Link to our Facebook Page
Link to our Instagram Page
Link to our Twitter Page
Link to our Youtube Page

Staff Recommendations – January 2022

BG Staff Rec Banner

INDEXES TO PAST STAFF RECOMMENDATIONS: BY TITLE | BY REVIEWER | TV SERIES/SPECIALS ON DVD | AGATHA CHRISTIE | STAR TREK | STAR WARS

Would you like to submit your own Rating Score or Review Comments on one of this month’s titles?
Click here to visit our Reader Score submission form! | Click here to submit an original Customer Review!

January 2022 Recommendations

30
by Adele (Compact Disc 781.66 Adele)

30 is music superstar Adele’s fourth original album, and like the earlier 19, 21, and 25, it charts out a certain time and emotional point in her life. In short, 30 is Adele’s “divorce album”, tapping into a myriad of emotions and mental gymnastics that she’s gone through as she deals with the aftermath of the break-up of her marriage and her now becoming a single parent.

If you’re looking for a fun, upbeat, lightweight bit of entertainment, 30 is not for you. Adele explores a lot of darkness in songs relating to her current state of life — depression, failed relationships, misjudgments, uncertainty. But she also seems hopeful, and still has a sense of humor, that pops through from time to time. And her voice. Oh…that voice, that just keeps getting better and better as she ages…smoky, sensuous, sentimental, wistful, and seeking!

If you’re an Adele fan already, you won’t want to miss this latest album from her. If you haven’t listened to Adele previously, this is definitely not the place to start — go back to her earlier work so you can feel the progression in emotions she has built up over a dozen years of musical storytelling, then come back to 30 to experience the latest chapter.

Literally, my only complaint about 30 is that I needed the liner notes to understand a few lines in a few songs, as Adele’s thick accent becomes even thicker the more emotional she gets. But once I’d heard each song a few times, they really sunk in.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try 19, 21, and 25 by Adele.)

( official Adele web site )

revscore7

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


Light From Uncommon Skies
by Ryka Aoki (Aoki)

Light From Uncommon Skies is an uncommon blend of genres that includes both a demon trying to collect on a musician’s soul and a family of interstellar refugees running a doughnut shop. Mood-wise it ranges from dire abuse on the page to the warmest feelings of friendship.

The book has two main themes that have a common real-life connection of Asian American experience. First, it’s a book about music: violins and violin-making in particular. Katrina is a young, trans woman who has been surviving abuse and has little left beyond her violin. She finds a notorious teacher who has a Hellish agenda, but also shows her the most consideration she’s ever experienced. Second, it’s a book about war refugees finding their place in a new land. It’s just that these refugees have come from light-years away. The doughnut shop they run is inspired by the real life Cambodian American immigrant, Ted Ngoy, who worked for Winchell’s until he started his own chain of doughnut shops in Southern California, as discussed in Ryka Aoki’s post (https://www.themarysue.com/lessons-from-the-donut-king-and-science-fictions-golden-age/).

This is a story with great dynamic range from despair to hope, with artisan details on performance, lutherie, and a broader variety of cooking than the donuts. I wanted to be friends with everyone here…except the demon.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers or American Gods by Neil Gaiman.)

( publisher’s official Light From Uncommon Stars web page ) | ( official Ryka Aoki web site )

revscore9

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


Cursed Luck
by Kelley Armstrong (Armstrong)

Do you like magic, an emotionally intelligent heroine, a hero who is as smart as he is naïve, Greek gods and curses? This novel by Kelley Armstrong will be a must read for you! The heroine (un) weaves curses, the hero can sway luck to his side (and has red hair for anyone who loves little jokes like that!) and this is the story of how they find a mythical object. Fast paced, logical but with enough twists and real human emotions to keep you turning pages well past your bed time.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Lake of Silence by Anne Bishop, Moon Called by Patricia Briggs, Dead Witch Walking by Kim Harrison, or Skin Walker by Faith Hunter.)

( official Cursed Luck series page on the official Kelley Armstrong web site )

revscore10

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


Elegant People: A History of the Band Weather Report
by Curt Bianchi (Music 781.65 Wea)

There hasn’t been a lot of critical writing about the jazz fusion movement in general or pioneering fusion band Weather Report specifically, but Curt Bianchi, a longtime host of a couple of websites dedicated to Weather Report, has just published the first major account of the band’s history this year with his book Elegant People: A History of the Band Weather Report. While a former software engineer might seem like an unexpected choice for biographer of one of the most significant jazz bands of the last 50 years, Bianchi’s introduction explains that he somewhat fell into the project after being invited to write an article on co-founder Zawinul for Wax Poetics. From there, he went on to interview almost everyone who had played in the band.

Elegant People” is a pretty traditional chronological history in terms of format, but Bianchi uses a great technique of starting with individual band members in the years leading up to formation of the band. In part 1, “Roots,” We get chapters on the early history of cofounders Joe Zawinul, Wayne Shorter, and Miroslav Vitous, along with chapters detailing their tenure in other bands. In a chapter titled “Shoviza,” we arrive at their early solo efforts, which had them playing on one another’s albums, and finally starting a production company together called Shoviza, combining bits of their last names. From this foundation, Weather Report was born.

The rest of the book’s parts are divided into the three main stages of the band’s development. In part 2, the earliest efforts of the band are documented, covering the years from 1971-1975. During this period, the band was still fairly experimental in nature, with lots of group improvisation. You never knew what might happen on some of these early albums, and to my ears they feel like a logical musical progression from what happened on the Miles Davis “Bitches Brew” sessions that included Zawinul and Shorter. And during this early period, the band acted the most as a collective, with no obvious musical leaders.

