Staff Choices

Posted by Ultra Violet on 01/05/11
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John Clare was a successful rustic poet in his own time. Set in England in the 1830's, The Quickening Maze tells the story of his time in a mental institution. Ironically, Alfred Tennyson was there at the same time, staying with his brother, Septimus, who was institutionalized as a melancholic. The doctor who owned the asylum, Matthew Allen, had his own problems. He had spent time in debtor's prison and became obsessed with his invention of a wooden machine to carve decorative wooden pieces. As he becomes more obsessed, and gets more investors to give him large sums of money (including Tennyson), Dr. Allen leaves the asylum in the care of a brutal man who abuses and rapes the inmates. John Clare manages to blackmail him into leaving the asylum.
I was not familiar with John Clare when I picked up this book, but I fell in love with some of the characters in the first chapter. It is obvious to me why The Quickening Maze was a finalist for the Man Booker Prize. I look forward to more exquisite prose from Adam Foulds. Foulds has also written a novel called, The Truth About These Strange Times and a book-length narrative poem called The Broken Word.
Posted by Uncle Will on 12/23/10
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It has been a long wait. Three years, to be precise, since the last Arkady Renko novel. Ever since 1981, when Gorky Park hit the book stands running,  no other serial novel has had such a sad, weather-beaten hero-of-the-common-man as the Russian investigator Arkady Renko.  He is persistent, clever, self-effacing, plodding, suicidal, broken-hearted, witty, loyal to a fault,  keen-eyed,  and mostly acts like a beaten dog.
Russians are a proud people.  Another of their stronger traits is that they are realistic.  They seem to have the ability to accept the hand that they have been dealt, self-analyze it, and still continue to survive in a society that seems to have only two classes:  the Haves and the Have nots.
In this 6th installment, Arkady is once again on the brink of being fired for insubordination.  While helping out a friend who is a hopelessly drunken detective, Arkady stumbles upon a serial killer.  Unfortunately for Arkady and the next victims, the government is not accepting of his theories and are hurried to distance themselves from him.
Arkady's young ward, Zhenya, the brilliant, street chess-hustler, is also trying to distance himself from Arkady.   Zhenya stumbles upon a very young girl - Maya - whose infant was stolen from her while trying to escape her miserable life of  forced prostitution.   Zhenya, who would be the last to admit that he has learned anything useful from Arkady,  tries to take on the role of protector, while assisting to find the kidnapped child. As always, there is Cruz' continuing central theme  of class struggle.
Posted by cclapper on 12/22/10
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Fish out of water... learn to swim!
Josh Kilmer-Purcell and his partner, Dr. Brent Ridge, live in Manhattan and always took an annual apple-picking trip to upstate New York.  One year they went a bit farther than usual- and bought the old "Beekman Mansion", a classic home set on several rural country acres.
They found a caretaker for the farm... who came complete with 80 happy goats.  And what started as a holiday gift for the team at Martha Stewart- goat milk soap- suddenly became... well, that's just where the story begins.
An enjoyable and very honest memoir.  As Mr. Kilmer-Purcell notes: "unconventional".  If you are looking for rainbows and baby animals... well, they are here, along with the rest of real life on a farm.  And real life in our current economy.
I like the people I met in this memoir, and I want to know how they're doing today.  I hope you feel that way, too.
Posted by Uncle Will on 12/22/10
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This book is an English major's delight.  Foxworthy's stage persona is that of a backwards backwoodsmen.  He is anything but.  To publish a book this clever, one must have an outstanding command of the English language; both spoken and written.  
"...No-ble (no-bul), adj. and n. completely without prevarication.  'That tree jumped right out in front of me, Judge, noble.'..."
"...Tab-leau (tab-lo), n. and adj. a phrase pertaining to controlling the extent of a bill of sale.  'I ain't buying another round, 'cause I'm trying to keep my tableau.'..."
"...Disability (dis-a-bi-la-te), adj. and n. a certain aptitude or proficiency.  'I was born with disability to charm women of the opposite sex.'..."
Planning a trip down South?  This book definitely would help bridge the language gap.  When ordering at a fancy southern diner,  if one wants a steak that stays juicy, one's gotta serum!
Posted by Auntie Anne. on 12/20/10
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Set during the Great Depression, Jacob Jankowski's life had been turned upside down when he became orphaned and homeless at the very time that he was to graduate Veterinary school.  As luck would have it, he hopped on board a passing train, which just happened to be the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth.  Before he knew it, he was put in charge of taking care of the circus animal menagerie. Amid the strange and sadistic world of this second-rate, down on its luck circus, Jacob falls in love with Marlena, the star of the equestrian act, who is married to the sick, twisted and cruel circus boss.  Jacob is determined to protect Marlena and Rosie, the lovable elephant, from her husband's abusive, sadistic behavior.  
I was totally prepared not to like Water for Elephants, since the subject is a circus during the Great Depression.  Sounded depressing to me.  However, this story is both brutal and poignant - brutal in Gruen's description of the filthy, squalid atmosphere of the mangy circus atmosphere; and poignant in the intimate, loving relationships that the circus performers have with the animals.  It is a story which would appeal to men and women alike.  It has something for everyone, especially if you're an animal love.  I found it very interesting that it was written by a woman in a man's voice, which she accomplished very well.
Watch for the movie scheduled to be released in April, starring Reese Witherspoon and Robert Pattinson.  Here's the trailer:-
Posted by jfreier on 12/15/10
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I finally read the much ballyhooed autobiography of my favorite member of my favorite band. I wasn't disappointed, there are the expected lurid party stories and groupies and drugs, but what comes through most is Richards love of music. I enjoyed his love of the Chicago blues legends and his awe when he first met and then played with his heroes. I found Richards very funny, honest, and dare I say a bit normal.
Posted by Uncle Will on 12/13/10
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It's been about a year and half since Griffin's last installment was published in his Badge of Honor series.
Sgt. Matthew Payne is back and his guns are still blazing.  Coined "Wyatt Earp" by the Philadelphia press, Matt has had the misfortune to have drawn and used his police issued firearm more times in his short tenure as a law enforcement officer than 99% of his fellow officers do in their entire careers.

