Monday, May 2, 2016

#RAMonday- Read Alike Monday- Major Pettigrew's Last Stand

Helen Simonson recently came out with a new best seller, The Summer Before the War, and it got us thinking about her previous mega best seller, Major Pettigrew's Last Stand. Here are some read-alikes for you if you enjoyed Major Pettigrew's Last Stand as much as we did!
Edgecombe St. Mary is a small village in the English countryside filled with rolling hills and a cast of characters both hilariously original and as familiar as the members of your own family. Among them is Major Ernest Pettigrew. 

The Major leads a quiet life, but then his brother's death sparks an unexpected friendship with Mrs. Jasmina Ali, the Pakistani shopkeeper from the village. Drawn together by their shared love of literature and the loss of their respective spouses, the Major and Mrs. Ali soon find their friendship blossoming into something more. But village society insists on embracing him as the quintessential local and her as the permanent foreigner. Can their relationship survive the risks one takes when pursuing happiness in the face of culture and tradition?


Balthazar Jones has lived in the Tower of London with his loving wife, Hebe, and his 181-year-old pet tortoise for the past eight years. Among the eccentric characters who call the Tower’s maze of ancient buildings and spiral staircases home are the Tower’s Rack & Ruin barmaid, Ruby Dore, who just found out she’s pregnant; portly Valerie Jennings, who is falling for ticket inspector Arthur Catnip; and the philandering Ravenmaster, aiming to avenge the death of one of his insufferable ravens. 
When Balthazar is tasked with setting up an elaborate menagerie within the Tower walls to house the many exotic animals gifted to the Queen, life at the Tower gets all the more interesting. Penguins escape, giraffes are stolen, and the Komodo dragon sends innocent people running for their lives. Balthazar is in charge and things are not exactly running smoothly. Then Hebe decides to leave him and his beloved tortoise “runs” away. 

We are in the center of Paris, in an elegant apartment building inhabited by bourgeois families. Renée, the concierge, is witness to the lavish but vacuous lives of her numerous employers. With humor and intelligence she scrutinizes the lives of the building's tenants, who for their part are barely aware of her existence. Then there's Paloma, a twelve-year-old genius. She has decided to end her life on the sixteenth of June, her thirteenth birthday. Until then she will continue behaving as everyone expects her to behave.
Paloma and Renée hide both their true talents and their finest qualities from a world they suspect will not appreciate them. They discover their kindred souls when a wealthy Japanese man named Ozu arrives in the building. Only he is able to gain Paloma's trust and to see through Renée's timeworn disguise to the secret that haunts her. 

It is the summer of 1950–and at the once-grand mansion of Buckshaw, young Flavia de Luce, an aspiring chemist with a passion for poison, is intrigued by a series of inexplicable events: A dead bird is found on the doorstep, a postage stamp bizarrely pinned to its beak. Then, hours later, Flavia finds a man lying in the cucumber patch and watches him as he takes his dying breath.
For Flavia, who is both appalled and delighted, life begins in earnest when murder comes to Buckshaw. 

Wallace Stegner's Pultizer Prize-winning novel is a story of discovery—personal, historical, and geographical. Confined to a wheelchair, retired historian Lyman Ward sets out to write his grandparents' remarkable story, chronicling their days spent carving civilization into the surface of America's western frontier. But his research reveals even more about his own life than he's willing to admit. What emerges is an enthralling portrait of four generations in the life of an American family.

At the edge of the continent, in the small town of Crosby, Maine, lives Olive Kitteridge, a retired schoolteacher who deplores the changes in her town and in the world at large but doesn't always recognize the changes in those around her. In these linked short stories, Olive is brought to a deeper understanding of herself and her life.

Monday, April 25, 2016

#RAMonday: Read-Alike Monday- Jacqueline Winspear

Jacqueline Winspear:

Today's read-alike choice is Jacqueline Winspear, whose newest book, Journey to Munich, has been very popular at Lake Forest Library. Winspear and her enchanting protagonist, Maisie Dobbs, rise to the top among Historical British Mysteries. 

