Biography · History · In the Library · Jean R · Political Science

Gentleman Boss: The Life of Chester Alan Arthur | by Thomas C. Reeves

Gentleman Boss: The Life of Chester Alan Arthur by Thomas C. Reeves
(American Political Biography Press, 1991, 500 pages)

Gentleman Boss by Thomas C. Reeves is the story of Chester Alan Arthur, the 21st President of the United States. Chester Arthur was an accidental president. Arthur was the reluctant Vice President to President James A. Garfield who was shot and died in office only a few months into his Presidency. Arthur never wanted or intended to be President. When Arthur took over the Presidency, his fellow Republicans and the general public had low expectations for him. Arthur managed to be a more effective leader than his critics predicted.

Gentleman Boss is a comprehensive and well researched book. The author, Thomas C. Reeves, is a U.S. historian who specializes in 19th and 20th century America. His expertise in this area shows in this book. Since I had previously read and blogged about Dark Horse, the story of James Garfield, I was interested in following-up with the Presidency of Chester A. Arthur. Gentleman Boss made a good companion to Dark Horse. Gentleman Boss is recommended for readers interested in the U.S. Presidents.

Food! · History · In the Library · Ying L

Barbecue: The History of an American Institution | by Robert F. Moss

Barbecue: The History of an American Institution by Robert F. Moss
(University of Alabama Press, 2010, 277 pages)

This is a well-researched, comprehensive book on the history of barbecue from the 17th century to the present day.   It took Robert Moss ten years to research and write this book. Definitely time and effort well spent!  Throughout the book, Moss used hundreds of primary sources to illustrate not only barbecue and its regional variations, but politics, race, culture and geographies and how they have evolved since the colonial times. Did you know that Virginia is the birth place of barbecue? Would you be surprised if I told you that the world’s largest chain of hamburger restaurants, McDonald’s, started out selling beef and pork barbecue sandwiches? This book is informative, engaging, and it will definitely make you hungry; just look at the subject of the book ;-).

Moss had lots of help with his research including librarians, of course. I can’t help but quote him here: “The Interlibrary Loan Staff at the Charleston County Public Library were invaluable in helping me complete my work far from the walls of a research library.”

We all love a good barbecue. But you are not going to find barbecue recipes and techniques here. What you will get out of this book is a deep appreciation for barbecue and its contribution to the history of the United States. You’ll walk away hungry for barbecue.  Highly recommended.

Fiction · Gwen B · In the Library · Page-Turner · Thriller

Quinn | by Iris Johansen

Quinn by Iris Johansen
(St. Martin’s Press, 2011, 374 pages)

About the book:

As a former Navy SEAL turned cop, Joe Quinn has seen the face of evil and knows just how deadly it can be. When he first met Eve Duncan, he never expected to fall in love with a woman whose life would be defined by her dual desires to bring home her missing daughter and discover the truth behind her disappearance—-no matter how devastating. With the help of CIA agent Catherine Ling, they make a shocking discovery that sheds new light on young Bonnie’s abduction and puts Quinn squarely in the crosshairs of danger. Eve’s first love, John Gallo, a soldier supposedly killed in the line of duty, is very much alive—-and very much a threat.

Emotionally charged, with one shock after another, Quinn reveals the electricity of Joe and Eve’s first connection, and how they fell in love in the midst of haunting tragedy. As their search takes them deeper and deeper into a web of murder and madness, Joe and Eve must confront their most primal fears . . . and test their resolve to uncover the ultimate bone-chilling truth.

I’m a big fan of Iris Johansen.  I have followed her books for years and love them.  Quinn is a story that will keep you entertained.  This is the second book in a series of three. The first book is called Eve. Reading the first book hooks you and is captivating all the way through. Quinn goes over the history of Joe Quinn and Eve. It is also captivating and leaves you in suspense for the 3rd book.

I had been waiting for this book since I finished Eve months ago. I really enjoyed the story, especially the last chapter when everything was coming to a climax. Of course she leaves you hanging on, which I expected since Bonnie is the next one to come out. My only criticism is that it wasn’t quite as much about Joe Quinn as I thought it would be.  But, I still very much enjoyed the book and now have to wait patiently for Bonnie to come out in October. I am just dying to know what is going on because this book left me with great suspense at the end!! I’m excited to know what actually happened to Bonnie and for Eve to finally find some peace.  It was a very suspenseful read.  If you do decide to read it, start with Eve first to get the full impact!

