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?

 

Online Reading Challenge – Mid-Month Check In

Hello Readers!

How is your October going, reading-wise? Have you found something to read yet? Or are you still looking? Maybe a movie will be your choice this month. Here are a few suggestions.

A Knight’s Tale starring Heath Ledger. The rousing story of lowborn William Thatcher’s quest to change his stars, win the heart of an exceedingly fair maiden and rock his medieval world. Follow this fearless squire and his band of medieval misfits as they careen their way toward impossible glory that’s part romance, part road trip and part exuberant swashbuckling.

Kingdom of Heaven starring Orlando Bloom and Eva Green. Balian, a young Frenchman in Medieval Jerusalem during the Crusades, having lost everything, finds redemption in a heroic fight against overwhelming forces to save his people and fulfill his destiny as a knight.

The White Queen produced by the BBC and based on the novel by Phillipa Gregory. A riveting portrayal of one of the most dramatic and turbulent times in English history. A story of love and lust, seduction and deception, betrayal and murder, it is uniquely told through the perspective of three different, yet equally relentless women – Elizabeth Woodville, Margaret Beaufort and Anne Neville. In their quest for power, they will scheme, manipulate and seduce their way onto the English throne.

Monty Python and the Holy Grail. OK, admittedly, this one is somewhat lacking in historical accuracy. But! So funny! So British! “It’s just a flesh wound”! “Your mother was a hamster and your father smells of elderberries”! The quest for the Holy Grail by King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table is retold in the inimitable Python fashion. Enjoy.

Online Reading Challenge – October

Hello Online Reading Challenge Readers! Welcome to October!

This month we’re going to explore the Medieval (or Middle Ages) time period which lasted roughly from 600 to 1500. In Europe, it is generally considered to end with the fall of  King Richard III in 1485 when the Tudors came to power but there was no general announcement declaring the start of the Renaissance. A lot of the books from our suggestions will bleed into the Renaissance but remember, there are no Library Police! Read what interests you!

There are a couple of go-to authors for this time period that have written multiple books. If one of them especially appeals to you, you’ll be set with great reading material for a long time.

Bernard Cornwell. Best known for his Sharpe series (set during the Napoleonic Wars), Cornwell has also written series set during the Middle Ages including The Warlord Chronicles (set during Arthurian Britain), The Grail Quest (set in 14th century Europe) and The Last Kingdom series (set in Saxon times of the 9th century)

Philippa Gregory. Well loved for her series of books about the Tudor queens, Gregory has also written extensively about the Plantagenets, the family that was overthrown by the Tudors. Titles set during the Middle Ages include The White Queen, The Red Queen and The Kingmaker’s Daughter.

Sharon Kay Penman writes huge, extensive books about the Middle Ages. They are an investment in time but well worth it as you are swept into the story. Titles include The Sunne in Splendor and Lionheart. I especially recommend Here Be Dragons about the illegitimate daughter of King John of England who is forced to marry a minor Welsh lord.

Other interesting books from this time period include The Lady and the Unicorn by Tracy Chevalier, The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco and, for the classics, The Canterbury Tales by Chaucer. I also recommend Ellis Peters’ Brother Cadfael mystery series. And it will take some tracking down but don’t miss Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey. An older book, it follows a present-day police officer, laid up because of a broken leg, investigating the true story of Richard III (he might not have been the monster that Shakespeare presented). It’s intriguing and insightful and reminds us that the victors write the history books; there’s always another side to the story.

I am planning on reading Philippa Gregory’s The White Queen. I’m hoping the appeal of English historical fiction will get me back on the Challenge track! What about you? What are you reading this month?

Online Reading Challenge – September Wrap-Up

Hello Online Challenge Readers!

How did your month of September go, reading-wise? Did you find something wonderful, or did this month fall short for you? Make sure to share!

I’m afraid, after a string of 8 straight good-to-excellent reads, September fell short for me. I was all set to read Love and Ruin by Paula McLain, but it never caught my interest enough to stick with it. Maybe it was the subject matter – the main characters were often abrasive and made many poor decisions. Maybe it was my mood or the weather, or the fact that I had other things going on and taking up my time. Who knows why a book and reader fail to connect? Often it’s just timing – the right book at the right moment. And what doesn’t work at one time, might be perfect later. Fortunately, I know where there are hundreds of other books, all free for checking out! There’s always another great read waiting!

What about you – how did your reading go in September? And, have you ever picked up a book and found, no matter how badly you wanted to read it, it just wasn’t for you? What have been your epic book fails? Let us know your experiences in the comments!

Online Reading Challenge – Mid-Month Check-in

Hello Readers!

How is the month of September going for you? Are you reading something inspiring/thoughtful/entertaining? If you’re still looking or are short on time, maybe a movie would be a good option. Here are some to consider.

Places in the Heart. Starring Sally Field, John Malkovich and Danny Glover, this film takes a look at surviving the Dust Bowl. Battling prejudice, injustice and devastating weather, the three main characters – a recent widow, a blind man and a black man – form an unlikely alliance.

Cinderella Main starring Russell Crowe and Renee Zellweger. No longer able to box after breaking his hand during a fight, James Braddock turns to manual labor. Desperate for money, he agrees to one more fight which, to everyone’s surprise, he wins, returning him to the violent and unpredictable sport. Based on a true story.

The Grapes of Wrath starring Henry Fonda. An American classic, this film takes a hard look at the reality of the struggle to survive during the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl. Heartbreaking and often difficult to watch it is nevertheless highly recommended.

Water for Elephants starring Reese Witherspoon and Robert Pattinson is set against the backdrop of a small-time circus operating during the Great Depression. A secret romance threatens to destroy many lives and nearly ends in tragedy.

