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Librarians

Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About DNA (But Were Afraid to Ask)

The Violinist's ThumbOur genes can be likened to a story, and the gray, sticky paste of DNA is the language in which the story is written, according to Sam Kean, author of The Violinist’s Thumb: And Other Lost Tales of Love, War, and Genius, as Written by Our Genetic Code. Kean relates the history and function of DNA and genes and their effect on collective and individual human development.

 

Watson, Crick, and Mendel are familiar names linked to DNA and gene theory but few people have heard of Thomas Hunt Morgan and his assistant, ladies’ man Calvin Bridges, or Catholic Sister Miriam Michael Stimson. Kean fleshes out years of tedious research undertaken by lesser-known scientists that paved the way for the award-winning discoveries. RNA, DNA palindromes, Y chromosomes, and mitochondria—all hard science terms that could prove overwhelming—are balanced by Kean with humor and relatable anecdotes. DNA injury and resiliency is illustrated by the case of Tsutomu Yamaguchi, a man unfortunate enough to be exposed to the bomb detonation in Hiroshima, who then travelled to Nagasaki in time to be blasted again.

 

The Violinist’s Thumb refers to virtuoso Niccolo Paganini, whose musical gifts were, in part, due to a genetic error inhibiting his body’s ability to produce collagen; his disease allowed him to stretch his hands to perform amazing violin feats.  Unfortunately it also contributed to his poor health and early demise. Kean explains how cat hoarding behavior can be linked to careless litter box cleaning, and cautions the reader to avoid eating a polar bear’s liver should you find yourself stranded at the North Pole. The book ends by raising thorny questions about cloning and the implications of analyzing a single person’s genome. Readers who enjoy popular science writing, such as Mary Roach’s Stiff, will find a winner in The Violinist’s Thumb.

Lori

 
 

The Final Season

PaternoJoe Paterno long identified with Virgil’s reluctant Trojan hero Aeneas, who eschewed individual glory on his way to founding Rome. Aeneas fulfilled his destiny in a way that the late Penn State coach admired. Aeneas, like Paterno, was a team player.  In his new biography, Paterno, author Joe Posnanski paints a complicated picture of the consummate team player and his rise and fall as a coaching legend.

 

Posnanski cleverly organized Paterno’s story into five operatic acts, beginning with his success-driven upbringing in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn, and concluding with the tragic repercussions of the 2011 Penn State sexual abuse scandal.  By the end, and in a span of about three months, the winningest coach in college history had been consumed by scandal, cancer, and ultimately death.

 

Excellence and success meant different things to Joe Paterno. Examples of both are in plentiful supply in Posnanski’s book. There are anecdotes and testimonials but also contradictions. A former writer for Sports Illustrated, Posnanski visualized a different book when he was granted full access to Paterno last year. Then the Jerry Sandusky case erupted.   A chapter entitled “Sandusky” explores the emotional armor of these powerful men.  Apparently there was no love lost between the two. There are some interesting sidebars about Paterno’s impressions of the second most popular coach in Happy Valley.  

 

Although the author’s tone is generally sympathetic, it is still a white-hot topic as to why Paterno, a lifelong rule follower who valued his young men, did not step up for those most vulnerable. "One of Paterno's great strengths, and perhaps one of his great flaws was his fierce loyalty and absolute trust in the people closest to him," according to Posnanski. That observation remains the crux in evaluating the aggregate of a remarkable 46-year career that reached the pinnacle of heights before plunging to the depths of misery.

Cynthia

 
 

Hollywood Dreams

Hollywood Dreams

posted by:
September 11, 2012 - 8:30am

The Next Best ThingLike the heroine of her new novel The Next Best Thing, bestselling author Jennifer Weiner thought that it was a dream come true when she was approached to co-create a sitcom featuring a plus-sized heroine trying to break into show business. Although State of Georgia was short-lived, Weiner used her experiences in the television industry to create her new novel.

