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Staff Recommendations – December 2021

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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 2021 Recommendations

Something Wicked This Way Comes
by Ray Bradbury (Bradbury)

Something Wicked This Way Comes is about boyhood and the turn of the season from late summer to the suddenly cool breezes of late October. A carnival arrives in the middle of the night amid strange omens that excite two go-everywhere-together boys. Does the carnival hold a terrible secret? Of course it does!

What I love about Bradbury’s writing is the near-constant feeling of exhilaration whether he’s describing everyday things or strange happenings. His writing feels unconstrained. He’s always dancing like no one’s watching and this makes for such a fun reading experience! This story in particular felt like the distilled essence of every small town Stephen King story about children and a few adults confronting a great evil, just with a lighter-hearted tone. Of course the influence is the other way around: Something Wicked This Way Comes was a major influence for King’s sense of story and probable inspiration for iconic details like Pennywise peeking out of the sewer grate.

I read a 2017 trade paperback edition which includes a selection of essays from famous authors (including King & Atwood), plus notes on how this novel came to be. I learned that at one point it was a musical screenplay in the hands of Gene Kelly as he unsuccessfully tried to find a producer to back the film. Beyond the one literal song-and-dance number still on the page toward the end, it’s fun to spot the other places where dance breaks would naturally fit in.

Keeping all this praise in mind, the experience is tempered by pervasive sexism, racism, and ableism. It reminded me of the Ripley’s Believe It Or Not books as they existed in my childhood of the late 1980s. The carnival has a “freak show” where people are exoticized for their ethnicity and medical conditions. Women are characterized as “warm clocks” whom men both envy and hate for their ability to produce children. So my recommendation is that this can be a book worth reading, so long as you know what you’re getting into.

( Wikipedia page for the novel Something Wicked This Way Comes ) | ( official Ray Bradbury web site )

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

See also: Scott C.’s review of Something Wicked This Way Comes in the October 2004 Staff Recommendations here on BookGuide!


Rez Dogs
by Joseph Bruchac (j Bruchac)

When Malian went to visit her grandparents on the reservation, she didn’t expect to get stuck there because of the pandemic. She misses her parents, but she is glad to be able to help her grandparents. She shows them how to video-chat and they tell her stories, and when a local dog show up at her door, she knows he has come to protect them.

The story is told in verse and is an enjoyable read, combining current events with traditional storytelling. It tells of how Malian’s community has responded to adversity in the past and how they continue caring for one another today.

Joseph Bruchac is a highly acclaimed children’s book author, poet, novelist, and storyteller, as well as a scholar of Native American culture. He has authored many books for children and adults.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try A Boy Called Slow: The True Story of Sitting Bull, also by Joseph Bruchac, Ancestor Approved: Intertribal Stories for Kids by Cynthia Leitich Smith, Grow: A Novel in Verse by Juanita Havill, Sugar Falls : a residential school story by David Robertson, or The Barren Grounds by David Robertson.)

( publisher’s official Rez Dogs web page ) | ( official Joseph Bruchac web site )

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


Cloud Cuckoo Land
by Anthony Doerr (Doerr)

Can a story survive centuries? Can it find relevance across the ages? That’s what I wondered as I read Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr.

As one character states, books rarely survive. He says books are resting places for memories of people who have lived before. “But books, like people, die. They die in fires or floods or in the mouths or worms or at the whims of tyrants. If they are not safe-guarded, they go out of the world. And when a book goes out of the world, the memory dies a second breath.” The fable of Cloud Cuckoo Land by Antonius Diogenes entails how Aethon attempts to turn into a bird. He wishes to fly to Cloud Cuckoo Land where there is no suffering, only plenty of food and happiness. The story is woven throughout the book, with a short snip-it here, and another page there.

Thirteen-year-old Anna in Constantinople who works with nuns in an embroidery house 500 years ago, but who is really a thief on the side, uncovers a copy of the old Aethon fable. Anna does this while attempting to get money to pay for her ill sister Maria. Also touched by the story is Omeir, a teenage boy with a cleft palate who cared for oxen for the army invading Constantinople. Then there is Zeno who during the Korean war was a prisoner of war. But now during 2020 is in his 80s, and is practicing a play based on Aethon that he translated with five children. They find themselves in the present time in the same library with a teenage bomber named Seymore who has an axe to grind, or actually a library to blow up. And finally to the teenager, Konstance, traveling through space to a new planet she will never actually reach before she dies. To keep herself occupied, Konstance writes down the fable on scraps of paper as she is quarantined alone aboard her ship.

Did I love this book? Hmm. I’m not sure. I don’t regret the time reading it. It took a little time to put together all the storylines, but it was an intelligent book with a story to tell. It had a deeper meaning to make the reader ponder, and it was cleverly written. At the end I thought, “aha. Now I see how it all fits together.”

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, or The Midnight Library by Matthew Haig.)

( official Cloud Cuckoo Land web site ) | ( official Anthony Doerr web site )

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


A Slow Fire Burning
by Paula Hawkins (Hawkins)

The story begins with several horrific tales. The first involves a girl staggering in the dark from a murderer. The second is a young woman stumbling into her apartment bloody and bruised. The third story details a woman investigating oddities on the houseboat next to hers, only to discover a gruesome murder. There’s nothing like a bit of bloodshed and dread to get a mystery book started. A Slow Fire Burning by Paula Hawkins (author of The Girl on the Train) grabs you from the start. Which of these experiences have caused a “slow fire burning?” Are they related? And which of them might have pushed someone over the edge to commit murder?

