Staff Picks

The Rembrandt Affair

Summary: 
In this 10th entry of the Allon saga, Gabriel has retreated with his wife Chiara to the seclusion of the rugged Cornwall coast, where he is interrupted by Julian Isherwood, an eccentric art dealer with a problem. An art restorer has been murdered and a portrait by Rembrandt stolen. Gabriel is persuaded to follow the trail of clues to find the painting and those responsible. From Amsterdam to Buenos Aires and finally to Lake Geneva, Switzerland, Gabriel uncovers the deadly secrets associated with this artwork:from Swiss bank accounts laden with money stolen from the Jews by the Nazis to illegal shipments of centrifuges to Iran to enrich uranium for its undercover nuclear program. With so many plot twists it is tough to keep up, this great fast-paced read also reminds us that evil men will do almost anything for money.

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After On

Summary: 
An excellent near future, speculative fiction story which explores what might happen if artificial intelligence "wakes up". This book tackles weighty themes such as artificial intelligence, synthetic biology, and nihilistic terrorism in an amusing, and sometimes bizarre way. Highly recommended. As a bonus, the author has an excellent podcast that you can find at https://after-on.com if you find these ideas interesting.

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Persons Unknown

Summary: 
Second in the Detective Manon Bradshaw series, this new mystery doesn't disappoint. When a man is murdered close to where she lives in Cambridgeshire, Bradshaw initially can't imagine how close to home this investigation will come. The first book in the series, Missing, Presumed, is also highly recommended and should be read first to appreciate the character development (although the mystery itself stands on its own). For fans of Ann Cleeves' Vera Stanhope books, Kate Atkinson's Jackson Brodie mysteries, and the Happy Valley British television series.

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Beastly Brains : Exploring how animals think, talk and feel

Summary: 
Did you know that dolphins are able to recognize themselves when they look in a mirror? And bonobos share 98.5 % of our DNA and have been observed to use paintbrushes, make music and cook? Also, some crows are notorious problem solvers and tool users. This beautiful book written for children is illustrated with lovely color photographs of owls, dolphins, parrots, monkeys, elephants and chimps. Castaldo's premise is that "animals know more than we think and think a great deal more than we know" to quote Irene Pepperberg , an animal cognition scientist who worked for many years with an African grey parrot named Alex. Covering such topics as communication, self-awareness, making decisions and emotions and empathy, the author sheds light on the amazing capabilities of other sentient beings so that we might understand and reevaluate our relationship to them. This book makes a good case for the treatment of respect and loving-kindness for all living beings.

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American by Day

Summary: 
The events in this sequel track the aftermath of Norwegian by Night. Norwegian cop, Sigrid Ødegård, on leave after a shooting, must go to upstate NY in search of her missing brother. She is plunged into America’s racial tensions and complexities in the summer of 2008, and the book is a police-procedural page-turner meditation on the conflict of values: individualism vs. community. As with #1, Miller is compelling, compassionate, and funny; and his insights are profound. Sheriff Irving Wylie is a treasure! I wish I could read both these books again for the first time!

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The Nightingale

Summary: 
This is an interesting tale of two sisters in rural France, and how they responded to the horror of the Nazi invasion during the World War II. They both fight in vastly different ways, just to survive. One is in the resistance guiding Allied airmen, who have been shot down over France, to safety in Spain. The other remains in her home, with her daughter, just managing to survive, but also helping to save orphaned Jewish children. The plot also moves briefly to the present at times during the book, which serves only to give away the ending, at least for me. I'm glad I read this book as it serves to highlight the horrors and traumas that women and children in conquered Europe, were subjected to by the Nazis that one doesn't always think about.

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The Blood of Gods

Summary: 
"The Blood of Gods", the fifth and final book in the Emperor Series sees Julius Caesar cut down. His blood stains the hands of a band of bold conspirators led by famed general and one time friend, Marcus Brutus. The Senate are initially complicit in this act, and grant amnesty. The killers, however, turn toward plotting the empire’s future under their control. Caesar’s death does not rest easily with all of Rome. For Mark Antony and Octavian, who Caesar names son and heir to all his wealth and power, are bent on revenge, The shocking assassination is nothing less than treason and those responsible must pay with their lives. I was loath to start this book as I knew it was the last in this marvelous series about Caesar, his life, death and the future of the Roman Empire. Absolutely brilliant!

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The Fox Hunt

Summary: 
After "accidentally" reading the Old Testament, Mohammed has many questions about Jews. As there are only a handful left in his native Yemen, he begins to go abroad and meet them. The more he learns about other faiths, the more in danger he becomes. Soon, he receives death threats. Then the Yemeni Civil War breaks out. Not only is he wanted for this interfaith activism, now his tribal affiliation, religion and skin color immediately make him a target. His only chance for survival lies in escaping Yemen and putting his life in the hands of near strangers. But first he must trust the Americans and Israelis he was once taught to hate. I think this is an excellent book which reads more like a thriller than an autobiography!

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Hidden America: From Coal Miners to Cowboys, an Extraordinary Exploration of the Unseen People Who Make This Country Work

Summary: 
This remarkable book-- about air traffic controllers and oil rig and sanitation workers and truckers too --taps into a layer of this country that has surged to the fore recently, and lets their voices be heard loud and clear. The dedication to do the best job possible with the job they have makes these speakers admirable above all. No socio-economic analyses, just thought-provoking portraiture.

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The Spy Who Came in from the Cold

Summary: 
This is John le Carre's third novel and probably his most famous. Drawing on his vast experience in the British Intelligence service, he creates a world that is unknown to the vast majority of us. He transports the reader to the shadowy, underground world of Alex Leamas, who has been recalled to London, after the last agent under his control is killed. He wants to come in from the cold permanently, but his spymaster, Control, has other plans. He sends Leamas, back to the cold to bring down the head of East German Intelligence. Leamas goes back as a discredited and dishonored spy to lure his enemy to his death. John le Carre's writing is wonderful. His ability to weave a plot of such complexity with such ease is amazing. So many twists and turns, and so fast-paced, one is never sure who is the perpetrator and who is the victim and which side either is working for. Absolutely brilliant!!!

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