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Book News & Reviews

Zoe Ferraris

An unidentified woman's body is found on the beach in Jeddah, a city on the Red Sea in Saudi Arabia. At the same time, an American man working in Jeddah goes out to pick up a take-away meal and disappears, leaving his wife Miriam alone to cope in an unfamiliar culture.

Katya Hijazi, a forensic scientist, finds a clue in the dead woman's burqua that identifies her as Leila Nawar, a filmmaker who did freelance work for television news. Katya joins Inspector Ibrahim, who needs a female to conduct interviews with women, and they discover that Leila was also working on other projects. One film explored the seamy side of Jeddah, while another raised questions about the text of the Quran. Both films were controversial and either might have gotten her killed. Meanwhile, Miriam tries to find out what happened to her husband, and the two investigations become intertwined. The action culminates with a sandstorm in the Empty Quarter.

A first-rate murder mystery that provides a glimpse behind the veil into the lives of women in Saudi Arabia.

Jetta Carleton

First published in 1962 and called a “rediscovered classic” upon its reissue in 2009, The Moonflower Vine is the story of Matthew and Callie Soames, who raise four headstrong daughters in rural Missouri during the early part of the 20th century.  As each character’s story unfolds, the dynamic that exists below the surface of their seemingly placid existence is revealed.  Beautifully written and richly descriptive, Carleton’s only published novel explores how  members of a deeply religious family struggle with morality as their lives take unexpected turns.

Nathacha Appanah

In 1944 on the island of Mauritius, Raj, the son of an alcoholic and abusive father, has recently lost his two brothers.  Hiding outside in the brush, Raj is fascinated and confused by the sad and sickly white captives he sees in the prison yard where his father works.  When circumstances bring Raj inside the prison walls, he befriends the golden-haired David, whom he later learns is a Jewish orphan.  The two boys cling to one another and find happiness in the wake of loss and turmoil.  Many years later, Raj learns the sad plight of the Jews of Mauritius, and comes to a better understanding of his friend David’s dire situation. Beautifully translated from the French, The Last Brother is a heartbreaking and unforgettable story of friendship and loss.

Tom Franklin

Growing up in rural Mississippi in the late 1970’s, Larry Ott is the son of white, working-class parents, while Silas "32" Jones, transplanted from urban Chicago to the backwoods of Chabot, Mississippi, lives in a black, single-parent household.  On a fateful night, teenaged Larry picks up a girl for a drive-in movie date and she is never seen again. While not arrested for any crime associated with the girl's disappearance, Larry was adjudged as guilty by the townspeople and condemned to lead a solitary existence.  Twenty years later, Silas, who had left town after high school, returns to take a job as Chabot's constable. When another young woman, the daughter of an important local business magnate, suddenly goes missing, the shadow of suspicion is once again cast upon Larry. Both Larry and Silas have secrets that must be confronted if justice is to be done.  Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter is a suspenseful story that captures the atmosphere of the rural South. 

Laura Hillenbrand

Louis Zamperini was a delinquent hooligan who used his talent and determination to become an Olympic track star.   In 1941, on the cusp of breaking the record for the mile, Louie put his dreams on hold to join the war effort via the Army Air Corps.   Stranded on a raft in the Pacific and enduring grueling POW camps were cruel tests of the body and spirit that broke many a soldier, but not Louie. Hillenbrand’s story of Louie’s survival is amazing, exciting and inspiring. 

William Alexander

Seduced by a warm mouthful at brunch in Manhattan, Alexander sets out to bake his own perfect loaf of bread, starting by growing his own wheat.  Bakers, spiritual seekers, enthusiasts of all kinds will laugh and cheer him on as he travels the up and down road to perfection, from his home in New York to a monastery in Normandy, France.

Kate Morton

A scandalous tragedy at a lavish English country party in 1924 is about to be made into a movie and, as the last surviving person from the event, 98-year-old Grace is interviewed by a filmmaker about her recollections as a servant at the grand estate.  When young Grace is sent up from the village at age 14 to serve at Riverton, she is immediately fascinated by the three Hartford children, David, Hannah and Emmeline.  The past comes alive as Grace recounts the years surrounding WWI and into the 1920’s as her life becomes entangled with those she serves, especially Hannah.  As the narrative moves between past and present, Grace’s memories gradually reveal long-buried secrets as she paints vivid pictures of the family, the estate, and her fellow servants.  The House at Riverton is an engrossing novel and a great escape. 

