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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 | AGATHA CHRISTIE | STAR TREK | STAR WARS

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March 2019 Recommendations

Us Against You
by Fredrik Backman [Compact Disc Backman]

When Fredrik Backman’s Beartown was one of the three finalists during the 2018 One Book – One Lincoln community reading program, I listened to it as a Book-on-CD. Though dealing with painful and sensitive topics, I thought it was a thought-provoking book and I particularly appreciated the excellent audiobook format. Thus, when I saw that a sequel had come out in late 2018, I decided to “read” this one as an audiobook once again.

This is yet another excellent volume from Backman. In Beartown, the main plot point was the rape of the local hockey club president’s daughter, by one of the star hockey players, on the eve of the hockey club’s biggest game. The end of Beartown left a lot of things hanging — it ended with enough plot points concluded to feel that that novel stood on its own, but the fates and futures of a number of the characters were left vague enough that Us Against You has fertile ground for additional storytelling.

Some of the characters from Beartown continue into Us Against You — Peter and Kira and their daughter Maya (and her best friend Ana), young hockey star Amat, and his teammates Bobo and Benji. But some of the most important characters in this sequel are new — new female hockey coach Elizabeth Zackell, wiley politician Richard Theo, as well as the leader of the local “hooligans” and his family. There are a lot of different stories playing out, all of which influence each other in some capacity — there are economic and social pressures, there are love stories and hate stories, there are regrets, both acted upon and repressed, and there are several cases of characters coming to terms with who they are following life-changing events.

This is a powerful novel, and the audiobook narration is extremely well done. Highly recommended.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Beartown, by Fredrik Backman.] [ official Beartown series page on the official Fredrik Backman web site ]

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Recommended by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library


Star Wars ReviewsMost Wanted
by Rae Carson [YA Carson]

Most Wanted is a nice companion piece to Solo: A Star Wars Story. The plot takes place some time before the movie, with Han and Qi’ra both members of the White Worm gang and not being very fond of each other. Lady Proxima, the gang’s leader, assigns them each a job of great job. Their respective missions both go wrong and they find themselves on the run together with little in the way of friends or resources. The plot is fairly standard and the ending is a bit stunted by having to come to an ending that fits with the movie. Still, the story is well-told, the pacing is solid and it does provide a bit more insight to what drives the characters, especially Qi’ra. Not a must-read book, but fans of Star Wars and those wanting a bit more background into the story behind Solo: A Star Wars Story will enjoy it.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Solo: A Star Wars Story, by Mur Lafferty, Last Shot, by Daniel Jose Older, Honor Among Thieves, by James S.A. Corey or Star Wars: Scoundrels, by Timothy Zahn] [ official Most Wanted page on Wookiepedia ] | [ official Rae Carson web site ]

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Recommended by Corey G.
Gere Branch Library


The Woman in the Window
by A.J. Finn [Finn] [pseudonym of Dan Mallory]

When the libraries’ Just Desserts mystery fiction discussion group selected The Woman in the Window for our February 2019 discussion, we knew that it was a first novel by a new author, and that the book had already been turned into a feature film, scheduled for release later this year.

What we didn’t know was that a controversy would erupt around the author, Dan Mallory, writing under the pseudonym A.J. Finn. An extended New Yorker magazine expose uncovered the fact that Mallory had lied about or made up many of the details about his personal background, particularly his educational and professional credentials and claims of a medical condition that later turned out to be false. Mallory/Finn did admit to suffering from some forms of mental illness.

What does all this have to do with his novel? Well, it is interesting to look at The Woman in the Window, which features a highly unreliable narrator, in the context of its own author being unreliable or untrustworthy with regards to “the truth”. In The Woman in the Window, Anna Fox is our protagonist, a child psychologist/therapist who is trapped in her four-story New York City brownstone because she suffers from a crippling case of agoraphobia, linked to some sort of personal trauma she experienced 10 months before the novel begins. Anna lives her life vicariously by observing (i.e. “spying on”) the lives of the neighbors she can see from her brownstone’s windows. Her husband and daughter are not her, though she enjoys talking to them on the phone. She has all her needs met by the modern convenience of having things delivered to her — groceries, medications, etc.

Oh, and those medications — they’re important, Because she takes a lot of them, and drinks a lot of wine — her favorite is Merlot — in fact, way more of both booze and pills than is healthy for her. When a new family moves into a building across the park from her, she starts watching them and quickly gets sucked into the drama of their lives. Eventually she meets all three of the members of that family — the nebbishy and nervous teenage son, the earthy free-spirit mother, and the uptight businessman father. When she observes an apparent murder, while under the influence of her wine and drugs, and has an “episode” when she tries to leave her own apartments, she can’t convince the police that she saw a crime. It doesn’t help when more and more evidence seems to pile up that she was imagining things.

