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Sara Paretsky

Sara Paretsky author photoTranslated into almost thirty languages, Sara Paretsky’s books have earned many accolades, including the coveted British Crime Writers’ Association Gold Dagger for top novel of 2004 (Blacklist) and Diamond Dagger for lifetime achievement.  Paretsky first introduced her stereotype-shattering heroine in 1982 with Indemnity Only.  In a genre that had traditionally depicted women either as victims or as femme fatales, tough-talking female investigator V.I. Warshawski signaled a new and welcome direction, one in which a female character could display intelligence, strength, courage, and ability.

Long associated with Chicago, Paretsky first visited the city in 1966 to do community service work in the same neighborhood where Martin Luther King was organizing.  Even today she demonstrates that same passion for social justice through her work in several foundations both nationally and in Chicago, her home for many years.  Bleeding Kansas, Paretsky’s 14th novel and most recent best seller, is set in the part of the Kaw River Valley where Sara was raised.

Book Smart

Book Smart book coverIf you have an interest in becoming well-read but are uncertain of how to go about it, then Book Smart is a great place to begin.  Subtitled “Your Essential Reading List for Becoming a Literary Genius in 365 Days”, Book Smart is more than a collection of suggested titles.  Focusing on one theme for each month, author Jane Mallison offers a concise overview and ten books to whet your appetite in such categories as “Lighten Up:  Smiles at the Human Condition” and “Stranger in a Strange Land:  Unaccustomed Places, Real and Fancied”.  Classics are mixed with more recent works, and the author’s engaging style invites you to join in journeys of new experiences.  Even if you do not accept the year challenge, just browsing the suggestions will inspire you to add to your personal reading list.

As You Like It

As You Like it DVD cover“All the world’s a stage…” and this time that stage is set in exotic 19th century Japan.  As You Like It, the most recent Shakespeare adaptation from the ever-excellent Kenneth Branagh, spins a playful tale of romance, rivalry, and masquerade.  Bryce Dallas Howard is simply enchanting as Rosalind, the exiled maiden who escapes to the forest.  Disguised as a boy, she encounters the dashing Orlando and offers to help him win his lady, though he has no idea that the woman he loves is right before him.  Romola Garai, Brian Blessed, and Kevin Kline also star in this 2006 HBO Films presentation, distributed by Warner Home Video.

The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana

The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana book coverIsabelle of Reference Services recommends The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana, written by Umberto Eco and translated by Geoffrey Brock:

The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana reads on several levels: an intriguing mystery, a cultural and social study, and a semiotician’s search for the attachment of meaning to words and symbols.  Yambo, a rare book-dealer, wakes from a coma.  Words, dates, books, history — all information unconnected to the personal self — remain accessible to Yambo post-coma.  Yet he does not recognize family members, nor does he remember his own personal history and identity.  As health returns, he retreats to the country home of his childhood to sort through personal belongings, especially books, in hopes of reconnecting with his former life.  Evocative images, words, and sounds are “mysterious flames” that light the fog of his present existence.  More than one surprise twist in the plot will leave you guessing about his complete recovery until the very end, while some revelations will surely give you pause for thought.

The Secret Between Us

Secret Between Us book coverThe Secret Between Us is a delicate study of how lies, even those told with the best of intentions, can erode relationships and slowly consume us.  One rainy, terrible night, Deborah Monroe and her daughter Grace are driving home when their car strikes a man neither had seen.  As the repercussions of that accident begin to escalate, a seemingly harmless omission becomes a complex deceit.  The two women struggle to cope with the consequences, but both become isolated not only from friends and family members, but also from each other.  Author Barbara Delinsky capably explores complicated family dynamics, and even the victim, whom Grace recognizes as her history teacher, proves to have secrets of his own.

The Jane Austen Book Club

Jane Austen Book Club book coverC.S. Lewis once theorized that “we read to know we are not alone”.  This proves to be true for the characters in the 2007 Sony Pictures Classics film The Jane Austen Book Club, who find connections both in and through the books they discuss.  Five women and one man commit to reading all of Jane Austen’s works, little suspecting how much of their own lives they will see reflected in 19th century British society.  As the characters discuss their chosen books, what is truly revealed are the flaws, assumptions, insecurities, and humanity in each member.  Robin Swicord directs her own screenplay adaptation of the book by Karen Joy Fowler, and the movie features Kathy Baker, Maria Bello, Jimmy Smits, and an impressive performance by Emily Blunt.

The Thirteenth Tale

The Thirteenth Tale book coverA young woman receives an enigmatic invitation to the home of notoriously reclusive Vida Winter, England’s best-loved writer.  Though Miss Winter’s books have been read by millions world-wide, Margaret Lea has not read a single one.  However, she finds she cannot easily dismiss the strange letter that has arrived.  As she observes, “There is something about words.  In expert hands, manipulated deftly, they take you prisoner.”  This is precisely how one might describe Diane Setterfield’s The Thirteenth Tale, a rich and haunting story of two women who each has mystery in her past.  Margaret is asked to compose Miss Winter’s biography, but she finds it difficult to discern fact from invention.  What results is a captivating read, one which has been favorably compared to classics of gothic fiction such as Rebecca and Jane Eyre.

Jennifer Government

Jennifer Government book coverIn the not-so-distant future, taxes are illegal, corporations rule the world, and crimes are investigated only if there is someone to pay the bill.  This is the world as Max Barry  envisions it in Jennifer Government, a satiric novel of what happens when “capitalizm” runs amok.  Last names are determined by the company for which one works, and everything is about commerce.  The premise of murder-for-profit reaches new extremes as one miserable employee is ordered to assassinate several teenagers to build street cred (and demand) for a new line of $2500 Nike shoes.  Jennifer Government, a tenacious agent with a barcode tattoo and her own agenda, vows to do whatever it takes to bring down those responsible.  Barry’s book is plotted with both action and humor, but perhaps the most revealing details are those that seem surprisingly conceivable given current trends.

Scott Turow

Scott Turow author photoBorn in Chicago, Illinois, on April 12, 1949, Scott Turow has enjoyed a successful dual-career as both lawyer and novelist.  He is acclaimed for combining these two talents into bestselling legal thrillers such as The Burden of Proof and Pleading Guilty.  His impressive academic record includes teaching creative writing at Stanford University and graduating with honors from Harvard Law School.  From 1978 to 1986 he served as an Assistant United States Attorney in Chicago, after which he turned to writing fiction.  Turow’s first novel, Presumed Innocent, won the prestigious Silver Dagger of British Crime Writers, and Personal Injuries was named as the Best Fiction Novel of 1999 by Time magazine.  The author is active in a number of charitable causes including Literacy Chicago, and he continues to balance his writing with his work as a partner in the Chicago offices of a national law firm.


Persepolis graphic novel coverYou may not think of the Islamic Revolution in Iran as a good fit for a comic book, but you would be missing something remarkable.  Persepolis is an autobiographical account of the tumultuous childhood experiences of a girl who is both intensely observant and wise beyond her years.  By allowing her younger self to serve as narrator, author Marjane Satrapi is able to present an unblinking yet witty portrayal of the turmoil through which she lived.  The stark black and white images enable even a casual reader to grasp the terrifying impact upon her daily life, but Marjane’s humor and daring add relatable touches that make the story personal as well.

Originally published in 2003, this noteworthy graphic novel is gaining new attention through a 2007 film adaptation of the same name.  Persepolis won the Jury Prize at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival and recently earned a 2008 Academy Award nomination for Best Animated Feature.