Current Picks: Book Reviews

The Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick (2008)

I was motivated to pick up The Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick after seeing the previews for the movie adaptation starring Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence. I was not disappointed.

34-year-old Pat Peoples believes in silver linings despite his 4+ years in a mental institution, his “apart time” from his wife, and his underperforming Philadelphia Eagles. When he returns home, his father won’t talk to him, his mother is overly accommodating, and his friend Ronnie attempts to help by introducing his sister-in-law Tiffany.

In this quirky and heartening novel, Pat’s stream-of-conscious narration provides a unique perspective on life (including a hilarious take on classic literature). Nancy Pearl calls the novel “heartwarming, humorous, and soul-satisfying.”
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A Vintage Affair by Isobel Wolff (2010)

I’m so glad I finally read A Vintage Affair – Mary P. recommended it to me years ago! The delightful story follows thirty-something Londoner Phoebe Swift. After a personal tragedy, Phoebe leaves her safe job at Sotheby’s auction house to open a vintage clothing shop (the descriptions of the clothing are amazing!). An unexpected friendship with the elderly Mrs. Bell introduces a story of wartime France. For

It reminded me a bit of Sarah’s Key by Tatiana De Rosnay. And it brought to mind a slightly serious chick lit tale. However you want to classify it, this charming tale was a pleasing way to spend a few hours. Check out our list of other British Chick Lit titles. And for more books with an element of fashion, read this Library Journal article.
 

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys (2012)

Enlightening. Educational. Moving. Resilience. Cold. These are just a few of the words members of the GenLit Book Group used to describe Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys. Horrifying yet heartwarming, the book traces 15-year-old Lina’s journey during a little-known part of history.

In 1941 Lithuania, Stalin and the Soviet secret police started deporting men, women, and children he considered a threat. Teachers, musicians, artists, doctors, lawyers, and servicemen were exiled for alleged anti-Soviet activities.

Lina and her family were forcibly removed from their home and transferred to a Siberian labor camp. Their experiences represent those of the hundreds of thousands deported from 1941 to 1953. Sepetys writes a bleak, moving tale of historical fiction; she drew inspiration from her own family’s history.
Definitely worth the read, but have a tissue handy!

Dream Team by Jack McCallum (2012)

In Dream Team: how Michael, Magic, Larry, Charles, and the greatest team of all time conquered the world and changed the game of basketball forever, sportswriter Jack McCallum presents a behind-the-scenes look at the creation and execution of the greatest basketball team ever assembled. I was eight during the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona, so my memory of the events is a bit sketchy. I loved learning about the politics behind the creation of the team (ever wonder why Isaiah Thomas wasn’t invited?), the antics of the players in Monte Carlo and Barcelona, and their post-retirement lives. I grew up idolizing Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen– this is a great glimpse into one part of their storied careers.

The author interviewed each member of the team in 2011, plus he was part of the contingent of journalists following the team in 1992 (and a basketball writer for Sports Illustrated in the years before and after). There’s at least one chapter on each member of the team: 11 of the 12 members of the 1992 Dream Team are members of the Hall of Fame (mindboggling, isn’t it?).

Want to learn more about the Dream Team? Check out a NBA.com article complete with images and video clips.

Enjoy this clip of the Dream Team’s Hall of Fame enshrinement speech:

Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys (2013)

I was excited to read Out of the Easy after I finished Ruta Sepetys' first novel (and if you were discouraged by the depressing nature of Between Shades of Gray, this one isn’t quite as dark). Her sophomore effort features Josie Moraine, a strong, spunky teen trying to improve her circumstances in 1950s New Orleans. Surrounding Josie is a colorful cast of characters from all walks of life.

I love the way Ruta Sepetys writes a story, but she always leaves me wanting just a little bit more. In both Between Shades of Gray and Out of the Easy, there are a few plot points I wish she had addressed. Overall, though, I highly recommend her novels – while they’re classified for teens, I think people of all ages will fall in love with her characters and settings.

Check out Jennifer's review of Between Shades of Gray.

 
 

The Girls of Atomic City: the untold story of the women who helped win World War II by Denise Kiernan (2013)

Shrouded in secrecy, Oak Ridge didn't officially exist despite its population of over 70,000 residents at its peak in 1945. Denise Kiernan unveils the amazing true story of the government’s efforts to harvest fuel for the atomic bomb by building industrial factories – and an entire town – from scratch in rural Tennessee. As a history major with an avid interest in World War II, I had never heard of this – so I’m guessing many others are unaware of this aspect of the Manhattan Project.
The Girls of Atomic City traces the lives of several women working in Oak Ridge for the war effort – which is about all they knew: that their job would help end the war, but no more. Workers were given just enough information to properly complete their jobs. Part military base (guards patrolled entrances), part small town America, Oak Ridge housed military and medical personnel, scientists, and skilled and unskilled laborers from all walks of life from across the United States.

Read this book – it provides a fascinating glimpse into a little known part of American history and effortlessly weaves history, science, biography, and ethics through vignettes about several strong women.

The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith (2013)

When the news broke the J. K. Rowling had released a mystery under a pseudonym, I (like millions of others) rushed to see what The Cuckoo’s Calling was about. The premise sounded interesting: a disabled veteran turned PI investigates the alleged suicide of a supermodel in contemporary London.

This was the only book I read on my weeklong vacation. It was engrossing with sympathetic characters, a fascinating mystery with twists and turns, and those fabulous descriptions that Harry Potter fans will recognize. Robert Galbraith garnered great reviews even before the Rowling connection was revealed. I can’t wait to read the next book in the series (due in 2014) featuring PI Cormoran Strike and his very capable assistant Robin.

