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Staff Recommendations – December 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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December 2020 Recommendations

Bitten
by Kelley Armstrong (Armstrong)

Elena Michaels was bitten. By a werewolf. Who was her fiance.

She starts our adventure by hiding out in Canada with her human boyfriend but gets called home to Newhaven, a huge plot of land (because, duh, werewolves need land to roam) by her adopted family.

Elena, along with her old fiance, werewolf Clayton Danvers and other werewolf family members fight and stop a murderous mutt ( a none Pack werewolf) and his group of savage werewolves whose main goals are to take over the Pack.

Before, during and after the fight Elena faces internal battles and realizes where her true home lies – along with which lover she belongs with.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Magic Bites by Ilona Andrews, Crescent City by Sarah J. Maas, Dead Witch Walking by Kim Harrison or Dead Until Dark by Charlaine Harris.] [ official Otherworld series page on the official Kelley Armstrong web site ]

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


Silenced by Sound: The Music Meritocracy Myth
by Ian Brennan (Music 780.1 Bre)

The notion of “world music” as a genre has a complicated cultural history. On the positive side, the record industry makes it possible to distribute recordings made virtually anywhere on the globe to new audiences, which has allowed listeners to enjoy music from remote faraway lands from the comfort of home. But on the negative side, the marketing of music from these remote lands has often involved a certain “othering” process, relegating non-Western musics of the world to the singular “world music” section of places like record stores. As these once-obscure musical approaches spread to the West through recordings, many Western musicians also borrowed from these styles to create their own forms of world music, and whether that process fundamentally represents a celebration of musical diversity or an opportunity for exploitation is a valid question for debate.

Now that we’re moving away from record stores and into the era of digital streaming, these questions linger within our international music community. American music producer Ian Brennan, whose work has included field recording and production for musicians from international non-Western musical traditions, offers his observations about how these issues continue to influence the music we hear. Brennan highlights mostly unheralded musicians from around the world, observes how we often miss out on these artists (“If you toss a dart at a map of the world, you are most likely to hit a country that is underrepresented or entirely unrepresented in international media”), and critiques our willingness to accept relatively mediocre work from our Western pop stars simply because of their celebrity status. He’s also an advocate for quick, on-location field recordings and in-studio sessions without overdubs, both for the kind of recorded honesty one can obtain from quick recordings, mistakes and all, and to avoid the kinds of financial excesses all too common in the recording industry.

The book is structured somewhere between a travelogue, memoir, and book of essays, featuring short, impactful chapters that frequently introduce ideas and artists rarely discussed in the West. This is the kind of book that can open your mind to new kinds of music while challenging musical orthodoxies.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try No-Nonsense Guide to World Music by Louise Gray, Excursions in World Music edited by Bruno Nettl.] [ publisher’s official Silenced by Sound web site ] | [ official Ian Brennan web site ]

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Recommended by Scott S.
Polley Music Library


This Man and Music
by Anthony Burgess (Music 781.68 Bur)

Anthony Burgess is well known as the author of many novels, including the infamous A Clockwork Orange that received even more attention as Stanley Kubrick’s 1971 film of the same name. What you may not know is that he was also a dedicated composer who began teaching himself piano at age 14. Burgess considered his interests in literary and musical worlds mostly equal, and he was keen to point out musical associations discovered in the rhythms and structures of good writing. Although his musical output is less known than his writing, he maintained connections with the musical world throughout his career. After presenting four lectures on the intersections of music and literature at the University of Kent’s Eliot College in 1980, he expanded his thoughts on music into the 1982 book This Man and Music.

