Online Reading Challenge – February

Hello and Welcome Back Challenge Readers!

A new month means it’s time for a new topic for our Challenge and this month it’s : Food.

(Oh, this could be trouble. I feel like I’m putting on a few pounds just thinking about all the great descriptions of food….)

There is a veritable feast of choices (haha, see what I did there?) with this topic. Let’s get started with some suggestions.

If you’re interested in fiction try Laura Esquivel’s Like Water for Chocolate where a woman’s emotions are infused into the food she prepares. Chocolat by Joanne Harris brings more magical, this time to the world of sweets. For something as light and sweet as angel food cake (more food jokes!), reach for Jeanne Ray’s Eat Cake, a delightful story about a woman saving the day with her baking. (Fun Fact: Ray is award-winning author Ann Patchet’s mother!) Like graphic novels? They you must read Relish: My Life in the Kitchen by Lucy Knisley which sets the standard for excellence in graphic novels.

For many years my number one, go-to, loved-by-everyone book recommendation was Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe by Fannie Flagg. It seems like everyone has read it by now but if you haven’t, you’re in for a real treat, by turns (very) funny, heartbreaking and bittersweet, it’s a joyful celebration of community brought together by a diner.

There are lots of food mysteries too including the Tea Shop mysteries by Laura Childs and the Hannah Swenson mysteries by Joanne Fluke.

For non-fiction there’s Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle where she and her family spend a year eating only what they can raise themselves or purchase from neighboring farmers. Julie and Julia by Julie Powell follows Powell as she sets out to cook every recipe in Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking. The Gourmet Cookie Book is a unique way to study history – it lists the single best cookie recipe from Gourmet magazine (now defunct) from 1941 to 2009. The recipes reflect things such as food shortages and rationing during World War II and the trend for new and exotic in later years. It’s fascinating!

And it seems like any memoir set in France (A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle) or Italy (Under the Tuscan Sun by Francis Mayes) is going to have large, lovely portions dedicated to the joy of eating.

Finally, the library has a huge selection of cookbooks from exotic coffee-table worthy tomes to practical, simple meal plans. You’ll find a wide range of ethnic and specialty topics, many with gorgeous, mouth-watering photography. (My Mom used to read cookbooks like a novel, reading and relishing each recipe whether she planned to attempt to make it or not.) If anyone should happen to read one of those lovely cookbooks and happen to drop off some homemade cookies or bread or cake to prove that they finished this month’s Challenge, well, that would just be a shame, wouldn’t it?

I’m not the cook that my Mother was (Although I’m quite accomplished at eating! ha) so I’m going to pass on the cookbooks. Instead I’m planning on reading Delicious by Ruth Reichl about a woman who takes over a food magazine just as it collapses. Reichl has written some award-winning memoirs (which would also be great for this month’s Challenge) with gorgeous titles such as Comfort Me with Apples, Garlic and Sapphires, Tender at the Bone and a new one coming out in April, Save Me the Plums. Oh gosh, I’m so hungry now….

What about you? What delicious book do you plan to read in February?

 

 

Online Reading Challenge – January Wrap-Up

Hello Fellow Readers!

How did your reading/listening/movie watching go in January? As I mentioned earlier in the month, I outdid myself and read two medicine-related books! And they were both great!

My Name is Mary Sutter by Robin Oliveira. Opening just as the Civil War begins, this book is about a young midwife who yearns to be a surgeon. However, it is nearly impossible for a woman to be admitted to medical school or even to intern with a doctor and Mary has been turned down repeatedly. However, the outbreak of the war creates possibilities and Mary leaves her comfortable home in Albany and travels to Washington alone in an effort to help the wounded. Women as nurses (let alone doctors) are viewed with suspicion and considered unnecessary since, at this exuberant beginning, everyone believes the war will be over in three months. Mary ends up volunteering at an understaffed, poorly supplied, decaying hospital acting more as a cleaning person than a nurse. Gradually the doctor (there is only one doctor for the dozens of wounded) trusts Mary and allows her to assist him, her training as a midwife making her comfortable with blood and suffering. It is training that she will need when the wounded begin pouring in with horrific injuries, many requiring amputation and many that they are helpless to cure.

