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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

September 2017 Recommendations

Disney’s Greatest: Vol. 1-3
by various [Hoopla Downloadable Music]

There is something about Disney music that just puts one in a good mood. These albums have a nice mix of tunes from movies old and new, and with about 20 songs per album, it keeps you going for a while. Most all of them were familiar to me, but there were a few I didn’t know and my one complaint is that only the song title is listed, not the movie title as well. It’s easy enough to look it up but I thought it’d be nice to have it somewhere on the playlist. I don’t feel like I really need to say how good the music is since so many people grew up with it, so I’ll just say it was really fun to listen to. Recommended for anyone.

You can check these out on Hoopladigital.com or via the Hoopla app, with streaming or download. If you want more, there are a ton of other Disney albums on Hoopla to check out.

[ Disney’s Greatest at the official Disney Wiki ]

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Recommended by Kristen A.
Gere Branch Library


The Art Book
by Dorling Kindersley Publishing [709 Art]

I’m a huge fan of the series of Big Ideas Simply Explained books, put out by the publisher Dorling Kindersley. I own the three volumes dedicated to the very specific topics of Shakespeare, Sherlock Holmes and Star Trek. But I also enjoy the volumes in that series which cover much broader topics, such as Psychology, History, Science and Economics. As the series title indicates, the Big Ideas Simply Explained series takes broad topics — in this case the world and history of Art — and breaks them down into easily understand essays, articles and bullet points, so that pretty much anyone can understand the topic. In the case of Art, the subject is broken down into the following sections: Prehistoric and Ancient Art, The Medieval World, Renaissance and Mannerism, Baroque to Neoclassicism, Romanticism to Symbolism, and The Modern Age. Within each section, there are sub-chapters focusing on specific schools or styles of art, with breakout articles or focus pieces of significant artists. Throw in extensive timelines and “infographics” showing how so many things are interrelated and you’ve got a fascinating art history book, which can easily be read cover to cover, or which can be sampled based on what you’re in the mood for.

Dorling Kindersley as a publisher is best know for the extensive graphics in their books — illustrations, charts, etc., but most especially full-color photographs or art reproductions. For this history of art, that Dorling Kindersley style is used to full effect.

Highly recommended! Although if you’re looking for in-depth analysis of specific artists or artistic styles (impressionism, dadaism, expressionism, etc.), you’ll find plenty of other books in the library collection that go into greater depth on such topics. But if you’re looking for a nice broad overview, with beautiful illustrations, this will work just fine!

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try any of the other Big Ideas Simply Explained books, for other topics. Or, for more on general art history, check out the 709 number range in the non-fiction.] [ official The Art Book web site ]

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Recommended by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library


Fifty Ships That Changed the Course of History: A Nautical History of the World
by Ian Graham [387.2 Gra]

This fascinating volume caught my attention on the “new books” display here at the library, and I’m quite glad I took the time to give it a second look. For as much information as it contains, this is a fairly compact book. As the title indicates, this volume focuses on 50 specific sea-going vessels (as opposed to types or classes of ships), which had significant impacts on world history.

Beginning with Pharaoh Khufu’s Solar Barge (launched in Old Kingdom Egypt in approximately 2566 BCE) and ending with the MS Allure of the Seas (launched in Finland in 2009), each vessel gets a four-page spread. First, there is a technical chart, explaining the type of ship it was, when it was first launched, it’s length and tonnage, what is was constructed from, and its method of propulsion. The remainder of the four pages is dedicated to a somewhat detailed description of the history of the ship, and why it is historically significant. Each entry also features both black & white and color illustrations — either paintings or drawings, or photographs.

In most cases, the ships’ historical importance is due to the actions of that ship and her crew, although in a few cases, it is because of a significant passenger that the ship carried in its voyages. Examples of some of the ships in this volume include: The Santa Maria, the Mayflower, the HMS Endeavour, the HMS Beagle (carrying Charles Darwin), the Amistad, the America, the USS Monitor, the Cutty Sark, the Potemkin, the HMS Dreadnought, the RMS Lusitania, the RMS Titanic, the U-21, the Bismarck, the Yamato, the USS Missouri, Kon-Tiki, Rainbow Warrior, the USS Enterprise, and DSV Alvin…plus 30 others!

