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Book News & Reviews

Our annual Best Books of the Year lists are here. This year's selections include a wide variety of reading choices, from bestsellers like Gone Girl and Defending Jacob to award winners such as The Round House, Bring Up the Bodies and At the Mouth of the River of Bees to noteworthy debuts including The Light Between the Oceans and Don't Ever Get Old. We also have a list of graphic novels for the first time.

Check out these lists to find your next great read:

Thinking about starting a series? Some people love to read series fiction because they can become deeply involved in the characters' lives in a way that isn't possible with a single novel. A series can be 2 books, 20, or more!  We invite you to join the Winter Reading Club and start a series. No need to commit, just try one! 

Earn video coupons and other prizes for every 5 books you read. Be one of the first to join and receive a 2013 pocket planner.

Suggested reading lists will be available online and in Reader Services.  Stop by the 3rd floor starting December 1st.

Established in 1950, the National Book Award is an American literary prize given to writers by writers and administered by the National Book Foundation, a nonprofit organization. Each year, the Foundation selects a total of twenty Judges, including five in each of the four Award categories: Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry, and Young People’s Literature. Judges are published writers who are known to be doing great work in their genre or field, and in some cases, are past NBA Finalists or Winners.  The finalists were just announced, the winners will be announced in mid-November. Want to check out some of the finalists? Take a look at NPL's Pinterest page -- each book jacket links right into the catalog so that you can check availability:  For more information on the National Book Award and a list of past winners and finalists, visit

Century of Wisdom
Caroline Stoessinger

This book is more than a memoir of a 108 year old Holocaust survivor.  Alice Herz-Sommer is a world-class concert pianist who survived the Theresienstadt concentration camp with her only child, her son Rafi.  Her endurance of unspeakable horrors, including the death of her husband, Leopold Sommer, in Dachau in 1944,  was made possible by her love of music and her refusal to be defined by horror and injustice.  Her story is movingly told by a fellow musician and documentarian, Caroline Stoessinger.  Alice's story was revealed to Caroline through years of interviews and by allowing Alice to reflect on events she witnessed over the span of more than 100 years.  Alice talks eloquently about the beauty and strength of sharing music. Alice grew up in Prague and personally knew Kafka, Freud and Mahler. There is no bitterness in her memories of the cruelties of the Holocaust or her struggles to survive afterwards.  Alice celebrates life and teaches others to celebrate each moment with her as she plays the world's greatest compositions or helps other perfect their playing.  Alice lived a rich life, she knew and played piano for Golda Meir. In fact, Golda peeled potatoes with Alice in Alice's apartment in Israel.  In this book, Alice shares some unusual secrets of her longevity: starting 25 years ago, she began eating the same meals each day.  This helped her save time, because her shopping list never varied.  For lunch and dinner she would eat a bowl of homemade chicken soup.  Her recipe is included in the book. 

Each Spring, Mystery Writers of America present the Edgar® Awards, widely acknowledged to be the most prestigious awards in the genre. 

This year’s winners include (click on the title to check availability):

Best Novel: Gone by Mo Hayder

Best First Novel: Bent Road by Lori Roy

Best Fact Crime: Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President  by Candice Millard

For a full list of nominees and winners in all categories, click here

--- Lori Siegel

Eowyn Ivey


Are you Missing Winter?

I’m not! But I did enjoy the chilly but powerful tale, The Snow Child, by Alaskan author Eowyn Ivey.   Married couple Mabel and Jack flee their comfortable Pennsylvania lives for harsh wilderness of 1920’s Alaska in an attempt to escape their enduring sorrow over their inability to have children. One night, feeling unusually lighthearted, the two fashion a girl from snow outside their cabin. The next morning, the sculpture is reduced to a lump; the scarf and mittens are nowhere to be found. But over the next several days, both Jack and Mabel spot a small, blonde girl at the edge of the woods near their home, on her own in the harsh environment. They see footprints in the snow. No one seems to know of a child in the area. No one seems to believe in a child in the area. But eventually Jack and Mabel forge a relationship with this almost feral and quite possibly otherworldly girl, named Faina.  Mabel is reminded of a Russian fairy tale about a snow maiden in which the snow child comes in the winter and disappears every spring.  Is Faina real or imagined? Can Jack and Mabel survive the extreme conditions of their homestead?  The Snow Child meshes reality and fairly tale into a moving and evocative novel.    ---- Lori Siegel, Reader Services

Our Winter Reading Club has gotten off to a great start with participants reading so many books! If you have not joined the Winter Reading Club, it is not too late. Stop by the Reader Services Desk and pick up a reading log. For every 5 books read, you will receive coupons for free DVD and book rentals. Our theme is “Reader Favorites” which are suggestions from past participants in the Winter and Summer Reading Clubs.

