Staff Choices

Posted by mingh on 07/03/11
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Subtitled, the gilded age crime that scandalized a city & sparked the tabloid wars, Murder of the Century takes place in 1897 when body parts are found scattered in various locations throughout New York. What makes this interesting is this is the start of the tabloid wars in New York. Although William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer had been trying to outdo each other for a few years, it was this murder that really ratcheted up the ante.

Both the Journal and the Herald offered reward money for information leading to the identity of the body (they put the pieces together without the head which was never found). Hearst pushed the Journal to publish more and more about every little clue. Even though some of the clues clearly had nothing to do with the murder, if they had their own sordid story, Hearst went with it. Pulitzer also tried to be first to publish the information.

The solving of the murder is here from the poor detectives who had to do their job under the watchful and following eyes of the reporters, to the courtroom antics, and the viewings at the morgue. Every day for months, people were allowed to come down to the morgue to view the body and make a guess as to whom it belonged.

The murder is solved and actually quite quickly once they get a vital clue. However, the New York papers were never the same. The largest typeface, traditionally held only for declarations of war, appeared for the most sordid stories  for morning and evening reading. And in color!

This isn’t an in-depth view of yellow journalism but how one New York murder changed the way newspapers delivered the news.

Posted by Auntie Anne. on 06/29/11
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Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts in the 1640's was primitive, rugged, yet beautiful place.  Inhabited by the Wampanoag Indian tribes, the island was rich with vegetation and wildlife, the ocean rich with fish and crab.  This is the place chosen by a ragtag group of Puritan English pioneers to establish a settlement in order to escape the cruel treatment of the rigid, Calvinistic British society on the mainland.
The voice of Caleb's Crossing is that of young Bethia Mayfield, whose father was Great Harbor's minister.  Bethia is a very bright, curious girl, longing for the education that is denied her because of her sex.  So she eavesdrops on her dull brother's Latin, Greek and Hebrew lessons, soaking up the new languages like a sponge.  Her free spirit presses her to explore the beautiful island that is her home, much against the strict dictates of a Calvinistic upbringing that demands obedience and domestic subservience from their womenfolk.  Through her wanderings, Bethia meets Caleb, an Indian boy her age, and the son of the Chieftan.  Bethia teaches Caleb to speak and read her language.  He in turn teaches her how to live off the land, gathering berries and herbs, and spear fish from the ocean's shore. She soon becomes fluent in his language.  They become the best of friends.
Minister Mayfield takes it upon himself the job of educating and converting the local Indians, thus incurring the wrath of the Shaman, Caleb's uncle.  He lands the big prize by taking Caleb into his home to tutor him in the classic languages in preparation for his formal education at Harvard University.  The opposing forces of the Calvinist minister and the Wampanoag shaman collide as tragedy and heartbreak follow celebrations and successes.
Caleb's Crossing is Geraldine Brooks at her best, weaving an beautiful, vivid story from a tiny shred of historical fact.  Brooks actually recently moved to Martha's Vineyard where she came across  a map made by the Wampanoag people that marked the birthplace of Caleb Cheeshahteaumauk, the first Native American to graduate from Harvard.  Not much is known about Caleb's short but remarkable life.  But that is just the hook that Brooks needed to immerse herself in the history of this Indian tribe and Martha's Vineyard, to create another evocative and absorbing historical novel. 
Posted by Ultra Violet on 06/27/11
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Andrew Harrington is a wealthy, handsome, Victorian gad-about who has fallen in love with the model in a painting at his Uncle's home. He is understandably shocked to find that she is a common prostitute from White Chapel. His wily cousin, Charles, had commissioned the portrait and gifted it to his father as a joke. However, the knowledge of her low status doesn't dampen Andrew's ardor for the girl. Through Charles he finds out her name, Mary Kelly. Andrew begins evening forays to White Chapel to meet her, and he even takes a cheap room for their liaisons. Imagine his horror when he finds her completely mutilated by Jack the Ripper in the very room where they had shared so much happiness. Seeing that his cousin was genuinely suicidal, Charles goes to Andrew with the news of a time travel company that is offering trips to the future. Charles convinces Andrew to go with him to meet the eccentric man behind the company to beg him to take them into the past to save his precious Mary. From that point on, the story gets weirder, deeper, wittier, and thrilling.
A time travel book with Jack the Ripper, H. G. Wells, Bram Stoker and Henry James as characters isn't really so strange these days; what makes Map of Time special is the multi-layered deception and misconception and fact, fiction and science. This is the most creative book I have read in years. Not everyone will enjoy the mental gymnastics it takes to keep up with what is going on here. But if one is willing to suspend disbelief and just enjoy the ride, The Map of Time is exciting, and delightful. I was particularly impressed with the fact that Felix J. Palma is Spanish and yet he created a tremendously believable Victorian England. But what stands out the most is the complexity of the intricate web of the plot. Get ready for a wild ride!
Posted by mingh on 06/26/11
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Area 51 begins with the crash of a UFO at Roswell and ends with the crash at Roswell. In 1947, Area 51 (apparently never officially called that) didn't exist. The atomic bomb testing was happening nearby and it seemed efficacious to have the development of new aircraft also occur in this remote area of the western desert. So work was begun in 1951 to create secret projects both aircraft and atomic.

