Current Picks: Book Reviews

The Pluto Files by Neil deGrasse Tyson

The Pluto Files: the rise and fall of America’s favorite planet by Neil deGrasse Tyson (2009)
Noted astrophysicist and Hayden Planetarium director Tyson gives a fascinating and humorous account of America’s love affair with Pluto. Using illustrations to entertain and to educate, the book provides an enticing mixture of scientific fact and funny anecdotes.

Learn about the history of Pluto, when it became a planet (and how that coincided with a famous Disney dog), and when Pluto (the planet) was demoted.

Read an interview with Tyson in TIME Magazine or listen to an interview on NPR. Visit the author’s website to watch video clips from appearances on Jon Stewart, Jay Leno, and PBS; read an excerpt; and learn more about the topic.

The Secret History of the Pink Carnation by Lauren Willig

The Secret History of the Pink Carnation by Lauren Willig (2005)
American grad student Eloise Kelly travels to England to conduct research for her dissertation (and to get over a cheating boyfriend). She’s fascinated by the spies (with flowery aliases) who saved England during the Napoleonic era and is trying to solve one of history’s greatest mysteries: the identity of the Pink Carnation.

Most of the story takes place in the early 1800s. Amy Balcourt travels to France to join the League of the Purple Gentian. She wants to avenge her parents’ deaths and dreams up schemes to defeat Napoleon. Lord Richard Selwick – aka the Purple Gentian – isn’t quite prepared for Amy (nor does he reveal his secret identity). Several English citizens work to stop Napoleon’s nefarious plot to invade England – the Pink Carnation among them – but you’ll have to read the book to discover the spy’s identity! The author’s debut, The Secret History of the Pink Carnation, is the first in a series.

I think Meg Cabot describes it best: “This genre-bending read—a dash of chick-lit with a historical twist—has it all: romance, mystery, and adventure.”

High Crimes by Joseph Finder

High Crimes by Joseph Finder (1998)
Claire Heller Chapman – a high-powered attorney and Harvard law professor – is shocked when a quiet dinner with her husband, Tom, and her daughter ends with Tom being chased by and eluding FBI agents. When he is apprehended, Tom is accused of committing a heinous crime during his stint in the Army’s Special Forces thirteen years ago.

As Claire prepares to defend Tom in a military court, she uncovers government conspiracies that touch all levels of military brass. Her diligence may cost Claire her reputation and her life – and the hits just keep coming. Just when you think it can’t get any worse, you’re in for another surprise, right up till the very last page.

Preview the book, meet the author on YouTube and visit the author's website for reviews and more. Also check out the movie based on the book, starring Ashely Judd and Morgan Freeman.

Rosie Dunne by Cecelia Ahern

Rosie Dunne by Cecelia Ahern (2005)
Rosie and Alex are meant for each other. And yet life keeps getting in the way. Follow the pair through letters, notes, instant messages, and emails. Laugh at their correspondence with each other and with their friends and family.

These childhood friends become long distance pen pals when Alex moves from Dublin to Boston. Plans to reunite are constantly thwarted. College happens, then marriage, births, and deaths. And yet they keep in touch. Watch Alex and Rosie grow from childhood to middle age and find out if fate helps them finally get together.

Read reviews at Amazon.com and visit the author's website.

Vienna 1814 by David King

Vienna 1814: how the conquerors of Napoleon made love, war, and peace at the Congress of Vienna by David King (2008)
After defeating Napoleon in 1814, the European powers convened in Vienna to determine the fate of Europe. The Congress of Vienna turned into the party of the century; royalty and diplomats traveled to represent their countries, but courtesans, tradesmen and others flocked to Vienna to get a piece of the pie.

Instead of being an open meeting of dignitaries, the Congress became a cesspool of backstabbing, underhanded dealings, and romantic liaisons. After six months of squabbling (accomplishing little), Europe had a bigger problem: Napoleon escaped Elba.

