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

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.

Thursday, May 12, 2016


Find yourself wishing a story would go on and on?  Some stories can’t be told in just one book.   And just when you really get into the characters, the book ends! Trilogies take care of those frustrations and are  a popular form for middle and upper grade chapter books, especially in fantasy lit.  With summer vacation ahead, settle in for some seriously fun reading.  Compiled below are trilogies for a variety of ages and interests.  Best of all, they are completed!  You don’t have to wait a year to find out what happens to your favorite character(s), such as:  Will Jacob leave Miss Peregrine’s children?  Want to spend more time in Aurora County?  Are Janie and Benjamin destined for each other and who will become the next Apothecary?  Delve into these and other titles we’ve compiled into a bookmark.

Aurora County, Mississippi is the setting for 3 coming-of-ages stories of endearing, humorous youngsters.  Ruby Lavender writes her grandmother letters detailing her surprisingly unboring summer,  Comfort Snowberger helps run the family funeral parlor, and House Jackson needs to lead his team to a win (while solving some old mysteries).  

The Apothecary, The Apprentices, The After-room
Set at the beginning of the Cold War, a fourteen-year-old American girl’s life unexpectedly transforms when she moves to London in 1952 and gets swept up in a race to save the world from nuclear war using ancient spells and preparations.  Further adventures take Janie and her friend Benjamin to the unfolding war in Viet Nam as the nuclear arms race takes shape.  

The Book Of Lost Things, The Book of Secrets, The Book of Kings
When Max's theatrical parents leave the country without him, he must rely on his wits to get by, and before long he is running his own--rather unusual--business.  He discovers his parents have been kidnapped and he must rescue them using his innate detective and acting skills.  
Missing on Superstition Mountain, Treasure on Superstition Mountain, Revenge of Superstition Mountain
When brothers Simon, Henry, and Jack move with their parents to Arizona, they are irresistibly drawn to explore the aptly named Superstition Mountain, in spite of warnings that it is not safe.   

Kat, Incorrigible, Renegade Magic, Stolen Magic
In Regency England, when twelve-year-old Kat discovers she has magical powers, she tries to use them to rescue her sister from marrying a man she does not love.  

Tesla’s Attic, Edison’s Alley, Hawking’s Hallway.
With a plot combining science and the supernatural, four kids are caught up in a dangerous plan concocted by the eccentric inventor, Nikola Tesla.  
Leviathan, Behemoth, Goliath
In an alternate 1914 Europe, fifteen-year-old Austrian Prince Alek, on the run from the Clanker Powers who are attempting to take over the globe using mechanical machinery, forms an uneasy alliance with Deryn who, disguised as a boy to join the British Air Service, is learning to fly genetically-engineered beasts.  Great intro to the world of steampunk.  
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, The Hollow City, The Library of Souls
A horrific family tragedy sends sixteen-year-old Jacob journeying to a remote island off the coast of Wales, where he discovers the crumbling ruins of an old orphanage that was home to his grandfather and children who were more than just peculiar, but possibly dangerous--and who may still be alive. Illustrated with vintage found photographs.  

Monday, May 9, 2016

Read-Alike Monday: Game of Thrones

If you are one of the over 18 million people who watched Game of Thrones last year, you may have also read and loved the books. If you are looking to try something similar to the the Song of Fire and Ice series by George R.R. Martin, check out these suggestions.

Song of Fire and Ice Series:
A Song of Ice and Fire is a series of epic fantasy novels written by American novelist and screenwriter George R. R. Martin.
The story of A Song of Ice and Fire takes place on the fictional continents Westeros and Essos, with a history of thousands of years. The series is told in the third person by 31 point of view characters. Three stories become interwoven: the chronicling of a dynastic war for control of Westeros by several families; the rising threat of the dormant cold supernatural Others dwelling beyond an immense wall of ice on Westeros' northern border and the ambition of Daenerys Targaryen, the exiled daughter and only remaining heir of a king murdered 15 years earlier in a civil war, to return to Westeros with her fire-breathing dragons and claim her rightful throne.


The line between good and evil is vague and ambiguous in this series. Leodan Akaran hides the dark realities of their prosperity from his four children, until an assassin from the Mein, a race exiled to an ice-locked stronghold in the north, strikes him down and frees his children. 3 book series, start with Acacia. 

In addition to High Fantasy, Tad Williams writes Historical Fantasy, Animal Fantasy, and Science Fiction. Williams frequently takes a familiar story and gives it unexpected new life, using sophisticated narration and impressive world-building to create richly detailed, satisfying settings. Despite the wealth of details, Williams's uncomplicated, straightforward narrative style ensures that the books move at a fair pace. Complicated and multi-faceted characters, furthermore, keep readers turning the page. Williams likes to give his readers a happily-ever-after ending, but the tone along the way can be grim. 

Hambly’s fantasy novels have similar settings and sexual content as the Song of Fire and Ice series, as well as complex plots and characters. Her fast paced books contain a lot of drama. Hambly also writes historical fiction and mystery.  

Fantasy author Joe Abercrombie writes grim, almost hard-boiled tales of adventure and battle. His stories, including the novels in the First Law series, take place in a world fraught with political tension, bloody battles (described in vivid detail), and cynical opportunism. Abercrombie fills these tales with a huge cast of well-developed characters, and he adopts a variety of perspectives to flesh out the stories and to add a reflective tone to the carnage. The fast-paced and intricate plots will keep readers turning pages, especially since Abercrombie does not shy from suddenly killing off familiar characters. Start with: The Blade Itself.

Tolkien's Fantasy epic, the Lord of the Rings series and related works, has attained unparalleled popular and literary acclaim for a work in this genre. Tolkien drew from sagas, languages, and cultures of old to create the untamed world and richly-realized peoples of Middle Earth. Motifs from ancient stories (the unlikely hero, the hero's quest) immerse readers into the minds and hearts of characters who-although not human-mirror our own foibles, desires, fears, and joys. Characters 'quest' toward their truest selves as they journey toward their people's mythic destinies in a battle between good and evil. Start with: The Hobbit.

Monday, May 2, 2016

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.