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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 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 | AGATHA CHRISTIE | STAR TREK | STAR WARS

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August 2018 Recommendations

Stripped Bare
by Shannon Baker

When the libraries’ Just Desserts mystery fiction discussion group read and discussed the second book in the Kate Fox series, Dark Signal, at our July meeting, I found that I had enjoyed that entry enough (one of my “Rated 10” books for 2018), that I wanted to go back and read the first book in the series, Stripped Bare.

Set in the Nebraska Sandhills, where author Shannon Baker had lived for a big chunk of her life, Stripped Bare‘s sleuth is Kate Fox, the ranching wife of the Grand County Sheriff, Ted Fox. When Ted is shot at the home of one of the county’s wealthiest residents, investigating the shooting death of that man, Kate finds herself drawn into the investigation, first to help prove her husband’s innocence in the killing, then to eliminating suspicion against her niece (who she’s been raising like a daughter). When her incapacitated husband is revealed to have been unfaithful, Kate’s investigation becomes even more personal.

This is a fast-paced read, with lots of terrific characters — Kate has a huge extended family, and they’re all meddling in her life. Kate is a very sympathetic narrator, and the author does a marvelous job of capturing the setting of the Sandhills very effectively. The wide open spaces becomes an important “character” in the novel. I absolutely loved Dark Signal, which was more of a rural police procedural, but felt like I was missing some of the details in Kate’s background. Reading Stripped Bare, which feels much more like an “amateur detective” story, definitely fills in those gaps. I highly recommend both volumes! I’d give Stripped Bare a “9” and Dark Signal a “10”. I would recommend this series to anyone who enjoys Craig Johnson’s Longmire series of novels.

[ publisher’s official Stripped Bare web page ] | [ official Shannon Baker web site ]

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Recommended by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library


The Immortalists
by Chloe Benjamin

I picked this up because I saw it was one of the first few choices given as Jimmy Fallon’s original NBC Tonight Show Book Club. (He ended up choosing a different book for the first one, which I hope to read down the road… Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi.)

It was a really interesting story about four siblings who go to see a fortune teller to find out when they will die. The story that follows is each sibling’s life, with regards to what the fortune teller told them. (She insisted on seeing them each separately.)

The story begins with them as small children in 1969 and ends up in present day, so it really held a great appeal for me, as that ran the span of my own current lifetime.

While I liked the way the story was written and I found each character interesting and captivating, something about this book put me off a bit. I had a hard time getting “caught up” in it. It wasn’t so much that I didn’t want to continue. I was always interested in it, I wanted to continue reading it… but I wasn’t DYING to know what happened next. I’d recommend to others, though–hopefully other readers will find it more captivating than I did.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Wild, by Cheryl Strayed, Escape, by Carolyn Jessop or Stolen Innocence, by Elissa Wall.] [ official The Immortalists page on the official Chloe Benjamin web site ]

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Recommended by Tracy T.
Bennett Martin Public Library


Little Grey Cells: The Quotable Poirot
by Agatha Christie [823 Chr]

This marvelous little hardback book is a pocket-sized collection of Hercule Poirot “quotations”, taken from the 33 novels and more than 50 short stories written by Agatha Christie that featured her famous Belgian detective. Throughout his career, Poirot was well known for solving his cases by exploring the human psychology of both the victims and perpetrators of crimes. Unlike, say, Sherlock Holmes, who was far more intrigued by the physical evidence that could lead to the solution of a crime, Poirot loved to explore the mental processes and motives that would lead to a criminal act. As he says in “The King of Clubs”, “In the little grey cells of the brain lies the solution of every mystery.”

This collection of quotes is broken up into thematic chapters, including “Human Nature”, “The English”, “Symmetry & Order” (so, so important to Poirot), “Detective Work”, “Truth & Lies”, “Food & Drink”, and “My Dear Hastings”, just to name a few. Within each chapter, each quote — some are very short and others are a paragraph or more in length — gets its own separate page, complete with reference to the novel or short story it original appeared in. At the end of the book are two “extras” — an afterword pulled from Christie’s papers, in which she explains the Love/Hate relationship she developed with Poirot over decades of writing his adventures, and an appendix identifying every Poirot novel and short story.