However, Weather Report is also known for having quite a revolving door of band members over time, and this practice started even within this period. Most notably, co-founder Miroslav Vitous was asked to leave the band during the “Mysterious Traveler” recording sessions in December of 1973. In some ways, this is one point in the book where different fans of Weather Report might argue over how best to define beginning, middle, and late periods of the band. While some would agree with the first stage going through 1975, and switching to a middle period with the appearance of bassist Jaco Pastorious on bass in 1976, others would end the first period after “Mysterious Traveler” and the departure of Vitous. The music generally changed direction post-Vitous, with bass players taking a more groovy, funky role rather than playing all around the instrument as an equally melodic co-improviser. A minor quibble, though.

Next Bianchi explores that middle period which has perhaps two important signposts: Jaco on bass, and more commercial success for the band. Their 1977 release “Heavy Weather,” with its “Birdland” single, was critically acclaimed, and became their best-selling album. And like many rock and pop acts after a taste of success, this was both a blessing and a curse for the band. Success causes record labels to want another hit, which is perhaps an appealing concept in rock and pop, but wasn’t quite the way a forward-thinking fusion band was approaching their work.

Part 3 starts with the 1982 self-titled Weather Report album, which was the last to feature Jaco Pastorious and popular drummer Peter Erskine. This album was especially keyboard-heavy in its orchestration, and its sound, combined with Jaco’s interest in going solo, led to more lineup changes. Their next album, “Procession,” had three new members, with only Zawinul and Shorter remaining from the early days of the band. And the final years of Weather Report consisted of more lineup changes and a musical emphasis on keyboards and world percussion.

The Epilogue section has some interesting chapters, too. We learn more about the mental health decline of Jaco Pastorius and his premature death, some reflections on the legacy of Weather Report and its importance to jazz and fusion music more generally, the final duet performance of Zawinul and Shorter, and some written reflections from many previous members of the band.

All told, it’s a pretty thorough and balanced look at a band that was very influential in jazz history, and continues to cast an influence over modern jazz and fusion musical forms.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Jazz-Rock Fusion: The People, the Music by Julie Coryell or Jazz in the 1970s: Diverging Streams by Bill Shoemaker.)

( official Elegant People blog )

revscore8

Recommended by Scott S.
Polley Music Library


Lesser Spotted Animals: The Coolest Creatures You’ve Never Heard Of
by Martin Brown (j590 Bro)

I recently read this book with my animal-loving second grader, and I would say I enjoyed it as much as he did. The premise, as explained in the introduction, is to skip the familiar wild animals that we all know well (tigers, pandas, sharks, etc.) and introduce the reader to a batch of equally fascinating but nearly unknown creatures. Each two-page spread features an animal with a couple of paragraphs about it, plus a pullout box with size, what they eat, where they live, endangered status, and another random/interesting fact.

The tone of the book is playful, lighthearted and even occasionally snarky. At one point as we read my son laughed out loud — not something that usually happens when reading animal nonfiction. The creature illustrations are perfectly matched to the style of the book — detailed and in realistic color tones, but also a little cartoonish; the creatures often sport wry expressions and goofy speech bubbles.

We’ve read a lot of nonfiction books about animals and this one is exceptionally memorable and enjoyable, both for the fascinating creatures it describes and for its humor and style..

( official Martin Brown Illustrator web site )

revscore10

Recommended by Laura N.
Bennett Martin Public Library — Public Service


The Sentence
by Louise Erdrich (Erdrich)

I run to get my hands on every new Louise Erdrich novel, and The Sentence was especially wonderful and relevant during the pandemic. A woman named Tookie works at an independent bookstore in Minneapolis, where she is haunted by the ghost of Flora, the store’s most annoying customer. Taking place from November of 2019, when Flora died on All Saint’s Day, to November 2020, the novel addresses life during COVID and the Minneapolis protests following George Foreman’s murder by a police officer.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try The Bookshop of the Broken Hearted by Robert Hillman.)

( pubisher’s official The Sentence web page ) | ( Louise Erdich page on Wikipedia )

revscore10

Recommended by Jodi R.
Anderson and Bethany Branch Libraries


Charles Ives’s Concord: Essays After a Sonata
by Kyle Gann (Music 780.92 Ive)

2021 was the one of a few years that could be considered the centennial of Charles Ives’ Concord Sonata. The truth of this well-known piece is more complicated than most, as Ives revised it many times. The Concord Sonata is fascinating for many reasons, but I think it’s particularly notable in 20th century music in that it’s one of the most atonal pieces that is fairly well-received universally, even by audiences that don’t usually warm up to such music. I think one of the main reasons for that is that it’s somewhat “programmatic” music, rather than “absolute”: that is, each of its movements make reference to figures in the transcendentalist movement, and listeners can calibrate what they’re hearing through that kind of interpretive filter. That frame of reference, plus the notion that Ives distributed a sort of book with the early editions of the piece entitled “Essays Before a Sonata,” gave listeners some extramusical considerations to grasp onto while appreciating the music.

We have a great book that attempts to unravel the many mysteries of Ives’s Piano Sonata No. 2, more commonly known as the Concord Sonata, that you can borrow from Polley. It’s called Charles Ives’s Concord: Essays After a Sonata by composer and long-time music journalist Kyle Gann, and you’ll learn more about both this piece and Ives more generally than you ever thought possible in these pages. I should start off with a bit of a caveat, though: this is the kind of book that you’ll get the maximum benefit from if you read music notation. There’s a lot of material here that you’ll be able to get through just fine if you don’t, but Gann attempts to untangle the complexities of this this piece from both historical and musical perspectives. That means there are sections of more formal musical analysis sprinkled throughout the book.

