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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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June 2018 Recommendations

A is for Astronaut: Blasting Through the Alphabet
by Clayton Anderson, with art by Scott Brundage [jP Anderson]

Nebraska’s one-and-only astronaut, Clayton Anderson, is back with a new book. Unlike his excellent autobiography, The Ordinary Spaceman, for adults, this one is aimed at a young audience. A is for Astronaut is an alphabet book, with each page (or sometimes pair of pages), dedicated to a single letter of the alphabet, from A to Z. However, in this case, all the words Anderson and illustrator Scott Brundage are using as examples, have to do with space exploration and science. Each letter gets a short, rhyming poem, but each also gets a sidebar with detailed information about the scientific concept being covered. Brundage’s art nicely compliments Anderson’s poems and essays, and in several cases is downright beautiful. If you’re looking to inspire a little one with uplifting ideas about what they could personally accomplish, I think this book for earlier readers would be a great suggestion — and you can let them know that the author is the only person from Nebraska who’s made it into space as an actual astronaut!

[ Wikipedia page for Clayton Anderson ] [ official Clayton Anderson website is blocked by library security software ]

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Recommended by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library


Beartown
by Fredrik Backman [Compact Disc Backman]

One Book - One LincolnBeartown is the first of this year’s One Book – One Lincoln finalists that I had the chance to read, or in this case, listen to, as I enjoyed the Book-on-CD version of Fredrik Backman’s novel. Though set in the author’s native Sweden, this felt like it could’ve been any small northern U.S. or Canadian town. Beartown is a community that is hockey obsessed. The entire community relies, in one way or another, on the industry of hockey, and the young men who play on either the “junior” team or the “A” team hold exalted positions within Beartown society. The events and perspective of the novel Beartown rotate among a wide variety of characters throughout Beartown’s community, from the young players, the groupies, the local businessmen sponsoring the team, and the coaches and managers, to the families of the players, the also-rans that never quite succeeded, and the folks who just don’t “get” why hockey is so important.

The characters are all well drawn and defined. I particularly enjoyed following players Benji, Bobo and Amat, as well as the various coaches, sponsors and colorful residents of Beartown. The main plot of the novel hinges on an incident in which the star player of the junior team rapes one of the girls in his class, who just happens to be the daughter of the hockey club’s general manager. This sets up a battle of morals, ethics, partisanship and community survival that is actually painful to observe.

The audiobook adaptation, narrated by Marin Ireland, was extremely well-done, and I strongly recommend this version of the story, if you’re a fan of audiobooks. Of the three things I’ve read or sampled by Backman, each has had a completely different style/tone. This is the darkest I’ve seen from him so far. For those who like this, I’m pleased to see that Us Against You, a sequel to Beartown, came out the first week of June!

[ publisher’s official Beartown web page ] | [ official English-language Fredrik Backman web site ]

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Recommended by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library


The Massacre of Mankind
by Stephen Baxter

This is the first-and-only authorized sequel to H.G. Wells’ classic 1897 SF novel, The War of the Worlds. Though numerous unofficials sequels and follow-up volumes have been published over the years, The Massacre of Mankind is the first approved by the Wells estates. Baxter has been writing acclaimed SF for decades, both on his own and partnered with such genre luminaries as Arthur C. Clarke and Terry Pratchett.

The Massacre of Mankind is set in the1920s, some 14 years after the events in Wells novel. In most ways, this novel is not only science fiction but also “alternate history”, as the events of 1897 have had a severe impact on England (and most of the rest of the world) — government has become more dystopian, and across the planet, preparations are underway to fight back, if a new wave of Martian invaders is detected. Many don’t believe it will happen again, but Walter Jenkins, the narrator of the Wells’ original novel, has been researching and studying, and he believes the earlier invasion was merely a scouting mission, and that the full-scale invasion is still to come. Though he is correct, he’s having difficulty getting anyone to believe his outlandish theories. Fortunately, he convinces Julie Elphinstone, his ex-sister-in-law, and an American investigative journalist…just before the little puffs of smoke on the surface of Mars indicate a new invasion fleet has launched — and this time there will be hundreds of them coming to our world.

