Friday, December 30, 2011

Staff Picks of 2011

The staff at Deerfield Public Library has done a lot of reading this year! In order to share our love of books with you, we've compiled a list of our favorite books that we've read this year.  Keep in mind, they aren't necessarily books that have been published this year.  Just books that we read in 2011 and loved!  

Julie

The Family Fang by Kevin Wilson
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas
Persuasion by Jane Austen

Noreen

The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes
Clara and Mr. Tiffany  by Susan Vreeland
Definitely Not Mr. Darcy  by Karen Doornebos
The Informationist by Taylor Stevens
State of Wonder by Ann Patchett

Ted

In The Garden Of Beasts by Erik Larson
Life by Keith Richards
Batman:  Year One by Frank Miller
Louis Riel: A Comic-Strip Biography by Chester Brown
Paying For It by Chester Brown
Moneyball by Michael Lewis
Drinking At The Movies by Julia Wertz
The Sinner’s Grand Tour:  A Journey Through The Historical Underbelly of Europe by Tony Perrottet
How To Understand Israel in 60 Days Or Less by Sarah Glidden
Unbroken by Sarah Hillenbrand

Terri

The Submission by Amy Waldman
The Leftovers by Tom Perrotta
Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
The Keeper of Lost Causes by Adler-Olsen
The Quickening by Michelle Hoover
The Snowman by Jo Nesbo

Janet

Warmth of Other Sun by Isabel Wilkerson 
Townie by Andre Dubus III
Bossypants by Tina Fey
Rules of Civility by Amor Towles
Room by Emma Donoghue
Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Art of Fielding by Chad Harback
Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese

Emily

Freedom by Jonathan Franzen
The Mortal Instruments series by Cassandra Clare
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
The Hunger Games series
Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer

Madeline

The Family Fang by Kevin Wilson
Little Bee by Chris Cleave
Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand
Flawless: Inside the Largest Diamond Heist in History by Scott Andrew Selby and Greg Campbell


Melissa

The Night Strangers by Chris Bohjalian
 The House of Silk by Anthony Horowitz
Bossypants by Tina Fey



Kay

Breaking Night by Liz Murray
Clara and Mr. Tiffany by Susan Vreeland
Madame Tussaud by Michelle Moran
The Snowman by Jo Nesbo
The Hypnotist by Lars Keplar
Conquistadora by Esmerelda Santiago
Bossypants by Tina Fey 

Jessica


1Q84 by Haruki Murakami
Chronic City by Jonathan Lethem
The Universe in Miniature in Miniature by Patrick Somerville
Chronology of Water by Lidia Yuknavitch
Rose of No Man’s Land by Michelle Tea
Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie
Submarine by Joe Dunthorne
The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
Self-Help by Lorrie Moore
Everyone Loves You When You’re Dead by Neil Strauss
Beauty Queens by Libba Bray
Daddy’s by Lindsay Hunter
Veronica by Mary Gaitskill
Swamplandia! By Karen Russell
Welcome to the Monkey House by Kurt Vonnegut




There are plenty more books that we loved but just didn't quite make our "favorite" lists this year so be sure to ask us for suggestions!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Speaking of AudioBooks

"3 Nights In August" by Buzz Bissinger

I love working at the Deerfield Public Library.  But I live in Chicago and the commutes can sometimes be pretty rough.  For years my wife has told me that she enjoys listening to audio books during her commutes.  She said that it helps make the time fly when you get into listening to a book.  I finally took her advice and checked out an audio book a few months ago.  She was right!  Listening to a good audio book while driving home really does seem to make the time fly by. 

I’m a huge baseball fan and I’m already in deep baseball withdraw.  I recently checked out an audio book from the library that I really enjoyed.  “3 Nights In August” is written by Buzz Bissinger who is best known as the author of “Friday Night Lights”.  “3 Nights In August” is a book about Tony La Russa, the manager of the St. Louis Cardinals.  The framework of the book is a three game series that the Cardinals are playing against their hated rivals, the Chicago Cubs, in 2003. 

Even though the book is about Tony La Russa and the St. Louis Cardinals, there was plenty in there for a Chicago baseball fan to enjoy as well.  First of all, the book is about a three game series against the Cubs.  Each game is discussed in detail and many of the Cubs players are talked about in detail as well.  I found the discussion about Mark Prior to be almost sadly prophetic.  Tony La Russa talks about what a fantastic pitcher he is and how he can tell the young man is completely brimming with confidence about his abilities and future.  But Tony La Russa then reflects on how fleeting a career as a baseball pitcher can be.  One bad injury and a once promising career can be cut painfully short.  If you’re a Cubs fan you know how true those words turned out to be.

While the book focuses on the three game series against the Cubs it also tells the story of Tony La Russa’s life and his start in baseball.  So once again we get a good dose of Chicago baseball history as Tony La Russa’s start with the Chicago White Sox is discussed.  I’m a huge White Sox fan so I really enjoyed hearing the stories about Bill Veeck, Carlton Fisk, and Harold Baines.  I also really enjoyed finding out that Tom Seaver was the only pitcher that Tony La Russa ever managed who wouldn’t lie to him when he would go out to the mound and ask him how he was feeling.

What ultimately made the book fascinating to me though was how it really got into what a manager really does in baseball.  The day to day, and hour by hour breakdown of a typical day for Tony La Russa is a lot of what this book is about.  As much as possible Buzz Bissinger tries to get inside the head of Tony La Russa to figure out how he makes the decisions he makes during a baseball game.  I was amazed to learn, for instance, that deciding to have your pitcher try to hit an opposing batter can depend on if that batter gave money to his wife’s charity the year before!  This book was also published shortly after the hugely influential “Moneyball” was released.  Tony La Russa talks a lot about his own personal strategies for running a baseball offense and how it differs from the “Moneyball” philosophy.  If you’ve read “Moneyball” you will probably find that discussion to be very interesting.

So if you’re a baseball fan, and you’re looking for a great way to kill some time during your commute, I highly recommend “3 Nights In August”.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

And For My Next Book...