Read about how this seemingly unproductive conference led to the Battle of Waterloo, and how that led to a “spirit of cooperation” that remains unsurpassed.

Visit RandomHouse.com to read an excerpt, reviews, and more.

The Blind Side by Michael Lewis


The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game by Michael Lewis (2006)
Read the incredible true story of Baltimore Ravens lineman Michael Oher (pronounced OAR). One of thirteen children born to a crack addict mother, Oher spent his formative years on the streets of Memphis – times where neither the state nor the schools had any record of his existence.

But through a chance meeting with the Tuohy family at Briarcrest Christian High School, Oher becomes part of a family, attends school regularly, plays sports – and gets a chance in life. It’s a powerful story with many great messages (although I did skim over the lengthy descriptions of the development of the left tackle in the NFL).

Listen to an interview with the author and read an excerpt from the book at NPR.com. Be sure to check out the YouTube video A Diamond in the Rough. And have you heard? The film of the same name has been nominated for two Academy Awards (Best Picture and Best Actress -- Sandra Bullock).

I Can See You by Karen Rose

I Can See You by Karen Rose (2009)
When the lines between virtual reality and real life blur, psychology grad student Eve Wilson gets drawn into a police investigation and catches the attention of a serial killer. While conducting a study of an online role-playing game, Eve discovers several participants have been murdered. Together with Detective Noah Webster, Eve’s in a race against time to stop the killer from claiming another victim. Filled with lots of twists, turns, and surprises, I Can See You keeps you on the edge of your seat from beginning to end.

Visit the author's website, check out her interview on YouTube and read reviews at Amazon.com.

The Girl Who Chased the Moon by Sarah Addison Allen

The Girl Who Chased the Moon by Sarah Addison Allen (2010)
In this delightful confection of a novel, “strange and wondrous things” happen in Mullaby, North Carolina. Teenager Emily Benedict comes to her mother’s hometown to live with her grandfather (who happens to be eight feet tall). Her wallpaper changes to suit her mood. She sees the “Mullaby lights” (which no one will explain) in her backyard. When she meets Win Coffey, the locals won’t tell her why they shouldn’t be friends.

Julie Winterson is an avid baker running her late father’s BBQ joint with a plan to get out of town. Sawyer’s “sweet sense” is triggered whenever Julie is baking cakes. The two have a shared past – and Julie has her secrets – but can they move on?

In this magical town where not everything can be explained and strange happenings are simply accepted, two women find what they’ve been looking for.

Visit the author’s website for excerpts, tidbits, recipes, and more!

Darkly Dreaming Dexter by Jeff Lindsay

Darkly Dreaming Dexter by Jeff Lindsay (2004)
Dexter Morgan is a lab tech for the Miami Police Department. He’s also a serial killer. It’s okay, though, because he only murders bad guys. But when a new series of murders bears a startling resemblance to Dexter’s work, he gets a little nervous.

Darkling Dreaming Dexter is the first in a series. It’s also the basis for the hit TV show Dexter (find seasons 1-3 at the library).

Visit the author's website to read an excerpt, find a reading guide, and more.

While the library is closed...

...there will be no new book recommendations. We will resume blogging after the library reopens on November 11. In the interim, please don't forget to browse the archives -- over the past 3 years, we've posted almost 400 suggestions. Just go to the right side of the page to browse by subject or by month. Also visit our website for more book recommendations -- our lists of All Time Faves include Chicago Fiction, Chick Lit, and Legal Thrillers. Enjoy!

And don't forget -- you can still request items while we're closed. We'll contact you when the item is ready for pick up.

A Long, Long Time Ago and Essentially True by Brigid Pasulka

A Long, Long Time Ago and Essentially True by Brigid Pasulka (2009)
Spanning the second half of the 20th century, this first novel tells the heartbreaking yet uplifting story of Poland. One thread of the story is set around WWII in a small village. A man nicknamed the Pigeon courts a beauty called Anielica. The second thread occurs in the early 1990s after the fall of communism – when the Pigeon and Anielica’s granddaughter leaves the village to explore Krakow.

