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INDEXES TO PAST STAFF RECOMMENDATIONS: BY TITLE | BY REVIEWER | TV SERIES/SPECIALS ON DVD/VHS

May 2009 Recommendations

book cover  Ratha's Creature
by Clare Bell

Ratha's Creature is about a clan of sentient prehistoric cats who are trying to survive in a new world. It mostly centers around Ratha, a strong willed female of her species who starts out as a herding female (which is rare, in their clan, that a female becomes a herder) that becomes a vital part of her species by harnessing the power of fire. This is the first book of the series that started, I believe, in the 1980's and was recently re-released and continued just last year. I enjoyed the humor, the drama, and the refreshing excitement the author brings. This book and series is on my top 5 list.

[ official Ratha Clare Bell web site ]

Review Score - 10
Recommended by Jessica C.
Gere Branch Library


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book cover  Bone Crossed
by Patricia Briggs

Mercy Thompson returns in the fourth volume of this popular contemporary urban fantasy series -- the first to appear in hardback! Mercy -- a young auto mechanic who can shapeshift into coyote form -- finds herself under threat of death from the leader of the local vampire seethe, who attempts to use Mercy's vampire friend Stefan as a weapon against her. Meanwhile, Mercy is approached by an old classmate, seeking help with an apparent haunting at her house in Spokane -- Mercy's "awareness" of ghosts has become public knowledge, and after a load of bad publicity following the events of Iron Kissed, Mercy could really use the opportunity to get out of town and out of the public eye. And on top of all this, Mercy is trying to decide how she feels about committing herself, body and soul, to Adam, the local werewolf Alpha (pack leader). Mercy is most definitely an intriguing, strong, multi-layered protagonist, and the world Briggs has constructed around her is full of interesting, curious characters. I've enjoyed all of the volumes in the Mercy Thompson series so far, but this one at times felt a bit bogged down in all the "relationship" stuff, often at the expense of the main plotline. I will admit, though, that I was intrigued to see what direction the author was going to go with the friendship between Mercy and Stefan and the lengths to which they'd protect each other from the threats in each of their lives. Not quite as engaging as the first three, but still a great read!

[ official Patricia Briggs web site ]

Review Score - 7
Recommended by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library


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book cover  This review is for the Book on CD format of this itemThe Regatta Mystery and Other Stories
by Agatha Christie

Nine short stories, perfect for listening to one or two just before bedtime. Hugh Fraser, who plays Captain Hastings in some of the PBS productions of Agatha Christie mysteries, is a wonderful narrator but especially good on some of the Hercule Poirot/Captain Hastings stories. He brings a humorous treatment to some of the interplay between Poirot and Hastings. David Suchet, who plays Poirot in some PBS productions, is "magnifique" as the narrator of "Problem at Sea". His ability to inhabit each of the many characters with such a distinct voice is truly amazing. Joan Hickson, who played Miss Marple in some PBS productions, is solid as Miss Marple, the primary narrator voice in "Miss Marple Tells a Story". The quality of the stories is uneven but the narrators more than make up for this. Many of these short stories have been made into full length PBS television films.
[Also available in print format.]

[ official Agatha Christie web site ]

Review Score - 8
Recommended by Evelyn D.
Bennett Martin Public Library


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book cover  The Forger's Spell
by Edward Dolnick [751.58 Dol]

Every wonder how a forged painting by a famous artist winds up in a renowned gallery? Well, here it is! Dolnick systematically chronicles the real, yet fantastic story of Han van Meegeren, a mediocre Dutch painter who fooled not only Herman Goering, but many others into believing that his works were previously undiscovered Vermeers. Dolnick tells us how such forgeries are produced, how they are marketed, and why otherwise rational people purchase them. Set against the chaotic backdrop of World War II and the Nazi quest to pilfer all the great artworks of Western civilization, this book provides a vast amount of insight into the phenomena. Sure to entertain as well!

[ Publisher's official Forger's Spell web site ] | [ official Edward Dolnick web site ]

Review Score - 8
Recommended by Jim W.
Gere Branch Library


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book cover  Hot, Flat and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution and How It Can Renew America
by Thomas L. Friedman [363.738 Fri]

Friedman takes on the daunting challenge of global warming, providing readers with a comprehensive breakdown of all the "hot-button" issues. He makes a compelling argument that the U.S. must lead the world in confronting and combating this challenge by means of economic and technological innovation. Friedman presents the science in a very readable fashion, and his overall optimism is compelling.
[Also available in downloadable audio, book-on-cd [abridged or unabridged], and Large Print formats.]