This Man and Music has just been brought back into print as part of the Irwell Edition series of the works of Anthony Burgess, and in the years since its initial publication, the author’s musical life has received at least a little more attention than it had by the early 1980s. His takes on the intersections of musical and literary thought are at times unorthodox: he finds musical origins for the meters of poetry, for example, and implications of contrapuntal activity in Joyce’s Ulysses. To a large extent, these essays are autobiographical, and the cross-discipline associations Burgess makes are sometimes more personally relevant to him than universally applicable. That said, it’s a fascinating look at how this notable author incorporated musical thinking into his narrative structures, and the book offers lots of unusual perspectives on both practices. I was especially entertained by his surprisingly pragmatic “Let’s Write a Symphony” chapter, where he takes us through the process of laying out a large-scale musical work.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Night Music by Theodor Adorno.] [ Article about the editing of This Man and Music on the official International Anthony Burgess Foundation web site ]

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Recommended by Scott S.
Polley Music Library


The Finders
by Jeffrey Burton (Burton)

A little into the magical side of the genre, but a good mystery/thriller. Mason is a dog trainer, who trains Human Remains Detection dogs. When his Golden Retriever, Elvira is out on one of her first assignments, she finds the body and soon after viciously attacks a bystander.

Mason starts poking around pretty sure that there was a reason his dog went after the guy. As the story progresses a serial killer targets Mason. With the help of a police officer, who is fond of Vira, they try to track down the real killer. This is a good first novel, and the characters are believable, even if Vira’s behavior is not. I’m looking forward to reading the second novel.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Breaking Creed by Alex Kava, The Darkest Thread by Jen Blood or The Scent of Murder by Kylie Logan.] [ official Jeffrey Burton web site ]

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Recommended by Marcy G.
South Branch Library


Plain Bad Heroines
by emily m. danforth (Danforth)

Plain Bad Heroines by emily m. danforth (who prefers lowercase) is a delightful big, red book about a troublesome big, red book. In a 1902 Rhode Island girl’s boarding school, several teens have become obsessed with Mary MacLane’s red-covered memoir that’s bursting with feelings, including feelings of longing for another woman. And then the mysterious deaths begin.

Meanwhile in the present day, a horror film director has recruited Hollywood’s top “celesbian” and a relatively unknown girl to play the leads in an on-location film about the spooky “happenings” from over a century ago. Not an entirely safe idea. This dual-timeline story does a pleasant job of harmonizing the voices of gothic historical and Twitter/Instagram-savvy contemporary fiction.

Plain Bad Heroines is more gothic suspense than outright horror, so it’s great for readers who want to be a little scared without going too far. There is a strong sense of place and even a map at the start of the book, which are elements I love. It also has ink illustrations by Sara Lautman, reminiscent of Edward Gorey. And footnotes! Lots of footnotes that mix humor and historical notes. What I’m saying is that it’s an especially pleasurable book to hold and read from a book construction point of view.

I recommend Plain Bad Heroines to readers who like spooky New England, Truman Capote, spiritualism, greenhouses, queer history, and stories where the story touches on literature both inside and outside of the fictional world. emily m. danforth received her Ph.D in English-Creative Writing from University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and lives in Rhode Island.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try House of Leaves by Mark J. Danielewski or Wilder Girls by Rory Power.] [ official Plain Bad Heroines and emily m danforth web site ]

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


Hella
by David Gerrold (Gerrold)

I had wildly mixed feelings about Hella by David Gerrold. On the one hand, it’s about planetary colonization in the second or third generation when the Earth colonists are still tenuously holding on, but they’re just getting confident enough to start engaging in open conflict among themselves. The planet is filled with plants and animal life in a way that feels like a dinosaur-era location, but weirder. If you’re the kind of science fiction reader who enjoys reading about humans vs. environment, you may also really dig the first half or so of this book. It does have an odd shift to being almost all about humans vs. humans after this and in a way that isn’t strongly connected with the first half, which other reviews haven’t liked. Personally, I didn’t mind but it’s a little messy in that way.

On the other hand, the author tried to add diversity in a way that ends up being worse than if he had written this the way he would have written it in the 90s. Specifically, the main character (and his brother and his mother) are all transgender. The main character is also autistic. The author is neither and seems to have “done his research” exclusively by reading outdated research papers. He is gay, however, so the gay bits are okay.