Special Event: Don’t miss “The Mystery of Agatha Christie”, a special 90-minute presentation at the Gere Branch Library on Sunday, September 30th, 2018, 2:00-3:30 p.m. — a celebration of all things “Christie”, covering the author and her life (including her mysterious 11-day disappearance), her entire body of written work, and the stage, screen and television adaptations of her stories. Then, join fellow theater-goers in attending the play Black Coffee, starring Hercule Poirot, at the Lincoln Community Playhouse in late October 2018.

“It is sometimes difficult for a dog to find a scent, but once he has fount it, nothing on earth will make him leave it! That is if he is a good dog! And I, Hercule Poirot, am a very good dog!” — from the short story, “The Chocolate Box” (it also appears in the play “Black Coffee”). [Note: I found it helpful to imagine David Suchet, TV’s most famous Poirot, reading all the quotes in this book!] [ official Little Grey Cells web site ] | [ official Agatha Christie web site ]

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Recommended by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library


50 Women’s Fashion Icons That Changed the World
by Laura Cochrane [746.92 Coc]

I’ll have to admit — I’m certainly not a devotee of women’s fashion. But the snarling and iconic visage of Grace Jones on the cover of this slender little volume caught my attention and made me curious. And I’m glad I snagged this book…it turned out to be fascinating reading!

Author Lauren Cochrane is a London-based fashion journalist, who compiled this volume on behalf of the Design Museum. In it, Cochrane profiles 50 different women who have had significant roles in shaping the clothing preferences of women from the 1920s to the 2010s (with one earlier example, in the form of Queen Victoria in 1847). Each woman gets two pages — one of straight-forward text, describing that woman’s impact on fashion, and what were her “signature” fashion elements, and the other a full-page photo of that woman in her “look”. Some of these women were designers, some were fashion models, some were performers (actresses, singers, etc.) and some were important for other historical reasons. But they all had an impact on what was the “in” look for women in their era.

Examples of some of the fashion icons include: Josephine Baker, Katherine Hepburn, Grace Kelly, Marilyn Monroe, Twiggy, Patti Smith, Jackie Kennedy Onassis, Pam Grier, Debbie Harry, Diana Vreeland, Grace Jones, Princess Diana, Kate Moss, Michelle Obama, Lady Gaga, Tilda Swinton and Anna Wintour, to name just a few.

This isn’t a heavy, comprehensive volume — it’s a light, quick read. But if you’ve ever been even in the slightly bit curious about women’s fashion and design culture, and the movers and shakers in that field, this is a fun little read!

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to seek out additional volumes in this series, including the Men’s Fashion Icons volume.] [ official The Design Museum web site ] | [ publisher’s official “Fifty ___ That Changed the World” web pages ]

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Recommended by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library


Hank & Jim: The Fifty Year Friendship of Henry Fonda and James Stewart
by Scott Eyman [791.43 Eym]

Two American movie icons — Jimmy Stewart and Henry Fonda — met as young men, were diametrically opposed in their political/religious philosophies and had very different styles of acting, but forged and kept a lifelong friendship in which sometimes being together without even speaking was proof of their bond. Nebraska’s own child, Fonda was urged by Dorothy “Doe” Brando, Marlon’s mother, to give acting a try. The 20-year-old had already attended college for a couple of years but dropped out and returned home. He had been helping out the Omaha Community Players with cleaning, set-dressing and other non-performing tasks when Mrs. Brando recognized his potential. At the same time, teen-aged James Stewart of Indiana, Pennyslvania helped in his father’s hardware store when he wasn’t in school or occupied with other projects or small-town work. His interest in acting began when he was in prep school and continued to develop while he attended Princeton. Hank and Jim’s paths would cross in New York City, via Joshua Logan and a crappy shared apartment. Each man was infatuated by the same woman, actress Margaret Sullavan, early on and Fonda was briefly married to her. Both men had many affairs and Henry went on to acquire 4 more wives but Jimmy eventually found his one and only, Gloria. Both men started as stage actors and became Academy-Award winning feature film stars. Jim and Hank shared a love of model airplanes, they both served on active duty in World War II, and both rarely agreed on the same version of mutual anecdotes. Fonda’s personal life was characterized by detachment and difficulty with communicating. Stewart was a loving father to his children and stepchildren. This is a fascinating look not only at these two famous men as persons but gives a lot of detail as to the workings of stage and screen productions and relationships. For both, their final years were not necessarily happy, but what an incredible gift of artistry they gave to the world.

