as her grandparents. Desperate to clear her name, she searches for answers which may be hidden in her family’s past.

I enjoyed this book, especially the history and back room workings of the library. The mystery of the missing books is twisty and very tense, although somewhat convoluted. Sadie is not the warmest person and makes some questionable choices, but the search for the lost books – and what happened to her family – makes for un-put-downable reading.

Now it’s your turn – what did you read in September?

Online Reading Challenge – Mid-Month Check


How is your reading going this month? Have you been able to squeeze in some reading time? Reading is a great way to escape for a bit, but in this especially crazy time sometimes there just isn’t room for long, leisurely afternoons spent with a book. If you’re finding this to be the case, why not try a movie? A couple hours of relaxing can do you a world of good and won’t absorb all of your time. Here are a few that fit into our “You’ve Got Mail” rom-com theme this month.

Ghostbusters. Bill Murray. Ghosts. New York Public Library. Who you gonna call?

When Harry Met Sally. Nora Ephron. Meg Ryan. Billy Crystal. That iconic scene at Katz’s Deli.

My Big Fat Greek Wedding. Finding yourself. Falling in love. A crazy family.

13 Going on 30. Jennifer Garner dances to Thriller.

Coming to America. Eddie Murphy. African prince finds his match in Queens, New York.

Say Anything. John Cusack. That’s a boom box kids. That’s how we used to listen to music.

Mamma Mia! Amanda Seyfried. Meryl Streep. Way too much ABBA music.

The Proposal. Sandra Bullock. Ryan Reynolds. Fake wedding. Alaska. Betty White being raunchy.

Notting Hill. Hugh Grant. Julia Roberts. Just a girl, standing in front of a boy, asking him to love her.

Princess Bride. Robin Wright. Cary Elwes. Inconceivable! Prepare to die! As you wish.

Groundhog Day. Bill Murray. Andie MacDowell. Don’t drive angry!

Four Weddings and a Funeral. Hugh Grant. Andie MacDowell. Gorgeous flowers and charming churches.

And of course, You’ve Got Mail with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. Sweet, funny and Bentley the dog! It doesn’t get any better than this.

Online Reading Challenge – September

Challenge Readers! It’s September. Time for new Challenge choices. This month our film inspiration is: You’ve Got Mail starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan.

I’ve always loved this movie. Written by the great Nora Ephron, it is funny and sweet with interesting characters to root for. It’s also a love letter to New York City, which headlines the movie with glorious scenery and where everything is a little bit magical (and very clean). The movie has also become a source of nostalgia – pre-pandemic, pre-9-11, a less complicated, more innocent time (And dial-up internet! Do you remember dial-up internet?!)

For book choices you can go several ways – books taking place in New York City, books about enemies that become a couple, books that tell part of their story through email to books with classic rom-com elements. Here are a few ideas.

Time After Time by Lisa Grunwald – When Nora is transported from the 1920s to 1937 during the “Manhattanhenge” in Grand Central Terminal, she must learn to live a full life within massive limits.

City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert – A unique love story set during the the 1940s New York City theater world.

The City We Became by N.K. Jemisin. Magical realism where five New Yorkers must come together to save their city.

The Coincidence of Coconut Cake by Amy Reichert. A chef and a food critic fall in love without knowing who the other is.

The Hating Game by Sally Thorne.  For the executive assistants to the CEOs of a newly merged company, it’s hate at first sight. But over time, that begins to change…

Attachments by Rainbow Rowell. As an “internet security officer”, Lincoln must monitor the emails of employees but finds himself falling for one employee instead of turning them in.

Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple. Both hilarious and touching, this book is told through a series of letters and emails.

The Dollhouse by Fiona Davis. The Barbizon Hotel for Women in New York City was a safe haven for young women in the 1950s who were seeking adventure and independence in the big city.

I’m planning on reading The Lions of Fifth Avenue another historical novel by Fiona Davis. It’s set in the New York Public Library and alternates between two time lines. Should be fun!

What about you? What will you be reading this September?

Online Reading Challenge – August Wrap-UP

Hello Challenge Readers!

