Spotlight: Novel Translations

I recently read Muriel Barbery’s The Elegance of the Hedgehog and loved all the intricate details of Parisian lifestyle. The lives of the characters were a bit bleak, but the French also have different attitudes than we Americans do. So I found it to be very interesting and enlightening. Below is a list of other novels that have been translated from different languages. Hopefully these books can provide insight onto other cultures!

The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery

elegance of the hedgehogTranslated from French.


This book takes place in a bourgeois apartment building in Paris, where Renee is the concierge. She is plain on the outside and hides the fact that she is very cultured and enjoys art and philsophy. One of the residents of the building, Paloma, is a 12 year old who is very intelligent but has decided that she wants to end her life on her 13th birthday. Paloma and Renee both hide their inner qualities, and this book explores that contradiction in a beautiful way.

Ruby Red by Kerstin Gier

ruby redTranslated from German.

This teen novel tells the story of sixteen year old Gwyneth who has the gene for time-travel. She travels through 18th century and contemporary London with Gideon. This book is full of romance and fantasy.

  • 2013 Nominated Beehive Young Adults’ Book Award
  • 2014 Nominated Young Reader’s Choice Award


All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque


Translated from German.

This is a World War I story that was originally written in 1929. It tells of Paul, who enlists in the army. Along with other youthful soldiers, they discover that being a soldier is not as glorious as they expected. The book details the stressful conditions of war and the struggle to return to civilian life. Considered to be one of the great war stories.

The Keeper of Lost Causes by Jussi Adler-Olsen

keeperlostTranslated from Danish.

This mystery is part of a series of books called Department Q. Chief detective Carl Mørck, delegated to cold cases after a gunshot wound, finds out he is now in charge of Department Q, which is in the basement. He comes across the case of a female politician who has been missing for five years.Read the book to find out if Carl can solve this “lost cause” case.

The Alchemist by Paulo Coehlo

alchemistTranslated from Portuguese.

This novel tells an allegorical story a boy who wants to travel through Andalusia, Spain. He has a dream about a child telling him to visit the Egyptian pyramids to find treasure there. All of Coehlo’s books feel very dreamy and mystical.

Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami

kafkaTranslated from Japanese.

This story revolves around the characters Kafka Tamura, a runaway teenage boy, and Nakata, an older man with a wound from the war that won’t heal.

From the catalog: “Their odyssey, as mysterious to them as it is to us, is enriched throughout by vivid accomplices and mesmerizing events. Cats and people carry on conversations, a ghostlike pimp employs a Hegel-quoting prostitute, a forest harbors soldiers apparently unaged since World War II, and rainstorms of fish (and worse) fall from the sky. There is a brutal murder, with the identity of both victim and perpetrator a riddle–yet this, along with everything else, is eventually answered, just as the entwined destinies of Kafka and Nakata are gradually revealed, with one escaping his fate entirely and the other given a fresh start on his own.”

  • 2005 Won New York Times Notable Books of the Year
  • 2006 Won American Library Association Notable Books
  • 2006 Nominated Independent Foreign Fiction Prize
  • 2006 Nominated Book Sense Book of the Year
  • 2005 Nominated Los Angeles Times Book Prizes
  • 2006 Nominated World Fantasy Awards
  • 2005 Won New York Times Editors’ Choice

The Solitude of Prime Numbers by Paulo Giordano

solitudeprimeThis is translated from Italian.

It tells the story of Alice and Mattia, who have both experienced a childhood tragedy. The two meet as teens and discover in each other kindred spirits. Mattia and Alice are seperated for a while when Mattia takes a research position far away from Alice, but then are reunited. An international bestseller about loneliness and love.


Spotlight: The First Book We Fell In Love With


Just in time for Valentine’s Day, the River Forest Public Library staff have put together a nostalgic list of the books that we first fell in love with. These are the books that hooked us into reading!

Review the list for any that you yourself remember reading and enjoying. Pick up one of these classics again for some light reading.

We encourage you to share these titles with your friends and loved ones – especially those people who have yet to discover their own love of reading!

Watership Down by Richard Adams

  • Who Loves It? Fran

watership downSet in England’s Downs, a once idyllic rural landscape, this stirring tale of adventure, courage and survival follows a band of very special creatures on their flight from the intrusion of man and the certain destruction of their home. Led by a stouthearted pair of brothers, they journey forth from their native Sandleford Warren through the harrowing trials posed by predators and adversaries, to a mysterious promised land and a more perfect society. – publisher summary

Here’s what Fran had to say about the book: “I think I was a pre-teen when I read this and was living in England at the time. I remember it brought me to tears. A beautiful book for young readers that has a lot of surprising lessons, considering it’s about rabbits. I think an adult would enjoy it too”

Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder

  • Who Loves It? Dana

littlehouseinthebigwoodsA year in the life of two young girls growing up on the Wisconsin frontier, as they help their mother with the daily chores, enjoy their father’s stories and singing, and share special occasions when they get together with relatives or neighbors. – swan summary

Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder

  • Who Loves It? Kim and Sara

littlehouseontheprairieA family travels from the big woods of Wisconsin to a new home on the prairie, where they build a house, meet neighboring Indians, build a well, and fight a prairie fire. – swan summary

Kim says, “The Little House on the Prairie Books were the first books I consciously chose to own and cherish.  From 1971, when the yellow paperbacks first were published, I was hooked on reading!”