This is a fast-paced adventure, with fascinating explorations of the scientific concepts that the characters could have debated at the time, based on what was known to them — sure, from our time period nearly a century later, some of the science looks a little shaky, but for the 1920s, it was fairly cutting edge. Baxter does an incredible job of matching the style of storytelling that Wells employed in the original novel — this really does feel like a classic genre novel from 100 years ago! And yet, unlike the majority of fiction from that era, The Massacre of Mankind features a number of very strong female characters, who are shown to be just as, if not more, capable then their male counterparts. This novel is huge — a bit of a doorstop of a book — but in the end, I enjoyed it very much, and I do highly recommend it, especially if you’re a fan of Wells’ original novel.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try The Time Ships, an officially authorized sequel to H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine, also by Baxter.] [ publisher’s official The Massacre of Mankind web page ] | [ official Stephen Baxter web site ]

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Recommended by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library


hooplaStar Trek: New Visions (series)
by John Byrne [available only via Hoopla]

Back in 1977-1978, the Bantam publishing company released a series of 12 Star Trek Fotonovels, which took stills from popular episodes of the 1966-69 NBC TV series Star Trek, super-imposed text in word balloons, and basically retold the plots of those 12 episodes of Trek in a different format. These were moderately popular but never went beyond the first 12 volumes.

Star Trek: New Visions is a modern take on that, but with a serious twist. Legendary comic book artist and writer John Byrne has been a fan of Classic Trek for many years, and starting in 2014, he began a creative experiment that has been quite successful. Byrne had access to clean, sharp still images from screen captures from all 79 original Star Trek episodes, as well as the Star Trek feature films featuring the classic cast, and even the subsequent later generations of Star Trek. In Star Trek: New Visions, Byrne creates all new adventures of the Enterprise and its crew, combining still images from existing episodes with digital trickery and some new computer-generated artwork. These “new episodes” are presented in comic-book/graphic-novel format, as single issues, and have later been compiled into multi-story larger collections. Byrne opened New Visions with a two-issue sequel to the classic Trek tale, “Mirror, Mirror” (in which several Enterprise crew members are thrown into a dystopian alternate reality and have to survive long enough to make their way back to their own reality). As of 2018, 21 individual issues of New Visions have been published, and Byrne has indicated he plans to wrap up the series in just a few more issues. This is a shame, as Byrne is an excellent storyteller and definite has a good handle on these classic Trek characters — these really do feel like they could have actually been legitimate episodes of the original series.

Although the libraries don’t have physical copies of the Star Trek: New Visions volumes on our shelves, some of them are available through the graphic novels collection of our Hoopla digital offerings. If you love Classic Trek, I highly encourage you to sample New Visions…it’s the closest thing I’ve found the style and tone of the original series!

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try tracking done some of the highly-collectible 12 original series Star Trek Fotonovels. Our local libraries don’t own any, but you can regularly find them in used book stores, and a few are available through InterLibrary Loan from other libraries around the country.] [ publisher’s official Star Trek: New Visions web site ] | [ official John Byrne web site ]

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Recommended by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library


The Late Show
by Michael Connelly [Compact Disc Connelly]

In 2017, author Michael Connelly launched a new series, featuring L.A.P.D. detective Renee Ballard, ostracized from many of her co-workers after a failed sexual-harassment suit, and assigned to the Hollywood bureau’s late shift (a.k.a. The Late show). Connelly is best known for his 20+ novels featuring L.A. detective Harry Bosch (also adapted into a streaming TV series from Amazon Prime), and Bosch’s half-brother, the “Lincoln Lawyer”, Mickey Haller. Connelly loves telling stories focusing on police work, but Bosch had aged enough that he was no longer with the police department, so Connelly needed to create a new police character he could tell stories with. And in Renee Ballard, he’s created a winner — a strong-willed, highly competent and extremely motivated officer. In The Late Show, several seemingly unrelated incidents from one night on the late shift all stick in Ballard’s mind, and she can’t let go of any of them, working various angles to see if she can create viable cases. In the process, she comes up against: an ex-partner who let her down, institutionalized bias, bureaucratic red tape, societal homephobia, and a psychopath with a penchant for physical violence.

I absolutely loved The Late Show, which the libraries’ Just Desserts mystery fiction discussion group read for our January 2018 discussion. Ballard is a dynamic and compelling character, who holds her own in a male-dominated field. One thing that many readers were wondering about was how soon it would be before Connelly would cross Ballard over with either of his other continuing characters. The Answer: Not long, as a Renee Ballard & Harry Bosch crossover novel – Dark Sacred Night – is scheduled for release this October!