As the year ends, a deluge of lists hit our desks and screens claiming the best books of 2011.  As much as I try to keep up with all the new books that make their debut throughout the year, it’s impossible to read them all.  And that starts me thinking about all the great books I might have missed in years past.  And then I start to worry that I will never read everything I want to or that I missed the greatest book ever written.

After I calm down and tell myself that books are meant to be enjoyed and it’s not a contest, I realize I need to select my next book.  What a decision!  Something that’s new or something that's old?  I decide to go with old, a 2007 publication date to be more specific.  I don’t even remember where I read the review of The Rossetti Letter by Christi Phillips, but it sounded intriguing. The story of a race to chronicle the tale of a seventeenth century courtesan who tries to warn the Venetian Council of a Spanish plot to overthrow the Venetian Republic sounded right up my alley.

Clare Donovan is trying to complete her thesis of the mysterious courtesan, Alessandra Rossetti, when she discovers that there is another scholar who may just beat her to it.  Clare’s career may never take off if this occurs. We follow Clare to present day Venice on her quest to locate the documents she needs to present her case.  Parallel to Clare’s story, we also read Alessandra’s story, which is filled with treachery, violence, politics and romance.

For those who love historical fiction, as I do, this book is a great find. A new author that has me wanting to read not only more by her, but also more about the little known Spanish Conspiracy against Venice.  The Rossetti Letter was just what I needed to remind me not to forget those books that don’t show up on any lists and to just relax and enjoy the book.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Funny You Should Mention Chelsea Handler...



Every time my husband and I have to make a road trip to visit our families for the holidays, I insist on listening to an audiobook. I tend to get car sick, so I prefer listening to a book rather than reading in the car. And there is no way I'm going to give up several prime hours of reading time to stare out the window at corn fields. The problem is that my husband and I have very different reading tastes, so it's always difficult to find an audiobook we both enjoy. I have had pretty good success with humor. Last Christmas we enjoyed listening to I'm Dreaming of a Black Christmas by Lewis Black. This year I snagged Chelsea Handler's latest Lies Chelsea Handler Told Me. Halfway through our drive I was gasping for breath and literally weeping (from laughing, not crying, in case that was unclear). Two days later I was still tittering when I recalled one of the more humorous stories.
It turns out that Chelsea Handler is a huge liar. She delights in pulling pranks on those around her and will go to great lengths to create elaborate ruses to trap her victims. This book is a compilation of stories told by Chelsea's friends, coworkers, and family members, who recount the instances when they fell prey to her shenanigans. I'm always envious of people who are clever enough to create a good prank and pull it off successfully. Chelsea Handler is a master at pulling pranks. At times they almost seem cruel, but the people in her life seem to understand that this is part of Chelsea and accept it with begrudgingly good humor. Fans of Chelsea's show will recognize some of the comedians that often appear such as Heather McDonald, Josh Wolf, and Brad Wollack. Outrageously funny, fans of Chelsea Handler will love this one.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Mental Note- Avoid Writing Books About Exes


Along with a large percentage of the 20-30 something female population, I've been known to read snarky humor books written by other women. These books often focus on the status of the author's love life, previous relationships, and awful trips to the mall/salon/Mexico/high school reunion/dance club/family dinner. I cringe when I see an awful first date approaching and I sympathize when an ex-boyfriend says something inappropriate post breakup. That being said, I was immediately drawn to My Boyfriend Wrote A Book About Me by Hilary Winston. The book is nonfiction, and as you may have guessed, starts out with a story about how the author's ex-boyfriend wrote a book seemingly based on their 5 year relationship. Let's just say, it was not a flattering portrayal.
The dedication of My Boyfriend Wrote A Book About Me says "This book is dedicated to anyone who has ever had their heart broken. And dreamed of getting the tiniest slice of revenge. And didn't do it because they were worried they'd look crazy. I'm taking this bullet for you. You're welcome." That's basically the summary of the stories in this book. Winston writes chapter after chapter of hilarious, cringe-worthy stories about ex-boyfriends and you can't help but get sucked into reading every last page. In addition to the dirty details about her former flames, Winston writes with enough self deprecation that you don't feel like she's being unfair to any of her targets. I'd give you more details but they aren't quite appropriate for a library blog. While this book may not be short listed for any awards this year, I'd absolutely recommend it to Chelsea Handler fans and those looking for a read that is maybe a touch bitter but definitely quick and funny.

Short on Time?

Sometimes being in the midst of the holiday season is like being in a whirlwind.  With everything going on it is sometimes very hard to find some time to carve out for ourselves to just sit and read a good book.

We can still read some quality material in less time by reading shorter stories.  Some people dismiss short stories.  Short stories are not only a great way to find a way to read when you have very little time, but to find new authors for future reading.

Highly reviewed Volt by Alan Heathcock brings us eight stories set mostly within small towns.  Some characters are linked throughout the stories, but the stories do not have to be read in any certain order.  Hancock writes of life in a sparse, gritty style where characters encounter a lot of life’s, well, volts.

For mystery lovers, A Study in Sherlock: stories inspired by the Holmes canon includes stories by several prominent mystery writers including Lee Child, Dana Stabenow, Charles Todd and S.J. Rozan.  And if you want to get into the holiday spirit, try  Christmas at The Mysterious Bookshop: ‘tis the season to be deadly.  This great collection of short stories is centered around the holiday season and each story involves a bookshop.

These are only a few collections you may want to try.  If you want to look for more collections of short stories, enter the words “short stories” or “anthology” into the DPL catalog and you’ll find a vast list of books to explore.  Take some time off for yourself this season and Happy Holidays!

My Holiday gift to you, dear Reader

Joy! I can hardly wait! This gave me the shivers.

