Staff Choices

Posted by Ultra Violet on 02/08/10
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I'm glad I finally came across a mystery series that satisfies my tastes. Set in Cairo during WWI, A Point in the Market is as much about the political climate of the time as it is about the murder around which the plot revolves. The author grew up in the region and it shows in his complex descriptions of the sensory environment. You are right there with the sights and smells Egypt. Something that particularly impressed me was Pearce's female characters. They are very strong, intelligent and individualistic. The women have very different goals and personalities, given as much care in development as the male characters. The story is well told and has many twists I didn't see coming, but it is not a fast-paced book. This is a fantastic mystery for a reader who enjoys a who-dunnit without excess violence and quite a bit of exotic intrigue.
Posted by Uncle Will on 02/04/10
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This book is the product of a great deal of in-depth research.  Beevor is a best selling historic author and this latest work proves it. 
 
There are not that many remaining survivors of World War II.  Time has caught up to many.  This book is a tribute to all those military and civilian survivors and casualties.  Being somewhat of a student of this war, I found this book to be quite comprehensive from the point that all the major nations involved were researched.  It is not just an American or British point of view.
 
This is important when one remembers that the battle for Normandy was fought on French turf and that occupied nation had the most to lose. 
 
Hopefully there will never be another battle such as this one; with so many men being sacrificed with the goal of establishing a firm beachhead.  Tension was at it's height in the months leading to June 6, 1944. Logistical problems surrounding the invasion were monumental.    Surprising the Germans was foremost.  This book  evokes a great many emotions.
Posted by Auntie Anne. on 02/03/10
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This book will make you think twice about opening any e-mail attachment! At the heart of this intriguing novel is identity theft and the seemingly unrelated lives of three people that unwittingly become involved in it. Miles Cheshire longs to get on with his life, but feels he can never fully accomplish this until he finds his twin brother Hayden, the “evil” twin. Hayden, who has been missing for ten years, does not want to be found. He has covertly moved from place to place, deftly covering his tracks along the way, and taking on new identities and new lives as he goes.
 
Recent high school graduate and newly orphaned, Lucy Lattimore escapes her small hometown with her charming former history teacher George Orson. They arrive in Nebraska, in the middle of nowhere, at a long-deserted motel next to a dried-up reservoir, to figure out the next move on their path to a new life. But Lucy soon finds herself involved in a dangerous embezzling scheme.
 
My whole life is a lie, thinks Ryan Schuyler, who has recently learned the man he thought was his uncle Jay is actually his birth father. In response, he walks off the Northwestern University campus, hops on a bus, and breaks loose from his meaningless existence. Presumed dead, Ryan decides to hook up with the man he thinks is his father and ends up helping him run identity-theft scams.
 
The author deftly intertwines these story lines until you start to pick up on subtle connections between the three characters, the shedding of the identities they once had and the surreal identities and existences they take on. The real villain of the book is pursued by dangerous Russians who he has stolen credit card numbers and large sums of money from, and another very angry individual who did three years in jail for being wrongfully accused of embezzling money from his employer. By the end of the book, the reader is not sure who is real and who is fake because what you assumed was a sequential timeline becomes very blurred. Chaon has the gift of giving his novel a thriller quality with haunting undertones that leaves his characters ghost-like.
Posted by mingh on 02/01/10
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Knives at Dawn: America's quest for culinary glory at the legendary Bocuse d'Or competition
 
The Bocuse d'Or might easily be described as the Olympics of food, except that that title is already taken, the IKA Culinary Olympics. But the Bocuse competition, named after famed French Chef Paul Bocuse, occurs every two years and is considered the most strenuous of the culinary competitions. The best finish for the Americans was sixth place.
 
In 2008, many noted American and French chefs got together to try and put together a team that had a better chance of winning. Fundraising and preliminary competitions were held. In the end the sous chef from the famed The French Laundry restaurant was chosen, Thomas Hollingsworth.
 
