Posts Tagged ‘Chicago’

Best New Books of 2014: Janet L’s Picks

December 8, 2014

Winter is coming, with its cold days and long nights.  In other words, perfect reading weather.  It’s also the traditional time to look back and choose favorite reads of the past year.  If you are a fan of humor, mystery, travel, or food (not to mention good writing) I can highly recommend the following five books:

A Man Called OveA Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman
Neighborhood curmudgeon Ove is not amused when a lively young family moves in next door.  Imagine everyone’s surprise, especially Ove’s, when instead of the expected disaster, something wonderful results.  Fredrik Backman’s debut is an amazing mixture of comedy, pathos and social commentary.  Will appeal to almost everyone, especially fans of The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce and The No. 1 Ladies Detective series by Alexander McCall Smith.

The Bone OrchardThe Bone Orchard by Paul Doiron
Life would be much easier for Mike Bowditch if he could just keep his mouth shut, but then reading about him wouldn’t be so much fun.  No longer a game warden for the state of Maine, Mike finds himself drawn into a case when good friend and former mentor, Kathy Frost, is gunned down and critically injured.  One of my favorite mystery series; if you haven’t had the pleasure, begin with The Poacher’s Son.  Especially recommended for readers of the Alex McKnight series by Steve Hamilton, the Conway Sax series by Steve Ulfelder and the Anna Pigeon series by Nevada Barr.

Smoke Gets in Your EyesSmoke Gets In Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory by Caitlin Doughty
Caitlin Doughty, founder of The Order of the Good Death, is a Los Angeles mortician.  She wrote this book to give people a behind the scenes look at funeral home. Death is a somber and scary subject, but Doughty handles it with humor and compassion. If she hoped this book would demystify death and make it more comfortable to contemplate, she succeeded with this reader.  Recommended for fans of Mary Roach and Sarah Vowell.

The Age of LicenseThe Age of License: A Travelogue by Lucy Knisley
Graphic artist Knisley shares the ups and downs of her book tour to Europe and Scandinavia.   Honest, charming, yet serious, this graphic novel will appeal to fans of travelogues and mouthwatering descriptions of food—and isn’t that almost everyone?

The Black HourThe Black Hour by Lori Rader-Day
Sociology professor Amelia Emmet has made violence the focus of her academic research.  When a student she has never seen before appears outside her office and shoots her, theory becomes all too horribly real.  Back on campus, Amelia attempts to resume her life.  Relying on painkillers, a cane, and her sardonic sense of humor, Amelia struggles to find the answer to the questions that haunts her:  Why?

Best ‘New to Us’ Books in 2013: Stephen B’s Picks

December 18, 2013

My name is Stephen Bank and I have been working in Wake County Public Libraries for over 12 years. My favorite genre is mysteries, but I also like Historical Nonfiction and sometimes human interest stories as you will see from the following 5 short blogs.

Snow in August by Pete Hamill
Having been raised in a multi-ethnic neighborhood in New York City, I have found no one who captures the essence of the Big City like Hamill. This touching story takes place in Brooklyn just after WWII, where an extraordinary relationship develops between 11 year old Michael Devlin and Rabbi Judah Hirsch, a Polish refugee. Michael’s Dad was killed in the war and he and his Mom are just surviving. The relationship between Michael and the Rabbi teaches us how all people can live together in all types of circumstances.   Read my full-length post here.

The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson
It’s 1890 and Chicago politicians will do anything to bring the next World’s Fair to their city. As various factions battle against other sections of the United States for the Fair, something very diabolical is going on. Chicago wins the rights to the World’s Fair and now there will be the infighting from those factions who want to profit from producing the Fair. There is also a serial killer loose, but at first no one realizes that the dead women have not died of natural causes! We are really dealing with the two stories, the Fair and the murders.  Larson’s unbelievable research makes you feel like you are there, living in Chicago. And this is a true story!  Read my full-length post here.