[ publisher’s official Hank & Jim web page ] | [ official Scott Eyman web site ]

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Recommended by Becky W.C.
Walt Branch Library


The Woman Who Smashed Codes
by Jason Fagone [Biography Friedman]

Many people may have heard of William Friedman one of the first cryptologists for the US Army, but not many know about his wife Elizebeth. She, too, was a cryptologist working along side her husband for many years. She worked for the Coast Guard during Prohibition and went on to work for the US Treasury Department. This is a fascinating study of cryptography and of Elizebeth’s life. Though Mr. Fagone becomes bogged down in the concepts of cryptography, he does a great job discussing her life and her lifelong work.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Code girls : the untold story of the American women code breakers of World War II, by Liza Mundy, The girls of Atomic City : the untold story of the women who helped win World War II, by Denise Kiernan or The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women, by Katie Moore] [ official The Girl Who Smashed Codes page on the official Jason Fagone web site ]

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Recommended by Marcy G.
South Branch Library


Girl, Wash Your Face: Stop Believing the Lies About Who You Are So You Can Become Who You Were Meant to Be
by Rachel Hollis [248.843 Hol]

I had a couple of friends recommend this, maybe because of the straightforward way Rachel Hollis speaks (she’s very no-nonsense, and I totally dig that), or maybe because she’s very in touch with her spiritual self, which I admire and respect. I also wonder if these friends recommended this book to me because they felt like I need to stop believing lies about who I am so I can become who I am meant to be. (Um, I have to admit, that title kind of confuses me…..)

I must admit, I’d never heard of Rachel Hollis before. As a practicing Catholic, I’m kind of in the dark when it comes to the female Christian speakers. I’m not big on self-help books, even the kind that are in-your-face like this one is.

That being said, it was kind of fun to listen to. Hollis can be self-deprecating without being awkward about it, yet she owns her accomplishments. One thing I really do appreciate about her style of writing here is that each chapter is broken down into something she’s learned–then she goes into story-mode, explaining what happened. She ends with what she’s learned, enumerating things she’s taken away from that experience and things that helped her. It’s a bit Type-A, but I like that about her.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Of Mess and Moxie: Wrangling Delight Out of This Wild and Glorious Life, by Jen Hatmaker] [ official Girl, Wash Your Face web site ] | [ official The Chic Site by Rachel Hollis ]

Recommended by Tracy T.
Bennett Martin Public Library


Spinning Silver
by Naomi Novik

Fantasy author Naomi Novik has created another marvelous work of fiction with Spinning Silver, a folktale about a kingdom called Lithvas which is ruled by a demon-possessed Tsar. The kingdom is constantly raided by creatures (the Staryk) from another realm on the edge of this kingdom which can only survive in perpetual winter. The fairytale is a mix of the Rumplestiltskin fairytale and the well-known story of Beauty and the Beast with a Jewish heroine, Miryem, at the center of it all. I loved how the author used different characters from the story to tell what was happening from his or her point of view. I was drawn into the struggle between cultures and kingdoms from the very start and literally could not put the book down. Themes of family, loyalty, prejudice, and love are all explored in an entertaining yet creative way. I highly recommend this book.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Uprooted, by Naomi Novik, and The Temeraire series, also by Naomi Novik] [ official Spinning Silver page on the official Naomi Novik web site ]

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Recommended by Kim J.
Bennett Martin Public Library


Star Wars ReviewsLast Shot
by Daniel Jose Older

It’s nice to finally get a book that sheds some light on what Lando has been doing since “Return of the Jedi”. Last Shot is mostly set roughly a few years after the “Return of the Jedi” with both Han and Lando trying to adjust to life after the Rebellion. A shared enemy form their past reunites them on a mission to once again save the galaxy. Older does a good job of making the standard Star Wars plot an entertaining read. Flashbacks interspersed through the main story are also well-handled. Unfortunately, Older’s characterization of established Star Wars characters (Han, Leia, Lando) feel a bit off sometimes. His use of modern slang also feels a bit jarring at times. Overall, this is a good, but not great, book that is a nice, fun, quick read.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Aftermath, by Chuck Wendig, Smuggler’s Run by Greg Rucka, Bloodline, by Claudia Gray or The Force Awakens, by Alan Dean Foster] [ official Last Shot page on Wookiepedia ] | [ official Daniel Jose Older web site ]

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Recommended by Corey G.
Gere Branch Library


Star Wars ReviewsAre You Scared, Darth Vader?
by Adam Rex [jP Rex]

This is a charming and amusing juvenile picture book, with some gorgeous artwork. Star Wars’ ultimate villain, the armored and wheezing Darth Vader is roaming a dark, dank, swampy planet — think Yoda’s swamp world of Dagobah from The Empire Strikes Back — and a taunting child-like voice keeps pestering him about whether anything could “scare” him, to which Vader replies in typically Vader-like dark meaningful statements (that are easy to imagine James Earl Jones intoning).