Overall, not something I’d recommend to everyone, but by now you probably know if this might be a good book for you. Yes, the book title is from the slang “hella” meaning “extremely”.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try To Be Taught, If Fortunate by Becky Chambers.] [ publisher’s official Hella web page ] | [ official David Gerrold web site ]

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


My Best Friend’s Exorcism
by Grady Hendrix (Hendrix)

My Best Friend’s Exorcism is a story about teen best friends in the 1980s when Satanic cult panics were in full swing. I was in elementary school at the time but I remember the detailed, horrible stories that ran through school about possession and human sacrifices in the wooded areas nearby. Plus, of course, the cautionary tales about Halloween candy and drugs. Here, there’s some truth to the panic. Like the show Stranger Things, this book is filled up with pop culture nostalgia, including chapter titles taken from popular songs of the time.

Four girls spending a night in the woods, taking something they think is LSD. One missing for hours and when she comes back something is wrong. Yes, demons are real but it’s fair to say this books takes a more broad view of religion than the film The Exorcist, which of course these girls have all seen. Prepare to be grossed out and appalled. Nearly every possible trigger warning applies here, including sexual violence and a family pet being harmed. But it’s not a downer story. It’s about courage and loyalty and standing up to adults more concerned about social standing than doing the right thing.

One of the best features of the book are the more-than-text extras and goodies: newspaper clippings, product posters, religious tracts, etc. I read it on a Kindle so I really had to squint to make out the details on these parts. Though marketed as an adult book, My Best Friend’s Exorcism would work very well as a high school aged young adult novel. Recommend it to the teens in your life who at risk of Satanic involvement and…scare them straight!…as many characters in this book would say.

[If you enjoy this, Rona Jaffe’s book Mazes and Monsters and the Tom Hanks movie based on it cover similar ground with Dungeons and Dragons scares, though the book–at least–takes this seriously. I also recommend reading some of Jack Chick’s religious tracts to set the mood; these are available online at his website. If you’re not familiar, these are also meant to be serious and involve things like kids playing heavy metal music, dying in a car accident, and going straight to Hell. To be clear, I’m not recommending for or against Mr. Chick’s religious views or the views of real-life Satanists.

For more lighthearted film takes on teens and pulp Satanism, I recommend Jennifer’s Body (2009) and The Babysitter (2017).] [ official My Best Friend’s Exorcism page on the official Grady Hendrix web site ]

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


The Mitford Snowmen: A Christmas Story
by Jan Karon (Karon)

This little book fits in as #6.5 in the Mitford series. It’s an in-between short story that follows the familiar characters of this Christian fiction series as they begin an impromptu snowman-building contest. For fans of the Mitford series who are already familiar with the characters, it’s a fun afternoon spent with your favorite characters.

[ official Jan Karon/Mitford web site ]

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


Legendary Locals of Estes Park
by Steve Mitchell (eBook only)

My wife and I, and others in my family, enjoy to vacation in the mountain town of Estes Park, CO, and hike in Rocky Mountain National Park. We’ve been up there so many times that I feel like I know the village almost like an old friend. Like most tourists, every time we’re up there, we shop in all the local stores. So, when I stopped in the local small independent bookstore there, MacDonald Bookshop, and found this volume, I snatched it up and enjoyed reading it there while on a recent vacation. This book highlights several dozen significant individuals in Estes Park, both in a historical nature and some still currently active in Estes Park life. Each individual gets a page or two, with marvelous photos. The author fills the pages with interesting tidbits of information, though not a huge amount of details.

