Jim's picks

Jim, a bookseller at Gibson's

Jim Gocha - The Book Whisperer

Jim is a self-professed word nerd, who has been in love with books since childhood. He fondly remembers wearing the text off early favorites Fox in Socks, Caps for Sale, and Henry and Ribsy. Jim started working in bookstores while attending college in the early ‘80s. His tenure at Gibson’s began the year he moved to New Hampshire from New York - 1987. Currently he teaches English Language Arts at Rundlett Middle School, his twenty-fifth year there, and continues as a literary minion at Gibson’s, which he considers a well of sanity in an otherwise chaotic world. At the moment he enjoys the works of authors John Irving, Jasper Fforde, Nevada Barr, Peter Ackroyd, Christopher Paul Curtis, Laurie Hulse Anderson, David Almond, David McCullough - aw, heck, anyone who has a good story to tell.

Book List

Like No Other (Hardcover)

$17.99
ISBN-13: 9781595146748
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Razorbill, 7/2014

Jim's October 2014 pick, 1 of 2
Like No Other, by Una LaMarche

Romeo, Romeo wherefore art thou Romeo? Or, in this case, Jaxon. Yup, this is a Romeo and Juliet knock-off; however, instead of the Montagues and Capulets (or the Sharks and Jets, for that matter), in Like No Other we have Jaxon  and Devorah, two teenagers from Brooklyn, the former an African American and the latter an Hasidic Jew, who meet unexpectedly when they become trapped in an elevator during a storm. Love ensues, forbidden love, of course, and the trials and tribulations that accompany it.

Despite what seems like a by-the-numbers set up, the story that Lamarche spins is very entertaining, especially learning about the restrictions that Devorah lives under as a member of an Hasidic community.  Oy, so many rules! Her limitations and Jaxon's comparative freedom create a fair amount of tension that keeps that book humming along. Lamarche perfectly captures the high emotions and unreasonable optimism that make young love such a blessing and a curse.

Like No Other is for the romantic heart; realists steer clear.


$15.95
ISBN-13: 9780711234666
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Frances Lincoln, 10/2013

Jim's October 2014 pick, 2 of 2

London Villages, by Zena Alkayat

If you are an Anglophile, this is not necessarily a must-read, but it is a tasty snack, especially if you miss the Mother Country, like I do - badly. Think about it, large cities have their suburbs, but they also have inner neighborhoods. This books visits some of those neighborhoods and the highlights within. As one would expect, the names of some are quite interesting, to say the least. Crouch End, Little Venice, and, my favorite, East Dulwich, quite bucolic despite its name.

If you are looking for a pleasant diversion, you can find it here among the byways of London.


$24.00
ISBN-13: 9780671687427
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Simon & Schuster, 11/1989

Jim's September 2014 pick

Parting the Waters, America During the King Years 1954-1963, by Taylor Branch

I had been looking for a good biography of Martin Luther King, Jr. for a few years and came upon Taylor Branch’s trilogy, which starts with this volume. Simply put, it is brilliant. The subtitle of the book is “America during the King Years 1954-1963.” This is what separates it from a typical biography. Not only does it convey the life of the great civil rights leader, but it also gives the context of that life, illustrating in great detail how King became the iconic figure we know today.
Branch takes us from his humble beginnings as a preacher’s son to his college days as a pool shark to his momentous speech during the March on Washington, revealing both King’s strengths and weaknesses. I liked that Branch showed that King was flawed. At times, King was seen as an opportunist by his fellow preachers, an outsider sticking his nose in their business. The complete picture is far from perfect, but he was a man living in far from ideal times. Branch also delves into those who interacted with King throughout this tumultuous period. In many cases, the well-known villains of the times (Bull Connor, J. Edgar Hoover) retain their roles, but surprisingly, Branch casts light on the tarnished haloes of some of America’s most respected heroes, namely John and Bobby Kennedy. They come off as the real opportunists.
Parting the Waters is a book that everyone should read if for no other reason than it explains in crystal clear imagery how the events of fifty years ago inform the actions and attitudes of today (i.e.-the killings of Michael Brown, Treyvon Martin, Jordan Davis, and Eric Garner, to name a few).  A must read.


Countdown (Paperback)

$7.99
ISBN-13: 9780545106061
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Scholastic Paperbacks, 4/2012

Jim's August 2014 pick, 1 of 2

Countdown, by Deborah Wiles
This is a novel with pictures, which some might call a picture book; however, Countdown has little in common with the read-aloud variety written by Dr. Seuss and Tomie DePaola.  Rather the illustrations in Countdown offer a visual context of the setting, 1962, a time when our nation was beginning to effervesce with social and cultural upheaval.
At the center of the story is eleven-year-old Franny Chapman. She has a lot on her plate for someone so young: a younger brother who cannot tell a lie, an older sister who abandons her for college just when Franny needs her advice, a crazy uncle who treats the family like Army grunts, and a rivalry for the affections of the boy next door. Franny is an engaging heroine. The first-person narration lends the story an intimacy as Franny deals with the increased tensions of not only transitioning from childhood into young-adulthood but also the larger import of global affairs, namely the Cuban Missile Crisis. Wiles captures the panic and optimism of her main character as Franny schemes her way from one ordeal to another.
Wiles calls her novel, the first in a trilogy set during the 1960s, a documentary novel. The illustrations help to capture the chaotic feeling of the time. So much was happening in so many facets of everyday life; no one knew what would happen next. Reading Franny’s struggles made me fondly remember my own youthful misadventures and that same feeling of expecting the world to come crashing to a halt at any minute. 1962 may be behind her, but Franny has a lot more coming her way. I look forward to every moment.


$15.99
ISBN-13: 9780385376525
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Delacorte Books for Young Readers, 7/2014

Jim's 1st July 2014 pick

The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher by Dana Alison Levy

I am a big fan of Hilary McKay's books, in particular, the stories that involve the Casson family, a quirky British clan headed by artist parents who named their kids after colors (or as the Brits would write it, colours). The books are filled with a lot of humor and drama as the children deal with growing up and all that it entails. I have been looking for something in a similar vein since Mrs. Mckay put aside the Cassons a few years back. I think I have found a fine substitute in The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher by Dana Alison Levy.

The Fletchers aren't as quirky as the Cassons but they have their charms nonetheless. The heads of the household are Jason (aka Papa) and Tom (aka Dad), the parents of four adopted boys; Sam, Jax, Eli, and Frog, ranging in age from 6 to 12. The boys are of different ethnicities and religions, which makes for interesting holiday traditions. What I like especially about the story is that there is no big conflict that must be overcome. Instead the book deals with the trials and tribulations of daily life: a cranky neighbor, bullies, lost and found friendships, the discovery of new talents, holiday mishaps, and the consequences of bad choices. The stuff of real life. The fact that the boys have two male parents is never brought up as an issue, although there are hints of previous run-ins with bigotry. I kept waiting for syrupy potholes of clichés, but they never came. A welcomed surprise. What does shine through are the bonds of love that develop within a family. Not too shabby, if you ask me.


