Online Reading Challenge – October

Hello! Welcome to the October edition of the Online Reading Challenge!

This month our focus author is Philippa Gregory!

Gregory is best known for historical fiction, especially novels set in England during the Plantagenet and Tudor eras. This is a period of time that is especially ripe for novelists – Henry and his multiple wives, the religious wars, the constant struggle for the crown and the lives of powerful and important people. Gregory’s books usually look at these turbulent times from a woman’s point-of-view. Often dismissed or misunderstood, the women have a different understanding of what actually happened beyond historical dates and famous battles.

While Gregory follows historical timelines, she sometimes speculates with alternative theories of what actually happened behind closed doors. This makes for fascinating and interesting reading, but remember to read these as fiction, not irrefutable fact!

Gregory’s Tudor series is probably her most popular, following each of Henry the VIII’s wives. I especially liked The Other Boleyn Girl which is told from the point-of-view of Anne Boleyn’s sister, who had been Henry’s mistress before he married Anne (so tangled!) Mary Boleyn was a real person who bore Henry two children, but was set aside when his interest turned to Anne.

If you’ve read everything by Gregory or would like to try another author, there are some very good ones to check out including Hilary Mantel, Sharon Kay Penman, Allison Weir and Tracy Chevalier.  If you prefer mysteries you might try the Shardlake mystery series by C.J. Sansom or hunt down The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey. It’s an older book that attempts to solve the mystery of the Princes in the Tower; it’s very good and well worth borrowing. And if you want something a little lighter and lots of fun, I highly recommend My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, an alternate history of Lady Jane Grey that is simply delightful.

Of course, you can choose to read a historical novel from any time period or country you wish – be the boss of your online book club!

I am planning on reading A Perilous Alliance by Fiona Buckley, one from her Ursula Blanchard mystery series. Ursula is distantly related to Queen Elizabeth and helps the Queen’s advisors with some spying and occasional detective work.

Now it’s your turn – what will you be reading in October?

 

Online Reading Challenge – July

Greetings Challenge Readers!

It’s time for a new Author in our Challenge and this month it’s: Jodi Picoult!

A popular and prolific writer, Picoult will be on many favorite author lists. Picoult is a good storyteller, easily drawing the reader into her books which usually tackle difficult ethical dilemmas that throw ordinary families into extraordinary situations. A prolific author, some of her most popular titles include My Sister’s Keeper (organ donation), Nineteen Minutes (a school shooting), Small Great Things (racism), A Spark of Light (hostage situation) and Vanishing Acts (parental kidnapping). In each, Picoult is able to present a balanced view, trying to understand various points-of-view which lift them beyond good vs evil. They provide a great insight into some of the most troubling issues of our time.

There is no shortage of great books that tackle difficult topics. If you’ve already read everything by Picoult and/or would like to try a similar author, check out one of these titles. There will also be displays at all three buildings with these titles and more to consider.

This is How It Always Is by Frankel (transgender child)

Things You Save in a Fire by Katherine Center (aging parents)

Dear Edward by Ann Napoliano (lone plane crash survivor)

Black and Blue by Anna Quindlen (domestic abuse)

Evvie Drake Starts Over by Linda Holmes (widowhood)

Midwives by Chris Bohjalian (medical trial)

The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff (polygamy)

All Fall Down by Jennifer Weiner (addiction recovery)

Summerland by Elin Hilderbrand (fatal car crash)

While these may seem to all be very depressing, in fact all of them offer hope and are a great way to understand a situation you may never encounter, but has affected others deeply.

I am planning on reading Nineteen Minutes about a school shooting, an event that has become far too common in the last few years. It was a hard decision though, as many of Picoult’s books are intriguing.

What about you, what will you be reading this month?

Online Reading Challenge – June Wrap-Up

Hello Fellow Readers!

We’re halfway through the year – how is your Challenge going? Did you find something good to read during this month of Alice Hoffman?

I chose to read The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman. Although it was written after Practical Magic (one of Hoffman’s most popular books) this one actually takes place chronologically  before Practical Magic begins. In The Rules of Magic we learn a little more about the curse that haunts the Owens family, about the aunt that helped raise Jet and Franny (and their brother Vincent) who in turn one day will be tasked with raising Gillian and Sally whose story will unfold in Practical Magic.