The Civil War lasted much longer than three months, of course and the reluctance to accept women as nurses was quickly abandoned. Woefully unprepared for the human cost, doctors and nurses struggle to care for patients under brutal conditions. Mary’s story as she navigates harsh realities is fascinating and her courage and strength are inspiring.

The Winter Soldier by Daniel Mason is set during World War I and takes place on the Eastern Front of the war, far removed from the trenches of France but no less horrific. Raised in comfort in opulent Vienna, Lucius has not even completed his medical training when the war breaks out. He volunteers as a surgeon and is sent to a remote outpost in the Carpathian Mountains where a church has been requisitioned as a hospital. Supplies are nearly nonexsistent, the weather is brutal and the only medical personnel is a nurse, some orderlies and Lucius himself who has never actually performed an operation.

Margarete, the nurse, subtly assists Lucius when he must perform amputations almost immediately. Over time they become a team, working to heal their patients and keep them safe. Safe because not only do they have to grapple with injury, disease, shell shock and weather, they must watch out for recruiters who comb the hospitals looking for “deserters” to return to the front. So desperate are they for men, the Army will force anyone back into the war no matter their injury, so long as they can walk.

Relatively safe from the immediate fighting, this changes when the Austrian army suddenly retreats. Caught in the chaos, Lucius and Margarete are separated and lost to each other. Lucius finishes his war in the relative safety of Vienna and then goes in search of Margarete.

I really enjoyed both of these books – they are hard to put down. The wartime action is gripping and both Mary’s and Lucius’ personal stories add another layer – each spends some time at home during their wars and the contrast between battle and home is shocking. The grim realities of war are difficult to read about, but the sad fact is, war has always created many opportunities for the advancement of medicine whether through the discovery of new drugs or new techniques. Reading about some of that and how medical staff coped is fascinating. Both are highly recommended.

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

Online Reading Challenge – Mid-Month Check

Hello Fellow Challengers!

How is your reading going this month? Have you had any luck finding a great book about Medicine?

I have a confession to make. I’ve read not one but two books already this month! Ha! (I actually finished the second one on January 6!) “Overachiever” is not a word people usually associate with me, and don’t expect this to happen every (or any other!) month but this time I found two can’t-put-down books. And the month is only half over – maybe I’ll find another!

If you’re struggling to find the right book, or are short on time this month, why not try a television show movie? (Yes, movies are allowed!) Here’s a selection of movies and television shows that might interest you.

The Big Sick

Grey’s Anatomy

The Good Doctor

House

M*A*S*H

There are lots more – medical dramas are always popular. Stop by any Davenport Library location and browse the selection!

Welcome to the 2019 Online Reading Challenge!

r e a d (reed), v. 1. to look at carefully so as to understand the meaning of something written. 2. to occupy oneself seriously with reading or study. 3. to obtain knowledge or learn of something by reading.


It’s January – that means it’s the start of a new Online Reading Challenge! I hope you join us whenever and however you can. As in the past, this is a low-key, no-pressure book club. Each month we’ll explore a new theme through books. You can read old-fashioned paper books or new-fangled ebooks, listen to audio books, even watch relevant movies! Remember, there are no Library Police! Read whatever catches your interest. There is also no penalty for skipping a month or not finishing a book by the end of the month. The goal of our Online Reading Challenge is simply to find great books to read/listen to/movies to watch!

This year the Challenge is called “r e a d” (although yes, movies still count!). I’ve chosen a variety of general subjects, topics that touch on all of us throughout our lives – like family, art,  and the world around us. Each month I’ll suggest titles (both fiction and non-fiction) to get you started and there will be displays at each building with even more. The topics can be explored from a variety of angles – serious to light, historical to current events. How you approach each month is entirely up to you! And don’t forget to pick up a bookmark/book log at the library to help you keep track of your reading progress.

For a complete list of this year’s topics, check out the 2019 Online Reading Challenge Page.

