Staff Choices

Posted by mingh on 01/17/12
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This is a very detailed look at a fascinating woman who changed Russian history. Catherine (born Sophia) was a lesser known and unrich princess of a German duchy when she was called up as a potential suitor for Peter III. Catherine did not love Peter who, although older, remained childish. However, she was able to gain his confidence and the wedding was scheduled. Before it could take place, Peter caught smallpox. He lived, but when Catherine saw how disfigured he was she could not contain her disgust. Peter never forgave her.
Massie uses Catherine's diaires which go very extensively into her personal life in the court of Empress Elizabeth. In these diaries, Catherine notes that she and Peter III never consummated their marriage for nine years and it was likely that Peter fathered none of her children. Because of Peter's state of mind, most of the attendants could easily come to the same conclusion. It is Catherine's autobiography and diaries which gives us all of the information that we have today. Catherine noted in her autobiography that in her life she had had 12 lovers. This is where rumors of her sexuality came from.
Once Catherine takes the throne from her husband she embarks on many visits throughout Russia and starts to institute changes including those to alleviate some of the harshness of the life of the serfs. She was well-educated and built The Hermitage to showcase the art that was in the collection of the Romanovs. She continued to have favorites in court and their intrigues and lives are greatly detailed.
This biography is for serious readers of history. There is wonderful detail in the lives of Catherine and her family and everyone in the court. I can't remember reading as extensive a biography of a ruler ever. Catherine the Great, indeed.
Biography, Russia
Posted by Uncle Will on 01/05/12
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What if 12 terrorists, armed to the hilt, commandeer the world's most popular shopping mall, with the intent to just kill and maim?  Such is the plot of Hunter's new novel. 
Minnesota's Mall of America is the target; and the thousands of hostages one hope is inactive, veteran Marine sniper, Ray Cruz, who unfortunately is in the wrong place and the right time.  To make things worse, the entire rescue operation is commanded by a political power-monger whose only concern is his public image and personal political growth.
Stephen Hunter was the Washington Post film critic before he retired.  His series of "sniper" novels have been extremely popular and one was adapted to film starring Mark Wahlberg.  This book is concise and compelling. 
The scenario is not that farfetched.  The United States has always supported a "no negotiation policy" regarding hostage situations.  Terrorism has taken place within our shores.  The FBI has not had great success when breeching heavily guarded compounds.  Politicians do not always have their constituent’s best interests in mind when making decisions. 
All of these facts come rushing to the inevitable conclusion:  innocent lives will once again be sacrificed, but at what price glory?
Posted by jfreier on 01/03/12
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A  first for me, a mystery where the P.I. is a surfer and the Dawn Patrol are his surfing pack, Dave the Love God, Hang Twelve, Johnny Banzai,and Big Tide are quite the crew. Boone Daniels is the ex cop who is hired by a pretty British lawyer to find a missing person who is expected to testify against an arsonist murderer. A body is found shoved off a balcony and is thought to be the witness, when it turns out to be a friend the case turns to drug and human trafficking. I really enjoyed this surfer twist and the the old school Raymond Chandleresque California P.I.
Posted by mingh on 01/02/12
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In a series of letters addressed to her husband, Eva Khatchadourian talks about their love and their life before and after the birth of their son Kevin. Just before his sixteenth birthday, Kevin walked into his high school with a crossbow and killed eleven people. She tries to explain what it feels like for a Mother to learn that her son has done such a horrible act. Is she to blame? The husband? The world? Who has caused this terrible tragedy?

We learn, how in love as a young couple they were. How they agonized over whether and when to have children. But Eva just can't shake the feeling that there is something wrong with their son from day one. He hates her. Franklin, the father, cannot believe that a child this young can have these feelings for a parent. Franklin suggests maybe she should seek therapy. At this point in the story you begin to wonder if she is mad, or if we are reading a story of a "bad seed."

The author keeps you guessing until the very end about what really happened. How could this Mother be so cold? How does the husband respond to these very brutal and telling letters? The reader also begins to look for clues in the letters about what is really going on with this family.

A chilling book now turned into a movie to be released in January in the Chicago area.

Posted by jfreier on 12/22/11
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#5. Keeper of the Lost Causes. A new suspenseful mystery by Danish author Jussi Adler-Olsen.

#4. Northwest Angle. The latest in the Cork O’Connor series set in Minnesota by William Kent Krueger.

#3. Snowman. The search for a serial killer in Oslo featuring “Harry Hole” by Jo Nesbo.

#2. Silent Girl. A Rizzoli and Isles mystery set in Boston’s Chinatown by Tess Gerritsen.

#1. The Two Deaths of Daniel Hayes. A crime fiction story of a man who has lost his identity and his quest to find the answer. By Marcus Sakey.
Posted by Pam I am on 12/22/11
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#5 Dark Places by Gillian Flynn
Libby Day was 7 years old when her mother and two sisters were brutally murdered in their home and she narrowly escaped.  Her brother was convicted of the killings -- based on her eyewitness testimony.  But, now 25 years later she is revisiting the case and beginning to question what she thought she witnessed.  She begins to look into the case and search for the truth.
#4 Maine by J. Courtney Sullivan
Maine explores the dysfunctional Kelleher family in all its glory.  The narratin shifts between four Kelleher women as they come together at the family summer cottage in Maine.  The reader is drawn to the individual stories and the characters are rich, funny, mean and much more.
#3 Room by Emma Donoghue
Room is both heartbreaking and heartwarming.  Told from 5-year-old Jack's point of view, this novel gives a unique and interesting perspective.  Room chronicles the life of Jack and Ma as they are held captive in an 11 foot by 11 foot room.  Room is the only world Jack has ever known and when this suddenly changes, Ma and Jack both must learn how to live in a much bigger world. 
#2 State of Wonder by Anne Patchett
This book is an epic journey into the remote Amazon jungle and it is filled with mystery, deception, and peril.  Marina Singh is a medical researcher working for a pharmaceutical company that is developing a new drug from research in the Amazon.  Marina is sent to Brazil to investigate the death of her colleague and to push research for the new drug.  The writing is rich and vivid and will engage you on every page.
#1 Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Euginedes
Euginedes explores the love triangle of three college graduates Madeleine, Leonard and Mitchell.  Madeleine, an english major writes her senior thesis on Jane Austin and George Eliot, purveyors of  "the marriage plot" that lies at the heart of many of the great english novels.  Euginedes takes us into modern-day and examines if there can be a new "marriage plot" that includes feminism, sexual freedom, prenups, and divorce.
Posted by Auntie Anne. on 12/20/11
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#5   The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown       
A funny and poignant story of three adult sisters who drag their ugly baggage home with them to live with Mom and Dad.
#4   Rules of Civility by Amor Towles               
A classy, sophisticated, Fitzgeraldesque look at the 1938 social scene in New York City.
#3   The Submission by Amy Waldman           
New York City erupts in a political and ethnic firestorm when the winner of the design for the Ground Zero memorial is an American Muslim.
#2  The Tiger’s Wife by Tea Obreht                
In a Balkan country mending from war, a young female doctor struggles to come to terms with the devastation of her country and the mysterious death of her beloved grandfather.
#1 The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman
The lives of four brave, resourceful and fiercely independent women merge in the last months on Masada, a mountain fortress in the Judean desert in 70 C.E.  Based on fact, 900 Jews held out for months against the Roman 10th  Legion, but only two women and 5 children survived.
Posted by Uncle Will on 12/19/11
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#5.  The Devotion of Suspect X by Keigo Higashino
Cleverly conceived Japanese suspense novel that matches wits between two geniuses…one in math and one in physics.
#4.  Other Kingdoms by Richard Matheson
Post-World War I jaded fantasy dealing with love, loyalty, and loss in an English village that touts humans vs. fairies.  Unique narrative.
#3.  The Ice Princess by Camilla Lackberg
All time best-selling author in Sweden has her first, in a series of seven mystery novels, translated into English.   Gauntlet tossed at Stieg Larsson’s estate!
#2.   11/22/63 by Stephen King
Stephen King vs. The Time Machine.  Travel back in time with reluctant hero, Jake Epping, to 1963 and attempt to stop the assassination of JFK.  But at what price glory?
#1.  The Hypnotist by Lars Kepler
Dark and engrossing psychological, murder mystery by a Swedish husband and wife writing team.  Hypnotic. 
Posted by cclapper on 12/17/11
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#5. The Dirty Life: A Memoir of Farming, Food and Love by Kristin Kimball
City girl, making her way as a writer in New York.  Farmer boy with intractable ideas for the future.  She falls for him, then falls in love with farming ("the Dirty Life").  I have dreamed of a small farm, myself, and this real-life story (complete with all the dirt, manure, and elations) grabbed me.
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#4. Tomorrow's Garden: Design and Inspiration for a New Age of Sustainable Gardening by Stephen Orr

I love gardening books.  I study all the photos and diagrams, and skim in and out of the text.  (Doesn't everyone?)
Well, not this time.  I read every word.  This one rewards you.
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#3. Just My Type: A Book about Fonts by Simon Garfield
Do you read?  Well, of course you do!  And what we read, we see through the filter of type, layout, and design.  Even if we are concentrating on the text, fonts play a huge roll in our reading and Mr. Garfield exposes the curious characters and sometimes riotous events that helped create the fonts we communicate with today.
With modern computers we all have amazing control over how our text appears.  Fonts are lenses that color our reading life- even when we don't realize it.    
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#2. See a Little Light: The Trail of Rage and Melody by Bob Mould

Listen to NPR?  Heard the show Sound Opinions?  Greg and Jim speak often about Hüsker Dü, a seminal Punk band that's still influencing the growth of modern music.  Bob Mould, one of the founders, has been through some remarkable experiences- the growth of Punk and his own personal evolution, growing through his conservative upbringing and coming to terms with who he really is.
An odyssey.  Worth the trip.
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#1. We The Animals by Justin Torres
Three mixed-race brothers bursting into life.  If you love storytelling, spare/sharp, and high-voltage language- try this.  Brief.  Intense.  Brilliant.
Posted by mingh on 12/17/11
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#5. The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender
A wonderfully quirky, but moving story, of a young woman who can taste the emotions of the person who made the food she eats. This creates a burden as she learns more about her parents and her brother who has his own odd abilities.
#4. Sisters of Fortune: America's Caton Sisters at Home and Abroad by Jehanne Wake
A biography of an American family of rich sisters who married well, including into royalty, but never lost their sense of what it means to be American. It is also the story of a Father who protected his daughters so that the men in their lives could not leave them destitute.
#3. Buzz Aldrin, What Happened to You in All the Confusion by Johan Harstad
Mattias is a fan of Buzz Aldrin because Buzz Aldrin did everything Neil Armstrong did, but second. Mattias likes being second. He says, "The more you put yourself forward, the more stones people can throw at you." A poignant and funny story filled with pop culture references about a young man who needs to go to the ends of the earth to find his way home.
#2. Life, on the Line : a chef's story of chasing greatness, facing death, and redefining the way we eat
by Grant Achatz
Life on the line is a foodie memoir and more. Grant Achatz tells of growing up in Michigan in the family business of running restaurants but feeling a calling to do something more. Achatz was on top of the world running two acclaimed restaurants in Chicago when he learned that he had a virulent form of tongue cancer. An interesting read for foodies, anyone interested in the restaurant business, and reading about someone dealing with a life-threatening illness.
#1 The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt
A starkly beautiful novel about two hired assassins, Charlie and Eli Sisters, who travel from Oregon to San Francisco to make a hit during the 1850's gold rush era. Each person they meet holds up a mirror of their own morals and values in which to be judged. All the humor and brutality of a Coen Brothers movie. Brilliant!
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