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Staff Recommendations – February 2019

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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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February 2019 Recommendations

The Sword of Shannara
by Terry Brooks

This is very much a Lord of the Rings inspired novel. It’s by no means predictable, but is very familiar if you’ve read Tolkein’s trilogy. In this tale the Druid Allanon recruits Shea Ohmsford to seek out the Sword of Shannara in order to defeat the Warlock Lord; this is in part aided by the Elfstones which hold great magical power but also alert the enemy of the user’s whereabouts. I liked that the action and danger is underway immediately and doesn’t lull at all over its 700 pages; I found it a difficult book to put down. It was very enjoyable to not know much of characters or plot as I read, so I won’t include spoilers here should you choose to read it. Having read the Dark Legacy of Shannara trilogy before, some objects, places and concepts were familiar, but there was plenty of unfamiliar territory as well. If you, like I, enjoyed Middle Earth and are looking for something similar to read, I would highly recommend the Shannara books. It is fully of action, adventure, friendship, family, and lore – with much more in the series to read on to.

[This is the first of many Shannara books published, and I think is a good place to start, however you can also check out the suggested reading order at Brooks’ website.] [ official Terry Brooks web site ]

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Recommended by Kristen A.
Gere Branch Library


Dancing Queen
by Cher [Compact Disc 781.66 Che]

I enjoyed Cher’s appearance in the Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again film very much, particularly her getting to sing “Fernando” and “Super Trouper” in that film and on that film’s soundtrack. Apparently she did, too, as she was inspired by that experience to release an entire album of herself singing covers of ABBA hits. On the surface, that sounds like an odd combination — Cher and ABBA — but in reality, it works really well. Her voice is well-suited to the infectious beat and driving personality of ABBA’s music.

Admittedly, with ABBA — you’re either a fan, or you can’t stand them. I’ve rarely found anyone who doesn’t end up at one end of that spectrum or the other. Personally, I love ABBA’s music, and have loved the soundtracks to both of the Mamma Mia films, with other people singing the classic ABBA hits. Cher does an incredible job on this album. My only complaint is that there are only 10 tracks on the album “Dancing Queen”. Obviously there’s the title track, then “Gimme Gimme Gimme”, “The Name of the Game”, “SOS”, “Waterloo”, “Mamma Mia!”, “Chiquitita”, “Fernando”, “The Winner Takes It All”, and “One of Us”.

If you’re a fan of Cher, or a fan of ABBA, or a fan of the two Mamma Mia movies, you won’t want to miss this one. If you’re not a fan of ABBA, give this one a hard pass.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again (soundtrack).] [ Dancing Quen page on Wikipedia ] | [ official Cher web site ]

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Recommended by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library


The Dark Sacred Night
by Michael Connelly [Compact Disc Connelly]

Though I’ve never been a hard-core fan of the Harry Bosch series of crime novels by Michael Connelly, I have read a couple of them and recognize that they are extremely well-written. When Connelly started a new series, focused on a young female police investigator, Renee Ballard, in 2017, I immediately became hooked, and knew I would be looking forward to the next Ballard novel. The big question on the minds of most Michael Connelly fans was — how soon would he cross over Bosch and Ballard? After all, Bosch clearly crosses over with another of Connelly’s on-going L.A. series, those focused on seedy lawyer Mickey Haller.

Well, we didn’t have to wait long — The Dark Sacred Night is the second Renee Ballard novel, and it is simultaneously the twenty-first Harry Bosch novel. Bosch’s position in the police heirarchy has changed dramatically over the years, but he’s still with the department. Ballard is still working the Hollywood Division late night shift. When their paths cross and Ballard figures out the old, cold, case that Bosch is working on, she insists that she wants to work it with him. Each of these detectives has primary cases that they’re working, but they team up to do the nitty-gritty research to identify a potential suspect in the murder of a young woman — the daughter of a trouble friend of Bosch’s.

