Staff Choices

Posted by mingh on 05/21/10
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Citizens of London is a nonfiction book that delves into the world of American citizens caught up in London during World War II. Olson primarily focuses on Ambassador John Gilbert Winant, Diplomat Averill Harriman and reporter Edward R. Murrow.
Most Americans who were alive at the time will recall the effect of Murrow's harrowing radio reports from London during the Blitz. Olson makes the case that Murrow's reports were very much responsible for turning the tide of American sentiment to stay out of the war. Murrow and his wife, who also stayed, lost many friends and colleagues in the bombing.
Ambassador Winant, who replaced the British-reviled Joseph Kennedy, became beloved by the British for his untiring work on their behalf. In addition to trying desperately to get Roosevelt into the war, Winant was able to convince Roosevelt to expand aid to the British both in basic goods and war aids. He also lived very quietly and low-key in London. The British admired him so much they gave him one of their highest honors.
On occasion, Olson leaves London for Yalta and other conferences between the big three which tends to drag the book down. She also runs rather quickly through the effect of the American soldiers in London and other parts of Britain. At the highest point in the war, 1 of every 6 citizens was American. And to keep up morale, the Americans had more and better food than the British. But, Olson notes, they also had money to spend in shops and pubs and kept England floating economically during the latter half of the war.
A fascinating look at the early part of the war when most Americans had not yet entered the fray but for whom Eric Sevareid would say, "When this is all over, in years to come, men will speak of this war and say, I was a soldier, I was a sailor, or I was a pilot. Others will say with equal pride, I was a citizen of London."
Posted by jfreier on 05/17/10
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In 1925 Colonel Percy Harrison Fawcett,the last of the great Victorian explorers ventured into the Amazon looking for El Dorado or as he called it the Lost City of Z, he never returned.
David Grann a staff writer for the New Yorker does a great job in trying to recreate Fawcett's trip and also to find out what his fate was.
This book is part biography, travel adventure and detective story, riveting and well researched, a must for travel buffs.
Posted by cclapper on 05/13/10
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A friend, Ultra V. (and there is Ne Plus Ultra!), recommended that I read the Tao Te Ching by Laozi and The Tao Of Pooh by Benjamin Hoff.  Laozi's original Tao Te Ching is deep and subtle, like sunlight slicing down into the depths of the ocean.  But it is not necessarily instantly approachable.
Which is why Benjamin Hoff has written The Tao Of Pooh - to make the philosophy of the Tao easily and pleasantly approachable.  In conversation with that Silly, Willy, Nilly old Bear, Hoff brings out some of the fundamental principles of Taoism in a clear and simple way.  (And he gets to fire off a few broadsides against the foibles of our modern culture, too.)  This is not only approachable, it's downright fun.
For myself, I paddled about in the safer but sufficiently profound shallows with Hoff's Pooh, and found a great deal of value.  I may be ready to dive further (with other guides) into the depths of the original.
I will keep you posted.
Posted by Uncle Will on 05/11/10
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Fans of Stephen King are aware of his passion for baseball.  His new novella  is the bizarro world version of his other recent release:  Under the Dome.
Where one novel requires over 1200 pages for the story to unfold, Blockade Billy can be read in a half hour. The story is remnant of a 1960 Twilight Zone episode entitled:  "The Mighty Casey;" a story about a phenom baseball player that's behavior is off-center.  It also is comparable to Bernard Malamud's The unknown sensation with a sordid past.
Billy Blakely is the third replacement catcher for the New Jersey Titans and preseason hasn't even ended.  Blakely is a positional band-aid until a seasoned veteran can be acquired.
Coincidently, Blakely plays his first game with a band-aid on one of his fingers.  He agrees with the coach's suggestion that it was a shaving accident.  A base-runner collides at the plate with the Titan catcher late in the game and is rushed to the hospital with a lacerated leg.  The opposing team accuses Blakely of purposely cutting the runner's leg with something like a sharp finger nail. P
ost National Anthem, the curious, first few innings of an expedited ballplayer's 30-game career begins.    Blakely's behavior continues to draw his coach's suspicions culminating in a face-first dive on the baseball field of life.
Posted by Auntie Anne. on 05/09/10
Adam March had it all - a driven, ruthless, self-made millionaire living the life of an Enron executive complete with perfect socialite wife and teen princess daughter. Then he lost it all when he had what his psychiatrist called a “break.” He slapped his personal assistant, Sophie, right across the face when she left him a message that drove him to the brink of despair. It read – "Your sister called." The problem with that message was that, when Adam was five years old, his sister, Veronica left home, leaving him alone with his widowed Father, who shortly thereafter, placed him in foster care. After this episode, Adam was fired and taken to court by Sophie, where he is sentenced to perform community service at a men’s homeless shelter.
Sharing the spotlight with the protagonist is Chance, a scrappy pit bull mix, who is trying to escape the illegal dog fight circuit. Chance tells his own story in the book, describing with disturbing clarity the horrible mistreatment of dogs in the fighting pit, life on the street, and the dead end atmosphere of animal shelters.
Quite by chance (which is how the dog got his name), Adam and Chance find each other. Along with his work at the homeless shelter, Adam overcomes his past, finding peace and grounding through the unconditional love and loyalty of man’s best friend. One Good Dog is one nice combination of Breakfast at Sally’s, Marley and Me, and Old Yeller, a touching story that is well-written and memorable.
