Hero of the Empire

hero empire jacketHero of the Empire: The Boer War, a Daring Escape, and the Making of Winston Churchill by Candice Millard

A welcome new book from the author of Destiny of the Republic. Ambitious young aristocrat Winston Churchill, 24, was an journalist covering the 2nd Boer War in South Africa. He would risk anything to get to the action, gave military advice as a civilian, and defended an armored train after an ambush. As a prisoner of war, he wrote letters demanding his release and helped plan a daring escape. Bright, brave, outspoken and reckless, he became a heroic figure, just as he’d hoped. I learned more about the Boer Wars than I wanted to, but Churchill and military history fans will find this to be a fascinating, thrilling, and often past-paced read.



Everyone Brave is Forgiven

brave jacketEveryone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave

Four Londoners and an African-American boy face World War II in very different ways, as they try to figure out what it means to be brave in wartime. Wealthy Mary, 18, wants to be a spy, but is assigned to be a teacher, where she meets young Zachary. Later, Mary drives an ambulance with her friend Hilda, who trains as a nurse. A double date with school administrator Tom and art conservator turned army officer Alistair has unexpected consequences. Air raids are danced away to loud music, and entertainers, like Zachary’s father, work all night. Alistair is shipped to Malta, like the author’s grandfather was, and endures a siege. Letters from home are the only thing that can distract him from the war, but some letters go astray. Hilda and Mary’s friendship is strained, and Tom has trouble relating to Alistair. Absorbing and alternately witty and sad, I kept turning the pages in hopes that the memorable characters would make it through to the peace they deserve.


Underground Airlines

underground jacketUnderground Airlines by Ben H. Winters

The author of the dystopian trilogy The Last Policeman takes a different approach to contemporary fiction: alternate history. The Civil War never happened, slavery is still legal in several southern states, and free does not mean equal. Victor is a free black man on assignment in Indianapolis for the U.S. Marshals Service, on the trail of a runaway bonded person known as Jackdaw. Victor infiltrates a cell of the underground airline, a master of disguise. In flashbacks, we learn that Victor spent his childhood as a bonded person, so why is he tracking down runaways now? Is it just that he enjoys the privileges of his job and situation, from air-conditioning to a car to the music of Michael Jackson? And yet he befriends Martha Flowers, a young white woman with a biracial son. As Victor travels between free and slave states, the world is a fascinating one, as the economy doesn’t seem to be thriving and technology lags behind ours. Laptops, cell phones, and GPS exist, but most cars are older and foreign. This novel is not light reading, but the world-building and storytelling skills of Winters make this book very hard to put down.


September 2016 Book Discussions

The Tuesday Morning Book Group will meet at 10 a.m. on September 20 to discuss Flight of Dreams by Ariel flight of dreams jacketLawhon. This is a novel about the last voyage of the Hindenberg in 1937. It will be interesting to compare and contrast with the non-fiction account of the Lusitania in Erik Larson’s Dead Wake, which we discussed in January.

The Tuesday Evening Book Group will meet at 7 p.m. on September 27 to discuss My Name is Lucy Barton, the newest novel by author Elizabeth Strout. Elizabeth Strout will be speaking at Ashton Place in Willowbrook at 10 a.m. on Saturday, September 24, for our Big Author Event. Here’s my review of her stunning new lucy barton jacketbook. Readers may remember her for her book of connected short stories, Olive Kitteridge, which won the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

The Crime Readers return to Home Run Inn Pizza in Darien to discuss A Death in Vienna, by Daniel Silva, the thriller writer whose new book, Black Widow is topping the bestseller lists. Optional dinner is at 6 p.m., and the discussion is at 7 p.m. on Thursday, September 15. The Crime Readers is co-sponsored by the Indian Prairie Public Library.

Copies of the books are available at the Adult and Teen Services Reference Desk.


Rebel of the Sands

rebel jacketRebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton

Teen Amani lives with her aunt, uncle, and numerous cousins, helping to run the family store in Dustwalk. Amani sneaks out one night to win money in a sharpshooting contest. The next day she hides fellow sharpshooter Jin from the Sultan’s army. A train ride to the capital city ends abruptly, sending Amani, who is disguised as a boy, and handsome Jin on the run in the desert, which is full of danger and adventure. Amani reluctantly gets involved in a rebellion against the sultan, and meets people with various magical powers, half human and half djinni. Amani finds that she can’t tell a lie, and has to make choices about where her loyalty lies. This is a fun fantasy adventure that mixes elements of westerns with Arabian Nights.

Before the Fall

before the fall jacketBefore the Fall by Noah Hawley

One summer night, a private jet takes off from Martha’s Vineyard, heading to New York City. It soon crashes into the ocean, leaving two of the passengers struggling to survive and the other nine on board presumed lost. The incredible feat of survival of struggling artist Scott Burroughs, invited on the flight at the last minute, and the person he saves make for thrilling reading. Scott has recently taken up swimming again and stopped drinking, but is completely unprepared for the huge amount of publicity he faces when they reach land. The book goes back and forth in time, giving the back stories of the eight passengers, a security guard, two pilots and a flight attendant on board, including a millionaire couple, their two children, and a man about to be indicted for money laundering. Conspiracy theories abound as the search begins for the plane and any other survivors. The survivors are likable characters, drawn together by their shared experience. The pacing and suspense never let up until a satisfying conclusion. Not the right book to take on a flight, but a quick read perfect for summer.


Walking the Nile

nile jacketWalking the Nile by Levison Wood

Levison Wood, who was a major in a British parachute regiment, likes a challenge. So why not hike along the banks of the entire Nile River, over 4000 miles? So off he goes, with a guide, occasionally a police escort, and even pack camels in the desert, to find his path through swamps, lakes, villages, cities, and desert. He is very discouraged at times, especially after extremely high temperatures leads to tragedy. Sometimes he can’t remember why he’s making such a challenging journey, such as when dealing with bureaucratic red tape or civil unrest. But the extremely warm welcomes he finds in small villages, and numerous wildlife encounters, including rescuing a baby monkey whose habitat has been burned, enliven the book. Wood doesn’t mention until the acknowledgements at the end that a small film crew shared parts of the journey with him, a curious oversight. I earlier reviewed his second book, Walking the Himalayas, which was more enjoyable for the reader (and probably the explorer), although less suspenseful.