The Girl You Left Behind by Jojo Moyes (2013)

An enthralling novel that travels from WWI France to present day London, The Girl You Left Behind will captivate you. In 1916, Sophie is living in a French town controlled by German soldiers; her most prized position is a portrait painted by her husband. In 2006, widow Liv must fight to keep her beloved honeymoon gift after the painting becomes the center of a restitution battle.

The latest from Jojo Moyes (after Me Before You) is a quick read that I couldn’t put down. If you enjoyed Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay or The Art Forger by Barbara Shapiro, I think you’ll love this book

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion (2013)

I loved Graeme Simsion’s debut novel The Rosie Project. The characters are loveable, the writing witty, and the plot quirky. When genetics professor Don Tillman decides that it’s time to get married, he devises a complex questionnaire dubbed “The Wife Project” to find the right woman. Instead, he meets Rosie Jarman, who fits none of his requirements.

While there is a romance at the center of this story, it’s more about characters growing and changing, and about human interaction. Don’s behavior presents a classic case of Asperger’s, but he is oblivious to any social challenges. You’ll fall in love with Don and Rosie, and frantically turn the pages to follow along on their journey.

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline (2011)

Set in 2044 in a sad shell of America, Ready Player Onefollows the quest of Wade Watts. Reality is so horrible that the majority of the population spends the bulk of their waking hours in the OASIS, a virtual reality. When James Halliday, owner and founder of OASIS, dies without an heir, the contest begins: whoever can complete the three tasks first wins a fortune.

In a world filled with 80s trivia and nostalgia where the lines between what’s real and what’s not blur, Wade embarks on an epic adventure that will keep you turning the pages of Ernest Cline’s debut until you reach the satisfying conclusion.

 
 
 

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein (2012)

Code Name VerityI’ve never been so tempted to flip to the end to find out what happened. But I resisted and instead frantically turned the pages of this gripping and unforgettable story of a pair of young women who forge a bond during wartime.

Told in a series of written entries, the story unfolds from the perspective of a British spy captured by Germans in Nazi-occupied France in 1943. Code Name Verity is an irresistible mix of suspense, adventure, and historical fiction. Every time you think you’ve figured out the story, the plot twists again. While on the edge of your seat, you’ll laugh and cry along with the engrossing characters created by Elizabeth Wein.

Wein followed up Verity with Rose Under Fire. We've also created a list of WWII novels.

 

The Sun and Other Stars by Brigid Pasulka (2014)

Brigid Pasulka's sophomore effort delights as much as her debut (A Long, Long Time Ago and Essentially True). We leave Poland for a small village on the Italian coast where soccer is king. 22-year-old Etto is struggling after the deaths of his mother and twin brother. He and his father run their butcher shop with minimal communication. It isn't until a disgraced Ukrainian soccer star and his family come to town that life begins to change.

In this lush and lyrical tale, the residents of San Benedetto come vividly to life. The Sun and Other Stars is an engaging story of loss, healing, community, passion, friendship, and love that will keep you turning the pages well into the night.

Meet the author! On Thursday, February 27 at 7pm, Brigid Pasulka will be at Indian Prairie to discuss her work, answer your questions, and sign books. Barbara’s Bookstore in Burr Ridge will be selling books. Register here: http://bit.ly/1iPM58h
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The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History by Robert M. Edsel and Brett Witter (2009)

My grandfather was a WWII veteran, plus I've always been fascinated by history. He spent time in Hawaii, New Guinea, and the Philippines, so my explorations of the war focused primarily on the home front and the Pacific theater.

My forays into WWII fiction covered Poland, England, and France, among others, but I had never before considered this slice of history. What happened to the irreplaceable artwork during wartime? Robert M. Edsel (with Brett Witter) explores that question in this fascinating study of a group of monuments men. In the real world, they were architects, museum directors, and conservationists. Now, they were racing across Europe in a war zone to preserve cultural treasures.

I love a personal take on history. It's why I'm a fan of Unbroken, The Girls of Atomic City, and The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. The Monuments Men is another exhilarating tale from the front lines. It's a gripping combination of art, history, biography, war, and adventure.

Oh, and George Clooney turned it into a movie. Learn more about these heroes.
 

The Divorce Papers by Susan Rieger (2014)

I had a smile on my face the entire time I was reading Susan Rieger’s debut The Divorce Papers – except when I was tearing up over those poignant moments. This epistolary novel quickly became a favorite read.

29 year-old Sophie is a loveable lawyer who prefers criminal work because then her clients can't get to her...she goes to them. When she gets roped into working on a divorce case, her life takes an unexpected turn that gives her a new perspective and forces her to confront unresolved childhood issues (and all revealed in an entirely engaging and largely humorous manner).

Set in 1999, the story unfolds through a series of letters, memos, emails, transcripts, and legal documents. Because of the format, it's a book that allows you to read a bit and put it down, but you'll get so hooked on the story that you won't want to stop.
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The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows (2008)

This book has been on my “to read” list for years – thanks to Jez for motivating me to finally read The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. I loved this sweet story told through letters. Set in 1946 England, thirty-something writer Juliet is struggling with her next project. When a chance correspondence begins with the residents of Guernsey (an island occupied by the Germans during WWII), she discovers not only her next book idea, but kindred spirits.

Today is the 69th anniversary of V-E Day.
For other novels set during WWII, check out our list.