Lisa’s January Recommendations

The Secret Life of Violet Grant by Beatriz Williams

the secret life of violet grant“This follow-up to One Hundred Summers is the story of two women whose dreams are challenged by society and familial expectations. Violet Schuyler is an intelligent young woman who is naïve to the ways of the world when she meets Dr. Walter Grant, the noted physical chemist, who champions Violet’s scientific career, and her gratitude leads her to fall in love with him. But she soon finds herself trapped in an unhappy marriage. Then Violet’s husband’s former protégé, Lionel Richardson, arrives, leading her to a crisis point. In 1960s New York, Vivian Schuyler wants to write magazine articles instead of spending her days fetching coffee for her editor. When she receives a suitcase that once belonged to her scandalous Aunt Violet, rumored to have murdered her husband in 1914 and run off with her lover, Vivian is determined to uncover the truth. VERDICT Williams’s latest is another absorbing page-turner filled with romance and secrets but with some flaws. While Violet’s narrative will captivate readers with its intrigue and the protagonist’s struggles, Vivian’s story is less compelling and the plot strains believability toward the end. Fans of the earlier work will be delighted by the cameo appearance of Lily and other characters from that novel.” – Library Journal

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2 Similar Reads

The Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian

The Ashford Affair by Lauren Willig

The Beautiful American by Jeanne Mackin

the beautiful american“As recovery from World War II begins, expat American Nora Tours travels from her home in southern France to London in search of her missing sixteen-year-old daughter. There, she unexpectedly meets up with an old acquaintance, famous model-turned-photographer Lee Miller. Neither has emerged from the war unscathed. Nora is racked with the fear that her efforts to survive under the Vichy regime may have cost her daughter’s life. Lee suffers from what she witnessed as a war correspondent photographing the liberation of the Nazi concentration camps.” – Goodreads (note:  this book is not available at the River Forest Public Library.  It may be held via SWAN)

2 Similar Reads

Dream When You’re Feeling Blue by Elizabeth Berg

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

Richard’s January Recommendation

Mister Wonderful by Daniel Clowes

mr wonderfulRichard says:  “Mister Wonderful is Daniel Clowes’s examination of ‘midlife romance’ (in fact, that is this graphic novel’s tagline).  In his typically sardonic style, Clowes follows two middle-aged divorcees and their developing relationship.  Friends set Marshall and Natalie up on a blind date; however, no one expects it to work out as well as it does—including the cynical protagonists.  Marshall is a nervous, self-effacing schlub with a heart of gold; Natalie is an attractive, neurotic, intelligent woman with a wry sense of humor.  Despite their initial misgivings, both characters are surprised by how much they have in common.  The story is told from Marshall’s perspective such that the plot is filtered through his myriad fixations, desires, and expectations.  Just the same, readers get glimpses of Natalie’s character through a combination of Daniel Clowes’s careful characterization and Marshall’s observations.

Inevitably, there is a disconnect between the characters’ expectations and reality.  Just the same, in spite of their personal quirks, encounters with questionable exes, purse-snatching thieves, and Marshall’s incessantly self-deprecating interior monologue, Marshall and Natalie are a good match.  Daniel Clowes’s works tend toward melancholy (for instance, the classic Ghost World) and Mister Wonderful retains his signature wistful tone.  Nevertheless, this hopeful piece is informed as much by Clowes’s superb artwork as his insightful, bemused take on human nature.  As such, this graphic novel is a surprising, (relatively) optimistic read by one of this medium’s major talents.”

3 Similar Reads

Over Easy by Mimi Pond – “A dropout from higher education and the career rat race of 1970s California, Pond (The Simpsons TV scripts and five humor books) takes refuge in blue-collar work: waitressing at a popular Oakland diner. So different from her own confusion and naïveté, her wisecracking new colleagues seem appealingly exotic—the boss, for instance, hires staff by asking candidates to tell a joke or relate a dream.” – Library Journal

Co-Mix: A Retrospective of Comics, Graphics, and Scraps by Art Spiegelman – “Spiegelman’s influence on graphic narrative cannot be overstated, and most libraries serving college-age readers and older should add this lavish and colorful retrospective to the graphic arts collection as well as to the graphic novels shelf.” – Library Journal

Building Stories by Chris Ware – ““Ware has been consistently pushing the boundaries for what the comics format can look like and accomplish as a storytelling medium…More than anything, though, this graphic novel mimics the kaleidoscopic nature of memory itself—fleeting, contradictory, anchored to a few significant moments, and a heavier burden by the day. In terms of pure artistic innovation, Ware is in a stratosphere all his own.” – Booklist

Kimberly’s January Recommendation

life animatedKimberly says:  “The author is a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist who beautifully turns his hand to his own family.  Suskind and his wife (a new heroic model for me) enter the world of Autistic Spectrum Disorder, the special needs community, and the wide world of Disney following the diagnosis of their younger son, Owen.  It’s a story of intimate family moments and larger ideas.  Owen who retreats into a confusing non-verbal world watches and rewatches Disney animated movies.  Through the power of these movies and the dedicated, sacrificial love of his family Owen learns and grows.  The book is inspiring and highly readable.  Suskind strikes an optimistic chord, but does not sugar-coat the struggles.”