For each example of something that could potentially “scare” Darth Vader, a small figure appears around him — such as a werewolf, a vampire, a witch, etc. — essentially children in Halloween costumes. Despite the obvious “children’s picture book” nature of this, there are moments of both poignancy and surprise, particularly with an unexpected ending.

I figured I would merely be slightly amused by this book. But, as it turns out, I really enjoyed the artwork and storytelling, and may even consider purchasing this one for my own Star Wars book collection!

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try The Vader-related cartoon volumes by Jeffrey Brown, including Darth Vader and Son and Vader’s Little Princess.] [ publisher’s official Are You Scared, Darth Vader? web page ] | [ official Adam Rex web site ]

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Recommended by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library


Ristar in Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection
[Video Game Sonic’s]

This is a bright colorful game featuring a little guy in the shape of a star, named Ristar. This was originally on the Sega Genesis in 1995; however you can still play it without a Genesis on Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection available on PS3 and Xbox, which comes with a multitude of other games. Ristar is a 2D platform style game set on other planets, whose leaders have been mind controlled by an evil space pirate. What I found a bit weird about it was that Ristar has a grab ability and his arms are sort of stretchy so you can grab onto things and propel yourself in multiple directions or maybe forced to grab on to object above you to avoid spikes and other hazards. This took me a little getting used to but there is something like that in every game. This is also how he attacks; grab an enemy, pull it toward you and pretty much head-butt it, which is amusing. I had played Sega Genesis back in the 1990’s but did not know about this one till fairly recently, and because of this it had a nice old and new feel to it. Overall it’s a really fun game and I would suggest it to other players who enjoy 2D platformers.

[ Ristar on Wikipedia ] | [ Ristar on Sega gaming Wiki ]

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Recommended by Kristen A.
Gere Branch Library


Lost in Yonkers
by Neil Simon [812 Sim]

When auditions for an upcoming local production of Neil Simon’s show Lost in Yonkers were recently taking place, I was reminded that it’s been several years since I read it. So I decided to give it another read. I’m glad I did — this Pulitzer-prize-winning stage drama is a powerful character study. One of the most autobiographical of Simon’s many, many works — this is set in the years of WWII, starting in 1942. Following the death of their mother, a financially struggling father, Eddie, takes his two sons, Jay (15) and Arty (13) to live, temporarily, with their domineering German grandmother Kurnitz, in her flat about the family’s Yonkers candy store. Throw in Eddie’s brother, Louie, who may be “bent”, Aunt Bella — a well-meaning but challenged young woman who takes the two brothers into her confidence, and the other aunt, Gert, who has a breathing/speech problem, and you’ve got a heckuva mix of characters to play off of each other.

This is one of Neil Simon’s most emotional plays. Yes, there is humor, as would only be expected from the playwright of The Odd Couple and Barefoot in the Park, but mixed in with complicated relationships, there are a lot of funny bits. The relationship between Jay and Arty is particularly poignant, and their connection to their furtive uncle Louie (portrayed by Kevin Spacey in the original Broadway production) provides some interesting moments. But it is EVERYone’s relationship to the family matriarch, Grandma Kurnitz, that forms the core of this play. I can’t wait to see Lost in Yonkers performed locally!

[ Lost in Yonkers entry on Wikipedia ] | [ Neil Simon entry on Wikipedia ]

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Recommended by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library


Screening Room

formatdvdMarwencol
[DVD Biography Hogancamp]

Having seen trailers for the upcoming (Dec 2018) film Welcome to Marwen, starring Steve Carrell, I was aware that that film was based on a man’s real-life experiences. It turns out, this 2010 documentary already tells this tale, in a effective way.

Mark Hogancamp was brutally attacked by 5 young men outside his neighborhood bar in Kingston, NY, and was left in a brain-damaged coma for 9 days. The bones of his face had to be reconstructed. When he awoke from his coma, most of his memory had been destroyed, and he had to relearn how to walk, talk, and function in society. when lack of money caused his therapy to be cut off, he came up with a unique and distinctive new form of therapy for himself.