$15.00
ISBN-13: 9780425247457
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 days
Published: Berkley Trade, 6/2012
Jim's 2nd July 2014 pick
The Train of Small Mercies by David Rowell
I have long thought that the common people of America are much more interesting than all celebrities put together. What one does to make it through any day is much more complex than the travails of Joe or Jane Superstar; yet the general public slides by unnoticed while celebrity is hounded by the paparazzi. Here, in The Train of Small Mercies, Rowell highlights the stories of a group of people, from different states and backgrounds, who line the tracks to catch a glimpse of Robert Kennedy’s funeral train as it makes its way from New York City to Washington, DC. These are not famous people but ordinary folks who felt compelled to honor the man whom they saw as the promise of a better future for themselves and their country.
There is Michael, a sixth-grader, who, along with his buddies, simply wants to see a dead body; Delores, a homemaker, who fears that she will be caught by her controlling and anti-Kennedy husband; Edwin, who longs to bask in his newly-built pool but is too wrapped up in his fantasies for his own good; Jamie, a Vietnam vet, who came home with a damaged body and maimed soul; Lionel, a college student on summer break, who begins work as a Pullman porter on the funeral train; and Maeve, a young Irish-American woman, who is trying to establish her independence. None of their stories are as simple as described above, yet each story is traced with a fine eye for detail and emotional depth. Rowell does such a fine job of breathing life into these characters that when I had finished reading, I was sad to let them go.
Rowell has created a half-dozen slices of life, which, although only a tiny piece of the whole, give the reader a good idea of the rich humanity that lives around, and includes, each and every one of us.

$19.99
ISBN-13: 9780525426363
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Dutton Juvenile, 1/2014

Jim's 1st June 2014 pick

This Star Won't Go Out by Esther Earl with Lori and Wayne Earl
In an article in Entertainment Weekly,  focusing on the film version of his book The Fault in Our Stars, John Greene mentioned that he began writing the book in the early 2000s. He left it unfinished for a number of years until one day he met Esther Earl, a thirteen-year-old fan who had cancer. She became his inspiration to complete the book and I am sure is the model for Hazel.
Here, in TSWGO, Esther's parents have gathered and share with us Esther's journal entries, short stories, and drawings. I read this before reading TFIOS and I couldn’t help but see Hazel as Esther. Their voices are so much alike. Esther's journal entries are lively and intelligent, although at times a bit rambling, something easily forgiven. There is even a smidgen of Anne Frank's optimism in her observations, despite her dire condition. If you are a fan of TFIOS, this is a must read, although I think most people would enjoy spending a few hours in Esther’s company. And if you are one of the few yet to read TFIOS, what are you waiting for? My daughter told me that if you don’t cry at the end of it, you are not human. I passed the test.


$24.95
ISBN-13: 9781616203214
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 4/2014

Jim's 2nd June 2014 pick

The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin
It is a book about people. It is a book about books. It is a love story told as an adult fairy tale. Zevin creates a world that is both familiar yet idealized. The story feels both old and new at the same time, like a rediscovered favorite sweater that had been lost in the back of the closet.
The story is about A. J. Fikry, the proprietor of Island Books on Alice Island, who is recovering from the loss of his wife. Upon returning from a run one afternoon, he discovers a child has been left in his care by a despondent mother. If that seems an awful lot like Silas Marner, you’re right. Besides borrowing that plot point from Eliot, Zevin sprinkles references to authors and novels throughout the story and begins each chapter with a short story review written by Fikry intended for his daughter.
Like a fairy tale, there are clichés, but they don’t distract. I found myself expecting them and probably would have felt cheated without them. This is such a gentle story. Like many good books, I was sad when it ended but happy I had spent time in its company.


Inferno (Mass Market Paperback)

$9.99
ISBN-13: 9781400079155
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Anchor, 5/2014

Jim's 3rd June 2014 pick

Inferno by Dan Brown
Let’s face it, if you are a Dan Brown fan, you know from the start that you will not encounter much in the line of snappy dialogue or well-written characters. What you do get are interesting and engaging ideas. What I like most about the author are those ideas and his ability to get me to turn the page to find out what happens next. I can forgive his faults because he is so good at creating a thrilling ride.
In his latest, Brown throws the reader into high gear from the start. Robert Langdon, the professor of symbology from three other novels, wakes up in a hospital in Florence, Italy not sure how he got there and why black-outfitted military-types are out to kill him. As is usually the case with Langdon stories, art, literature, and history weigh heavily in the story as Langdon races to save the world from a devastating plague.
I was exhausted from being on the edge of my seat for so long. Whew! A fantastic book for poolside or the beach.


$18.99
ISBN-13: 9780670012091
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Viking Juvenile, 1/2014

Jim's 1st May 2014 staff pick

 The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson

Face it, bookbuying can be a crapshoot at times. Luckily, with Anderson, a good book is a sure thing. I will buy anything she writes without question. Her latest gives me no reason to alter that practice.
This time out. Anderson tells the tale of Hayley Kincain, a bright high schooler who has just settled down after years of traveling the highways of America with her big rig driving dad. Adjusting to going to school regularly and the mundaneness of life off the road gets easier for Hayley once she meets Finn, a swimmer who gets her odd sensibilities. But can she trust him? Further complicating things is her dad, who suffers from PTSD and a variety of addictions from his time in the Middle East. No day for Hayley is easy. The only certainty in her life is that there are no certainties.
Once again, Anderson fills the pages with the stark realities of teenage life. The dialog and situations are real and true. Nothing in her writing is pretentious. If you want to know what teenagers think and feel, pick this, or any of her other books, up. You won't want to put it down until the last page has been read. Highly recommended.


$24.99
ISBN-13: 9780062294371
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: HarperTorch, 11/2013

Jim's 2nd May 2014 staff pick

The First Phone Call From Heaven by Mitch Albom

I've been a fan of Albom's since Tuesdays with Morrie. It is obvious in his writing that Albom's old college professor has stayed with him so many years after Morrie's death.
Imagine that one ordinary day the phone rings and on the other end is the voice of a loved one who passed away years ago telling you that they are in Heaven. What would you do? How would you handle it? A half-dozen residents of Coldwater, Michigan find themselves having to handle getting such phone calls. As expected, a media frenzy erupts, but one resident, Sully Harding, a disgraced pilot whose wife had died and whose son keeps wondering why Mommy hasn't called, doesn't buy it and sets out to prove that these phone calls are nothing but a sick practical joke.
I must admit that I was worried as I read this book. I began wondering if Morrie's lessons had worn off  and that Mitch had turned cynical. I should learn to trust more. Like Harding, I was reminded that, in the end, love wins; love always wins.
A lot of people think Albom is lightweight in his stories and approach to writing. On the contrary, I think that he offers us stories about issues that we all need to understand more - what's really important in life, like spending quality time with ourselves and the people we love.
A good, quick read, one I am sure you will enjoy.


$29.00
ISBN-13: 9780316204361
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Little, Brown and Company, 10/2013

Jim's 1st April 2014 pick

David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell
The basic premise of Gladwell's book is that bigger is not always better. He starts with the titular Biblical tale, then leads us through a series of individual stories of people who have overcome seemingly insurmountable odds: a basketball coach who never played the game before yet turned a group of misfit girls into an unstoppable team, the power that lies in overcoming a disability like dyslexia, the advantages of larger class sizes, and the difficulties that wealth creates when a parent tries to instill the value of hard work in his children. I couldn't help but feel that Gladwell bent the facts to fit his hypotheses at times, but that did not prevent me from enjoying his book. It seems no matter what he chooses to write about, he gives the reader a pleasant eye-opening ride.


