The Bookshelf

The Best of the Books … and Beyond!


Let’s Celebrate Freedom to Read

Banned Books Week 2012September 30th to October 6th is the Banned Books Weeks! Did you know that over 11,300 books, from The American Heritage Dictionary to the beloved Harry Potter series, have been challenged since the Banned Books Week started thirty years ago? Celebrate your freedom to read and your right of access to different opinions, viewpoints and reading tastes by checking out one of the banned books this week.

I’m currently re-reading Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh—a beautiful and heartbreaking story of Charles Ryder and his intense relationship with the aristocratic family of Marchmain. This classic novel takes place in the pre-WW II England and explores the themes of love, desire, faith, belonging and privilege. What will you read this week?

Here are some examples of frequently challenged books for you to consider:

Or, for the remaining thousands of titles, check out the lists of frequently challenged books as compiled by The American Library Association, and ask the librarian at the Readers’ Advisory Desk to help you find your banned book.



Posted under Books, Lists, Reviews

Choosing a Book by Its Cover

“Don’t judge a book by its cover” is a saying that I sometimes willfully ignore. I must admit that from time to time I pick up a book because of its cover art alone-because it is strange, funny, strikingly beautiful, or it simply reflects my mood- and I usually end up truly enjoying the book.

Next time when you visit the library without a specific book in mind, check out some of our book displays and pick up the first book that grabs your attention based on its cover art. You may discover a new and exciting author, try a new genre, or simply have fun in the process.

Here are three very different books that I chose for their striking covers and enjoyed because of their great content:

Skagboys book coverSkagboys by Irvine Welsh. When in a dangerous mood, a cover of Skagboys by Irvine Welsh may catch your attention. It is the newest novel by this author and a prequel to his world-famous Trainspotting. Similar to the writing of Anthony Burgess or Charles Bukowski, this book is not for the faint of heart when it comes to obscene language, sexual content, or descriptions of drug use, but it is also truly beautiful in its portrayal of the dynamics among the working-class youth of the 1980’s Edinburgh. Mark Renton, an intelligent and charismatic protagonist of the novel, should be starting a successful life, but instead he reacts to the disintegration of his community by staying close to his troubled friends and plunging into drugs, petty crime, and defeatism. The book includes clear explanations of the disastrous effects of Thatcher’s welfare cuts on the Scottish working class, as well as gut-wrenching and often hilarious descriptions of Ron’s, Spud’s, Tommy’s, Begbie’s and Sick Boy’s misadventures, creating a novel that is political, outrageously entertaining, painful, and touching.

The most beautiful book in the worldThe Most Beautiful Book in the World by Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt; translated from the French by Alison Anderson. If you are in the mood for something uplifting, pretty, and undeniably French, this cover will certainly draw your attention. It did mine. The book by Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt, one of Europe’s most popular contemporary writers, includes eight simple stories about very different women dealing with love, heartbreak, death, and search for happiness.  The characters vary widely and include, among others, a working-class fan of a failing novelist, a wealthy divorcee, a disgruntled perfectionist, a long-time mistress, or even a group of female prisoners. Some of the stories, such as  ”Odette Toulemonde,” are clever and uplifting while others, for example ” Every Reason to be Happy,” are more melancholy in tone, but they all end on a hopeful note and remind us that life is short and precious.  If you like quirky and touching stories reminiscent of O. Henry’s warm style and French cinema’s realism, you will surely enjoy this collection.    OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO   

When She Woke Book CoverWhen She Woke by Hillary Jordan. 26-year-old Hannah Payne lives in a dystopian yet imaginable near future where human rights are severely curtailed and convicted felons are no longer imprisoned but skin-chromed to indicate the crime, and released into the lawless and savage world. Within this hostile reality, out protagonist falls deeply in love with an unattainable man and eventually pays the price for her decisions by becoming one of the Reds on the run. This thought-provoking and fast paced-book about religious fundamentalism, reproductive rights, politics, morality, shame, religion and romantic love is truly as striking and beautiful as its cover.  If you enjoy books like The Handmaid’s Tale, or even the more current and YA-focused The Hunger Games Trilogy, this book is sure to grab your interest.

Posted under Books, Reviews

New Picks From Around the World

The ThiefThe Thief by Fuminori Nakamura (2012) (Also available on CD). Translated from the Japanese by Satoko Izumo and Stephen Coates. Genre: suspense fiction. Nishimusa, an accomplished pickpocket, lives an anonymous existence, that is until he becomes ensnared in a murder plot and the criminal world of Tokyo’s mafia. A compelling crime noir with a philosophical element and a surprising ending.

Stone Upon Stone by Wieslaw Mysliwski (2011). Translated from the Polish by Bill Johnson. Genre: Polish fiction. A sweeping, humorous, and moving story about a Polish man and his attachment to his farmland, family, community and the quickly modernizing country. The title won the 2012 Best Translated Book Award.

