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Staff Recommendations – April 2020

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INDEXES TO PAST STAFF RECOMMENDATIONS: BY TITLE | BY REVIEWER | TV SERIES/SPECIALS ON DVD | AGATHA CHRISTIE | STAR TREK | STAR WARS

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April 2020 Recommendations

Mae Among the Stars
by Roda Ahmed (j Biography Jemison)

Charming picture-book biography of astronaut/scientist Mae Jemison. At its heart, this is an inspiring story about a young girl and the grit and determination it took for her to follow her dream to become a space explorer. But it’s also a good general lesson for any child to not allow ridicule and disbelief from the people around you to prevent you from reaching for your goals.

Adorable story, with very nice artwork from Stasia Burrington. I only wish it had been a little longer, and that it covered more of the kind of education Jemison had to acquire to reach her dream of becoming an astronaut. Still…very nicely told!.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try I Am Neil Armstrong, by Brad Meltzer and Chris Eliopoulos.] [ publisher’s official Mae Among the Stars web site ] | [ official Roda Ahmed web site ] | [ official Stasia Burrington web site ]

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Recommended by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library


The Peanuts Papers: Writers and Cartoonists on Charlie Brown, Snoopy and the Gang, and the Meaning of Life
edited by Andrew Blauner (741.59 Pea)

If you love “Peanuts”, Charles Schulz’s life’s work about a boy, his dog, and their world of little folks with grown-up sensibilities, you may like this collection of essays by other cartoonists, artists, and esteemed authors such as Umberto Eco and Ann Patchett – 33 in fact. What is clear is that the influence of these fictional characters made of few lines and copious observations on life is far-reaching and, in many cases, of lasting comfort and inspiration. From analyses of Lucy’s Psychiatric Booth to reverence for the economy with which Schulz could convey complex emotions, to a declaration that Peanuts was as culturally significant in its way as the Beatles were in theirs. If you love Peanuts, you will want to take a look at this. And even if you don’t love Peanuts, it may get you to appreciate what it meant and still means to millions of other people.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try A Charlie Brown Christmas: The Making of a Tradition, by Lee Mendelson, Snoopy’s Guide to the Writing Life, by Charles M. Schulz, or The Gospel According to Peanuts, by Robert L. Short.] [ publisher’s official The Peanuts Papers web page ] | [ Andrew Blauner biography on the Blauner Books site ]

— Hear Becky W.C. talk about The Peanuts Papers in the ‘Casting About podcast series episode #63

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Recommended by Becky W.C.
Walt Branch Library


Fantasy Mapmaker: How to Draw RPG Cities for Gamers and Fans
by Jared Blando (743.87 Bla)

Throughout the 20 years that my Dungeons & Dragons gaming group regular got together to chart out our adventures in the land of K’Thyra, I used a lot of grid paper (box hexagon grids and standard 1/4″ scientific grid paper), to map out the world my players were moving through. Those players visited innumerable encampments, towns, and cities over the years. But never in those 20 years did I ever try to create anything as…artistic…as the fantasy maps that Jared Blando creates in this this marvelous fantasy art guide.

Blando takes us on an incredibly detailed journey through how to create fantasy maps of towns and cities in made-up gaming worlds. Using pen and ink, colored pencils, watercolors and more, he shows you how to create exquisite guides to communities of every size in faux medieval times. Everything from castles/forts to vineyards to harbors bristling with the masts of ships – to temples and churches and cliffside lighthouses. All in tiny, colorful detail. He explains the logic of how medieval towns were laid out (based on waterways and terrain).

If you are a Role Playing Game enthusiast, and are the DM (Dungeon Master) for your campaign, AND you have even the slightest artistic skills, this book will show you how to provide your players with highly-realistic geographical guidelines on their adventures.

[Check out the online history of Scott’s K’Thyra gaming group (1983-2003) — they used D&D rules versions 1 and 2 during their active sessions, but there was a lot of material pulled from the pop culture realm (TV shows and comic books), and a lot of science fiction concepts that came to life in their adventures.] [ official Jared Blando web site ]

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Recommended by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library


To Be Taught, If Fortunate
by Becky Chambers (ebook)

To Be Taught, If Fortunate is a science fiction novella by Becky Chambers, who is best known for her Wayfarers series beginning with The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet.

To Be Taught [etc.] takes place in a much closer future than the Wayfarers series, when humanity has just begun to send expeditions to other stars that are likely to support life. The story is in the form of a mission report from one astronaut on a team of four who are in this first wave of interstellar explorers. Ariadne O’Neill, the crew’s engineer, chronicles what they discover on four planned landing spots in the same system.

