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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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May 2022 Recommendations

The Empress of Mars
by Kage Baker (Baker)

My science fiction club recently read Kage Baker’s The Empress of Mars for our monthly book discussion, and I really enjoyed it. Baker (1952-2010) had 14 novels in her series about “The Company”, and this one, published in 2009 (and enlarged from a 2003 novella) fits very early into the series continuity, and, oddly enough, doesn’t really feel like it is part of the series.

The Empress of Mars takes place on a human outpost on the Red Planet, where human beings have settled a small “city” on the planet, but life is still difficult and hardscrabble. The British Arean Company originally settled Mars by appealing to the “dregs” of human society on Earth — criminals, emotionally or mentally challenged, those that didn’t fit into normal society. Now that the company sees that Mars isn’t going to turn them a massive profit, they don’t have much interest in supporting the colonists and blue collar workers who are living there. This novel is about those social misfits, and their attempts to make a comfortable living in spite of overwhelming forces lined up against them. The “Empress” of the title is two things — the bar named “The Empress” where everyone passes through at one time or another, and also the nickname Mary Griffith, the owner of the bar, who with her three daughters and a ragtag group of friends and co-workers, is determined to make something of the difficult life they all have on Mars.

Though nominally part of “The Company” series, The Empress of Mars can easily be read on its own. It has colorful, interesting characters. It has lots of humor. It has underdogs worth rooting for. If its science plays a little fast and loose with reality, it doesn’t interfere in telling a good yarn. Highly recommended!

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try any of the rest of Kage Baker‘s many novels or short story collections — although the rest of our “Company” novels differ slightly in tone from The Empress of Mars.)

( Kage Baker entry on Wikipedia )

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


Listening: Music, Movement, Mind
by Nik Bärtsch (Music 780.1 Bär)

I always find it interesting when musical thinkers try to apply or at least compare concepts from other disciplines with the act of making music. There are all kinds of books that look at the psychological implications of music, and we’ve talked about a few of those. There are a few authors who have presented their musical lives from the perspective of spiritual journeys, like bass player Victor Wooten’s two books, The Music Lesson and The Spirit of Music. Then there’s the old classic The Inner Game of Music, by Barry Green with W. Timothy Galwey, the latter of whom applied concepts of “natural learning” to improving skills in sports in his own books like The Inner Game of Tennis and The Inner Game of Golf. Now we have a great new book by Swiss pianist, composer and improviser Nik Bärtsch, written in conjunction with his wife Andrea Pfisterer, that incorporates lessons learned from the martial arts practices, aikido in particular, into various aspects of music. The book is called Listening: Music, Movement, Mind, and you can borrow it from the Polley Music Library.

My first impression of this book was that it reminded me a lot of Marshall McLuhan’s classic The Medium is the Message in terms of its layout and form. Though the subjects being considered in both books are very different, they share a playful sense of layout that includes lots of stunning, mostly black and white photography, and both leap between many subjects, ultimately pulling all of their arguments and observations toward a cohesive whole. And before we jump too far into the book, perhaps just a moment of description of Bärtsch’s musical approach is in order, since the book, in his words, “traces the history of ideas and current work of the ritual groove music.” Ritual Groove Music is the title of his debut album from 2004, and it’s also his working title for his unique style. We’ll listen to a couple of examples in a bit, but suffice it to say that to my ears he creates a very unique combination of minimalist music blended with jazz and funk. One doesn’t often think of composers like Phillip Glass or Steve Reich as particularly funky, and it’s also pretty unusual to think of the way funk riffs or jazz heads unfold as minimalism—he really has found a unique musical path.

At the very beginning of the book, Bärtsch talks about how his and his wife’s aikido sensei often uses the phrase “Listen to your partner,” and he breaks down the notion of listening itself along these lines. Why would a martial arts master often refer to listening instead of seeing? He observes that our ears are always open: “Our ears cannot be closed by a reflex, like our eyes.” This simple but powerful state of truly being in the present is ultimately what he demonstrates as a core element of his music throughout the rest of the book.

It’s difficult to describe what’s happening in the narrative structure of this book with conventional terms, although it’s easy to follow along. From this humble beginning, Bärtsch seems to change subjects every few pages, sometimes every few paragraphs: we find large-font quotations featuring thinkers from many disciplines, moments of personal reverie, and stories from a wide variety of disciplines such as modern music history, the life sciences, martial arts, and the design principles behind comic book pages. But perhaps this is easier to explain as a kind of ritual groove music in literary form? Each change of subject is like playing through a riff again, approaching a primary concept from different perspectives: one hears silent movements in aikido, then we see how fast motions and impacts are silently depicted in comics with words that represent sounds, then noting that new discoveries in the arts and sciences are generally “silent” for a while after discovery, because they need new words — new sounds — for us to properly process them as new ideas. Thinking of this book itself as music, it might feel like a quick walk through unfamiliar territory at first, but the segues have a rhythm, and those rhythms fall into a groove.

