Staff Choices

Posted by mingh on 12/01/11
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Gina has fallen in love with her sister's neighbor, Sean, to the point of parking outside the home he shares with his wife and young daughter. She is not sure why this happened or even how. She loved her husband but this affair has now consumed her. Although he spends a lot of time with Gina, Sean continues to live at home because of his daughter.
The Forgotten Waltz is a story about how families get on with life. Gina marvels that Life hasn't stopped to marvel at her joy with Sean or cry at the loss of her Mother. Life still goes on. And people need to get on with life also.
After her Mother dies, Gina goes to live in the house she grew up in. This forces many memories of her life growing up. Gina tells the story of her life with Sean and begins to see her growing years with her Mother and Father differently. As Sean focuses on his daughter, Gina sees her and her sister's lives through the eyes of her Father who died when she was in her teens.
Gina concedes that her viewpoint is one sided when it comes to Sean. Why can't he spend all of his time with her? Because she doesn't have children of her own, she views Sean's daughter almost as an adversary keeping her Father away from Gina.
Almost a coming of age story for a woman in her thirties, Gina has to learn that her life does not exist in a vaccum. She has to learn to live with the others who surround her.
Posted by Auntie Anne. on 12/01/11
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It was the summer of 1880 in Paris, 10 years after France's crippling defeat in the Prussian war.  Even though France was finally recovering from a serious economic depression, the devastating psychological effect of the war could still be felt.  Parisian energy rebounded, however, when workers were given Sundays off.  A new society emerged - la vie moderne - and cafes, caberets, dance halls, and theaters all flourished.  The building of railroad lines to the countryside allowed Parisians to enjoy their Sundays in the enchanting riverside villages west of Paris.

A small group of artists, called Impressionists, had discovered the new engergy and modern individualism as well.  Breaking away from the classic artistic traditions of form and line, with scenes from the Bible or history as inspiration, the Impressionists left their studios to paint "La vie moderne" as they saw it and lived it.  Boldly using feathery touches of unblended color in textural brushstrokes, they painted scenes from the caberets, dance halls, theaters and Sunday boaters and picnicers.  Pierre-Auguste Renoir was one such painter. The Impressionists met with much criticism, since their technique was such a radical break with the classic artists.  One such critic threw down the gauntlet by saying "the Impressionists are inferior to what they undertake.  The man of genius has not arisen."  August Renoir picked up the gauntlet and created a work of true genius - "Luncheon of the Boating Party."

Susan Vreeland, the author, has given the reader a wonderful fictional accounting of the creation of this masterpiece by Renoir.  Renoir met with almost insurmountable obstacles.  He had only eight weeks of Sundays to paint it on the terrace of La Maison Fournaise at Chatou before he would lose the good summer light.  He was totally broke but somehow had to pay for the huge canvas, paints, fees for 14 models and rent for the terrace each Sunday.  When he began working on the painting his right arm was broken, so he painted with his left.  Crippling rheumatoid arthritis was beginning to take its toll on his fingers. Woven throughout the book are the personal stories of the 14 people who are in the painting.  Their colorful stories paint their own picture of la vie moderne in Paris - an actress, a mime, a journalist, an adventurer, a singer-flower seller, an art collector, a poet, a boatman, a baron, a yachtsman-painter.  Vreeland gives us a good taste of the conflicts and hedonism of the era, as well as the anguish and the joy, without which the Impressionists would have had no inspiration.

