Current Picks: Book Reviews

Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay

Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay (2007)
It’s popular with book clubs. Colleagues have raved. When I saw Sarah’s Key on the Friends shelf on the eve of my trip to Paris, it seemed perfect.

Set in Paris, Sarah’s Key alternates between 1942 and 2002. The novel is centered on a forgotten tragedy in Parisian history – the Vel d’Hiv roundup – when thousands of French men, women, and children of Jewish descent were rounded up by the French police, stripped of their possessions, and sent to concentration camps.

In the 1942 chapters, we see the tragedy unfold in occupied Paris through the eyes of 10-year-old Sarah. In 2002, we follow an expat American journalist who discovers a story larger and more complicated than she imagined.

The hype is well-deserved. A one sitting read. Have a tissue handy.

Watch the trailer of the movie version Sarah's Key.

Bossypants by Tina Fey

Bossypants by Tina Fey (2011)
I loved listening to this book on CD. It was narrated by the author, Tina Fey, probably best known for her impersonation of Sarah Palin during the 2008 presidential election. She’s also been the head writer on Saturday Night Live; writes and stars in the TV series 30 Rock; and has written and/or starred in a number of films. She talks about getting her start in comedy in Chicago with the Second City troupe.

There are many laugh-out-loud moments throughout the book, and she delivers them perfectly.  She’s gutsy, intelligent, and irreverently funny, with a no-holds-barred attitude about most things. Highly recommend this for anyone who wants a good laugh, although there is “adult language” which may offend some people.

-Denise

Comedian Tina Fey entertains in her well-written memoir covering her personal life plus her stints at Chicago’s Second City, Saturday Night Live, and 30 Rock. I suggest listening to the audiobook narrated by Fey. Even if you haven’t followed her career, it’s easy to relate to this down to earth comedian and actress. I burst out laughing during her recollections of her childhood and her honeymoon as well as her responses to mean-spirited comments.

Wondering about the cover? Check out this interview with the hand model.
-Jennifer

For more about the book, check out TIME, NPR, Entertainment Weekly, and The New York Times.

Baking Cakes in Kigali by Gaile Parkin

Baking Cakes in Kigali by Gaile Parkin (2009)
A beautifully written novel set in Rwanda, Baking Cakes in Kigali eloquently demonstrates that life isn’t always black and white. Angel is a baker with a booming cake business; she is a wife; and she is a mother to her five orphaned grandchildren.

The family moves from Tanzania to Rwanda for better opportunities. They settle in a community of people from all walks of life – aid workers from the West, refugees trying to rebuild, and so many affected by AIDS.

Check out this debut author’s thought-provoking and enjoyable story set in a foreign land. If you enjoy Alexander McCall Smith’s The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series, I think you’ll like this book.

Spotlight: The Spellmans by Lisa Lutz

Spotlight: The Spellmans by Lisa Lutz
Lisa Lutz
created a delightfully zany family in the Spellmans. Follow their hilarious antics in the quartet: The Spellman Files, Curse of the Spellmans, Revenge of the Spellmans, and The Spellmans Strike Again.

Although the Spellmans own a PI firm, the dysfunctional family spends more time spying on each other. Narrator Isabel “Izzy” Spellman is the 20-something middle daughter who never starts a story at the beginning. Following her train of thought is half the fun. The supporting cast, from the other Spellmans to the octogenarian lawyer and 40ish police detective, contributes to the entertaining atmosphere.

While the final book seemed to wrap up the series, it appears the Spellmans will be making another appearance in 2012.

If you like Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series, try The Spellman Files. And for other books like these, check out our booklist.

The Garden Intrigue by Lauren Willig (2012)

Augustus Whittlesby writes dreadful (yet entertaining) poetry – and has done so for more than a decade to aid the British cause. As a spy stationed in Napoleon’s France, Whittlesby’s ridiculous ramblings provide an excellent cover. Widowed American Emma Delagardie, friend to Napoleon’s stepdaughter and cousin to the American envoy, finds herself ensconced in the Paris social scene. The pair is thrown together when the newly crowned emperor requests a masque at his manor home, Malmaison.

Between uncovering a plot to invade England, exchanging delightful letters, and discovering a mysterious weapon, Augustus and Emma embark on the adventure of a lifetime. The Garden Intrigue is a must for fans of historical fiction, plus those who enjoy mystery and romance.

Although it’s the ninth installment of the Pink Carnation series, you can jump in with this delightful concoction. If you want to start at the beginning, check out The Secret History of the Pink Carnation (and check out my review of that title here).

