Online Reading Challenge – September

Hello Readers!

Welcome to the September edition of the Online Reading Challenge! This month we’re exploring alternative histories and viewing history from a different perspective. Some of the featured titles and those you’ll find in displays at our buildings look at a historical event with a key factor changed (What If the Nazi’s had won? What If Lincoln had lived?), others take an individual’s life and examine what might have happened if they had made different choices. All of them help open your mind to how one decision may have changed a life, or all of history.

Our main title this month is the delightful My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, a rollicking, white-knuckle adventure set in Tudor England. Edward is the King of England. He’s also dying, which is inconvenient, as he’s only sixteen and he’d rather be planning his first kiss than who will inherit his crown. Jane, Edward’s cousin, is far more interested in books than romance. Unfortunately, Edward has arranged to marry her off to Gifford secure the line of succession. And Gifford is, well, a horse. That is, he an Eðian (eth-y-un, for the uninitiated) who becomes a chestnut steed every morning, but wakes as a man at dusk, with a mouthful of hay. Very undignified. The plot thickens as the three are drawn into a dangerous conspiracy, and have to engage in some conspiring of their own. But can they pull off their plan before it’s off with their heads? Highly recommended.

This title is also available as an eaudiobook and as a book on CD.

Other titles in our Book Flight include Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead. Cora is a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. Life is hell for all the slaves, but especially bad for Cora; an outcast even among her fellow Africans, she is coming into womanhood—where even greater pain awaits. When Caesar, a recent arrival from Virginia, tells her about the Underground Railroad, they decide to take a terrifying risk and escape. Though they manage to find a station and head north, they are being hunted. In Whitehead’s ingenious conception, the Underground Railroad is no mere metaphor – engineers and conductors operate a secret network of tracks and tunnels beneath the Southern soil. Cora and Caesar’s first stop is South Carolina, in a city that initially seems like a haven. But the city’s placid surface masks an insidious scheme designed for its black denizens. And even worse: Ridgeway, the relentless slave catcher, is close on their heels. 

This title is also available as an ebook, an eaudiobook and as a book on CD.

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susan Clarke. In the midst of the Napoleonic Wars in 1806, most people believe magic to have long since disappeared from England – until the reclusive Mr. Norrell reveals his powers and becomes an overnight celebrity. Another practicing magician then emerges: the young and daring Jonathan Strange. He becomes Norrell’s pupil, and the two join forces in the war against France. But Strange is increasingly drawn to the wild, most perilous forms of magic, and he soon risks sacrificing his partnership with Norrell and everything else he holds dear.

First Impressions by Charles Lovett. Book lover and Austen enthusiast Sophie Collingwood has recently taken a job at an antiquarian bookshop in London when two different customers request a copy of the same obscure book: the second edition of A Little Book of Allegories by Richard Mansfield. Their queries draw Sophie into a mystery that will cast doubt on the true authorship of Pride and Prejudice—and ultimately threaten Sophie’s life.

As always, you can find displays of these titles and many more at each of our Davenport Library locations!

Online Reading Challenge – August Wrap-Up

Hello Readers,

How did your reading go this month? Did you find something amazing?

Our main title this month was The Library Book by Susan Orlean and while, as expected, it had a lot to do about libraries and books, it is so much more than that. There is a lot about the history of Los Angeles, which in many ways is the history of the western United States. It is filled with interesting characters, from crazy directors to “unique” patrons (the reference librarian that tells about helping a person who later turned out to be the infamous Night Strangler was rather chilling). And of course, there is a lot about the fire that nearly destroyed the LA Main library in 1984. I was especially fascinated by the descriptions of fire science and firefighting and how the structure of the building plus the huge amount of fuel (books!) that was present.

The best part though is Orlean describing how the community came together to save what they could from the fire and how much it meant to people of many different backgrounds. Realizing that the library was on fire, citizens spontaneously formed lines to carry books out, bucket-brigade-style, trying to save as much as they could.

“It was as if, in this urgent moment, the people of Los Angeles formed a living library. They created, for that short time, a system to protect and pass along shared knowledge, to save what we know for each other, which is what libraries do every day.”

The idea that libraries act as community centers, “of the rare role libraries play, to be a government entity, a place of knowledge, that is nonjudgmental, inclusive, and fundamentally kind” is the message that runs throughout this book. Well written, filled with fascinating stories, this book is highly recommended.