So, let’s get started! January’s topic is Medicine.

Everyone has had to deal with the medical field at some point, even if you’re healthy as a horse and rarely need to see a doctor, health and fitness is important to everyone. Titles to read in this subject can vary widely – fiction and non-fiction, light or scary, physical health or mental health, the field is wide open. Here are a few ideas to get you started.

For serious non-fiction, take a look at Bellevue by David Oshinsky about the infamous New York City hosipital or the acclaimed book The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot which delves into bioethics and informed consent. Pandemic 1918 by Catharine Arnold looks at the devastating “Spanish Influenza” which killed millions. When Breath Becomes Air is written by physician Paul Kalanithi after he discovers he has terminal cancer while In an Instant by Lee Woodruff looks at how traumatic brain injury affects both the individual and their family. Still Alice by Lisa Genova delves into dementia while Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick examines mental health.

It’s not all grim and scary though; books in this subject are often uplifting and optimistic. Try The Midwife by Jennifer Worth about young nurses working in 1950s London as midwives to the poor. Or read something from the Irish Doctor series by Patrick Taylor about a country doctor living in a small village of eccentric personalities. And James Herriot’s charming All Creatures Great and Small books, set in Yorkshire, England never disappoint (hey, I know he’s a vet treating animals but it’s still medicine!) If you prefer to be kept awake at night, reach for Robin Cook’s medical thrillers.

I’m going to read My Name is Mary Sutter by Robin Oliveira which is about a young woman who dreams of becoming a surgeon. Set during the Civil War, she must overcome the prejudices against women in medicine while working to help the thousands of wounded soldiers. The time period and story line both sound interesting to me and I’m looking forward to reading it!

Now, what about you? Will you be joining us this year? What will you read in January?

 

Online Reading Challenge – Wrapping Up 2018

Hello Fellow Challenge Readers!

How did your reading go in December? “Present Time” proved to be a little tricky, didn’t it? The topic was pretty general and the time of year was busy, not an ideal formula. I hope you found and enjoyed something good to round out our Challenge year.

I did well – I read The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion. If you are a fan of quick-moving, amusing yet thoughtful books, or if you’re a fan of “The Big Bang Theory”, you’re going to like this book.

Don Tillman lives his life by precise, strict rules and schedules. Any deviation can lead to anxiety and panic and he has trouble reading social cues and emotions. He has found a niche where he’s comfortable – a professor of genetics at a prestigious university – and a group of friends (well, two friends) who accept him as he is.

Although Don is perfectly happy, he decides that he would like a wife and thus begins the Wife Project. Don creates an impossibly detailed questionnaire with the intention of weeding out undesirable candidates. Of course, no one can meet Don’s impossible standards. As a joke, one of Don’s friends (it’s questionable how good a friend this person is!) sends Rosie his way without telling either that a) Don is looking for the impossibly perfect wife and b) Rosie is not looking for a date. A great deal of amusing chaos ensues, which ultimately forces Don to look at his life and his choices.

I found that Don strongly reminded me of Sheldon on the television series “The Big Band Theory”. A somewhat lovable genius but good heavens, he can be annoying. The book is also surprisingly thoughtful. It is framed as a comedy about one man’s peculiar personality, but while doing so, it also examines how we observe others and how we think about ourselves. Are we always honest with ourselves, or do we hide behind excuses and stories? A fun book with lots to say.

That wraps up the 2018 Online Reading Challenge. I hope you enjoyed our reading year! And I hope you’ll join us next year for the 2019 edition for another year of exploring a variety of subjects through books. Be sure to visit again on January 2 for all of the details and a list of Challenge topics. It’s going to be another great year!

Until then, have a great holiday! See you in 2019!

Online Reading Challenge – Mid-Month Check

Hello Fellow Readers!

How is your December reading going? This can be a difficult month to squeeze in some reading time with so many holiday obligations taking up our time and attention. Think of reading as your “me time”, a way to take a break from the stress and chaos that often accompanies the fun stuff.

