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Staff Recommendations – August 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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August 2020 Recommendations

A Thousand Moons
by Sebastian Barry (Barry)

Winona, a minor figure from Sebastian Barry’s previous novel Days Without End, is a member of the Lakota tribe and the main character in A Thousand Moons. This new novel can be read alone instead of as a sequel. It is 1879 in Paris, Tennessee and Winona is being raised through a communal effort on a small farm by Thomas McNulty, John Cole, farm owner Lige Mason, and Rosalee and Tennyson Bouguereau. The Bouguereau siblings are two former slaves who, like Winona, are still in imminent, barely concealed danger from “nightriders”. The book leaves you cheering for lovers young and old who follow their hearts instead of what society dictates.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try The Night Watchman by Louise Erdrich.] [ U.S. publisher’s official A Thousand Moons web page ] | [ Wikipedia page for Sebastian Barry ]

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Recommended by Jodi R.
Anderson and Bethany Branch Libraries


Game of Dog Bones
by Laurien Berenson (Berenson)

Aunt Peg gets invited to judge the Nonsporting group at the Westminster Dog Show. When a man Peg has clashed with in the past ends up stabbed at Madison Square Garden, Aunt Peg becomes a suspect. Melanie falls in line and begins talking to her contacts in the dog show world to find out who had it in for Victor and of the many suspects, who killed him. Berenson’s books are character driven and delve deeply into the dog show world. You don’t have to be a Poodle owner to love the books, but you better be a dog lover. Her mysteries aren’t deep, but they do keep the cozy mystery lover entertained. The author keeps the series fresh and the characters (including her children) change with the times. Overall another good book.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try This Dog For Hire, by Carol Lee Benjamin.] [ official Game of Dog Bones page on the official Laurien Berenson web site ]

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Recommended by Marcy G.
South Branch Library


The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet
by Becky Chambers (Chambers)

A wonderfully diverse crew, both in personality and species, who works in space!

“They are offered a job tunneling wormholes through space to a distant planet. It’s a lucrative job, but a host of unexpected mishaps force the crew to depend on each other.”

This space opera novel follows the lives on the crew, from their own points of view and through their problems as they arise, leading to an inclusive and captivating novel that will keep you enthralled well past your bed time!

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, The Ship Who Sang by Anne McCaffrey, Dune by Frank Herbert or On Basilisk Station by David Weber.] [ official The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet page on the official Becky Chambers web site ]

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Recommended by Rio B.
Bennett Martin Public Library – Public Service


Radiance
by Grace Draven (eBook)

The main characters, Brishen and Ildiko, are relatable and rational (two things that do not always go together!). Brishen is a Kai nobleman, who typically sleep at night and Ildiko is a Guar noblewoman who is a daywalker, but adjusts to her husbands schedule. They get married because they are duty bound to fulfill contracts to unite their people but are both equally horrified by the other. There is intrigue, there is friendship that morphs into passion and love, there is magic and overcoming barriers of two people who are notably distinct. Read if you want to laugh, you want a happy ending and a little adventure as well.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try A Promise of Fire by Amanda Bouchet, The Way of Kings by Brian Sanderson, Touch of Power by Maria Snyder or Wyrd Blood by Donna Augustin.] [ official World of Wraith Kings page on the official Grace Draven web site ]

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Recommended by Rio B.
Bennett Martin Public Library – Public Service


The Night Watchman
by Louise Erdrich (Erdrich)

One of the protagonists, Thomas Wazhashk, is a night security guard at the jewel-bearing plant in Turtle Mountain Reservation during the 1950s. Not only is the jewel-bearing plant real, and still in existence, but Thomas Wazhashk is based on the author’s own grandfather. When Thomas is not doing rounds to keep the plant safe while it’s closed, he is working to protect the Turtle Mountain Band of the Chippewa. He is the tribal chairman at a time when a U.S. Senator was trying to “terminate” the tribe, declaring the people on the reservation as doing well enough they no longer needed the reservation, the land, or government assistance. The Senator was masking his intentions as a new “emancipation” bill.

Pixie Paranteau, the other protagonist, insists everyone call her Patrice. She works at the jewel-bearing plant to support her mother and brother, and uses her vacation days to search for her sister lost in Minneapolis.

