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Staff Recommendations – August 2023

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August 2023 Recommendations

Daisy Darker
by Alice Feeney (Compact Disc Feeney)

Daisy Darker showed up on many “Best Mysteries/Thrillers of the Year” lists for 2022 releases, so I was excited to read (or listen to) this for the June 2023 meeting of the libraries’ Just Desserts mystery book group. Indeed, I chose to enjoy this as an audiobook-on-cd, narrated by Stephanie Racine.

It’s a little hard to effective review this, since Alice Feeney’s stock in trade is mysteries or thrillers with a shocking twist near the end, that completely recalibrates the reader’s interpretation of the novel. In a nutshell, however, this novel features an awkward family reunion on an island off the British coast, isolated until the next day by changing tides. The novel is narrated by Daisy Darker, seemingly the only family member who actually loves her grandmother, Nana, a famed children’s author. When a dramatic death occurs, and it’s only the first of several, the survivors must come to terms with some unresolved issues from the past, while scrambling to survive until the receding tides will allow them to escape in the morning.

The suspense ratchets up effectively, though jumping back and forth between modern scenes and flashbacks to the past diminishes some of that building tension. The ultimate twist is telegraphed somewhat early on in the novel, but several of our Just Desserts members were still surprised…which may be reason enough to recommend this title. Personally, I really enjoyed the narration by Racine, so I do recommend Daisy Darker, particularly, as an audiobook. And if you like twisty, turny plots, check out Feeney’s other novels as well!

( official Alice Feeney web site )


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

The City & The City
by China Mieville (Mieville)

The City & The City, by British author China Mieville, was one of the most acclaimed SF novels of 2009, winning the Arthur C. Clarke Award, the British Science Fiction Association Award, the Hugo Award, the Locus Award, and the World Fantasy Award, and being a finalist for the Nebula Award.

This novel is what you get when you cross a noir-ish gritty police procedural with mind-blowing alternate history and high-concept scifi. Trying to describe this novel in a nutshell is quite difficult, as the author himself takes many chapters to even begin to let you in on the secrets of his world. Narrated by world-weary Tyador Borlu, an investigator in the Extreme Crime Squad in the fictional small East European nation/state of Beszel. He is called in to investigate when the disfigured body of a foreign student is found dumped in his territory. The complication is that his country of Beszel occupies the same physical space as another country, Ul Qoma — they overlap but residents of one country have been trained by lifetimes of experience to “unsee” residents and buildings from their twin. Was the murder victim killed in Borlu’s own Beszel or was she killed in Ul Qoma and dumped in Beszel? How can a detective investigate a crime, when he cannot even directly acknowledge part of the space he finds himself in. Through in radical students, “freedom fighters” and visiting foreigners with inexplicable motives, and mysterious enforcers whose job is to make sure the citizens of both Beszel and Ul Qoma don’t “see” each other, and you’ve got one of the most challenging SF puzzlers in many years. The City & The City is a complex and complicated work. But if you’re willing to dedicate the time to get fully sucked into Mieville’s world, you won’t be disappointed!

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try China Mieville’s other novels, TITLE, TITLE, TITLE, TITLE or TITLE.)

( Wikipedia page for China Mieville )


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

Hello Beautiful
by Ann Napolitano (Downloadable Audio)

This is probably one of my favorite books of 2023 so far. Hello Beautiful gives all the feels of Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, but is a more contemporary novel written for modern concerns.

Although the focus of the book is about a family of four sisters, the book begins with the perspective of one of the main male characters, William Waters. William lives a very solitary life, as his parents cannot cope with the loss of his newborn sister. He eventually turns to basketball in high school and college to give his life meaning. But then his freshman year in college he meets Julia Padavano. She is the oldest of four sisters. In her family he finds love and a warm and welcoming home like he has never experienced before.

Once William meets Julia, the book is often narrated by Julia and her three sisters. Julia is smart and driven. Sylvie is a book worm, working at the library and waiting for a great romance. Cecilia is the artist, but her wild spirit causes her to make risky choices, becoming a teenage mother. Cecilia’s twin Emeline is happiest taking care of children and her family.

