Tag Archives: book review

One Last Lunch book review

One Last Lunch: A Final Meal with Those Who Meant So Much to Us (edited by Erica Heller) Look for this book for purchase online or in your local public library

This was an imaginative project that I feel brings us closer to some of those famous people we would have loved to know, such as Robin Williams, Prince, Julia Child, James Baldwin, Saul Bellow, David Bowie, and countless others. Each story is an exercise in creativity because this lunch is fictional–the authors were to imagine and describe what they would discuss, where they would go, and how they would feel if they could speak with their loved one one last time. This work made me want to read more about the celebrity individuals, or to seek out their works. I found it delightful to read, especially for the escapism aspect during the pandemic. Erica Heller does a wonderful job editing and providing her own “bookended” stories. At times sad and touching, but often illuminating and heartwarming.–Written by Maria Bagshaw, Reference/Instruction Librarian

Summer Reading suggestions from the ECC Library!

Image by Kristin Baldeschwiler from Pixabay 

Check your local public library to see if these titles are available to you on their eBook platforms or for curbside pickup.

One of the more anticipated titles for this summer is Suzanne Collins’s The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, the prequel to The Hunger Games. Set during the 10th Hunger Games as the origin story of Coriolanus Snow, this work shows the influence of Collins’s father, an Air Force officer interested in military history. Have younger siblings? Try Collins’s Gregor the Overlander, an epic fantasy listed as one of New York Public Library’s 100 Books for Reading and Sharing. – Mary Spevacek, Reference Librarian

Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk by Kathleen Rooney

A fictionalized account of a resilient woman who managed to rise to the top of the advertising staff at Macy’s department store in the early twentieth century and maintain her position through decades of profession and personal setbacks. This reads partly like a Mad Men plot but also as an ode to New York City where Lillian, a lifelong resident, takes long walks and meditates on her life. A delight to read.–Barb Evans, Reference/Instruction Librarian

Black Pain:  It just looks like We’re Not Hurting by Terrie M. Williams

Black Pain was written specifically for the black community, but depression and anxiety are universal.  If you are feeling depressed (or think you may be), carry symptoms that have no explanation, whether male or female, you can gain a better perspective in knowing how and why depression shows up in the black community, the difficulties some face in finding support and treatment, and how to move forward in the face of a society that often does not acknowledge or honor black faces.  If you have a loved one who is suffering from depression, Black Pain can help you to navigate your relationship with them and be the best advocate possible.
Although this book was published in 2008, and mental illness has become more widely discussed since that time; sadly, the trauma and issues surrounding racism haven’t changed much at all.  Still, it is an excellent read and a lifeline to those who look to it for knowledge and understanding.–Dennece Jefferson, Office Coordinator

Clementine: The Life of Mrs. Winston Churchill by Sonia Purnell

This work really focuses in on the lesser known story of Winston Churchill’s wife, Clemmie, and her relationship with her husband, family, and the country. Purnell doesn’t shy away from her weaknesses, and yet she comes out as a strong and compassionate woman who, while supporting her husband, also took time away for her own vacations and to be her own person. If you know a little about Churchill and especially his World War I & II experiences, the added perspective of the woman who was behind the scenes brings the stories a richness not known before. Many primary sources punctuate to round out her personality as we really feel we get to know her. Definitely for history buffs.–Maria Bagshaw, Reference/Instruction Librarian

Big Fish by Daniel Wallace

If you have seen the movie, which the author helped to write, do not fool yourself that you know the book! In under 200 pages, Wallace manages to pack in some wonderful exaggerated stories and the complicated relationship between a father and son. The stories make for a light fun read on one level but hold much deeper meaning.–Barb Evans, Reference/Instruction Librarian

Just Kids by Patti Smith

This autobiography reads not just as a love affair between poet and rock star Patti Smith and photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, but also as a love affair with the artists and art scene in New York City from 1969 into the 1970s. The writing is mesmerizing and the descriptions of their lives although sometimes harrowing are also invigorating. Accompanied by numerous photographs. Winner of the National Book Award.--Barb Evans, Reference/Instruction Librarian

Max Brooks, author of World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War (you may have seen the movie with Brad Pitt), has written a new one out June 16th, which looks like a great summer read: Devolution: A Firsthand Account of the Rainier Sasquatch Massacre. From Goodreads: Part survival narrative, part bloody horror tale, part scientific journey into the boundaries between truth and fiction, this is a Bigfoot story as only Max Brooks could chronicle it. – Mary Spevacek, Reference Librarian