This is the story of what it took to compete with the tremendous dedication, creativity, and stress that comes with a competition of this stature. Andrew Friedman has access to all of the players involved and you read about the evolution of a dish from something plain to something magnificent.
 
A wonderfully engaging book about the haute couture of food competitions. If you like food challenge shows such as Top Chef, this may also pique your interest.
Posted by Uncle Will on 01/28/10
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In the never-ending search for good, new mystery writers, I found Pete Larson, a former resident of a suburb of Chicago.
 
In this debut novel, Stuart Carlson is an ex-minister who lost his faith after finding his wife and his best friend in bed together.  He moves to a Texas town and gets a job as a bartender.  One night a mysterious, but beautiful, one-eyed lady slinks up to one of his bar stools and they meet nice.
 
Stu is pleasantly surprised when he closes the bar and finds this lady awaiting him on his doorstep.  A romantic night is had by all.  In the morning Stu wakes with a smile; however, the lady is gone. 
 
It's not a mystery unless there's a body and the body belongs to Andrew Washburn, a cocky, condescending college Professor of Art, with questionable morals and ethics. At a social gathering, Stu serves up a single-malt Scotch to Washburn and minutes later is performing mouth-to-mouth to no avail.  Stu doesn't realize that the mysterious lady is Washburn's current wife, Gwen, and the former wife of Daniel, an artist who is a regular at the bar.  The professional cocktail mixer decides to personally investigate the murder out of 2-parts guilt and 2-parts friendship. 
 
This is not great fiction, but it is the type of mystery that has little or no blood, sex, and/or raw language.  I don't think that it is the first in a series of books because there really isn't a lot of demand for a bartender conducting independent sleuths.
Posted by cclapper on 01/21/10
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This small book is based on the commencement address Ann Patchett gave at her alma mater, Sarah Lawrence College.
 
I sat down and read this during the celebration of New Year's Eve, 2009.  What a perfect choice for that moment.  I hope I can remember to revisit this piece from time to time in the future.
 
100 pages. Worth it.
 
Ann Patchett is the author of several notable books, including Bel Canto, Run, and The Patron Saint Of Liars.
Posted by Uncle Will on 01/21/10
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This is the first mystery novel of poet Jon Loomis and it is a good one.  The story takes place in Provincetown on Cape Cod.  The hero is an ex Baltimore Homicide Detective that hit the wall.  He witnessed one too many gruesome crimes and had a panic attack.  This character has a great name, Frank Coffin.  He is former smoker and dates a Yoga instructor who wants to get impregnated.
 
Frank doesn't think he is ready for playing the role of daddy.  His father was a rum-runner/fisherman who was killed at sea.  Frank hates boats.
 
Frank does like his job in P'town, but not during the tourist season.  P'town is known worldwide for being a place that is accepting of alternate lifestyles.  Beaches are packed with hand-holding couples of the same-sex; most immodestly attired.   Wild behavior is the norm.
 
So it is no surprise when a popular TV minister is found strangled on the beach one night dressed is a cheap wig and floral Mu Mu! Check that, the surprise is that a person is found dead.  The last homicide was over 10 years ago.  This was one of the reasons that Frank took the job.  He thought he could cruise through this new career opportunity without ever having to view another dead body.
 
Bodies begin to pile up and Frank is placed in a difficult situation.  He is ordered to begin an illegal investigation mirroring that of the State Police; which is the town council's knee-jerk response to the sudden bell-curve-breaking fatality count.  Frank partners-up with the beautiful lesbian Police Sergeant, Lola Winters, and the hunt is on.
 
This mystery is followed by the second book in this new mystery series entitled:  Mating Season. For readers looking for a new series that does not contain a lot of blood and sex, but is clever and has many interesting, diverse characters, this is a good choice.
Posted by mingh on 01/19/10
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Jonnes has created a very readable book about the building of the Eiffel Tower and the fight to get it built. But what really captures the interest is the subheading of Jonnes book: Where Buffalo Bill beguiled Paris, the artists quarreled, and Thomas Edison became a count.
 