This is another extremely well-written police procedural, and Bosch and Ballard play off of each other very well. I can see them being good investigative partners in years to come. However, I will admit to some disappointment. I really would have liked to have seen Ballard establish herself more on her own bonafides before teaming up with Bosch. It would have been nice to see at least two or three Ballard novels before Harry entered the picture. That quibble notwithstanding, I enjoyed this novel very much — especially the audiobook version that I listened to. It is narrated by two voices — Christine Lakin (who narrated the first Ballard audiobook) does the honors for the chapters focusing on Renee Ballard; actor Titus Welliver narrates the Bosch chapters — very appropriate since he has been portraying Harry Bosch in the television series which is exclusively available on Amazon Prime streaming. He really has become the “voice” of Bosch, and his narration here is tired and gritty, just like the character has become.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try The Late Show, the first Renee Ballard novel by Michael Connelly.] [ official The Dark Sacred Night page on the official Michael Connelly web site ]

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Recommended by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library


hooplaLife in the Sloth Lane: Slow Down and Smell the Hibiscus
by Lucy Cooke [Hoopla E-book]

My wife gave this to me as a holiday gift, but I was pleased to see that the libraries have it as an e-book through our Hoopla digital service, so I can still review it as a Staff Recommendation!

Editor Lucy Cooke has collected a wide variety of photos of sloths (the extremely-slow-moving arboreal mammals native to Central and South America), taken exclusively of animals that were at rescue facilities or in protected sanctuaries, and has paired those photos with uplifting slogans and life philosophies. Each page of this book just makes you want to smile, mostly because the common appearance of most sloth faces is that they are perpetually smiling themselves.

There’s absolutely nothing heavy or ground-breaking about the content of this book. But if you’re looking to have your mood improved or just like pairing pop psychology with cute animals, you can’t go wrong with this one.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Unlikely Friendships, and Unlikely Loves, both by Jennifer Holland.] [ publisher’s official Life in the Sloth Lane web page ] | [ official Lucy Cooke web site ]

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Recommended by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library


My Girls: A Lifetime With Carrie and Debbie
by Todd Fisher [Biography Fisher]

Most people know the names Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds. Their brother/son, Todd, is not so well known but is just as essential to the story of their lives. What may also be not as well known is that the Reynolds-Fisher family were definitely not always rich even though they were absolutely famous. In this loving biography of these two extraordinary women, Todd pays tribute to their struggles and their indomitable spirits. Not to be outdone, he includes the escapades and relationships he’s had himself, and the range of film and recording industry expertise he’s gained throughout his life. Todd’s and Carrie’s father, and Reynolds’ first spouse, singer/actor Eddie Fisher is about as ne’er-do-well a character as you can find — until you meet Debbie’s other husbands! And then there’s Carrie’s lifelong struggle with bipolar disorder and drug abuse coupled with her own romantic disappointments. From an “only in Hollywood” childhood to managing his mother’s short-lived Las Vegas hotel-casino-museum to having to cope with his sister’s and mother’s concurrent deaths, Fisher has worn many hats as only one of two stable male members of their little nuclear family. Debbie’s older brother, Bill, always near by over the years, outlived her but had his own health scare less than a week after her death. Through all the turmoil and triumph of their lives, Todd remained very close with his mother and his sister, always ready to defend them and to accept them as they were, always the one true ‘man of the house” even at a young age. And now he and his wife, his Uncle Bill, and Carrie’s daughter, Billie, are all who are left of the Reynolds clan from Texas. While being emotionally charged, the book is also pragmatic in its assessment of fame and fortune, and how fickle those can be. And, in the end, it is borne out that a loving family can make it through seemingly insurmountable odds and heartaches if they stick together, have faith, and never say “Can’t.”