Erdrich has an ability to blend in a spiritual element that reveals experiences beyond what the living can usually see. I rank Erdrich’s writing as a reason for living, it is that beautiful.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try The Plague of Doves by Louise Erdrich or The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates.] [ publisher’s official The Night Watchman web page ] | [ Wikipedia page for Louise Erdrich ]

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Recommended by Jodi R.
Anderson and Bethany Branch Libraries


Author in Chief: The Untold Story of Our Presidents and the Books They Wrote
by Craig Fehrman (Compact Disc 973.09 Feh)

I had read a pre-publication review of Author in Chief, and it sounded fascinating, so I placed it on hold as soon as it showed up in the libraries’ online catalog.

Author Craig Fehrman does not try to do an exhaustive exploration of every book ever written by every ex-U.S. President — that’s been done before, and would tend to make for rather dry reading, considering some of the laborious books they created. Instead, he focuses on the Presidents who produced truly noteworthy works of non-fiction, and looks at what the writing process was for each author (or ghost writer, in many cases), and what the impact of each book was — if the book was written before their election, did it serve as a useful campaign tool? If it was written afterwards, was it a look back at their time in office as a “legacy” volume, or was it more honest and personally reflective? Therefore, not every President is featured. This tome is broken up into ranges of time, from the works of the Founding Fathers at the front, to the period from Truman to Obama at the back — the last section is titled “Truman to Trump”, but there is very little about Trump’s literary contributions, other than his ghost-written The Art of the Deal.

A great deal of time is spent on Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Abraham Lincoln, Woodrow Wilson, Calvin Coolidge, Harry Truman, Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama. Fehrman makes many of their works sound absolutely fascinating, particularly Jefferson’s Notes on the State of Virginia, Lincoln’s compiled debate speeches against Douglas, Calvin Coolidge’s autobiography and Obama’s Dreams of My Father.

I learned a great deal while listening to this as a Book-on-CD, and narrator Fred Sanders really brings the subject matter to life. I was particularly impressed by the contributions of Nebraskans to significant portions of our Presidential literary history. Nebraska authors Bess Streeter Aldrich and Willa Cather are both mentioned — Aldrich was an inspiration to one person being profiled, and Cather was the ghost writer of a non-presidential “autobiography” that greatly influenced another presidential biography. And Lincoln High School’s own Theodore “Ted” Sorensen, chief speechwriter and counselor for John F. Kennedy, is clearly identified as the author of Profiles in Courage, for which Kennedy accepted a Pulitzer Prize, as well as much of JFK’s other supposed literary output.

Author in Chief: The Untold Story of Our Presidents and the Books They Wrote is an engaging volume about United States history, and the world of publishing. Definitely worth taking the time, even if it is a very large book. I hope you, too, will find yourself fascinated by what you learn! It was interesting that the 13-disc audiobook was really only 11 discs long — most of the last two discs were extensive appendices!

[ publisher’s official Author in Chief web site ] | [ official Craig Fehrman web site ]

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


The Cat Man of Aleppo
by Irene Latham (j Biography Aljaleel)

Several years back I happened upon a story about a man in Syria who drove an ambulance in the war-torn city of Aleppo. What fascinated me was in the midst of all the rubble and destruction of the city, this man was shown holding a cat. On further investigation, I learned that Alaa, the ambulance driver, had stayed behind as his family and friends left the city, and spent his free time caring for the cats of Aleppo. He would spend his own money to buy food for the strays left when other families had to flee. Hungry himself, he couldn’t bear to see the neglected cats. About the same time that I was reading about him, a young Italian woman who spoke Arabic, also learned about Alaa and his cats. She also cares for cats and those left behind. She used her Arabic skills to contact Alaa and started an organization that connected him to people around the world who also care about small hungry critters. It started as small Facebook group and quickly grew. Donations started pouring in from around the world. Alaa was able to use these funds to establish a sanctuary for the cats, and when his ambulance was bombed, people rallied to replace it. Alaa not only cared about the cats though. He soon was using the donations to provide small bits of happiness for the children who were still living in Aleppo. He used the money to build a playground and to share gifts of toys and food. Unfortunately the war continued and Alaa’s sanctuary was bombed and eventually he had to flee, but in time, he was able to start again in the countryside where he built a new sanctuary and enlisted the services of a veterinarian to help him with his flock of cats and other animals.

Today, as I was walking through the children’s books, a new book, The Cat Man of Aleppo, caught my eye. It’s a beautiful book that tells the story of Alaa and his love for all creatures. The illustrations are beautiful. The artist Yuko Shimizu gathered images from news stories, books, and films; through her watercolors they coalesce into images depicting the wonder of love, at the same time not shying away from the bleak background of a bombed city.

