Staff Choices

Posted by Uncle Will on 05/11/10
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Fans of Stephen King are aware of his passion for baseball.  His new novella  is the bizarro world version of his other recent release:  Under the Dome.
 
Where one novel requires over 1200 pages for the story to unfold, Blockade Billy can be read in a half hour. The story is remnant of a 1960 Twilight Zone episode entitled:  "The Mighty Casey;" a story about a phenom baseball player that's behavior is off-center.  It also is comparable to Bernard Malamud's The Natural...an unknown sensation with a sordid past.
 
Billy Blakely is the third replacement catcher for the New Jersey Titans and preseason hasn't even ended.  Blakely is a positional band-aid until a seasoned veteran can be acquired.
 
Coincidently, Blakely plays his first game with a band-aid on one of his fingers.  He agrees with the coach's suggestion that it was a shaving accident.  A base-runner collides at the plate with the Titan catcher late in the game and is rushed to the hospital with a lacerated leg.  The opposing team accuses Blakely of purposely cutting the runner's leg with something like a sharp finger nail. P
 
ost National Anthem, the curious, first few innings of an expedited ballplayer's 30-game career begins.    Blakely's behavior continues to draw his coach's suspicions culminating in a face-first dive on the baseball field of life.
Posted by Auntie Anne. on 05/09/10
Adam March had it all - a driven, ruthless, self-made millionaire living the life of an Enron executive complete with perfect socialite wife and teen princess daughter. Then he lost it all when he had what his psychiatrist called a “break.” He slapped his personal assistant, Sophie, right across the face when she left him a message that drove him to the brink of despair. It read – "Your sister called." The problem with that message was that, when Adam was five years old, his sister, Veronica left home, leaving him alone with his widowed Father, who shortly thereafter, placed him in foster care. After this episode, Adam was fired and taken to court by Sophie, where he is sentenced to perform community service at a men’s homeless shelter.
 
Sharing the spotlight with the protagonist is Chance, a scrappy pit bull mix, who is trying to escape the illegal dog fight circuit. Chance tells his own story in the book, describing with disturbing clarity the horrible mistreatment of dogs in the fighting pit, life on the street, and the dead end atmosphere of animal shelters.
 
Quite by chance (which is how the dog got his name), Adam and Chance find each other. Along with his work at the homeless shelter, Adam overcomes his past, finding peace and grounding through the unconditional love and loyalty of man’s best friend. One Good Dog is one nice combination of Breakfast at Sally’s, Marley and Me, and Old Yeller, a touching story that is well-written and memorable.
Posted by Pam I am on 05/06/10
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My third grade son LOVES baseball and he tore through this book in a few nights.  So, I decided to read it based on his recommendation with the idea that it would be another "baseball" book.  Yes, Heat is about a 12 year old boy and his local baseball team, but this book encompasses more than baseball.  The main character, Michael Arroyo is an immigrant from Havana and he and his older brother Carlos are living by themselves in the Bronx after the unexpected death of their father.  Carlos is not yet 18 years old, so they must keep their father's death a secret as they do not want to be seperated by child services.  Michael lives to play baseball and is a star pitcher on his neighborhood ball team.  As the little league World Series approaches, Michael is questioned about his age and must supply his birth certificate to prove that he can play as a 12 year old.  Together with Carlos, friends, and teammates, Michael faces these challenges head on! 
 
Although there was a lot of detailed baseball play by play scenes this book kept my interest and I would definitely recommend it for 9-13 year old readers!  (and their mothers or fathers ).  Heat touches on friendship, sportsmanship, what it means to be a family, and the immigrant experience.
Posted by Uncle Will on 04/28/10
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'Tis the season to be jolly...about the start of the baseball season, that is.  In every league from T-ball to the Majors, pitch speed has always been one of the most controversial topics for discussion.
 
In Little League, the most feared pitcher was the one that brought the heat.  He always was a little taller and heavier than the other guys on the team.  Or he was the one that could simply tie his cleats without bending over.  In American Legion ball, the fastest throwing pitchers were always ones on the Big League scout's radar.
 
Who was the all time fastest hurling pitcher?  Most dedicated fans can name the top 10.  In this book, Wendell goes about answering that question with equal parts logic, research, personal experience and in-depth interviews.
 
This review will not contain a spoiler alert.  However; the Chosen One will not come as any surprise.
 
If you are a baseball fan, like studying statistical comparisons, and can never get enough past dugout stories and past glories, this book is a must read for the summer.
Posted by mingh on 04/21/10
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The Poisoner's Handbook: murder and the birth of forensic medicine in jazz age New York is a wonderfully written exploration of the start of serious forensic medicine in the United States. At the turn of the twentieth-century, the job of Coroner was assigned by the mayor in most major cities. These positions were given for reasons of favor or nepotism or graft. Many times the Coroner was not even a doctor.
 
New York set about to change that by setting up an actual Forensic Medicine department with the Chief Medical Examiner being a serious doctor who helped define forensic medicine in the US. Dr. Charles Norris took his new responsibilities very seriously. He hired the chief chemist at Bellevue Hospital, Alexander Gettler, and the book is really their story of finding ways to determine if someone died of poison.
 
