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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

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May 2018 Recommendations

Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire: A 500 Year History
by Kurt Andersen [973 And]

There are many books out there that why one group of people are wrong or why another group of people are insane. “Fantasyland” stands out by taking a big picture approach of how our country came to a place where we appear to be polarized on the very definition of reality itself. Kurt Andersen traces America’s relationship with “wishful magical thinking” all the back to the Protestant Reformation. The author does take a consistently critical view of religion (especially Christianity). So, those readers easily agitated by religious criticism may have a hard time with this book. Rest assured that Kurt Andersen is an equal-opportunity critic. It is a long read, but never a tedious read. It would take the most closed of minds to not at least acknowledge that the author makes some valid criticisms and observations about America’s “fantasy industrial complex”. For anyone wondering how it is we got to where we are as a country, for better or worse, I cannot recommend this book enough to you. It is one of the most entertaining and insightful books you are likely to read.

[ official Fantasyland page on the official Kurt Andersen web site ]

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Recommended by Corey G.
Gere Branch Library


#NotYourPrincess: Voices of Native American Women
edited by Lisa Charleyboy and Mary Beth Leatherdale [j 970.1 Not]

This book is for the young Native American woman who would like to see more of herself in print. It touches upon the stereotypes we have about Native American women and busts them. The poetry, short essays, and visual art are each thoughtfully placed for maximum impact. I would caution a reader to take their time and read pieces multiple times to absorb everything the authors are trying to impart with us. My favorite poem is “The Things We Taught Our Daughters” by Helen Knott. Aside from teaching us about some of the patterns that have perpetuated violence in our history, this book is critical because it also features role models (the authors and protagonists themselves) from many tribes around the continent. I would gift this to a young woman of color, even from another racial or ethnic background, because it reminds the reader that they have the strength they need inside themselves. I mean to say that those who do not have mainstream princess stories published about them yet *do* have incredible stories to tell, and I hope we continue to see more books and other works of art created by the folks who have historically been pushed too far into the sidelines.

[ publisher’s official #NotYourPrincess web site ]

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Recommended by Naomi S.
Eiseley and Williams Branch Libraries and the Bookmobile


Star Wars ReviewsThe Last Jedi
by Jason Fry [Fry]

The novelization of “Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi” is unlikely to mend emerging schisms between factions of Star Wars fandom. Nor will it serve to decrease the vitriol directed towards Rian Johnson. However, for those who saw “The Last Jedi” and did not feel the need to emulate a Kylo Ren-level tantrum, this is a well-done and finely written book that provides welcome insight and background into characters and events in the movie. It is a fun and entertaining read for anyone still considering themselves a Star Wars fan.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try The Weapon of a Jedi, by Jason Fry, Cobalt Squadron, by Elizabeth Wein, or The Force Awakens, by Alan Dean Foster] [ official Star Wars web site ] | [ official Jason Fry web site and blog ]

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Recommended by Corey G.
Gere Branch Library


A Wrinkle in Time: 50th Anniversary Edition
by Madeleine L’Engle [j L’Engle and YA L’Engle]

A Wrinkle in Time has always been one of my favorite childhood classics. When I first read it, I was not old enough to understand many of the scientific concepts presented in the book, but I loved the story anyway because it was unlike anything else I had ever read. That opinion still stands true today. With the movie adaptation that just came out of “A Wrinkle in Time,” I was moved to get the book out and re-read it to see if it still held up as a classic after 55 years. The answer is yes — the relationships between the characters are just as meaningful today as they were then. If you have never read the book, I would suggest reading the book before viewing the movie. The movie pales in comparison with the story that Madeleine L’Engle created. This particular edition is especially nice with the Afterword written by L’Engle’s granddaughter, Charlotte, and the Newbery Medal acceptance speech written by L’Engle herself.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try A Swiftly Tilting Planet, by Madeleine L’Engle, A Wizard of Earthsea, by Ursula K. LeGuin or The Chronicles of Narnia series, by C.S. Lewis] [ official A Wrinkle in Time page on the official Madeleine L’Engle web site ]

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Recommended by Kim J.
Bennett Martin Public Library

See also: Scott C.’s August 2017 reviews of A Wrinkle in Time and A Wrinkle in Time: The Graphic Novel


The Silver Chair
by C.S. Lewis [j Lewis]

