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 – 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 All!

Are you enjoying the June Reading Challenge? Have you found something fun to read? Or are you still looking for the right title?

I’ve started reading my book (A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle). I’m still trying to keep all the “mrs’s” straight, but I’m quickly getting caught up in the story. What I’ve found interesting is how other people react when I ask if they’ve read this book. I heard a lot of enthusiastic yeses; everyone seemed to love it. Best response, though, was from a co-worker who told me that A Wrinkle in Time was the book made her a library patron. When the teacher at school that was reading it to her class wasn’t reading fast enough for Shelley, she asked her Mom to take her to the library so that she could check out a copy. Thus began a lifelong love affair with reading (and, I hope, libraries!)

Another great story came from a Challenge reader that commented she is going to read a book written in 1898 that had been a childhood favorite of her mother. I love this idea! It shows how books are a bridge – to the past, to the future, to knowledge, to entertainment and that they can also be a connection to the people in our lives. Books (stories) are magic.

Let us know what you’re reading and, maybe, why you chose what you did!

 

 

Underground Books: American War by Omar El Akkad

Underground Books is a monthly book club that meets at 6:00 pm on the second Monday of the month at Main. We’re readers of books that are not typical book club fare – the subversive, the under-the radar, and the controversial. Every month, I’ll give a preview of what we’re reading, questions the book raises and start a discussion online for those who can’t make in person. Welcome to The Underground!

Hello readers! This month’s book is the 2017 novel American War by Omar El Akkad. Set roughly 60 years in the future in an America ravaged by climate change and a second civil war, it’s a story about the destruction of a nation, a family and a person by war. A cautionary tale that raises serious issues about our current national and global state of affairs, and what the future may hold. A heavy subject, yes, but worth the journey.

Opening in 2075,  the earth has warmed, the oceans have enveloped the coasts and submerged what little is left after increasingly severe storms batter the land. In response to multiple environmental disasters across the continent, the federal government – now based in Columbus, Ohio – bans the use of fossil fuels. The southern states defy the ban, and after a series of terrorist attacks culminating in the assassination of the president, the U.S. is again plunged into civil war.  This is a war of modern times –  out-of-control drones, homicide bombers, guerilla warfare, detainment camps and biological weapons deployed against an entire state.

The novel follows the Chestnut family of flood-prone Louisiana, displaced from their home by the Battles of East Texas to an overcrowded refugee camp on the border of Tennessee. Here Sarat Chestnut comes of age among the mundane cruelties of war.  She and her family – her older brother Simon, twin sister Dana, and mother Martina – try to make a life for themselves while waiting for the end of the war.  Sarat, already considered an outsider because of her tall and awkward build, grows rebellious and is befriended by a mysterious older man who once fought overseas for the North, or, at least, the North when the country was whole. He feeds her a steady diet of Southern mythos, sending her on a path to become an instrument of revenge.  As the narrator says in the prologue, “This isn’t a story about war. It’s about ruin.”

Assorted musings:

  • When I chose this book, I based it on, of course, the numerous good reviews it had received, and I was intrigued by concept. Given the current political climate, the possibility of another civil war in the U.S. has been raised more than once. What surprised me, however, was that the crux of the war was fossil fuels. I can understand the idea of Southern states objecting to the exercise of broad federal power, and a desire to protect mining and off-shore drilling, but what I noticed most was the absence of any mention of race or ethnicity. At the start of the novel, Sarat is described as having “fuzzy” hair, and that her father had immigrated from Mexico, but that’s the only mention of race in the entire novel. I suppose the argument could be made that by 2075, race is no longer an issue, but if we’re still arguing about red vs. blue and states’ rights vs. federal authority, I have a hard time suspending that disbelief.
  • The author is an award-winning journalist born in Egypt, raised in Qatar, now living in Oregon, and he reported extensively on Afghanistan, Guantanamo Bay and the Arab Spring. El Akkad’s journalistic expertise is apparent in this novel, as major aspects of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are transported to America. In many cases, it’s a note-for-note transcription. I wonder if that works for everyone? While the purpose of the novel is, arguably, to create empathy for the very real wars happening now and to also serve as a cautionary tale, could the novel have taken more liberties? I don’t mean that it should have been a Hunger Games-esque battle royale, but something more adapted to the setting.

Quotes I would have underlined if it wasn’t a library book:

“How long ago was this?” she asked.
“Must have been around ’21 or ’22,” said Gaines.  “Around the time they sent us over there for the third time, right around the Fifth Spring.”
Joe leaned close to Sarat; he looked at the photograph again. “That’s right,” he said. “I remember, I remember when it was still your guns and our blood.” (p. 139)

She remembered something Albert Gaines once told her all those years ago in Patience. He said when a Southerner tells you what they’re fighting for, you can agree or disagree, but you can’t ever call it a lie. Right or wrong, he said, a man from our country always says exactly what he means , and stands by what he says.
Even that, it turned out, was a lie. (p. 278)

You fight the war with guns, you fight the peace with stories. (p. 280)

What do you think? Let me know in the comments! And join us on April 9th at 6:00 at Main to discuss in real life! Next month, we’ll be reading Difficult Women by Roxane Gay – copies available at Main, or pick one up wherever convenient!