Using scrap supplies and intricately-detailed 1/6-scale dolls, Mark created an elaborate fantasy world in his back yard, which he called Marwencol, Belgium. It featured multiple buildings, and characters set during the conflict of World War II. One of the dolls was his own alter ego, and the rest were the town’s residents — all women — and the Nazi SS troops that would frequently menace the town. Through made-up adventures and relationships between the dolls, Mark is able to cope with his own messed-up memories and fear of social interaction following his assault. As a photographer, Hogancamp documented the happenings in Marwencol with highly detailed photographs of the dolls, telling the stories of his made-up adventures.

When a friend brings Hogancamp’s photographs to the attention of the New York arts community, and an exhibit of his work is created, he must come to terms with his world expanding and his circle of contacts growing beyond the small number of “locals” he associates with. At the same time, Hogancamp must wrestle with the difficulties of being true to himself in other ways.

I’ll be interested to see what Oscar-winning filmmaker Robert Zemeckis (Forrest Gump) does to make this a drama film — the trailers for that upcoming feature show the doll figures coming to life on screen. However, this documentary truly humanizes Hogancamp’s experiences, and through his extensive interview commentary, we get a fascinating look inside the mind and mental processes of someone recovering from brain damage in the only way that makes sense to him.

This is a truly compelling film.

[ Internet Movie Database entry for this documentary ] | [ official Marwencol web site ]

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Recommended by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library


formatdvdPacific Rim: Uprising
[DVD Pacific]

I really liked Pacific Rim 1, so I thought I’d like the sequel and I gave it a try, but I didn’t like it as much as the first. Both films revolve around that fact that kaiju monsters have emerged out of Earth’s surface and as a counter measure humans build giant robots called Jagers to fight them. There is a military branch that operates the Jagers as there is special training needed to control them. This is set something like 10 years after the first movie when they thought they had fought off the kaiju for good, so the military is considering closing down the Jager unit. Before this closure is fully authorized, the kaiju appear once more and the Jager unit proves they are not obsolete after all. This sequel stars the son of the chief Jager officer in the previous movie. This itself is very strange because he was not even mentioned let alone appears in the first movie even though in the second one he says he was part of the Jager program and that’s a pretty major plot point. This is not the only inconsistency between the films; they vary from major to minor but as a whole it was enough to really bother me. I think that it would ok if you hadn’t seen the first movie, because it’s not terrible on its own but when you consider it’s relation to the first one, it is. I can’t recommend it too highly but if you haven’t seen the first one and don’t plan to, then it’s not a bad action monster giant robot fighting movie. However if you have seen the first one, even if it was years ago, I’d have to recommend just re-watching it and skipping this one – it’s not worth the confusion and frustration.

[ Internet Movie Database entry for this film ] | [ official Pacific Rim Facebook page ]

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Recommended by Kristen A.
Gere Branch Library


formatdvdRipper Street: Season Three
[DVD Ripper]

Season 3, picks up after last season, but at least several months if not a year or so later, and I recommend you watch the previous seasons before this one. The series is set in White Chapel London just after the Jack the Ripper killings; the police staff that are featured in the show are those who had worked on the cases, although they occurred before the series began. This season starts with a train wreck robbery and members of the police and their family and friends are reunited in the ruin after not seeing one another for a long time. As with previous seasons each episode is another case for the police yet there remains an overarching mystery over the season. This train wreck case is not fully solved till the last episode. Not wanting to reveal any spoilers, I won’t discuss the plots much. Many tid bits from the character’s past resurface in this season which was intriguing and enjoyable as some had been obscured for the whole show. Yet some parts of the cases and the character’s personal lives remain mysterious going into the next season. As with previous seasons, this is rated M for mature due to violence, language, adult themes and nudity, so it’s not a show for everyone. However if this is not bothersome and you enjoy historical mysteries and CSI type shows or books, I highly recommend it to you, as in addition to the crimes investigated there is ample character development and interpersonal relationships at play with mysteries of their own.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try the first two seasons of Ripper Street.] [ Internet Movie Database entry for this series ] | [ BBC’s official Ripper Street web site ]

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Recommended by Kristen A.
Gere Branch Library


last updated August 2018
* Please Note: The presence of a link on this site does not constitute an endorsement by Lincoln City Libraries.

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