1619 Project (Winner of the Pulitzer for Commentary by Nikole Hannah-Jones) with many contributors.

If you haven’t read this project, you can read it here for free. There is a great deal of information and interesting insights, covering essays, illustrations, photographs, and poetry. Rather than a rewriting of history, this project aims to correct it, providing primary documentation to the perspective shared. We must remember that these perspectives don’t tarnish our history as a country, but are a part of the fabric, and for too long, the contributions of African-Americans have been at best touched upon, and at worst ignored. This Politico article explains some of the criticisms but ultimately the fact checker/writer involved believes that the overall product is a worthy addition to learning the true history of our country. Debate should be welcomed; indignant responses under the guise of patriotism are not rational debate. -Maria Bagshaw, Reference/Instruction Librarian

Someone by Alice McDermott

This short novel has a deceivingly simple storyline, the “everyday” life of a 20th century woman in Brooklyn’s Irish Catholic neighborhood. The main character, Marie, lives an average even model life as viewed by outsiders, marrying at a young age, having children and being a good wife. However, through it all, we see “up close and personal” her struggles, triumphs and crushing blows as events in her life unfold. Written in lyrical prose with insights into life’s joys and sorrows.–Barb Evans, Reference/Instruction Librarian

Three celebrity memoirs! These three memoirs came out within the last year, and they are entertaining, touching, and inspiring. They each read as though the person is speaking to you–the personalities shine through.-Maria Bagshaw, Reference/Instruction Librarian

  • Over the Top: A Raw Journey to Self-Love by Jonathan Van Ness

This Queer Eye host details his life thus far, including his journey of self-discovery and self-acceptance, and how he deals with his illness. He is honest, open, and loving–just as you would expect from his TV persona. 

  • Open Book by Jessica Simpson

I was not necessarily a Jessica Simpson fan–I had heard of her and of her reality show, and had bought her shoes, but I wouldn’t have expected to totally fall in admiration of her when reading this book. I started it because I saw it recommended and thought it sounded like a distracting read. However, she proves to be way more than met the eye–really an Open Book to her fans and those who are struggling or have struggled with addictions. She is unique and shouldn’t be underestimated.

  • Me by Elton John

Probably my favorite read of the year, I couldn’t put this one down. Again, he writes as you would expect him to sound–brutally honest and at times a bit catty, but overall grateful and giving to his fans and to the world. His lasting friendship with his lyricist Bernie Taupin is one of my favorite things. I really liked hearing about his journey to sobriety and his discovery of the joys of fatherhood. What a life lived. 

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche

Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche builds her own experience of coming to America into her character Ifemelu’s story. Adiche describes her own experience with race simultaneously with Ifemelu’s: until emigration to the United States, the color of her skin was not something she really thought about. Once in the United States, where being Black has significant meaning, we imagine Adiche’s eyes were expanded as much as Ifemelu’s. Uniquely positioned to be both outside of the American Black experience while also forced to feeling its ramifications based on how other people treat her, we watch Ifemelu courageously begin to discuss these topics in a blog. The novel spans non-American Black experiences in Nigeria, the United States, and England. Adiche’s writing is precise, literary, and imaginative; we can imagine the locations and the emotions. Ifemelu is determined, human, and observant with a keen pulse for description as well. It’s also at its heart, a love story. This novel so timely for its discussion of race and race relations (which also part of the 2013 Ten Best Books of the Year from the New York Times Book Review) is highly recommended.–Jennifer Schlau, Reference/Instruction Librarian

For those faculty who are in the CETL Reading Group, we have a research guide devoted to helping you find books for those discussions. The guide includes browsing ebook items on teaching/learning, teaching strategies, and equity/cultural competence. Contact Tyler Roeger at  troeger@elgin.edu for more information.

Book reviews: COVID-19 and World War II: Reviews of Recent Historical titles

For some reason World War II books echo the current state of isolation, fear, and hope that we share with those in England’s blitz. Similarly, these works can take us out of our current situation to one more deadly. As one reviewer noted of Erik Larson’s recent release, The Splendid and the Vile: A Saga of Churchill, Family, and Defiance During the Blitz, “I have an early copy of this book on my desk and idly began reading the first pages—and suddenly time disappeared.” (The Seattle Times)

     You may recognize Erik Larson as the author of The Devil in the White City, but he also studied World War II for his earlier In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin. It is works such as these that have made him a master of narrative non-fiction. In The Splendid and the Vile he makes ample use of diaries kept at the time by people around Churchill: his daughter, his private secretary, and even a German pilot. This historian’s view makes us wonder: are people making records of daily life during the pandemic?