[ Wikipedia entry on Hot, Flat and Crowded ] | [ official Thomas L. Friedman web site ]

Review Score - 7
Recommended by Jim W.
Gere Branch Library


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book cover  This review is of material for a Young Adult audienceThe Graveyard Book
by Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman's latest -- a current Hugo Award nominee for best novel -- is ostensibly a "young adult" title, but can be appreciated by readers of most ages. As usual with Gaiman, this is a modern-fantasy work, set in our traditional world, but with elements of the fantastic woven throughout the fabric of the novel. The novel begins some time ago, as a mysterious killer attempts to assassinate the members of a small British family. Unbeknownst to the killer, a toddler has escape from his crib and wandered out of the house...into a graveyard down the street. The ghosts inhabiting the graveyard recognize the threat to the child and, knowing his parents are dead, adopt the lab -- naming him Nobody Owens, or "Bod" for short. Bod grows up in the graveyard, receiving his life lessons from the dead, and guarded by the mysterious Silas, a man who is neither living nor dead. As Bod grows up, the threats to him from the outside world continue, and the wonders he experiences in his odd world continue to amaze the reader...with both elements culminating in a dark confrontation before the book concludes. Overall, I found this Newbery Award winning book to be an interesting read, though not quite as enjoyable as Gaiman's previous youth book -- Coraline. But, still definitely worth reading to keep up with one of today's master fantasists.

[ official Graveyard Book web site ] | [ official Neil Gaiman web site ]

Review Score - 8
Recommended by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library


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book cover  The Great Eight: How to Be Happy (Even When You Have Every Reason to be Miserable)
by Scott Hamilton [152.42 Ham]

Figure-skating icon and cancer patient Scott Hamilton presents a guide to finding happiness for your life, even in times of despair. Using concepts that draw from his newly refined Christian beliefs, combined with generally accepted self-help ideas, he presents his positive approach to life and talks about his own struggles to be happy and healthy. Who knew that ever-smiling "Scottie" Hamilton had so many things troubling him? A unique feature of this book is the running analogy between skating techniques and tools and facing both the everyday challenges and the dire circumstances of life, with special significance given to "figure 8s".

[ Publisher's official Great Eight web page ] | [ Wikipedia page for Scott Hamilton ]

Review Score - 8
Recommended by Becky W.C.
Walt Branch Library


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book cover  Too Far From Home
by Chris Jones [629.442 Jon]

When space shuttle Columbia broke up over Texas on its return to Earth, the shuttle program was temporarily halted leaving three astronauts stranded on the International Space Station. This is the story of how they eventually got home. Told with wonder, and nearly poetically, the author also provides a fascinating background and history of the shuttle program, Mir, and the space station, as well as many of the early and current astronauts and scientists - both U.S. and Soviet. The author takes four pages to give a you-are-there feeling for what it's like to experience a take-off, minute-by-minute, second-by-countdown-second. The drama, danger, and lure of space is evident in this true story.

[ Review of the book at The Space Review ] | [ Review of the book at The New York Times ]

Review Score - 8
Recommended by Charlotte K.
Bennett Martin Public Library


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book cover  Time is a River
by Mary Alice Monroe

Mia Landan has recovered from breast cancer but her husband wants a divorce. Needing time to think and heal, she accepts an offer to spend the summer in a cabin in the mountains of North Carolina. The inspirational diary of the previous resident and fly-fishing leads her to solve a ninety year old family mystery and in the process, helps her make a new life for herself. Fans of Anne Rivers Siddons or Sue Monk Kidd would enjoy this book.
[Also available in Large Print formats.]

[ official Time is a River page on the official Mary Alice Monroe web site ]

Review Score - 7
Recommended by Ann F.
Bennett Martin Public Library


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book cover  The Girl Who Played Go
by Sa Shan

Shan's first novel in English is a "brilliancy", to use a term in chess. She uses a precise, poetic style to tell a tragic story of a young adolescent girl who happens to excel at the ancient game of Go. In contrast, a Japanese soldier in Manchuria in 1937 also is an aficionado of the game, and they meet in a park to practice their skills against each other while falling in love. This is a heartbreaking and breathless gem of both style and content, told in alternating chapters from two points of view.

[ NPR commentary on The Girl Who Played Go ] | [ Wikipedia entry on Shan Sa ]

Review Score - 10
Recommended by Jim W.
Gere Branch Library


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book cover  The Partners: Inside America's Most Powerful Law Firms
by James B. Stewart [340 Ste]

Fascinating! Not a dry, boring legal tome. Learn the behind-the-scenes stories of eight important cases. How were the American hostages in Iran really released? What happened when Westinghouse tried to renege on world-wide uranium contracts? If you like following a crime story on TV's "Forensic Files" or learn how a diagnosis was finally made on "Medical Mysteries" this will capture your attention as well. Each chapter is its own novella. This reader couldn't put the book down.

