Online Reading Challenge – August Wrap-Up

Hello Readers,

How did your reading go this month? Did you find something amazing?

Our main title this month was The Library Book by Susan Orlean and while, as expected, it had a lot to do about libraries and books, it is so much more than that. There is a lot about the history of Los Angeles, which in many ways is the history of the western United States. It is filled with interesting characters, from crazy directors to “unique” patrons (the reference librarian that tells about helping a person who later turned out to be the infamous Night Strangler was rather chilling). And of course, there is a lot about the fire that nearly destroyed the LA Main library in 1984. I was especially fascinated by the descriptions of fire science and firefighting and how the structure of the building plus the huge amount of fuel (books!) that was present.

The best part though is Orlean describing how the community came together to save what they could from the fire and how much it meant to people of many different backgrounds. Realizing that the library was on fire, citizens spontaneously formed lines to carry books out, bucket-brigade-style, trying to save as much as they could.

“It was as if, in this urgent moment, the people of Los Angeles formed a living library. They created, for that short time, a system to protect and pass along shared knowledge, to save what we know for each other, which is what libraries do every day.”

The idea that libraries act as community centers, “of the rare role libraries play, to be a government entity, a place of knowledge, that is nonjudgmental, inclusive, and fundamentally kind” is the message that runs throughout this book. Well written, filled with fascinating stories, this book is highly recommended.

What did you read this month? Did you find that books and reading draw people together, either immediately or across time? Was reading a positive influence, or can it also cause division? How do books (and stories) keep history and memories alive?

Be sure to share your observations on this month’s Book Flight in the comments below!

Online Reading Challenge – July Wrap-Up

Hello fellow Reading Fans!

How did your reading go for the July Online Reading Challenge? Not surprisingly, July was a pretty tough month. Reading about the Holocaust – even about people who survived the nightmare – is emotionally exhausting. As horrible as it is though, it’s important that we remember. We cannot become complacent and ever believe that “it can’t happen here” or think that mankind is not capable of mass cruelty.

I read the main title this month, We Were the Lucky Ones by Georgia Hunter. This book, set in the very center of the horrors of World War II, there is optimism and hope and pure, gritty endurance. As difficult as it is to read about what happened, there is a thread of belief to hang onto – it’s right there in the title.

Sol and Nechuma Kurc and their five adult children live in Radom, Poland located just south of Warsaw. The Kurc’s are affluent and hard-working, respected in the community, well-educated and sophisticated. None of this matters when Germany invades Poland in 1939. The Kurcs’ watch with disbelief as more and more restrictions are placed on Jews, then persecution and outright cruelty. The family begins to separate as the siblings and their spouses leave to join the Polish Army or seek better conditions in Lodz or are trapped beyond the Polish border. They are desperate to keep in contact, but as the war descends on them. it becomes impossible. Flung as far as Siberia, Tel Aviv and Rio de Janeiro family members face starvation, imprisonment, fierce battles and betrayal but never stop searching for each other.

Based on the true story of the experience of the author’s grandfather, this book is a page-turner as the family struggles to survive by courage, smarts and sheer dumb luck – whatever it takes to make it one more day. Highly recommended.

What did you learn from the book you read this month? Would you have had the strength to keep living under such horrible conditions? What did the importance of family hold for the characters? What about people who may have helped the Germans – usually under threat of death – were they collaborators, or were they doing whatever they could to survive? How can we fight such blatant racism and mass genocide today – has humankind learned from the past?

Be sure to share your observations on this month’s Book Flight in the comments below!

Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe by Fannie Flagg

For many years, this was my go-to title when someone asked me for a book recommendation. When it was published in 1987 not everyone had heard about it (this was long before celebrity book clubs and relentless social media attention). Recommending books can be tricky. Reading preferences, mood, previous mis-conceptions – all can affect how a person will feel about a book. And just because you thought a book was the best ever written, doesn’t mean someone else will feel the same. But this book, Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe by Fannie Flagg, never failed me. Not once. Everyone loved it.

