Staff Choices

Posted by Ultra Violet on 03/11/12
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If you got something valuable from Jim Collins' Good to Great, you should pick up Great By Choice. In these uncertain economic times, Collins and Hansen challenge some pre-conceived notions about how companies and business leaders can succeed and excel in a negative market. In the classic form of Collins' earlier books, Great By Choice is clear, cogent, and concise. It is easy to understand and is a pleasurable read.
Collins and Hansen and their team of researchers studied the results of companies that performed at more than ten times their industry indexes over a period of fifteen years during times of economic instability. Their findings were a bit surprising. The leaders who guided these 10X companies (their term for the top performers), were not fast-moving gamblers that pushed their organizations to the limit to innovate and change with changing times. Most often the opposite was true. The leaders of the 10X companies were cautious, prudent and (as Collins and Hansen put it) paranoid planners. They support their empirical findings with anecdotes such as comparing the two men who made a run for the South Pole in the late 1800s. They showed clearly the different approaches the two men had and compared that to business leaders of today. They also showed why one man succeeded with supplies to spare while the other died in the frozen wasteland with his entire crew.
A recommended read for business leaders, but also for anyone who is troubled by our current global economic circumstance. This book delineates some vital attitudes and approaches for anyone who needs to weather a difficult time. It is as inspirational as it is instructive.
Posted by Uncle Will on 03/09/12
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Historical Fiction has been called "a genre of controversy and contradiction." 
In this wickedly clever novel, Oscar Wilde attempts to solve the mystery behind the murder of the Duchess of Albemarle.  After hosting a posh party, whose guest list includes many of the blue bloods residing in England, circa 1890, the Duke finds his wife dead in their telephone parlor around midnight.  The Duchess has two deep, penetrating puncture wounds on her neck and appears to have been violently violated.  Official cause of death:  heart attack.  Oscar joins forces with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Bram Stoker to prove to the Royal Family that the Duchess' death was anything but accidental.
Prince Albert, still suspect in the Jack the Ripper murder spree, belongs to a secret society that meets in cemeteries to hobnob with vampires and their groupies.  One newly acquired acquaintance of Wilde's professes to be a vampire and is enlisted in the group's hunt for the truth.
This tale is told through the use of telegrams, love letters, news articles, diary entries, etc.  It is fast-paced and deliciously wry.  Just to experience all the Sherlock Holmes/Oscar Wilde comparisons is worth the read.   A historical fiction critic once wrote "...Most historical novels feel thin once you are away from the historical figures that have drawn you to the novel in the first place..."   
This is not the case in this mystery book.
Posted by Ultra Violet on 03/01/12
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A beautiful operatic soprano is set to be the star attraction at a gala event, when terrorists attack the home of a Japanese ambassador and hold the array of wealthy,  priveledged guests as hostages. Patchett writes complex characters and creates interesting relationships between the captives and their captors. Lyric Opera of Chicago just recieived a commision as part of the Renee Flemming Initiative for creating an Opera of Bel Canto. Instead of a well-established composer, Lyric has chosen young, Peruvian-born composer, Jimmy Lopez, to create the score and Sir Andrew Davis will be conducting.  WFMT has the story. December 2015 will be the premier. Certainly looking forward to this one!
Posted by Uncle Will on 02/29/12
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In 1971 Sam Peckinpah released his film adaptation of this novel entitled "Straw Dogs" starring Dustin Hoffman.

In 2011 Rod Lurie released his remake of "Straw Dogs" but it was more an adaptation of the earlier film than the novel that originally inspired it.

Leave it to Hollywood to take a nice, neat novel and botch the big screen adaptation, not once, but twice.

First published in 1969, Gordon's book was a tight psychological thriller.  The protagonist was an introverted American author, George Magruder, married to an English lady (far above his station) that longed for returning to her homeland.  His passion for his work and her homesickness adversely affect their marriage and their 8-yr. old daughter, Karen. Together they agree to leave America and move to England
where they purchase a quaint British home known as Trencher's Farm.

This continental jump creates a chasm in the Magruder family that cannot be corrected.  George and Louise begin to bicker more frequently and Karen withdraws from being party to her parents' poor problem-solving practices.  

The country setting that they've settle in has an escaped mental patient, Henry Niles, on the prowl. He has been hospitalized for a history of murdering young girls.  Needless to say the town is outraged that a psychotic killer is on the loose.  How humans react when an alleged wild animal is on the hunt becomes the central theme.   At what lengths will a man go to protect himself and his loved ones?

If one has seen either of these film adaptations and found them interesting, then reading this book will undoubtedly be more fulfilling.