This is the second to last book in the Narnia series chronologically speaking, and was the fourth out of seven to be published. The four children, Peter, Susan, Edmond, and Lucy are not in this story but their cousin Eutice who was with Lucy and Edmond in the ‘Voyage of the Dawn Treader’ is, along with a girl he knows from school named Jill. Euctice and Jill commonly call each other by their last names Scrub and Pole respectively because it seems to be what they do at school. They both get summoned to Narnia from school and are told by Aslan to find and rescue the prince (son of King Caspian from the ‘Voyage of the Dawn Treader’) who has been missing for many years and believed to be dead. As before in the Narnia books more time passes in Narnia than in our world, so each visit is sort of a time travel forward into Narnia. Aslan gives specific yet vague instructions for completing the quest which the two do their best to follow but don’t always. They still end up finding him with the help of a non-human character named Puddleglum. The prince has been under a spell of a wicked witch who straps him to a silver chair each day to re-administer the spell, which is where the title comes from. I thought it was a good moral filled story with a number of different side tracks along the main story. You could read this as a standalone if you wanted without too much confusion but I would suggest you read ‘Voyage of the Dawn Treader’ before this one, and ‘Prince Caspian’ before ‘Voyage of the Dawn Treader’. Compared to others in the series this is I’d say is a bit darker but still has its lighter moments. Recommended for all ages of readers who enjoy classic fantasy.

[ official www.narnia.com web site ] | [ official C.S. Lewis web site ]

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Recommended by Kristen A.
Gere Branch Library


Watchmen
by Alan Moore (writer) and Dave Gibbons (artist) [741.5 Moo]

This was quite a dynamic and complex novel; it is a graphic novel in that it is several comic books combined and that the nature of the story is dark and violent at times. The story is set in 1985 but different than our real 1985. In their past a few ordinary people were masked crime fighters, kind of like Batman, but a group of them formed and worked together. In time the government legally put a stop it – except for two that they hired to work for them, one of which had a sort of accident making him more than human. Disbanded, they mostly fell out of contact with each other over the decades. However one of the members refused to give up his masked hero lifestyle and discovers that one of their own had been brutally murdered – the police, not knowing his hidden identity think it’s just another murder. From here he decides to find the others to let them know and warn them they might all be in danger. He’s right; they are in danger, so the question is who and why. This would make the story a mystery but it’s so much more than that; as things progress with the investigation and the group coming together (somewhat) again, there are layers of romance, history, science fiction, and even a comic in a comic that all swirl through the pages. There is a lot more the take in than what is in the text boxes so I suggest you take your time looking closely at the graphics as well; it’s in part for this reason I’m sure I’ll read this again. I highly recommend this book to those who enjoy multifaceted novels that provide plenty to think about including relationships, morals, ethics, history and people. It’s not always told in a linear fashion and the point of view jumps from character to character so there are always multiple interwoven stories going on at once. I was fortunate enough to read it without having the ending spoiled for me and I hope the same is true for you if you decide to read it. As I mentioned it is violent and graphic in nature at times, but it also contains nudity and adult themes so read at your own discretion. I have not seen the movie at this point in time so I can make no comparisons between book and movie.

[ official Watchmen page on the DC comics web site ] | [ Wikipedia page for Alan Moore ]

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Recommended by Kristen A.
Gere Branch Library


Belinda the Unbeatable
by Lee Nordling and Scott Roberts [jP Nordling]

A classroom game of musical chairs is better when everyone is included. Belinda brings a friend into the game who was previously going to be left out, sitting alone by the lockers. As the game continues, the cheery musical notes and fun twists and turns in the route become a little more and more stressful. Without any words whatsoever, the book’s illustrations shows us which characters are good sports and which could use a little more kindness. The ending teaches us a newer, more improved way to play musical chairs, and it showcases the great way that Belinda became unbeatable.

[ publisher’s official Belinda the Unbeatable web page ]

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Recommended by Naomi S.
Eiseley and Williams Branch Libraries and the Bookmobile


From Doon With Death
by Ruth Rendell [Compact Disc Rendell]

In advance of the April 2017 Just Desserts mystery fiction discussion group meeting, where we discussed the entire body of work by British suspense writer Ruth Rendell, I sampled both one of her stand-alone suspense titles, and one of her police procedurals, featuring Inspector Reginald Wexford. This was the Wexford novel.