Online Reading Challenge – September

Hello! It’s September! Time for our next Online Reading Challenge! This month the theme is: the Great Depression.

Well, that isn’t a very cheerful thought, is it? A devastating economic crash coinciding with severe drought and dust storms brought a decade of struggle and suffering. Yet this time period also gave rise to what Tom Brokaw called “the Greatest Generation”, a generation that would make it through the Depression and go on to fight in World War II. It also produced some great literature and the time period continues to be popular with authors. There’s lots to explore and experience through books (and movies), but I have expanded this month’s definition to “between the wars” which will include the Roaring 20’s. The choice is yours! Here are some ideas to get you started.

If you want to go classic/literary, you’ll find lots and none of them are “stuffy”. If you have never read The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck first of all, shame on you. Second, go read it now. (The movie, starring Henry Fonda, is also excellent). Ernest Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls is set during the Spanish Civil War, a precurser to WWII. Surely everyone has read To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee by now, but if not, it’s highly recommended. Lost Horizon by James Hilton is an adventure story about the discovery of the mysterious Shangri-La.

The 1930s saw a dramatic rise in the popularity of professional and organized sports. One of my favorite books (easily in my top three) is Seabiscuit by Laura Hillenbrand, not only for the tales of horse racing (which I love) but for the setting. Under Hillenbrand’s skillful hands, the 1930s come to life with the reality of a hardscrabble existence, the vivid characters, the hopes and dreams of people fighting for a better life. Another favorite is The Boys in the Boat by Dan Brown about a team of scrappy rowers that go to the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Both of these qualify as can’t-put-down.

For many years my go-to book recommendation for patrons was Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe by Fannie Flagg. Everyone loved it, no exceptions. The movie took away some of it’s shine (the book is better), but it’s still very much worth reading.

More great fiction set during the 1930s include Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen, Atonement by Ian McEwan, Shanghai Girls by Lisa See and The Persian Pickle Club by Sandra Dallas. There’s lots of great non-fiction too including Little Heathens by Mildred Kalish about farm life in Iowa, A Square Meal: a Culinary History of the Great Depression by Jane Ziegelman and The Worst Hard Time by Timothy Egan.

See? I told you – lots of great books to choose from! Be sure to visit our Davenport library locations for displays of these and many more titles.

As for what I’m going to read, I’m planning on reading Love and Ruin by Paula McLain which is about Martha Gellhorn, a famous war correspondent and Hemingway’s third wife. As always, I reserve the right to change my mind!

Now, what about you? What are you going to read this month?

Online Reading Challenge – August Wrap-Up

Hello Fellow Fans-of-Reading!

How was your August? Did you find something wonderful to read that was set during the Edwardian Era? Or maybe you watched a movie – tell us about you read or watched!

I started the month planning to read The Alienist by Caleb Carr, a book that has been popular for several years and now has a television series based on it on TNT. I tried to read it, I really did. But. It just wasn’t my cup of tea. I’m a strong believer that, if a book isn’t working for me, I abandon it. I know some people will stick with a book to the bitter end, disliking it the whole time, but there are too many titles on my “to read” list. So I dropped The Alienist and instead picked up The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson. Much better.

The Summer Before the War starts in June 1914 and is set in the idyllic English countryside. Beatrice Nash, whose father has recently died, has come to Rye to be a Latin teacher. She soon becomes involved the lives of the people around her, learning about their secrets and dreams. When war is declared in late July, there is a burst of patriotic fervor and excitement with men and boys joining up to “advance their careers” and proclaiming that they’ll “be home by Christmas”. The reality of the war soon begins to creep into their lives, both on a national and personal level, and the old ways of thinking are slowly torn away.

I very much enjoyed this book. It wasn’t necessarily ground-breaking, but it is much more than a simple, quaint story. It was interesting to read about the very constricted lives women were allowed and how Beatrice had to fight for her job even though she was far more qualified than her (male) competition. I was also fascinated by how the strict codes of society dictated everyday life, such as who could dine with who, and how merely talking to someone considered disreputable could ruin your own standing. The war eats into these rules as death and pain impact everyone no matter your place.

Beatrice is a wonderful main character – witty, smart and confident in her abilities but struggling to make her way on her own in a world that scorns spinsters. She finds compassion from unexpected sources and strength from within to face a time when everything changed.

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

Online Reading Challenge – Mid-Month Check In

Hello Again!

How is your month of Edwardian reading going? Have you found something that has grabbed your interest? If you’re still looking, maybe a movie would be the ticket – there are some gorgeous films set during this time period. Here are a few to consider:

A Room With a View – From the famous production team of Merchant and Ivory, this gorgeous film of love and romance stars Helen Bonham-Carter and Daniel Day-Lewis and is set in the idyllic Italian countryside.

Howard’s End – Another beautiful Merchant and Ivory production, starring Emma Thompson and Anthony Hopkins, brings the rigid rules of Edwardian society into sharp focus.

Edwardian Farm – Find out how the other half lives when two archaeologists and a historian recreate farm life for a full year using practices from 1906 England. Fascinating!

The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady – So beautiful! Filmed on location in England and Scotland, this drama follows artist Edith Holden through the changing seasons.

Murdoch Mysteries – Follow Detective William Murdoch as he solves murder mysteries in Edwardian Toronto using the latest scientific methods.

Parade’s End – From the end of the Edwardian era through World War I, this epic story of romance and betrayal stars Benedict Cumberbatch and Rebecca Hall.

Mary Poppins – For something much lighter and happier, you can’t go wrong with Mary Poppins. It’s magical and fun and surprisingly thoughtful. Don’t miss it.

Miss Potter – The charming story of Beatrix Potter’s efforts to publish her first books and gain some measure of independence as a single woman in Edwardian England. Lovely and heartbreaking. Starring Renee Zellweger and Ewan McGregor.