I am zooming right along with my December pick, The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion. It’s been a fun read so far and I have should have no problem finishing it soon (thus avoiding another Epic Fail!).

Still looking for something to complete the December challenge? Remember, movies are allowed too which opens up a huge variety of choices. Grab a favorite rom-com – While You Were Sleeping, You’ve Got Mail or Love, Actually. Or go for an action movie like Bourne Identity or Ocean’s Eleven. And many current and recent television series are set in the present – check through the library’s collection for titles like Friends and Law and Order and many more.

Just remember – indoor plumbing? Yes. Flying cars? No.

Online Reading Challenge – November Wrap-Up

My Friends, it has happened. I have experienced an Epic Failure this month – I did not complete a book for our Alternate Histories challenge.

It’s not the fault of the book (The Jane Austen Project by Kathleen Flynn), it just wasn’t the right time for me to connect with it. Does that ever happen to you? Where the book just doesn’t work for you, even though you think it should? I have had this happen more than once; I often (although not always) return to the book later and everything clicks. So I’ll put this book on my TBR (to-be-read) list and try again another day.

However! All is not lost – I did finish watching the first season of Outlander (from the Diana Gabaldon books) and enjoyed it so much that I’m going to continue to watch more seasons (two more are available on DVD; season four is currently airing). At the end of season one, Claire and Jamie have decided that they’re going to try to change history and therefore save the Scots. This is, of course, the great temptation of time travel – changing what went wrong. But what are the ripple effects of one change, even a small one? What is the cost and would it prevent the tragedy, or is it doomed to happen no matter what? Intriguing questions, if impossible to answer.

What about you – what did you read that was intriguing and interesting? Or was this an epic fail for you too? Let us know in the comments!

Online Reading Challenge – Mid-Month Check-In

Hello Challenge Participants! How is your November challenge going? Have you found something wonderful? Please share!

I admit that I haven’t gotten very far with my book choice (The Jane Austen Project by Kathleen Flynn). It’s just not compelling me to read it – although when I do pick it up, I find it interesting. Hmmm. Well, I haven’t given up on it yet!

However, I have fulfilled the November challenge – I’ve been watching Outlander. It’s quite possible I’m one of the last people to do so, but this way I can binge watch it (as time permits) I’m halfway through the first season and, while I haven’t gone completely head over heels for it, I do like it a lot.

Outlander is about an English Army nurse in 1945 who, while on vacation in Scotland with her husband, steps through a stone circle and is transported to 1743 Scotland, It’s a dangerous and volatile time period when the Clans of the Highlands are in constant conflict with the English. Even more so when you’re an Englishwoman alone and lost and confused. Watching Claire navigate this slippery path (and making several missteps) is fascinating. It’s also an in-depth introduction to Scotland during this time period, far beyond what a history book can teach, and of a way of life that was nearly wiped out. The costuming and scenery are spectacular (although, good heavens, it rains a lot!) and the story lines are interesting and often very suspenseful. I’m looking forward to watching more of the series!

Here are a few more movie recommendations for Alternate History.

Groundhog Day starring Billy Murray and Andie McDowell. OK, who hasn’t seen this? And who doesn’t love watching it again and again? It never gets old with comedic genius Murray playing arrogant TV weatherman Phil who is doomed to repeat the same day over and over until he gets it right. Spoiler alert: it takes awhile.

Big starring Tom Hanks and Elizabeth Perkins. An encounter with a mysterious carnival fortune-telling machine grants Josh his greatest wish – to be big. Suddenly forced to navigate the world as an adult but with his teenage personality intact is both hilarious and poignant.

Back to the Future starring Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd. Wow, one classic after another, right? Grab that DeLorean and head back to 1955 with Marty McFly and watch how he fixes the future while trying to avoid wiping out his own existence.

Let us know what you’re reading or watching this month!

Online Reading Challenge – November

Hello Fellow Readers!

It’s November and that means it’s time for reading – Alternate Histories!

