Staff Choices

Posted by jfreier on 12/16/11
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Inspector Alan Banks is on holiday in America resting from the  traumatic conclusion of his last case.
Meanwhile back in Yorkshire a neighbor comes to see him after she finds a gun in her daughters closet, a major offense in England. The girl Erin is roomates with Banks' daughter Tracy and when the police go to retrieve the gun things go very awry.
Tracy warns Erins' boyfriend who is the guns owner and "Jaff" kidnaps her and hooks up with his very unsavory cohorts. Banks' colleague Annie Cabot takes the case and when Alan returns they must race against time to save Tracy from this very Bad Boy.
Mystery
Posted by Pam I am on 12/15/11
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Libby Day was 7 years old when her mother and two sisters were brutally killed in their home and she narrowly escaped.  At the time, Libby testified against her brother Ben and he is serving a life sentence in prison for the grisly murders and is thought to have been in a satanic cult.  Now, 25 years later, Libby meets with a group that firmly believes in Ben's innocence.  She reluctantly begins to revisit the horrible murders and try to find the real killer.  Flynn alternates chapters from Libby in present day, to Ben on the day of the murders, and Ben's mom, Patty, on the day of the murders.  The narrative of the day of the murder begins in the early morning and chronologically goes through the day.  At the same time, the chapter's told in the present day from Libby slowly uncover inconsistencies and clues to what really happened.  What an inventive and interesting way to tell a mystery!   There are parts of this book that are very gruesome and troubling so it is not for the sqeamish.  But, if you like a page turner, I recommend this.
Posted by mingh on 12/07/11
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Having only had the TV show, Northern Exposure, as my reference for flying in Alaska, this was an eye opening look at flying in the last wild American frontier. Flying in Alaska is like flying no where else in America. In addition to the cold, fog, snow, and lack of visibilty, there is the tremendous pressure of flying the mail and supplies to places that have no other means of getting them. All Alaskan pilots know of other pilots who didn't make it.
 
Colleen Mondor, the author, worked for one of the airlines and notes how the pilots felt about flying during good weather and bad. Also, the pressures that they had from the front office and from each other. Flying in Alaska is like joining a daredevils club. You can't be too cautious.
 
Mondor writes about famous Alaskan rescues and losses. She notes that many airfields and roads are named after dead pilots. This book is filled with stories of close-calls and those that didn't make it. These airlines are so crucial to connecting people from all parts of Alaska to each other. The pilots know it but it is also very dangerous terrain with mountains hidden behind clouds and icing on planes. When the FAA comes to investigate crashes, it almost always is pilot error. The pilot forget where he was.
 
This book would be of great interest to those flying single engine or double engine planes or anyone who likes to read about adventure. It is filled with stories of the history of flying in Alaska. There are many sad stories but living like this also makes for many heroes. But sometimes the heroes wonder if it was worth it.
Alaska, Aviation
Posted by mingh on 12/07/11
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Sometimes love can take you to unexpected places. Leslie Leyland Fields learns this when she marries the son of an Alaskan fisherman. She moves to Bear Island, a small island off of Kodiak Island in the Alaskan peninsula.
 
There, subsistence living is the norm. No running water for bathing, dishes or drinking. Running to a well to bring up the water that you will need for the day has to be done. If it is washing day, sometimes making three or more runs to fill the wringer washer. Because washing is difficult and time consuming, wearing the same clothes day after day is done making them even dirtier and harder to clean. They also must use oil or kerosene for lighting. As Leslie and others remark, their life has not really entered the 20th century.
 
In this memoir subtitled, Life on the Wild Edge of America, you learn how the salmon fishermen live and work. Although they have nine months off during the Fall/Winter/Spring, their Summers are nonstop with 20 hour days separated by four hours sleep. It is very grueling and dangerous work setting the nets, picking the fish from the nets and bringing them in to the cannery. This goes on for weeks until they are doing it in their sleep.
 
Sometimes Leslie is out on the boats and sometimes she is at home doing the laundry, mending the nets, making the meals for the workers and eventually tending to her own children. Leslie, her husband, and eventually two children live alone on an island off of Kodiak island. If they want company, they need to take a small boat known as a skiff to other islands. If the weather is bad or the waters are difficult then they are on their island for weeks at a time. In the Fall they travel or take part-time jobs to help with the expenses. But home is the island.
 
This is a truthful memoir of the difficulties and joys of living on an island with no electricity or running water, where reading is a major past-time and just watching the beautiful landscape fills hours. Leslie has her faith to help her during difficult times but she is also very capable in her own right. Her Mother would purchase and rehab houses and then re-sell them. All the children were expected to help with the rehabilitation. They were poor but the skills she learned growing up helped to make her adjustment to the island easier.
 
