Jo Hansen

Jo Hansen

 


Jo Hansen has been a Readers’ Advisor at Cook Library for several years, after a 20-year career as a newspaper journalist. Libraries rock! She especially enjoys literary and historical fiction as well as mysteries and fantasy. When she doesn’t have her nose in a book, she enjoys playing with her chocolate Labrador Yogi Bear and watching great movies. 


 

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When I started reading all the rave reviews in 2012 for Leigh Bardugo’s dark fantasy, Shadow and Bone, my interest was piqued. The New York Times called the debut novelist’s writing “Mesmerizing…Bardugo’s set up is shiver-inducing, of the delicious variety. This is what fantasy is for.”

The reviewers were right: I loved Shadow and Bone, Bardugo’s first book in her young adult fantasy trilogy. She has created a dark, mysterious country called Rafka with the flavor of old Russia. The heart of the book is Bardugo’s heroine, Alina Starkov, a b2ap3_thumbnail_leighbardugo_20140725-183224_1.jpgwise-cracking orphan who doesn’t take herself too seriously.

Alina’s life dramatically changes when she discovers she has a hidden superpower. She is forced to be trained as one of the Grisha, the magical elite led by a fascinating, dangerous man called the Darkling. Alina eventually realizes the Darkling wants to use her power to conquer all of Rafka.

After I read
Shadow and Bone, it was hard waiting for the next two books. Siege and Storm was released in 2013, and the finale, Ruin and Rising, came out last month. Although the books deal with dark themes, humor is sprinkled throughout the pages, which lightens the reader’s journey with Alina. Some romantic twists also nicely add to the highly entertaining, action-packed story.

DreamWorks bought the rights to
Shadow and Bone, so a movie may be in the works. In the meantime, Bardugo is writing another fantasy set in the same world as the Grisha Trilogy, but in a different country with new characters. I can’t wait.

Jo Hansen, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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Meet Junior Bender, a professional cat burglar who is more than an ordinary thief. His intelligence and skills have made him the go-to guy for crooks with problems.

Do you want to know who stole your stolen painting? Then Junior is the person for the job, if you can put up with his wise-cracking remarks and moral streak (yes, a burglar can have a moral streak). He follows his own code, such as only stealing from the rich. As Junior notes, “They’re the only ones with anything worth taking. What are you going to steal from the poor? Aspirations?’’b2ap3_thumbnail_timothyhallinan.jpg

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Meet Lori Rader-Day at Cook Library at 7 p.m. July 15. Register

I really enjoy reading debut novels. It’s so much fun discovering new authors and anticipating their future books. One such author is Lori Rader-Day, whose psychological thriller, The Black Hour, comes out July 8.

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b2ap3_thumbnail_rainbowrowell.jpgIf you want to know about some of the best new books that librarians love, check out LibraryReads. Once a month librarians across the country vote for their favorite books, and only 10 make the list.

The July list has just been announced, and we are so excited because our own Andrea Larson’s review was picked for the number one book! Andrea recommended the novel Landline by Rainbow Rowell, who is a favorite among librarians for her young adult novels Eleanor & Park and Fangirl. Landline is Rowell’s first adult novel. Andrea wrote that “Landline explores the delicate balance women make between work and family, considering the tradeoffs and pain. Rowell has a special gift for offering incredible insights into ordinary life. Never heavy-handed, Rowell’s writing is delivered with humor and grace. I finish all of her books wanting to laugh and cry at the same time–they are that moving. Landline captured my heart.”

b2ap3_thumbnail_loriraderday.pngWe also are thrilled because The Black Hour by Lori Rader-Day is one the top 10 books picked for July. Rader-Day is coming to Cook Library to talk about her terrific debut mystery at 7 p.m. Tuesday, July 15. The Black Hour also has received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Booklist, and was listed by Chicago Magazine as one of six great summer reads by local authors. We are so proud to host this talented author, and hope you can join us. Register here.

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I’m not sure why, but most major book awards are announced either in the spring or fall. The last big award of this season, the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction (formerly the Orange Prize), was announced Wednesday.

Here is a roundup of all the spring awards, in case you missed the announcements.

