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Archived Staff picks - december 2012


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Archived Staff Picks - December 2012


The Water Rat of Wanchai
"Ava Lee series"
By: Ian Hamilton
Recommended by Pauline

Methodical. Resourceful. Courageous. Determined. Strong. Confident.

Ava Lee is a young Chinese-Canadian forensic accountant who specializes in recovering massive debts that aren't likely to be recovered through traditional methods.
In the first book of the Ava Lee series, The Water Rat of Wanchai, her character takes shape through learning about her traditional Chinese upbringing, her family dynamic and the people who are most important to Ava.
Partnering with "Uncle", who lives in Hong Kong, they have a diverse client base that is mainly Asian. They approach their business with the understanding that "organized corruption is always superior to corruption with no rules." Since dealing with corruption is the heart of their business, they prefer to conduct their work in countries with organized corruption.
Independent, intelligent, and creative in her methods, Ava does whatever needs doing to get the job done. Even though she's petite, it's a serious mistake to underestimate her physical abilities. She is well trained in martial arts and uses her abilities to get her out of dangerous circumstances. She is also accustomed to working alone, to the point of obsession, which becomes interesting when she is forced to negotiate with powerful and unfamiliar alliances to get the job done.

The titles in this series are as follows:
1. The Water Rat of Wanchai
2. The Disciple of Las Vegas
3. The Wild Beasts of Wuhan
4. The Red Pole of Macau

This title is available in Book and E-Book formats.

The Bridge
By: Karen Kingsbury
Recommended by Ann

Karen Kingsbury is a best-selling author. This book is a quick and enjoyable easy read.
A heartwarming Christmas story about a hundred-year flood, lost love, and the beauty of enduring friendships.
Molly Allen lives alone in Portland, but she left her heart back in Tennessee with a man she walked away from five years ago. They had a rare sort of love she hasn't found since.
Ryan Kelly lives in Nashville after a broken engagement and several years on the road touring with a country music duo. He can still hear Molly's voice encouraging him to follow his dreams: Molly, whose memory stays with him. At least he can visit The Bridge - the oldest bookstore in historic downtown Franklin - and remember the hours he and Molly once spent there.
For thirty years, Charlie and Donna Barton have run The Bridge, providing the people of middle Tennessee with coffee, conversation, and shelves of good books - even through dismal book sales and the rise of digital books. Then in May, the hundred-year flood swept through Franklin and destroyed nearly every book in the store.
Now that the bank is pulling the lease on The Bridge. Despondent and without answers, Charlie considers the unthinkable. Then tragedy strikes, and suddenly, everything changes. In the face of desperate brokenness and lost opportunities, could the miracle of a second chance actually unfold?
The Bridge is a love story set against the struggle of the American bookstore, a love story you will never forget.

This title is available in Book and Book on CD formats.

The Art of Fielding
By: Chad Harbach
Recommended by Robert

When one thinks about sports literature, what normally comes to mind is a hero or a team fighting against all odds to win the big game. In Chad Harbach's award winning debut novel, we are introduced to another kind of sports novel, where one event has a significant impact upon the lives of a group of people affiliated with a mid-west college in Wisconsin. Henry Skrimshander is a young baseball star from South Dakota who had propelled the harpooners of Westish College to the heights of lower tier college baseball. Armed with his baseball bible, "The Art of Fielding" by mythical Hall of Fame shortstop Aparicio Rodriguez, Henry soon attracts the attention of major league scouts who are amazed by his incredible prowess at this same position. These include Mike Schwartz, the Westish catcher and Henry's mentor, Owen Dunne, a bookish gay black ballplayer and Henry's roommate, Guert Affenlight, the president of the college and Pella, Guert's daughter, who is escaping a bad marriage in San Francisco. When an errant throw is unleashed by the normally perfect Henry, the universe of the other characters is altered greatly. His roommate Owen, the target of the throw and the object of a relationship with the college president, is hospitalized. Henry, himself, loses his ability to make simple plays. Mike, who is involved in a relationship with Pella, realizes that he has guided Henry's career at the expense of his own. Upon learning of the accident Guert begins to take risks that may out his homosexual relationship with a student. Meanwhile, Pella becomes impatient with a Mike who seems to have lost his direction.
Author Harbach has used a baseball story to illustrate how his characters adjust to change. Each is responding to a crisis that has been unleashed by the errant throw. New bonds are created as each adjusts to a new reality. While Harbach is particularly adept at portraying the "art" of baseball, he also provides a vivid image of small college life. Meanwhile, the baseball season continues and the reader begins to wonder whether the Harpooners will go all the way.
Chad Harbach has created a novel which uses baseball to show how people have to adjust to life changes. The reader looks forward to how each character has responded to the bad bounces of life. I personally look forward to Mr. Harbach's next novel.
Verdict: One of the finer sports novels written.