I didn’t think I’d be able to review this for the libraries’ Staff Recommendations, so I was surprised to discover that, though my copy is a paperback, the libraries actually have this volume available for check out as an E-book! And not only this entry, but over 100 other “Legendary Locals” volumes (from Arcadia Press) covering cities and towns across the entire United States. (Oddly enough, there is not a “Legendary Locals of Lincoln” — someone needs to fill that gap!). Explore all sorts of places around the country, through this series of books, focused on the people who made each city what it is today. And if, like me, you’ve ever vacationed in Estes Park, I highly recommend this particular entry — you’ll learn about the founding of both Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park, but you’ll also see interesting stories about some of the folks who make Estes Park tick right now!

[ official Visit Estes Park tourism site ] | [ official Legendary Locals page on the Arcadia Publishing web site ]

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


Mending Life: A Handbook for Repairing Clothes and Hearts
by Nina and Sonya Montenegro (646.2 Mon)

“There’s nothing broken that can’t be fixed.”

Concerned with the fast fashion trends, where the cost to the consumer may be cheap but the cost to the laborer can be dear, the sisters Nina and Sonya Montenegro have stitched together a book of quotes, instructions, and illustrations; their aim being aim to help anyone revive their treasured textiles.

This book discusses how to choose needles, fibers, and techniques for best results. The methods are covered sensibly and practically, easily accessible to anyone interested in learning basic techniques of mending, including sashiko, swiss darning, patching. You can find information to help mend down jackets, linen dresser scarves, favorite sweaters, even old “broken” socks. They encourage the reader to give mending a try.

Repairs add history and personality to your favorite pieces and honors the work of those who made the garment. It’s a natural process that happens around us all the time, and through mending your own items, you connect the past to the future.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Joyful Mending by Noriko Misumi, Mending Matters: Stitch, Patch, and Repair Your Favorite Denim & More by Katrina Rodabaugh, Visible Mending: Artful Stitchery to Repair and Refresh Your Favorite Things by Jenny Wilding Cardon or Stitch Stories: Personal Places, Spaces and Traces in Textile Art by Cas Holmes.] [ official Mending Life web site ] | [ official Nina Montenegro web site ] [ official Sonya Montenegro web site ]

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


Hunting Party
by Elizabeth Moon (Moon)

My science fiction club recently selected this book to read for one of our regular group book discussions, and I’m very glad I did. Though she’s a prolific author, I’d only ever read one other book by Elizabeth Moon (The Speed of Dark), which I loved, but which is a completely different type of novel.

Hunting Party is the first in a series (7 volumes so far) of “space operas/military SF” novels under the umbrella title The Serrano Legacy. Heris Serrano was forced to resign from a respected position in command of a ship in the Regular Space Service. Now, she’s taken a position as the captain of a luxury space yacht, for a rich eccentric woman, Lady Cecelia de Marktos, and must ferry her employer and some of her dilettante relatives to a distant planetary system for some old-fashioned fox hunting, by horseback. All of which sounds like an odd combination of characters and plot elements. But Moon makes them work. Heris is a fascinating character, and her relationship to Lady Cecelia becomes one of the strongest elements of the book. Moon provides a lot of great details about military and social protocols, there’s an unusual amount of time (for a space saga) spent on horseback riding, and there are twists and turns aplenty, including the introduction of a “most dangerous game” subplot late in the book.

In the end, some of the plot threads end up wrapping up in not-entirely-satisfactory ways, but the journey of following Heris and Lady Cecelia, and several other very strong female characters, in a type of storyline usually dominated by males, made Hunting Party a very enjoyable read. I hope to continue with additional volumes in the future.

[ official Serrano Legacy series page on the official Elizabeth Moon web site ]

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


The Thursday Murder Club
by Richard Osman (Osman)

Author Richard Osman may not be an overly familiar name for Americans, but he’s definitely a “celebrity” in the U.K., where he’s a comedian, TV personality, game show host, and “presenter”. The Thursday Murder Club is his first novel (with a contract for a second in 2021), and is a mixture between classic British “whodunit” and humorous and quirky character study. Different chapters are shared from different characters’ points of view, and each of them has an intriguing take on the plot.