It’s not all weighty philosophical meanderings here, however. You’ll find lots of practical advice and personal observations that apply to the more mundane, day-to-day aspects of being a musician here, too. As you might expect of a book that aims to describe the author’s own musical approach, he spends time discussing his collaborators and how they work together, the nature of playing in bands, juggling the roles of composition and improvisation, and suggests concrete principles for helping bands to function in healthy ways. He even talks a bit about the nature of running music clubs that host contemporary music, as he’s played in many and been co-founder of one himself. Some of these practical approaches can apply more broadly than music, too: toward the end of the book, for example, he mentions that, “In a live performance situation, mind and body cannot relate to more than three principles,” followed by many examples of reducing important concepts into three principles that can be acted upon in the moment, from musicianship to parenthood to love.

In the end, Listening: Music, Movement, Mind reveals Nik Bärtsch to be a kind of modern-day polymath, a genuine deep thinker who strives for meaningful relationships between all of his interests, collaborations, friends and family. While his particular model might not be the model for everyone — I don’t think every musician necessarily needs to add a martial arts practice to their life immediately — his thoughtful methods for finding connectedness and value all around him can be useful tools for a wide audience.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try The Inner Game of Music by Barry Green or The Spirit of Music by Victor Wooten.)

( official Listening: Music, Moviement, Mind page on the official Nik Bärtsch web site )

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Recommended by Scott S.
Polley Music Library


Bigfoot
by Jim Butcher, with Mark Powers (adaptation) and Joseph Cooper (illustrations) (Butcher)

Since 2000, author Jim Butcher has put out 17 full-length novels and several short story collections, all featuring his Chicago-based modern day wizard Harry Dresden, who works as a magic-using private investigator in the windy city. Several of the stories in the Dresden Files series have also been adapted into graphic novel format.

Bigfoot is one of the latter — Over the past 22 years, Butcher has written three different short stories that feature Harry being hired by a Bigfoot, Strength of a River in His Shoulders, who hires Harry to intervene to protect his half-Sasquatch/half-human son, Irwin, at three different times in his life — as a pre-teen, a teenager and in college. Irwin’s special nature means that he can be the focal point of paranormal intrigue, so Harry’s abilities to manipulative the forces of magic are essential to keeping Irwin safe. (Previously collected in text-only form in a collection in 2015.)

The artwork in Bigfoot is quite good, but I’ll offer one slight caution to sensitive readers — the third of the adapted storylines in this volume involves considerable nudity. Be forewarned. None-the-less, this was a terrific addition to the evolving world of the Dresden Files.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try other graphic novels in the Dresden Files universe — all featuring stories by Jim Butcher but with different artists for each entry: The Dresden Files: Storm Front (vol. 1): The Gathering Storm, Dresden Files: Omnibus Vol. 1, and The Dresden Files: Welcome to the Jungle.)

( official Dresden Files page on the official Jim Butcher web site )

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


Bailey’s Story: A Puppy Tale
by W. Bruce Cameron (Compact Disc Cameron)

A sweet, engaging story of a puppy born in a puppy mill, who eventually finds his way to a loving family.

Told from the pup’s point of view, the reader, Kirby Heyborne, does an excellent job of sounding like an enthusiastic puppy learning his way around the world. You’ll laugh out loud at the puppy’s astonishment at the result when he encounters a skunk, or his confusion about being in the garage during the day when everyone is at school or work, and his excitement at figuring out the door handle.

Bailey’s love for “his boy” Ethan is constant and his driving force as we see when the two of them become lost in the countryside for four days or when the house catches fire.

To date, there are eight stories in the “A Puppy Tale” series that fall under “A Dog’s Purpose” universe all written by W. Bruce Cameron (1. “Ellie’s Story,” 2. “Bailey’s Story,” 3. “Molly’s Story,” 4. “Max’s Story,” 5. “Toby’s Story,” 6. “Lily’s Story,” 7. “Bella’s Story,” 8. “Cooper’s Story”) with a ninth story being released in August, 2022 (“Lacey’s Story”). Only “Ellie’s Story” has a copy at Lincoln City Libraries as a paperback in the juvenile section, and “Bailey’s Story” has a CD available in the adult section. All of the titles are accessible as downloadable audio books.