Our victim Daniel is a young man with his own dark demons resulting from a negligent, drunken mother. He has always been a bit off. Then again, so are a lot of the other quirky characters in the book. One lost a child from negligence. Another was hit by a car as a child and almost left for dead. Another was abducted as a teen. It’s a smorgasbord of dark deeds, madness, and resentment. But do you have to be just a little mad to commit murder?

There are twists and turns. It’s the kind of book you race through to see if you have guessed correctly. Even then, Hawkins packs a surprise punch at the end you don’t see coming. I highly recommend A Slow Fire Burning. Just make sure you leave yourself enough time to go racing through it. You won’t want to put it down.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins, Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens or Eight Perfect Murders by Peter Swanson.)

( publisher’s official A Slow Fire Burning web page ) | ( official Paula Hawkins web site )

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


Lived Through That: 90s Musicians Today
by Mike Hipple (Music 781.66 Hip)

If you’re a Gen-X person or just a 90s music lover, Lived Through That is a fantastic stroll down memory lane. More importantly, it serves as a kind of “where are they now” update for many artists whose only hits happened during the heyday of grunge, the swing revival, and riot grrls. The emphasis here is on photography — author Mike Hipple has produced beautiful photo essays showing us how these former stars have gracefully landed in middle age — but each featured artist also receives a page of updated biographical information.

Some of these updates are quite surprising, too. Did you know that the frontman of The Presidents of the United States of America became a children’s musician, and has recorded 16 albums as Caspar Babypants? Did you know that John S. Hall of King Missile went on to become an attorney? That Eric Judy of Modest Mouse left the band and opened a neighborhood bookstore with his wife?

For the most part, though, the musicians featured here have continued to work in music, even if they’re somewhat removed from the spotlight afforded them earlier in their careers. In that sense, there’s a certain comfort and humility to these profiles, seeing how so many artists that might be written off as “one hit wonders” can find their own stride and keep creating. Some, like Yuka Honda of Cibo Matto, have continued to explore a wide and ever-expanding variety of musical directions, while some bands like Letters to Cleo or Belly took breaks and have subsequently reformed. A few like the Dandy Warhols have continued playing since the 90s. But together, they all show how life continues to unfold in unexpected ways, and we can all relate to these journeys.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Now is the Time to Invent! Reports From the Indie-Rock Revolution, 1986-2000 by Steve Connell, Girls to the Front: The True Story of the Riot Grrrl Revolution by Sara Marcus or Untypical Girls: Styles and Sounds of the Transatlantic Indie Revolution by Sam Knee.)

( official Mike Hipple web site )

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Recommended by Scott S.
Polley Music Library


A Line to Kill
by Anthony Horowitz, narrated by Rory Kinnear (Compact Disc Horowitz)

Another excellent entry in the extremely “meta” Hawthorn & Horowitz series by Anthony Horowitz, in which he is a character in his own book. Horowitz the author once again serves as the reluctant “Watson” to the eccentric sleuth Daniel Hawthorne. This time, Horowitz and Hawthorne have been invite to the remote island of Alderney, to participate in a literary festival and to promote their first book collaboration (The Word is Murder). Horowitz is reluctant to be stuck with Hawthorne for a lengthy period (and is surprised when the normally taciturn ex-detective agrees to the publicity junket — but as an author, he’s always enjoyed literary festivals in the past.

But when they get to the island of Alderney, they discover that their fellow literary guests are an odd bunch, and there are hostilities rampant among the locals about a proposed real estate/technology project that threatens the quality of life for many of them. When a death occurs, associated with the festival, the lack of any significant local constabulary means that ex-police officer Hawthorne is asked to unofficially assist in the sudden murder investigation. But…Hawthorne has a stake in the case, as one of the suspects is the man whose injuries while in police custody led to Hawthorne’s being let go from the force.

As in the first two volumes, Horowitz does a terrific job making it seem like the events are “real life” and that he is relating events that actually happened to him. Rory Kinnear gives another perfect audiobook reading, creating unique and distinctive voices/personalities for all the characters. By the time I got to the stunning conclusion, I had to go back and make sure Horowitz played fair with us readers by planting the clues that led to the end of A Line to Kill…and he did. Very well-plotted, this character-driven story should appeal to fans of Holmesian fiction.

(It is fairly essential that you read/listen to the first two entries in this series before this one — The Word is Murder and The Sentence is Death both by Horowitz, and both narrated in audiobook format by Rory Kinnear, the format I recommend.)

( official Hawthorne & Horowitz page on the official Anthony Horowitz web site )

Read Scott C.’s reviews of The Word is Murder and The Sentence is Death, in the May 2019 and July 2019 Staff Recommendations here on BookGuide!

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


My Heart is a Chainsaw
by Stephen Graham Jones (Jones)

My Heart is a Chainsaw mixes realistic contemporary fiction with horror, slashers in particular. Jade is on the verge of graduating high school in a small lake town in Idaho. She’s been obsessed with slasher films for years. She’ll talk about them at any perceived opportunity and goes on at length about slasher film elements and history in her homework. She’s convinced all the elements are right for a local slasher event. There WAS a long-ago slasher event at the summer camp on the lake where Jade sometimes hides out to avoid her home. Plus, there’s the preacher who died rather than abandon his drowning church when the dam created the lake. And there’s a local witch legend about a Native girl like Jade.