The “Thursday Murder Club” is a group of four seniors living in a luxury retirement village in Kent. Once a week, these four distinctly different individuals gather to look over the evidence in a variety of “cold case” murders, and brainstorm solutions to the cases. This comfortable routine is disrupted — or should I say enhanced — when an actual murder takes place in their midst, and these four “amateur sleuths” think they know more about the case than the actual police, and set out to solve the murder (or at least assist in solving it).

Filled with colorful characters whom you’ll grow to care about, witty and snappy dialog, thoughtful observations on growing older and still finding a place for yourself in a changing world, and a truly challenging and creative mystery plot, The Thursday Murder Club is a wonderful first entry for a promising new mystery author. One of my favorite reads in 2020! I can’t want to see more from Richard Osman.

[ publisher’s official The Thursday Murder Club web site ] | [ official Richard Osman Twitter feed (he doesn’t have a website) ]

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


The Vinyl Frontier: The Story of the Voyager Golden Record
by Jonathan Scott (Music 780.266 Sco)

Remember making mix tapes? Maybe you made mix CDs or playlists, depending on your age. Whatever the medium, I’m sure you can remember how painstaking this process can be, picking just the right songs for that right person or occasion. You could spend days getting a tape just right!

Now imagine having to come up with the ultimate mix tape, one that can introduce the inhabitants of Planet Earth to anyone else who might be our neighbors in the universe. This was essentially the task given to Carl Sagan and his committee in the creation of the Voyager Golden Record, created to send along with the Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 spacecraft, in hopes that some future civilization might stumble upon these vessels on their journey into deep space. The project of creating these records was originally documented in the 1978 book Murmurs of Earth, which has long been out of print, but a new book tells the story in even more detail.

Jonathan Scott’s The Vinyl Frontier: The Story of the Voyager Golden Record combines biographical information on Carl Sagan, historical information on the Voyager missions, and a lot of philosophical pondering regarding how anyone can decide how to represent an entire civilization’s character and history on a single side of a slow-playing record. Noted ethnomusicologist Alan Lomax was involved with the committee, as was Robert E. Brown of the Centre for World Music and conductor Murray Sidlin. Languages and images from Earth were also represented on the Golden Record, creating more painstaking decisions, and Scott recounts these choices as well, even describing how images were converted to be represented in sound waves. Many ordinary citizens were brought to Cornell to record greetings in a wide variety of world languages, and as you’ll find out in the book, the diversity of languages they were able to represent on the record far exceeded their initial goals.

This is a great book for thinking about music and culture on a cosmically significant level, but you’ll also find much to love here if you’re interested in the golden age of space exploration. Voyager 1 and 2 have made it to interstellar space now, and no matter how our civilization evolves or devolves from here, we have forever launched a snapshot of the way we were in 1977 into the cosmos.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Spotify Teardown: Inside the Black Box of Streaming Music by Maria Eriksson.] [ publisher’s official The Vinyl Frontier web site ] | [ official Jonathan Scott web site ]

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Recommended by Scott S.
Polley Music Library


One Day in December
by Josie Silver (Silver)

Because romantic fiction isn’t necessarily one of my “go to” genres, every year, I have a tradition of reading one romance novels, usually just before Christmas, and often a holiday-themed romance at that. This year’s choice was One Day in December by Josie Silver, after the cover caught my eye in the bookstore.

One Day in December is set (mostly) in London, with a few side jaunts. The plot covers 10 years. At Christmastime 2008, Laurie James, a young woman in her early 20s, is riding the bus on her way home from her hotel clerk job, when the vehicle pulls up to a bus stop and her eyes lock with the eyes of a handsome young man. Electricity sparks, and they both realize it. But Laurie doesn’t get off the bus and the young man doesn’t get on. Trying to track down “bus boy” becomes an obsession for Laurie and her flatmate, the vivacious Sarah, but success never comes.

