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People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks - Book Reviews

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People of the Book: A Novel By Geraldine Brooks Cover Image
$18.00
ISBN: 9780143115007
Availability: Click Title for IN STORE Location
Published: Penguin Books - December 30th, 2008

A woman tracks the history of a rare manuscript down through the centuries by the traces - a wine stain, a grain of salt - that have been left upon it. Informative and involving. ~ Reviewed by Alden Graves


The Dark Side

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The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned Into a War on American Ideals By Jane Mayer Cover Image
$17.00
ISBN: 9780307456298
Availability: Special Order
Published: Anchor - May 5th, 2009

America has come a long way since "give me your tired, your poor..." We now have lawyers in the Bush administration, from the prospective of overstuffed sofas and boundless egos, attempting to define the degree of pain that can be inflicted upon people before it constitutes torture. That definition enjoys an especially wide latitude with Vice President Cheney, who decided he had "other priorities" when his own well-being was jeopardized by the Vietnam War. Jane Mayer's riveting and horrifying account of the jettisoning of values that this country has cherished since its inception under the guise of protecting us from terrorism should be required reading for every American who is determined that it should never be allowed to happen again. ~ Reviewed by Alden Graves


A Terrible Glory

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A Terrible Glory: Custer and the Little Bighorn - the Last Great Battle of the American West By James Donovan Cover Image
$18.99
ISBN: 9780316067478
Availability: IN WAREHOUSE - Usually Ships in 3-7 Business Days
Published: Back Bay Books - May 14th, 2009

A Terrible Glory is a comprehensive account of events leading up to General George Armstrong Custer's unfortunate encounter with too many Indians in the Dakota territory on June 25, 1876 along a meandering stream called the Little Bighorn. Custer had been ordered to march his Seventh Cavalry down the Rosebud Creek and to join forces with another column that had been proceeding from the Montana territory. He had not been expressly forbidden (nor encouraged) to engage in combat with any non-treaty Indians. Badly underestimating the size of the band that his army eventually encountered, Custer advanced upon the hostiles. The furious battle lasted into the next day. The Seventh was decimated, the bodies of the fallen soldiers stripped and mutilated while their comrades watched in horror. Donovan's book also details the aftermath of the Little Bighorn debacle, the army's desperate attempts to make a scapegoat of Custer, and the trial of Major Marcus Reno, one of the commanders of the three units of the Seventh, who was drinking heavily and did nothing while Custer and his men were slaughtered (Reno later denied that he even heard any gunfire). A successful attempt to humanize a figure who has always been larger than life and a meticulous recreation of a particularly dark episode in the blood-soaked history of the West. ~ Reviewed by Alden Graves


Bowl of Cherries

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Bowl of Cherries By Millard Kaufman Cover Image
$14.00
ISBN: 9780802143969
Availability: IN WAREHOUSE - Usually Ships in 3-7 Business Days
Published: Grove Press - October 1st, 2008

Terrifically entertaining tongue-in-cheek saga of a young man's fantastic adventures. After he is dismissed from Yale University, Judd agrees to do research for an eccentric Egyptologist, but it is the man's daughter who causes him to stray from his work, ultimately landing him in a jail cell in Iraq awaiting execution. Quirky and altogether delightful fun that may occasionally have you laughing out loud. Author Millard Kaufman wrote the script for the classic Spencer Tracy film, Bad Day At Black Rock. ~ Reviewed by Alden Graves


Bridge of Sighs

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Bridge of Sighs: A Novel (Vintage Contemporaries) By Richard Russo Cover Image
$16.95
ISBN: 9781400030903
Availability: Backordered
Published: Vintage - August 12th, 2008

No contemporary author more precisely captures the hardscrabble spirit of blue collar workers in America's mill towns than Richard Russo. His characters may rail against change and their triumphs seem pale against the garish Technicolor of our tin plated times. If they occasionally falter, they persevere and that alone is a kind of victory. They never loose the sense of caring that they have for each other, something that seems to be fading from our culture like the image on a photograph left too long in the sun. Some degree of condescension always seems to find its way into the term "blue collar." It overlooks the fact that it was the spirit and determination of these people that, among other things, built this country, won two world wars, and still represents what is worth cherishing in America. Without them, white collars couldn't remain nearly as white.

All of these facets are expanded upon in Russo's Mohawk, Nobody's Fool, Empire Falls, andBridge of Sighs. The author maintains a sense of optimism that ultimately prevails over the technological traumas that threaten the livelihoods, and thus the lives, of his vital, flesh and blood characters.