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try pretty much anything else written by Michael Connelly!] [ official The Late Show page on the official Michael Connelly web site ]

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Recommended by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library


Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
by Roald Dahl, audiobook performed by Douglas Hodge [j Dahl / downloadable audiobook via Overdrive]

This was an ABSOLUTE DELIGHT to listen to! I’ve read a few of Dahl’s books, and since I’ve loved the movie “Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” for many years, I decided to read the book. Roald Dahl has such a great way of writing works that are clearly intended for children, yet he doesn’t “dumb it down” for them. By that, I mean that he treats them like the intelligent and intuitive creatures that they are. Children who are ready to read (or listen to) chapter books are typically bright enough to see past any tricks that grown-ups might want to pass off on them. Dahl doesn’t play any tricks. He calls it like he sees it. Sure, he’s silly as he’s telling his stories, but there’s a nugget of truth within the characters and the life situations. I highly recommend giving this book a read; even better, if you’re able, give it a listen! This narrator (Douglas Hodge) has got some skills!

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Matilda, by Roald Dahl (I listened to the audiobook read by Kate Winslet! Fabulous!!!), The Fantastic Mr. Fox, by Roald Dahl or Twits, by Roald Dahl] [ official Charlie and the Chocolate Factory page on the official Roald Dahl web site ]

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Recommended by Tracy T.
Bennett Martin Public Library


Life is Like a Musical: How to Live, Love and Lead Like a Star
by Tim Federle [158.1 Fed]

Tim Federle has had a quirky and quixotic writing career. I very much enjoyed the two volumes in his juvenile series about Nate Foster, a pre-teen taking a shot at trying to break into Broadway. He’s also the writer of two stand-alone novels for teens — Tommy Can’t Stop and The Great American Whatever. He has three themed cocktail recipe books, tied into films, fairy tales and literature — Tequila Mockingbird, Hickory Daiquiri Dock and Gone With the Gin. And he wrote both the Broadway musical adaptation of Tuck Everlasting, and the screenplay to the recent hit animated film, Ferdinand.

You can now add an inspirational self-help title — Life is Like a Musical. Federle has long been involved with the stage, and this short motivational title couches all of its self-improvement suggestions in musical theatre metaphors, with chapter headings such as: “Congratulate the Person Who Got ‘Your’ Part”, “Dance Like Everyone’s Watching”, “Remember: The Show Must Go On”, “Realize We’re Each the Lead of Our Own Life”, “Find Your ‘I Want’ Song”, “Save the Drama”, “Clap Loudest for the Undertstudies”, “Keep a Photo of the Worst Gig You Ever Had” and “Life is Not a Dress Rehearsal”. Each chapter is just a small nugget — two to five pages at most, with lots of humor but also lots of practical advice, albeit with a “survival on the stage” twist.

Federle has a wry, sarcastic sense of humor, which really comes through in this short chapters. If you like his combination of bubbly effervescence and witty snark, you’ll probably appreciate his light-hearted (yet still honest and sincere) take on the standard self-help manual. I, personally, love his style, and found this to be a fun read. Your mileage may vary…

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to sample Better Nate Than Ever, Tequila Mockingbird, and The Great American Whatever, all also by Tim Federle.] [ official Tim Federle web site ]

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Recommended by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library


Wired
by Julie Garwood [Compact Disc Garwood]

13th in Julie Garwood’s Buchanan/FBI series, this has a strong, tech-savvy heroine who finds herself working with the FBI. While Alison is beautiful and smart, she’s also a little bit broken due to her childhood. This book is a fast paced thriller/romance that is a quick read. I listened to the CD and can recommend it to those who prefer audio books.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to seek out the series A FBI Thriller and A Brit in the FBI by Catherine Coulter.] [ official Wired page on the official Julie Garwood web site ]

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Recommended by Sandy W.
Gere Branch Library


Are You There, Vodka? It’s Me, Chelsea
by Chelsea Handler [817 Han]

I totally want to be friends with Chelsea Handler!!! She’s hilarious! I haven’t had a chance to see her in much of anything (she’s done stand-up, as well as a couple of different series on TV), and this is the first of her books that I’ve read. Lucky for me, I listened to the audiobook, which she read herself. It. Was. HYSTERICAL!!! She’s so snarky and clever, and she’s a bit of a lush. She’s also quite a foul-mouth, so this book is not for those with ‘delicate sensibilities.’ I would say this is probably a collection of essays, rather than an autobiography or memoir… She basically tells a few stories about life events, but she is sure to just throw in her opinions on things (e.g. the redhead she “accidentally” found herself in a relationship with, despite her disdain for redheads… or, as she calls them, “orange-heads.”)

