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

May 2012 Recommendations

book cover  The Chronicles of Harris Burdick
by Chris Van Allsburg [813.08 All]

In 1984, Chris Van Allsburg published a collection of illustrations entitled "The Mysteries of Harris Burdick." The illustrations were ostensibly the work of a mysterious author/illustrator who had drawn them to accompany his stories, but who disappeared, leaving no trace of the stories to go with the pictures. In actuality, the illustrations were intended to inspire readers to write their own stories. Now, in "The Chronicles of Harris Burdick," the illustrations have been reissued with accompanying stories by noted authors such as Stephen King, Cory Doctorow, and Jules Feiffer. The results are mixed. Some of the stories are intriguing, such as M. T. Anderson's "Just Desert," which has a "nothing is what it seems" theme that may appeal to fans of "The Prisoner." Others are pleasant fantasies, such as "The Harp" by Linda Sue Park and Van Allsburg's own "Oscar and Alphonse." Several of the stories are on the disturbing side (as are some of the original pictures), and some are surprisingly disappointing (Walter Dean Myers' "Mr. Linden's Library" seems to have little to do with the illustration it is supposed to be based on). While the stories here offer an intriguing look at different authors' approaches, ultimately the illustrations are probably best used for their original intent: getting readers to write stories of their own. Stories by readers can be submitted on the official "Harris Burdick" Website. [If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try The Mysteries of Harris Burdick.]


[ official "Harris Burdick" web site ]

Review Score - 7
Recommended by Peter J.
Virtual Services Department


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book cover  Sophie's World: A Novel About the History of Philosophy
by Jostein Gaardner

This story is set in Norway and begins when a young girl comes home from school one day and finds in the mail box a note with two questions on it. "Who are you?" & "Where does the world come from?" As the days go by Sophie finds herself enrolled in a correspondence course in philosophy. Each lesson contains a few pages on a particular philosopher. Though they are brief as to not weigh down the story, they are very comprehensive and easy to grasp. They start with the ancient philosophers and work their way through history to the more modern philosophers. Sophie also starts receiving mail addressed to a girl named Hilde, who from the post cards has lost a few things, things Sophie has found around her room, and not known why. As these strange things begin to happen more frequently, Sophie and her teacher have more and more philosophical discussions about life as they know it. I won't spoil it for you but there is wonderful plot twist at the end. Even if you don't have a particular interest in philosophy anyone who loves a book with a deep plot twist will enjoy this one, and maybe learn a bit, too.


[ semi-official Sophie's World web site ] | [ Wikipedia page for Jostein Gaardner ]

Review Score - 10
Recommended by Kristen A.
Gere Branch Library


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book cover  Slipknot
by Linda Greenlaw

Non-fiction writer, Linda Greenlaw, has turned her pen to mystery writing with this interesting summer read. Jane Bunker left her old life as a homicide detective in Miami and returned to Maine where she spent her early years. Now she is a marine insurance inspector in Green Haven. As Jane is checking out a fish processing plant for a policy renewal, she sees a group of people clustered around something. The "something" turns out to be the body of Nick Dow, the town drunk. Jane recognizes him as the man who caused a ruckus at the town the meeting the previous evening. The local authorities think that Dow's death was either an accident or suicide. Jane's police instincts say that it was murder and she starts her own investigation. [If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try the works of Paul Dorian and Archer Mayor.]

[Also available in downloadable audio format.]

[ official Linda Greenlaw web site ]

Review Score - 7
Recommended by Donna G.
Bennett Martin Public Library


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book cover  Sh*t My Dad Says
by Justin Halpern [817 Hal]

Did your dad ever scold you for not knowing the difference between a hammer and a crescent wrench? If so, this book is for you. The stories and "dad-ism's" in this book are absolutely hysterical. While the language can be a little crass, parts of this book made me laugh until I cried. A good comedic read for anyone who celebrates the fun-loving (yet maniacal) man in their life they call "father."

[Also available in downloadable audio and downloadable E-book formats.]