Sarah ultimately falls for the young man of her own dreams, and finally introduces him to Laurie as “the man I’m going to marry!” — it’s Jack, the “bus boy” Laurie’s been looking for. From that point on, the lives of this trio of young Brits become complicated — truths that should have been immediately shared are kept secret, new relationships come and go, but the friendships between Laurie and Sarah and Jack remain at the heart of this story.

It’s a romance, so you can probably guess that all ends up well by the end of the story — over 9 years after it begins. The enjoyment in One Day in December is getting to know some superbly-drawn characters and becoming invested in their happiness and heartbreak over that span of time. I’ll admit…I enjoyed this one!

[ official One Day in December page on the official Josie Silver web site ]

This is a selection of the Reese’s Book Club — click here to see other books read by this online book club!

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


Man-Made Wonders of the World and Natural Wonders of the World
by Smithsonian/Dorling-Kindersley (551.4 Dor and 720 Dor)

I saw these two books on the New Books Displays at the downtown library, within days of each other. Both are gorgeous “coffee table books”, filled with incredible photos. The Natural Wonders of the World volume includes chapters on North America, Central & South America, Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia & New Zealand, Antarctica, The Oceans, and Extreme Weather. There are tons of maps, scientific sidebar boxes, blow-up 3D illustrations, nuggets of statistical information, and more.

The Man-Made Wonders of the World volume is slightly smaller, and includes chapters on North America, Central & South America, Europe, Africa, and Asia & Australia. In addition to hundreds of beautiful photos, there are blueprint-like illustrations of various building designs, and many sidebar articles about the history of the development of hundreds of recognizable man-made structures. The structures covered range from ancient (Chaco Canyon, Serpent Mounds, pyramids at Giza, Great Wall of China) to 21st-century contemporary.

The amount of information in both of these volumes is, at times, overwhelming. These are NOT books to sit and read cover-to-cover, but are rather books to revisit and read bits of when you’re in the mood to sit and marvel. Whether you are a fan of nature or architecture, you’ll definitely appreciate both of these publications from Smithsonian. Stunning images! My only complaint is that each entry gets only a page of information (and often far less) — sometimes that’s barely enough to whet your appetite!.

[ publisher’s official Man-Made Wonders of the World web site ] | [ publisher’s official Natural Wonders of the World web site ] [ Smithsonian Institution web site ]

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


Martha Stewart’s Organizing: The Manual for Bringing Order to Your Life, Home and Routines
by Martha Stewart (648.8 Ste)

I really loved this book for what it was: A beautiful, Pinterest-y inspiration book. I have it on my dining table and every time I open it, I feel inspired to clean and organize. My favorite part of the book, and her magazine for that matter, is her detailed calendar. Her monthly calendar is stellar and I always look forward to it the most when I read her magazine. This book delights me because it has all of the calendar months neatly organized inside one, glossy, confectionery binding. I devour cleaning and organization books and this one is, by far, the prettiest.

I am always astounded when I pick up a cleaning/organization book and its contents are not cohesive. Martha does not disappoint in the slightest. Every chapter is neatly organized, flowing from section to section with ease. She details how to clean and organize based on the items she listed in her monthly calendar. For example, In the month of November she has “Assemble a Winter Car Kit” and “Make Holiday Crafts.” The following pages are dedicated to describing exactly the best way to detail the car and make holiday crafts. I love it!

Aside from the visual delight, I enjoy how streamlined the book is with check lists, calendars, and tasks. She presents a year’s worth of chores in a manageable, easy-to-follow format. It is no wonder she is able to handle such a busy life. She also dedicates a good portion of the year to leisurely activities. Reminding us to ice-skate, horseback ride, and gather with friends and family. After all, it is important to celebrate and enjoy the fruits of your labor.

If you are looking for a deep, philosophical kind of organizational book, I would stick to something like Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up or anything by The Fly Lady. If you are wanting Pinterest-in-book-form, then look no further!