How was your August? Hmmm. Yeah, mine wasn’t great either. For one thing, it’s hard to read in the dark and for another, my DVD player doesn’t work without electricity! It’s been a crazy month in a crazy year! Let’s keep our fingers crossed for some calmer times.

I went a bit off the rails this month (surely I’m not the only one?) and did not finish Undaunted Courage by Stephen Ambrose as I had planned. Someday, I will finish it though! It’s interesting and thought-provoking but I think I needed something a little less intense. So instead, I watched a movie.

The Searchers starring John Wayne makes most “best Western movies” lists and many just plain “best movies” lists. I had never seen it or even heard of it and I’m not a rabid John Wayne fan so I kept my expectations low despite the glowing reviews. Turns out that was pretty smart on my part.

John Wayne plays Ethan Elliot, a Civil War veteran that has returned to his brother’s homestead in Texas three years after the war. He arrives with a burning hatred of all Native Americans and a forbidden love for his brother’s wife. While he’s away helping the Texas Rangers track some cattle thieves a Commanche war party attacks and burns the homestead to the ground, killing the family and kidnapping two of the young girls. Ethan goes after them, set on revenge and letting nothing stand in his way.

It’s not a terrible movie – in fact there is a lot to like. But in my opinion it hasn’t aged well. There is a lot of racism – pretty typical for Westerns and for the time period they portray, but unpleasant and jarring nonetheless, and the jokes are awkward and clumsy. Some of the actors seem to express a range of emotion by either shouting or shouting loudly.

The landscape and scenery are stunning and beautifully filmed but that brings up another issue. The movie was obviously filmed in Monument Valley, a spectacular region located in northern Arizona and southern Utah. Dozens and dozens of movies have been filmed here. The problem is, this is a pretty unique area, easily recognizable and limited to a specific location. Movies that tell you they’re taking place in Texas or New Mexico (like this one) but filmed in Monument Valley aren’t trying very hard to be realistic. It’s a minor point really and can the filmmakers can be forgiven, but it bugged me.

So how did your August reading go? Did you find something great to read or watch? Let us know in the comments below!

Everything is Figureoutable by Marie Forleo

Guest post by Kim C

I have found that this year, with all of the uncertainty in the world, has been a perfect time for some self-improvement. If you can’t change the way the world is going, at least you can work on changing yourself, right? Following up on a recommendation from a friend, I checked out Marie Forleo’s Instagram account for inspiration. Forleo stars in MarieTV and The Marie Forleo Podcast and runs a business training program to help entrepreneurs and business leaders achieve their goals.

And now she has written a book, Everything is Figureoutable. Forleo is from New Jersey and is proud of her heritage. She attributes this heritage to her motivational style; which is compassionate and friendly but also very direct and no-nonsense! This is not a book for anyone who is looking for excuses or permission to continue the status quo of his/her life. As the title says, and as Forleo repeats time after time throughout the book, everything is figureoutable and nothing should be allowed to stand in the way if you really want to achieve something.

While this is a catchy phrase and she encourages readers to adopt it as a mantra to keep them motivated, Forleo also illustrates her points with research, real-life examples, and her own experiences. This is a fact-based, actionable guide intended to instill optimism and determination in readers who are looking to make changes and meet goals.

Forleo has a very engaging writing style and the included written exercises are a must-do if you want to really benefit from this book. Everything is Figureoutable is the inspirational, optimistic book I needed this year. It might just be for you, as well.

Online Reading Challenge – Mid-Month Check-In

Hello Challenge Readers!

How is your August reading going? Have you found something you just can’t put down? Please let us know what you’re reading in the comments!

If you haven’t found a great book, or you’re running short of time, why not try a movie or television series? While Westerns don’t rule the tv screen or the movie theater like they once did, there are still plenty to choose from. Here is a sampling to give you some ideas.

Yellowstone starring Kevin Costner. A modern-day family saga centered on the largest ranch in the United States and the various threats the family must stand against.

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford with Brad Pitt follows the notorious criminal Jesse James and his downfall at the hands of Robert Ford.

For classics, try High Noon with Gary Cooper, True Grit with John Wayne or Fort Apache with Henry Fonda, John Wayne and Shirley Temple.  If your taste runs to Spaghetti Westerns, we have The Clint Eastwood Collection, packed with some of his most iconic Western roles.

