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

February 2013 Recommendations

book cover  Beard on Bread
by James Beard [641.815 Bea]

If you ever wanted to make homemade bread, this would be the book to start with. It begins by giving a very through method, complete with illustrations, of bread making from scratch - no machine required. Once you have tried the basic loaf, there are numerous other recipes to try. It even comes with a guide on which breads are best for breakfast, sandwiches, afternoon coffee and so on. Some of the recipes included are the usual sourdough, French, and potato, but also monkey bread, English muffins, cheese bread, and pizza. I would suggest it to anyone interested in adding to their kitchen skills or anyone who loves the smell of fresh bread. [For more do it yourself cooking, try this: Jamie's Food Revolution : Rediscover How to Cook Simple, Delicious, Affordable Meals - By: Jamie Oliver - 641.55 Oli.]

[Available in both the original 1973 edition, and a 1998 "25th Anniversary" edition..]

[ James Beard page on Wikipedia ]

Review Score - 8
Recommended by Kristen A.
Gere Branch Library


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book cover  A Case of Conscience
by James Blish

This novel, by James Blish, won the 1959 Hugo Award for best science fiction novel, and even now, over 50 years later, continues to appear on the lists of the greatest science fiction stories of all time. My science fiction club recently read it for a group discussion, and I enjoyed the opportunity to introduce myself to one of the classics. This novel feels like two stories that have been patched together, and that is literally the case. The first half of the novel (previously published on its own) features an exploratory team of scientists nearing the end of their visit to a distant populated planet, preparing their recommendation report to their superiors back on Earth, as to the planet's suitability for human interaction. The primary narrator is Father Ramon Ruiz-Sanchez, a Jesuit priest who also happens to be a biologist. His discoveries among the intelligent reptilian natives (Lithians) of the planet leads him to a moral crisis of conscience: His strong Catholic belief structure lead him to the conclusion that the planet's entire existence is a Satan-created challenge to his faith. The second half of the novel is set on Earth, as Father Ramon brings a gestating example of the Lithian species back home, and we see the worst example of "nature vs nurture" development that could possibly occur, as the Lithian, separated from the natural environment that it would normally evolve in, becomes an ethical and moral challenge to human society. To be honest, I thought that this book felt a bit dated, but it is still a stellar example of 1950s-era science fiction.

[ A Case of Conscience entry on Wikipedia ] | [ James Blish on Wikipedia ]

related lists See more books like this in our Hugo Award Winners booklist
Review Score - 6
Recommended by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library


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book cover  Darth Vader and Son
by Jeffrey Brown [741.5 Bro]

A collection of single-panel cartoons of Star Wars' conflicted villain Darth Vader, presuming he's aware that he's the father of Luke Skywalker, and raising 4-year-old Luke as a single father. Brown manages to put a sometimes hilarious, sometimes low-key spin on both established Star Wars iconography and on the perils and pitfalls of life with a small child. Luke in these cartoons is a sweetheart, even if occasionally a pest. The best of the cartoons make use of well-known lines of Star Wars dialog in a new and humorous setting. Lots of fun -- especially for fans of the original film trilogy! Although not every example is successful. [If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try the Star Wars cookbooks and origami books, which also have a lot of fun with established Star Wars mythology.]

[ official Comics Weblog for Jeffrey Brown ]

Review Score - 6
Recommended by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library


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book cover  Gone For Good
by Harlan Coben

Coben writes the Myron Bolitar mystery series, but this title is one of his stand-alone mystery novels. Will is a nice Jewish boy (from the same hometown as Coben) whose brother, Ken, was accused of raping and murdering Will's former girlfriend 11 years earlier. Ken ran and is an international fugitive, yet the authorities are not even sure he's still alive, and felt he had received aid from his family. Their mother is dying from cancer, and on her deathbed tells Will that Ken is still alive. Then Will finds a recent photo of Ken hidden in his mother's room plunging us into a standard Coben novel of twists and turns, and well-drawn characters who come alive, not to mention a shocking surprise. Coben's themes usually involve families just going along with their nice little lives then in some way Coben pulls the rug out from under them where they are forced to cope, and re-evaluate their lives and relationships. Think of film director Hitchcock and how he always pulled the average guy into a situation. Coben's novels are rich with detail yet fast-moving. You'll deeply care about some of these characters, heartily detest some, and grieve in spots.

