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Staff Recommendations

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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 Staff 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 should connect to the appropriate entry in our on-line catalog, showing all the formats we have access to, 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 | AGATHA CHRISTIE | LGBTQ+ | STAR TREK | STAR WARS

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August 2022 Recommendations

The Mysterious Affair at Styles
by Agatha Christie, audiobook narrated by David Suchet (Compact Disc Christie)

Having had the honor of performing as Hercule Poirot in a 2018 production of the Agatha Christie play “Black Coffee” at the Lincoln Community playhouse, I am hoping to also audition for that role in a production of “Murder on the Orient Express” at the Community Players theater in Beatrice in a few months. As part of my preparations for auditioning, I wanted to retrain myself in the sound of Poirot’s unusual French/Belgian accent, especially as captured by actor David Suchet in his long-running take on that character in the television series Agatha Christie’s Poirot.

Therefore, I decided to listen to several of the Poirot novels in audiobook form, staring with those that are actually narrated/performed by Suchet himself. The libraries have audiobook versions of nearly all of the 33 Poirot novels, but only 6 with narration by Suchet. (Curiosly enough, actor Hugh Fraser, who portrayed Poirot’s English friend and companion, Captain Hastings, in the TV series, is the more common Christie audiobook narrator). As it happens, Suchet DID do this audiobook adaptation of Poirot’s very first appearance, in The Mysterious Affair at Styles (originally published in 1920).

Suchet does a remarkable job of creating unique vocal characteristics for every single character in the story, both male and female. But it is his bringing to life of the eccentric little Belgian detective that makes this such a charming production. The novel itself is, of course, a classic of the mystery genre, and holds up fairly well after over 100 years. But it is Suchet’s vocal talents that are on full display in this book-on-CD.

Still highly recommended, even after this much time!

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try any other Suchet-narrated Poirot novels by Agatha Christie, or the story collection The Complete Hercule Poirot by Agatha Christie — all the short stories featuring this character!)

( official Agatha Christie web site )

See also Kristin A’s earlier review of The Mysterious Affair at Styles in the November 2015 Staff Recommendations here on BookGuide!

See many more similar reviews on our specialized Agatha Christie Reviews page!

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Recommended by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library — Public Service


The Princess Bride (S. Morgenstern’s Classic Tale of True Love and High Adventure…the “good parts” version)
the original novel by William Goldman (Goldman)

If you’ve only ever seen the 1987 movie version of this story, and not read this novel, you’re missing out on a lot. The Princess Bride originally came out in 1973, and author William Goldman, also the famed screenwriter of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, All the President’s Men, and many more noteworthy films, almost immediately wrote his own screenplay adaptation for the movie. That screen then languished, unproduced, for over a dozen years.

There are definitely some distinct differences between the novel and the film versions of the story. And, it also depends on which edition of the book you get your hands on — there’s the original 1973, and then there are both a 25th Anniversary edition, with new content, and a 30th Anniversary edition, with still more new content. All of these feature one major structural difference from the film — author Goldman inserts himself in the story, in the form of extensive editorial “interruptions” and “explanations”. Goldman’s conceit is that he is doing a massive abridgement to a classic novel, published by the legendary Florinese author S. Morgenstern — Goldman claims to have enjoyed his own father reading the tale to him as a child, only to discover that Dad cut out all the boring, exposition bits and only read aloud the exciting plot-propelling bits. Goldman also pulls on our heartstrings with a sentimental story about his own son (which turns out all to be fictional). Goldman has proposed to his publisher that they reprint the original novel by Morgenstern, but he’ll do an abridgement to “just the fun parts”.

When adapted to the Rob Reiner film, this “framing device” is turned into Grandfather Peter Falk reading the original fairytale/novel to Grandson Fred Savage. But, while that ends up being a minor, humorous element of the film, Goldman’s editorial interruptions to the novel are constant, lengthy and continuous, making The Princess Bride almost a novel within a novel within a novel. Never-the-less, the humor is about the same in both novel and film, so if you’re looking for “true love”, adventure, pirates, villainous noblemen, mad magicians, swordplay, cliff-climbing, poison, rodents of unusual size, giants who like to rhyme, matters of honor and revenge, and the definition of what “As You Wish” really means, you’ll still love this book.

The 25th and 30th editions each have extended new author/edition introductions by Goldman, giving lengthy explanations for what has happened with the editing/printing of book in the years since the original 1973 version, including what Stephen King has to do with the story — and touching on the making of the movie. Some editions also include the first chapter of what was supposed to be a sequel to The Princess Bride, Buttercup’s Baby, with additional author/editor notes explaining why only the opening chapter has thus far been published. Author Goldman passed away in 2018, with plans to expanded Buttercup’s Baby into a full novel sadly unrealized.

While the film The Princess Bride is one of my all-time favorites, and gets an unabashed rating of “10” from me, I’m only giving this novel an “8”. While I enjoyed how much fun Goldman has in playing around with the structure of a parody of adventure/fantasy literature, his constant editorial interruptions to talk about how he’s cutting chunks of Morgenstern’s original story that would slow down the story…have the very effect of slowing down the story anyway! And, there’s a couple of casual ethnic slurs that seem uncomfortably inappropriate for contemporary readers. Still a great read anyway!

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try the 1987 film The Princess Bride directed by Rob Reiner. Also, actor Cary Elwes’ autobiographical book As You Wish about the making of this film — I particularly enjoyed this as an audiobook, read by Elwes and many of the other cast members of the film!)