[ Wikipedia page for this book ] | [ Wikipedia page for James B. Stewart ]

Review Score - 8
Recommended by Charlotte K.
Bennett Martin Public Library


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The Screening Room

book cover  This review is for the DVD format of this itemBlue Murder: Set 1

If you like British mysteries, you will like Blue Murder. The British excel at the police procedural and this is no exception. Caroline Quentin stars as newly promoted Detective Chief Inspector Janine Lewis. Her character is fully developed over the course of the first episode. Going through a marital separation, three children and pregnant, and trying to make a success of her new rank and first murder case. Manchester England is the setting. This gritty industrial city is not the "green and serene" England we are used to seeing.The politics of policing is evident as well the "plodding" routine that is a part of police work we don't see in most prime time television. Ian Kelsey plays the second in command and provides a steady/clear head as opposed to DCI Lewis's hectic life.

[ Internet Movie Database page for this series ] | [official Blue Murder web site ]

Review Score - 9
Recommended by Evelyn D.
Bennett Martin Public Library


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book cover  This review is for the DVD format of this itemBoys on the Side

Three women strangers ride-share to the west coast but only get as far as the Arizona desert before one of them becomes ill. Personal histories are slowly learned, they evolve into a family, helping each other through troubles. Character-driven; have your hankies handy. Definitely rough language but it does ease up. The first 20-min explains the background of one of the women and is not indicative of the rest of the film. Starring Mary-Louise Parker, Whoopi Goldberg, Drew Barrymore.
[Also available: soundtrack on CD formats.]

[ Internet Movie Database page for this film ]

Review Score - 8
Recommended by Charlotte K.
Bennett Martin Public Library


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book cover  This review is for the DVD format of this itemDa Vinci's Inquest

This is a superb police procedural series produced for Canadian television, which has aired in syndication here in the U.S. Nicholas Campbell headlines a fantastic ensemble cast as a coroner who frequently gets involved in ongoing police investigations and often goes up against the Machiavellian nuances of his city government's bureaucracy. This series is gritty, realistic, and features a fast and sometimes frenetic pace. At times, Da Vinci's Inquest feels like a fluid mixing of the styles of Hill St. Blues mixed with the forensics of CSI, with a little of Law & Order's courtroom drama thrown in for good measure. The writing, acting and production design are all top-notch, and the series only got better as it went along. Powerful storytelling here, for anyone who's a fan of police and/or coroner-themed mystery series.

[ Internet Movie Database page for this film ] | [ official Da Vinci's Inquest web site ]

Review Score - 9
Recommended by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library


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book cover  This review is for the DVD format of this itemGhost Town

This film came as something of a surprise to me. I've always enjoyed the sarcastic, dry humor of Ricky Gervais (who starred in the original British version of The Office), and I've been watching Greg Kinnear's career ever since he was the original host of Talk Soup and Later. Kinnear's snarky style of humor meshes well with Gervais' uptightness, in this pleasant romantic comedy. Gervais plays Bertram Pincus, a British dentist practicing in Manhattan. All Dr. Pincus wants is to be left alone outside of work. When Pincus suffers a brief death during a medical procedure, he suddenly develops the ability to see ghosts. When the ghosts realize he can see and hear them, they begin pestering him for assistance with tasks that they hope will allow themselves to finally "cross over". Kinnear's Frank Herlihy becomes the spokesghost, convincing Pincus to try to help him break up Herlihy's widow's new relationship. The chemistry between Gervais, Kinnear and Tea Leoni is marvelous, and the plot of this film is simply charming. I was expecting something a bit crude, and although there is some "R"-rated language, for the most part this film is a very simple romantic comedy at heart. Gervais does a marvelous job here as a curmudgeon who has to open himself the rest of the world. Kinnear is similarly transformative as a jerk who gets a good look at what the repercussions are for his behavior.

[ Internet Movie Database page for this film ] | [ official Ghost Town web site ]

Review Score - 9
Recommended by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library


A rude dentist undergoes a colonoscopy but dies during the procedure. He is revived after seven minutes, but now he can see ghosts - and they irritate him. He spends the film trying to avoid them, but finally realizes what he has to do to get rid of them. Greg Kinnear stars as one of the ghosts. A witty, light-hearted romantic comedy.

Review Score - 9
Rated by -- Charlotte K.
staff member at the Bennett Martin Public Library


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book cover  This review is for the DVD format of this itemShooting the Past

A library collection of over 10 million photographs will be destroyed unless a home can be found for it in under a week. Using the photographs to tell the story of their value, the staff pleads with the new owner to try to find a way to save the collection. Although eccentric and something of a misfit, librarian Oswald Bates (Timothy Spall) is resourceful and thoroughly knowledgeable about the collection. His boss (played by Lindsay Duncan) is just as passionate about the collection and it is she who must deal with the American businessman who has bought the library building -- unbeknownst to her. This started life as a British mini-series; of course, the wonderful and atmospheric photographs are the centerpiece of the film.

[ Internet Movie Database page for this film ] | [ official Masterpiece Theater page for Shooting the Past ]

Review Score - 7
Recommended by Rianne S.
Bennett Martin Public Library


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last updated June 2009
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