There is also a movie, “A Dog’s Purpose,” that incorporates all the books into one storyline with the dog dying and being reincarnated as a new puppy. The library owns several DVD copies.

Each of the “A Puppy Tale” stories can be heard in four hours. These are wonderful stories of a child and their puppy growing up together.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try the All Creatures Great and Small series by James Herriot, the books and both TV series.)

( official W. Bruce Cameron web site )

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


Possibilities
by Herbie Hancock with Lisa Dickey (Music 781.65 Han)

Herbie Hancock is easily one of the most important piano and keyboard instrument players in the history of jazz. He was doing solo albums of original music for Blue Note in the early 60s, launching his first album with “Watermelon Man,” which quickly become a jazz standard. In the early portion of his career, he played with Miles Davis’ 2nd great quintet lineup, and after leaving the live band he continued to play on some of the amazing records that defined the transition toward electric Miles, like my favorite Miles albums “Jack Johnson” and “On the Corner.”

Post-Miles, there are multiple waves of incredible bands that Herbie founded. The Mwandishi band was a powerhouse that continues to influence contemporary jazz to this day. Although they only did three albums under the Hancock name, this group also recorded albums mostly intact under the guidance of different band members, too, so if you’re a fan of “Mwandishi,” “Crossings,” or “Sextant,” be sure you check out trumpeter Eddie Henderson’s “Realization” and “Inside Out” albums and saxophonist Bennie Maupin’s “The Jewel in the Lotus.” Taken as a whole, these records did so much to lay the foundations for fusion, and incorporated electronic instruments into acoustic ensembles, taking things even further than Miles.

Herbie followed this legendary band with his Headhunters lineup for the rest of the 1970s, really inventing jazz-funk along the way. There are a few songs in the Hancock catalog that even folks who listen to no jazz would probably recognize, and one of those is “Chameleon” from the first Headhunters album, a long-time staple riff that even gets played at sporting events.

Continuing to incorporate the latest technology, Herbie got downright retrofuturistic in the 80s, highlighted best by his trio of albums with producer Bill Laswell, “Future Shock,” “Sound-System,” and “Perfect Machine.” His biggest hit, “Rockit,” from 1983, is considered the first jazz-rap tune, and was the first time record scratching was featured in a hit single. The tune was a huge hit with both jazz and hip-hop fans. And in between all of these eras, Herbie has also done lots of more acoustic, piano-driven playing on solo and duet albums, and has appeared on other artists’ albums in a variety of contexts, from jazz to folk to rock to R&B. He’s one of the most-recorded jazz artists of all time, appearing on over 1000 records.

Back in 2014, Herbie reflected on his incredible career in his first book, Possibilities, which you can borrow from the Polley Music Library. Hancock’s voice and vibe come through clearly in the pages of this book: he is humble, thoughtful, always paying attention to the moment, and grateful to everyone who helped along his illustrious career. He starts the book with an anecdote about playing a flubbed chord at the peak of “So What” in performance with the Miles Davis Quintet in Sweden, noting that Miles immediately adjusted and made his bad chord work perfectly. His takeaway, always being ready to make everything work so well, is certainly reflected in his life’s work. At the beginning of the book, he details some basics of his family life, and his start as a 7-year old piano player who quickly became fond of the instrument while taking classical lessons. By the age of 11, he won a competition and performed with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Soon thereafter, he became aware of his peers starting to play jazz, and devoted his attention to unraveling the mysteries of that music.

The remarkable early experiences in Herbie’s career pack the first several chapters. After attending Grinnell College in Iowa, he quickly found his way into some pickup gigs that led to steady work as a musician. Donald Byrd took him to New York City and helped to get him established, and before long he was working almost every night, taking recording sessions, and working on his own first solo album. Byrd even got him prepared for the next huge move in his career: joining Miles Davis.

The next few chapters are all about playing with Miles, an inspirational time for everyone in the band. For Herbie, it’s a time for both tremendous musical and personal growth, as he meets his future spouse Gigi. During their honeymoon, Miles decides to replace him with Chick Corea, which quickly leads to the bulk of the book’s coverage, focusing on Herbie’s many projects as a bandleader.

