Staff Choices

Posted by mingh on 01/28/11
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Vish Puri is India's most Private Investigator. He and his very colorful crew spend the majority of their time investigating potential marriage partners for parents of young people. But now he has a dangerous mission investigating the death of a servant to one of Jaipur's most respected judges. When the judge is arrested and charged the heat is on Puri to find a resolution fast.
 
Most of the action takes place in New Delhi and author Hall really gets the atmospherics of the place right. All of the colors and smells and tastes of the reqion come through along with the relationships of people both familial and stranger. It is like visiting India with a beloved and knowledgeable friend who is willing to take you down the side streets and shortcuts. There is a glossary at the back for specifics on some of the words--most can be ascertained from the context.
 
Vish Puri is a wonderful addition to the long list of colorful private Investigators. Even when he is being shot at he retains his cool. This is a great read-alike for Alexander McCall Smith's No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency. The violence and sex levels are the same, and although it takes place in a different continent, you really get a sense of the place and a genuine liking for characters.
Mystery
Posted by Uncle Will on 01/27/11
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Dara is a three-time award winning documentary film maker.  She has only made three films in her life.  One won an Oscar.  She's very good at what she does.
 
Xavier is her 6' 8" Afro-American assistant.  He is spry for being in his seventies.  He too is very good at what he does;  which is mainly lust over and look after Dara.
 
This time around the two are in Africa making a film about modern day pirates on the open seas.  Somalia is the pirate capital of the world and they have an abundance of material to choose from to film.  When they show up there are over 12 ships being held hostage.  Although the pirates have requested more than 300 million dollars in ransom, the pirates have only netted about 30 million. 
 
The two film-makers quickly make friends with a couple of personable pirates , a British secret agent who is overseeing the high seas lunacy for Queen and his country, and a billionaire traveling the world in 2 million dollars yacht with a bottle of expensive champagne in one hand and his trophy blond in the other.
 
This is Elmore Leonard at his best.  Witty, gritty and always entertaining.  The dialog is at a sonic pace and the characters are diverse and intriguing.  Leonard uses a story-within-a-story technique that is quite creative while he plays around with the narrative. 
Posted by mingh on 01/24/11
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Low-level criminal, Mitchell, gets out of jail and wants to stay clean, but his friends and former associates are waiting for him. He takes jobs hustling the money from people who have defaulted on their fast loans. But a chance meeting with a woman in a pub gets him a legitimate job fixing up the mansion of an older movie star.
 
When a homeless friend is killed, he feels he must take action. Refusing to work with his former associates causes trouble as they go after his family. Mitchell feels turn around is fair play.
 
Ken Bruen uses his knowledge of other crime authors to fill in how Mitchell is feeling. Titles from books by Lawrence Block, James Ellroy and others become prophecies. Although I haven't read all of the authors Bruen uses, it is great fun to see how he uses quotes, and titles, and even poetry from other authors to further his plot.
 
Quick easy read with a great twist at the end. London Boulevard, the movie, starring Colin Farrell, should be coming to a theater near you this Spring.
Thriller
Posted by Uncle Will on 01/20/11
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Carlos (Carl) Webster is the main character in Leonard's novels:  The Hot Kid and Up in Honey's Room.   This book is a collection of three stories with Webster as the protagonist.  
 
Webster, a Federal Marshall,  has the reputation as being a shoot-first-ask-questions-later-type peace officer.  He is married to a former dance hall gal.  The setting is post World War II.   In Showdown at Checotah we are introduced to Webster as a young teen.  He lives on a pecan farm with his father and is a serious young man with a dead-eye ability using firearms.  After killing a poacher, he tells the investigating officer that when he grows up, Carl wants to go into law enforcement.   Years later, that very investigator hires Carl. 
 
In the second story, Louly and Pretty Boy, readers are introduced to Carl's wife, Louly Ring.  She is a complicated and confusing character.   She begins as a young girl who dreams of being a gangster's moll, but later matures into a loving devoted wife.  Her maturation process is hard to empathized with since she we shown only a quick glimpse of his back story.    Hopefully, Leonard is at work creating a more complete connect-the-dots reckoning of  life story.
 
In the novelette, that is the same title as this compilation, Carl is dispatched to one of the many German POW camps in America to investigate the hanging of one of the prisoners.  Initially, the death is ruled a suicide, but soon after Carl starts snooping around, murder becomes more likely the method. 
 
One of Leonard's greatest strengths is his mastery of dialog.   His characters all seem to jump off the page and out of each book he writes.  This probably explains why so many of his novels have been adapted to film.        
Posted by Ultra Violet on 01/19/11
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You may know Chris Kimball as the host of America's Test Kitchen on PBS. This book is a very entertaining account of Kimball's journey through the Fannie Farmer cookbook to stage an authentic twelve-course 19th century supper for twelve in his Victorian brownstone. Kimball's anecdotes about his rather sketchy Boston neighborhood were interesting. But of course, the trials and tribulations he and his staff faced in recreating Victorian cookery were the most amusing parts of the book. Apparently, mock turtle soup is made by boiling a whole calf's head. Kimball tried actual turtle as well, but they are a protected species now, so that complicated matters. There were more adventures with the calves' foot jellies for dessert. 
 