Fiction · Quick Read! · Theresa F

The Swan Thieves | by Elizabeth Kostova

The Swan Thieves by Elizabeth Kostova
(Little, Brown and Co., 2010, 576 pages)

The Swan Thieves is the second novel by the author of The Historian.  I loved The Historian and I liked The Swan Thieves but for those of you who read The Historian be prepared for something different with this novel.  Taking place in the art world this book is just as well researched as The Historian but it delves more into the psychology of the characters, the relationships between people, and the nature of love and obsession.  Some parts are a little slow but the writing is easy to read so this big book is a quick read.  The description of the art and the process of painting were my favorite parts but the love stories were a little bit underwhelming.  Like The Historian there is a mystery to solve but I have to say it isn’t much of a mystery.  I guess all in all it was fun to read but I wouldn’t say it was a great book.

Fiction · In the Library · Short Stories · Theresa F

Olive Kitteridge | by Elizabeth Strout

Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout
(Random House, 2008, 286 pages)

Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, Olive Kitteridge is a novel made up of a collection of stories that take place in a small town in Maine.  Each story can stand on its own but many of the characters are recurring, especially Olive, who shows up in most of the stories and is a main character in a few.  A strong personality, Olive is a retired school teacher in this small town and often plays an important role in the lives of many of the characters.  The stories are often sad but also somehow uplifting.  Olive is often bossy, mean, and argumentative but you end up loving her because she almost always comes from a good and honest place even if she has trouble expressing herself in a kind way.   I loved the book but I know many people would say it is too depressing.  I found it beautiful and honest.

Audiobook · Fiction · History · Julia P

Clara and Mr. Tiffany | by Susan Vreeland

Clara and Mr. Tiffany by Susan Vreeland
(Random House, 2011, 432 pages)

Clara and Mr. Tiffany takes place at the turn of the 20th century in New York City.  Clara Driscoll has recently returned to work at Tiffany’s after her husband’s sudden death.  This isn’t Tiffany and Co. the jewelry store, rather this is the “artistic” Tiffany glass division run by Louis Comfort Tiffany, son of the owner of Tiffany and Co.  One of the rules for working in Tiffany glass is that all the women must be unmarried.  Mr. Tiffany believes that once married the creative nature of women is somehow stifled and skewed, therefore they are a hindrance to his work.

The clear focus of the story lies with Clara, who single-handedly comes up with the idea for the Tiffany lamps everyone is so familiar with now.  Her relationship with Mr. Tiffany and her dedication to her work are admirable, especially in light of the time period.  The reader can see her struggle with what she wants out of life when she is forced to deal with romantic pursuits over the years.  However, in addition to Clara, the next largest “character” in this historical novel is arguably the city of New York.  Vreeland does a wonderful job bringing the nature of the city during the early 1900s to life.

I enjoyed this book and if you have an interest in historical fiction you’ll probably appreciate it as well.  I finished it wanting to know more about the Tiffany family.

* * * * * * *

If you’re interested, there’s a short article on how to identify authentic Tiffany lamps on CNBC.com – that can be found here.  It really helps you appreciate the work and value of the original Tiffany pieces.

For more information about Clara and the “Tiffany girls” (as they were known) check out this 2007 article about them from the New York Times.

Fiction · Julia P · Romance

Deeper | by Megan Hart

Deeper by Megan Hart
(Spice, 2009, 400 pages)

Bess has returned to her family’s beach house after inheriting it from her parents.  It brings back memories of her college years when she would live and work at the beach each summer.  Times have changed.  20 years have gone by and Bess is now the mother of two teenage boys and she’s in the midst of separating from her husband.  As she attempts to find solace at the beach she finds herself thinking of Nick, the “one who got away” when she was younger.  And suddenly Nick is with her.  He’s there, in the flesh.  He hasn’t aged a  day since she last saw him.  She doesn’t want to think about how he came back to her, why he hasn’t aged, why he doesn’t need to eat or sleep.  She’s just happy to make up for lost time.  The question she doesn’t want to ask, is how long she’ll have him with her this time around…

Normally I’m not into supernatural elements of this variety, but I warmed up to the storyline after a while.  I was introduced to Megan Hart when I worked at Harlequin a few years ago.  This is definitely romance of the “steamier” variety (take note of the fact that this is the “Spice” imprint of Harlequin) – so that’s my fair warning :).  If you appreciate a steamy romance with an actual storyline to go with it, Hart is a great author to have in your back pocket.

