Online Reading Challenge – June

Welcome Readers!

This month the Online Reading Challenge travels back in time to the 1970s. Our Main title for June is Burn Baby Burn by Meg Medina. Here’s a quick summary from the publisher:

Nora Lopez is seventeen during the infamous New York summer of 1977, when the city is besieged by arson, a massive blackout, and a serial killer named Son of Sam who shoots young women on the streets. Nora’s family life isn’t going so well either: her bullying brother, Hector, is growing more threatening by the day, her mother is helpless and falling behind on the rent, and her father calls only on holidays. All Nora wants is to turn eighteen and be on her own. And while there is a cute new guy who started working with her at the deli, is dating even worth the risk when the killer likes picking off couples who stay out too late? Award-winning author Meg Medina transports us to a time when New York seemed balanced on a knife-edge, with tempers and temperatures running high, to share the story of a young woman who discovers that the greatest dangers are often closer than we like to admit — and the hardest to accept. – Candlewick

Looking for other books set in the 1970s? Try any of the following.

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

Online Reading Challenge – May Wrap-Up

Hello Fellow Challenge Readers!

How did your reading go this month? Did you read something set in the 1950s & 1960s that you enjoyed? Share in the comments!

I had already read our main title Last Night at the Telegraph Club by Malinda Lo last year for book club, so I decided to read Lavender House by Lev A.C. Rosen, the first book in the Evander Mills series. Lavender House has similar themes to Last Night at the Telegraph Club, hence my picking this title. Lavender House is the first in a new queer historical series that begins in the early 1950s in California. Let’s get into this book!

It’s California in 1952 and the family that lives at Lavender House has been rocked by tragedy. The matriarch Irene Lamontaine has been found dead in her scent library. Her recipes for her signature soaps are a well held family secret, but as readers learn, those are not the only secrets hidden at Lavender House. Lavender House is unique – none of the staff or family hide who they are. They are free to love who they want and be themselves behind the gates and on the grounds. In order to keep their lives secret though, outsiders must be kept at a distance. Irene’s widow is worried that there may be a murderer on the loose at Lavender House, so she seeks someone to help.

She hires Evander Mills, also known as Andy, to find the killer. Andy has recently been fired from the San Francisco police after he was caught in a raid at a gay bar. Not having any work lined up, Andy accepts and is thrust into the secretive world of Lavender House as he looks for reasons why someone would have killed Irene. What he finds is a complicated mess of family history, old money, jealousy, and lies. As much as the family works to keep their lives insulated and safe, everyone at Lavender House has secrets that could have lead to death. A queer family that lives honestly and openly behind the walls and on the estate of Lavender House is shocking to Andy, but he quickly realizes that they aren’t as honest and open amongst each other as they pretend to be. It’s dangerous to be queer outside of Lavender House. Those at Lavender House may think they live in a utopia, but keeping the real world out forever isn’t feasible.

This title is narrated by one of my favorite audiobook narrators, Vikas Adam, so I was excited to get started. As I mentioned earlier, Lavender House shares similar themes with Last Night at the Telegraph Club. Both titles are character-driven, feature queer characters, are historical, and take place in California in the 1950s. How queer people were treated in the 1950s features prominently as well. Lavender House has older main characters and is a historical mystery, while Last Night at the Telegraph Club is considered a young adult historical novel with romance.

I enjoyed the mystery in this book. While I didn’t have the killer figured out immediately, I did quickly figure it out as I was reading. There is a large cast of characters in this book, but the author doesn’t overwhelm you with details about each at the start. You learn about the characters as Andy’s investigation progresses. All in all, I enjoyed this title set in the 1950s and am excited to see where the next books take me!

I hope you all enjoyed reading, watching, or listening to something set in the 1950s or 1960s this month. Next month, we are traveling to the 1970s.

Evander Mills series

  1. Lavender House (2022)
  2. The Bell in the Fog (2023)
  3. Rough Pages (2024)

Online Reading Challenge – May

Welcome Readers!

This month the Online Reading Challenge travels back in time to the 1950s & 1960s. Our Main title for May is Last Night at the Telegraph Club by Malinda Lo. Here’s a quick summary from the publisher:

Seventeen-year-old Lily Hu can’t remember exactly when the feeling took root—that desire to look, to move closer, to touch. Whenever it started growing, it definitely bloomed the moment she and Kathleen Miller walked under the flashing neon sign of a lesbian bar called the Telegraph Club. Suddenly everything seemed possible.

But America in 1954 is not a safe place for two girls to fall in love, especially not in Chinatown. Red-Scare paranoia threatens everyone, including Chinese Americans like Lily. With deportation looming over her father—despite his hard-won citizenship—Lily and Kath risk everything to let their love see the light of day. – Dutton Books for Young Readers

Looking for some other books set in the 1950s or 1960s? Try any of the following.

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

Online Reading Challenge – April Wrap-Up

Hello Fellow Challenge Readers!

How did your reading go this month? Did you read something set in the 1940s that you enjoyed? Share in the comments!