And why not? It has a little bit of everything – family and friendship, an epic love story, a murder mystery, some grief and heartbreak and lots of joy. Also – food. Lots of great food.

Moving between two time periods – the 1930s and the 1980s – this book centers on a small town in Alabama and the Whistle Stop Cafe. In the 1930s the cafe serves excellent Southern-style home cooking, especially fried green tomatoes. It’s also the center of town activities, gossip and news. The people that frequent the cafe form a bond that supports one another through terrible tragedies and protect their own. Flash forward to the late 1980s where we meet Evelyn who is struggling with mid-life depression. Through her friendship with elderly Mrs Threadgoode and her stories about the Whistle Stop Cafe and the people around it, Evelyn begins to see her way through her own tragedies.

After the movie came out in 1991, the book became less of a sure-fire winning book recommendation. Many thought that if they’d seen the movie they didn’t need to read the book. But, as is usually the case, the book is much better than the movie with more background, more stories and a deeper understanding of the characters and their motives. So once again, I wholeheartedly recommend reading Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe – you’ll love it.

If you are taking part in the Online Reading Challenge this year, this book is a perfect choice for our June theme of food and friendship.

Online Reading Challenge – June

Hello Fellow Readers!

Welcome to the June Reading Challenge Book Flight! This month our theme is food and fellowship. Yum!

Our main title is Relish: My Life in the Kitchen by Lucy Knisley. This is a graphic novel and it’s an amazing one. If you have any hesitancy about reading a graphic novel, or have never read one, this is a great one to start with, with charming illustrations and a great story.

Lucy Knisley loves food. The daughter of a chef and a gourmet, this talented young cartoonist comes by her obsession honestly. In her forthright, thoughtful, and funny memoir, Lucy traces key episodes in her life thus far, framed by what she was eating at the time and lessons learned about food, cooking, and life. Each chapter is bookended with an illustrated recipe– many of them treasured family dishes, and a few of them Lucy’s original inventions

Other titles in this month’s Book Flight are:

Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J Rayan Stradal. When Lars Thorvald’s wife, Cynthia, falls in love with wine–and a dashing sommelier–he’s left to raise their baby, Eva, on his own. He’s determined to pass on his love of food to his daughter–starting with puréed pork shoulder. As Eva grows, she finds her solace and salvation in the flavors of her native Minnesota. From Scandinavian lutefisk to hydroponic chocolate habaneros, each ingredient represents one part of Eva’s journey as she becomes the star chef behind a legendary and secretive pop-up supper club, culminating in an opulent and emotional feast that’s a testament to her spirit and resilience.

Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe by Fannie Flag. Folksy and fresh, endearing and affecting, Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe is a now-classic novel about two women: Evelyn, who’s in the sad slump of middle age, and gray-headed Mrs. Threadgoode, who’s telling her life story. Her tale includes two more women—the irrepressibly daredevilish tomboy Idgie and her friend Ruth—who back in the thirties ran a little place in Whistle Stop, Alabama, offering good coffee, southern barbecue, and all kinds of love and laughter—even an occasional murder. And as the past unfolds, the present will never be quite the same again.

Also available in large print, and as in ebook on Libby.

Master Butcher’s Singing Club by Louise Erdrich. Having survived World War I, Fidelis Waldvogel returns to his quiet German village and marries the pregnant widow of his best friend, killed in action. With a suitcase full of sausages and a master butcher’s precious knife set, Fidelis sets out for America. In Argus, North Dakota, he builds a business, a home for his family—which includes Eva and four sons—and a singing club consisting of the best voices in town. When the Old World meets the New—in the person of Delphine Watzka—the great adventure of Fidelis’s life begins. Delphine meets Eva and is enchanted. She meets Fidelis, and the ground trembles. These momentous encounters will determine the course of Delphine’s life, and the trajectory of this brilliant novel.