Something I truly enjoyed about listening to this book was that it sounded as though she was merely talking to me, rather than reading something she’d written earlier. I guess that’s the sign of a master stand-up comic…being so familiar with the material that it sounds fresh each time. In that case, I’m going to be looking for anything I can find of her stand-up material and/or any of the shows she’s done.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try The Bedwetter: Stories of Courage, Redemption, and Pee, by Sarah Silverman, and I Can’t Make This Up: Life Lessons, by Kevin Hart.] [ Wikipedia page for Are You There, Vodka. It’s Me, Chelsea! ] | [ official Chelsea Handler web site ]

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Recommended by Tracy T.
Bennett Martin Public Library


Uncommon Type
by Tom Hanks [Compact Disc Hanks]

I think I may hate Tom Hanks now. He truly is a renaissance man, with the golden touch — it seems that everything he tries, he’s successful at. I still remember him starring with Peter Scolari in the sitcom Bosom Buddies in 1980-1982, as an outrageous and desperate young advertising man who had to cross-dress in order to secure a room in a woman’s boarding house. Since then, he’s gone on to win multiple Oscars (Forrest Gump, Philadelphia) and Emmys (for producing mini-series are others), as well as dozens of other awards for his acting, voice work, producing and screenwriting. Now…he’s put out his first volume of fiction — a short story collection, including 17 stories, all featuring typewriters in one way or another (Hanks is enamored of these old-fashioned writing implements, and has an extensive collection of these classic machines). The typewriters may be integral to the plot of the story, such as in “These Are the Meditations of My Heart”, in which a young woman recovering from a break-up decides to buy a typewriter to put her thoughts down on paper but the shop owner has to match her up with the perfect machine just for her. But the typewriter element may also be very tangential to the plot of some stories. There are four stories told as folksy newspaper columns from a small town columnist who’s resisting the march of progress — these are perhaps the least successful entries in the collection. And there are three interlinked stories featuring the same group of young friends and their quirky adventures — these are perhaps the most fanciful of the stories included. The tone ranges from light and fluffy to dark and introspective, and the writing style runs the gamut from “newspaper column” to traditional prose fiction to press release to screenplay format.

Hanks does a good job of creating quirky characters, but none of them are particularly deep. In many cases, I felt like I was just scratching the surface of the character(s) in several of the stories, and they could easily have been expanded into novellas or novels. And other stories are just perfect at the length they are presented. Overall, this is a very enjoyable collection, and I particularly recommend it in the audiobook format, where Hanks reads his own stories. For the audiobook, Hanks convinced a bunch of his actor friends to help him read one of the longer pieces in the collection — the one written in screenplay format — which is an added treat.

[ publisher’s official Uncommon Type web page ] | [ official Tom Hanks Twitter account ]

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Recommended by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library


The Creeps: A Deep Dark Fears Collection
by Fran Krause [741.5 Kra]

This one caught my eye on the New Books display at the downtown library, and I decided to give it a chance. Artist Fran Krause collected a wide variety of different people’s personal “fears”, then illustrated them in comics/graphic-novel format. Each “fear” gets either a single-panel cartoon or a short comic strip to graphically represent how that fear would play out. Some of the “fears” are merely thought=provoking, or simply ironic. Others, however, earn the book its title, and are extremely creepy or even grotesque, made even more so by the ordinariness and simplicity of the cartoon art style. In many ways, I would recommend this volume to anyone who is a fan of Gahan Wilson’s surreal cartoons, or Charles Addams’ single-panel newspaper and magazine cartoons (the artist best known as the creator of the macabre Addams Family). Perhaps, the closest artist in style and tone is Edward Gorey and his Gashlycrumb Tinies, which imagines 26 different horrible deaths, one per letter of the alphabet.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try The World of Edward Gorey, by Edward Gorey, or I Paint What I See, by Gahan Wilson.] [ publisher’s official The Creeps web page ] | [ official Fran Krause Tumblr feed ]