Fiction · Mystery · Page-Turner · Thriller · Ying L

Postmortem | by Patricia Cornwell

Postmortem by Patricia Cornwell
(G.K. Hall, 1994, 422 pages)

After reading Body of Evidence, I decided to read some more from Patricia Cornwell. This is the first in the Scarpetta series. Dr. Scarpetta, Chief Medical Examiner for the state of Virginia, receives a call from Richmond homicide detective, Pete Marino. They meet at the murder scene of a brutally strangled woman and discover little evidence that would be helpful. They realize the murdered woman is the fourth victim in a string of mysterious rape and torture cases. The only clue they have is the shiny powder residue left on each victim’s body, which eventually leads them to the killer. The book is fast-paced with really good plot twists.

Having started in the middle of the series, it was interesting to read the background on the main characters, their personal/work issues, and to meet some of their family members. The relationship between Dr. Scarpetta and Detective Marino is intense and intriguing. It was amusing to read about the dial-up modems and main frames that were the norm 20 year ago. If you enjoy a good thriller with a medical twist and don’t mind some forensic details, you should check out Postmortem.

Graphic Novel · History · In the Library · Julia P · Non-Fiction

The Influencing Machine: Brooke Gladstone on the Media | by Brooke Gladstone

The Influencing Machine: Brooke Gladstone on the Media
by Brooke Gladstone
(W. W. Norton & Co., 2011, 170 pages)

I think graphic novels are a great medium because of the entertaining way they present information.  When working with non-fiction I think they’re even more beneficial because it doesn’t feel like you’re “working” to learn something.  Brooke Gladstone is an NPR reporter who focuses on the way media affects our society.  This graphic novel offers an overview of the history of media and the way it has affected us from the very beginning.

Gladstone offers a really interesting perspective on things – and I definitely learned a lot about the ways media can influence you and present all kinds of biases, in such a way that you’re not even aware of what’s happening.  There are references to the roles of newspapers during the Civil War, the impact of having the press embedded in the military and how that influences the things they report, the different kinds of biases that affect the news we receive…  It was a really interesting read, especially in light of the fact that the role of media in today’s world and the emphasis on the various biases of different news organizations is treated as if it were something new.

There were references to a lot of journalists and important pieces they wrote that I plan on picking up after reading The Influencing Machine.  I’d definitely recommend this graphic novel.

Fiction · Food! · Jean R · Mystery · Quick Read!

Crunch Time | by Diane Mott Davidson

Crunch Time by Diane Mott Davidson
(William Morrow, 2011, 480 pages)

In Crunch Time by Diane Mott Davidson, fictional caterer, Goldy Schulz, once again faces murder and mystery. Crunch Time is the 15th book in Davidson’s murder mystery series featuring Goldy and her catering business, Goldilocks Catering. All the books in the series have food-related titles (Dying for Chocolate, Cereal Murders, etc.). All the books feature recipes used by Goldy while solving the murders.

In Crunch Time, Goldy’s friend and sometimes co-worker, Yolanda, finds herself being harassed and intimidated. Her rental home burns down under suspicious circumstances. Then, the person who gives her temporary shelter is murdered and his house is burned down. The police aren’t having much success in solving these crimes so Goldy steps in to help investigate. Goldy finds that food goes a long way in helping to solve a mystery.

Crunch Time features most of the characters that readers know from Davidson’s earlier works. As usual, the story takes place in Aspen Meadows, Colorado. The story moves along quickly even though it is over 400 pages long. Warning, with all the mention of food, this novel may leave you hungry as well as reluctant to say goodbye to Goldy until the next novel is written.