Staff Choices

Posted by Uncle Will on 07/07/10
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What if you were handed 15 million dollars and the ownership of an established, once promising business?  What if you were able to hire the best minds in that business?  What if it was a corporation that you were extremely talented at running and opening branches worldwide?  What if it was for a career that you already possessed all the qualifications to become successful?  What if the only drawback was that this gift was the unsolicited inheritance handed to you by your deadbeat father, while he was serving a life-sentence in prison...the same father that beat you regularly while you were growing up and learning to hate with a passion?  And most importantly, what if it was a career that you loved and you were legitimately able to help clients live safe and less stress-free lives?
 
This is Jack Malone's legacy.  He successfully manages the most exclusive private investigation firm in the world.
 
Here's hoping that Patterson has settled on Jack Malone to start a new series of mysteries. There are several plots that intertwine.  One is the prolong serial killings of over a dozen teenage schoolgirls.  Another is the murder of Jack's best friend's wife and  Jack's former flame.  There also is an investigation of a suspected final score tempering of some NFL games by its referees.  And just when the reader thinks that there is plenty on the plate for Jack to deal with, his twin brother is discovered to be in hock for $600,000 to loan sharks.
 
Patterson has found a winning combination is co-authoring several of his books.  The narration is fresh and this style of writing almost always ensures short chapters...a late night reader's delight!
Posted by Auntie Anne. on 07/02/10
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A Gate at the Stairs takes place in a small Midwest college town shortly after 9/11. Tassie Keltjin, whose father is a potato farmer in a small Illinois town, and whose Mother is Jewish, is an aimless college freshman. She gets a part-time job as a nanny for a couple who have adopted a beautiful bi-racial 2-year-old girl. Not only does she interview for the job, but she goes through the entire adoption process with the couple, thus becoming completely immersed in their lives. The post-9/11 racial tension and fear in the United States is an understood sideline that doesn’t hold up very well in the story. But it does act as somewhat of a catalyst.
 
The author, Lorrie Moore, is a highly praised and gifted literary author of short stories filled with sharp wit along with cynicism, wryness coupled with sweetness. This novel is another great example of her talent. The longer literary form of the novel might be a little daunting for her, however. The characters were well developed, but the plot was not. At times, it seemed as if the plot was going nowhere. That being said, Moore’s talent for the metaphor, her sardonic humor and moving way in which she looks at life are definitely worth the time invested in reading A Gate at the Stairs.
Posted by Uncle Will on 06/30/10
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There's something in the water.  The water is bottled and called:  Pluto Water.
 
This is Michael Koryta's  (pronounced ko REE ta) sixth novel.   This story is sort of taken from the playbooks Stephen King and Dean Koontz.  Eric Shaw, a promising film director, makes a wrong career decision and is blacklisted in Hollywood.  He is force to earn a living by creating short films on the lives of the recently departed; which are then shown at the decease's funeral.  He is hired to make one of his tribute films about the life and times of, Campbell Bradford, who is on his deathbed.
 
Bradford, who is 95, was once the wealthy owner of a luxurious spa that featured mineral spring water that legends were built on.   It had been many years since the resort closed down and Shaw's return to the rundown town triggers a chilling chain of events.
 
Shaw makes the mistake of drinking some of the bottled Pluto Water and becomes dependent of it.   What mysteries lie behind this magical water?  Just how are ghosts of the past conjured up after a swallow?  And how is the past and present able to meet up in the future for an explosive conclusion? 
 
There's something in the water...it's an understatement.
Posted by cclapper on 06/30/10
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You may remember this from High School... you probably had to read one or two of these poems in your survey of English Literature.  Cringing already?  Well, stop- you might need to think again!
 
I only read the required selections when I was in school, too.  But recently I ran into several references to this collection and decided to go exploring.
 
In these poems, former inhabitants of the imagined town of Spoon River look back on their lives and speak of their hopes and dreams, all too often thwarted, squandered or mislaid.  First published in 1915, could these short poems possibly be of any interest to a modern reader?
 
Yes, they could.  Surprisingly contemporary, these stories form a mosaic of lives stretching all the way back to revolutionary times.  Some stand alone.  Some dovetail in cool ways.
 
And the poetry is good stuff.  Not formal, stilted or antique, these people speak in their own colloquial voices.  And together, they create a powerful narration of lives lived to varying degrees of success.
 
I bet you will find your life reflected in one or two of these quick but pithy verses- none much longer than one brief page.   I know I did.  Which ones made you recognize yourself?  Tell me yours- I'll tell you which ones showed me... me.
 
Great for quick browsing on a blanket in the park, or while grilling (yourself) on the beach.  Lots of these made me laugh.  Enjoyable...  and it's poetry-  Who knew!?
Posted by mingh on 06/29/10
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The Imperfectionists is a collection of stories about workers, readers and their companions who are influenced by an international paper based in Rome. (The paper is based on the International Herald Tribune). Each chapter covers a different person and their relationship to the paper.
 
Rachman does a great job of pulling all the characters together. In different chapters you will read about what someone thinks about a person showcased in a previous chapter. Some chapters deal with the same events but told from different characters.
 
Some reviewers have called this a collection of short stories. Most stories do involve an event that has a beginning, middle and end. But the stories hold together more closely than that. As the book moves along, you begin to wonder which character will be showcased next and what their story is.
 