This story leans heavily toward the hard science fiction side of the spectrum, as opposed to space fantasy. As with any hard science fiction involving interstellar travel, something beyond current capabilities is needed. In this case, it’s a state of medical hibernation combined with an engine that accelerates their ship to a significant fraction of the speed of light for a decade or two. Thanks to special relativity, it’s a formula that adds up to never seeing the people they love on Earth again, and knowing Earth society will have changed significantly when they come back. During hibernation, their bodies are also “somaformed” to produce moderate enhancements like additional muscle mass for a higher gravity planet. Taken together, this is a reflective narrative about loss, and change, and the joy of encountering new worlds. These themes are echoed large with regard to Earth and small as Ariadne wrestles with personal identity.

If you like the immediate newness and strangeness of brave explorers first touching down on a planet, this is a book for you. But it’s more than that. Chambers writes from a personal and family connection to science as a slow community project. The interstellar missions are not being carried out by a government, but by a global support network of people who wanted to make space exploration by humans happen again, without regard to profits or nationalistic pride. Our four astronaut-scientists don’t just take pictures for a few days and leave. They spend years on these worlds, developing study methods and carrying them out meticulously.

To Be Taught, If Fortunate is also a deeply queer book. These four astronauts have been training together for years before their mission to the stars. They come off, overall, like a communal partnership. Fans of Chambers’ Wayfarers series will see something of Aandrisk culture in them. In this small crew there is–at least–bisexual rep, trans masculine rep, and asexual representation.

Recommended to fans of exploration science fiction, literary fiction, and queer fiction of any genre.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try A Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers, The Forever War by Joe Haldeman, Blindsight by Peter Watts, or Dawn by Octavia Butler.] [ official To Be Taught, If Fortunate page on the official Becky Chambers web site ]

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Recommended by Garren H.
Bennett Martin Public Library


The Night Fire
by Michael Connelly (Compact Disc Connelly)

This is the third Renee Ballard novel by Michael Connelly, and the second to cross over with the Harry Bosch series (after Dark Sacred Night). Knowing that Connelly had aged Bosch out of the police force, and the author was looking for fresh LAPD ground to trod, I was very impressed by the first novel to feature his female detective Renee Ballard (The Late Show). It was obvious that that new series was set in the same storytelling universe as his Bosch novels, not to mention the Mickey Haller legal thrillers (Mickey is Bosch’s cousin). So at the end of The Late Show, I knew a cross-over with Bosch was going to be coming eventually. I was disappointed that Connelly didn’t let Ballard stand on her one for more than a single novel before his more senior sleuth showed up, and Dark Sacred Night felt a bit forced.

In The Night Fire, Ballard and Bosch’s unofficial working relationship — she’s still a cop on the Hollywood “late shift”, and he’s still a retired investigator who’s taking a shot at some cold cases — seems to have gelled a little more. As in most Connelly novels, there are multiple cases and plot threads running simultaneously, and in the end, most of those converge and end up having something to do with each other. This time, Renee feels compelled to keep an eye on the arson death of someone living on the street, and Bosch has a personal connection when his mentor dies and the murder book for one of his old cases is found among his belongings — apparently not worked on for 20 years. The arson murder is too “planned out” for it to have been spur-of-the-moment, and Bosch’s mentor appears to have been hiding things, even from his own wife.

Titus Welliver, who is playing Bosch in the Amazon Prime TV series of that title, narrates the chapters told from Bosch’s point-of-view, and Christine Lakin narrates the chapters seen through Ballard’s eyes. In the chapters where they interact, both actors narrate together. The audio version of this story was very compelling — taut storytelling, excellent police procedural plotting, and dark humor. There’s dramatic action and suspense, especially in the final 70 pages. I should also point out that Mickey Haller crosses over into this volume, as he and Harry scratch each others backs to get some mutual assistance, much to Ballard’s confusion/distrust.

I loved this one. After a brief stumble with the second Ballard, Connelly’s back on track with a winner in The Night Fire.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Connelly’s earlier Ballard novels, The Late Show, and Dark Sacred Night, or any of his Harry Bosch novels.] [ official The Night Fire page on the official Michael Connelly web site ]

See Scott C.’s earlier reviews of both The Late Show and Dark Sacred Night as Books-0n-CD here on BookGuide!