That issue aside, and I’m guessing that there’s probably a pretty significant overlap between music readers and Ives fans, anyway, this book is just a phenomenally deep take on the Concord Sonata. The first chapter, although relatively brief, lays out more than I’ve ever seen elsewhere about the origins of the piece, and Ives’ stature around that time of his life. I imagine many of us have heard tall tales around Ives, this notion of a person who led a very serious kind of double life as an insurance salesman by day and composer by night, approaching music in totally unique ways that most of the world didn’t even begin to catch up to until the 1960s, and toiling away at this music that remained mostly unknown and unplayed. It turns out that while elements of that picture are accurate, some of the details might change the way you conceptualize where he was coming from. Take his job as an insurance salesman, for example: I guess in my mind I had always pictured that meaning that he’s a kind of blue collar worker, low on the corporate totem pole, and I don’t recall going over any details to the contrary in music school. In reality, Gann points out that “By 1921, he was quite a wealthy businessman, in the top 1 percent by fortune.” It’s quite true that only a few people knew that he spent all of his spare time composing music, though. But his wealth and status in the insurance industry certainly explains how he was able to self-publish many of his works, and mail them out to people who he thought might be interested in them.

The Concord Sonata was one such piece. Gann reports that there is evidence of him starting to work on it dating back to 1911, starting to perform parts of it for people by 1915, and in 1919, he had prepared a version of the piece that he paid music publisher G. Shirmer to print 750 copies of. He additionally printed an accompanying set of essays, called “Essays Before a Sonata,” and in 1921, he mailed hundreds of copies of the piece to a list of music-related figures whom he thought might be able to further advance his work. It’s worth noting that he underwent a similar self-publishing and mailing campaign in 1922 for his “114 Songs.” He chose his recipients of these materials from a subscription list for the Musical Courier and Who’s Who in America. He found few sympathetic recipients this way, though the piece did find its way to several pianists who played portions of the Sonata publicly as early as 1921 and a full performance around 1927. Then Ives continued to revise the piece in the ensuing decades, publishing what’s now considered to be a more definitive version in 1947.

The next chapter is devoted to Ives’ Essays Before a Sonata, in which Gann immediately challenges another commonly-held assumption about the written work accompanying the music. It’s often been said that Ives was somewhat careless with the quotations he leverages throughout his essays to make his points, but Gann has found that his quotations are in fact quite accurate. He includes an appendix that further delineates this issue. The main focus of the chapter, however, is simply reflecting on how novel it was for Ives to create this kind of preparatory literary work for his music, and how unusual it was at the time for programmatic instrumental music of this kind to be made.

These chapters are brief but very informative, and then the bulk of the book is spent approaching the Concord Sonata musically from a few different angles: movement by movement, across the whole piece, and looking into how some material appeared in other Ives compositions. Again, music readers will get the maximum benefit out of this analysis, but I would still encourage you to read on if you’re interested in Ives. Each movement of the Concord is considered from so many perspectives, including Ives’ essays about the piece, that you’ll still find a lot of revealing insights here. And in these sections, you’ll find all kinds of fascinating approaches Ives used that were quite unusual for their time. For example, even from the beginning of the piece, the main theme of the Sonata, often referred to as the “Human Faith” theme, is obscured, coming into focus later. Ives has noted that he wanted themes to coalesce out of their own development, rather than the more traditional method of stating them first and then having variations spin off. Then Ives draws from his set of idiosyncratic approaches, using things like bi-tonality, quotations from other familiar classical and folk music pieces, and occasionally implementing things that are now called “extended technique,” like using a board on the piano keys to perform large clusters of notes.

Most of the analysis is done using the 1947 version of the Concord. Toward the end, Gann does a brief comparison of some of the differences between the earlier version printed in 1920 and the 1947 edition. It’s remarkable that Ives continued to refine this piece for so much of his life. Clearly it was of deep significance to him, and even though he ceased to write new music in 1927, he devoted a lot of time to making the Concord the best it could be.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Charles Ives and His World by Peter J. Burkholder or Charles Ives: A Life With Music by Jan Swafford.)

( official Jan Swafford web site )

revscore9

Recommended by Scott S.
Polley Music Library


The Good Sister
by Sally Hepworth (Hepworth)

I love mysteries and I love neurodiversity being addressed respectfully. This book offers both, while also offering a family drama. Fraternal twins Rose and Fern, who looked out for each other as children, follow the same pattern in their current late-20s.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try The Family Upstairs by Lisa Jewell or The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn.)

( official The Good Sister page on the official Sally Hepworth web site )

revscore9

Recommended by Jodi R.
Anderson and Bethany Branch Libraries


Grand Jeté and Me
written by Allegra Kent with art by Robin Preiss-Glassner (jP Kent)

Not having kids of my own, I don’t often read juvenile picture books. But sometimes, the art on one of them is so compelling that I can’t help but indulge. That was the case with Grand Jeté and Me.

This gorgeous picture book was written by Allegra Kent, who danced for 30 years as a prima ballerina with the New York City Ballet. The illustrations are by Robin Preiss Glasser, the artist responsible for the incredibly popular series of “Fancy Nancy” picture books.

A(n unnamed) young girl is dropped off by her mother for a day out with her grandmother, whom she calls Grand Jeté — since the grandmother was a former prima ballerina. Grand Jeté and granddaughter fix lunch, get dressed up, and head out of her apartment to attend a performance of “The Nutcracker” at the New York City Ballet. At every step along the way, they use ballet movements, which Grand Jete explains to the granddaughter, and during the ballet, the granddaughter narrates the plot of The Nutcracker for us, the reader.

Grand Jeté and Me is a truly beautiful book, and the love between the characters shines through Glasser’s illustrations. Kent’s simple, yet effective, explanations for complex ballet terminology make this an excellent introduction to the world of classical dance for young readers. I really loved this book, and I highly recommend it for both ballet fans and for those looking for charming stories of grandparents and grandkids interacting!

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Fancy Nancy by Jane O’Connor, with illustrations by Robin Preiss Glasser, or Allegra Kent’s earlier picture books (with other artists), Ballerina Swan and Ballerina Gets Ready.)