Sycamore Row (Hardcover)

$28.95
ISBN-13: 9780385537131
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 days
Published: Doubleday, 10/2013

Jim's 2nd April 2014 pick

Sycamore Row by John Grisham

Jake Brigance, the main character of A Time To Kill, Grisham's first novel, is back in Clanton, Mississippi doing what he does best - fighting for justice in a case that he will almost certainly lose. Grisham's strengths here are in his dialog and the cast of characters he assembles around Brigance, an almost too good to be true lawyer. The former bounces along full of Southern charm, wit and menace while the latter offers depth and rough edges to Brigance's righteousness. I couldn't help but see Matthew McConaughey in my mind's eye as I read, but that was not a huge distraction. If you are a Grisham fan or not, this tale of greed and ghosts of the old South will entertain. I just hope that Grisham will bring Jake Brigance back again. He is welcome anytime.


$16.95
ISBN-13: 9780307464972
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Broadway Books, 4/2014

Jim's 3rd April 2014 pick

Harlem Hellfighters by Max Brooks. Illustrated by Caanan White
As I had written in my review last month of A Soldier of the Great War, 2014 marks the 100th anniversary of the start of WWI. It has always seemed to me that the Great War is also the Great Unknown War; although much has been written about it, there is so much that the average person doesn't know about it either. Now along comes Max Brooks of World War Z fame to clue us in on a group of soldiers known as the "Harlem Hellfighters."
Brooks brings to light the exploits of an outfit of African American soldiers who wanted to do the right thing and support their country in time of war. It should be no surprise that the story of the brave men of the 369th Infantry Regiment is filled with irony, such as, only being allowed to fight under the French flag since their own country would not allow them to fight under the Stars and Stripes. Brooks includes episodes of courage, pathos and humor as the Hellfighters rack up more combat time than any other American unit, only to return home to face" ignorance, bitterness, and somethin' called 'the red summer of 1919,' some of the worst racial violence America's ever seen." Brooks's words and White's illustrations fuse to create powerful storytelling of an all but forgotten episode in American history.  


$16.95
ISBN-13: 9780156031134
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Mariner Books, 6/2005

Jim's March 2014 pick

A Soldier of the Great War, by Mark Helprin
The “Great War” of the title is, of course, World War I, but I could easily argue that the war is also life, or the thoughtless decisions that people make that cause life to be, at times, unbearable.
Alessandro Giuliani, the soldier of the title, son of a lawyer, well-mannered, and appreciative of all that life has to offer, joins the Italian Navy in an effort to avoid fighting in the infantry. His plans go awry when he is sent to do exactly what he had tried to side-step. As a soldier, he finds that war is created by buffoons who have little regard for anything but their own self-importance. The consequences of the foolish conceits of the military leaders, Alessandro also discovers, are dashed hopes and dreams. It is only by mere chance that a person, anyone, not just a soldier, is lucky enough to live a long, happy life.
The character of Alessandro Giuliani will stay with me for some time to come. He expounds on the joys of life easily and thoroughly and vents his frustrations as completely for the callousness of those who are in charge of people’s welfare. I lost myself in his reveries and found that I largely agreed with him. It made me wonder if the musings of Alessandro were purely fictitious or if Mr. Helprin infused his own beliefs into those of his protagonist.


The Book Thief (Paperback)

$12.99
ISBN-13: 9780375842207
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Knopf Books for Young Readers, 9/2007

Jim's 2nd February 2014 pick

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
I approached this book with great anticipation. So many people had told me that they loved this book and could not put it down when they had read it. To my utter dismay, I could and did several times. I persevered, though, and am glad that I did.
What won me over were the characters: Liesel, the young heroine, Hans, her foster Papa, the strict Rosa, her foster Mama, Rudy, her best friend, and, of course, Death, the narrator. This should have been a hint that rough waters lay ahead, to have Death as a narrator. Foolishly, as is my tendency, I marshaled on in the belief that all would end well.
As their stories unwound, it became clear that, as much as I may have wanted it, there would be no happy endings.  There are moments of happiness and sadness, poignancy and delight, as there would be in any story about the lives of normal people; however, this story is set during WWII in Nazi Germany, where terror sprang from booby-trapped smiles.  As in any war, there are survivors but at a cost, a dear, heart-wrenching cost.
Ultimately, that is why I liked this book; it did not flinch from recounting the ugliness of war, but it did not dwell on it either.


Doctor Sleep (Hardcover)

$30.00
ISBN-13: 9781476727653
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 days
Published: Scribner, 9/2013

Jim's 1st February 2014 pick

Doctor Sleep by Stephen King

Confession: I did not read The Shining. There just isn’t enough time to read everything I’d like to. This, of course, may negate this review in your eyes, which, if it does, mea culpa. I think, however, that King put enough backstory in Doctor Sleep to keep me on top of things. Please, reader, in the words of Bernie Taupin, “Don’t discard me”; I may have something to offer you yet.
The thing about Stephen King is that he is fantastic at exploring man’s possibilities. If it is true that we humans only access a small portion of our brains, King revels in exploring what lurks in that undiscovered country that we don’t use. Hence, the ability to “shine” that he wrote about in the prequel to this book. Here, young Danny Torrance has grown into a man who has turned to self-medication to deal with the demons that appear in his dreams as a result of his ability to see into people, read their pasts through touch, and communicate with the long since dead.  In escaping his past, Dan winds up in Anniston, New Hampshire where he finds a young girl, Abra Stone, who can shine much more strongly than he ever thought possible. Together they confront the True Knot, a group with sinister mental abilities who want to harness the power of Abra’s mind to keep themselves alive.
If all that sounds farfetched, I think so, too; however, since we don’t know what lies in the untouched parts of our minds, this could easily be real. King amps up the creep factor several times, in ways that will make it hard for you to sleep peacefully. Take it from me, you won’t be able to look at the side of a milk carton or a baseball glove the same way again.


Bad Monkey (Hardcover)

$26.95
ISBN-13: 9780307272591
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 days
Published: Knopf, 6/2013

Jim's 2nd December 2013 pick

Bad Monkey, by Carl Hiaasen
In these cold and blustery days, wouldn’t it be nice to travel to someplace warm? Of course, it would. Now, if you can’t afford to book a flight to Miami or Tampa, pick up a copy of Carl Hiaasen’s Bad Monkey. Not only will you soon be on your way to warmer climes, at least vicariously, but you will also find yourself in the throes of a mighty funny bit of skullduggery.
As is usually the case with Hiaasen, the good guys suffer but win in the end and the bad guys get their comeuppance, especially since these bad guys greedily tamper with the local flora and fauna (Hiaassen can’t stand people who screw around with Mother Nature purely for their own advancement). The fun, of course, is reading how the characters are hoisted by their own petards. Face it, isn’t that always the best part in his mayhem-filled books? In this instance, it has to do with a real estate scam, a huge storm, and voodoo. Oh, and a monkey, a particularly vicious one. You’ll love him. Enjoy.