( Wikipedia entry for the novel The Princess Bride ) | ( Wikipedia entry for William Goldman )

See Kristen A.’s review of the movie The Princess Bride in the December 2012 Staff Recommendations here on BookGuide!
See Scott C.’s review of Cary Elwes’ book As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales From the Making of the Princess Bride in the July 2015 Staff Recommendations here on BookGuide!

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Recommended by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library — Public Service


Sarai in the Spotlight
by Sarai Gonzalez and Monica Brown (jPB Gonzalez)

The Sarai series are great books to celebrate girl power, as well as learn about diversity and how our uniqueness is what makes us special. The series is actually based on the real life Sarai Gonzalez, who became an overnight sensation after appearing in the music video for Bomba Estereo’s “Soy Yo.” The song was about loving your whole self, even all your flaws.

In the book Sarai in the Spotlight, Sarai finds out the exciting news that her grandparents and cousins will be moving to her neighborhood. She also hears the devastating news that her best friend has moved out of state suddenly for her father’s new job.

Sarai has to learn how to navigate a new school year as a fourth grader without her best friend. And unfortunately the unfriendly girls in the school cafeteria are starting to make school pretty difficult. She has her family close by for support and befriends the quiet new girl in her class, Christina. However, Christina isn’t like Sarai at all; Christina is quiet and always writing in her notebook.

When the class talent show comes around, Sarai is keen to perform. Christina writes her a spoken-word poem and the two discover that you don’t have to be alike to make a winning team. The Sarai series is a great set of paperbacks for readers in third through fifth grade.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try the Princess Black series by Shannon Hale)

( official Monica Brown author web site )

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Recommended by Cindy K.
Bennett Martin Public Library — Public Service


Nettle & Bone
by T. Kingfisher (Kingfisher)

A pragmatic, feet firmly on the ground youngest princess is thrust into a fairytale. Her older sisters both threatened by a tyrannical prince, Marra (our grounded youngest princess) just wants to live an ordinary, quiet life. But when those she loves are threatened, Marra rises to the occasion with the same pragmatic, dogged approach to every event in her life so far.

Read this book if you love Naomi Novik, Juliet Marillier or other fairytale-esque books!

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Uprooted by Naomi Novik, Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier, The Bear and the Nightingale: A Story by Katherine Arden or Mystic and Rider by Sharon Shinn.)

( publisher’s official Nettle & Bone web page ) | ( official T. Kingfisher — a.k.a. Ursula Vernon — web site )

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Recommended by Rio B.
Bennett Martin Public Library — Public Service


Silverview
by John le Carré, audiobook narrated by Toby Jones (Compact Disc Le Carre)

When spy/thriller specialist John le Carré passed away in 2020, after a stellar writing career that included such masterpieces as The Spy Who Came In From the Cold, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, Smiley’s People, A Perfect Spy, The Night Manager, The Tailor of Panama and The Constant Gardener (among many more), he left one short unpublished work — Silverview.

Just Desserts Mystery Discussion GroupThe libraries’ Just Desserts mystery fiction discussion group had not used le Carré as an assigned reading for discussion in our 16 years of group meetings, so we decided to use le Carré’s posthumously-published final novel, Silverview, for our June 2022 gathering. I’m sorry to say that I’d never read any le Carré previously, despite enjoying the TV mini-series adaptations of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and Smiley’s People (starring Alec Guinness).

I decided to try Silverview as an audiobook, read by British actor Toby Jones. And I’m glad I chose the audiobook, as Jones really brought the extended cast of characters to life, with distinctly different voices for each and every one. On the other hand, I’m not sure I would necessarily have enjoyed the book if I’d been reading it in traditional print format. I would describe Silverview as a very small slice-of-life exploration of the world of modern day spycraft, peeking into the dark corners of how the intelligence community can heartlessly train, use up, and discard some of the “best and brightest” in service to shifting political goals.

Sadly, the majority of our mystery group’s attitudes seemed to be that they either didn’t care for Silverview outright, or found it to be not up to the usual standards for a le Carré thriller. Personally, I really enjoyed it. It didn’t feel like an actual thriller, but more just a look at the impact of a life spent in the spy business. And Jones is an absolutely brilliant narrator.

So…if you’re a longtime le Carré reader, you might find Silverview a bit lacking. If you’ve never read a le Carré before, perhaps this isn’t the one to start with. But if you’re looking for a quick, uncomplicated look at the machinations and manipulations of those working in the spy “tradecraft” in the 2020s, I recommend this audiobook.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to check out the many titles I’ve got hotlinked in the text of my review, for more typical examples of le Carré at his best!)

( Wikipedia entry on John Le Carre ) | ( official John Le Carre web site )

See the John le Carré handout prepared for the Just Desserts mystery fiction discussion group in June 2022!

Recommended by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library — Public Service


Mindy Kim Makes a Splash
by Lyla Lee (jPB Lee)

From weddings, puppies, family trips, class elections, and pizza parties, your lower-grade reader can follow Mindy Kim in a new paperback series by Lyla Lee. With her dog Theodore the Mutt, nine-year-old Mindy Kim shares her home and school life, as well as her Korean culture and food.

In Mindy Kim Makes a Splash, Mindy Kim’s PE teacher has announced that they will soon be starting a swimming session during class. Mindy Kim is unhappy because she does not know how to swim and it seems all the rest of the students in her class are swimmers. Brandon, the class bully, makes fun of her because of this and challenges her to a swim race. A few swim lessons and her family’s support give Mindy Kim all she needs to gain the confidence to learn to swim and race her class bully.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try the Sofia Martinez series by Jacqueline Jules or the Zoey and Sassafras series by Asia Citro.)