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Unsinkable, A Memoir, and Debbie : My Life, by Debbie Reynolds, or Wishful Drinking and Postcards From the Edge by Carrie Fisher] [ publisher’s official My Girls web page ] | [ official Todd Fisher web site ]

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Recommended by Becky W.C.
Walt Branch Library


Star Wars ReviewsSolo: A Star Wars Story
by Mur Lafferty

The novelization of “Solo: a Star Wars Story” is a good to very good read. There are some discrepancies of events that take place in the novel from what happens in the film itself. Some readers might find it a touch jarring, but I took it as the author working from an earlier draft of the script rather than a deliberate choice to retell events. The book serves as a very nice companion piece to the movie as it gives us a glimpse into the characters’ motivations and points of view. I would recommend this book to any Star Wars fan who enjoys reading moderate-length chapter books.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Solo: A Star Wars Story [on DVD], Last Shot, by Daniel Jose Older,Most Wanted, by Rae Carson, Honor Among Thieves, by James S.A. Corey [Legends book] or Star Wars: Scoundrels, by Timothy Zahn [Legends book]] [ This novelization’s page on Wookiepedia ] | [ official Mur Lafferty web site ]

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Recommended by Corey G.
Gere Branch Library


hooplaMary Poppins Returns: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
composed by Marc Shaiman, performed by Emily Blunt, Lin Manuel Miranda and more

Creating a sequel to a legendary classic musical is always a daunting project, particularly one that comes 54 years after the original. That was the challenge faced by the creators of Mary Poppins Returns, a 2018 film that is a direct sequel to the original Mary Poppins in 1964. Though the P.L. Travers novels that inspired the original Walt Disney film first saw publication as early as 1934, I would venture to presume that most peoples’ memories of Mary Poppins are of the Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke film, filled with unforgettable tunes such as “A Spoonful of Sugar”, “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious”, “Feed the Birds”, “Chim Chim Cheree”, “Step in Time” and “Let’s Go Fly a Kite”. That film featured music by Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman, and is, perhaps, one of the most recognizable and memorable movie soundtracks of all time.

For Mary Poppins Returns, the film starred Emily Blunt as Mary Poppins, Lin-Manuel Miranda as Jack the Lamplighter, Ben Wishaw as Michael Banks and Emily Mortimer and Jane Banks (the two children from the original film), as well as Dick Van Dyke, and many more. The film-makers brought in composer/lyricist Mark Shaiman and co-lyricist Scott Wittman. The film is witty, emotionally engaging and visually stimulating, with great performances across the board. But, for me, the key question was — will the soundtrack hold a candle to the quality of the original. In my opinion, the soundtrack to Mary Poppins Returns is excellent, but still not quite up to the “classic” standard set by the music of the Julie Andrews film. There are several marvelous songs, which serve as the anchor for some of the film’s most impressive sequences, including: “Can You Imagine That?”, “The Royal Doulton Music Hall”, “A Cover is Not the Book”, “Turning Turtle”, “Trip a Little Light Fantastic” and “(Underneath the) Lovely London Sky”. But for me, the most memorable song is “The Place Where Lost Things Go”, which was recently nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Song.

Emily Blunt and Lin-Manuel Miranda are incredible singers and easily hold their own with the music from this film, though I’ll have to admit that Emily Blunt is no Julie Andrews. Miranda is probably the most…energetic…of the performers, and even gets to have shades of his trademark hip-hop influence in a few moments of his centerpiece songs. Many (most) of the songs are multi-voice pieces (i.e. the full cast), and I wish that there had been more than just one song as a solo for Blunt as Mary Poppins. But it is what it is. I’m also quite pleased that the soundtrack includes not just the vocal tracks, but 11 tracks of instrumental score music from the film. And many of those include ghostly little refrains of the music from the original film, expertly woven into the action of the new film.

If you can’t tell, I do, indeed, love this soundtrack, and strongly recommend it. And if you haven’t seen the film in the theater, it will soon be out on DVD/Blu-Ray and streaming services.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Mary Poppins (Soundtrack from the original film).] [ official Mary Poppins Returns web site ] | [ official Mark Shaiman web site ]

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Recommended by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library


Another Castle: Grimoire
by Andrew Wheeler (writer) and Paulina Ganucheau (artist) [YA PB (Graphic Novel) Wheeler]

Princess Misty of Beldora is far from your traditional fairytale princess. She rebels against her father’s arranged marriage for her t0 a brave but fairly empty-headed crusading knight. Then the tyrannical, immortal, demonic Lord Badlug, of the neighboring kingdom of Grimoire, kidnaps Misty to force her to marry him and unite their kingdoms — but only because he wants to bring terror and destruction to both lands. While her betrothed suitor at home takes on a quest to rescue Misty, Misty herself tries to bring down Badlug from within — partly because of the trusting assistance of Golga (a friendly Gorgon handmaiden) and Fogmoth (a gay gargoyle) — and partly because she wants personal revenge on Badlug for having kidnapped and murdered her mother many years ago.