If you’re even the slightest bit interested in naval history, but don’t want to dedicate yourself to a lengthy volume about the history of a specific ship, this volume allows you to dip your toe into that rich history. I particularly appreciated the little sidebar articles scattered throughout the book, that tie the individual ships into the broader scope of history. I also appreciated that the book looks at ships from multiple cultures and regions of the world. The only disappointing thing for me was in what wasn’t there — so many other significant ships that could have been included, but the author had to limited himself to only 50! A fascinating read!

[ official Fifty Ships That Changed the Course of History web site ]

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Recommended by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library


hooplaCome From Away
music by David Hein and Irene Sankoff [Hoopla Digital]

This is the soundtrack to the current hit Broadway show of the same title. Come From Away tells the story of what happened in the small town of Gander, Newfoundland in British Columbia, as a result of the terrorist attacks on 9/11/2001. When the U.S. airspace was shut down following the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, the hundreds of planes still in the air and en route to U.S. destinations, had to find someplace “else” to land, many of them low on fuel. One of those places was a small international airfield in Gander, on the isle of Newfoundland, about 550 miles NE of Maine. The book The Day the World Came to Town chronicles the events that transpired after 38 international flights were forced to land at Gander’s airfield, and the small community suddenly had to shelter and feed 7000 unexpected visitors, all in an atmosphere of fright and confusion.

Come From Away tells the same story, only with catchy, unforgettable music. A relatively small cast of characters stands in for the locals and the 6,000+ guests, and the music moves quickly from the pounding, driving introductory number “Welcome to the Rock” to a mixture of fast-paced and more introspective numbers. Obviously, in the case of a soundtrack, the listener doesn’t get to read or hear the non-musical plot points and dialog between the characters, but the flow of the songs still tells this story fairly well. We get the points of view of pragmatic Newfoundlanders, New Yorkers concerned with family at the Trade Center site, pilots from Texas, Muslim passengers feeling ostracized because of the circumstances. There’s even a romance brewing between a couple of the characters who would never have met each other if it weren’t for the tragic circumstances.

While there are certainly big rollicking numbers featuring the entire company, there are some truly stand-out pieces in this album: I Am Here, Prayer, Screech In, The Dover Fault, and my personal favorite, Me and the Sky. The full-company scene where the visitors (the “Come From Awayers”) all become honorary Newfoundlanders is funny and moving. I also appreciated that the musical features a coda in which the Come From Awayers returned to Gander on the 10th anniversary of 9/11 to thank all the locals. The vocalists are all excellent, and listening to this Broadway soundtrack really makes me long to see the full show. Hopefully a touring company will bring it to Lincoln or Omaha soon!

In this month where we commemorate the 16th anniversary of 9/11, if you’re looking to read or listen to something related to that topic, I recommend giving Come From Away a try. Currently, it is only available through the libraries’ Hoopla Digital Downloads service, but I’m hoping we’ll also buy it on CD eventually!

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try The Day the World Came to Town, by Jim DeFede.] [ official Come From Away Broadway web site ]

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Recommended by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library


News of the World
by Paulette Jiles

72-year-old Captain Jefferson Kidd, out of Georgia and living in Texas, veteran of three wars, a former printer by trade, a widower with grown children who live a long distance away, and nowadays a professional “news reader”, finds himself in an unusual and potentially dangerous situation. He has been implored by a trusted acquaintance to take over the delivery of a white girl, recently “rescued” by the Army from a Kiowa band, to her only known German relatives. 10-year-old Johanna is at turns wild and wary, not understanding why she has been separated from what she considers her family since being taken captive four years earlier. As their unlikely journey from north to south Texas plays out through bad weather, bad people, and bad fortune, the two disparate souls bond through necessity and acceptance, ultimately creating a crisis for the “Kepdun” and “Chohenna” at the intended conclusion. An excellent, evocative yet also plain-spoken, novel, I kept picturing it as a wonderful Western movie or series such as Lonesome Dove or The Cowboys. The fact that it uses historical bases for the characters and situations makes it even more fascinating.

