Susan

About Susan

I am an Adult Services Librarian at the Warrenville Public Library, and a perpetual student. Audiobooks have aided me in keeping up with chronicles containing mystery, humor, and imagination, as well as nonfiction on a variety of topics. I also like British television and almost anything created by Joss Whedon or Ken Burns. An environmentalist, my favorite vacations have been in natural preserves.

S. by J. J. Abrams & Doug Dorst

s.J. J. Abrams, the movie and television creator of popular works such as Armageddon and Lost, hired a writer and a graphic design team to bring this celebration of paper and ink reading to life. S. is a multi-layered set of mysteries, composed of a suspenseful love story handwritten in the margins of an enigmatic, fantastical adventure novel. 22 extra artifacts that arrived tucked into this novel, including a map on a napkin, a college newsletter, and a decoder wheel, required extra TLC from our cataloging department, and add to the fun of this eccentric reading adventure. The design team did a wonderful job of using textures, images, and fonts to provide the nostalgic look of a library book published in the 1940’s, as well as inscribing the seams and margins with delightfully realistic handwriting.

I especially enjoyed Dorst’s writing in the adventure novel. The story is an analogy of literary novels of the early twentieth century, in which prose and philosophy proliferated. As a four-time winner of Jeopardy, Dorst has a wonderful depth of vocabulary which he uses playfully and poetically. For example, an assassin moving in and out of time feels that he is sleepwalking through his endless assignments and that his only choice is “to live a life of vigilant somnolence or somnolent vigilantism”. In contrast, the writing in the margins between two students who are surreptitiously passing the book back and forth as they try to discover the true identity of the author, is informal and includes current digital acronyms.

After Visiting Friends: A Son’s Story by Michael Hainey

after visitingBook – This memoir describes a ten-year search by the author to uncover the truth behind his father’s death in 1970. Hainey was six when his family received the tragic news that his father had been found dead on the street on Chicago’s North Side. Like his father before him, Hainey became a journalist, and he used his investigative experience to unearth the elusive truth about that night. This chronicle begins with a focus on the author’s mother and the telling of the story of his parent’s courtship at the Chicago Tribune. A colorful portrait of the lives of Tribune and Sun Times journalists at that time is told. Hainey relates memories of growing up in Chicago and reveals the impact his father’s absence had on his childhood. When he questions his family and his father’s co-workers, he gathers additional anecdotes about the lives of newspaper reporters in the sixties, but his sources remain quiet about the night his father died. Eventually, his dedicated search reveals the truth about that night, and in the process provides him with a rich history about the father he lost. For the audiobook, award winning narrator Dan Miller does a wonderful job with the preponderance of dialog for the interviews contained in this memoir.

Dancing Dogs: Stories by Jon Katz

dancing dogsBook – Ok, so it was the adorable dog on the cover that made me give this book of short stories about human-animal relationships a look. Katz effectively pulls on animal-lover’s heartstrings with these tales portraying the impact four-legged creatures make upon their care-takers lives. Yet, the most thought-provoking stories are from the perspective of the animal. One story, which relates the day of a dog at home while his owner is away, reminds  me of what I have often been told when over-personifying my dog, that animals see things differently and that their behaviors should not be interpreted as human. Dancing Dogs: Stories also explores a multitude of ways strongly attached individuals interact with their animals and appreciate their unique needs and talents. For example, Katz currently resides on a farm, and a number of his stories chronicle the unique world of “working dogs” and the bonds that are formed as owners train and work with their dogs.

Provence 1970 by Luke Barr

provenceBook – This book, which is drawn from the letters and diaries of twentieth century gourmet personalities, may have you raiding your fridge as you read, due to the mouth-watering descriptions of tasty meals throughout. These personalities include writers as well as chefs such as Julia Child, Richard Olney, and James Beard. However, the focal point of this text is the food writer M.F.K. Fisher, whose revealing journals inspired her great-nephew, an editor of Travel & Leisure, to author this book. His narrative focuses on a wintry period in 1970 when his great-aunt, a columnist for the New Yorker, was traveling in France, meeting up with her fellow food connoisseurs for communal dinners in Provence, and searching for nostalgic French cuisine on her own. Intimate and not always charitable thoughts of how these characters truly viewed each other are revealed, based upon a wealth of their correspondence. The author points to this time as a turning-point, when the titans of American tastes began to question the romanticized ideal of the superiority of French cuisine.

Stella Bain by Anita Shreve

stella bainBook – This novel begins with a compelling mystery as the main character awakens in a field hospital in Marne, France during World War I, not knowing her name or anything about herself beyond what is evident from her British nursing uniform and her American accent. This beautifully written historical fiction has the reader rooting for the courageous nurse as she forges on with nursing the wounded, pursuing threads of her identity, and ultimately facing a court trial. The audiobook is narrated by Hope Davis, and her pleasant, soothing voice matches Shreve’s spare, graceful presentation of a tragic yet intriguing story revolving around the development of psychotherapy for victims of shocking events. The courage, generosity, and intellect of individuals who aid the victims of war and prejudice are highlighted in the telling of “Stella Bain’s” story. The historical setting also provides a nostalgic backdrop for a love story that develops sweetly during this hopeful tale of rebuilding. If you enjoy this book, the library collections contain numerous novels by this award-winning author.

