Current Picks: Book Reviews

Limitations by Scott Turow

Limitations by Scott Turow (2006)
For the uninitiated, once again Turow delves into the mystery of how the law works. George Mason is judge of the Court of Appeals in Kindle County. He is faced with three problems: his wife has cancer, he receives threatening e-mails, and finally, he must decide the outcome of a horrific case of sexual assault. Turow ingeniously resolves these issues, especially the case of sexual assault. A fascinating book.

Check out the author's website for biographical information, a reading group guide (pdf), and the author's backlist.

Never Have Your Dog Stuffed by Alan Alda

Never Have Your Dog Stuffed: and Other Things I’ve Learned by Alan Alda (2005)
Entertaining, revealing, but not about his career on MASH. This is a poignant story of an eccentric life with his Dad, a vaudeville performer, and his Mom who struggles with mental issues. Alda’s story is funny, conversational, and a great read. And, yes, they really did stuff his dog!

Also check out Alda’s 2007 biography: Things I Overheard While Talking to Myself.

The Legend of Fire Horse Woman by Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston

The Legend of Fire Horse Woman by Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston (2003)
Sayo, born under the disastrous sign of the Fire Horse, comes to California from Japan for an arranged marriage and years later during World War II is imprisoned with her family in a Japanese internment camp. A story which skillfully re-creates the limitations and loneliness of life in the Manzanar camp.

All the Way Home by Ann Tatlock

All the Way Home by Ann Tatlock (2002) This is the story of a young girl who finds a friend and a family with the Japanese American Hatsunes; however, they lose touch when World War II breaks out and the Hatsunes are interned. Years later she is reunited with her friend while working for the civil rights movement. The story is a clever juxtaposition of the social issues—the civil rights struggle of the 1960s and the incarceration of Japanese Americans in the 1940s.

Lucky Man by Michael J. Fox

Lucky Man by Michael J. Fox (2002)
This book shows a Michael J. Fox you don’t know. Fox was not born with a silver spoon in his mouth but took his charismatic personality to Hollywood and almost destroyed himself in the process. Even after early onset Parkinson’s disease, he still considers himself a "lucky man." Read it and see why.

The Innocent Man by John Grisham

The Innocent Man by John Grisham (2006)
This is John Grisham’s only nonfiction book and proves he can still write a good story. This well-researched book tells the gripping story of Ron Williamson, ex-baseball hero of Ada, Oklahoma, and how injustice lands him on death row and on the brink of being put to death. This book reads like fiction.

Tell us what you think! Join us on Wednesday, February 27 at 7:30 for a librarian-led discussion of The Innocent Man.

The Tin Roof Blowdown by James Lee Burke

The Tin Roof Blowdown by James Lee Burke (2007)
James Lee Burke writes with a gritty style, using characters, settings, and issues from the underbelly of southern Louisiana. In his latest book, Burke starts with the premise that Hurricane Katrina damaged New Orleans more than the bomb that struck Hiroshima. Burke manipulates the plot to include events before, during, and after Katrina. His words ring true.

Dave Robicheaux is a compassionate cop who is sucked into the vortex of a Katrina style “blowdown.” Murders, drugs, in your face evil, graphic language, and down home characters – good and bad – confront readers with the historical, world class disaster we call Katrina. In this novel, Burke does a world class job.

700 Sundays by Billy Crystal

700 Sundays by Billy Crystal (2005)
In great storyteller fashion, Billy Crystal gives us an entertaining story of his quirky life with his family and reveals his sometimes complex relationship with his Dad. Dad worked two jobs and died early but Crystal is glad he got those “700 Sundays” with him.

The Coroner’s Lunch by Colin Cotterill

The Coroner’s Lunch by Colin Cotterill (2004)
If you’re looking for something a little different in the mystery genre, try this! Interesting locale, great characters and an intriguing mystery make this a good book.

This novel takes place in 1976 in Laos. The royal family has been deposed, the professional classes have fled and the communists have taken over, and Dr. Siri Paiboun has just been appointed state coroner for the Laos People’s Democratic Republic. The 72-year-old Siri has got the coroner’s job because he’s the only doctor left in Laos. But when the wife of a Party leader is found dead and the bodies of tortured Vietnamese soldiers surface on a Laotian lake, all eyes turn to the new coroner and his small staff to figure things out. Siri looks to old friends, consults tribal shamans, and uses forensic deduction to figure out what’s going on.