[ official News of the World web site ] | [ official Paulette Jiles web site ]

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Recommended by Becky W.C.
Walt Branch Library


Wicked Autumn
by G.M. Malliet

The libraries’ Just Desserts mystery book group recently selected the entire body of G.M. Malliet’s work for one of our monthly mystery discussions. Malliet has two series — 3 volumes in the Detective Chief Inspector St. Just series, starting with Death of a Cozy Writer (previously reviewed for the Staff Recommendations), and 6 volumes in the Max Tudor series, starting with this volume, Wicked Autumn. Both series feature elements of the “cozy” and of the “amateur detective” mystery subgenres.

Max Tudor is a former MI-5 (British Intelligence) agent, who, after a tragedy while on assignment, finds himself disillusioned with the violence and deception of intelligence work. Surprisingly, even to himself, he follows a calling to become a pastor, the vicar of St. Edwolds in the quaint English village of Nether Monkslip. This first volume in the series picks up as Max as been the vicar there for only a few years, and is still considered something of a stranger to the village…though because he’s extremely handsome, the ladies (both single and married) tend to hover around him.

In Wicked Autumn, as the village is celebrating the annual Harvest Festival, the much-disliked coordinator of the festival is found dead in the Town Hall, killed in a highly unusual way. Max Tudor uses his skills from years in the intelligence field, to assist the local police inspector in investigating the crime, and in the process uncovers numerous secrets about his fellow townsfolks and parishioners. In the “cozy” tradition, very little violence occurs “on screen”, and the group of suspects is all part of a small, tightly-knit local community. But there are elements of the story, and Max’s background, that are a bit darker than the traditional “cozy”.

I enjoyed Wicked Autumn very much, and look forward to reading more of the Max Tudor series. As of 2017, there are 6 of them out there, with a 7th scheduled for 2018.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Malliet’s other series, starting with Death of a Cozy Writer.] [ official G.M. Malliet web site ]

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Recommended by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library


The Right Side
by Spencer Quinn

I was looking forward to this new novel in a brand-new series by Spencer Quinn, author of the Chet & Bernie mysteries, mainly because Quinn writes some of the best narrative voices out there. But, if I was expecting the somewhat light-hearted, whimsical tone of those Chet & Bernie mysteries, I was in for an incredible surprise. But it’s a good surprise! LeAnne Hogan is the central character (and voice) of this new novel. She is a wounded warrior — a soldier recovering from injuries received in Afghanistan, where she lost her right eye and the right side of her face became badly scarred. In addition to having difficulties adjusting to her new physical reality, she is also suffering from PTSD, with some memory loss and her personality disrupted — most of her inhibitions wiped out. Forming an intense bond with her female roommate at the stateside hospital where she is recovering, LeAnne reacts badly when that roommate dies unexpectedly — she leaves the facility and heads out on her own, without meds and without completing her psychological recovery.

After some wandering, ultimately, she ends up in the hometown of her deceased friend, where she discovers that her late friend’s elementary-school-aged daughter has disappeared. Facing suicidal impulses of her own, and needing a cause to focus on, LeAnne fixates on finding the missing girl, despite hostility from the locals. Supporting her is another female loner — a mysterious but tough black dog that for some reason has adopted LeAnne, despite LeAnne’s protestations.

LeAnne’s journey, as she deals with current tensions and relives the incidents that lead to her injuries, is fascinating to follow, and although she has a sometimes abrasive personality, you can easily see why she may rub people the wrong way. Her reluctant relationship with the mysterious dog that bonds with her is also a typical “Spencer Quinn” device — seemingly all of his novels explore the human/dog relationship.

Don’t go into this expecting light and fluffy, but if you’re willing to tackle a little darkness and some rough characters, I highly recommend this. One of my favorite reads of 2017!

