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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 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

August 2014 Recommendations

book cover  This review is for the Book on CD format of this itemThe Dragon Business
by Kevin J. Anderson [Compact Disc Anderson]

The stylistic tone of this fantasy novel by Kevin J. Anderson is a little extreme, but if you like absurdist fantasies, you'll probably enjoy this one. Imagine Monty Python meets J.R.R. Tolkien. The Dragon Business (and at this time the libraries only own this in book-on-cd audiobook format), is a story told on two levels. In an extensive framing sequence, King Cullin "the Dragon Slayer" is taking his bookish young son on a father-son outing to a local tavern to introduce him to some of the commoners in the kingdom. While enjoying their boys' night out, King Cullin shares with Prince Maurice some tales of himself as a young lad, swept into service as a squire an apprentice dragonslayer. Only, young Cullin worked as part of a small crew of con artists, manufacturing fake dragon attacks and offering up their services to rid small kingdoms of the supposedly fearsome creatures. Until the scam crew finds themselves facing the responsibility of eliminating an actual dragon. The dialog is at times hilarious, the situations that Cullin, brave Sir Dalbry and gravedigger Reeger find themselves in are both silly and serious. And you'll find yourself rooting for young Princess Affonyl, who'd rather fake her own death by dragon attack and go on the lam than face a marriage arranged by her father. Anderson puts a lot of "modern" twists on the terminology and scenarios in the book, and those who prefer their their fantasy novels "pure" and/or realistic will want to avoid this one. But if you're looking for some laughs, give it a try!

[If you enjoy this, the closest match I can think of, stylistically, to this novel is the film Monty Python and the Holy Grail, and/or the stage musical inspired by that film, Monty Python's Spamalot.]

[ Audio publisher's official Dragon Business web page ] | [ official Kevin J. Anderson web site ]

Review Score – 8
Recommended by Scott C.
Benentt Martin Public Library


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book cover  Dear Zoe
by Philip Beard

This story is about a family tragedy in the midst 9/11/01. Tess is an American teen with two younger half sisters. Zoe, the youngest at only 2 or 3, is playing in the front yard as Tess watches her. When the news of the terrorist attack comes on TV, Tess is called inside to see what's happened. Zoe, who was left alone in the yard, runs into the street, is hit by a car, and dies. The story is the aftermath of that Tuesday morning. There is not much in the way of a plot, it's more about moving on with life after a death and growing up. It's written in first person from Tess as a letter to Zoe, about guilt, grief, love, family, and coming of age. I think it would appeal to teens since it's told from a teen point of view, but adults will also appreciate it as a story of moving past a tragedy. It's a pretty quick read but some readers may need a box of tissues to get through it.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try The Lovely Bones, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.]

[ Publisher's official Dear Zoe web page ] | [ Philip Beard on Wikipedia ]

Review Score – 7
Recommended by Kristen A.
Gere Branch Library


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book cover  This review is for a music CDWater From the Well
by The Chieftains [Compact Disc 781.62 IreYc]

This is a nice traditional Irish music collection that reminds me of the Lord of the Ring soundtracks. It's mostly instrumental with a few vocal tracks. I'd recommend it to those who like traditional world music.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try the Lord of the Rings soundtrack albums.]

[ official The Chieftains web site ]

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


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book cover  What's So Funny? My Hilarious Life
by Tim Conway [Biography Conway]

Tim Conway has cracked me (and probably literally millions of people) up for decades so I was delighted to see that he put out this memoir last year. It is a funny and gentle read, with a large helping of quirky thrown in. He and his immigrant parents personify the American Dream of working hard, being successful eventually, and living a happy life. I was amused to find that Tim, born "Toma", gets much of his off-the-wall personality from his parents, a tall Irish-American groom and a short Romanian-American housekeeper and seamstress. And I was surprised to learn that Tim has a wide range of educational and occupational experiences -- radio DJ, tailor, baker, army clerk -- and he played several sports, too. And, of course, Tim reminisces about his wonderful years with the gang from the Carol Burnett Show. How can you not love a guy who would make a suitcoat and tie for himself out of the same plaid material that covered his home office walls for a "where's Tim" gag?

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try This Time Together: Laughter and Reflections by Carol Burnett; My Lucky Life In and Out of Show Business by Dick Van Dyke; DVD The Carol Burnett Show: Show Stoppers.]

[Also available in Large Print format.]

[ official Tim Conway web site ]

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


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book cover  We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves
by Karen Joy Fowler

What would you do if your sister was removed from the family when you were five and you thought it was your fault? Would it make a difference if your sister was a chimpanzee? A touching and funny book about a unique dysfunctional family.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Ape House by Sara Gruen.]