The Kitchen Front by Jennifer Ryan. A World War II-set story of four women on the home front competing for a spot hosting a BBC wartime cookery program and a chance to better their lives. Two years into World War II, Britain is feeling her losses; the Nazis have won battles, the Blitz has destroyed cities, and U-boats have cut off the supply of food. In an effort to help housewives with food rationing, a BBC radio program called The Kitchen Front is putting on a cooking contest–and the grand prize is a job as the program’s first-ever female co-host. For four very different women, winning the contest presents a crucial chance to change their lives. But with so much at stake, will the contest that aims to bring the community together serve only to break it apart?

Also available in large print and as an ebook on Libby.

These titles and others related to the theme will be on display at each of our locations!

Online Reading Challenge – May Wrap-Up

Hello Fellow Challengers!

How did your reading go in May? Did you read any of the books from our Book Flight, or did you find something else to read for this month’s theme of racial justice, advocacy and civil rights?

I read the main title, Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson. I had braced myself for lots of dry, stuffy legalese but instead found a lively, beautifully written, completely engaging book filled with compassion and heartbreak and hope. Stevenson is a master at weaving together multiple stories, presenting each with a clear voice. I quickly found that it was a book that I couldn’t put down.

Bryan Stevenson is fresh out of law school when he heads to Alabama to create the Equal Justice Initiative, a legal practice dedicated to defending the poor, the wrongly condemned and women and children trapped in the labyrinth rules and laws of the criminal justice system.

Early on Stevenson takes on the case of Walter McMillian, a young black man who was convicted of killing a white woman, a murder he did not commit but for which he’s been sentenced to die. In the months and years that Stevenson works on McMillian’s case he comes up against not only racial prejudice but also conspiracy, political corruption and legal challenges. Despite this, Stevenson never gives up. He visits  McMillian and other men on Death Row, most of whom have been tossed aside and forgotten by society. He goes to the homes of their families to offer comfort and advice. He works relentlessly to find answers and to correct mistakes not just for McMillian, but for dozens of other cases as well.  Slowly the Equal Justice Initiative grows and makes inroads against a broken system.

While the many stories of injustice are horrible, it’s the fact that these stories happened not just a hundred years ago, or even fifty years ago, but that many injustices continue to this day is chilling. That someone like Bryan Stevenson (and many others), continue to fight and educate on these injustices does give me hope.

How did you feel after reading a book from this month’s “Book Flight”? Did you feel anger or frustration? Did you learn anything about what has happened in our recent past, and what continues to happen in our criminal justice system? Did it give you a better understanding of why people may fear the police rather than trust them?

Be sure to share your thoughts on this month’s Book Flight in the comments below.

Online Reading Challenge – May

Hello again Fellow Readers!

Today we launch a new month of the Online Reading Challenge with books that focus on racial injustice, advocacy and civil rights. These aren’t necessarily “fun” reads, but they’re powerful, moving and important reads.

Our main title is Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson. A powerful true story about the potential for mercy to redeem us, and a clarion call to fix our broken system of justice—from one of the most brilliant and influential lawyers of our time. Bryan Stevenson was a young lawyer when he founded the Equal Justice Initiative, a legal practice dedicated to defending those most desperate and in need: the poor, the wrongly condemned, and women and children trapped in the farthest reaches of our criminal justice system. One of his first cases was that of Walter McMillian who was sentenced to die for a notorious murder he insisted he didn’t commit. The case drew Bryan into a tangle of conspiracy, political machination, and legal brinksmanship—and transformed his understanding of mercy and justice forever. Just Mercy is at once an unforgettable account of an idealistic, gifted young lawyer’s coming of age, a moving window into the lives of those he has defended, and an inspiring argument for compassion in the pursuit of true justice.

Also available as an e-book and an e-audiobook.