[ official The Right Side page on the official Spencer Quinn web site (pseudonym of Peter Abrahams) ]

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Recommended by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library


Screening Room

formatdvdHimalaya
by Michael Palin [DVD 915.496 Pal]

Michael Palin of Monty Python has traveled around the world before but his journey this time is a bit slower paced as he’s traveling around and up the Himalayan Mountains. While I enjoy his longer journeys around the Pacific Rim, Pole to Pole and Around the World in 80 Days, this one is just as good. It’s not the sort of travel show that shows you where to stay and what to see when you go there yourself. As usual his voice over is a mix of informational and personal narrative which is interesting and entertaining. Palin has a way of making the viewers feel like they’re there with him on his travels, which are never the tourist routes. He really gets into the cultures he visits, often by living with the locals. I never get tired of watching these shows over and over, so I recommend this, and his others, highly to anyone who enjoys documentaries, travel, the Himalayas, and or Michael Palin.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Palin’s other travel documentaries: Around the World in 80 Days, Pole to Pole, Full Circle, Hemingway Adventure, Sahara, New Europe, or Brazil. There are also books that accompany most, if not all, of these trips.

[Also available in traditional print format.] [ Internet Movie Database entry for this film ] | [ official Michael Palin’s Himalaya web site ]

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Recommended by Kristen A.
Gere Branch Library


formatdvdLife
[DVD Life]

This space thriller stars Ryan Reynolds and Jake Gyllenhaal. A group of scientists on the International Space Station send a probe to Mars and it comes back with a sample including a single celled organism that they decide to try to bring to life. After performing some experiments on it it does in fact come to life and seems friendly, however something goes wrong with the chamber it’s held in and it stops moving. To bring it back to life one of the scientists decides to shock it and it doesn’t take too kindly to it. Suddenly its mission is to kill all aboard so the movie follows their hope for survival while trying to keep the station from entering earth’s atmosphere and bringing the creature into our world. This movie was terrifying and disgusting. It has a very slow start so you have to stick with it, but once the creature starts killing people and gets bigger and bigger after each kill the scenes get more intense.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Alien, Interstellar, Contact, The Martian, Arrival or The Thing] [ Internet Movie Database entry for this film ] | [ official Life (Movie) web site ]

Recommended by Carrie K.
Bennett Martin Public Library


formatdvdParenthood
[DVD Parenthood]

One of our favorite TV series was Parenthood, produced by Ron Howard and others. We always enjoyed the family situations, including drama, laughter and more. Every actor did a wonderful job portraying a character, who we grew very fond of, so we were quite disappointed when this show ended, after six seasons. We would truly miss seeing these people.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try The Gilmore Girls, Signed Sealed Delivered, Blue Bloods or 7th Heaven] [ Internet Movie Database entry for this film ] | [ Parenthood at Epguides.com ]

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Recommended by Kathy H.
Walt Branch library


hooplaRed Sonja: Queen of Plagues
[Hoopla Downloadable Movie]

I’m quite a Red Sonja fan, so I was looking forward to seeing this, but didn’t know what to expect. The animation, if you want to call it that, felt like moving paper cutouts around and filming them. Not everyone will like this but I didn’t mind. One of Red Sonja’s foes in this movie is a former friend who is haunted by ghosts of those she and Sonja were forced to fight in a Colosseum of sorts while they were both imprisoned. There is also a plague ailing the city Sonja is trying to defend from her former friend, and it turns out there is someone unexpected behind it all. I thought the story was fairly good and there were enough flash backs to know the backstory to Sonja and her former friend. The major discussion point of this movie to me is that the dialog came across as comical and I don’t think it was intended to be. Sometimes what they said was so out of place and character it was funny and sometimes it was how said it. This sort of thing would occur in serious conversations but made me laugh out loud anyway; somehow this was not irritating to me but I think easily could be. While I’ve read plenty of Red Sonja, Marvel and Dynamite, I have not read the comics this is based on so that may influence one’s perception, as is the case anytime you read the book then see the movie. If you have little to no exposure to Red Sonja, this could easily spoil your view of her, so see my recommendations below for better introductions to her character. I wouldn’t say this film is for everyone, (I’m not too sure I’ll even watch it again), but if you like movies that try to be serious and fail miserably, then this may be for you.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Red Sonja comics, also on Hoopla: Red Sonja: Vulture’s Circle, Red Sonja: The Black Tower or The Chronicles of Conan Vol 4: The Song of Red Sonja and Other Stories] [Also available in traditional print format.] [ Internet Movie Database entry for this film ] | [ official Red Sonja: Queen of Plagues web site ]