If all this history weren’t enough, a group of wealthy people have decided to make a new luxury development across the lake, on top of what was once a burial ground. When one of these rich girls joins Jade’s senior class, Jade knows: she’s found the Final Girl who will stand up to the slasher. It’s a good thing Jade is so ready to prepare her for the coming blood bath. And, yes, there ARE a number of odd deaths happening. Is it really a slasher cycle starting, or is Jade deluded?

This book is not itself tightly paced like a slasher film. When I checked other reviews, this seems to be the main complaint from people who expected that. Instead, it’s leisurely paced with maybe ten short, scattered chapters that are literally Jade’s history class essays about slashers, local history and legends, and interviews she’s done with people in town about their experiences. This is a book for people who like extended editions DVDs and watching the special features. And, yes, there will be blood.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try The Final Girl Support Group by Grady Hendrix, or When No One is Watching by Alyssa Cole.)

( official My Heart is a Chainsaw page on the official Stephen Graham Jones web site )

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


Firebreak
by Nicole Kornher-Stace (Kornher-Stace)

Firebreak is a cyberpunk thriller set a century or two in the future. Like most other people, Mal works a variety of small jobs to get by during a protracted corporate war in the nearby megacity. One way she makes money is streaming a VR combat game modeled after the megacity’s real life conflict between supersoldiers and giant mechs. A mysterious sponsor offers her and her gaming partner roommate enough money to focus only on streaming, but this puts them both deep into conspiracy theory territory about the true nature of the supersoldiers. Mal quickly becomes involved in danger beyond the game.

This book is set in the same world as Archivist Wasp, but it’s marketed as a standalone novel, not a prequel in the same series. The tone and storytelling style of these books are far different, and I imagine there will be many readers who only want one kind of book or the other. However, if you do happen to dig both tech thrillers and dreamlike fantasy fiction, it’s satisfying to see the connections. I was enraptured by both.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Reamde by Neal Stephenson, or The Book of Phoenix by Nnedi Okorafor.)

( publisher’s official Firebreak web page ) | ( official Nicole Kornher-Stace web site )

Read Garren H.’s review of The Archivist Wasp in the September 2021 Staff Recommendations here on BookGuide!

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


An Amy Lane Christmas Bundle
by Amy Lane (Hoopla eBook)

Five short and sweet gay holiday romance novellas by Amy Lane. I had encountered all of these short stories previously as ebooks (and they all are still available individually in that format from your bookstore) and was very pleased to learn they had been collected into this anthology (which is also available from bookstores in a hardcopy format).

“If I Must” follows two roommates. Ian is a genius mathematician who gets so caught up in his work that he essentially needs a caretaker to ensure he eats. Joel is an organized computer programmer who tries his best to keep Ian on track. Then Joel heads home for a short holiday visit with his family and everything falls apart for Ian.

“Christmas with Danny Fit” involves an unmarried accountant who cares for, and lives with, his widowed mother – who doesn’t appreciate what all he does for her. He decides it’s past time for him to make a change so he begins to diet and buys exercise videos by his favorite exercise guru Danny Fit, and makes plans to purchase a home and move in. Of course he meets a guy along the way. Let the holiday romance begin.

“Puppy, Car, and Snow” Ryan works as a soul-less corporate lawyer, but for the past three years his personal life has been everything he could ask for after he met Scott. They are traveling to Ryan’s parent’s cabin for Christmas with his family, but Ryan’s disapproving mother is sucking the joy out of the holidays, and unfortunately they get snowed-in. Will their relationship survive?

“Turkey in the Snow” Hank is a staid banker whose sister has dumped her 4-year-old daughter on him and left. He’s trying his best to provide what a little girl needs but is out of his element. Flamboyant Justin is the childcare worker at Hank’s gym and is able to assist with the care of a little girl anticipating the holidays. And of course they begin to notice each other.

And my favorite, “Going Up” (the entire reason I purchased this anthology): Zach lives in the penthouse apartment of his father’s building. One day the express elevator breaks so Zach walks down a couple of flights to catch the regular elevator and encounters a man in a costume. Sean is working as a substitute history teacher and routinely dresses up as a historical character to keep his students’ attention. Zach now decides he likes riding the regular elevator and ensures he rides at the same time to “accidentally” run into Sean each morning. Who among us has not done something similar? It was fun watching this one unfold.

Five short and sweet holiday romance stories, each one can be read in an afternoon. .

( official Amy Lane web site )

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


The Maidens
by Alex Michaelides (Michaelides)

Marianna is a group therapist in London. When her niece, Zoe, calls about her friend missing, Marianna travels to visit her niece in the formal academic world of Cambridge. Reemerging into the world of Cambridge she’d known with her late husband, Marianna understands the layout of the land, references to Greek mythology, and the clues related to classic literature. The Maidens is a modern day gothic mystery/thriller.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try The Silent Patient, also by Alex Michaelides, or The Last Thing He Told Me by Laura Dave.)

( publisher’s official The Maidens web page ) | ( Alex Michaelides on: Instagram | Twitter )

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Recommended by Jodi R.
Anderson and Bethany Branch Libraries


The Three Sisters
by Heather Morris (Morris)

Based on a true story, The Three Sisters tells of three Jewish sisters who survive Auschwitz-Birkenau, the death marches across Europe, and then Communist rule in their home of Slovakia. It’s an emotional story that reveals the strength of love between sisters that endure the horrors of the concentration camps, and that goodness can be found even within those walls.

