Friday, May 26, 2017

Remembering Our Fallen Heroes on Memorial Day: War Novels

Memorial Day, originally called Decoration Day, is a day of remembrance for those who have died in service of the United States of America. Celebrated on the last Monday in May many people visit cemeteries and memorials to honor those who have died in military service. Did you know that there are ten national cemeteries in Illinois? Below is a list of  novels organized by war, pick one up for the long holiday weekend.

 American Revolution
Patriot Hearts: A Novel of the Founding Mothers by Barbara Hambly
The Hornet's Nest: A Novel of the Revolutionary War by Jimmy Carter
Rise to Rebellion by Jeff Shaara
Redcoat by Bernard Cornwell

Civil War
Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane
North and South by John Jakes
Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier
March by E.L. Doctorow

World War I
All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque
A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway
To the Last Man by Jeff Shaara
The First of July by Elizabeth Speller

World War II
The Rising Tide: A Novel of World War II by Jeff Shaara
The Winds of War by Herman Wouk
Battle Cry by Leon Uris
Pearl Harbor: A Novel of December 8th by Newt Gingrich

Korean War
War Trash by Ha Jin
The Frozen Hours: A Novel of the Korean War by Jeff Shaara
The Marines of Autumn: A Novel of the Korean War by James Brady
The Hunters by James Salter

Vietnam War
Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War by Karl Marlantes
The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen
The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien
Word of Honor: A Novel of Vietnam by Nelson DeMille

Persian Gulf War/Iraq War
Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain
Redeployment by Phil Klay
The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers
Fives and Twenty-Fives by Michael Pirtre

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

April Showers Bring May Flowers and Darkness Brings Light!

When I hear this old cliche, I think of beauty and light emerging from gloom and darkness. Then I reflect on flowers and books and the idea that out of tragic circumstances, an unexpected brightness can appear. Characters often struggle, triumph over adversity and eventually find unexpected happiness. Very often, books about growing up in the foster care system end with the hope of second chances. I've listed some of my favorite satisfying reads that embody this theme.

The Language of Flowers by Vanesssa Diffenbaugh 
This is a story of a woman whose gift for flowers helps her change the lives of others even as she struggles to overcome her own past.

A Good Year for the Roses by Gil McNeil
Recently divorced and struggling to support her three boys, Molly is stunned when she inherits her aunt's manor house, a house that includes her eccentric old uncle, an ailing bed-and-breakfast, and a beautiful rose garden.

White Oleander by Janet Finch
At the age of 12, Astrid has her world blown away when her mother is sentenced to life in prison for murdering her lover. Sharpened by harsh foster home environments, Astrid remakes herself as a survivor, and ultimately, an artist.

Like Family by Paula McLain
An account of growing up as a foster child describes how the author and her two sisters were abandoned by their parents, her next fourteen years in a series of temporary homes, and the impact of her unrooted life.

Ellen Foster by Kaye Gibbons
Having suffered abuse and misfortune for much of her life, a young child searches for a better life and finally gets a break in the home of a loving woman with several foster children.

The Opposite of Everyone by Joshilyn Jackson
A successful divorce lawyer, Paula’s carefully constructed life starts to fracture when family secrets come to light, forcing her to try to come to terms with the power of her story to hurt and heal, and a growing need for family connections.

Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline
Close to aging out of the foster care system, Molly Ayer takes a position helping an elderly woman named Vivian and discovers that they are more alike than different as she helps Vivian solve a mystery from her past.

Monday, May 22, 2017

After ALIEN: COVENANT, Try These...All on Hoopla!

Are you a fan of the Alien franchise? Just got back from the latest box office hit in the franchise, Alien: Covenant? Check out these similar titles, all available FREE on Hoopla!

  • Dead Ringers: This Cronenberg horror features twin brothers who take advantage of the fact that nobody can tell them apart - just like Michael Fassbender's android role in Covenant
  • Europa Report: An international crew of astronauts makes the long journey to Jupiter's fourth moon, seeking alien life.
  • The Last Days on Mars: The discovery of fossilized evidence of life on Mars is not as innocent as it seems in this Sci-Fi thriller. 

  • The Southern Reach Trilogy by Jeff VanderMeer: Area X, a mysterious quarantine zone of the unexpected, has had eleven expeditions. The first returned with reports of the beautiful landscape. The third expedition self-destructed and murdered each other. The eleventh expedition died of cancer months after returning. Annihilation, the first book in this acclaimed trilogy, begins with expedition number twelve. The spooky atmosphere, hiding unknowable horrors, is a perfect fit for Alien: Covenant's sense of dreaded discovery.  
  • At the Mountains of Madness by H. P. Lovecraft: This classic Lovecraft novella follows an expedition to the Antarctic and the chilling discoveries they make there. It's not as interstellar as the Alien franchise but the scares are just as cosmic. 
  • The Manitou by Graham Masterton: Karen Tandy discovers a mysterious lump growing under her skin that baffles all of her doctors. This chilling piece of body horror was the debut novel of eminent horror novelist Masterton. 


  • Aliens: Hoopla has more than enough Alien comics to keep you busy for a long time. A great way to dive into the extra mythology of this popular franchise. 
  • Hellboy: Mike Mignola's acclaimed series is all available on Hoopla! 