Maisie is a plucky and intelligent young woman who began as a servant and now runs her own private investigation firm. While these are technically cozy mysteries with their well-drawn characters and setting, the plots are complex and well-crafted, and the series has a darker tone due to Maisie's experiences as a nurse during World War I, described through flashbacks. These are well plotted and compelling mysteries that also highlight the human costs of war. Start with: Maisie Dobbs.


Dorothy Sayers
Dorothy L. Sayers's mysteries feature not only devilishly clever plots that delight traditional mystery readers, but also the graceful writing, nuanced characters, and beautifully evoked settings often found in literary fiction. Series character Lord Peter Wimsey deepens and grows more subtle as the books progress, especially after he meets Harriet Vane, who comes to excel at investigation herself. The interesting supporting characters, strong sense of place in varied settings, and rich use of language round out a satisfying reading experience in each story. Start with: Whose Body.

Frances Brody
Frances Brody writes cozy historical mysteries that are intricately plotted and well researched, focused mainly on Yorkshire, England in the interwar years. Brody offers social history and cultural commentary as well, discussing such issues as labor agitation and the social fallout of the Boer war. Her writing is lush, her pace leisurely, and her stories suspenseful and interesting.

Like Maisie Dobbs, the protagonist- Kate Shackleton is from a working class background and served as a nurse during World War I. Working as a private detective, she see the problems that came from the war. Start with Dying in the Wool.

Rennie Airth
Rennie Airth is a historical mystery writer who sets his books in Britain -- either the countryside or in London -- around the time of World War I. He effectively summons the uncertainty, gloom, and despair of that ugly time, simultaneously conjuring the beauty of England's countryside and the dirt of wartime London. Airth also convincingly describes the latest advances in forensic science and criminal psychology, all the while keeping us immersed in the nuances of a classic mystery story. Airth's protagonists are fully-realized: driven, self-doubting, and troubled and his readers will enjoyably share their travails. Start with: River of Darkness.

James R. Benn
James R. Benn's well-researched and richly detailed historical novels strongly evoke wartime life, as both soldier and civilian. His suspenseful mystery series featuring Boston cop cum soldier/investigator Billy Boyle offers intriguing puzzles and dramatic action, while thoroughly exploring often little-known aspects of World War II, such as institutional racism and wartime Vatican politics. Through fiction and nonfiction, he also investigates PTSD and other aftereffects of war and violence, writing with great beauty about the deep emotions and motivations of his vividly realized characters. Start with: Billy Boyle.

Mary Miley
Mary Miley's historical mysteries are also set in the 1920s.  Miley's protagonist is also a plucky, intelligent young woman sleuth. Complex women and the well drawn secondary characters give depth to the intricate stories, which are pitch perfect with historical detail. These are more leisurely paced, cozy-like mysteries. Start with The Impersonator.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Book Club Guide: Ordinary Grace by William Kent Kreuger

Looking for great book club suggestions? As well as discussion questions, author information, and what food to serve at your next book discussion? You've come to the right place! We will start posting these book discussion guides for you on the third Thursday of every month. If you have a title that you'd like to suggest we cover, leave it in the comments or email it to

This Month's Selection: Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger

Summary: New Bremen, Minnesota, 1961. It was a time of innocence and hope for a country with a new, young president. But for thirteen-year-old Frank Drum it was a summer in which death assumed many forms. When tragedy unexpectedly comes to call on his family, which includes his Methodist minister father, his passionate, artistic mother, Juilliard-bound older sister, and wise-beyond-his years kid brother, Frank finds himself thrust into an adult world full of secrets, lies, adultery, and betrayal.

On the surface, Ordinary Grace is the story of the murder of a beautiful young woman, a beloved daughter and sister. At heart, it’s the story of what that tragedy does to a boy, his family, and ultimately the fabric of the small town in which he lives. 

What to Serve Your Guests:

Juicy Lucy Sliders- These delicious burgers are native to Minnesota. The thing that makes them unique is the cheese that oozes out of the middle when you take a bite.  Make these sliders for an easy to eat version.

Tater Tot Hotdish- These hotdishes (or casseroles) with tater tots are famous in Minnesota. This won't be the healthiest Book Club Meeting, but it sure will be tasty.

Norwegian Krumkake- Another Minnesota favorite, Krumkake is a crispy, wafer-like cookie. Add whipped cream or chocolate to make them extra tasty.