In the beginning, the sisters seem inseparable. But thrown into a world where depression and mental illness, divorce, and sexual orientation cause divisions, their family could be torn apart. Can love overcome a perceived wrong, even if it seems unforgivable?

Ultimately the book causes a person to think: who do we think we are? Or who do we think we have to be? One theme I carried from the book relates to the Padavano father, Charlie, who often spoke the phrase “Hello Beautiful” to his family members. He was a poet and a dreamer and did not have fame or fortune, which is hard-working wife lamented. But the author reveals that Charlie’s life was rich from the kindness and caring he showed towards everyone around him. He was fondly remembered by everyone whose life he touched. Perhaps, I suppose, it’s not about who we think we are, but who we are to the people around us.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano or Little Women by Louisa May Alcott.)

( official Ann Napolitano web site )


Recommended by Cindy K.
Bennett Martin Public Library — Public Service

On Minimalism: Documenting a Musical Movement
by Kerry O’Brien and William Rubin (Music 781.68 Obr)

In its introduction, the authors of On Minimalism explicitly refer to this book as a “revisionist” history,” after laying out the more traditionally-told tale of minimalism as the product of composers Terry Riley, Steve Reich, Philip Glass, and LaMonte Young. It’s true that most previous scholarship has focused almost exclusively on these four composers, and they rightly point out that there are many other important figures who have contributed to minimalism. In recent history, more attention has been shown to other minimalist composers’ works through performances and recordings, and the conception of what constitutes “minimalism” in music has itself expanded significantly. So don’t take the “revisionist history” notion as a warning of propaganda—this is a balanced and thoughtful kind of revision, inclusive at heart and bringing the history into balance with the way the music is already being discussed in many circles, anyway.

I should mention that Obrien and Rubin aren’t exactly the “authors,” but they’re not listed as editors, either. The title page lists them as “compilers,” and perhaps that’s the best term for this form: they are contributing small bits of writing at the opening of each chapter to set up developments in the time period being discussed, but generally this is a primary source-based book, framing its history through the way that critics and the artists themselves have talked about it as it happened. In letting these many voices speak for themselves, the historical record around the foundation and growth of this music is corrected by the active participants in its development, rather than later authors’ opinions. They also address related styles of music that made contributions to the umbrella of minimalism but are often left out of these discussions, such as the ambient music movement, spearheaded by Eno, the disco pop repetitions of Donna Summer and Giorgio Moroder, or even modern iterations of minimalist-related music like the drone metal of Sunn O))).

The book is broadly divided into three parts chronologically, with further chapters within each part. Already in just the introductory pages to Part 1/Chapter 1, the editors/writers/compilers are challenging commonly-held notions around minimalism, reminding us of the profound influence that Indian classical music had on this music, that composers outside of the “Big 4” were actively exploring minimalist-related concepts and studying with Indian musicians back in the 1950s, and that some of the earliest minimalist music was known more for its abrasiveness as a cousin of the “Danger Music” movement than for being tranquil or meditative. Chapter 1 takes us into the cool jazz style spearheaded by Miles Davis in the 1950s as the obvious Western antecedent to minimalism, too.

Subsequent chapters delve further into those early days of minimalism, many before that name was even attached to the music: the “Dream Music” performances of La Monte Young, the “loop-based” approach of Terry Riley’s melodic fragments, the sound work of folks like Elaine Radigue, Annea Lockwood, and Pauline Oliveros, the many Western musicians who traveled to India for musical studies, influences of other art mediums, and the rise of composer-performer ensembles. The documents represented in “On Minimalism” go into more detail about all of these structural elements of the movement’s development than most previous books have attempted.

I was especially impressed with the emphasis on lesser-known minimalists throughout the book. In the “Histories” chapter, Jace Clayton take a refreshing new look at Eastman’s work, and questions whether we’ve been looking at it the right way in recent years. And some other composers mentioned, such as Catherine Christer Hennix, have simply remained obscure for too long. I’ve been a fairly serious enthusiast of minimalism myself since the late 1990s, but for whatever reason this book is the first time I’ve heard of her work. I’m excited to have a new-to-me artist to check out! There are also some lesser-known extensions of minimalism discussed, such as the “Wandelweiser” composers of Germany and Switzerland who founded their organization in 1992, blending some elements of minimalism with some of the more Zen concepts found in the work of composers like John Cage.