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

  • Who Loves It? Mary Ann

Wuthering HeightsPublished a year before her death at the age of thirty, Emily Bronte’s only novel is set in the wild, bleak Yorkshire Moors. Depicting the relationship of Cathy and Heathcliff, Wuthering Heights creates a world of its own, conceived with an instinct for poetry and for the dark depths of human psychology. -publisher summary

What Mary Ann has to say about it: “All through high school, on the last day of school, I went to the library to check it out.  It was the ritual that signaled summer. —The ghost at the window, the brutality,  “I cannot live without my life! I cannot live without my soul!” …opening the grave to lie with Catherine’s corpse!…“I am Heathcliff.” ”

Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery

  • Who Loves It? Blaise and Sara

anne of green gablesAnne, an eleven-year-old orphan, is sent by mistake to live with a lonely, middle-aged brother and sister on a Prince Edward Island farm and proceeds to make an indelible impression on everyone around her. – swan summary

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

  • Who Loves It? Genna

little women“The quintessential American family story, Little Women captured readers’ hearts right from the start. A bestseller from the time it was originally published in 1868, it is the story of the four March sisters: Meg, Beth, Jo, and Amy.” – publisher summary

Here’s what Genna says about the book: “Since I don’t have any sisters of my own, the March sisters and their relationships and antics really resonated with me and fulfilled that missing part of my childhood.”

The Things They Carried  by Tim O’Brien

  • Who Loves It? Victoria

thethingstheycarriedA classic work of American literature that has not stopped changing minds and lives since it burst onto the literary scene, The Things They Carried is a ground-breaking meditation on war, memory, imagination, and the redemptive power of storytelling.

The Things They Carried depicts the men of Alpha Company: Jimmy Cross, Henry Dobbins, Rat Kiley, Mitchell Sanders, Norman Bowker, Kiowa, and the character Tim O’Brien, who has survived his tour in Vietnam to become a father and writer at the age of forty-three. – publisher summary


Fruits Basket by Natsuki Takaya

  • Who Loves It? Victoria

fruits basket“Tohru Honda is an orphaned teenager who comes to live with the Sohma family in exchange for housekeeping duties, but she soon comes to know the family secret.”- novelist description

This is printed manga style, and it is read from right to left. There are 23 volumes of the book. “The 136 chapters of Fruits Basket were originally serialized in Japan . . . from July 1998 to November 2006. These were collected in 23 tankōbon volumes. . .” – Wikipedia

All-of-a-Kind Family by Sydney Taylor

  • Who Loves It? Ellen

allofakindfamilyIt’s the turn of the century in New York’s Lower East Side and a sense of adventure and excitement abounds for five young sisters — Ella, Henny, Sarah, Charlotte and Gertie. Follow along as they search for hidden buttons while dusting Mama’s front parlor, or explore the basement warehouse of Papa’s peddler’s shop on rainy days. The five girls enjoy doing everything together, especially when it involves holidays and surprises. But no one could have prepared them for the biggest surprise of all! – summary from Novelist

Ellen says: “I found New York and the Jewish culture references fascinating and I was one of 5 sisters as well.”

Winnie-the-Pooh by A.A. Milne

  • Who Loves It? Sue

winnethepoohThe adventures of Christopher Robin and his friends, in which Pooh Bear uses a balloon to get honey, Piglet meets a Heffalump, and Eeyore has a birthday.

Kristy’s Great Idea by Ann M. Martin

  • Who Loves It? Katie

kristysgreatideaThis is the first book in the series that was published between 1986- 2000. The first 35 were written by Ann M. Martin but the others were ghost-written.

The first book follows the adventures of Kristy and the other members of the Baby-sitters Club as they deal with crank calls, uncontrollable two-year-olds, wild pets, and parents who do not always tell the truth. – swan summary 

The novel was also adapted into a graphic novel by Raina Telgemeier.

American Girl series

  • Who Loves It? Katie

meetsamanthameetfelicityThese series of books were published to tell the stories of the popular dolls of the same name. American Girl books told the stories from the perspective of the girls, and each girl lived in a different time period in history. The dolls were first released in 1986.

Incident at Hawk’s Hill by Allan W. Eckhert

  • Who Loves It? Ted

hawkshillA shy, lonely six-year-old wanders into the Canadian prairie and spends a summer under the protection of a badger. – swan summary.

