Staff Choices

Posted by Auntie Anne. on 07/29/11
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Beautiful, vivacious Cora Cash is the toast of the town.  She is probably the most wealthy and eligible young heiress of the Gilded Age in America, since her father is one of the new American billionaires of the 19th century, making his mark in flour.  Their family mansion in Newport, Rhode Island, puts the Vanderbilts’ down the street to shame.  Her mother’s every move is in gilded and diamond-studded excess, so that there is no doubt who has the most money in town.  Mrs. Cash has determined that the most ideal marriage for her daughter would be to a British nobleman – say, a duke, perhaps.  So Cora and her mother are off to England to find a titled husband for Cora.  Literally, quite by accident, she meets the dark, handsome and mysterious Lord Ivo Maltravers, the Duke of Wareham.  In no time flat, he asks her to marry him.  Everybody’s happy – end of story.  Right?
Not so fast . . . there are a few things not quite right here.  For one thing, our handsome Duke is broke.  So did he marry Cora only for her money?  Does he really love her?  For sure, Cora is madly in love with her husband, which is also problematic.  Since there appears that Ivo might be having an affair under Clara’s nose.  Clara soon finds out that money can’t buy happiness, especially under the critical eye of the “Double Duchess,”  Ivo’s jealous and deceitful mother.  The rigid traditions of Victorian-era British aristocracy make mincemeat of Clara’s attempts at making a name for herself in the London social scene, to the point of humiliation.  Can this marriage possibly be saved?

I normally do not read romance novels, but the vivid details of this period in history, the costumes, customs, food, and social lives of the upper class of the Gilded Age really drew me into the story.  The author deftly used the culture clash of American new money vs. Victorian tradition to move the plot along.  There were plenty of twists and turns in the plot, so that you were always second-guessing what you thought was going to happen.  The cast of supporting characters was delightful, including Prince Bertie himself.  The American Heiress is Daisy Goodwin’s debut novel, which came as a surprise to me.  Her writing is excellent and mature.  This was really a fun summer read.
Posted by Uncle Will on 07/27/11
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This modern Mephistopheles has an exotic twist.  Set in a secluded section of the Smoky Mountains, two animal activists are in the process of relocating their sixty large, rescued, endangered, wildcats to land that they recently purchased.  They are going to build their dream sanctuary.  Little does the husband and wife team realize that their new property is on the border of a place that has a history of victims being terrorized by some foul force.  
The town drunk is well aware of this foul force.  He has erected a towering lighthouse in the middle of his property that, from dusk till dawn, beams a blinding beacon of light into the dense forest.  So fearful of the dark, Wyatt French has chosen to live in the top of his lighthouse. 
The local deputy sheriff, Kevin Kimble, reluctantly partners with the town's local reporter, Roy Damus, in attempts to solve the mystery to a pattern of present and past accidental deaths.   Has a pact been made with a demon?  Could unspeakable evil be behind blatant disregard for human life?  One thing is certain.  The large cats are hip to what's happening.  They just need to be asked. 
By combining unsuspecting characters with big game action; while set in the backdrop of moody, misty mountains, Koryta has once again created an atmosphere of eeriness and terror.  What is that old saying about dancing with the Devil? 
Posted by Pam I am on 07/27/11
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This is NOT another Marley and Me dog story.  Even though, Hola, the enormous untrained Bernese Mountain Dog is the main subject of this memoir, this book offers so much more.  Martin Kihn struggles to control Hola, but this memoir focuses on Kihn's struggle with alcoholism and recovery.  Kihn is on the verge of losing it all, his job and his wife because of his out of control drinking.  He is brought into the world of addiction recovery and very poignantly reveals his personal struggle.  At the same time, he dives head first into the world of dog obedience training and attempts to get Hola to pass the Canine Good Citizen test.  This is a great, if not obvious, metaphor in his way through the "steps" of a program and his way through the "steps" of canine good citizenship.  Kihn's writing is thoughtful, funny and touching. 
Posted by mingh on 07/23/11
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Thad Roberts could never fit in anywhere. He was bullied at school and his teachers felt he wasn’t applying himself. He should be working at genius level. But Thad found a wonderful girl who loved him. When his strict Mormon parents find out about the relationship they make Thad marry and kick him out of the house. His wife works while he finishes his degree in Life Sciences.

Always dreaming of being an astronaut, Thad gets accepted into the Intern program at Johnson Space Center. He knew that all of the shuttles had pilots from the military. But there was always a scientist or two on the shuttle missions and he wanted to be one of them, or God willing, one of the first people on Mars. So leaving his wife to work in Utah, he went to Houston to start his Internship.