In the harsh reality of a besieged Aleppo, the heart of Alaa shines like a beacon, to demonstrate how together we can make the world a better place.

Learn more about the Cat Man’s sanctuary at www.ernestosanctuary.org

A BBC article: https://www.bbc.com/news/stories-47473772

Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/TheAleppoCatMen/

https://www.theguardian.com/world/gallery/2019/aug/06/the-cat-man-of-aleppo-rescuing-battle-weary-syrian-strays

[ official Irene Latham web site ]

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Recommended by Carrie K.
Bennett Martin Public Library – Public Service


Build-It-Yourself Birdhouses: 25 DIY Birdhouses and Bird Feeders
by Chris Peterson (598.072 Pet)

This book caught my eye on the New Books display recently at the downtown library. I’ve got several bird feeders and birdbaths scattered throughout my yard, but it’s been years since I tried putting up an actual birdhouse. Build-it-Yourself Birdhouses features over 25 “do it yourself” craft projects — mostly birdhouses, but also a bat house and a small selection of bird feeders as well.

After some introductory chapters in which the author gives you general background about how to handle birdhouses, and explains the tools and construction materials you’ll be working with, the lion’s share of this manual is dedicated to a multitude of birdhouse designs. With each design, which are identified by the type of birds they will attract, you get a photo of the finished product, then a step-by-step description of how to cut the wood and assemble the finished product. Targeted birds range from the tiniest of wrens, to owls, kestrels and wood ducks.

Most of the designs look very attractive, and if I had a workshop with lots of power tools, I’d be tempted to try to create some of these. Unfortunately, although the author says you can try to complete any of these projects with a basic handsaw and elbow grease, they are really designed for somebody that has a table saw, miter saw and circular saw at their disposal. If you’ve got such equipment available to you, this is a great book — I suggest giving it a browse for some marvelous ideas. If you don’t have a workshop available, you may wish to look for simpler birdhouse projects than these.

Attractive book, with lots of good ideas, but may be beyond those without access to specialized tools. None-the-less, I liked the book and do recommend it.

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


The Secrets We Kept
by Lara Prescott (Prescott)

I learned so much about author Boris Pasternak and his mistress and muse, Olga Ivinskaya. Olga, who was the inspiration for Lara in Pasternak’s novel Doctor Zhivago, was sent to the Gulag for refusing to divulge what Pasternak was writing about in the book taking him over a decade to write. The chapters alternated between Olga’s perspective & that of two women serving as American spies. Americans worked hard to get copies of Doctor Zhivago to Russian citizens behind the Iron Curtain, hoping to create turmoil by Russians being angry about the book being banned in their home country.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah, A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles or The Revolution of Marina M. by Janet Fitch.] [ official The Secrets We Kept and Lara Prescott web site ]

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Recommended by Jodi R.
Anderson and Bethany Branch Libraries


Screening Room

formatdvdThe Current War
(DVD Current)

Before this movie came out, I had heard that a film was being produced about the great conflict between Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse on the creation of a nationwide system to bring electricity to America and was anxious to see it. Benedict Cumberbatch stars as Thomas Edison, a creative genius who is portrayed as a workaholic with little time for his family as he works to introduce his DC system to the great minds of his time. With financial backing from J.P. Morgan and the creative assistance of Nikola Tesla, Edison is sure to be the first to bring light and electricity to the Eastern United States. However, George Westinghouse has plans to beat Edison with his AC current which can be done much cheaper than Edison’s system. Unwilling to work together, they eventually are brought together by Edison’s financier, integrating their systems into one. Tom Holland plays Edison’s assistant, Sam Insuell, and Nicholas Hoult is superb as the eccentric genius Nikola Tesla. This was a fabulous movie that should have received more praise than it did at the time of its release. It was well worth watching.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try the other films of Benedict Cumberbatch.] [ Internet Movie Database entry for this film ] | [ official The Current War web site ]

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Recommended by Kim J.
Bennett Martin Public Library – Public Services


formatdvdFord v Ferrari
(DVD Ford)

First of all, I have to admit that I’m not really a fan of automotive racing — although growing up, it was something of a family tradition around Memorial Day to watch the coverage of the Indy 500. That being said, I do enjoy both Matt Damon and Christian Bale as performers, and was happy to take Ford v Ferrari around the track.