$16.00
ISBN-13: 9781451681758
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Scribner, 4/2013

Jim's December 2013 pick

The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman
This book was a nightmare to read. I mean that in a positive way. A good book will make the reader reflect on his/her own life. This is such a book.
As a parent, I would do anything for my kids. Pressed into a desperate situation, I easily could see myself committing equally desperate acts to protect my children. It’s not too much of a stretch for anyone, no matter how righteous one perceives oneself. That being said, the main characters in this book find themselves in situations that would cause a reader to pause and consider “What would I do if I were in their shoes?”
Tom Sherbourne, recovering from the horrors of WWI, takes a job as a lighthouse keeper on a small is land off the southwestern coast of Australia. On his infrequent trips to the mainland, he befriends and later marries headstrong and lovely Isabel. After having lost three babies to stillbirths and miscarriages, Isabel knows in her heart that there is only one thing to do the day a boat washes ashore with a dead man and a crying infant as passengers. Tom, on the other hand, is not so sure.
That was the torture I faced as I read. If I were in their shoes, would I follow my head and contact the authorities or my heart and raise the baby as my own?With my kids’ faces firmly in mind, I wondered, where was the mother? In the briny deep or anxiously waiting somewhere for the return of her child? Knowing that every action cascades into unforeseen consequences, I turned each page awaiting a bounty of joy and pain. I knew both were coming. It was only a matter of to whom each would be dealt.
Head or heart? Which would you choose?


The Casual Vacancy (Hardcover)

$35.00
ISBN-13: 9780316228534
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 days
Published: Little, Brown and Company, 9/2012
Jim's June/July 2013 picks, 1 of 3
    If you were to approach this book eager for more Harry Potter magic, you will be shocked at what you find. Rowling seems to have unleashed with a fury the demons she held in check while writing about her boy-wizard and the world of Hogwarts. The controlled behavior of Ron, Hermione, and even Malfoy has been replaced with gritty reality. The story involves the aftermath of the death of a local teacher and town council member whose casual vacancy of the title must be filled; the question is who is going to fill it? The darkness hidden inside each of her characters oozes to the surface as the story progresses and at times it is hard to like anybody. Oddly the only character who seems likeable is dead. All of this may not come across as a recommendation for The Casual Vacancy, but here's the thing: after I had finished the book, I found myself  returning to it to revisit certain events, like someone going back to gawk at the scene of a horrible accident. It is a wonderful thing she's done here, Ms. Rowling; she has created a story that is both compelling and repulsive at the same time. It haunts me even now.

Live by Night (Paperback)

$16.99
ISBN-13: 9780062197757
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: William Morrow Paperbacks, 5/2013

Jim's June/July 2013 picks, 2 of 3

Live By Night by Dennis Lehane

This is a sequel of sorts to The Given Day, Lehane's historical novel of Boston in the years following WWI. That is a very good book with flashes of the tough-guy grit and grime the author is known for. Live By Night follows Joe Coughlin, the son of Captain Thomas Coughlin of the Boston Police Department, an important character in the earlier story, as Joe grows into his own as a local mobster at first and then into a major player in the rum-running trade down in Florida. History here is merely a backdrop and not as much the focus as it was in the earlier novel. Lehane weaves the violence that is so much a part of his other works into this story, as Joe rises through the criminal ranks. It is a tough book to read at times because of that violence but it's also hard to put down. Lehane makes Joe a criminal with a conscience, which, considering his business, sometimes gets Coughlin in trouble. Throughout the story there is a sense that Joe is a lucky man whose luck will eventually run out. Bad things are visited upon Joe and his family, as is the case for anyone who lives by the sword. I couldn't wait to find out what would happen next and neither will you.


$28.95
ISBN-13: 9781594631764
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 days
Published: Riverhead Hardcover, 5/2013
Jim's June/July 2013 picks, 3 of 3
    I was puzzled by this book at first. A setting and characters are established and then - poof - they disappear. I waited for them to reappear and they do, only individually, not together. I returned to the basic premise of the story, of the closeness of a brother and sister, raised by their father and step-mother, hoping that I wasn't led astray. They meant everything to each other yet were ripped apart. When were they going to be reunited?
    Then, I got it.  
    There is a bit of Star Wars and The Lion King at work here, just to give you a more pop culture connection. Think of the words of Yoda when he instructed Luke Skywalker in the ways of the Force, about how the Force is everywhere, and of Mufasa's ghost returning to teach his son, Simba, about his place in the world. "Remember," the son is told. I can even think of an allusion to the old Kung Fu television show wherein Cain's mentor asks him, "Grasshopper, does not the pebble entering the water start a new journey?". Many journeys are begun in Mountains, some are concluded, others left hanging. Throughout the interconnectedness of life is what ties all the journeys together, as you will find when you read the book. As in his other books, Hosseini writes about the complexity of life, how even the simplest of situations is built upon a dense web-like foundation. Definitely a must-read, but not a beach read.

You Only Live Twice (Paperback)

$14.95
ISBN-13: 9781612185569
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 days
Published: Thomas & Mercer, 10/2012

Jim's April 2013 review

  Happy birthday to you. Happy birthday to you. Happy birthday, dear Jimmy. Happy birthday to you! April marks the 60th anniversary of James Bond in print. In anticipation of this landmark, I went back and reread some of my favorite Bond books.

    If you have never experienced 007,  the books are the place to start. It's easier to go with the movies, especially since the latest Bond, played by Daniel Craig, is so very good, but a greater understanding of the character comes through in the books. Right from the start, in Casino Royale, Ian Fleming portrays Bond as a foodie with refined tastes. Also, whether for himself or when picking out a frock for his latest gal pal, James knows which labels to shop for and which to ignore. I swear, it's like he is an early version of a  metrosexual. He smokes the finest cigarettes and always drinks the top-shelf booze, opting for local favorites wherever he lands. When in America, Bond is more likely to sip bourbon instead of his trademark shaken-not-stirred vodka martini. For someone who has a license to kill, 007 is such a connoiseur of life.
     Throughout the novels, like Doctor No, and my favorite, You Only Live Twice, it is easy to see that Fleming gives his spy guy a much more complex emotional life than is portrayed on film. Bond has a conscience and cares for people. I would swear that he has a bromance with Felix Leiter, his American counterpart. In the aftermath of a truly violent scene, 007 can get queasy and retch. I never saw that happen in any of the films. Fleming can lay on the cheese, though, as when in Goldfinger Bond is so cool and manly that he makes Pussy Galore change her lesbian inclinations.
    If you want to know the real James Bond, not some smart-ass, tossing off bonmots with aplomb, but someone with more than two-dimensions, go to the books. And read them in order better to experience Fleming's growing investment in Bond. In the later books, it is obvious that both the spy and the spymaker are getting a bit tired. Fleming even wanted to kill Bond off at the end of From Russia With Love. Rosa Klebb actually kicks him with that poisoned shoe of hers. Can you believe that? Thank God for antidotes.
    There are many more treasures to be found in the written escapades of 007. So long live Bond, James Bond! Cue the music, and someone, get me a bloody martini!