( official Mindy Kim series page on the official Lyla Lee web site )

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Recommended by Cindy K.
Bennett Martin Public Library — Public Service


Jinxed
by Amy McCulloch (j McCulloch)

Imagine a world in which we are no longer leashed to our phones. Instead, we are “leashed” to digital pets called bakus that handle our calls, messages, social media, calendars, everything our phones can do, and more. Because they are pets, these bakus can also sooth us and entertain us. They are powered by our own kinetic energy when they are leashed to us through a device we wear on our ear. It’s a wild idea, but not too out of this world.

That’s the idea behind the book Jinxed by Amy McCulloch. Kids grow up hoping to advance their pets from a cheap Level One butterfly or scarab beetle, to a Level Three and beyond pet such as a cat, dog, eagle, boar, koala, or sloths. Kids also dream of being smart and talented enough to go to an elite Profectus academy so that someday they can be part of the MONCHA tech company and design future innovations. But as all such major innovations and corporations are world changing, they come with world-changing risks and evils.

In this book, 14-year-old Lacey Chu is scraping by with her mom — her dad was a MONCHA engineer who mysteriously disappeared years earlier. Clever, talented and at the top of her class, Lacey is crushed when she doesn’t get into the elite Profectus school so she can learn to be a companioneer. But then she stumbles upon a broken, mangled, and lifeless cat baku. Lacey suddenly discovers that she has been accepted into the school. With her incredible mechanical skills, Lacey repairs the cat baku who she calls Jinx. Jinx also has incredible abilities, beyond those of a regular Level 3 baku. Jinx has a mind and personality of its own—a little too much like a real cat — that causes Lacey all kinds of trouble. As she makes friends, attends classes, and competes in school with Jinx by her side, she uncovers some unseemly plots at the school and within the MONCHA corporation as well. Will she be able to keep her spot in school, her new friends, and her incredible baku Jinx?

The plot of the talented but unappreciated and disrespected school girl trying to build a better life for her and her mother grabbed me from the very beginning and kept me hooked to the very end. In fact, I had to immediately check out the sequel, Unleashed, and keep reading the Jinx saga. I highly recommend the story, and also recommend the sequel. Unleashed reflects upon the heightened anxiety and depression in today’s world from our addiction to technology and social media and makes the reader consider what is more important — happiness or reality. The Jinxed book series is a great read for any student grade 3-8 who is passionate about coding and robotics, as well as anyone who loves to cheer for the underdog.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try the Emperor Academy series by Trudi Strain Trueit, the Tristan Strong series by Kwame Mbaliaor The Last Shadow Warrior by Sam Subity.)

( official Amy McCulloch web site )

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Recommended by Cindy K.
Bennett Martin Public Library — Public Service


Forever Young: A Memoir
by Hayley Mills (Biography Mills)

If you came of age in the 60s and 70s, you are probably familiar with the name Hayley Mills, a British child and teen actress who starred in some big Disney films such as The Parent Trap and in other movies of the era. I most remember her in The Moonspinners, a young adult suspense story filmed on the island of Crete. This is her account of her family, professional, and personal lives and how she often struggled to find balance between them all. Her father was the well-regarded actor John Mills. Her older sister Juliet is also in the business of film and theater, and her younger brother appeared in some movies as a child. Mills’ mother was a frequently frustrated writer and dependent upon alcohol. Added to this was her marriage to a much older man, a producer, as well as an unfortunate negligence by Hayley’s parents to safeguard her set-aside earnings, much of which was mishandled by her family’s lawyers. In the end, she has come through a number of trials with a positive attitude, spiritually anchored, and grateful for her loved ones and her place in cultural history.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try The Boys by Ron & Clint Howard, Unsinkable, A Memoir by Debbie Reynolds or The Girl On the Balcony by Olivia Hussey.)

( Wikipedia entry for Hayley Mills )

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Recommended by Becky W.C.
Walt Branch Library


Sonic Art: An Introduction to Electroacoustic Music Composition
by Adrian Moore (Music 786.76 Moo)

Electroacoustic music, also known as musique concrete or acousmatic music, has been taught in universities internationally since the 50s and 60s, but there still aren’t a ton of books that get into how this kind of music is put together. There are lots of books that go over various building blocks that help to understand other kinds of music: music theory, orchestration, harmony, etc, and at times, electroacoustic music can use these principles, too, so we don’t need to reject them altogether. However, from a philosophical standpoint, we find ourselves in slightly different territory, where sound itself is the main building block that we’ll work with. That sound could come from conventional instruments or pre-existing recordings, but it could also come from anything: the sound of a motor, a coffee grinder, the tide coming in on a beach, birds, ice cracking on a winter lake, your own breathing, you name it. We can use recognizable snippets of these sounds, or we can trim just a tiny sample from them that can be manipulated into all kinds of other sounds. And then from the perspective of evolving technology, we can treat these sounds with effects in a wide variety of ways. We can still use all of the conventional effects used in other kinds of music, but since some of the sounds we might be using can behave a little more erratically than one would expect from conventional instruments, we can think about using these effects in new ways, too, to glue our new sounds together or to transform them even further.

For a full overview of modern electroacoustic music as it’s presently taught in universities, we have an excellent book by composer Adrian Moore called Sonic Art: An Introduction to Electroacoustic Music Composition. This book started as a set of teaching materials used in electroacoustic music classes at the University of Sheffield, where Moore is the Director of the University of Sheffield Sound Studios. And Moore is an experienced contemporary composer in this field, having released four albums of his own work on the preeminent electroacoustic record label Empreintes DIGITALes over the last 20 years.