A beautifully written story, A Long, Long Time Ago and Essentially True will make you laugh, cry, and want to find the nearest Polish restaurant (it may also inspire a visit to Poland itself). The whimsical cover is a good representation of the story within.

Brigid Pasulka is a local author teaching at Whitney Young. She was awarded the Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award. Read a bio of the author, reviews of the book and an excerpt at BookBrowse.com. Check out Shelf Life's interview with the author.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot (2010)
An engaging and thought-provoking read, this book tells the complicated story of a poor black woman who died of cervical cancer in the 1950s, her cells, and the scientific revolution they spawned. Henrietta Lacks was treated at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, where doctors removed some of her cancerous cells without her knowledge.

Known as HeLa (pronounced hee lah), Henrietta’s cells were the first “immortal” human cells. They keep growing – today, 60 years after her death, scientists still perform experiments on HeLa cells. Henrietta’s family had no knowledge of her impact on science until more than 20 years later; and even then, did not fully comprehend.

Skloot skillfully weaves the tragic story of generations of Lackses with understandable scientific information. Check out the author’s website for more on her journey and the book. Named the best book of 2010 by Amazon.com, it’s also a top ten pick of Publishers Weekly and Library Journal.

Attention 20-30somethings! We’re discussing this book at GenLit on Tuesday, January 18 at 6:30. We meet for dinner and discussion at Cooper’s Hawk in the Burr Ridge Village Center. Find us on Facebook to learn more.

Russian Winter by Daphne Kalotay

Russian Winter by Daphne Kalotay (2010)
Alternating between 1950s Moscow and present day Boston, Russian Winter tells the story of prima ballerina Nina Revskaya. The tale set in Moscow gives a (fictional) firsthand account of life under Stalin in communist Russia. Even with a semi-privileged life as a respected dancer, Nina was never totally safe – wondering who was spying, who was talking, and aware that one small action could change everything.

In present day Boston, Nina has decided to auction her jewelry collection and donate the proceeds to support the arts. We get three points of view – Nina, auction house organizer Drew, and Russian professor Grigori. Their lives will be intertwined in unexpected ways. A sad, yet beautiful and engrossing story from a debut author, Russian Winter is a hard book to put down. It ended too soon.

Visit the Tottenville Review for an interview with the author.

Soulless by Gail Carriger

Soulless by Gail Carriger (2009)
Set in Victorian London, Soulless follows Alexia Tarabotti – a spinster with a secret. She’s a preternatural – without a soul – and her abilities cancel out the powers of other supernatural creatures.

It sounds farfetched, but Gail Carriger creates vivid characters and sharp humor that draw you in. I admit I don’t usually read and enjoy books with vampires, werewolves, and alternate history, but I was hooked. There’s a mystery to solve, a romance to enjoy, and secondary characters to follow.

A fun read and a good introduction to steampunk! If you enjoy Soulless, check out the next two books in the Parasol Protectorate: Changeless and Blameless.

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand (2010)
They say it takes a village to raise a child. Based on the eight pages of acknowledgments by the author, it can take a village to tell a story. And what a powerful, amazing, awesome story it is…

Born in 1917, Louie Zamperini was a precocious child, a prankster, and later a runner. He smashed California track records as a student at USC and raced at the 1936 Berlin Olympics.
During World War II, as a bombardier in the Army Air Corps, he flew combat missions in the Pacific Theater. On May 27, 1943, his B-24 crashed into the ocean. Louie and pilot Alan Phillips survived 47 days at sea, only to be captured by the Japanese.

Unbroken is the unbelievable story of Louie. The detail is amazing yet not overwhelming. Hillenbrand (author of Seabiscuit) has a wonderful storytelling ability that makes 400 pages fly by. And her story is fascinating in its own right. For over half her life, she has suffered from chronic fatigue syndrome. This Newsweek article provides more about Hillenbrand, her relationship with Louie, and the book.