Posted by Pam I am on 05/06/10
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My third grade son LOVES baseball and he tore through this book in a few nights.  So, I decided to read it based on his recommendation with the idea that it would be another "baseball" book.  Yes, Heat is about a 12 year old boy and his local baseball team, but this book encompasses more than baseball.  The main character, Michael Arroyo is an immigrant from Havana and he and his older brother Carlos are living by themselves in the Bronx after the unexpected death of their father.  Carlos is not yet 18 years old, so they must keep their father's death a secret as they do not want to be seperated by child services.  Michael lives to play baseball and is a star pitcher on his neighborhood ball team.  As the little league World Series approaches, Michael is questioned about his age and must supply his birth certificate to prove that he can play as a 12 year old.  Together with Carlos, friends, and teammates, Michael faces these challenges head on! 
Although there was a lot of detailed baseball play by play scenes this book kept my interest and I would definitely recommend it for 9-13 year old readers!  (and their mothers or fathers ).  Heat touches on friendship, sportsmanship, what it means to be a family, and the immigrant experience.
Posted by Uncle Will on 04/28/10
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'Tis the season to be jolly...about the start of the baseball season, that is.  In every league from T-ball to the Majors, pitch speed has always been one of the most controversial topics for discussion.
In Little League, the most feared pitcher was the one that brought the heat.  He always was a little taller and heavier than the other guys on the team.  Or he was the one that could simply tie his cleats without bending over.  In American Legion ball, the fastest throwing pitchers were always ones on the Big League scout's radar.
Who was the all time fastest hurling pitcher?  Most dedicated fans can name the top 10.  In this book, Wendell goes about answering that question with equal parts logic, research, personal experience and in-depth interviews.
This review will not contain a spoiler alert.  However; the Chosen One will not come as any surprise.
If you are a baseball fan, like studying statistical comparisons, and can never get enough past dugout stories and past glories, this book is a must read for the summer.
Posted by mingh on 04/21/10
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The Poisoner's Handbook: murder and the birth of forensic medicine in jazz age New York is a wonderfully written exploration of the start of serious forensic medicine in the United States. At the turn of the twentieth-century, the job of Coroner was assigned by the mayor in most major cities. These positions were given for reasons of favor or nepotism or graft. Many times the Coroner was not even a doctor.
New York set about to change that by setting up an actual Forensic Medicine department with the Chief Medical Examiner being a serious doctor who helped define forensic medicine in the US. Dr. Charles Norris took his new responsibilities very seriously. He hired the chief chemist at Bellevue Hospital, Alexander Gettler, and the book is really their story of finding ways to determine if someone died of poison.
It was very difficult to determine if someone died of poison and Gettler had to experiment many times and in many ways to see if poisons were retained in the vital organs, in the stomach or even in the skin and hair. We owe a lot to Gettler's experiments and to Norris' complete backing of the experiments and the findings.
But it wasn't just murder that they had to deal with. Even though less people were drinking under Prohibition, more people were dying. Gettler and Norris had to figure out what was killing so many people. The culprit was methyl alcohol. (Methyl alcohol is toxic and is currently used in antifreeze, solvents and fuels--methanol.) The work of Gettler and Norris contributed to ending Prohibition because they could statistically show what happened to those who drank the "alcohol" in whatever form under Prohibition. 
The story and facts are laid out nicely and The Poisoner's Handbook  reads very quickly. Just follow along as Norris fights city hall and Gettler fights to understand how different drugs such as cyanide and chloroform and radium kill.
Posted by Ultra Violet on 04/15/10
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Sixteen year-old, Katya Spivak, is thrilled to escape her low-class, Jersey life for a summer as a live-in nanny for a nouveau-riche family in a wealthy sea-side town. Naif Katya is approached by an elegant elderly gentleman named Marcus Kidder. She feels drawn to him, and finds him to have a magical quality; like a character in an old movie. He invites her and the two children to tea. Katya sees nothing wrong with going since she will be taking the children with her, and she is very excited about the prospect of being inside one of the grand old mansions so envied by even her employers. The story grabs you from the start with it's eerie unease. Katya is slowly pulled into something bizarre and inescapable. A Fair Maiden is a page-turning, crazy, modern fairy tale that will keep you guessing right until the end.
Posted by Uncle Will on 04/13/10
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This is the 5th book in the E. L. Pender series.  Pender is an enigma.  He is a hard-drinking, fat FBI Special Agent.  It wouldn't be a surprise if he gargles with gin when he wakes most mornings.   His job is flying across the country while acting as a investigation liaison between the FBI and community law enforcement officers. 
In this story, Pender is searching for a young man that was dealt a poor hand since birth.  A life spent in and out of foster homes helped shaped Luke Sweet's nasty outlook on life.  He is on the run and leaving a trail of bodies of those who have done him wrong in the past.  
Pender teams-up with a gimpy private investigator who has the distinct honor of once capturing Luke while wanted for suspected murder.  Together the two diverse personalities try to close the gap between themselves and Luke while not becoming victim to his warped revenge adventure. 
Nasaw has the ability to create characters that are flawed and permeate with realism.
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