In the first chapter, Moore lays out the ultimate goals for this project: “This book hopes to tie down some of the possibilities, block off some of the dead ends of sound manipulation and suggest a number of meaningful methodologies for selecting, developing and mixing sound so that, as a composer, you can make something musical.” Finally, we have a book that addresses electroacoustic music as a relatively mature discipline. In addition to philosophical and aesthetic underpinnings of the music, the modern tools of the electroacoustic composer are mostly found within software, and Sonic Art is packed with practical examples of how various treatments can be added to sound within digital environments. The Sheffield program has developed its own electroacoustic music tools within Pure Data and Csound, and examples are presented through those tools, along with instructions for how to download and use them yourself. If you want to use newer or different audio software yourself, though, the principles behind using various kinds of treatments are thoroughly discussed in the book, and would be widely applicable.

The book alternates between philosophical and technical approaches to electroacoustic music. Chapter 1, “What is Sound?” explores the nature of sound from a variety of perspectives. Many of them are likely unfamiliar to performers and listeners of other styles of music, and getting into some of these abstract concepts, like thinking of sounds from spatial or architectural perspectives, or in terms of perceived variations in appearances, textures, energy, growth stages or character traits, are fantastic ways to expand the world of fun sounds all around us. Then Chapter 2, “What Does All This Software Do?” takes readers directly into all kinds of software filters, granulators and frequency shifters in the Pure Data software environment, where we learn about many of the commonly-used sound transformation techniques common in electroacoustic music. Moore also reflects on some big-picture considerations at this point, from the importance of careful mixing to remembering that most sound transformations are happening as a result of running sounds through a series of effects rather than one at a time.

In Chapter 3, “The Theory of Opposites,” Moore deeply explores the art of weighing and balancing the many kinds of contrasting perspectives introduced in Chapter 1. Here he begins to assign particular kinds of effects or effect chains to different kinds of aural descriptors, and incorporating structural/formal concepts to create strong, coherent musical statements. Similarly, Chapter 4 expands on the final steps of completing audio works using the tools from Chapter 2, thinking in terms of composing for 5.1, 7.1, or 8.0 multichannel playback systems. In concert hall scenarios, electroacoustic music is commonly presented using multichannel speaker setups like this that help to give a similar kind of orchestral and spatial richness to the music that listeners might expect from a large ensemble on stage. This becomes a technical issue that helps to clarify compositional intent.

If you’re fairly new to electroacoustic music, Chapter 5, “Examples from the Repertoire,” is an excellent place to learn about classic and contemporary electroacoustic compositions that will give potential composers a sense of both the norms and the range of diversity found in electroacoustic music. A large range of pieces that have been inspirational to Moore are described, highlighting a few elements of what makes them significant in the electroacoustic music canon. Aesthetic, philosophical, and technical aspects of these pieces are discussed as appropriate. If you’re curious about this music but haven’t heard much of it, this might be the best place to start in the book, since actually listening to a selection of these pieces will help to clarify the abstractions in more general discussion about the style.

The final sections of the book continue to follow the basic pattern of alternating theoretical and practical issues. I especially like the chapter “Space and Time,” since electroacoustic music is often focused on trying to achieve 3-D like effects in sound. The discussion here focuses on how our ears seem to perceive different kinds of sound combinations as having different kinds of implied weights or shapes, which are very useful in composing this kind of music. Toward the end of the book, Moore addresses some of the practical issues that arise when trying to present this music in concert halls, where the positioning of speakers and accounting for the acoustics in a space must be considered to make sure the audience hears what the composer has intended.

I really enjoyed the material in Appendix B, as well—it could have stood nicely as the final formal chapter. Here we get a final set of tips and tricks from a few active composers, including the author. At the end, if you decide to try your hand using the Pure Data software referenced earlier in the book, there are a few more basics for running audio signals in that program. In all, Sonic Art is a great companion for starting your journey as an electroacoustic composer.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try In Search of a Concrete Music by Pierre Schaeffer or Electronic Music and Musique Concrete by F.C. Judd.)

( publisher’s official Sonic Art web page ) | ( official Adrian Moore web site )

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Recommended by Scott S.
Polley Music Library


The Wedding Plot
by Paula Munier (Munier)

Mercy Carr is getting ready for a 4-day extravaganza that’s called her grandmother’s wedding. Being held at an inn and spa she’s not looking forward to it. When her mother contacts her, she and demands Mercy find the director of the spa or Mercy will be dusting off her Yogi skills and leading the yoga class for the wedding guests. Mercy begins her search at his home. what she finds instead is a dead stranger stabbed with a pitchfork and that Bodhi, the spa director, isn’t who he said he was.

Concerned the murder might have something to do with her grandmother’s fiancé’s family she has to find out what’s going on before the wedding is ruined, or someone else is killed. I really like this series and this book did not disappoint. I’ve been concerned about how the author will keep the series fresh and I’m less concerned now. The use of the dogs Elvis and even Susie Bear does not seem out of place. The mystery is fast paced and well done. Though there’s some humor in the book, this is not a cozy. It’s can get quite dark and intense. If you like the character driven mystery, (with dogs) you’ll love this book.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try One for the Books by Jenn McKinlay or Breaking Creed by Alex Kava.)

( official The Wedding Plot page on the official Paula Munier web site )

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Recommended by Marcy G.
South and Gere Branch Libraries


Music is History
by Questlove (Music 781.6 Que)

History books are one of the most prevalent components of any music library, and I think they’re essential to digging into the background of all kinds of styles and eras in music. It’s true, though, that many of them can be fairly formulaic and not that far removed stylistically from the history books you may remember from high school. However, there are definitely books that try to get out of that box and approach the subject from unique angles, and one recent arrival on the Polley shelves is a great example of that. It’s called Music is History, and it’s written by musician, producer, DJ, and author Questlove. This is his fourth book, and his approach to the last 50 years of pop music is truly unique and makes for a fast and riveting read.

