Staff Choices

Posted by jfreier on 03/21/11
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I really enjoyed this debut mystery by Bryan Gruley. The book takes place in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, a place filled with beauty, strange and colorful characters and an underlying sense of foreboding.
Gus Carpenter is the editor of the local paper and is surprised to hear the snowmobile of his hockey coach has shown up on the shore of Starvation Lake. Coach had died ten years ago on a different lake. Gus gets involved with a reopened investigation that leads to murder and the uncovering of long held secret. A great character driven mystery with  a great sense of place and many twists and turns.
Posted by mingh on 03/21/11
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House of Prayer No. 2 : a writer's journey home is the story of writer Mark Richard's growing up as a "special" child because of his disabled legs and mental blocks. Some teachers found him slow, others found him above average. But when everything looks bad along the way he always finds a teacher or mentor who can help him in his journey to become a writer. Some of the mentors are men of faith of different religions. At one point he considers joining an Episcopal seminary. He attends Baptist Services and helps to rehab a Church. But there is a wild ride to go through before he is at that point.
Mark Richards grows up in the South with parents who seemed to have little time for him except to bring him to doctors who all tried to fix his legs. He spent weeks in the Crippled Children's Hospital without his parents at seven years old. Some of the nurses become his close caretakers and he met many friends. But it was still devastatingly lonely.
As a young adult he doesn't know what to do with his life, hitchhiking across the country, sleeping on friend's sofa's and squatting in abandoned homes on the coast. Taking some writing courses he is able to sell stories to such magazines as Esquire and The New Yorker. Not enough to live off of but enough to get noticed. Soon he is off to Hollywood and writing for TV.
This memoir is told in the second person.  It as is if the writer was saying to you, if YOU lived my life YOU would be doing this. YOU would find yourself in a hospital surrounded by other children with disabilities. YOU would wonder how they felt. This can be jarring but it also creates a very immediate experience for the reader.
An interesting memoir about a man who wanted to write, but had to go through a lot of living to get to that point.
Posted by Ultra Violet on 03/17/11
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I picked this up because I wanted something light and fun. It was certainly witty, but it was much more than I expected in terms of the insight into women's rights. Nora Ephron's stories of her struggles as a young journalist were fascinating, and they were so clearly, objectively written that I felt like I was getting a real sense of what it was like in New York in the 60's for a young woman with ambitious career goals. Some of the other essays included in this book are about aging and her memory loss. Her anecdotes were poignant and charming.
I remember nothing: and other reflections is an enjoyable, pleasant read. Women of Ephron's age can relate to her personal stories, while younger readers can take away some valuable women's history told first hand.
Posted by Uncle Will on 03/16/11
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"...In Washington it's Us, the Us who are with Us, the Us that are not sure about Us, and the many Us-es who don't care.  The other team, our mortal enemies, are also Us, it's just that they happen to be the Us that is against Us; they are the other Us, and they have other Us-es that are against Us..."
The book pits the good Us against the other Us while it slowly draws us in.   
Ray Cruz is a Marine sniper on assignment in Afghanistan.   When his mission is compromised and his spotter executed, Ray goes on the run.  He is honor- bound to complete his mission and find the killers of his partner. 
The greatest sniper of all time, Bob Lee Swagger, is commissioned to track down Cruz.  Little does he know that a team of mercenaries is using him as bait to draw out Cruz so that they can fulfill their contract and kill him.
At the center of the story is a sleazy Afghan political leader known as the "Beheader."  He was the original target of Cruz' who now is being protected by the White House so that peace can be reached in that war torn country. 
At the offset this book was rather technical, which made it a hard read through the first several chapters.  It was like riding a roller-coaster that slowly makes its way up a tremulous track and then the ride down seems endless.  For avid followers of Hunter's Sniper series, there will be no disappointments and a stupendous new revelation to the Swagger lore.  
Posted by mingh on 03/15/11
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Winston Churchill described his depression as a "black dog" that followed him around. So what should Esther, a House of Commons librarian, think when a big black dog asks to stay with her while he visits a friend. Yes, the dog asks to stay with her. The dog, who refers to himself as Mr. Chartwell (named after Churchill's residence), comes to visit Mr. Churchill in 1964 just as he is about to retire.
But why, Esther wonders, does he need to stay with her? Why not stay with Churchill? This whimsical and thoughtful piece has two people pitted against the big black dog of depression. One, Churchill, has lived with the black dog a long time and they are very familiar with each other. The other, Esther, is facing something new. The story is not all dark. There is a great deal of humor in the book. Mr. Chartwell comes to be a formidable friend (enemy?) in the lives of these two people. A daring and interesting book. 
Posted by mingh on 03/11/11
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In The Hangman's Daughter, Oliver Potzsch uses the vocation of one of his ancestors, town executioner, to tell the story of possible witchcraft in a small town in Bavaria in 1659. Fifty years previous, the small town had burned 70 people as witches. They do not want to go through that again. But children are being killed and left with marks on their shoulders to indicate the sign of the witch. There are other strange happenings in the town including several citings of "the devil," as well as buildings mysteriously burning to the ground.
