Readers' Services

The Readers’ Services staff can help you find specific materials and can offer reading suggestions. Please phone (847) 448-8620 for assistance. Use Novelist, to find reviews, reading guides, and reading lists for fiction lovers.

The Cold Song

titleUllmann, Linn. The Cold Song. 2011. (Fiction Ullma.L)

Though this bleak and beautiful novel takes place in Norway and contains both murder and mystery, it is not a Norwegian murder mystery. The mystery is why the characters lie to themselves and each other, why though occasionally loving each acts hatefully, why the truth when it comes is so unsettling. Jenny Brodal is turning seventy-five in the ancestral home to which her daughter Siri and family return each summer. Siri's younger brother drowned there when he was four and she was six while they were playing outdoors so Jenny could have some time to herself. Jenny drowns herself as well, in alcohol. Siri eternally seeks her mother's love and attention as her daughters and husband seek hers. Seamlessly woven through each character's point of view, this tale of yearning is tinged with menace and unease.

(Nancy E., North Branch)



Two Across

titleBartsch, Jeffrey. Two Across. 2015. (Fiction Barts.J)

I love doing crosswords and am pretty fond of spelling bees, so this book had great appeal to me right from the get-go. Stanley and Vera first meet at the National Spelling Bee finals in 1960 where they tie for first place. Both are very smart and both are products of unusual, fatherless childhoods (Stanley's mom is a recluse; Vera's, a traveling sales assistant who schleps Vera along on business trips). Three years later both are ready to break free from the grip of their quirky mothers so they hatch a plan to have a sham wedding to get the gifts and money to fund their next few years. Then Vera's off to Harvard. Stanley's mom thinks he's off to Harvard, too, but his true love is creating crossword puzzles, so he fakes the student life in Cambridge living off the "wedding" money. This  poignant, stylishly-written tale will make you smile and sigh as the couple navigate life. It's a rocky road for both. Their relationship grows deeper, but both are inept at expressing true feelings or even admitting them. They are together, they are apart, the secrets and lies add up, but often it's a cleverly-clued crossword created by Stanley or Vera (who creates puzzles now, too) placed in some major newspaper that brings them back together for a time. As Stanley and Vera learn, one of life's greatest puzzles is love in all its varieties.

(Barbara L., Reader's Services)




Ordinary Grace

titleKrueger, William Kent. Ordinary Grace. 2013. (Fiction Krueg.W)

I liked this book immensely and don't know how I missed it when it came out. So I am herewith starting a word-of-mouth campaign about it. It's 1961, small town Minnesota. Frank Drum, age 13, and his younger brother Jake, 11, are not having a great summer. Sad and awful things keep happening beginning with the horrible death of a little neighbor boy who was killed while playing on the train tracks. When the boys find the body of an itinerant stranger by these same tracks, a series of half-truths and secrets begin to pile up leading to further grief as the summer progresses. The Drum boys are sons of a minister and have been instilled with a strong sense of morality and fair play. But youthful fears of discovery, embarrassment, and trying to protect each other and their adored teenaged sister keep them awake at night and stop them from admitting things to a grownup until it's too late. Frank is our narrator and it's clear he's a sensitive, intelligent boy. Your heart will go out to him as he struggles with the dilemmas of this terrible summer. Krueger's prose is lyrical and graceful--he has mastered the dialogue of close brothers and small-town folks. Krueger's story, with its twists and turns, at times feels like a mystery novel, but the truths at the center of the story lay bare the deceptively simple lives in this small town.

(Barbara L., Reader's Services)


The Eagle


The Eagle, A Crime Odyssey. 2014. (DVD TV Eagle)

I seem to be addicted to Scandinavian tv crime dramas (Borgen, The Bridge, Maria Wern) and The Eagle is the latest one to captivate me. This series centers on investigator Halgrim Hallgrimsson, (whose middle name Orn is Icelandic for eagle) who is asked to head an international unit fighting organized crime in Europe. Crossing borders into Germany, Norway, Iceland and Russia, the unit includes a team of experts: a forensic detective, a lawyer, an authority on white-collar crime, a police officer, and a computer whiz. The crimes are always ingenious, but it's the personal stories of the characters, especially Halgrim, that makes The Eagle soar. All the episodes reference a Greek myth (Agamemnon, Scylla, Nemesis, Hades, Calypso, etc) and begin with possibly the best title song ever. Edge-of-your-seat tension, multi-dimensional characters, and evolving relationships will keep you tuned in for all three seasons - each one better than the last. And the actors' facility with languages is extraordinary. Filmed on location in various cities in Northern Europe from 2004-2006, it won an International Emmy Award for best non-American television drama series in 2005. I just wish it had continued.

(Laura, Readers Services)



Shades of Love

Shades of Love. 2015. (DVD TV Shades).

I'm still in a state of shock. This is one of the first times I'm going to give a titlethumbs down to something featuring a British cast and a contemporary family saga rich with dark secrets, uncertain parentage, and corporate battles for the family firm.  Usually this is the kind of high melodrama that in the hands of a BBC production team turns out quite watchable. Add in a top-tier cast and I'm happy. But this isn't BBC-produced, alas. Though a great cast is in place, including the consummate pros Eileen Atkins and Charles Dance, the writing is clunky, the directing wooden, and the plot--well, let's say it's a bit over the top for plot twists and sudden reversals. But, I did stick it out and watch the whole thing. It was that kind of weekend--I needed something mindless to watch and I did want to find out all the secrets. A few things to like: the sets were gorgeous (it is a very wealthy family, after all), the scenery is lovely--the story is set in Scotland with many side trips to London, Oxford and other picturesque locales, and except for the youngest daughter, they dressed well. One enigma--the Ayrds are an old Scots family, but they all have posh English accents. The BBC would have never let that go unexplained.

(Barbara L., Reader's Services)


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