Also in this month’s Book Flight:

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones. Newlyweds Celestial and Roy are the embodiment of both the American Dream and the New South. He is a young executive and she is an artist on the brink of an exciting career. But as they settle into the routine of their life together, they are ripped apart by circumstances neither could have imagined. Roy is arrested and sentenced to twelve years for a crime Celestial knows he didn’t commit. Though fiercely independent, Celestial finds herself bereft and unmoored, taking comfort in Andre, her childhood friend, and best man at their wedding. As Roy’s time in prison passes, she is unable to hold on to the love that has been her center. After five years, Roy’s conviction is suddenly overturned, and he returns to Atlanta ready to resume their life together.

Also available in Large Print, as an e-book and an e-audiobook.

The Blood of Emmett Till by Timothy Tyson. In 1955, white men in the Mississippi Delta lynched a fourteen-year-old from Chicago named Emmett Till. His murder was part of a wave of white terrorism in the wake of the 1954 Supreme Court decision that declared public school segregation unconstitutional. The national coalition organized to protest the Till lynching became the foundation of the modern civil rights movement. Only weeks later, Rosa Parks thought about young Emmett as she refused to move to the back of a city bus in Montgomery, Alabama. Five years later, the Emmett Till generation, forever marked by the vicious killing of a boy their own age, launched sit-in campaigns that turned the struggle into a mass movement. But what actually happened to Emmett Till — not the icon of injustice but the flesh-and-blood boy? Part detective story, part political history, cultural scholar Timothy Tyson draws on a wealth of new evidence, including the only interview ever given by Carolyn Bryant, the white woman in whose name Till was killed.

Also available in Large Print.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. A gripping, heart-wrenching, and wholly remarkable tale of coming-of-age in a South poisoned by virulent prejudice, it views a world of great beauty and savage inequities through the eyes of a young girl, as her father – a crusading local lawyer – risks everything to defend a black man unjustly accused of a terrible crime.

Be sure to stop by one of the Davenport library locations for displays with these and many more titles!

Online Reading Challenge – April Wrap-Up

Challengers! How was your month? Did you read one of the books from our April Book Flight?

The main title this month was The Alice Network by Kate Quinn.  I loved this book. I read it several years ago shortly after it was published and quickly became completely immersed in the historic setting and the work of these brave women.

This is a book about two wars, of the price paid both by those who died and those who survived, of sisterhood and loyalty and immeasurable bravery.

Before reading this I was unaware of the extent of the spy network whose work was instrumental in fighting World War I, and I had no idea that so many women sacrificed so much working behind enemy lines. There really was an “Alice Network” made up of women who worked in France, gathering information and passing it along to the Allies. This work was incredibly dangerous since they often had to pose as neutral and even supportive of the Germans, usually in close contact, posing as waitresses, store clerks and secretaries and sometimes becoming their lovers, all to gather information.

Although the scenes set during World War I were by far the most riveting, I also enjoyed the post-World War II storyline. The parallels between the wars, especially the brutality and suffering, were eerily similar. And again, it brought to light a true story from the Second World War that I had never heard, that of the lost village of Oradour-sur-Glane in France.

What did you think about the women that worked as spies from any of our Book Flight books? Were you, like me, astonished by their sheer courage, their ability to overcome the fear of torture and death to complete a mission and to stay cool under pressure? What do you think motivated them – was it loyalty to a family member or loved one, or was it patriotism for a country? And what about their enemies, were they simply pure evil, or were they more complex?

Be sure to share your thoughts on this month’s Book Flight in the comments below!

 

Online Reading Challenge – March

Hello Fellow Readers!

It’s time for a new Book Flight! This month our books focus on pandemics and how individuals react to a post-pandemic world. There is exploration of what was lost and how to move forward, the search for answers and cures and basic survival. They are not without hope though, as the protagonists in each title grow and change and even thrive.

