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

November 2009 Recommendations

book cover  ...And Another Thing
by Eoin Colfer

I approached this book with considerable trepidation. As a long-time fan of Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series, I found myself lumped in with many other purists who didn't want to see that marvelous series sullied by another author trying to contribute to the legacy. It is impossible to review this book without comparing it to the five previous volumes in this famed "trilogy". And, in comparison, it certainly comes up short. However, this tale, which takes up not long after Adams' final volume, Mostly Harmless (1992) ended, has its moments. The wonderfully anarchic sense of humor and plot development that Adams employed continues here, with time-and-space traveler Arthur Dent, his alien friend Ford Prefect, and the wackjob Galactic President Zaphod Beeblebrox trying to escape the destruction of Earth (again), and getting pulled into a conflict between a bored immortal and a despondent Asgardian god Thor. Throw in some cheese-worshiping personal trainers and a sullen goth teenager and you've got some classic British farce. If you're looking for a light, fun read, I can recommend this book. If you're a hard-core H2G2 fan, you may want to pass on this one. My overall opinion is: Colfer tries too hard to sound like Douglas Adams and doesn't really pull it off.

[ official Douglas Adams' Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy web site ] | [ official Eoin Colfer web site ]

Review Score - 5
Recommended by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library


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book cover  Great Plains: America's Lingering Wild
by Michael Forsberg [917.8 qFor]

Michael Forsberg was the driving force behind this project. He found the funding and enlisted the writing skills of Ted Kooser, Dan O'Brien and Dan Wishart. The book is filled with breath-taking images of the sparse beauty of the Great Plains. This is an area that is often referred to as the "flyover zone" by impatient people who require beauty to jump to out at them as it does in the majestic Rockies. Here one must be patient and wait for the land to reveal its subtle beauty in the waving grasses and cloud-dotted azure skies. University of Nebraska geography professor Dan Wishart describes how the Great Plains evolved geologically and culturally. South Dakota rancher and writer Dan O'Brien wrote essays about small towns that are fading into oblivion and water, the most important commodity in the Great Plains. This book is more than trip through the beauty of the Great Plains. It is a compelling argument to preserve what remains of the greatest grassland in the world.
[Also available in audiotape, book-on-cd, and Large Print formats.]

[ official Great Plains page on the official Michael Forsberg web site ]

Review Score - 10
Recommended by Donna G.
Virtual Services Department


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book cover  The Foreign Correspondent
by Alan Furst

The story -- a journalist reports on events leading up the World War II, especially the Spanish Civil War -- is just so-so. The ambiance, however, is superb. Most of it takes place in Paris in 1938 and a spring snow, cigarette smoke, cognac, and the food establish a definite sense of place that is most appealing.
[Also available in Large Print format.]

[ official Foreign Correspondentpage on the official Alan Furst web site ]

Review Score - 5
Recommended by Rianne S.
Bennett Martin Public Library


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book cover  Cranford
by Elizabeth Gaskell

I knew very little about author Elizabeth Gaskell prior to reading the book Cranford. Mrs. Gaskell was the close friend and biographer of Charlotte Bronte. Besides writing about her friend, she also wrote fiction, which she submitted to be published at the urging of her friend, Charles Dickens. Of her stories, Cranford is the closest thing to an autobiography of her life. The town of Cranford is based on the small town that Elizabeth grew up in, and many of the events that happen were taken from real-life experiences. My favorite one is the story about the cat who swallowed some lace and how the owner contrived to "get it back." The stories are enjoyable, but lack the dramatic tension of Gaskell's novel North and South. [If you like this, you may also enjoy the DVDs of North and South (see review below), Cranford and Wives and Daughters.
[Also available in DVD adaptation, unabridged book-on-cd, and Large Print formats.]

[ Cranford at Google Books ] | [ Elizabeth Gaskell entry at The Literary Gothic ]

Review Score - 8
Recommended by Kim J.
Bennett Martin Public Library


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book cover  Mr. Darcy, Vampyre
by Amanda Grange

Sometimes it is worthwhile to identify books that we simply cannot recommend. This book falls into this category. As a fan of Jane Austen, I am interested in books that pick up where the author left off in her novels. This book looks at the events that follow the marriage of Elizabeth Bennett and Fitzwilliam Darcy. Little does Elizabeth know that Mr. Darcy hides a terrible secret from her. Why does Darcy refuse to visit his new wife's bedchamber? Why is he aloof and uncommunicative? There are things about the Darcy family that Elizabeth has yet to discover. Unfortunately, I could not even finish this book because the writing was so bad. If you want to read a good story, go to the master: read Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice or Northanger Abbey. Those are books worth sinking your teeth into! [If you like the underlying storyline of this one, you may also enjoy Pride and Prejudice, Northanger Abbey, Sense and Sensibility, Mansfield Park and Emma, all by Jane Austen]

[ official Mr. Darcy, Vampyre blog ] | [ official Amanda Grange web site ]

Review Score - 2
Recommended by Kim J.
Bennett Martin Public Library


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book cover  Jim Henson's Designs and Doodles: A Muppet Sketchbook
by Alison Inches [791.5 qHenYi]

For anyone who's a fan of The Frog, and anything else Muppet-related, this is a "behind the scenes" treat. It combines quite a bit of biographical information on Henson with a trove of drawings, and it also has examples of non-Muppet works. It's a nice slice of the creative processes of a gentle genius and his skilled team of artists and performers. [If you like this, you may also enjoy No Strings Attached by Matt Bacon; The Muppet Show Book by Jim Henson; It's Not Easy Being Green by Jim Henson; and Jim Henson: The Works by Christopher Finch.]