Online Reading Challenge – February

Hello Reading Fans!

Here we go with the second month of the 2018 Online Reading Challenge – the 1950s and 60s. Kind of an abrupt change from last month, yes? There is lots choose from and a broad range of subjects – Civil Rights, the changing role of women, the Korean and Cold Wars, the Space Race, the arrival of the Beatles. You’re sure to find something that catches your interest! Here are some ideas to get you started.

Maeve Binchy has written several books set in the fifties, mostly set in postwar Ireland. Circle of Friends is particularly lovely, following several young people as they find their way in society that has been changed dramatically by World War II. Brooklyn by Colm Toibin also has Irish roots, but this time from the point of view of an Irish immigrant finding her way in Brooklyn, New York (the movie made from this book is also well worth watching).

If space travel peaks your interest, reach for The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe, a hefty volume about the birth of NASA and the space program. Again, the movie is quite good too. If you’re looking for elegant and wealthy, try The Swans of Fifth Avenue by Melanie Benjamin, a novel about how Truman Capote gained access to New York’s high society (and then wrote about them in books such as Breakfast at Tiffany’s, another great pick for this month)

Civil Rights gained much needed attention during these decades and there are many inspiring books about the life and works of Martin Luther King, Jr that are worth reading. If you missed the flurry of interest in The Help by Kathryn Stockett when it first came out, now would be a great time to read it – it’s very eye-opening, especially to someone like me who grew up far from the South. And don’t miss Margo Shetterly’s Hidden Figures, an incredible (true) story about the African-American women who made the exploration of space possible.

Surprisingly, many of Agatha Christie’s mysteries were set in the Fifties (I always think of her books being written in the 20s and 30s). Try At Bertram’s Hotel, where English classes collide and there are more red herrings than you can shake a stick at. If hard-boiled is more to your taste, reach for James Ellroy’s L.A. Confidential, set in the corrupt Los Angeles police department of the 1950s.

Finally, for the cooks. This book just arrived at the library – Retro Recipes from the ’50s and ’60s by Addie Gundry. Pineapple Upside Down Cake anyone? (Please, someone try some of these recipes and tell us about the experience!) I don’t think any of these dishes are going to show up on your Whole 30 plan, but they’re a fun, nostalgic look back at that era.

I’m going to read Call the Midwife by Jennifer Worth, a memoir of a young woman who worked as a midwife in the poorest areas of London in the 1950s. It’s also a popular television series on PBS (and on DVD).

That’s just a small sample of what to read this month. Be sure to visit any of our Davenport Library locations for displays with even more choices! And don’t forget to pick up a bookmark/reading log!

 

Online Reading Challenge – Mid-month Check

online colorHello Readers! How are you finding this months Reading Challenge – are you enjoying a great Young Adult read, or are you skipping this month? If you’re still searching for a Young Adult novel to try, here are a few suggestions.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. This book was a huge sensation a couple years ago and for good reason. On the surface, it’s a fairly typical story – a boy and a girl meet and fall in love and face many obstacles. However, the obstacles here are more serious than a typical story – both have cancer. Yes, it’s often a sad story (I cried several times while reading this), but it’s also frequently laugh-out-loud funny and the characters – both main and minor – are terrific. But what I took away from this book that has stayed with me long after finishing it, is the message, that life is worth living and no life is useless. An amazing read (as are all of John Green’s books) – very highly recommended.

I’ll Be There by Holly Goldberg Sloan. Raised by an unstable father who keeps constantly on the move, Sam Border has long been the voice of his silent younger brother, Riddle. Everything changes when Sam meets Emily Bell and, welcomed by her family, the brothers witness the warmth and protection of a family for the first time. But when tragedy strikes, they’re left fighting for survival in the desolate wilderness, and wondering if they’ll ever find a place where they can belong. Part survival story, part family dynamics, I’ll Be There reads like an action-packed thriller that is nearly impossible to put down with great characters that you will love.

Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins. Amber already mentioned this book in her introduction to Young Adult books, but I wanted to tell you a little more about it. Anna has been sent to Paris to spend her last year of high school. At first she is miserable and lonely but as she makes friends and begins to explore her new city, Anna comes into her own. More than just an education, Anna gains confidence and strength of character and makes lifelong friends – and meets the love of her life. This is a fun read, especially if you love Paris, beautifully written. There are two follow-up books by Perkins, following secondary characters in Anna and the French Kiss first to San Francisco (Lola and the Boy Next Door) and then back to Paris (Isla and the Happily Ever After) tying all three together beautifully. Enjoy!

Magical Realism Wrap Up

ReadingChallengeBWHere it is, the end of March and the finish of another month in our Online Reading Challenge. So, how’d you do? Did you read anything amazing? Or was this month just kind of “meh”?

My March book was The Night Circus by Erin Morganstern. This is a lovely, magical story with many layers and, at its heart, a love story.