Ford v Ferrari looks back at the rivalry in the early 1960s between the U.S. Ford Motor Co. and the Italian Ferrari automobile manufacturing company, which came to a head when Ford hired legendary driver Carroll Shelby to design a new race car that could take down Ferrari in the annual 24-hour Le Mans race. Damon plays Shelby, who brings in his friend and fellow driver Ken Miles (played by Bale) to assist in the design and test-driving of the new vehicle. Personality conflicts with Ford management lead to Miles not being allowed to drive, and the crux of the drama in this film — beyond the “will they or won’t they win at Le Mans” — is the interpersonal relationships between the major characters.

The performances in Ford v Ferrari are all excellent, especially from Damon and Bale, but also from many in the supporting cast, including Caitriona Balfe and Noah Jupe as Miles’ wife and son, Jon Bernthal as a young Lee Iacocca, Tracy Letts as Henry Ford II and Ray McKinnon as Phil Remington. The production design is impeccable, giving the film a completely believable feeling of its mid-1960s setting. The racing footage, a combination of “real” and “computer generated images” is great — I literally couldn’t tell which footage was CGI.

So…if you’re a fan of car races, or an admirer of well-done dramatic films, this is highly recommended.

[As I mentioned, I haven’t seen a lot of “car race” films, but of those I have seen, I’d recommend Le Mans (a 1971 Steve McQueen film) and Grand Prix (a 1966 James Garner film).] [ Internet Movie Database entry for this film ] | [ official Ford v Ferrari web site ]

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Recommended by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library – Public Services


formatdvdFounding Fathers
[DVD 973.3 Fou Vol.1-4]

Here is a four-part miniseries from the History Channel broadcast in 2000 about the American Revolution, Volume One (one disc) and Volume Two (one disc). There are two episodes on each disc with each episode running approximately 50 minutes.

Narrated by Edward Herrmann this series follows the basic format we’ve come to know – actors reciting quotes along with faces of the subjects, newspapers, maps, and photos. A solid and interesting retelling of the characters and events leading up to the ratification of the US Constitution.

The first episode, “Rebels with a Cause” mostly covered Sam Adams and John Hancock though they are by no means the only topics discussed.

Episode Two, “Taking Liberties” focused on Patrick Henry and Benjamin Franklin.

Episode three, “You Say You Want a Revolution” discussed Thomas Jefferson, the Declaration of Independence, George Washington, his initial battles, Benjamin Franklin, and France. For Hamilton fans, there’s a short segment on him as well.

The fourth and final episode covered the constitutional convention, the creation of the US Constitution, and Washington’s presidency.

“We were very lucky we had a collection not only of genius and talent, but also of a disposition to use it for the public good and not to use it for the good of the men themselves. They did what they had to do and what they thought was right. And then they set up a system whereby the people would ultimately choose their leaders, and leaders would come and go but the system would remain.”

I enjoyed this series and plan to re-watch it. At 50-minutes per episode this was a quick history lesson. Be sure to get both volumes when checking out.

[ Internet Movie Database entry for this mini-series ]

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Recommended by Charlotte M.
Bennett Martin Public Library – Public Services


formatdvdThe Good Liar
(DVD Good)

Stellar acting from Ian McKellan and Helen Mirren lifts what could have been a fairly tepid suspense drama into a more respectable category in The Good Liar. McKellan plays a life-long con artist, Roy, looking to make his latest big score by wooing recent widow Betty (Mirren) and then tricking her into giving him access to her life savings. But it’s a “long con”, requiring him to invest a great deal of his time and efforts to achieve his goals. And the more we learn about Betty, the more likely it seems that she’s got some secrets of her own that she’s hiding.

The pacing is slow and deliberate, allowing the relationship between these two characters to build and develop. The supporting cast, including Roy’s accomplices and Betty’s grandson, are very good. The director, Bill Condon, makes use of multiple close-ups of McKellan’s face, in both light and shadow, allowing that master thespian to express a myriad of thoughts and emotions with his craggy visage.

