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Staff Recommendations – April 2018

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April 2018 Recommendations

Everything is Flammable
by Gabrielle Bell (Biography Bell)

This is a book that I believe I picked up solely because of the eye-catching cover and title. It is a memoir about a young woman with anxiety, depression, and other increasingly common mental health issues, her tenuous relationship with her mother, and their struggles to find quality of life despite financial issues. Although I would’ve preferred a traditional book for the subjects the author writes about here, it seems that Bell still has quite a lot to process regarding her relationship with her mother and her responsibilities towards her, so the graphic novel format here leaves a lot to ponder for all parties (author, reader, subjects, etc.). The extremely short chapters here describe the ways in which her friends take care of her as she determines her next steps, and there are many chapters that introduce us to the people in her mother’s life as well. This great work showcases how it sometimes takes a village to raise an adult, even one who has adult children of their own. This great work only barely touches on the interconnected reliance we need to rebuild to help stabilize the lives of our loved ones and neighbors.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Fun Home, by Alison Bechdel.)

( publisher’s official Everything is Flammable web page ) | ( official Gabrielle Bell web site )


Recommended by Naomi S.
Eiseley and Williams Branch Libraries and the Bookmobile

Penguin the Magpie: The Odd Little Bird Who Saved a Family
by Cameron Bloom and Bradley Trevor Grieve (Biography Bloom)

A few years back, I gave a book talk to our Bethany and Gere BooksTalks groups entitled “Creature Comforts“, all about unique relationships between humans and the animals in our lives. Penguin the Magpie: The Odd Little Bird Who Saved a Family would easily have fit into that talk! When I saw this book on the New Books display at the downtown library, recently, the beautiful B&W photo on the cover, of a child holding a gorgeous magpie bird, immediately leapt out at me.

Author Cameron Bloom is an Australian photojournalist. He and his wife, Sam, are adventurers, preferring treks through unexplored spaces over sticking to “tourist” traps. While on a family vacation with their three young sons to a remote part of Thailand, Sam Bloom was the victim of a freak accident, that left her with a broken spine and fractured skull. Returning to their home in Australia, she was forced to adapt to a new lifestyle, filled with excruciating pain, partial paralysis, and the need for assistance with some of the simplest everyday tasks — torture for someone who had previously lived a very “active” life.

Around this time, one of the Blooms’ sons came across a helpless baby Magpie bird in a store’s parking lot, blown out of its nest and abandoned by its mother. The Bloom family adopted the bird, which the kids named Penguin, due to its black & white coloring, and decided to nurse it, at least until it could be released into the wild. This book features a variety of B&W and color photos of the family with the bird, as it grew up, acclimating to their family life and becoming like one of their kids. Sam, in particular, bonded with the bird, and the process of helping something even more fragile than herself to survive and then thrive contributed to her own rehabilitation. The photos are paired with text that is almost journal-like in format, chronicling Sam’s recovery and the impact it has had on her entire family’s life. There are afterwords, including a “letter” from Sam, herself, which are definitely worth reading, and which add to the emotional impact of the book.

The descriptions of Sam’s struggles are stark, but when contrasted with the beautiful photography of the family and their avian adventures, provide for a bittersweet exploration of how relationships with animals can have a healing quality. This was truly a moving story.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Wesley the Owl, by Stacey O’Brien, Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World, by Vicki Myron, A Street Cat Named Bob and How He Saved My Life, by James Bowen, or any of the many other books on my Creature Comforts booktalk booklist.)