A circus, consisting of multiple black and white striped tents, mysteriously appears in the night. It stays for a few days, performing only at night, delighting the locals with various fantastic and magical acts, then disappears again as if it never existed. There is no schedule for when or where it will appear again, but it draws a loyal following wherever it opens.

What most people don’t realize is that the circus is actually a stage for a duel being played out by two fierce competitors, each pitting one of their students against the other. The students, Celia and Marco, have been trained since childhood. The purpose of the duel is never explained to them nor is the fact that the duel is to the death until long after they have fallen in love with each other. What would you do to save the one you love? Would you sacrifice yourself? Or allow them to sacrifice themselves to save you? What would you do to spare the innocent people caught in this mad game, one you never asked to be a part of?

Beautifully written with a large supporting cast of unique and interesting characters, The Night Circus is by turns charming and fun, serious and suspenseful. I especially loved the stories of Poppet and Widget and their performing kittens, but there are many characters to love. The story jumps back and forth through time, and changes viewpoint multiple times which can make it difficult to keep track of what is happening, but also adds to the secretive and not-knowing-all-the-answers of the action. I recommend it highly, but be prepared for a sometimes wild ride!

So, what is your opinion of Magical Realism?  What is the appeal of magical realism in fiction? I think it has something to do with the fact that, no matter how sophisticated we become, or how much we tie ourselves to technology, there is a basic need for joy and delight and the unexpected. I think we also wish for the impossible sometimes, for an outcome that can only happen with the aid of something inexpiable.

Let me know in the comments what you thought of this month’s reading choices and any recommendations that you might have!

Journeys – Halfway There

ReadingChallengeBWHello Fellow Book Lovers!

Here we are at the mid-point of the first month of the Online Reading Challenge. How are you doing? Have you picked out a book to read yet? Have you started reading, or maybe you’re already finished – let us know in the comments!

As I mentioned before, I’m reading The Road to Little Dribbling by Bill Bryson. It’s going well, although I do have a problem – it’s very difficult to read it in public since I am constantly chuckling, snorting, and laughing out loud. Bryson has not lost his edge, with many pointed, on-the-mark observations, but his humor has been softened (well, a bit) with time and is often aimed at himself. It is easy to tell that he truly loves his adopted country and, while he might sometimes despair, he also delights in it’s beauty and endless variety.

I should be able to finish this book in a couple days; for (completely unrequired) extra credit, I think I will try to finish Wild by Cheryl Strayed. I actually bought a copy of this book (something that, as a librarian I don’t do all that often) to take on a trip, but only read a couple of chapters even though I was enjoying it. Does that ever happen to you? An interesting book comes to you, but, for one reason or another, it doesn’t get read. Sometimes I come across a “to read someday” book several times before it either drops off the list or I finally read it. This time I’m going to try Wild again and see if it sticks.

In other news, the promised Reading Challenge bookmarks are now available! They’re great for keeping your place in your book of course, but these also list the theme for each month with space for you to write in the title you read. A fun way to keep track of your progress! You can find the bookmarks at each of the Davenport Library buildings in the literature displays and with the Challenge book displays.

Finally, are you still looking for the perfect Journeys title? Here are a couple more ideas to consider.

The Life of Pi by Yann Martel Follow along with Pi when finds himself alone in a lifeboat, his only companions a hyena, an orangutan, a wounded zebra, and Richard Parker, a 450-pound Bengal tiger. Soon the tiger has dispatched all but Pi, whose fear, knowledge, and cunning allow him to coexist with Richard Parker for 227 days while lost at sea.

State of Wonder by Ann Patchett. Patchett is easily by favorite contemporary author, but I hesitated to read this when it first came out and it became one of those “someday” books. When I did finally read it, I found I could hardly put it down again. It has mystery, action, love stories, medical mysteries, the ties of family and a heroine in the darkest Amazon rain forest. Highly recommended.

Undaunted Courage by Stephen Ambrose. A modern classic of the ultimate American journey, follow along as Lewis and Clark open up the great American frontier, treking where no white man had ever been.

Master and Commander by Patrick O’Brian. I am a huge fan of the entire Master and Commander series (20 volumes) and as a result probably know a lot more about early 19th century British naval practice than one might expect from a 21st century American woman. If you like Jane Austin, adventure, action, humor, historical fiction, and interesting characters you’ll like this epic tale of the improbable friendship of Jack and Stephen, all taking place against the backdrop of  the beautiful tall ships of the Napoleonic era. It’s brilliant.

Book-Club-in-a-Box

So, you’re in a book club.

Did you know that the Davenport libraries have just what you need?  Not only have we gathered multiple copies of the same title (and same edition) together into one convenient check-out box, but we’ve added lots of extras.  There’s biograhpical information about the author plus thought-provoking discussion questions.  Many of these questions have been pre-tested by various book groups here at the library. Each kit also has useful tips for starting and maintaining a successful book club.  So, you see, we’ve done the hard part for you!  All you have to do is choose from 37 different kits. We have a whole list for your selection, but here’s a few examples:  The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd and The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold.