Staff Choices

Posted by mingh on 09/08/11
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Mattias is a fan of Buzz Aldrin. Buzz Aldrin did everything Neil Armstrong did, but second. Mattias is a fan of being second. He says, "The more you put yourself forward, the more stones people can throw at you." When Mattias was born in Norway on July 20th 1969, his Father was torn between watching the moon landing and watching his son being born.
Buzz Aldrin, What Happened to You in All the Confusion was originally published in Norway in 2005 and has just been translated into English. Not much action happens in the story except in Mattias' mind. After 12 years his longtime girlfriend leaves him, then he loses his steady job as a gardener in a nursery. His friend asks him to run the soundboard for his semi-known band and they are off to obscure places in and around Norway.  The next time we see Mattias, he is on his back in the middle of a muddy road on the Faroe Islands.
The Faroe Islands are the earth's equivalent of the moon in Harstad's book. They are barren rocks with little vegetation other than ground cover, surrounded by the ocean with no easy way home. On the main island, Mattias is finally able to connect with people. He spends time in a psychiatric facility that is more of a half-way house. There aren't many rules because you can't run far away.  It takes Mattias time to realize that he wants to return to his Earth, but first he must travel many different places to find his way home.
This poignant and funny story talks about what it means to be lonely. It is filled with pop culture references, from Dr. Phil (who knew he was shown in Norway), to the four chapters being album titles from the 90's musical group The Cardigans. A wonderful story about a young man who needs to go the ends of the earth to find his way home. 
Posted by cclapper on 09/07/11
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Sweden -- December, 1956:  On the sagging, snow-laden roof of a rotting barn, a young boy on the verge of adolescence and his uncle begin to understand a bit about each other.  A Commissioner in Uppsala, Sweden, leaves a meeting- and vanishes.  A fleeting connection in a restaurant in teeming Bangalore, India... and one person flees before a word is said.  In a botanic garden a laborer talks with his friend.  Dramatic death as an elderly man is struck down viciously.   Nothing connects, nothing makes sense.
Kjell Eriksson tangles these events in a tale spanning lives and remote locales.  In Sweden, Mr. Eriksson is already a bestselling author; Henning Mankell believes "Kjell Eriksson's novels are among the very best."
Now... Mr. Eriksson is Swedish- as was Steig Larsson, the creator of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.  But you won't confuse the two.  Steig Larsson conflates volatile personalities in explosive situations: magnesium in a water bath.  Mr. Eriksson weaves together quiet characters (in quiet desperation) and lets them spin quietly into complex alignments.  This story strikes closer to Per Petterson's Norwegian Out Stealing Horses.
The New York Times Book Review believes "...Ebba Segerberg's translation of Eriksson's austere prose beautifully captures the spiritual chill of this desolate landscape."
Posted by Uncle Will on 09/06/11
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Not certain if Krueger has any native American Indian blood running through his family tree, but his Cork O'Connor novels surely show their reverence to that culture.  Reading this series is a spiritual experience.   It is as if Kitchimanidoo is turning the pages.
Kitchimanidoo, as called by the Ojibwe tribe, is the god of heaven and earth .  His hand reaches out and touches Cork O'Connor and his daughter, Jenny, while they are on a boating adventure near the Canadian border of Minnesota.  Caught in a small craft by a huge storm, the two must take shelter on a deserted island.
The island has an old trapper's cabin where they find a tortured, dead girl.  She took to her death the secret of where she hid her deformed baby.  Jenny finds the infant boy hidden in the brush in a wicker basket and her maternal instincts take hold.  From the moment the baby and Jenny look into each other's eyes, a bond is created that will withstand many a test. 
In this 12th book in the mystery series by Krueger, bonding is one of the main themes.   Whether it be between husband and wife, mentor and student, brother and sister, father and daughter, it is the life force that connects loved ones that conquers all.  The O'Connors are running for their lives and that of the newly born babe.  Some demon is hell-bent on erasing all evidence of its brutal crimes.  The O'Connor clan is just a minor speed bump.
Set in the remote North, this mystery is as engaging as the elements its characters must overcome.  Krueger supposedly was said to have wanted to end this series with his previous book, Vermilion Drift, but was talked out of it by his publisher.  It is the more fitting ninoododadiwin or "path of harmony" that was chosen.