The story begins with the three very young sisters making a promise to their father that they will always stay together. Years later the youngest sister, Livia, is ordered by the Nazis to take a train to Auschwitz to “work for the Germans.” Her oldest sister Cibi, 19, goes with Livia even though Cibi was not named on the list. Cibi could hide out and avoid selection; It’s a decision that could easily take Cibi’s life. But because Cibi goes, Livia — one of the smallest girls in their group — is able to survive. Magda, age 17, ducks the Nazi forces for a time, but eventually she also ends up at Auschwitz-Birkenau. The sisters are reunited and find they have to support each other emotionally, as well as physically: those who fell during the death marches were shot on the spot. They also discover upon returning to their homeland that life is not easy under Communist rule and the people of their country still align against the Jews. Eventually the sisters travel to Israel, where they are able to establish a real home, and two still live there today. It is because of the love of the sisters and the kindness of strangers that these sisters survived against all odds.

Honestly, the book is not an easy book to read. The horrors that happened to the girls and to others at Auschwitz are difficult to comprehend. Also difficult to read is how some Jews lived while others died. One such example is when two sisters survive a bitter cold night after someone steals their blanket. They stumble outside to quicken their end and freeze to death outdoors. A kind soul convinces them to return and “finds” them a blanket, pulled from another set of girls. In the morning, those girls are found dead.

When I considered why I enjoyed this book I think too often we see pressure and stress causing the worst to squeeze out of people, especially during these trying times. So I found it uplifting to see that people can live through great adversity and tragedy and good can still be found.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try The Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly, or The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris.)

( official The Three Sisters page on the official Heather Morris web site )

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


William S. Burroughs and the Cult of Rock and Roll
by Casey Rae (Music 781.66 Burroughs)

Novelist William Burroughs wasn’t a musician, and there are rarely descriptions of music or musical events in his writing, yet his evocative work is often referenced by musicians. Author Casey Rae has published a book that explores these links, called William S. Burroughs and the Cult of Rock and Roll, and while I ultimately find the book to be fairly flawed, there are some interesting musical moments documented here.

Particularly during the periods where Burroughs lived in London and then New York City in the 1960s and 70s, he was introduced to many people who were inspired by his work, among them many musicians. By the 80s and 90s, he was living in Lawrence, KS, and he often accepted musical collaborations that simply required him to record himself reading in a studio near his home. From there, his voice recordings were sent off to various musicians to use as they desired. I suspect that he thought of these collaborations more as work than pleasure—his income from writing was never particularly fruitful, and once he became known as a Beat Generation icon, he realized that he could leverage public appearances and collaborations as another form of income.

A brief introduction outlines most of the musicians we’ll learn about in more detail through the rest of the book. This is followed by a chapter about Burroughs’ single long-distance collaboration with Kurt Cobain of Nirvana, and a retelling of the later occasion where they met at Burroughs’ Lawrence home. Then the book dips back in time to the 60s, from which it moves forward again more or less chronologically to the end. I found this to be a strange formatting choice—his association with Cobain was minimal, to be generous, and is Cobain somehow more notable than other artists mentioned throughout the book like David Bowie or Bob Dylan? The author is a Gen-X fellow, as am I, so I’m sure his awareness of Burroughs is somehow associated in time with Cobain’s rise to stardom. But I don’t think there’s a compelling reason to place Cobain at the beginning of this book. It feels awkward.

As we get into each musician in Burroughs’ orbit throughout the book, a similar kind of narrative structure guides us along: we read a bit about a time and place in Burroughs’ life (and sometimes we flash back to earlier points for more context), and we get a quick summary biography of a musician, setting us up for a (usually fleeting) interaction between the two. As each of these meetings take place, the general theme of the book comes into view, which is that Burroughs as a counterculture figure has either influenced the musician in a general way, or that the Burroughs cut-up methods used in his early 60s “Nova Trilogy” are techniques they’ve found revelatory for manipulating lyrics, sound, or both. Musicians influenced by his counterculture status generally manifest the influence explicitly, through song titles, lyrics, or band names such as The Soft Machine, Steely Dan, or the Wild Boys. Musicians influenced more by his cut-up techniques manifest what they’ve borrowed from Burroughs more implicitly, like the rapid-fire audio cutups of John Oswald or the lyrical manipulation Bob Dylan and David Bowie tried on a few songs.

But what I find frustrating about the book is that the relationships aren’t mutual, or even relationships at all. Burroughs didn’t know much about the work of these artists, and didn’t particularly care, either. I felt the same way years ago reading the Victor Bockris book With William Burroughs: A Report From the Bunker, which documented many evenings of dinners at the Burroughs “bunker” in NYC. That book is a succession of folks being brought in front of Burroughs, many of whom obviously looked up to him while he knew little about them. It felt exploitative, like the people surrounding him were mostly interested in seeing what shenanigans might occur. That’s mostly the level of relationship in the musician/Burroughs interactions featured here. Among the musicians that he clicks more fully with, it’s because they have mutual interests, experiences or ideologies that have nothing to do with music.

There are a few little mistakes and omissions in the book as well. The Burroughs/Cobain collaboration EP is mentioned as being a “two-song set,” but there is only one. When the Gysin/Sommerville flicker machine is mentioned, it’s called a “Dream Machine,” but the actual device was marketed as the stylized “Dreamachine.” Interestingly, there’s no mention that Burroughs directed Cobain to David Woodard, a bespoke producer of Dreamachines, and that Cobain had some related electronic gadgets on hand as well. And some connections that might have made musical collaborations with Burroughs more interesting are omitted: both Daevid Allen and Bill Laswell are interviewed, for example, and both worked with Burroughs, but it would have been noteworthy to mention that Laswell got his start in the music business playing in Allen’s New York Gong band, which morphed into Laswell’s early Material project.