At the end of the book, a chapter called “Futures” explores some of the latest minimalist-adjacent music, some of which may surprise readers. The doom metal band Sunn O))) is discussed here, for example, whose incredibly slow tempos and gradual gestures are indeed cousins of minimalism, whose sheer volume and bombast recall the early days of the music when it was still considered somewhat dangerous. This part of the book gets very up-to-date, even discussing the final album by saxophonist Pharoah Sanders, a very minimalist collaboration with electronic musician Floating Points and the London Symphony Orchestra. Contemporary classical approaches, such as those used by percussionist and composer Sarah Hennies, are also explored. With so many stylistic points of entry to minimalist-related music today, it’s clear that this music retains its voice in the complicated spectrum of modern music.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try The Names of Minimalism: Authorship, Art, Music, and Historiography in Dispute by Patrick Nickleson, Repeating Ourselves: American Minimal Music as Cultural Practice by Robert Wallace or American Minimal Music by Wim Mertens.)

( official Kerry O’Brien web site )


Recommended by Scott S.
Polley Music Library

by Nnedi Okrafor (Okorafor)

Noor is an absolutely fascinating short novel, from 2021, from one of the shining new voices of Afro-Futurism. Set in a futuristic Nigeria (and elsewhere in northern Africa), this tells the story of a cyborg woman and a nomadic herdsman, who both go on the run after they are circumstantially set up for some mass murders. The characters are fascinating and nothing like most of mainstream science fiction of the past 40-50 years. This is a high-tech look at African culture and an indictment of capitalism and failed economic and ecological policies run amok. Extremely compelling reading!.

( official Nnedi Okorafor web site )


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

Killers of a Certain Age
by Deanna Raybourn (Raybourn)

The libraries’ Just Desserts mystery fiction discussion group read and discussed Killers of a Certain Age for the July 2023 meeting, and it was my first time reading any of Deanna Raybourn’s work. I loved this, with some caveats. The narrator is Billie, one of a quartet of senior women who all happen to have worked as assassins for an organization colloquially known as The Museum, and who have all reached retirement age. When they are invited to a cruise to celebrate this milestone, Billie recognizes one of the cruise employees as a fellow assassin from The Museum, and realizes he’s there to kill them all. Billie, Mary Alice, Helen and Natalie turn the tables on their pursuer and then go on the run — trying to figure out why their former organization would have targeted them for elimination after four lifetimes of loyal service.

This book has been joking referred to as James Bond crossed with The Golden Girls, and there’s a certain amount of legitimacy to that. Our four lady assassins are all lethally proficient but they also complain and kvetch amongst themselves all the time. This was a fun read, with lots of terrific dialogue, pulse-pounding action sequences, and a non-stop plot. Like any “James Bond” story, there are exotic locations, ranging from an assassination aboard an airplane, to an old monastery in New Orleans, to the British countryside, to the bone-strewn underground tunnels below Paris. If you like fast-paced funny action stories, you’ll enjoy this. Especially if you love female empowerment stories!

( official Deanna Raybourn web site )


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

Lady Tan’s Circle of Women
by Lisa See (See)

Tan Yunxian was a real woman and doctor in 15th century China. This is historical fiction of a woman during the Ming Dynasty. In an environment in which women had little or no control over their lives, and at a time in which a male doctor couldn’t actually see or touch a female patient, Yunxian tried to use herbal medicine to bring relief to women.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Snow Flower and the Secret Fan also by Lisa See.)

( official Lisa See web site )


Recommended by Jodi R.
Anderson and Bethany Branch Libraries

Recombo DNA: The Story of Devo, or How the 60s Became the 80s
by Kevin C. Smith (Music 781.666 Dev)

Devo, the synth-pop superstars behind the 1980 hit “Whip It,” helped to spearhead a new wave (pardon the pun) of keyboard-fronted bands, and they were also among the early bands to embrace the creativity possible through the music video format, helping to popularize the idea in the early years of MTV. They had a few other near-hits throughout the 80s before laying down their energy dome hats in 1991, but the truth is that there was a lot going on behind the scenes with this band. You can read all about their story in the book Recombo DNA: The Story of Devo, or How the 60s Became the 80s by Kevin C. Smith, which you can borrow from the Polley Music Library.