Members of the Owens family possess magic and trying to deny it or hide from it will not save them from the family curse, that everything they love will leave them. Jet and Franny and Vincent’s parents work hard to make the siblings hide their magic, but it persists in each of them, just below the surface. One summer, when they’re young teens, their mother allows them to spend the summer with their Aunt Isabelle at the family home place in a rural town. At first they miss Manhattan, but they soon discover that their magic is growing stronger and that their aunt is happy to encourage them. It becomes a summer of rebellion and revelation as they each begin to find how to live with their legacy.

In time, despite their best efforts, each sibling falls in love and for each one, in one way or another, the family curse prevails. But isn’t that part of everyone’s life, that we seek out love, that we love recklessly and without regret and that someday, maybe today, maybe years from now, that love will no longer be with us.

It has been several years since I read Practical Magic and I wasn’t sure I would be able to make a connection, but I found this book can stand pretty much on it’s own. The writing is lyrical, which sounds kind of pretentious, but describes it best – Hoffman evokes the mysterious, tangled atmosphere of Isabelle’s house as well as the depth of emotions the characters feel with the same delicate touch, never maudlin but always real. In many ways, I found this book to be sad with so much heartbreak and sacrifice but also, ultimately, hopeful that the legacy of the past passes on to the next generation and the sacrifices made were worth the pain. As Hoffman concludes, “the only remedy for love is to love more”. A beautiful book.

Now it’s your turn – what did you read this month?

Online Reading Challenge – May Wrap-Up

Greetings Fellow Readers!

Here we are at the end of May already. How did your reading go this month? Did you find a Toni Morrison book or similar author to read this month?

I read Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi which turned out to be an excellent choice. It tells the story  of half-sisters Effia and Esi, born in Africa. Unknown to each other,  their lives take very different paths. Effia is married off to a white man, the British officer in charge of the Cape Coast Castle, the trading post where slaves were housed until sent West. While her life is relatively comfortable, she torn between two worlds – not entirely African anymore and not welcome in English society.

Meanwhile, Esi is captured, sold into slavery and sent to America, her life becoming a nightmare of constant hardship. After she is captured, Esi is held in the dungeons of the Cape Coast Castle with dozens of other women. She raped, beaten, nearly starved and lives in filthy conditions until a ship is ready to sail. Life as an enslaved person in America is no better.

Both women struggle to raise their children with a love and understanding of their African roots, passing along the oral history of their family and their people. Each generation that comes after these women must also struggle with the terrible legacy of slavery – of the responsibility for it (on Effia’s side) and the suffering, emotional and physical, of living it (on Esi’s side).

This is a powerful story, told by a bold and courageous voice. While the writing does not have the ethereal quality of Morrison’s, it is magical in it’s own way. The stories jump forward through time, describing a pivotal moment in the life of a member of each family each generation, then moving on to the next generation, creating a face-paced but vivid picture of struggles and triumphs. The long-lasting affects of slavery and racism are especially eye-opening and heartbreaking. A powerful story of tragedy and resilience. Highly recommended.

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

 

 

Online Reading Challenge – April

Hello Challenge Readers!

New month, new author for our Online Reading Challenge! This month we’re reading books by and similar to Jojo Moyes.

Jojo Moyes writes about women, friendship and community. Many of her novels are classified as romance, but her newer titles are catalogued as fiction. Her break-out novel was Me Before You, followed by After You and Still Me. In addition she’s written favorites such as The Girl You Left Behind and The Giver of Stars.

If you’ve read everything by Moyes, or would like to try similar authors, take a look at these titles:

What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty

Landline by Ranbow Rowell

One Day by David Nicholls

The Summer I Found You by Jolene Perry

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

You Me Everything by Catherine Issac

Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson

Welcome to Pine Away Motel and Cabins by Katarina Bivald

The Oysterville Sewing Circle by Susan Wiggs

Very Valentine by Adriana Trigiani

Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaswal

Lots of great choices, right? I’m planning to read The Giver of Stars which picked up a lot of interest when Reese Witherspoon chose it for her book club. It’s also garnered some controversy and mixed reviews since it was released a few months after another book on the same topic, The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Richardson was published (which I have read and it is excellent) The topic is fascinating – the horseback librarians of rural Appalachia during the Great Depression – and I’m looking forward to seeing how this compares to Book Woman.

What about you – what will you be reading this month?

