Staff Choices

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.
Posted by Uncle Will on 12/23/10
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It has been a long wait. Three years, to be precise, since the last Arkady Renko novel. Ever since 1981, when Gorky Park hit the book stands running,  no other serial novel has had such a sad, weather-beaten hero-of-the-common-man as the Russian investigator Arkady Renko.  He is persistent, clever, self-effacing, plodding, suicidal, broken-hearted, witty, loyal to a fault,  keen-eyed,  and mostly acts like a beaten dog.
 
Russians are a proud people.  Another of their stronger traits is that they are realistic.  They seem to have the ability to accept the hand that they have been dealt, self-analyze it, and still continue to survive in a society that seems to have only two classes:  the Haves and the Have nots.
 
In this 6th installment, Arkady is once again on the brink of being fired for insubordination.  While helping out a friend who is a hopelessly drunken detective, Arkady stumbles upon a serial killer.  Unfortunately for Arkady and the next victims, the government is not accepting of his theories and are hurried to distance themselves from him.
 
Arkady's young ward, Zhenya, the brilliant, street chess-hustler, is also trying to distance himself from Arkady.   Zhenya stumbles upon a very young girl - Maya - whose infant was stolen from her while trying to escape her miserable life of  forced prostitution.   Zhenya, who would be the last to admit that he has learned anything useful from Arkady,  tries to take on the role of protector, while assisting to find the kidnapped child. As always, there is Cruz' continuing central theme  of class struggle.
Posted by cclapper on 12/22/10
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Fish out of water... learn to swim!
 
Josh Kilmer-Purcell and his partner, Dr. Brent Ridge, live in Manhattan and always took an annual apple-picking trip to upstate New York.  One year they went a bit farther than usual- and bought the old "Beekman Mansion", a classic home set on several rural country acres.
 
They found a caretaker for the farm... who came complete with 80 happy goats.  And what started as a holiday gift for the team at Martha Stewart- goat milk soap- suddenly became... well, that's just where the story begins.
 
An enjoyable and very honest memoir.  As Mr. Kilmer-Purcell notes: "unconventional".  If you are looking for rainbows and baby animals... well, they are here, along with the rest of real life on a farm.  And real life in our current economy.
 
I like the people I met in this memoir, and I want to know how they're doing today.  I hope you feel that way, too.
Posted by Uncle Will on 12/22/10
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This book is an English major's delight.  Foxworthy's stage persona is that of a backwards backwoodsmen.  He is anything but.  To publish a book this clever, one must have an outstanding command of the English language; both spoken and written.  
 
"...No-ble (no-bul), adj. and n. completely without prevarication.  'That tree jumped right out in front of me, Judge, noble.'..."
 
"...Tab-leau (tab-lo), n. and adj. a phrase pertaining to controlling the extent of a bill of sale.  'I ain't buying another round, 'cause I'm trying to keep my tableau.'..."
 
"...Disability (dis-a-bi-la-te), adj. and n. a certain aptitude or proficiency.  'I was born with disability to charm women of the opposite sex.'..."
 
Planning a trip down South?  This book definitely would help bridge the language gap.  When ordering at a fancy southern diner,  if one wants a steak that stays juicy, one's gotta serum!
 
 
Posted by Auntie Anne. on 12/20/10
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Set during the Great Depression, Jacob Jankowski's life had been turned upside down when he became orphaned and homeless at the very time that he was to graduate Veterinary school.  As luck would have it, he hopped on board a passing train, which just happened to be the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth.  Before he knew it, he was put in charge of taking care of the circus animal menagerie. Amid the strange and sadistic world of this second-rate, down on its luck circus, Jacob falls in love with Marlena, the star of the equestrian act, who is married to the sick, twisted and cruel circus boss.  Jacob is determined to protect Marlena and Rosie, the lovable elephant, from her husband's abusive, sadistic behavior.  
 
I was totally prepared not to like Water for Elephants, since the subject is a circus during the Great Depression.  Sounded depressing to me.  However, this story is both brutal and poignant - brutal in Gruen's description of the filthy, squalid atmosphere of the mangy circus atmosphere; and poignant in the intimate, loving relationships that the circus performers have with the animals.  It is a story which would appeal to men and women alike.  It has something for everyone, especially if you're an animal love.  I found it very interesting that it was written by a woman in a man's voice, which she accomplished very well.
 
Watch for the movie scheduled to be released in April, starring Reese Witherspoon and Robert Pattinson.  Here's the trailer:- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fQa177w25Dw
Posted by jfreier on 12/15/10
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I finally read the much ballyhooed autobiography of my favorite member of my favorite band. I wasn't disappointed, there are the expected lurid party stories and groupies and drugs, but what comes through most is Richards love of music. I enjoyed his love of the Chicago blues legends and his awe when he first met and then played with his heroes. I found Richards very funny, honest, and dare I say a bit normal.
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