Devil’s Garden by Ace Atkins

Devil’s Garden by Ace Atkins (2009)
Fatty Arbunkle
was a silent movie comic at the top of the box office when he was accused of murdering a young starlet in a drunken debauch. Sam Hammett (later known as Dashiell) was a Pinkerton operative hired to work on the case. Those two sentences are true. What author Atkins does with them is to develop a marvelous feel for the time, early 1920s, the place, San Francisco, and the characters, real and imaginary.

Pick up a copy of the book at Indian Prairie or the Woodridge Public Library and join the Crime Readers Book Club discussion on December 16, 2010, 7 p.m. at the Downers Grove Wine Shop, 1240 75th Street.

The Information Officer by Mark Mills

The Information Officer by Mark Mills (2009)The Information Officer is an old-fashioned WWII suspense novel, reminiscent of Graham Greene. The prolonged and intense Axis bombing of Malta provides the backdrop to a superb spy thriller and work of historical fiction. Tiny Malta in the Mediterranean was a valuable piece of real estate for the Germans and the British during World War II as they vied to gain a toehold in Africa.

Maj. Max Chadwick is charged with putting a positive spin on Malta's depressing war time situation, and to separate rumor from fact. This directs Max's choices as he sets out to investigate a serial killer targeting dance hostesses who worked the bars in the capital city's disreputable quarter.

Read the L.A. Times review and learn more about the author at BookBrowse.

House Rules by Jodi Picoult

House Rules by Jodi Picoult (2010)
In her latest novel, which is one of her best, a teenage boy with Asperger’s syndrome is accused of murder. Not only is this book really difficult to put down, you can also learn a great deal about Asperger’s and forensic science. Jodi Picoult sure does her research while creating her novels. Excellent read!

Read an excerpt from the book and visit this bestselling author's website.

Good to a Fault by Marina Endicott

Good to a Fault by Marina Endicott (2010)
A 43-year-old, divorced woman’s life becomes entangled with a down-on-their luck family. When their two cars collide and the hospital discovers the mother has cancer, Clara moves the three children, their father and grandmother into her home putting her life into a tailspin. With humor, honesty and tenderness, Endicott tells the story of a woman who finally finds herself through others. The characters are wonderful and I was sad to leave them.

Read the New York Times review and learn more about the author.

Sahara by Clive Cussler

Sahara by Clive Cussler (1992)
I have read many of Clive Cussler’s books, including most of those with Dirk Pitt as the hero. Recently I watched the movie Sahara and was very disappointed by the way the star portrayed Dirk Pitt. The movie did not do justice to the book and almost made the hero appear as a comical character.

For a complete synopsis of the book, check out the author’s website.

Spotlight: Graham Greene

Spotlight: Graham GreeneGraham Greene was one of the most important and popular English writers of the mid-twentieth century and his works are defined by that century. The Blitz (The End of the Affair - 1951), the Vietnam issues (The Quiet American - 1955), and British colonialism (The Heart of the Matter - 1948) —all these things are fading fast from living memory but are the basis for his very engaging stories. There is in his writing a lasting relevance; he reported on the human condition and drew searing insights into it. His novels are still to be enjoyed as are the movies that were produced based on many of them.

Listen to NPR's Scott Simon reflect on Greene's books, learn more about the author from the website Greeneland: the world of Graham Greene and explore the New York Times topics on Graham Greene.

The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery

The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery (2008)
This book – set in France – started out a little slow. I had not thought about phenomenology/existentialism since college. It soon turns focus on many exciting characters who move in unexpected directions. Cultural rules and stereotypes are broken.

Read an interview with the author and the New York Times review.

Welcome to Hard Times by E.L. Doctorow

Welcome to Hard Times by E. L. Doctorow (1960)
If you’ve read Doctorow’s recent novels, you may want to go back and read his first novel Welcome to Hard Times. If you like westerns, you’ll enjoy this book. The story is set in a Dakota mining town and recounts the lives of people going west to find their fortunes. The hard times of western towns is portrayed though the characters' personalities and  and past experiences. The plot is suspenseful and the ending completes the circle from the beginning of the story. You’ll especially enjoy Doctorow’s wonderful words describing the scenes and people throughout the story.