The Woman in the Window is an effective thriller, with lots and lots of twists and turns in the final 100 pages. Some of the big “reveals” are obvious, but others sneak up on you — I ended up going back twice to re-read earlier passages to see the clues that were planted early on in the book. Anna Fox is not necessarily a likeable character to hold the whole thing together, but at the same time, I didn’t want anything to happen to her. I just wanted to reach through the pages and take away her Merlot and pill bottles and force her to engage with the world without those things inhibiting her reasoning. Finn/Mallory makes great use of Anna’s obsession with mystery films and film noir masterpieces, particularly the psychological suspense films of Alfred Hitchcock. Of course, her very obsession with those films can also lead to distrusting her muddled take on reality.

In the end, despite the author’s own questionable backstory, I really enjoyed this psychological thriller and am looking forward to the feature film version, which will star Amy Adams as Dr. Fox. The majority of Just Desserts members also enjoyed The Woman in the Window as well! “A.J. Finn” has a second book coming out, set in San Francisco, in early 2020.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to sample the new booklist on BookGuide — If You Liked…The Woman in the Window — for several “readalikes” for this title!] [ publisher’s official A.J. Finn web page ] | [ publisher’s official Woman in the Window web page ]

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Recommended by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library


hooplaCharismagic, Vol. 1
by Vince Hernandez [Hoopla e-book]

This comic book series is about a Las Vegas magician who doesn’t fully realize he actually has magical powers. He knows he can vanish and appear somewhere not far away, but discovers he can do a bit more than that, with a little coaching. His pet cat, also unknown to him turns out to be a magical, talking cat. All this come to light when everyone in Las Vegas disappears and he and his cat decide to get out of town and meet a magical druid who was looking for him. The trio travel to an ancient great wizard for help in getting everyone back and stopping evil creatures from attacking the world. I quite enjoyed this graphic novel as well as it’s prequel, which explains the back story to the antagonist and the ancient great wizard, back when he wasn’t ancient. That novel is called Charismagic: The Death Princess and I found it really valuable to have read that first, but it’s not available in Hoopla. If you enjoyed the Fables series by Bill Willingham I think you’d enjoy this as well, or if you are looking for a comic series about magic beings living undercover in a modern world setting, then this is for you.

[If you enjoy this, there are many other Aspen Comics series available on Hoopla you might like. I’ve only read the Fathom series and think that one is really good, but others include Jirni, BubbleGun, Soulfire and Executive Assistant.] [ official Charismagic page at the Comixology web site ] | [ official Vince Hernandez Facebook feed ]

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Recommended by Kristen A.
Gere Branch Library


Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother’s Will to Survive
by Stephanie Land [Biography Land]

This is by far the most eye opening, emotional, and captivating non-fiction book about poverty in America that I have ever read.

Written in an engaging and fast pace, you won’t even want to set down this book about Stephanie and her little girl, Mia, and their fight to live, strive, and even thrive with nothing but two tubs of belongings to their names. From odd jobs, odd living situations, odd family members, to the increasingly odd clients she scrubs her knuckles raw on their homes for, we follow the young pair as they navigate a frustrating road to a better life.

You will share in all the (rare) triumphs and joy – as well as all setbacks and sorrow.

Riveting, raw, and truthful, this novel should spark renewal and enlightenment about the situation of the working poor in our country.

Land’s voice is captivating.

[ publisher’s official Maid page and official Stephanie Land web site ] [If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Nickel and Dimed, by Barbara Ehrenreich, or Waiter Rant, by Steve Dublanica.]

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Recommended by Sarah J.
South Branch Library


Gmorning, Gnight: Little Pep talks for You and Me
by Lin-Manuel Miranda [811 Mir]

I’m a huge fan of Lin-Manuel Miranda! I’ve loved his music for the Broadway musicals Hamilton and In the Heights, and am impressed enough by his creativity and general positivity, that I follow him on Twitter, where he regularly contributes short (under 240 characters) poetic “inspirational” tidbits at the start and end of most days of the week.

This book is a compilation of some of the most memorable of his inspirational Tweets — it is classified in the poetry section here at the libraries, but could just as easily be placed in the Self-Help Psychology section as well.

Miranda is a master with words, both in the classic sense of writing structure, but also in the category of applying a modern, hip-hop sensibility to how to say things. His Tweets are no exception — they range from very traditional poetic statements to highly experimental wordplay. Often, the two tweets from the start and end of the same day are mere variations on each other, or are at least thematically linked.

Taken individually, Miranda’s inspirational statements are just the kind of uplifting “you can do it” encouragements a lot of people might need on any given day. And I did (and do) enjoy them in that context. Reading an entire book of such missives, however, was a bit much for me, and they all started to sound alike. This collection would probably be better enjoyed if the reading of it could be spread out over time — put it on a shelf and pull it down to read a few affirmations at a time.

