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?

 

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 – July Wrap-Up

Hello Reading Challengers!

How did your reading go in July? Did you read something wonderful set during the time of Westward Expansion?

I set out to read Undaunted Courage by Stephen Ambrose. Real world disclaimer here: I haven’t finished it yet. But – but! – not because I didn’t like it – in fact I’m loving it! It’s just that other obligations got in the way. I have every intention of finishing it and soon. I’m about a third of the way through, so here are my impressions so far and why I’m loving it so much.

Undaunted Courage is about Lewis and Clark’s “voyage of discovery” when they crossed the western half the North American continent, beyond the known frontier. Before their journey, most of the information about the land was made up of myths and legends and less-than-reliable reports of itinerant fur trappers.

The book opens with an in-depth look at Meriwether Lewis’ youth and upbringing in Virginia where he managed his family’s plantation. He also served in the militia and then worked as an aide to the newly elected President Thomas Jefferson who was a neighbor back in Virginia. I had not realized how well Jefferson and Lewis knew each other, and how much they worked together. At first, already pressed for time, I had planned to skim this part of the book, thinking it would be dull but it isn’t! It’s fascinating! It shows the unique circumstances that shaped Lewis, what they taught him, how they influenced his life viewpoint and how one day they would prepare him for this great adventure. It is also a eye-opening insight into how and why the Founding Fathers thought and operated. It’s like reading about the building blocks of this new nation that would become America.

Jefferson, President, diplomat and political strategist, was also an enthusiastic amateur scientist. He wanted to create friendly relations with the Indians and find a waterway to the Pacific Ocean, but he also desperately wished to find out what the land was like – the soil, the weather, the plants and the animals. Jefferson, like most scientists of his day, believed that mastodons still roamed the land, that there were active volcanoes and that the mountain range between the Mississippi River and the Pacific was no higher than the Appalachians.

Lewis was the perfect choice to lead the expedition and Jefferson undertook to teach him as much science as possible before he left including astronomy, rudimentary medicine, botany, preservation of specimens and map making. Lewis engaged an army friend William Clark (brother of Revolutionary War hero George Rogers Clark) as co-commander and, after a great deal of planning and several setbacks the Corps of Discovery set off.

I’ve just read to the part where they will make their first winter camp, about six months into the journey. They have encountered the Sioux and other tribes, have already discovered many new species of birds, animals and plants and have seen sights never before known to white Americans. Lewis writes about flocks of carrier pigeons so numerous they block out the sun, of the great migration of buffalo, elk and antelope – something not seen by a living person for 100 years now, plentiful game and fruit, endless rolling prairie under a sea of grass. I try to imagine what they must have seen, the wildlife, the endless prairie untouched by fences or roads and am awed (I also think about the difficulty of traveling where there are no roads, no hotels, no GPS and progress on a good day was 30 miles and am grateful to living in the present.)

It’s kind of a cliffhanger that I’ve left it at – after this winter camp they will venture into truly unknown territory – so yes, I look forward to reading the rest of this adventure. What about you? What adventure did you read about this month?

 

 

Online Reading Challenge – Mid-Month Check-in

Howdy Readers! How’s your Westward Expansion reading experience going this month?

I am working away at reading Stephen Ambrose’s Undaunted Courage which recounts the journey of Lewis and Clark. It has been a bit of a slog so far – interesting but maybe too detailed – but I haven’t gotten to the actual journey yet. Things should pick up then.

If you’re still searching for a book to read be sure to stop by any of the Davenport Library locations and check our displays which have a variety of interesting titles. Or reach for a DVD – we have a wide range to choose from. You can go classic/nostalgic and check out a television Western which used to be so popular – Rawhide, Gunsmoke, Little House on the Prairie, Bonanza or The Virginian. We also have a huge collection of John Wayne and Clint Eastwood westerns.

If you’d like to look beyond the stereotypes, there are some excellent documentaries that are well worth watching. Lewis and Clark: the Journey of the Corps of Discovery and The West, both produced by Ken Burns, are beautifully done.

For a modern, often violent look at the Old West try There Will Be Blood or The Revenant or the remake of True Grit.

Online Reading Challenge – July

Hey Folks! It’s time for a new month of reading with our Online Reading Challenge! What will you read this month?

The theme for July is Westward Expansion. Most of us probably immediately think of cowboys and Native Americans and the “wild west” and while there are several very good Westward Expansion books with exactly this setting, you don’t have to limit yourself to that era. In reality the “wild west” only lasted a few decades, no matter that it holds such a vivid place in our imagination. Westward expansion  started with the arrival of colonists on the East coast of the continent, continuing through US history as the population pushed westward, including into Alaska.

Unfortunately, Westward Expansion also encompasses some of the worst of American history, the treatment of Native Americans which ranged from poor to horrific. This might be the time to read more about their history. Try the modern classic Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: an Indian History of the American West by Dee Brown or The Earth is Weeping: the Epic Story of the Indian Wars for the American West by Peter Cozzens for insights into the story of these proud people.

There are a lot of great books to read in this category, including some American classics. Try My Antonia by Willa Cather for an evocative, breathtaking view of life on the prairies. Two of my personal favorites are Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry – a chunk of a book that nevertheless ends too soon – and News of the World by Paulette Jiles – a slim volume packed with heartfelt emotion. Both of these titles recall a time when the West was still raw and life was difficult. They depict a time that is, at first look, similar to traditional stories of the West, but in fact both show great depth and the complexity of the time.

Now might be the time to try a classic Western – Max Brand, Zane Grey or Louis L’Amour. For a woman’s view of the West, take a look at the novel The Diary of Mattie Spenser by Sandra Dallas or the non-fiction Frontier Grit: the Unlikely True Stories of Daring Pioneer Women by Marianne Monson.

I’m setting my sights on Undaunted Courage by Stephen Ambrose about the journey of Lewis and Clark. It’s been on my list for a long time and I’m looking forward to following their epic adventure.

As always, there will be displays with these titles and lots more at each of our library locations. And let us know what you plan to read!