This is a must-read for foodies interested in the history of American cuisine, but it is also of interest to history buffs, in general. Kimball includes quite a bit of information on life in Boston in the late 19th century. 
Posted by Uncle Will on 01/17/11
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This new book in our collection chronicles the U.S. Marines in the Western Pacific, 1944-1945.  The war in Europe was nearly over; just a race to see who could capture Hitler first.  The Japanese Empire still occupied a lot of territorial islands and the U.S. desperately needed to capture much more real estate that would be used for B-29 re-fueling bases.   All these battles were for the anticipated aerial bombings of  Japan.    The United States' biggest fear was that a drawn out war was imminent and many more lives would be lost if the anticipated ground invasion of Japan became a reality.

My father fought on Iwo Jima, a remote island in the Pacific West, from February 19 through March 16, 1945.  7000 Marines were killed and 20,000 were wounded, during the bloodiest battle of World War II. Unfortunately, most Americans today know more about the famously staged flag-raising incident that took place there, than the fact that on an island so small,  so seemingly insignificant,  so many men died fighting for world peace.
 
The Japanese had occupied Iwo Jima for so long that their entire occupying army was networked underground.  After the Marine invasion it was discovered that all the Naval pre-invasion bombing did not even make a minuscule dent in disrupting the island defenses.  The island consisted of black volcanic rock, finely ground, that made traversing difficult.  The Japan forces knew that this island was integral to the defense of their homeland.  They were extremely well-prepared.  Suicide attacks were the nightly norm.
 
The chapter on Iwo Jima is just one of several examples of the sacrifices made and battles won.
There have been many books written about the war in the Pacific and this is one of the better ones; dedicated
exclusively to the final year of WWII and all the U.S. island victories that were lined-up like dominos.  The
pictures are many and the writing is precise and easy to absorb.   It does not read like a high school history book.

Posted by Auntie Anne. on 01/14/11
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"And out of the Darkwood Mr. Toppit comes, and he comes not for you, or for me, but for all of us." And Mr. Toppit is dark indeed. When the author of "The Hayseed Chronicles," a little-known British series of childrens' books is killed by a cement truck, his family becomes plagued and burdened by the sudden popularity of the books. A strange American woman, who was at the scene of the accident, goes to the hospital and stays with the family after Arthur Hayman dies. She manages to hitch her wagon to the Hayman family and "The Hayseed Chronicles." Upon returning to Los Angeles, she proceeds, without permission, to read the books on a radio show that she hosts. The books become so popular in the U.S. that she is given her own daytime TV talk show, which becomes wildly successful.
 
Enter the fictitious "Mr. Toppit," who wreaks havoc on the Hayman family. Rachel, the daughter, was fragile at best, prior to her father's death. Luke, the son, who just wanted to live an anonymous, insignificant life, becomes immortalized as the fictional Luke Hayseed, hero of his father's books. And many skeletons step out of the closet regarding Mrs. Hayman and their first-born son who died as a baby.
 
Mr. Toppit is a very dark but riveting first novel for Charles Elton. It has a strong theme of the personal hold that fate has over the characters of the book, and "Mr. Toppit" takes on a very devilish persona. Listen to  Amazon's interview with the author regarding his debut novel
Posted by Pam I am on 01/12/11
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The Wishing Trees is a heartwarming book about love, loss, grief and continuing life and learning to find joy again after loss.  Ian,  who has lost his wife, Kate,  to cancer discover that Kate left a collection of notes and a letter pleading Ian to retrace a trip the two them shared fifteen years ago, this time taking their daughter Mattie.  Ian and Mattie set off on a journey retracing all the places that Ian and Kate travelled fullfilling Kate's wishes.  Along the way they open a letter from Kate at each destination and learn new things about each other and tie a message to a tree . . .a wishing tree.  This book is both heartwarming and profound.  It is filled with sorrow but also love. 
Posted by jfreier on 01/10/11
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This is my first Stuart Woods novel and his fourth Ed Eagle novel. Ed is just settling in with his new wife Susannah when he gets word that his vicious ex wife Barbara has escaped from a Mexican prison and is on her way to Santa Fe with vengeance on her mind. Ed is also busy trying to clear Tip Hanks a golf pro from the murder of his wife and there are several other story lines interwoven with characters from previous novels.
I really enjoyed his writing style, good characters and his description of Santa Fe which is a town I know and love.
Posted by Ultra Violet on 01/05/11
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John Clare was a successful rustic poet in his own time. Set in England in the 1830's, The Quickening Maze tells the story of his time in a mental institution. Ironically, Alfred Tennyson was there at the same time, staying with his brother, Septimus, who was institutionalized as a melancholic. The doctor who owned the asylum, Matthew Allen, had his own problems. He had spent time in debtor's prison and became obsessed with his invention of a wooden machine to carve decorative wooden pieces. As he becomes more obsessed, and gets more investors to give him large sums of money (including Tennyson), Dr. Allen leaves the asylum in the care of a brutal man who abuses and rapes the inmates. John Clare manages to blackmail him into leaving the asylum.
 
I was not familiar with John Clare when I picked up this book, but I fell in love with some of the characters in the first chapter. It is obvious to me why The Quickening Maze was a finalist for the Man Booker Prize. I look forward to more exquisite prose from Adam Foulds. Foulds has also written a novel called, The Truth About These Strange Times and a book-length narrative poem called The Broken Word.
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