The title of the book is shared by a retrospective release of demo recordings made by the band. I can’t think of a band that has released so many compilation anthologies, demo albums, and b-side collections after they became mostly inactive, but it’s clear that there has long been an audience interested in dissecting everything they made. It’s also worth bearing in mind that most of their 1980s albums were panned by music journalists, and record sales also dropped off after the first few albums. So why all of the reassessment of this body of work?

The book Recombo DNA serves as a history of the band, and also helps to satisfy this persistent curiosity about the significance of their music. As it turns out, their collective story is unusual as band backstories go, and in a sense, Smith takes an unusual approach with the book that underlines their curious position. That is to say that for a band so often remembered as an iconic representation of 1980s pop culture, most of their work was a commentary on sociopolitics of the 1960s and subsequent failures in the 70s, but it was all packaged in a form that became very chic in the 80s. The book itself is chronological, but nearly all of the activity takes place in the 70s. The 80s are only represented by a 10-page epilogue! Clearly there are strange forces at play here.

If you only have a passing familiarity with the band, it’s likely that you don’t know about their origin story, which is discussed in detail throughout Chapter 1 of Recombo DNA The original band members are all from the Akron, OH area, and were affiliated with Kent State in 1970. It was the end of the 1960s and all of the hopes and dreams of youth culture in that era seemed to hit a wall in short order. For many in music, the philosophical “end of the 60s” came at the Altamont Speedway Free Festival in December of 1969, a concert headlined by the Rolling Stones that erupted in violence led by the Hell’s Angels who were there as security. For the soon-to-be-members of Devo, it was May 4th, 1970 and the Kent State Massacre, when the Ohio National Guard killed 4 and wounded 9 unarmed students on the Kent State campus. I’ll let readers get all of the details in the book themselves, but suffice it to say that the incident was the flashpoint for the concept of “de-evolution,” or “Devo,” in the mind of Gerald Casale, who eventually met up with future band member Mark Mothersbaugh in the years following the massacre. The earliest versions of their concept were also inspired by pop culture references, such as Wonder Woman comics and the old “Island of Lost Souls” film, which inspired some of their favorite early catchphrases like “Are we not men?”

Chapter 2 is where the band starts to become a public entity. Initially, a sextet version of the band was assembled for a one-off performance in April 1973 on the Kent State campus. Some early members shifted around, and their 2nd performance was the following year at the same Creative Arts Festival at Kent State. It’s interesting to note that founders Casale and Mothersbaugh both ended up cajoling siblings to join them in the band. Two siblings, both named Bob, ended up staying with Devo for the long haul. The band also continued to find references in culture that furthered their “devolution” concept, such as a 1924 anti-evolution pamphlet called “Jocko Homo Heavenbound,” which became the inspiration for the song that might be considered their theme tune, or the book “The Beginning Was the End” by Oscar Maerth, whose title and some concepts the band borrowed for their short film a few years later. Devo’s third gig was about a year later, and again took place at Kent State. This time, they played two sets, each time acting as a warm-up for screenings of the film “Pink Flamingos.” This time, they were approaching the high-concept style they would become known for. The band all wore costumes and used fake names, and by a few months later, they were opening for Sun Ra wearing matching costumes. However, their music was still somewhat unrefined.

The year 1976 stands as the point where everything started coming together. The band decided to create a short film about their devolution concept that could be released on laserdisc, the brand-new video format at the time that anticipated the compact disc by almost a decade. “The Beginning Was the End: The Truth About De-Evolution” functioned basically like a music video for two songs, and became one of the early music videos that excited people about underground music. Smith takes a detour in the book at this point to compare Devo to the work of The Residents in San Francisco, who were kindred spirits in many ways as artists working with video and primitive electronic music, learning as they went along. In the Devo camp, along with creating their new video, they found the yellow suits that they all wore during the early segment of their career, the excellent drummer Alan Myers joined the band, which created a more professional backbone for their sound, and they started consciously honing details of their songwriting technique and performance aesthetic. They wanted to emulate the sounds and movements of a machine. And they honed their skills by finally starting to play a lot of local club gigs.

