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Staff Recommendations

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The Bennett Martin Public Library downtown maintains an ongoing “Staff Recommendations” display – Staff from throughout the library system are encouraged to submit book, audio, CD and DVD/video recommendations for items to be placed onto this display. Items on the display have bookmarks inserted, giving brief descriptions about the item’s appeal factors, and listing similar books, audios or videos that the reader might also enjoy.

This page on BookGuide is used to highlight some of the items that have appeared on our Staff Recommendations displays in the past, including our staff members’ descriptions of the books, plus links to any “official Web sites” for the books, authors or series, if they exist*. Items on both the display and on this webpage may be recent releases, or older titles that deserve another look. Hotlinks on titles or formats (downloadable audio, book-on-CD, Large Print) connect to the appropriate entry in our on-line catalog, so that you may check on the availability of the item.

INDEXES TO PAST STAFF RECOMMENDATIONS: BY TITLE | BY REVIEWER | TV SERIES/SPECIALS ON DVD/VHS | AGATHA CHRISTIE | STAR TREK | STAR WARS

May 2017 Recommendations

A Meatloaf in Every Oven
by Frank Bruni and Jennifer Steinhauer [641.636 Bru]

I found this brand-new title on the New Books display at the downtown library and gave it a quick browse. I’m glad I did, because this is a charming little cookbook! I grew up in a household where meatloaf was cooked in a rectangular bread loaf pan, basically 9″ x 5″ x 2.5″. My mom’s meatloaf was always perfectly fine — generally pretty moist, with a mixture of meats, packed densely, and topped in the oven with a spicy ketchup topping. After I grew up, got exposed to a wide variety of cookbooks, and cooking shows like Alton Brown’s Good Eats on The Food Network, I expanded my horizons — I now know that I prefer to cook my meatloaf as a dome shape on a flat sheet — I get more of the crispier “crust” that way.

In A Meatloaf in Every Oven, subtitled “Two chatty cooks, one iconic dish and dozens of recipes — from Mom’s to Mario Batali’s”, authors Frank Bruni and Jennifer Steinhauer, both of whom are journalists working for the New York Times, discuss the history and traditions of meatloaf (in many different forms) in many different cultures around the world. The bulk of the book, however, is a listing of 50 different recipes and instructions for diverse and divergent types of meatloaf. The recipes/instructions are basically simple and straightforward, and each recipe includes a bit of background about the person or persons who provided it to the author, and what makes that recipe especially unique. The book is divided into chapters: (1) Classics; (2) Around the World; (3) Lamb; (4) Cluck Cluck Gobble Gobble; (5) Meatless Loaves; (6) Guilty Pleasures; (7) Political Postscripts — recipes from four prominent politicians, Paul Ryan, Nancy Pelosi, Susan Collins and Chuck Schumer; and (8) Sides. Each chapter features an introductory “dialog” between Bruni and Steinhauer, often quite funny, but also thought-provoking.

Some of these recipes sound absolutely delicious, while others make me wonder exactly how they’d turn out! Some examples of some of the recipe titles, just to pique your interest: “Beef, Pork and Cremini Mushroom Loaf”, “Clean Out the Fridge Meatloaf”, “Bobby Flay’s Korean-Style Meatloaf With Spicy Glaze”, “Japanese Loaf with Miso and Mirin”, “Meatloaf with Moroccan Flair”, “Michael White’s Chicken Eggplant Loaf”, “Crab and Shrimp Loaf Muffins”, “Homely Homey Blue and Bacon Loaf” and “Ricotta Meatball Loaf”. There’s so much to digest here, I may have to get this one for myself! The only thing I have to complain about with this cookbook is that I like having photos/illustrations to go with most recipes, so I know how it’s supposed to come out. There’s not a single photo or illustrative graphic in this book! Otherwise, a fascinating read!