( official Penguin the Magpie web site ) | ( official Cameron Bloom Photography web site )


Recommended by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library

hooplaThe Phoenix on the Sword
by Robert E. Howard

This is just a short story of about 20 pages or so featuring Conan the Barbarian, written by the creator of the character, Robert E. Howard. Often seen as a traveler, Conan has a bit of a different position in this story as king of a land he had conquered. There are some people plotting to murder him and in sort of a dream-like reality he is forewarned of this assassination attempt and acquires a phoenix marking on his sword which enables it to slay demons. I found it very entertaining and full of action while vividly creating the Conan world I’m used to seeing in his and Red Sonja’s comics. If you enjoy sword and sorcery stories, the Conan movies or comics, or Red Sonja, this deserves a try. I enjoyed it quite a bit and if I had more reading time would most likely read more of the Howard stories featuring Conan; I’ve been told by someone whose read them all, that the order in which you read them does not matter as they told in a non-consecutive manner anyway.

You can read this story on Hoopla as “The Phoenix on the Sword” or it can be listened to on Hoopla or OverDrive as the first story in the collection of Conan stories by Howard “The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian”. It is also freely available on Australia’s Project Gutenburg.

(NOTE: This story is literally the first “Conan” story written and published by Howard, and is credited with launching the “Sword & Sorcery” genre.)

(If you enjoy this, also on Hoopla is The Phoenix on the Sword, which is a comic by Timothy Truman. I’m guessing it’s the same story but I haven’t read it, but I do think it’d be interesting to read both and compare them.)

( Wikipedia page for Robert E. Howard ) | ( official Robert E. Howard/Conan web site )


Recommended by Kristen A.
Gere Branch Library

A New Class and The Force Oversleeps
by Jarrett J. Krosoczka (j Krosoczka)

Following in the path of the first three volumes in the Jedi Academy series (by Jeffrey Brown), artist/writer Jarret J. Krosoczka does an admirable job of introducing a new bunch of students at the Jedi Academy on Coruscant. The teachers are mostly all the same as in Brown’s trilogy, but it’s an all new class of Jedi underclassmen. The central character is Victor Starspeeder, a headstrong boy who thinks that Jedi studies are going to be a breeze and that he’ll be the “star” of his class, even though in the first book he is joining the Academy half-way through the school year as is “the new kid”. At least his sister is already there as one of the older students, even if they have an awkward relationship. An amusing subplot in both of these first two volumes is having Yoda assign Victor to participate in the Drama Department’s annual musical. In The Force Oversleeps, we get to see deeper into a family issue that has plagued both Victor and Christina for years.

Star Wars ReviewsKrosoczka’s art style is considerably different from Brown’s, but he keeps the concept of an illustrated journal going quite nicely. I enjoy the batch of new supporting characters. This is a fun series, and each volume is a quick read. I recommend them for kids and adults alike — basically anyone who’s a Star Wars fan.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try the original trio of Star Wars Jedi Academy illustrated journal novels, by Jeffrey Brown.)

( publisher’s official Star Wars: Jedi Academy web site ) | ( official Jarrett Krosoczka web site )


Recommended by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
by C.S. Lewis (j Lewis)

In this novel, we travel back to Narnia with Edmond and Lucy, but not with Peter and Susan as they are elsewhere in our world when the traveling occurs. However Edmond and Lucy are not alone; they are staying with their cousin Eustace who is a rather irritating person and he is pulled into Narnia with them through a painting of a ship at Eustace’s house. They arrive in the water and are hauled into the ship and meet their friend from the last adventure, Caspian, now King of Narnia. Caspian is on a journey to find his father’s friends who traveled away long ago and never returned. Their ship is called the Dawn Treader, hence the title. The adventures that occur before Edmond, Lucy and Eustice return home, include Eustice turning into a dragon, a pool who’s water turns anything to gold, a sea monster, a retired star, invisible creatures, and sweet seawater. It’s a pretty fun story much more light-hearted than ‘The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe’, not that that one is dark. Recommended for readers of any age looking for fantasy adventure or classic fantasy stories, however I would suggest you read ‘Prince Caspian’ first as it explains how Edmond and Lucy met him last time they were in Narnia.