This is a realistic but loving portrait of the people and environment of the Alaskan peninsula, specifically the salmon fishers. While she is there, she experiences the Exxon Valdez oil spill and its impact on the beaches, the fishing and the economic impact to the small fisher communities. These are hardy people who work hard and love what they do. Having read this book you will appreciate the work that went into your salmon dinner.
Posted by Pam I am on 12/04/11
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Eugenides describes the lives of three college seniors at Brown University in the early 1980s.  Madeleine, an English major, is writing her senior thesis on Jane Austen and George Eliot, authors of books about marriage that lie at the heart of the classic English novels.  Leonard Bankhead, is a charismatic and depressed “bad” boy.  Soon Madeleine finds herself in an erotic and intellectual relationship with Leonard. At the same time, her old friend Mitchell begins studying Christian mysticism and becomes obsessed with the idea that Madeleine is destined to be his mate.  Eugenides explores this love triangle and if there can be a new “Marriage Plot”  written for current times including feminism, sexual freedom, prenups, and divorce.
Posted by Auntie Anne. on 12/01/11
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Having been awarded a scholarship to study architecture at the Ecole Speciale in Paris in 1937 was no small feat for Andras Levi, a poor Hungarian-Jew from the small Hungarian town of Konyar.  He arrived from Budapest with only a single suitcase and a mysterious letter he had promised to deliver to a C. Morgenstern.  He makes friends with some fellow Jewish students, allying with them against increasing Nazi threats.  He falls in love with C. Morgenstern - Klara - a beautiful Hungarian ballet instructor nine years his senior with a hauntingly dark past. With war threatening, Andras is forced to return to Hungary and Klara insists on coming with him.  Andras and his two brothers find themselves pawns in the Nazi chess game of using Hungary to advance their invasion of Russia, sent out in work details for months at a time in labor camps that were little more than concentration camps.  By the autumn of 1939, all of Europe erupted in the full-blown catastophe of World War II.  Even Hungary, thinking themselves safe in allying with Germany, was been invaded by the Nazis. As in Dr. Zhivago, lovers Andras and Klara cannot escape the horrors of war, but find courage in their love for each other and in their families.

I must admit that I balked a bit at reading a 600 page novel that appeared to be yet another novel about World War II.  I was surprised to find myself unable to put it down, taken in by the grandeur of Paris opera houses and the Parisian architecture.  Andras' simple yet close family ties in Hungary contrasting with his new life in Paris as student, friend and lover was beautifully portrayed by the author, Julie Orringer. As the inevitable history unfolded with the characters caught up in it, I found myself totally absorbed and caring very much about how they would survive the war.  The Invisible Bridge is a novel of epic proportions but so well written that it felt intimate.  

Posted by mingh on 12/01/11
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Gina has fallen in love with her sister's neighbor, Sean, to the point of parking outside the home he shares with his wife and young daughter. She is not sure why this happened or even how. She loved her husband but this affair has now consumed her. Although he spends a lot of time with Gina, Sean continues to live at home because of his daughter.
 
The Forgotten Waltz is a story about how families get on with life. Gina marvels that Life hasn't stopped to marvel at her joy with Sean or cry at the loss of her Mother. Life still goes on. And people need to get on with life also.
 
After her Mother dies, Gina goes to live in the house she grew up in. This forces many memories of her life growing up. Gina tells the story of her life with Sean and begins to see her growing years with her Mother and Father differently. As Sean focuses on his daughter, Gina sees her and her sister's lives through the eyes of her Father who died when she was in her teens.
 
Gina concedes that her viewpoint is one sided when it comes to Sean. Why can't he spend all of his time with her? Because she doesn't have children of her own, she views Sean's daughter almost as an adversary keeping her Father away from Gina.
 
Almost a coming of age story for a woman in her thirties, Gina has to learn that her life does not exist in a vaccum. She has to learn to live with the others who surround her.
Posted by Auntie Anne. on 12/01/11
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It was the summer of 1880 in Paris, 10 years after France's crippling defeat in the Prussian war.  Even though France was finally recovering from a serious economic depression, the devastating psychological effect of the war could still be felt.  Parisian energy rebounded, however, when workers were given Sundays off.  A new society emerged - la vie moderne - and cafes, caberets, dance halls, and theaters all flourished.  The building of railroad lines to the countryside allowed Parisians to enjoy their Sundays in the enchanting riverside villages west of Paris.

