Staff Choices

Posted by lsears on 05/12/14
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It is 1945, Tokyo, a month after Japan’s surrender in WWII. Francis Van Cleave is a private in the United States army attached to the Officers Personnel Section, a sort of military secretarial pool. 
 
Van Cleave gets the attention of General Douglas MacArthur when he attends an Army-Navy football game screening at MacArthur’s home with other military personnel. This invitation comes as an unasked for favor by his roommate, Corporal Clifford, who serves in the Honor Guard Company, a division assigned to work as a personal escort for the general and visiting dignitaries.  After sending MacArthur’s son, Arthur, a gift for his 8th birthday, Van Cleave begins an unusual assignment, almost an order, to visit the MacArthur’s home on a weekly basis to spend time with the boy.
 
Van Cleave is young, naïve, and receives unwanted news from his new wife back home. We see a side of life the military men partake in in their off-time not knowing the language, the culture, and still finding a way to get themselves into trouble. Michael Knight tells a story that is rooted in history but surrounds it with rich invented detail. 
 
This story made me wonder whatever happened to Arthur MacArthur?
 
Fiction
Posted by crossin on 05/06/14
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It’s May, which means Mother’s Day is around the corner. Last year, Time Out ranked the most classic movie mothers of all time. Given their top billing is Mommie Dearest, it’s safe to say that these movie moms may not all be ideal role models. Maybe this Mother’s Day, you could check one of these out to watch with your mom—and don’t forget the chocolate.
 
Posted by Kelley M on 05/03/14
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“We are all refugees from our childhoods.  And so we turn, among other things, to stories.  To write a story, is to be a refugee from the state of refugees.  Writers and readers seek a solution to the problem that time passes, that those who have gone are gone and those who will go, which is to say every one of us, will go.  For there was a moment when anything was possible.  And there will be a moment when nothing is possible.  But in between we can create.”

If you’re looking for a twist of genre, this is the right book for you.  It gets its style from the self-help books which are popular among youths around “rising Asia”. What is fascinating about this book is you will not learn the character’s names.  You will never know the main character’s profession - how exactly he gets rich in “rising Asia”.  You will not even become aware of what Asian country the book is set in.  However, Mohsin Hamid's style keeps you reading.  The entire book is written in second person, so it takes you aback since it seems to be talking about you.  Without knowing specifics, the author takes you through 8 decades of the main character’s life in 228 pages.  The book seems to be both specific & broad at the same time (if that even seems possible). 
 
If you’re looking for a new spin on fiction & don’t mind a little strong language, you might like this one.  This is one of the most innovative works of fiction I've read this year.
 
Mohsin Hamid is also the author of the award-winning Reluctant Fundamentalist.
 
Posted by Uncle Will on 04/28/14
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The Hunt is the most powerful film I've seen this year.   International film star Mads Mikkelsen stars as Lucas, a kindergarten assistant teacher whose life is beginning to turn around.  He has a new female friend that is supportive.  The custody suit for Marcus, his teenage son, is progressing positively and appears that he'll soon be awarded said privileges. Suddenly Lucas is  the victim of a innocent lie. Before he can even grasp the social significance of that spiraling lie, he becomes an outcast in his small community; a foul foe in the eyes of all his friends and acquaintances.  He's forced to hunt for the truth.
 
This film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film of the Year (2014) and Mikkelsen won Best Actor at the Cannes Film Festival in 2012.  Overall this film has been nominated for 40 international awards and has won 30. This Denmark drama (originally titled "Jagten") is shown in Danish with English subtitles.  It has an adult R-rating and runs 115 mins. 
 
The next time you are looking for something worthwhile to watch, this film would be worthy of the time spent.
 
 
 
Posted by bpardue on 04/27/14
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OK, blast from the past!  This 1984 cult comedy/adventure flick is one glorious mess of a movie. Buckaroo Banzai (Peter Weller) is a brilliantly implausible hero: neurosurgeon, particle physicist, engineering whiz, rock star and all-around-great-and-sensitive-guy. He's just broken the inter-dimensional barrier by driving his jet car right through a mountain and into the eighth dimension, but in doing so, he's opened a rift that might allow a long-banished alien villain, John Whorfin, to return to his home, Planet Ten.  To keep that from happening, the denizens of Planet Ten are set to destroy the earth if Banzai can't stop Whorfin, who, since a 1938 mishap, has occupied the body and mind of the now-demented Dr. Emilio Lizardo (John Lithgow). Banzai, along with his collaborators/sidekicks/backing band, the Hong Kong Cavaliers, set out to save the day, with a little help from a young kid and his dad from Grovers Mill, NJ (there's a "War of the Worlds" connection). Weller's the star, but Lithgow steals the show as Lizardo/Whorfin, playing it way past "over the top." There are dozens of quotable moments ("No matter where you go, there you are.") and lots of odd little asides that never get explained (look for the watermelon!). The movie was always intended to be a comic book, and it's best enjoyed as if it is one.
 