( publisher’s official Grand Jete and Me web page ) | ( Allegra Kent page on Wikipedia ) | ( Robin Preiss-Glassner page on Wikipedia )

revscore10

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


The Unteachables
by Gordon Korman (j Korman)

Meet Mr. Zachary Kermit, a former Teacher of the Year early on in his career. Sadly, he was caught up in a cheating scandal not of his making nor involvement, but he was blamed regardless. Jilted by his fiancée shortly after, ever since he’s just been coasting to early retirement — lonely, unhappy, uncaring. During his final year he’s been put in charge of the most incorrigible students — slackers, those with home-life issues, and others who’ve fallen between the cracks. All the middle-school tropes are present.

Mix in his Superintendent, Dr. Thaddeus, who is secretly plotting to get him fired right before his retirement so that Mr. Kermit will be left with no job, no pension.

The Unteachables learn Thaddeus’s plans and decide to join the science fair competition against the best and the brightest student teams. Who are they kidding? But, winning this thing will raise their overall grade scores thus negating the trumped-up reason for firing Mr. Kermit.

Written with Korman’s characteristic laugh-out-loud sense of humor, wit, sarcasm, and spot-on descriptions of his characters as everything is unpacked over the course of the school year. Each chapter is told from the point of view of a different character in the story, giving the reader the opportunity to get to know each person better. You’re rooting for the students and wondering how a group of slackers think they can win the science fair, and what will happen if they don’t. Nothing is guaranteed here.

Can be read over a long afternoon.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try The Gifted, also by Gordon Korman.)

( official The Unteachables page on the official Gordon Korman web site )

revscore9

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


No One Goes Alone: A Novel
by Erik Larson, audiobook narrated by Julian Rhind-Tutt (Compact Disc Larson)

I’ve enjoyed the non-fiction books of Erik Larson, starting with The Devil in the White City (the 2006 One Book — One Lincoln selection), Isaac’s Storm, Thunderstruck, Dead Wake and more. One thing reviewers of those have said is that Larson manages to take specific historical events and tell the real history in a way that feels like realistic fiction.

Well, No One Goes Alone: A Novel turns out to be Larson’s first foray into the world of fictional writing. And he’s chosen to release it only as an audiobook (both digitally and as a book-on-cd, the format I took advantage of). This 7-1/2 hour audiobook is basically an extended ghost or haunted house story, and as Larson says in some author note tracks at the end of the audiobook, the best way to tell a ghost story is orally, around a crackling campfire.

In this novel, Larson mixes a cast of real historical figures with some fictional ones. In 1905, on the remote (and fictional) Isle of Dorn in the North Atlantic, off the coast of England, a group of 8 researchers assembles at a massive stone house to see if they can prove or disprove the existence of paranormal forces associated with the building and island. The group is led by psychologist William James (an American), and is comprised of both skeptics and those who have been touched by the paranormal in the past, all British. The narrator is Josiah, a young wireless operator, brought along to see if his wireless equipment can determine if there are electromagnetic disturbances on the island.

This novel is told in a very old-fashioned way — mostly through the intellectual conversations of the characters as they interact with each other (mostly strangers before this expedition) and as they explore the mysteries of both the house and the island. If you’re looking for pulse-pounding action, this isn’t the story for you. But if you like a creepy setting, and people gradually becoming unnerved by perhaps inexplicable events they can’t escape from, this is right up your alley.

I’ve seen numerous complaints, in online reviews of No One Goes Alone: A Novel, that “nothing happens”. I disagree completely. I really enjoyed the character interplay and the gradual, inexorable build up of tension. I also appreciated Larson’s mix of real and fictional characters. I strongly recommend this audiobook, if you’re in the right frame of mind to appreciate its unique qualities. I particularly enjoyed actor/narrator Julian Rhind-Tutt’s various vocal choices for the difference character voices.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try the various non-fiction titles by Erik Larson.)

( official No On Goes Alone page on the official Erik Larson web site )

revscore8

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


Another Kind
by Cait May and Trevor Bream (jPB (Series) May)

The cover art on this thick graphic novel for youth is what first grabbed my attention, and I’m glad I followed through with this one, as it was a terrific read.

This graphic novel, by the “writing and art team” spouses Cait May and Trevor Bream is part X-Files, part The Fugitive, part “family bonding” and part coming-of-age. Six children, ranging in age from 6 years old to 16, forcibly reside in a hidden government base in the Nevada desert, colloquially known as “The Playroom”. Each of the six is an “Irregularity” — a type of being that is outside of the human norm. One is a selkie, another a werebear shapeshifter, a third is an alien child, a fourth is half-human and half-Yeti, and a fifth is a Will-o-the-Wisp creature from the world of faerie. The sixth, and youngest, is the most precocious little girl with a headful of tentacles for hair. The “irregularities” are kept away from human society but are trained to make the fullest use of each of their special extra-human abilities.

When evidence is found that someone has hacked the computers (and the physical building) of the top-secret containment facility, two agents are tasked with sneaking the six “kids” to a new, safer locale. Only…one of those is a turncoat, whose aim is turn the children over to “The Collector”, who is trying to get his hands on anyone associated with the paranormal. The kids escape and begin a cross-country journey to a whispered place called sanctuary. As they travel, and encounter various individuals, each of the six tells the others of their (usually tragic) backstory and what led to their confinement.

Each of the characters is fascinating and likeable, and the overall story is a thinly-veiled allegory for accepting and appreciating that which is perhaps different from the social norm. The artwork is excellent, and the storytelling is alternately humorous, emotional, chilling and high-spirited. The storytellers manage to tell a particularly dark and forboding tale, with some violence and prejudice, without overwhelming younger readers or oversimplifying it for adult readers. I was sorry to see Another Kind end…but it was left open-ended enough that they could continue it in future volumes! Oh, and although this is classified in the kids’ collection, its storytelling is sophisticated enough that teens and adults will also enjoy it.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try The Backstagers by James Tynion IV.)