3 Similar Reads

A Real Boy:  A True Story of Autism, Early Intervention, and Recovery by Christina Adams – “When Adams’ son, Jonah, at just over two-and-a-half, was diagnosed with autism, she was told that time was of the essence. Early, aggressive intervention would provide his only chance at realizing any semblance of a normal life. Luckily, she and husband Jack had the energy, time, and resources to spring into action.” – Booklist

Following Ezra: What One Father Learned About Gumby, Otters, Autism, and Love for His Extraordinary Son by Thomas Fields-Meyer – “A heartwarming and hopeful memoir of a father’s experience raising his autistic son. When his son Ezra was diagnosed with autism, Tom Fields-Meyer knew little about parenting and even less about neurological disorders. This intimate memoir chronicles his remarkable experiences of learning and growth from the time Ezra was diagnosed at age three to his bar mitzvah at thirteen.” – Publisher’s description

Beautiful Child by Torey Hayden – “A crisply analytical depiction of one year in a special education classroom. Hayden’s approach is straightforward and heartwarmingly compassionate not only in its portrayal of the relationships she developed with her students, but also in its appraisal of a philosophical conflict with her teacher’s aide and the effect this had on the functioning of the students.” – School Library Journal

Magdalena’s January Recommendation

The Family Romanov:  Murder, Rebellion, and the Fall of Imperial Russia by Candace Fleming

family romanovMagdalena says:  “I’d like to recommend The Family Romanov:  Murder, Rebellion, and the Fall of Imperial Russia by Candace Fleming.  This book describes the lives–and the tragic deaths–of the last tsar and his wife and children, but it also explains the details of the poor economic conditions and political events that led to the downfall of the Russian autocracy.  Fleming does an excellent job of portraying the extreme hardships of the common people’s lives under the tsar’s rule without demonizing Nicholas II or the Romanov family.  The Family Romanov is an enjoyable read for anyone who is interested either in the personal lives of the Romanov family or in twentieth-century Russian political history.”

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3 Similar Reads

Sugar Changed the World:  A Story of Magic, Spice, Slavery, Freedom, and Science by Marc Aronson – “As the title suggests, this stirring, highly detailed history of the sugar trade reaches across time and around the globe.  Framed by the authors’ family connections to the subject, the chapters move from New Guinea, where humans are believed to have first cultivated sugar cane 10,000 years ago, to its spread across the ancient world.” – Booklist

Nicholas and Alexandra by Robert K. Massie – “In this commanding book, Pulitzer Prize–winning author Robert K. Massie sweeps readers back to the extraordinary world of Imperial Russia to tell the story of the Romanovs’ lives:  Nicholas’s political naïveté, Alexandra’s obsession with the corrupt mystic Rasputin, and little Alexis’s brave struggle with hemophilia.  Against a lavish backdrop of luxury and intrigue, Massie unfolds a powerful drama of passion and history—the story of a doomed empire and the death-marked royals who watched it crumble.” – Publisher’s description

The Lost Crown by Sarah Elizabeth Miller – “The Russian Grand Duchesses, who were murdered by the Bolsheviks in 1918 along with the rest of their family, have become something of a literary mainstay.  This thoroughly researched novel brings the four young women to readers in their own voices. In alternating chapters (each with a small photo of the narrator), Olga, Tatiana, Maria, and Anastasia report on their lives and their relationships and slowly but surely reveal the perilous situation in which they find themselves.” – Booklist

Sue’s January Recommendation

The Answer to the Riddle Is Me:  A Memoir of Amnesia by David McLean

index.aspxSue says:  “I just finished The Answer to the Riddle Is Me:  A Memoir of Amnesia by David McLean. I had listened to his 2010 award-winning essay on NPR’s This American Life about the harrowing experience of losing his memory while in India as a result of taking an anti-malarial medicine. No money, no passport, no identity.  The 2014 book expands upon on his essay to fill in the details of how he came to be in India (completing a Fulbright scholarship) and the difficult, painful year he endured trying to recover his memory and figure out his ‘true’ psyche.  A compelling read!”