This time around Matt is trying to stop a rash of vigilante killings and copycat killings of those vigilante killings.  Confusing, yes; especially to Matt who is left scratching his head.   

Payne is anointed the head of the task force that is going to put a stop to this madness.  Matt's love-life remains healthy and his new relationship with Amanda Law, who he helped rescue during an earlier case, grows stronger. 

Once again Griffin spins his magic.  He has a handle on police procedure and his stories never are Hollywood-ized.  Since it was so long since his last book, Griffin used a clever device to give his old and new readers the Matt Payne back story:  He had a character write Payne's obituary.  


Posted by Auntie Anne. on 12/13/10
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 The Odds is the third book in George's "Richard Christie" series.  Christie takes somewhat of a back seat in this one, however, since he is in the hospital with leukemia, and undergoing chemo treatments.  But one of this chief detectives, Colleen Greer, is determined to solve the mystery of the murder of a young boy in Pittsburgh's North Side, the disappearance of the charming, good-looking man who ran the pizza joint, and how the four exceptionally bright Philips kids are involved in all of this.  Its these Philips kids that make this novel special, not just your every day police procedural.  Meg, 14; Joel, 11; Laurie, 10;, and Susannah, 7 are orphans and coping with the desertion of their stepmother, while trying to avoid the foster care system.  The author relates in depth the lesson of urban drugs and life on the streets, while giving her readers rich character portraits and an offbeat plot.
Posted by Pam I am on 12/13/10
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 I've always been enthralled by Gregory House's quirky and misanthropic personality on the hit tv show House so I picked up this nonfiction book and began flipping through it.  I quickly decided that I wanted to actually read this book rather than just flip through it.  This book gives the reader an inside look into the show including insights from the actors, writers, and producers as they describe in their own words what the show means to them. This book also delves into fascinating discussions of the show's medical science and controversial ethical issues, as well as photographs from the set. This is fun reading for any House fan!!!!
Posted by Auntie Anne. on 12/08/10
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Newly graduated from Smith College, Kerman describes herself as a "girl looking for trouble."  And, boy, did she find it!  She stupidly gets involved with a woman who is a key player in an international drug trafficking ring.  Wined, dined and living the high life while traveling the world with her shadey new friends, she never was directly involved in the drug deals themselves.  That is, until she agreed to deliver a large cash payment for drugs.  The feds eventually catch up with her, and she is indicted for drug smuggling and money laundering.  She spent six years under supervision by the feds while the U.S. tried to extradite the West African drug kingpin, so that she could testify against him.  Finally, 10 years after she had committed her crime, she is sentenced to 15 months in a minimum security women's federal correctional facility in Danbury, Ct.
In Orange is the New Black, Kerman tells the story of her long months in prison, relating descriptions of the other women she lived with, some funny, some sad.  Very poignant and touching were the networks of "families" that were established by the women for support, advice, psuedo-mothering, and just simple items that were considered luxuries, such as toiletries and real food.  Friends that she made while in prison helped her survive, cope, and come to the realization that her selfish, careless lifestyle had enabled many of these women to indulge in their drug habits which eventually landed them in jail.  Along with the remorse that she felt over the pain that she had put her family and fiance through.
Kerman also offers her readers revealing insights into the criminal justice system, the reasons so many people are sent to prison, and what happens to them while incarcerated.  Its no wonder a large percentage of those imprisoned end up back in prison or homeless, because the system offers them no prerelease training or help in entering mainstream economy or finding real jobs.  Orange is the New Black  is warmly and sympathetically written - a real eye-opener.  In this Book TV interview, Piper Kerman talks about her book and the precariousness of life -
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