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.

Some Luck

titleSmiley, Jane. Some Luck. 2014. (Fiction Smile.J)

This is the first book of Smiley's new trilogy. It's a rich family saga about the Langdon's, salt-of-the-earth Iowa farmers. The book spans the years 1920 to 1952--a grand sweep of American history that offers us a look at how big events (Prohibition, the Depression, droughts, wars, and more) affect this resilient family. In the first chapter--set in 1920--we meet them through the eyes of Frankie, Walter and Rosanna Langdon's firstborn. Smiley takes us inside his little mind and gives us his 5-month old impression of his world, a charming and funny view of a typical Iowa farmhouse. Each subsequent chapter adds a year to the saga, and the focus shifts from person to person as we watch the times change, the children (six altogether!) grow, and see how the relationship between Walter and Rosanna ebbs and flows as life brings its share of hardships, joys and surprises. I applaud Smiley's skill in describing a family and a large chunk of history without subordinating the distinctive characters of the members of this large clan. Each one makes us think about what it was like to live through this era or that event in different ways. Naturally, Frankie's WWII experience is vivid and thrilling, but even small happenings, like the death of a beloved farm horse, are affecting and meaningful. I look forward to the next two books: Early Warning and Golden Age.

(Barbara L., Reader's Services)



titleKuper, Peter. Ruins. 2015. (741.5973 Kuper.P)

This beautifully illustrated graphic novel combines three tales in one. There is the wordless story of Monarch butterfly migration, the drama of a troubled young couple at a turning point in their marriage, and the legends of the conquest of Mexico by Hernán Cortés and his soldiers. Samantha and George are spending her sabbatical year in Oaxaca. George recently lost his job as an insect illustrator at a museum, freeing him to begin painting again. Samantha craves a baby while facing ghosts from her past; George is not ready for parenthood and is fascinated by the annual teachers' strike which this year turns violent. The alternately realistic and fanciful illustrations highlight the inner and outer turmoil in their lives. We also see the land and its stories as the butterfly makes its annual pilgrimage from the US to southern Mexico.

(Nancy E., North Branch)


Augustine's Confessions: a Biography


Wills, Garry. Augustine's Confessions: a Biography. 2011. (270.2092 Augusti Wills.G)

There's much to say about Confessions, Augustine's great work of self-study composed as a 13-volume soliloquy to God. Wills manages to say plenty in just 148 pages in this contribution to the "Lives of Great Religious Books" series (from Princeton University Press). We get not only a close reading, but also the inside story of the book's composition. As Wills' title indicates, he aims for a "biography" of the text as if it had a soul. He breathes life into the 1600-year-old classic.

Augustine (354-430 AD) was perhaps the early Christian Church's greatest scholar--partly because he worked so hard to face his own flaws and failures. "Lord, make me chaste... but not just yet," he wrote, cleverly crystallizing one of his struggles as a convert and new priest. Besides lust he struggled with disbelief, ambition, and other constant challenges. He complained mightily to his God, and admitted willingly, and wrote it all down. (With the help of scribes: Wills is very good at explaining the team effort required in putting words to parchment in the fourth century.)

"I am what I am remembering, my own mind," Augustine writes. "Yet I cannot understand myself... the mind is too limited to contain itself. Yet where could the uncontained part be?" Augustine gave us one of the great early philosophical works; Wills gives us one of its great modern interpretations.  (Jeff B., Reader's Services)


To Marry an English Lord

titleMacColl, Gail and Wallace, Carol M. To Marry an English Lord: Or, How Anglomania Really Got Started. 1989. (974.7104 Macco.G)

In Edith Wharton's novel The Buccaneers, we meet a group of young American heiresses, daughters of wealthy and powerful men (but, alas, of families deemed a bit socially declassé by New York's entrenched 400 in the late 1800s in America) who swoop down like a fleet of pirates on British soil to marry the sons of the peerage, thereby gaining themselves a title (take that, Mrs. Astor!) while using their generous dowries to bolster the often reduced finances of these families. Downton Abbey's Lady Cora, daughter of a successful Jewish dry goods merchant and a socially ambitious mother, was just such a buccaneer. In MacColl's and Wallace's fact-packed book, we learn how it all came about. It wasn't that the Brits were any less snobbish. Rather it was the roving eye of the Edward Albert, Prince of Wales, that landed on these well-endowed and lovely ladies. If he liked 'em, his compatriot dukes, earls, baronets and marquesses figured, so should we, especially if they're loaded. Fast forward to the new millennium and here we are still fascinated by the English, especially those of the Gilded Age. This book will take you on a tour of the families, the heiresses, their estates, their fashions and foibles. And it names names: the Churchills, the Vanderbilts, the Colgates and more. It even includes a list of their English manor houses open to the public. Though published 25 years ago, this is very apt reading given the prospect of life after D. A. and the current hugely popular exhibit "Dressing Downton" at the Driehaus Museum.

Barbara L, Reader's Services




Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man

titleClegg, Bill. Portrait of  an Addict as a Young Man: a memoir. 2010. (616.86092 Clegg.B)

Why did he start? Because he's just a guy who couldn't say no. Why did he stop? Because he finally decided he didn't want to die. In between, all the usual happened: he drank, got stoned, drank, got stoned, moved on to crack, drank and did crack together.  He lost hours, days, his lover, family, company. He bounced in and out of rehab. There is nothing glamorous about addiction and Clegg writes flawlessly about what it is like to live it. However, at times I wanted to help put him out of his repetitious misery. Happily, he survived and went on to write a beautiful piece of fiction, Did You Ever Have a Family.

(Nancy E., North Branch)


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