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Archived Staff Picks - December2011


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Archived Staff Picks - December 2011

Half-Blood Blues 

by: Esi Edugyan
Recommended by Robert

By the time that this review hits our web site, Esi Edugyan may have added the Man Brooker prize and the Governor-General's to her Giller Award for the "Half-Blood Blues".  The author takes us from 1940 Paris, to 1939 Berlin and to 1992 Poland to chronicle the lives of a group of black and European jazz musicians as they attempt to produce great music and evade the approaching Nazis.  They connect with Louis Armstrong and make plans to produce a record together. One, a young, German trumpet virtuoso named Hiero is arrested by the Nazis in Paris and is never heard from again.  Some, citizens of a still neutral United States are able to flee Europe.  Others become victims of the Holocaust or the war that followed it.  Almost fifty years later, a letter from Poland is received.  Apparently, Hiero has survived the war and has moved east.  The remaining members, Sid and Chip, return to Europe to find their band mate.  War, race, personal betrayal and romantic intrigue had torn the group apart, preventing the recording  of a seminal jazz album.  Ms. Eduguyan tells this story in the style of jazz cadences, using slang and colloquialisms effectively.  She has ably recreated a period of history when black musicians found, for a short period, social and artistic freedom.  It may not have lasted long, but it gave these musicians a taste of life without Jim Crow. 

This title is available in Book format.


The Elegance of the Hedgehog
By:  Muriel Barbery
Recommended by Marilyn 

We are in the center of Paris, in an elegant apartment building inhabited by bourgeois families.  Renee, the concierge, is witness to the lavish but vacuous lives of her numerous employers.  Outwardly she conforms to every stereotype of the concierge:  fat, cantankerous, addicted to television.  Yet, unbeknownst to her employers, Renee is a cultured autodidact who adores art, philosophy, music, and Japanese culture.  With humour and intelligence she scrutinizes the lives of the building's tenants, who for their part, are barely aware of her existence.  Then there's Paloma, a twelve-year-old genius.  She is the daughter of a tedious parliamentarian, a talented and startlingly lucid child who has decided to end her life on the sixteenth of June, her thirteenth birthday.  Until then she will continue behaving as everyone expects her to behave:  a mediocre pre-teen high on adolescent subculture, a good but not an outstanding student, an obedient if obstinate daughter.
Paloma and Renee hide both their true talents and their finest qualities from a world they suspect cannot or will not appreciate them.  They discover their kindred souls when a wealthy Japanese man named Ozu arrives in the building.  Only he is able to gain Paloma's trust and to see through Renee's timeworn disguise to the secret that haunts her.  This is a moving, funny, triumphant novel that exalts the quiet victories of the inconspicuous among us.
I listened to this title on CD in my car.  It took a bit to get into and then I really enjoyed it.

This title is available in Book, CD, Downloadable Audiobook and EBook formats. 


The Sugar Queen

By:  Sarah Addison Allen
Recommended by Rachel

Twenty-seven-year-old Josey Cirrini is sure of three things:  winter is her season, she's a sorry excuse for a Southern belle, and sweets are best eaten in the privacy of her hidden closet.  For while Josey has settled into an uneventful life in her mother's house, her one consolation is the stockpile of sugary treats and paperback romances she escapes to each night ... Until she finds it harbouring none other than local waitress Della Lee Baker, a tough-talking, tender-hearted woman who is one part nemesis - and two parts fairy godmother ... Join Josey as she makes friends with Chloe Finley, a young woman who makes the best sandwiches in town, is hounded by books that inexplicably appear whenever she needs them, and she discovers a world where the colour red has astonishing power, passion can make eggs fry in their cartons, and romance can blossom at any time - even for her.
I'm not one for "Chick Lit" but this touching and amusing tale had me glued to my chair!

