Thursday, May 26, 2016

Book Club Guide: Crooked Heart by Lissa Evans

Looking for great book club suggestions? We've got you covered! You've come to the right place for discussion questions, author information, and what food to serve at your next book discussion. If you have a title that you'd like to suggest we cover, leave it in the comments or email it to

May Selection: Crooked Heart by Lissa Evans
Summary: "When Noel Bostock--aged ten, no family--is evacuated from London to escape the Nazi bombardment, he lands in a suburb northwest of the city with Vera Sedge--a 36 year old widow drowning in debts and dependents. Always desperate for money, she's unscrupulous about how she gets it. Noel's mourning his godmother, Mattie, a former suffragette. Wise beyond his years and raised with a disdain for authority and an eclectic attitude toward education, he has little in common with other children and even less with the impulsive Vee, who hurtles from one self-made crisis to the next. The war's provided unprecedented opportunities for making money, but what Vee needs--and what she's never had--is a cool head and the ability to make a plan. On her own, she's a disaster. With Noel, she's a team. Together they cook up a scheme. Crisscrossing the bombed suburbs of London, Vee starts to turn a profit and Noel begins to regain his interest in life. But there are plenty of other people making money off the war and some of them are dangerous. Noel may have been moved to safety, but he isn't actually safe at all..."

What to Serve Your Guests:

Beef Wellington: Beef Wellington is a classic London staple. Your guests will love these savory, flaky treats. Check out an easy recipe here.

Fish and Chips: Perhaps the most British food there is! We found you an easy recipe to make this delicious meal here. 

Sticky Toffee Pudding: A great London dessert- Sticky toffee pudding consists of moist sponge cake stuffed with raisins or dates drenched in a toffee sauce and served with custard or ice cream. Get the recipe from Food Network here.

Discussion Questions:

1. Probably the best place to start with this book is this: what did you think about the characters? Were your attitudes toward them different at the beginning of the book then they were by the end? If so, how do the characters change from start to finish? Or if the characters don't change, what does?

2. Most novels about World War II and the London Blitz focus on characters' heroism and bravery. What do you think about Evans's approach—honing in on characters who are hardly heroic, who take advantage of the generosity of others in times of crisis? Do desparate circumstances excuse Noel and Vee? Which type of person—the scoundrel or hero—is more prevalent in humanity...or in ourselves?

3. Reviewers are like Polonious in Hamlet, referring to Crooked Heart as comical-tragical, tragical-comical.... What do you think? Is it one...or the other...or both? If both, where does the line between comedy and tragedy fall (or blur)? Point to some areas where the writing is particularly humorous...or to other areas where it's not.

4. Lots of twists and turns in this novel: did you "see it coming"...or where you taken by surprise at the turn of events. Reviewers frequently mention Dickens. Do you see parallels? 

5. Satisfying ending...or not?

Questions taken from LitLovers.

Author Interviews:

NPR Interview
Bookanista Interview
The History Girls Interview
Words with Writers Interview

Book Reviews:

New York Times Book Review
The Guardian Review
Bookpage Review
Historical Novel Society Review

Monday, May 23, 2016

Read-Alike Monday: Nora Roberts

Among the most popular writers of today, Nora Roberts writes satisfying genre-crossing romantic stories, featuring passionate, resourceful heroines and strong, empathetic heroes. Each story emphasizes relationships with family and friends while providing details of careers or adventure. Some recent titles include a paranormal element but a resolved, happy ending remains crucial to all of her tales. Her books may appeal to readers who do not usually read romance. 


Catherine Coulter: 
Catherine Coulter began her career writing historical romances, but currently writes contemporary romantic suspense. Her historical novels feature dashing heroes, strong heroines, and a sense of humor. Her suspense novels also feature strong female protagonists, and her latest series has an FBI theme.