What did you read this month? Did you find that books and reading draw people together, either immediately or across time? Was reading a positive influence, or can it also cause division? How do books (and stories) keep history and memories alive?

Be sure to share your observations on this month’s Book Flight in the comments below!

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

Reminiscent of Jean Eyre and Wuthering Heights, The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield is filled with the misty landscapes of Yorkshire, mysterious events, possible hauntings and shocking family secrets. It is a Gothic novel set in contemporary times.

The book opens when Margaret Lea, a young woman who has done some freelance writing and works in her father’s book shop receives a letter from a famous writer, Vida Winter. Ms Winter has never told the truth about her life, spinning a new story with every interview. Now nearing the end of her life, she wants to tell the real story and she wants Margaret to write her biography.

At first skeptical that Winter will now tell the truth, and wondering why she – a young, little know writer – was chosen, Margaret makes the trip to Yorkshire to meet with the reclusive Winter. True to a Gothic setting, the weather is damp and gloomy and Winter’s house is large and imposing. Winter is imperious and demanding, but she does indeed tell Margaret the truth of her past, spinning one story after another.

We meet the twins Adeline and Emmeline, whose parentage is murky. They live in isolation with their mother and uncle in a decaying mansion above the village. The local people describe the family as “odd” and “not quite right” and the twins, who run wild, indulge in dangerous and even cruel acts. A doctor and a governess take an interest in the twin’s behavior which ends in disaster. As more and more servants leave and the house continues to collapse, a fire breaks out and all is lost. Or has something – or someone – survived?

Margaret is haunted by her own twin story and feels the wrench of losing her sibling. The mysteries and atmosphere surrounding Ms Winter’s house play on Margaret’s mind and she becomes obsessed with the tragedies of the past.

This is a fascinating book that is hard to put down. The twins were pretty creepy, which suited the story perfectly. There is plenty of tension and twists – I never saw the final surprise coming, although it fit with what had happened. With a dramatic and satisfying conclusion, this would be a great book to curl up with on a dark and stormy night.

If you are taking part in the Online Reading Challenge this year, this book is a good choice for our August theme of reading and stories and how they connect us.

 

 

 

Online Reading Challenge – August

Readers! Welcome to the August edition of the Online Reading Challenge. This month we cover one of our favorite topics – books and how reading can create connection and community.

The Main Title this month is The Library Book by Susan Orleans. I loved this book – it’s so well written, covers a wide range of topics and there’s lots of action. Of course, it was especially interesting to me because of the library connection, but there’s lots packed in here, including fire science, history and crime. A dazzling love letter to a beloved institution—and an investigation into one of its greatest mysteries. On the morning of April 28, 1986, a fire alarm sounded in the Los Angeles Public Library. As the moments passed, the patrons and staff who had been cleared out of the building realized this was not the usual fire alarm. The fire was disastrous: it reached 2000 degrees and burned for more than seven hours. By the time it was extinguished, it had consumed four hundred thousand books and damaged seven hundred thousand more. Investigators descended on the scene, but more than thirty years later, the mystery remains: Did someone purposefully set fire to the library—and if so, who? 

This title is also available in Large Print, Book-on-CD and as an ebook.

Alternate titles in this month’s Book Flight are:

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Ann Shaffer. In 1946, as London emerges from the shadow of World War II, author Juliet Ashton is having a terrible time finding inspiration for her next book. Then she receives a letter from Guernsey Island, and learns of a unique book club formed on the spur of the moment as an alibi to protect its members from arrest by the occupying Germans during the war. Captivated, she sets sail for Guernseyand what she finds there will change her life forever.

Also available in Large Print and as an ebook.

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. In a society in which books are outlawed, Montag, a regimented fireman in charge of burning the forbidden volumes, meets a revolutionary school teacher who dares to read. Suddenly he finds himself a hunted fugitive, forced to choose not only between two women, but between personal safety and intellectual freedom.

Also available as a Book-on-CD and as an ebook.

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield. When her health begins failing, the mysterious author Vida Winter decides to let Margaret Lea, a biographer, write the truth about her life, but Margaret needs to verify the facts since Vida has a history of telling outlandish tales. A compelling emotional mystery about family secrets and the magic of books and storytelling. 

