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Lifka: Local libraries suggest titles for holiday reading

Community Voice

Robert Lifka is the director of the North Riverside Public Library.
Robert Lifka is the director of the North Riverside Public Library.

Although holiday gift ideas for book lovers extend well beyond books themselves – they range from a bookprint pillow and bookworm tube socks to an "Alice in Wonderland" tea towel and Oscar Wilde wallpaper – those of us at the Brookfield, McCook, North Riverside and Riverside libraries have prepared a more traditional list.


"The Abominable: A Novel" by Dan Simmons (recommended by John Zmola, North Riverside). Simmons earlier work, "The Terror" (2007), was one of the best horror novels I’ve ever read (and I’ve read quite a few). This book is its thematic cousin, a combination of history, adventure, suspense and spine-chilling horror.

"All the Songs: The Story Behind Every Beatles Release," by Philippe Margotin and Jean-Michel Guesdon (recommended by Maggie Wiggins, Brookfield). While many of the stories behind the songs will be familiar to Beatles fans — the classic "Yesterday" originally was titled "Scrambled Eggs," the title for "A Hard Day's Night" came from a Ringo Starr malapropism, Eric Clapton played the blistering guitar solo on "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" — there are plenty of others that are obscure enough to keep fans reading.

"The Book Thief" by Markus Zusak (recommended by Mary Cooper, North Riverside). It’s a No. 1 New York Times fiction bestseller that came to movie theaters this month.  It’s an “unforgettable story about the ability of books to feed the soul” and takes place in Nazi Germany in 1939.  Also audiobook.

"Bridget Jones: Mad About the Boy" by Helen Fielding (recommended by Mary Cooper, North Riverside). “The iconic character that inspired a major motion picture franchise, and became beloved as a chardonnay-swilling everywoman, is back in this hotly-anticipated third installment.”  Also audiobook.

"The Brothers: John Foster Dulles, Allen Dulles, and their Secret World War" by Stephen Kinzer (recommended by Deb Donovan, Brookfield). Kinzer is not a fan of John Foster and Allen Dulles, but this book could give insight into how the United States got into a few of the scrapes it did. An award-winning foreign correspondent who worked for the New York Times, Kinzer is considered critical of American foreign policy. 

"Command and Control" by Eric Schlosser (recommended by Mike Bradley, North Riverside). In this fascinating new book, Schlosser, who exposed the ills of the food industry in 2000’s Fast Food Nation, takes on the troubling issue of our perilous control, or lack thereof, over our nuclear weapons stockpile. In other words, the book is about the many times we’ve almost blown ourselves up! Highlighted by a detailed account of an incident in which a dropped wrench socket came frighteningly close to triggering a devastating explosion in my home state of Arkansas in 1980, Schlosser shows us that the things that we think keep us safe are sometimes the very things that put us in danger. 

"Designers at Home: Personal Reflections on Stylish Living" by Ronda Rice Carman (recommended by Deb Donovan, Brookfield). How can you go wrong checking out the homes of 50 designers? Surely anyone will find ideas, tips and hours of just fun peeking into these homes of many different styles.

"Eleven Rings: The Soul of Success" by Phil Jackson (recommended by Kate Lagerstrom, Brookfield). Phil Jackson won 11 NBA Championship Rings, 6 of them coaching the Chicago Bulls.  This is his memoir which includes anecdotes about some of the NBA’s most famous and notorious players.  

"End of Days: The Assassination of John F. Kennedy" by Deckle Edge (recommended by John Zmola, North Riverside). Grand historical narrative at its finest, this book should remain the definitive popular account of JFK’s assassination for years to come.

"The End Of The Suburbs" by Leigh Gallagher (recommended by Mike Bradley, North Riverside). The ominous title of Gallagher’s book refers to the ways that new economic realities and the changing attitudes of young people have combined to force a dramatic shift away from once-vibrant suburbs, and a surprising resurgence of growth in major cities. However, it’s not all doom and gloom for suburbanites, as Gallagher also discusses the ways that older, established suburbs that grew up around train lines (like ours!) have a great chance to buck this trend.

"Grace of Monaco" by Jeffery Robinson Guesdon (recommended by Maggie Wiggins, Brookfield). Tie in with the new Nicole Kidman film. It was one of the most famous romances of the 20th century—Europe’s most eligible bachelor, Prince Rainier of Monaco, and America’s most beautiful movie star, the Academy Award-winning actress Grace Kelly, fell in love against the backdrop of the closest thing the modern world has to a magical kingdom, the French Riviera’s Principality of Monaco.

"Monsters: The 1985 Chicago Bears and the Wild Heart of Football" by Rich Cohen (recommended by Deb Donovan, Brookfield). Yes, Cohen is a homer, but anyone you give this book to should be, too. He doesn’t mince words – the most popular sport in America is a violent one. Seems like a long time ago, doesn’t it?  