Monday, December 19, 2011

1Q84 by Haruki Murakami

As we prepare to turn another corner and throw ourselves head first into the new year, we are bombarded with a seemingly endless selection of obsessive compulsive attempts to document the best, worst, and most overrated of everything. Many of the repeated picks will continue to be the best sellers and book club selections of tomorrow, and, by default, the novels most often praised as “great” or slammed as “so not worth the effort” by the masses. One destined to fall under both headings is Haruki Murakami’s 944-page behemoth 1Q84. Page count aside, it’s a work of fiction so thoroughly loaded with Murakami’s trademark surrealism that the story alone is enough to cause derision between avid readers. For some, Murakami’s genre cocktail of fantasy and the undeniably ‘literary’ will likely read as silly indulgence matched by a tediously lengthy narrative arc (and yes, fairly overwritten sex sequences). I won’t say these people are in the wrong. On the contrary, 1Q84 is certainly not for everyone. What I will say, though, is that the tome tops my shortlist of the best fiction writing of 2011. For those willing to take the journey, what Murakami has to offer is a languid, gorgeous read that transports its audience into a realm where time is fluid and the pages fly by. This is pure magic realism. It is a dream in print and should only be read when time allows.

The story defies synopsis, but a very simplified outline may read something like this: 1Q84 is the tale of two protagonists on seemingly disparate paths. The first is Aomame, a cynical woman who has fallen into a job as a hired assassin. Aomame enacts vigilante justice by neatly murdering notorious misogynists. In the book’s opening chapters, traffic has prevented Aomame’s taxi from reaching her next mark on time. In an act of desperation, she leaps from the car and slips through a construction worker’s shortcut that we soon learn is a sort of concrete rabbit hole. Why this is, we do not know. From here, Aomame enters a world in which there are two moons; a dimension she takes to referring to as 1Q84, an alternate reality of her 1984 present rife with allusion, symbolism, and a wealth of complicated mechanics.

Our second protagonist, too, has had his world turned upside down, though in a rather different way. Tengo is an unpublished novelist who, while judging a fiction competition, finds himself hired to ghostwrite a revision of a teenage ingĂ©nue’s mysteriously compelling manuscript. She’s a sensation, but insists that the fantastical elements of her story are not rooted in her imagination, but are instead very real. It’s worth noting that our accidental lit celebrity is a wonderful character, a sort of cyborg-like slip of a girl who serves as authorial device and enigmatic presence. As the stories begin to slowly enter parallel paths, they meet in places we couldn’t have expected at the outset, but which reveal themselves naturally in context.

The beauty of Murakami’s style (or, at least, the translation from the original Japanese) is that while we may veer into distraction and detail, we never lose sight of the story. This is not a pretentious book written to deliberately obfuscate meaning or confuse its readers. It’s instead a highly intelligent page turner. You read it, you understand it. 1Q84 is a sort of epic urban fairy tale densely packed with mysterious cults, romantic entanglements, echoing incantations and thrilling, cinematic subplots. Murakami guides us through his otherworld with simplistic prose and lays the cards on the table in ways that are often alarmingly blunt, very nearly mimicking the even-keeled language of a young adult adventure. It’s sharp, smart, wholly unique, but not interested in hearing itself speak.

Still, this is not beginner’s Murakami. While the novel is a beautiful piece of work deserving of those inches on your bookshelf, 1Q84 seems written for those already in love with Haruki Murakami’s past works. It’s the equivalent, perhaps, of those later ‘indulgent’ Federico Fellini films whined about by the movie theater complainer in Annie Hall. 1Q84 is the work of a literary auteur who has been given full license to run with his subconscious, however far that may take him. It’s not overblown, it’s not actually indulgent, it is idiosyncratic and it does take its time. In some ways, you have to want to see what Murakami is willing to show you. I followed him down the rabbit hole wholeheartedly, and the rewards have been invaluable. Months later, I still recall moments of this complex tale in crystal clear detail, which is more than I can say for certain books I read just last week. When a work of art has me stumbling into its world that long after the fact, that, for me, speaks to its ultimate value.

Friday, December 16, 2011

"Drinking At The Movies" by Julia Wertz


"Drinking At The Movies" is a new graphic novel by Julia Wertz. I found it to be a really interesting graphic novel on several different levels.

First of all, one of the things we librarian types often talk about it is "what does YA mean?". Many books that are labeled as YA books seem to be more for the tween set. Some other YA books are very graphic and not at all what would be appropriate for a 13 year old.  It can be a tough category to figure out sometimes.  While reading "Drinking At The Movies" it struck me that perhaps this was a "real" young adult book. All of the characters are in their early 20's and are trying to figure out how to function and live in a grown up world. This is real life stuff as well. It is basically an autobiographical account of the authors move from San Francisco to New York City and trying to make it there. Much of the comic is about things like trying to find a cheap apartment, roommate issues, trying to find a job, boyfriends, drinking, problems with parents, a brother in rehab, and trying to figure out what to do in life. It may not sound particularly exciting but it's real and true to life. While reading about her trials and tribulations I found myself liking the author more and more as a person. By the end of the book I felt in a funny way like I had made a new friend.

I also found it to be a fascinating graphic novel because of the style of drawings Julia Wertz uses. It seems to be another example of a trend I've noticed in graphic novels that I'm still not sure how I feel about. In the past it seems like a "good" graphic novel had both an interesting story to tell, but was also beautifully drawn, so the pictures were just as interesting as the story. Harvey Pekar couldn't draw so he had his famous friends like Robert Crumb illustrate his graphic novels for him. "Maus", while being a little more primitive in the drawing style still had a style of it's own and was fascinating to look at. Joe Sacco, Jamie Hernandez, Daniel Clowes, and Chris Ware are all skilled artists. Julia Wertz, I'm afraid, doesn't seem to be in that league.

So when I first started reading "Drinking At The Movies" it threw me at first. The drawings seemed almost like something a child would draw. But I kept on getting drawn into the story. Julia Wertz may not be able to draw as well of some of the other graphic novelists out there, but she can tell a great story. In my opinion it was one of the best graphic novels I've read that was recently published.

Finally, the last thing that I found interesting was that in some many ways this is a 2.0 book. At the end there is a link to the Julia Wertz website. The website has archives of her older comics as well as newer ones she's written. I found myself spending hours reading her older comics that she's posted online and reading her new ones as well and getting up to date in her life. Her website also includes a blog and links to her Flikr page. I found it interesting to look at her Flickr account and see pictures of many of the people she mentions in the book. Her contact info is right there and she seems like the kind of person who might actually write back if you sent her a note.

So check out "Drinking At The Movies" if you would like to read a good "Young Adult" graphic novel that is true to life. Maybe you'll feel like you made a new friend as well.