At Home In Japan
Rebecca Otowa

Have you ever read a book that gave you so much pleasure that you prolonged reaching the ending?  If you would enjoy the eclectic vignettes of a true wordsmith—this is the book for you.  Rebecca Otowa wrote this as a meditation upon her experiences as a foreigner living in Japan since 1978. She is an American-born woman who became intrigued with Japanese Studies, married a Japanese man, and then moved to Japan to live with him in his 400 year old ancestral country home.  Her observations are those of an artist.  She reflects on seasons by noting “the spring begins… from dull grey to soft blue, from mud brown to trembling pastels, from frigid winds to caressing warmth. The base point of the spectrum turns to gold; everything lightens and comes forward to the eye.”  She couples each reflection with exquisite black ink drawings. In fact, these drawings are so deeply enjoyable that when colored photography is encountered within the book, its effect is akin to shouting.  A wonderful book to read slowly, as our long nights of winter approach.

Emma Donoghue

Born in captivity, 5-year-old Jack narrates the story of his life spent in an small room with his mother, whom he calls “Ma.” Jack and Ma are being held hostage by “Old Nick” in “Room,” a place where Ma strives to create a loving and stimulating home for her son under dire circumstances.  Jack’s daily life is filled with games and love, but is overshadowed by fear and questions.  When Ma proposes a means to escape the only life Jack has ever known, the consequences are startling.  Told in a unique voice, Room is a compelling and emotional story of love and survival.

Jane Ziegelman

"A loaf of bread for Sicilians embodied the basic goodness of life.  Where we might say a person is ‘as good as gold,’ a Sicilian says ‘as good as bread.’  A piece of bread that fell to the ground was kissed, like a child with a scraped knee … A bowl of soup without bread was bereft of its faithful companion.  Meat without bread was considered sinful."   This book is a reader’s feast.  It nourishes mind, soul and stomach as it describes the daily culinary life of German, Irish, Italian and Jewish families who lived in one tenement building on the Lower East Side of New York from 1863-1935.  How did poor women without a proper kitchen feed their families with comfort food from the “old country”?  What were the recipes they used to prepare meals?  Jane Ziegelman answers these questions with sound research and a gift for language.  A book to be savored and shared.

Paolo Giordano

Prime numbers are the loneliest numbers.  Sometimes primes can occur close together, but they are usually separated by a number in between (like 11 and 13). Young Mattia and Alice are lonely as well, both having suffered horrible incidents in their childhood that lead them to self-destructive behaviors. The two become friends as teens, but a certain closeness eludes them as they make choices that keep them apart as they grow older. Giordano’s haunting story of love and friendship is beautifully translated from the original Italian.

Thomas French

Pulitzer Prize- winning journalist French goes behind the scenes at Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo during a turbulent time in its history. Among the “characters” that populate the book are a group of imported African elephants settling in to zoo life; Enshalla, a beautiful Sumatran tiger who refuses to mate; Herman, the patriarch of the chimpanzees who was donated to the zoo as an adult; as well as Lex Salisbury the controversial zoo CEO and the various keepers who are extremely dedicated to their charges.  French does an excellent job of presenting both sides of arguments regarding the pros and cons of zoo life, conservation issues, and the treatment of both captive and wild animals, while telling an absorbing story of a zoo undergoing expansion and change to keep up with the times.


Piper Kerman

After graduating from the Ivy League, Piper Kerman is in the mood for an adventure which she finds as an international courier for a charismatic drug dealer. She soon regrets this choice, and quits, but years later when charges are brought against the drug operation she lands in Federal prison. This startlingly heartening memoir focuses on her time in prison, revealing how personal strength is nurtured by kindness and community.

Jonathan Tropper

Simultaneously mourning the death of his father and the demise of his marriage, Judd Foxman joins the rest of his family as they reluctantly submit to their patriarch's dying request: to spend the seven days following the funeral together sitting shiva and living in the same house.  During the week, the family, long scattered by school, marriage and jobs, gets to know each other all over again, with hilarious results. For Judd, it's a weeklong attempt to make sense of the mess his life has become while trying in vain not to get sucked into the crazy battles of his dysfunctional family.  Tropper’s sharp and sometimes raunchy wit combine with a heartfelt story to make This is Where I Leave You a memorable comic read.