The Time Keeper (Hardcover)

$24.99
ISBN-13: 9781401322786
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 days
Published: Hyperion, 9/2012

Jim's March 2013 review

The Time Keeper by Mitch Albom

 I have been a fan of Albom's work since I first read Tuesdays With Morrie, which I teach in my classes in middle school. My students always want to know if the author is still the same guy he was at the end of book or if he reverted to the more selfish persona he described himself as having before renewing his friendship with his old college professor. After having read The Time Keeper, I can safely tell them that he has not become the latter, that Morrie's influence is still alive in him.
    The story focuses on three characters: Dor, Sarah Lemon, and Victor Delamonte. In an attempt to understand the changes in the sky that he notices - light then dark returning to light, Dor creates the world's first clock. As punishment for talng tme for granted, he is given the responsibility of controlling time forever. Thus he becomes Father Time. His only reprieve from this consequence of never aging or gaining new memories is to teach two people the meaning of time. This is where Sarah and Victor come in. She wants to kill herself after an embarassing misunderstanding, and he will stop at nothing to live forever. The adage "time heals all wounds" aptly applies here; I'll leave it at that. The only false moment was when a teenager declared that he had never heard of the Mayan prophecy of the world coming to an end late in 2012. Sheesh, what a clunker!
    Many people dismiss Albom's books as sappy, that he writes about obvious and cliched sentiments. I readily admit that his topics are often ones that we should be more in-tune with yet often are not. Perhaps the cynicism that pervades our society leads critics to their sour conclusions. If, however, you are open to an interesting tale that will make you think about your own views of life, this book is a solid bet for a good read. Enjoy!

 


$28.00
ISBN-13: 9780547819235
Availability: Special Order - Subject to Availability
Published: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 10/2012
Jim's February 2013 pick
In Sunlight and In Shadow by Mark Helprin
    I don't know what it is about Mr. Helprin, but he sure likes to write fat books. I picked this one up because I liked A Soldier of the Great War, another thick tome. This time out, Helprin tosses together a bunch of topics that drew me in from the start: WWII, New York, Broadway, Eastern Long Island, and a love story - I admit it; I am a softy at heart. The reason why Helprin's books are so long is that he adds such rich detail that I felt like I was there in the middle of the story. I wanted to be Harry Copeland, the main character, both because he is such a good man and that he marries the perfect woman, Catherine Hale (sorry, Hon!). The only thing that upset me about this book was the ending. What a bummer! Regardless, you will enjoy In Sunlight and In Shadow for the characters, the story and Helprin's evocative recreation of late 1940s New York. Just don't say I didn't warn you about the ending. Humbug!

$28.00
ISBN-13: 9781400064168
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Random House, 11/2010
Jim's first January 2013 pick
Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand
    I have to admit that this book freaked me out. Hillenbrand tells the story of Louie Zamperini matter-of-factly at first. He grows up poor and unfocused, discovers running, and becomes an Olympian - all in a day's work. Yes, there was a lot of effort involved, but Hillenbrand creates a picture of Zamperini as someone who does whatever he wants once he sets his mind to it. Things change drastically after the Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor and America enters WWII. Louis enlists, and the book becomes a lesson in human endurance. I could go into great detail here, but won't. Let me explain why. If I did, I would be saving you a few gray hairs, as well as a good session of nailbiting because what happens is so intense. In short, I would be spoiling the enjoyment of reading the book. I shall tell you that what ensues involves jumping sharks and a sadistic Japanese overseer; I'll let your imagination take it from there. It's easy for one to infer from the title that Zamperini makes it through the war. How he does so is miraculous. How any reader makes it through Unbroken with all ten digits intact is pretty amazing, too.

Wonder (Hardcover)

$16.99
ISBN-13: 9780375869020
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2/2012

Jim's second January 2013 pick

Wonder by R.J. Palacio

    You've got to love Augie Pullman, the protagionist of Wonder. He has such an honest sense of himself. He was born with a horrifically disfigured face and knows that he never will win any beauty contests. He even jokes about it, kind of like the character of Fat Amy in the film Pitch Perfect. Unfortunately, Auggie's looks actually give people nightmares. After having been homeschooled through the fourth grade, Auggie is sent to a private school for the start of fifth grade. What he finds is that some very normal-looking folks can be pretty darn ugly in how they treat others. Palacio shows the reader that some of the people around Auggie have their own hidden deformities as he switches the narrative among a number of different characters, including Auggie's sister, her boyfriend, and Jack, Auggie's best friend at school. In the end, Palacio delivers two lessons, both of which we were taught way back in grade school: it's what's on the inside that matters and you  really should treat others as you want to be treated. Some of us only know the words. Auggie walks the talk. You may find yourself examing your own steps after spending time in Wonder.

$20.00
ISBN-13: 9781592407569
Availability: Special Order - Subject to Availability
Published: Gotham, 11/2012

Jim's December 2012 pick

Being Santa Claus by Sal Lizard with Jonathan Lane

As soon as I saw this book, I knew that I had to read it. I am a bit of a Christmas fan, you see, always have been. A book about being Santa? A natural fit for my child-like sense of awe. The cover indicates that this is about the life lessons learned by Mr. Lizard from having portrayed Santa over the years. Yes, it is about that, but there is a lot more here to enjoy. Mr. Lizard, with the help of Mr. Lane, explores the wonderment that adults and kids have for Santa. His life has changed for the better for having donned the big red suit and chuckled a few ho-ho-hos. He actually did a lot more than that and frequently I was amazed at his dedication. In this age of what’s in it for me, Mr. Lizard shows that there is something to be gained by thinking of others first. If you need a boost of Christmas cheer after a bout of shopping, I recommend sitting down with a cup of hot chocolate and this book. Merry Christmas!


$15.99
ISBN-13: 9780385734912
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 days
Published: Wendy Lamb Books, 1/2012
Jim's 2nd December 2012 pick
The Mighty Miss Malone by Christopher Paul Curtis 

There are a few authors whose latest book I’ll pick up with no questions asked. Christopher Paul Curtis is one of those authors. If you are unfamiliar with his work, I suggest you sit yourself down and get started with his latest, The Mighty Miss Malone. Although this story focuses on a minor character from Bud, Not Buddy, an earlier work that is one of the finest young adult books ever written, you do not need any prior knowledge of his other novels to enjoy this.  The story follows the Malone family as they struggle in various ways with the hardships of the Great Depression. I do not want to go any further into the plot because it would spoil your enjoyment of the book. What I shall say is that Mr. Curtis never fails to surprise with fresh plot twists and characters that are as real and sharp as a Ginzu knife. You will find Miss Deza (pronounced Dehza, not Deeza) Malone as original as her name and easy company with whom to spend a few hours. Enjoy!


$11.00
ISBN-13: 9780140439052
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 days
Published: Penguin Classics, 9/2003

Jim's 3rd December 2012

A Christmas Carol and Other Christmas Writings by Charles Dickens

I could not get away without recommending this timeless classic. It is my favorite book. I am sure that each of us as read the book at least once. If so, read it again, only this time focus on the rich details with which Dickens surrounds the central story. The scenes that always capture my heart are when the Ghost of Christmas Present takes Scrooge on a journey around London and beyond to see how common folk celebrate Christmas. Sure, they visit the Cratchit family home, but they also travel through the streets to bask in the glow of the shops and the good will shared by the throngs of people milling to and fro; then the ghost and Scrooge soar out to sea to a solitary lighthouse where within Christmas cheer is earnestly felt and then farther out to a ship on which every man hums a Christmas tune. Yeah, Tiny Tim and his dad and old Scrooge are all important, but long after you tire of them, there is still plenty to be found among the vivid descriptions with which Dickens enlivens this Christmas staple.
For a treat, you may want to consider an audio version of the story. Two good ones are the Patrick Stewart one man show version (absolutely excellent, recommends my inner Trekkie), and the unabridged reading by Jim Dale. The latter is great for Harry Potter fans; Mr. Dale’s voice for the Ghost of Christmas Present sounds a lot like the one he used for Hagrid in his readings of the Harry Potter books. Both are a great way to spend a night or two this Christmas season.


