Online Reading Challenge – October Wrap-Up

Hello Fellow Challenge Readers!

How did your reading go this month? Did you read something set in Iceland that you enjoyed? Share in the comments!

I read our main title: Burial Rites by Hannah Kent. Initially I was wary of this book. I thought it was going to be hard for me to get through given the ‘Note on Icelandic Names and Pronunciation’ at the beginning and the map that confused me even more. (Now I realize those two items highlighted how well-researched this book is.) The more I read though, the more I found myself wanting to ignore my responsibilities and only read this book. I can’t pinpoint when it hooked me, but once it did, I was enthralled. Bonus: this book was based on a true story – the story of the last woman to be executed in Iceland. For more information about the true story, the author discusses it at the end of the book.

“To know what a person has done, and to know who a person is, are very different things.”
― Hannah Kent, Burial Rites

The above quote is the epitome of Burial Rites by Hannah Kent. In 1829 Iceland, Agnes and two others were convicted of a brutal double murder on a remote homestead. The judicial system, as it was at the time, ordered Agnes to be housed with a family on their small family farm. She is to stay there until her execution, receiving spiritual guidance from an assistant minister assigned to help in her final days.

Her hosts are naturally horrified when they learn that they are to house a murderer. Being forced to share a small space with her and to sleep and eat next to her is disastrous. The monetary compensation they are given isn’t even worth it in their eyes, but they are not given a choice as to whether or not they will house Agnes. They avoid Agnes at first, but when the assistant minister, Toti, shows up, they are forced to confront their feelings. Toti is the only one who tries to understand her, even though she is reticent to discuss religion with him. As Agnes’ execution date looms closer, the family learn more about Agnes and the truth of what happened the night two people were murdered.

This book is set against Iceland’s stark landscape. The language is beautifully written, showcasing to reader the hardships that farmers were facing at that time. The author also discusses what it’s like to face a death sentence. Agnes starts this story stoic, determined to face her death with dignity, but the closer her death becomes, the more her resolve cracks. She begins to open up, giving readers, and the people around her, a rare glimpse at her truth.

I hope you enjoyed traveling to Iceland with me this month! In November, we’re headed to Africa.

Online Reading Challenge – October

Welcome Readers!

This month the Online Reading Challenge travels to Iceland. Our Main title for October is Burial Rites by Hannah Kent. Here’s a quick summary from the publisher.

Set against Iceland’s stark landscape, Hannah Kent brings to vivid life the story of Agnes, who, charged with the brutal murder of her former master, is sent to an isolated farm to await execution.

Set against Iceland’s stark landscape, Hannah Kent brings to vivid life the story of Agnes, who, charged with the brutal murder of her former master, is sent to an isolated farm to await execution.

Horrified at the prospect of housing a convicted murderer, the family at first avoids Agnes. Only Tv=ti, a priest Agnes has mysteriously chosen to be her spiritual guardian, seeks to understand her. But as Agnes’s death looms, the farmer’s wife and their daughters learn there is another side to the sensational story they’ve heard.

Riveting and rich with lyricism, Burial Rites evokes a dramatic existence in a distant time and place, and asks the question, how can one woman hope to endure when her life depends upon the stories told by others?

Looking for some other books set in Iceland? Try any of the following.

As always, check each of our locations for displays with lots more titles to choose from!

Online Reading Challenge – September Wrap-Up

Hello Fellow Challenge Readers!

How did your reading go this month? Did you read something set in New York City that you enjoyed? Share in the comments!

I read our main title: The Lions of Fifth Avenue by Fiona Davis. This is a dual timeline book, but both timelines take place in the same physical place, the New York Public Library. I was excited when I realized this was the main book for this month! I read this book for the first time when it was initally published in August 2020, but reread it to refresh myself for this challenge. This is one of my favorite books set in New York City, as well as one of my favorites set in a library. The dual mysteries, plus all the bucking against tradition, hooked me. Let’s get into it!