Check out the Julia Wertz website.  Her current post is about libraries!

Have you ever read a book and felt in a funny way like you've made a new friend?

30 Going on 13; Delving into Teen Fiction!

So you may not think that as an adult it's totally OK to check out what's going on in Teen book world. I'm here to say that there is nothing wrong with finding a gem of a book that's labeled as "Teen" or "YA". In fact, I highly recommend it. As a Youth Services/Teen Librarian I not only spend my days ordering for both Juvenile and Teen fiction collections, but inevitably I find myself spending free time reading from both departments. In my book (pun intended), crossover between the world of Adult fiction and Teen fiction is one of the most entertaining and relevant occurrences in any library. There are plenty of teens who are interested in titles that are housed in Adult fiction, and vice-versa. So don't be afraid or uncomfortable to venture into that unknown territory in the library where the chairs are really bright and the stories are so so intriguing. Teen fiction has all of that drama and creativity you crave, along with the realism and true experiences that bring life to a story.

Check out the "Can I Borrow Your Book" display in the Library's Adult Fiction department for recommended teen titles that fit the bill, or try some of the titles below as well. As an avid adult reader of "Teen labeled" titles I can say this: Once you start reading them, you won't look back; except of course for when you're in the mood for some awesome Adult fiction, but that's a whole other story (again, pun intended)!

Tell us: What's your all time favorite "Teen" or YA" book?


Cryer's Cross
You are my Only
Anna Dressed in Blood
Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children
The love curse of the Rumbaughs
The Musicians Daughter
The Twin's Daughter
Bitter Melon
PostSecret : Extraordinary confessions from ordinary lives
The Silence of Murder

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Only Time Will Tell

Only Time Will Tell by Jeffrey Archer is Volume 1 of The Clifton Chronicles—a saga that will cover 100 years of family history. Set in Bristol, England just after World War I, it introduces Harry Clifton, the son of a dockworker whose sharp mind and unexpected gift for singing attract attention and win him a scholarship to an exclusive boys' school. The book features two families: the working-class Cliftons, including Harry’s feisty, attractive mother, and the wealthy Barringtons, including Sir Walter and Hugo, the docks’ shipping magnates. Themes of class, the power of wealth, integrity, and betrayal play out with plot twists, and the setting as England prepares for a second war makes this more than a coming of age story. The story is told by different characters over time, combining first-person accounts with third-person storytelling, adding perspective to the novel's events. It's a well-paced, enjoyable read—with a cliff-hanger ending that has me waiting for the next volume!

Historical fiction—including family sagas written as series—offer hours of great reading. Consider these series while you wait for the next volume of the Clifton Chronicles, The Sins of the Fathers, due out in May 2012:

Ken Follett’s Pillars of the Earth series, begins in twelfth century England and follows the lives entwined in the building of a great gothic cathedral; begin with Pillars of the Earth.

Jack Whyte’s Camulod Chronicles begins with The Skystone and recounts the origins of Camelot based on Arthurian legend.

Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove series embraces the legend and fact of the American West. Begin with the Pulitzer Prize winning Lonesome Dove.

Beverly Swerling’s City of Four series, begins in New Amsterdam in the 1660’s as immigrants make their way in what will be the greatest city of the new world. Begin with City of Dreams.

What historical fiction series have you enjoyed?

Monday, December 12, 2011

The Night Strangers by Chris Bohjalian

Chris Bohjalian is one of my favorite authors. His novels often include a twist at the end that leave the reader rethinking the entire novel. His latest, The Night Strangers, includes a paranormal element that is new for Bohjalian. But he does a great job of creating a sinister, ominous tone that keeps the reader intrigued throughout the novel.

When airline pilot Chip Linton’s plane goes down, he attempts to land his plane on Lake Champlain. But unlike the plane that successfully landed on the Hudson in 2009, Chip’s attempt does not end well. The plane is broken into pieces and thirty-nine of the passengers die. Unable to move past his grief and guilt, Chip, his wife Emily and their twin ten-year-old daughters leave their life in Pennsylvania behind for the quiet of New Hampshire. They purchase a rambling Victorian home in a small New England town with the hopes that Chip will be able to start a new life. But in a dark corner of the basement, Chip discovers a mysterious door that has been bolted shut with thirty-nine carriage bolts. The mystery of the door and the peculiar number of bolts nags at Chip. As the Lintons learn more about the house’s strange history, they also begin meeting members of their new community. Many of the women in town are self-proclaimed herbalists, growing uncommon herbs in their greenhouses that they use in baking and tinctures. The women also begin to take an unusual interest in the Linton’s twins. When Chip begins seeing the ghosts of some of the passengers from his crash, he wonders if he is losing his mind. Will these herbalists be able to help Chip, or is something more sinister at play?

Readers do have to be willing to accept the idea of ghosts or spirits, but it’s not over-the-top or silly, as so many paranormal stories usually are. The audiobook is narrated by Alison Fraser and Mark Bramhall, who do a wonderful job of creating distinct voices for all of the characters. Bohjalian is interviewed at the end of the audiobook and discusses how he came up with the idea for this story and the research he did, which is quite interesting. A good choice for audiobook fans.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Definitely Not Mr. Darcy


Karen Doornebos' novel, Definitely Not Mr. Darcy, is another addition to the already abundant group of novels based on the world of Jane Austen. Chloe Parker is a thirty-nine-year-old single mother who loves Jane Austen and fantasizes about the Regency period. When Chloe hears about a reality/documentary TV show set in England, that will be staged in the Regency period, she decides to audition. The $100,000 prize could save her fledgling business and her home. Chloe is selected as a contestant, but when she arrives, she finds that the reality show is meant to be a competition to win Mr. Sebastian Wrightman, the heir to a large estate. Chloe also finds that life in the Regency period with no cell phones, electricity, indoor plumbing, or even deodorant, is not as romantic as it seemed. Chloe sticks it out, determined to win the money, but her growing attraction for Sebastian's younger brother Henry jeopardizes her chances at winning.