Join us during National Library Week on Wednesday, April 11 at 7:00pm for an appearance by Lauren Willig. She’ll talk about the Pink Carnation series, answer your questions, and sign books. Anderson’s of Downers Grove will be present to sell books. Reserve your spot today at calendar.ippl.info!

For more more books by Lauren Willing check out our catalog.
 
 

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer (2005)

It’s more depressing than what I usually read – and sadder than what I typically enjoy. And yet, I couldn’t put it down. As Library Journal said, “It’s hard to believe that such an inherently sad story could be so entertaining, but Foer’s writing lightens the load.”

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is a rambling account from nine-year-old Oskar Schell, who is precocious, smart, and in a whole world of pain. His dad died on 9/11. When Oskar discovers a mysterious key in his dad’s closet, he embarks on a quest to solve one more riddle from his father.

Oskar is endearing and exasperating. The story is funny and sad, heartwarming and heartbreaking. The book has pages with an intimidating single block of text and pages with a single word. It is engrossing. And it made me want to hug my family.

Give this book a try – you won’t regret it.

Check the catalog for Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close and other books by Jonathan Safran Foer.

Paris in Love by Eloisa James (2012)

Shakespeare professor (as Mary Bly) and romance novelist Eloisa James takes a yearlong sabbatical and moves from New Jersey to Paris with her husband (Alessandro, a professor and an Italian knight) and two children (Luca, 15 and Anna, 11).

It's difficult to describe this book. It's a memoir. A travelogue. A love letter to the City of Light. A chronicle of everyday family occurrences. But it's done in such a way that draws you in and makes you feel as if you're there alongside Eloisa and her family in Paris. Anna will steal your heart. The antics of Milo, the family dog, will leave you chuckling.

The book grew out of Facebook status updates posted during her year abroad. Each chapter starts with a brief essay and is followed by short vignettes. Some are only a few sentences long; others are lengthy paragraphs. It works.

The writing is eloquent and witty. Although the format lends itself to reading in short spurts, you won't want to put this book down!

Read Paris in Love today! Also check out a TIME Magazine interview with the author about her famous parents, her writing life, and her decision to move to Paris.

Watch the author and her husband discuss the book and see some of Luca’s snapshots of Paris in this YouTube video.

I've Got Your Number by Sophie Kinsella (2012)

Going on vacation? Or just need to get away for a few hours? Pick up Sophie Kinsella's latest standalone novel -- it's the perfect escape.

Poppy Wyatt is the loveable heroine who, a week before her wedding, loses her antique engagement ring and her cell phone, then finds a discarded phone. And craziness and hilarity ensue.

She's desperately trying to hide the fact that she lost a family heirloom from her fiancé and his family, plus finalize wedding preparations. Oh, and that cell phone? It belongs to businessman Sam Roxton -- who doesn't appreciate Poppy interfering in his personal and professional life.

Enjoy the texts and emails between Sam and Poppy. Avid texters and Facebook users will appreciate the conversation more. And I love the footnotes -- another way for Poppy to share her wry observations. The secondary characters and the Scrabble games will bring a smile to your face. Read the novel without taking it too seriously -- suspending disbelief makes it an entertaining diversion for an afternoon.

Pick up a copy of I've Got Your Number today and get lost in this fun romance.

If You Were Here by Jen Lancaster (2011)

Do you have a mild obsession with HGTV? Not a huge fan of the Twilight craze? Then you'll probably enjoy the hilarious and often painful story of Mia and Mac and their first foray into home ownership and renovation

Mia writes Amish zombie romances for teens and shares scathing thoughts of "rival" Stephenie Meyer. She also has a deep abiding love for all things John Hughes...which proves to be her downfall. Ready to escape a crazy situation in a rental house in Chicago, Mia decides it's time to find her dream house in the suburbs. And that's when the nightmare begins.

Throughout the book, Lancaster makes several nods to Hughes and his trademarks. It's often laugh-out-loud funny. If You Were Here is a good beach read. And while I haven't read her memoirs, you can get an idea of her writing style by visiting her blog, Jennsylvania.

Check out If You Were Here by Jen Lancaster today.