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

[ official Gone For Good page on the official Harlan Coben web site ]

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


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book cover  The Alchemist: A Graphic Novel
by Paulo Coelho, adapted by Derek Ruiz with artwork by Daniel Sampere [741.5 Coe]

This well done graphic novel would be a great read at the start of the New Year. If you have a life dream or a goal for this year, reading this will inspire you. Its wonderful illustrations and text tell the story of a young shepherd with a dream. He bravely chooses to follow his dream to places and situations he didn't expect. Along the way it seems it would have been easier to just stay where he was, as a shepherd, but he does not let his dream fade away. When at last he reaches his destination he comes to a realization more important than what he was after to begin with. I recommend the graphic novel, but there is a traditional novel version of this story by the same author. Regardless of which version you choose, it is a story worth reading, which really, I would recommend to everyone. [If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho (the non-graphic-novel version).]

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

[ Publisher's official The Alchemist - Graphic Novel web site ] | [ Official English Language Paulo Coelho web site ]

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


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book cover  How to Tell if Your Cat is Plotting to Kill You
by Matthew Innman [741.5 Inn]

For all the cat owners and lovers out there, this book sums it up! A mix of graphic storyboards, charts, graphs, and illustrations which summarize feline behavior in a humorous tone. For instance, the three ways of dealing with cat litter; if we treated our cats like they treat us; and having a baby vs. having a cat. 130 pgs, but still a short and funny read. Some of the cutesy pictures contain adult humor and language. [If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Awkward Family Pet Photos, What pets do while you're at work, 101 Pet jokes, Squirrel seeks Chipmunk - David Sedaris.]

[Also available in downloadable E-book format.]

[ official The Oatmeal web site - Innman's web site ]

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


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book cover  This review is for a music CDAt Last
by Etta James [Compact Disc 781.65 Jam]

A great CD of Etta James' classics including: "A Sunday Kind of Love," "Stormy Weather," and of course her sensational hit "At Last." Recorded in Chicago in 1960. Contains idiomatic orchestration and accompaniment patterns of the 1950s and 60s. (Triplet accompaniment strings in blues style). Some of the songs do however start to sound the same after listening to the entire CD; however, a really great listen! She certainly has a definitive sound she makes her own. [If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Let's Roll, The Definitive Collection, The Essential Etta James, Blues to the Bone.]

[ Etta James page on Wikipedia ]

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


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book cover  Death at La Fenice
by Donna Leon

After having volumes of this series recommended to me over the years by numerous other mystery fans, I finally got around to reading Death at La Fenice, the first volume in the long-running Commissario Guido Brunetti series, for the January 2013 meeting of our libraries' Just Desserts mystery discussion group. I will have to admit, as a mystery fan, I gravitate towards those stories in which the violence happens off-screen, and the settings, and the sleuth's personality and methodology are more important than the plots. In the case of this novel, Leon's descriptions of Venice are beautiful and haunting -- particular a foggy evening in which Brunetti can only find his way through parts of the city purely by memory, since he can't see more than a couple feet in front of him. I found myself fascinated with Brunetti himself -- a good man in a somewhat corrupt police department, forced to moderate his own behavior in order to fit into an environment that is beneath him. The death here, the mysterious killing of an famous opera conductor between acts of his latest production, is a bit thin. And the pacing is quite slow. But if you're looking for a mystery series with atmosphere, and a likeable, engaging protagonist, I highly recommend this series. Long-time fans have noted that as the series progresses, the tone gets much, much darker -- so be forewarned! [If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try the Inspector Gamache series by Louise Penny, set in Canada but featuring a sleuth similar in nature and tone to Brunetti.]

[ official Donna Leon web site ] | [ official UK Donna Leon web site ]

related lists See more books like this on the Donna Leon booklist handout made for Just Desserts
Review Score - 10
Recommended by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library


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book cover  This review is for a music CDLes Misérables : The Musical Phenomenon : Highlights From the Motion Picture Soundtrack
music by Claude-Michel Schönberg; Anne Dudley; Alain Boublil; Herbert Kretzme [782.14 Les]