The Imperfectionists is time well spent for the reader who likes to learn about characters from angles not necessarily their own.
Posted by emcinerney on 06/26/10
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High school reunions:  the chance to relive the glory days of Friday night football games, first crushes and heartbreaks, and the time before the responsibilities of being an adult set it.  In author Elizabeth Berg’s latest novel, six men and women prepare for their fortieth, and final, high school reunion and all the drama that comes with it. This reunion is the last chance for all of them.  For Dorothy, it is her last chance to finally be with her crush, former star quarterback, Pete.  For Pete, it is his last chance to save his marriage to his high school sweetheart, Nora.  For Lester, a former nerd, it is his last chance to connect with his crush, Candy, the former cheerleader and the most popular at school.  For Mary Anne, it is her chance to finally find out why she remained invisible for all four years.
 
Berg deftly alternates between the funny and the heartbreaking.  Dorothy, now the vapid and vain divorcee, is determined to do whatever it takes to land Pete and is the quintessential high school mean girl, forty years later.  Candy, now stuck in an unhappy marriage and facing a serious disease, is looking to make amends for her treatment of others, especially Lester and Mary Anne, during high school.   Anyone that has gone to their high school reunion can relate to this book:  the dread, the panic, and the anticipation.  Berg captures all those emotions and brings some closure to these six classmates.  Overall a fun, leisurely read down memory lane.
Posted by Ultra Violet on 06/23/10
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The Whale is a magnificent adventure through our communal history with cetaceans. Quotes from Moby Dick are interspersed with graphic descriptions of whaling practices and tales of sea serpents. Hoare's prose is a pleasure to read and his obvious fascination with these mysterious creatures is infectious. It's hard to believe how dependent 18th and 19th century people were on whale products for industry, cosmetics, food products and many other surprising uses. An interesting book for anyone who enjoys Victorian history, Herman Melville or who is concerned with the possible extinction of the world's largest mammals.
Posted by Uncle Will on 06/18/10
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"'Gee, he was here a moment ago. . .'  This is what George Carlin wanted on his tombstone if he'd had one."

Leave it to Carlin to release his autobiography after he passed away;  or rather his sortabiography, as he referred to it.
 
The majority of his audience first saw Carlin in the early '60's on The Ed Sullivan Show, with his partner, Jack Burns.  They were two Irish mimic-comedians.  After their falling out, George went solo and had a modestly successful career until he got busted for obscenity.   His career had hit a wall and he was becoming a parody of himself.
 
This book chronicles his love/hate relationship with his mother, Mary; his addiction to drugs and alcohol; his love for his daughter, Kelly; and how hallucinogens changed the course of his comic genius.
 
In the late 60's, Carlin began tripping and from those experiences he created "The Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television."  He credited the drugs to freeing his inhibitions and allowing him to speak freely.  Since he was born a true clown, Carlin's true inner self made millions of people laugh over a 50-year career.
 
This book was co-authored by Tony Hendra, who some might remember from his role in This Is Spinal Tap, as the band's manager.  Fans of Carlin's will want to read this book, if not to find out more about  his hidden demons, then to just marvel in the way his mind worked.
Posted by mingh on 06/14/10
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Bright Young People: the lost generation of London's Jazz Age is a terrific survey of the people and places and events of the time between the wars. It is hard not to read this and think of today's celebrities. London during in the 20's was filled with young people bent on breaking out from the stodgy Victorian and Edwardian eras of their parents.
 
The young people were minor aristocrats or had rich parents and they did anything to get their names in the papers with outlandish behavior and outrageous parties. They liked to pretend that they didn't care about royalty and class. They invited black performers to their parties and prostitutes and other working class types to help them feel that they were tearing down walls.
 
However, who they married said much more about what they really felt about the other classes. Everyone in the upper class married another in the upper class. The mixing of classes was all meant for show and shock value.
 
Most of the people mentioned became famous for being outrageous. Elizabeth Ponsonby and Brenda Dean Paul were the Paris Hilton and Lindsey Lohan of their era. Elizabeth Ponsonby had no discernible talent and Brenda Dean Paul struggled with alcoholism and other drugs.
 
The reality show equivalent of the time was a newspaper column.  You would either be asked, or you would solicit for, a newspaper column in which you could write about yourself and all of your outrageous friends. All of the newspapers had such columns and there were always people wanting to create them.
 
Certain writers such as Evelyn Waugh and Nancy Mitford began their writing careers writing thinly veiled books about these people. While they were participants, they were also able to see the flimsiness and hypocrisy of this group of people who were their friends and peers.
 
This book does not go in-depth but rather gives you the feel for the times. Although I found the celebrity for celebrity-sake era very identiable to our own, how it will end in today's world is less certain. For the bright young people, the outrageous partying came to an end in the Depression of the thirties and the march into another world war. What will it take today?
Posted by mingh on 06/08/10
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A subtitle for this book could be What Did Capone Really Do? Was Capone responsible for the most gruesome gangland killing, the St Valentine's Day Massacre? Highly NOT likely. Was Capone responsible for the best soup kitchen in the city as others claimed? Probably NOT.
 
Why did Capone come to represent gangs and criminals throughout the world? Unlike other heads of groups, such as Lucky Luciano in New York, Capone liked the press and talked to them all the time. While most mobsters laid low and tried to do their job under the radar, Capone was out there giving interviews and in small ways incriminating himself, telling the newspapers that he was just giving the people what they wanted.
 
Its this publicity that forced the Federal government to go after Capone since the local government seemed to be so inept. At the time of his sentencing for not paying taxes, Capone received the longest jail time ever for someone convicted of this crime. Somebody finally "got" Capone.
 
There is also information here about how the gangs worked, their interactions and how Eliot Ness fit into all of this (Eig claims it is highly possible Ness never even met Capone).  This is a very readable book about a very lucky gangster whose luck finally ran out through the diligence of one honest man in Chicago, and no, it was not Ness.
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