 

Jasmine Nights by Julia Gregson (2012)

Settle in and get swept away in this lush globetrotting tale set in 1942. As British fighter pilot Dominic Benson is recovering in a hospital, he is mesmerized by talented singer Saba Tarcan. The daughter of a Turkish engineer and a Welsh mother, Saba defied her family to audition for the Entertainments National Service Association (ENSA). Her duties for ENSA are supplemented by a few side jobs for the British secret service

Their paths continue to cross as they travel to Cairo, Alexandria, and Istanbul to serve their country. With an engaging cast of characters and richly described settings, this is one historical novel you don’t want to miss. Read Jasmine Nights by Julia Gregson for a different perspective of World War II.

For one performer’s experiences of serving with ENSA, read this article from the BBC: here.

Harry Potter, Page to Screen: The Complete Filmmaking Journey by Bob McCabe (2011)

A must read for fans of Harry Potter and also recommended for movie buffs.

Harry Potter, Page to Screen details just about every aspect of the eight films. Learn how they cast the characters (and the directors); find out how they made Hagrid so tall; read a copy of The Daily Prophet; and discover how Daniel Radcliffe filmed the underwater scenes for Goblet of Fire. The author was on set for a time, so look for interviews with several of the cast and crew, plus exclusive photographs.

This hefty tome weighs over seven pounds and is over 500 pages long. And although I read the book all the way through (over the course of a month), you don't have to. It's great to page through and browse the pictures or artwork that interests you. Find the little details such as the glossy images underlying the text and the symbols used throughout the book.

The book contains chapters on each movie, then explores the art of Harry Potter with behind-the-scenes looks at characters, locations, creatures, and artifacts. Those interested in movie-making will enjoy the detail given to costuming, prop making, digital effects, and set design. It's amazing how much work goes into each detail. And the book itself is truly a visual treat.

Are you ready for J. K. Rowling’s newest book? Put yourself on hold for The Casual Vacancy today – it’s being released at the end of September.
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Size 12 and Ready to Rock by Meg Cabot (2012

After a five year wait, Heather Wells finally returns in Size 12 and Ready to Rock, the latest installment of this chick lit mystery series by Meg Cabot. Don’t worry if you haven’t read the previous three books – or, like me, you don’t remember the specifics – it’s easy to jump back into Heather’s zany life.

At 15, Heather Wells was a famous pop star who traveled the globe. At 30, she’s the assistant residence hall director at Fischer Hall (aka “Death Dorm”) in NYC. There’s another dead body and another mystery to solve, but more importantly, plenty of humor. I think I had a smile on my face for much of the novel. Escape for a few hours with this entertaining and engaging story.

To see how it all began, check out my review of Size 12 is Not Fat. And for more chick lit, check out our book list.

Summer at Tiffany by Marjorie Hart (2007)

Summer at Tiffany is a delightful portrait of a moment in time. During the summer of 1945, Marjorie and her roommate Marty leave the University of Iowa for New York City. While jobs aren't quite as easy to procure as promised, they get hired as the first female pages (runners) at Tiffany’s flagship store.

More than 60 years later, Marjorie recounts that special summer: celebrity sightings (Judy Garland and Marlene Dietrich – did you know her role in WWII?), saving pennies for a few treats, dancing with soldiers, her own summer romance, and experiencing V-J Day in Times Square.

When I think of 1945, World War II immediately comes to mind. Marjorie's story is a different slice of that year. As she said, everyone she knew was affected. Yet the story she shares is a 21-year-old small town girl experiencing the big city for the first time.

 

MWF Seeking BFF: My Yearlong Search for a New Best Friend by Rachel Bertsche (2011)

In this funny and engaging memoir, 27-year-old Rachel Bertsche details her quest for new friends in a new city. After moving to Chicago with her boyfriend, Bertsche realizes that her close friends are scattered across the country. In an effort to find her next best friend, Bertsche joins cooking classes, meet ups, and improv classes and then schedules 52 friend “dates” throughout the year.

With a witty tone, Bertsche interweaves her experiences with research from friendship experts. Entertaining and a little bit educational. Check out MWF Seeking BFF to read more of her story. And before you get the book, read the blog that started it all.

Hungry Girl to the Max by Lisa Lillien (2012)

Cooking is not my strong suit. So I was excited to discover Hungry Girl (aka Lisa Lillien) – she creates easy-to-follow (and healthy!) recipes. In her latest book, Hungry Girl to the Max, she covers everything from breakfast to dessert with party treats mixed in. The 650 recipes include hundreds of new recipes plus reprints of old favorites. I absolutely love the white lasagna and buffalo chicken salad. Next, I think I’ll try one of the foil packs. Visit her website to see chapter breakdowns and photos of the recipes.