Posted by Uncle Will on 11/29/11
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During the 1950's and '60's, Ernie Banks was a hero to thousands of boys.  They all tried to copy his signature bat grip.  On any rainy Saturday afternoon, whenever asked, the boys on their neighborhood playground would smile and say "let's play two!"   Ernie was the great shortstop who was going to lead all Cubs fans to the Promised Land.
It's been over 40 years since Ernie retired and still no Cub fan has entered that Promised Land.   This book covers the summer of '69, which was Ernie's one and only chance, during his prolific career, to come close to winning a pennant; let alone play in a World Series.  Die-hard Cub fans can count on one hand the times their beloved ever came close to playing in the big game during their lifetimes. 
Phil Rogers, as usual, has done his homework.  He takes his readers back in time to the friendly confines where they can almost smell the Oscar Meyer Smokie Links being sold from an aluminum push-cart behind home plate.  Steam and taste buds rising each time the vendor opens the lid.
During the summer of '69 not even the bleacher beer vendors could help the Cubs.  There was not enough beer brewed to mask the epic breakdown that fans witnessed that summer.  Hordes of Bleacher Bums are still  The Cubs not only blew their considerable league lead, but they surrendered to the upstart New York Mets.  This book answers most of the questions surrounding that collapse.
From Jackie Robinson to Leo 'The Lip" Durocher, Rogers spins a heroic recounting of one of the most controversial and embarrassing times in Cub lore. 
Yes, during the 1950's and '60's, Ernie Banks was a hero to thousands of boys.  He still is even if most of those boys have grown up some. 
Posted by Uncle Will on 11/28/11
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The cool thing about time travel is there are no rules.
Stephen King has been creating his own rules since the early '70's.  His earlier works were unique, visual and engaging.  As a short story writer, he has had many stories adapted to film.  His later works seem to hint that maybe this author had run low on new ideas.  This book refutes that allegation.   
The story opens with a GED English teacher, Jake Epping, whose life is okay, but stagnant.  Nothing seems to be able to stir an emotion.  One day, an older student of his submits  an assignment addressing:  "The Day That Changed My Life."  It is so moving that Jake gives Harry Dunning an A+.  Harry is thunderstruck.  He is a little slow, since when a child his father attacked him with a sledge hammer.  Harry escaped with head injuries.  All the other members of  his family were not as lucky.
As luck has it, Jake takes Harry to Jake's favorite diner on graduation day.  Al, the proprietor, later lets Jake in on a secret.  In Al's storage room is a portal to the past.
This portal takes its time traveler back to a specific date and place.  The year is always 1958.  Any time spent in the past, no matter how long or short, translates to just two minutes of the present.   After a demonstration of its wonders, Jake reluctantly agrees to go back in time and try to stop Lee Oswald from assassinating John Kennedy.
What follows is a compelling trip down memory lane for baby-boomers and a fascinating chronicle of life back in the early 1960's.  This book is nearly 850 pages long, but well worth the time invested in experiencing it.
Posted by mingh on 11/28/11
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Will Silver is a literature teacher at an International high school in Paris. His Senior Seminar focuses on the works of the existentialists such as Sartre and Camus. Both teacher and students are struggling to find meaning in their lives.
At a family party for a graduating Senior, Will filrts with a junior girl who is desperate for some meaningful attention. Soon they are having an affair, something that he knows is not right, but against which he doesn't have the strength to fight. In the meantime, a student who hero-worships Will sees him at a very vulnerable moment and struggles to understand his own feelings.
Maksik uses existentialism to ask the basic questions about what is life. You are responsible for the choices that you make in life. The students argue with Will about these questions, some of them are believers in God, and others question their control when they are required to go to school. The discussions in the classroom are well written and interesting to read. Maksik represents the high schoolers well.
The book is written from the viewpoints of the three major characters, the teacher Will, the student Marie, and the young man who worships his teacher, Gilad. They each have a viewpoint and an opinion about what is meaningful in their lives. Even though the story moves to a known conclusion, it is interesting to see the developments of the characters as they learn more about themselves and what values mean to them.
Posted by Pam S on 11/22/11
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I have often wondered what my dog would say if I could hear his thoughts, feelings and perspective on life.  A Dog's Purpose gives voice to a special dog and is a touching and often humorous look into a dog's soul.  The dog, Bailey, is reincarnated three times during the course of this book.  Each "lifetime" reveals more about the purpose of that dog and his relationship to humans.  The author tells the story through the dog's perspective and this makes the book all the more heartfelt and really highlights the bonds between man and man's best friend.  I found myself laughing outloud at parts like Bailey eating mom's shoes, but then literally found myself crying at other more poignant passages.  I consider this a read alike to Garth Stein's Art of Racing in the Rain.   I would recommend this book to anyone, particularly any animal lover.
Posted by jonf on 11/22/11
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The newest mystery featuring the team of "Rizzolli" and "Isles" takes us on a roller coater ride after a severed foot is found on a roof in Chinatown. The foot has been cut clean by a  very sharp sword and leads to a powerful matron of Chinatown. The story takes a turn that connects the murder to a murder in a Chinatown restaurant that took place many years ago. I loved the element of Chinese folklore especially the fable of the "Monkey King" which has an important role in the story. Tess does a great job evoking the secrets and mystery of Chinatown and the characters as always are top notch. I loved this book.
Posted by mingh on 11/20/11
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Matt King's wife is in a coma from a boating accident. Suddenly, he is the one responsible for their daughters, one ten, the other eighteen. Raising the daughters has been mainly the job of his wife. As he begins to learn about his daughters lives, something that he has only been invloved in tangentially, he learns that his wife's coma is irreversible.