The  Informationist  by Taylor Stevens
In this book you will meet one of fiction’s most interesting leading protagonists, Vanessa “Michael” Munroe.  Abandoned in darkest Africa by her missionary parents as a teenager, Vanessa has to learn every possible survival skill…which she does. As an adult, she is self-sufficient and capable of anything, including killing to save herself and her clients. She is not evil and she hires herself out to secure information for clients.  She is fascinating and if you become “hooked” as I did you will seek out Stevens’ two successive novels with ‘Michael’ as the main heroine. If you do some research on author Stevens and her background, it may become clearer to you how she arrived at this talent and the development of ‘ Michael ‘ as a leading character!  Read another review here.

Sworn to Silence by Linda Castillo
This was a new discovery for me. This book is the first in a series of books where our main protagonist is Kate Burkholder, the chief of police of Painters Mill, Ohio. I always thought that the main Amish community was in Pennsylvania but there is a strong Amish community in Ohio. The Amish and English residents have lived besides each other for years but not entirely peacefully! Although they were peaceful, there always was some resentment of the Amish.  Kate was brought up in the Amish community but a series of brutal murders convinced her that she didn’t belong there.  Despite that, she returned to Painter’s Mill after some big city training to be the new Police Chief. A new murder and Kate is convinced she must find the culprit before there is another murder. Castillo has followed this initial story with several other books with Burkholder as her leading protagonist. Not only is this a solid read but you will learn some things about the Amish communities.

The Homecoming of Samuel Lake by Jenny Wingfield
This is the different selection, one I would not ordinarily select but it was suggested by a fellow librarian I trust. Samuel Lake is preacher, a good one but one who has alienated his parish enough that they don’t renew his contract. Now it is time for Samuel and his wife, Willadee and their three children to return to her family’s farm in south Arkansas and the annual reunion of the Moses’ family. And that is the catch…..family!  You will fall in love with Samuel and Willadee’s precocious eleven year old daughter, Swan. And as you get to meet and know the rest of the Moses clan, you will see the good and the bad. If you have an extended family as I do, you will understand their trials and tribulations.  Samuel has to face his own demons … why can’t he hold on to a congregation? Plus there certainly are members of the Moses’ clan that will present their own challenges. This book will touch your heart, I promise.

The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson

May 28, 2013

I first met Erik Larson when I read ” In The Garden of Beasts “”.   It was the brilliant story of Germany between the Great Wars and the American family that lived there during the thirties. I was able to feel I was there with Ambassador William Dodd and his family as they slowly grasped what Hitler was doing and how it would affect the whole world in just a few years.

Now I am traveling back to 1893 and the Chicago World’s Fair to meet two polar opposite figures…..one the brilliant architect of the Fair, Daniel Burnham and the other, our first recognized serial killer, Herman Webster Mudgett aka H.H Holmes.  Although they never met, their stories will cross over in the telling of this tale.

The construction of the fair, if it hopes to top what Paris’ Exposition has just done, will require the cooperation of a lot of people.  It will need the brain power of some of the best architects that the US has produced….and that’s a lot of egos to deal with!  Meanwhile our serial killer is operating under the ‘radar’ as the people responsible for the Fair try to accomplish their mission in just 27 months!

You will be overwhelmed by the details and research that went into the writing this book.  Larson may well have spent years in accumulating what is truly an amazing story. And remember you will be getting two stories for the price of one.  An unbelievable tale of an unbelievable period in the history of Chicago and the United States.

Find and reserve this book in the library.

Total Recall by Sara Paretsky

February 27, 2013

Sara Paretsky, for those who have not read her before, writes traditional hard-boiled mysteries set in Chicago.  Her detective, V.I (Vic) Warshawski, is half Polish and half Italian and grew up in the tough neighborhoods of South Chicago.  Vic’s father was a police officer, but she made her way through law school and built up an independent private eye firm.  Her cases have taken her all over the city from the best neighborhoods to the worst and she has dealt with the criminal underworld as well as the politicians and local leaders.