So there is an influence to be documented here, but it’s an abstract one, not really musical, and it’s fundamentally a pretty obvious kind of influence that might not have merited a book. If you’re a Burroughs fan, or a fan of various strains of prog, punk, folk, industrial, hip-hop and pop from the 60s to the 90s, you’ll find some interesting tidbits to read about here, but ultimately I think the notion that Burroughs was a pervasive underground influence on music is overstated. While he was involved with more music-related projects than many of his literary contemporaries, a lot of that came down to his relative accessibility and his need for income. While this book provides a unique way to navigate both Burroughs’ biography and popular music trends of the 60s through the early 90s, the two elements ultimately remain parallel stories rather than interconnected relationships.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Music of the Counterculture Era by James E. Perone, Gentleman Junkie: The Life and Legacy of William S. Burroughs by Graham Caveney or Nonbinary: A Memoir by Genesis P-Orridge.)

( official Williams S. Burroughs and the Cult of Rock and Roll web site )

Recommended by Scott S.
Polley Music Library


Hey Gurl, It’s Christmas!
by Randy Rainbow (Compact Disc 394 Rai)

Randy Rainbow is a comedian and singer, who first popped up in the pop culture zeitgeist around 2010, doing comedy videos in which he intercuts video of himself with video of various celebrities and/or newsmakers, to make it appear as if they were having phone conversations. His videos got a lot of traction, and then his popularity exploded in 2016 when he turned to making political parody videos set to music. Again, his style was to intercut images of himself with the politicians he was mocking, to make it look like he was interviewing them, but now he created full-fledged musical numbers — liberally borrowing well-known Broadway hit songs but applying his own all-original thematic lyrics. Randy has dozens of these bitingly satirical videos out there, from 2016 to 2021.

In the Winter of 2020, Randy released his first album, this holiday-themed collection of seven songs — Hey Gurl, It’s Christmas! Of the seven, one is a political parody — “Trumps Favorite Things” (set to “My Favorite Things” from “The Sound of Music”). One is a completely original song — the title track. And the other five are well-known Christmas songs, with a Randy Rainbow twist. Randy has guest performers with him on several tracks — Kathy Griffin and Alan Cummings are psychoanalysts helping Randy as he deals with the repercussions of “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus”. Broadway superstar Norm Lewis duets with Randy on a mashup of “Merry Christmas Darling/What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?” And another Broadway diva, Lorna Luft shares the crooning duties on “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” with Randy.

Other than the political parody song, the two tracks that are most Randy-like (sassy, sarcastic, and flamboyant) are the opening number, “Hey Gurl, It’s Christmas”, where he collaborates with Broadway hitmaker Marc Shaiman, and the upbeat “Make Someone Happy” that wraps up the disc. It’s a short collection, and in true Randy Rainbow style, there is quite a bit of…colorful…language, so if you’re easily offended by casual swearing, this isn’t for you. But if you’ve enjoyed Randy’s online video parodies for the past 5+ years, you’ll love this holiday collection!

(If you enjoy this, Randy has a new album, A Little Brains, A Little Talent, which just came out in November 2021, not yet in the libraries’ collection. Or look for his parody videos online, especially on YouTube.)

( official Randy Rainbow web site )

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


Who Rescued Who?
by Victoria Schade (Schade)

I’ll have to admit — the main reason I picked up this contemporary romance novel was because of the adorable puppy on the cover. That dog, Georgina, does become one of the best characters is this light-weight piece of romantic fluff.

Elizabeth Barnes is a Silicon Valley software designer for an up-and-coming gaming company, who finds herself unceremoniously canned by her boss, over something that wasn’t really even her own fault. Reeling from that career/life setback, when Elizabeth receives word from Rowan, a man claiming to be her Uncle (though her late father never told her of any other family members. Rowan tells her she’s inherited a parcel of land in the English countryside that was supposed to have been her fathers, but he refused to claim it. Now that he’s passed on, the land has become hers. Elizabeth decides a quick trip to England to meet relatives she never knew about, and to sell land she doesn’t intend to keep, will help her pass the time while she tries to figure out how to regain a foothold in the tech industry and reveal her former boss’s duplicitous nature.

But all good plans come to naught, as her new-found relatives, including a reclusive but famous painter, welcome her with open arms, and she quickly makes friends with several of her acquaintances in the village of Fargrove, making it more and more difficult for her to leave and exact her revenge on her former employer. And…most importantly…she rescues a little abandoned puppy, and is coerced into fostering it (after she names it Georgina) while she’s in England.

Who Rescued Who? was well-written and I fell for all of the characters, except for Elizabeth, who had such a tunnel-vision issue over her unjustified firing and how to fix that situation, that she was blind to all the interesting stuff surrounding her in her new locale, particularly her new beau, James. None-the-less, the relationship between Elizabeth (newly nicknamed Bess) and her uncle Rowan, and all the scenes with the dog(s) made up for Elizabeth’s own failings. A light, fun read…

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try the “Rescue Me” series by Debbie Burns.)

( publisher’s official Who Rescued Who? web page ) | ( author Victoria Schade‘s Twitter feed )

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


Great Circle
by Maggie Shipstead (Shipstead)

Strong female characters from two different time periods were at the center of this book from the 2021 Booker Shortlist. Marian Graves & her twin brother were born in 1914, then raised by an uncle in Missoula, Montana. Marian’s story, of pursuing her dream of being a pilot, paints a picture of our country’s development during the 20th century. A century later Hadley Baxter, also raised by an uncle after being orphaned, researches Marian’s life before portraying her in a film. This book is an epic story and a shining example of historical fiction.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson, The Secrets We Kept by Lara Prescott, Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalieror People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks.)