1977 was the year Devo went national, at least in an underground sense. This year finds them showing their film publicly, releasing their first single by themselves, and touring to NYC and California, where they found many kindred spirits performing around the country, such as Pere Ubu in Cleveland, Suicide in New York City, or The Units in San Francisco. In the book, this part of the Devo story takes us to roughly the halfway point—7 years of slow development take up the first half, and now just three years of accelerated activity will fill the 2nd half of the book. I’ll not take you through a play by play of their seemingly quick rise in popularity once the right people saw them performing, such as David Bowie, Iggy Pop, and Brian Eno, but suffice it to say that the 2nd half of the book reads more like the usual rock band biography, with the band finally bouncing from success to success, building a significant fan base, and finding themselves in the middle of a record label bidding war. It’s all a little paradoxical for a band whose underlying philosophy is largely anti-commercial, an elaborate satire of conspicuous consumption, but they found a way to balance everything. It’s a dance their fans have had to navigate forever, too, the idea of buying lots of recordings and t-shirts and novelty items from a favorite band whose message in general speaks to the frivolity of such things.

As mentioned earlier, the relatively brief epilogue of the book addresses the 1980s, the decade where Devo briefly enjoyed commercial success and were certainly an influence on a lot of the New Wave music that filled the airwaves, as well as being pioneers in music video production which drove the music industry in that era. In their way, they inspired some of the slick, colorful crass commercialism typical of most popular music of the era, even though they had been creating that kind of look and feel for satirical purposes. Although this book was first published in 2013, and could have included some of the latter-day Devo moments, such as their Dev2.o collaboration with Disney in 2006, or their 2010 album “Something for Everybody,” author Smith leaves the story there. Few bands would merit a biography of this nature, but for Devo, this works very well, and it explains the interest in their early demo work that persists to this day—there is yet another retrospective triple LP album of their early demos spanning the era between 1973 and 1977 slated for release later this year (their 50th anniversary). If you’re a fan and you end up pursuing that new release, this book is a great companion for shedding more light on the early days of de-evolution.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Rebels and Underdogs: The Story of Ohio Rock and Roll by Garin Pirnia, Hardcore Devo Vol. 1 and Hardcore Devo Vol. 2 by Devo on Hoopla Music.)

( official web site )


Recommended by Scott S.
Polley Music Library

Pokemon Primers: Shapes Book
by Simcha Whitehill (jPB Board Book Whitehill)

Dear Parents:

You might be pretty confident in your ability to identify shapes, but how good are you with Pokémon identification? Do you have someone in your household that’s been trying to catch them all and speaking to you in a language that seems familiar and yet you don’t quite understand?

This Pokémon Primer lift-the-flap book is ready to come to your rescue! You can impress your child by knowing the shapes, and if you are quick, you’ll be able to name the Pokémon as you flip through twelve plus adventures. (Pro tip: take advantage of the in-story pronunciation guides.)

Seriously, this book could be an awesome experience in cooperative learning. I’m sure I’m not the only one who spent time with a tiny expert on Pokémon, and would have enjoyed being the student to my Pokémon master. Or perhaps, YOU are the Pokémon master and you are ready to share your adventure with the next generation? Either way, this book catches all the fun.

Pokemon Primers: Shapes Book is a board book that has more than 100 flaps to open, spread through twelve scenes that are packed with information and topics to discuss as well as Pokemon to find and identify.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Pokemon primers : Colors book also by Simcha Whitehill.)

( official Pokemon Primers web page ) | ( publisher’s official Simcha Whitehill web page )


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

Who Cares Anyway? Post Punk San Francisco and the End of the Analog Age
by Will York (Music 781.66 Yor)

Who Cares Anyway? looks at part of the musical history of a city that has been important in modern popular music. Heading back to the 1960s, San Francisco was the epicenter of American counterculture, and as one might expect, lots of music related to hippie culture was born there, including bands like the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Santana, Sly and the Family Stone, and Janis Joplin. By the 70s, punk was taking over, but the city was slow to respond to the punk movement. Instead, as we’ll see in this book, some of the weirder elements of San Francisco’s music culture created a nurturing environment for a truly unique underground music scene, which featured occasional bands that rose to national prominence. Author York conducted extensive interviews for this book, making it a fantastic primary-source document of dozens of bands important to the San Francisco underground in the 80s and 90s. With so much great insight from interviews, York establishes the narrative of this book by simply setting up basic contexts for various bands, zines and venues important to the scene, and then lets the participants themselves do most of the talking.