I had previously read The Real Lolita by Sarah Weinman, our main title, for a book club a couple years ago, so decided to give it a re-read. Overall, I enjoyed this book – it read like narrative nonfiction.

Quick overview: The Real Lolita covers the 1948 abduction of eleven-year-old Sally Horner by Frank LaSalle, a man pretending to be an FBI agent. In addition to that traumatic event, Weinman also discusses Vladimir Nabokov’s writing and publication of Lolita, which he published seven years after Sally’s abduction. These two concurrent narratives are presented elegantly, factually, and with an incredible amount of researched detail. Readers learn about Sally and all the people in her circle, at the same time as they learn about Nabokov and all the people in his circle. It’s an interesting juxtaposition. Seeing how Sally’s story may be mirrored in Lolita was compelling. I enjoyed the crossovers between the two worlds and have more questions than answers.

I am *almost* done with this title and still plan on finishing. Even though this is a re-read, I am still finding content that I didn’t remember from my initial read. This title admittedly covers multiple decades starting in the 1940s and then heading into the 1950s, but the main events happened in the 1940s. Those key events influenced later events, books, movies, etc. greatly. As a librarian and as someone researching their family’s history, I resonated a lot with the author’s frustration at not being able to find primary source material. The Real Lolita has been an engaging narrative nonfiction read so far and I can’t wait to finish this again. I haven’t read Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov and honestly can’t say if I want to after reading this title. I’m torn. What are your thoughts?

Next month, we are traveling to the 1950s & 1960s.

Online Reading Challenge – March Wrap-Up

Hello Fellow Challenge Readers!

How did your reading go this month? Did you read something set in the 1920s & 1930s that you enjoyed? Share in the comments!

I read our main title: The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey. This is the author’s debut novel published in 2012.

Needing a change, Jack and Mabel move to Alaska in 1920. It’s a rough life, full of long days, loneliness, and despair. The move pushes the two further apart as Jack works long hours on the farm and Mabel is left alone in their cabin. Wanting some normalcy during the season’s first snowfall, the two craft a child out of snow, both adding bits of themselves to their creation. The next morning, they are shocked to see that their snow child has been destroyed with a trail of tiny footprints leading into the forest. They glimpse a young, blond-haired girl flitting through the trees, wearing the hat and mittens that they decorated their snow child with. The girl named Faina inserts herself more and more into Jack and Mabel’s life, becoming part of their family. She never seems to truly belong with them though, instead preferring the snow and woods and life beyond their homestead. She has survived alone all these years, but that doesn’t stop Jack and Mabel from worrying. The more comfortable the three become with each other, the more they realize just how much they don’t know about Faina. Alaska may be beautiful, but the land holds violence right alongside that beauty. Their peace could shatter at any moment, something they would be wise to remember.

I procrastinated starting this book and honestly, I’m not sure why. It was such an easy, beautiful read. The Snow Child is a love story to Alaska and to the people living there. It’s full of immense joy and devastating sorrow. Eowyn Ivey is a master storyteller, weaving magic and realism together in such a way that at times I couldn’t tell the difference between the two. I felt like I was in Alaska with Mabel and Jack, struggling alongside them as they worked to get their homestead functioning and sustainable. The winters were breathtakingly cold and sparkling while the summers were sticky, clouded with mosquitoes, and full of their desperate attempts to prepare enough for the coming winter. The mountains towered over all with lush trees and wildlife running through, full of danger and promise. Ivey doesn’t shy away from showing the cruelness of Alaska and the hardness of life for people who choose to live there. It’s important not to forget the pockets of beauty that can be found though. All in all, this was a magical read full of wonder – one I’m glad I chose to read for this month’s challenge.

Next month, we are traveling to the 1940s.

Online Reading Challenge – March

Welcome Readers!

This month the Online Reading Challenge travels back in time to the 1920s & 1930s. Our Main title for March is The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey. Here’s a quick summary from the publisher:

In this magical debut, a couple’s lives are changed forever by the arrival of a little girl, wild and secretive, on their snowy doorstep.

Alaska, 1920: a brutal place to homestead, and especially tough for recent arrivals Jack and Mabel. Childless, they are drifting apart — he breaking under the weight of the work of the farm; she crumbling from loneliness and despair. In a moment of levity during the season’s first snowfall, they build a child out of snow. The next morning the snow child is gone — but they glimpse a young, blonde-haired girl running through the trees.

This little girl, who calls herself Faina, seems to be a child of the woods. She hunts with a red fox at her side, skims lightly across the snow, and somehow survives alone in the Alaskan wilderness. As Jack and Mabel struggle to understand this child who could have stepped from the pages of a fairy tale, they come to love her as their own daughter. But in this beautiful, violent place things are rarely as they appear, and what they eventually learn about Faina will transform all of them. – Back Bay Books

Looking for some other books set in the 1920s & 1930s? Try any of the following.

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

Online Reading Challenge – February Wrap-Up

Hello Fellow Challenge Readers!

How did your reading go this month? Did you read something set in the 1900s & 1910s that you enjoyed? Share in the comments!