[ official Sh*t My Dad Says web site ] | [ Wikipedia page for Justin Halpern ]

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


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book cover  My Horizontal Life
by Chelsea Handler [306.7 Han]

Absolutely hilarious. I laughed so hard I couldn't breathe at times. Be advised: Chelsea holds NOTHING back in this collection of tell-all stories about her abundance of one-night stands. Some of the stories can be lengthy and anti-climactic (like some of her affairs) but overall a good read. I'm giving it only 7 out of 10 because the language can be offensive at times. Great book for a few good laughs, but definitely rated "R". [If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Lies that Chelsea Handler Told Me; Chelsea Chelsea Bang Bang; or Are You There Vodka, It's Me Chelsea, all by Chelsea Handler.]

[Also available in downloadable audio, book-on-cd and downloadable E-book formats.]

[ official Chelsea Handler web site ]

Review Score - 7
Recommended by Jeremiah J.
Bennett Martin Public Library


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book cover  This review is for the downloadable audio format of this itemThe Dovekeepers
by Alice Hoffman [Downloadable Audio]

Only two women and five children of more than 900 people survived the Roman siege of Masada in the year 73 C.E. after the suicide pact of the Jewish rebels. The story unfolds through the voices of four women: Yael, daughter of an assassin; Revka, determined to protect her grandsons; the warrior Aziza; and her mother, a woman of mysterious powers. I found this to be a very "rich" and sustantive historical novel. [If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver, Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden, or The Red Tent by Anita Diamant.]

[Also available in book-on-cd and Large Print formats.]

[ official Dovekeepers and Alice Hoffman web site ]

Review Score - 9
Recommended by Diane E.
Bennett Martin Public Library


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book cover  Tough Without a Gun: The Life and Extraordinary Afterlife of Humphey Bogart
by Stefan Kanfer [Biography Bogart]

A detailed study of Humphrey Bogart. Told chronologically, the biography really picks up when "Casablanca" enters the storyline. The author discusses and evaluates Bogart's films, the other actors, interesting stories of everyone involved. Last couple chapters discuss Bogart's influence on Hollywood and society, and why there will never be another Humphrey Bogart. Not for the first-timer seeking initial info on Bogie. Best read by those already familiar with his filmography and life to really enjoy the depth of discussion.

[Also available in downloadable E-book format.]

[ Publisher's official Tough Without a Gun web site ]

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


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book cover  Disaster! The Great San Francisco Earthquake and Fire of 1906
by Dan Kurzman [979.461 Kur]

Kurzman is an award-winning former reporter and native San Franciscan. He takes us on a journey from shortly before this devastating event to several years after. Highlighting the stories of certain individuals among the mainstream chain of events gives this a sense of immediacy and intimacy. Find out how people such as world-famous operatic star Enrico Caruso, renowned actor John Barrymore, and ten-year-old Del Crespi, lovesick boy and future baseball star each coped with the catastrophe. Or how Italian-American banker Amadeo Giannini made fortuitous choices about what to do with his overnight deposits. Then there was the power struggle between the corrupt mayor and the autocratic general. It's an intriguing digest of one of America's best known large-scale tragedies. [If you enjoy this, you may also wish to watch The Great San Francisco Earthquake, an episode of PBS's American Experience (DVD 979.46 Ame). -- see Becky's review of this DVD below!]


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


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book cover  This review is for the downloadable audio format of this itemSacrilege
by S.J. Parris [Downloadable Audio]

Parris gives us a mix of political intrigue, action, and sleuthing in this historical thriller. Multiple plots include the disappearance of a number of young boys to a plan to revive a Sir Thomas Becket cult, dormant ever since the disappearance of the saint's bones. A rich portrayal of daily life in Elizabethan England. [If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try The first two titles in the Giordano Bruno series: Heresy (2010) and Prophecy (2011). The Roots of Betrayal by James Forrester, Hilary Mantel's Bring Up the Bodies.]

[Also available in print format.]

