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Staff Reviews

Virginia Kress

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Books I'd Like to Share with You
Publish date: 2014-12-02
Review date: December 2014


Mercy Snow  by Tiffany Baker   
Haunting atmosphere, vulnerable characters, deeply buried dark secrets.

The Rosie Project  by Graeme Simsian   
International best selling romantic comedy.  Socially awkward genetics professor creates a scientific way to find the perfect mate.

Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls  by Anton Di Sclafani   
Teenage girls sent to boarding school and a handsome head master with an absentee wife….leads to trouble.

Panopticon  by Jenni Fagan   
A heartbreaking coming of age story of growing up in foster care Ireland.

Paris Match  by Stuart Woods   
A quirky amusing tale staring Stone Barrington, legal eagle investigator.

The Good Girl  by Mary Kubica   
A psychological, suspense story of a one night stand that leads to an abduction, which leads to a bizarre love affair with a tragic end.

Conditions of Love  by Dale M. Kushner    
A coming of age story of abandonment with overarching tones of desire for spiritual and erotic love.

Girls of August  by Anne Rivers Siddons   
A story of four women, a remote barrier island, and startling discoveries. Great relaxing , quick read.

The Silver Star  by Jeanette Walls   
An absentee, self-absorbed mother and two young daughters learning to find their own way in the world. A story of resilience and acceptance. A Fascinating, quick read.

Third Hill North of Town  by Noah Bly  
An escapee from a mental hospital and two very unlikely passengers take a cross country journey you will never forget…hilarious and tragic in equal measure.

Unbroken  by Laura Hildenbrand   
An important work of nonfiction chronicling the life of a one time Olympic athlete taken prisoner by the Japanese in world war II.  Brutal and disturbing yet evidence of one man’s will to survive under the most harrowing of circumstances.

Trespass  by Rose Tremain  
Worlds and cultures collide, boundaries are crossed and crimes are committed in rural France.  A Powerful and unsettling novel.

The Farm   by Tom Robb Smith    
A psychological thriller of mental illness, denial and acceptance…who are you to believe?


A Summer Reading Retrospective
Publish date: 2013-09-01


 I realize that a fair amount of time has passed since our last newsletter to you, our valued customers.  While I may not have been in direct contact lately, I assure you much of that time was spent with my nose in a book.  In an effort to reconnect I have compiled a list here of my favorite titles for the summer of 2013. For propriety’s sake I have not included titles that found merely adequate.


 by  Julie Cantrell
A beautiful literary coming of age story.  “ A lyrical, moving, haunting, wise, brutal , warmhearted, and ultimately freeing and inspiring coming of age tale told with poetic honestly”, Jennifer Niven, author of Velva Jean Learns to Drive.  This is a compelling story about personal struggle and spiritual resilience.

by  Barbara Taylor Sissel
  A tale about what transpires after Lindsey’s ‘last ordinary day’.  Her husband and daughter leave on a weekend camping trip and encounter the unexpected….a horrible flood, an unplanned detour, and a twisted visitor that no one knew was even in the picture…a gripping  tale, taut and chilling, about the invisible fractures that can shatter a family and a mother caught in a web of lies that nearly unhinge her.

 by   Michael Hiebert
Welcome to a trip to the dark side of small town Alabama. This is an expertly written debut of a small southern town haunted by tragedy.   A work of literary suspense of a young boy coming of age as one brave woman, his mother, struggles to put an unsolved mystery to rest.  As the town scours the woods and fields for two missing girls, his mother is battling small town bureaucracy; Abe our young protagonist traverses the shifting ground between innocence and a hard-won understanding of an often unjust world

by Anton Disclafani
 It is 1930, in the midst of the great depression and Thea Atwell has been cast out of her home, exiled to an equestrian boarding school for southern debutantes.  This is much less a story about horses than it is about a young girl far removed from her dream-like, roaming existence, struggling not only with her responsibility for events of the past but her growing fascination or rather obsession with the head master of her new school .  This novel is part love storyGirls and part heartbreaking family drama about money, love, family, class and home.  While the depression marked a economic awakening for the country as a whole, the Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls marked a sexual awakening for Thea starkly marked against modest southern decorum.


Craig Jones

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The Fourth Assassin

The Fourth Assassin
Matt Beynon Rees
Soho Crime
Publish date: 2011-02-01


This is the fourth in the series of mysteries that takes place in the Palestinian occupied territories, and features Omar Yussef, an aging teacher in a UN school. The Fourth Assassin, however, takes place in New York City, and deals as much with the Palestinian immigrant experience as it does with internal Palestinian politics.