Discussion Questions: (from Simon and Shuster)

1. Discuss the final revelation of Ariel’s whereabouts. Had you guessed correctly? 

2. Much of Frank and Jake’s knowledge comes from overhearing and snooping. Which instance of eavesdropping provided them with the heaviest, most important information? Is there a particular overheard conversation that led most directly to the loss of their childhood innocence? 

3. Along those same lines, in what ways have the two boys been transformed by story’s end? 

4. Who is ultimately responsible for the death of Karl Brandt? 

5. A number of characters carry secrets that eventually come to light. Was there a certain catharsis once they were able to unload the truth? Did it do them any good? Consider especially Frank’s father, whose deeds in the war remained a mystery. Is there some merit to carrying the burden of a secret alone? 

6. Though the title of the novel refers to a particular “ordinary grace,” what other small graces did you find in the book? 

7. Why does Ruth leave her family? Do you think she was truly mad at Nathan? At God? Discuss the ways in which she and the other characters deal with their grief over Ariel. 

8. Do you agree with Frank’s insight in the epilogue that, “there is no such thing as a true event?” What makes a story real? How do we deal with varying perspectives and reflections of history? 

9. Do you think Frank had a responsibility to tell Emil about Lise? Was there merit to Jake’s argument that her fenced-in estate was prison enough? 

10. Do you forgive Emil for his moment of indiscretion? Is he in some way to blame for everything that happened in New Bremen? 

11. Frank and Jake often make a case to come along to the sheriff’s office, crime scenes, and pivotal confrontations during the upheaval in New Bremen. Should they have been allowed to bear witness to these things? Should children be shielded from the occasional darkness of adult life? 

12. What do you make of Gus? Is he in some ways the backbone (though not a true relative) of the Drum family? 

13. Do you agree with the sentiment of the older Warren Redstone? Is it true that the departed are never far from us? 

Author Interviews:

Book Reviews:

Monday, April 18, 2016

#RAMonday: Read-Alike Monday- Harlan Coben

Harlan Coben writes mysteries and thrillers, with the plots often times revolving around unresolved events of the past, with many plot twists. His books take place in either New Jersey or New York. Coben writes a series of books featuring Myron Bolitar, a basketball player turned agent turned investigator. Bolitar just wants to be an agent, but gets caught up in murders surrounding his clients. The first book to feature Bolitar is Deal Breaker. He also writes many stand-alone novels.


Don Winslow
Winslow has written a mystery series featuring Neal Carey, a private investigator in California. Winslow himself was actually a private investigator in New York before he began writing. Winslow's suspense is a little lighter in tone, but both authors create intriguing, sympathetic Characters and quick, clever storylines. Winslow's mysteries are complicated and satisfactorily resolved, with plenty of snappy dialogue and humor to satisfy Coben's fans, though they focus more on character than plot. Winslow's Power of the Dog series is a lot more graphic and violent.

Robert Crais
Fans of Coben's wise-cracking Myron Bolitar will want to try Robert Crais' mysteries starring Elvis Cole. The violence is a little more graphic in this series and the personal lives of the characters are revealed only slowly, but fans will enjoy Cole's eccentricities. Start with The Monkey's Raincoat if you are interested in the Elvis Pike series.

Crais also started a spin off series from the Elvis Cole books, starring Joe Pike, a protagonist from the Cole books. 

Stuart Woods is a prolific author of several mystery series, his most famous series featuring New York attorney, Stone Barrington. Woods writes tightly plotted, page-turning mysteries with witty characters and fast pacing. To begin the Stone Barrington series, start with New York Dead

Gardner writes contemporary tales of fast-paced Suspense with strong romantic undercurrents and is known for her appealing characters, twisting plots, forensic details, powerful descriptions, and natural dialogue. Her protagonists are generally investigators, and she offers an assortment of intriguing series and non-series characters in all her books. She writes for three series and stand alone novels.

Gregg Hurwitz writes action-packed thrillers filled with surprising plot twists, graphic depictions of violence, and chilling psychological details concerning seriously disturbed individuals. He writes about diabolical serial killers, labyrinthine government conspiracies, and brutal vigilantes. These fast-paced, unrelenting, and intricately-plotted stories will appeal to readers looking for gripping action and intriguing mystery. Start with Trust No One.