It was very difficult to determine if someone died of poison and Gettler had to experiment many times and in many ways to see if poisons were retained in the vital organs, in the stomach or even in the skin and hair. We owe a lot to Gettler's experiments and to Norris' complete backing of the experiments and the findings.
 
But it wasn't just murder that they had to deal with. Even though less people were drinking under Prohibition, more people were dying. Gettler and Norris had to figure out what was killing so many people. The culprit was methyl alcohol. (Methyl alcohol is toxic and is currently used in antifreeze, solvents and fuels--methanol.) The work of Gettler and Norris contributed to ending Prohibition because they could statistically show what happened to those who drank the "alcohol" in whatever form under Prohibition. 
 
The story and facts are laid out nicely and The Poisoner's Handbook  reads very quickly. Just follow along as Norris fights city hall and Gettler fights to understand how different drugs such as cyanide and chloroform and radium kill.
Posted by Ultra Violet on 04/15/10
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Sixteen year-old, Katya Spivak, is thrilled to escape her low-class, Jersey life for a summer as a live-in nanny for a nouveau-riche family in a wealthy sea-side town. Naif Katya is approached by an elegant elderly gentleman named Marcus Kidder. She feels drawn to him, and finds him to have a magical quality; like a character in an old movie. He invites her and the two children to tea. Katya sees nothing wrong with going since she will be taking the children with her, and she is very excited about the prospect of being inside one of the grand old mansions so envied by even her employers. The story grabs you from the start with it's eerie unease. Katya is slowly pulled into something bizarre and inescapable. A Fair Maiden is a page-turning, crazy, modern fairy tale that will keep you guessing right until the end.
Posted by Uncle Will on 04/13/10
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This is the 5th book in the E. L. Pender series.  Pender is an enigma.  He is a hard-drinking, fat FBI Special Agent.  It wouldn't be a surprise if he gargles with gin when he wakes most mornings.   His job is flying across the country while acting as a investigation liaison between the FBI and community law enforcement officers. 
 
In this story, Pender is searching for a young man that was dealt a poor hand since birth.  A life spent in and out of foster homes helped shaped Luke Sweet's nasty outlook on life.  He is on the run and leaving a trail of bodies of those who have done him wrong in the past.  
 
Pender teams-up with a gimpy private investigator who has the distinct honor of once capturing Luke while wanted for suspected murder.  Together the two diverse personalities try to close the gap between themselves and Luke while not becoming victim to his warped revenge adventure. 
 
Nasaw has the ability to create characters that are flawed and permeate with realism.
Posted by mingh on 04/08/10
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In 1926, Violet Gibson, daughter of an English Baron fired two shots at Mussolini. How come you never heard of this? Well, she missed. Mussolini had just turned his head at the first bullet, so the first shot skimmed his nose. On the second, the pistol jammed.
 
Gibson was detained and then sent to a psychiatric hospital in Northampton, England. This was partly done to appease the Italians, but also, her family was embarrassed by her politics and her religion (she had converted to Catholicism). Putting her away kept her out of sight and away from the newspapers. There were enough characters in the family.
 
Saunders keeps the information coming about Violet and the family. Violet was always less forthcoming about her reasons for trying to kill Mussolini. Saunders presents some of  the arguments, including some contradictory statements by Violet.
 
But the real pull here is the juxtaposition of Violet's life against the rise of Mussolini. The British basically put Mussolini in power, an action they would come to regret many years later. This is not an in-depth study of Mussolini or the rise of fascism, although there is much information about both. It is really more a study of what this woman saw so early in Mussolini that the rest of the world would not come to see for many years.
Posted by Pam I am on 04/08/10
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My neighborhood book group picked this book, and I am so glad we read this.  It wasn't at all what I expected and some have even suggested this is a book version of a "sixth sense" ending.  Meaning that nothing is what you thought it was and after you finish the book, you are compelled to go back and re-read chapters in order to understand it again.
 
Towner Whitney, a young woman, returns to her childhood home in Salem, Mass after the death of her great aunt.  Barry does an amazing job describing the town of salem and the eccentric cast of characters that live there.  Towner Whitney herself is from a family of Lace Readers who have the ability to tell the future through "reading" lace.  Told from Towner's point of view, the story is a mix of dream and reality and it is frequently difficult to tell these apart. Only when the end of the book is reached, when Towner allows herself to see and know the ultimate, horrible, final secret, does the whole story become clear.
 
Interestingly, I think people either "love" or "hate" this book.  It was either "too slow" or "fast-paced".  This is the kind of book that brings about great discussion and different tastes in readers.
Posted by jfreier on 04/07/10
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On a wintry Venetian night C.I.A cleaner Micah Dalton heads out to face Serbian gangsters who he has been tracking for months, after killing them and also almost being killed Micah is off on the trail to find their boss. Micah is a fascinating character, lethal, tortured, yet killing is what he does well and is how he is defined. This book is action packed and fast paced with a good plot, and timely as well.This is the first time I've read this author and this book is the third in the Dalton series, I would recommend him to Steve Berry and Dan Brown fans.
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