Yussef is in NYC to attend a UN conference, but takes the opportunity to visit his youngest son Ala, who lives with several roommates in a largely Palestinian neighborhood in Brooklyn. When he first arrives at the apartment, he discovers a headless corpse. Ala is subsequently arrested for the murder, prompting Yussef to try to unravel the threads of the story involving illegal drugs, politics, and the difficulties of immigrants from a traditional Arab culture in adapting to a modern Western metropolis.

Matt Beynon Rees, having been a journalist in the Middle East for over a decade, has an intimate knowledge of his subject, and no illusions about the major players. This is a highly readable addition to this series which has taught its readers much about what it’s like to be an ordinary Palestinian, a perspective that has been in short supply in the West.



Mary Doria Russell
Random House
Publish date: 2011-05-01


John Henry “Doc” Holliday is an historical figure around whom much mythology has gathered. Mary Doria Russell has applied her considerable research skills to discover the true figure, and she has brought to life a remarkably well-bred and educated character. That he appears complex and sometimes mysterious is a tribute to her skill as a writer.

He was a skilled dental surgeon raised among Georgia aristocracy, who contracted tuberculosis at a young age thus compelling him to relocate to the Southwest, among the brawling miners and cattlemen of the mostly lawless western frontier. Russell chooses to omit the famous gunfight at the OK Corral from her narrative, presumably because it is already well documented. She refers to it obliquely several times, but her story essentially ends before it takes place. The author is clearly more interested in portraying the dying man as a gentleman among frontiersmen, and her portrayal of the Earp brothers and other historical figures gives sharp contrast to her portrait of Holliday.

I am not especially fond of this period of American history or its icons, but I have admired her writing for a long time, and was not disappointed. Doc is as absorbing and well written as any of her previous novels, and adds considerable depth to the stereotypes that are often applied to these well-known names.


Amy Mazzariello

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The Obituary Writer

The Obituary Writer
Ann Hood
Publish date: 2013-03-04
Review date: 06-05-2013


The Obituary Writer is a novel that looks at two women who are both at odds with the voice inside that speaks quietly of greater possibility.  Two women, two separate eras;  one is an accidental obituary writer living in the California Bay area in 1919, while the second is a young mother living in New England during the Kennedy campaign and election. 

The obituary writer was my favorite character because of her independence as a woman living in a time when the expectations of women were neatly defined.  She, however, chose to follow her heart and search for her lover who went missing after the San Francisco earthquake of 1906. As a result of her search, Vivien stumbles upon the arduous task of writing obituaries for the loved ones of the newly grieving who find their way to her door.  Her calm spirit and gentle hospitality allows for her guests to let their grief flow out of them, find its way to her writing table, and into the newspaper as a beautiful and noble commemoration, rather than a list of facts.   It is through these brief relationships that Vivien is able to understand her own longing and grief for a man she believes is not dead but instead lost somewhere in the world, with no memory of his former life.

Claire is a mother and homemaker living in a loveless marriage.  She is obsessed with Jackie O. and spends her days chasing her daughter, chatting with the neighborhood wives and attending dinner parties with her cold and assuming husband.  Clearly, Claire needs more.  When a new couple moves into town and into a house that holds its own dark past, Claire finds the spark that has been missing.

Vivien and Claire's lives do finally intersect, but Ann Hood's look at time, place and the human condition is the what drives this story.     

The Middlesteins

The Middlesteins
Jami Attenberg
Grand Central Publishing
Publish date: 2012-10-31
Review date: 01-04-2013