Barbara Delinsky:
Barbara Delinsky began by writing contemporary Romances, but now writes fiction focused on contemporary women and their lives and relationships. Delinsky's skillfully developed characters are central to her stories, as they struggle to resolve difficulties in their lives. Plots reflect universal themes, such as compromise and reconciliation, and there is a romantic tone throughout. Delinsky's novels unfold at a leisurely pace, in part because they are set in small towns, as readers are pulled into these sensitive stories.

Jayne Ann Krentz:
As one of the top names in Romance, Jayne Ann Krentz writes Contemporary Romance and Romantic Suspense under her own name, and Historical and Futuristic Romances under her pseudonyms. Readers love her quirky characters, lively sense of humor, and dialog-driven scenes. Despite contemporary settings, these books emphasize traditional values such as trust, honor and commitment. Krentz usually uses a dual point of view, to allow the reader to experience the innermost feelings of both the male and female protagonists, as they grow in their relationship.

Linda Howard:
Linda Howard is known for her edgy and sensual Romances with sexy, tough heroes and women who know themselves and what they want. Although she has written other types of Romance, Howard writes mainly Contemporary Romance and Romantic Suspense. The romantic relationship is the most important element of these stories. Attraction between the main characters is immediate, with respect following soon after and trust taking a while longer. Howard's stories are fast-paced and she uses dialogue and multiple points of view to move the stories forward.

Elizabeth Adler:
Elizabeth Adler's enduring popularity can be attributed to her dedication to telling compelling stories about like-able characters who have interesting careers and live in exotic locales. The element of suspense adds a bit of urgency to the challenges the characters face, though readers still feel as if they are lounging on the sun-drenched patio of an Italian villa or strolling among the ripening fruit of a French vineyard, as they follow engaging stories that involve large casts filled with recognizable characters.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Prepare to be inspired!

If you've ever envied someone's achievements in athletics, music, or scholarship--and wondered "How do they do that?!"--two recently published books in the Lake Forest Library collection will interest you.

The first is Peak : secrets from the new science of expertise by Florida State University psychology professor Anders Ericsson and science writer Robert Pool. Ericsson has studied expertise for more than forty years and concludes that experts are made, not born. The keys to expertise, he says, are deliberate practice--not just practicing what you already can do, but setting goals and working toward what you cannot yet do--and constructive feedback from and supervision by the right coach or teacher.

When the going gets tough, though, you might find you need Grit : the power of passion and perseverance by Angela Duckworth, another professor of psychology, this time at the University of Pennsylvania. Duckworth, the daughter of Chinese immigrants with high expectations for their children, explains in her book's introduction how she endured years of being told "You're no genius!" by her father. After winning a MacArthur Fellowship (the so-called "genius grant") in 2013, she thinks about the irony of the situation: she won the award not for being a genius but because she discovered that "what we eventually accomplish may depend more on our passion and perseverance than on our innate talent."

Unsurprisingly, Ericsson and Duckworth have worked together. You can hear them both interviewed on the May 2, 2016 edition of the WBUR (Boston) radio program On Point.

Monday, May 16, 2016

#RAMonday- Read-Alike Monday: Lilac Girls

Lilac Girls has been an incredibly popular choice for Lake Forest library patrons lately. It is a popular book club choice and just popular with a wide audience. If you are still waiting for your copy, or you loved the book, check out one of these next.

Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly
New York socialite Caroline Ferriday has her hands full with her post at the French consulate and a new love on the horizon. But Caroline’s world is forever changed when Hitler’s army invades Poland in September 1939—and then sets its sights on France.
An ocean away from Caroline, Kasia Kuzmerick, a Polish teenager, senses her carefree youth disappearing as she is drawn deeper into her role as courier for the underground resistance movement. In a tense atmosphere of watchful eyes and suspecting neighbors, one false move can have dire consequences.
For the ambitious young German doctor, Herta Oberheuser, an ad for a government medical position seems her ticket out of a desolate life. Once hired, though, she finds herself trapped in a male-dominated realm of Nazi secrets and power. The lives of these three women are set on a collision course when the unthinkable happens and Kasia is sent to Ravensbrück, the Nazi concentration camp for women. 