[ publisher’s official A Meatloaf in Every Oven web page]

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Recommended by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library


Appointment With Death
by Agatha Christie [Christie]

Once again our detective is in the right place at the right time. In this story he’s taken a trip to Petra as have an American family who are under the tight reins of their mother/mother-in-law/step-mother. This woman is very controlling and does not allow her grown children to mingle outside the family. This inevitably happens during travel and some feel it rather liberating while others are fearful of her wrath. The family situation becomes known to the other tourists at the hotel they are staying at and on their visit to Petra. This woman is quite old and in poor health so when she’s found dead it’s debatable, briefly, whether her health failed her or if her life was taken. With Poirot on the case and murder looking like a certainty, it’s up to him to figure out who, of the many who had motive, is the guilty one/s. I thought this was one of the better in the series I’ve read so far, though not a favorite. Because of the setting I was reminded of ‘Murder in Mesopotamia’ and ‘Death on the Nile’, from the same series. So if you are looking a mystery in an unusual place this would be perfect.

[ official Appointment With Death page on the official Agatha Christie web site ]

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Recommended by Kristen A.
Gere Branch Library


Everyone Brave is Forgiven
by Chris Cleave [Cleave]

This is historical fiction based upon the letters between the author’s grandparents.

Mary North is an eighteen-year-old woman who left school and traveled to London anxious to help, beginning the very day World War II was announced. Expecting to be assigned an espionage role, she was instead given the responsibility of being a teacher for a short amount of time. As the children were sent by train to the countryside for their safety, Mary was relieved of her duties. Her curiosity and passion to help were not in line with the attitudes and expectations of her affluent parents.

As the Blitzkrieg destroyed London, Alistair Heather was located in Malta after leaving his art curator career and enlisting with the British troops and becoming an officer. The English attitude toward race during that time was described to be ugly, and offered insights I haven’t often seen in historical fiction.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Mr. Churchill’s Secretary, by Susan Elia MacNeal, All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr or The Book of Harlan, by Bernice McFarland.] [ official Everyone Brave is Forgiven and Chris Cleave web site ]

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Recommended by Jodi R.
Gere Branch Library


Black River
by S.M. Hulse [Hulse]

This is not a comfortable book to read, with its messages about grief, bullying, prison violence, and the lifetime effects of having been tortured. The descriptions of the Montana landscape and the importance of music are beautiful.

Wes Carver returned to his former home in Montana to scatter his wives ashes. The visit puts him back into his stepson’s life, after they parted ways during his stepson’s teen years. They are both angry, but both want to ease the pain of a newcomer to the town, and in doing so they reflect on the music they once shared, and they dance in a figurative way between the many emotions they have toward each other.

I liked Wes’s honest questions about his faith and the glimmers of hope shown between the characters as they planned how to proceed with their pain and frustration.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Plainsong, by Kent Haruf, or the books in the Walt Longmire series, by Craig Johnson.] [ official Black River and S.M. Hulse web site ]

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Recommended by Jodi R.
Gere Branch Library


Snowblind
by Ragnar Jonasson [Jonasson]

This is a new book in the Nordic noir section and takes place on the northernmost tip of Iceland. It was fun to watch through the window as snow fell while I read this, because I could hear the wind blowing and feel the cold, ice, and snow. I had goosebumps when reading about people swimming in a pool during a blizzard. A just-graduated police officer has moved to the northern, snowy, isolated and usually calm town. While the community is planning a new play to open around Christmas, the new police officer suspects foul play when a famous author is found dead at the bottom of the playhouse stairs. When a woman is found in the snow, the town is enveloped in fear. I’m curious to see in time if this might be the beginning of a new mystery series.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, by Stieg Larsson] [ official Dark Iceland series web page on the official Ragnar Jonasson web site ]

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Recommended by Jodi R.
Gere Branch Library


The Chance
by Karen Kingsbury [Kingsbury]

The Chance is a nice little romantic story, about a couple who has not seen each other in years. They promise to meet on a certain day years after hiding letters to one another. They are a little bit cautious about what will happen and if the other one will show up. Long ago I decided not to read romance novels, yet after finding Kingsbury and other Christian fiction authors, I found several favorite authors that I really enjoy.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try The Bridge, by Kingsbury, or others by Kingsbury or Janette Oke, and the tv-movie Signed, Sealed, Delivered and the series of that name, produced by Martha Williamson (past producer of Touched By An Angel); I believe there was also a Christmas-themed special episode of that series, too.] [ official The Chance page on the official Karen Kingsbury web site ]