Area 51 : an uncensored history of America's top secret military base, is interesting for anyone wanting to read more about America and UFO's, the escalation of the Cold War, military buffs, and top secret projects, from U2 planes to the drones that now fly over Iraq and Afghanistan. Area 51 is still the stealth capital of our world . . .
as far we know.

Jacobsen is clear about how much information is out there and how much is still classified. What is interesting is how something as small as the radio broadcast of Orson Welles' The War of the Worlds, would still define whether Americans should be told information that may make them panic. Also interesting is how much is defined as classified because it would seem to embarrass or shame those who did the work. It would be hard to point a nasty finger at Stalin for allowing Dr. Mengele to travel safely in exchange for his work, when we were injecting developmentally disabled children with plutonium so that we could see how they reacted.

An in-depth book of details about top secret projects and how the CIA would use conspiracy theories to work in their favor. Cover the truth or deflect the information. Something crashed at Roswell -- it wasn't a weather balloon.

Posted by jfreier on 06/21/11
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A man awakes' on a cold, deserted beach alone and naked, nearby is a new BMW, filled with clothes and shoes that fit him and an I.D. of Daniel Hayes and a gun!. Is he Daniel Hayes? Why is here? What did he do?
The man is haunted by nightmares and the memory of an actress from a popular T.V. show. Does he know her? The mans I.D. says he lives in Malibu, so he sets off from what he finds out is the Maine coast to find out who he is and why the police and a very evil man want him. 
A great story with deep characters and a relentless pace. This is Marcus Sakey's most ambitious book yet and I think his best.
Posted by Uncle Will on 06/20/11
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This book's jacket says that author Nesbo is a Norwegian musician and composer.  This helps explain why this book reads like listening to a great piece of Classical music.  The plot is multi-layered, as if recorded on a sound stage using talented musicians interpreting the score.  
Nesbo is a grand conductor.  A multitude of characters is no deterrent.  Each uniquely adds to  the coloring of this story.  In some series, reading in chronological order is paramount.  Not with Nesbo.  Back-story be damned.  He has so much to say and say well, that each book stands on its own.   If anything, each book leaves the reader wanting more - the ultimate compliment for anyone that creates art. 
The hero is Harry Hole.  He's an Oslo Police Inspector with more baggage than a train porter with six arms.  He is a recovering alcoholic who falls on and off the wagon more times than a toddler trying to hold onto a Radio Flyer racing on a rock pile.   He is tragic and sympathetic.  He's a person that is in need of being smacked upside the head at times, just to get his attention.  He is unlucky with women to a fault.  The fault is that women close to him all seem to die.  
In this book, Harry is juggling several investigations; some assigned, some assumed.  It doesn't help his peace of mind that he is trying to prevent becoming the prime suspect in one of these investigations.  
Harry Hole is a trapeze artist who is presently plodding through life without a safety net.  Readers should plan on getting to the circus tent early and bring plenty of popcorn. 
The act at center stage is remarkable, if not death-defying. 
Posted by Uncle Will on 06/13/11
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Back in 1966, Argosy Magazine ran a picture of Adolph Hitler and a gold .32 automatic pistol on their cover.   The fascination with this pistol's history started back during WWII when it was found in a desk drawer in one of Hitler's homes.  This book documents the events leading up to the pistol's discovery and the soldier that smuggled it back to the States.
Teen Palm is an unlikely name for a hero.  Palm was a talented and promising singer and musician before the war in Europe beckoned for his services.  He was a devout Christian; and his faith was the foundation for this story. 
This story includes a historic perspective that is not widely known or written about.  It chronicles internal German guerrilla warfare that was taking place just prior to the downfall of Berlin.  It also tells of an assassination attempt on Hitler that failed.   History fans of that period will enjoy the telling of those lesser known facts.
Spoiler alert!  If the intention when reading this book is to get answers about the infamous pistol...this will not happen.  Questions remain to this day.  If the intention when reading this book is to gain some insight on how man's faith in his God and his country prevails, then there'll be little disappointment.
Posted by mingh on 06/09/11
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Subtitled, a chef's story of chasing greatness, facing death, and redefining the way we eat, Life on the line is a foodie memoir and more. Grant Achatz (pronounced AK’etz), tells of growing up in Michigan with family restaurants scattered throughout the St. Clair region. When he was five he was helping out at the restaurant. He knew he wanted to work in food but was looking for something more than family restaurants. So he started school at The Culinary Institute in New York and quickly moved onto different places, including a short stint at Charlie Trotters.