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b2ap3_thumbnail_chinadolls.jpgWith China Dolls, Lisa See has written a highly engaging novel looking into the popular "Oriental'' nightclub scene before World War II in San Francisco.  

Three young women from different backgrounds form a rocky friendship when trying to survive in a difficult environment of racism, sexism and family challenges.

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We welcome three debut novelists this summer as well as two New York Times bestselling authors to the library.

b2ap3_thumbnail_Your-Perfect-Life-web-picsm.jpgWe start out the summer fun by throwing a book launch party with special guest author Jen Lancaster for Your Perfect Life, a debut novel by authors Liz Fenton and Libertyville resident Lisa Steinke at 7 p.m. June 10 at Aspen Drive Library. Fenton and Steinke, who have been best friends for 25 years, imagine what happens when two best friends wake up after their 20th high school reunion and discover they have switched bodies. Lancaster praises Your Perfect Life for its “delicious, page-turning premise, and sweet and surprising insights”. Lancaster's latest book is The Tao of Martha: My Year of Living, or Why I'm Never Getting All That Glitter Off of the Dog. The party will include delicious refreshments. Click here to register or call 847-362-2330.

b2ap3_thumbnail_elinhilderbrandsm.jpgLater in June we have lunch with New York Times bestselling author Elin Hilderbrand, who will talk about her touching new novel, The Matchmaker, at noon June 26 at Aspen Drive Library. The story centers on Nantucket resident Dabney Kimball Beech as she sets out to find love for those closest to her before it’s too late. Nantucket is the backdrop for Hilderbrand's 12 books and where she has called home home for 20 years. An optional lunch from the Picnic Basket can be ordered for $6 and must be paid for by Sunday, June 22, at Cook Park or Aspen Drive Library. Choose from chicken salad; veggie with provolone; turkey with cheddar; or ham with Swiss. Lunches include bottled water, chips, fruit cup, and cookie. We also will raffle two beach bags filled with summer goodies. Click here to register or call 847-362-2330.

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b2ap3_thumbnail_donteverlookback.jpgHooray! Retired Police Detective Baruch “Buck’’ Schatz returns, more ornery than ever, in Daniel Friedman’s terrific second mystery, Don’t Ever Look Back. Friedman introduced the colorful octogenarian in Don’t Ever Get Old, imagining what life would be like for a Dirty Harry type of character in his 80s.

At 88, Buck is in even worse physical shape in Don’t Ever Look Back, thanks to injuries he incurred in the first book. He is living with his wife in a senior assisted living facility, and must use a walker to get around. As annoying as the walker is, Buck discovers that it turns out to be a handy weapon.

Buck’s sedentary lifestyle, filled with painful physical therapy appointments, is disrupted when an b2ap3_thumbnail_danielfriedman.jpgenemy from his past shows up at the retirement home. The 80-year-old criminal, known only as Elijah, got away with a huge bank robbery heist in 1965 when Buck was a cop. But now Elijah beseeches Buck for help, saying his life is in grave danger.

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b2ap3_thumbnail_bellweatherrhapsody.jpgWhen I started reading the delightful Bellweather Rhapsody (publication date May 13), it was clear to me that Kate Racculia was a band geek growing up. Both my kids were band geeks, and attended music festivals like the one in Racculia’s second novel. The author’s attention to detail, from the black bottoms and white tops to the quirky guest conductors, rings with authenticity.

The stars of the show are Alice and Rabbit Hatmaker, two twins who are polar opposites. Alice loves being the center of attention and singing her heart out to anyone who will listen. Rabbit (a nickname for Bertram) is his sister’s quiet side kick, who feels most alive when he is playing his bassoon, Beatrice. When they both are chosen to go to an all-state music conference from their small town, Alice can’t wait to meet new friends and show off her talents. Rabbit hopes to just get through the long weekend.

But soon it becomes clear that this won’t be just an ordinary music festival. Alice
b2ap3_thumbnail_kateracculia.jpgis assigned to Room 712, where a murder/suicide took place 15 years before. When Alice finds her roommate Jill hanging from the ceiling in their room, she rushes to get help. A few minutes later, Jill’s body is gone, and a note is left saying, “Now she is mine.’’ The
horrified Alice is determined to find out what happened.