     Have you ever wondered how Germany paid for “The Final Solution”? Another current title, Dark Towers: Deutsche Bank, Donald Trump, and an Epic Trail of Destruction covers the financing of Auschwitz through this history of Germany’s largest lender. The author, David Enrich, is remarkably capable of this effort. Currently financial editor at The New York Times, he was previously financial enterprise editor at The Wall Street Journal.

The work reads more like a work of fiction, beginning with the suicide of a prominent banker, and following the pursuit of his son, who is determined to find out why his father killed himself. More frightening is the lengths that the organization goes to once it decides to pursue Wall Street riches and money-laundering for Russian oligarchs. Financing a New York real estate family that no one else will lend to any more becomes a natural next step.

The last book is a joint biography of Churchill and George Orwell, author of 1984 and Animal Farm. While you might not put the politician and the author together, they were both contemporaries. In Churchill and Orwell: The Fight for Freedom, Thomas E. Ricks argues that both were responsible for steering England, and ultimately the world, toward freedom and away from totalitarianism.

     A member of two Pulitzer Prize-winning journalism teams, Ricks covered U.S. military activities in Korea, Bosnia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Kuwait, Turkey, Afghanistan, and Iraq. The parallels he uncovers in the lives of Churchill and Orwell may be a bit forced, but Ricks demonstrates that they both went from relative obscurity to their present fame through their persistent resistance to the acceptance of authoritarian rulers during the 1940s. Stripping away our current reverence for these figures reveals how courage and vision can make two ordinary lives extraordinary.

Written by Mary Spevacek, Reference/Instruction Librarian

-Image courtesy of Amazon.com

What’s your Genre? Or a list of distracting reads

When librarians study Readers Advisory – helping patrons find their next “read” – they are taught to identify the patron’s favorite genre, or category of reading: what they most enjoyed based on past reading. This is not as easy as it sounds. I had a list of titles and authors from the last year, but wasn’t sure what the genre was, so went to Goodreads: Meet your next favorite book: https://www.goodreads.com/

First, I thought the genre was Thrillers, but none of my authors appeared, so I kept entering individual titles and authors, looking at the Genres that came up. Finally, I clicked on an individual title and looked for the other authors that were recommended. Once I saw Lee Child and clicked on his latest title – eureka!

Police Procedurals – Mystery Fiction

 It’s been a remarkably rich year in this genre. Since Lee Child led me to this category, let me give you an overview. If you have seen the Jack Reacher movies, you know this author – although the books are better. Lee Child is a pen name for an author who was fired from his job in television production and gave himself one year to write a bestseller – something many of us have thought we could do! His success is based on the lead character, who owns no property, has no family, and now retired from the army, no obligations. From the amazon review: He’s the tall, “ugly,” 250-pound former military investigator who makes revenge fantasies come true in book after book.” This made the casting of Tom Cruise in the role a genuine scandal for those of us who are fans. The latest title, Blue Moon, has Reacher helping an elderly couple in debt to a mob gang, and finds himself in the middle of a war. But any of his titles will be a great “no brainer.”

 My second favorite is John Sandford, another pen name for a Pulitzer prize-winning journalist, so we know it will be well-written. In his latest, Bloody Genius, Virgil Flowers, thrice-divorced, affable member of the

Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA), finds himself investigating a murder on the University campus. The victim is at the heart of a culture war between two academic departments. The fun of these books are the snarky remarks made by Virgil and his colleagues.

      Michael Connelly similarly covered the L.A. crime beat for newspapers prior to creating his character Detective Harry Bosch. In his latest, The Night Fire, Harry pairs up with LAPD Detective Renee Ballard. The two of them work to solve a 20-year-old cold case. Thompson, Harry’s mentor, has kept the murder book. At Thompson’s funeral, his wife gives Harry the murder book. The suspense in this work is why Thompson kept the book – to solve the case or be certain it would not be solved?

 Finally, another sure bet is David Baldacci. I once heard Baldacci speak at a conference, where he told the story of the first gift from his wife – a journal for him to write his novel. His latest, A Minute to Midnight, features a new character, FBI Agent Atlee Pine, who is haunted by the abduction of her twin sister when they were children. Atlee makes a wonderful tough role model, and her older assistant Carol Blum serves as her foil and mother-figure as they are confronted with a serial killer during Atlee’s quest to find her sister’s killer.

You can also check out our NoveList Plus database, which offers recommendations and reviews for fiction and non-fiction.

Have fun reading! — Mary Spevacek, Reference Librarian

*Images courtesy of Amazon

The Sun is also a Star Book Review


The Sun Is Also a Star
Nicola Yoon
Fic Y586s, Children’s low stacks

You may have seen the movie – with Yara Shahidi and Charles Melton. 