When the twists in the plot finally arrive — it’s a suspense drama, you have to be expecting twists — the emotional payoff is excellent. Well worth your time if you’re a fan of either of these two actors, especially McKellan. This DVD has minimal special features — basically just a short list of “deleted scenes”, some of which would have helped with some plot points, and others of which would have simply ruined the surprises. Don’t watch those until after you’re done with The Good Liar.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Any of the other films featuring Ian McKellan and Helen Mirren. Personally, other than his turn as Gandalf in the Lord of the Rings films, I recommend McKellan in Mr. Holmes. And my favorite Helen Mirren productions are her run as Jane Tennison in the Prime Suspect TV mini-series, and her action turns in RED and RED 2.] [ Internet Movie Database entry for this film ] | [ official The Good Liar web site ]

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Recommended by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library – Public Services


formatdvdJojo Rabbit
[DVD Jojo]

Jojo Rabbit is based on the novel Caging Skies by Christine Leunens, and was one of the finalists for the Best Picture award at the Academy Awards (for films in 2019). It won Taika Waititi the award for Best Adapated Screenplay (he also directed it, and was one of the supporting cast members).

Waititi’s trademark oddball humor and sense of surrealism are in full play, in this film set in the closing days of World War II, in a large German city (probably Nuremburg). Johannes “Jojo” Betzler is a young German boy, being raised by his single mother, Rosie (played by Scarlett Johansson). Jojo is obsessed with German Fuhrer Adolf Hitler, and as the film begins he is preparing to join the Hitler Youth group. Jojo’s obsessions include seeing Hitler as his own imaginary friend (portrayed by director Waititi). When an accident in Hitler Youth training results in Jojo being injured, he then becomes a volunteer propagandist. Frequently stuck at home, Jojo is by himself one day when he investigates noises behind a wall and discovers a young Jewish girl (Elsa, portrayed by Thomasin McKenzie) hiding there, protected by his mother.

The film then explores quirky character relationships as Jojo has to decided whether to report on his own family, and as he grows to know Elsa better, his preconceptions about the Jews are altered. As Allied forces close in on the city in the war’s final days, Jojo is forced to face difficult truths and adjust is world view.

This film was astonishing. The performances, particularly that of youth Roman Griffin Davis as Jojo, Waititi as Hitler, McKenzie as Elsa, and Johansson as Rosie, are excellent. The support cast features quirky performances by Sam Rockwell, Stephen Merchant, Rebel Wilson and more. The production design of the film was tremendous, and Waititi’s direction deserves special notice — many of his directorial choices add to the emotional punch of the film.

Jojo Rabbit may not be for everyone — seeing Adolf Hitler as a comical figure is both amusing and vaguely terrifying. And violence crops up with sudden surprise, which may shock some viewers. But, ultimately, it’s definitely worth watching — one of my favorite films from 2019!

[Special Note: The concept of Adolf Hitler as Jojo’s imaginary friend does NOT appear in the novel! This was something Waititi developed exclusively for his film adaptation. But it is one of the more intriguing and unique elements of this film!] [Also available: The novel Caging Skies, which this film is adapted from.] [ Internet Movie Database entry for this film ] | [ official Jojo Rabbit web site ]

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Recommended by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library – Public Services


formatdvdMr. Right
(DVD Mr)

A girl falls for the perfect guy, who happens to have a very fatal flaw: he’s a hitman, on the run from the crime cartels who employ him.

The hitman grew a conscience and wears a clown nose (yes, the red, squeaky one) to murder the people who hired him instead of the people they want offed.

Such a simple synopsis for how delightfully weird and slightly twisted this movie is! If you are looking for a light-hearted romance mixed in with gratuitous violence, this movie is your ticket to enjoyment.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try American Ultra, Hotel Artemis, The Hitman’s Bodyguard or Baby Driver] [ Internet Movie Database entry for this film ] | [ official Mr. Right web site ]

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Recommended by Rio B.
Bennett Martin Public Library – Public Services

See also: Scott C.’s review of Mr. Right in the September 2019 selections here in the libraries Staff Recommendations on BookGuide


formatdvdYellowstone: Season 2
(DVD Yellowstone)

Season two continues to follow the Dutton family and the drama surrounding their ranch in Montana. This season they deal with new enemies, family betrayal, newspaper exposes, a family member going into politics, and a kidnapping. With some shows the first season is the best and things go downhill with repetition but with this show they never run out of angles to cover because there are so many characters involved and they not only cover what happens on the ranch but what happens away from it as well. It’s really neat to see how the drama affects the family and the workers and the outsiders.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Hell on Wheels, The Son, Longmire or any other western series on DVD.] [ Internet Movie Database entry for this series ] | [ the Paramount network’s official Yellowstone web page ]

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Recommended by Carrie R.
Bennett Martin Public Library – Public Service


last updated August 2020
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