The message he seemed to learn from Charlie Trotters is how NOT to run a kitchen. But Achatz soon was on his way to The French Laundry and the man who would become his mentor, Thomas Keller. At The French Laundry, Achatz learned not only how to run a kitchen but also how to run a restaurant. It was Thomas Keller who sent him to a workshop in Spain run by Ferran Adria, the avante-garde Chef. Adria changed Achatz’s whole view of food. Achatz knew that this new way of preparing and presenting food was not right for The French Laundry. When Achatz saw an ad looking for a chef to run the restaurant Trio in Chicago, Achatz applied and got the job.

Achatz was on top of the world when he learned that he had a virulent form of tongue cancer. A chef needs his tongue for developing new foods and tastes. This was devastating to Achatz. And so he writes about how he had to deal with a prognosis that would possibly end his life in two years.

An interesting read for foodies, anyone interested in the restaurant business, and reading about someone dealing with a life-threatening illness.

Cancer, Food, memoir
Posted by Ultra Violet on 06/07/11
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Audrey and Randy come from hearty Iowa farm stock, and they are living out the American dream in their suburban house with four children. They find strength in their stoic Norwegian, Lutheran traditions. But it's the late 1970s and the lives of their children will take some very unexpected turns. Their eldest daughter, Anita, is the consummate girly cheerleader who wants nothing more than to get married and stay home with her children. Her husband is on the fast track to success as a banker and her future seems all planned out. It doesn't take long for Anita to find the joys of motherhood leave her cold, and her husband's drinking habit becomes problematic. After a DUI, Anita takes more control of her life and finds a new side of herself as a realtor. Second oldest, Ryan, has continual trouble with the women in his life, and is unfulfilled in his job as a computer programmer. Ryan finds an uneasy friendship with his burnout, Vietnam vet cousin, Chip. Even though Chip tends to cause Ryan trouble, he is also a voice of reason that grounds Ryan in reality. Blake is the next child in line. Blake finds a career in construction and a good life with a wife and kids. The youngest child, Torrie, had been the one with the most promise. She was a beautiful and impetuous young woman who excelled in school. On the way back from a funeral, Torrie is involved in an accident that shatters her dreams, but opens the door to a new world.
Jean Thompson creates characters that are breathtakingly real. There isn't a page of this book that doesn't ring true. It covers issues as diverse, controversial and relevant as alcoholism, Vietnam veterans, Native Americans, farm subsidies, motherhood, and women's roles. It is political and intimate at the same time. Every family in America has dealt with some of these issues in one way or another. This is definitely not a light summer read, but a perfect choice for a book club or for someone who is looking for a contemporary family saga that is painful at times, but hopeful in a way that never gets sentimental.
Posted by mingh on 06/07/11
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Within 25 pages the reader knows who killed Mr. Togashi and why, in this suspenseful mystery by Higashino. Yet we learn there is so much that even the killer doesn't know, leaving Detective Kusanagi with an unknown corpse,  motive, and suspects. Turning Occam's Razor (the simplest answer is usually the correct answer) on it's ear, Higashino creates a simple mystery that is anything but simple. 
With his many years on the force, Kusanagi has some tricks up his sleeve. Sometimes he likes to try out case theories with physics professor Manabu Yukawa. Yukawa can usually pinpoint problems in Kusanagi's theories by pointing out how the police have missed very simple clues. But when Yukawa learns that an old genius mathematician classmate may be involved, suddenly the simple clues seem to be overly specific and planted to lead in particular ways. When Yukawa goes to meet his former classmate, the battle of the wits is on.
Following the twists and turns as the police try to break Mr. Togashi's ex-wife, step-daughter, and neighbor will have readers second guessing what they actually read. With a surprise twist at the end, readers will enjoy watching the characters squirm as the noose becomes tighter.
Japan, Mystery
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