When one of the villagers points out that the children hang around a particular midwife, she is arrested and thrown into the town keep. In addition to executing people, the town executioner is also responsible for the torture of suspects. He has strong suspicions that none of this has to do with the midwife, who also brought his three children into the world. He has to do what the town council asks, but on his own time, he investigates the mysterious happenings in the hope that he can spare the midwife. There are many people who might want the buildings to burn and the midwife to die.
This is not a book for people who like fast-paced mysteries. Potzsch brings to life his character of Jakob Kuisl, the town executioner, and the sadness that that position brings. The idea of small town life in that time period and its restrictions, supervisions and fears come to life.  
Posted by mingh on 03/10/11
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Moby-Duck : the true story of 28,800 bath toys lost at sea and of the beachcombers, oceanographers, environmentalists, and fools, including the author, who went in search of them
One of the longest titles in years, but it really does describe what happens in the book, with some divergences along the way.  Is it possible for a bath toy to travel from south of the Aleutian Islands, through the Bering Strait, through the North Pole and over to the coast of Maine? An adventure that takes Hohn from one coast to the other and over the North Pole.
Hohn investigates the event that caused the bath toys to be dispersed into the sea in January 1992. But he also looks at what else humans leave in the sea from cruise ship trash to fishing boat debris and everything else that might wind up on shore. He investigates the North Pacific Convergence which has created an area known in marine world as the "garbage patch," south of the Hawaiian islands. In all of this reportage, Hohn also talks to the major players working to eradicate it, study it, or downplay its significance.
It was fascinating to learn how the oceans work, how some groups are doing good work to study and keep the oceans clean, and others are just making it worse. How the bath toys continued to be discovered as many as ten years later. And how it seems that whatever unnatural product we throw into the sea will rightfully come back to us on our own shores.
Posted by Uncle Will on 03/09/11
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"...You know how to whistle now don't you Steve?  You just put your lips together and blow..."  These words were spoken by Lauren Bacall in "To Have and Have Not" to Humphrey Bogart.  Bogie's response was a whistle of wow. 
This new biography of one of the legends of Hollywood is a comprehensive look at the rise of man who would not quit.  In the Arts, it is often said that one must pay their dues.  Bogie bank account was tapped over 30 times while he appeared in "B" movies just waiting for that one break.
His break came in the role of Roy Earle in Raoul Walsh's 1941 film "High Sierra."  Bogart never looked back.
What sets this biography apart from most of those written about a film celebrity is the dissection of a body of work and  the discussion as to why there hasn't been an actor of Bogart's acclaim since his death and why there might never be.    This book has all the right ingredients for a tasty bio.  Bon Appetit!
Posted by mingh on 03/08/11
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Swamplandia! is the name of a fictional theme park in the Florida Everglades. For many decades, the Bigtree family has run the park offering alligator wrestling and a spectacular finale with the Mother of the Bigtree family high diving into a pool of alligators. The whole family helps out running the concessions, the lights, the snack shop and the museum.
When the Mother dies, the family scrambles to keep together and to keep Swamplandia! from dying also. With no spectacular finale and an alternate theme park that just opened, the attendance has fallen to zero. The Father runs off to the mainland presumably to work on some investment deals for the park. The oldest brother, Kiwi, who has always dreamed of living and going to school on the mainland, also leaves to fulfill his dream and make money for the park. That leaves 13 year old Ava and her 17 year old sister Ossie at home to run everything. When Ossie falls in love with a ghost and runs off deeper into the Everglades, Ava sets off with a mysterious man to help find her and bring her back.
The book alternates chapters between the sisters story and the brother/father story. So much responsibility falls on little Ava. But a girl raised on surviving alligators has a lot of strength and that is what keeps the reader enthralled in this dark story of a girl trying to keep her family together.
Posted by jkadus on 03/08/11
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Before retiring to bed one evening, an author looks out of her living room window and sees a line of people in her driveway. First in line is a young woman cradling a baby, behind her a fastidious man in his 40s, then a thin graying older woman, etc. These people are, she realizes, characters in her upcoming novels. She is awoken in the middle of the night by footsteps on the stairs leading to her bedroom. The door opens and the fastidious man from the driveway enters her room. He apologizes for intruding but feels compelled to ask her to write his story before the others. Eventually she agrees. His name will be Alvar Eide, he is 42, single, works for an art gallery and leads an orderly yet uneventful life. All of which suits Alvar perfectly until the author decides to introduce a young homeless female drug addict into his story. It all begins innocently enough when a young woman walks into the gallery on a brutal Norwegian winter day and Alvar offers her a cup of coffee to warm up. Soon she appears on his doorstep and becomes an integral yet potentially damaging aspect to his life. As the direction of his story shifts in an increasingly uncomfortable direction, Alvar “visits” the author and implores to alter the course of events.
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