Also available as an e-audiobook and in Large Print.

Look for these books and many others on display at each of our buildings.

Online Reading Challenge – July Wrap-Up

Hello fellow Reading Fans!

How did your reading go for the July Online Reading Challenge? Not surprisingly, July was a pretty tough month. Reading about the Holocaust – even about people who survived the nightmare – is emotionally exhausting. As horrible as it is though, it’s important that we remember. We cannot become complacent and ever believe that “it can’t happen here” or think that mankind is not capable of mass cruelty.

I read the main title this month, We Were the Lucky Ones by Georgia Hunter. This book, set in the very center of the horrors of World War II, there is optimism and hope and pure, gritty endurance. As difficult as it is to read about what happened, there is a thread of belief to hang onto – it’s right there in the title.

Sol and Nechuma Kurc and their five adult children live in Radom, Poland located just south of Warsaw. The Kurc’s are affluent and hard-working, respected in the community, well-educated and sophisticated. None of this matters when Germany invades Poland in 1939. The Kurcs’ watch with disbelief as more and more restrictions are placed on Jews, then persecution and outright cruelty. The family begins to separate as the siblings and their spouses leave to join the Polish Army or seek better conditions in Lodz or are trapped beyond the Polish border. They are desperate to keep in contact, but as the war descends on them. it becomes impossible. Flung as far as Siberia, Tel Aviv and Rio de Janeiro family members face starvation, imprisonment, fierce battles and betrayal but never stop searching for each other.

Based on the true story of the experience of the author’s grandfather, this book is a page-turner as the family struggles to survive by courage, smarts and sheer dumb luck – whatever it takes to make it one more day. Highly recommended.

What did you learn from the book you read this month? Would you have had the strength to keep living under such horrible conditions? What did the importance of family hold for the characters? What about people who may have helped the Germans – usually under threat of death – were they collaborators, or were they doing whatever they could to survive? How can we fight such blatant racism and mass genocide today – has humankind learned from the past?

Be sure to share your observations on this month’s Book Flight in the comments below!

The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris

Lale Sokolav, a Jew from Slovenia, is sent to the Auschwitz concentration camp in April, 1942 as part of the Nazi’s “final solution”. The Tattooist of Auschwitz follows Lale on his harrowing journey where, despite the fear and danger he is able to survive and even find a reason to survive.

When Lale first enters Auschwitz he is subjected to the same horror of forced labor, very little food and filthy living conditions as all the prisoners, but when his captors discover that he is fluent in several languages he is given a “promotion” as “Tatowierer” – the tattooist. He is now responsible for permanently marking numbers on the arms of his fellow Jews as they enter the camp. While is is horrified and sickened by his role in their misery, Lale is determined to survive.

Because he is the Tattooist, Lale has some additional privileges – he has his own room and he is able to move around the camp without too much suspicion so long as he carries his bag of tattoo supplies with him. He uses this privilege to collect money and jewels that other prisoners have secretly kept that were found in the clothes of the people who have been murdered. He then then exchanges these for food and medicine from a local workman who comes to the camp each day, building more barracks.

One day, while Lale is tattooing the arms of young women, he falls in love. Her name is Gita and Lale is determined that they will both survive and create a life together beyond the nightmare they are now living. Despite Lale’s status as the “Tatowierer” he still faces many horrific and dangerous situations (sometimes through his own foolishness) and he is haunted by his role in German hands – is he a collaborator? Or simply doing whatever it takes to survive?

Based on a true story, this is a powerful book on many levels, one that is both horrible and thoughtful and optimistic.

If you are taking part in the Online Reading Challenge this year, this book is a good choice for our July theme of surviving the Holocaust.

Online Reading Challenge – July

Hello and welcome to the July edition of the Online Reading Challenge!

This month our theme is about the Holocaust and those who survived. Living through this terrible, dark time is pretty much unimaginable to those of us that were not touched by it’s horrors. Simply reading about the Holocaust is difficult, but I think it’s important that we do read about it and never forget how terrible events can happen. We must always be vigilant so that this never happens again, a job that is neverending.

This month’s main title is We Were the Lucky Ones by Georgia Hunter.