[ Publisher's official Sacrilege web page ]

Review Score - 8
Recommended by Diane E.
Bennett Martin Public Library


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book cover  All Access: The Rock and Roll Photography of Ken Regan
by Ken Regan [Music 789.166 qReg]

This coffee table size book is a well-photographed trip through five decades of the music industry. As I turn each page I gasp in amazement at the exquisite portraits and candids. The book is laced with Ken Regan's stories about getting the photographs. One of the stories is about the timely snowstorm that made sure that Regan was one of the few phototogs who made it to Fort Dix, New Jersey to photograph Elvis Presley on the eve his discharge from the army. Another story describes the best photo that he ever took of a musician - Bob Dylan. There are many photos of a youthful Mick Jagger because he was on five of the Stones tours. This is a stunning masterpiece. It's perfect for rock fans, baby boomers who remember these performers when they were in their prime and photographers who appreciate the effort that went into making these photos.


[ official Ken Regan web site ]

Review Score - 9
Recommended by Donna G.
Virtual Services Department


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book cover  Kirinyaga: A Fable of Utopia
by Michael Resnick

This short novel by Michael Resnick is actually what they called a "fixed up" novel, comprised of a series of ten interconnected short stories, all of which were originally published on their own. Because of this, Kirinyaga is actually one of the most acclaimed science fiction novels ever published -- each of the stories included was nominated for multiple awards, and two of them actually won Hugo Awards in their respective years of release. The stories all involved a transplanted tribe of African Kikuyu, who have settled on a protected artificial planetoid, whose atmosphere and weather patterns are controlled by orbiting technicians. The Kikuyu people, under the guidance of their Mundumugu (witch doctor) are attempting the preserve their primitive culture, so that all traces of their existence are not wiped out by their assimilation in more advanced modern cultures and communities. Koribe, the mundumugu, teaches by means of parables, but as the stories progress, his hold over his own people weakens and their utopian experiment may be endangered. It's extremely well written, and thought provoking fiction at its best. But you may find yourself intensely disliking the protagonist. None-the-less, it makes the reader consider the plight of other ancient cultures on the brink of cultural annihilation -- what if a Native American tribe, or a group of Inuit, or Australian aborgines were given the opportunity to relocate to a protected place with the sole purpose of recapturing their ancient ways? Or is this even a worthwhile quest? Read Kirinyaga: A Fable of Utopia and you can be the judge!


[ Wikipedia page on the novel Kirinyaga ] | [ official Mike Resnick web site ]

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


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book cover  The Shepherd of the Hills
by Harold Bell Wright

Essentially a country "western" depicting a love story, regret, and redemption in a historical context of the Ozark Mountains near Branson, MO. Being originally from southwest Missouri, I have seen the original outdoor amphitheater production numerous times. The play is an excellent adaptation of the book, but the book is far superior in its account of detail. More intriguing are the mysterious "Baldknobbers" which ride horseback in the night and terrorize banks and settlers across the hills. This is a great depiction of the Ozarks region in Missouri in a historical/spiritual context.


[ Wikipedia entry for Shepherd of the Hills ] | [ Wikipedia entry for Harold Bell Wright ]

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


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The Screening Room

book cover  This review is for the DVD format of this itemThe Big Year
[DVD Big]

The Big Year is a bird watching comedy starring Steve Martin, Owen Wilson, and Jack Black as birding enthusiasts. Nearly every bird watching enthusiast keeps a life list of birds they have watched over the years. The Big Year takes bird watching to an over the top competitive level in which Steve Martin, Owen Wilson, and Jack Black commit to a year of extreme bird watching, with a goal to see as many birds in one year as possible. The comedy begins with the background stories of each bird watcher. Steve Martin as Stu Preissler is a very successful retiring CEO wanting to do a big year for his bucket list. Jack Black as Brad Harris is underemployed, down and out hoping to rebound in life through his true passion for birds. Owen Wilson plays Kenny Bostick, a seemingly undefeatable birding big year champion who will maintain the title at whatever cost. The three men follow bird migration patterns across the country amidst various mishaps, stormy relationships and weather. The Big Year is a refreshing comedy full of heart-warming moments and even a few life lessons. Of course, you will laugh a lot too. The Big Year is a family friendly comedy for all ages and especially humorous to watch if you or someone you know is an avid bird watcher. [If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try The Life Aquatic, Lonely Guy, School of Rock, any Audubon bird watching guide in LCL.]
[Also available: the book this movie was based upon.]