Ok, so it's total fluff. It's a little silly and I saw the ending coming from quite early on in the novel. But I ate it up. It's a fun story with a steamy romance and I couldn't help but become immersed in it. The author also includes all the interesting details about life during the Regency that you don't learn from a Jane Austen novel, like how one went to the bathroom or bathed, what was used for makeup, how meals were prepared, etc. As much as I'd like to say that I prefer to stick to more serious fiction, I do enjoy a fun novel like this one from time to time.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Happy Halloween!

In honor of my Halloween costume, I've put together a list of some great historical fiction and nonfiction titles about one of my favorite historical figures: Marie Antoinette.

Fiction:
Abundance by Sena Jeter Naslund


The Hidden Diary of Marie Antoinette by Carolly Erickson


Becoming Marie Antoinette by Juliet Grey


The Knight of the Maison-Rouge: A Novel of Marie Antoinette by Alexandre Dumas


Versailles by Kathryn Davis


Nonfiction:


Marie Antoinette: The Journey by Antonia Fraser


Queen of Fashion: What Marie Antoinette Wore to the Revolution by Caroline Weber

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Live like a writer

The Week magazine has a section every week of featured homes on the market throughout the country. They always follow a theme: colonial homes, homes on the beach, historical homes, etc. They are usually multi-million dollar homes plus one "steal of the week." Obviously these are not homes which I could ever hope to buy, but they are still fun to look at. The theme last week was author's homes on the market, which caught my eye. If you are in the market for a home and want to channel a writer's vibe check out these homes:

Ann Rule, one of my favorite true crime writers, is selling her Burien, Washington home for $999,750. It features a main residence as well as a writing cottage.

Novelist Roxana Robinson is selling her four-bedroom home in Mount Desert, Maine for $5.6 million. English-style library with built-in bookshelves (a librarian's dream!).

Gore Vidal's Los Angeles home (with more built-in bookshelves!) is going for $3,495,000.

Garrison Keillor's River Falls, Wisconsin 11.5 acre "retreat" is listed at $995,000. A steal.

The five-story 1839 townhouse in Brooklyn where Truman Capote lived when he wrote his most famous books, is going for $14,995,000.

The steal of the week: Poet Donald Faulkner's Niskayuna, New York Tudor-style home is going for a mere $319,000.

Monday, October 24, 2011

An oldie but a goodie...

I was reading the latest issue of Audiofile magazine when a title caught my eye: Follow the River by James Alexander Thom. I wonder what prompted Tantor to release this audiobook now. This book was actually published in the 1980s, which I remember because I was obsessed with this book when I was in fifth grade. My fifth grade teacher, Mrs. Weber, was reading the book and every day would come to school and tell us what happened in the chapter she had read the night before. By the end I was so captivated by the story that I begged my Mom to buy me the paperback so I could read it myself.

From what I remember, the story is set in the 18th or 19th century America, in an area that has few American settlers. Mary Ingles lives with her family out in the middle of nowhere, where raids by the Indians constantly kept them in fear. One day, Shawnee Indians raid their little settlement, kidnapping Mary (who is pregnant) and her children. Mary eventually escapes with another woman and they have to walk miles to get back home. It is a dangerous journey and they suffer from starvation, but do finally make it home.

I'm not sure what it was about this particular novel that stuck with me, but it is one of the few books from my childhood that I remember so vividly. I think of it from time to time and consider re-reading it (I still have that paperback my Mom bought me), but I worry that I'll be disappointed this time around. That it won't live up to my memory. Maybe it's just a cheesy paperback. What books from your childhood really stuck with you? Have you re-read them as an adult?

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Booker Prize Winner Announced

The Man Booker Prize, which is awarded to the best novel of the year written by a citizen of the British Commonwealth or the Republic of Ireland, was awarded yesterday to Julian Barnes for his novel, The Sense of an Ending. Be sure to reserve a copy!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Cook Without a Book

I'm a big fan of Pam Anderson's How to Cook Without a Book. She focuses on teaching fundamentals and then explains how you can modify recipes to your taste. The idea is to help cooks learn to cook more on their own, rather than feeling like they have to follow a recipe every time. Anderson has a new version of this cookbook coming out toward the end of October: Cook Without a Book: Meatless Meals. Although I'm not a vegetarian, I'm trying to cut back on meat, but I'm always at a loss as to what to make besides the good old standby, spaghetti. So, I'm always on the lookout for a really good vegetarian cookbook.

The recipes in Anderson's latest are simple and healthy. She provides a "master formula" for each recipe, and rather than specifying a certain ingredient, provides suggestions for ingredients to pick from. I like this because it lets you choose the ingredients you enjoy and shows how easily ingredients can be substituted. This is a great cookbook for beginning cooks, new vegetarians, or anyone who enjoys experimenting with ingredients.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Appalachia is the new exotic destination

Or at least that's what I'm telling myself.  I just finished Amy Greene's Bloodroot which was set in Appalachia.  The setting in combination with the heartbreaking complexities of this family made for a truly intruiging story.  Bloodroot is narrated by six different people over the course of four generations.  The main character in the story is Myra Odom, a woman who was unlucky in love and family.  Her grandmother, Byrdie, begins the story by giving us the background of Myra's parents and their death, which leads Myra to living with Byrdie.  Their family has a history of untimely deaths, a desperate need to leave Bloodroot Mountain, and a belief in magic.  The other person giving us the background of Myra is her childhood friend, Doug.  His narration seemingly exists to explain the pull that Myra has on the men around her.  She has the ability to entrance nearly every man that she encounters.  Unfortunately, this includes the no-good John Odom.  Shortly after meeting John, Myra hears of a love spell that involves eating the heart of a chicken.  According to the tale, if you do this, the person you love will return the feelings.  Whether due to the spell or not, John and Myra fall in love and get married.  Their relationship turns abusive and awful but Myra believes this is the price she must pay for having employed the love spell.  The rest of the book is told through the point of view of Myra, John, and their twins, Johnny and Laura.  The relationships are tormented, passionate, and full of questions.  They struggle to break free of their family history while still trying to understand it.  Bloodroot Mountain seems to be it's own character in the Odom family saga.  It watches their drama, silently keeps their secrets, and calls to them from afar.  Not only were the relationships, or lack thereof, compelling, but the Appalachian setting lent a feeling of added twists and complexity.  I think if you enjoy intricate family relationships or stories with a gothic setting, you'll be pleasantly surprised with Bloodroot

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Ebooks for the Kindle!