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Recommended by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library


Goodbye, Friend! Hello, Friend!
by Cori Doerrfeld (jP Doerrfeld)

I was drawn to this book because of its adorable cover and my fondness for another of Doerrfeld’s books, The Rabbit Listened. This book and its detailed illustrations can help teach children about emotion regulation. Though we feel grief when we lose a pet or a friend moves away, we can try to look for the silver lining, such as the friendships strengthened through shared sorrow or the newfound opportunity to send hand-written letters to each other. That being said, it is important to allow children to process through their emotions, negative or otherwise, so I’d encourage a reader to gather other titles such as those listed below to help balance the messaging.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try The Happy Book by Andy Rash, I’m Worried by Michael Ian Black, Hooray for Today! by Brian Won or Frederick, by Leo Lionni.] [ official Cori Doerrfeld web site ]

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Recommended by Naomi S.
Eiseley and Williams Branch Libraries


What If…? Then We: Short, Very Short, Shorter Than Ever Possibilities
by Rebecca Kai Dutlich (jP Dotlich)

This book was great when I needed a quick set of story-starters for young children. We used our imaginations to discuss what could happen if every crayon in the world melted, if the clocks stopped tick-tocking, and a few other scary scenarios. We discussed the author’s answers to the questions, and I reiterated that there are many possibilities besides the ones published. This book is hopeful, and for that reason it could be helpful to children worried about the effects of our current pandemic.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try One Day, The End: Short, Very Short, Shorter-Than-Ever Stories also by Rebecca Kai Dotlich.] [ official Rebecca Kai Dutlich web site ]

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Recommended by Naomi S.
Eiseley and Williams Branch Libraries


Moonshot: The Flight of Apollo 11
by Brian Floca (j629.454 Flo)

Terrific picture-book non-fiction title from author/artist Brian Floca, using the simplest possible terminology (combined with beautiful and highly detailed artwork — both watercolor and acrylic) to capture the basic details of the Apollo 11 mission for young readers. Floca manages to capture the heightened emotional states, and the technical details of what was involved with Apollo 11, without overwhelming kids with too much minutiae.

The opening two-page spread at the front of the book, and the closing two-page spread at the back of the book both feature a lot of the scientific details that are glossed over in the main text. So, in addition to being a a simple but emotional story, this book also provided a true learning experience for kids. I really enjoyed this book!

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to check out the extensive list of materials assembled as a booklist on the libraries’ BookGuide resources, called One Small Step… for tons of great Apollo 11 and NASA reading and viewing suggestions! For both adults AND youth!] [ official Moonshot page on the official Brian Floca web site ]

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Recommended by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library


Library of the Unwritten
by A.J. Hackwith (Download Audio)

If you have ever spent any significant amount of time either working in a library or around people who work in a library, this book will delight you. If you haven’t done either of those things, this book will still delight you, but maybe in a less specific way. A gloriously meta fantasy adventure follows Hell’s librarian and her assistants on an quest that traverses realms from Heaven, to Valhalla. Hackwith’s witty and quick writing is a pleasure to read, and their dry humor and genre-aware jokes will delight any book lover.

[Similar in style to Terry Pratchett, Garth Nix’s Abhorsen series, and Seanan McGuire‘s non-horror.] [ publisher’s official Library of the Unwritten web page ] | [ official A.J. Hackwith web site ]

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Recommended by Lane G.
Bennett Martin Public Library


A Thousand Naked Strangers: A Paramedic’s Wild Ride to the Edge and Back
by Kevin Hazzard (Biography Hazzard)

After 9/11, Atlanta, GA local reporter Kevin Hazzard wanted to prove something to himself so he enrolled in an EMT course (Emergency Medical Technician). After working as the junior partner in the ambulance in the worst parts of Atlanta for a couple of years he decided to upgrade his skills to that of a Paramedic. As the Medic he’d be in charge and completely responsible for the outcome of the emergency call. He graduated at the top of his class and worked the night shift for an ambulance company in Atlanta for 10 years.

Hazzard flat out admits he’s dedicated to the adrenaline rush. If you remember the 1970’s TV show “Emergency!” that followed a firehouse and the paramedics attached to it, this is a more fast-paced, very realistic, gritty look at life working an ambulance in the inner city –

“Most times my wife doesn’t know what I’m doing and is left to guess, drawing on a mental grab bag of all the calls I’ve run and found strange enough or scary enough to tell her about. Like the time a dispatcher came over the radio to say we’d passed the address and we responded by saying we knew but that they were still shooting, so if she could ask the caller to put down his gun, we’d be glad to go back.”

You can see his burnout on the horizon. He finally quits the job after 10 years, but the stories he tells are fascinating.