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Recommended by Kristen A.
Gere Branch Library


formatdvdThe Rocketeer
[DVD Rocketeer]

The Rocketeer is one of my all-time favorite films! It was released by Disney in 1991, and is a live-action adaptation of a popular series of comic books and graphic novels, created by writer/artist Dave Stevens in 1982. The comics pay homage to the style of serial adventure movies from the 1930s to the early 1950s, and the film captures the look and feel of that old-style of film-making while still putting a high-tech gloss on it. 1940s Test pilot Cliff Secord (William Campbell, in my favorite of all of his performances) comes into the possession of a backpack style flying rocket suit, being sought by Nazi agents. Together with the help of an eccentric engineer (Alan Arkin) and Cliff’s nightclub-singer girlfriend (Jennifer Connelly), Cliff takes on a famous silver screen star (Timothy Dalton), who’s working with the Nazi’s to get back the missing rocketpack. The Rocketeer is filled with rollicking adventure, spectacular special effects and stunts, an endangered romance, singing and dancing, humor and clearly defined good guys and bad guys. And the soundtrack by James Horner is spectacular! I can’t recommend this one highly enough. The only disappointment is that The Rocketeer didn’t do well enough at the box office to generate one or more sequels, which were set up by the end of the movie.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try The Rocketeer Soundtrack, or any of the many The Rocketeer comic books and graphic novels available through our Hoopla downloadable service.] [The movie was also novelized in paperback by ace TV Tie-In writer Peter David, but that can be hard to track down.] [ Internet Movie Database entry for this film ] | [ official The Rocketeer Wikipedia page ]

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Recommended by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library


formatdvdStar Wars: Rogue One
[DVD Rogue]

Rogue One felt like a sci-fi war film without all the Star Wars strings attached which can give you the feeling you should watch the original movies and prequels to understand and enjoy the show. The main character is Jyn Erso whose father helped engineer the Death Star. The Empire basically forces him to work on it even after he tried to escape with his family and live a peaceful life. When the Empire arrives at his door he sends Jyn to a secret hiding spot while he gets kidnapped and his wife is killed. Sometime after a family friend comes to collect Jyn and raises her. The movie then moves forward in time to Jyn as an adult and we watch her, with some new friends, go help her dad escape and steal the plans for the Death Star. It doesn’t exactly have a happy ending and I kind of like it that way. Sometimes happy endings seem like they happen all the time and we expect all the main characters to be there at the end, even if it seems unlikely. Personally I liked this one better than The Force Awakens, simply because I think I’d re-watch this and haven’t watched Force Awakens since I saw in the theater. If you are looking for a standalone action sci-fi, this would be a good one, but it does fit into the larger Star Wars Saga so it can be enjoyed as part of a whole too, if you want it to.

[Also available in traditional print format.] [ Internet Movie Database entry for this film ] | [ official Rogue One web site ]

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Recommended by Kristen A.
Gere Branch Library


formatdvdTable 19
[DVD Table]

Table 19 stars Anna Kendrick as Eloise, the former maid of honor in a wedding who was downgraded when the best man – aka the bride’s brother – dumped her. She shows up to the wedding anyway to show support for the bride and discovers she’s been assigned to sit at Table 19 – the table for people “who should have RSVP’d no.” While there she meets an entertaining cast of characters ranging from The Kepps – a married couple who own a diner – to Walter – the father-of-the-bride’s nephew who stole money from him. We put this movie in to have something to fall asleep to and actually both ended up staying awake until the very end. Yes, it’s a comedy but it’s so much more than that. While the characters are quirky you end up rooting for each and every one of them.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Wedding Crashers, Made of Honor, Bridesmaids, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, 27 Dresses, The Wedding Planner or The Wedding Date] [ Internet Movie Database entry for this film ] | [ official Table 19 web site ]

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Recommended by Carrie K.
Bennett Martin Public Library


last updated September 2017
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