 

Online Reading Challenge – March Wrap-Up

Hello Fellow Challenge Readers!

How did your reading go this month? I hope you found something that grabbed your interest!

I read Dana Stabenow’s The Singing of the Dead, one of the Kate Shugak mysteries set in Alaska. It took me a bit to get into the book and in fact, I thought I might not be able to finish it. I was confused by the large cast of characters (it probably didn’t help that I didn’t start with the first book in the series!) and at first I wasn’t sure about Kate herself. But I stuck with it and pretty soon I got caught up in the story and came to really like Kate (and Mutt).

Kate Shugak, a private investigator in Alaska, is hired to act as security for one of the candidates running for state senate who has received threatening notes. Kate is a Native and knows and understands the people, their concerns and how they live in such a unique and isolated part of the world. As she tags along with the candidate on the political trail, she sees little evidence of any threats, but she does discover a lot of corruption and betrayal within the campaign itself. When first one and then another person connected to the candidate is shot and killed, Kate joins forces with police detective Jim Chopin to find the killer.

Parts of the novel are set in the earliest days of the state, when the gold rush brought people of all kinds to the territory including “ladies of the evening”. I enjoyed this look at  the rough-and-tumble history and the guts and determination required to survive. I thought the ties between the sins of the past and the present-day murders were a little shaky, but I tend to read mysteries for the characters and the setting which, in this case, did not disappoint!

Now it’s your turn – what did you read this month?

Online Reading Challenge – March

Hello Challenge Readers!

Welcome to a new month of Challenge Reading! This month’s author is: C.J. Box!

C.J. Box has written a couple of mystery series, some stand alone titles and several short stories, all set in the Western United States. He is best known for his Joe Pickett mystery series, set in the Bighorn Mountains of Wyoming where Joe is a game warden who often tangles with less savory people.

I’ve just recently discovered C.J. Box and quickly became a fan, reading all of his Joe Pickett series in just a few months. A blog post I wrote about one of his newest titles, Long Range, will give you a good idea of the characters and stories. I strongly recommend any of his books – interesting, complex characters, tense, exciting storylines and over it all, a stunning, untamed landscape.

For C.J. Box read-alikes, I went with titles and authors that feature the outdoors as a major element to the story. Most of these are mysteries and many are part of a series, so if you find one you like, you’re set for what-to-read-next for awhile! Here are some suggestions to get you started.

Nevada Barr writes the National Park series featuring park ranger Anna Pigeon.

Randy Wayne White has two series, both set in Florida. Hannah Smith is a fishing guide and Doc Ford is a marine biologist.

Steve Hamilton sets his PI Alex McNight series in the Upper Penisula of Michigan.

Craig Johnson writes the Longmire series about a sheriff in Wyoming.

Patricia Skalka writes about Sheriff Dave Cubiak who works in Door County, Wisconsin.

For some individual titles, check out Crazy Mountain Kiss by Keith McCafferty which follows PI Sean Stranahan, a private investigator in Montana; The Precipice by Paul Doiron about game warden Mike Bowditch searching for two hikers missing in Maine; and The Wild Inside by Christine Carbo, a novel of suspense set in Glacier National Park.

I am planning to read The Singing of the Dead by Dana Stabenow from her Kate Shugak series. I’ve heard a lot of good things about these mysteries which are set in Alaska, but haven’t read one yet. Now’s the time!

What about you? What will you be reading this month?

 

 

Online Reading Challenge – February Wrap-Up

Hello Readers!

How did your February reading go? What wonderful, magical, mind-twisting book did you discover this month? Or was it the opposite and nothing caught your fancy?

I’m afraid I fell into the second category, somewhat. I failed to finish The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman – it just wasn’t working for me. It felt very dark and very sad to me and I just couldn’t finish it (it doesn’t help that a kitten was killed early in the book) Harm/abuse of children or animals will keep me away from any book, no matter how good it’s supposed to be. I also have no trouble not finishing a book if it’s making me unhappy – there are too many good books out there that add value than to continue to read just for the sake of finishing!

However, I did finish a book that fits very neatly into the Neil Gaiman magical-realism read-alike category – my reserve for The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab came in and I couldn’t put it down. Thoughtful, intriguing and surprising with a twisting storyline that keeps you guessing (and hoping). One of our librarians, Stephanie, wrote a blog post about it last month with an excellent summary and examination of it’s appeal. Go read it for more details!

