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Archived Staff Picks January 2012


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Archived Staff Picks - January 2012

The Secret Life of Bees 

by: Sue Monk Kidd
Recommended by Ann

The Secret life of bees is the story of Lily, a teenager on a peach farm in South Carolina whose mother died when she was young and whose father is abusive.
In practice Lily is raised by the black housekeeper, Rosaleen.  When Rosaleen gets in a fight with some white men while she is going into town to register to vote, Lily and Rosaleen decide to take off together.
They end up in a unique community that is the perfect place for Lily to look for her mother and learn to love herself.
Southern summer nights come alive in this novel, and you can almost taste the Coke with peanuts floating in it.  There is enough suspense to keep the Secret life of bees interesting.
Race issues run through the novel, and conveying the underlying tensions and inequalities that existed in the South in the 1960's.
I recommend the Secret life of Bees.  It makes a thoughtful read.

This title is available in Book, DVD, CD and downloadable Ebook formats.


Half of a Yellow Sun

By:  Chimamanda Adichie
Recommended by Marilyn

When the Igbo people of eastern Nigeria seceded in 1967 to form the independent nation of Biafra, a bloody, crippling three-year civil war followed.  That period in African history is captured with haunting intimacy in this artful page-turner from Nigerian novelist Adichie (Purple Hibiscus).  Adichie tells her profoundly gripping story primarily through the eyes and lives of Ugwa, a 13-year-old peasant houseboy who survives conscription into the raggedy Biafran army, and twin sisters Olanna and Kainene, who are from a wealthy and well-connected family.  Tumultuous politics power the plot, and several sections are harrowing, particularly passages depicting the savage butchering of Olanna and Kainene's relatives.  But this dramatic, intelligent epic has its lush sultry side as well:  rebellious Olanna is the mistress of Odenigbo, a university professor brimming with anticolonial zeal: business-minded Kainene takes as her lover fair-haired, blue-eyed Richard, a British expatriate come to Nigeria to write a book about Igbo-Ukwu art - and whose relationship with Kainene nearly ruptures when he spends one drunken night with Olanna.  This is a transcendent novel of many descriptive triumphs, most notably its depiction of the impact of war's brutalities on peasants and intellectuals alike.  It's a searing history lesson in fictional form, intensely evocative and immensely absorbing.
It was interesting from an historical perspective because if your household was like mine growing up your parents often said "eat your dinner there are people in Biafra that are starving".  I always presumed it was because of famine, drought etc. not because of a civil war.

This title is available in Book format. 


Baking cakes in Kigali

By:  Gaile Parkin
Recommended by Pauline

Meet Angel Tungaraza, a Tanzanian woman recently moved to Rwanda with her husband and their five orphaned grandchildren.  Angel's specialty is baking the perfect cake for any special occasion, and we meet various characters in her Rwandan community and learn of their challenges, culture, and history.  Angel is part counselor, part matchmaker, mentor, and enforcer.  Through her, Parkin portrays the strength of so many women whose lives have been marked by war, genocide, AIDS, genital mutation and more, but these serious subjects are interwoven with hilarity, compassion, and humour.  Fans of Precious Ramotswe will enjoy this.

This title is available in Book format. 


The Physician

By:  Noah Gordon
Recommended by Rosemary

Set in the eleventh century, The Physician by Noah Gordon, is the tantalizing story of Rob J. Cole, a penniless orphan who is blessed with a gift which, in those days of superstition, would send a man to the stake.  Rob could sense the chill hand of death when it settled on the living.  Knowing that he was destined to be a healer, he embarks on an often perilous journey that takes him from disease-ridden London, across bandit-ridden Europe, to Persia where he hopes to study with the famous physician Avicenna.  The university will accept Muslims and Jews, but not Christians, so Rob disguises himself as a Jew.  His intense desire to learn all he can drives Rob through the fear and danger of discovery, through war, plague and the cruel prejudices of both mullahs and clerics.
I first read The Physician 20 years ago, and have read it three times since then.  Noah Gordon has given us a rich adventure, strong characters and settings.  When I read this book, I can almost imagine that I am in the crowded streets of London, or the dusty roads of Isfahan.