Contrary to the book’s subtitle, the first section of the text spends some time setting up the context for all of these bands by taking a look at the earlier portions of the 70s, when punk came to town. This is followed by the “post-punk” conditions of the late 70s. In reality, these transitions between scenes are always quite blurry, and York does a good job of articulating how new kinds of music gradually gained a foothold. There is still an overlap with punk—the Dead Kennedys, for example, are probably the most well-known punk band from San Francisco, and they were active initially between 1978 and 1986. The larger underground music force was probably the oddball band The Residents, whom many recognize from their period of wearing costumes consisting of eyeballs with top hats on their heads, along with tuxedos. The Residents were musical influences on the new stranger underground bands, and their record label, Ralph Records, was also an influence, documenting their own work as well as other well-regarded locals like Tuxedomoon, Chrome, and Rhythm and Noise. Their general aesthetic must have been a significant influence, too: many bands who followed them wore costumes that obscured band members’ identities, and the fact that they started as mostly non-musicians who figured out how to play as they went along resonated with many bands (and of course a similar attitude was common in punk scenes, too).

Stylistically, it was hard to describe what many of these San Francisco bands were doing during their heyday in the 80s and 90s, and frankly it remains difficult today. The general “experimental” music umbrella applies to many, but it’s not a very descriptive stylistic term. In general, most of this material gets lumped into “post-punk,” which is descriptive in the sense that some of the wild energy and simple, elemental approach of punk was retained, but now it was filtered into bands that used keyboards and synthesizers, bands that had various kinds of conceptual art or theatrical presentations woven into their performances. It was a complicated spectrum of bands, though, many of whom didn’t adhere to these general commonalities. Flipper, for example, had the energy of punk, but basically focused on simply writing compelling songs and putting on hard-hitting shows. They were a tremendous influence on Kurt Cobain of Nirvana, and their overall sound has a kind of proto-grunge music vibe. On the opposite end of the spectrum were bands like Mr. Bungle, who embraced the notion of weird costumes, but rapidly became legitimate virtuoso performers and composers, writing some of the most complex music ever recorded. And there were other bands who hovered somewhere in between, like Faith No More, who eventually took on Mike Patton, the vocalist of Mr. Bungle, as their lead singer and lyricist. They took a relatively less intense approach to genre-hopping than his other band onto radio, MTV, and arena tour success in the 90s.

If you’re not already familiar with some of the bands from this scene, you’ll learn about some truly bizarre acts that are among the most creative bands to grace stages in San Francisco or elsewhere. To name just a few, Caroliner was a bizarre collective who played a very noisy brand of post-punk while wearing elaborate costumes with deliriously strange multicolored stage decorations. Faxed Head is another of the ultra-strange bands to come out of the scene, featuring members of Mr. Bungle, Caroliner, and other acts on Amarillo Records, playing a very skewed kind of death metal influenced by some of the noise music coming out in the 90s. Despite the sometimes dramatic stylistic diversity shown by these and many other bands from this scene, another useful way of thinking about the time period covered by the book is referenced in its subtitle: “the end of the analog age.” York notes in his preface that the period he focuses on here can also be viewed in terms of technology: in the beginning of the period, one found some of the first Xerox copiers, synthesizers, and consumer multitrack tape recorders. By its end, digital recording and computers started to take over. Future scenes, in San Francisco and elsewhere, would be using different tools, and those inevitably change the music and the communities.