$16.99
ISBN-13: 9780547738475
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 days
Published: Harcourt Children's Books, 9/2012

Jim's November 2012 pick

The Last Dragonslayer by Jasper Fforde

    Harry Potter fans rejoice! No, there is not a new HP book (wouldn't that be a miracle, right?),  but there is a new book that is as close to the feel and tone of a Harry Potter book as I have come across since J.K. Rowling finished the Deathly Hallows. Jasper Fforde, the creator of the Thursday Next and Nursery Crimes series, which, if you have not read either, you should do so as soon as possible, has started a new young adult series about a girl named Jennifer Strange. She cannot perform magic but must manage it for her missing boss at the Kazam Mystical Arts Management, an employment agency for magicians, who are quickly losing their powers, due to there being only one dragon left alive anywhere. You see, there is a connection between the amount of magic in the world and dragons. Like in the HP series, wherein Harry has a much greater part to play in events than anyone thinks at first, so it is with Miss Strange; there is more to her than her vintage VW bug. 
    All this is just a tickle of the mayhem that ensues as Jennifer tries to keep cranky magicians happy, peace in the Ununited Kingdoms, and the last dragon alive. For more, you are just going to have to read this captivating adventure. I've explained to people that Jasper Fforde writes like a member of Monty Python, so expect something completely different. Oh, and do mind the quarkbeast; his bite is far worse than his bark.

The Book of Jonas (Hardcover)

$24.95
ISBN-13: 9780399158452
Availability: Special Order - Subject to Availability
Published: Blue Rider Press, 3/2012
Jim's October 2012 pick
Book of Jonas by Stephen Dau
     In The Book of Jonas, Younis, a teenager from an unnamed Muslim country, is saved from certain death by an American soldier named Chris. Orphaned by war, Younis is sent to America, where he struggles to fit in and adopts the name Jonas. Although he eventually finds friends, he continues to be haunted by memories of his savior, Chris, especially as the military and soldier's family start to ask more questions about Chris's disappearance. Jonas, as the reader soon discovers, knows more than he is willing to tell.
    This was a haunting book. Dau unreeled the details of his story slowly, teasing me with bits of information that hinted at much greater issues. I have to honest, I was able to figure out what the secret was early on but stayed involved in the book because I wanted to know the how and the why. Afterall, what we do  as individuals may be shocking at times, but it isn't nearly as engrossing as how and why we do it. Dau kept the mystery in the dark just long enough before revealing the inevitable conclusion. The Book of Jonas was a quick read but it brought up many questions about the secrets that lie hidden inside each of us.

$26.00
ISBN-13: 9780307888754
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 days
Published: Crown, 7/2012
Jim's 2nd October 2012 pick
Double Cross by Ben MacIntyre
       “When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.”  - John Muir
    When I used to think about D-Day, what came to mind were the beginning twenty minutes of the film Saving Private Ryan. Warfare at its bloodiest and most terrifying. Ben MacIntyre's book made me realize  how long before the soldier's hit the beaches that the event of D-Day started . Numerous men and women, known by code names such as Scoot, Brutus, Tricycle, Mosquito, Bronx, and Garbo, laid the foundation for the invasion by becoming double agents, passing misinformation meant to obfuscate the truth. Germany knew there was going to be an invasion by allied forces; they didn't know where or when. Thanks to the work of these unknown men and women working behind the scenes, always at risk of having their true identities revealed, the victory at Normandy was secured.
    MacIntyre introduces the stories of these D-Day spies slowly at first. With each new person he adds to the mix, the more complicated the narrative gets, revealing ultimately a spider's web of crisscrossing lives. As a whole, these daring men and women are true heroes for what they did; up close, they are a mix of playboys and partyers. MacIntyre does a grand job of keeping the tension high and tight throughout. An excellent book for the spy in us all.

The Yellow Birds (Hardcover)

$24.99
ISBN-13: 9780316219365
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 days
Published: Little, Brown and Company, 9/2012

Jim's September 2013 review (1/2)

Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers


This is a terrific book. The language is powerful yet spare. Powers, a combat veteran, drew me in with hypnotic prose that reminded me greatly of Cormac McCarthy without the violence.  The story follows two soldiers, Privates Bartle and Murphy, who meet in the Army and are shipped to Afghanistan. From the start the reader knows that one of the friends dies. What kept me reading was finding out how it happens and how the remaining soldier deals with the consequences of his friend's death. One thing Powers does here is give the reader one of the best explanations I have ever come across of what it is like to be in the middle of a battle. Not to be missed!


$24.99
ISBN-13: 9780765316998
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Tor Books, 6/2012
Redshirts by John Scalzi

Jim's September 2012 review (2/2)

As a Trekker, I couldn't help but pick this book up. If you don't know, on Star Trek, if you are wearing a red shirt and you are on an away team mission and your character is barely anything but a name (i.e.- not a regular), you are most likely not going to make it back to the Enterprise alive. In Redshirts, Scalzi offers up a thinly disguised version of the Star Trek world: the Intrepid instead of the Enterprise, the Universal Union instead of the United Federation of Planets, etc. Scalzi's red-shirted spacemen realize that something is up with the high fatality rate and plan to do something about it. This is a fun quick read and a wonderful homage to not only Star Trek but all similar television shows set on a starship somewhere in the distant future (Scalzi himself used to write for Stargate: Universe). Grab a copy and enjoy one heck of a ride. Resistance is futile.

Yes, Chef: A Memoir (Hardcover)

$27.00
ISBN-13: 9780385342605
Availability: Special Order - Subject to Availability
Published: Random House, 6/2012
Jim's August 2012 review
Yes, Chef by Marcus Samuelsson
    I have been a fan of cooking shows and bios for some time. Anthony Bourdain, Ruth Reichl, Gordon Ramsay - all great reads. Ramsay writes about his use of the f-bomb, which his mother even complains about. I happened upon Yes, Chef quite by happy accident. After reading his book, I am now a big fan of Marcus Samuelsson.
    I adopted my children, so I know that that aspect of his story drew me in. Samuelsson and his sister were adopted from Ethiopia as orphans by two caring Swedes. He grew up loving two things: playing soccer and cooking with his grandmother Helga. For Samuelsson, food became an aspect of identity. Think about it, we all have our comfort foods that we grew up with. As he pursued cooking as a profession, Samuelsson began chasing flavors, discovering and blending the comfort foods from the parts of the world he visited. He seemd to be saying that if all these foods, separated by distance and cultures, taste so good, why not bring them together - sort of a we-are-the-world theory of cooking. I am reminded of a quote from the film Willy Wonka and the chocolate Factory: We are the music makers and we are the dreamers of dreams. Samuelsson dreamed of and brought foods from different cultures together to brilliant effect.
    Yes, Chef is a memoir, a food travelogue, and a plea to the reader to break down prejudices of all kinds and to never give up on pursuing your dreams. Get thee hence to Gibson's and buy this book!