The day has finally arrived! We've been waiting a while for Kindle to become compatible with the library's ebook collection and it has finally come. I have to say that this was the quickest, easiest experience I have ever had using Overdrive. I figured the demand for Kindle books would mean that all the good titles would be gone, but I did an advanced search for all Kindle titles that are currently available and found Carol Birch's Jamrach's Menagerie, a brand new title, right away. I selected the option to get for Kindle, checked out the book, was routed through my Kindle account at Amazon, and selected the device that I wanted the book to be sent to (I don't have a Kindle. I'm using the Kindle app on an Android phone). Voila! Less than 2 minutes.

Now I just have to actually read the book. I have downloaded ebooks to my phone and Xoom tablet before to see how it's done, but I've never actually read the book that way. I did buy an e-cookbook, which I like because I can just prop my tablet up on the counter and use the recipe, rather than juggling a big book. But with other books, I've been clinging to print. So, I'm going to try this ebook thing and see how it goes.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Mrs. Robinson

It would be easy to describe The Kingdom of Childhood by Rebecca Coleman as a literary Mary Kay Letourneou story.  But that doesn't quite describe it.  The main characters are a middle-aged woman named Judy MacFarland and a 16 year old student, Zach Patterson.  They are introduced when Zach's mother offers him as a volunteer to help get ready for Judy's school fundraiser.  Their relationship starts off much like any teacher-student relationship but soon begins to cross a line.  There is a conversation between Zach and Judy that happens near the beginning of their relationship about the song Mrs. Robinson by Simon and Garfunkel.  Zach believes (as many do) that the song is about a younger man being seduced by an older woman.  Judy explains that she believes it to be about a woman stuck in suburbia going crazy.  While I picked this title up expecting more of a doomed romance, I found myself feeling more like I was reading a psychological thriller.  Their relationship is certainly doomed but will they both mentally unravel first?  Zach is a hormonal teenager with no real concept of the emotions that come with physical relationships.  Judy is suffering from a lack of any emotion besides resentment in her household.  Together, the combine to make a Molotov cocktail of sexual intentions. 
I found myself at the end of this novel feeling negatively about all the characters involved.  I hated what they had done, how they had treated each other, how sloppily they had covered it up, and how self righteous they came across.  But at the same time, I couldn't stop thinking about how this stupid fling had turned into such a deeply emotional car wreck.  I couldn't stop thinking about how immature Zach was and how Judy lost any sense of reality.  I wanted to understand them.  I wanted to shake them.  I wanted to warn them.  Which I think really speaks for my feelings on The Kingdom of Childhood in the end.  I have to admire a book that makes me really feel for the characters and question their decisions for a week after I've finished reading.  Rebecca Coleman may not have written characters that I have affection towards, but she did a fantastic job of writing characters that kept me thinking.  It will be published in paperback at the end of the month and I think it's the perfect fall read.  I definitely recommend it.  A good read to get your mind working while letting the rest of yourself get used to the chill of fall. 

Monday, September 19, 2011

Hooray for new adventures!

I just read in Publisher's Weekly that Lauren Willig, author of the Pink Carnation series, landed a deal for her first stand-alone novel, to be called Ashford Park. "Ashford Park tells the story of a woman who untangles her family's past and her own future when she stumbles upon a hidden family secret that stretches back in time to Edwardian England and the plains of Kenya."

I love the Pink Carnation series. It's a smart combination of history, romance, and adventure with strong female characters, but truthfully, I'm ready for something new. I will typically read the first few titles in a series, but I find that as a series progresses, it's just the same story wrapped up in a different package. I'm looking forward to seeing something new from this very talented author.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Finally! A use for all those furballs in my house!



Yes, that's right. Crafting With CAT HAIR. This isn't really that surprising to me. I have seen advertisements in the backs of knitting magazines for places that will spin your cat or dog's fur into yarn that you can knit with. Still. I love dogs and cats, but this just seems weird.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Remembering 9/11

Jonathan Safran Foer's novel Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close has been chosen as Deerfield's One Book One Zip Code selection this year, in honor of the 10th anniversary of September 11th. I read this book when it came out a few years ago and remembered that I enjoyed it, but didn't remember too much about the details. Having to read it again for the book discussions I am leading reminded me that this was such a wonderful story and how in love I am with Oskar Schell. For those that aren't familiar with the story, Oskar Schell is a 9-year-old boy whose father died in the towers on September 11th. While looking through his father's closet, he finds a key in an envelope labled "Black." He decides that he will find out what this key is for and goes on a mission throughout New York City to track down its owner. This is such a heart-wrenching, touching, sweet, smart, unique novel and I think Oskar is probably one of my favorite fictional characters of all-time.

Since our morning book discussion group had already done ELAIC, I decided that we would read Mohsin Hamid's The Reluctant Fundamentalist because it provides another perspective of 9/11. Changez is a young Pakistani man who moves to America to attend Princeton. After he graduates, he accepts a job at a prestigious New York consulting firm. Changez has a bright future ahead of him and has found a girl he cares about. But when 9/11 occurs, something changes for Changez. People begin to look at him with suspicion, and he begins to question America's response to these attacks and whether America is the great country he thought it to be. Some people in the discussion felt very strongly about this novel. Changez makes some very critical remarks about America, which bothered some people. But I found it to be thought-provoking and a unique perspective on this event.