( publisher’s official Another Kind web page ) | ( official Cait May artist web site ) | ( official Trevor Bream Twitter feed )

revscore9

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


Ode to a Tenor Titan: The Life and Times and Music of Michael Brecker
by Bill Milkowski (Music 781.65 Bre)

Michael Brecker is likely the most influential saxophonist in the post-Coltrane era, and at last we have a comprehensive biography of his work, called Ode to a Tenor Titan: The Life and Times and Music of Michael Brecker. Author Bill Milkowski is an esteemed music journalist with an emphasis on jazz, having written for Downbeat, Jazz Times, Guitar Player, Jazziz, and many more publications, as well as writing several books about jazz and rock-related subjects. He’s obviously deeply researched his subject, and this proves to be both a great biography of Brecker and a solid overview of the jazz scene, especially of the 80s and 90s.

Although he’s been gone for 15 years now, the beginning and ending of Ode to a Tenor Titan still carry a tone reminiscent of a funeral for someone gone far too soon. Michael’s brother Randy provides a brief but touching foreword to the book, pointing out that he is remembered by many not just for his music, but also for his helping many people facing substance abuse issues, and for raising awareness of myelodysplastic syndrome. For those more familiar with his music than his life story (like me), we’ll learn far more in the pages of this book. And at the end of the book, there is a substantial appendix made of so-called “Testimonials to a Tenor Titan,” remembrances of Brecker given by many of his contemporaries. Reading through these obviously brings home the impact he had on so many.

As for the main body of the book, it’s a chronological journey through Brecker’s life. Things start off with some family remembrances courtesy of Randy Brecker, who tells us what a musical family the brothers grew up in. Eventually, both attended Indiana University’s music school, with Randy graduating as Michael entered the freshman class. Even in those early years, his classmates recalled that his prowess as a soloist turned heads. Also of note is that Michael was already interested in adding elements of rock music into jazz, and his first bands were essentially fusion bands. His first band ended rather badly after relocating to Chicago to record a demo — I’ll let you read up on the details in the book — and then he moved to New York City, where his career really began. Almost immediately after arriving in New York, Michael made his recorded debut on Randy’s first solo album, called “Score,” when he was only 19.

Michael ended up living in a loft, and becoming part of the 70s loft scene, where free jazz was continuing to develop in the wake of players like Coltrane and Ayler. And he was continuing to develop his interests toward a kind of jazz-rock fusion as well. In the band Dreams, the Brecker brothers worked together with drummer Billy Cobham, and created a powerful rock-band-with-horns lineup in the spirit of other bands like Chicago.

In the 1970s section of the book, I was especially taken by the description of the basic conditions jazz musicians practiced under, as reported by guitarist Steve Kahn: “During this time, there was no Real Book, there were no playalong tapes, no YouTube, no instructional videos, there was nothing like that. And so if you wanted to know all those great Blue Note tunes, or all the Miles solos, or whatever, you had to do it yourself.” So everyone had notebooks full of their own self-disciplined practices, transcribing tunes and solos. It’s hard to even imagine how different things were not so long ago.

The Brecker brothers kept playing with various jazz combos, and became top session musicians in New York. They formed the Brecker Brothers band, and played with lots of musical luminaries, from Yoko Ono to Frank Zappa. Michael Brecker was one of the busiest horn players on the planet. And somewhere in that chaos, like many of his contemporaries, he turned to heroin. Although it’s obviously not a pleasant story, there is an unflinching look at some of the substance abuse issues that plagued the NYC jazz scene in the 70s here, with Brecker and more generally. Fortunately, by the early 80s he’d had enough, and managed to permanently break his habit after a five-week rehab stint. And what’s really heartening to read is how he was then able to help so many of his colleagues and friends get their own lives on track in the coming years. As a musician whom many looked up to, he took his role as a mentor seriously, both on a musical and a personal level.

Toward the end of the book, Milkowski addresses what would prove to be Brecker’s final challenge, which was being diagnosed with myelodysplastic syndrome. Despite being in considerable pain in the last several years of his life, he continued to compose, record and perform as much as possible, and approved the final mixes of his last album just days before he died. He maintained his optimism and stayed in touch with friends and family through it all, and the publicity around trying to find a matching stem cell donor turned out to be the beginning of a public awareness campaign that has continued through the work of his wife, Susan. In subsequent years, she has hosted benefit concerts, started the Time Is of the Essence Fund, and coproduced a documentary. Many people have found matches because of her film. She is also keeping Brecker’s musical legacy alive by donating his musical ephemera to create the Michael Brecker Archive at William Paterson University, and by founding the Michael Brecker International Saxophone Competition.

It’s a finely-detailed book — I haven’t even mentioned the coverage of Brecker’s activities in the 80s and 90s here — and if you’re a fan, this is an essential read.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Jazz Rock: A History by Stuart Nichsolson or Loft Jazz: Improvising New York in the 1970s by Michael C. Heller.)

( official Ode to a Tenor Titan page on the official Bill Milkowski web site )

revscore8

Recommended by Scott S.
Polley Music Library


The Christmas Pig
by J.K. Rowling (j Rowling)

From the creator of Harry Potter comes another delightful children’s book titled The Christmas Pig. The story begins with the breakup of a family and how the young hero copes with the changes in his life. The main character, Jack, now attends a different school where he meets Holly, a celebrity gymnast who is mentor to Jack. Things are looking up for him until Jack’s Mom decides to remarry — Holly’s Dad. Holly finds herself in the middle of a difficult situation as she goes from only child to stepchild in Jack’s home. Jack becomes the target of Holly’s anger about this change in her situation and she does the unthinkable, discarding his beloved toy onto a busy freeway. Even the purchase of a duplicate toy does nothing to assuage Jack’s grief and anger. Suddenly, a Christmas miracle occurs and Jack is sent to the land of lost toys in an effort to rescue his beloved pig toy. The story is a creative look at how children cope in the midst of a crisis and how healing can take place through forgiveness. The book is full of adventure, love and sorrow. Although some scenes might be a bit too frightening or intense for younger children, the book as a whole is well-written and a joy to finish. I highly recommend it!