One of the best things about the program is reading and sharing the reviews of the books our participants have enjoyed.  Patron Gerald N. is one a few readers who recommend Foster by Claire Keegan.  Mr. N. compares story to those of  Willa Cather, though Foster is set in Ireland. Sue B. comments that When We Danced on Water, by Evan Fallenberg, is “a deeply moving tale about love and creativity.”  For fans of the Science Fiction/Fantasy genre, Sharon G. recommends Beauty and The Werewolf by Mercedes Lackey which Sharon describes as an “interesting twist on some standard tales.”  Our very own NPL staff member Vicki O. has just read Sleepwalker, a new action-packed thriller by Karen Robards.  The story takes place in Detroit, mostly during New Year’s Day, and is filled with chases and excitement.

 What are you reading?  The Winter Reading Club ends February 29 with a grand prize drawing.

--- Lori Siegel, Reader Services


Notable fiction books this year include The Paris Wife - Paula McLain's take on Hemingway's first marriage - and the baseball story The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach, along with Julian Barnes's Booker Prize-winning The Sense of an Ending and popular favorites such as The Story of Beautiful Girl by Rachel Simon and Pictures of the Past by local author Deby Eisenberg. See the full list of Best Fiction of 2011.

Stephen King topped the Best Thrillers of 2011 list with 11/22/63, a gripping tale of a time traveler out to stop the assassination of JFK. S.J. Watson's Before I Go to Sleep and Alice LaPlante's Turn of Mind both featured protagonists grappling with memory loss while under duress.

Newly translated Danish authors join the Scandinavian crime wave on the Best Mysteries of 2011 list - Jussi Adler-Olsen with The Keeper of Lost Causes and Lene Kaarberbol & Agnete Friis with The Boy in the Suitcase. Old hand Lawrence Block delivers an early tale from his popular Matthew Scudder series, A Drop of the Hard Stuff, while Felix Francis continues in his father Dick Francis's footsteps with Gamble.

A Dance with Dragons, the latest entry in George R.R. Martin's series that began with A Game of Thrones, is among the Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of 2011. Fans of space opera will enjoy Leviathan Wakes by James Corey, while urban fantasy lovers have much to choose from including Hounded by Kevin Hearne, Hard Bitten by Chloe Neill, and Ghost Story from the ever-popular Jim Butcher.

Romance readers will find a wide variety of love stories on the Best Romances of 2011 list. Contemporary fare ranges from down-home tales such as Lori Wilde's The Welcome Home Garden Club to fast-paced romantic suspense like Cindy Gerard's With No Remorse. Along with numerous Regency romances, historical fans will find In Bed with a Highlander by Maya Banks and Texas Blue by Jodi Thomas.

Caroline Preston

Frankie Pratt is a small town girl who records her 1920s life on her father’s old Smith Corona.  Along with her chronicle, Frankie adds memorabilia from her life and the time period.  The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt: A Novel in Pictures  is presented as part-story, part-scrapbook – the narrative is enhanced with vintage photographs and other real ephemera of the day.  The result is a nostalgic and literally colorful story of a young girl’s adventure through life from small town to big city and everywhere in between. The author, a former archivist, uses items she has collected, as well as period photos and ads, to enrich Frankie’s captivating story.   The result is sort of a three-dimensional novel that is a truly unique and enjoyable read.

--- Lori S., Reader Services


Earlier this month, the National Book Award winners were announced, and similar to last year, criticism was renewed that the Awards are out-of-touch. The argument began when the finalists were announced, and much to the chagrin of critics and readers, very few of the books had recognizable titles – specifically there was a glaring omission of The Marriage Plot  by Jeffrey Eugenides, similar to the missing presence of Jonathan Franzen on last year’s short-list. The argument is that National Book Award winners are so obscure that the Award is no longer relevant to the reading public – however it could also be argued that by picking little known authors and works, the award actually rewards authors who may not get recognition otherwise. Whether you like the results or not, you can view all of the winners on their website and you can also view a list of the winners that are available for check-out in our catalog.

-Leah W.

