Staff Picks

Always Look on the Bright Side of Life: A Sortabiography

Summary: 
This book for me is a journey back in time, when I was at university in England and "Monty Pythons Flying Circus" was fresh, new and outrageous. Trying to get a spot in the many television rooms on campus each week to watch the latest episode was highlight for me and most of the students there. Eric Idle reflects on the meaning of his own life in this entertaining memoir that takes us on a remarkable journey from his childhood in an austere boarding school through his successful career in comedy, television, theater, and film. This is a wonderfully entertaining read -- and I had to chuckle at the fact that the song he wrote for the "Life of Brian", 'Always Look on the Bright Side of Life', has since become the number one song played at funerals in the UK. What an epitaph!! Hilarious.

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The Map of Salt and Stars

Summary: 
The story of a Syrian refugee family on their flight westward is paired with the fleshed-out legend of a 12th century girl the same age as the narrator. Imagining the story of Rawiya, whose apprenticeship to a mapmaker takes her through the same regions, and her super-powers and ingenuity, is enormously comforting to the modern girl. Poetry on every page, thanks to the narrator’s synesthesia-- and her childhood in New York City. A lovely book.

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Munich

Summary: 
This is a wonderful and gripping piece of historical fiction set in 1938 Europe during the time of the Munich Crisis. Hugh Legat, a rising star of the British diplomatic service, serves at 10 Downing Street as a private secretary to the Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain; and Paul von Hartmann who is on the staff of the German Foreign Office, who is secretly a member of the anti-Hitler resistance. The two men were friends at Oxford in the 1920s, but have not been in contact since. Their language skills are vital to the Prime Minister and the Fuhrer, respectively and so they meet in Munich. Set against the background of actual historical events, Robert Harris tells a story that is certainly a fascinating, engaging, and ultimately thought- provoking. Whether Chamberlain was a truly astute politician and negotiator for peace, or a weak, misguided leader, naïve in his attempts to find peace with Germany, clearly remains open to debate. However, if the real events that occurred in 1938 are even remotely like those described in this book, I have to admit have much more sympathy for Neville Chamberlain. A must-read for anyone interested in this time.

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Brief Answers to the Big Questions

Summary: 
This is Stephen Hawking's final gift to us, a book in which he answers some of the big questions facing this world. Will humanity survive? Should we colonize space? Does God exist? ​​Hawking addresses these and other issues in this wide-ranging, passionately argued book. Anyone who reads this book will draw their own conclusions, but the message I came away with, was that he is optimistic over the fate of the human race, with science playing an integral part. A thoroughly thought-provoking book, that has to be read more than once to appreciate the thoughts of one of the most brilliant minds seen in history.

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Sacred Britannia:Gods and Rituals in Roman Britain from Caesar to Constantine

Summary: 
Sacred Britannia is an excellent academic book on religion in Roman Britain. I learnt a lot the gods and rituals of those times and it the writing is easy to take. However I was not fond of the speculation and which I felt went a little to far. Worth reading for a glimpse of a very different world in a country that I am very familiar with.

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The Generals

Summary: 
The second in the quartet of novels focusing on two giants of European history, Wellington and Napoleon begins with Arthur Wellesly (later Wellington) and Napoleon Bonaparte making their mark as men of military prowess. Wellesley, as commander of the 33rd Regiment of Foot, is sent to India, where his skill and bravery make a remarkable impression on his superiors. Napoleon's role as commander of the Army of Italy leads to success in battle and rapid political progress. By 1804, the time has come for Wellesly to stand against Napoleon in the confrontation that lies ahead, for Napoleon has established himself as Emperor, and has his sights set on conquering all of Europe. Another epic tome, this is a joy to read, easily moving from Wellesley to Napoleon, slowly bringing their paths together in a totally absorbing account. Will move to the next, once I've caught my breath!!

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Go, Went, Gone

Summary: 
A widowed, newly-retired classics professor, an East German subsumed at the fall of the Wall into the West, a brilliant intellectual slowly climbs out of his head into an awakened heart through his gradual involvement with a band of African migrants, stranded undocumented, in Berlin. A profound and astonishing portrait of the world we live in and the lives we lead.

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War of the Wolf

Summary: 
In this chapter of the epic Saxon Tales series, Uhtred has regained his family’s fortress. However, peace is elusive, under threat from both an old enemy and a new foe. The old enemy comes from Wessex where there is a struggle to determine who will be the next king. The new foe is Sköll, a Norseman, who wishes to be King of Northumbria, leading an army of wolf-warriors, men who fight half-crazed in the belief that they are indeed wolves. Uhtred begins to believe he is cursed, must fend off one enemy while he tries to destroy the other. The author again does not disappoint, with a riveting account of adventure, courage, treachery, loss, and battle that he describes so brilliantly. This tale continues and I hate to have to wait for the next installment. Uhtred is destined to play a role in the fate of England's quest to become a unified nation under rule of the King of Wessex, whoever that turns out to be!!

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Eye of the Storm

Summary: 
The first in the Sean Dillon series is a fast-paced tale of espionage and terrorism. Allies in the IRA, Sean Dillon and Martin Brosnam have gone different ways. Now Dillon is a terrorist for hire, a master of disguise employed by Saddam Hussein. Brosnan is the one man who knows Dillon’s strengths and weaknesses. They are playing the deadliest game of their lives-- game that ends with Iraq’s attempted mortar attack on the British war cabinet at 10 Downing Street. Jack Higgins has crafted a wonderfully readable tale, that prevents you from putting the book down until you have reached the last page!

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Portrait of a Spy

Summary: 
Eleventh in the Gabriel Allon series finds Gabriel and his wife, Chiara, in London, visiting a gallery in St. James’s to authenticate a newly discovered painting by Titian,when a pair of deadly bombings in Paris and Copenhagen mar this autumn day. And while walking toward Covent Garden, Gabriel notices a man he believes is about to carry out a third attack. Before Gabriel can draw his weapon, he is knocked to the pavement and can only watch as the nightmare unfolds. Gabriel returns to his isolated cottage on the cliffs of Cornwall, until a summons brings him to Washington and he is drawn into a confrontation with the new face of global terror--an American-born cleric in Yemen to whom Allah has granted “a beautiful and seductive tongue.” Once a paid CIA asset, the mastermind is plotting a new wave of attacks. To destroy this network of death , Gabriel must reach into his violent past moving at a breathtaking pace from Washington to London to the climax in the Saudi desert. This is an extremely entertaining, but sobering book to read with an ending that defies description. Five Stars!!!

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