So…in the end, I’m only giving the book a “6” rating, but if you enjoy Miranda’s style, I encourage you to subscribe to his Twitter feed.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try The Ten, Make That Nine, Habits of Very Organized People. Make That Ten: The Tweets of Steve Martin, by Steve Martin.] [ publisher’s official Gmorning Gnight page ] | [ official Lin-Manuel Miranda web site ]

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Recommended by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library


Runaways, Vol. 1: Find Your Way Home
by Rainbow Rowell (writer) and Kris Anka (artist) [YA PB (Graphic Novel) Rowell]

The Runaways has had an unusual comic-book history. The first version came out in 2003-2004. A follow-up version was released from 2005 to 2009. The title was dormant after 2009 until Omaha author Rainbow Rowell was announced as the writer of an all-new version starting in 2017. This graphic novel is the compilation of the first self-contained storyline of the Rowell era (with art by Kris Anka).

Originally, the Runaways were mere children, the kids of parents who were ultimately revealed to bea group supervillains known as The Pride. When the kids found out their parents were villains, they ran away and formed a loosely-knit family made of each other. Ultimately, they discovered they had inherited special abilities from their parents, and were forced to fight against The Pride and destroy it. The current storyline, starting with Rainbow Rowell’s issues, is set a few years after the storyline that ended in 2009 — some of the Runaways have died or disappeared, and one of their members uses his evil father’s time machine to go back and try to prevent the death of another Runaway. He’s successful, but with a cost. The current group members include Nico Minoru (a powerful witch, who can never repeat the same spell twice), Karolina Dean (a powerful alien), Gertrude “Gert” Yorkes, a young woman with a telepathic connection to a futuristic dinosaur, Molly Hayes (a super-powered mutant), and Chase Stein (who seems to have his villainous father’s knack for creating high-tech devices.

This first Rowell graphic novel reunites the team, who had all gone their separate ways since their earlier break-up. By the end of this first new storyline, they’ve had to take on a seemingly friendly mad scientist and go on the run again.

The characters are fun, the dialog is snappy, and the art is beautiful. I look forward to seeing where Rowell and Anka take these characters in future adventures!

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try other volumes in the graphic novel series — either the earlier graphic novels that compiled the 2003-2009 version of this comic book, or the volumes that follow this one, by Rowell and Anka. Also, a live-action television series was developed by Marvel Comics for the Hulu streaming service in 2017 (part of Marvel’s extended Marvel Cinematic Universe), which features the versions of these characters that appeared in the earlier pre-Rowell comic books.] [ official Runaways page on the official Rainbow Rowell web site ]

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Recommended by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library


Newsprints
by Ru Xu [j Xu]

Though classified as juvenile fiction, this is actually a graphic novel. The intriguing art style caught my eye as I was checking the item in from a previous customer, and so I started reading this on a meal break, and was so captivated that I took it home and finished it in one evening.

This book is like a mash-up of Shakespeare and an alternate history young adult dystopia. It features elements of fantasy, science fiction, mystery, tragedy and comedy, all wrapped up in cute art. Ru Xu tells a story set in a fantasy world that resembles our own society from the 1920s and 1930s. “Blue” is a young girl who is posing as a “newsboy” — the all-male cadre of youths who are delivering one of two competing local newspapers. She lives in a country that has been at war with its neighboring country for 10 years. Women are contributing to the war effort on the home front, but are expected to give up the jobs they’ve been competently doing when the men (soldiers) return home from the war. On the run from a gang of newsboys for the competitor, Blue hides out in a large warehouse building, which turns out to be inhabited by a mysterious inventor, who befriends her and agrees to serve as her tutor/mentor, unbeknownst to her adoptive family.

Blue befriends an odd outcast youth, called Crow, and finds herself and her friends drawn into political intrigue — both the inventor and Crow are hiding secrets that endanger Blue.

This graphic novel, a first for this author, is filled with intriguing, likeable characters, a fast-paced storyline (actually multiple overlapping storylines), and a fascinating setting. Though things move so quickly that some plot and character-building details are glossed over, enough of the story survives the storytelling style to make this a fun read.

[ publishers’ official Newsprints web page ] | [ official Ru Xu blog on Tumblr ]

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Recommended by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library


Screening Room

formatdvdThe Crow

[DVD Crow]

This was an interesting film as it combines a story of murder and loss with supernatural phenomena and humor. In this film a young couple is murdered and the groom to be comes back from the dead to seek revenge on the gang that murdered them. Even he is rather confused as to how this happened but a year after his death a crow lands on his grave and brings him back to life with some supernatural powers, including invincibility, because he’s dead already (so long as the Crow lives). At the start of the movie we see the murders unfold and the cop who responded to the scene as well as a young friend of the couples’ who hung out with them due to difficulties at home with her mother. The cop and this young pre-teenage friend, discover that he’s come back to life and they all three help each other out. It was sort of a sad film to watch as the star of the movie, Brandon Lee, son of Bruce Lee, died during the making of the film as the result of an accident on set. I still really enjoyed the movie and would certainly watch it again. It is rated R, mostly for violence, so it’s not for everyone, but I would recommend if you liked the John Wick movies, or dark action movies with a really good plot.