Are you a Palahniuk fan? Then this post is for you. In October, good old Chuck released his last book, Damned, and much to his fans’ enjoyment, it seems like a return to form. On the surface, Damned is simply the story of a girl. Madison is a 13-year-old outcast, and an average adolescent – that is, until she wakes up not only dead, but in Hell. Madison decides to solve the mystery of how she ended up in the same place as Adolf Hitler is this quirky and oddly charming story. Full of all the gore and shock that Chuck Palahniuk is known for, Damned is kind of a devilish Breakfast Club type tale. Recommended for fans for Palahniuk's early work or Bret Easton Ellis.

--Leah W.

Book Award Finalists

You know it’s truly Fall when the National Book Award finalists are announced! This year, there are some really great books nominated. You can view the whole list on their website but check out a few of the finalists that are available at the Northbrook Public Library.

The Tiger's Wife by Tea Obreht - In a Balkan country mending from war, Natalia, a young doctor, is compelled to unravel the mysterious circumstances surrounding her beloved grandfather’s recent death. Searching for clues, she turns to his worn copy of The Jungle Book and the stories he told her of his encounters over the years with “the deathless man.” But most extraordinary of all is the story her grandfather never told her—the legend of the tiger’s wife.

The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka - Julie Otsuka’s long awaited follow-up to When the Emperor Was Divine tells the story of a group of young women brought over from Japan to San Francisco as “picture brides” nearly a century ago. The Buddha in the Attic traces their extraordinary lives, from their arduous journey by boat, where they exchange photographs of their husbands, imagining uncertain futures in an unknown land; to their arrival in San Francisco and their tremulous first nights as new wives; to their backbreaking work picking fruit in the fields and scrubbing the floors of white women; to their struggles to master a new language and a new culture; to their experiences in childbirth, and then as mothers, raising children who will ultimately reject their heritage and their history; to the deracinating arrival of war.

Binocular Vision by Edith Pearlman - Spanning four decades and three prize-winning collections, these twenty-one classic selected stories and thirteen scintillating new ones take us around the world, from Jerusalem to Central America, from tsarist Russia to London during the Blitz, from central Europe to Manhattan, and from the Maine coast to Godolphin, Massachusetts, a fictional suburb of Boston. These charged locales, and the lives of the endlessly varied characters within them, are evoked with a tenderness and incisiveness found in only our most observant seers.

--- Leah W.

Kevin Wilson

Every once in awhile, I read a book that brings to mind the word “quirky.”  Whether it be the characters, the plot, or both, the unusual elements of a novel that bring to mind the word “quirky” usually endear it to me.  Such a book is The Family Fang by Kevin Wilson.  The Fangs are a quite a quirky family, though no relation to vampires.  Lead by Caleb and Camille, famous performance artists whose works of art consist of basically creating chaos and documenting it, the Fang family also includes children Annie and Buster or “Child A” and “Child B” as they are known for their roles in their parents’works of live art.  These performances somewhat traumatize the kids, who end up feeling like they are always somehow part of an approaching disaster staged by their parents. Adult Annie and Buster escape their eccentric parents, actually having made successes of themselves initially as actress and author, before starting downward spirals that are disastrous, forcing them to reluctantly return to the family home to regain their footing.  What happens is truly funny and suspenseful, as neither Annie nor Buster realizes that can truly escape the Fang legacy. Quirky and unconventional, The Family Fang is a truly unique family story.

--- Lori S.

Hannah Nordhaus

Bees are big business. Without bees, you can say goodbye to our plentiful supply of almonds, cherries, and other blooming fruits. But being a beekeeper is heroic and tragic work. Bees, now a completely domesticated species, are prey to viruses and fungi and the mysterious devastation of Colony Collapse Disorder.  Some are calling bees the environmental canary in the coal mine.  Filled with surprising insights into the life cycle of the honey bee, The Beekeeper’s Lament follows a third generation beekeeper through a year of herculean and loving labor to keep his hives alive.

Since the huge success of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo trilogy by Stieg Larsson, a number of great Scandinavian mysteries have been newly translated or have regained popularity. Here is a selection of some of the best, starting with the first in each series where applicable.

Kjell Eriksson, The Princess of Burundi
Swedish police investigate the murder of a man who was an expert on tropical fish.

Lars Kepler, The Hypnotist
Swedish Detective Inspector Joona Linna investigates the murders of three family members, hoping to find answers through a controversial hypnotism session with a traumatized child who survived.

Camilla Lackberg, The Ice Princess
A Swedish woman joins forces with a detective after she returns to her hometown and learns that her friend was found in an ice-cold bath with her wrists slashed in an apparent suicide.

Henning Mankell, Faceless Killers
Kurt Wallander deals with anti-immigrant tensions that arise after the murders of a Swedish farm couple.

