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Book News & Reviews

Tori Murden McClure

Why would a 35-year-old woman with a law degree, an MFA in writing, and a divinity degree from Harvard, leave everything behind to row a one-ton boat across the Atlantic to France? The answer is told in this riveting adventure of survival alone on the high seas. In being tested to the point of near death, the author finds the courage to change her life in ways she had not imagined she needed to change.

Hampton Sides

In the late 1960’s, Martin Luther King is still consumed with the waning civil rights movement and frequently foresees his death.  Meanwhile, an escaped convict blends back into society and charts a course of murder. Sides’ gripping narrative follows both King and his killer on their trajectories until the tragic result.   Once the assassin is on the run, the action intensifies even more as he is hunted down by the FBI.  This highly readable blend of psychological thriller and historical narrative is both exciting and enlightening.


Alan Brennert

In the late 19th century, a seven-year-old Hawaiian girl is diagnosed with leprosy and is taken away from her family to the leper colony on the island of Moloka'i. Rachel is not allowed to live with her uncle, who was sent to Moloka'i before her, but instead is raised by nuns along with other girls taken from their families. As she grows to adulthood, Rachel witnesses many changes in the community and in the treatment of leprosy -- later known as Hansen's Disease. Many of her friends die, but Rachel survives and finds love and happiness for a time on Moloka'i, though she continues to hope that one day she will be able to return home to her family.

A fascinating and poignant account of the impact that one of the many diseases brought to Hawaii by outsiders had on the native population through the eyes of one girl. Hawaiian legends are woven throughout the story, providing insight into the rich history and culture of the islands that became the 50th state.

Allison Winn Scotch

Jillian Westfield gave up her city life and career in advertising along with the spontaneity of singlehood for the role of suburban wife and mother. When she learns of her ex-boyfriend's recent engagement, Jillian is given the chance to magically rewind her life back seven years and find out how differently things might have been if the two had never broken it off. A fresh and funny “what if” story that will keep you guessing about the outcome.

Andro Linklater

The founding of America was a process beset by many challenges, including countries and agents that actively worked to either see us fail, or at least severely limit our growth. While Benedict Arnold and Aaron Burr are two of the most commonly recognized antagonists, the story of General James Wilkinson is one of the most fascinating. He was a brilliant strategist both in battle and in politics, but character weaknesses, such as his ego and his failure managing his finances helped to lead him into spying against the country he was sworn to defend. Over the course of his spying career he betrayed military secrets, had Spain send their military against the Lewis and Clark expedition and sought to keep the country from expanding beyond the Mississippi. The force of his personality and intellect were such that he served as the Commander and Chief of the military under 4 presidents even though rumors of his spying for Spain were wide spread. Linklater relates this history in a compelling and accessible manner.

Richard Doetsch

Nicholas Quinn is in police custody, suspected of murdering his beautiful wife, Julia, at their house in upscale Byram Hills, N.Y. While he is left alone for a moment, a stranger gives Nick a watch that allows him to journey into the past, one hour at a time, for 12 hours. Thus begins a thriller told backwards, hour-by-hour as Nick tries to prevent his wife’s murder.  The story is clever, rather than confusing, as the tension builds leading to the 13th hour, when all comes together in an exciting conclusion. 

Alexander McCall Smith

At the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency in Botswana, Mma Ramotswe is contacted by an American lawyer hoping to find a safari guide who is a beneficiary of his client's will. She is also asked by a friend to find out if her husband is cheating. At the same time, Assistant Detective Grace Makutsi must cope when her fiance suffers a serious accident and is taken in by his domineering aunt, who refuses to let Mma Makutsi see him. The two detectives leave their troubles behind and travel north to safari country to resolve their case. As usual in this charming series, the mystery takes a back seat to the delightful cast of characters inhabiting the beautiful land of Botswana.

Neil Stephenson

Arbre is a planet where scientists and mathematicians are cloistered behind monastery walls in order to preserve knowledge from disasters. Their millennia-old rules are shattered when a mysterious extraterrestrial event is detected. Raz, an acolyte about to be selected for an Order, and his companions are drawn out of the cloister and into the center of the planet threatening crisis. Fans of Stephenson (I’m one!) know that his work is often more concerned with examining philosophical themes than rapidly forwarding a plotline. Anathem is more successful than some of his recent works in balancing a great story and intriguing intellectual explorations.

Richard Russo

William Henry (Hank) Devereaux Jr., is a professor and chairman of a disfunctional English Department at a small eastern college. During a budget dispute he is filmed by a news crew wearing a false nose and glasses, brandishing a goose over his head and threatening to kill a duck a day until he gets a proper budget.This skewering of academia is my favorite work by Russo and one of the funniest books I've read. He has a palpable sense of compassion for the lead character and the successes and failures the we must come to terms with as we age.