Friday, September 9, 2011

If You Were Here

Best-selling Chicago humor writer Jen Lancaster makes her first foray into fiction with her characteristic wit. Mia and her husband Mac finally have the means to buy their dream house on the North Shore. When Mia finds Jake Ryan’s house (from Sixteen Candles) on the market, she knows this is the house she has to have. But the house hasn’t been touched in twenty years and is in need of much repair. No matter—Mia plans to remodel. Once they move in, they discover the house is a money pit, and their neighbors are less than welcoming. As Mac and Mia attempt to renovate, everything that could go wrong, does: toilets fall through ceilings, Mia gets trapped in the panic room, and their contractor disappears. Their bank account dwindles as Mac makes trip after trip to Home Depot, and their rock-solid marriage is on shaky ground. Will they survive this renovation? If you have ever lived through a home renovation, you will appreciate this humorous and entertaining story.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

The Last Werewolf by Glen Duncan

Jake Marlowe is a 200-year-old werewolf, and the last of his kind. WOCOP (World Organization for the Control of Occult Phenomenon) has managed to hunt down and kill all the other werewolves; Jake is the last one on the list. Depressed and haunted by the fact that he killed and ate his beloved wife, Jake is ready to accept his fait and awaits his executors. Just when he thinks it is finally over, he is mysteriously saved. It turns out that the vampires want Jake alive. But why? Duncan delivers a refreshing change from the vampire romances that dominate the publishing industry. Not for the faint of heart, this novel includes explicit sex and violence and dark humor, but rewards the reader with a unique, sophisticated, compelling story and a deeply flawed main character that the reader can't help but root for.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Lady Killer

Ok, so maybe this particular Chelsea Cain book isn't about her famous lady killer, Gretchen Lowell, but when it comes to writing good killin' spree thrillers, Cain has it down.  If you haven't read Chelsea Cain's previous three Beauty Killer books, I highly recommend them.  Heartsick is the first of the series and introduces us to Archie Sheridan, Susan Ward, and the evil Gretchen Lowell.  Archie tries to balance professional duty with his obsession with Lowell, the serial killer who can get away with almost anything by combining a manipulative personality and stunning good looks.  Susan Ward is the local reporter that becomes a sort of sidekick/pain in the butt for Archie.  Don't get me wrong, this synopsis may seem silly or suggest the book is a bit campy.  It's not.  Cain writes a serial killer that oozes sex appeal and you watch helplessly as it steam rolls everyone in her path. 

One of the reasons I loved Chelsea Cain's previous novels is because she did such a fantastic job of building the character of Archie over each book.  I was angry at him for most of Heartsick and grew to really care about him by Evil At Heart Heartsick, Sweetheart, and Evil At Heart were all smart, gripping, and chilling.  So when The Night Season came out, I was a bit disappointed to see that the story didn't focus on Gretchen's continuing reign of terror.  The Night Season is a standalone novel featuring Archie Sheridan and Susan Ward, as well as a number of other characters we've come to know.  The city of Portland is struggling with a flooding river and mysterious deaths.  Archie and Susan work together to determine the cause of death while dealing with personal blows of their own.  The premise of how the people are being killed off is a bit ridiculous but I was dying (no pun intended) to know how it worked. 

Overall, this was a satisfying story that kept me reading well past my bedtime each night.  I wasn't nearly as grossed out or intruiged as I have been by her previous novels, but I still felt like Archie and Susan held their own.  If you haven't read her other books, you can absolutely read this by itself without missing much.  I think Chelsea Cain is one of the most entertaining female thriller authors of the past couple years.  I will wait patiently for her next book (hurry up!) and recommend the current four to anyone looking for something new and fun!
p.s. if you read The Night Season and it doesn't totally work for you, don't give up on Cain! Go back and read the Gretchen Lowell books.  I promise, they are worth it.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Reading can improve your mood!

I found this interesting blurb in the September issue of Whole Living magazine:

"The benefits of being connected to groups of people--even fictional ones, according to a new study--can give readers a true sense of belonging, satisfaction, and overall positivity. After subjects read passages from Harry Potter or Twilight books for about 30 minutes, they underwent tests to measure how absorbed they were in the story, their connection to specific words, and how much they felt a part of the story....The results...found that the readers derived the same psychological benefits of belonging (like improved mood) when they were immersed in the plot as they did when they were part of a real-world group."

Another reason to keep reading!





Monday, August 15, 2011

Turn of Mind

I usually avoid books about Alzheimer's. I have a family history of Alzheimer's and dementia, and frankly, after watching people I love live through that while also living with the fear that I may have it myself someday, I'd rather read the latest Ann Coulter book than anything about Alzheimer's. Still Alice? Don't care how good it is; not gonna read it. But I went to a talk with Karin Slaughter recently and she named Alice LaPLante's Turn of Mind as one of the best books she had read recently. Alzheimer's patient is accused of murdering her best friend but has no recollection of the event. Hmm. Could be good. Since Karin is a thriller writer, I figured this to be a thriller. I like a good thriller now and then. Ok, I'll give it a chance.

First let me say that I think this is a good novel. It's definitely not a thriller though. The story is told by Dr. Jennifer White. A formerly prominent hand surgeon, she is now retired due to early onset of Alzheimer's. She is still living at home, but with a caregiver. Her best friend and neighbor, Amanda, has recently been murdered and four of her fingers removed. Jennifer is the primary person of interest, but because of her disease, she is unable to recall anything, or even remember that Amanda is dead. Because Jennifer narrates the story, we know next to nothing about the investigation. We live in her head, as she constantly jumps from past to present. We see bits and pieces of her life, her career, her marriage, her children, her friendship with Amanda, until we can almost piece together what her life was like before the disease. You can see how the disease progresses as her thoughts and memories get shorter and more jumbled.

Jennifer doesn't come across as a very likable character and while the question of Amanda's murder looms in the background, it is really secondary to the progression of Jennifer's disease and her future. That the author told the story from Jennifer's point of view is what makes this so unique, fascinating, disturbing, and thought-provoking.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Sophmoritis?