Alternate Histories are kind of like brain teasers for the reader by asking the unanswerable What If? question. They fall mostly into two categories:

General. What If Lincoln had lived? Or JFK? What If the Nazi’s had won World War II? What If Rome had not fallen? How would the world be different now? Better? Worse? Some titles that fall into this category include 11/22/63 by Stephen King (about preventing the assisination of John F Kennedy), Fatherland by Robert Harris (if the Nazi’s had won WWII), and multiple titles by Harry Turtledove. Or perhaps you believe history could use some spicing up – try Naomi Novik’s excellent His Majesty’s Dragon where the Napoleonic Wars are fought with the help of dragons (it’s quite good – really!).

Personal. What If you could go back and make different choices in your own life? How would your life be different? Some examples would include The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells by Andrew Greer about a woman who finds herself transported to other lives she might have  lived: Replay by Ken Grimwood is about a man who dies repeatedly, only to wake as his younger self again and again, each time with a chance to reclaim a lost love, make a fortune on the stock market or correct a wrong; or If I Could Turn Back Time by Beth Harbison about a successful but unhappy 38-year-old who, after a knock on her head, wakes up just before her 18th birthday.

A kind of “sub-category” would be the Time Travel novels (remember, there are no Library Police! Read what interests you! Plus, I just made up this genre and I get to make the rules!) These would include Outlander by Diana Gabaldon and it’s many sequels and The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger.

Be sure to stop by any Davenport Library location and check out the Online Reading Challenge displays for lots more ideas and suggested titles.

I am planning on reading The Jane Austen Project by Kathleen Flynn about two researchers that go back in time to recover a suspected unpublished Jane Austen novel. Wouldn’t that be fabulous?

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

 

Online Reading Challenge – October Wrap-Up

Hello All!

Well, that’s another month finished in our 2018 Online Reading Challenge! How was your month? What did you read (or watch)?

I read – and enjoyed – Philippa Gregory’s The White Queen which is about Elizabeth Woodville who was married to King Edward IV. It might help you to place who she was when you realize she was the mother of the Princes in the Tower, the two young boys who disappeared from the Tower of London and were never found. Her story takes place toward the bitter end of the War of the Roses – the York family vs the Lancasters. Often called the Cousins War, it raged for more than 30 years pitting families against each other.

Elizabeth is a young widow from a Lancaster family whose lands have been confiscated by the Yorks, currently in power. She goes to the new king, Edward IV to beg for her inheritance and she and the King fall in love. She refuses to become his mistress and so he marries her in secret. Because she has no political influence, the marriage is opposed and even challenged by Edward’s advisors but Edward stands by his vows. Gregory depicts the marriage as a love match at a time when most if not all royal marriages were for political gain or to strengthen diplomatic ties. Edward and Elizabeth had ten children and their reign was prosperous and encouraged the advancement of science and the arts. Edward was a popular with the people, but he constantly had to go to battle to put down uprisings from other claimants to the crown including his best friend and former adviser and even his own brother. When Edward died suddenly after a short illness, the battle for the crown became even more intense despite his having left two male heirs.

Throughout all this bloodshed, the women wait. They keep the households running and the children educated and they grieve. But they also plot and influence and sometimes turn the tide of battle. Gregory characterizes Elizabeth and her mother as witches (both were accused and her mother arrested for being witches) who are able to whistle up a storm or commune with Melusine, a water spirit. The magic is incidental and well within the framework of historical record, but shows Elizabeth as powerful in her own right. A brilliant strategist with a spine of steel, she commands respect. The book ends before Elizabeth’s story is finished; I may read the next in the series, The White Princess, to see what happens when her daughter becomes Queen.

I like history and very much enjoyed seeing this distant time through the eyes of a woman. Of course, we can’t know exactly what was said in conversation, or understand what influenced and swayed decisions, but Gregory creates plausible scenarios and speculates on several mysteries especially what might have happened to the Princes in the Tower. All of the fighting and disloyalty does become tiresome though – people changed allegiances constantly, turncoats (sometimes in the midst of battle) and backstabbers. And the English really need to branch out with the names – so many Richards and Edwards and Henrys – it’s difficult to keep them straight!

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