An extraordinary, propulsive novel based on the true story of a family of Polish Jews who scatter at the start of the Second World War, determined to survive, and to reunite. It is the spring of 1939, and three generations of the Kurc family are doing their best to live normal lives, even as the shadow of war grows ever closer. The talk around the family Seder table is of new babies and budding romance, not of the increasing hardships facing Jews in their hometown of Radom, Poland. But soon the horrors overtaking Europe will become inescapable and the Kurc family will be flung to the far corners of the earth, each desperately trying to chart his or her own path toward safety.

Also available as an ebook.

Alternate titles are:

The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris

In April 1942, Lale Sokolov, a Slovakian Jew, is forcibly transported to the concentration camps at Auschwitz-Birkenau. When his captors discover that he speaks several languages, he is put to work as a Tätowierer (the German word for tattooist), tasked with permanently marking his fellow prisoners. Imprisoned for more than two and a half years, Lale witnesses horrific atrocities and barbarism–but also incredible acts of bravery and compassion.

Also available as an ebook, e-audiobook and Large Print.

The Last Train to London by Meg Waite Clayton

Truus Wijsmuller, a member of the Dutch resistance, risks her life smuggling Jewish children out of Nazi Germany to the nations that will take them. It is a mission that becomes even more dangerous after the Anschluss – Hitler’s annexation of Austria – as, across Europe, countries close their borders to the growing number of refugees desperate to escape. Tante Truus, as she is known, is determined to save as many children as she can.

Night by Eli Wiesel

Born in the town of Sighet, Transylvania, Elie Wiesel was a teenager when he and his family were taken from their home in 1944 to the Auschwitz concentration camp, and then to Buchenwald. This book is the terrifying record of Elie Wiesel’s memories of the death of his family, the death of his own innocence, and his despair as a deeply observant Jew confronting the absolute evil of man.

Also available as an e-audiobook and as a book-on-cd

Look for these books and many others on display at each of our buildings.

Online Reading Challenge – June Wrap-Up

Hello Challenge Readers!

How did your reading go in June? Did you read something from this month’s theme of food and connection? There certainly were a lot of great (delicious!) books to choose from!

Our main title this month was the graphic novel Relish by Lucy Knisley. I’m not a big fan of graphic novels, but this one is loaded with charming illustrations, funny personal stories and cooking tips and recipes. Knisley retraces her culinary journey through her life, from her earliest memories of the kitchen of her “foodie” parents, to travels around the world where she discovers new foods, to her triumphs and stumbles in cooking as an adult. Relevant recipes are scattered throughout the book along with cooking tips and shortcuts.

While you can expect to find recipes and cooking adventures in food-oriented books as well as vivid descriptions of meals and dining experiences, what I find most intriguing about them goes beyond the food.  It’s the fellowship and celebration of cultural differences that these books share. There’s almost always food involved when people gather, especially celebrations  and family events. Food brings us together with shared memories and family history whether it’s food brought to America with immigrants (recently arrived or long ago), regional specialties or a nuclear family’s own traditions. The preparation of food can honor those who have passed away and it can be an integral part of a holiday (Christmas cookies anyone? Thanksgiving turkey?). It can also teach us about other cultures – visiting another country (or even another part of the US) can open our eyes to new flavors and cuisines and broaden our perspectives.

Did you find this to be true in the book you read for June? How did food factor into the story? What was the character’s experience with food? Did your characters celebrate traditional family meals, or did they explore different cultures through food?

Be sure to share your observations on this month’s Book Flight in the comments below!

Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe by Fannie Flagg

For many years, this was my go-to title when someone asked me for a book recommendation. When it was published in 1987 not everyone had heard about it (this was long before celebrity book clubs and relentless social media attention). Recommending books can be tricky. Reading preferences, mood, previous mis-conceptions – all can affect how a person will feel about a book. And just because you thought a book was the best ever written, doesn’t mean someone else will feel the same. But this book, Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe by Fannie Flagg, never failed me. Not once. Everyone loved it.

And why not? It has a little bit of everything – family and friendship, an epic love story, a murder mystery, some grief and heartbreak and lots of joy. Also – food. Lots of great food.