Yet this brief description doesn’t do this series justice.  All of Warshawski’s cases have much more to them than a simple murder mystery.  Total Recall, for example, begins with a recent widow finding out that the life insurance company has denied her claim because someone reported her husband dead ten years ago and claimed the money. Not only does her nephew have to pay for the funeral, but then both of them are considered suspects in insurance fraud. Warshawski is hired to clear their names. Following the trail of this mystery leads her to a somewhat sketchy insurance company, and then suddenly a murder, possibly involving a local African American minister with political aspirations.

Meanwhile, old friends of Vic’s are being stalked by a man who claims to have recovered his past memories as a Holocaust survivor and believes he is a long lost relative.  Her friend Lottie has never discussed her past and does not want to talk about it now, but she swears he cannot be a relative.  After Lottie faints upon seeing the man, Vic is very worried and begins to investigate the man’s claims.

Paretsky’s mystery novels are always complex, and this one is no exception.  Regression hypnotherapy, Slave Reparations, recovering the lost property of Holocaust victims, and corruption in large companies are all topics that somehow converge into a fascinating story.  In addition, the author’s descriptions of the various ethnic neighborhoods and the somewhat corrupt political system in Chicago really give you a feel for the city.  Mystery fans should try this novel, or better still, start with the first in the series, Indemnity Only.

Find and reserve this book in our catalog.

The Litigators by John Grisham

January 10, 2013

The LitigatorsAs a John Grisham fan, I was surprised to hear criticism of his latest book. However, as I got deeper into the story, I am starting to understand. This story has a lot more humor in it than many of his previous books. …..and that is good not bad!

One can’t help but chuckle at the law firm of Finley & Figg. They are the epitome of the storefront, ambulance chasing, divorces and DUI small time lawyers. They have never been very successful and they are just about able to pay their bills each month. Besides the two of them, they have a ‘do everything’ secretary, Rochelle Gibson. Actually there is a cautious ‘detente’ amongst all the players until two things happen that may change the lives of all of them. First of all, Wally Figg finds out about what may become a major class action lawsuit over a drug call Krayoxx. The drug allegedly helps to lower cholesterol but may in fact being causing people to die from heart attacks. And the second event is the landing of one, David Zinc on their doorstep. Zinc has been a successful associate of a big downtown law firm, when he has a complete meltdown. He is sick and tired of the corporate life and decides to ‘dropout’. He spends a day at Abner’s bar getting wasted and when he decides to leave, he doesn’t know where to go…going home and explaining this to his wife doesn’t seem like the thing to do. When he finally gets into a taxi, he notices a billboard sign for the law firm of Finley & Figg and he tells the driver that that is his destination. And now all the elements of Grisham’s latest book are in play. How will the law firm of Finley & Figg and their new associate handle the growing class action suit against Varrick, the manufacturer of Krayoxx? How many victims can they sign up to represent and can they be successful? None of them has actually tried a case before a judge!
Please enjoy Grisham’s latest legal saga with a generous dose of humor.

Find and reserve this book in our catalog.

For the Thrill of It: Leopold, Loeb and the Murder that Shocked Chicago by Simon Baatz

February 25, 2011

Johnny Cash once sang “But I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die. When I hear that whistle blowin’, I hang my head and cry.” to illustrate the senselessness of crime and the regrets that a convict might have. Wealthy and extraordinarily intelligent teenagers Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb killed a boy just to see if they could get away with it. They had no motives other than proving themselves to be Nietzchean Supermen who were above the law, and they had no regrets afterward. They thought they were smart enough to leave no trace that would lead anyone to suspect they did it. And they almost got away with it. Almost.

Simon Baatz writes a gripping and thorough look at the murder that captivated the country for weeks in 1924. He details the killers’ lives and the factors that played into their decisions before narrating the events of the crime, the investigation, the trial, and the aftermath. For true crime fans, this book shows how a simple, mundane detail can unravel the most painstakingly planned crime.

Find it here!


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