 

Readers first met Ruth Saunders in the short story “Swim” in Weiner’s The Guy Not Taken: Stories. After losing her parents in an accident that permanently scarred her, Ruth was raised by her grandmother. During her recovery from her injuries, Ruth and her grandmother found comfort in their favorite TV shows, like The Golden Girls. After she finished college, Ruth and her grandmother moved to Hollywood to chase Ruth’s dream of writing television shows. Now, Ruth has worked her way from glorified gofer to the creator of her first TV show, The Next Best Thing, a sitcom based loosely on her own life.

 

Ruth struggles with the process of shooting the pilot and first season of her show. As the show evolves, she watches her heartwarming comedy about an average girl breaking in to the restaurant business with the love and support of her grandmother change into another show entirely. Cady, the famous actress that the network forced Ruth to hire to play the plus-sized heroine, suddenly diets her way to a size 0. Network politics force her to fire actors that she thinks are right for the show, and the character based on her grandmother is rewritten as an oversexed cougar. Is this really the career she has always dreamed of? Weiner’s Hollywood-insider perspective and warm humor make readers cheer for Ruth’s chance to have it all.

 

Weiner is known for connecting with her readers via social media.  Fans can follow her on Twitter (@JenniferWeiner), where she live-tweets reality TV shows like The Bachelor and shares her favorite new books with her readers.

 

Beth

 
 

Swan Song

Swan Song

posted by:
September 10, 2012 - 8:45am

The Ugly DuchessTheodora Saxby is The Ugly Duchess in Eloisa James’ fourth Regency fairy tale inspired by Andersen’s The Ugly Duckling. All her life she’s been told that her looks are less than impressive, and she knows that her only chance at marriage will be to snag a fortune hunter. When she sets her sights on Geoffrey Trevelyan, she enlists the help of her best friend, James Ryburn, the Earl of Islay. She wants James to pretend to court her so Geoffrey will be forced to propose. But the close contact creates sparks between these two friends and when it is James who asks for her hand, Theo follows her heart.  

 

But a fairy tale wouldn’t be complete without a villain, and in this story it’s James’ father, the Duke of Ashbrook. The Duke had amassed gambling debts which threatened the future of the estate and he forced his son to marry Theo for her money. Basking in the glow of newlywed happiness, Theo overhears James and his father arguing and quickly realizes that is was her money that led James down the aisle. Theo banishes James from their home and demands that he leave England. She then reinvents herself and becomes a glittering society swan. For seven years, Theo lives independently and in-demand without any idea of the whereabouts of her husband. When James finally returns, he is changed physically (he’s got a tattoo!) and emotionally, but remains steadfast in his desire to reclaim his beautiful wife who he always saw as a swan.

 

Eloisa James has created another enchanting fairy tale love story with two passionate characters, a touch of wit, and a happily ever after. Lucky local fans can meet Eloisa in person at Nora Roberts’ Turn the Page Bookstore in Boonsboro, where she’ll be signing with Nora and several other authors on September 15th from noon until two o'clock. 

 

Maureen

 
 

A Platypus and a Wombat Walk Into a Bar...

A Platypus and a Wombat Walk Into a Bar...

posted by:
September 7, 2012 - 8:45am

Albert of Adelaide“Albert had come to the conclusion that the key to survival in Old Australia was in picking a criminal element you liked and sticking with it.”

 

Albert of Adelaide is tired of his life. He is bored by his daily routine, the same meals over and over, the same neighbors arguing and complaining, the same people gawking at him day in and day out. He longs for freedom and adventure, to experience life as it was meant to be lived. He gets his chance when an inattentive staffer fails to lock his cage and Albert the platypus breaks out of the Adelaide Zoo, beginning his journey toward self-discovery.

 

Following tales and legends, Albert begins his search for “Old Australia,” a place where animals rule themselves and humans do not interfere. Along the way, he makes friends as well as enemies. Even among the animals Albert is a curiosity, which proves to be both an advantage and disadvantage for him. Curiosity soon turns to fear, and Albert must learn the difficult lesson that not everyone nice is inherently good and not every criminal is inherently bad.

 

Debut novelist Howard Anderson has created a thought-provoking and entertaining story. Comparisons to Watership Down or even Animal Farm are inevitable, but Albert is much more reminiscent of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. The Wild West language and shoot ‘em up simplicity of Old Australia draws the reader in, with many laugh-out-loud moments to enjoy. The supporting characters are a literal hoot, namely the pyromaniac wombat and a pair of drunken bandicoots. Albert of Adelaide is recommended for fans of westerns, animal stories, or anyone who likes a good laugh.