I just finished reading Never Knowing by Chevy Stevens and I'm feeling a bit underwhelmed.  Chevy Stevens is a relatively new author who released her first book Still Missing about a year ago.  I was drawn to Still Missing by the glowing reviews from Lisa Gardner, who happens to be one of my favorite thriller writers.  Still Missing was an average page-turner--I was fairly interested and continually felt like the book was about to really get good until the last page when I realized the opportunity for greatness was gone.  When Never Knowing was released, it again had a blurb from Lisa Gardner.  I eagerly checked it out thinking "Well, I'm sure she's really got her story together this time!".  Unfortunately, it's the same old, same old.  Stevens has a great premise and fails to really pull it off.  Never Knowing tells the story of Sara Gallagher and her hunt to find her birth parents.  She uncovers her birth mother's identity which leads to the slow realization that her birth father is a infamous serial killer that is still on the loose.  As you can imagine, her serial killer father gets wind of the existance of a daughter and manages to get in contact with her.  While being a fairly preposterous idea, most of my favorite thrillers have a semi-unbelievable storyline anyway (don't they all?) so I wasn't thrown off.  What DID throw me off was the quotes from The Art of War every other page, the lack of real forward momentum, a super bratty kid, and a last minute plot twist I saw from a mile away.  That being said, I somehow don't hate it!?!?!  It took me all of 4 nights to read it, I looked forward to picking it up (to see if this was the point where it was going to get really good), and I'm pretty sure I'd give Chevy Stevens another shot in the future. 

I'm pretty sure I've managed to confuse everyone about my overall feelings on the book.  I guess I'll sum it up this way--If you want a really good thriller, pick up Lisa Gardner.  If you want a book to kill some time (and you've already read all of Lisa Gardner) and you aren't pinning all your hopes and dreams on it, pick up Never Knowing.  It's kinda like watching a soap opera- not a particularly great storyline but can be an entertaining way to spend a couple hours. Glowing review right? 

Friday, July 8, 2011

Harry Potter for Grownups!

Why do adults love Harry Potter as much as kids do? Come to the Deerfield Public Library on Monday, July 11th at 7pm to find out why Harry Potter is not just a kids' book.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Girl's Guide to Homelessness

It's rare these days that I will stay up late into the night reading. I love reading, but I'm pretty committed to getting my eight hours, so there isn't much that I let get between that. But I had to stay up last night to finish Brianna Karp's The Girl's Guide to Homelessness. Wow.

This is an emotionally gripping story of a young woman, who despite doing everything "right," found herself homeless. Brianna was educated, hard working, had a good job and a nice place to live. But when the economy tanked, she lost her job. Her savings soon ran out and she lost her home. Brianna shares her survival methods, talks about the stereotypes people have of the homeless, and the countless challenges she faced trying to get back on her feet. There is another huge component to this story though. Brianna recounts her background and upbringing, which isn't pleasant. Sexually abused by her biological father, physically and verbally abused by her mother, and brain washed by the religion she was brought up in, there are some parts of the book that were extremely difficult to read. Nonetheless, this is a captivating story that elicited a range of emotions: anger, sadness, and even laughter. Get it. Read it. Tell someone about it.

Friday, June 24, 2011

It's All Relative

I was very excited to see Wade Rouse's recent memoir, It's All Relative: Two Families, Three Dogs, 34 Holidays, and 50 Boxes of Wine. His last memoir, At Least Someone in the City Would Hear Me Scream, was a humorous account of his and his partner Gary's move to rural Michigan in search of the simple life. In this latest memoir, Wade recounts the various holidays of his childhood and adulthood. The obvious holidays are covered: Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter, etc. But also included are Memorial Day, Arbor Day, and Chinese New Year. Arbor Day? I had completely forgotten about Arbor Day. I was expecting another compilation of humorous essays, and for the most part, that's what this is, but then Rouse sucker-punched me with stories of visiting his grandmother in the nursing home and having to put a dog to sleep, that left me sobbing. I haven't read any of Rouse's other works besides these two, but I think this collection shows his talent as a writer. He can deliver a biting, snarky, laugh-out-loud story in one chapter, and the next, a heartfelt, touching tale that brings a reader to tears. I frequently compare him to David Sedaris, although Rouse's biting humor is a little less subtle. Nonetheless, I thoroughly enjoyed this collection and look forward to his next.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Pottermore

The announcement that all Harry Potter fans have been waiting for was finally released. Alas, no new book. The website, Pottermore, sounds like it's going to be an online experience of the Harry Potter books. It wasn't clearly described, but it almost sounds like a choose-your-own-adventure type of experience. The website won't open until October, so we'll have to wait and see. J.K. Rowling does say in the video that she will be releasing more details about Harry's world that she has been hoarding for years. The Pottermore website will also finally make digital versions of the audiobooks and ebooks available for purchase, which is great news. Still, I have to say I'm a bit disappointed. I know she said no more Harry Potter, but I was hoping for a new story. Although, I guess if you've made as much money as she has, you don't need to keep writing. And, with the huge success of HP, you take a big risk that a new series wouldn't be able to meet expectations. Could she really top Harry Potter? Probably not.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Movie to come!

I’m not even sure where to start when describing One Day by David Nicholls.  Ultimately, it’s a story about the friendship between Dexter Mayhew and Emma Morley.  Some people have referred to it as a love story but I’m not sure that I agree.  Nicholls introduces us to Dex and Emma on July 15th, 1988 which happens to be the night they meet.  The book follows the ups and downs of their relationship for the next 20 years.  The interesting part of this is that each chapter is set on July 15th of the next year.  Initially, I was worried that I’d feel like I was missing large portions of their lives and friendship but that wasn’t the case.  Nicholls does a fantastic job of pushing the story forward by leaving each chapter with a slight cliffhanger and starting the next chapter smoothly filling in the gap.  Nicholls successfully details the separate lives of each character while also explaining the state of Emma and Dex’s relationship.  This allows their relationship to evolve by creating very well rounded characters.  I found myself totally engaged in the story and feeling the sort of drive to start the next chapter that you get when reading a James Patterson novel.  Luckily for me, that push was followed by a bit more meat to the chapter than a typical Patterson.  As I mentioned before, it’s often described as a love story (and it’s being kind of marketed as one for the movie version coming out in August) but I think I might describe it more as a burning friendship.  Maybe that is a better description of love anyway?  I guess I just really enjoyed their friendship and never really saw the desperate need for them to end up being in love.  I do admit that their love story compelled me a bit more over the last 3 chapters than in the rest of the book.  Overall, I highly recommend it as a summer read.  It’s engaging, different, and the characters are really well written.  If you’re looking for a full fledged romance, this might not be it.  Then again, maybe you’ll see more of the romance than I did.  Anne Hathaway will star in the movie version as Emma Morely so I'm expecting it will get a decent amount of press in August.