Because of his degree in Geology Thad was assigned to the unit that worked with the lunar samples. Due to the long distance between them, his relationship with his wife falls apart. Thad falls in love with another Intern in the program and plans to steal the moon rocks and sell them for millions of dollars so that he and his love can go away and live their own lives. One problem: it is illegal for individuals to own moon rocks in the United States.

This true story is mainly a character study, but the action runs at a steady clip. Thad Roberts shared his story with Mezrich including the events that led up to the most amazing heist in history. Sex on the Moon is a highly readable story of a terribly misguided young man who desperately wants to be accepted and loved and is willing to do anything to get it

Posted by jfreier on 07/22/11
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The year is 2030 and America is broke and reeling from terrorist attacks and a mega earthquake that levels Los Angeles, to further the mess in 2014 a cure for cancer has the population living ever longer and causing a rebellion from those under 40. This satirical look at how the president and Americans deal with these not unlikely problems leads to an unusual alliance and somewhat hopeful resolution. I think this book would also appeal to all Albert Brooks fans as his humor shines through his writing.
Posted by Auntie Anne. on 07/22/11
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"See, we love each other.  We just don't happen to like each other very much."  This statement is announced on the front cover, before you even open the book.  At first glance, the Andreas family appears to be no more dysfunctional than the average American family.  Dad is Dr. James Andreas, Shakespearean scholar and professor at a Midwestern college, who communicates largely in Shakespearean verse.  Mom is a little spacey - not so unusual - right?  The three Andreas daughters were, of course, named after characters from favorite Shakespeare plays - Rose (Rosalind from "As You Like It:); Bean (Bianca from "The Taming of the Shrew"); and Cordy (Cordelia from "King Lear).  While other kids were into normal kids' stuff - T.V., sports, shopping, etc. - the Andreas girls were into books and the unrealistic fantasy world they provided.  That's not to say that they didn't totally fulfill the characteristic traits set forth by their birth order.  Rose, the eldest, was the responsible one, to a fault.  Bean, the middle child, starved for attention, became hooked on living an exciting life.  Cordy, the youngest, was classically irresponsible and seemingly carefree.  That is until Mrs. Andreas became gravely ill with cancer.  This gave them all an excuse to come home, bad baggage and all.
Once under the same roof again, they picked up right where they left off.  Ever the martyr, Rose feels that no one can get along without her help, and has trapped herself inside a "mental circle with Barnwell at the center of it."  Bean has escaped her glitzy life in New York City with embezzlement charges pending against her by her previous employer.  And Cordy appears out of nowhere, pregnant and adrift.  All the while, Dad is spewing sonnets in lieu of advice like "The Bard" himself.
With a great caste of supporting characters, The Weird Sisters is funny and poignant at the same time.  The dialogue is smart, the character development spot on.  Eleanor Brown's debut novel deftly explores family roles and how traditional sibling rivalry can grow into mature relationships, helping each other to  finally make smart choices.  
Posted by mingh on 07/21/11
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In 2002, Miranda Kennedy decides to live in India to become a freelance journalist in that part of the world. She has worked in Iraq and Afghanistan and was asked to travel to the Middle East as well as Indonesia. So India worked well for her as a base. Kennedy chooses to move to Delhi and start her adventure there.
Her own challenges when dealing with love force her to look at how women in India are dealing with love. Some have arranged marriages, some have love marriages, and some have a variation of both. She makes friends with a number of women, both Hindu and Muslim and is able to observe their lives. Marriage is the biggest event in a daughter’s life. Depending upon the faith of the family, the event may take months, the planning starts the minute a girl is born.
This is a fish-out-of-water story. One of the changes, Kennedy experiences is to put aside her independence and ego and hire maids. At first she doesn’t want maids, because she feels she is subjecting the women to this work. However, others convince her that the women need this work to survive. One of her maids is a member of the Dalit (Untouchable) caste and the other is a Brahmin, representatives of the highest and lowest castes. Kennedy finds both of their opinions valid and learns much about India and its people from them.
Some reviews have suggested this book as a read-alike for Eat, Pray, Love. Although there is a lot to learn about love and relationships in India in this book, it is more a memoir of the author's life living and working in a new country. Everything from purchasing groceries and riding the overcrowded buses and trains is included. As a Westerner you can see yourself making the same mistakes that Kennedy makes.
The story of a young woman moving to a different culture and seeing herself in the eyes of young women everywhere, who all are looking for a  love to share, a supportive family, and a place to call home. How each culture manages this and the opportunities it presents make this an interesting read. 