The Herbie Hancock Sextet was an incredible band. Herbie details the first gig with the final lineup in place, which was the first time the six had all played together. It was magic from the start, and just like you can hear on the albums released by what came to be called the Mwandishi band, the group continued to absorb the sounds and times all around them, creating a new kind of music that transcended jazz into its own powerful free fusion. But such unique music can be difficult to satisfy record label executives with. Herbie includes a fantastic story to this effect about taking the album “Crossings” to the Warner Bros executives: producer David Rubinson started to play music for the execs, who expressed concerns about how to market it, and Rubinson then proclaimed that they had been listening to the B-side of Miles Davis’ “Bitches Brew,” which was then number 9 on the charts. Things kept progressing positively from there, with Herbie even adding modular synth player Pat Gleeson to the lineup.

But all good things come to an end, and the free nature of the Mwandishi lineup ultimately started to become stale. Herbie felt drawn to more structured music, and ultimately started the Headhunters, playing extremely tight jazz-funk in their own revolutionary new way. And the Head Hunters was a big hit—for a few years, it stood as the best-selling jazz album of all time, and appealed to listeners outside of jazz. This album and the ones that followed really cemented Hancock as a top tier artist in his own right, as evidenced by his 3-band career retrospective at the 1976 Newport Jazz Festival.

That takes us to about the halfway point in the book, from which much is covered in the decades since Herbie has been a firmly established artist. He continued to incorporate all kinds of evolving technology into his music and his own playing. He suffered the tragic loss of his sister Jean in a 1985 plane crash. And he enjoyed the pinnacle of his commercial success with the 1983 album “Future Shock” and its massive hit single “Rockit,” which was incredibly almost rejected by his record label at the time. And he struggled with some personal substance abuse issues which he ultimately overcame.

One of my favorite things about Possibilities is how much credit Hancock gives to his many collaborators along the way. His tone is gracious and open, and he evolves as both a musician and as a person along with his many collaborators. Music is an inherently social art form, and Herbie’s career and attitude as displayed in this book provide a multitude of lessons for how to get the best out of your music and yourself by really working with those around you. A great book for jazz fans and musicians of all disciplines.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Experiencing Herbie Hancock: A Listener’s Companion by Eric Wendell or The Great Jazz Pianists: Speaking of Their Lives and Music by Leonard Lyons.)

( publisher’s official Possibilities web site ) | ( official Herbie Hancock web site )

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Recommended by Scott S.
Polley Music Library


A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking
by T. Kingfisher (a.k.a. Ursula Vernon) (available only in E-book and E-audiobook editions from the libraries — Susan listened to the downloadable audio)

If you enjoy humorous fantasy and baking, this is the story for you. Mona’s magic is limited to being good with dough, but when her city is threatened, she “rises” to the challenge.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try the works of T.J. Klune by AUTHOR or Ryka Aoka.)

( publisher’s T. Kingfisher/Ursula Vernon web page )

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Recommended by Susan S.
Eiseley Branch Library


Arsenic and Adobo
by Mia P. Manansala (Manansasla)

When Lila Macapagal returns to her home town to recover from a broken heart, she discovers her family restaurant on the verge of bankruptcy. To add on to the restaurants troubles, another ex-boyfriend of Lila’s is a food critic that seems to be targeting the restaurant.

This book has a lot of references to Filipino culture, the use of many Tagalog words and of course wonderful descriptions of foods often served in the Philippines. This was the best part of the book.

I want to point out I am not the target audience of this book. I love cozy mysteries, and I wanted to love this book, but the main character Lila is so frustrating. She’s immature and not very bright; she’s annoying and unlikable. Now maybe if I weren’t 50-something I might have a different view point. I’m now finding a few mysteries where the main character is really not someone I can identify with or even like. Overall, the mystery is okay, the book seemed incredibly long, but I recommend it for the great look into Filipino-American life.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Mango, Mambo, and Murder by Raquel V. Reyes, Hummus and Homicide by Tina Kashian or Grounds for murder by Tara Lush.)

( official Arsenic and Adobo web page on the official Mia Manansala web site )

 

Recommended by Marcy G.
South and Gere Branch Libraries


Reprieve
by James Han Mattson (Mattson)

Reprieve caught my attention because of the setting — Lincoln, NE in the late 1990s — and the hook of a murder trial for something that happened in a full-contact haunted house business. I felt like I got more than I expected in terms of setting and less than I hoped for with the haunted house experience.

The setting has many references to Lincoln locations. I’m not sure the author has lived here, but he’s clearly familiar with the map and some of the common ways people talk about Lincoln. However, for the amount of time spent on UNL campus and some at Lincoln High, downtown is nearly absent with much more attention paid to Holmes Lake and Havelock. I can’t vouch for the accuracy of all the details, but it was satisfying to see Lincoln as the backdrop throughout the bulk of this story. (With Bangkok taking 2nd place.)