Having seen traveling stage productions of the musical Les Misérables twice over the years, I was really looking forward to the big-budget star-studded feature film version of the musical, which opened on Christmas Day in 2012. The film has gotten generally positive reviews, with raves for several of the performances. One choice that the filmmakers made was to record the actors/performers singing their lines/songs live on set, rather than dubbing them in from studio recordings later. This has leant the compulsively singable music a greater sense of emotion and immediacy that is occasionally missing from the more traditional "stage" recordings of either the London or Broadway casts of this show. This "highlights" disc features 20 tracks of music from the feature film -- not all the show's music, by a long shot, and a few keys songs are notedly absent. However, it does hit most of the most memorable songs from Les Misérables...and there are some absolutely terrific performances. Anne Hathaway's "I Dreamed a Dream" as Fantine is raw and painful. Hugh Jackman's solos throughout the soundtrack as Jean Valjean are very strong. Samantha Banks as Eponine offers up a heartbreaking "On My Own". And Sacha Baren Cohen's "Master of the House" is a show-stopper. But for me, Freddie Mayne's "Empty Chairs at Empty Tables" is the most touching of the solos. Frankly, this album's strongest performances come when groups of characters are overlapping, as in "Red and Black", "At the End of the Day" and the emotional, rousing "One Day More". I wish the entire soundtrack had been released, but I'm quite excited to have this selection of songs, if nothing else! [If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try any of the previously recordings of the Les Misérables soundtrack from numerous other staged productions.]

[Also available: various other soundtrack recordings from various other productions of Les Miserables for the stage.]

[ official Les Misérables movie web site ]

Review Score - 10
Recommended by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library


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book cover  Where'd You Go, Bernadette?
by Maria Semple

This book is one of the most fun and original stories I've read in a long time. Since being awarded the MacArthur Genius award for her innovative "green" architecture, Bernadette Fox has become increasingly agoraphobic and anxiety-ridden. Her interactions with the neighbors and other mothers at her daughter's private school are fueled by razor-sharp wit and a devestating social anxiety, often resulting in the sort of comments you'd sometimes like to say outloud but never actually do. When it all becomes too much for Bernadette and she diappears, it's up to her precocious daughter Bee to figure out what happened by trolling through her mom's emails, school correspondence and psychologist and police reports. Every character (from her iconically nerdy husband to the "helicopter moms" at Bee's school) is charmingly unusual and oddly relatable, culpable yet understandable. Where'd You Go, Bernadette? is a refreshingly creative, laugh-out-loud and enchanting read. [If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Arrested Development tv series on dvd (the author used to write for Arrested Development).]

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

[ official Where'd You Go, Bernadette web site ] | [ official Maria Semple web site ]

related lists This book also appears on the People Magazine's Top 10 Books of 2012 Reader List submitted by BookMan
related lists This book also appears on the Time Magazine's Top 10 Fiction and Non-Fiction Books of 2012 Reader List submitted by BookMan
Review Score - 10
Recommended by Stephanie E.
Anderson and Bethany Branch Libraries


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book cover  Fire and Ice
by Dana Stabenow

I initially was reluctant to read the Liam Campbell series, as I am a big fan of Stabenow's Kate Shugak series and felt Campbell simply couldn't be as good. But I read the excellent Kate #19 (Restless in the Grave -- don't read it unless you've read the other 18 first) which is a crossover between the two and was intrigued by Campbell and the off-beat, colorful people of his district. Fire and Ice is the first book in this series. He is an Alaskan State Trooper, demoted from Sgt to Trooper, and transferred from Anchorage to the rural fishing town of Newenham as punishment. His career is in the balance, and his personal life is no better -- his baby son is dead, and his wife is in a coma. His flight arrives into Newenham to find a dead body on the tarmac, torn apart by the propeller of a Piper Super Cub owned by the real love of his life, pilot Wyanet Chouinard, who is now the lead suspect. At the same time, someone has shot out the jukebox at a local bar and is being held hostage by the enraged owner who is also the local judge and she's ready to immediately pronounce sentence. Thus is Campbell's first 10 minutes in his new post. To say Stabenow peoples her books with interesting characters is quite the understatement. In addition to following Campbell as he learns his way around the town, along with the dynamics of the local population while he works the mystery, you'll be pulled into everyone's lives and care about them as you would in any good series. To date there are only four books in this series, five when you include the crossover. You'll wish there were more. [If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try the Kate Shugak series, also by Stabenow.]

[Also available in paperback format.]