[ Internet Movie Database entry for this film ] | [ official The Crow (series) web site ]

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Recommended by Kristen A.
Gere Branch Library


formatdvdThe Pink Panther Cartoon Collection (in five volumes)

[DVD j Pink]

The animated character The Pink Panther has a long and unusual history. Director Blake Edwards originally commissioned the creation of the graphic character for his 1963 live-action film, The Pink Panther, which introduced actor Peter Sellers as the bumbling Inspector Clouseau. In the first film in the series, Clouseau is on the trail of jewel thief The Phantom, who is out to steal the legendary Pink Panther diamond. Edwards liked the concept art that DePatie-Freleng Entertainment came up with so much, he asked them to created animated credits for the film, featuring the slinky pink feline. The Pink Panther credits were so popular (a large part of the success of the first film is attributed to people loving those credits), that the Panther character graces almost all subsequent Pink Panther movies, and was spun off into a series of 124 short films, 10 TV shows and 4 TV specials.

The 124 short theatrical films have been packaged and released in five single-disc DVD sets (the libraries own the first four of these). Each volume contains between 20 and 25 of the 6-minute theatrical cartoons, plus special features. Some of the special features include voice-over commentary tracks by animators, writers, and film-historians. Some are mini-documentaries on the history of the making of the early versions of the theatrical cartoons. I particularly enjoyed “Behind the Feline: The Cartoon Phenomenon” (featuring interviews with producer David DePatie and filmmaker Blake Edwards) on Set 3. If you grew up watching the Pink Panther, either as animated shorts attached to feature films, or in his various TV-show versions, this will be a fun trip down memory lane to sample these DVDs. If you’re only vaguely familiar with the character of The Pink Panther, then these are essential viewing — enjoy experiencing animated cartoons set to a jazzy soundtrack, and featuring absolutely no dialog!

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try any of the Pink Panther films by Blake Edwards, starring Peter Sellers as Inspector Clouseau, in order to experience the context in which audiences were first introduced to this slinky feline character.] [ official Pink Panther character page on Wikipedia ]

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Recommended by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library


formatdvdTherapy for a Vampire

[DVD Therapy]

First of all, I should note that this is a German-language film with English subtitles — I didn’t realize that when checking it out, as the DVD box is entirely in English and doesn’t make clear that it is a foreign-language film. This almost made me return it immediately, as I’m not really a fan of having to read the dialog on the screen.

But, in the end, I’m glad I stuck with it, as this film turned out to be a very enjoyable experience. Though it is a technically a “vampire” movie, it is most definitely NOT a horror film — it’s more a comedic relationship piece. Count Geza von Közsnöm (Tobias Moretti) has been a vampire for hundreds of years, and has been married to his wife, Countess Elsa von Közsnöm (Jeanette Hain) for most of those centuries. Their relationship has grown stale over time. This film is set in Europe in the late 1800s (or early 1900s), where Sigmund Freud (Karl Fischer — a wonderfully understated performance) was a practicing psychoanalyst. Count von Közsnöm mysteriously shows up in Freud’s office, and the doctor begins to treat him, not realizing his patient is a vampire (due to clever dialog that avoids the specifics). The Countess is vain and misses being able to see herself in a mirror, and Freud recommends that the Count have an artist paint her portrait.

Freud recommends an artist, Viktor (Dominic Oley), whom the Count engages for the job, despite the Countess’s violent streak. Through a combination of mistaken identities, the Count becomes obsessed with Viktor’s estranged girlfriend, Lucy (Cornelia Ivancan), whom he believes to be the reincarnation of the woman who initially made him into a vampire — his original one true love.

This film features marvelous performances in all the lead and supporting roles. It is atmospheric, with all its night-filming in a quaint European village. And it is filmed with lots of character-based humor. I laughed throughout the film. There is a bit of violence during a couple of vampire attacks, but it is played for comic effect — huge splashes of blood from off-screen. The vampire special effects are well done — hovering, flying, sudden disappearances, turning into bats — but the best parts of the film are actually the character interactions. I loved the bits when Freud is analyzing the Count on his couch!

I highly recommend this one! As long as you don’t mind reading English subtitles (or you are fluent enough in German to turn the subtitles off).

[ Internet Movie Database entry for this film ]

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Recommended by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library


last updated March 2019
* Please Note: The presence of a link on this site does not constitute an endorsement by Lincoln City Libraries.

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