As for the story structure, there’s the frame of a group of four young people making their way through the rooms of the haunt for a cash prize, plus some chapters that are trial transcripts from afterwards. In a typical horror novel, this would make up most of the plot with some quickly sketched backgrounds. In Reprieve, however, those character backgrounds feel like full-on novellas of their own that eventually intersect for the night of the haunt.

It was a lot like watching a horror anthology film where only the frame story is horror and the individual stories are realistic fiction on themes like alienation, misogynistic radicalization, and anti-Blackness among Asian people. Personally, I felt this provided synergy to the individual stories by giving them an interesting place to end up, but absolutely drained engagement from the horror frame story. Even *during* the scant time spent on the escape-room like haunted house challenges, characters frequently zone out to dwell on their earlier stories (which were already longer than they should have been). I have to restrict my recommendation to fans of realistic short fiction who have tolerance for horror, and pointedly not recommend it to horror fans.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try My Heart is a Chainsaw by Stephen Graham Jones, which I reviewed here, which attempts a similar genre blend of realistic fiction and horror, but ultimately gives satisfying respect to both genres.)

( publisher’s official Reprieve web page ) | ( official James Han Mattson web site )

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Recommended by Garren H.
Bennett Martin Public Library — Public Service


For Batter or Worse
by Jenn McKinlay (McKinlay)

We’re approaching the big day, Mel and Joe’s wedding. When Mel and Joe show up for their cupcake tasting at the resort, where Oz is the head pastry chef, they’re just in time to see an argument between Oz and the Head Chef Miles. Later when Oz finds Miles with his head bashed in, he’s the prime suspect. With the wedding coming soon, will Mel find out who killed the head chef before Oz is arrested? will the wedding actually take place?

The books in this series have been up and down and this is an “up” one. I enjoyed the mystery, often I don’t care if I can tell who the killer is. The point isn’t the end result but the journey to get there. In this series there’s always a bit of romance and best of all is the interplay between the characters. I heard one person describe cozy series’ as “visiting my friends” and I really think reading each new book fits the description. This is the 13 in the series, and you really don’t need to read them in order!

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Murder With Peacocks by Donna Andrews, Deadly Ever After by Eva Gates or One For the Books by Jenn McKinlay.)

( official Cupcake Bakery Mysteries page on the official Jenn McKinlay web site )

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Recommended by Marcy G.
South and Gere Branch Libraries


Shaq’s Family Style: Championship Recipes for Feeding Family and Friends
by Shaquille O’Neal (641.5 One)

I saw retired basketball star Shaquille O’Neal being interviewed about Shaq’s Family Style on “CBS This Morning” a few Sundays ago, and while I enjoyed the short segment they did on him, I figured this was just another celebrity cookbook. But when the library’s copies arrived I did a quick browse and decided this was a better publication than I’d given it credit for.

I was surprised at everything in this cookbook. Shaq provides introductions into each segment, which have titles such as “That’s Barbecue Chicken – All the Hits,” “M.D.E. – Meals Done Easy,” “I Love Pancakes – Breakfast for Dinner,” etc. And he comments on every recipe. The recipes are his mother’s that he grew up with, then his two professional chefs added some zing but no weird ingredients that you don’t already have in your cupboard.

The recipe instructions are easy to follow, the photos are fabulous, and the meals look delicious. These recipes are obviously comfort food for Shaq so the portion sizes are huge, along with lots of fat and carbs. I would recommend halving the recipes, cutting the portion sizes, and using this cookbook only once or twice a week or your weight and cholesterol will increase significantly.

All of these recipes would be ideal for family meals or a game-day spread. There are only 80 recipes here so you aren’t going to be overwhelmed with a lot of meals to look through.

( publisher’s official Shaq’s Family Style web page ) | ( official Shaquille O’Neal web site )

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


The Sheep, the Rooster and the Duck
by Matt Phelan (j Phelan)

Matt Phelan brings his unique, comical art style to this hybrid juvenile novel — part prose, and part illustrated graphic novel. In 1783, in France, the Montgolfier brothers launched the first hot air balloon, and it was occupied by a sheep, a rooster and a duck.