[ official Martha Stewart corporate web site ]

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


Screening Room

formatdvdThe Addams Family
[DVD j Addams]

I initially avoided seeing this film because I grew up on the original Addams Family B&W series (ABC 1964-66), starring John Astin, Carolyn Jones, Ted Cassidy and Jackie Coogan, and all subsequent adaptations of Charles Addams’ morbid comics have paled in comparison. I’ve ultimately grown to appreciate the two live-action feature films from 1991 and 1993, which starred Raul Julia, Angelica Huston, Christopher Lloyd, Christina Ricci and others. The stills I’d seen from this new 2019 Addams Family animated film didn’t inspire me to think I’d like it.

I’m please to say I was happily surprised. This version of The Addams Family is a marvelous little film. It tells an “origin story” for the family, and how they ended up settling into a crumbling gothic mansion on a hillside above a bland suburban town. Because of the open-ended nature of animation, this film provided the filmmakers with plenty of fertile ground for dark humor and absurd action sequences. But, as should always be the case with the Addams family, it is the characters that drive the film’s plot. Oscar Isaac does a fine job as Gomez Addams, however this film is completely stolen by the performances of main female characters. Charlize Theron is mesmerizing as Morticia, and Chloe Grace Moretz is unforgettable as a disturbingly monotone Wednesday Addams.

The plot, in a nutshell, involves a reality TV star, Allison Janney as Margeaux Needler, who has created an entire community of “made over” suburban tract homes in the nearby community. When a fog lifts and the Addams’ mansion is revealed, Margeaux realizes that her live-tv event to unveil her entire town of blandness is going to be ruined by the Addams house, unless she can either give them a “home makeover” or drive them away from the community. Meanwhile, explosives-obsessed Pugsley is approaching a ceremony that his father Gomez feels he is ill-equipped to successfully accomplish — an elaborate swordplay demonstration. With dozens of creepy, kooky relatives descending on the mansion, the conflict between the oddball Addamses and the cookie-cutter suburbanites comes to a head.

This is a funny, absurdist romp. Though no-one will ever replace John Astin as Gomez and Carolyn Jones as Morticia, nor Christina Ricci as Wednesday, for my money, these voice actors do an excellent job. And the culture clash between wildly divergent character types is well done in this film. I definitely recommend this 2019 film — it’s a worthy addition to the Addams Family history, though I still recommend the old 1960s TV show even more!

[To explore the original cartoons that have inspired ALL subsequent films/tv-series, check out The World of Chas Addams, an oversized collection of the master’s works.] [ Internet Movie Database entry for this film ]

See Scott’s review of The World of Chas Addams, from the October 2006 Staff Recommendations on BookGuide!

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


formatdvdJoyeux Noel
[DVD Joyeux]

During the early days of the first World War, really only five months after hostilities began, the French, German and British forces on the battlefield called a truce on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, meeting in the middle of the battlefield to share the task of burying their dead, but also so share small gifts and souvenirs, such as exchanging their helmets with their enemies, and to play impromptu games of soccer and sing Christmas carols.

Joyeux Noel is a 2005 French-language film, nominated for the Foreign Language Academy Award, which dramatizes this unique moment in the history of warfare. It features incredible performances from an international cast, and astonishing attention to the details of set design and costuming. This cease-fire in 1914 occurred again during Christmas of 1915, but to a much lesser extent, and the camaraderie disappeared by 1916.

Joyeux Noel humanizes and shows the commonalities of the participants in a horrific time in world history, and is an excellent piece of film-making. I highly recommend it, as long as you don’t mind subtitles.

[ Internet Movie Database entry for this film ] | [ official Joyeux Noel web site ] [ Wikipedia article on The Christmas Truce ]

Read Becky W.C.’s review of Silent Night: The Story of the World War I Christmas Truce in the February 2015 Staff Recommendations on BookGuide!

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


formatdvdLast Christmas
[DVD Last]

Last Christmas was a November 2019 theatrical release, timed to tap into the obvious holiday movie crowds. It was an interesting mix of “typical romcom Christmas movie”, which you see a lot of on television in the final months of the year, and character study of a life in decline.