Posted by jfreier on 09/06/11
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Alice Humphrey is the daughter of a famous Hollywood director but is struggling to make it on her own in the high stakes world of Art in New York. Alice is out of work again when she meets Drew Campbell, a handsome and mysterious Art rep who offers her the dream job of running her own Art gallery. The offer comes with the knowledge of an anonymous owner who only asks that her first showing is of an unknown and controversial artist . The opening is big hit but when Alice returns to the gallery the next day everything is gone except the dead body of Drew Campbell, Alice is the only link to to the unknown murder victim and is thrown into world of deception and conspiracy. This book is a hip, fast paced journey that will keep you guessing until the end.
Posted by mingh on 09/01/11
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Annie and Buster Fang are the children of notorious performance artists Caleb and Camille Fang. Caleb and Camille like to create small public performance art that can sometimes lead to arrests and hopefully, a mention in a local newspaper. At the beginning of the book every other chapter is a recounting of an artistic piece. Annie accusing her mother (who she pretends is a stranger) of stuffing her coat with jelly beans. As their mother then opens her coat and the jelly beans fall out, Buster enjoins all the kids to stuff their mouths with jelly beans causing a small melee in the shop. Meanwhile their father is outside of the shop filming with a hidden camera. Even if there is no mention of the event, the senior Fangs like to think about the stories all of the people at the shop will talk about with their families. Many times it is art for art's sake.
Both Annie and Buster can't wait to leave home as they grow older. They tire of the performances. Annie goes to Los Angeles to become an actor, and Buster writes stories and novels. But events in their lives force both of them to come back home to live. Buster gets into a fight and has to recuperate at their parents house. While Annie, becomes tabloid fodder and needs to disappear for a while since no one will hire her. Their parents are thrilled as the old performance art gang is back together and they can have the performance pieces of their lives.
Part of the problem for Annie and Buster is that any choice they make is perceived as performance art because of their parents. This dismays Annie because she realizes that everything she does will be perceived through this filter of art. All of her good and bad decisions will be art.  One of the comments Buster makes near the end is that their parents prepared them for bad choices because all of the art that their parents were creating was people making bad choices. And therefore, their parents gave them a gift in not fearing bad choices. Annie is not so sure.
This novel really makes you think about what is art? Can a life be art? Are all lives performance pieces? Is art the act of creating the piece? Or is everyone who has to respond a part of it, and are they also artists? This novel has some very funny moments in it as Annie and Buster try to escape their upbringing. But as Buster points out, they were also given some very important skills for navigating through life. A very readable book.
Art, Fiction, humor
Posted by Auntie Anne. on 08/31/11
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The setting is the alluring social scene of New York City in 1938.  Katey Kontent (“like the state of mind’), our heroine, is the daughter of a Russian immigrant.  Smart, witty and fearless, we first find Katey working at a Wall Street secretarial pool and living in a boardinghouse with her roommate Eve.  Katey and Eve pinch pennies all week so that they can go out on the town on the weekends.  Until New Year’s Eve when Eve’s social-climbing eye manages to land them in the path of Tinker Grey, a handsome New York up-and-comer banker.  Soon Tinker takes them under his wing and introduces them to the world of New York’s wealthy.  Thus the story unfolds.  These are three very complex characters, each with their own story to tell.  Eve has tunnel vision as far as improving her social status and the power it can bring.  Tinker, of course, is not the person he appears to be.  But Katey is a shining star.  Looking to improve her job status, she uses her brains and guts to move up from the secretarial pool to the upper echelon of Conde Naste magazine.  She manages to sidestep every bump in the road, and there were quite a few,  with grace and a strong sense of self.  We see her grow through her experiences and applaud her successes.
Rules of Civility is a very sophisticated, classy book, reminiscent of F. Scott Fitzgerald in its smart dialogue and strong sense of the setting and time period.  With a dry martini in one hand and a cigarette in the other, the unforgettable characters stroll through the book with an edgy reality that only New York City can provide.  Sometimes brilliant, sometimes reckless, sometimes heartbreaking, this first novel by Amor Towles is a must read.
Posted by Pam I am on 08/31/11
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Maine takes the reader into the dysfunctional Kelleher family in all its glory.  Maine is told from various perspectives:  Alice, the 83 year old matriarch of the family;  Maggie, Alice's granddaughter; Kathleen, Alice's estranged daughter;  and Anne Marie, Alice's uptight daughter-in-law. It is through these four women that we see the struggles and triumphs of the Kelleher family.  These women all come together at the summer cottage in Maine during the month of July and they each bring their "baggage" so to speak.  Alice is haunted by a tragedy that happened in 1942  and has always seemed to struggle with the path her life has taken.  Maggie comes to Maine single and pregnant.  She is a writer living in Brooklyn and has just broken up with her boyfriend, who she thought she may have loved.  Kathleen, Maggie's mother comes to Maine when she learns of Maggie's pregnancy although she vowed never to see her own mother, Alice, years ago.  And Anne Marie has crafted a life that seems perfect on the outside, but just below the surface she is struggling to figure out her life and marriage.  As each chapter switches narrator, you are drawn to their own individual stories and the characters are rich, funny, mean and much more. 