If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try the entire Narnia series, by C.S. Lewis:

Publication Order:
1. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (1950)
2. Prince Caspian: The Return to Narnia (1951)
3. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (1952)
4. The Silver Chair (1953)
5. The Horse and His Boy (1954)
6. The Magician’s Nephew (1955)
7. The Last Battle (1956)

Chronological Order:
1. The Magician’s Nephew
2. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
3. The Horse and His Boy*
4. Prince Caspian: The Return to Narnia
5. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
6. The Silver Chair
7. The Last Battle

* Takes place within the time of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

( official C.S. Lewis web site )


Recommended by Kristen A.
Gere Branch Library

Book of Nature Poetry
edited by J. Patrick Lewis (j811.08 Nat)

A beautiful ‘coffee table book’, this is appropriate for readers of any age. Produced by National Geographic and edited by J. Patrick Lewis, former US Children’s Poet Laureate, it is full of gorgeous photographs to accompany the many poems, old and new, about flora, fauna, and other natural topics and phenomena. A variety of poets, ranging from venerable scribblers such as Emily Dickinson and Robert Frost to ‘youngsters’ in the field of young people’s poetry like X. J. Kennedy and Jane Yolen, are represented. The shortest (and funniest) verse in the book may be this, by Douglas Florian:

The Rhea
The rhea rheally isn’t strange –
It’s just an ostrich, rhearranged.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Julie Andrews’ Treasury For All Seasons, by Julie Andrews.)

( publisher’s official Book of Nature Poetry web site ) | ([ official J. Patrick Lewis web site )


Recommended by Becky W.C.
Walt Branch Library

Light on the Prairie: Solomon D. Butcher, Photographer of Nebraska’s Pioneer Days
by Nancy Plain (Biography Butcher)

If you have any interest at all in Nebraska pioneer history or the history of photography, you must take a look at this wonderful little volume. Intended for a middle-grades audience, this is just as valuable for young adults and adults in recounting the life, and what would become a large part of his life, of Nebraska homesteader Solomon Butcher. Having learned photography as a teen living in Illinois, he later joined the male members of his family who decided to go west after the Homestead Act took effect. They settled in Custer County and the rest, completely literally, is history. Butcher was a much better photographer than farmer and he decided to start documenting fellow pioneers in his own and surrounding counties at their soddies, church picnics, etc. With his camera, a wagon-mounted darkroom, and notebooks to record their stories, Butcher spent as much or more time traveling the countryside as he did at his own 160 acres. Many years into his endeavor, a devastating fire at his home destroyed his papers but not the 1,500 photo negatives he had accumulated. So, he recreated the oral narratives and resumed his project, eventually culminating in the seminal Pioneer History of Custer County. Today Butcher’s work is considered crucial to western settlement history, and his images are widely disseminated. A couple of things I found especially interesting were his shots of ranch daughters in their riding finery with their trusty steeds, and the fact that he would sometimes draw in elements such as plants or birds to make an image more representative of what he or the subject wanted to depict!

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Prairie Settlement, Lincoln’s Early Architecture, by Ed Zimmer and xxx or Mari Sandoz’ Native Nebraska, by Mari Sandoz.)

( Light on the Prairie page on the official Nancy Plain web site )


Recommended by Becky W.C.
Walt Branch Library

The Perfect Nanny
by Leila Slimani (Slimani)

Myriam and Paul have discovered a’miracle’. “The Perfect Nanny” in their neighborhood. Nanny Louise quickly becomes an integral part of the family. Myriam can return to work and Paul rises in the ranks at his own job. They even have time for one another again, and make sure Louise is almost always with them – even on family vacations.

All the other nannies at the park watch themselves carefully when Louise brings the children around….having heard the wondrous tales of Louise’s long hours, gourmet meals and strong yearning for perfection.

What will happen then when the youngest child, Adam, grows closer to the age of school enrollment? What will become of Louise and her new family?

A psychological thriller that keeps you guessing and racing through. This slim, 228 page turner is nearly impossible to put down.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn, Girl on the Train, by Paula Hawkins.)]