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Recommended by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library


Fit Cat: Tips & Tricks to Give Your Pet a Longer, Healthier, Happier Life
by Arden Moore [636.8 Moo]

I recently adopted a cat and not having had a one before, even as a child, I needed some sort of guide. This one was laid out really well and covered basics and more specialized topics. It was the basics I was after and I found it very helpful in understanding body language, grooming, and the different stages of a cat’s life. It also covers more particular topics including traveling, introducing new pets and living with more than one cat. It uses a lot of bullet pointed lists with quick information on a number of cat topics, so if you are looking for in depth information then this is probably not the ideal pick. I’m novice enough that I’m not sure how useful it would be for people who have had cats before, but for a new cat owner, I highly recommend it.

[ publisher’s official Fit Cat web page ] | [ official Arden Moore web site ]

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Recommended by Kristen A.
Gere Branch Library


The Woman in Cabin 10
by Ruth Ware

Despite the fact that there was tragedy upon this “boutique” cruise, I couldn’t keep myself from looking up information on luxury cruises — bucket list item, for sure!!! This was another one of those stories I just couldn’t stop listening to — loved the writing and the story-line, and OH EM GEE, did I ever adore Lo Blacklock! I wanna be besties with her!!! While I claim to not be a huge fan of mysteries, I would definitely say this book falls into the “mystery” category. In fact, it was so intriguing that I really couldn’t stop listening to this book! I can definitely see myself buying this in print copy to read again and again! I listened to the audio copy of the book — excellent narrator (Imogen Church)!

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Into the Water, by Paula Hawkins, The Couple Next Door, by Shari Lapena or The Husband’s Secret, by Liane Moriarty] [ publisher’s official The Woman in Cabin 10 web page ] | [ official Ruth Ware web site ]

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Recommended by Tracy T.
Bennett Martin Public Library


Screening Room

formatdvdJohn Wick, Chapter 2
[DVD John]

This was not quite as good as the first movie, but it wasn’t bad. It starts where the first movie left off and I’d recommend you watch the first one before this one (I reviewed it a few months ago, so you can check out the details there). I don’t think it’d be as enjoyable if you missed the story and character building in the first movie, throughout which the protagonist John Wick re-enters his previous life in the criminal underworld after being away having a normal married life. He convinced himself that he’s only there temporarily in the first movie, but he’s back in full force in this sequel repaying a debt. There was much less story in this than before and it felt very generic, which was disappointing because of how good the first movie was. It’s not a movie I’d watch it again even though I would re-watch the first one. I can’t recommend it too highly but it’s the sort of movie to watch when are ill and you don’t really care if things make sense and because there is little plot to keep track of, if you fall asleep during parts of it it won’t matter too much.

[ Internet Movie Database entry for this film ] | [ official John Wick web site ]

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Recommended by Kristen A.
Gere Branch Library


hooplaPrimal Rage
by Andrew Joseph Montgomery [Hoopla Movies]

Primal Rage is a Sasquatch horror movie. This is outside my usual genres but I still thought it was a decent movie. There is a young couple, one of whom is just picking the other up from prison. There is a bit of tension between them during the car ride, which comes to an abrupt stop when they hit a pedestrian on a remote highway in the forested Pacific Northwest. They panic, get out of the car, get pelted with rocks, fall down a hill into the forest and end up in a river. Now lost in the forest the Sasquatch stalks them, even when they stumble upon a group of local hunters. What follows is not exactly happy trails, not even the ending, but this is a horror movie. I don’t feel I’d watch it again but it was ok for an evening with popcorn. Maybe a bit odd but my favorite aspect of the movie was the scenery; there were beautiful shots of the forest from the road and while they were in the forest that I really liked especially having driven through that area of the county before. I’d recommend it if you are looking for a sort of scary movie for an evening – defiantly a night time movie, not morning or afternoon.

[ Internet Movie Database entry for this film ] | [ Article about Norfolk, NE native Andrew Joseph Montgomery starring in Primal Rage ]

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Recommended by Kristen A.
Gere Branch Library


last updated June 2018
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