There’s a lot humor in this light-hearted twist on standard gender roles in fantasy epics. But there’s also moments of bloody action and grotesquerie. The art by Paulina Ganucheau is mostly strong, but borders on the cartoonish at times. The characters are simplistic and without a lot of shading, but that works for a story of this nature. If you like visual stories that tend to poke fun at stereotypical tropes, you’ll probably enjoin this. Personally, I found it to be a quick easy read, but I enjoyed Ladycastle more, which has a very similar style and tone.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Ladycastle, by Delilah Dawson.] [ official Paulina Ganucheau web site ] | [ official Andrew Wheeler web site ]

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Recommended by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library


The 17-Day Green Tea Diet: 4 Cups of Tea, 4 Delicious Superfoods, 4 Steps to a Slimmer, Healthier You
by David Zinczenko [613.252 Zin]

I’m currently at my heaviest weight ever; I’m getting the worst sleep of my life. I am not only morbidly obese, I’m dealing with obstructive sleep apnea. To top it off, my insurance is not cooperative when it comes to me getting a CPAP to help with the OSA. So I’m trying to find alternate ways to improve my sleep and my overall health. I found this book very interesting, and I’m anxious to try it out! I borrowed the copy from the library, but I may end up buying my own copy. Not only does it thoroughly explain the benefits of drinking green tea, it gives some great tips on what to eat in addition to drinking green tea, as well as some basic exercises to do for about 10 minutes every other day. This is the first time in my life I’ve completely read all the way through a “diet” or “lifestyle change” book before actually jumping right in. I’m hopeful…!

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Eat This, Not That! 2010: The no-diet weight loss solution, by David Zinczenko, or The Whole30: The 30-Day Guide to Total Health and Food Freedom, by Melissa Hartwig.]

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Recommended by Tracy T.
Anderson and Bethany Branch Libraries


Screening Room

formatdvdThe Grinch
[DVD j Grinch]

Having been a fan of the old Chuck Jones animated half-hour cartoon version of How the Grinch Stole Christmas since my childhood, I’ve always had issues with anyone wanting to “update” or “modernize” this classic Dr. Seuss story for film. For instance, I am not much of a fan of the Jim Carrey live-action version of How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000). However, despite my hesitancy about yet another Grinch film, I ended up enjoying this one quite a bit.

This is a computer-animated film, in the same way that most modern animated films are — it is from the same people who did the series of Despicable Me films. The filmmakers pay a lot of tribute to the 1966 animated film from Chuck Jones (known for his work with Warner Brothers cartoons (Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, etc.). There are numerous shout outs to the music and character appearances from that animated short. There is also, obviously, a lot of tribute paid to the original 1957 children’s picture book by Dr. Seuss (Theodore Geisel). An almost-unrecognizable Benedict Cumberbatch provides the voice of The Grinch, with a few familiar names in the voice cast (Keenan Thompson, Pharrell Williams, Rashida Jones), though most of the voice actors are child actors whom I didn’t recognize. The relatively simple plot of Dr. Seuss’ original story is expanded upon, to give a deeper understanding of what would have caused The Grinch to become so…Grinch-like…that he’d want to ruin an entire town’s Christmas.

