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?

Online Reading Challenge – December Wrap-Up

Hello Readers!

We’ve made it through another year! Hurrah! I hope you’ve enjoyed our reading explorations!

This month’s inspiration film was The Maltese Falcon, a classic detective film starring Humphrey Bogart. It’s the quintessential private detective movie with a twisty plot, a mysterious woman and a jaded detective.

The book I read this month was The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett (he also wrote The Maltese Falcon which the film is based on), which checks many of the same points including a twisty plot and a mysterious woman (or two). This one is set apart by the detectives though – in The Thin Man they are Nick and Nora Charles, a crazy-rich couple who solve crimes when their social calendar of cocktails and banter allows.

Nick and Nora are the kind of wealthy people that could quickly become super annoying but instead, this pair is funny and charming, madly in love with each other and kind and generous to those in need.  Quite frankly, the mystery – which I found a little hard to follow – was secondary for me (I’m  not a big mystery reader so that’s not a surprise) Instead I enjoyed the characters and the atmospheric setting – I could almost hear the clinking of martini glasses and see the sharp clothes. This book is an enduring classic for good reason!

How about you? How did your reading go this month? Let us know in the comments!

We may be done with the Online Reading Challenge for this year, but the 2021 Challenge begins on January 2! Be sure to check back for all the details!

Online Reading Challenge – December

Hello Challenge Readers!

Here we are with the last Challenge of the year (what a year, right?) This month our inspiration film is the classic, The Maltese Falcon starring Humphrey Bogart. For me, the film is nearly incomprehensible – I still don’t understand the fuss over the statue – but it’s still a great film, with several famous character actors, an incredibly stylish black-and-white film noir feel and Bogart at his charismatic best. So what kind of books does this film inspire?

Of course, you can read books by Dashiell Hammett who wrote the book our film is based on as well as classics such as The Thin Man and The Red Harvest.  One of his contemporaries, Raymond Chandler, wrote several outstanding detective novels including The Big Sleep and Farewell My Lovely. 

Others to consider include James Ellroy (The Black Dahlia, L.A. Confidential), Ross MacDonald (the Lew Archer series) and James Cain (The Postman Always Rings Twice, Double Indemnity and Mildred Pierce). Newer authors include Patricia Highsmith (Strangers on a Train), Robert B Parker (the Spencer series), Lawrence Block (the Matthew Scudder series) and Mickey Spillane (the Mike Hammer series).

I am planning on reading The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett about married private detectives Nick and Nora Charles and their dog Asta. It’s supposed to have lots of fun. snappy dialogue and has inspired a radio show, a television series, movies and even a Broadway play.

What about you – what will you be reading in December? Let us know in the comments!

Online Reading Challenge – November Wrap-Up

Greetings Challengers!

I hope you have safely returned from your time travel adventure by now. Time travel can be exciting, but also a little dangerous – one misstep and you put the whole future in jeopardy! Fortunately, at this time (as far as I know), time travel only exists in books and movies. Did you read something great this month? Please let us know in the comments!

My time travel adventure never took off – I failed to find anything that kept my interest. Of course, I threw this month open to any science fiction title, but I still came up short. This month (and year!) has been somewhat distracting!

If you too are still looking for something time-travel-y, check out some Doctor Who episodes (we have both classic and reboot series) which are loads of fun. C, one of our librarians, recommends Stephen King’s 11/22/63 about a man that goes back in time to try and prevent the assissination of John F Kennedy. They also suggest H.G. Wells’s The Time Machine, an early classic in the genre.

So, now it’s up to you – what can you recommend for time-traveling/science fiction fun?

Online Reading Challenge – November

Hello Challenge Readers!

Welcome to the November Reading Challenge. This month our inspiration movie is Back to the Future!

This beloved film gives us a lot of options for books to read. Obviously, time travel would work, as would alternate histories. I’m also throwing it open to any science fiction title – maybe there’s one on your TBR list, or one that’s a little out of your usual reading choices that you’d like to try. I don’t read a lot of science fiction, but I do have some favorites.

Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. This is an obvious choice, but it’s a good one. Skip the movie, the book is much better with lots more character development and a deeper emotional impact. It is, in fact, a love story about a man who travels through time (without his consent or control) and the woman that waits for him.

Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel. I loved this book, but it might hit a little too close to current events for some (it was written in 2014, long before COVID) In this book, a deadly flu wipes out 99 percent of the human population. The story moves between flashbacks to the “before” and of the survivors struggling in the “after”. Despite this description, the book is full of beauty and joy and community and most important, hope.

Step Back in Time by Ali McNamara is a fun and romantic time travel novel. After Jo-Jo is hit by a car she wakes up in 1963 where everything is different. It happens again and again, sending Jo-Jo to the 1970s, then the 80s and then the 90s. Why is she traveling through time and how will she ever get back to 2013?