If you’re feeling nostalgic, we also have some favorite television series available on DVD including Bonanza, Gunsmoke, Maverick , and The Virginian.


Online Reading Challenge – August

Hello Again Fellow Readers!

Here it is August – can you believe it? Time for a new Challenge. This month our film inspiration is Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, that iconic Western starring Paul Newman and Robert Redford.

[Please note: a lot of Western fiction has themes of racism, genocide, sexism and slavery to some degree. Unfortunately, it’s part of what makes up this genre. Please choose carefully and read with caution.]

There is no shortage of great books set in the American West from classic Western authors (Louis L’Amour, Zane Grey) to classic American novels (such as Willa Cather’s My Antonia) to modern favorites (like Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry or News of the World by Paulette Jiles, both of which I highly recommend)

There is also all kinds of great non-fiction such as Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee by Dee Brown, The Pioneers by David McCullough and Dreams of El Dorado: a History of the American West by H. W. Brands.

Interested in reading about some of the bad boys of the West? Try Dodge City: Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson, and the Wickedest Town in the American West by Thomas Clavin. Or would you like to delve into the gritty world of the cowboy? Then check out Cattle Kingdom: the Hidden History of the Cowboy West by Christopher Knowlton.

Do you like mysteries? If so, I highly recommend C.J. Box’s series about Joe Pickett, a game warden in modern day Wyoming.

And, for extra credit (not that anyone is counting!), the Figge Art Museum has a exhibit currently running that should be of interest: “Magnetic West: the Enduring Allure of the American West” which will run through September 20. Please note: the Figge is open again but due to COVID-19 they are limiting the number of people that can be in the building and requiring the purchase of a timed ticket which you can do online. Totally worth the extra step!

As for myself, I plan to read Undaunted Courage by Stephen Ambrose about the Lewis and Clark’s journey. OK, I admit, I’m cheating here a bit – I had started reading this a few months ago and had to set it aside before finishing. I do want to finish it though, and figure this would be the perfect time!

So, there are a smattering ideas for you – what do you plan to read? Remember, all three of our buildings are open again (limited to 30 minute visits), and curbside pick-up is available at Main and Eastern as is the drive-up window at Fairmount.

Have a great reading month!


Online Reading Challenge – July Wrap-Up

Hello Challenge Readers!

How did your baseball-themed reading/watching go this month? There are certainly lots of books and movies to choose from and, as a nice touch – professional baseball was actually played! Hurrah!

(So, how do you feel about the cardboard cutouts and the piped in crowd noises?  The Cubs got it right at Wrigley but  the Mets need do some work….)

For this month I read Calico Joe by John Grisham. I haven’t read a lot of Grisham, just a couple of his early titles, and I have to say, I wasn’t impressed with this one – very disappointing.

The story moves between the present and 1973 when 11-year old Paul Tracey was, like many little boys, completely enamored with baseball. Paul avidly followed his favorite teams and players, keeping scrapbooks and memorizing statistics. What should have made it better, even magical, was that his father Warren was a Major League pitcher with the New York Mets. Unfortunately, Warren was an abusive and uncaring father. His career was fading fast and he takes out his frustration on his family and Paul in particular.

What makes that summer better for Paul is the arrival of Joe Castle in the big leagues. He joins the Cubs in July and immediately makes an impact – a humble kid from the heart of the country with a golden bat. Paul is one of his biggest fans and Warren doesn’t like that. On a fateful day in August, Warren Tracey pitches against Joe and the Cubs and, in a fit of misplaced anger, hits Joe with a pitch. Neither of their careers or lives will ever be the same.

Some 30 years later, Paul tries to make sense of what happened and to reconcile those involved before it’s too late.

While Grisham is a good writer, crisp and clear and no-nonsense, I found that in this case, it didn’t engage me. There is a lot of baseball “language” here and lots of baseball statistics – beloved by baseball fans but cumbersome for the uninitiated. I felt that the emotional impact of the story was muted and distant when it should have been immediate and heartfelt, and it was predictable – I had pretty much figured out what was going to happen from the start. Nevertheless, if you’re a Grisham fan and a baseball fan, you’ll enjoy this book.

Now it’s your turn – what did you read in July?