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Recommended by Kathy H.
Walt Branch Library


Epic Bike Rides of the World
by the editors at Lonely Planet [910.202 Lon]

Filled with gorgeous photography and helpful maps, this travelogue from the folks at the travel book company Lonely Planet is a catalog of some of the most beautiful and challenging biking routes to be found around the globe. The book is organized geographically, with chapters covering Africa, Americas, Asia, Europe and Oceania. Within each chapter, there are anywhere from two (Africa) to nineteen (Europe) highlighted rides. Examples include: “Riding the Rif” (Morocco); “Colorado Beer Bike Tour”; “Mountain Biking in Moab”; “Manhattan Circumnavigation”; “Bhutanese Dragon Ride”; “Down the Danube”; “A Corsican Challenge”; “Into the Outer Hebrides”; “Beaches and Bicycles in Adelaide”; “Alps 2 Ocean Cycle Trail” (New Zealand).

When asking biking enthusiasts for their favorite “epic” rides, everyone had a different definition of “epic”. Thus, this book includes everything from smooth, even, well-paved and super-safe commuter paths — perfect for family outings or a relaxing afternoon, to the most remote, challenging, arduous off-road adventures only serious, dedicated cyclists will be capable of tackling. All the trails listed, however, have detailed descriptions of what you’ll see along the way, and what cultural elements you can look forward to enjoying — including wonderful “Toolkit” sidebars telling you where you can rent bicycles, where to start your ride, where to eat/stay on your trip, where to shop along the way, and weblinks with additional information. For me, however, the best part of the book — in addition to the beautiful scenic photographs of both the trails and the views from the trails — is the “More Like This” listed after each highlighted ride. Numerous other noteworthy trails or rides are listed that are similar to the highlighted selection, but which get only a brief description. Included among the More Like This for All-American rides is our neighboring RAGBRAI (Register’s Annual Great Ride Across Iowa)! Also listed are the locations of some of the most famous bike races across the globe, for those wanting to pay homage to the challenges faced by professional cyclists, without the stresses of taking on hundreds of racers.

Whether your take your bikes with you on vacation, or simply want to rent some two-wheeled transportation when you get to your destination, Epic Bike Rides of the World will inspire you to visit some beautiful spots and contemplate the world around you in a new way!

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Recommended by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library


Witches Abroad
by Terry Pratchett [Compact Disc Pratchett]

This sequel to ‘The Weird Sisters’ features the same characters as before: Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg and their apprentice witch, Magrat Garlick. This time they go on a trip abroad as the title implies. There’s another witch at the start of the story who’s a fairy godmother and just before she passes away, she leaves her job and wand to Magrat, instructing her to go off to the city Genua. Granny and Nanny insist on going with her so they all set out and along the way there is a lot of weird fairy tale things going on that they don’t like very much. They believe that someone is messing with the land and creating all kinds of stories and forcing the locals to play parts in them against their will. They say this must be stopped so that’s what they go do once they get to Genua and find out who’s doing it. It is very funny all the way through with numerous fairy tales references. Magrat’s new fairy godmother wand is only useful for turning things into pumpkins, there’s a princess named Ella, Little Red Riding Hood shows up as does a road made out of yellow bricks, and they visit an entire castle of sleeping people covered with vines. But that’s not all, there’s also a cat that turns into a person, banana daiquiris, a voodoo witch and two sisters that totally despise one another. Out of the three in the Discworld series I’ve read, I’d say this was the best; that may not be saying much as there are about 40. As with ‘The Weird Sisters’, the plot moves a bit slow as there is more focus on character conversations, making fun at situations and at times the narrator decides to go on for a while about something other than the story. Also as with the other books, there are no chapters to segment the story and it will change without notice from one scene to the next. I listened to this one and it was all the more entertaining hearing the lines than just reading them. This is really not something I could recommend to everyone, as it’s kind of weird and has a sense of humor that is not everyone’s cup of tea, however if you are in the mood for a rather off the wall comedy/fantasy then this could be for you (audio version is particularly recommended).