Friday, May 19, 2017

David Downing

David Downing’s series featuring British journalist John Russell, is set in Germany under Nazi occupation. While fictional, these books are filled with vivid descriptions of places, characters, and situations that ordinary people faced. Russell and his girlfriend, famous film actress Effi, must navigate the difficulties of life during wartime as John tries to work with the Allies yet remain in Germany. Gritty, but human, each title is the name of a Berlin train station. Begin with Zoo Station set in 1939 Berlin.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Literary Moms

With mother's day coming up, it brought to mind some of the moms that appear in novels.  Here are s few books (both classic and contemporary) featuring some memorable literary moms.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn - Betty Smith

~ Katie Nolan

Young Francie Nolan, having inherited both her father's romantic and her mother's practical nature, struggles to survive and thrive growing up in the slums of Brooklyn in the early twentieth century.  Katie Nolan, her mother, is a proud woman who will do anything in order to make the lives of her children better.

Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen

~ Mrs. Bennet

From Jane's Austen's classic, Mrs. Bennet is a silly, ill-mannered lady whose sole focus is to see her daughters marry well.

Life after Life - Kate Atkinson

~ Sylvie Todd

Atkinson delivers a wildly inventive novel about Ursula Todd, born in 1910 and doomed to die and be reborn over and over again. Her mother is an equally compelling character who is deeply devoted to her daughter.

Little Women - Louisa May Alcott

~ Marmee

The classic tale of the joys and sorrows of the four March sisters as they grow into young women in mid-nineteenth-century New England.  Their mother Marmee is a strong, loving presence holding the family together acting as head of the household while their father is away fighting in the Civil War for much of the story.

The Fifth Season - N.K. Jemison

~ Essun
Essun, masquerading as an ordinary schoolteacher in a quiet small town, comes home to find that her husband has brutally murdered their son and kidnapped their daughter. Mighty Sanze, the empire whose innovations have been civilization's bedrock for a thousand years, collapses as its greatest city is destroyed by a madman's vengeance. Essun has remembered herself, and she will have her daughter back. She does not care if the world falls apart around her. Essun will break it herself, if she must, to save her daughter.

Friday, May 5, 2017

While you wait for Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane

Are you patiently awaiting your turn to read The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See?  Try these read a likes while you wait!

The Kitchen God's Wife
by Amy Tan
For forty years, in China and in San Francisco, Winnie Louie and Helen Kwong have kept certian confidences. Suddenly, those shattering secrets are about to be revealed. So begins a series of comic misunderstandings and heartbreaking realizations about luck, loss, and trust; about the things a mother cannot tell her daughter, the secrets daughters keep, and the miraculous resiliency of love.

Where Women Are Kings
by Christie Watson
After being taken away from his birth mother, seven-year-old Elijah, who is covered in scars, is moved from one foster parent to the next before finding a forever home with Nikki and her husband, Obi, who work tirelessly to help him overcome his tragic past despite many disastrous challenges.

The Bridegroom: Stories
by Jin Ha
A collection of twelve short stories captures the daily lives and experiences of Chinese women and men who struggle to deal with the influx of Western influence into a society that attempts to control their every thought and move.

Beneath the Lion's Gaze
by Maaza Megiste
An epic tale of a father and two sons, of betrayals and loyalties, of a family unraveling in the wake of Ethiopia's revolution.

Desirable Daughters
by Bharati Mukherjee
Chronicles the journeys of three Brahmin women as they follow divergent paths from their home in Calcutta and a rigid Indian society to seek new lives for themselves on two separate continents.

Monday, May 1, 2017


Marvel's latest blockbuster comes out this Friday, May 5th - here are some similar titles to sate your appetite!

  • Super: Directed by James Gunn, director of the Guardians of the Galaxy Movies, Super follows everyday guy Frank as he dons a slapdash superhero outfit and attempts to rescue his estranged wife. Look for hints of the superhero formula that Gunn uses in both Guardians movies! 
  • Men In Black: Two members of a secret organization established to police alien activity on Earth find themselves in the middle of an assassination plot. While the action is less galactic than Guardians, the imaginative alien designs and sense of humor makes this a perfect double feature. 
  • Galaxy Quest: This loving spoof of the Star Trek series shows what might happen if the cast of the series were suddenly forced into real action - to hilarious effect! 
  • Starman: A road movie, a romance, a science fiction drama - Starman, directed by horror legend John Carpenter, is a perfect companion to Marvel's latest adventure. 
  • The Usual Suspects: A twisting crime caper, The Usual Suspects is a classic thriller due to its fantastic ensemble cast. The Guardians might be slightly more heroic, but they have a lot in common with the crew here. 
  • Serenity: The cinematic conclusion to the cult classic television series Firefly, this space-faring adventure features a renegade crew on the run from a galaxy-spanning government. 
Music: Here are just a few of the artists featured on the Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 soundtrack:
  • The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers: Tired of your science fiction stories always featuring a galaxy-threatening, world-ending terror? Try the first entry of the Wayfarers series, a pleasant adventure through a richly detailed galaxy. 
  • The Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams: Moments before the Earth is destroyed, everyman Arthur Dent is rescued by a friend and sent on a universe-spanning, hilarious adventure. Try the movie, too.
  • Saga by Brian K. Vaughan: Two soldiers from opposite sides of an eternal war find themselves in love and with child. This epic graphic novel series features an endless parade of alien species and a beautiful, sometimes heartbreaking, story. Pick it up now and you'll be clamoring for the next volume - of which there are currently 7. Also available on hoopla
  • Leviathan Wakes by James S. A. Corey: In this first book of The Expanse series, Captain Holden and Detective Miller find that their mysteries are interwoven into a terrifying conspiracy. A fresh take on space opera, not to be missed! 
  • Ready Player One by Ernest Cline: A dystopic, page-turner sci-fi adventure packed to the absolute brim with 80's pop culture references. 
  • The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch: Locke Lamora, leader of an infamous gang of thieves and con artists, finds that his confidence games have finally caught up to him in this first entry to a popular fantasy series. Trade Guardians' science fiction for fantasy, but keep the humor and fun character relationships.