Emilia Clarke (Game of Thrones, Solo: A Star Wars Story) plays Kate, a young woman whose life is, for the most part, on the rocks and who seems to be careening from one personal and emotional disaster to another — especially distressing at the beginning of the holiday season. And especially as she works, dressed as an elf, in a year-round Christmas-themed store. Henry Golding (Crazy Rich Asians) plays Tom, the charming, witty, humorous young man Kate encounters on the city streets one day with his bicycle.

An unlikely and unpredictable friendship develops between these two, and the plot involves several unexpected twists before an emotional ending. That’s all one can really say about Last Christmas without spoiling the story. I’ve run into several people who really ended up disliking Last Christmas, but I’m not one of those folks. Strong performances, and an abundant reliance on George Michael’s music made this an excellent film, in my opinion.

[ Internet Movie Database entry for this film ] | [ official Last Christmas web site ]

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


formatdvdStar Trek: Picard – Season One
[DVD Star]

I’m a Trekkie, through and through. I originally grew up on the syndicated repeats of the original 1960s series, when they first started in the early 1970s, and I’ve continued to follow all iterations of Star Trek, from The Next Generation to Deep Space Nine, Voyager and Enterprise. I suffered through the series of reboot movies, that “re-imagined” the original characters in recent years. I’ve only sampled Star Trek: Discovery, as I don’t subscribe to the streaming service it is carried upon. Similarly, I didn’t catch Star Trek: Picard on CBS All Access either, but loving the character of Jean Luc Picard on Star Trek: The Next Generation, I took a chance on purchasing the first season of Star Trek: Picard when it was released on DVD.

Unlike most recent Star Trek productions, which have either been set in the Kirk/Spock/McCoy era of Star Trek history or earlier, Star Trek: Picard is the first recent show to carry the storyline forward into the future. Patrick Stewart said he wouldn’t return to the character of Jean Luc Picard unless the storytellers were doing something completely new and different with the character. For this 10-episode first season, they definite have. Picard is set about over 25 years after the end of Star Trek: The Next Generation, and the universe-shattering events that took place in the final STNG feature film, Nemesis. In those three decades, the bright and hopeful Starfleet and United Federation of Planets envisioned by Star Trek’s creator, Gene Roddenberry, have definitely tarnished and begun to show some cracks. In some ways, Star Trek: Picard almost shows us a dystopian version of Star Trek.

A young woman seeks out Picard, who has retired to his vineyards in France, and begs for his help and protection. When Jean Luc discovers that the young woman may, indeed, be the android descendant of his late former comrade, Data, he agrees to help her — only to have her be murdered right in front of him. The knowledge that she was one of a pair of artificial life form twins causes Picard to abandon his retirement and assemble a rag tag crew aboard a mercenary pilot’s private starship, in hopes of finding the twin and saving her from forces bent on her destruction.

There are plenty of shout-outs to STNG and other Star Trek history, with some of Picard’s former crewmates showing up in supporting roles. But this series is mostly about establishing Picard’s new relationships with a bunch of new original characters, each of whom has their own baggage and flaws.

I’m not sure I like a dark, dystopian version of Star Trek, but the performances in Star Trek: Picard were excellent, as was the set design and special effects. I didn’t care for the resolution of a storyline that’s been hanging in Star Trek’s long-standing continuity for 33 years, though it certainly packed an emotional punch for anyone who has loved Star Trek for all 54 years of its existence. I recommend this new series, with caveats, and it’s not spoiler to say the show has been picked up for at least a second season — so I do look forward to seeing what happens next.

[ Internet Movie Database entry for this series ] | [ official Picard web site ]

See our Star Trek Reviews page for an archive of all “Star Trek” related reviews throughout the history of the Staff Recommendations on BookGuide!

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


last updated December 2020
* Please Note: The presence of a link on this site does not constitute an endorsement by Lincoln City Libraries.

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