[ official Jim Henson Legacy web site ] | [ official Jim Henson Co. web site ] | [ This book's page on the Muppet Wiki web site ]

Review Score - 9
Recommended by Becky W.C.
Walt Branch Library


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book cover  Life at Burghley: Restoring One of England's Great Houses
by Victoria Leatham [914.253 Lea]

Anyone with a fascination for English castles and English history would enjoy reading this book. Written by Lady Victoria Leatham, the current owner of Burghley Hall, the book uses humor and family stories from the point of view of someone raised in this Great House to illustrate the importance of maintaining collections of art and treasures from Europe's past. [If you like this, you may also enjoy The Cecils of hatfield House: An English Ruling Family by David Cecil.]

[ Wikipedia entry on Burghley House ] | [ official Burghley House web site ]

Review Score - 9
Recommended by Kim J.
Bennett Martin Public Library


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book cover  Time Travel
by Paul J. Nahin [808.388 Nah]

Third of four volumes in Writers Digest's Science Fiction Writing Series. Author Nahin approaches the science behind theoretical methods of time travel from a literary perspective by highlighting popular time travel methods used in classic novels and stories to date. He then explores a wide variety of scientific theories about time travel, with concrete examples of how to incorporate these into your own speculative fiction. Interesting chapters include "Time as the Fourth Dimension", "When General Relativity Made Time Travel Honest", "Time Machines That Physicists Have Already 'Invented'", "Quantum Gravity, Splitting Universes, and Time Machines" and "Reading the Physics Literature for Story Ideas." As with earlier volumes in this series, there is a helpful glossary of terms and concepts, and an extensive bibliography of additional reading on the topic. Of the four volumes in this series, I found this one to be the most technical, dealing as it is with theoretical physics. Still, a useful tool for writers of science fiction.

[ Paul Nahin bio ]

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


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book cover  Grand Canyon and Other Selected Poems
by Amil Quayle [811 Qua]

This is a handsome volume of diverse poems collected over a lifetime's work. Quayle utilizes a colloquial style to achieve a direct, intimate connection with his readers. Every poem is a journey, physical, emotional, and spiritual, and by the end, we feel as if we have gotten to know an old friend. Illustrated with many photographs and drawings. [If you like this one, you may also enjoy Village Journal by Greg Kuzma and We Have Always Been Coming to This Morning by Greg Kosmicki

[ Quayle interview at Idaho State University ] | [ Amil Quayle page at the Nebraska Center for Writers ]

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 audienceLiving Dead Girl
by Elizabeth Scott

"Once upon a time, I was a little girl who disappeared. Once upon a time, my name was not Alice." This is a fictional story about a fifteen year old girl who has been living with her kidnapper for five years. She endures daily physical, mental and sexual abuse. As she has become older her kidnapper becomes angry and more abusive to her for not being a little girl anymore. He begins to starve her in an attempt to keep her figure that of a ten year old. As the reader, you feel powerless to save her. You also see countless opportunities for her to get away or ask for help when she is out in the community, but she never does. Her kidnapper has her frozen with fear of what he will do to her family if she ever leaves him. He has her family address memorized and through the years brings her evidence that he is keeping tabs on them. The main character has many conflicting elements to her personality: defeat, naivety, self-blame, hardened, envious and mean to other children, longing for death and yet still being hopeful she will escape alive. This story will stay with you long after you have finished the book.

[ official Living Dead Girl page on the official Elizabeth Scott web site ]

Review Score - 10
Recommended by Jessica H.
Walt Branch Library


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book cover  This review is for a Book-on-CD format of this titleThe Twilight Zone Radio Dramas - Collection 1
based on stories by Rod Serling for the original Twilight Zone television series [Compact Disc 791.44 Ser]

I've been a lifelong fan of The Twilight Zone, the old B&W anthology TV series produced by Rod Serling in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Some of the stories from that series are among the most iconic tales of "What If" in fiction. In the early 2000s, Dennis Etchison adapted many of Rod Serling's original scripts for the radio, as a regular syndicated radio broadcast. Those radio plays have been gathered into 13 CD collections (of which the library has only the first). Each episode features a well-known actor as the lead voice, with a cast of recurring voices as the supporting cast. Collection #1 features 10 episodes, the highlights of which include Lou Diamond Phillips in "A Kind of Stopwatch", Ed Begley Jr. in "The Man in the Bottle", Tim Kazurinsky as "Mr Dingle the Strong" and Chris MacDonald in "The Night of the Meek". Production values are all top-notch, with the voice casts, special and sound effects all very good. I would highly recommend this set for TZ fans and for fans who remember the days of live radio dramas. My only complaint would be that with a few small exceptions, the stories were not updated from their early 1960s-era settings for a more modern audience. But that's a minor quibble.
[ Twilight Zone stories are available in both print and DVD formats from the library ]