1913, New York: Laura Lyons and her family live in an apartment within the New York Public Library. Cool, right?! Laura’s husband is the superintendent for the library, which allows her family to live in this stately building. Laura should be happy with her lot in life, but she wants more. Laura applies to Columbia Journalism School, showcasing her headstrong and passionate personality by persuing stories all over the city. On one of her adventures in Greenwich Village, she discovers the Heterodoxy Club. This radical group is an all-female safe space where women can freely discuss their opinions on any subject without fear of judgment or retribution. These meetings change Laura’s opinions on a lot of things, one being the traditional role she plays in her family. A crisis back home sends Laura reeling. Valuable books have been reported stolen at the library, her husband’s credibility is in ruins, and her family is starting to fall apart. She has to decide where her loyalities lie before it’s too late.

Flash forward 80 years to 1993, New York: Sadie Donovan is at a loss. Her grandmother is the famous essayist Laura Lyons, something Sadie is both proud of, but also something she struggles with every day. After Sadie gets her dream job as a curator at the New York Public Library, her joy is quickly squashed. Rare books, manuscripts, and notes are disappearing from the Berg Collection, framing Sadie as the library’s main suspect. Determined to save both her career and reputation, Sadie finds a private security expert who agrees to help her find the real culprit. Sadie expects to find the thief and her missing items, but is surprised when secrets from her own family’s past pop up demanding attention.

While I enjoyed this book, I admit that at points the two characters in two different timelines confused me. I would have loved separate books – one from Laura’s point of view and one from Sadie’s point of view. The themes of female empowerment, fighting against the oppression of women’s rights, and free-thinking women in the early 20th century pulled me in and kept me wanting to read more though. The Lions of Fifth Avenue was intriguing with its tales of sacrifice and secrets over generations. A solid four-star read for me!

In October, we’re headed to Iceland!

Online Reading Challenge – September

Welcome Readers!

This month the Online Reading Challenge travels to New York City. Our Main title for September is The Lions of Fifth Avenue by Fiona Davis. (This book takes place partly in the New York Public Library!) Here’s a quick summary from the publisher.

In New York Times bestselling author Fiona Davis’s latest historical novel, a series of book thefts roils the iconic New York Public Library, leaving two generations of strong-willed women to pick up the pieces.

It’s 1913, and on the surface, Laura Lyons couldn’t ask for more out of life—her husband is the superintendent of the New York Public Library, allowing their family to live in an apartment within the grand building, and they are blessed with two children. But headstrong, passionate Laura wants more, and when she takes a leap of faith and applies to the Columbia Journalism School, her world is cracked wide open. As her studies take her all over the city, she is drawn to Greenwich Village’s new bohemia, where she discovers the Heterodoxy Club—a radical, all-female group in which women are encouraged to loudly share their opinions on suffrage, birth control, and women’s rights. Soon, Laura finds herself questioning her traditional role as wife and mother. And when valuable books are stolen back at the library, threatening the home and institution she loves, she’s forced to confront her shifting priorities head on . . . and may just lose everything in the process.

Eighty years later, in 1993, Sadie Donovan struggles with the legacy of her grandmother, the famous essayist Laura Lyons, especially after she’s wrangled her dream job as a curator at the New York Public Library. But the job quickly becomes a nightmare when rare manuscripts, notes, and books for the exhibit Sadie’s running begin disappearing from the library’s famous Berg Collection. Determined to save both the exhibit and her career, the typically risk-averse Sadie teams up with a private security expert to uncover the culprit. However, things unexpectedly become personal when the investigation leads Sadie to some unwelcome truths about her own family heritage—truths that shed new light on the biggest tragedy in the library’s history.

This title is also available in large print and as a Libby eBook.

As always, check each of our locations for displays with lots more titles to choose from!

Online Reading Challenge – August Wrap-Up

Hello Fellow Challenge Readers!

How did your reading go this month? Did you read something set in Japan that you enjoyed? Share in the comments!

“After all the years I’ve spent with him not seeing me, I don’t see him anymore either. We exist like two blind fish, sliding past each other cordially in our parallel universes.”
― Emily Itami, Fault Lines

I read our main title: Fault Lines by Emily Itami. This was a very quick read and honestly, I wasn’t quite sure what I thought of it as I was reading. At the end, I found myself wanting to know more about the lives of the characters and their own justifications for their actions.