From Doon With Death is actually the first in the Wexford series, with 23 more to follow if you end up enjoying it. As Rendell put it in interviews, Wexford was “born a 52-year-old-man”. In this novel, he’s already a gruff, seasoned police veteran, one of the more experienced members of the force in a relatively small country community. When a seemingly mild-mannered housewife is killed, with some emotionally-based brutality, Wexford and his young partner have to start digging into lives that on the surface seem placid and normal, but which, under the surface, have a lot of turmoil. The characters in this are extremely well-defined, from the central police investigators to the myriad of suspects in the murder. And, while some the police procedural elements seem quite realistic, there’s also a bit of a laissez-faire attitude about the whole thing that seemed unprofessional.

However, the plot is fairly fast-paced, the sleuths are intriguing, and the ending, while shocking in 1964 standards, when the book came out, is still a bit of a twist even today. I do still recommend this volume, and the Inspector Wexford series in general. If you like these characters, you can also check out the Ruth Rendell Mysteries on DVD, four seasons of a TV series adapting many of her key Wexford novels. You can see a complete list of Rendell’s works in the Just Desserts handout from that meeting.

[ publisher’s official From Doon With Death web page ] | [ publisher’s official Ruth Rendell web site ]

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Recommended by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library


hooplaThe Tree of Hands
by Ruth Rendell [Hoopla]

In advance of the April 2017 Just Desserts mystery book group meeting, where we discussed the entire body of works by British suspense writer Ruth Rendell, I asked one of the members — a huge Rendell fan — which single stand-along novel they would most recommend, and The Tree of Hands was what they suggested. It was one of two Rendell titles I read for that book group meeting, and was, by far, the best!

Rendell is a master of creating casts full of characters with mental twists, and this novel is a perfect example of this. There are multiple seemingly-independent storylines that are running simultaneously, and appear to have little to do with each other. But by the end of the book, all the separate characters have crossed each other’s paths, often to the detriment of everyone involved. Very few of the primary characters in this one — a successful writer who’s just lost her child in a tragedy and finds herself “gifted” with a stolen replacement, a con artist trying to sell a home he doesn’t own, a naive young man in love with an older woman, whose flaws he can’t see, and a mentally-damaged older mother with a limited grasp on reality — are people who you’ll like, but Rendell’s storytelling makes their individual plot threads extremely compelling, and you’ll be hard-pressed to guess where they’ll all end up.

In the end, I was extremely impressed by the complex storytelling and well-defined characters in The Tree of Hands, and strongly recommend it as an excellent example of Rendell’s stand-alone psychological suspense novels. If you like it, check out the Just Desserts handout on Rendell’s complete body of work to track down some more of her novels.

[ Wikipedia page for The Tree of Hands ] | [ publisher’s official Ruth Rendell web site ]

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Recommended by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library


The Snowball: Warren Buffett and the Business of Life
by Alice Schroeder [Biography Buffett]

While this is not a book I would normally pick up I did enjoy it. I’m taking a management class for my MLIS degree and was assigned to read a book on a list provided by the professor. ‘The Snowball’ was on it and because I didn’t know much about this fellow Nebraskan, I gave it a read. The book covers his whole life, from childhood in the 1930’s up to his 70’s when the book was published in 2008. The biography was very detailed even the parts from his childhood, teen years and college. It covers the events in his life but also the wider world and how those events affected him. I listened to the book but checked out the paper copy as well and found that it had photos in it, which you can’t experience with the CD. It was nice to be able to see the photos of the places and people in his life that the book introduces especially since so many of the people in Buffett’s life have been part of his life for so long. Equally as interesting to the biographical aspect is the life lessons and business lessons that Buffett has used throughout his life. Overall I enjoyed this more than I thought I would as biographies and business books are not my usual read. It quite long, 30 CDs for the audio book, which did initially feel daunting to me but even though it did take a while to get through, it never felt dull, boring or slow, so don’t let the length be a deterrent to you. I’d recommend it to anyone interested in Warren Buffett’s life, Nebraska history,business philosophies, life philosophies, or history.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try The Oracle & Omaha: How Warren Buffett and His Hometown Shaped Each Other, by Steve Jordon.] [ publisher’s official The Snowball web page] | [ Wikipedia page for Alice Schroeder ]

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Recommended by Kristen A.
Gere Branch Library


The Backstagers, Vol. 1: Rebels Without Applause
by James Tynion IV (writer), Rian Sygh (artist) and Walter Baiamonte (colorist) [YA PB Tynion]

Being active in the local community theater culture, this youth graphic novel caught my eye on a library book display. The “Backstagers” are a group of oddballs and misfits who serve as the backstage crew for theatrical productions at an all-boys private high school. This first graphic novel follows new transfer Jory, as he looks for an after-school group he could potentially join. The on-stage Drama Club isn’t a good fit, but he immediately bonds with the quirky gang who build the sets, create the props, and run both sound and light for the shows.