[ official TwilightZoneRadio.com web site ]

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


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book cover  Get Real
by Donald Westlake

I'd never read any of the late Donald Westlake's Dortmunder books before the libraries' Just Desserts mystery discussion group selected Get Real for a recent monthly discussion. I loved it! What appeared, on the surface, to be an extremely spare writing style and simplistic descriptions actually turns out to be wholly appropriate for this cast of characters. Dortmunder is the "brains" behind a gang of thieves, whose capers inevitably run into serious difficulties. In Get Real, Dortmunder and his gang are hired to portray fictionalized versions of themselves in a reality tv series, in which they will be robbing a building owned by the series' production company. When Dortmunder and his cronies realize that there's hidden wealth in the building, they plot to really rob the building while at the same time "fake" robbing the building for the TV show. Sound complicated? It is, and, as usual, things go wrong in surprising ways. The only thing disappointing about this book was the fact that it ended. Guess I'll have to go back to 1972's The Hot Rock and read the Dortmunder books from the beginning.

[ Dortmunder booklist on BookGuide ] | [ official Donald Westlake web site ]

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


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The Screening Room

book cover  This review is for the DVD format of this itemAmazing Grace

This true story about the struggle to abolish British slaving via Parliament focuses on the efforts of William Wilberforce, and highlights one of his greatest inspirations, John Newton, the slaver-turned-priest who wrote one of the most-loved hymns in history, "Amazing Grace." The whole cast, including Ioan Gruffudd as "Wilber", Michael Gambon as Lord Fox, and Romola Garai as Barbara, who became Wilberforce's wife, is wonderful. Albert Finney particularly stands out with a humble yet powerful peformance as Newton. Winner of a Christopher Award for affirming "the highest values of the human spirit." Producers include such names as Terrence Malick and Patricia Heaton. [If you like this, you may also enjoy DVD Hiding Place, The Hiding Place; DVD 822 Nic, C.S. Lewis through the Shadowlands; and DVD B L97, Martin Luther.]

[ Internet Movie Database entry for this film ] | [ official Amazing Grace movie web site ]

Review Score - 10
Recommended by Becky W.C.
Walt Branch Library


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book cover  This review is for the DVD format of this itemThe Greatest American Hero

One of my all-time favorite television series, which ran on ABC from 1981 to 1983. What do you get when you combine an idealistic, liberal school teacher with a conservative guns-blazing FBI agent and then throw in mysterious aliens, a super-powered super-hero suit, and a mandate to save the world? What about if they lose the instruction manual to the supersuit and have to learn how to use it by trial and error? This early 1980s series from Stephen J. Cannell (The Rockford Files, 21 Jump Street, The A-Team, Wiseguy) starred William Katt, Robert "I Spy" Culp and Connie Selleca, with a supporting cast that included Michael "Houston Knights" Pare and Faye "V" Grant. GAH managed to find a nice mix of both serious and comical storylines, with quirky new powers of the suit popping up when least expected. One of the series absolute best episodes, "My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys", was in this first season. Fun extras on this first-season DVD set include retrospective interviews with the cast and producers. The series lasted three seasons -- here's hoping the libraries pick up seasons 2 and 3! [Note: This series has been optioned for a feature film remake. Whether it comes to pass or not remains to be seen.]

[ Internet Movie Database entry for this film ] | [ Greatest American Hero at epguides.com ]

related lists See more books and TV boxed sets like this on our TV Tie-Ins booklist
Review Score - 10
Recommended by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library


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book cover  This review is for the DVD format of this itemNo Reservations

I enjoy watching "romantic comedies", and the trailers for this film certainly made it seem as if this film fit that bill. There certainly is some romance in this film. There also is some comedy. But, surprisingly, there's even more dramatic character study. Catherine Zeta-Jones plays Kate, a driven, organized head chef at a trendy Manhattan eatery, who finds herself suddenly burdened with two unexpected people in her life -- her orphaned niece, and a exuberant, free-spirited sous-chef with a love for life. For what, on the surface, appears to be a light comedy, there's some suprisingly serious angsty-ness here. Kate goes through a lot of introspection as she adjusts to suddenly becoming a single parent. Overall, a very satisfying film, though not the laugh riot that the trailers might have led you to believe!

[ Internet Movie Database entry for this film ] | [ official No Reservations web site ]

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


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book cover  This review is for the DVD format of this itemNorth & South
by Elizabeth Gaskell

This four-part adaptation of Elizabeth Gaskell's novel about working conditions in a cotton mill in northern England is a riveting story of social reform, unions, and romance. Although I was not pleased with the ending of this adaptation, I enjoyed the film immensely due to its moodiness and fine performances. [If you like this, you may also enjoy Cranford, also by Elizabeth Gaskell -- see review above.]

[ Internet Movie Database entry for this film ] | [ official North & South web site from the BBC ]

Review Score - 9
Recommended by Kim J.
Bennett Martin Public Library


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last updated November 2009
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