I read our main title: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith. Even though this is a classic that was published originally in 1943, I had never read it before. I admit that I was a bit apprehensive before starting, but knowing that other people loved this book, I started the audiobook and pushed through!

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn tells the story of a young girl coming of age at the start of the twentieth century in Brooklyn. Francie Nolan has both parts of her parents: her mother’s practical side and her father’s romantic nature. These differing parts war within her, but ultimately help her become the person she is at the end of the novel. Growing up, Francie has help from her parents and her various aunts, while dealing with her brother being her mother’s favored child. Francie inherited her father’s romanticism and love of beauty, which butted up against her mother’s incredibly practical nature and intense desire to know the truth. Despite low odds of survival, Francie is resourceful and does whatever it takes to make a better life.

So what did I think? It took me until 67% of the way into the audiobook (thanks Libby!) before I became fully invested in the characters and the story – hear me out! This book was a slow building read for me, which I have discovered is typical for books published at that time (and in my opinion, is also typical for most books that are labeled as ‘classics’). The first part of the book focused on setting the scene and building the family tree back from the main character, young Francie Nolan. It dealt heavily with talking about Francie as a young girl and her family, introducing her parents, brother, aunts, and other family members. While I appreciate having that information and agree said information is necessary to the story, at times it was hard to keep track of all of the new characters, which in turn pushed me out of the story.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, to me, is a prime example of Ranganathan’s third law of library science, “Every Book its Reader”. This law states that every book in a library must find its reader, which also means that each item in the library has a person that would find said item useful. While this title isn’t my favorite, I was able to pick out passages that resonated with me. On the flip side, there are others who have told me that A Tree Grows in Brooklyn was a pivotal part of their reading journey and is, in fact, their favorite book. “Every Book its Reader” is very fitting.

Next month in March, we are traveling to the 1920s & 1930s.

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!

Online Reading Challenge – January

Welcome Readers!

It’s time for a new Online Reading Challenge! In 2024, we will be heading to different decades every month. This month the Online Reading Challenge travels to the 1800s. Our Main title for January is Libertie by Kaitlyn Greenidge. Here’s a quick summary from the publisher:

The critically acclaimed and Whiting Award–winning author of We Love You, Charlie Freeman returns with Libertie, an unforgettable story about one young Black girl’s attempt to find a place where she can be fully, and only, herself.

Coming of age in a free Black community in Reconstruction-era Brooklyn, Libertie Sampson is all too aware that her purposeful mother, a practicing physician, has a vision for their future together: Libertie is to go to medical school and practice alongside her. But Libertie, drawn more to music than science, feels stifled by her mother’s choices and is hungry for something else—is there really only one way to have an autonomous life? And she is constantly reminded that, unlike her light-skinned mother, Libertie will not be able to pass for white. When a young man from Haiti proposes to Libertie and promises she will be his equal on the island, she accepts, only to discover that she is still subordinate to him and all men. As she tries to parse what freedom actually means for a Black woman, Libertie struggles with where she might find it—for herself and for generations to come.

Inspired by the life of one of the first Black female doctors in the United States and rich with historical detail, Kaitlyn Greenidge’s new and immersive novel will resonate with readers eager to understand our present through a deep, moving, and lyrical dive into our past.

This title is also available in large print and as a Libby eBook.

Looking for some other books set in the 1800s? Try any of the following.

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

Coming Soon! Online Reading Challenge 2024!

Welcome to the 2024 Online Reading Challenge!

Get ready for our ninth year of reading recommendations with our super-casual, low-stress reading club! It is run online through the Davenport Library’s reference blog Info Café and, new in 2024, you can participate in the Online Reading Challenge through the Beanstack app!

For anyone who doesn’t know (or remember!) the Online Reading Challenge is run through the Info Cafe blog and now Beanstack! Each month we read books centered around a theme. Each year is a little different, but the unchanging main principle of this book club is: No Pressure! There is no sign-up, no meetings to attend (although you’re welcome to add any comments to the blog posts), no shame in not finishing a book, or skipping a month (or two). You can read one of the suggested titles or something different or none at all! Read at your own pace, read what interests you, try something out of your usual reading zone or stick with what you like best. In other words, create a personalized book club with a bit of encouragement from the Reading Challenge!

Our theme for 2024 is Decades!

Each month we will be traveling to a different decade and highlighting a main title set in that decade. Besides the main title, we’ll have suggestions for books set in the same decade as well as many more on display at each of our buildings. You can choose to read the main book or alternate titles or even something else completely! As always, we’ll have an introductory blog post at the beginning of the month, and a wrap-up at the end. At the end of the month I’ll write about the main title, pose some questions, and invite you to comment your observations about the title you read.

Of course, as always, you may do as you please – there are no Library Police! If you wish to skip a month or read more than one book in that month or read a book from a different month, go for it! No one will drag you off to Library Jail if you choose your own path!

The 2024 Online Reading Challenge begins on Wednesday, January 3rd. Be sure to follow the Info Café reference blog or Beanstack for more information and updates!