This title is available in Book format.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
Screenplay By: Ol Parker
Novel By: Deborah Moggach
Recommended by Kathy

"How can I suggest what a delight this film is? Let me try a little shorthand. Recall some of the wonderful performances you've seen from Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Tom Wilkinson, Bill Nighy and the others, and believe me when I say that this movie finds rich opportunities for all of them."
Roger Ebert - Chicago Sun Times.
The DVD "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" is based on a book written by Deborah Moggach (also published as "These Foolish Things"). The screenplay was written by Ol Parker and the movie was directed by John Madden (Captain Corelli's Mandolin). In featured roles are Judi Dench (Shakespeare in Love), Bill Nighy (Love, Actually), Tom Wilkinson (Michael Clayton), Maggie Smith (Downton Abbey) and Dev Patel (Slumdog Millionaire).
Seven senior people, living in England, decide for various reasons to move to India. For one couple, it is because they cannot afford to retire on their pension in London. For Evelyn Greenslade (Dench) it's a new start after being widowed. For a retired judge (Wilkinson), it's trying to reconnect with a former lover and a memorable time in his youth. For a woman with xenophobia (Smith), it's obtaining a cheap hip replacement in a country with the shortest waiting time for the procedure. All seven people decide to move to India, based largely on the affordability of the country. They all choose a retirement residence called "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel", owned and managed by an overly optimistic Sonny Kapoor (Dev Patel).
Arriving in India, the retirees find the hotel not what they expected. In a state of disrepair, the residents have to make the best of things, some irritably and some with grace. Several personal relationships are explored, as characters interact with each other and with the people they meet. We see as the characters grow and develop, set amongst the colorful background of Jaipur, India. We track the development of the characters through Evelyn Greenslade, who comments of their experiences in a blog. Some stay, and some will go home, but all are affected by the time they have spent in India.

This title is available in Book and DVD formats.

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter
By: Seth Grahame-Smith
Recommended by Rosemary

Well, here's a conundrum. I'm faced with a book about Abraham Lincoln, one of the most interesting people I've ever studied, witty and wise and almost endlessly fascinating. And he's a vampire hunter? I do love me a good vampire story. Not that Twilight stuff, though. I'm sorry, but teenage vampire romances are highly overrated. (If you do want a really good vampire romance, read Meredith Ann Pierce's Darkangel.) For me, the good vampire story is like Stephen King's Salem's Lot, best read in the summer when it's really hot, so chilling you don't have to turn on the air conditioning.
So I queued up and waited for Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter as an ebook. You only get 2 weeks to read an ebook so it really helps keep me on track. The premise is pretty simple. The author has written a biography of Lincoln's life but includes the "secret" life of Lincoln as he goes around killing vampires. It is framed by the introduction of secret Lincoln diaries, passed on to a writer by a shadowy character, which tell the story of Lincoln's secret life. The historical "facts" are that Lincoln's mother and first sweetheart are killed by vampires, and he is filled with the need for revenge. Along the way he is befriended by a good vampire who introduces him to their world, and feeds him names of bad vampires to be eliminated by the good Mr. Lincoln. The vampires were deeply involved in slavery and saw the Civil War as a chance to extend their power.
The historical parts were quite interesting, and I was fine with the minor twisting of history. It is a fantasy after all. But it was disturbing to have the motives and ideas of great people, not just Lincoln's, shifted about that I found hard to like. The vampires weren't scary and Lincoln's huge character was barely there. The ending was the most disappointing part. The framing device is not completed, the author completely negates the Lincoln character that he has presented in the book, and so skims over the Civil War section as to leave the reader frustrated. I felt a bit cheated.
I'm going to read Salem's Lot again. And Doris Kearn Godwin's Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln. Just to get back to reality.
PS - Before I was finished the book, my daughter, husband and I watched the movie of the same title. I kept saying to them, "but the book is good!" because up to then it had been OK, but the movie was just the cheesiest thing ever! We didn't regret watching it because it was pretty ridiculous but I think the book is the same way. Too cheesy and ridiculous, even for a vampire book.