Visit the author's website and read a  New York Times review.

Shanghai Girls by Lisa See

Shanghai Girls by Lisa See (2009)
The novel traces the story of two sisters and their lives from Shanghai to California. At times it’s very heart wrenching. Shanghai Girls shows how strong the bond between sisters is.

Preview this incredibly popular book, visit the author's website, and watch the author discuss her book on YouTube.

Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry

Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry (1985)
McMurtry has written 29 novels (and more than 30 screenplays). Predominantly set in the American Southwest, McMurtry’s novels are as much about the place as about the people who live there. His depictions of harsh, rugged landscapes are beautifully written and give a balance to his hapless, roguish heroes and villains.
Lonesome Dove, Larry McMurtry's vast, wild tale of a cattle drive is full of action and unforgettable characters. The western epic won him the Pulitzer Prize. The story follows two longtime friends and former Texas Rangers, Woodrow Call and Augustus McCrae, at the end of the 1800s. Their lives as cattle ranchers along the Rio Grande have lost the excitement of their younger lawman days, so they set off on a long and difficult cattle drive to Montana.

McMurtry's immense talent takes the myth out of the cowboy legend with such a master’s touch that the reader never feels the sting. His has the ability to create believable and lovable characters no matter what the setting. Larry McMurtry is one the finest writers in the world of American fiction. His novels are compelling, unforgettable, and fun.

Check out the television drama based on the novel, read a review and preview the novel.

Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson

Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson (2010)
Major Pettigrew is a very proper English gentleman. Widowed and retired, he is ready for romance when Mrs. Ali, owner of the local convenience store, enters his life. But her stern and critical nephew and the Major's own self-involved son, not to mention all of the matrons at the local golf club, seem to conspire to keep the two apart.

Visit the author's website, preview the book and read the Washington Post book review.

Act of Treason by Vince Flynn

Act of Treason by Vince Flynn (2006)
Recently I made a 300 mile drive alone and was afraid of falling asleep at the wheel. A good friend suggested that I get a book on CD by Vince Flynn to play in the car – and she could guarantee I wouldn’t fall asleep. She was right!

I selected Act of Treason and did not have one sleepy moment on my trip. It was truly spellbinding and suspenseful and I enjoyed every minute and looked forward to every new chapter. It was a fast-paced as well as high anticipation story. I look forward to reading another one of his novels!

Check out the author's website and take a sneak peak of the book.

Every Last One by Anna Quindlen

Every Last One by Anna Quindlen (2010)
Told in the perspective of the mother, a family is tragically affected by a shocking act of violence. A riveting read.

Listen to Diane Rehm interview the author and read the New York Times review.

The Sixteen Pleasures by Robert Hellenga

The Sixteen Pleasures by Robert Hellenga (1994)
In 1966, the Arno flooded its banks and devastated the priceless collections of galleries, libraries and churches in Florence. Margot Harrington, a 29-year-old American book conservator, travels to Italy to join those who went to help rescue priceless treasures. Margot pitches in where she can and eventually she ends up at a convent... While working to save their library, she discovers a lost book of pornography that dates back to the Renaissance. She realizes that the sale of this book, once properly preserved, could save the Abbey.

The author Robert Hellenga goes into great detail about the book restoration process, Florence in the 1960s and the moral and social situations in which Margot gets involved – all of which change her life in ways she never imagined.

Read an interview with the author, preview the book and review the reading guide.

The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse by Louise Erdrich

The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse by Louise Erdrich (2001)
The novel begins with a genealogy chart to help keep track of the characters. Sure enough there are miracles (that the down to earth can explain) and a rich flow of almost musical storytelling.

Learn more about this prolific author, view a reading group guide, and preview the book.