( publisher’s official The Perfect Nanny web page ) | ( Wikipedia page for Leila Slimani )


Recommended by Sarah J.
South Branch Library

Psych’s Guide to Crimefighting for the Totally Unqualified
by “Shawn Spencer” with “Burton Guster” (791.457 PsyYs)

After watching the Psych reunion TV-movie in December 2017, I’ve lately enjoyed watching a bunch of episodes (on both cable TV and DVD) of this charming and eccentric comedy/drama, which ran from 2006 to 2014. Re-watching episodes reminded me of this book, one of the strangest and quirkiest TV tie-in books I’ve ever seen, and I’ve been collected tie-in books since the early 1970s!

Credited as being written by the series’ main characters, “psychic detective” Shawn Spencer and his sidekick/parter, pharmaceutical rep Burton “Gus” Guster, this book is a totally nuts, stream-of-consciousness wander through the kinds of information you might need if you wanted to become a private detective, only told by someone who has absolutely no true skills in that subject. In the series, Shawn pretended to be a psychic detective, so that he could use his uncanny gift of a photographic memory and the ability to almost instantaneously interpret the connections between random facts and evidence, to solve crimes and be the “big shot”. That, and make use of the training his retired cop father drilled into him throughout his misspent youth.

In this book, “Shawn” runs roughshod over traditional detective guidebooks, bouncing from one unconnected topic to another like a pinball machine with ADHD. On one page, he may be offering tips on how to read a crime scene, then he jumps to fantasizing about appropriate cars for P.I.s (like Magnum’s Ferrari and the helicopter from Airwolf), then he’ll offer a pop quiz on how to be a sidekick, a family tree of cop friend Lassiter’s favorite guns, and a stick-figure guide to how to tail someone (drawn on cocktail napkins). He’ll also throw in random pie charts, tables and statistical graphics, that have no real bearing on what he’s just been talking about.

Those who appreciated the off-kilter humor of the Psych TV series, with Shawn’s frequent non-sequiturs and divergences into things unrelated to the cases he and Gus worked on, will appreciate this book, filled as it is with seemingly unrelated pop culture references, and tons of photos from the series.

However, those looking for a legitimate book about how to be a private investigator, should drop this book and run screaming into the hills.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try all eight seasons of the television series Psych. There were also several Psych tie-in novels, which you can see on our TV Tie-Ins booklist.)

( publishers official Psych’s Guide to Crime Fighting… web site ) | ( official Psych TV series web site )


Recommended by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library

Why I’m an Only Child: and Other Slightly Naughty Plains Folktales
by Roger Welsch (398.2 Wel)

A lighthearted yet also heartfelt examination of the category of folk humor he has christened “civil ribaldry”, this offering from Nebraska author Roger Welsch is a true, if sometimes “naughty”, delight. Welsch, whose career as a folklorist, critic, and commentator spans several decades by now, delves into his own inspirations for what he does (and loves), be it from his family members, his neighbors/townsfolk, the historic tradition, or the larger culture. Along the way he provides a clear explanation of this form of rural/folk humor and many fun (and a number of subtly racy) examples of jokes and comical conversations which are mostly suitable to share in mixed company. Grab an adult beverage, put your feet up, and enjoy!

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Shingling the Fog and Other Plains Lies or Everything I Know About Women I Learned from My Tractor, also by Roger Welsch.)]

( publisher’s official Why I’m an Only Child and Other Slightly Naughty Plains Folktales web site ) | ( Roger Welsch page on the CBS Sunday Morning web site )

See an entire list of Roger Welsch’s works on the Nebraska Author Roger Welsch page here on BookGuide!


Recommended by Becky W.C.
Walt Branch Library

Screening Room

formatdvdHallowed Grounds and A Cemetery Special
(DVD 393.1 Hol (no longer in libraries’ collection) and DVD 393.1 Seb)

A little over a year ago, I caught a repeat airing on PBS of Hallowed Grounds, and enjoyed it very much. After stumbling across the DVD of that special on the shelves at the downtown library, I found A Cemetery Special right next to it, and the similar look of the packaging led me to think both documentaries were similar in nature and tone. It turns out, they were quite different, but equally recommendable in their own ways.