Posted by Pam I am on 07/19/11
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State of Wonder is an epic journey into the remote Amazon jungle filled with mystery, deception, and peril.  Ann Patchett, award-winning author of Bel Canto writes beautifully and her descriptions of the jungle transport the reader right into exotic and terrifying Brazil. 
Marina Singh is a 42-year old medical researcher working for a Vogel Pharmaceutical in Minnesota.  Vogel is on the verge of releasing a revolutionary drug that extends a woman's fertility into old age.   The drug is being researched and developed by recluse, Dr. Annick Swenson, in the far reaches of the Brazilian jungle.  Swenson lives among the Lakashi tribe where she studies them eating the bark of an indigenous tree and astonishingly are able to get pregnant well into old age.  The book opens with Marina receiving the devestating news from Dr. Swenson that her colleague, Anders Eckman  has died of a fever.  Eckman had been sent by Vogel to monitor the drug development and to urge Dr. Swenson to ready the drug for release.  Abruptly, Marina is sent to Brazil to find out what happened to Eckman and to bring the drug to market.  At the same time, Eckman's wife believes that her husband is not dead and persuades Marina to find out what happened to him.  Marina then begins her strange odyssey into the Amazon jungle and is faced with insects, snakes, and much more.  The New York Times Sunday Book Review writes, " It’s a task straight out of classical mythology: bring back the head of the Gorgon, the Golden Fleece, or, in Marina’s case, the potion conferring everlasting fertility and the dead husband’s watch. As in the myths, she must be ready to outwit tyrants, behead monsters, charm cannibal tribes"
The pacing and descriptive prose make the reader feel like you are living in the jungle and practically swatting away the insects yourself.  This book would be a great book for a book discussion as it brings up issues such ethics of science, personal discovery and redemption.  The writing is rich and vivid and engages the reader on every page. 
Posted by mingh on 07/18/11
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This in-depth book takes a look at the lives of the Churchills from the 19th century through the 20th. Its main focus is Winston Churchill's family and his cousin the Duke of Marlborough. The first chapter gives us a little back ground into the first Duke of Marlborough, John Churchill and his beloved wife Sarah. But true love matches in the Churchill line are few and far between.
Winston Churchill's mother was an American heiress who fell in love with Sir Randolph while visiting England. They cared for each other even through Sir Randolph's very difficult brain fever as a result of syphilis. Winston and his brother Jack also made happy love matches. They were the exception. Even their children couldn't find true love.
The saddest are the Dukes of Marlborough. Saddled with keeping up Blenheim Palace this bunch of rogues first would marry for money. Consuelo Vanderbilt, 18 years old, cried as she walked up the aisle to marry the Duke of Marlborough. Her mother wanted her to marry a titled man so as to show off  Mrs. Astor--who ruled New York at the time. Consuelo gave the Duke "an heir and a spare," and was out of the marriage by 23. Her life luckily turned much happier after she left the Churchill family.
Lovell also focuses on the Churchills during three wars, the Boer War, WWI, and WWII. Winston Churchill's father, Randolph was involved with the Boer war. Winston and Jack's involvement in WWI was difficult for the family especially when Winston was charged with the responsibility of the failure at Gallipoli. Of course, Winston also dominates the WWII years. By this time, both his and Jack's sons are in the war too.
An interesting look at the background and loves of one of the greatest men of the 20th century, Winston Churchill. When reading about the lives of the Dukes or Marlborough, you can understand why Winston Churchill turned down a dukedom. He didn't  want to saddle his children with the burden. He saw what it did to his cousins.
Posted by Uncle Will on 07/15/11
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Richard Kilmer is a journalist who thinks he might be going crazy.  He has a good career, a loving girlfriend he wants to propose to, and his health.  But an innocent trip to upstate New York to meet Jennifer's parents becomes a living nightmare for Kilmer. 
His nightmare begins with a car crash that has Kilmer waking up to a perplexing state of events.  Jennifer cannot be found at the scene of the accident.  Furthermore,  it appears that Jennifer never existed.  All traces of her have vanished.  Friends have no recollection of her ever being with Kilmer.   Desperate, he publishes a story depicting his plight and becomes a national punch line. 
Kilmer finds nothing humorous in his situation.  As he backtracks on his recent past, he realizes that he remembers things that appear to have never taken place and has forgotten those that have.  Who can he trust if he cannot trust himself?
Readers have learned to trust that Rosenfelt will supply them with a story that is gripping and thought provoking.  Reading this book is like driving on Mulholland Drive in L.A.  There is an abundance of twists and turns to make the ride interesting and memorable. 
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