Uprooted by Naomi Novik. This one strays a little bit from our film inspiration, but it is an excellent book full with spells and secrets. Agnieszka loves her quiet rural village, but an ever present threat hangs over it – an evil forest known as The Wood. A wizard that lives in the nearby castle keeps it at bay, but in exchange, every 10 years a young woman is recruited from the village to serve as his apprentice. When Agnieszka is chosen, no one is more surprised than she is. For an excellent series of alternate history, read Novik’s Temeraire series starting with His Majesty’s Dragon where dragons are part of the naval fighting forces of the Napoleonic era. No, really. It’s excellent!

I am going to read A Murder in Time by Julie McElwen, the first in a series about Kendra Donovan, an FBI agent that is thrown back in time to 1815 and into the life of a servant where she becomes involved with solving the mystery of a serial killer. Hmmm. Intriguing. I’ll let you know how it goes!

How about you? What will you be reading this month? Let us know in the comments!

Online Reading Challenge – October Wrap-Up

Hello Fellow Readers!

How was your October reading Challenge-Wise? I hope it was a good month for you.

I have to admit – I just about baled on this month. I just couldn’t get excited or interested in anything Mob or gangster related. But at the last minute I picked up a children’s/young adult book and, well, it was pretty good.

Al Capone Throws Me a Curve by Gennifer Choldenko is actually the fourth in the series and reading this one kind of makes me want to go back and read the first three! It’s not as dark and violent as say, The Godfather, but it also doesn’t sugar-coat or romanticize the criminals or what they’ve done.

“Moose” Flanagan lives on Alcatraz Island with his parents and his older sister Natalie where his father works as the assistant warden at the prison during the Great Depression. Natalie has many problems (what we would probably now diagnose as autistic) and her care puts a strain on the family and a lot of responsibility on Moose. There are other families with kids on the island including the Warden’s troublemaker daughter Piper and Moose’s friend Jimmy. Moose wants nothing more than to be a normal high school kid and to spend the summer playing baseball. Things aren’t always that simple though, especially when your home is on an island where some of the most notorious, dangerous criminals – including Al Capone – live.

The reality is that Moose spends a lot of time looking after Natalie, making sure she is safe and keeping her out of trouble. Moose is used to this and knows how to help her when she gets frustrated or frightened, but this summer it’s much harder. First he takes the blame for a big mistake that Natalie makes and when she gets lost and ends up inside the prison, he has to put everything on the line to get her out.

This book was a quick, fun read but it’s also full of insight – the family dynamics of caring for a special needs child, the love that Moose has for his sister, the price of trying to belong with the wrong people, the difficulty and rewards of growing up and letting go. There’s also a lot of interesting information about how the prison at Alcatraz operated, the social dynamics of the prisoners and the lives of the people working on the island. A great read!

Now it’s your turn – what did you read for October?

 

 

 

 

Online Reading Challenge – October

Welcome Readers!

Time for a new Reading Challenge. This month our film inspiration is The Godfather, often considered one of the best films ever made and phrases and scenes from it permeate American pop culture. Unusually, it’s sequel, The Godfather Part II, is usually ranked even higher.  While the original tended to romanticize the mob culture, Part II is unflinching in it’s dark portrayal of organized crime.

Hmmm. Kinda dark, right? There are quite a few well-written, interesting books set in this world. Hopefully there is one that grabs your interest. Here are a few titles to get you started.

The Godfather by Mario Puzo.

Gangster by Lorenzo Carcaterra

Road to Perdition by Max Allan Collins

I Heard You Paint Houses by Charles Brandt

Donnie Brasco: Unfinished Business by Joseph Pistone

The Firm by John Grisham

Al Capone and the 1933 World’s Fair: the End of the Gangster Era in Chicago by William Hazelgrove

The Girl She Used to Be by David Cristofano

I’m not sure what I’m going to read this month. I’m not really in the mood for dark, ruthless crime. Maybe I’ll opt for a movie this time instead!

We will have displays of books for this month at the library, so if you’re not sure what to read (or watch) stop in and browse the selection!

Online Reading Challenge – September Wrap-Up

Hello Readers!

How did your reading go this month? Did you find something to read inspired by You’ve Got Mail?

I read The Lions of Fifth Avenue by Fiona Davis which turned out to not only be fascinating, but something of a tense, twisty mystery. The majority of the story takes place inside the New York Public Library, offering a peek behind the scenes of this iconic building and it’s history.

Did you know that the New York Public Library had an apartment for the live-in custodian and his family? Many large public buildings (including libraries) that were built in the early part of the last century had them since maintenance of the coal burning furnaces required constant care. Can you imagine growing up in a library, with all of it’s treasures at hand? The apartments are now abandoned or used for storage; a few have been converted to programming space. Fiona Davis centers her story around the apartment in the New York Public Library and the (fictional) people connected to it in two different time periods.

In 1914, Laura Lyons is living in the New York Public Library apartment with her husband Jack and their two children, Harry and Pearl. Jack is the head custodian of the building which means he puts in long hours at work. In his free time he is pursuing his true passion – writing a novel.  Laura has ambitions too, of becoming a journalist, but society and lack of money keep her a virtual prisoner at home. When a chance to attend journalism school comes up, Laura seizes the opportunity despite the strain it puts on her home life. She discovers a group of women who are fighting for women’s rights and discussing radical political ideas causing Laura to see her life in a new light.  But while Laura’s world is expanding, several rare, valuable books disappear from the library’s collection and suspicion eventually falls on the Lyons family, leading to tragedy.