[ publisher’s official A Thousand Naked Strangers web site ] | [ official Kevin Hazzard Twitter feed ]

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Recommended by Charlotte M.
Bennett Martin Public Library


I Dreamed I Was a Very Clean Tramp
by Richard Hell (Music 781.66 Hel)

This book, a document of the nascent late 1970s punk scene in Manhattan by one of its most influential participants, describes a world I am completely unfamiliar with except for the musical recordings and books like these that emerged from it. Therefore, it provides the same reader experience and immersion into another realm that I get from reading The Lord of the Rings. It is another legend in the larger story, written in fevered confessional from the author who escaped to tell the tale. Fans of the bands Television, Blondie, The Ramones, and early Talking Heads who also like biographical context and historical backstory to their cherished songs will enjoy this autobiography.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Just Kids by Patti Smith, or Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk, by Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain.] [ publisher’s official I Dreamed I Was a Very Clean Tramp web site ] | [ official Richard Hell web site ]

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Recommended by Eric S.
Walt Branch Library


Caught Dead Handed
by Carol J. Perry (eBook)

These cozy mysteries have a paranormal twist. When Lee Barrett comes home to Salem, Massachusetts she’s expecting to become a TV reporter. Instead she becomes a TV psychic and adopts the former psychic’s familiar after finding the murdered psychic’s body. What else could possible go wrong. Available through Hoopla as both an e-book and downloadable audio. Book 1 of 9 with book 10 due out in Aug. 2020.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Sophie Kelly’s Curiosity Killed the Cat — Book 1 of the Magical Cats Mysteries finds librarian Kathleen Paulsen in a new job and a new town. Who knew that the two kittens she adopted had unexpected skills that would help her solve a murder?] [ official Carol J. Perry web site ]

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Recommended by Sandy W.
Gere Branch Library


Yes, Please
by Amy Poehler (Compact Disc Biography Poehler)

Amy Poehler’s life is perfectly distilled in this book comprised of short autobiographical stories. The audio book is narrated by Ms. Poehler and is a joy to listen to as she adds side notes and anecdotes not in the manuscript. It would recommend Ms. Poehler’s comedic approach to life, reflection and self-help.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Bossypants by Tina Fey, or Scrappy Little Nobody by Anna Kendrick.] [ official amysaysyesplease.com web site ] | [ Wikipedia page for Amy Poehler ]

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Recommended by Cait L.
Bennett Martin Public Library


Screening Room

formatdvdA Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
[DVD Beautiful]

If you remember the ads for A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, when it was in the theaters, you may have been misled into thinking it was a biographical portrait of Fred Rogers, the amiable host of the children’s educational television show, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. It isn’t. In fact, “Mister Rogers” is a supporting character in this emotional story of reconciliation and forgiveness.

This story is based on the real-life experiences of author Tom Junod, who wrote an extended profile of Fred Rogers for a November 1998 Esquire Magazine article, “Can You Say…Hero?”. In this film, Junod has been changed to Lloyd Vogel, as portrayed by Matthew Rhys. Vogel is a hard-bitten, somewhat emotionally repressed man, known more for his journalistic articles that laid bare dark and dirty secrets on various topics. When his editor assigns him to do a small sidebar article on Fred Rogers for an Esquire issue dedicated to contemporary American heroes, Vogel thinks it’s a joke for a writer of his caliber. But he still heads to Philadelphia, and the studio where Rogers films his iconic television show. What he finds, in his first encounter/interview with Rogers (excellently portrayed by Tom Hanks), is a man of no artifice — the persona he shows to children, embracing their uniqueness and encouraging them to confront and embrace their complicated emotions — is the real man.

During the course of this film, Vogel’s encounters with Mister Rogers, who immediately adopts him as “my friend Lloyd Vogel”, help him to heal the critically damaged relationships he has with his father and his wife. The performances in this film, including both Hanks and Rhys, but also Chris Cooper as Vogel’s father, Susan Kelechi Watson as Vogel’s wife, Maryann Plunkett as Joanne Rogers, and Enrico Colantoni as Bill Isler, the real-life president of Roger’s production company, are all quite excellent.

My only complaint about this film is a few moments of surrealism as Lloyd has some hallucinatory dreams about Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. Otherwise, this is a superb film. The DVD features numerous behind-the-scenes extras, that added much to my viewing experience. As someone who grew up on Mister Rogers and his oh-so-gentle embracing of the foibles of being a human being, I’ll admit I enjoyed the documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor? a bit more than this film, but they are good companion volumes to each other.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Won’t You Be My Neighbor?] [Check out Tom Junod’s original Esquire profile article of Fred Rogers.] [ Internet Movie Database entry for this film ] | [ official A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood web site ]

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Recommended by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library


formatdvdBeauty and the Beast
[DVD j Beauty]

As a huge Beauty and the Beast fan, and an even bigger Disney fan I knew I had to see this one in theaters and it did not disappoint.