Phelan takes this historical fact and weaves a fanciful tale, in which those three animals are actually secretly heroic agents who work behind the scenes to make sure no one comes to harm. This short novels involves them and their allies attempting to rescue the visiting inventor and diplomat Benjamin Franklin, whose fascination with lighter-than-air travel has placed him in the way of a group of nefarious types who are hoping to initiate a war between France and England. The three animals characters, Bernadette the sheep, Pierre the rooster and Jean Luc the duck (and their fourth, a mouse named Felix), hold their own amongst the human cast (who mostly are stunned to be interacting with talking animals). Pierre the rooster engages in swordplay with the villain, Cagliostro, and there’s a budding relationship between Franklin’s servant Emile and the animals pilot, Sophie.

This is a funny, silly, action-packed and thought-provoking tale of adventure, appropriate for youth and adults who are young at heart!

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try any of Matt Phelan’s other books, particularly Bluffton: My Summers With Buster and Snow White.)

( official Matt Phelan web site )

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


Notes of a Dream: The Authorized Biography of A.R. Rahman
by Krishna Trilok (Music 780.92 Rah)

This book is about a composer who is extremely famous outside of the US. In 2002, an international BBC poll found that one of their songs was the 2nd-most famous song in the entire world, and that same song also holds Guinness world records as the song performed in the most languages. The artist in question is A.R. Rahman, best known as a prolific composer of songs and music for Bollywood films who has been active since the early 1990s. A great biography of his life and work, called Notes of a Dream written by Krishna Trilok, is available from the Polley Music Library.

Rahman is quite the celebrity in India, but remains considerably lesser known here. Some of this is probably due to the film industry that most of his music is written for. It seems like many other parts of the world have at least a passing familiarity with the English language, so Hollywood movies can be shown overseas with some success. But for Bollywood films, the name often given to the film industry in India, the languages used in these films have been somewhat a barrier for their distribution here. For some readers, it might be useful to have a broader understanding of the Indian film industry before jumping into the Rahman biography, and if that includes you, We have a couple of books here at Polley that discuss it, as well as the broader musical scene in modern-day India: More Than Bollywood: Studies in Indian Popular Music by Gregory Booth and Global Bollywood: Travels of Hindi Song and Dance by Sangita Gopal.

From those books, you’ll see that the history of cinema within India goes back just as far as Western filmmaking, and that Rahman’s work as a film composer starting in the 90s was stepping into a tradition that’s now around a century old. Hindi-language film has always leaned into musicals as a favored art form, and the music has a long history of combining familiar Indian folk and classical styles with the latest modern sounds coming out of Western culture. Rahman’s work has carried on that kind of tradition, and added newer Western musical styles like electronic music into his work, as well as some middle-eastern stylings. It truly is a remarkable kind of world music that can stand on its own even without the films (but of course the films are fun, too).

In Notes of a Dream, author Trilok follows a fairly conventional formula for a celebrity biography, starting with Rahman’s childhood. And it turns out that his is a kind of rags-to-riches story that would make for a great Bollywood film itself! I don’t want to give away too much of the story here — it’s a really inspiring book if you’re interested in Rahman’s music or Bollywood music in general — but suffice it to say that Rahman’s father, R.K. Shekhar, was also a musician in the Indian film industry. Sadly, he died when Rahman was still very young, leaving the family to struggle. His mother insisted on making sure that he continue his studies, and he was also able to help the family initially by helping to rent his father’s musical equipment to other musicians, and he soon learned to play and compose himself. His life could have turned out very differently–many boys his age in similar circumstances ended up leaving school and begging on the streets. Ultimately, Rahman did leave school early, but his music career was already becoming well established, and he simply didn’t have time for both pursuits.

Notes of a Dream jumps around a little bit chronologically, which I found enjoyable. For example, while the 2nd part of the book primarily focuses on Rahman’s early forays into writing music for film, its introduction discusses some of his newest efforts related to film, which have now expanded from music to being a director himself. It’s a useful present-day setup to the rest of the section, which describes his steady rise into the world of film music. It started with writing a lot of commercial jingles throughout the 1980s, and then he got his first opportunity to write for a film with the 1992 production of “Roja,” a movie that went on to win numerous awards. This immediately thrust Rahman into the spotlight as a film composer, as the soundtrack itself was also very well received. In this section, we start to read more remembrances from many who have worked with him on films, reflecting on what it’s like to collaborate with him, how he’s a perfectionist, and some quirks of his style, like frequently running late to meetings and taking his time turning in music (mostly because of his perfectionist nature).