A Cemetery Special came first, in 2005. It was written, produced, directed and narrated by Rick Sebak, a documentary producer who specializes in what he calls “scrapbook documentaries”, a somewhat more informal style of documentary storytelling featuring bits of home movies, still photos, interview fragments of people’s personal memories, and the input of both professional and amateur historians. In the case of A Cemetery Special, the film crew visited an eclectic group of U.S. cemeteries, from Vermont and Pennsylvania, to Key West, Florida and Alaska. Sebak keeps a light tone throughout, interviewing colorful locals and area historical experts, talking about the history of “cemeteries” in the United States — the expansive, beautiful park-like grounds that began with Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, MA in 1831. As opposed to more bare-bones, utilitarian burial grounds and graveyards, that had no aesthetically uplifting qualities. A Cemetery Special is a celebration of landscaping, architecture, art, and history — neither morbid nor depressing. It includes a look at a granite quarry in Vermont, and artists creating unique tombstones and sculptures. This is an enjoyable hour-long look at the beauty of some eternal resting places, and may put you in the mood to stroll through Lincoln’s own Wyuka Cemetery and appreciate the sculptures, obelisks and quirky inscriptions.

On the other hand, Hallowed Grounds, while also only an hour long, is written and produced by Robert Uth and Glenn Marcus, directed by Uth, and narrated by Peter Thomas. It is a somber and reflective look at 22 of America’s overseas military cemeteries, where as many as 125,000 Americans lost in WWI and WWII, and 94,000 still listed as missing in those conflicts, are either buried or memorialized. Ranging from tiny Flanders Field American Cemetery (where 411 are buried), to Manila American Cemetery in the Philippines (where over 53,000 are buried), the film-makers include gorgeous footage of what these cemeteries looked like around 2009 (when this film was first shown), filled with personal stories of many of the noteworthy American soldiers buried in each. This documentary is also filled with interviews, of ordinary Europeans who come to these cemeteries to pay tribute to the Americans who helped liberate their countries, and world historians and military historians who shed light on the wars that left so many American soldiers buried beneath foreign skies.

Unlike A Cemetery Story, Hallowed Grounds has very little humor to it, and treats its subject matter with respect and reverence. It serves to both entertain and educate, as well as to give the viewer a pause to think of the lives lost in foreign wars of our parents’ and grandparents’ generations.

Both documentaries are equally excellent and I highly recommend them. I give Hallowed Grounds a full 10 rating for the thoroughness with which it covers its unique subject matter, while A Cemetery Special earns only an 8 — it was entertaining and informative but barely scratches the surface on the subject of U.S. cemeteries, and doesn’t even touch on any of the most famous, like Forest Lawn or Arlington or Hollywood Forever or Saint Louis Cemetery #1 in New Orleans.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Rest in Peace: A History of American Cemeteries by Meg Greene, Hollwood Remains to Be Seen by Mark Masek, Tombstones: 75 Famous People and Their Final Resting Places by Gregg Felsen, Where Valor Rests: Arlington National Cemetery by the National Geographic Society, American Military Cemeteries: A Comprehensive Illustrated Guide to the Hallowed Grounds of the United States, Including Cemeteries Overseas by Dean W. Holt. For those interested in local cemetery history, don’t miss Lincoln historian Ed Zimmer’s book Wyuka Cemetery: A Driving and Walking Tour.)