( official Great Circle page on the official Maggie Shipstead web site )

See Jodi R.’s 2021 Booker Award Longlist booklist here on BookGuide!

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Recommended by Jodi R.
Anderson and Bethany Branch Libraries


Getaway
by Zoje Stage (Stage)

Getaway is the story of two sisters and their childhood friend going hiking for a week in the Grand Canyon. The idea is to get together after years of living their own lives. Maybe this is what one of the sisters, Imogen, needs after living through two traumatic attacks by men, including a shooting at her synagogue. It’s been getting harder to leave her own apartment as she struggles with writer’s block. Her sister, Beck, is the expedition leader with a pregnant wife awaiting her return and a well-meaning hidden agenda for the trip. Their friend Tilda has become a famous influencer and just landed a major book deal of her own, though she’s never been hiking like this before.

The trail is a wonderful experience for them all, until Imogen starts to notice small things that may indicate they’re not alone. (Hey, guess what, they’re not alone.) This is a realistic adventure thriller.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Be Not Far From Me by Mindy McGinnis, Wild by Cheryl Strayed or I Am Still Alive by Kate Alice Marshall.)

( official Getaway info on the official Zoje Stage blog )

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


Together We Will Go
by J. Michael Straczynski (Straczynski)

I’ve been a fan of the writing of J. Michael Straczynski for many years. He is perhaps best known as a writer for both television and the comic book industry. Personally, I loved the series Babylon 5, which he created and executive produced, and for which he wrote the majority of the episodes over a 5-season run of 110+ episodes and TV-movies.

Together We Will Go is Straczynski’s first original novel in over twenty years (his first 3 were either horror or mystery novels, published between 1988 and 2000). This is general fiction, and while I did enjoy it very much, it is not going to be for everyone.

To be blunt, Together We Will Go is about suicide. A failed writer hatches a plan to create an interactive narrative work, using the life stories of a group of suicidal strangers. He buys a bus in Miami, has it rigged up with technology to be a mobile WiFi hotspot, equipped with equipment to record and store tons of data, then sends out a message to online forums and bulletin boards — this bus is going to travel across the country, picking up anyone who is serious about killing themselves, and at the end of the journey, the bus and all its passengers will drive off a cliff in San Francisco, killing them all. In order to join the group of travelers, you have to sign a release, and then you have to live-journal your experiences, to leave a record of your life behind.

This novel is epistolary in nature — it is told entirely in journal fragments, from the dozen or more people who join the trip — blog entries, voice messages, emails, all non-traditional storytelling elements.

There is a lot of pain in this novel — we get to see up-close-and-personal the kinds of struggles that make a variety of people suicidal. Anyone with serious depression issues will probably be triggered by elements of this story. But all the characters are fascinating and well-developed.

The cross-country journey reveals a lot of hidden truths, and deceptions. For those of us living her in Nebraska, you may enjoy the fact that there are scenes set at Omaha’s Lauritzen Gardens, and in Lexington, that all prove pivotal to the plot of novel.

Like I said, it’s not going to be for everyone, but personally, I found it to be riveting reading.

( publisher’s official Together We Will Go web page) | ( official J. Michael Straczynski Twitter feed )

See Scott C.’s review of J. Michael Straczynski’s TV series Babylon 5, in the June 2005 Staff Recommendations here on BookGuide!

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


The Lincoln Highway
by Amor Towles (Towles)

It was a treat to read about places in Nebraska I recognize: the 4th of July Festivities in Seward; a roadtrip to Omaha; etc. The author of former One Book — One Lincoln title A Gentleman in Moscow was at his best with his storytelling in this new novel. Set in the 1950’s, this story of a young man taking care of his little brother after they’ve been orphaned opens up several storylines, tying them neatly together with no loose ends by the last page. The idea of an epic journey is mentioned often, and that’s just what this book is. Beautiful storytelling and character development.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try This Tender Land and Ordinary Grace, both by William Kent Krueger or A Gentleman in Moscow and Rules of Civility, both by Amor Towles.)

( official The Lincoln Highway page on the official Amor Towles web site )

See Scott C.’s review of the audiobook version of Amor Towle’s A Gentleman in Moscow, in the June 2017 Staff Recommendations here on BookGuide!

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Recommended by Jodi R.
Anderson and Bethany Branch Libraries


Fugitive Telemetry
by Martha Wells (Wells)

This is sixth story in the Murderbot Diaries series by Martha Wells, featuring one of the most unique narrative voices in modern science fiction. The story is told from the point-of-view of a self-aware security bot (SecUnit), who broke the security software and hardware that was keeping it a slave to its human owners back in the first novella, All Systems Red (2017). Since then, despite the fact that all “Murderbot” (which is what it calls itself) wants to do is be left alone to hide somewhere and watch its hundreds of hours of popular media (the futuristic equivalent of soap operas), the Security Unit has made friends — both biological and mechanical — and through their intervention, has achieved a certain level of autonomy over its own fate — this, despite the fact that most humans would prefer to see it back under human control.

In this sixth volume of this compelling science fiction series, the SecUnit ends up having to investigate the murder of a human on the research colony where it currently resides. Always distrustful of human motivations, SecUnit doesn’t really want to help the human security officers it has been asked to assist, but without SecUnit’s technological capabilities, the humans’ ability to quickly investigate and solve the murder is questionable. So…SecUnit grudgingly cooperates. What ensues is a fascinating murder mystery investigation in a high-tech futuristic science fiction environment.