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try The Ickabog also by J.K. Rowling.)

( official The Christmas Pig web site ) | ( official J.K. Rowling web site )

Read Kim J.’s review of J.K. Rowling’s The Ickabog in the August 2021 Staff Recommendations here on BookGuide!

revscore9

Recommended by Kim J.
Bennett Martin Public Library — Public Service


You’ll Never Believe What Happened to Lacey: Crazy Stories About Racism
by Amber Ruffin and Lacey Lamar (305.8 AfrYr)

Amber Ruffin and Lacey Lamar are two sisters who grew up in Omaha, Nebraska. Amber has moved to New York City, where she is a writer and performer on Late Night with Seth Meyers and host of The Amber Ruffin Show. Lacey is still living in Omaha. The book documents racist things said to Lacey. There is a back-and-forth humor between the co-author sisters that makes it impossible to not laugh, although the reality of current racism experienced by the authors is horrifying.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo or Mixed: My Life in Black and White by Angela Nissel.)

( publisher’s official You’ll Never Believe What Happened to Lacey web page ) | ( official Amber Ruffin Twitter feed ) | ( official Lacey Lamar Twitter feed )

revscore9

Recommended by Jodi R.
Anderson and Bethany Branch Libraries


Fan Fiction
by Brent Spiner (Spiner)

Having just finished Fan Fiction by Brent Spiner, I’m still trying to decide exactly what I think of it.

Spiner is the actor who played Data for seven seasons and four movies of Star Trek the Next Generation — the emotionless, gold-toned humanoid android who longed to be human. This novel is set in the Fall of 1991, during the filming of STNG’s fifth season. The main character is…Brent Spiner…who describes the process of creating the show, including numerous appearances of his fellow STNG actors (Patrick Stewart, Michael Dorn, LeVar Burton, Gates McFadden, Marina Sirtis). But at the same time, it’s a fictionalized account of Spiner being terrorized by an obsessive fan, who is sending him horrifying gifts and writing him rather threatening letters that have him fearing for his life. As we jump back-and-forth between explorations of how Spiner prepares for and plays Data, and his wild, surreal experiences working with two beautiful twins (one and FBI agent and the other a personal bodyguard) and a cop who wants to break into semi-autobiographical screenwriting, there are wild shifts in tone. Meanwhile, other obsessive fans are sending him letters that reveal they have psychoses of their own…or are they maybe all the same person, who is threatening him?

As a long-time fan of Star Trek the Next Generation, I loved his insider’s perspective on the idiosyncrasies of television production, and his introspection about a working actor’s life, and his working through some “issues” from his childhood and youth. But, even though the “obsessive fans” plot is “inspired by actual events”, a lot about that part of the book just felt too absurdly comical and over-the-top. As the novel’s subtitle says — this is a Mem-Noir, and there is a nice noirish feeling to part of the book. But if his real life was anything remotely close to how he portrays it here, I pity him. But there were moments, including an encounter with Dr. Oliver Sacks, and a group outing to see co-worker Patrick Stewart in his one-man Christmas Carol show, that were very emotional. In the end, I did enjoy Fan Fiction, but I just felt like it didn’t quite merge all of its diverse components completely. Your mileage may vary…

(If you like this pseudo-reality novel-telling style, you might like Bruce Campbell’s novel Make Love (the Bruce Campbell Way), in which he tells the story of an actor named Bruce Campbell who gets into various adventures while filming a movie.)

( publisher’s official Fan Fiction web page ) | ( Brent Spiner page on Wikipedia )

revscore6

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


Redbone: The True Story of a Native American Rock Band
by Christian Staebler, Sonia Paoloni, and Thibault Balaly (YA PB Staebler)

If you know the songs “Witch Queen of New Orleans” and “Come and Get Your Love”, you probably want to read this. Especially if you like graphic novels and American culture and history. An English translation of the original French, this volume is divided into chapters, much like individual issues of a comicbook series. It recounts the history of Pat and Lolly Vegas, American Indian musicians from California, and how they came to form the rock/native band Redbone. Thanks go to Jimmy [Jimi] Hendrix for the group’s name. Oh, and, the Brothers Vasquez [AKA Vegas] helped open the doors to commercial success for The Doors! The setting is contemporary, wherein surviving brother Patrick is visiting with his children and they start asking him to repeat stories of “the old days”. The content touches on their musical journey as a sibling duo and on into the group years but also their all-too-familiar challenges of identity and equality as Native people in modern America. Frustratingly, Redbone enjoyed much more fame in Europe than the U.S. but, gladly, they have left a considerable body of work behind. And gave the world an earworm tune that most recently was refreshed in pop culture consciousness in the movie “Guardians of the Galaxy”. p.s. I’m not crazy about the artwork but it is evident that the entire production team feels great respect and appreciation for the Redbone legacy.

( publisher’s official Redbone book web site ) | ( English translation of official Christian Staebler French language web site ) | ( semi-official Redbone band history site )

See also: Caitlin L.’s review of Redbone in the August 2021 Staff Recommendations here on BookGuide!

revscore8

Recommended by Becky W.C.
Walt Branch Library


The Answer is…Reflections on My Life
by Alex Trebek, audiobook narrated by Ken Jennings and Alex Trebek (Compact Disc Biography Trebek)

Despite turning down multiple offers/requests for him to write his own autobiography over the years, Jeopardy! host Alex Trebek changed his mind and chose to write this charming little look back over the highlights of his life (and his time on Jeopardy!), in response to the outpouring of love and support he received after he publicly shared his diagnosis of stage four pancreatic cancer in early 2019. His reasoning was that all the people who were showering him with good wishes might like a peek into the real life of the person they admired so much.