The Girl from Krakow by Alex Rosenberg
It’s 1935. Rita Feuerstahl comes to the university in Krakow intent on enjoying her freedom. But life has other things in store—marriage, a love affair, a child, all in the shadows of the oncoming war. When the war arrives, Rita is armed with a secret so enormous that it could cost the Allies everything, even as it gives her the will to live. She must find a way both to keep her secret and to survive amid the chaos of Europe at war. Living by her wits among the Germans as their conquests turn to defeat, she seeks a way to prevent the inevitable doom of Nazism from making her one of its last victims. 

The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan
Dorrigo Evans is an Australian doctor haunted by a love affair with his uncle's wife who journeys from the caves of Tasmanian trappers in the early twentieth century to a crumbling pre-war beachside hotel, from a Thai jungle prison to a Japanese snow festival, from the Changi gallows to a chance meeting of lovers on the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
At its heart is one day in a Japanese slave labour camp in August 1943. As the day builds to its horrific climax, Dorrigo Evans battles and fails in his quest to save the lives of his fellow POWs, a man is killed for no reason, and a love story unfolds.

Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay
Paris, July 1942: Sarah, a ten year-old girl, is brutally arrested with her family by the French police in the Vel' d'Hiv' roundup, but not before she locks her younger brother in a cupboard in the family's apartment, thinking that she will be back within a few hours.

Paris, May 2002: On Vel' d'Hiv's 60th anniversary, journalist Julia Jarmond is asked to write an article about this black day in France's past. Through her contemporary investigation, she stumbles onto a trail of long-hidden family secrets that connect her to Sarah. Julia finds herself compelled to retrace the girl's ordeal, from that terrible term in the Vel d'Hiv', to the camps, and beyond. As she probes into Sarah's past, she begins to question her own place in France, and to reevaluate her marriage and her life.

A Train in Winter by Caroline Moorehead
They were teachers, students, chemists, writers, and housewives; a singer at the Paris Opera, a midwife, a dental surgeon. They distributed anti-Nazi leaflets, printed subversive newspapers, hid resisters, secreted Jews to safety, transported weapons, and conveyed clandestine messages. Strangers to each other, hailing from villages and cities from across France, these brave women were united in hatred and defiance of their Nazi occupiers.

Eventually, the Gestapo hunted down 230 of these women and imprisoned them in a fort outside Paris. Separated from home and loved ones, these disparate individuals turned to one another as they found solace and strength in their deep affection and camaraderie. In January 1943, they were sent to their final destination: Auschwitz. Only forty-nine would return to France.

The Zookeeper's Wife by Diane Ackerman
After their zoo was bombed, Polish zookeepers Jan and Antonina Zabinski managed to save over three hundred people from the Nazis by hiding refugees in the empty animal cages. With animal names for these "guests," and human names for the animals, it's no wonder that the zoo's code name became "The House Under a Crazy Star."  Diane Ackerman combines extensive research and an exuberant writing style to re-create this fascinating, true-life story—sharing Antonina's life as "the zookeeper's wife," while examining the disturbing obsessions at the core of Nazism. 

Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris CleaveIt’s 1939 and Mary, a young socialite, is determined to shock her blueblood political family by volunteering for the war effort. She is assigned as a teacher to children who were evacuated from London and have been rejected by the countryside because they are infirm, mentally disabled, or—like Mary’s favorite student, Zachary—have colored skin. Tom, an education administrator, is distraught when his best friend, Alastair, enlists. Alastair, an art restorer, has always seemed far removed from the violent life to which he has now condemned himself. But Tom finds distraction in Mary, first as her employer and then as their relationship quickly develops in the emotionally charged times. When Mary meets Alastair, the three are drawn into a tragic love triangle and—while war escalates and bombs begin falling around them—further into a new world unlike any they’ve ever known.