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

[ Publisher's official We Are All Complete Beside Ourselves web page ] | [ official Karen Joy Fowler web site ]

Review Score – 8
Recommended by Tammy T.
Collection Management Department


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book cover  The Food Lover's Guide to Kansas City: The Best Restaurants, Markets and Local Culinary Offerings
by Sylvia Hogg Murphy [917.784 Mur]

I'll admit, what first grabbed my attention with this book was the gorgeous cover illustration of barbeque ribs, and the words "Kansas City" in big bold print. BBQ has a lot of regional variations, but the Kansas City style is the one I gravitate towards without question. My wife and I try to visit KC somewhat regularly, and whenever we're there, we definitely like to try out 'cue from one or more of the local joints. But...this book is about a lot more than just KC barbeque. Breaking the greater Kansas City area into 10 regions, the book dedicates a section for each region to Foodie Faves, Old Guard K.C., Occasions (places you'd go to for special occasions), and "Specialty Stores, Markets and Producers". Admittedly, I tend to hang out in the Plaza, Westport or Downtown areas of K.C. when I visit, and the restaurants and specialty shops this book recommends are all places I've either visited or at least am aware of. But there is a treasure trove of additional " foodie" locations just waiting to be tapped into. If you are an occasional visitor to Kansas City, and love great food -- I highly recommend this book to you to get dining and shopping suggestions you might not be aware of! And don't forget to stop at Oklahoma Joe's for the best BBQ in the city!

[ official Sylvie Hogg Murphy on Twitter ]

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


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book cover  Blood of Tyrants
by Naomi Novik

This is the eighth book in the Temeraire series by author Naomi Novik. This story starts out with a shipwreck which leaves our hero with amnesia on a foreign shore. Separating Captain Laurence from his beloved dragon, Temeraire, and putting him into a dangerous situation from the beginning of the book made this novel stand out as one of the best in the series for me. We are drawn back into the Napoleonic wars and thrown into battle once more -- with a Captain who doesn't remember how to fight with dragons anymore! The book ends with a cliffhanger which will undoubtedly be followed by more books in this series.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try His Majesty's Dragon by Naomi Novik, plus any books in the Hornblower series by C.S. Forester.]

[ Fan-created Wiki for the world of Temeraire ] | [ official Naomi Novik web site ]

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


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book cover  Landline
by Rainbow Rowell

Nebraska author Rainbow Rowell pens an adult novel about a troubled marriage that is falling apart among the laughter that it was founded upon. An unexpected twist in the plot lets our protagonist - Georgie, work through the hard question of where did everything go wrong...to the even more difficult question of should I try to keep my family together? A slew of friends and family try to sway Georgie's path, but she finds help in the most unlikely of places - in the most unlikely of times.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Eleanor & Park, Attachments, Fangirl - all by Rainbow Rowell.]

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

[ official Rainbow Rowell web site ]

Review Score – 9
Recommended by Sarah J.
South Branch Library


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book cover  The Fabulous Women of Boris Vallejo and Julie Bell
by Boris Vallejo, Julie Bill, Anthony and David Palumbo [759.58 qVal]

The field of science fiction and fantasy publishing has recently gone through some growing pains, inspired in part by negative reactions to the traditional kind of fantasy artwork that seems to objectify women. As the publishing industry moves away from book and magazine covers with beautiful women in chainmail, holding big swords, it seems worthwhile to look back at two of the artists whose fame was most notably linked to that type of cover art -- Boris Vallejo and his wife Julie Bell. This beautiful hardbound art book reproduces dozens of each of these artists' works from the 1960s, 70s and 80s, that originally appeared on book and magazine covers, in calendars, on trading cards, and in gaming literature. The colors are lush, the female figures are curvy yet powerful, and the dragons, unicorns, alien beasts, spaceships and other fantasy or scifi set pieces are gorgeous. Vallejo's work epitomized the space opera movement in those earlier decades, and even if you find the cheesecake elements of his paintings to be somewhat off-putting today, there's no denying the strength of his heroines, and the impact his work has had on fantasy illustrations for over 40 years. [NOTE: Fair warning, there is nudity involved in some of these illustrations, including those works by Julie Bell.].

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try The Fantastic Art of Boris, and Icon: A Retrospective of the Grandmaster of Fantastic Art by Frank Frazetta.]

[ Imaginistix -- the official web site of Boris Vallejo and Julie Bell ]

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


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book cover  The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender
by Leslye Walton [YA Walton]

Ava Lavender and her brother are no ordinary twins. Ava was born with wings and her brother Henry does not speak for the first decade of his life. Even when he does begin to speak, it's rare and Henry is far more likely to be petting his dog or drawing very detailed maps than communicating with others. No matter, their mother Viviane determined that they are all less likely to be hurt and teased for their oddities if they stay in their mysterious house and do not associate with the outside world, for her own experience of the outside world led her only to heartbreak and misery. The twins live with their mother, grandmother (who has endured her own tragic losses), and a man whose loyalty is unwavering, though his exact relation, Ava isn't so sure. As Ava grows into her teenage years, she yearns for the company of more than just her household and the neighbors around her age she has befriended. Ava begins sneaking out with her neighbors to meet groups of others h er age and they are surprisingly accepting of the fact that Ava has wings. Ava creates the most daring dash from her house on the night of the huge celebration her town does for the summer solstice. As she's sneaking back home, she is invited in by someone she believes to be harmless. And that's when Ava loses herself. This book is beautifully written, but very, very dark. It is not for those looking for a nice, light read, but you will feel so much as you delve into its pages. Your heart is guaranteed to ache for Emilienne, Viviane, and Ava.