$16.95
ISBN-13: 9780762772650
Availability: Special Order - Subject to Availability
Published: Lyons Press, 12/2011

Jim's July 2012 pick

Rubble by Sandra Marquez Stathis
I have had Haiti on my radar ever since I met the woman who would become my wife. During the mid-1980s, she worked at a school there. The stories she told me about the people she met and the island itself led me to believe that Haiti was a friendly and beautiful place but one filled with sadness. One of the books I reviewed last month, In Darkness by Greg Lake, gave me an idea of the origins of that sadness - a constant tug of war among nations trying to help Haiti by taking advantage of its natural resouces. Lake also introduced a new tragic chapter in Haiti's story - that of the 2010 earthquake. This month's book, Rubble, goes beyond just an introduction to the quake; it explores in detail the consequences of this phenomenon. 

Stathis tells the story of her numerous visits to Haiti, first as a human rights observer, later as a reporter, and finally as a concerned mother. During her initial visit to Haiti, she meets and befriends Junior Louis, a young homeless boy who stands out among the crowds of children because of his charm and demeanor. She eventually sees herself as Junior's mother. The friendship that evolved between them survived through the years, despite Stathis' regular departures to work as a reporter for Reuters, the Miami Herald, and the Associated Press. Once the earthquake hits in early 2010, Stathis knows she must return to find her son and to make sure that Junior, now in his 20s, is still alive.

In addition to her tale of love for Junior and his island home, Stathis also regulary comments on the lack of concern shown by the world in response to the quake. As upset as she is at this apparent apathy, time and again she is amazed at how the Haitian people continue on in the face of tragedy and minimal resources. If you think about it, what else can they do? Stathis' story highlights what the power of love between two people can do and how strong the human will to survive can be, especially in the face of absolute uncertainty, when most of us would simply want to curl up and die.

This book made me want to do something, anything, to help the people of Haiti. I am sure that after you read Rubble, you will want to join me.


All the Right Stuff (Hardcover)

$17.99
ISBN-13: 9780061960871
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 days
Published: Amistad, 4/2012

Jim's 1st June 2012 pick

All The Right Stuff by Walter Dean Myers

If you have ever wondered why things are the way they are, this may be a book for you. Myers takes his protagonist, teenager Paul DuPree, and the reader on an exploration of the “social contract,” a political philosophy of our society. A polemic on philosophy may seem like heavy stuff for a young adult novel, but Myers, a master of the genre, handles deftly what could have been dull and distant. This is largely due to the characters that Myers creates, all of whom are flesh and blood, not clichés. Elijah, the owner of and master soup maker at the emporium, instructs Paul in the finer points of the social contract, and in so doing, helps Paul deal with the hatred he has felt for his dad.

In some ways All the Right Stuff reminded me of Jostein Gaarder’s Sophie’s World. Both use philosophy as a means to advance the plot and develop characters; however, Myers does not go into as much detail as Gaarder, yet is just as enjoyable. If you have never read anything by Walter Dean Myers, All The Right Stuff is a good place to begin.


In Darkness (Hardcover)

$17.99
ISBN-13: 9781599907437
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 days
Published: Bloomsbury USA Childrens, 1/2012

Jim's 2nd June 2012 pick

In Darkness by Nick Lake

When this In Darkness came out, I was immediately interested in it, mostly because my wife used to teach in Haiti, the setting of the book, and she regularly would talk about how bad daily life is there. I have to say that if the details in the book are any measure, here words surely ring true.

The novel starts out soon after the recent series of earthquakes have destroyed most of Haiti. Buried in the rubble of a hospital, Shorty, a wounded teenager, tells his story as he waits in darkness for someone to find him. His story mixes with that of someone from Haiti’s past, Toussaint L’Ouverture, the revolutionary who briefly led the country’s slaves to freedom in the late 1700’s. L’Ouverture’s tale unfolds through Shorty’s dreams, sometimes making Shorty feel as if he were going crazy.

In Darkness is riddled with despair and heartbreak yet throughout there are flashes of light and hope that fuel not only the characters but the reader to keep going; help will soon arrive. Read this book for no other reason than to begin to discover a living nightmare of a country, one that survives in darkness under a brightly shining sun. It’s tough but you will be glad you did.


$16.00
ISBN-13: 9780156007085
Availability: Special Order - Subject to Availability
Published: Mariner Books, 10/1999

Walking With The Wind by John Lewis

Jim's 1st May 2012 pick

Congressman John Lewis recently visited Concord to receive the New Hampshire Supreme Court Society’s Life and Liberty Award. This book, his memoir of his involvement in the Civil Rights movement, is outstanding and worthy of an award on its own merits. It traces Lewis’s life from growing up dirt poor in rural Pike County, Alabama to his election to Congress as a representative from Georgia. Even though he was met with violence throughout much of his college years and his twenties, his commitment to peace was the banner that he waved as he helped to move America forward toward equality for all. No matter what situation he found himself in, he stuck to his beliefs of non-violence and reasoning, using words as his weapons to overcome injustice. Near the end of the book, as Lewis reflects on how young people today can and should get involved in their own communities, he seems to foreshadow the recent Occupy Wall Street movement. To the point: buy this book and read about a true American hero.


$16.00
ISBN-13: 9780307408853
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Broadway Books, 5/2012

In The Garden of The Beasts by Erik Larson

Jim's 2nd May 2012 pick
I do not think that Erik Larson can write a bad book, no matter what the topic. Here he tackles Adolph Hitler’s rise to power in the early to mid-1930s as seen through the eyes of William E. Dodd, America’s first ambassador to Nazi Germany. Again Larson proves that he is a master storyteller.
Almost from the moment he arrives in Berlin, Dodd is seen as an oddity, eschewing the usual perks bestowed on an ambassador. He quickly sees through the welcoming front put on by Hitler and his administration to see the beginnings of abuse  which would later ignite into the Holocaust. Washington insiders ignored Dodd’s repeated warnings and instead labeled him as impersonal and unfit for his position. Behind the scenes, Dodd’s daughter, Martha, dove fully into the hedonistic atmosphere of Berlin, agreeing with others at first that her dad’s a nut, but slowly realizing that there was something darker than the night sky at work.
I wondered as I read what would have happened if FDR had acted sooner and heeded Dodd’s alarm. I thought about this book as I walked through the National Holocaust Memorial in Washington, DC. So many lives could have been saved. So much suffering could have been eliminated. My dad and his family would not have been thrown out of their town by the Nazis, removing his need to flee to America, and perhaps erasing the probability of my very existence. Two roads diverged in a wood and – well, we usually take the one most travelled, don’t we? Reading this book, made my brain and my heart hurt thinking of the possibilities. A book so good it made me want never to have existed. Damn!


Townie: A Memoir (Paperback)

$15.95
ISBN-13: 9780393340679
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: W. W. Norton & Company, 2/2012

Townie by Andre Dubus III

Jim's 3rd May 2012 pick
Sandy, here at the bookstore, recommended this book to me. Ultimately, I was glad that I took her up on the suggestion, but I wasn’t always sure why. It was interesting to read about someone who is my age. Many of Dubus’s cultural references led me to ponder my own development at that time. For most of the book I wondered what Dubus was leading to. Where was he taking me? His life seemed to be about two things: ensuring his personal safety at the cost of his identity, as if being able to beat down any opposition was a satisfactory existence, which was understandable to a degree, considering the violence that permeated his neighborhood, and figuring out how his father, who was absent a lot of the time, fit into his life.
It is how Dubus reconciles himself to both issues that is the payoff of the book. He struggles with his demons, personal and familial, to discover a new awareness of himself and the world. Check Townie out if you enjoy reading about people’s life-journeys. This one is filled with bumps, bruises, and ultimately, redemption.