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


Perfect Harmony

By:  Barbara Wood
Recommended by Ann

Charlotte Lee has a crisis on her hands.  Three people are dead after taking herbal remedies manufactured by her biotech firm.  The FDA moves in to shut down the company after determining that poison was added before the products left the plant.  Harmony Biotech is a family business that sells herbal potions developed by Charlotte's Singaporean great-grandmother to heal the spirit as well as the body.  The company was built by Charlotte's grandmother from a humble line of products sold by word of mouth in San Francisco's Chinatown and is now a corporation employing hundreds of people.  The news of product tampering by someone inside the close-knit family of employees is devastating.  But more disturbing is the link between the victims.  All of them were Charlotte's enemies, individuals she would have motives to kill, and the evidence is adding up against her.  Who would want to sabotage the company and target Charlotte personally?  And how could they get past the state-of-the-art security at the plant?  When Charlotte is contacted anonymously over the Internet and told to confess to the murders at a press conference in twelve hours - or else - she suddenly finds herself in a race to discover the answers before more people die.  Enlisting the help of a former lover who's now a computer expert, Charlotte is drawn into a frantic chase that takes her deep into the virtual world - and even deeper into her own past.  What she discovers about the killer, about herself, and about her Chinese matrilineal line will change her life forever.
Hope you enjoy as much as I did.

This title is available in Book format. 




An HBO Made-for-Television Movie 2010
Recommended by Kathy

Claire Danes won an Emmy, A Golden Globe and a SAG Award for portrayal of Temple Grandin, in the 2010 made-for-TV movie of the same name.  The movie also won an Emmy award for Outstanding Made for Television Movie.  Temple Grandin is an HBO biopic of the woman who was diagnosed with autism at an early age in the 1950's, who has gone on to become one of the foremost scientists in the livestock handling industry.  Temple's own struggles with autism gives her a unique insight into livestock and her work has changed the face of livestock yards worldwide.  an uplifting movie, Temple Grandin showcases one woman's ability to overome a disorder and those who helped her along the was.
If one is interested in further reading, there are books available: The way I see it: a personal look at autism and Asperger's and Animals in translation: using the mysteries of autism to decode animal behaviour, both authored by Temple Grandin

This title is available in DVD format.


The Next Always

By Nora Roberts
Recommended by Kim

The historic hotel in Boonsboro has endured war and peace, changing hands, even rumoured hauntings.  Now it's getting a major facelift from the Montgomery brothers and their mother.  Beckett is the architect of the family, and his social life consists mostly of talking shop over pizza and beer.  But there's another project he's got his eye on:  the girl he's been waiting to kiss since he was fifteen.  After losing her husband and returning to her hometown, Clare Brewster soon settles into her life as the mother of three young sons while running the town's bookstore.  Busy, with little time for romance, Clare is drawn across the street by Beckett's transformation of the old inn, wanting to take a closer look ... at the building and the man behind it.  With the grand opening getting closer, Beckett's happy to give Clare a private tour - one room at a time.  It's no first date, but these stolen moments are the beginning of something new - and open the door to the extraordinary adventure of what comes next...
This is classic Nora Roberts - a love story with a little intrigue thrown in.  I am looking forward to reading the second book of this trilogy when it comes out.

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


The Knitting Circle

By Ann Hood
Recommended by Rosemary

When writer Mary Baxter loses her five year old daughter, Stella, to meningitis, she finds herself unable to function.  Her days are depressingly empty in spite of the many well-meaning friends who reach out to help her.  Mary avoids them all.  Her husband, Dylan, copes by going to work each day as usual, and he and Mary build separate cocoons of grief around themselves.  Her own mother is distant both emotionally and geographically, but Mamie suggests that Mary take up knitting as a hobby.  When she is invited to join the knitting group at "Big Alice's Sit and Knit", Mary realizes she has nothing better to do.  At the Wednesday evening knitting group, she is just one of several women (and one man) who have learned to knit and cope with their crises.  Over time, Mary not only learns to knit, but hears the stories of her fellow knitters, their own grief and sorrows, and their survival.
You don't have to be a knitter to appreciate Ann Hood's lovely story.  This is a story of solace and healing, of strong relationships, of the strength of the human spirit.  Mary is not suddenly healed of her grief when she picks up those knitting needles.  She is on a journey of healing and it is clear that this is a process that takes place over time.  Definitely not a sad story, The Knitting Circle is a story of the restorative power of friendship, of love and loss and recovery.
And for the knitters among us, there are lots of tips.

This title is available in Book, and Downloadable Audiobook formats.



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