Mizuki is a Japanese housewife. She has everything she could ever want: a hardworking husband, a beautiful apartment in Tokyo, and two adorable children. She should be happy, right? Wrong. Sometimes Mizuki finds herself standing on her high-rise balcony wanting to throw herself off and end it all. Her husband spends what little time he has with them glued to his phone, plus he is constantly being pulled away to work. All she does is clean up after her kids and hang up endless laundry.

One night while out with friends, Mizuki meets Kiyoshi and her whole life changes. Kiyoshi is a successful restaurateur. As the two get to know each other, Mizuki’s world starts to expand. She feels alive again and starts to rediscover all of the things that she has lost through the years. He is a breath of freedom, bringing her a new friendship she greatly needed. The two dive into exploring Tokyo, becoming closer. Their relationship changes overtime, illuminating for Mizuki that she is actually living two lives. In the end, Mizuki has to choose one: her family or Kiyoshi.

All in all, this debut novel was relatable and discussed choices, adulthood, and the dichotomy between freedom and tradition in ways that actually made sense. A mother’s desire cannot be ignored. Watching Mizuki battle with herself while she tried to figure out what she wanted was riveting. Her discussion of the morals and mores of Japan and how they butt up against those of people from outside Japan was enlightening. The warring cultural expectations complicated Mizuki’s life as she tried to find a balance between her past and present, her life as a sexual being and her life as a dutiful mother. This was a refreshing read and I have high hopes for the author’s next book!

In September, we’re headed to New York City!

Online Reading Challenge – August

Welcome Readers!

This month the Online Reading Challenge travels to Japan. Our main title for August is Fault Lines by Emily Itami. Here’s a quick summary from the publisher.

Mizuki is a Japanese housewife. She has a hardworking husband, two adorable children, and a beautiful Tokyo apartment. It’s everything a woman could want, yet sometimes she wonders whether she would rather throw herself off the high-rise balcony than spend another evening not talking to her husband and hanging up laundry.

Then, one rainy night, she meets Kiyoshi, a successful restaurateur. In him, she rediscovers freedom, friendship, and the neon, electric pulse of the city she has always loved. But the further she falls into their relationship, the clearer it becomes that she is living two lives—and in the end, we can choose only one.

Funny, provocative, and startlingly honest, Fault Lines is for anyone who has ever looked in the mirror and asked, who am I and how did I get here? A bittersweet love story and a piercing portrait of female identity, it introduces Emily Itami as a debut novelist with astounding resonance and wit.

As always, check each of our locations for displays with lots more titles to choose from!

Online Reading Challenge – July Wrap-Up

Hello Fellow Challenge Readers!

How did your reading go this month? Did you read something set in suburbia that you enjoyed? Share in the comments!

As I was making the displays full of suburbia books for each Davenport library, I realized that a lot of what I read is set in this location without me even realizing it – those cozy mysteries, generational fiction, thrillers, etc that keep me company day after day. For July, I read our main title: The Dutch House by Ann Patchett. Well technically, I had already read this title for a previous virtual book club that happened during COVID. (Side question: do any of you re-read books? I generally only do if it’s an absolute favorite comfort read since there are so many other books out there & not enough time! Let me know in the comments.) Anyway, instead of re-reading the book, I spent time going over my review and learning more about Ann Patchett. My favorite fact about Ann is that she opened Parnassus Books, a bookstore in Nashville, Tennessee, in 2011. Visiting there is on my bucket list. Let’s get into the book!

” ‘Do you think it’s possible to ever see the past as it actually was?’ … ‘But we overlay the present onto the past,’ … ‘We look back through the lens of what we know now, so we’re not seeing it as the people we were, we’re seeing it as the people we are, and that means the past has been radically altered.’ ” – Ann Patchett, The Dutch House

Danny and Maeve Conroy’s mother left their house and never returned when the siblings were very young. Their father is not warm or caring, instead he’s taciturn and withdrawn. Luckily for Danny, his older sister Maeve steps in and becomes his champion and ally. Their bond grows as the two age, providing them with love that they didn’t receive from their father. Their bond gets even stronger when their father marries out of the blue.