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Many novels have been written about World War II, but All the Light We Cannot See is one of the best I’ve read, thanks to Anthony Doerr’s exquisite writing and moving story.

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Avid readers know that the book is almost always better than the movie, with a few exceptions (To Kill a Mockingbird comes to mind). So here's hoping these movies will be able to live up to these books we love!

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In celebration of National Library Week, the Read! Watch! Listen! bloggers share their shelfies in the library. 

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b2ap3_thumbnail_jussiadlerolsen.jpgJussi Adler-Olsen digs into a sordid chapter of Denmark’s past in his latest mystery, The Purity of Vengeance: A Department Q Novel (book 4 in the series).

The author tackles the nasty subject of selective reproduction by looking into the history of Sprogo, a Danish island which was used from 1923 to 1959 to imprison women considered promiscuous to avoid unwanted pregnancies. Many of the women were forced to be sterilized before they were released back into society. Adler-Olsen adds a fictitious villain by the name of Curt Wad, a charming but evil physician whose mission is to ensure the purity of the Danish population. At the center of the plot is Nete Hermansen, who plans revenge against Curt Wad and the others who ruined her life.

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b2ap3_thumbnail_dinner.jpgb2ap3_thumbnail_theson.jpgWhile college basketball fans are busy losing money in their March Madness office pools, book geeks are once again enjoying the revelry of the annual Tournament of Books. Haven’t heard of the Tournament of Books? This entertaining book vs. book bracket is presented by the Morning News in Dallas, and is in its 10th year. Every week in March, two books go cover to cover in a battle of words to move on to the next bracket. Each round features guest judges, such as John Green and Geraldine Brooks, who explain their reasoning behind their selection. The judges’ comments and the color commentary are great fun to read. There even is a zombie round where two books that were eliminated are brought back for one last shot. Like the Cinderella basketball teams, a few lesser known books are thrown into the mix to compete against some heavy hitters.


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b2ap3_thumbnail_sarahaddisonallen.pngHave you discovered the delights of Sarah Addison Allen? If you haven’t read any of her books, you are in for a treat. If you are a fan like I am, you can be glad that she is back with another delightful story, Lost Lake.

Allen‘s amusing, whimsical stories are all set in the South, with quirky characters who have to overcome personal tragedies or dilemmas. She helps them along the way by sprinkling a touch of magic into their lives. Her first book, Garden Spells, is a book club favorite and a good introduction to her works.

In Allen’s newest novel, Kate Pheris is slowly coming back to life after mourning the death of her husband over the past year. She realizes that she has been ignoring her 8-year-old daughter Devin, b2ap3_thumbnail_lostlake.jpgand allowing her pushy mother-in-law to take over their lives. When Kate discovers an old note from her Great Aunt Eby, warm childhood memories flood back of the summer she spent at Eby’s vacation resort, Lost Lake, with a boy named Wes. On the spur of the moment, Kate decides to take Devin to Lost Lake to revisit some happy times.

But Lost Lake has seen better days. Eby has decided to sell the land with the run-down cabins to a developer. In true Allen style, the reader gets to meet some eccentric characters with interesting backgrounds. The result is a delightful, spellbinding book that will warm you up on a cold winter’s day.

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Now that many of the 2013 best fiction lists are out, I’ve compiled some of them to see which titles stood out among the thousands that were reviewed in the last 12 months.

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The Adult Services staffers read a lot of books in 2013, and at the end of the year we narrowed down the list to our favorites. Our picks include a wide variety of titles because we all have different reading tastes. In fact, we don’t always agree, which leads to some interesting discussions.

As always, a few books really stood this year out and were named by numerous staffers. A mystery took the top honors with seven staffers listing it: How the Light Gets In by Louise Penny, which is book nine in the exceptional Chief Inspector Gamache series. Five staffers also listed Me Before You by Jojo Moyes, a book that will guarantee to make you cry. Books listed four times include: Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell, The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty, And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini, Burial Rites by Hannah Kent, The Dinner by Herman Koch, and Someday, Someday Maybe by Lauren Graham.