[ Internet Movie Database entry for this film ] | [ official The Big Year web site ]

Review Score - 8
Recommended by Glory B.
Bennett Martin Public Library


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book cover  This review is for the DVD format of this itemThe Great San Francisco Earthquake
[DVD 979.46 Ame]

This episode of the popular PBS series American Experience utilizes actual old film footage as well as photographs and survivor interviews to encapsulate one of the biggest of American catastrophes. Oscar-winner F. Murray Abraham narrates. I found the background music choices a bit odd and distracting at times but this is a nice synopsis of the whats and whys of this major historical event. Interestingly, the very same photo is used for the cover of this DVD and the cover of the suggested companion book. [If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Disaster! The great San Francisco earthquake and fire of 1906, by Dan Kurzman. -- see Becky's review of this book above!]


[ The Great San Francisco Earthquake page on the American Experience web site ]

Review Score - 7
Recommended by Becky W.C.
Walt Branch Library


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book cover  This review is for the DVD format of this itemMy Future Boyfriend
[DVD My]

P-A-X 497/341 is an archeologist from the future. On an expedition he uncovers a book written in 2011 by Elizabeth Barrett. In the book she talks about love; this is a concept unknown to humans in the future because it is thought to be too dangerous and it was wiped from the database. PAX goes back in time to meet Elizabeth Barrett so she can explain love to him. Elizabeth lives in New Orleans in 2011, she's an author and she's also a writer for a magazine called "Strange Times" which covers all your usual UFO, Elvis isn't dead, National Enquirer-type stories. She of course thinks he's crazy but listens to his story so she can write an article about it. Along the way they fall in love which is only complicated by the fact that she's about to get engaged to another man. Similar to other ABC Family movies, this one was sappy, cheesy, and a complete lovefest. It makes you laugh, it makes you cry. [If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try the Back to the Future series starring Michael J. Fox or Less Than Perfect with Sara Rue as a TV news anchor (available through interlibrary loan).}


[ Internet Movie Database entry for this film ] | [ official My Future Boyfriend web site ]

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


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book cover  This review is for the DVD format of this itemOffice Space
[DVD Office]

This 1999 film is something of a cult classic -- not a huge blockbuster, but a quirky oddball comedy that fans keep coming back to again and again. Written and produced by Mike Judge, the man behind the animated hits Beavis and Butthead and King of the Hill, Office Space is, in part, based on a series of short animated pieces that feature nebbishy office worker Milton. Ron Livingston headlines the cast, as Peter Gibbons, a cubicle-inhabiting cog in a corporate environment at Initech. When the company appears to be going into downsizing mode, Peter and his co-workers hatch a scheme to use a software bug to skim a vast amount of money from the company's accounts before they get canned. The humor here is painful and absurd. Gary Cole is a scene stealer as Bill Lumbergh, the main boss, who puts his employees through sheer hell in preparation for firing them. Peter, the unsuspecting victim of a hypnotist, who leaves him suspended in a state of mind in which his inhibitions are removed, is a fascinating character, as is Milton (Stephen Root), a mumbling cubicle dweller who was fired but never left the building. Jennifer Anniston is featured as Peter's new girlfriend, who is working for a T.G.I. Friday's-like restaurant, whose management is obsessed with the employees wearing "flair" -- buttons, badges, etc. This is smart, savvy comedy, poking fun at corporate culture as well as examples of idiocy in other venues as well. Totally unbelievable, but cathartic for anyone who's felt like taking revenge on a boss. You'll never look at the red Swingline stapler in your office the same way again!


[ Internet Movie Database entry for this film ]

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


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last updated May 2012
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