Their new stepmother Andrea moves into the house with her two little girls. It quickly becomes apparent that Andrea has absolutely no interest in Danny or Maeve, despite the four children getting along. In fact, Andrea works to exclude the older two from the family, giving one of her girls Maeve’s bedroom and forcing the housekeepers, who raised Maeve and Danny, out of the way. Their father is noticably more distant, making excuses to be away more frequently.

What drew Andrea to the family is the beautiful Victorian house that Danny and Maeve’s father bought for their mother. It’s located in an upscale Philadelphia neighborhood. He purchased the house with the former owners’ family portraits and furniture still in it. He saw this house as a symbol of his own success, while their mother saw it instead as excessive and overwhelming opulence with way too many expensive furnishings. Ultimately the house is what drove her away – somewhere to donate her time to helping other people. Andrea, however, saw the house, wanting it and the status that it would give her. She married their father for the house, which eventually led to Danny and Maeve being forced to leave and being haunted by that action for years.

The Dutch House is told first person through Danny’s point-of-view with some input thrown in by Maeve. This is rare for Ann Patchett, but added a layer of mystery to the story as Danny is written as a somewhat clueless character. Readers only see what Danny wants them to see with Maeve providing more details about their upbringing.

This book is about obsessive nostalgia and real estate lust, which I found to be somewhat contradictory, but that nevertheless worked together. It’s incredibly sentimental, heart-warming, and full of themes of forgiveness, gratitude, compassion, redemption, and letting go of the past. This is a story of unconventional families, making due with what you have, and what happens when children are left to their own devices. It gave me strong fairy tale vibes with the theme of motherless children (ie. ‘Cinderella’, ‘Hansel and Gretel’, ‘The Little Princess’). All in all, this book was hard for me to stop reading and left me thinking about the story long after I finished. I hoped you like this pick!

In August we’re headed to Japan!

Online Reading Challenge – July

Welcome Readers!

This month the Online Reading Challenge travels to suburbia. According to the Cambridge Dictionary, suburbia is ‘the outer parts of a town, where there are houses, but no large stores, places of work, or places of entertainment’. Miriam-Webster defines suburbs as ‘a smaller community adjacent to or within commuting distance of a city OR the residential area on the outskirts of a city or large town’. There are so many suburbia options for you to read, watch, or listen to! I can’t wait!

Our Main title for July is The Dutch House by Ann Patchett. Here’s a quick summary from the publisher.

Ann Patchett, the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Commonwealth, delivers her most powerful novel to date: a richly moving story that explores the indelible bond between two siblings, the house of their childhood, and a past that will not let them go. The Dutch House is the story of a paradise lost, a tour de force that digs deeply into questions of inheritance, love and forgiveness, of how we want to see ourselves and of who we really are.

At the end of the Second World War, Cyril Conroy combines luck and a single canny investment to begin an enormous real estate empire, propelling his family from poverty to enormous wealth. His first order of business is to buy the Dutch House, a lavish estate in the suburbs outside of Philadelphia. Meant as a surprise for his wife, the house sets in motion the undoing of everyone he loves.

The story is told by Cyril’s son Danny, as he and his older sister, the brilliantly acerbic and self-assured Maeve, are exiled from the house where they grew up by their stepmother. The two wealthy siblings are thrown back into the poverty their parents had escaped from and find that all they have to count on is one another. It is this unshakeable bond between them that both saves their lives and thwarts their futures.

Set over the course of five decades, The Dutch House is a dark fairy tale about two smart people who cannot overcome their past. Despite every outward sign of success, Danny and Maeve are only truly comfortable when they’re together. Throughout their lives they return to the well-worn story of what they’ve lost with humor and rage. But when at last they’re forced to confront the people who left them behind, the relationship between an indulged brother and his ever-protective sister is finally tested.

This title is also available as large print, CD audiobook, Playaway audiobook, Libby eBook, and Libby eAudiobook.

As always, check each of our locations for displays with lots more titles to choose from!

Online Reading Challenge – June Wrap-Up

Hello Fellow Challenge Readers!

How did your reading go this month? Did you read something set in Australia that you enjoyed? Share in the comments!