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try The Witches, by Terry Pratchett, which comes before Witches Abroad in the Disc World series. You may also like the Fables series by Bill Willingham, also about fairy tales, but different.] [ official Witches Abroad page on the official Terry Pratchett web site ]

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Recommended by Kristen A.
Gere Branch Library


The Black Widow
by Daniel Silva

After several years of considering a Daniel Silva title, the libraries’ Just Desserts mystery fiction discussion group finally discussed one of this suspense writer’s espionage novels this past month — The Black Widow — the 16th volume in Silva’s Gabriel Allon series.

For the most part, this novel can stand on its own, but it is very obviously part of a series, and I think that reading the preceding volumes would help a lot in understanding some of the recurring characters’ relationships and motives. Former assassin, Israeli spymaster Gabriel Allon (also a renowned art restorer), is next-in-line to become head of Israel’s espionage services. But first, he has one more major operation to supervise in the field. A jihadist mastermind in ISIS has been behind more than one recent terrorism attack in Europe, and the intelligence world believes he’s planning something even bigger, to lure the United States into a holy war in the Middle East. That terrorist mastermind, who goes by the name Saladin, has a track record of using disaffected single Arabic women as his pawns, so Gabriel Allon has recruited a woman he believes can infiltrate Saladin’s network and possibly bring him down.

This is both a character-drive and plot-driven novel. The characters and situations are all extremely well imagined and very realistic. The plot ranges from fast-paced and action-oriented to slow and methodical. In the fifth of the novel, when Saladin’s plans are put into action, the suspense and terror levels are very intense. Silva was writing this at the time of the Paris terror attack, and his novel felt as real as the events that did actually occur. I really enjoyed this novel, and highly recommend it.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try the early works of Robert Ludlum, prior to his passing in 2001, particularly The Bourne Identity, The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum.] [ official The Black Widow page on the official Daniel Silva web site ]

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Recommended by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library


Fables 1: Legends in Exile
by Bill Willingham [YA PB (Graphic Novel) Willingham]

Ever wonder what happened to the Big Bad Wolf, Snow White, Goldilocks, Little Boy Blue and the other characters from classic fables? Well, it turns out that they were driven out of their Fable worlds into ours centuries ago by who or what is only referred to as the adversary. They don’t age and it’s difficult for them to die so long as humans continue telling their tales. They have set up a Fabletown in the midst of a large city and this graphic novel series tell of their present and bit of their past. There are a couple of stories in this book. Legends in Exile is the longest and it’s basically a murder mystery. The sister of Snow White, Rose Red, goes missing, her apartment is ransacked and there’s blood everywhere. Bigby, the Big Bad Wolf in human form (as an enchantment), plays detective. It was set up like a classic mystery story even with the get together at the end where the murderer is revealed in front of everyone involved. The next story is much shorter and is actually a prose story about Bigby, called A Wolf in the Fold. It tells of the wolf back in the homelands when people were fleeing for the human world, and a few centuries later after he passed into our world and was brought out of the wilderness into Fabeltown and gained his enchantment to look like a human. The last story is, The Price of a Happy Ending. It’s also set in the homelands during the struggle against the adversary and involved Little Bo Peep. Over all this is a really well written series. There is a lot of character development and a lot of secrets of the past to be revealed at the series continues. I highly recommend it as it’s full of adventure, surprise, mystery and a cast of familiar but new characters. I also like that the white space between the comic frames will change color or pattern depending on what’s happening in the story – I thought this was a nice touch that added a lot to the reading experience. If you prefer e-books then you can also check this out online with Hoopla Digital either in a browser or the app.