 

Sam

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Glitter and Blood

Glitter and Blood

posted by:
September 7, 2012 - 8:00am

Dare MeWho knew that the world of high school cheerleading could be so fascinating?  Dare Me by Megan Abbott is a chilling tale that needs to be read in one sitting. Abby Hanlon is lieutenant to cheerleading captain Beth Cassidy. The two women are used to the status quo, the hierarchy of high school. Things change as their coach leaves and is replaced by Colette French, a young coach who begins to push the girls to their limits, turning them into champions. She gathers the young women into a cohesive unit, urging them to work together to go farther and fly higher. Colette presents herself as a mentor and a friend to the girls. She invites them to her house, often neglecting her husband and daughter. She supplies them with alcohol and berates them about weight issues. Colette sees no need for a team captain, which doesn’t sit well with Beth, who is used to being top dog. Beth becomes sullen and resentful, and Abby seems caught in the middle. Then an apparent suicide rocks the town, threatening to reveal squad secrets. A power struggle ensues that threatens to tear apart the squad, and the reader wonders who will survive the fallout.

 

Though the setting of Dare Me is high school, the intense theme makes it a book for older teens and adults. Abbott captures the cheerleading world perfectly. She describes the moves and tricks, the training, the blood, sweat and tears. She explores what happens when you are no longer accepted by the group, and the darkness and desperation of the human heart. Dare Me is a journey that is not easy, but once begun will need to be read to its intense conclusion.

Doug

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Reciprocal Awareness

Reciprocal Awareness

posted by:
September 6, 2012 - 7:05am

Gifts of the CrowSeattle wildlife scientist John Marzluff partners with illustrator-naturalist Tony Angell to create Gifts of the Crow: How Perception, Emotion, and Thought Allow Smart Birds to Behave Like Humans. While absorbing and fascinating, this is not the usual natural history of another species that shares our environment. Instead, the authors take an approach that delves deep into the neurological similarities between crows and humans, and look at numerous studies of the birds’ behavior that show how our noisy neighbors have adapted to our lives.

 

These birds share many characteristics of humans. In a chapter that discusses the emotional lives of crows and ravens, anecdotes describe these birds’ approaches to injured comrades, and particularly their grieving rituals. While crows often eat the dead of other species, they rarely if ever even touch their own, but instead come close and linger in a sort of respect-paying process. Also considered in great detail is the way that crows approach play. Scientists consider species that have incorporated play into their lives as highly advanced. The “social brain network” of these evolved mammals and birds is shown to be complex, and indicates multifaceted consideration of decision and realization. Crows have been observed playing “ring-around-the-rosy” with themselves and with unwitting humans who suddenly realize they too are part of the bird’s game.

 

Humans and crows have been watching each other for generations: cultures that laud crows as our forebears are plentiful worldwide, from India, to the American Southwest, and most famously the Canadian Pacific coast.  While we have learned much about crows and their relatives through scientific and neurological study, there is still much more to understand. Our mutual ecologies and simultaneous evolution will continue to shape both our species moving forward.

Todd

 
 

A City's Redemption

A City's Redemption

posted by:
September 6, 2012 - 7:01am

Season of the WitchSeason of the Witch: Enchantment, Terror and Deliverance in the City of Love by David Talbot is a deeply researched, fascinating cultural history of one of our most unique cities, San Francisco. Talbot focuses on the city’s slide toward the dark disillusionment of the 1970s and the devastating AIDS years of the 1980s. The founder of Salon magazine, Talbot knows how to tell a great story, offering fascinating glimpses into the lives several SF notables, including Janis Joplin, Jerry Garcia and Harvey Milk.  Talbot rounds out his history with San Francisco’s redemption, as the City by the Bay transformed itself into one of the most innovative urban centers in America.