The Rosary Bride: a Cloistered Death by Luisa Buehler

2rosary brideBook – The Rosary Bride is the first of six cozy mysteries taking place in the western suburbs of Chicago. Much of this story occurs at a school based on the author’s alma mater, Rosary College in River Forest, now named Dominican University. The central character, Grace Marsden, is an accidental amateur detective whose curiosity is sparked during a brief encounter with a spirit haunting the college library. In this volume, her understated clairvoyant abilities lead her to investigate a generations-old unsolved crime. Ample location descriptions in all the suspenseful Grace Marsden stories, make it enjoyable to travel along with Grace as her investigations take her to local landmarks such as the Graue Mill in Oak Brook, a neighborhood bookstore in Lisle, local forest preserves, Brookfield Zoo, and eateries around her home in Downers Grove, and the homes of her large Italian family around Melrose Park. Often the history of local landmarks is embellished playfully within these tales. A love triangle, adds a compelling romantic story-line to the series. Less successfully, some international espionage occasionally appears.

The Fallback Plan by Leigh Stein

Book – This Fallback Plan creatively depicts the relatable growing pains and ennui of a recent Northwestern graduate living with her parents during a hot summer month in Lombard, Illinois. This novel, published in 2012, possesses the current voice of youth that is reminiscent of the writing in the television series Girls. The main character is struggling after a difficult final semester at school, yet her tone is light and her glib descriptions of her daily undertakings are fresh and amusing. Because the setting of the book is mainly within Lombard, I found the character’s humorous viewpoint on local area events and establishments to be especially enjoyable. The text contains discerning descriptions of the rituals of family life from the perspective of a twenty year old. More than that, the novel addresses the challenges impacting new as well as established families. Stein realistically captures the trials an individual faces with each identity adopted during the stages of life. I first became aware of this book upon viewing a telecast of a reading by the author at the College of DuPage. Here is a link to a video of Leigh Stein reading selections from her work at the college.

Samsara (2011)

SamsaraMovie – If you are in the mood for something different, or want to do a bit of armchair traveling via stunning visuals from distant locations, Samsara may interest you. It is a movie that is experienced rather than simply watched because of the impact of the graphic imagery of landscapes and human culture that are presented without a defined context. Filmed over four years, the images were photographed entirely in 70mm and transferred to 4K digital projection format. I’ve read recommendations for seeing this film on as large a screen as possible because of the splendid visuals, and I completely agree. Amazing real-time and time-lapse images that are as diverse as natural landscapes, spiritual sites, and industrial settings are accompanied only by ambient sound and music, and no dialog accompanies the film. This enriching film alternates between soothing meditative scenes of aesthetic grace and thought-provoking, slightly disturbing, scenes evoking social commentary. Samsara follows in the footsteps of two award-winning predecessors Baraka and Koyaanisqatsi (which was accompanied by the music of Philip Glass).

The Beekeeper’s Apprentice by Laurie R. King

Beekeeper's AppBook – A large part of the appeal of King’s award winning historical mystery series is the unique relationship of the two central characters. In Arthur Conan Doyle’s works Sherlock Holmes was a confirmed bachelor. Yet, in the memoirs of Mary Russell, which have mysteriously arrived on the author’s doorstep, a more intimate portrait of London’s most famous detective is revealed. This initial text is set in 1915, over a decade after Sir Conan Doyle had finished his accounts, and Holmes “weary of interrogating men” has retired and is quietly engaged in the study of honeybees in the English countryside. Well into his fifties, he meets our narrator, the young Miss Russell on the Sussex Downs. Scientific observation and references to theories of the progressive thinkers of the day are interspersed within their verbal sparring as it is soon revealed that unlike Holmes’s previous biographer, Conan Doyle, Mary Russell possesses an intellect and an ego that equals Sherlock Holmes. Therefore Russell writes about the detective as a peer as well as a mentor. There is a poignant moment when the mature Holmes upon realizing that a like-minded individual has finally entered his life murmurs to himself “twenty years ago, even ten, but here, now?” Russell begins a unique routine of tutelage with Holmes. She quickly deduces that Holmes is not entirely retired and their first case to track down a kidnapped American senator’s daughter brings danger. Who is the cunning adversary that is so intent on brutally ending them and their fledgling partnership?

Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt

tell the wolvesBook – I truly enjoyed revisiting numerous forgotten details about the 1980’s with the teenage protagonist of this novel. It begins as fourteen-year-old June is losing her only friend,  her uncle Finn, to the then little-known illness AIDS. While it begins with a story of loss it transforms into a narrative about a quirky and intriguing friendship when June meets someone else Finn has left behind. This novel also paints a sensitive and believable picture of the complexity of family relationships, especially the relationships between siblings. The story kept me interested as secrets that were withheld from June, as well as the knowledge that comes with aging, transformed her perception of the world and of her understanding of the lives of those around her. The audiobook is read by Amy Rubinate. Her calm, youthful, but never saccharine, tone is pleasant and appropriate for the main character. Print and digital copies of this title are also available from the library.