Moving between two time periods – the 1930s and the 1980s – this book centers on a small town in Alabama and the Whistle Stop Cafe. In the 1930s the cafe serves excellent Southern-style home cooking, especially fried green tomatoes. It’s also the center of town activities, gossip and news. The people that frequent the cafe form a bond that supports one another through terrible tragedies and protect their own. Flash forward to the late 1980s where we meet Evelyn who is struggling with mid-life depression. Through her friendship with elderly Mrs Threadgoode and her stories about the Whistle Stop Cafe and the people around it, Evelyn begins to see her way through her own tragedies.

After the movie came out in 1991, the book became less of a sure-fire winning book recommendation. Many thought that if they’d seen the movie they didn’t need to read the book. But, as is usually the case, the book is much better than the movie with more background, more stories and a deeper understanding of the characters and their motives. So once again, I wholeheartedly recommend reading Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe – you’ll love it.

If you are taking part in the Online Reading Challenge this year, this book is a perfect choice for our June theme of food and friendship.

Online Reading Challenge – June

Hello Fellow Readers!

Welcome to the June Reading Challenge Book Flight! This month our theme is food and fellowship. Yum!

Our main title is Relish: My Life in the Kitchen by Lucy Knisley. This is a graphic novel and it’s an amazing one. If you have any hesitancy about reading a graphic novel, or have never read one, this is a great one to start with, with charming illustrations and a great story.

Lucy Knisley loves food. The daughter of a chef and a gourmet, this talented young cartoonist comes by her obsession honestly. In her forthright, thoughtful, and funny memoir, Lucy traces key episodes in her life thus far, framed by what she was eating at the time and lessons learned about food, cooking, and life. Each chapter is bookended with an illustrated recipe– many of them treasured family dishes, and a few of them Lucy’s original inventions

Other titles in this month’s Book Flight are:

Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J Rayan Stradal. When Lars Thorvald’s wife, Cynthia, falls in love with wine–and a dashing sommelier–he’s left to raise their baby, Eva, on his own. He’s determined to pass on his love of food to his daughter–starting with puréed pork shoulder. As Eva grows, she finds her solace and salvation in the flavors of her native Minnesota. From Scandinavian lutefisk to hydroponic chocolate habaneros, each ingredient represents one part of Eva’s journey as she becomes the star chef behind a legendary and secretive pop-up supper club, culminating in an opulent and emotional feast that’s a testament to her spirit and resilience.

Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe by Fannie Flag. Folksy and fresh, endearing and affecting, Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe is a now-classic novel about two women: Evelyn, who’s in the sad slump of middle age, and gray-headed Mrs. Threadgoode, who’s telling her life story. Her tale includes two more women—the irrepressibly daredevilish tomboy Idgie and her friend Ruth—who back in the thirties ran a little place in Whistle Stop, Alabama, offering good coffee, southern barbecue, and all kinds of love and laughter—even an occasional murder. And as the past unfolds, the present will never be quite the same again.

Also available in large print, and as in ebook on Libby.

Master Butcher’s Singing Club by Louise Erdrich. Having survived World War I, Fidelis Waldvogel returns to his quiet German village and marries the pregnant widow of his best friend, killed in action. With a suitcase full of sausages and a master butcher’s precious knife set, Fidelis sets out for America. In Argus, North Dakota, he builds a business, a home for his family—which includes Eva and four sons—and a singing club consisting of the best voices in town. When the Old World meets the New—in the person of Delphine Watzka—the great adventure of Fidelis’s life begins. Delphine meets Eva and is enchanted. She meets Fidelis, and the ground trembles. These momentous encounters will determine the course of Delphine’s life, and the trajectory of this brilliant novel.

The Kitchen Front by Jennifer Ryan. A World War II-set story of four women on the home front competing for a spot hosting a BBC wartime cookery program and a chance to better their lives. Two years into World War II, Britain is feeling her losses; the Nazis have won battles, the Blitz has destroyed cities, and U-boats have cut off the supply of food. In an effort to help housewives with food rationing, a BBC radio program called The Kitchen Front is putting on a cooking contest–and the grand prize is a job as the program’s first-ever female co-host. For four very different women, winning the contest presents a crucial chance to change their lives. But with so much at stake, will the contest that aims to bring the community together serve only to break it apart?

Also available in large print and as an ebook on Libby.

These titles and others related to the theme will be on display at each of our locations!