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

The Girl Who Chased the Moon
By: Sarah Addison Allen
Recommended by Rachel

Raised by her selfless, politically active mother Dulcie in Boston, Emily has never met or heard about her grandfather until she comes to live with him in Mullaby, N.C., after Dulcie's sudden death. Emily immediately confronts unexplainable peculiarities: Grandfather Vance turns out to be a shy giant over eight feet tall; the wallpaper in Emily's room changes at will; strange white lights materialize at night in the woods outside her window; objects appear and disappear without reason. And then there are the locals' less-than-warm memories of Dulcie. Emily makes friends with Win, a teenage boy whose family secret require him to stay inside at night. Win tells Emily that his uncle committed suicide because Dulcie cruelly exposed his secret to the town. Grandfather Vance's neighbor Julia, who has also befriended Emily, was Dulcie's classmate and acknowledges that in high school Dulcie - spoiled, rich and popular mercilessly tease Julia, then a troubled teen who dyed her hair pink and cut herself. Julia left Mullaby when she was 16 and has come back for a temporary stay only because her father died. Until she pays off his debts, she is running his barbecue restaurant, where she has added cakes and pastries to the menu. What Julia doesn't tell Emily is that the night before she left Mullaby to attend a school for troubled girls in Baltimore, she made love with handsome preppy Sawyer and ended up pregnant. Sawyer who assumed she had an abortion is now pursuing Julia again, but there is a secret she has not told him. As the parallel romances of Emily and Win and Julia and Sawyer evolve, the secrets of Mullaby become source of happiness rather than pain.
I'm a big fan of Sarah Addison Allen. Her characters are developed well and her writing style will keep you hooked from chapter one.

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

The Second Empress
By: Michelle Moran
Recommended by Marilyn

After the bloody French Revolution, Emperor Napoleon's power is absolute. When Marie-Louise, the eighteen year old daughter of the King of Austria, is told that the Emperor has demanded her hand in marriage, her father presents her with a terrible choice: Marry the cruel, capricious Napoleon, leaving the man she loves and her home forever, or say no, and plunge her country into war.
Marie-Louise knows what she must do, and she travel to France, determined to be a good wife despite Napoleon's reputation. But lavish parties greet her in Paris, and at the extravagant French court, she finds many rivals for her husband's affection, including Napoleon's first wife, Josephine, and his sister Pauline, the only woman as ambitious as the emperor himself. Beloved by some and infamous to many, Pauline is fiercely loyal to her brother. She is also convinced that Napoleon is destined to become the modern Pharaoh of Egypt. Indeed, her greatest hope is to rule alongside him as his queen - a brother-sister marriage just as the ancient Egyptian royals practiced. Determined to see this dream come to pass, Pauline embarks on a campaign to undermine the new empress and convince Napoleon to divorce Marie-Louise.
As Pauline's insightful Haitian servant, Paul, watches these two women clash, he is torn between his love for Pauline and his sympathy for Marie-Louise. But there are greater concerns than Pauline's jealousy plaguing the court of France. While Napoleon becomes increasingly desperate for an heir, the empire's peace looks increasingly unstable. When war once again sweeps the continent and bloodshed threatens Marie-Louise's family in Austria, the second Empress is forced to make choices that will determine her place in history - and change the course of her life.
Based on primary resources from the time, The Second Empress
takes readers back to Napoleon's empire, where royals and servants alike live at the whim of one man, and two women vie to change their destinies.
I have enjoyed all of Michelle Morans' books for their historical perspective as well as the writing style which seems to place you in amongst the characters. I think that once you have read one of her books you will look forward to others.

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