1972 Nominated Newbery Medal

When We Were Very Young by A.A. Milne and Now We Are Six 

  • Who Loves It? Dorothy

nowwearesixwhenwewereveryyoungA collection of poems reflecting the experiences of a little English boy growing up in the early part of the twentieth century. The books are companions. – swan summary

Dorothy says: “these are the first books I remember reading!”

Alanna by Tamora Pierce

  • Who Loves It? Katie

alanna“Eleven-year-old Alanna, who aspires to be a knight even though she is a girl, disguises herself as a boy to become a royal page, learning many hard lessons along her path to high adventure.” – swan summary

Seventeenth Summer by Maureen Daly

  • Who Loves It? Margaret

seventeenthsummerSeventeen-year-old Angie, living with her family in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, finds herself in love for the first time the summer after high school graduation. – swan summary

Margaret says: “this one really grabbed my attention as a younger reader!”

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

  • Who Loves It? Margaret

prideandprejudice“Spirited Elizabeth Bennet is one of a family of five daughters, and with no male heir, the Bennet estate must someday pass to their priggish cousin William Collins. Therefore, the girls must marry well–and thus is launched the story of Elizabeth and the arrogant bachelor Mr. Darcy, in a novel renowned as the epitome of romance and wit.” – publisher summary

Margaret says: “This is the book that made me into a reader.”

American Short Stories

  • Who Loves it? Kim

classicshortstoriesKim says: “The first book that made me really fall in love with the study of literature was a collection called American Short Stories that I purchased second hand  in 1977.  I started with “Young Goodman Brown” by Nathaniel Hawthorne and kept going until the then-present day work of John Updike. I still reread these books often.”

Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh

  • Who Loves it? Dorothy

harrietthespyEleven-year-old Harriet keeps notes on her classmates and neighbors in a secret notebook, but when some of the students read the notebook, they seek revenge. – swan summary

A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett

  • Who Loves It? Anna

alittleprincessSara Crewe, a pupil at Miss Minchin’s London School, is left in poverty when her father dies, but is later rescued by a mysterious benefactor. – swan summary

Mandie and the Secret Tunnel by Lois Gladys Leppard

  • Who Loves It? Anna

mandieandthesecrettunnelIn 1900, Mandie is searching her dead uncle’s mansion for a missing will when she finds a secret tunnel and strangers who claim to be her relatives. – swan summary

Anna says: “I used to read this series all the time! This is the first book in the series.”

Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase by Carolyn Keene

  • Who Loves It? Sophia

nancydrewhiddenstaircaseTeenage detective Nancy Drew uses her courage and powers of deduction to solve the mysterious happenings in an old stone mansion.

Sophia says: “The entire series of Nancy Drew books was republished in the 60’s. I read this when I was in second grade and was hooked. I could not wait for my mom to bring home all of Nancy’s adventures,  and there were lots of them. My love of reading grew as I learned to read better and more confidently, all the while living vicariously through Nancy’s adventures of courage and smarts!”

Weekly Spotlight On: Historical Spooky Reads

It’s that time of year – Halloween specials on TV, candy corn for sale in the aisles, and pumpkin carving masterpieces galore. Below is a selection of books that have a spooky vibe and a strong sense of place – ghosts and witches abound in these historical fiction novels. Snuggle up with a cup of apple cider this fall and avoid Ouiji boards when reading these haunted books!

Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo

ghost bride“”One evening, my father asked me if I would like to become a ghost bride…” Though ruled by British overlords, the Chinese of colonial Malaya still cling to ancient customs. And in the sleepy port town of Malacca, ghosts and superstitions abound. Li Lan, the daughter of a genteel but bankrupt family, has few prospects. But fate intervenes when she receives an unusual proposal from the wealthy and powerful Lim family. They want her to become a ghost bride for the family’s only son, who recently died under mysterious circumstances. Rarely practiced, a traditional ghost marriage is used to placate a restless spirit. Such a union would guarantee Li Lan a home for the rest of her days, but at a terrible price. After an ominous visit to the opulent Lim mansion, Li Lan finds herself haunted not only by her ghostly would-be suitor, but also by her desire for the Lim’s handsome new heir, Tian Bai. Night after night, she is drawn into the shadowy parallel world of the Chinese afterlife, with its ghost cities, paper funeral offerings, vengeful spirits and monstrous bureaucracy–including the mysterious Er Lang, a charming but unpredictable guardian spirit. Li Lan must uncover the Lim family’s darkest secrets–and the truth about her own family–before she is trapped in this ghostly world forever.” – Summary

Daughters of the Witching Hill by Mary Sharratt

daughters of the witching hill“Daughters of the Witching Hill brings history to life in a vivid and wrenching account of a family sustained by love as they try to survive the hysteria of a witch-hunt.

Bess Southerns, an impoverished widow living in Pendle Forest, is haunted by visions and gains a reputation as a cunning woman. Drawing on the Catholic folk magic of her youth, Bess heals the sick and foretells the future. As she ages, she instructs her granddaughter, Alizon, in her craft, as well as her best friend, who ultimately turns to dark magic.