The Middlesteins are a 21st century Jewish family of adults (with a pair of teen-aged grandchildren) living in and around Chicago.  At the center of the story is the matriarch of the family Edie, who is eating herself to death.  Edie was born to a young Jewish couple living on the 4th floor of an elevatorless apartment in Chicago, and grew into a rotund and opinionated  child who would not be denied the food shel loved.  Food was community, food was conversation, food was comfort and food was love.  
Edie’s father, originally from Kiev, became the perpetual host to a group of men from the synagogue, the University, and to those he’d adopted fresh from Russia.   Their discussions rotated around a table filled with “whitefish and herring, bagels, the lox, the various spreads of sometimes indeterminate meat”, and focused on a mutual obsession with Golda Meir and a strong devotion to Israel.  Meanwhile, Edie’s mother kept busy at the kitchen counter smoking cigarettes and slicing vegetables.  Edie listened and ate.  
Moving forward, we meet Edie's husband Richard, a self made pharmacy owner who – after 30 years of marriage - has chosen to leave Edie in the depths of her struggle with diabetes, and just prior to another life saving medical procedure.  Edie must have a second stent inserted into the vein of her other leg in order to keep the blood flowing properly.   As a result of his choice to leave, Richard becomes ostracized by the family (the female members, anyway), and begins to feel the absence of a type of love he has grown to live without.  The pharmacy reflects the cobwebs, dusty shelves and meager choices Richard has grown accustomed to, yet he will not close the doors.
Edie and Richard have two children Benny and Robin.  Benny is a bit ambivalent regarding concern for his mother’s health and his father’s personal welfare, but his wife Rachelle is not.  Rachelle is intent on saving her mother-in-law while in the midst of planning the perfect b’nai mitzvah party for their twins.  She also insists on healthy, tasteless meals for them all.  After all, Edie is dying from food.  Rachelle's  final declarition comes in a bannishment of Richard.  What kind of man leaves his dying wife of 30 years?   
Robin has spent the past 13 years rejecting all things Jewish.  She has grown into a scornful schoolteacher, living in an apartment in the city, and seeking a spirit scented solace in the bar across the street, sitting side-by-side with her upstairs neighbor Daniel.  Robin is angry at the past. She is angry at the food that replaced the love she desired from her parents.  She is angry that her father has left her and Benny with the daunting task of trying to keep their mother alive, let alone on a path to restored health.   And, on top of all of that, she is beginning to have –oh, wait a minute – feelings for her drinking partner/upstairs neighbor, who is also Jewish and determined (despite his overall meekness) to have her join him to celebrate Seder with his family.  
Jami Attenberg has created a branch of a family who came of age in the shadow of its former hunger-struck and impoverished self seeking freedom and comfort in the cradle of America.  She remains sympathetic to the characters she’s created, despite the most negative or resentful emotion, feeling or statement that any one of these newly complex characters has to offer.  The level of wit and humor is just right, and her attention to the character food plays in the story is what makes the whole thing work.  Though there were times when I felt disdain for some of the characters, in the end I found an appreciation for who they -beneath the weight, the facade, the cloud of perfection or anger - were as individual parts of a whole family.   


Morgan Tuff

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The Emerald Atlas

The Emerald Atlas
John Stephens
Alfred A. Knopf
Publish date: 2011-04-01


Ages: 8 to 13.


               One night ten years ago Kate, Michael, and Emma were taken away from their parents in order that they be protected from a force of unimaginable evil. After being tossed from orphanage to orphanage, they arrive in Cambridge Falls. Cambridge Falls is a completely downtrodden and very eerie town. The orphanage itself mirrors the rest of the town; it is a huge old mansion with no other children and run by a strange old man.

            Before meeting this man, they explore the house until they come upon a mysteriously appearing door through which the three enter into a room that seems to have no walls. On the desk they find an old leather bound emerald book that appears to have all blank pages. Right as they are about to leave, Michael accidentally drops a picture into the book’s pages and suddenly they are transported into the past of Cambridge Falls. This Cambridge Falls is a place where humans live alongside magical creatures. However, it is also a town in trouble. An evil Countess rules with violence and the children of the town are under attack. Before long, Kate, Michael, and Emma realize that the fate of this town depends on them.

            The Emerald Atlas, the first of three novels, is full to the brim with magic, suspense, and adventure. John Stephens weaves a tale that will make people of every age crave more.

The Girl Who Fell From the Sky

The Girl Who Fell From the Sky
Heidi Durrow
Algonquin Books
Publish date: 2010-12-21


Told from multiple perspectives, this jewel of a novel examines what it is like to grow up biracial in America.  Rachel, the sole survivor of a violent family tragedy, is sent to live with her grandmother in a predominantly black community in Portland, Oregon. After growing up in Europe, the blue eyed daughter of a Danish citizen and an African American G.I., she had never seen herself as anything other than a loving daughter. This all is challenged as she faces growing up without her parents and being perceived as black for the first time.

Spanning over ten years of Rachel’s life, in this book the reader can feel her bewilderment and frustration as she deals with boys, school, memories of her family, and stereotypes forced upon her by the outside world.  As questions are slowly answered about her past, the reader begins to look up to Rachel for dealing with the problems of her past and the questions of her future with immense wisdom and patience.

The thoroughly deserving winner of the Belafonte Prize for fiction, The Girl Who Fell from the Sky will haunt readers for months after they finish absorbing it. Through agonizingly beautiful prose, Durrow’s novel is not only a modern coming-of-age tale but also becomes significant social commentary.