Online Reading Challenge – October

Hello! Welcome to the October edition of the Online Reading Challenge!

This month our focus author is Philippa Gregory!

Gregory is best known for historical fiction, especially novels set in England during the Plantagenet and Tudor eras. This is a period of time that is especially ripe for novelists – Henry and his multiple wives, the religious wars, the constant struggle for the crown and the lives of powerful and important people. Gregory’s books usually look at these turbulent times from a woman’s point-of-view. Often dismissed or misunderstood, the women have a different understanding of what actually happened beyond historical dates and famous battles.

While Gregory follows historical timelines, she sometimes speculates with alternative theories of what actually happened behind closed doors. This makes for fascinating and interesting reading, but remember to read these as fiction, not irrefutable fact!

Gregory’s Tudor series is probably her most popular, following each of Henry the VIII’s wives. I especially liked The Other Boleyn Girl which is told from the point-of-view of Anne Boleyn’s sister, who had been Henry’s mistress before he married Anne (so tangled!) Mary Boleyn was a real person who bore Henry two children, but was set aside when his interest turned to Anne.

If you’ve read everything by Gregory or would like to try another author, there are some very good ones to check out including Hilary Mantel, Sharon Kay Penman, Allison Weir and Tracy Chevalier.  If you prefer mysteries you might try the Shardlake mystery series by C.J. Sansom or hunt down The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey. It’s an older book that attempts to solve the mystery of the Princes in the Tower; it’s very good and well worth borrowing. And if you want something a little lighter and lots of fun, I highly recommend My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, an alternate history of Lady Jane Grey that is simply delightful.

Of course, you can choose to read a historical novel from any time period or country you wish – be the boss of your online book club!

I am planning on reading A Perilous Alliance by Fiona Buckley, one from her Ursula Blanchard mystery series. Ursula is distantly related to Queen Elizabeth and helps the Queen’s advisors with some spying and occasional detective work.

Now it’s your turn – what will you be reading in October?

 

Online Reading Challenge – September Wrap-Up

Hello Challenge Readers!

How did your month of Ann Patchett Read Alikes go? Did you find a great new book to read, or was this an off month for you?

I’ve already read several of Patchett’s books, so I decided to go with a Read Alike. I chose A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles and it was a great choice. It’s a story that has stuck with me long after finishing it and one I’d recommend to anyone.

A Gentleman in Moscow opens in 1920 at the trial of Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov. He is found guilty of writing a poem in 1913 that might possibly be interpreted as a call to action against the Russian Revolution and is sentenced to house arrest at the Metropol Hotel (where he was already living) for the rest of his life. At first he is unconcerned – he has a luxurious suite at the hotel, one of the finest in Russia and believes he will be quite comfortable. However, when he arrives at his suite, he finds all of his personal belongings being packed up – he is being moved to a single small room in the attic. He is allowed to take a few pieces of furniture, his clothes and a few personal mementos but must leave the trappings of his previous life behind.

Instead of falling into melancholy over his new circumstances, the Count chooses to master the situation instead and make the best of things. The Metropol was (and is to this day), one of the finest in Russia and the Count is able to carve out a comfortable if restricted life. He makes friends (and an enemy or two), finds a measure of safety and purpose amongst the swirling chaos that is Russia post-Revolution.

At first glance, you might think this will be a very sad and depressing book. After all, the main character must give up his freedom, his family heirlooms and his ancestral home. Instead, it is full of gentle humor, upbeat stories and exciting adventures. There is a lot of wisdom in how the Count conducts his life, and lessons that are relevant to any life. Highly recommended.

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

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?

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?

 

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?

Online Reading Challenge – June

Hello hello!

Time for a new author exploration in our Online Reading Challenge. This month our author is: Alice Hoffman!

A popular and prolific author, Hoffman books always include a bit of magic. It’s often understated, and sometimes doesn’t appear immediately, but it runs through each title like a vein of gold. Some of her best loved titles include Practical Magic, The World That We Knew, The Dovekeepers and The Marriage of Opposites.

If you would like to read something by a different author, look for books with some magical realism and/or female relationships. Some titles to consider include:

House of Spirits by Isabel Allende

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Amiee Bender

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by A.E. Schwab

In Five Years by Rebecca Serle

The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin

The Life of Pi by Yann Martel

Chocolat by Joanne Harris

Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Morena-Garcia

Lots of great choices! There will also be displays at both Fairmount and Eastern with titles to consider.

I am planning on reading The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman, which is a prequel to Practical Magic. It’s been a long time since I read Practical Magic, so I’m hoping this one can be read as a stand-alone. I will let you know how it goes!

 

Online Reading Challenge – May Wrap-Up

Greetings Fellow Readers!

Here we are at the end of May already. How did your reading go this month? Did you find a Toni Morrison book or similar author to read this month?

I read Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi which turned out to be an excellent choice. It tells the story  of half-sisters Effia and Esi, born in Africa. Unknown to each other,  their lives take very different paths. Effia is married off to a white man, the British officer in charge of the Cape Coast Castle, the trading post where slaves were housed until sent West. While her life is relatively comfortable, she torn between two worlds – not entirely African anymore and not welcome in English society.

Meanwhile, Esi is captured, sold into slavery and sent to America, her life becoming a nightmare of constant hardship. After she is captured, Esi is held in the dungeons of the Cape Coast Castle with dozens of other women. She raped, beaten, nearly starved and lives in filthy conditions until a ship is ready to sail. Life as an enslaved person in America is no better.

Both women struggle to raise their children with a love and understanding of their African roots, passing along the oral history of their family and their people. Each generation that comes after these women must also struggle with the terrible legacy of slavery – of the responsibility for it (on Effia’s side) and the suffering, emotional and physical, of living it (on Esi’s side).

This is a powerful story, told by a bold and courageous voice. While the writing does not have the ethereal quality of Morrison’s, it is magical in it’s own way. The stories jump forward through time, describing a pivotal moment in the life of a member of each family each generation, then moving on to the next generation, creating a face-paced but vivid picture of struggles and triumphs. The long-lasting affects of slavery and racism are especially eye-opening and heartbreaking. A powerful story of tragedy and resilience. Highly recommended.

Now it’s your turn. What did you read this month?