[ official Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavendr and Leslye Walton web site ]

Review Score – 9
Recommended by Sam N.
Gere Branch Library


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The Screening Room

book cover  This review is for the DVD format of this itemFoul Play
[DVD Foul]

"Beware the Dwarf" is the whispered warning given to Goldie Hawn's character early in this film, which starts starts a series of comical, farcical adventures. At its heart, Foul Play is a romantic comedy, but it also has some strong mystery elements in it as well. Hawn is her typically bubbly, confused self, and Chevy Chase (in his first starring film role since hitting it big in Saturday Night Live) is the San Francisco detective who has to investigate when bizarre things start happening. This a a goofy, romp of a movie -- don't expect anything serious at all. Also features Dudley Moore (prior to his starring role as "Arthur") in a quirky turn, and Burgess Meredith in a vaguely creepy supporting role. Great music and great scenery, but it is Hawn and Chase and their clumsy romantic escapes that make this a fun film to watch.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try any of Chevy Chase's other films, particularly the "Fletch" movies, or any of Goldie Hawn's other comedies.]

[ Internet Movie Database entry for this film ]

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 itemGood Ol' Freida
[DVD Biography Kelly]

Do you draw a blank at the name Freda Kelly? I did too, but not any more. This is the story of the Beatles' "girl Friday", a likeable young woman from the same area of Liverpool as "the lads" who became their fan club president and business secretary. Now that her grandson is growing up, Freda decided to revisit her historic past life as one of the Beatles' inner circle of associates/friends and make her story available to the world at large. The bonus features are a bit hit & miss but over all this is a very engaging, informative, and absorbing remembrance of a seminal time and an unforeseen phenomenon by a woman who never let any of it change her happy and loyal but oh-so-capable character. I nominate Freda Kelly as the true "Fifth Beatle"!.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try The Beatles Explosion (DVD); A Hard Day's Night (DVD); Help! (DVD); The Beatles Anthology.]

[ Internet Movie Database entry for this film ] | [ official Good Ol' Freda 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 itemHer
[DVD Her]

In the beginning we meet our protagonist, Theodore Twombly (played by Joaquin Phoenix), as he is going through a divorce because of his inability to express his thoughts and emotions enough for his wife to understand. We follow the depressed Twobmly through his dreary days where his only highlight is work. Twombly works writing personal letters for other people - children to parents, employees to bosses, etc. He has it developed into an art form - the ability to express emotions for others. However, his personal life seems to be at a standstill until he meets "Samantha" - a new operating system able to grow and adapt to a user's needs. Suddenly, Twobly's life is all about Sam, and the adventure begins blindly, with our protagonist blissfully unaware of the hardships that lie ahead. Very intriguing and unique.

[ Internet Movie Database entry for this film ] | [ official Her the Movie web site ]

Review Score – 9
Recommended by Sarah J.
South Branch Library


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book cover  This review is for the DVD format of this itemStar Trek III: The Search for Spock
[DVD Star]

This movie picks up where the previous one left off. Kirk and crew steal the decommissioned Enterprise and return to the now forbidden planet Genesis to retrieve Spock's body, which according to Spock's father must be returned to their home planet of Vulcan. The ship is not fully operational due to it's adventure in the previous movie. While they do make it to the planet, there is an enemy ship waiting for them. There is also a federation science research crew on the surface of the planet who also get involved in the conflict. Full of action and excitement it's a good Star Trek movie that would appeal to those who like action and sci-fi movies. I would recommend watching movie two first because it does directly pick up after those events.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Star Trek the Original Series and Star Trek II: Wrath of Khan.]

[Also available in traditional print (movie novelization) format.]

[ Internet Movie Database entry for this film ] | [ official Star Trek web site ]

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


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book cover  This review is for the DVD format of this itemWallander
based on the books by Henning Mankell [DVD Wallender]

Kenneth Branagh plays a Swedish detective in the coastal community of Ystad in Sweden in this excellent production of Wallander. The relationships between people in this series is what I find most appealing, in particular, Wallander's relationship with his adult daughter. The stories are gritty, compelling and tension-packed. Fans of actor Tom Hiddleston will want to see this as well. Series One also has an excellent documentary about the author, Henning Mankell.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try the DVDs of Inspector Morse, Prime Suspect.]

[Also available: The Novels of Henning Mankell that the show is based on.]

[ Internet Movie Database entry for this film ] | [ Wallander on EpGuides.com ]

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


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last updated September 2014
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