( Internet Movie Database entry for A Cemetery Special )
( Internet Movie Database entry for Hallowed Grounds ) | ( PBS’ official Hallowed Grounds web page )


Recommended by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library

formatdvdJohn Wick
(DVD John)

What is initially a sad story of a man who loses his wife to illness soon becomes an action thriller when a gang breaks into his house, steels his car, and kills the puppy his wife left for him. I thought it was sweet of her to arrange a puppy for him as she knew her time was short and didn’t want her husband to be all alone when she was gone. The main character’s name is John Wick and it’s evident early on that his name has some weight and history behind it. He used to work as a sort of hit man so tracking down the people responsible for stealing his car (which is a very nice car) and murdering his dog is something he’s quite used to doing, and he used to do it so well that those who know his name are quite terrified they don’t get on his bad side. Even though after the set up the movie is very action packed the motive of Wick’s character for revenge is not lost. I thoroughly enjoyed this movie and if you like action movies with some plot to them, then I think you will too.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try John Wick 2.)

( Internet Movie Database entry for this film ) | ( official John Wick movie series web site )


Recommended by Kristen A.
Gere Branch Library

formatdvdLost in Paris
by Abel & Gordon (DVD Lost)

This is a modern gem of gentle(-ish) humor, using a formula of 1 awkward Canadian spinster + 1 rakish French bum = 2 quirky people in love. Add on a mesmerizing tango for extra credit. Blissfully comedic and connubic filmmakers Fiona Gordon and Dominique Abel have created a vaguely autobiographical adventure through the streets (and a crematorium!) of Paris, in which their characters do a dance of happenstance romance. The pivot point for this unlikely pairing is Fiona’s search for her “missing” aunt, Martha/Marthe, played by famed French actress Emmanuelle Riva in her final film role. What a goof-ily sweet treat of a movie! (Hey, US movie makers, this is what La La Land should have been more like.) Be sure to watch the special features to get a better idea of Abel & Gordon’s burlesque (no, not the definition you think you know…) techniques and 30-year career if you are not familiar with them.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try French Kiss with Meg Ryan and Kevin Kline, The Navigator and Spite Marriage with Buster Keaton or Girl Shy and Safety Last with Harold Lloyd.)

( Internet Movie Database entry for Lost in Paris ) | ( official Lost in Paris web site )


Recommended by Becky W.C.
Walt Branch Library

formatdvdA Street Cat Named Bob
(DVD Street)

This 2016 movie (released on DVD in 2017), is adapted from the first two autobiographical books by James Bowen, A Street Cat Named Bob and How He Saved My Life (2013) and The World According to Bob: The Further Adventures of One Man and His Streetwise Cat (2014). I loved both of those volumes, especially the first, which was a painfully honest account of Bowen’s struggles to recover from drug addiction and survive on the street of London, first as a street busker (musician) and later as a seller of The Big Issue. Bowen’s life was forever changed when a ginger tomcat adopted him and gave his life focus and a greater purpose.

For this film, the “plot” of the book is streamlined, and a lot of extraneous material, including Bowen’s time in Australia with his mother, cut out, in order to focus primarily on his interactions with Bob the cat, once Bob shows up in his life. Luke Treadaway gives a terrific performance as Bowen, and the actual Street Cat Bob performs as himself (with several other stand-in cats) in this film. There are some other good performances, including Ruda Gedmintas as Betty, the friend who helps James get his life together and develops a romantic attachment, Joanne Froggatt as Val, James’ social worker, and Anthony Stewart Head (Giles from Buffy the Vampire Slayer!!) as Bowen’s father.

This isn’t a deep film, but it has lots of nice “moments”, and for anyone who, like me, loved the books, this is a charming little nugget. There’s also some very nice original music that Treadaway as Bowen performs during his busking scenes. I definitely recommend this one for anyone looking for a “feel good” film with an engaging cat!

(If you enjoy this, you should absolutely read Bowen’s book. I found the first book to be far more interesting than the subsequent ones, but they’re all good reads: A Street Cat Named Bob and How He Saved My Life, The World According to Bob: The Further Adventures of One Man and His Streetwise Cat or A Gift From Bob.)

( Internet Movie Database entry for A Street Cat Named Bob ) | ( official Street Cat Bob web site )


Recommended by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library

last updated November 2022
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