When a peddler suffers a stroke after exchanging harsh words with Alizon, a local magistrate, eager to make his name as a witch finder, plays neighbors and family members against one another until suspicion and paranoia reach frenzied heights.

Sharratt interweaves well-researched historical details of the 1612 Pendle witch-hunt with a beautifully imagined story of strong women, family, and betrayal. Daughters of the Witching Hill is a powerful novel of intrigue and revelation.” -Summary

The Heretic’s Daughter by Kathleen Kent

the heretics daughter“Martha Carrier was one of the first women to be accused, tried and hanged as a witch in Salem, Massachusetts. Like her mother, young Sarah Carrier is bright and willful, openly challenging the small, brutal world in which they live. Often at odds with one another, mother and daughter are forced to stand together against the escalating hysteria of the trials and the superstitious tyranny that led to the torture and imprisonment of more than 200 people accused of witchcraft. This is the story of Martha’s courageous defiance and ultimate death, as told by the daughter who survived.” -Summary

The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters

the little stranger“The #1 book of 2009…Several sleepless nights are guaranteed.”–Stephen King, Entertainment Weekly

“One postwar summer in his home of rural Warwickshire, Dr. Faraday, the son of a maid who has built a life of quiet respectability as a country physician, is called to a patient at lonely Hundreds Hall. Home to the Ayres family for over two centuries, the Georgian house, once impressive and handsome, is now in decline, its masonry crumbling, its gardens choked with weeds, the clock in its stable yard permanently fixed at twenty to nine. Its owners–mother, son, and daughter–are struggling to keep pace with a changing society, as well as with conflicts of their own. But are the Ayreses haunted by something more sinister than a dying way of life? Little does Dr. Faraday know how closely, and how terrifyingly, their story is about to become intimately entwined with his.” -Summary

Last rituals : an Icelandic novel of secret symbols, medieval witchcraft, and modern murder by Yrsa Sigurðardóttir

last ritualsSet in modern-day Iceland–and already an international sensation–“Last Rituals” introduces one of the most compelling and exceptional new characters to appear in years, attorney Thra Guomunddottir, in a tale of medieval witchcraft and modern murder.

The Accursed by Joyce Carol Oates

the accursed“A major historical novel from “one of the great artistic forces of our time” (The Nation) “an eerie, unforgettable story of possession, power, and loss in early-twentieth-century Princeton, a cultural crossroads of the powerful and the damned

Princeton, New Jersey, at the turn of the twentieth century: a tranquil place to raise a family, a genteel town for genteel souls. But something dark and dangerous lurks at the edges of the town, corrupting and infecting its residents. Vampires and ghosts haunt the dreams of the innocent. A powerful curse besets the elite families of Princeton; their daughters begin disappearing. A young bride on the verge of the altar is seduced and abducted by a dangerously compelling maniac”a shape-shifting, vaguely European prince who might just be the devil, and who spreads his curse upon a richly deserving community of white Anglo-Saxon privilege. And in the Pine Barrens that border the town, a lush and terrifying underworld opens up.

When the bride’s brother sets out against all odds to find her, his path will cross those of Princeton’s most formidable people, from Grover Cleveland, fresh out of his second term in the White House and retired to town for a quieter life, to soon-to-be commander in chief Woodrow Wilson, president of the university and a complex individual obsessed to the point of madness with his need to retain power; from the young Socialist idealist Upton Sinclair to his charismatic comrade Jack London, and the most famous writer of the era, Samuel Clemens/Mark Twainâe”all plagued by “accursed” visions.

An utterly fresh work from Oates, The Accursed marks new territory for the masterful writer. Narrated with her unmistakable psychological insight, it combines beautifully transporting historical detail with chilling supernatural elements to stunning effect.” -Summary

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness

a discovery of witches“Deep in the stacks of Oxford’s Bodleian Library, young scholar Diana Bishop unwittingly calls up a bewitched alchemical manuscript in the course of her research. Descended from an old and distinguished line of witches, Diana wants nothing to do with sorcery; so after a furtive glance and a few notes, she banishes the book to the stacks. But her discovery sets a fantastical underworld stirring, and a horde of daemons, witches, and vampires soon descends upon the library. Diana has stumbled upon a coveted treasure lost for centuries-and she is the only creature who can break its spell.