The result is The Answer is…, a sweet, gentle look at the hurdles a young Canadian television entertainer had to jump over on his way towards ultimately achieving fame as the intellectual host of one of TV’s longest-running, and most-respected, game shows. Fully half of this book is Trebek’s memories from across the entire history of Jeopardy!, from the early days of first being cast as host of the revived show, to the many memorable competitors he met during his 30-year run behind the podium. However, interspersed among the Jeopardy! musings are Trebek’s memories of his early years on Canadian television, and the many failed US game shows he hosted before striking Jeopardy! gold. He shares candid comments about both of his marriages and his children, as well as his relationship to his divorced parents. And, he is frank about the difficulties in facing the threat of cancer.

Sadly, as we all know, Trebek succumbed to the disease in 2020, at the age of 80, but not before finishing his work on the audiobook version of The Answer is… However, due to his cancer treatments, he tired easily, and the audiobook’s producers brought in Jeopardy!‘s “greatest of all time” winner, Ken Jennings, to do 80% of the audiobook’s narration. Trebek himself takes over a few key chapters (including one about Jennings himself), but the two men share some witty banter as they exchange narrative duties. This was part of the charming nature of listening to this on audio, and I highly recommend The Answer is… as an audiobook! Trebek was a comforting presence for decades, and I enjoyed the opportunity to learn more about him…directly from his own memories.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Who is Alex Trebek? by Lisa Rogak, an unauthorized biography released about the same time as this autobiography from Trebek himself. Also The Jeopardy! Book: The Answers, the Questions, the Facts and the Stories of the Greatest Game Show in History credited to Alex Trebek, or Answers in the Form of Questions: A Definitive History and Insider’s Guide to Jeopardy! by Claire McNear.)

( publisher’s official The Answer Is… web page ) | ( Alex Trebek page on Wikipedia ) | ( official Jeopardy! web site )

revscore9

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


A Touch of Ruckus
by Ash Van Otterloo (j Van Otterloo)

A Touch of Ruckus is dedicated “to those who take the back seat to keep the peace.” Tennessee (Tennie) Lancaster is a 12 year old kid who feels like it’s her job to smooth things over for the adults in her family and manage her younger siblings. She’s hypersensitive to everyone else’s needs and neglects her own. On top of that, she has a superpower — or “superburden” as she calls it: when she touches some objects with her bare hands, she will experience other people’s memories. Even though she wears gloves, she still accidentally knows more about the worries of everyone around her than she would like.

Tennie is supposed to help her grandmother clean up her rural Appalachian house that’s surrounded by misty hills and forest that Tennie has always loved to visit. She meets a new friend, Fox, who has a superpower of their own and who claims there are ghosts in the woods. It quickly becomes apparent that there ARE ghosts, but whose ghosts and what are they raising a ruckus about?

One thing I loved about this book and Ash Van Otterloo’s previous book, Cattywampus, is the beautiful use of Appalachian language, most of which was also used by my Southern grandmother. I also appreciated seeing nonbinary and bisexual characters in a children’s novel along with the main theme of not having to the shoulder the weight of the world by yourself. Despite some cold-air-on-the-back-of-your-neck thrills and chills, this is overall a cozy read that feels like coming home.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Too Bright to See by Kyle Lukoff or Elatsoe by Darcie Little Badger.)

( publisher’s official A Touch of Ruckus web page ) | ( official Ash Van Otterloo web site )

revscore10

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

As a person who generally doesn’t love scary stories, I really enjoyed A Touch of Ruckus by Ash Van Otterloo. I picked up the book because the jacket promised that the main character, Tennessee Lancaster, had a hidden gift. She is able to “pry into folks’ memories with just a touch of their belongings.” Little did I know that I was in for a chilling ghost story. But by the time the book got creepy, I was hooked.

It’s Autumn. The leaves are falling and Halloween is around the corner. Seventh-grader Tennessee, or Tennie, visits her Grandmother Mimsy for a month while her parents are short on money. But her family won’t find financial help from Mimsy — she has her own money woes — lthough Mimsy’s new boyfriend seems stacked with cash.

As Tennie first arrives, she sees an ominous sight, a dirty doll discarded at the top of a tree. The mountains and woods seem to be hiding something menacing.

One bright spot in Tennie’s visit is a new friend by the name of Fox. He has his own hidden gift: he can see ghosts. Eventually the two enter the woods for ghost hunting. It’s then that they discover that Tennie has another gift. When she touches items claimed by the crows, she releases various ghosts who follow and frighten her. One dangerous dark spirit also warns her of “ded forrst.”
In spite of the ghosts, I had to keep reading to find out what was happening in the woods on Mimsy’s property. Why did the ghosts target Tennie? Were the new people in Tennie’s life who they seem? Could they help her, or hurt her? I also appreciated the underlying storyline about family members who regularly got “the blues” and tried to keep away “the sadness.” Depression, counseling, and medication is deftly woven into the story as something that often can affect middle-schoolers and their families.

Ultimately Tennessee — the family peacemaker — has to ask herself, is it worth the ruckus she has experienced and the ruckus she will create in her family’s life by revealing secrets so she can keep bad things from happening? A Touch of Ruckus is a good book for students in fourth through six grade who are looking for something a little creepy to read.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Cattywampus also by Ash Van Otterloo.)

( publisher’s official A Touch of Ruckus web page ) | ( official Ash Van Otterloo web site )

revscore8

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


The Book of Accidents
by Chuck Wendig (Wendig)

My SciFi/Fantasy/Horror book group read this for a book discussion in November 2021, following recommendations of past Wendig titles that some group members had read.

I would describe The Book of Accidents as “Stephen King Lite” — it really felt like someone trying to capture the feel and tone of an early King novel — think back to the days of Firestarter, ‘Salem’s Lot, Cujo and The Tommyknockers.