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I Forgot to Remember:  A Memoir of Amnesia by Su Meck – “Just twenty-two years old, Su Meck was already married and the mother of two children in 1988 when a ceiling fan in the kitchen of her home fell from its mounting and struck her in the head. She survived the life-threatening swelling in her brain that resulted from the accident, but when she regained consciousness in the hospital the next day, she didn’t know her own name. She didn’t recognize a single family member or friend, she couldn’t read or write or brush her teeth or use a fork–and she didn’t have even a scrap of memory from her life up to that point.” – Publisher’s description

The Day My Brain Exploded by Ashok Rajamani – “In this frank and witty account of his own brain ‘explosion,’ Rajamani describes in vivid detail the circumstances leading to the injury, and its devastating aftermath on both his family and himself, including chronic epilepsy and a freak form of blindness affecting the left-side of each eye.  With disarming drollery, the author also recounts his racism-ringed upbringing as an Indian American in white-dominated suburban Chicago.  Shedding much-needed light on a little-known medical trauma, Rajamani’s sharp-edged prose is both informative and inspiring.” – Booklist

Little Failure:  A Memoir by Gary Shteyngart – “… a memoir of an immigrant family coming to America, as told by a lifelong misfit who forged from his imagination an essential literary voice and, against all odds, a place in the world.” – Publisher’s description

Dana’s January Recommendation

In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex by Nathaniel Philbrick

in the heart of the sea“In the Heart of the Sea brings to new life the incredible story of the wreck of the whaleship Essex—an event as mythic in its own century as the Titanic disaster in ours, and the inspiration for the climax of Moby-Dick. In a harrowing page-turner, Nathaniel Philbrick restores this epic story to its rightful place in American history.

In 1820, the 240-ton Essex set sail from Nantucket on a routine voyage for whales. Fifteen months later, in the farthest reaches of the South Pacific, it was repeatedly rammed and sunk by an eighty-ton bull sperm whale. Its twenty-man crew, fearing cannibals on the islands to the west, made for the 3,000-mile-distant coast of South America in three tiny boats. During ninety days at sea under horrendous conditions, the survivors clung to life as one by one, they succumbed to hunger, thirst, disease, and fear.

In the Heart of the Sea tells perhaps the greatest sea story ever. Philbrick interweaves his account of this extraordinary ordeal of ordinary men with a wealth of whale lore and with a brilliantly detailed portrait of the lost, unique community of Nantucket whalers. Impeccably researched and beautifully told, the book delivers the ultimate portrait of man against nature, drawing on a remarkable range of archival and modern sources, including a long-lost account by the ship’s cabin boy. At once a literary companion and a page-turner that speaks to the same issues of class, race, and man’s relationship to nature that permeate the works of Melville, In the Heart of the Sea will endure as a vital work of American history.” – Summary from Goodreads

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3 Similar Reads

The Bounty: The True Story of the Mutiny on the Bounty by Caroline Alexander

Over the Edge of the World: Magellan’s Terrifying Circumnavigation of the Globe by Laurence Bergreen

Ship of Gold in the Deep Blue Sea by Gary Kinder

Genna’s January Recommendation

The Book of Strange New Things by Michael Faber

the book of strange new thingsGenna says:  “If you are in the mood for a literary, metaphysical, sci-fi novel, this is for you. It’s been twelve years since author Michael Faber published his last book, so he had plenty of time to craft this novel, and it shows.
Many times while reading this, I said out loud – ‘Wow, this is such a great book!’
Peter is a married minster who is chosen for a mission with a corporation called USIC, located on another planet. Everyone has a job to do, and Peter’s is to teach the Bible to the inhabitants of the planet – aliens. Peter exchanges heartfelt messages with his wife, who is struggling through their separation and also because of the disasters happening on earth – tsunamis and food shortages. The landscape of Peter’s new world is very different from earth – a hot desert that rains often and produces a plant called whiteflower. Peter is shocked to find that the drinking water is green-colored and tastes like honeydew, the apartment he stays in has no lock on the door, and the pastor who came before him went missing in action. The book really is a great way of understanding pastoral work in action – Peter begins to build a church and teaches the aliens from the Bible, or what they refer to it as: ‘The Book of Strange New Things.’
This book was so vivid and descriptive that it reminded me of several movies. It had the gentleness of E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial combined with the gut-wrenching sadness of separation of space exploration that drives the new Interstellar movie.”
Does this sound interesting?  Click here for a sample!
3 Similar Reads
Wolf in White Van by John Darnielle
Strange Bodies by Marcel Theroux