If that were all that this story were going to cover, it would have been enough — “introverted loner finds group of fellow quirky oddballs that he can belong to”. However, this is also a storyline with a strong dark fantasy element to it. The doors at the back of the crew area lead to a series of tunnels, storerooms, and, ultimately, other doors to other dimensions. The tunnels and rooms change their configuration every time you enter them — sometimes even while you’re in them! In fact, an entire backstage crew from the late 1980s disappeared in the tunnels and was never heard from again.

While newcomer Jory is the central protagonist, every member of the Backstagers gang is a well-rounded character, and has a moment to shine — Hunter (the whiz with power tools), Aziz, Sasha, and Beckett (the light/sound board operator who’s created his own little fiefdom, powered by an energy crystal taken from one of the alternate dimensions in the tunnel labyrinth. This “Volume 1” paperback compiles four comic book issues, and the storyline continues/concludes in “Volume 2”. The art is pretty good, but the character of diminutive Sasha is drawn as if it stepped out of a cross-breed between big-eyed Disney animation and Japanese manga. That’s one element I didn’t care for.

Overall, this was an entertaining read, though the heavier the dark fantasy element became, the less I cared for the story. Your mileage may vary. I look forward to reading the rest of the story when the libraries add the second volume as a paperback.

[ official The Backstagers web site ] | [ official James Tynion IV web site ] [ official Rian Sygh web site ]

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Recommended by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library


Slime Sorcery
by Adam Vandergrift [j745.5 Van]

Growing up as a pre-teen and teen in the 1970s, I fondly remember my first experiences with “Slime”, toy company Mattel’s ooeey, gooey, green glop, that was originally solt in a little green plastic garbage can. It was a huge sensation with both me and my friends. My next awareness of “slime” was the movie Ghostbusters, where Bill Murray’s character, Dr. Peter Venkman, got “slimed” by a hot dog-guzzling specter (nicknamed “Slimer” on the subsequent animated series) on the Ghostbusters’ first field case. The kids television network Nickelodeon dumped buckets of slime (which they called gak) on cast members and contestants on their shows throughout the 1980s and early 1990s. In other words, “Slime” has a long and illustrious history.

But none-the-less, “Slime” has probably never been more popular than it is now, with multiple websites dedicated to the gooey stuff — how to make it, how to use it, videos of it being used, etc. Slime Sorcery is by one of those online slime gurus — Adam Vandergrift. In this book, Vandergrift provides 97 different recipes for how to make Slime, based on about a half-dozen basic standard recipes, including Fluffy Slime, Galaxy Slime (with sparkles), Crunchy Slime (with solid chunks), Magnetic Slime, Color-Changing Slime and Glow-in-the-Dark Slime. Most Slime recipes are made from chemical components that are NOT to be eaten, if they look like food. But 6 of the 97 recipes included here are actually for edible Slimes. Nearly everything in this book is relatively simple to made, and about 80% of the recipes include photos to show you what the finished product should look like. There are also numerous photos of kids playing with Slime to give you some ideas of what you could do with it once you’ve mixed up a batch. I have no earthly need to have a tupperware container full of Slime, but after reading this fun and simple recipe book, I feel the urge to mix up a batch of “Cameron’s Midnight Slime”, with its silvery glitter in a deep blue-black base that looks like a sparkling midnight sky!

[ Adam Vandergriff’s official Will It Slime web site, including pics and videos ]

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Recommended by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library


Screening Room

formatdvdHow to Be a Latin Lover
directed by Ken Marino, and starring Eugenio Derbez [DVD How]

This is a pretty goofy, albeit cute movie about a man who married for money and has to learn what to do when that doesn’t work out. When he has no other option but to crash his sister’s house, he does a pretty okay job keeping his language clean for his nephew. Euphemisms abound when he has to describe his prior life. I thoroughly enjoyed Eugenio Derbez in the movie Instructions Not Included, which is another movie that is good for Spanglish speakers or audience members who are OK with captions throughout about half of the movie. Many of the actors with small parts (such as Kristen Bell, Rob Lowe, and others) were recognizable from other comedic shows and movies, and they did wonderfully and didn’t steal the spotlight too much. The special features described how this movie is hoping to be a break into the English speaking audiences for Derbez. It would be well deserved.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Instructions Not Included.] [Also available in traditional print format.] [ Internet Movie Database entry for this film ] | [ Wikipedia page for How to Be a Latin Lover ]