 

This epicenter of “flower power” took a more ominous turn toward the end of the 1960s. Harder drugs like heroin became more prominent. City government was less effective. Crime was rampant. Talbot illuminates the dark underbelly of the city during the 1970s and 80s. He writes of its overall dangerous quality during this time. He also highlights several major San Francisco crime stories that transfixed the nation, such as Charles Manson, Patty Hearst, Harvey Milk, Jim Jones and the Zebra Murders.

 

Still reeling from the difficult 1970s, San Francisco was then ravaged by the AIDS epidemic in the 80s.  Talbot reminds us of those dark years when San Francisco virtually became a ghost town, a time when it seemed like everyone knew someone (or many people) who had died of AIDS. Coming out of these harrowing years, San Francisco emerged to be one of the most vibrant, progressive cities in the country. Talbot does an outstanding job of describing San Francisco’s lowest years in modern history and then tracing this city’s path to greatness.

Zeke

 
 

The Beauty Killer Strikes Again

The Beauty Killer Strikes Again

posted by:
September 4, 2012 - 8:30am

Kill You TwiceKill You Twice, the fifth book in Chelsea Cain’s Gretchen Lowell series, is sure to keep readers up all night. This series of gory, fast-paced thrillers follows Portland detective Archie Sheridan who was kidnapped and tortured for 10 days by Dr. Gretchen Lowell, the Beauty Killer. Gretchen is both terrifyingly violent and undeniably magnetic. Even now, years after the attack, the two of them have a strange bond. No matter how hard Archie tries to stay away from Gretchen, he will never truly escape her influence.

 

In Kill You Twice, Archie is investigating a gruesome murder when he receives two cryptic pieces of information from Gretchen who now is locked away in a state mental institution: Gretchen has a child, and Archie should investigate someone named Ryan Motley. Kill You Twice gives readers a surprising glimpse into Gretchen’s past while pulling them deeper into her latest game of cat and mouse.

 

This riveting suspense series will remind readers of The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris. It isn’t for the faint of heart, but fans of horror and suspense will be drawn into Gretchen’s web. Readers new to the Cain’s thrillers should start with Heartsick, the first novel in the series, which provides insight into how Archie and Gretchen’s dark, twisted relationship developed. 

 

FX recently announced that the network has begun development on a new TV series based on the Gretchen Lowell books. The first season will follow Heartsick. Cain is thrilled with the news. She wrote on her blog, “FX makes some awesome TV. JustifiedAmerican Horror StorySons of Anarchy. These people clearly buy fake blood in bulk and know how to use it.” Will Heartsick be the network’s next big hit?  Cain’s fans certainly hope so.

Beth

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Life, Love, and Ducks

Life, Love, and Ducks

posted by:
September 4, 2012 - 8:00am

The Chemistry of TearsMerriam-Webster’s dictionary defines automaton as “a mechanism that is relatively self-operating” such as a robot. Such a machine forms the underpinning of the two-time Booker Prize-winning author Peter Carey’s newest book, The Chemistry of Tears.

 

Carey introduces Catherine Gerhig, a London museum curator. She has just been told about the unexpected death of co-worker and family man Matthew, with whom she has been having a covert long-term affair. Catherine’s boss assigns to her the labor-intensive job of reassembling a complicated Victorian mechanical toy in attempt to distract her from her overwhelming grief. Amongst the chests of parts, Catherine finds the journals of Henry Brandling. Brandling was an Englishman who had traveled to rural Germany to commission clockmakers to build a fantastic mechanical duck which he intends to present to his beloved sickly son.

 

Webster’s second meaning for automaton refers to a machine operating according to predetermined directions; Catherine and Henry, as revealed through his diaries, both seem to be on autopilot themselves. Henry is on his single-minded quixotic quest to bring home a toy, the magical novelty of which he believes will spark his son to live. Self-medicated Catherine is slogging through the motions of life, unhinged as she is by her anguish at losing her lover.

 

Carey is a clever writer who blurs the distinctions between man and machine. Catherine eats only to live, Henry despairs at the paucity of food available to him, and what turns out to be a swan has a fully functioning digestive tract and eats for the entertainment of others. Henry and Catherine are objects of manipulation, as is the swan. The Chemistry of Tears is a well-written and intelligent story and Carey’s illuminating descriptions of antique mechanical inventions are a lovely bonus.  

Lori

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