Johan Theorin, Echoes from the Dead
On the Swedish island of Oland, the grandfather of a missing boy who was presumed drowned receives one of his sandals in the mail.

Karin Fossum, Don’t Look Back
Norwegian police investigate the murder of a teenage girl in a small town.

Jo Nesbo, The Redbreast
A Norwegian detective tracking a vicious neo-Nazi uncovers a plot reaching back to World War II.

Arnaldur Indridason, Jar City
A detective in Iceland investigates the murder of an old man and uncovers dirty secrets in his past.

James Thompson, Snow Angels
During Lapland’s period of total darkness, a police chief investigates the murder of a Somali woman.

-- Amy, Reader Services

Every couple of months, I join my counterparts from various suburban libraries for a “roundtable” discussion of books and reading.  We all read on a theme, and this past month it was “Fiction Featuring Real People.”  While some novels are fictionalized accounts of a person’s life, others use history as a setting for an original story. We noted that we frequently turn to print or online historical sources to verify how much liberty the author took with what “really” happened. Most of us agreed that although we are willing to forgive literary license in the name of storytelling, accuracy is still important. We dislike obvious anachronisms or blatantly wrong facts that might have been avoided with a little research.  Here is a sampling of the books that we discussed:

The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff: The history of polygamy in the Mormon Church intertwines with the story of Ann Eliza Young, the nineteenth wife of Brigham Young,

Clara and Mr. Tiffany by Susan Vreeland: The story of Clara, the woman behind many of Tiffany’s lamp designs.

Caleb’s Crossing by Geraldine Brooks:  Brooks’ latest work of historical fiction is based on the life of the first Native American to graduate from Harvard.

The Lady Elizabeth by Alison Weir: Weir paints a portrait of the life of Elizabeth I before she became queen.

The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb by Melanie Benjamin: Mid-nineteenth-century little person Mercy Levinia Warren Bump comes of age in the antebellum south before being invited to join the P. T. Barnum circus.

The Paris Wife by Paula McLain: The author recreates Hadley Hemingway’s tumultuous relationship with husband Ernest in 1920s Paris.

 -- Lori S., Reader Services

With all the hype surrounding the film release of The Help this week, it made me wonder what other books will be released as movies within the next year.  Here are a few, in case you want to check out the books before seeing the films (click on the book title to check availability at NPL):

We Bought a Zoo: The Amazing True Story of a Young Family, A Broken Down Zoo, and the 200 Wild Animals That Change Their Lives Forever  is author Benjamin Mee's story of buying and running a dilapidated zoo in the English countryside.  The movie version, starring Scarlett Johansson and Matt Damon, shifts the setting to the U.S. and opens December 23.

Another upcoming film that switches from the book location of the U.K. to the setting of the U.S. is I Don’t Know How She Does It, based on the novel by Allison Pearson.  It stars Sarah Jessica Parker as Kate Reddy, who juggles her career, motherhood and being the happily married wife of an out-of-work architect, played by Greg Kinnear. The movie opens September 16.

Michael Lewis’ bestseller, Moneyball, hits the big screen on September 23. It’s the true story of Oakland A's general manager Billy Beane's successful attempt to put together a baseball club on a budget by employing computer-generated analysis to draft his players. Brad Pitt stars as Beane with a supporting cast that includes Jonah Hill and Philip Seymour Hoffman.

A few others of note: Tinker, Tailor Soldier Spy (11/18), We Need to Talk About Kevin (9/28), and the American film version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (12/21).  Happy reading…and viewing!

 Lori Siegel, Reader Services

The summer reading logs are pouring in, as are reviews from our patrons and staff.  Here are a few:

Actress and author Fannie Flagg is a popular favorite for those who love Southern fiction filled with colorful characters. Remember Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café?  Flagg’s latest, I Still Dream About You, follows Maggie Fortenberry, an aging former Miss Alabama, now real-estate agent, who always tries to appear happy, but is buckling under the weight of disappointments.  In fact, she's come up with 16 "perfectly good reasons to jump in the river" and only two reasons not to. Of course, there is hope to be found even in Maggie's darkest hours. Patron Michele B. loved how the author combined humor with sadness.

Veteran writer Frederick Forsyth’s latest political thriller, The Cobra is full of intrigue and suspense.  Cobra is a master spy and ex-CIA agent called out of retirement by the President to combat the world cocaine trade. Having unlimited funds and use of the military, Cobra and his accomplices engage in a tense battle with a nasty drug cartel.  Patron Sandra B. thought it was a great mystery and found it hard to put down.