If you’re not familiar with Questlove, besides being an amazing drummer, producer, and leader of The Roots, he has been active as a DJ and is a massive record collector, not to mention his recent debut as film director for Summer of Soul. He’s been an avid listener all of his life, and with this book, he’s combining his voluminous knowledge of records with the history of the last 50 years, which coincides with his own birth. You’ll find a little bit of more personal reflection included in Music is History, but it’s not a memoir — the personal tidbits are there to help connect music and the musicians involved with making it back to the years or eras in which it was made. If you do want to read Questlove’s memoir, though, check out his first book, Mo Meta Blues: The World According to Questlove, which you can borrow from Polley. And his other two books, Creative Quest and Somethingtofoodabout, are both available from Lincoln City Libraries.

In his introduction, Questlove describes what he means by “history” in this book: we all have our favorite songs. Especially think of those songs from youth that remind us of particular places, times, and people after hearing just a few seconds of them. Now imagine a professional musician who has been listening hard his entire life, making decades of such associations in his mind, and further connecting them with the big sociopolitical trends happening in society at the time these songs debuted. Then think of the process of what he calls “building bridges between songs,” connecting how those same kinds of trends in the human experience repeat themselves, creating chains of associations across eras, and now we’re getting into the kind of history that Questlove is presenting here. While it all necessarily comes through his own personal filter, as opposed to a researched academic kind of history, he establishes the same kinds of links between music and culture that a conventional history book highlights, but has more fun doing it. I love the general form of this book, and I love the extemporaneous side thoughts that sometimes naturally enter into the conversation.

In terms of form, the book proceeds year by year starting in 1971. Each year starts with a highlight of various political and cultural highlights of the year, followed by a few pages of Questlove’s reminiscences around relevant songs from that year. And some years get into really interesting discussions that you just don’t see in a lot of music history books. Already in the 1972 chapter, for example, Questlove launches into the significance of Blaxploitation films like Super Fly and Shaft, and how the music created for these films helped to set the tone for so much music in the 70s, with further focus into Curtis Mayfield’s soundtrack and then even further into the tune “Freddie’s Dead,” and its message of cycles that seem to repeat forever. We’ll see many variations on these repeating themes in music of the last 50 years throughout the book, and Questlove often takes a moment to stretch them from their origin year into other songs with similar messages in later years. Bill Wither’s tune “I Can’t Write Left-Handed” from 1973, for example, resonates well with Public Enemy’s “Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos” and Pharcyde’s “Officer.”

Some of Questlove’s favorite artists seem to be obvious by virtue of how many of their songs get referenced in the book: Prince, Public Enemy, Stevie Wonder, Sly & the Family Stone, Marvin Gaye, and James Brown all get lots of mentions among a giant list of artists. This ends up being quite effective, though, as these are great examples of artists whose work resonated over many decades, always finding new relevance with new times. And that’s the great thing about growing with your favorite artists, too. We all navigate through the challenges, ebbs and flows of life together, in a sense, and that relationship with the music becomes richer and more nuanced. When it comes to relatively short spans of time like Questlove is addressing here, history and general fandom definitely inform one another as we all live through an historical era or two ourselves.

The general pattern of the book remains the same until we reach the year 2002, at which point we just get one more chapter addressing that era to the present. Questlove reflects on 9/11 as a major turning point in history, and other than looking at the immediately ensuing years as a kind of post-9/11 recovery period, it’s a little too soon to make “historical” judgements about the years closest to our own. Interestingly, he wrote the final touches to this final chapter of the book just as the COVID-19 pandemic raged throughout the world and the January 6 attacks took place in the United States. With so many seemingly important events happening so close together, it is indeed difficult to predict what the most significant events of this moment will look like 20 years from now. But hopefully we’ll all have our own musical soundtracks of these times to help us remember.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Mo Meta Blues: The World According to Questlove by Questlove or Music: A Subversive History by Ted Giola.)

( Wikipedia page for Questlove ) ( official Questlove web site – also official site for the book )

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Recommended by Scott S.
Polley Music Library


Unthinkable: Trauma, Truth and the Trials of American Democracy
by Jamie Raskin (Compact Disc Biography Raskin)

Jamie Raskin is the Maryland Congressman whose son, Tommy, committed suicide December 31, 2020 after a lifelong battle with depression. Raskin was back in Congress on January 6, the day after burying his son, to certify the 2020 Presidential election results and was in the capitol building during the attack by the insurgents. Later, he was the lead impeachment manager for President Trump’s second impeachment trial.

This is the eloquent story of his son’s life and struggle with depression, Raskin’s personal experience during the January 6 attack, and the preparation for “Impeachment 2.0” – each of these being an “unthinkable” event on their own let alone all three at once.

I very much enjoyed listening to Raskin read his own book. It felt as if we were chatting over coffee as he told me everything that came about. The grief at his son’s death is palpable; the danger faced by members of congress on January 6 was stunning; and the planning, depth of information, and organization of the impeachment trial was riveting.

Unthinkable is a longer book at 12 discs (most books are 6-8 discs) but, regardless of the length, I was still disappointed when the story ended. This fascinating read stayed with me for several days.