The chief dispenser of optimism in Bridge of Sighs is Louis Patrick Lynch -- "Big Lou" to his friends. His friends include just about everyone he encounters in Thomaston, New York, a mill town located not far from Albany. Lou is reluctant to concede the fact that his days as a milkman, delivering his product in shiny bottles as the sun begins to inch its way over the horizon, are numbered.

If Lou's indomitable spirit might be likened to a helium balloon, it falls to his wife, Tessa (as it does to many wives), to keep that balloon more or less tethered to the ground. She is something less than pleased when Lou buys a faltering neighborhood grocery store with the unlikely name of Ikey's. Typically, Lou is determined to make the place a great success, despite the ominous appearance of an A&P supermarket in the area. Just as typically, Tessa, while vowing never to set foot in the place, nevertheless applies her bookkeeping skills in an effort to put off what she regards as Ikey's almost divinely ordained failure.

There are a multitude of memorable characters in Bridge of Sighs, but the story basically revolves around three of them. Louis Charles Lynch, Jr. has his father's abiding good nature, but it is tempered with a healthy dose of his mother's pragmatism. Saddled with the stigma of being called "Lucy" after his kindergarten teacher read his name as Lou C. to the delight of his classmates, the boy was later the victim of a hateful prank inflicted upon him by other children. Although the incident leaves scars that never completely heal, Lou finds a guardian angel of sorts in Bobby Marconi, a cryptic tough kid from a very troubled family. The friendship assures Lou safe passage over previously treacherous bridges, in both literal and metaphorical terms. The relationship between them lasts a lifetime, despite Bobby's eventual flight from Thomaston and the fact that both men love Sarah Berg, the woman who becomes Lou's wife.

Bobby is the book's most atypical character and he was also, in my estimation, the one whose life was ultimately the saddest. Adopting his mother's maiden name of Noonan, he achieves world recognition as a painter and consequent success on a level that most people would sell their souls to attain. I sensed Russo's constant admonition that the women, the fame, and the money were all exacted at a tremendous cost. If there is one word that I would use to describe Bobby's life, it is solitary, a condition that is anathema to this particular author's vision of a worthwhile existence.Bridge of Sighs occasionally travels to Bobby's home in Venice, Italy, one of the most classically beautiful cities in the world, but its heart remains firmly implanted in Ikey's. I suspect that Mr. Russo's own heart has never wandered too far from places exactly like it.

Being a cynic by nature, I was waiting for this consistently marvelous book to take a wrong turn. That opportunity presented itself towards the conclusion, with the introduction of an African American child into the extended Lynch family. Suddenly, the iceberg of sentimentality loomed directly ahead. I shouldn't have worried. Mr. Russo deftly avoided collision and Kayla assumed an honored place among the others.

I had the very great pleasure of introducing Richard Russo when he presented a reading from Bridge of Sighs here at the Northshire Bookstore recently. He was gracious and open, conspicuously free of the important author affectations that I, perhaps unfairly, expected from a Pulitzer prize-winner. He told a standing room only audience that he writes books for the same reason that he reads them -- to find out what happens to the characters.

I remember when it occurred to me that I was nearing the end of the trail reading Larry McMurtry's epic western, Lonesome Dove. I had devoured the huge book up to that point, held spellbound by the adventures of Gus and Woordrow. I deliberately slowed my reading pace to postpone the unhappy, if inevitable, moment when they rode off into the last sunset. With the prospect of saying a final goodbye to the Lynch family, I did the same thing while I was reading Bridge of Sighs. It really is that good. ~ Reviewed by Alden Graves


When the Light Goes

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When the Light Goes: A Novel By Larry McMurtry Cover Image
$16.99
ISBN: 9781416534273
Availability: IN WAREHOUSE - Usually Ships in 3-7 Business Days
Published: Simon & Schuster - March 18th, 2008

McMurtry's characters, introduced to readers in The Last Picture Show, are considerably older but no less quirky, memorable, or original. Duane Moore, who has pretty much retired from the oil business, is now a widower. He prefers to live in solitude in a remote cabin rather than amongst his colorful family, each member of whom is going through his or her own personal trauma. In addition to his wife, Duane is also quietly mourning the loss of female companionship. After being told of the necessity for a triple bypass operation, he could hardly anticipate the twelve hours of sexual abandon that he spends with his psychiatrist, who has been devastated by the sudden death of her own lover. By turns raunchy and bittersweetly touching, When the Light Goes is blessed with its author's fine sense of place. One can almost feel the Texas sun beating down and taste the dust in the air. ~ Reviewed by Alden Graves


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