Adam Langer

Ian Minot is one of countless writers working in a New York City coffeehouse while trying to get his stories published.  He is even more discouraged  by the immense popularity of Blade Markham, author of a bestselling memoir that rings false to Ian, but is lapped up by the adoring public.  One day in the coffee shop, Ian gets so fed up with the ubiquitous Blade memoir that he snatches a copy from a customer and hurls it down the street.  Turns out this mysterious coffee drinker has a proposition for Ian that not only might get him published but rocket his work to the top of the bestseller list.  Filled with twists, turns and witty literary references, Langer’s clever novel dares to ask: When is the truth fiction?

Jim Kokoris

Charlie Baker, a self-centered, workaholic Chicago ad man, finds himself adrift when he suddenly gets fired from his high-powered job.  At home, Charlie realizes just how disconnected he has become from his family and how hard he has to work to win them back.  At the outplacement firm where Charlie spends his days with other corporate cast-offs, he further realizes what's really important in life. Charlie’s story of self discovery is funny and timely and features an endearing cast of characters.


John Lanchester

It was while researching a novel that John Lanchester stumbled on the most interesting story he’d ever found:  the perfect storm of events and attitudes that caused today’s Great Recession.  I.O.U. is that story. Writing with a novelist’s storytelling flair, Lanchester explains the rules of the “dismal science” of economics, and the disaster that happened when mathematical geniuses created investments that completely ignored the reasons behind those rules. The title of the book refers to the last chapter in which Lanchester looks ahead to the struggle between the public and private sector over how to pay the bill. This is tragic Econ 101 for humanities majors.

Tatjana Soli

After her brother is killed in the Vietnam War, Helen Adams goes to Saigon to work as a photojournalist. There she meets Darrow, an experienced war photographer who becomes her mentor and lover. Helen manages to convince reluctant officials to allow her go on combat missions. Her guide in the field is Darrow's Vietnamese assistant Linh, who fought on both sides before suffering an unspeakable tragedy.

At first hoping to understand what happened to her brother, Helen is soon consumed by the exhileration of being on the frontline and capturing the war on film. Given the chance to return to America, she finds herself drawn back to the place that has become more real and familiar to her than home. This is an evocative portrait of the Vietnam War from the early days of U.S. involvement to the fall of Saigon depicted in dreamy prose that captures both the beauty of Vietnam and the horrors of war.

Cammie McGovern

New DNA evidence has facilitated the release of Betsy Treading aka “The Librarian Murderess” from prison after 12 years.  Once freed, Betsy returns to her suburban enclave to seek the truth about the murder for which she had been convicted.   As she looks into the past, Betsy realizes that the neighbors have been keeping secrets and that she, herself, must face truths in her own life that are no longer safe to ignore. This fast-paced read will keep you wondering, "Did the librarian do it?"

Andre Agassi

Andre Agassi hated the game of tennis. He feared his father and the “dragon” ball machine his father designed. He left school to become a professional tennis player before finishing high school.  Yet Agassi grew up to be a widely admired and loved tennis star, and to devote his after tennis life to establishing a school for underprivileged children in his home state of Nevada. In Open, Agassi gives us a you-are-there view of every stage of his life as a professional athlete. After reading this page-turning memoir, readers will understand what kind of mental toughness it takes to win at the grand slam level and then to find purpose and happiness after retiring from the game.


Book Events You Won't Want to Miss:

Book Lovers: My Brilliant Friend

Tuesday, February 9, 2016 - 7:00pm

Book Discussion: Friendly Fire

Wednesday, February 10, 2016 - 10:00am

Great Books

Monday, February 15, 2016 - 10:00am

Book Discussion: Secret Wisdom of the Earth

Tuesday, February 16, 2016 - 10:00am

Writing Workshop

Saturday, February 20, 2016 - 2:00pm

Illinois Poetry Society Haiku Chapter

Sunday, February 21, 2016 - 1:00pm

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