Posted by Auntie Anne. on 02/26/12
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The Lady of the Rivers is the third book in Philippa Gregory's The Cousin's War series, a fictional accounting of the War of the Roses between the Lancasters and the Yorks for the crown of England.  The story of Jacquetta Rivers, the Dowager Duchess of Bedford, is an especially compelling one, particularly from the aspect of women's lives of this era.  It was a world completely controlled by men, and the only way that women could control their own destiny was through witchcraft or spirituality.  Said to be a descendant of the river goddess Melusina, Jacquetta was an eye-witness to one of the most important power struggles in British history.  She was the second most powerful woman in England in the early 1400's, and played a key role in the story of the York's and the Lacaster's rule.  Her daughter Elizabeth became the Queen of England when she married Edward IV, and again when she married Henry Tudor, King Henry VII, making Jacquetta Henry VIII's maternal grandmother.
Posted by Ultra Violet on 02/24/12
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If you love fun, bizarre historical facts, this is the book for you. It has brief entries about things throughout history that were created for beauty's sake. Some are small things like origami, some are entire buildings or magical gardens. Particularly interesting are the stories about chopines and the art of hot air ballooning. This is a great bedside reader since you can pick it up and read a single entry without a big investment in time. A most enjoyable read!
Posted by Uncle Will on 02/23/12
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This is the actress-turned-writer's long anticipated sequel to her first novel, Vampyres of Hollywood.  The premise of her first book was that many of the great actors past and present were vampires. The head of the movie studio, Anticipation, was, the centuries old, Ovsanna Moore.  Ovsanna joined forces with her human-Beverly-Hills-police-detective-turned-love-interest, Peter King, to battle the demon mother of all vampires.  They prevailed.

 In this book the plot continues the cute courtship of Peter and Ovsanna.  It always is a serious affair, when on Christmas Eve, you bring home to meet Mama, a vampire queen.  It doesn't help the relationship when one party of the couple is hiding the fact that a powerful Werewolf has already attempted to reconvert a member of the undead back to the dead-membership category.

Barbeau is no stranger to B-movie plots, having starred in several during her long Hollywood career.  Co-starring on the TV show Maude with Bea Arthur must have inspired some of the character strengths inherent to Barbeau's Vampire maven femme fatale...Ovsanna.

This time around Barbeau did not join forces with a co-writer as she did in her novel and is credited as the sole author.  Her biggest strength is that she does not take herself too seriously.  The tone of her books is campy.  She has created characters that are totally unbelievable; however, many have a place in Hollywood

Lookout Historical Fiction authors...there's a new player in town.

Posted by Pam S on 02/21/12
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Nancy Jensen's debut novel takes the reader on a journey of two sisters lives over the course of eighty years.  Mabel and Bertie are living with their stepfather after their mother has died and it is a sad and tragic life filled with horrible secrets.  On the night of Bertie's graduation a misunderstanding leads to Mabel and Bertie seperating ways and each begins a new life far away from each other.   The reader then learns what happens to these sisters and their subsequent families over the course of decades.  Chapters are told from various women in the generations that follow.  There are secrets, lies and heartbreak that ties each generation together.  There is a family tree in the front of the book which was very helpful to keep track of the characters. 
Posted by jonf on 02/17/12
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A  Red Cross nurse gets a call from a friend to pick up something in a public locker at the Copenhagen train station, Nina is stunned to find a suitcase with a naked and drugged 3 year old boy. Nina a nurse and one who needs to help sets out to find who and where the boy is from.
Karin the friend who asked for help is then found murdered and Nina realizes that she and her family may be in danger. Nina then takes over on a trek across Denmark to find the answer, yet another well written Scandanavian mystery.
Posted by mingh on 02/04/12
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If you are watching Downton Abby, you might want to check out this book. Highclere Castle is where the British TV Show is filmed, But the writer, Julian Fellowes, also seems to have taken some of the life of the 5th Countess of Carnarvon as his inspiration for what happens on the show.
The 5th Countess of Carnarvon, Almina Wombwell, was the illegitimate daughter of the third son of the Rothschild family, bankers to Europe. The Carnarvon family was badly in need of an influx of cash when the Earl married her. This was the era when nobles would marry an American heiress or other woman with money. The most famous American was Consuelo Vanderbilt who went into a terrible marriage with the Duke of Marlborough. It was she who coined the term, "an heir and a spare," to explain what her role was in the marriage.
Alfred de Rothschild had many friends in high places. He threw lavish parties attended by all including the Prince of Wales. It was at these parties that he would present his daughter. Although not a traditional love match, the couple were very fond of each other. Lady Almina would follow the Earl to all corners of the earth to be near him. He was an adventurer and very interested in digging up antiquities. It was one of the excavations that he funded (with her money) that discovered King Tutankhamen's tomb.
When the First World War began it was Lady Almina who offered Highclere Castle as a hospital. She was very involved in nursing and believed in the best care. When she found that she could offer better care in London, as more doctors and surgeons would be available, she moved her "hospital" to London. Her care led to many more men surviving their wounds than would have happened without her.
You don't have to have watched Downton Abbey to enjoy this biography of a remarkable woman. This is the story of a woman who adapted easily to her time. Lady Almina worked hard and took advantage of her money to help others during the war and to assist her husband in his explorations. Written by the 8th Countess of Carnarvon, you will enjoy the parallels between real life and reel life.
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