Matt also is coping with the biggest business deal of his life. He is a descendant of Princess Kekipi of Hawaii and a missionary turned business man. And through that descendance, he and his cousins, have become major landholders. The cousins want to sell most of the land to the highest bidder. Matt is thinking that he would like a local businessman to win the deal so that the land would not be run by some major offsite corporation. Since Matt is the highest shareholder of all the cousins, he can make or break the deal.

Before she was in the boating accident that put her in the coma, Matt's wife, Joanie, rarely was involved in Matt's business plans. Usually, she just ignored it. So it seemed unlike her to want Matt to commit to a particular bidder for the land. Matt thought her involvement might be because the results would affect their daughters. That is until he learned that his wife was having an affair and how the deal would affect all of them.

This is a wonderfully written novel with some very funny and poignant moments. Matt King is a likable if removed Father who now knows he needs to step up his game. He loves his wife and his daughters and wants what is best for all of them. This is a quiet story with great sadness underneath that comes out in their lives, but there is also great hope for Matt and his family.

The Descendants has been made into a movie starring George Clooney. It is currently in limited release in Chicago with a wider release expected in December. Knowing that George Clooney is playing the father will not harm the reading of the book. I can only hope that the movie is as wonderful as this book.

family, Hawaii
Posted by mingh on 11/16/11
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Julie Otsuka's beautiful novel tells the story of the large wave of women who emigrated to America from Japan as mail-order brides for Japanese men. Each chapter is written as if from the viewpoint of someone who witnessed it. The fears, hopes, and joys of the women are depicted and the reality of their situations to come. It is like hearing many voices relating their experiences.
Women, who had been brought up in houses with servants, were finding themselves having to pick fruit in the hot California sun. For many, their prospective husbands lied to them and sent pictures of other, more wealthy Japanese men, to represent themselves. The women have no money to leave, having given the money to their families still in Japan.
The time period is the early twentieth century until the middle of the second World War when most of the Japanese in California had to to go to the Internment Camps. Then the chapter changes to the voices of the white women left behind who notice their absence and wonder where they have gone.
In this slim novel is a wealth of experience, with much to be learned about the women who came over with such hopes for a new and wonderful life. How they had to survive and endure is the beauty of the story.
Posted by mingh on 11/11/11
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Former Homicide Detective Ben Decovic is still trying to understand the death of his wife at the hands of a gunman. As a police officer, he understands that not every event has a reason. But he keeps thinking that if his wife was only five minutes late for her appoinment she would still be alive. Not able to continue working at the unit that could not solve his wife's murder, he has taken the role of beat officer in a community near Myrtle Beach. Decovic hopes that by returning to the lesser role of patrol, it will help him get away from his memories of her horrible death.
While investigating a break-in at a local strip joint, he is beaten and his gun stolen. The gun is later used to kill two people. While patroling his area he happens upon an investigation into the death of a beverage magnate who was well-liked in the community. The only witness is a man struggling with Alzheimers.
Ben's homicide instincts kick in and he begins to work behind the scenes when he finds the Homicide Detectives unwilling to listen to his ideas.  The bodies start to pile up in this mystery and all the mayor cares about is that it doesn't affect the tourists. Is everyone on the take?
The action moves pretty fast in this dark mystery of secrets and lies. Hopefully we will get to see more of Officer Ben Decovic.
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