Listen to an NPR interview with the author where he discusses the unique setting for the novel and how that affected his main character.

Dream When You’re Feeling Blue by Elizabeth Berg

Dream When You’re Feeling Blue by Elizabeth Berg (2007)
This novel tells the story of how a loving Chicago Irish family copes with WWII back home in the big city. The book centers around the three daughters who wait for their beaus and fiancées to return home safely from the war. A warm and well-researched depiction of life at home during the war.

Dream When You're Feeling Blue is the 2008 Big Read selection for Indian Prairie and nine other libraries. Check out all of the programs at area libraries in March and April -- you can listen to radio broadcasts, watch movies, learn to swing dance, and see WWII-era personalities come to life. The Big Read culminates with "An Evening with Elizabeth Berg" at Ashton Place on May 8.  

For more information on The Big Read, contact the library at 630-887-8760, visit our website, or read the February 20 Doings article.

Midnight at the Dragon Café by Judy Fong Bates

Midnight at the Dragon Café by Judy Fong Bates (2004)
This coming of age novel is a wonderfully written, unique and imaginative, first novel. Set in the 1960s, this is the story of a young girl, the daughter of a small Ontario town’s solitary Chinese family, over the course of a summer.

Told through Su-Jen’s eyes, the hard life behind the scenes at the Dragon Café unfolds. Su-Jen’s elderly father and beautiful young mother are unhappy in their marriage. Su-Jen’s mother is miserable in this new small town.

Su-Jen is rapidly adapting to life in Canada and goes through all the ups and downs of a typical 1960s childhood. She develops a friendship with Charlotte, a spirited girl who behaves in a way that is older than her years. There is also tragedy, foreshadowed, yet still a shock when it finally occurs.

The first and last paragraphs of Midnight at the Dragon Café are poignant and are Su-Jen’s reflections on a fate she thinks should have been hers.

Blood on the Tongue by Stephen Booth

Blood on the Tongue by Stephen Booth (2002)
Narrated by Christopher Kay, this mystery stars the “everyman” of hometown detectives, Ben Cooper. The heart of the story hangs on an airplane that crashed during World War II. The intertwining threads of the plot create a great audio experience.

John Adams by David McCullough

John Adams by David McCullough (2001)
One of America’s best loved biographers, David McCullough, gives us an intimate picture of one of America’s overshadowed presidents. Adams’ life of integrity, heroism, and warmth shine through is this personal story.

Starting on Sunday, March 16, HBO will air a seven part miniseries based on the book. The drama stars Paul Giamatti and Laura Linney, with Tom Hanks serving as executive producer. Go to the movie's website to watch video previews, listen to conversations with the actors or with Tom Hanks and David McCullough, and read descriptions of each of the seven parts of the series.

For more on this Pulitzer Prize-winning book, visit the publisher's website to read a Q&A about the book, listen to a podcast, check out a reading guide, read an excerpt, and much more. The News Hour on PBS has video, audio, and text of McCullough's July 4, 2001, appearance. The New York Times website includes a book review and a list of articles and books about John Adams.

Mistress of the Art of Death by Ariana Franklin

Mistress of the Art of Death by Ariana Franklin (2007)
A novel that succeeds as both historical fiction and crime-thriller, the story contains fascinating details of historical forensic medicine, entertaining notes on women in science (the medical school at Salerno is not fictional) and a wonderful plot with lots of twists.

Four children have been found dead and mutilated. The Jews of Cambridge have been blamed for the murders, the most prominent Jewish moneylender and his wife have been killed by a mob, and the rest of the Jewish community is shut up in the castle under the protection of the sheriff.

King Henry I is invested in their fate because without the taxes received from Jewish merchants, his treasuries would go bankrupt. Hoping to exonerate the Jews, he appeals to his cousin, the king of Sicily, to send his best master of the art of death: a doctor skilled in “reading” bodies. Enter Vesuvia Adelia Rachel Ortese Aguilar, 25, the best mistress of death that the medical school at Salerno has ever produced. Adelia, along with Simon of Naples (a Jew) and Mansur (a Moor), must find the murderer before he can kill again.

When the Emperor was Divine by Julie Otsuka

When the Emperor was Divine by Julie Otsuka (2002)
A spare, yet poignant, first novel about the ordeal of a Japanese family sent to an internment camp during World War II. Never melodrama— the novel's honesty and matter-of-fact tone in the face of inconceivable injustice are the source of its power.