Tuesday, February 4, 2020

The Start of my Reading for the 2020 Toronto Public Library Reading Challenge

I have once again challenged myself to complete the Toronto Public Library reading challenge, where the library has created 25 categories of books and I am supposed to find and read a book from each category.  I loved doing this last year because it took me out of my comfort zone to read books in different styles and genres.  I didn't necessarily like all of the books, but I liked that it stretched me.  Here are my first three books (I have actually read four, but already reviewed Mourning has Broken which fits the category of "a book about a real person"):

The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes
I read this book for the category "a book that celebrates books, reading or libraries".  This book is set in Depression era Kentucky.  Alice Wright, a young English woman, who has always been a bit of an outcast in her family, meets and marries the handsome Bennett Van Cleve.  She moves with him to the US, dreaming of adventures in New York.  Instead she is taken to a very small coal mining town where she lives with Bennett and his overbearing and abusive father.  At the start of her time there she becomes even more of an outcast than she was at home - unable to fit in with the gossiping, tea drinking girls of her age.  She is even ridiculed for her accent - accused of putting on airs.

Everything changes for her when she volunteers to join a team of women to deliver books on horseback as part of Eleanor Roosevelt's travelling library program - intended to bring reading to the masses.  She is taken under the wing of Margery who is strong and independent though comes from a very troubled background, leading to immense disapproval by Bennett and particularly his father.  But Alice thrives with the freedom of delivering books on horseback, communing with nature, and meeting all types of people.  They are joined by three other local women - and while their books are appreciated by many; others work very hard to put a stop to their activities, accusing them of delivering inappropriate materials.

The book essentially follows the story of the women - and the men they love and hate.  They must overcome tremendous hardship - both due to nature and human interference - and they definitely learn who their friends are.  Based on true story, this book definitely celebrates the importance of books, reading and libraries, and the great lengths some women have gone to in order to bring those pleasures to everyone.

At times I found the book a bit slow; at other times a bit too predictable, but overall I enjoyed it.  I thought the characters, particularly Alice and Margery, were very well developed.

Read Bottom Up by Neel Shah and Skye Chatham
I read this book for the category "an experimental or unusual book".  The topic is classic rom-com, but the style is unconventional.  The entire book is written in a series of texts and e-mails.  They are exchanges between Madeline and Elliot, who meet at a restaurant and enter into a relationship; between Madeline and her best friend, Emily; and between Elliot and his best friend, David.  And of course they also include the forwarding and analyzing of the emails between Madeline and Elliot by the best friends.

Apparently the authors even wrote this book in a very unusual way - they exchanged e-mails in real time; blind to each other's side conversations.

Despite the unconventional style I felt the characters were well developed and that I got to know them (if not especially like them).  And the development of the relationship through emails and texts, and analyzing emails and texts, did seem very realistic.  I'm not sure I would have read this book if not for the challenge, but I'm not sorry I did.  It's one of those stretch reads that was worth it for me - but don't expect great literature or grand themes.

Not If I See You First by Eric Lindstrom
This book fit the category of "a book related to vision".  It's a young adult book about Parker Grant who lost both her mother and her sight in an accident when she was 7 years old.  She's now 16 and her father also just died recently.  So when we meet her she's coping with his death, living with her aunt, uncle and cousins who have moved into her house on her father's death so she doesn't have to navigate a new environment too, starting high school and the reappearance of her middle school boyfriend who broke her heart.

When her boyfriend broke her heart it caused her to develop several rules for keeping her life manageable.  The hardest one turns out to be "no second chances" since she is still tempted to give that boyfriend a chance.

I thought this was a well written book.  It delved into how Parker coped with the many challenges she had to face - and the strong friendships she had which helped in the coping.  It also showed how she grew when faced with new challenges.  I liked the characters and the relationships - they seemed very high school realistic.

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