Debut novelist Deborah Harkness has crafted a mesmerizing and addictive read, equal parts history and magic, romance and suspense. Diana is a bold heroine who meets her equal in vampire geneticist Matthew Clairmont, and gradually warms up to him as their alliance deepens into an intimacy that violates age-old taboos. This smart, sophisticated story harks back to the novels of Anne Rice, but it is as contemporary and sensual as the Twilight series-with an extra serving of historical realism.” – Summary

Trio of Sorcery by Mercedes Lackey

trio of sorcery“New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Mercedes Lackey presents three exciting short urban fantasy novels featuring three resourceful heroines and three different takes on the modern world and on magics both modern and ancient. Arcanum 101 :  Diana Tregarde, practicing witch, romance novelist, Guardian of the Earth. Studying at Harvard, Diana is approached by Joe O’Brian, a young cop who has already seen more than one unusual thing during his budding career. The distraught mother of a kidnap victim is taking advice from a “psychic” and interfering in the police investigation. Will Diana prove that the psychic is a fake? Unfortunately, the psychic is not a fake, but a very wicked witch-and the child’s kidnapper.  Drums :  Jennifer Talldeer, shaman, private investigator, member of the Osage tribe. Most of Jennie’s work is regular PI stuff, but Nathan Begay brings her a problem she’s never seen before. His girlfriend, Caroline, is Chickasaw to his Navaho, but that’s not the problem. Somehow, Caroline has attracted the attention of an angry Osage ghost. Thwarted in love while alive, the ghost has chosen Caroline to be his bride in death.  Ghost in the Machine:  Ellen McBride: computer programmer extraordinaire, techno-shaman. The programmers and players of a new MMORPG find that the game’s “boss,” a wendigo, is “killing” everyone-even the programmers’ characters with their god-like powers. A brilliant debugger, Ellen discoveres that the massive computing power of the game’s servers have created a breach between the supernatural world and our own. This wendigo isn’t abit of code, it’s the real thing . . . and it’s on the brink of breaking out of the computers and into the real world.” -Summary

Weekly Spotlight On…Best Books of 2012

At the risk of being redundant, I decided to write a short post on the best books of 2012.  Instead of trying to sort through the multitude of lists that have already been presented and then come up with my own, however, I decided it would be better to simply point you to some of the more interesting and varied lists that have been compiled by others already.  Below, I have tried to give links to lists which name books that may have flown a little bit under the radar but are just as good as the big name authors and the books on the bestseller lists. Hopefully, this will expose you to some great books that you have not yet heard about!  Enjoy!

Good Reads Choice Awards 2012–this is a great resource, because the awards are broken up into several different genres (fiction, nonfiction, biography, fantasy, etc.), and they are voted on by people just like you.

Book Riot’s Best Books of 2012–they have all types of readers over at Book Riot, and a lot of these books can be considered “under the radar”, but just as good as some of the bigger name books.

Publisher’s Weekly–has a very interesting and varied selection of Best Books to look through.

The Slate’s Best Overlooked Books of 2012–Just like it sounds, this is a list of 20 books that have been overlooked by many, but deserve some attention.

The Book Case–This is a blog put out by BookPage, and this top 50 list has books suited to every reader

And finally, NPR had 3 Indie Booksellers Pick the Year’s Best Books

Next week, stay tuned for books to look forward to in 2013!


Weekly Spotlight On…Great Reads for Halloween!

Looking for a good book to put you in the Halloween spirit?  Then you’re in the right place!  Check out this list of scare-tastic horror reads that contain chills (and thrills)–guaranteed!  Whether you’re a fan of the good old fashioned ghost story, supernatural creature freatures, psychological horror, or just plain old gore, you can find something you’ll love on this list!  Again, this list is by no means comprehensive, so I’ve provided you with a few links to some great lists around the internet as well.  Also, don’t forget our subscription reader’s advisory database NoveList that you can access for FREE with your library card.  Enjoy!

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

Enjoy “this classic supernatural thriller by an author who helped define the genre.  First published in 1959, Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House has been hailed as a perfect work of unnerving terror.  It is the story of four seekers who arrive at a notoriously unfriendly pile called Hill House….At first, their stay seems destined to be merely a spooky encounter with inexplicable phenomena. But Hill House is gathering its powers–and soon it will choose one of them to make its own”.

A Dark Matter by Peter Straub

In this novel, “the incomparable master of horror and suspense” tells the tale of the Spenser Mallon, a charismative and cunning campus guru in the 1960s, attracting the devotion and demanding sexual favors of his young acolytes.  After he invites his most fervent followers to attend a secret ritual in a local meadow, the only thing that remains is a gruesomely dismembered body…

The Grin of the Dark by Ramsey Campbell

From another master of contemporary horror: “A former professor offers film critic Simon the chance of a lifetime–to write a book on one of the greatest long-lost comedians of the silent-film era, Tubby Thackeray.  Simon is determined to find out the truth behind the jolly fat man’s disappearance from film–and from the world.”

Hemlock Grove, or, The Wise Wolf by Brian McGreevy

This new release is “an epic, original reinvention of the Gothic novel, taking the characters of our greatest novels, myths, and nightmares–the werewolf, the vampire, Frankenstein–and reimagining them for our time”.

Infected by Scott Sigler

In this cross between sci-fi and horror, CIA operative Dew Phillips works together with CDC epidemiologist Margaret Montoya in a race to stop the spread of a mysterious disease that is turning ordinary people into murderers.  A former football player who has become infected with the deadly bioengineered parasite may carry the cure.  A great, fast-paced read for fans of books about the viral apocalypse.