So, while I might not have read what I had planned to, I still finished this month’s challenge!

What about you – did you finish this month’s challenge? (Remember, no judgement if you didn’t – there are no Library Police!)

Online Reading Challenge – January Wrap-Up

Hello Fellow Challenge Readers!

How did your reading go this month? Did you find a great Kristin Hannah book or something similar?

I read The Great Alone, a title that had gotten a lot of buzz when it came out and a lot of very good reviews. However, I was warned by a couple friends that the book was pretty dark and sad so I was a little worried.

Well, my friends were right – it is dark and very sad in parts – but the reviewers were right too. Hannah is an excellent writer, able to draw you into another world quickly and able to keep the tension of “what happens!” rolling throughout the book. It might not be my favorite book of all time, but I couldn’t put it down and I haven’t stopped thinking about the themes in the book and what happened.

Set mostly in the mid-to-late 70s, The Great Alone is about a family that moves north to Alaska. Ernt Allbright has been nearly destroyed by the Vietnam War where he spent six years as a prisoner of war. Haunted by nightmares and unable to fit in, he takes his wife Cora and daughter Leni to Alaska to establish a homestead in a remote cabin far from the pressures of modern life.

Cora is ill-suited to the harsh work required to survive, but she loves Ernt deeply and follows willingly. At 13, Leni has no choice but to go with them but finds that there is a terrible beauty to Alaska that appeals to her and shapes her into the woman she will become.

At first, Ernt seems better. The family arrives in Alaska in the early summer, the neighbors and small town welcome them and they start to build a life. However, they are woefully unprepared for an Alaskan winter and the pressure builds in Ernt. He begins drinking too much, becomes convinced the government is coming to kill them all and then becomes abusive, beating Cora and punishing Leni for any mistake, real or imagined. Isolated and far from any help, Leni and her Mother must band together to survive not only the harsh conditions, but the danger from within.

This is a fascinating look at family dynamics, the strength of character and adaptability of people, and the devastating, long-term effects of war and PTSD. Throughout it all, Alaska looms large with it’s incredible beauty and unforgiving landscapes, a central character in it’s own right.

Now it’s your turn – what did you read this month?

 

Introducing the 2021 Online Reading Challenge!

Welcome to the 2021 Online Reading Challenge!

We’re back for another year (our 6th!) of reading recommendations with our super-casual, low-stress reading club. Each month I’ll introduce a new subject, suggest several reading choices and pick a title for myself. At the end of the month I’ll report back with what I read and encourage you to share what you read. And that’s it – no pressure, no being forced to read a book you’re not interested in, no obligation to host a bunch of strangers!

Our theme for 2021 is Read-Alikes! I’ve chosen 12 popular and critically acclaimed authors, one for each month. During that month you can read books by that author (especially if you haven’t yet but have been meaning to) or books by authors with similar writing styles (so if you’ve read everything by the author-of-the-month, this will give you a chance to explore more authors!) Of course, as always, you may do as you please – there are no Library Police! So 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 chose your own path!

Here is the schedule of Read-Alikes:

January – Kristin Hannah

February – Neil Gaiman

March – C.J. Box

April – Jojo Moyes

May – Toni Morrison

June – Alice Hoffman

July – Jodi Picoult

August – David Baldacci

September – Ann Patchett

October – Philippa Gregory

November – Chimamanda Adichie

December – Lisa Gardner

OK, let’s get started! January’s author is Kristin Hannah, who writes fiction highlighting strong female characters. She’s written a number of books that have been very popular including The Nightingale and The Great Alone which is quite a range! Here are a few suggestions.

American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins

The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls

The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson

The Glass Kitchen by Linda Francis Lee

Lost Lake by Sarah Addison Allen

Here’s to Us by Elin Hilderbrand

Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly

Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman

Island House by Nancy Thayer

As Bright as Heaven by Susan Meissner

White Chrysanthemum by Mary Lynn Bracht

Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate

White Houses by Amy Bloom

That’s a great list of both contemporary and historical fiction, all centered on strong women. Clicking on any of the titles will take you to our catalog and a brief description of the book.

I haven’t read very many books by Hannah (just The Nightingale which is excellent) so I’m going to try The Great Alone which comes with lots of great reviews.

Now, what about you? What will you be reading this month?