Highly recommended…as long as you’ve read the five previous installments in the series!

(Before you read this, you’ll want to read the previous five novels or novellas in the Murderbot series by Martha Wells.)

( official Murderbot Diaries page on the official Martha Wells web site )

Read Scott C.’s reviews of All Systems Red in the July 2019 Staff Recommendations here on BookGuide!
Read Scott C.’s review of the first four volumes of the Murderbot Diaries in the January 2020 Staff Recommendations here on BookGuide!

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


The Iron Widow
by Xiran Jay Zhao (YA Zhao)

Let me start off by saying it is hard to do this book justice without a whole podcast. It is by turns a futuristic dystopia, a love triangle, enemies to lovers/friends to lovers and a history-rewritten novel. Zetian is a woman from an impoverished inter-generational, provincial Chinese family who is sold as a concubine to pilot mechas with a male partner. She knows being sold will most likely result in her death, having watched it happen to her perfect older sister, yet she proceeds willingly in an attempt to mete out justice to the pilot who murdered her sister. She discovers she is more powerful than she believed. She finds love but doesn’t need it to be successful. This whole plot is inspired by the story of Wu Zetian, China’s only empress, who lived from 624- 709 AD. The audiobook is especially cool as the narrator pronounces Chinese names and nouns for a non-Chinese speaking audience. #womanboss #femaleempowerment

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Pacific Rim, The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang or Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir.)

( publisher’s official Iron Widow web page ) | ( official Xiran Jay Zhao web site – including links to her Twitter, Instagram and YouTube pages )

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Recommended by Caitlin L.
Bennett Martin Public Library — Public Service


Arcana 10: Musicians on Music
by John Zorn (Music 780.904 Arc V. 10)

In editor John Zorn’s preface to Arcana X, it becomes clear that he considers this 10th volume in the series to be the final volume. As a reader since the first Arcana was published in 2000, I’m bummed to hear that we’ve reached the end of this series, but incredibly grateful for the journey. If I had to choose one set of books in the Polley Music Library that have had the greatest impact on my own musical thinking and work, it would be the Arcana series.

Like all of the Arcana books, this is a collection of essays written by contemporary working musicians across a wide range of musical backgrounds. The topics and styles of each essay can vary widely — some talk specifically about their own musical practices or influences in a straightforward manner, others take philosophical, poetic, or academic approaches, and others are downright playful, creating theatrical skits to illustrate their ideas. My favorite thing about all of these books is that you’re likely to read about some artists you already know, but you’re just as likely to read about some new-to-you artists that you’re sure to love. For me, I was delighted to read composer Charlie Looker’s intense philosophical considerations toward using melismatic passages in his music, a touching autobiographical recap from legendary drummer Dave Lombardo, and an inspiring discussion of the pedal steel guitar and its unusual quirks by Susan Alcorn, among other great essays. And new-to-me artists in this volume include composer/trombonist Alex Paxton and young composer Ben Coniguliaro, both of whose music seems to have a certain resonance with their writing styles.

Most of the essays in this final volume were written during the pandemic conditions of 2020, so some artists were pursuing ideas they’d never had the time to consider in their usual rushed schedules as professional musicians. Composer David Hertzberg writes of developing a new relationship with the recordings of John Coltrane, for example, and violinist Stefan Jackiw details his time thinking about and playing through sections of Beethoven’s Violin Concerto. Perhaps my favorite essay here is by German composer Ulrich Krieger, who writes convincingly about our current moment in music history as being on the cusp of an unprecedented transition toward freer and fuller musical futures. But you really can’t go wrong reading anything in Arcana X — in a period of uncertainty, the optimism and dedication of all of these artists is a reward unto itself for readers.

Like the other volumes in the series, the main essay section is followed by short biographies for each contributor and recommended listening lists for each. My advice: read the essays, and if someone especially captures your imagination, flip to the back and track down some examples of their music from the listening list. If you’re like me, you’ll find yourself repeating this process many times, and your own listening and music-making will become all the better for it.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Arcana: Musicians on Music, Arcana volume II and Arcana Volume IX, all edited by John Zorn.)

( official Tzadik – John Zorn web site )

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Recommended by Scott S.
Polley Music Library


Screening Room

formatdvdThe Kid Detective
(DVD Kid)

This one was an entertaining surprise. I hadn’t heard anything about it, prior to seeing the DVD show up in the library. Initially, I thought it might be about a kid who’d been an actor, playing a pre-teen sleuth in his own childhood, still trying to live up to that “image”. But, no, in The Kid Detective, Adam Brody plays Abe Applebaum — a man in his late thirties or early forties — who is coasting through a pointless life, never able to recapture the glory of when he was a pre-teen prodigy who actually solved mysteries! He was even set up with an office by the Mayor, and the mayor’s pre-teen daughter served as his secretary. But his days of tripping up liars, revealing the locations of lost items, and identifying who stole something from his school, came to an abrupt end when his secretary disappears and no-one — not the cops and not the Kid Detective — could figure out what ever happened to her. He’s still haunted by that failure to this day.

Now, Abe continues to work as a private detective, solving picayune problems and using drink and drugs to dull his disappointment in life. But all that may change, when a young woman hires him to help determine who brutally murdered her boyfriend. Adam Brody’s performance is mesmerizing…equal parts deadpan and self-pitying. Sarah Sutherland as his client, Lucy, was intriguing downplayed. The actors as Abe’s parents are marvelous, particularly in some humor-and-pathos-filled moments as they try to prevent Abe from making a fool of himself.