Connie Willis

Ned, an historian in the future is sent back to Victorian times to retrieve a mysterious object, a "Bishop's Bird Stump", in order to keep appease a wealthy university benefactor (Lady Shrapnel) and along the way keep history from going completely out of whack. Written with a fine sense of character and wit, Willis richly portrays the foibles of both the past and the future. This is something of a sequel to The Doomsday Book and is perhaps slighly better paced and certainly a lot funnier.

Rebecca Skloot

In 1951, Henrietta Lacks was a poor, uneducated black woman living with her husband and young children in Baltimore when she developed cervical cancer and soon died. Without her or her family’s knowledge or consent, cells from her cancer were cultured, distributed, and used in thousands of experiments continuing to this day, enabling discoveries in such areas as cancer research, in vitro fertilization and gene mapping. Rebecca Skloot, a noted science writer, uncovers the story of the woman behind these HeLa cells as well as that of her family, who never received compensation for the sale of Henrietta’s cells. The biological, ethical and human elements of the story come together as an engrossing narrative of scientific discovery and its human consequences.

Abraham Verghese

An Indian nun at a mission hospital in Ethiopia unexpectedly gives birth to twins and dies in labor. The surgeon everyone believes is the father flees the country, leaving the babies in the care of two doctors. As the brothers grow up, each enters the medical field in a different capacity: one becomes a surgeon while the other helps women scarred by traumatic childbirth. An act of betrayal drives the brothers apart, and one is forced to leave home for the United States, but the bond between them endures. This is a rich and layered story set against the backdrop of Ethiopia's turbulent modern history with a cast of unforgettable characters.

Steven Winn

Being the parent of a child who pleads for a dog isn’t easy, especially if your own childhood encounters with canines left you with scars. The choice to allow a dog in the house is hard, but life gets hilariously difficult for journalist Steven Winn when he becomes responsible for the man-hating terrier mix who won the daughter’s heart at the shelter. Como may not be as big as Marley, but he teaches a big lesson about how loving a dog can make a man more human.

Alan Bradley

Flavia de Luce is a precocious 11-year-old English girl with two annoying older sisters and a passion for chemistry. After hearing her father arguing with a stranger in the night, she finds a dead body in the garden the next morning. Flavia decides to use her deductive reasoning to solve the crime, which involves a rare Penny Black postage stamp. Reminiscent of the classic British mystery with a unique and appealing narrator.

Yoko Ogawa

A young housekeeper is hired to care for an aging mathematics professor who was seriously injured in a car accident causing his short-term memory to last for only 80 minutes. He remembers everything up to the accident, including complicated mathematical theorems and equations, but each day the housekeeper must reintroduce herself to him.  When the housekeeper’s 10-year-old son begins to accompany her to the Professor’s house, the three form a unique bond, despite the Professor’s impairment. Translated from Japanese, Ogawa’s novel weaves the complexities of math into a simple, touching story.

Helen Simonson

After learning of his brother's sudden death, a retired English major is befriended by Mrs. Ali, a Pakistani widow who runs the village shop. Their friendship grows based on their love of literature, much to the consternation of their families and neighbors. At the same time, the major is determined to dispute his brother's will in order to hang onto his father's matched set of hunting rifles which represent tradition and heritage. As his relationship with Mrs. Ali blossoms into romance, Major Pettigrew comes to realize what's important in life. A witty slice of English village life and an old-fashioned love story for modern times.

Katharine Weber

Alice Tatnall Ziplinsky is a major player at Zip’s Candies, but it wasn’t always that way. Before she was Mrs. Howard Ziplinsky, she was Arson Girl, who had no friends and was estranged from her parents.   But everything changed when Alice applied for a job at Zip’s Candies.  Sam Ziplinsky took her under his wing and encouraged the romance between Alice and his son, Howard. By working at the factory and marrying into the family, Alice learns the origins of Zip’s and their not-so-politically-correct candies. A deliciously funny family saga and peek into the world of candymaking.

Dan Chaon

College dropout Ryan is on the way to the hospital with his Dad after a horrible and maiming accident. Teenager Lucy leaves town with her former high school teacher, George Orson. And Miles Cheshire has received yet another mysterious letter from his missing (and possibly psychotic) identical twin brother, Hayden. The connection between the stories gradually becomes clear as questions of identity emerge in this suspenseful novel.

Eleanor Perenyi

A good friend gave me a copy of this book for my winter birthday, and it saw me through to spring. I started with the chapter on mulch, then read about compost. I could feel my garden improving already as I learned in the company of a wise, companionable master. As Mary McCarthy says on the cover, “you do not have to be a good gardener to fall in love with Green Thoughts.  It reads with the intrepid assurance of a classic.”


Book Events You Won't Want to Miss:

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

Up for Discussion--An Everlasting Meal

Tuesday, February 23, 2016 - 1:00pm

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