( publisher’s official Unthinkable web page ) | ( official Congressman Jamie Raskin web site )

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Recommended by Charlotte M.
Bennett Martin Public Library — Public Service


Conversations
by Steve Reich (Music 780.92 Rei)

Steve Reich is one of America’s most admired living composers. His career has lasted so long that he has gone from being thought of as an avant-gardist in the 1960s to being recognized as one of the most important figures in classical music of the 20th century and beyond. His work has had an obvious influence on much music in multiple genres that has followed, both sonically and in terms of technical approaches to sound. And he’s still writing great music in his 80s!

Like a few other artists whose books we’ve talked about in the last year, the COVID-19 pandemic provided a challenging time where concerts were cancelled, and some musicians diverted their focus to writing, both music and memoirs. That period is starting to lead to a few very interesting “pandemic project” books including Conversations, a product of Reich checking in with other friends, composers and musicians. In his brief preface, Reich notes that one of his favorite music books is Stravinsky in Conversation with Robert Craft, and he decided that he wanted to write this book, a quasi-memoir, in the form of many conversations with people who have been significant in his life.

This simple structural plan for the book is a fantastic reflection on the kind of contributions Reich has made to music: before Reich and the other minimalists of his generation like Philip Glass, Terry Riley, and John Adams, there was a long period where composers were thought of as mythical and mostly solitary figures, carrying their mysterious talents almost as burdens best endured alone. The minimalists turned much of the public perception of this around almost immediately by working as composer-performers, often leading and performing in their own ensembles, and sometimes playing with and for one another. As their music embraces the inherently social nature of most music-making, it’s really fun to see that reflected even in Reich’s approach to a memoir, bouncing thoughts off others whose opinions matter to him.

This makes for an especially interesting walk through a number of milestone pieces from Reich’s career as well, since they come up again and again in different conversations with different contexts. For some older friends and contemporaries of Reich, like sculptor Richard Serra, the talk around a piece like “Come Out” centers around first hearing it right as it was being created, and how both of them found common ground in their work back in the 60s. For the next generation like composer and performer Michael Gordon, the talk revolves more heavily around the influence that the “phase” pieces had on his musical development, and tape pieces like “Come Out” and “It’s Gonna Rain” are discussed in the context of Reich trying to create similar kinds of sonic effects in live performance. Then a wide-ranging conversation between Reich, Stephen Sondheim and moderator John Schaefer recorded at the Lincoln Center in 2015 looks into the whole span of work, which contextualizes the way that both Reich and Sondheim have worked with conversational speech sounds in their music, both directly and through imitation.

As I mentioned earlier, music is very much a social art form, and besides the great insights throughout this book, you really get a sense of how many people get involved in the life of a contemporary composer. There are other composers represented, and lots of musicians who have performed Reich pieces, as you might expect, but there are also record producers, conductors, and fellow travelers who work in other forms of media. And there are multiple generations of people involved at every level: the youngest artists represented may have grown up actually being influenced by Reich, but they’re making their own contributions and have their own unique relationships with him on a more personal level as well. And Reich has taken on inspiration from some of them. This comes through especially clearly in his discussion with Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood, with whom their relationship led to Reich composing his “Radio Rewrite” working with the Radiohead songs “Jigsaw Falling Into Place” and “Everything In its Right Place” as starting material. His discussion with composer Nico Muhly toward the end of the book gets into similar territory, too, as Reich reflects on Muhly pieces that he wishes he’d written, and Muhly points out that there is “cross-pollination intergenerationally” happening.

Because each discussion flows freely, the book’s conversational kind of informality makes for a very pleasant reading experience. If you’re doing research on Reich or his work and you need to pinpoint the discussion around particular pieces, though, there is a handy index at the back of the book to help you find all of the right references. But I think one of the best parts about the book is that it can be enjoyed by a wide audience—you don’t have to have a deep understanding of music theory to grasp most of the content here. There are many fun extramusical anecdotes related to the times and places where Reich composed pieces or performed them as well. Ultimately, Conversations is a great look both at his work and at the greater community around contemporary music since the 1960s.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try American Minimal Music: LaMonte Young, Terry Riley, Steve Reich, Philip Glass by Wim Mertens, The Sounds of Place: Music and the American Cultural Landscape by Denise VonGlahn or American Mavericks by Susan Key.)

( publisher’s official Conversations web page ) | ( official Steve Reich web site )

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Recommended by Scott S.
Polley Music Library


Hidden Pictures
by Jason Rekulak (Rekulak)

Mallory Quinn is a recovering addict, and her sponsor got her a job for the summer to a wealthy family, Ted and Caroline Maxwell, as a nanny to their five-year-old son Teddy until he begins kindergarten in the fall. Teddy is “gifted” (according to Caroline) and enjoys drawing. Mallory and Teddy bond well, she has her own cottage at the edge of the property that overlooks a large, forest-like park, her nanny duties end right before supper, and at the end of the day Teddy gifts her with one of his drawings.

Everything is fine, until Teddy’s latest drawing is of a man dragging a dead woman across the yard.

Then Mallory learns her cottage used to be the painting studio of a woman artist who went missing.

And now Teddy has an invisible friend.

A well-crafted horror, paranormal mystery with an ending I didn’t anticipate. Teddy’s drawings are included throughout the book which adds to the suspense. Highly recommend.

( official Hidden Pictures and Jason Rekulak web site )

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Recommended by Charlotte M.
Bennett Martin Public Library — Public Service


West With Giraffes
by Lynda Rutledge (Rutledge)

Based on a true story of the first two giraffes in America, the novel describes the Dust Bowl, the Great Hurricane of 1938, and Belle Benchley (known as “Zoo Lady”) who was the Director of the San Diego Zoo 1927-1953. The friendship between two kind people and the giraffes is poignant, as they travel from the East Coast to the West Coast on the Lee Highway.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah, The Worst Hard Times by Timothy Egan or Water for Elephants by sara Gruen.)