Pandemics are not new to human history with the bubonic plague and the 1918 influenza being two of the most notable. Because we are still recovering from COVID-19, some of the subject matter may be triggering. Please read with caution!

This month’s main title is Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel. Written before 2020 and the arrival of COVID-19, it nevertheless has several eerie similarities.

One snowy night Arthur Leander, a famous actor, has a heart attack onstage during a production. Jeevan Chaudhary, is in the audience and leaps to his aid. A child actress named Kirsten Raymonde watches in horror as Jeevan performs CPR, pumping Arthur’s chest as the curtain drops, but Arthur is dead. That same night, as Jeevan walks home from the theater, a terrible flu begins to spread. Hospitals are flooded and Jeevan and his brother barricade themselves inside as life disintegrates outside. This novel charts the strange twists of fate that connect five people: the actor, the man who tried to save him, the actor’s first wife, his oldest friend, and a young actress with the Traveling Symphony, caught in the crosshairs of a dangerous self-proclaimed prophet.

This book is also available as an e-book on Libby.


Alternate titles are: Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks

This gripping historical novel is based on the true story of Eyam, the “Plague Village,” in the rugged mountain spine of England. In 1666, a tainted bolt of cloth from London carries bubonic infection to this isolated settlement of shepherds and lead miners. A visionary young preacher convinces the villagers to seal themselves off in a deadly quarantine to prevent the spread of disease. The story is told through the eyes of eighteen-year-old Anna Frith, the vicar’s maid, as she confronts the loss of her family, the disintegration of her community, and the lure of a dangerous and illicit love. As the death toll rises and people turn from prayers and herbal cures to sorcery and murderous witch-hunting, Anna emerges as an unlikely and courageous heroine in the village’s desperate fight to save itself.

Also available as an e-book on Libby.

Ghost Map by Steven Johnson

A chronicle of Victorian London’s worst cholera outbreak traces the day-by-day efforts of Dr. John Snow, who put his own life on the line in his efforts to prove his previously dismissed contagion theory about how the epidemic was spreading.

As Bright as Heaven by Susan Meissner

In 1918, Philadelphia was a city teeming with promise. Even as its young men went off to fight in the Great War, there were opportunities for a fresh start on its cobblestone streets. Into this bustling town, came Pauline Bright and her husband, filled with hope that they could now give their three daughters a chance at a better life. Their dreams are short-lived. Just months after they arrive, the Spanish Flu reaches the shores of America. As the pandemic claims more than twelve thousand victims in their adopted city, they find their lives left with a world that looks nothing like the one they knew. But even as they lose loved ones, they take in a baby orphaned by the disease who becomes their single source of hope. Amidst the tragedy and challenges that surround them, they learn what they cannot live without–and what they are willing to do about it.

Also available in Large Print and as an e-book on Libby.

The Pull of the Stars by Emma Donoghue

A novel set in 1918 Dublin offers a three-day look at a maternity ward during the height of the Great Flu pandemic. In an Ireland doubly ravaged by war and disease, Nurse Julia Power works at an understaffed hospital in the city center, where expectant mothers who have fallen sick are quarantined into a separate ward to keep the plague at bay. Into Julia’s regimented world step two outsiders, a woman doctor who is a rumored Rebel, and a teenage girl, Bridie, procured by the nuns from their orphanage as an extra set of hands.
Also available as an e-book and an e-audio book, both on Libby.
I actually read Station Eleven shortly after it was published in 2015 (and I loved it – highly recommended) so I’m going to read As Bright as Heaven for this month’s challenge. I think this will be an interesting and eye-opening month of reading!

Online Reading Challenge – February

It’s time for our February Book Flight!

This month our themes are isolation and resilience and the main book is A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles.

In 1922, Count Alexander Rostov is deemed an unrepentant aristocrat by a Bolshevik tribunal, and is sentenced to house arrest in the Metropol, a grand hotel across the street from the Kremlin. Rostov, an indomitable man of erudition and wit, has never worked a day in his life, and must now live in an attic room while some of the most tumultuous decades in Russian history are unfolding outside the hotel’s doors. Unexpectedly, his reduced circumstances provide him entry into a much larger world of emotional discovery.