$27.99
ISBN-13: 9780316196994
Availability: Special Order - Subject to Availability
Published: Mulholland Books, 11/2011

Jim's 2nd April 2012 pick

The House of Silk by Anthony Horowitz

If you are taken by the exploits of Holmes and Watson as I am, you will love this book.  In The House of Silk, Horowitz has written an engaging mystery in the style of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. In this tale, Holmes is shaken to the core after the gruesome death of one of the boys known affectionately as the Baker Street Irregulars. There is more afoot than the mere death of a child, much more, and more horrific than I was expecting. As usual, red herrings abound. Nonplussed, despite a series of setbacks, including a brief prison stay, Holmes unravels every twisted plot point with ease. This is as expected, but I have to say that there were a few times when I wasn’t convinced that the dynamic duo was goingto survive. The House of Silk is awelcomed addition to the Holmes canon.


$37.50
ISBN-13: 9781416571766
Availability: Special Order - Subject to Availability
Published: Simon & Schuster, 10/2011

Jim's April 2012 staff pick

The Greater Journey, Americans in Paris by David McCullough
     As I read this book, I wanted to pack my bags and head for the nearest airport to catch the earliest flight to Paris. I had visited the City of Light before, but  dropping into McCullough’s tale of nineteenth century Americans in search of inspiration, I had a great urge to go again, as soon as possible. Why?  Simply because the author portrays Paris as a wonderland of creativity and civility. In these times of tension and strife, who wouldn’t want a little of both.
Overflowing with museums and salons, it is no wonder that just about every American of note during the nineteenth century, from James Fenimore Cooper to Thomas Edison, made a pilgrimage to Paris. Many found it hard to leave, even during the periods of political upheaval. I found it interesting that Samuel Morse, yes, he of the Morse Code, started out with dreams of making it as an artist and that he married a young woman from little ol’ Concord, New Hampshire. Cool, yeah? If you have ever had a work of art hauntingly capture your imagination, you will appreciate Harriet Beecher Stowe’s visit to the Louvre and her encounter with The Raft of the Medusa by Théodore Géricault. If you are a lover of art, history, people or travel, this is a book for you. I recommend that you supplement the reading of this book with multiple viewings of Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris, and then get yourself on a plane as soon as possible. Bon voyage!


Wonderstruck (Hardcover)

$29.99
ISBN-13: 9780545027892
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Scholastic Press, 9/2011

I am the type of person who, when a film adaptation of a book comes out, needs to read the book before seeing the film. I'm crazy like that. I had always been curious about the book The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick, but I never got around to reading the darn thing. That is until it was announced that a film version was being made by none other than Martin Scorsese. I knew that Hugo's time had come.

What a fabulous book! Not only is it about an orphaned boy living in a Paris train station where he keeps the clocks ticking to perfection (interesting enough, yes?), but it also includes elements of early film history. I have an avid interest in both film and history, as well as a soft spot for plucky orphans looking for their rightful places in the world. The Invention of Hugo Cabret has all three. Hugo's story is charming and skillfully told by the author in prose as well as 284 pages of black-and-white illustrations. In fact, Selznick did such a terrific job that I have no plans to see the film - at least not until the dvd comes out (it is Scorsese, afterall. ;) ).

Since I had such a great time with Hugo, I decided to go straight to Wonderstruck, Brian Selznick's latest. Again, we have a tale about a young man with identity issues.

Ben longs for information about his father, whom he has never known. Clues lead him to run away from his home in Gunflint Lake, Minnesota to New York City. Unlike The Invention of Hugo Cabret, in which the illustrations highlight Hugo's actions, here, Ben's story is solely told in prose throughout the first two-thirds of the book. The illustrations that appear reveal the character of Rose, a young deaf girl whose mother, a famous actress, has little time for her. Eventually, the two storylines become one, and we find out that both Ben and Rose have more in common than is obvious at first.

One of the things that Selznick does in his books, that I find enticing, is that he incorporates an unexpected element into the main characters' lives. In Hugo, it is early film history. In Wonderstruck, Ben and Rose get to roam the halls of the The American Museum of Natural History. There is even a bit of Broadway thrown in, too.

Selznick is an author/illustrator worth taking the time to explore. I'm glad I did and can't wait to find out where he is going to take me next.


Matched (Paperback)

$9.99
ISBN-13: 9780142419779
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Speak, 9/2011

Jim's January 2012 pick

It was only natural that, after The Hunger Games took off like wildfire, there would be numerous attempts by authors to capture a little of the action for themselves. It happened after Harry Potter swish-and-flicked his way into our hearts; a flood of young wizards appeared on bookshelves everywhere. No sooner did Edward's blood get all hot for Bella than writers sucked our attention away with new vampire-human romances. Now, the young adult zeitgeist brings us various dystopias run by nefarious governments to fill our quiet reading moments.

One such world is that created by Ally Condie in Matched. Here, just about every aspect of a person's life, even the portions of food received each night for dinner, is controlled by the Society, a collection of all-knowing agents and agencies trusted by all. Young Cassia, the heroine of the novel, eagerly awaits the identity of her match, the young man chosen to be her lifemate by the Society. His name and face will be revealed to her in an official ceremony. She hopes it will be her best friend Xander, a boy she has known since childhood. Yet, unexpectedly, the face of an outcast is shown to her briefly before being replaced by the image of her dear Xander. All should be well, except that Cassia cannot accept the notion that this was an accident. Could the Society be up to something? And why are her dinner portions shrinking? Or are they?What's really going on? That's what Cassia wants to know and what you, too, can find out by reading the book.

As the saying goes imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Condie imitates the structure of Suzanne Collins's best-sellers in a number of ways: shadow government, love triangle, and nascent social unrest in the provinces, among them. What I liked best about Matched is that the author kept me turning pages without all the violence that is a hallmark of Katniss Everdeen's story. She also uses references to Dylan Thomas in an integral way throughout the book. The English teacher nerd in me finds that cool.

So I recommend Matched, and the subsequent titles in the series (the second book, Crossed, is out now in hardcover), to anyone who likes a good story, to fans of the Hunger Games, and to those who wanted to indulge in that other trilogy but was put off by the blood lust. Nothing more serious here than a manipulative overbearing government - quite timely considering it's primary season.


$15.00
ISBN-13: 9780385528207
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Spiegel & Grau, 12/2010
In Baltimore, Maryland, two boys grew from childhood into manhood just a few blocks away from each other. Both of these boys shared the same name, Wes Moore. One Wes Moore became a Rhodes scholar; the other was sentenced to life in prison for taking part in a robbery gone bad. This book is an examination of two lives, similar yet tragically different, and how a few choices could have reversed the fates of both men. In addition, the author examines how society played a vital part in how the lives of both men turned out. The author does not rely on speculation but exhaustively researched and interviewd the people who played a part in the men’s lives. The author is very candid and pulls no punches when discussing his teenage years when, instead of going off to college, he almost ended up behind bars. I highly recommend this book as a cautionary tale, especially if you have teenage children like I do, but also as a way to begin examining one’s own life and the choices each of us has made.

New books, new trailers

Station Eleven has captivated several of our store staff, but Tracy was the first to write a review of it. Check it out!

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