Woven around Laura’s story is that of Sadie Donovan in 1993, Laura’s granddaughter and temporary curator of the NYPL Berg Collection, an extremely valuable treasury of rare books and literary artifacts. Sadie is ambitious and hard-working but when books begin to disappear from the Berg Collection in the same mysterious way that they had in 1914, Sadie finds herself trapped by accusations in almost the same way as her grandparents. Desperate to clear her name, she searches for answers which may be hidden in her family’s past.

I enjoyed this book, especially the history and back room workings of the library. The mystery of the missing books is twisty and very tense, although somewhat convoluted. Sadie is not the warmest person and makes some questionable choices, but the search for the lost books – and what happened to her family – makes for un-put-downable reading.

Now it’s your turn – what did you read in September?

Online Reading Challenge – September

Challenge Readers! It’s September. Time for new Challenge choices. This month our film inspiration is: You’ve Got Mail starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan.

I’ve always loved this movie. Written by the great Nora Ephron, it is funny and sweet with interesting characters to root for. It’s also a love letter to New York City, which headlines the movie with glorious scenery and where everything is a little bit magical (and very clean). The movie has also become a source of nostalgia – pre-pandemic, pre-9-11, a less complicated, more innocent time (And dial-up internet! Do you remember dial-up internet?!)

For book choices you can go several ways – books taking place in New York City, books about enemies that become a couple, books that tell part of their story through email to books with classic rom-com elements. Here are a few ideas.

Time After Time by Lisa Grunwald – When Nora is transported from the 1920s to 1937 during the “Manhattanhenge” in Grand Central Terminal, she must learn to live a full life within massive limits.

City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert – A unique love story set during the the 1940s New York City theater world.

The City We Became by N.K. Jemisin. Magical realism where five New Yorkers must come together to save their city.

The Coincidence of Coconut Cake by Amy Reichert. A chef and a food critic fall in love without knowing who the other is.

The Hating Game by Sally Thorne.  For the executive assistants to the CEOs of a newly merged company, it’s hate at first sight. But over time, that begins to change…

Attachments by Rainbow Rowell. As an “internet security officer”, Lincoln must monitor the emails of employees but finds himself falling for one employee instead of turning them in.

Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple. Both hilarious and touching, this book is told through a series of letters and emails.

The Dollhouse by Fiona Davis. The Barbizon Hotel for Women in New York City was a safe haven for young women in the 1950s who were seeking adventure and independence in the big city.

I’m planning on reading The Lions of Fifth Avenue another historical novel by Fiona Davis. It’s set in the New York Public Library and alternates between two time lines. Should be fun!

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

Online Reading Challenge – August Wrap-UP

Hello Challenge Readers!

How was your August? Hmmm. Yeah, mine wasn’t great either. For one thing, it’s hard to read in the dark and for another, my DVD player doesn’t work without electricity! It’s been a crazy month in a crazy year! Let’s keep our fingers crossed for some calmer times.

I went a bit off the rails this month (surely I’m not the only one?) and did not finish Undaunted Courage by Stephen Ambrose as I had planned. Someday, I will finish it though! It’s interesting and thought-provoking but I think I needed something a little less intense. So instead, I watched a movie.

The Searchers starring John Wayne makes most “best Western movies” lists and many just plain “best movies” lists. I had never seen it or even heard of it and I’m not a rabid John Wayne fan so I kept my expectations low despite the glowing reviews. Turns out that was pretty smart on my part.

John Wayne plays Ethan Elliot, a Civil War veteran that has returned to his brother’s homestead in Texas three years after the war. He arrives with a burning hatred of all Native Americans and a forbidden love for his brother’s wife. While he’s away helping the Texas Rangers track some cattle thieves a Commanche war party attacks and burns the homestead to the ground, killing the family and kidnapping two of the young girls. Ethan goes after them, set on revenge and letting nothing stand in his way.

It’s not a terrible movie – in fact there is a lot to like. But in my opinion it hasn’t aged well. There is a lot of racism – pretty typical for Westerns and for the time period they portray, but unpleasant and jarring nonetheless, and the jokes are awkward and clumsy. Some of the actors seem to express a range of emotion by either shouting or shouting loudly.

The landscape and scenery are stunning and beautifully filmed but that brings up another issue. The movie was obviously filmed in Monument Valley, a spectacular region located in northern Arizona and southern Utah. Dozens and dozens of movies have been filmed here. The problem is, this is a pretty unique area, easily recognizable and limited to a specific location. Movies that tell you they’re taking place in Texas or New Mexico (like this one) but filmed in Monument Valley aren’t trying very hard to be realistic. It’s a minor point really and can the filmmakers can be forgiven, but it bugged me.

So how did your August reading go? Did you find something great to read or watch? Let us know in the comments below!