Staff Picks

Moscow Rules

Summary: 
In Daniel Silva's eighth book, we find Gabriel Allon heading to Moscow--not the grim, gray Moscow of Soviet times but a new Moscow, awash in oil wealth and choked with supercars. Power resides once more in the Kremlin though. New style Stalinists are plotting to reclaim an empire lost. One such man is Ivan Kharkov, a former KGB colonel who built a global investment empire. However hidden within that empire is a more lucrative and deadly business. Kharkov is an arms dealer—and he is about to deliver Russia’s most sophisticated weapons to al-Qaeda. Allon must learn the time and place of the delivery, and the clock is ticking. Moscow Rules is a great entertaining read and a sobering tale about the new threats rising from the east, that are relevant to today's world.

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Al Franken, Giant of the Senate

Summary: 
Former Saturday Night Live writer turned U.S. Senator, Al Franken describes what motivated his 2008 run for Senate and his take on U.S. politics today. It's a progressive democrat's look at Washington with his very specific brand of humor. His humor aside, Franken comes across as a man of integrity and honesty. He narrates the audio version of the book. Highly recommended.

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The American Spirit : who we are and what we stand for

Summary: 
Historian David McCullough shares some of the speeches he's made over the past forty years. The main theme of the speeches is the importance of history. However, McCullough also highlights eras of American history where politicians worked together to solve problems. He also praises those, like John Quincy Adams, for taking an unpopular stand for the betterment of the country. After serving as President, Adams then served in Congress, representing Massachusetts. In the House of Representatives, Adams fought to have petitions against slavery read before Congress in the 1830's. The 1830's were a time when few northern politicians took a stand against slavery. Unlike other books about current day politics that point fingers at the opposition, The American Spirit shows us we can learn from the past to make us better people.

The Last Bus to Wisdom

Summary: 
This last novel by a beloved writer is a fitting farewell. The eleven year-old boy in terror of the orphanage and poor farm is dispatched from Montana to unknown relatives in Wisconsin. What follows is pure Western wish-fulfillment, after struggles and heartache, a mid-20th century road trip, adventures, mishaps, a bildungsroman packed with all sorts of characters.

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Slavery & the underground railroad in New Hampshire

Summary: 
We don't think about New Hampshire as a slave state. This book provides a brief history of slavery in the Granite State. Chapter 10 covers the August 10, 1835 destruction of The Noyes Academy in Canaan, a school that admitted students of all races. The anti-slavery movement and The Underground Railroad are also covered. An eye-opening read.

All the Rivers: A Novel

Summary: 
While in New York, Liat, an Israel student, meets Hilmi, a Palestinian artist. Despite growing up on opposite sides of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, they immediately fall in love and must decide if and how they will continue their ‘taboo’ relationship. Unlike many books about the conflict, Rabinyan does not shy away from the subtle complexities nor does she pick sides. But what makes this book truly profound, is Rabinyan's thoughtfulness and compassion in telling such a sensitive story. She makes us feel for her characters-so much that we are rooting for Liat and Hilmi to find their ‘happily ever after’. --

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Samurai Rising: The Epic Life of Minamoto Yoshitsune

Summary: 
This is the true story of the greatest samurai in Japanese history, though he began life at a great disadvantage. When he was a baby, his father went to war with a rival samurai family—and lost. His father was killed, his mother captured, and his half-brother banished. Yoshitsune was sent away to live in a monastery. However, he escaped and managed to learn the ways of the samurai. When the time came for the Minamoto clan to rise up against their enemies, Yoshitsune answered the call. His daring feats and impossible bravery earned him immortality and a gruesome end (which helped establish seppuku as part of the warrior code) are fascinating features of a life that ended at age 30. Although the author directs this book at teens, I found this book absorbing, well written, fast moving and thoroughly enjoyable. A great introduction to potential young historians of Japanese history.

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Lionheart

Summary: 
After the death of his father, Henry II in 1189, and the early death of two of his brothers, Richard is crowned King of England and immediately sets off for the Holy Land. Sharon Kay Penman opens up a vast array of new insights into Richard the man and all the events and personalities surrounding the the Third Crusade, which was marked by conflict among the Christians (most notably the French king Philippe, who deserts the crusade in order to secure his own kingdom) and the extraordinary campaigns against the Saracens. Richard’s younger brother, John, who is left behind, conspires with the French king to steal Richard's throne. Only their mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine remains to protect Richard’s interests. Richard is portrayed, as one might expect, as a larger-than-life character, but it was the supporting cast and events that made this book all the more interesting for me.

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The Secret Servant

Summary: 
Gabriel Allon, the master art restorer and sometime officer of Israeli intelligence is sent to Amsterdam for what appears to be a routine assignment. But once in Amsterdam, Gabriel soon discovers a conspiracy of terror festering in the city's Islamic underground, a plot that is about to explode on the other side of the English Channel, in the middle of London. The plot is to kidnap Elizabeth Halton, the daughter of the American ambassador to the Court of St. James's, Gabriel arrives too late to save her. Working with the British Secret Service, MI5 and MI6 and American intelligence, Gabriel begins a desperate search for the missing woman as the clock ticks steadily toward the hour of her execution. It will take him from Amsterdam to Germany to the very end of Denmark and finally back to Westminster Abbey, London, on Christmas Day. A fantastic read, I raced through the pages of this Daniel Silva book. On to the next!!!

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Astrophysics for People in a Hurry

Summary: 
Neil deGrasse Tyson has written a little gem of a book on the universe, its nature and time, and how we fit in and how the universe fits within us. He does all this with such skill, humor and humility. The size of this book is perfect too, a small tome that should not intimidate the non-scientists among us. Although, as a person with science background, I learned so much from these short succinct chapters. In the last chapter, Professor Tyson puts this book into its true perspective:'the cosmic perspective' ..."During our brief stay on planet Earth," he writes, "we owe ourselves and our descendants the opportunity to explore......in part because it's fun to do. But there's a far nobler reason. The day our knowledge of the cosmos ceases to expand, we risk regressing to the childish view that the universe figuratively and literally revolves around us". We should all adopt the 'cosmic prespective' states Professor Tyson. Everyone who cares about our planet should read this book!

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