The humor throughout this charming re-telling of the story is marvelous and sweet, unlike the slightly edgy humor in the Carrey film. Mr. Grinch’s relationship with his put-upon dog Max, and their partnership with Fred the overweight reindeer (a new addition for this film) is cute and sentimental, and nicely balances out against Grinch’s more anti-social attitudes towards everyone else in nearby Who-ville. An amusing subplot of Cindy-Lou Who’s efforts to work with all her friends to stay up and have an interview with Santa (on behalf of her mother) provides some added emotion to the plot. But at the heart of it, this is still a story of The Grinch making elaborate plans to steal Who-ville’s Christmas, and the effects of this on the rest of the characters.

As someone who grew up on the 1966 classic version of this story, I’ll have to say that nothing will ever replace that in my heart — the images, the voice performances and the music are unforgettable. But I did enjoy The Grinch a lot, and do recommend it. My only real complaint was with the music. Danny Elfman’s orchestral score soundtrack was marvelous and inventive. But I found the rap and/or hip-hop adaptions of classic Grinch songs (“You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch”) to be unpleasant. It was also unusual to have traditional pop Christmas songs scattered throughout the film as background music. That caveat notwithstanding, it’s a fun film!

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try the original 1966 How the Grinch Stole Christmas animated film, the 2000 How the Grinch Stole Christmas live-action film or Dr. Seuss’s 1957 book How the Grinch Stole Christmas.] [ Internet Movie Database entry for this film ] | [ official The Grinch web site ]

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Recommended by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library


formatdvdLoving Vincent
[DVD Loving]

I had not heard anything about this experimental film before my wife checked it out and brought it home for us to view.

This is a shame, because it is a wonderful little film and deserves more accolades, and a wider viewership, than I believe it has received to date.

The plot of this film is relatively simple. Following the death of artist Vincent Van Gogh, his loyal postman and friend wants to make sure Vincent’s final letter to his brother Theo Van Gogh is delivered. To accomplish that, the postman sends his dilettante son on a journey to hand-deliver the letter. Along the way, the son learns more about Van Gogh’s last days, especially about the struggles the artist had with his mental health, and the complicated relationships the artists had with the people in his life. The postman’s son does some growing up in the process. For anyone only vaguely familiar with Van Gogh — the tortured artist who cut off his own ear and who suffered from mood-altering depressions throughout his short adult life — this film is a revelation.

The most significant thing about the film is not the story it tells, but rather the method in which it tells the story. The entire film is animated, but not animation in a traditional sense — hand-drawn or computer-generated. No, this film was animated entirely with oil paintings. It took over two years for the team of painter/animators to painstakingly create moving images from oil paintings — and all capturing the stylistic look of Van Gogh’s paintings. Most the characters and settings are taken straight from famous Van Gogh paintings! This artistic style of storytelling is simultaneously compelling and off-putting, but the longer you watch it, the more “used to it” you become. Ultimately, it was a fabulous way to add a special type of ambiance to a biographical look at the end of the life of one of humanity’s greatest artist.

[If you enjoy the look of this film, you may be encouraged to read more about Van Gogh and his art. The libraries have numerous art books and biographies that discuss Van Gogh — I recommend those that you’ll find in the 759.92 Gog or qGog shelving sections.] [ Internet Movie Database entry for this film ] | [ official Loving Vincent web site ]

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Recommended by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library


formatdvdThe Mummy
[DVD Mummy]

I saw this movie for the first time recently, although I’d heard about it when it first came out in 1999. I was told that it was a bit scary, so it was surprising to see how funny it was too. It’s set in Egypt in the 1920s and stars a librarian, her brother (a treasure seeker), and an adventurer who team up to find a city of the dead, as supposedly located there is a mythical book the librarian is after and treasure for her brother and the adventurer. However, they aren’t the only ones searching for the city, which they find out on the way there. The two teams at first in competition must later work together when unexpectedly they bring a mummy back from the dead and have to vanquish it. It does have some creepy scenes, as I was warned about, especially if you don’t like bugs very much. I enjoyed it quite a bit, particularly all the humor mixed in the with adventure and the historical time period. If you haven’t seen this one I think it’s worth seeing.

[ Internet Movie Database entry for this film ]

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Recommended by Kristen A.
Gere Branch Library


last updated February 2019
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