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Recommended by Naomi S.
Eiseley and Williams Branch Libraries and the Bookmobile


formatdvdMamma Mia!
[DVD Mamma]

I checked this 2008 film out on DVD to watch before attending a performance of the stage musical version at the Lincoln Community Playhouse here in town, just to remind myself of the plot — and had a blast watching it again. But, then, I’m a huge fan of the musical group ABBA, and their music infuses the film with a lot of its energy. It appears that most people have a “Love/Hate” relationship with this film/musical, usually tied into their appreciation of ABBA — I’ve run across very few people who are ambivalent about it. Personally, I love it — the huge cast of familiar movie stars — Meryl Streep, Pierce Brosnan, Christine Baranski, Colin Firth, Stellan Skarsgård, Amanda Seyfried and more, throw themselves into unexpectedly exuberant song and dance numbers in the midst of a bubbly and frothy soap-opera of a plot.

Both the movie and stage musical are what are known in the theater community as “Jukebox Musicals” — where a connective storyline is created to showcase a collection of an artist or group’s hit songs. Other shows in this genre from the 70s through the early 2000s would include Forever Plaid, Jersey Boys, Saturday Night Fever and Smokey Joe’s Cafe. In the past 10 years, this style of musical (both for film and stage) has exploded in popularity, with dozens of new shows/films making use of the format. Mamma Mia!, the 1998 stage musical, was one of the early ones.

Actors who you don’t normally expect to see singing do a remarkably good job, and seem to be having a huge amount of fun doing so. The story, in a nutshell — 20-year-old Sophie Sheridan is getting married in the Greek Isles, but was raised by a single mother who never told her who her father is. She wants to invite her father to give her away at her upcoming wedding, but in sneaking a read of her mom’s diary, she discovers her “Dad” could be one of three different men — Ben Carmichael, Bill Austin or Harry Bright. She invites them all to the wedding. When all three guys arrive on the remote Greek island where Sophie’s mom, Donna, owns and operates a taverna, the reunions aren’t necessary good experiences. Throw in Donna’s two old singing-group friends, Rosie and Tanya, and a bunch of the friendly locals, and you’ve got a festive atmosphere with lots of different emotions bubbling beneath the surface. Nearly every major character gets a moment to shine, both dramatically and musically. And around 20 ABBA hits get to take center stage in moving the plot forward — set in the late 90s, but featuring music from the late 70s. An emotional highlight is Donna confronting Ben musically with “The Winner Takes It All”. Other highlights are “Does Your Mother Know”, “Slipping Through My Fingers”, “Voulez-vous”, “Super Trouper”, “Dancing Queen” and the titular “Mamma Mia!” If you can accept the premise and the crazy casting, this is a terrific, feel-good film. If you can’t get past those initial obstacles, this is not the movie for you! [NOTE: The 2008 film was so successful that a sequel is coming out in the Summer of 2018, reuniting the entire original film’s cast!] [ Internet Movie Database entry for this film ] | [ official Mamma Mia! Film Musical web site ]

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Recommended by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library


formatdvdNOVA: Eclipse Over America
[DVD 523.78 Ecl]

After Lincoln, NE was fortunate enough to experience Totality during the August 2017 eclipse that swept across America, I was curious to see what the PBS TV series NOVA would do to commemorate the event on this DVD. Surprisingly, I was a bit disappointed in this episode. NOVA had camera crews in various locations along the eclipse’s path, and footage from each filming location is included in this mini-documentary. However, the majority of this episode’s content is a look back at the historical implications of eclipses. I’d say less than 1/3 of the episode is actually about the 2017 eclipse. Which is not to say it is not both entertaining and educational — I did enjoy it. But, if you’re looking for a documentary all about the 2017 eclipse, you, too, may be disappointed. And, considering that Bill Nye the Science Guy was here in Beatrice, NE at Homestead National Monument for the Eclipse, the lack of ANY footage from Nebraska…at all…was the biggest disappointment. Still…for general fans of eclipses — and there are those who chase eclipses around the globe every year!! — this has some interesting nuggets of information!

[ Official page for this episode on the NOVA web page ] | [ NASA’s official Eclipse 2017 page ]

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Recommended by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library


last updated May 2018
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