[ official Liam Campbell page on the official Dana Stabenow web site ]

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 itemDarling Companion
[DVD Darling]

I'm a sucker for a sappy movie involving a dog, and the cover of Darling Companion (as well as the back cover blurb) certainly led to think this was going to be a sentimental pet/owner story along the lines of the heartbreaking Hachi. It turned out to be more of a quirky story about human relationships. Written and directed by Lawrence Kasdan, Darling Companion is very similar in tone to some of Kasdan's earlier works, particularly The Big Chill, Grand Canyon and French Kiss. Beth (Diane Keaton) saves an abandoned dog from the side of a highway, then adopts it and quickly falls in love with "Highway". Beth's work-obsessed ego-centric surgeon husband, Joseph (Kevin Kline - one of Kasdan's favorite go-to actors), proceeds to lose the dog in the woods of Colorado when the family has gathered for a wedding at their summer home. What follows is an ensemble comedy, as various friends and relatives spend the next several days roaming the woods, searching for the missing dog, and forging, breaking and mending bonds with each other. This is a slow-paced movie, which relies on the viewer's interest in the characters and their evolving relationships to maintain interest rather than a rigorous plot. The performances are charming, particularly Kline, Keaton, Dianne Wiest and Richard Jenkins. The setting and music are engaging, and I highly recommend this if you enjoy "character studies", rather than plot-driven films. [If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Grand Canyon or The Big Chill.]

[ Internet Movie Database entry for this film ] | [ official Darling Companion 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 itemFringe
[DVD Fringe (seasons one through five)]

When Fringe began on the Fox network during the 2008-2009 TV season, I thought it was a pale attempt to recapture the glory that was Fox's earlier paranormal series, The X-Files, which had been off the air since 2002. Despite its pedigree, coming from J.J. Abrams - the producer behind such hit series as Alias and Lost, I thought the combination of an secret government agency working with a mentally disturbed genius scientist was awkward at best, and risible at worst. A pre-ponderance of "monster-of-the-week" shows in the first season (good though many of them were) seemed to doom the series to be a one-season wonder. But Fox renewed it. And I'm incredibly glad they did -- because starting with the second season, and peaking in the third and fourth seasons, the producers developed long-running story arcs that produced some excellent stories and superb performances. Anna Torv, as Olivia Dunham, grew tremendously over the course of 5 seasons, adding layers of emotional resonance to her FBI character. Joshua Jackson (from Party of Five) also grew as Peter Bishop, starting as a light-weight character and gaining in seriousness and responsibility with each episode. A stellar supporting cast, featuring Jasika Nicole as Astrid Farnsworth, Lance Reddick as Phillip Broyles, and Blair Brown as Nina Sharp created memorable characters as well. But, it was John Noble as eccentric genius Walter Bishop that absolutely stole the show. The third season introduced a parallel universe, with alternate versions of most of the primary characters -- giving all the actors the opportunity to play out their own Star Trek-ian "Mirror, Mirror" scenario. The fourth season rebooted the reality of the world the stories were set in, forcing the audience and the characters to reinvent their realities. And the fifth season threw the primary characters into a dystopian future that they then struggle to find a way to prevent from having happened in the first place. The creepy, bald Observers who have popped up in multiple episodes of the first four years become a deadly force to be reckoned with as the series wound up all its loose story threads. The series ended with a grand finale in January 2013 (the 5th season will be out on DVD soon), but this is definitely a series you need to watch in order, starting at the very beginning. Stick with it through the first-season doldrums...the payoff farther down the way makes it all worthwhile! [Warning: some of the special effects on this series can be rather gruesome -- not for the faint at heart!]. [If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try The X-Files, or Millennium.]

[ Internet Movie Database entry for this series ] | [ official Fringe episode guide on epguides.com ] | [ official www.fox.com/fringe web site ] | [ official Massive Dynamics 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 itemJumanji
[DVD j Jumanji]

A board game brings the jungle to life. After a little boy gets swallowed into the game, each passing turn creates a new scenario which brings the jungle to life, but the game turns into survival of the fittest--things aren't so easy in the jungle. Featuring Robin Williams and Kirsten Dunst, truly remarkable special effects. Or enjoy the kids picture book. [If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Zathura DVD or jP, other Chris VanAllburg books: Probuditi!, Two Bad Ants.]

[Also available in picture book format.]

[ Internet Movie Database entry for this film ]

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


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last updated February 2013
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