The Kid Detective is a mystery, wrapped in movie about self-discovery and redemption. It is both comedy and tragedy. It was an unexpected treat and I strongly recommend it. To say more about the plot details would be to spoil the unveiling of all the surprises that are in store for you.

( Internet Movie Database entry for this film ) | ( official The Kid Detective Facebook page )

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


formatdvdThe Last Shift
(DVD Last)

This is a quirky, somewhat depressing, little “slice of life” drama, with terrific performances from its two leads. Richard Jenkins plays Stanley, a man nearing the end of his career as a late-shift manager of a hole-in-the-wall fast independent fast food restaurant. Shane Paul McGhie plays Jevon, the young black man that restaurant management hires to take over from Stanley — and they want Stanley to train his replacement.

Stanley is stuck in his ways, and feels he and the job he does are due some respect. Jevon realizes that the job is mere grunt work and nobody really cares how well its done. Their personality conflict provides for some great scenes as they get to know each other in Stanley’s last week. Meanwhile, Stanley is planning to move down to Florida, where his mother is in a retirement facility, but everything in his life conspires against him being able to do that.

This is an awkward, uncomfortable film, but the performances by Jenkins and McGhie lift it above the material. The set design is superb and gritty. And Ed O’Neill (Married With Children, Modern Family) provides some nice support work. Even though the ending just sort of meanders off, this is still worth two hours of your time!

( Internet Movie Database entry for this film )

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


formatdvdThe Nightmare Before Christmas
(DVD j Nightmare)

Jack Skellington, a skeleton, is the Pumpkin King of Halloweentown, but this year Halloween just isn’t the same and he longs for something more. He stumbles upon a set of colorful doors and goes through one that leads him to Christmastown. Jack is overjoyed with the sights and colors there and rushes back to Halloweentown to share the news. He decides to take over Christmas and recruits townspeople from Halloweenteen to help him with the reindeer, presents, and kidnapping Sandy Claws. He also asks Sally, an animated rag doll who is in love with Jack, to sew him a Santa suit. Sally tries to warn him this is a bad idea but he doesn’t listen. Jack tells the children who kidnapped Sandy Claws to keep him somewhere comfortable but they take him to Oogie Boogie, the infamous boogeyman, instead. Sally tries to rescue him but fails and is captured as well. Jack goes back to Christmastown with loads of presents for the girls and boys but his opinion of presents – shrunken heads or toys that attack – are not well-accepted by the residents of Christmastown and they shoot down his sleigh instead. Jack is distraught and returns to Halloweentown where he rescues Sandy Claws and Sally from Oogie Boogie. Sandy Claws returns and saves Christmas but leaves Jack and Halloweentown with a parting gift, snow. Jack and Sally then declare their love for one another.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try The Corpse Bride, Coraline, Frankenweenie, Hocus Pocus, James and the Giant Peach or Paranorman)

(Also available in traditional print format.)

( Internet Movie Database entry for this film )

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


formatdvdPig
(DVD Pig)

I’m not particularly a fan of Nicholas Cage, but I found his performance in this film surprisingly compelling. Cage plays Rob, a truffle hunter who lives alone with his truffle-hunting pig in a remote forest area in Oregon. He is visited weekly by Amir (Alex Wolff) who buys Rob’s truffles to supply to restaurants in Portland. After Rob is violently attacked in the night and the pig stolen, Rob sets out for Portland with a reluctant Amir to try to find her. The quest takes them into the dark side of the upscale restaurant industry as fragments of Rob’s past and unexpected connections between the two men are uncovered.

This is one of those movies where the viewer’s assumptions are repeatedly upended as the story unfolds. Be forewarned that the film has some brutally violent beatings and (in my opinion) excessive and gratuitous foul language. But it is an intriguing story, though rather dark.

( Internet Movie Database entry for this film ) | ( official Pig web site )

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Recommended by Peter J.
Virtual Services Department


formatdvdRaya and the Last Dragon
(DVD j Raya)

This was the Spring 2021 Walt Disney animated film release, and is a a beautiful, quirky, humorous and heartfelt story. Set in the imagined world of Kumandra, in which the united peoples once lived in harmony with a civilization of magical dragons, the peoples were scattered separate and combative societies when a dark force (the Druun) caused the dragons to disappear (in order to hold the dark force at bay).

Unfortunately, the Druun is now returning to the separated lands, and when the lack of trust between the various human clans leads to the apparent destruction of the one remaining dragon icon, Raya, the daughter of one of the remaining chieftains takes on the task of trying to revive the long-lost dragons. This becomes a coming-of-age story for this young woman, who combines efforts with outcast members of each the other sparring clans, and must address the rivalry and betrayal of someone she once trusted and called a friend. But she does have the help of Sisu, the Last Dragon, who may not be as helpful as you’d think.

The visuals of Raya and the Last Dragon are as impressive as its message of cooperation and trust. The voice work, mostly from Asian actors, is marvelous, particularly Kelly Marie Tran as Raya, Awkwafina as Sisu, Izaac Wang as Boun and Gemma Chan as Namaari. Sisu may initially be a slightly annoying, flighty character, but she goes through a growth arc that is ultimately as moving as Raya’s.

A very charming and touching animated film, highly recommended.

( Internet Movie Database entry for this film ) | ( official Raya and the Last Dragon web site )

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


last updated December 2021
* Please Note: The presence of a link on this site does not constitute an endorsement by Lincoln City Libraries.

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