( official West With Giraffes page on the official Lynda Rutledge web site )

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Recommended by Jodi R.
Anderson and Bethany Branch Libraries


Project Hail Mary
by Andy Weir (Weir)

This is another exciting, engrossing space tale from the guy who gave us The Martian and Artemis.

The story opens with Ryland Grace, middle-school science teacher, waking onboard a space vessel with no idea who he is, where he is, or why he is where he is. The book initially moves between flashbacks and current time as he, and we, eventually learn the true nature of his mission and his attempts to work out a solution to save earth. And we meet an alien!

Andy Weir is always about the science when creating his stories, but don’t let that deter you. He makes it mostly understandable for the non-scientist group. Just read it, there’s no test at the end of the book. Yet he makes it interesting how Grace solves his problems. Not to mention how Grace and the alien use science to introduce themselves and communicate.

The humor is wonderfully snarky and laugh-out-loud:

“I have to say, though, the cutting torch Rocky made for me
works like a charm. A little Astrophage, an IR light, some
lenses, and I have a freakin’ death ray in my hands.”

And the ending is perfect. (DON’T READ AHEAD!)

There is also a film in development staring Ryan Gosling as Ryland Grace.

For those who prefer an audio book, the narrator does an excellent job (I bought my own copy) and makes Grace and the story come alive. Currently the library has available a downloadable audio book only in Spanish. Check back to learn when additional editions are available.

( official Andy Weir web site )

See Charlotte M.’s review of Andy Weir’s novel The Martian in the April 2014 Staff Recommendations here on BookGuide!

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Recommended by Charlotte M.
Bennett Martin Public Library — Public Service


Screening Room

formatdvdBlack Widow
(DVD Black)

Black Widow is a prequel to the Avengers – for obvious reasons if you’re caught up on your Marvel movies. The story introduces, not only Natasha Romanoff, but also her “family” which is really just a bunch of Russian spies forced together to blend in with American customs. After their identities are uncovered they return to Russia and are split up. An antidote emerges, affecting brain chemistry in Red Room agents. Natasha reunites with “sister” Yelena in Budapest and they decide to break their “father” out of prison and track down their “mother” to bring down the Red Room using the antidote.

I can’t talk enough about Florence Pugh in this one, plus Rachel Weisz is one of my favorite actresses of all time. The casting is so well done, I actually watched it for a second time immediately following the first. It is an action movie – obviously – but the moments of comedy thrown in really bring it to another level. Yelena’s dark sense of humor mixed with Melina’s absolute no sense of humor create some really great moments.

I thought Black Widow was very well done, the storyline was good – a little predictable at times, but I think that’s true for a lot of Marvel movies. And it really made me root for Yelena and hope for future adventures with her.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try any of the Avengers movies, though specifically anything featuring Natasha Romanoff. Also Lucy (another Scarlett Johansson action film), or Haywire (another a good female action movie with similar taglines).)

( Internet Movie Database entry for this film ) | ( official Black Widow page on the Disney+ streaming site )

See where the Black Widow film falls in the continuity of the Marvel Cinematic Universe in the If You Like…Superheroes in Film and TV booklist here on BookGuide!

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Recommended by Carrie R.
Bennett Martin Public Library — Public Service


formatdvdBones
(DVD Bones)

This is a procedural crime mystery series that ran on Fox television 2005-2017. The show follows Temperance Brennan, a forensic anthropologist, and her team from the fictional Jeffersonian Institute in Washington, DC, as they work with FBI Special Agent Seeley Booth as they solve crimes, both Cold Case and recent. We also become involved in their personal lives.

The TV series is based on the Temperance Brennan book series by Kathy Reichs, herself a forensic anthropologist. There are currently 21 novels and several short stories in the written series, but be warned, the TV series departs from the books.

The series is fast-paced, full of scientific terms and fascinating procedures, as well as interesting mysteries. Be prepared to see a lot of bones, blood, and tissue but none of it is gratuitous and you will learn much about the scientific process – who knew a science lab could be so interesting? There is also much humor (but not as a tool to ridicule the characters) as the science-based staff, especially Brennan, are frequently flummoxed by pop culture and their awkwardness with social skills.

Starring Emily Deschanel (“Cold Mountain,” “The Alamo,” “Glory Road”) as Temperance “Bones” Brennan and David Boreanaz (“Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Angel,” “SEAL Team”) as Booth, these two actors – as well as the entire cast – gave us characters who formed a family while solving interesting murders using science. It’s apparent that Bones and Booth are the main characters, but the secondary characters are equally important to the storylines, and to the audience.

I highly recommend this entertaining series for its humor, intelligence, mysteries, and cast of characters. The library owns all twelve seasons on DVD.

(The novels by Kathy Reichs that this TV series was inspired by are available in print and audiobook formats.)

( Internet Movie Database entry for this series ) | ( official Bones Facebook page )

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Recommended by Charlotte M.
Bennett Martin Public Library — Public Service


formatdvdDeath on the Nile (2022)
(DVD Death)

Following the success of Kenneth Branagh’s first film outing as Hercule Poirot, Murder on the Orient Express (2017), the actor/director returned to the part for a second sleuthing in 2022’s Death on the Nile. Like Orient Express, Death on the Nile was jam-packed with a large cast of recognizable modern-day film stars, including Gal Gadot, Annette Bening, Russell Brand, Tom Bateman, Letitia Wright, Sophie Okonedo, Emma Mackey, Armie Hammer, Rose Leslie, Jennifer Saunders and Dawn French…and more. The cinematography, costuming and set design are all top notch, as are many of the performances.

