Blog: Staff Picks

staff picks

Chicago Weekend and Daytrip Ideas

You probably know that we have an extensive travel collection, but do you know that we have many books on Chicago and Illinois daytrips and weekends?  You don't have to go to Paris to have a great time - you can try one of these worthy titles to give you an idea for local travel fun!

If you're a biker, you should take a look at Best Rail Trails Illinois.  Offering a selection of more than 40 bike trails (many of which are former railroad tracks converted to bike paths), Best Rail Trails has good options for day trips near and far.  Hikers should grab a copy of Easy Hikes Close to Home to get ideas for some pleasant Illinois hikes, most of which are short and easy
Best Rail Trails Illinois
Easy Hikes Close to Home

Chicago Free & Dirt Cheap is your thrifty travel guide, for those days that you feel like taking the brood somewhere but not having to take out a second mortgage to do so.  It offers suggestions for cheap eats, walking tours, ways to save money on museums and cultural events and simple free ways to kill time. Frommer's Chicago With Kids is another place to get some great ideas of things to do with the family.
Frommer's Chicago Free & Dirt Cheap
Frommer's Chicago With Kids



The Lovers, by Vendela Vida

Recently, I discovered the author Vendela Vida. Her most recent book, The Lovers, has been given high praise by literary sources, as well as noted authors, such as Joyce Carol Oates.
The Lovers is a psychological exploration of a middle-aged widow (Yvonne) who travels back to Datca, Turkey to relive her honeymoon. There, she tries to better understand her marriage, her loss, and the disassociation she feels from her grown children.

In many ways, the book is very existential. We feel Yvonne's sense of loneliness and disconnection with everything around her. There is an air of impending doom from the very beginning. The once-beautiful coastal town of Datca is now garbage-strewn and seedy. Yvonne does not speak Turkish, and she is is looked upon with distrust. The setting outside of the house is likewise foreboding and ominous. When Yvonne befriends a young shell-seeker, the reader is already prepared for tragedy. Later, when Yvonne travels to the home of his family, she is caught in a tempestuous sand storm. The storm mirrors her internal conflicts.

"The darkness was almost complete. What was she doing? ...She had traveled to Turkey to regain something of what she had with Peter decades earlier--and failing that, she had befriended a boy. A Turkish boy who spoke nothing of her language. And now he was gone, and she was again searching for some remnant of someone she had lost. Had she been so lost herself? ...A sad, aging woman with no anchor. Fumbling in underground caves." (p. 211)

In the hands of a less-skilled writer, the plot of this book would be less gripping. But Vida's use of language and metaphor is nothing less than mesmerizing. The Lovers inspired me to read her other two books, Let the Northern Lights Erase Your Name, as well as, And Now You Can Go. They form a loose trilogy about the search for inner peace as one comes to terms with the present and the past.

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Father of the Rain by Lily King

Main character Daley Amory adored her handsome father while she was growing up. As an adult woman, Daley has chosen to isolate herself from the alcoholic womanizer he has become. Daley has built her own life as a successful professor, and is poised to start a new job at Berkeley, where she will move in with her beloved, a black man whose appearance no doubt would infuriate her family. Her father has a crisis, and Daley makes a detour in her life to help him.

The writing is beautiful, a good page turner, even if you get mad at some of the characters!



The Divining Rod by Michael Knight

What a perfect book to read over a weekend!
Michael Knight is a poster child for a talented writer who knows how to tell a story that keeps moving toward an unexpected ending.  The plot involves a "May-December" marriage that is suddenly in danger of being torn apart.

Provocative and morally questionable, this novel will be in your thoughts for a long while.  There is even a moment in the story when you will probably laugh out loud!

This book has it all except more pages to keep turning!

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Stoner by John Williams

I am not sure how this older book came to my attention, but I am really glad I read it. First published in 1965, and re-released in 2003, this is a character study of a man, Willam Stoner, an English Professor at U of Missouri. You could sum up the plot in a few sentences, it is not a plot driven novel, but a character driven story.

I turned the pages as Stoner went through his somewhat ordinary life, compelled by the beauty of the writing, and a growing affection for him. Worth reading for the writing alone.

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Classic Joyce Carol Oates Pick - Blonde

I agree that Joyce Carol Oates can be uneven. However, Blonde is an amazing read that will keep you engrossed for all of its' many pages.

Oates is quick to say that this book is NOT a true story of Marilyn Monroe. But, it so chock full of what we already know of her life that you will come away thinking you've read her biography!

I know it's a big book but you will soon forget the length and be riveted to the content. WOW!

When Joyce is good, she's VERY good!



The Lonely Polygamist, by Brady Udall

The Lonely Polygamist, by Brady Udall, is a sensitive, as well as irreverent, look at one Mormon family in 1960s Utah. The exact year of the story is not clear. Udall indicates, in his author's note, that geography and history were ignored "when they didn't serve the story." We do, however, get a clear picture of cold war America, a time when atomic bomb testing was taking place in uranium-rich Utah.

Golden Richards is the main protagonist in this 600-page tale. He has four wives and twenty-eight children. Once able to support them with an inheritance and a growing construction business, he now has fallen victim to the economic slump. He has gradually been selling off his properties for available cash. Desperate, he accepts a project to build an upscale brothel in Nevada, pretending that he is building a home for the elderly.

It is in Nevada that the reader is introduced to an array of colorful characters, including the woman with whom Golden has an affair. Udall cleverly explores issues of grief, sexuality, loneliness, and inclusion. At times overly descriptive, the author's depiction of the characters is both tragic and uproariously funny.

The Lonely Polygamist is an absorbing read, made all the more so by characters who are very flawed and utterly human.



A Friend of the Family: a novel

I just finished one of the most engaging books I've read in ages! A Friend of the Family by Lauren Grodstein is quite an engrossing story that keeps you turning page after page.

Many times with a "page turner", the writing suffers. Not so in this book. Grodstein's prose is a joy to read and the plot never disappoints!

Set in New Jersey, the action centers around a physician and his family and an unspeakable tragedy. The doctor's best friend and neighbor are intricately involved in a plot line that encompasses both families.

I won't spoil the suspense for you but I know you'll be thrilled with this one!



Top Historical Fiction

Thanks to our friends at Booklist Magazine, here is a list of Top Historical Fiction - we own them all!


The Coral Thief by Rebecca Stott
Stott effortlessly captures both the chaos of immediate post-Napoleonic Paris' changing social hierarchy and the exhilaration of intellectuals who have freed themselves from the tyranny of dogma.
Devil's Dreams by Madison Smartt Bell
Bell returns from his celebrated Haitian trilogy to his native Tennessee, to tell the tale of Nathan Bedford Forrest, a feared Confederate general of profound contradictions, strategic brilliance and outrageous valor.
Four Freedoms by John Crowley

The author's detailed descriptions of sights, smellls and sounds in an American aircraft plant during WWII and his evocation of everyday life at home, make this a wonderful, unforgettable novel.