Two teens–Daniel, the son of Korean shopkeepers, and Natasha, whose family is here illegally from Jamaica–cross paths in New York City on an eventful day in their lives–Daniel is on his way to an interview with a Yale alum, Natasha is meeting with a lawyer to try and prevent her family’s deportation to Jamaica–and fall in love.

–Submitted by Mary Spevecek, Reference/Instruction Librarian

Far from the Tree Book Review


Far From the Tree
Robin Benway   National Book Award!
Fic B479f

Grace, adopted at birth, is raised as an only child. At sixteen she’s just put her own baby up for adoption, and now is looking for her biological family. She discovers Maya, her loudmouthed younger bio sister who was also adopted; and Joaquin, their stoic older bio brother, who has no interest in bonding over their shared biological mother after seventeen years in the foster care system. Grace struggles between cautious joy at having found them, and the true meaning of family in all its forms.

–Submitted by Mary Spevecek, Reference/Instruction Librarian

Turtles All the Way Down Book Review

Turtles All the Way Down

Turtles all the way down
John Green
Fic G7968t, Children’s short stacks      

That John Green – of The Fault in Our Stars, Looking for Alaska, Paper Towns

In this one, the author explores his own struggles with anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), which he’s dealt with since childhood.  This novel has been long-anticipated – his first in five years – and it is darker in some ways than some of his other dark topics.

–Submitted by Mary Spevecek, Reference/Instruction Librarian

The Poet X Book Review

The Poet X

The Poet X              
Elizabeth Acevedo        
Fic A174p, Children’s low stacks

Elizabeth Acevedo, an Afro-Dominican National Poetry Slam Champion, was awarded both the 2018 National Book Award and the Pura Belpré Award (given to Latino/Latina writers) for her debut novel.

Her character, Xiomara, pours all her frustrations and passion into her poetry, but when asked to join a slam poetry club, wonders if she can defy her mother and the laws of the church in order to perform her poems aloud.

–Submitted by Mary Spevecek, Referrence/Instruction Librarian

The Beantown Girls Book Review

The Beantown Girls
By Jane Healey

The Beantown Girls was a fascinating historical novel I recently read by Jane Healey.  It is about three young ladies who make the trek across the pond from Boston to Europe during the height of World War II, in order to become Red Cross Clubmobile Girls.  I didn’t know such a thing existed during WWII, but many American women went through training and traveled across the Atlantic to different locations during the war to encourage American troops.

In the novel, the girls serve coffee and doughnuts to the soldiers and have several exciting escapades driving the big truck across war torn roads.  What I loved about it is the sense of what it might have been like during that the war.  Young men and women having to live in that exact moment, not knowing what might happen the next day.  The Beantown Girls encounter adventure at every turn, but they also encounter reality, and the fact that friends they met one day were gone the next.  I feel like I take some of life for granted just assuming people I know and hold dear will be around for some time.  I enjoyed different parts of the novel that caused me to think about life, but it was also an enjoyable adventure to read about. 

Written by Jessica Kellenberger, Technical Specialist I

#BookThatChangedYourWorld: Jennifer Schlau

Boyd, Candy Dawson. Forever Friends. Puffin, 1986.

I probably read this book 10-15 times (maybe even more, I truly lost count) as an older child/young adolescent, and somewhere I still have my copy.

Hands down, this is one of my favorite children’s books. It’s beautiful when the memories of enjoying a great book in many locations and in all seasons feels as warm as enjoying the story itself.

One reason I think I took most to this story as a child was the African-American protagonist and her family. I grew up in a school system very predominantly made up of Caucasian students so reading a story about an African-American girl my age that I could identify with and relate to was very powerful experience for me.

Toni (Antoinette) is preparing for a big exam into a private academy when her best friend Susan is killed in a car accident. We walk with Toni as she processes her friend’s death. We walk with her moving toward physical and emotional maturity.

Boyd makes you feel like you are right next to Toni – for instance, vivid descriptions of waking up in the morning to the sound of the heater running and being warm and snuggly in bed. There’s a little metaphor that I remember, but Boyd puts you right there (reading my review makes me want to curl up and read this again as soon as possible!). This work was originally published as Breadsticks and Blessing Places. It is out of print, but with a quick search on World Cat to see where it is nearby, I noticed that Chicago Public Library has it (under the Breadsticks and Blessing Places title) as well as Loyola University (under Forever Friends), so if you decide to read it, Interlibrary Loan might be for you.

–Submitted by Jennifer Schlau, Reference/Instruction Librarian