However, just like Orient Express before it, director Branagh and screenwriter Michael Green have chosen to make major changes to the cast of characters from the classic novel by Agatha Christie – altering some characters names/backgrounds, combining others, and simply excising some entirely. This makes reviewing this film complicated – I’m a Christie purist, and on that level, this is something of a butchering of her story. On the other hand, this is, visually, a beautiful film on screen and the good performances do a lot to salvage the mangling of the original story. But, on the whole, despite loving Kenneth Branagh in pretty much anything else he has been in, he is just NOT Hercule Poirot, and the inclusion of a completely fabricated explanation for his lustrous mustache (connected in part to a tragic love story in Poirot’s past), drops my opinion of Death on the Nile from an 8 to a 6 in my eye. I really wanted to like this film more than I did, so I’m disappointed in the creative choices the film-makers made. However, if you’re not as familiar with the source material, you may find a lot to admire in this beautiful-looking film.

(Obviously, you should read the original novel by Agatha Christie. The adaptation of this story as part of the Poirot TV series, with David Suchet as the Belgian detective, was well done — available in the 9th season DVD set. And, while I’m also not a fan of Peter Ustinov’s 6-film stint as Poirot, his version of Death on the Nile is definitely a superior adaptation of Christie’s story, and is also visually sumptuous – fortunately, the libraries have that on DVD and Hoopla streaming.)

(Also available in traditional print format.)

( Internet Movie Database entry for this film ) | ( official Death on the Nile page on the studio’s web site )

See Scott C.’s review of the 1974 film version of Murder on the Orient Express in the October 2012 Staff Recommendations here on BookGuide!
See Scott C’s review of the 2017 film version of Murder on the Orient Express in the March 2018 Staff Recommendations here on BookGuide!

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Recommended by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library — Public Service


formatdvdSpider-Man: No Way Home
(DVD Spider-Man)

It is not hyperbole when I say that this 2021 release may very well be the best film in the interconnected Marvel Cinematic Universe, which is filled with over 30 films already. It is also a film that could only have existed after a lengthy and complicated series of previous cinematic interpretations of the Spider-Man mythology. Tom Holland returns as teenager Peter Parker, our web-slinging superhero. But he’s got a problem – at the end of the previous film in his series, Spider-Man: Far From Home, he — *SPOILER ALERT* — managed to defeat the bad guy Mysterio, but Mysterio revealed to the world that Spider-Man’s secret identity was Parker. This has wreaked havoc on Peter’s life. So, as Spider-Man: No Way Home begins, Peter turns to fellow superhero, Stephen “Doctor” Strange, master of the mystic arts, to ask if Doctor Strange can do something mystically that will cause everyone to forget that Peter is Spider-Man. However, when Peter’s neuroses cause him to interrupt the complicated spell with caveats, the results turn chaotic.

Soon, Peter’s reality is visited by villains from other, parallel timelines – villains faced by other versions of Spider-Man (in previous films starring Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield) – Doctor Octopus, The Green Goblin, Sandman, Electro. Then the other two Spider-Men also show up. Strange’s interrupted spell has fractured reality – causing the “multiverse” of parallel universe/timelines to start crossing over or overlapping with each other.

This storytelling device allows the series Marvel Cinematic Universe films to absorb the continuity of the earlier Sony films that told varying different “origin” stories for Spider-Man. And for long-time fans, seeing Holland, Maguire and Andrews’ versions of Peter Parker all interacting and working to solve a major problem together is sheer nerdvana. But this film doesn’t simply pay fannish lip-service in crossing over these various iterations – Spider-Man: No Way Home tells a very serious life-and-death story, that in many ways reboots the entire Spider-Man cinematic storytelling universe from this point onwards.

The performances are all excellent, the effects work is superb (though I didn’t think the “Sandman” effects were as good as everything else). And the music and sound effects are incredible. Fans who have been following Spider-Man for decades (he first appeared in the comic books in 1962) will appreciate all the “Easter Eggs” and in-jokes, and those who’ve only started with this character in his latest film incarnation should find the dip into his history to be fascinating. My only big complaint is that one major version of Spider-Man was ignored – from 1978 to 1979 Nicholas Hammond starred as Peter Parker on CBS TV in 14 episodes of the live-action “The Amazing Spider-Man”. I really would have liked to have seen some acknowledgment of that series, the only live-action Spider-Man not acknowledged, in the appearance of multiple Spider-Mans in Spider-Man: No Way Home. But then I’m just a geek at heart. At least my favorite Spidey villain, Alfred Molina as “Doc Ock”, has a major role to play, and even gets a redemption arc following his earlier perfidy.

Highly recommended – and this film really kick-starts a series of Marvel Multiverse films and TV shows, including 2022’s Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try all the previous versions of Spider-Man in feature films and television, including those starring Tobey Maguire, Andrew Garfield or the 1970s TV series “The Amazing Spider-Man” starring Nicholas Hammond — which can be tracked down online.)

( Internet Movie Database entry for this film ) | ( official Spider-Man: No Way Home web site )

See where the Spider-Man: No Way Home film falls in the continuity of the Marvel Cinematic Universe in the If You Like…Superheroes in Film and TV booklist here on BookGuide!
See Kim J.’s review of the 2002 Tobey Maguire film Spider-Man in the October 2020 Staff Recommendations here on BookGuide!
See Kim J’s Review of the 2002 Tom Holland film Spider-Man: Far From Home in the September 2020 Staff Recommendations here on BookGuide!

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Recommended by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library — Public Service


last updated August 2022
* Please Note: The presence of a link on this site does not constitute an endorsement by Lincoln City Libraries.

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