Posted by on 08/30/11
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In this debut novel by Vanessa Diffenbaugh, we are introduced to Victoria Jones a complex character who we learn is a foster care survivor. We follow Victoria, wavering between past and present, starting at age 9 when she entered the system to present age 18. As she now emancipates from the foster care system, Victoria must learn to live on her own. She finds some peace by tending to a small garden in the corner of a park where she has been sleeping. She meets and is hired by a neighborhood florist named Renata who discovers her talents. Victoria finds that with her unique gift for flowers she uses the flowers and the symbolism to help her communicate.  You can sense Victoria’s pain and feelings of unworthiness when you learn of all that she has had to endure in foster care. Victoria is just trying to overcome her neglect and abuse and that’s why she pushes people away, always wondering why she was abandoned by her mother at birth.
When Victoria meets Elizabeth she is the first person that understands what Victoria is doing and she breaks through to her by teaching her the language of flowers. Through this language they are able to build a relationship. Elizabeth has her own challenges which Victoria interprets as rejection. To protect herself Victoria acts out against Elizabeth in a violent way that ends up haunting her for years to come.
It’s a story about confronting the pain of a life spent in foster care and accepting limitations. She must decide whether it’s worth risking a second chance at happiness when she meets a mysterious vendor at the flower market and has her questioning what’s been missing in her life.
Includes a glossary at the end of the book.
Posted by mingh on 08/29/11
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Jake Marlowe is the last werewolf in the world and he is being hunted by the group known as the Hunt. Grainer, the leader of the Hunt, demands the right to kill Marlowe because Marlowe killed his Grandfather. Grainer refuses to kill Marlowe until he has turned into a werewolf because Grainer does not kill humans. In two days, Marlowe will have turned and Grainer who has been tailing him will have his chance.
So why have one of the Vampire families kidnapped him? Vampires and werewolves don't associate. Marlowe owes nothing to the Vampires and as far as he knows the Vampires owe nothing to him. So why are they so concerned with keeping him alive?
What the author does best is to get into the head of Jake Marlowe with his loneliness and inability to make a human connection. In his human life, Marlowe runs many philanthropic organizations meant to benefit humans. But then every full moon he must kill and eat human flesh. Desperate to hang on to his humanity, Marlowe toys with giving himself up to Grainer.
This is a psychological werewolf story, part thriller, part horror. The werewolf killings are graphic and try as he might, Marlowe cannot deny the beast in himself. The Last Werewolf reinterprets the folklore about werewolves in twists and turns that will surprise and interest readers of paranormal fiction.
Posted by mingh on 08/25/11
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This book was published earlier in the UK under the title The Popes : A History. That is precisely what it is. Not all 265 popes are mentioned nor can be in this survey of the papacy. But all of the major players are here.
What Absolute Monarchs does best is to really show what the job of Pope was before the 20th century. The Pope had to be mediator between squabbling aristocratic families, a negotiator of treaties between countries, the civic manager of Rome, and the defender of the faith. It was the rare man who could do well at all of the functions. There are very holy men who do wonderful things for the poor of Rome but are hopelessly inadequate to negotiate treaties or mediate. Those responsibilities take a diplomat or statesmen to maneuver around all of the politics of the day.
The Pope was in charge of Rome and keeping its commerce rolling as well as collecting tithes and  indulgences, therefore the position of Pope could be very lucrative. So it becomes clearer how we wind up with the Borgias or the de Medicis who were less interested in the defender of the faith elements of the position.
Because the position of Pope was so tied up with the politics of the day, parts of the book can seem very dense. Arguing with the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire and having to quell dissension in France, or disputes in Spain, reads more like international history or political history. But the Pope was very involved in all aspects of politics and international negotiations. It wasn't until Italy was united in the 19th century that the position of Pope becomes less political and more spiritual leader.
The author continues his survey of Popes to the present day. He has opinions on some of the conspiracies of the papacy, Pope Joan, death/murder of John Paul I and the rules of the antipopes. But the real benefit is in showing why some men were drawn to the position and others refused. The modern papacy is very different from what went before.
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