Online Reading Challenge – February

Welcome Readers!

This month the Online Reading Challenge travels back in time to the 1900s & 1910s. Our Main title for February is A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith. Here’s a quick summary from the publisher:

From the moment she entered the world, Francie Nolan needed to be made of stern stuff, for growing up in the Williamsburg slums of Brooklyn, New York demanded fortitude, precocity, and strength of spirit. Often scorned by neighbors for her family’s erratic and eccentric behavior—such as her father Johnny’s taste for alcohol and Aunt Sissy’s habit of marrying serially without the formality of divorce—no one, least of all Francie, could say that the Nolans’ life lacked drama. By turns overwhelming, heartbreaking, and uplifting, the Nolans’ daily experiences are raw with honestly and tenderly threaded with family connectedness.

Betty Smith has, in the pages of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, captured the joys of humble Williamsburg life—from “junk day” on Saturdays, when the children traded their weekly take for pennies, to the special excitement of holidays, bringing cause for celebration and revelry. Smith has created a work of literary art that brilliantly captures a unique time and place as well as deeply resonant moments of universal experience. Here is an American classic that “cuts right to the heart of life,” hails the New York Times. “If you miss A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, you will deny yourself a rich experience.” – HarperCollins

Looking for some other books set in the 1900s & 1910s? Try any of the following:

As always, check each of our locations for displays with lots more titles to choose from!

American Duchess by Karen Harper

American heiress Consuelo Vanderbilt provides a rich inspiration for this fictionalized novel of her life beginning in the 1890s.  In American Duchess, Consuelo, a member of the privileged Vanderbilt family, is engaged and married, against her will, to the 9th Duke of Marlborough.  Overruled by her dominating and controlling mother Alva, she is merely a pawn in Alva’s desire for an even higher social status as well as the Duke’s need to preserve his family’s estate and financial well-being.

We first meet Consuelo on her wedding day to the Duke of Marlborough in 1895.  She is in tears as she is about to marry not the man she loves, but the man her mother has chosen for her.  With her sense of duty to her family’s legacy, she carries on and enters the church to marry the Duke.  It is only after her marriage that we learn that she was actually in love with a man who her parents did not approve of as a suitable match for their daughter.  Alva has her sights set on matching her daughter with British royalty and does everything in her power to play matchmaker.  Blenheim Palace, the seat of the Duke’s family, is in need of money to maintain the estate and who better to supply the money than the Vanderbilt family with a bride for the Duke?

After the wedding, Consuelo, now the Duchess of Marlborough, attempts to find her place, helping the less fortunate in the surrounding areas and learning more about her new role as head of the household.  Throughout her time at Blenheim Palace, a close ally emerges in her husband’s cousin, Winston Churchill, and the two share a close friendship.  As time passes, the relationship between she and the Duke grows more and more strained to a breaking point.  Consuelo finds the strength to eventually follow her heart and make difficult, but necessary decisions.

This novel is a fictionalized account of a fascinating, yet little known historical figure whose life did not start the way she had envisioned.  Throughout her life she  gathered the strength and courage to live her life on her own terms.  Many believe that Meghan Markle, the Duchess of Sussex, is the first American born Duchess but it turns out that over 100 years ago, England welcomed an American Duchess, Consuelo Vanderbilt.  This novel gives the reader a good sense of the challenges she faced in her new country.

The Knick

the knickCinemax has put together a splendid fictional drama based on the medical field and goings on at the Knickerbocker Hospital in New York. In this show called The Knick,  surgeons, doctors, nurses, and other hospital staff and benefactors, deal with the ins and outs of running a hospital in downtown New York in 1900. The star of this show is the new chief of surgery, Dr. Thackeray, having just inherited this position after the suicide of his predecessor.

Dr. Thackeray and the rest of his team are forced to deal with changes due to poor finances and increased competition between the other hospitals when all of their wealthy patients leave. In order to keep the place afloat, viewers will see the administrators wheedling for money, extorting patients, selling bodies, all the while telling people things are going okay.

The Knick is a fairly bloody and graphic show, which one must expect considering it is a medical drama. This show deals with complicated subject matter, like drug addiction amongst the doctors, racial and gender prejudice when Dr. Thackeray is forced to work with his new Deputy Chief of Surgery who just happens to be a black doctor, while all the while dealing with a typhoid outbreak (HELLO Typhoid Mary!) and trying to come up with and perform new surgeries to save their patient’s lives.

I found this show to be riveting and personally can’t wait for the second season to come to DVD, so I can check up on Dr. Thackeray and friends to see how they are all fairing!