Staff Choices

Posted by jdunc on 06/25/15
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Gretchen Rubin is back on her quest for self-improvement. In her most recent book she examines how habits can help us make major changes in our lives. By Rubin’s definition a habit is something that requires no decision, thus saving us time and energy. A habit is what we do without thought, like buckling a seat belt or brushing your teeth. As we all know some habits are harder to make and keep than others.  From Rubin’s research people generally seek to change one of seven essential behaviors: eat and drink healthy, exercise, budget wisely, relax, stop procrastinating, organize, and engage more deeply in relationships. Sound familiar?
The key to understanding our habits is the four tendencies. Most people fall into one of four categories: upholder, questioner, obliger, or a rebel. Throughout the book she also addresses several strategies which help us keep habits. More than anything it allows us to take a look at ourselves and the strategies we use that prevent us from establishing good habits. I especially liked the “loopholes” chapter which explains the “this doesn’t count loophole”: I’m on vacation, it’s the holidays, it’s the weekend, just this once….
As in her other books, Rubin does a nice job of testing the theories and providing real life examples of the outcomes. Better Than Before gave me insight into my habits and strategies that can help to make positive changes. It is quite of bit of information that almost requires a second reading to truly take in all of the tips and make consistent positive changes. 
self help
Posted by bpardue on 06/19/15
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Norwegian trumpeter Mathias Eick, on tour in the US, found an affinity with the upper Midwest--which reminded him of southern Norway (and was once the destination of many Norewgian immigrants). This inspired him to write the songs that make up Midwest, his latest offering on ECM records. The pieces are stately, even reflective, and reside in the area between jazz, folk and classical music. There's a quiet intensity to them, and the melodies are haunting and memorable. Eick's trumpet playing is clean and understated--and blends beautifully with the folk-inflected violin playing of Gjermund Larsen. There's clearly talent in the ensemble, but no one overplays. Standout pieces include "Hem" and "Dakota."  Also check out Eick's previous albums,Skala and The Door, via hoopla.
Posted by bweiner on 06/14/15
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Mr. and Mrs. Doctor is the appealing story of two Nigerians immigrants who try to survive the bumpy road to success in America.
However, there is one small problem. Job Ogbonnaya has lied to everyone, including his wife Ifi, who has come from Nigeria as part of an arranged marriage to live with her doctor husband. The money his father has sent from home to finance medical school sits in a savings account, while Job works at a nursing home as a nurse’s aide.
The difficulties of surviving in America are great enough without the added burden of the massive lie Job has told. His life is complicated further by the reappearance of his first wife Cheryl, the woman he married to obtain citizenship. Then there are Emeka and Gladys, also Nigerian, who seem to navigate their new country with apparent grace and ease.
Julie Iromuanya has created a frustrating, funny, sensitive story about race, relationships and survival and how our past shapes and follows us into our future. Check out this captivating story by Iromuanya, a first time author.
Posted by lsears on 06/12/15
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Girl at war, girl caught in a war, girl scarred by war.
Ana Juric is just 10 years old when the winds of civil war blow into her poor but carefree life in Zagreb, Croatia, in 1991. She, her best friend Luka, and their classmates play war games until it becomes too real. Ana says, “We had the peculiar privilege of watching the destruction of our country on television”. When tensions escalate and essential services grow scarcer, Ana’s parents decide to send her much younger sister to America for medical care through a charitable organization. On their way home, a roadblock of soldiers stops the family. In a few brief minutes, terrifying and almost unfathomable to contemplate, the course of Ana’s life is forever changed. Years elapse and Ana is a college student in America but her painful memories cannot be suppressed; they shadow her and her relationships. She wonders if tragedy will always follow her as she watches the Twin Towers fall in New York City.
Sara Novic tells a fictional story of a young girl’s life upended by war, displaced by war, of loss and survival set in the very real conflicts of the Balkan/Bosnian civil war in the 1990's. She creates a strong sense of place, of home, of family, of hope, and of life forces that can’t be quelled. An interesting note when reading a brief bio by this debut novelist is that she is hearing impaired. Her voice in this book is loud and clear.
Fiction, war
Posted by Kelley M on 06/03/15
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I think Tony Wheeler, the founder of Lonely Planet, stated it best.  This book “is like Crocodile Dundee produced by Monty Python and directed by Woody Allen.”  Albert Podell, the author, recently became the first U.S. citizen known to have visited every single existing country in the world, plus some that are no longer countries (over 190, but who's counting...).  This also brings up the argument of what actually constitutes a country?  Does it need to be recognized by the United Nations?
The book is definitely not politically correct.  It is a travel essay book with attitude.  If you are easily offended, this might not be the book for you.  Travelling can be a messy business.  The author gets into the gritty details (disturbing meals, not washing for days on end, bathroom accommodations, etc.).  But, the author is also extremely educated about the countries he visits.  You will learn a lot as you read.
When travelling, instead of utilizing the safety, crime and poverty country indexes of the World Bank or the International Monetary Fund, Podell has developed his own scale that indicates safety, crime and poverty, which utilizes the grade of toilet paper and bathroom accommodations in a given country.  It actually does prove to be a good indicator of safety, crime and poverty, and what to expect when travelling. 
The book also offers many unique tips for travelling to unique places (here are a few):
·        Taking heaps of cheap T-shirts with you to use to barter for services and other items in certain countries.
·        How to determine how much gas you will need to purchase to cross a desert.
·        What to do and what not to do in front of visa officers/staff.
Summary:   Extremely educational, fun to read, and I think I’ll become a better traveler having read this book.
Other similar travel authors/books: Works of Bill Bryson, Geography of Bliss by Eric Weiner, Michael Palin's travel documentaries, and Tony Hawk’s Round Ireland with a Fridge.
Posted by jfreier on 05/30/15
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Serial killer Marcus Flynn had been caught and shot in the head but lived and was called the Hangman. Detective Abbie Kearney wasn't working during his reign of terror but now after a daring escape from prison he is back and ready to strike again.
Abbie is leading a desperate manhunt in Buffalo to stop the madman as the body count mounts. The killer and Abbie match wits and the predator is as brilliant as he is elusive. Stephan Talty tells a thrilling and intense tale of the power of a masterful killer and what Abbie must become to catch him. The authors first book Black Irish is also a good read.
Posted by jdunc on 05/22/15
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Debut author Shanna Mahin offers a fascinating a peek behind the silver screen of Hollywood’s rich and famous or at least their B list stars in Oh! You Pretty Things. Jess is in her late twenties, divorced, and working in a coffee shop. As a former childhood actress herself, she is fascinated with Hollywood, but hides behind her sarcasm. She lives in an apartment in Santa Monica with her best friend Megan, a C list actress who is pretty down to earth. While trying to get her life on track, she is also dealing with her unreliable mother and the history of their tumultuous relationship.
Jess stumbles into a personal assistant job for a recluse composer which eventually leads to a job with Eva, one of Hollywood’s up and coming TV stars. Jess must cater to Eva’s every whim and mood swing. One moment she wants to be best friends and the next she ices her out. Mahin provides excellent descriptions of the crazy lives of the famous. I particularly loved the description of the show that Eva puts on when eating in public; onion rings, ice cream, etc. She takes one elaborate bite while people are watching and but will not eat for the rest of the day. Jess thinks being a part of Eva’s life will only help her, but she realizes that it is hard to have a real relationship with a professional actress.
Fans of the Devil Wears Prada, will appreciate a similar tale set in Hollywood.
Posted by bweiner on 05/17/15
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Transgender identity is currently a conspicuous subject in the media. There is a wave of individuals, famous or not, who are choosing to reveal their struggles and live their lives free from the veil of deception.
Laurence Anyways, the 2012 Canadian film directed by Xavier Dolan, tackles this complex subject with grace, dignity and humor. The story is set in Montreal in the late 1990’s.We observe Laurence as he discloses his lifelong desire to be a woman to his girlfriend, family, friends and colleagues, and the ensuing chaos this creates.  As if that was not enough, he endures the bigotry and ignorance of the community as he navigates his path to femininity in a very public way.
The misunderstandings he bears are tempered by the wonderful moments of compassion and enlightenment that sometimes come from the most unlikely sources in this film. Humankind’s adaptability to change is impressive.
Remarkable performances by the two lead actors, Melvil Poupaud as Laurence Alia and Suzanne Clement as Frédérique "Fred" Belair bring these characters into focus as people we know or want to know. Check out this superb film about a very timely subject. (In French with English subtitles)
Posted by Ultra Violet on 05/15/15
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Historical fiction that reads like a romance novel (a good one) with a bit of suspense thrown in. Everyone has an image of Edgar Allan Poe from his work and from the stories of his poverty, alcoholism and instability. But not everyone knows that much of his negative image was constructed by a literary rival, Rufus Griswold, in a posthumous biography.

In Cullen's well-researched novel she shows us a softer side of Poe. Cullen built a story around the rumour of Poe's affair with poet, Frances Osgood. Their forbidden love-match makes their lives a roller coaster ride of exultation and torture. They risk ostracism from the oppressive nineteenth century New York society to be together. I had a hard time picturing him being called "Eddie" by his wife and mother-in-law, but as the book progresses, the character becomes quite believable. Throughout the tense, forbidden romance there are plenty of factual tidbits from the lives of Poe, Frances Osgood and others of New York intellectual society.

This is a great read for fans of historical fiction, poetry, and literary romances.

Posted by lsears on 05/15/15
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Malcolm Brooks creates a stirring narrative set in the American West in the 1950s and weaves in a backstory set in Europe during World War II.
Catherine LeMay is a young archaeologist who made a name for herself in England. A large Montana power company hires her to conduct a canyon survey for a controversial dam project on reservation land.  She encounters prejudices for doing work traditionally associated with men and for her friendship with a young Native American Crow woman who faces even harsher inequalities. Catherine finds herself up against great abuses of power but finds an ally in a mysterious man named John H, a unique blend of horseman, former WWII cavalry soldier and artist.
Painted Horses has many things going on within its pages. It could have been very cluttered but the story flows well. Catherine and John H’s relationship develops as they navigate within this small community pitted against a big corporation. It highlights Native American issues and the value of ancient peoples’ historical sites in America and France’s Chauvet Cave. I found the telling to be both adventurous and bittersweet.
Read Painted Horses if you like elements of historical fiction, archaeology, the wide open spaces of the American West, WWII history, prehistoric French art, Native American Indian issues and if you’d like to read a new debut author.
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