A small group of artists, called Impressionists, had discovered the new engergy and modern individualism as well.  Breaking away from the classic artistic traditions of form and line, with scenes from the Bible or history as inspiration, the Impressionists left their studios to paint "La vie moderne" as they saw it and lived it.  Boldly using feathery touches of unblended color in textural brushstrokes, they painted scenes from the caberets, dance halls, theaters and Sunday boaters and picnicers.  Pierre-Auguste Renoir was one such painter. The Impressionists met with much criticism, since their technique was such a radical break with the classic artists.  One such critic threw down the gauntlet by saying "the Impressionists are inferior to what they undertake.  The man of genius has not arisen."  August Renoir picked up the gauntlet and created a work of true genius - "Luncheon of the Boating Party."

Susan Vreeland, the author, has given the reader a wonderful fictional accounting of the creation of this masterpiece by Renoir.  Renoir met with almost insurmountable obstacles.  He had only eight weeks of Sundays to paint it on the terrace of La Maison Fournaise at Chatou before he would lose the good summer light.  He was totally broke but somehow had to pay for the huge canvas, paints, fees for 14 models and rent for the terrace each Sunday.  When he began working on the painting his right arm was broken, so he painted with his left.  Crippling rheumatoid arthritis was beginning to take its toll on his fingers. Woven throughout the book are the personal stories of the 14 people who are in the painting.  Their colorful stories paint their own picture of la vie moderne in Paris - an actress, a mime, a journalist, an adventurer, a singer-flower seller, an art collector, a poet, a boatman, a baron, a yachtsman-painter.  Vreeland gives us a good taste of the conflicts and hedonism of the era, as well as the anguish and the joy, without which the Impressionists would have had no inspiration.

Posted by Uncle Will on 11/29/11
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During the 1950's and '60's, Ernie Banks was a hero to thousands of boys.  They all tried to copy his signature bat grip.  On any rainy Saturday afternoon, whenever asked, the boys on their neighborhood playground would smile and say "let's play two!"   Ernie was the great shortstop who was going to lead all Cubs fans to the Promised Land.
 
It's been over 40 years since Ernie retired and still no Cub fan has entered that Promised Land.   This book covers the summer of '69, which was Ernie's one and only chance, during his prolific career, to come close to winning a pennant; let alone play in a World Series.  Die-hard Cub fans can count on one hand the times their beloved ever came close to playing in the big game during their lifetimes. 
 
Phil Rogers, as usual, has done his homework.  He takes his readers back in time to the friendly confines where they can almost smell the Oscar Meyer Smokie Links being sold from an aluminum push-cart behind home plate.  Steam and taste buds rising each time the vendor opens the lid.
 
During the summer of '69 not even the bleacher beer vendors could help the Cubs.  There was not enough beer brewed to mask the epic breakdown that fans witnessed that summer.  Hordes of Bleacher Bums are still that...bummed...today.  The Cubs not only blew their considerable league lead, but they surrendered to the upstart New York Mets.  This book answers most of the questions surrounding that collapse.
 
From Jackie Robinson to Leo 'The Lip" Durocher, Rogers spins a heroic recounting of one of the most controversial and embarrassing times in Cub lore. 
 
Yes, during the 1950's and '60's, Ernie Banks was a hero to thousands of boys.  He still is even if most of those boys have grown up some. 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Posted by Uncle Will on 11/28/11
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The cool thing about time travel is there are no rules.
 
Stephen King has been creating his own rules since the early '70's.  His earlier works were unique, visual and engaging.  As a short story writer, he has had many stories adapted to film.  His later works seem to hint that maybe this author had run low on new ideas.  This book refutes that allegation.   
 
The story opens with a GED English teacher, Jake Epping, whose life is okay, but stagnant.  Nothing seems to be able to stir an emotion.  One day, an older student of his submits  an assignment addressing:  "The Day That Changed My Life."  It is so moving that Jake gives Harry Dunning an A+.  Harry is thunderstruck.  He is a little slow, since when a child his father attacked him with a sledge hammer.  Harry escaped with head injuries.  All the other members of  his family were not as lucky.
 
As luck has it, Jake takes Harry to Jake's favorite diner on graduation day.  Al, the proprietor, later lets Jake in on a secret.  In Al's storage room is a portal to the past.
 
This portal takes its time traveler back to a specific date and place.  The year is always 1958.  Any time spent in the past, no matter how long or short, translates to just two minutes of the present.   After a demonstration of its wonders, Jake reluctantly agrees to go back in time and try to stop Lee Oswald from assassinating John Kennedy.
 
What follows is a compelling trip down memory lane for baby-boomers and a fascinating chronicle of life back in the early 1960's.  This book is nearly 850 pages long, but well worth the time invested in experiencing it.
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6.012 Patron-Generated Content

04/27/2011
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