Tablet and Pen Tablet & Pen: Literary Landscapes From the Modern Middle East: a Words Without Borders Anthology edited by Reza Aslan (2011). Multiple translators (808.8995 T). Genre: anthology. This rich anthology includes over 70 writers, spans the Middle East from Morocco to Iran, Turkey to Pakistan, and displays a dazzling collection of modern fiction, memoir, poetry and essay.

Scenes From Village Life by Amos Oz (2012). Translated from the Hebrew by Nicholas de Lange. Genre: Jewish fiction. A collection of interconnected tales set in an Israeli village where a gentrification process starts to stir old longings and trigger strange changes. A melancholy, almost surreal, look at a familiar disquiet of a small community delivered in a powerful and precise language.

Funeral for a DogFuneral For a Dog by Thomas Pletzinger (2011). Translated from the German by Ross Benjamin. Genre: psychological fiction. A journalist, Daniel Mandelkern, goes to Italy on an assignment to interview a reclusive children’s book author and instead discovers the author’s secret memoir. This stylistically complex book, filled with strange characters and messy emotions, is an excellent read for the fans of W.G. Sebald and Haruki Marukami.

Almost Never by Daniel Sada (2012). Translated from the Spanish by Katherine Silver. Genre: humorous fiction. Set in post-WW II Mexico, it’s a story of a bored rancher’s lusty and hilarious journey set against a backdrop of colorful characters and a parched Mexican landscape.


Posted under Books, Reviews

New Fiction Set in Chicago


Carry the One by Carol Anshaw – Literary

A wonderful local author, Anshaw follows the lives of several twenty somethings who were witnesses/participants in the accidental death of a young girl hit by the car they were riding in. Forgiveness and redemption figure heavily in this exploration of how relationships and lives can change and evolve over time. The characters ripple and span out over 25 years as a result of one tragic incident.

Lucky in the Corner (2002) is another one of her novels set in Chicago.

Off the Menu by Stacy Ballis – Fiction/Chick lit

Alana Ostermann is working as an assistant to a Chicago celebrity chef, Patrick Conlon. Although primarily breezy chick lit with a huge emphasis on food, the locale is Chicago and real name places are used throughout.

Breakdown by Sara Paretsky – Mystery

The reviews are very positive for this fifteenth mystery in the V. I. Warshawski series. The tough, principled detective confronts social issues, murders, and racial politics; none of which is unusual for Chicago.

Start Shooting  by Charlie Newton – Mystery

The city is at the forefront of this sequel to Calumet City featuring  Officer Bobby Vargas and actress/waitress Arleen Brenna, who find themselves in the middle of Chicago gang wars when an old murder case is re-examined. Gritty and dark.

The Middlesteins by Jami Attenberg – Literary

A forthcoming novel (due in October) that is getting a lot of positive attention about a multi-generational family in the midst of some unexpected trauma (health issues for the matriarch who overeats, a departing husband, a meddling daughter-in-law, and single, sad sack daughter Robin).  Both tragic and comic and ultimately universal in its depiction of family angst.  The author grew up in Buffalo Grove.



Posted under Books

Defending Jacob by William Landay

Defending JacobDefending Jacob has been getting a lot of attention this year and for a very good reason.  Now that the library hold lists for this book are finally shrinking make sure to pick it up and see for yourself. Just try to free up a few undisturbed hours before opening this book because Defending Jacob is an undisputed can’t-put-it-down page turner.

The story opens with Andy Barber, an assistant district attorney and a happy husband and father, learning that a teenage boy was murdered in his quiet suburb.  Initially Andy suspects a local pedophile but quickly the investigation uncovers circumstantial, yet hard to ignore, evidence implicating his 14-year-old son, Jacob.

While the book may seem at first like a standard legal mystery, its elegant construction and focus on the family dysfunction and the origin of evil elevate the story to a level of general fiction. The book’s writing style successfully combines father’s emotional, first-person narration with the trial’s direct transcripts, and the twists and turns of the plot keep the readers guessing and doubting until the very last page of this dark and thrilling book.

If you already read and enjoyed Defending Jacob, consider checking out Landay’s previous books, Mission Flats and The Strangler, or try similar books by different authors, for example: We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shrivel, The Next Victim by Jonnie Jacobs, House Rules by Jodi Picoult, or The Constant Gardener by John le Carre.

Posted under Books, Reviews

Newly Translated Fiction

Drowned by Therese Bohman.  Receiving rave reviews in Sweden, a young woman falls for her sister’s husband’s amorous advances despite his violent tendencies. Bohman’s debut is a psychological thriller that will appeal to fans of The Boy in the Suitcase.



HHhHby Laurent Binet.  Winner of France’s Prix Goncourt du Premier Roman, HHhH re-creates the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich, “the Butcher of Prague,” by two Czech partisans.  A mixture of historical novel and authorial reflection, Booklist calls this work “brilliant.”