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constellation-ofvitallargeAnthony Marra's debut novel, A Constellation of Vital Phenomena,  is both stunning and heartbreaking. Set in Chechnya from 1994-2004, Marra exquisitely creates characters who try to survive in the depressing, deplorable conditions that war so often brings.

Sonja is a coldhearted, brilliant surgeon who tries to save lives in an abandoned Chechen hospital. Eight-year-old Havaa hides in the woods while her father Dokka is taken away by Russian soldiers for helping the Chechen rebels. Akhmed is a failed doctor who would rather be a portrait artist.

When Akhmed witnesses the Russian police take away his friend Dokka, he realizes he must rescue Haava and help her hide. They end up at Sonja's hospital, much to the doctor's dismay. Sonja knows that hiding the girl could cause her a great deal of trouble. She reluctantly agrees to let Havaa stay on the condition that Akhmed work at the hospital. As the story unfolds in a series of flashbacks, Marra reveals how Akhmed, Sonja and Havaa are unknowingly connected to each other because of their pasts.b2ap3_thumbnail_anthonymarra_20140121-164017_1.png
Marra gives us other memorable characters. Khassan is a pariah in his community because his son Ramzan has become an informant for the Russians. While Marra explores Khassan's profound shame, he also examines why Ramzan decided to become an enemy among the people he grew up with. We also get to know Sonja’s sister Natasha, who tries to escape war-torn Chechnya only to end up in her own personal hell. Sonja throughout the book is tormented because she doesn’t know what happened to her younger sister.

I admit my lack of knowledge about the history of Chechnya kept me looking up details on the Internet to learn more about what I was reading. For example, I had no idea that Stalin deported the entire ethnic Chechen population in 1944 to Kazakhstan and Siberia. During this time, tens of thousands of Chechens died. The survivors were allowed by Khrushchev to return to their homeland in 1956, but eventually they faced two more wars with Russia over their independence.

This PBS web page has a lot of information about Chechnya’s history that I found helpful: http://www.pbs.org/wnet/wideangle/epi...

Books about war are never easy to read, but Marra’s descriptive writing and character development made A Constellation of Vital Phenomena a profound, memorable book. This is one of my favorite titles of 2013.

--Jo Hansen, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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Love, devotion, selfishness and rejection are the themes woven throughout Pulitzer Prize winner Jhumpa Lahiri's family saga, The Lowland.

The two Mitra brothers, Subhash and Udayan, are close in birth and inseparable while growing up in Calcutta. Subhash, the older brother, is studious and dutiful to his parents. The younger brother, Udayan, is the family favorite, even though he is reckless and gets into trouble.

When Subhash decides to continue his scientific education in America, Udayan stays behind and gets involved in the political unrest tearing apart his homeland. Udayan falls in love with Gaura, who had been resigned to living a single life of solitude. When Udayan and Gaura marry against his parents' wishes, the couple still moves back into the family home, causing tension between Gaura and her new in-laws.

Udayan pretends to be a dutiful husband, son and teacher. But he secretly becomes more involved in the political rebellion, which costs him his life. Subhash, devastated by his brother's death, returns to Calcutta to find that Gaura keeps herself isolated in her room. When Subhash learns Gaura is pregnant, he convinces her to marry him and go to America to raise the child.

Can Gaura, who lost her one true love, ever feel love again? Can Subhash, always trying to do the right thing, ever find happiness? Can Gaura and Udayan's daughter ever be able to come to terms with her past?

Those are questions The Lowland unravels in powerful and heartbreaking writing. Lahiri's characters don't always behave the way I think they should, but contrary characters only add to the story. I also appreciated learning more about a turbulent time in India's history. 

--Reviewed by Jo Hansen, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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I've been meaning to read comic writer P.G. Wodehouse's works for a long time, but somehow never got around to it. So when a homage to Wodehouse came out recently by Sebastian Faulks called Jeeves and the Wedding Bells, I decided to give it a go.

Wodehouse first caught my attention when I noticed he was mentioned so often by other writers when asked whose work they admired, including George Orwell, Lev Grossman and Christopher Hitchens. Douglas Adams, author of the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, declared that "Wodehouse is the greatest comic writer ever.'' Even Agatha Christie dedicated one of her novels to Wodehouse, "whose books and stories have brightened my life for many years.''

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