Overall, I really like this book. The things I don’t like about it are bands and labels associated with this overall scene that aren’t included, or are only mentioned in passing or in footnotes. The Units aren’t mentioned in the late 70s/early 80s section, though they really seem to fit. Negativland isn’t discussed, and they seem like an important element of the San Francisco scene over a long span of time. And some of my own favorite bands from the late 90s Bay Area scene, like Idiot Flesh and Charming Hostess, and their local record label, Vaccination Records, only appear in a single footnote. In terms of closing up the book, I would have liked to see a brief mention that this scene has continued to inspire and influence contemporary music in San Francisco. Many people around the country and the world heard about the modern San Francisco/Oakland scene in the aftermath of the horrible Ghost Ship fire in late 2016, so there would be some context for readers latch onto. I think just mentioning some of the bay area record labels like Resipiscent Records, Ratskin Records, and Weird Ear Records, Public Eyesore, etc, as well as some of the acts that they feature, would have put a nice ending on the whole chronology and hopefully inspire readers to start looking into more about the scene themselves. But those omissions aside, It’s a very well-researched book, and this is the first time that many of these bands and their contributions have been documented for posterity in music history, so I would recommend it whole-heartedly for anyone passionate about experimental or underground independent music and its complicated history.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try The Williamsburg Avant Garde by Cisco Bradley or Faith No More in the 1990s by Matt Karpe.)

( publisher’s official Who Cares Anyway? web page )


Recommended by Scott S.
Polley Music Library

Screening Room

formatdvdAn American Pickle
(DVD American)

An American Pickle is an odd little film was made for the cable channel “MAX” (formerly HBO Max) but was also released to DVD in 2020. Comic actor Seth Rogan, who has certainly been in his fair share of quirky comedies during his career, appears in two roles. He plays Hershel Greenbaum, an immigrant worker from the early 1900s, and his descendant Ben Greenbaum, an app developer, in the modern era. The quirk here is that Hershel and Ben get to interact with each other. Hershel, working in a pickle factory, falls into a vat of brine and is accidentally entombed therein, only to be taken out 100 years later perfectly preserved but missing his old life and uncertain how to fit into modern times, even with the help of his nebbishly distant relative.

When a small conflict drives a wedge between the two Greenbaums, Hershel strikes out on his own, establishing his own pickle-making enterprise (though ignoring dozens of health code violations along the way), and Ben ends up trying to sabotage Hershel’s efforts by manipulating social media. The conflict between the two Greenbaum men grows to ridiculously comic proportions. But the charm of this bizarre little film is seeing how they can eventually mend fences and find some common ground.

The technical tricks used to have both characters appear in the same scenes, interacting with each other, are marvelous. And Seth Rogan, who I’ve never been much of a fan of in his previous films, gives an excellent performance in each of these overblown roles. For what is essentially a “fish out of water” comedy poking fun at contemporary social mores, this movie had some surprisingly emotional scenes and unexpected depth.

( Internet Movie Database entry for this film )


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

formatdvdDungeons and Dragons: Honor Among Thieves
(DVD Dungeons)

This 2023 film was a fun-filled live-action adventure set in the Forgotten Realms world of Dungeons & Dragons, the role playing game system introduced back in 1974. That game has gone through multiple generations of rule changes (currently players are using the 5th Edition of the core game rules), and has had layer upon layer of world-building in the 50 years that players have been playing this game.

This is far from the first movie or TV series to be based on D&D. From 1983-1985, there was a 3-season animated TV series (whose characters make a cameo appearance in the new 2023 film). And between 2000 and 2012, a trilogy of live-action films set the universe of D&D was released. Those films had a notably darker tone than the 2023 film.

And that, in a nutshell, is the main appeal of Honor Among Thieves. In addition to an absolutely terrific cast, headlined by Chris Pine, this new film has fun with its world…which is what most D&D RPG players are looking for — a fun adventure, with in-jokes and snarky back-and-forth between the people playing the game.

Pine plays Edgin Darvis, a thieving bard, with a heart of gold. Michelle Rodriguez plays Holga Kilgore, a barbarian warrior woman. Justice Smith plays Simon Aumar, an amateur wizard with a serious lack of self confidence. Sophia Lillis plays Doric, a shape-shifting druid. Rege-Jean Page plays Xank Yander, a slightly smarmy paladin who assists the heroes. Hugh Grant is Forge, a con-artist rogue, who teams up with some forces of darkness and opposes the heroes in their quest.

As with any good D&D campaign, the group of loosely-associated heroes gather to take on a quest, and must face multiple challenges before a final confrontation with their main enemies. The special effects are great, especially the embodiment of so many classic “monsters” from D&D lore. And the performances from the entire cast are terrific, particularly in the humor they pull out of every single character and situation. My favorite part of the film is when Edgin and company are digging up corpses in a graveyard to make use of a spell that allows them to ask five questions of each dead body — only there ineptitude causes them to waste most of their questions.