It’s noteworthy that evolving music technology has played a significant role in Rahman’s career. The book describes the beginnings of his “home studio,” a facility he started to build in 1989 with the help of loans and his mother selling lots of jewelry. Rahman always had a knack for using and even fixing new music technology like the first digital keyboards, and once he started to have a bit of success scoring films, he was able to build this space out to be the highest tech studio in India. He was able to take control of his own workflow in this way about a generation before many of us were able to produce studio-quality work at home due to computer music tech, and just reading about how he was able to control his own work and keep his overhead costs down by having his own high-quality space is a fantastic model for what almost anyone can do now with just a little bit of money and some thoughtful design. From that perspective, at times this book functions as more than a biography—there is lots of valuable information in here about how to control your own destiny while navigating the music business and the film industry.

The last two sections of the book are shorter, and focus more on Rahman’s recent history. Phase three (the parts are called “phases”) largely focuses on the breakout success of the 2008 film “Slumdog Millionaire,” which led to much more recognition for Rahman’s music in the Western world. And the final section gets into more detail about his personal life, such as his religious practices and his founding of the KM College of Music and Technology (again emphasizing the importance of technology to contemporary music literacy) and his A.R. Rahman Foundation. His optimism and passion are clear throughout the book, and besides being a solid musical biography, the book serves as an inspirational sketch of one of the most dedicated and successful musicians in the world.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try More Than Bollywood: Studies in Indian Popular Music by Gregory Booth or Global Bollywood: Travels of Hindi Song and Dance by Sangita Gopal.)

( publisher’s official Notes of a Dream web page ) | ( official Krishna Trilok Twitter feed )

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Recommended by Scott S.
Polley Music Library


The Little House Cookbook: Frontier Foods From Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Classic Stories
by Barbara M. Walker (j641.5 Wal)

As a longtime fan of the Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “Little House” series, I was pleased to find that someone had compiled a book of recipes for foods featured in the Little House books. What makes this book such a gem is the collection of quotes from the books as well as descriptions of the food and cooking from pioneer times. Step-by-step instructions on how to re-create the recipes are included along with excellent photographs of the foods themselves and the famous Garth Williams’s illustrations featured in Laura’s books. This book is written more for adults than for children, but with assistance, older kids should be able to make some of these recipes if they can find the ingredients.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try The Laura Ingalls Wilder Country Cookbook by Laura Ingalls Wilder or My Prairie Cookbook by Melissa Gilbert.)

( publisher’s official Little House Cookbook web page ) | ( publisher’s official Barbara M. Walker web page )

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Recommended by Kim J.
Bennett Martin Public Library — Public Service


All the White Spaces
by Ally Wilkes (Wilkes)

All the White Spaces is historical suspense set in 1919 and 1920 during the age of early expeditions to Antarctica. Jonathan grew up listening to his older brothers obsess about joining one of these expeditions, but they’ve both recently died in the Great War. Jonathan himself feels smothered by his family’s expectations because he was assigned female at birth, so he becomes an expedition ship stowaway.

This book follows the conventions of gothic suspense where small things start to go awry, followed by increasing levels of disaster and hardship and unnatural strangeness. As a fan of naval stories and stories about danger and isolation, this was a perfect genre blend for me. If you happen to be familiar with Shackleton’s expeditions, this story is loosely modeled after his 1914 expedition but this is a slightly different world where there is no Ernest Shackleton and Antarctica holds an extra danger.

Be prepared for a tough read with lots of death and suffering, including for the sled dogs. It’s also a story that waxes poetic about this desolate winter country. If you weren’t already familiar with the three types of twilight, you will be after reading this book!

(Recommended to fans of Moby Dick by Herman Melville. If you enjoy this, another recent read-alike is The Arctic Fury by Greer Macallister.)

( official All the White Spaces and Ally Wilkes web site )

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Recommended by Garren H.
Bennett Martin Public Library — Public Service


Screening Room

formatdvdThe Addams Family 2
(DVD j Addams)

Following the huge success of the first “modern” Addams Family animated film in 2019 (see my previous review), most of the same vocal and animated talent gathered again to create this sequel, The Addams Family 2. Instead of sticking around the familiar confines of the Addams Family’s gothic mansion, this time, most of the family members go on a road trip, allowing them to poke ghoulish fun at a whole new variety of road trip tropes and cultural stereotypes.

The plot of The Addams Family 2, in a nutshell: Continuously morose and darkly disturbing daughter Wednesday makes an impressive showing at a school science fair, but her success deepens her already deep-seated suspicions that she isn’t a real “Addams”. Gomez and Morticia, in an effort to distract Wednesday and also elude a persistent investigator who seems bent on informing them that there was a “switched at birth” accident in the hospital after Wednesday was born, decide to take their oversized mobile home on a trip cross-country.