[If you enjoy this, almost all the rest of the series is on Hoopla. At the moment they have up to volume 21 out of the 22. One last note is that these stories were published in the volumes reviewed here and as deluxe volumes, which are hardback and longer, so there are only 14 of them. The stories line up fairly evenly but sometimes the shorter ones get shuffled around a bit differently in the different volume lines. Originally they came out as comic books, not graphic novels, so you could go that route too if you wanted.] [ official Fables web page on the Vertigo comics site ] | [ official Bill Willingham web site ]

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Recommended by Kristen A.
Gere Branch Library


Fables 2: Animal Farm
by Bill Willingham [YA PB (Graphic Novel) Willingham]

The Fables are back in another story, which is long enough this time to take up this whole volume without the addition of shorter stories. It picks up just after volume one, so I recommend that you start at the beginning. To reveal any of the plot here is a spoiler for the first volume; Rose Red was not really dead in the ‘Legends in Exile’ story. Rose Red and her sister Snow White take a trip up to the farm where the Fables who don’t look like people, such as the Three Little Pigs, the giants, and Shere Khan, live away from society so as not to be revealed to the wider world that the characters from fables are real and living in the same world. The visit does not go as planned due to an up rise among the farm residents who feel that all Fables are created equal, but some more equal than others. The revolt and it’s consequences take up most of the story, and the ending is not entirely a happy one. I’ll let you read it for yourself since I enjoyed all the surprises so much I don’t want to spoil them for you. This has been a very enjoyable series so far and personally I’m looking forward to reading the whole thing over time. If you want to see what happened after the story was over for the fable characters you read as a kid, this is a really fun graphic novel series. What’s also nice is the amount of character development there is from volume to volume. If you prefer e-books then you can also check this out online with Hoopla Digital either in a browser or the app.

One last note is that these stories were published in the volumes reviewed here on BookGuide and as deluxe editions, which are hardback and longer, so there are only 14 of them. The stories line up fairly evenly but sometimes the shorter ones get shuffled around a bit differently in the different volume lines. Originally they came out as comic books, not graphic novels, so you could go that route too if you wanted.

[If you enjoy this, almost all the rest of the series is on Hoopla. At the moment they have up to volume 21 out of the 22!] [ official Fables web page on the Vertigo comics site ] | [ official Bill Willingham web site ]

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Recommended by Kristen A.
Gere Branch Library


Thrawn
by Timothy Zahn [Zahn]

It’s a rare opportunity to get a second chance to make a first impression. Timothy Zahn gets just this chance with the re-introduction of a fan favorite character into the “New Continuity” with “Thrawn”. Already a talented writer, Zahn has really upped his game with his latest novel. A nagging element (to me at least), in his “Old Continuity” novels was his habit of having so many of his characters comment about what an awesome guy Thrawn is and how things would have been better with him in charge. In “Thrawn”, Zahn simply lets his titular character be impressive without feeling the need to have other characters comment about how impressive he is. In fact, this new version of Thrawn is a much more interesting character. While he is as supremely gifted and talented as always, he does have a few flaws (most noticeable is a blind spot when it comes to the nuances of Imperial politics) and is more nuanced in his motivations.

In addition to the titular character “Thrawn” also tells the story of Eli Vanto, an Imperial cadet from a remote world training to be a supply officer. His knowledge of an obscure trade language results in his career becoming linked to Thrawn’s. Another featured character is Arihnda Pryde, whom fans of “Star Wars: Rebels” will know as Governor Pryce of Lothal. The book features her rise to power and provides some insight into how and why she becomes a ruthless Imperial official. “Thrawn” is not quite a must-read novel. However, fans of Star Wars, especially those of “Star Wars: Rebels” will get a lot of enjoyment of this well-paced page turner.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Tarkin, by James Luceno, A New Dawn, by John Jackson Miller or Catalyst: A Rogue One Novel, by James Luceno] [ Wikipedia page for this novel — with links to Zahn’s previous books about Thrawn ] | [ Wikipedia page for Timothy Zahn ]

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Recommended by Corey G.
Gere Branch Library


Screening Room

formatdvdDenial
[DVD Denial]

Denial is an excellent film based on true-life events as recorded in the book “History on Trial: My Day in Court with a Holocaust Denier” by Historian Deborah Lipstadt, portrayed by actress Rachel Weisz. The story itself is a fascinating look at the British Judicial system as seen through the eyes of a Jewish-American Professor who must prove in court that the Holocaust really did happen after being slammed with a lawsuit by British Historian David Irving. Timothy Spall, a veteran English actor, plays the part of David Irving who represents himself in this riveting trial about the Holocaust in World War II. Spall does an incredible job of showing Irving’s point of view throughout the trial, even when pitted againt Lawyer Richard Rampton as portrayed by the excellent British actor Tom Wilkinson. My favorite role in this film was played by Andrew Scott, the actor who played Moriarty in the TV series “Sherlock.” It was interesting to see him in a different role as the lawyer Anthony Julius who represented Princess Diana in her divorce from Prince Charles. All in all, this is one of the best movies I have seen so far this year. I highly recommend it!

