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 Wrold 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?

 

Online Reading Challenge – November Wrap-Up

Hello Challenge Readers!

How did you do with our November spotlight author, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie? Did you read one of her books, or one similar?

I had mixed results this month. I had planned to read Americanah, but I just couldn’t connect with it. That doesn’t mean I won’t someday pick it up again and find it delightful and inspiring, but that wasn’t happening at this time for me so, instead of forcing interest, I set it aside and picked up another book by Adichie – Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions.

It’s a little bit of a cheat – this book is short and a very quick read (less than an hour), kind of a taster of Adichie’s writing and philosophy. Still, it is gracefully written and packs a punch.

Asked by a friend on how to raise her newborn daughter to be a feminist, Adichie sends a letter with fifteen suggestions. Her advice ranges from straightforward – teach her to read and to love to read, make sure both parents are involved in her upbringing – to more thought provoking ideals such as teaching her that gender roles are nonsense, that differences among people are okay, to reject the idea of conditional female equality. I was especially struck by the importance of language and what a difference words and how they’re phrased can make in our outlook and how we treat ourselves and others. “Language is the repository of our prejudices, our beliefs, our assumptions.”

Of course, the values described in this slim volume apply to anyone, young or old, male or female. Enlightening and valuable lessons.

Now it’s your turn – how was your November reading?

 

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?