Haunted: A Novel of Stories by Chuck Palahniuk

Like the title implies, Haunted is indeed a novel of twenty three stories, twenty-three of the most horrifying, hilarious, mind-blowing, stomach churning tales you’ll ever encounter–sometimes all at once.  The stories are told by people who have answered an ad headlined “Writers’ Retreat: Abandon Your Life for Three Months”, and who are led to believe that here they will leave hind all the distractions of ‘real life’ that are keeping them from creating the masterpiece that is in them.  Drawing from the literary tradition of the Villa Diodati (the event that led to the creation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein), this gore fest is definitely not for the faint of heart but is sure to entertain.

Rosemary’s Baby by Ira Levin

The classic horror story from Ira Levin (the movie directed by Roman Polanski is equally creepy).  Whe Rosemary’s Baby was first published in 1967, Ira Levin’s masterpiece gave horror an innocent new face.  It caused a worldwide sensation, found fear where we never thought to look before, and dared to bring it into the sunlight.  Do you dare to discover what all the fuss is about?

Pretty much anything by Stephen King, but if you’re new to the author, try Carrie, Salem’s Lot, or The Shining.  Stephen King is often called the master of horror fiction, and rightfully so.  His unique and powerful narrative voice never fails to connect with, and then terrify, the reader.  King is all about telling a story, and none of his stories disappoint.  These are three of his earlier classics, and are great for King newcomers.

House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski

This literary, postmodern, and stylistic horror novel is hard to describe, but many have called it the most terrifying thing they have ever read.  Here is a great review from Book List: “This stunning first effort is destined for fast-track cult status.  A photographers decides to create a film document of his family moving into a new home.  The project runs smoothly until the interior dimensions of the house turn out to be larger than the exterior. Over time, a maze of passageways appear and disappear, perhaps inhabited by an unseen malevolent creature”.  I stumbled across a review that said this book is as is Nabokov wrote the book version of The Blair Witch Project.

I Am Legend by Richard Matheson

Robert Neville may well be the last living man on Earth…but he is not alone.  An incurable plague has mutated every other man, woman, and child into bloodthirty, nocturnal creatures who are determined to destroy him.  By day, he is a hunter, stalking the infected monstrosities through the abandoned ruins of civilization.  By night, he barricades himself in his home and prays for dawn…

Want more? Check out these links…

FlavorWire’s List of 10 of the Creepiest Ghosts in Literature’s List of the 25 Best Horror Novels of the New Millennium

Charlie Higson’s Top Ten Horror Books @ The Guardian

Try for all things horror as well! Happy reading!

Weekly Spotlight On…Cult Classics in Literature

What, exactly, is cult fiction? In his book Classic Cult Fiction, Thomas Whissen defines it as “a reader-created genre. A cult book can appear within any type of literary genre–for instance, romance, mystery, science fiction–but will achieve cult status only on the basis of reader response. It has qualities that speak to a reader, who may feel that it has been written for him or her alone; yet this very personal appeal is widespread, and such a book may grow in popularity almost as an underground movement, inspiring a generation of readers and sometimes enduring as a mainstream classic.”

I was inspired to write this post by a list I stumbled across on Flavorwire called “10 Underrated Books Everyone Should Read”. When I scrolled through the list, I was ashamed to say that I had not heard of, much less read, a single one of the books on it. Click on the linked article title to see the full list.  The fall reading season is full of author heavyweights such as Michael Chabon, Junot Diaz, J.K. Rowling, Tom Wolfe, Barbara Kingsolver, Zadie Smith, Salman Rushdie, Justin Cronin…need I go on?  Sometimes a season filled with blockbuster names needs to be counterbalanced by something a little more unexpected.  Feel like going against the grain? Check out these books that many consider to be ‘literary cult classics’ and are guaranteed to satisfy the fiction reader:

My Uncle Oswald by Roald Dahl

Yes, Roald Dahl wrote books for adults.  Yes, his books and stories for adults are exceptionally weird, quirky, and in this case surreal.  Like J.K. Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy that just came out today, don’t expect this material to be child-friendly.  DO expect a work of fiction that is as highly imaginative as any of Dahl’s works for children.

Still Life With Woodpecker by Tom Robbins

Really, any Tom Robbins book will do, but this is considered to be one of his best.  Here is a short description: “Sort of a love story that takes place inside a pack of Camel cigarettes. It reveals the purpose of the moon, explains the difference between criminals and outlaws…and paints a portrait of contemporary society that includes powerful Arabs, exiled royalty, and pregnant cheerleaders. It also deals with the problem of redheads.” Who wouldn’t want to read this book?

A Canticle For Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr.