Children in Reindeer Woods by Kristin Omarsdottir.  From Iceland: In a mixture of horror and comedy, an imaginative 11-year old girl and a disturbed soldier are the only survivors of an absurd war.




Manual of Painting and Calligraphyby Jose Saramago.  The late Portuguese author’s 1976 novel translated into English for the first time: A dissatisfied portrait painter muses on the topics of art, literature, philosophy and politics, while also chronicling everyday life under Salazar’s dictatorship.



You are Not Like Other Mothersby Angelika Schrobsdorff.   Covering the first half of the 20th century, the compassionate portrait of a German woman whose free spirited ways were both her charm and her flaw.



Strindberg’s Starby Jan Wallentin.  For fans of Dan Brown, this internationally best-selling thriller is the perfect vacation read. A film is in the works.

Posted under Books

Books for Mom

This weekend is Mother’s Day and it is time to get shopping! Because deciding what to buy mom can be a difficult dilemma, the Bookshelf is here to offer guidance in picking the perfect books to give mom.

NPR Storycorps travels the country gathering stories from real Americans talking about their lives. Mom: a celebration of mothers from Storycorps by Dave Isay collects the stories about mothers and presents them in this wonderful book. Whether mom is looking for inspiration or a laugh, this book is for her.

No one writes better about the sometimes epic clashes and the always epic love between modern mothers and daughters than Jennifer Weiner. Her latest book, Then Came You, comes out on paperback today- just in time to buy it for the mom who likes a touching, but funny and witty story.

Who doesn’t think their mom is a superhero? In Melanie Hauser’s delightful Supermom series single mother Birdie is one! Birdie is cleaning one day and combines 3 different cleaning products. This potent mixture knocks Birdie unconscious. After waking up, Birdie is shocked to discover that she has super powers. A whimsical tale that is sure to have your mom wishing that she too has superpowers (besides the eyes in the back of her head, of course).

For other book gift suggestions for mom, consult our Booklists on Modern Motherhood and Adoption.


Posted under Books, Lists

Save Us From Extinction!

Shelved deep in the forest of fiction there are books which, through no fault of their own, sit forgotten. They are mostly old . . .  but not always! They got good reviews once upon a time, they were read and loved . . . and they could be again. The sad fact of libraries is that space is limited, and if a book sits and sits and no one checks it out, off it may go to the Used Book Sale Room or, worse, the dumpster!

I recently rescued one such book from the weeding cart, headed for oblivion, based only on the nice pastel drawing on the cover. It turned out to be delightful! The book was  Loving Daughters by Olga Masters, an Australian author who began writing in her 50′s, after raising seven children.

Set just after World War I in a provincial hamlet, two young, unmarried sisters living with their widowed father and a brother, each design to marry the newly arrived village pastor. A wry comedy of manners, there is not much plot; the action really takes place in the fanciful, self-deluding thoughts of each character as they go about their domestic chores–lust, envy and longing simmering just beneath the surface. What makes Loving Daughters so entertaining is Manners’s deftness as a writer. In a few sentences, a character is laid bare for the reader, often to hilarious effect. There’s irony and darkness too, for, as Masters says, part of human behavior comes from “the violence that’s inside the human heart.”

Check out other titles by Masters, too!

Posted under Books

New eTitles to enjoy on our Sony Readers!

We recently added 4 new titles to our Sony Readers:

Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson

Litigators by John Grisham

1Q84 by Haruki Murakami

Marriage plot by Jeffrey Eugenides



So even if you were not lucky enough to get an eReader for a gift this holiday season, you can still enjoy these popular titles on an eReader. Stop by the Readers Services Desk to check out (or to place a hold on) one of these popular devices.

Posted under Books

A Few Good Books: Holiday Gift Guide (part 3)





More help for your holiday book buying …

For the exhausted working mom:


The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

Victoria has spent her whole life bouncing from one foster home to another. After turning 18, she’s left to fend for herself. Finding work in a florist shop gives her the opportunity to use her extensive knowledge of flowers (gleaned from her favorite foster mother) and to move forward with her life. This is a beautiful novel about a mother’s love and forgiveness.








For deep thinkers:


Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

An accessible and elegantly written description of the psychological mechanisms involved in making decisions, this is a book that everyone will be talking about.









For your best friend:


Falling Together by Marisa de los Santos

Pen, Will, and Cat meet and bond as college freshmen. Their friendship grows until one cataclysmic event changes everything. When Pen and Will are summoned by Cat to attend their college reunion, they all attempt to piece their relationship back together. This is a loving tribute to friendship and to the ways these connections enrich our lives.








A few other suggestions:

The Louvre: All the Paintings by Erich Lessing

Martha’s Entertaining: A Year of Celebrations by Martha Stewart

Civilization: The West and the Rest by Niall Ferguson

The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman

Lionheart by Sharon Kay Penman

What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty


See you next year! Happy reading!

Posted under Books