This title is available in Book format. 


The Sentimentalists 

By:  Johanna Skibsrud
Recommended by Robert

Winner of the 2010 Giller award, Johanna Skibsrud, a Nova Scotia poet, has created a semi-autobiographical novel, loosely based on the psychological damage incurred by her father in the Vietnam Conflict.  We are introduced to the narrator, fleeing troubles of her own, who finds her father in the twilight of his life.  The father Napoleon Haskell, has moved from a North Dakota trailer park to a small Ontario town, adjacent to the father of a friend who had been killed in Vietnam.  This town itself has been recreated on the banks of a manmade lake.  Under the water is the wreckage of what had been the town and the home of his dead comrade's father.  We discover that Napoleon, a gruff but tenderhearted and comedic drunk, has never really recovered from an incident that occurred in Vietnam.  Flashbacks to the war begin to illustrate why Napoleon had become an agent of his own destruction.  It is only at the end of the novel that we discover through the transcripts of a military enquiry, the real cause of his troubles.
This is not an easy novel to read.  While it is well written using poetic precision, one often hopes to learn more about some of the other people we are introduced to.  We are, however charmed by the relationship between Napoleon and his daughter.  In a time when Canadians are welcoming back our damaged soldiers from another war in Asia, it is clear that the author has touched a deep nerve.
This is a touching literary work, a somber story about the emotional ghosts of war and the unreliable nature of memory.  If you are looking a quick, satisfying happy ending, you will not find it here.  You will find a first novel from which unfolds the story of how this woman really got to know her father.

This title is available in Book and Ebook formats.


Explosive Eighteen

By:  Janet Evanovich
Recommended by Kim

Before Stephanie can even step foot off Flight 127 Hawaii to Newark, she's knee deep in trouble.  Her dream vacation turned into a nightmare, and she's flying back to New Jersey solo.  Worse still, her seatmate never returned to the plane after the L.A. layover.  Now he's dead.  His killer could be anyone.  A ragtag collection of thugs, psychos and the FBI, are all looking for a photograph the dead man was supposed to be carrying.  Only one other person has seen the missing photo - Stephanie Plum.  Now she's the target.
Over at the bail bonds agency things are going from bad to worse.  The bonds bus serving as cousin Vinnie's temporary HQ goes up in smoke.  Stephanie's co-worker Lula, falls in love with their largest skip yet.  Joyce Barnhardt moves into Stephanie's apartment.  And everyone wants to know what happened while Stephanie was on vacation.
Morelli, Trenton's hottest cop, isn't talking about Hawaii.  Ranger, man of mystery, isn't talking about Hawaii.  And all Stephanie is willing to say about her vacation is ... it's complicated.
If you want like to read a mystery that will make you laugh out loud - this is the book for you.

This title is available in Book, CD, Large Print, Downloadable Ebook  and Audiobook formats.


The Chess Machine

By:  Robert Lohr
Recommended by Rachel

Vienna 1770: Baron Wolfgang von Kempelen unveils a strange and amazing invention, The Mechanical Turk, a sensational and unbeatable chess-playing automaton.  But what the habsburg court hails as the greatest innovation of the century is really nothing more than a brilliant illusion.  The chess machine is secretly operated from inside by the Italian dwarf Tibor, a God-fearing social outcast whose chess-playing abilities and diminutive size make him the perfect accomplice in this grand hoax.
Von Kempelen tours his remarkable invention all around Europe to amaze and entertain the public, but despite many close calls, no one is able to beat the extraordinary chess machine.  The crowds all across Europe adore the Turk, and the success of Baron von Kempelen seems assured.  But when a beautiful and seductive countess dies under suspicion, and the machine and his inventor become the targets of espionage, persecution, and aristocratic intrigue.  What is the dark secret behind this automaton and what strange powers does it hold?  The Chess Machine is a daring and remarkable tale, based on a true story, full of envy, lust, scandal and deception.
An amazing work of historical fiction!  I've read it again and again!

This title is available in Book format.







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