Dungeons and Dragons: Honor Among Thieves quite literally felt like one of my old D&D group’s sessions (from the 1990s) brought to life. I had a blast with this film, and I think any other D&D player will as well. But it should also appeal to non-gamers, who may not get all the jokes, but will appreciate what a fun, funny, action-packed ride it is!

(If you enjoy this, and you can find them, you may also wish to try all the previous iterations of D&D on TV and film.)

(As of the writing of this review, in the summer of 2023, the Bennett Martin Public Library has a librarian-run D&D group for teens, Troll For Initiative, which meets on the second and fourth Mondays of each month from 4:30 to 6:00. This group is meant for beginner and intermediate level D&D players. Registration is required. If you have questions, please contact Caitlin at 402-441-8575.)

( Internet Movie Database entry for this film )


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

formatdvdA Man Called Otto
(DVD Man)

When I first learned that an Americanized version of A Man Called Ove was being filmed, and that Tom Hanks would star, I was frustrated. The original Swedish novel is so uniquely Nordic in style, and the Swedish language film that was made from it was basically perfect — there didn’t seem to be any need to make an American version, and it felt like it was just another “star turn” for Hanks. So my wife and I ended up avoiding it in the theater. But she eventually brought home a copy of the DVD from the libraries’ collection, and we finally did see it.

While I still think the original Swedish-language film is far superior, A MAN CALLED OTTO ended up being a decent film. The title isn’t the only thing that changed — the setting has been changed to Philadelphia, where widower Otto Anderson has become a grumpy curmudgeon following the recent death of his wife, Sonya. Forced to retire from his job, Otto plans to end his life to join his late wife, but his attempts keep being unexpectedly thwarted. Against his personal preferences, Otto is forced to interact with his neighbors, from the old friend (now a non-responsive stroke victim) who Otto believes betrayed him, to newly arrived Marisol and Tommy and their two daughters, to local delivery kid Malcolm. Along the way, Otto is inevitably dragged into these strangers’ lives, despite his own death wish.

Hanks does a fine job (though Rolf Lassgard was better in the Swedish film), and the supporting cast is terrific, particularly Mariana Trevino as Marisol and the two child actresses as Marisol’s daughters. Definitely an enjoyable movie experience, and the DVD for this has a nice little “making of” featurette.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try the original Swedish film adaptation A Man Called Ove starring Rolf Lassgard.)

(The original novel, A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman is also available in traditional print format.)

( Internet Movie Database entry for this film )


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

formatdvdQueen Bees
(DVD Queen)

This quirky little film is a little bit Mean Girls, a little bit The Golden Girls, and a hefty dollop of senior Rom-Com. Ellen Burstyn stars as Helen Wilson, a very independent senior woman who reluctantly agrees to a temporary stay in a senior living community after a little accident at her own home requires some repairs. Urged by her loving grandson to try to engage with the other residents at the senior community, Helen tried to join a bridge group, only to be rebuffed by the hostile leader of the Queen Bees (rhymes with witches), played by Jane Curtin. Eventually, despite the difficulties entailed, Helen does join this group, and her involvement in their lives leads to awkward friendships. While I enjoyed the chemistry in this group of senior women, which includes Ann-Margaret and Loretta Devine, my main interest in seeing this film is because it was the final film James Caan made before he passed away. He plays the slightly bumbling and unexpected “love interest” for Burstyn’s Helen, and watching their friendship grow is one of the true charms of this enjoyable little film. Excellent supporting work from French (3rd Rock From the Sun) Stewart as the Pine Grove Senior Community’s administrator, Alex Mapa as Lito Santos, the sympathetic masseuse and partner in crime to the ladies, and especially Matthew Barnes as Helen’s utterly charming grandson, Peter.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Senior Moment starring William Shatner, Jean Smart and Christopher Lloyd (who also happens to have a small but heartbreaking role in Queen Bees), and Here Today, starring Billy Crystal and Tiffany Haddish.)

( Internet Movie Database entry for this film )


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

last updated August 2023
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