I read our main title: The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman. This book tore my heart out. The more I read, the more I was invested in what was going on in everyone’s lives. The prose is absolutely beautiful as the author describes the remote island setting (and all the other locations in the book). Honestly, I love any books set in Australia, especially narrators with Australian accents, so this was an almost guaranteed enjoyment for me. Let’s talk about the book!

Tom Sherbourn is a young World War I vet described by others as responsible, upstanding, and stalwart. The war ravaged him emotionally. After the war, Tom finds a job as a light-keeper on isolated Janus Rock off the western coast of Australia. During one of his shore leaves, Tom meets Isabel. Isabel is young and free-spirited. The two are soon married and set up house on Janus Rock to begin their life together as starry-eyed new lovers. Janus Rock is gorgeous. Tom starts to heal amongst the silence, solitude, and rumblings of the sea. The thing that would make their life complete is a baby, something that Isabel longs for intensely. Over several years, Isabel suffers two miscarriages and a devastating stillbirth. The couple are crushed.

One day a small boat washes up on Janus Rock. The two are stunned to find a dead body and a very much alive infant in the boat. Tom is required to record and report everything that happens on Janus Rock, but Isabel persuades a very reluctant Tom to not do so in this case. She reasons that the baby is most likely an orphan now. Isabel believes that this is a sign from the universe to reward them after the years of heartbreak the two have suffered in their attempts to have a child. Tom buries the dead man, sets the boat adrift, and tells himself the two are doing the right thing, although his conscience eats at him as time passes.

Tom, Isabel, and the baby have an almost perfect life on Janus Rock. Their trips back to shore to visit Isabel’s family however start to worry even more at Tom’s conscience. He broke the rules and omitted important information from his reports, something that could end his career and lead to him facing formal charges. Tom’s misgivings haunt him and soon enough, his worries actually amount to something. Their idyllic life comes crashing down. The family is forced to deal with the consequences of Tom and Isabel’s actions. Nothing will be the same.

I wasn’t sure what I expected when I started this book, but I was pleasantly surprised. I had never read this before (or seen the movie starring Michael Fassbender, Alicia Vikander, and Rachel Weisz). The depth of emotion presented through written words tore at my heart. As I was reading, I thought I was going to be sympathetic one way, but reading from multiple points of view really had me second-guessing my judgments and feelings. I find myself thinking about this book long after I finished it – wondering what choices I would have made if I had been put in a similar position. This book, to me, was a good reminder that you never know what a person is going through. Everyone has their own reasons for doing something and just because you wouldn’t necessarily behave a certain way doesn’t mean that someone else won’t. All in all, I enjoyed this book and found myself running through a wide range of emotions as I listened.

In July we’re headed to suburbia!

Online Reading Challenge – June

Welcome Readers!

This month the Online Reading Challenge travels to Australia, the smallest continent, yet one of the largest countries on Earth! Australia has jungle-coated islands, outback plains, vast wilderness frontiers, the world’s oldest living ecosystems, remote islands, and high peaks. Our Main title for June is The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman. We are in Australia for this book, though Janus Rock is a fictional island(fun fact: there is a Janus Island located near Antarctica). Here’s a quick summary of The Light Between Oceans from the publisher.

After four harrowing years on the Western Front, Tom Sherbourne returns to Australia and takes a job as the lighthouse keeper on Janus Rock, nearly half a day’s journey from the coast. To this isolated island, where the supply boat comes once a season, Tom brings a young, bold, and loving wife, Isabel. Years later, after two miscarriages and one stillbirth, the grieving Isabel hears a baby’s cries on the wind. A boat has washed up onshore carrying a dead man and a living baby.

Tom, who keeps meticulous records and whose moral principles have withstood a horrific war, wants to report the man and infant immediately. But Isabel insists the baby is a “gift from God,” and against Tom’s judgment, they claim her as their own and name her Lucy. When she is two, Tom and Isabel return to the mainland and are reminded that there are other people in the world. Their choice has devastated one of them.

This title is also available in large print, as a CD audiobook, a Libby eBook, and single book club books. You can also watch the movie version, which was released in 2016 starring Michael Fassbender as Tom and Alicia Vikander as Isabel.

As always, check each of our locations for displays with lots more titles to choose from!