The family of Nate Graves, his artist wife Maddie and their slightly autistic son Oliver move to Nate’s childhood home following the death of Nate’s abusive, estranged father and his inheritance of the old rambling house that the father had lived in his entire life. Ollie is a highly-sensitive empath, able to “see” and feel the pain of others, and the hope is that having him in a more remote, less “big-city” location will make Ollie more able to deal with his unfortunate gift. But life isn’t that simple — and not long after the Graves family moves in, odd paranormal things start happening, that both pull the family closer together and simultaneously try to pull them apart.

The Book of Accidents features a lot of well-drawn characters, from the new next-door neighbor with a passion for the unexplained, to Nate’s new state field & game partner, to Ollie’s group of D&D misfits. Unfortunately, the “big bads” of this story are portrayed with too broad a stroke, and the supernatural elements seem to be all over the place in terms of making any coherent sense.

I liked this one, for some of the scenes and moods it established, but overall it felt like an overfilled mish-mash of too many ideas crammed together without any of them given enough focus to hold up. Too bad…because I really would have enjoyed seeing a tighter, more-streamlined book that focused on the bits that were really good.

But…if you’re a fan of early Stephen King, you may enjoy this more than I did.

( official The Book of Accidents page on the official Chuck Wendig web site )

revscore6

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


Screening Room

formatdvdThe Christmas Doodle
(DVD j Christmas)

I love cute dog or puppy movies and the cover of this DVD was so appealing, I decided to check it out to watch with my family this holiday week. As the saying goes, “never judge a book by its cover.” The same can also be said for DVDs. This was the absolute worst movie I have ever seen in my life. The story starts out with a lonely woman who seems sad. She apparently doesn’t work and spends her time cooped up in her lovely home. Her only social interaction is with a neighbor who takes her garbage for her. Suddenly we see some cute puppies. One of these puppies is destined to become this woman’s next best friend! Unfortunately, the woman seems unable to walk her dog without it getting away from her. Does the woman go out and try to find the dog? No, she waits at home until a neighbor brings the dog to her. This is the beginning of the romance between the woman and the garbage bag man. Poor sound quality, poor writing, poor filming, poor editing … need I say more? Yes, there was a cute dog in this “film” but that couldn’t save this poorly-made movie. My daughter, who loves dogs, laughed and hooted at the TV for all 48 minutes of boredom that we were exposed to. I am writing this review to warn other people — don’t bother with this one.

(This is not a recommendation, so I am not going to compare this to anything else.)

( Internet Movie Database entry for this film )

Recommended by Kim J.
Bennett Martin Public Library — Public Service


formatdvdIn the Heights
(DVD In)

If you think the musical Hamilton was Lin-Manuel Miranda’s breakthrough into superstatardom, you’re only partially correct. That 2015 musical may have cemented his fame, but Miranda rose to earlier prominence with his musical, In the Heights, about life in the Washington Heights neighborhood of New York City, which was on Broadway in 2008 and earned The Tony Award for Best Musical and Best Score, a Grammy Award for Best Musical Show Album and the Laurence Olivier Award for Outstanding Achievement in Music.

Miranda has been working to get this Broadway musical adapted to the big screen for several years, and in early 2021 (following several COVID-19 delays), the feature film version of In the Heights appeared, to critical acclaim. It features a huge cast of characters, headlined by Anthony Ramos, Corey Hawkins, Leslie Gace, Melissa Barrera, Olga Merediz, Daphne Ruben-Vega, Gregory Diaz IV and Jimmy Smits. The lives of multiplate characters are all at various turning points, in storylines that interweave and overlap, and their emotional highlights are told are explored through musical song-and-dance numbers — some massive, some involving magical realism (dancing on the side of a building), and others intimate.

In the Heights is a celebration of musical theatre of the modern era, while still harkening back to the days of classic film musicals like West Side Story (ironic, considering that a new film version of West Side Story was also released in 2021!). Instead of primarily ballads, this show/movie explores the musical styles of hip-hop and rap. The vocalists are all tremendous, but Olga Merediz as Abuela Claudia (the only Broadway cast member to reprise their role in the film) steals the show, particularly in her emotional number “Paciencia y Fe”.

In addition to terrific performances, this film was a visual feast for the eyes, with a broad and expansive range of bright colors in set design and costumes. Definitely one of my favorite films from 2021, and I highly recommend it for any fan of movie musicals.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try listening to the soundtrack album to this film or the original Broadway cast recording from 2008. A great “making of” book, In the Heights: Finding Home, chronicles the history of this musical and the production of this film.)

( Internet Movie Database entry for this film ) | ( official In the Heights web site )

revscore9

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


formatdvdThe Man Who Invented Christmas
(DVD Man)

This marvelous production stars Dan Stevens (of Downton Abbey fame) as a young Charles Dickens who appears to have writer’s block as he strives to come up with another success following the failure of three lackluster novels in the wake of his successful tour of America. Also starring Christopher Plummer as Ebenezer Scrooge, the story unfolds as Dickens is surrounded by the characters he is creating, all giving unwanted advice to the author as he tries to write his classic story, “A Christmas Carol.” Only by confronting his own past and character flaws is Dickens able to complete this incredible story of love and redemption. Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” was an immediate success and remains one of his best-known and best-loved works to this day. The movie brings together an incredible cast of British actors, including Simon Callow, Donald Sumpter, Ian McNeice, Miriam Margoyles and Jonathan Pryce. I highly recommend this excellent film.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try A Christmas Carol (both DVD and book formats).)

( Internet Movie Database entry for this film ) | ( official The Man Who Invented Christmas Facebook page )

revscore9

Recommended by Kim J.
Bennett Martin Public Library — Public Service


last updated April 2022
* Please Note: The presence of a link on this site does not constitute an endorsement by Lincoln City Libraries.

bgbottombanner1000