A true crosser of genre-boundaries, this book is science fiction, horror, and literary fiction all rolled into one.  Winner of the 1961 Hugo Award for Best Novel and widely considered one of the most accomplished, powerful, and enduring classics of modern speculative fiction, Walter M. Miller, Jr.’s A Canticle for Leibowitz is a true landmark of twentieth century literature — a chilling and still-provocative look at a post-apocalyptic future.

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig

While not a fiction book, this biography/memoir/philosophical work is also considered to be a ‘cult classic’.  A narration of a summer motorcycle trip undertaken by a father and his son, this book becomes a personal and philosophical odyssey into fundamental questions on how to live…the craft of motorcycle maintenance leads to an austerely beautiful process for reconciling science, religion, and humanism.

Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse

Also, pretty much anything by Hermann Hesse can be considered a cult classic.  This is a work of fiction but some would argue that it belongs just as much in the philosophy section.  This classic of twentieth-century literature chronicles the spiritual evolution of a man living in India at the time of the Buddha—a spiritual journey that has inspired generations of readers.

Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh

It accomplished for its own time and place what Hubert Selby, Jr.’s Last Exit to Brooklyn did for his. Rents, Sick Boy, Mother Superior, Swanney, Spuds, and Seeker are as unforgettable a clutch of junkies, rude boys, and psychos as readers will ever encounter. Trainspotting was made into the 1996 cult film starring Ewan MacGregor and directed by Danny Boyle.

The Dice Man by Luke Rineheart

Here is a book description of this interesting little book: “The cult classic that can still change your life!  Let the dice decide! This is the philosophy that changes the life of bored psychiatrist Luke Rhinehart — and in some ways changes the world as well.  Because once you hand over your life to the dice, anything can happen. Entertaining,humorous, scary, shocking, subversive, The Dice Man is one of the cult bestsellers of our time.”

The Killer Inside Me by Jim Thompson

Lou Ford is the deputy sheriff of a small town in Texas.  The worst thing most people can say against him is that he’s a little slow and a little boring.  But, then, most people don’t know about the sickness–the sickness that almost got Lou put away when he was younger.  The sickness that is about to surface again. An underground classic since its publication in 1952, The Killer Inside Me is the book that made Jim Thompson’s name synonymous with the roman noir.

Looking for more? I found this list from the Telegraph naming 50 cult classic books!

Weekly Spotlight On…Reading the Civil War

On Tuesday, October 2nd at 7pm, the River Forest Public Library will be exploring the Civil War with historian Robert Girardi in the Roosevelt Middle School auditorium.  The years 2011-2015 mark the Sesquicentennial celebration of the Civil War.  Girardi will be exploring, among other things, the nature of the Civil War and why it is something that still fascinates us 150 years later.  To get into the Civil War mindset, so to speak, I though it would be fun to create a list of fantastic fiction and nonfiction books that focus on the Civil War.  Happy reading!

Civil War Fiction Books

The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara

“The late Shaara’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel (1974) concerns the battle of Gettysburg and was the basis for the 1993 film Gettysburg. The events immediately before and during the battle are seen through the eyes of Confederate Generals Lee, Longstreet, and Armistead and Federal General Buford, Colonel Joshua L. Chamberlain, and a host of others.

The March by E.L. Doctorow

In 1864, after Union general William Tecumseh Sherman burned Atlanta, he marched his sixty thousand troops east through Georgia to the sea, and then up into the Carolinas. The army fought off Confederate forces and lived off the land, pillaging the Southern plantations…Only a master novelist could so powerfully and compassionately render the lives of those who marched.

Cloudsplitter by Russell Banks

Banks takes on one of American history’s most misunderstood figures, John Brown, whose October 1859 raid on the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia, crossed the line from civil protest to armed struggle, prefiguring the greatest conflagration in this country’s history. Narrated by the enigmatic abolitionist’s son Owen, the novel dazzlingly re-creates the fractured political and social landscape of pre-Civil War America.

Jacob’s Ladder: A Story of Virginia During the War by Donald McCaig

“A large, ambitious, carefully researched novel tracing the impact of the Civil War on a Virginia slave-owning family, their neighbors, and their slaves.” (Kirkus Reviews)

Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier

The movie does not do this beautifully written love story justice.  Based on local history and family stories passed down by the author’s great-great-grandfather, Cold Mountain is the tale of a wounded soldier Inman, who walks away from the ravages of the war and back home to his prewar sweetheart, Ada. Inman’s odyssey through the devastated landscape of the soon-to-be-defeated South interweaves with Ada’s struggle to revive her father’s farm, with the help of an intrepid young drifter named Ruby.

The Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All by Allan Gurganus

“Ninety-nine year old Lucille Marsden, confined to a charity nursing home in North Carolina, the story of her marriage to “Captain” Will Marsden, ostensibly the Civil War’s last survivor, whom she married when she was 15 and he was more than triple her age. She also tells about her husband’s experiences in the war and after, the burning of her mother-in-law’s plantation by Sherman’s men, and the abduction from Africa of a former Marsden slave, midwife to Lucy’s nine children as well as her best friend.” (Library Journal)

The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane

Considered to be one of the first classic Civil War novels, if you missed this one in school, pick it up now.  Young Henry Fleming had always dreamed of performing heroic deeds in battle. But as a raw recruit in the American Civil War, Henry experiences both fear and self-doubt. Will war make him a coward or a hero?

All Other Nights by Dara Horn

“A Civil War spy page-turner meets an exploration of race and religion in 19th-century America. Jacob Rappaport, the 19-year-old scion of a wealthy Jewish import-export family, flees home and enlists in the Union army to avoid an arranged marriage. When his superiors discover his unique connections, he is sent on espionage missions that reveal an American Jewish population divided by the Mason-Dixon line, but united by business, religious and family ties.” (Publisher’s Weekly)

The Amalgamation Polka by Stephen Wright

“Wright’s tale of the growth and travels of Liberty Fish, son of passionate upstate New York abolitionists but drawn to his slaveholding extended family, is an unusually captivating modernist novel set during the Civil War.” (Book List)

Coal Black Horse by Robert Olmstead

“A coming-of-age story whose grim background is the Civil War,  this work follows 14-year-old  Robey Childs on his quest to locate his father, a soldier in  that war. His mother’s premonition sets him on the journey, with  no money, no clear direction, and just a worn-out horse to ride.” (Library Journal)

Civil War Nonfiction

Southern Storm: Sherman’s March to the Sea by Noah Trudeau

Award-winning Civil War historian Noah Andre Trudeau has written a gripping, definitive new account that will stand as the last word on General William Tecumseh Sherman’s epic march—a targeted strategy aimed to break not only the Confederate army but an entire society as well.

Confederates in the Attic: Dispatches From the Unfinished Civil War by Tony Horwitz

“This is not a book about the Civil War; rather, it’s a book about how Americans — and particularly Southerners — think about the war today and how the war’s legacies continue to shape our lives.” ( I would also recommend Horwitz’s book about John Brown’s Raid: Midnight Rising: John Brown and the Raid that Sparked the Civil War.

This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War by Drew Faust

An illuminating study of the American struggle to comprehend the meaning and practicalities of death in the face of the unprecedented carnage of the Civil War.

Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era by James M. McPherson

“For many people, this is their favorite Civil War book. Awarded the Pulitzer Prize for history in 1989 for this book, James M. McPherson set out to tell the story of the Civil War in a single volume by writing a gripping narrative that relied on eyewitness accounts of the war and on the most recent scholarship in the field of Civil War studies. He achieved his goal admirably and with great flourish.” (

Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory by David W. Blight

David W. Blight’s book, published in 2001, explores how the past is connected to the present by looking at the ways in which Americans have remembered the Civil War.

Landscape Turned Red: The Battle of Antietam by Stephen Sears

“On Sept. 17, 1862, the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, under the command of Robert E. Lee, clashed in Maryland with the Union Army of the Potomac, led by George B. McClellan, in what would turn out to be the single bloodiest day of the Civil War and in all of American history….Stephen W. Sears conveys all the human drama of the battle, skillfully shifting from generals to soldiers in the ranks to reconstruct the battle through the eyes of the men who fought it.” (

April 1865: The Month That Saved America by Jay Winik

April 1865 was a month that could have unraveled the nation. Instead, it saved it. Here Jay Winik offers a brilliant new look at the Civil War’s final days that will forever change the way we see the war’s end and the nation’s new beginning. Uniquely set within the larger sweep of history, filled with rich profiles of outsize figures, fresh iconoclastic scholarship, and a gripping narrative, this is a masterful account of the thirty most pivotal days in the life of the United States.

The Civil War: A Narrative by Shelby Foote

Considered to be one of the most definitive works of the Civil War, this large three volume set that covers (1) Fort Sumter to Perryville, (2) Fredericksburg to Meridian, and (3) Red River to Appomattox is known not only for its rich historical detail but also for its powerful prose narrative power.  While sitting down with these books is a committment, you will not be disappointed.

The Civil War: An Illustrated History by Geoffrey Ward

The complete text of the bestselling narrative history of the Civil War–based on the celebrated PBS television series. This illustrated edition interweaves the author’s narrative with the voices of the men and women who lived through that cataclysmic trail of our nationhood, from Abraham Lincoln to ordinary foot soldiers. Includes essays by distinguished historians of the era.

Civil War Wives:: The Lives and Times of Angelina Grimke Weld, Varina Howell Davis, and Julia Dent Grant by Carol Berkin

Here are the life stories of three women who connect us to our national past and provide windows onto a social and political landscape that is strangely familiar yet shockingly foreign. Berkin focuses on three “accidental heroes” who left behind sufficient records to allow their voices to be heard clearly and to allow us to see the world as they did. Though they held no political power themselves, all three had
access to power and unique perspectives on events of their time.