"Their Life’s Work: The Brotherhood of the 1970s Pittsburgh Steelers, Then and Now" by Gary M. Pomerantz (recommended by John Zmola, North Riverside). This book tells the full, intimate story of the great Pittsburgh Steelers team of the 1970s, which won four Super Bowls. Like Roger Kahn’s "The Boys of Summer" (1972), this is not just another sports book, but also a book about life, and what life does to us all. Destined to be a classic.

"Undressing Mr. Darcy" by Karen Doornebos (recommended by Janice Fisher, Riverside). Thirty-five-year-old American social media master Vanessa Roberts lives her thoroughly modern life with aplomb. So when her elderly Jane Austen–centric aunt needs her to take on the public relations for Julian Chancellor, a very private man from England who’s written a book called "My Year as Mr. Darcy," Vanessa agrees. But she’s not “excessively diverted,” as Jane Austen would say.   Hardbound books, teacups, and quill pens fly in the face of her e-reader, coffee, and smartphone…Until she sees Julian take his tight breeches off for his Undressing Mr. Darcy show, an educational “striptease” down to his drawers to promote his book and help save his crumbling estate. The public relations expert suddenly realizes things have gotten…personal. But can this old-fashioned man claim her heart without so much as a GPS? It will take three festivals filled with Austen fans, a trip to England, an old frenemy, and a flirtatious pirate re-enactor to find out. 

"What Are You Hungry For?" By Deepak Chopra  (recommended by Mary Cooper, North Riverside). Deepak returns to his health and wellness roots with an exciting new approach to weight loss that focuses on the hungers we experience physically, mentally, and spiritually. This book is also the basis for a PBS special coming up in December. Also audiobook.


"The Scholar, the Sphinx and the Shades of NYX" by Allison Reeger Cook (recommended by Janice Fisher, Riverside). Cervera, Spain, 1852. David Sandoval is a sixteen-year-old genius on many different subjects, yet he is more content studying than becoming close with family or friends. When he accepts an apprenticeship offer from a French architect, he is convinced that this will be the biggest achievement of his life. While on his travels to Paris, a foolhardy decision on his part gets him abducted by a gypsy caravan, owned by a living Grecian sphinx. The sphinx, seemingly intrigued by the fearless young man, takes him through the Curtain, the gateway between our world and the worlds of the "unseen," where many creatures of myth and legend reside. When David discovers that he has unwittingly proposed to the sphinx – who appears pleased to have him as a potential mate – he attempts to escape back through the Curtain to the human world, only to be sent to Kyoto, Japan, and that is only the beginning of his problems. On his adventure to return home, he learns a dark secret: a Shade, an extension of the shadowy Night Goddess Nyx, is slowly draining the sphinx of her most precious talents. David might be the only human on earth with the knowledge of how to save the sphinx from a lethal blight imposed on her by Nyx, and he must also save his new friends from a ruthless adversary, the Teumessian. Can one normal boy truly undo the inflictions of a goddess, and rescue both the seen and unseen worlds from her dark intentions?

"The Tragedy Paper" by Elizabeth Laban (recommended by Susan Locander, North Riverside). Realistic and compelling tale of two teens from completely opposite ends of the social spectrum who shouldn't have been attracted to each other...but are.  Grades 9 to 12. 


"Bats at the Library" by Brian Lies (recommended by Janice Fisher, Riverside). Join the free-for-all fun at the public library with these book-loving bats! Shape shadows on walls, frolic in the water fountain, and roam the book-filled halls until it’s time for everyone, young and old, to settle down into the enchantment of story time. Brian Lies’ joyful critters and their nocturnal celebration cast library visits in a new light. Even the youngest of readers will want to join the batty book-fest!

"Bedtime is Canceled" by Cece Meng, illustrated by Aurelie Neyret (recommended by Susan Locander, North Riverside). When every kids' dream comes true, the fun begins! long can this last?  Ages 3 and up.

"The Christmas Wish" by Lori Evert (recommended by Louise Dimick, Brookfield).
Anja dreams of becoming one of Santa’s elves, but knows she must travel a long way to reach the North Pole. Along her journey, she meets a cardinal, a polar bear, and even a reindeer who help guide her to Santa.

"Flora and Ulysses: the Illuminated Adventures" by Kate DiCamillo, illustrated by K.G. Campbell (recommended by Susan Locander, North Riverside). From tragedy comes heroism, great adventure and a lot of laughs.   A uniquely illustrated book by a beloved author.  Grades 4 to 8.   

"Little Santa" by Jon Agee (recommended by Louise Dimick, Brookfield). Little Santa lives with his family in the North Pole, and loves everything to do with snow, ice, and making his way down the chimney. His family, however, is ready to move to Florida. Can Little Santa convince them to stay?

"An Otis Christmas" by Loren Long (recommended by Louise Dimick, Brookfield). Otis the tractor is ready to celebrate Christmas with all his friends on the farm.  Even more exciting is one of the mares is expecting a baby horse – a foal! But on Christmas Eve the mare is in trouble, and Otis must travel to the vet, Doc Baker. Will Otis reach Doc in time?

Robert Lifka is director of the North Riverside Public Library

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