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try the DVDS of Schindler’s List, The Book Thief.] [Also available in traditional print format.] [ Internet Movie Database entry for this film ] | [ official Denial web site from the BBC ]

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Recommended by Kim J.
Bennett Martin Public Library


formatdvdThe Librarians
[DVD Librarians]

This TNT cable network series, which finished its third season in January 2017, is a spinoff from a series of three made-for-TV movies (2004, 2006, 2008) that featured Noah Wyle (ER) as Flynn Carsen, who is hired to be the lone “Librarian” for a mysterious agency that tracks down and secures ancient mystical objects. In those 3 movies, he was a single agent in the field, backed up by Bob Newhart and Jane Curtin in “the Library”, and usually assisted (or threatened) by a different femme fatale in each movie.

In “The Librarians”, which began 6 years after the last TV-movie, Flynn is looking for someone to replace him, and ends up settling on three possible Librarian recruits, plus a bodyguard to protect them. The series initially appears to have the recruits vying to be Flynn’s sole replacement, but with the increased number of magical threats facing the world, they all become full-fledged Librarian field agents, backed by John Larroquette as their crusty and fusty researcher back at their home base. Wyle continues to make occasional appearances as Flynn as the series progresses. Each season of The Librarians has featured a different major threat that the team faces. The action and plots are sometimes silly, but the cast has great chemistry with each other, and tackles the craziest of plots with enthusiasm. The series is written and produced by the same team that created multiple seasons of Leverage for TNT, and in fact, one of the Leverage cast members is a regular on The Librarians as well. Each season is extremely short — only 10 episodes — but they pack a lot into those 10 episodes each year. Fun to watch, as long as you don’t take it too seriously.

[If you enjoy this series, you may also wish to try the trilogy of The Librarian movies that preceded it: Quest for the Spear, Return to King Solomon’s Mines or The Curse of the Judas Chalice] [Also available: The Librarians tie-in novels — see them on our TV Tie-Ins booklist.] [ Internet Movie Database entry for this series ] | [ official The Librarians page on the TNT web site ]

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Recommended by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library


formatdvdThey Live
[DVD They]

Director John Carpenter is the master of horror and suspense films. They Live is one of his most memorable entries. Starring pro-wrestler “Rowdy” Roddy Piper, Keith David, Meg Foster and a cast full of lesser-known character actors, this is a story of an alien invasion in slow motion. Piper plays an anonymous drifter, looking for odd jobs on the fringes of a somewhat dystopian big city. He befriends Frank (played by David), another short-term laborer, and they both encounter members of a mysterious underground organization fronted by a crazy street preacher. This organization gives Piper’s character a set of black sunglasses that reveals the alien invasion all around him. While wearing the glasses, Piper can see the real, monstrous appearance of aliens posing as real humans, and the subliminal messages the aliens have slipped into billboards, magazines, television, and even our money — messages stating “OBEY”, “REPRODUCE” “CONFORM”, etc.

From that point on it’s a race as Piper’s character tries to convince Frank of this new reality, and the alien-controlled authorities crack down on “the resistance”. Piper takes a tv journalist (Foster) hostage, in hopes of using her to reveal the truth to the population — which goes badly.

This is a tense, suspenseful film — and a fight sequence between Piper and David part-way in is one of the most brutal I’ve seen in a movie. Highly recommended!

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try any of the other films of John Carpenter, particularly Escape From New York, The Thing, Big Trouble in Little China, Prince of Darkness or Ghosts of Mars] [ Internet Movie Database entry for this film ] | [ official John Carpenter web site ]

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Recommended by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library


last updated May 2017
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