Brimming with humor, a glittering cast of characters, and one beautifully rendered scene after another, this singular novel casts a spell as it relates the count’s endeavor to gain a deeper understanding of what it means to be a man of purpose.

Also available on Libby as an e-book and as an e-audiobook.

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The alternate titles are: Wild by Cheryl Strayed

At twenty-two, Cheryl Strayed thought she had lost everything in the wake of her mother’s death, her family scattered and her own marriage was soon destroyed. Four years later, with nothing more to lose, she made the most impulsive decision of her life. With no experience or training, driven only by blind will, she would hike more than a thousand miles of the Pacific Crest Trail from the Mojave Desert through California and Oregon to Washington State–and she would do it alone. Told with suspense and style, sparkling with warmth and humor, Wild powerfully captures the terrors and pleasures of one young woman forging ahead against all odds on a journey that maddened, strengthened, and ultimately healed her. 

Also available on Libby as an e-book.

The Martian by Andy Weir

Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first people to walk on Mars. Now, he’s sure he’ll be the first person to die there. After a dust storm nearly kills him and forces his crew to evacuate while thinking him dead, Mark finds himself stranded and completely alone with no way to even signal Earth that he’s alive–and even if he could get word out, his supplies would be gone long before a rescue could arrive. Chances are, though, he won’t have time to starve to death. The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment, or plain-old ‘human error’ are much more likely to kill him first. But Mark isn’t ready to give up yet. Drawing on his ingenuity, his engineering skills–and a relentless, dogged refusal to quit–he steadfastly confronts one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after the next. Will his resourcefulness be enough to overcome the impossible odds against him?

Also available on Libby as an e-book.

Walden by David Henry Thoreau.

Walden  is the history of Thoreau’s visit to Walden Pond. Thoreau, stirred by the philosophy of the transcendentalists, used the sojourn as an experiment in self reliance and minimalism “so as to “live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” Walden stresses the significance of self-reliance, solitude, meditation, and nature in rising above the the life of quiet desperation lived by most people.  Walden is a moving treatise on the importance distancing oneself from the consumerism of modern Western society and embracing nature in its place.

Also available on Libby as an e-book.


I read A Gentleman in Moscow a few months ago and absolutely loved it. The writing style is beautiful, clever and graceful and always engaging. The characters, especially Count Rostov, are complex and delightful and the view of Russian history, seen through the attic window of a grand hotel is mesmerizing and eye-opening. Do not pass on this book!

I am planning on reading an alternate title, The Martian and, if time allows, Wild. What about you – what are your plans for February reading?

Online Reading Challenge – December

It’s December! That means it’s time for our final 2020 spotlight author. This month it’s: Lisa Gardner!

Lisa Gardner is quite popular, writing crime novels and psychological thrillers. These are the kind of books that keep you up past your bedtime because you can’t go to sleep until you know what happened! Some of her popular series include ones about Boston homicide detective D.D. Warren, FBI Profilier Pierce Quincy and Tess Leoni, a private detective in New England, as well as several stand alone titles.

There are quite a few authors that are similar to Gardner so if you have already read all of her titles, or would like to try some else, here are a few suggestions.

You Don’t Want to Know by Lisa Jackson

Cop Town by Karin Slaughter

Suspect by Robert Crais

Broken Promise by Linwood Barclay

Roadside Crosses by Jeffrey Deaver

Lie to Me by JT Ellison

There are lots more titles and authors to choose from. Be sure to stop by one of our locations for more ideas on display.

I am planning on reading  Before She Disappeared by Gardner. It’s the first in a relatively new series by Gardner that follows the cases of a woman who searched for missing persons.

Now it’s your turn – what will you be reading this month?