In addition to a fantastic staff, the Northbrook Public Library is lucky to have a fleet of devoted volunteers who give their time to help with various tasks.  One such volunteer in the Reader Services Department is Marilyn T., a former library employee and avid reader.  Marilyn recommends The Borrower by Rebecca Makkai.  The main character, Lucy Hull is a children’s librarian who helps her favorite patron, a book-loving ten-year-old, run away from overbearing parents who force him to attend anti-gay classes with a celebrity pastor.  As Lucy flees with the boy, she discovers that they are being pursued by an anonymous adversary. Marilyn comments that The Borrower is “a very special book; anyone who loves books and loves libraries will find this book wonderful.”

Thanks to our patrons and staff for reviews, keep ‘em coming!

Lori Siegel, Reader Services

It’s still not too late to sign up for the Adult Summer Reading Club. It’s free and fun! At this time of year, my personal “to read” list quadruples in size because one of my jobs here in the Reader Services Department is to write up patron book reviews for suggested reading lists that are produced at the end of the summer.   I read lots of recommendations from our patrons as they come in on their reading logs.  This year, we asked if participants would be willing to share some of their comments.  Here is a sampling of what Northbrook Library staff and patrons have been reading this summer:

Staff Member Vicki O. is a great fan of mysteries. Lately, she has been enjoying a series of gardening mysteries by Ann Ripley.  The main character is PBS gardening show host Louise Eldridge.  Death in the Orchid Garden takes Louise on location to Hawaii, where spectacular oceanside cliffs and Volcanoes National Park provide dangerous and exotic settings for murder.

Patron Kurt Y. recently read Mary Ann in Autumn, by Armistead Maupin, author of the popular "Tales of the City series." Revisiting some of the old characters, this novel focuses on Mary Ann Singleton who escapes her once stable life in Connecticut to return to her old haunts in San Francisco. Kurt likes Maupin’s writing style, and comments that he writes “as if he’s talking to his readers.”

This year our Adult Summer Reading theme is “First Novels.”  I recently read a debut by Shilpi Somaya Gowda called Secret Daughter.  Gowda tells the story of a poor Indian mother who secretly gives her daughter to an orphanage to keep the baby from being killed.  The chapters alternate between the life of the Indian mother and the parallel story of the American couple who adopts the little girl.  The daughter, Asha, faces challenges as she grows up and grasps for pieces of her past.  Eventually, Asha must reconcile how she fits in to two very different cultures.  A worthy addition to the growing Indian fiction genre.

---- Lori S., Reader Services

Kids don’t get to have all the fun this summer – adults have their own reading club.  Sign up at the 3rd floor Reader Services Desk (be among the first and receive a tote bag).  As you fill out your reading log, bring it in after 5 books for free library DVD rental coupons and be entered to win a grand prize at the end of the event in September.  Our theme this year is “First Novels.”   This means that we encourage you to read a first novel by an author as a part of your summer selections.  Not sure what to choose? We have loads of suggestions for every taste and genre.  Click here to access lists. 

One of the perks of being a librarian is that often you get ARC’s, Advance Reading Copies, of forthcoming books from pubishers.  These copies are sent to reviewers and librarians around the country in hopes that they will read and recommend the work.  I just finished  Before I Go to Sleep, due to become available this month.  Before I Go to Sleep  is British author S.J. Watson’s first work.  This unique psychological thriller centers around Christine, a woman suffering from amnesia that erases her memories daily.  Each day she wakes up and is shocked to be lying next to her husband Ben, a man she does not recognize. When Christine looks in the mirror, she is 20 years older than her faint traces of memory recall.  While her husband Ben patiently puts up with her, Christine secretly visits a doctor to help her unlock her past and cure her condition.  As her past starts to become clearer, Christine learns that things are not as they seem.  Building to a suspenseful conclusion, and already optioned for a movie, Before I Go to Sleep is a hot summer read. Click here to check availability and reserve.   

-- Lori S., Reader Services


Book Events You Won't Want to Miss:

Great Books

Monday, February 15, 2016 - 10:00am

Book Discussion: Secret Wisdom of the Earth

Tuesday, February 16, 2016 - 10:00am

Adult Graphic Novel Discussion Group

Tuesday, February 16, 2016 - 7:00pm

Writing Workshop

Saturday, February 20, 2016 - 2:00pm

Illinois Poetry Society Haiku Chapter

Sunday, February 21, 2016 - 1:00pm

Up for Discussion--An Everlasting Meal

Tuesday, February 23, 2016 - 1:00pm

Evening with the Author: Mary Kubica

Thursday, February 25, 2016 - 7:00pm

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