You know the main storyline I’m sure, but what’s nice about this version is that they managed to fix a few of the plot-holes in the animated version without straying too far away from the original. I hate when they do remakes and it ruins everything. This does have some things added to the storyline but they’re more like extensions of what’s already there instead of new material entirely.

The casting was excellent – Emma Watson was perfect in the role — and the remakes of the musical numbers were updated but not too far off from the original soundtrack which was the best part. I also recommend checking that out if you’re a fan of Disney movies/music. I’ve watched it several times since being released on DVD and I think it’s my favorite of the remakes of Disney movies they’ve released recently.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Madame de Villeneuve’s The Story of the Beauty and the Beast: The Original Classic French Fairytale, which the movie is based on, the Kendra Chronicles Series by Alex Flynn, Beauty and the Beast (the original 1991 Disney animated film), and the sequel to that Beauty and the Beast: Enchanted Christmas, the Beastly movie from 2011, Beauty and the Beast TV series from 2012-2016 on the CW starring Kristin Kreuk and Jay Ryan (or the original CBS series from 1987-1990 starring Ron Perlman and Linda Hamilton), the various Beauty and Beast Soundtracks, Enchanted with Amy Adams which is a nice mix of animation and real life, and other Disney classics such as The Little Mermaid, The Princess and the Frog, and Mulan] [ Internet Movie Database entry for this film ] | [ official Beauty and the Beast (2017) web site ]

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Recommended by Carrie R.
Bennett Martin Public Library


formatdvdInstant Family
[DVD Instant]

This one is a mild family comedic drama, with occasional forays into serious social commentary and occasional descents into almost slapstick comedy. Mark Wahlburg and Rose Byrne play Pete and Ellie, a married couple with busy lives who’ve never gotten around to have kids of their own. A series of comical incidents, and family/peer pressures, lead to down the path towards becoming foster parents. But instead of a single youth child to help provide a stable home for, they end up taking on the challenge of raising three siblings — sarcastic teenager Lizzy, accident prone pre-teen Juan, and precocious but emotionally temperamental Lita.

Instant Family is funny, with a sentimental touch. The entire cast is quite excellent, particularly Isabela Merced as teenager Lizzy, who’s had to serve as a surrogate parent to her two young siblings, and who desperately wants to reunited with her drug-addicted biological mother. Octavia Spencer and Tig Notaro provide extreme comic relief as two welfare workers who put Pete and Ellie through foster parent boot camp and remain advisors to the new family. This is a fun, poignant, inspiring little film — perhaps it glosses over the inherent difficulties and challenges in becoming foster parents a bit in search of its humor, but it definitely has its heart in the right place, and leaves you feeling “up” by the end.

[ Internet Movie Database entry for this film ] | [ official Instant Family web site ]

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Recommended by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library


formatdvdZombieland: Double Tap
[DVD Zombieland]

Zombieland: Double Tap (2019) came out ten years after the original, Zombieland (2009). This sequel returns the entire original quartet of zombie apocalypse survivors — Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg), Wichita (Emma Stone) and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin). In the years since the end of the first film, they’ve continued to travel, ending up residing in the White House for quite a while. For better or worse, they’ve become a dysfunctional family. But when Columbus tries to get Wichita to marry him, commitment-phobic Wichita hits the road with Little Rock, who’s looking to find another male human survivor for companionship.

The film becomes a road trip, with stops in Nashville, where Tallahassee briefly hooks up with a tough woman (Nevada) over a mutual love of Elvis, and Columbus connects with vapid mallrat Madison. There’s also amusing cameos from some recognizable faces as a pair of dopplegangers to Tallahassee and Columbus. Things all come to a head with the quarter eventually reunited in peacenik’s commune, where a horde a zombies descends on the weaponless human survivors. It’s blood and guts and cursing and absurd humor, and it’s all way over-the-top. But if you liked the first Zombieland, you’ll definitely like this second one. The in-jokes about Columbus’ lists of “rules” for surviving the zombie apocalypse are hilarious.

If you can’t handle “R”-rated language and violence, this one definitely isn’t for you. And if you enjoyed Bill Murray’s part in the first film, and are disappointed that he’s not in this one (since our heroes accidentally killed him), never fear — check out the “extra features” on this DVD!

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try the original 2009 Zombieland.] [ Internet Movie Database entry for this film ] | [ official Zombieland: Double Tap web site ]

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Recommended by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library


last updated May 2020
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