This film, like the earlier one from the same people, veers wildly between dark and slightly morbid humor and violent excess (particularly when Wednesday’s brother Pugsley is allow to let his destructive tendencies go free). The vocal performances by Oscar Isaac as Gomez, Charlize Theron as Morticia, Chloe Grace Moretz as Wednesday and Nick Kroll as Uncle Fester, were all spot-on, and I was pleasantly surprised to see a somewhat emotional subplot for Lurch, the butler, who gets to say far more than “Yooooouuu Raaaaangggg?”

All in all, an entertaining Addams Family entry, though I strongly recommend seeing the 2019 film first. I’m still far more of a fan of the 1964-66 black & white sitcom (with John Astin and Carolyn Jones as Gomez and Morticia), or the 1991 and 1993 films, with Raul Julia and Anjelica Huston as Gomez and Morticia. But these new animated version are still very entertaining.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try The Addams Family (1964-67 available in three individual season sets), The Addams Family (1991) and The Addams Family Values (1993), or The Addams Family (2019 animated).)

( Internet Movie Database entry for this film ) | ( official The Addams Family 2 web site )

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


formatdvdGhosts: Series One (UK)
(DVD Ghosts)

My wife and I got absolutely hooked on the American paranormal comedy series Ghosts, on CBS, this current television season. We knew, even when we started watching, that this was a U.S. remake of a popular U.K. series of the same name.

So, I was particularly happy, after watching the season finale of the U.S. version, to see that the libraries had purchased the DVD set of the U.K.’s first season. While there are many similarities between the UK and US versions of Ghosts, the two most noteworthy differences are that the British show’s first season only had 6 episodes (where the American version had 18). Also, many of the actors playing the “ghosts” in the British version are comics and writers, who created their characters, from various time periods, for portrayals in other British television, before recognizing that they could combine all their different historical characters into a single storyline.

The plot, in a nutshell: A young urban couple learn that the wife has inherited a rundown country estate — she was the last living descendant of the estate’s owner, even though they’d never met. They arrive to find the estate in massive disrepair, but decide to commit to rehabilitating the building and turning it into a hotel. What they don’t realize is that the estate is haunted by the ghosts of multiple individuals who’ve died there over the years but who didn’t pass on to another plane of existence. When the wife (Allison) suffers a near-death experience, she develops the ability to see and hear (and talk to) all of the ghosts.

The cast of the original British version of the show is incredible, and has impressive chemistry. The show, in just six episodes, manages to develop the concept extremely well. I only hope that the 2nd and 3rd seasons make it to DVD in the U.S. soon!

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try the American version of Ghosts, currently airing Thursdays on CBS — and most likely available On Demand or via one of the various streaming platforms.)

( Internet Movie Database entry for this series ) | ( official Ghosts page on the BBC web site )

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


formatdvdShakespeare & Hathaway – Private Investigators: Series 1
(DVD Shakespeare)

This charming contemporary British crime series features Mark Benton as sloppy and curmudgeonly private investigator (and ex-police officer) Frank Hathaway, and Jo Joyner as his unexpected new partner, Luella “Lu” Shakespeare. The pilot episode sets their partnership in motion, as bride-to-be Lu hires Frank to investigate her betrothed, who turns out to be a con artist trying to fleece her. When Lu ends up assisting Frank and his sole assistant, Sebastian, in their investigation, she finds she’s good at the private eye work. By the end of the first episode, Lu and Frank have entered into an uneasy partnership, as she helps prop up his failing business, and he slowly realizes she brings some useful skills to the team.

Shakespeare & Hathaway is supposed to be set in Stratford-on-Avon, William Shakespeare’s old stomping grounds, and many of the plots of the episodes feature variations on the plots of the Bard’s classic plays (although many are just straight mysteries). The chemistry between Frank and Lu and Sebastian in this first season of 10 episodes is delightful. Some of the plots are simplistic and predictable, while others kept me guessing. But the true joy in watching this series is seeing how Frank and Lu play off of each other. In another Shakespearean twist, during the first two seasons, Amber Aga plays Frank’s police contact — and former partner — D.I. Marlowe. Shakespeare fans will greatly enjoy all the light-hearted references to Shakespearean works and the world of the Bard.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Rosemary & Thyme, Hettie Wainthropp Investigates, Pie in the Sky, Lovejoy or any other light-hearted modern British mystery series, where the focus is not on an official police officer/detective solving the crime.)

( Internet Movie Database entry for this film ) | ( official Shakespeare and Hathaway – Private Investigators on the BBC web site )

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


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

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