Many European countries refused to participate in this World's Fair because they felt that France would be showcasing the one-hundred year anniversary of the loss of the monarchy. Countries with monarchies, hello England, did not want to celebrate anything having to do with THAT anniversary.
 
Because of this controversy, France was worried about the failure of their World's Fair. Everything came under tremendous scrutiny. So even though Gustave Eiffel was a well-respected engineer, there was still a fear that the Eiffel Tower was not the right monument to showcase France's great achievements in the past century.
 
Enter the Americans. America was still the new kids on the block. (We don't really get to be major players on the world stage until after the World Wars.) But it was the Americans who save the day and help to make the 1889 World's Fair one of  the most exciting. Thomas Edison brings his phonograph to the fair. People hear recorded voice and sound for the first time. It is also the first fair to use Edison's lighting . It is from this World's Fair that Paris gets the moniker, "City of Lights."
 
Buffalo Bill brings his show and sells out for six straight months, two shows a day. Annie Oakley is the big star as are the Sioux Indians. James MacNeil Whistler, famed for the painting nicknamed "Whistler's Mother," gets into a huff about the restriction of the number of paintings he can submit. Fights with other artists, including Gauguin, ensue.
 
A very engaging book about very creative people in the midst of life-changing times. There are pictures that help to show the story. If you've ever looked at the Eiffel Tower either in person or in pictures you may be unimpressed in a world of 1/2 mile high buildings. But this book will help you appreciate the building of it, the artistry, and a time long passed.
Posted by mingh on 01/15/10
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Not a biography, but an appreciation of and a strong argument for Little Richard as the father of rock and roll. In Little Richard was the downbeat of Rhythm and Blues, the guitar driven country sounds, and pop lyrics, all in a subversive package. No wonder Pat Boone had to be be called in to whitewash Little Richard's songs. Just looking at him you knew he was something else.
 
This is a fun and interesting book about a man who only was in the spotlight for two years before he found God and left rock and roll. (He comes back numerous times but never with the hits of that two year period where he changed rock forever.) Kirby takes the song Tutti Frutti from its beginnings as a subversive song in the gay culture to Little Richard's first big hit. Many changes to the lyrics had to happen for it to be that hit.
 
What an incredibly creative time for music. Both Jerry Lee Lewis and Elvis Presley were big fans of Little Richard. Elvis sang one of Little Richard's songs on his first appearance on the Ed Sullivan show. Little Richard never made it to Ed Sullivan.
 
Oh and remember when the Beatles would sing in She Loves You, Yeah, Yeah, Yeah!, the lyric, "and you know that can't be bad, Wooooo." The Beatles claim they stole the woo from Richard. Fun book that has you thinking about all of that wonderful music.
Posted by Uncle Will on 01/11/10
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This is Griffin's latest book in his Badge of Honor police mysteries' series.   Even though it was 2003 since he wrote Final Justice, the 8th in the series, I had no problem remembering the main characters. 
 
Character development and topic research are his strengths as a writer.  This series of books takes place in Philadelphia.  It is about Irish policemen, their families, and their trials and tribulations. 
 
Matt Payne is a recurring character.  He is a young, rich, highly intelligent Homicide Detective Sergeant.   He has had the misfortune of repeatedly being in the wrong place and the proverbial wrong time.  There are police officers that never discharge their weapon during their entire careers.  There are officers that never even draw their weapons during those careers.  Then there are some, like Payne, who are labeled Wyatt Earp because of the number of firefights he has been involved in during his brief career.
 
Payne must assist a Texas Ranger who comes to town to capture El Gato, a trafficker of drugs and young girls.  El Gato, The Cat, brands all his girls and beheads those that need discipline.  Payne also is aiding in the investigation of the motel explosion that housed a Methedrine lab, killing 2 and critically wounding 2 others; one a former girlfriend-gone-awry.
 
There is a nice romantic subplot that is created between Payne and a new character.  Both story-lines are inner connected and as in many series books, do not get fully resolved by the last turned page.  However, there is an unwritten rule for people that create:  Always keep your audience wanting more.

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