Posted by jmurrow on 04/24/14
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After having survived the horrors of the mysterious Antarctic, Alan Moore's latest installment of his Nemo miniseries sees the pirate queen and her lover battling through a nightmarish World War II era Berlin to rescue their family from the Adenoid Hynkel
 
Whereas the earlier installment took its' inspiration from the Boy's-own adventures of the 1920s, this outing sees the world through the celluloid lens of the German Impressionist films of the era.  While Alan sticks to the fast-paced adventure format of the previous installment, O'Neill outdoes himself painting feverish vistas of totalitarian eye candy: from vast subterranean lairs split with zigzagging shadows right out of a Robert Wiene film, to the dehumanized human figures that pass under vertiginous buildings and phantasmagoric floating transport ships.  A rip-roaring adventure, this latest installment is a welcome addition to Alan and Kevin's League of Extraordinary series. 
 
 
Posted by bweiner on 04/23/14
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Desperation can drive anyone to make disastrous decisions. In The Vanishing, by Wendy Webb, Julia Bishop has reached a crossroad in her life. Her husband Jeremy has cheated countless innocent people in a fraudulent investment scheme. His subsequent suicide has left Julia vulnerable and exposed.
 
When the mysterious Amaris Sinclair offers her an opportunity to exit her past and renew her future, she jumps at the chance. But her move to the centuries old estate of Havenwood may be her last. The mysterious mansion holds more questions than answers, and the whispering walls begin to close in on her...
 
Experience the mystery and terror of this tangled tale by an appealingly articulate Midwestern author.
 
One word of caution: You may want to lock the door and leave the lights on...
horror, Mystery
Posted by jdunc on 04/23/14
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From the critically acclaimed author Emma Donoghue comes the first novel since the best-selling book Room. Frog Music opens in 1876 San Francisco with the murder of Jenny Bonnet, a brash cross-dressing American frog catcher. Her friend and exotic dancer Blanche Beunon witnesses the murder and tries to bring the killers to justice while searching for her infant son.
 
Perhaps what makes the novel most fascinating is that Donoghue has taken facts from the real murder and weaved them into her novel. Many of her characters were real people that she pulled from newspapers articles and court documents from the time. The characters in Frog Music are vivid and seedy with conflicting internal desires. Blanche wants to be a loving mother, but is continually frustrated and annoyed with her infant son. She wants to be in control of her earnings, but is letting her “fancy men” take advantage of her and use the money to gamble. At the heart of the story is a friendship between two women, but as Blanche realizes, Jenny was a person that was “easy to enjoy, but hard to know”. As I wound through the tale, I became hooked on trying to solve the murder and drawn into the lives of so many vivid characters. Woven through the book are song lyrics of the time, including French, American, and Creole folk songs.
 
While Emma Donoghue is most widely known for her bestselling book Room, she really shines in her works of historical fiction. I would highly recommend Astray, a collection of short stories based on historical events. Here is a brief interview with Emma Donoghue where she discusses the actual events of the crime and her research process of writing Frog Music.
Posted by Ultra Violet on 04/22/14
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If you hate math as much as I do, but have an interest in astronomy and physics, this is the book for you. Tagmark clearly explains his theories of a multiverse and how our physical reality is mathematical in nature, without being boring or overly academic. The math is presented in a manner that enables you to see it in a whole new way. This book is a synthesis of popular science, hard science and autobiography.
 
Tagmark's obvious exuberance about his subject shines through and stokes the reader's excitement about these facts and theories as well. Not only is Our Mathematical Universe a fun book to peruse if you are a novice science geek, like me, but someone with a serious interest and understanding of astrophysics could read it cover to cover and have quite a bit of food for thought.
Posted by Kelley M on 04/18/14
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“History is not just facts and events. History is also a pain in the heart and we repeat history until we are able to make another’s pain in the heart our own.”
 
This book is loosely based on the real lives of two abolitionist sisters, Sarah & Nina Grimke.  Sarah & Nina grew up in Charleston, South Carolina during the decline of the plantation era.  The novel spans over 35 years & tells the story of not just Sarah & Nina, but also the slaves that their family owned.  We watch as Sarah, Nina, and Hetty “Handful” Grimke (their slave) move past the social barriers placed upon them (the Invention of Wings), being ostracized along the way.

The author, Sue Monk Kidd, adds fictional dimensions to the history of the Grimkes.  Through these fictional accounts, we learn a lot about actual history.  We become acquainted with the relationships between children slaves & plantation owners’ children, religious dynamics of the era, family relationships, the lives of slaves and the abolitionist movement as the story progresses.  The plot, while slow to start, really picks up momentum about halfway through. 

If you liked The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd, The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom or Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker by Jennifer Chiaverini, you might want to give this read a try…
 

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