Link to our Facebook Page
Link to our Instagram Page
Link to our X Page
Link to our Youtube Page

Staff Recommendations – July 2019

BG Staff Rec Banner


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!

July 2019 Recommendations

This July, we celebrated the 50th anniversary of humankind first landing first journeying to, and setting foot on, the Moon. On July 16th, 1969, Apollo 11, with astronauts Neil Armstrong, Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin and Michael Collins, lifted off from Florida. On July 20th, the Lunar Module, with Armstrong and Aldrin aboard, landing in the Sea of Tranquility on the moon — “Houston – Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.” Not long after, Commander Neil Armstrong descended from the command module and stepped onto the surface of the Moon at 02:56:15 UTC (Coordinated Universal Time/Greenwich Mean Time) on July 21st, which is 10:56:15 Eastern Time on July 20th in the U.S., with the state “That’s one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for Mankind.” In recognition of this anniversary, our Staff Recommendations page features a variety of reviews of Apollo Program and space exploration themes in June, July and August 2019.

Check out some of our past Apollo and/or Space Exploration themed reviews here on the Staff Recommendations page:
Andy Weir – The Martian (Apr 2014) | Mary Roach – Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void (Dec 2010) | Ben Mezrich – Sex on the Moon: The Amazing Story About the Most Audacious Heist in History (Jul 2012) | Chris Jones – Too Far From Home (May 2009) | Lily Koppel – The Astronaut Wives Club (Apr 2015) | James Lovell – Lost Moon: The Perilous Voyage of Apoll0 13 (Dec 2005) | Chris Hadfield – You Are Here: Around the World in 92 Minutes (Jun 2015) | Jay Barbree – Neil Armstrong: A Life in Flight (Jan 2015) | Homer Hickam – Rocket Boys (Sep 2004) | DVD: Apollo 11 (Jun 2019) | DVD: In the Shadow of the Moon (Nov 2018) | DVD: The Last Man on the Moon: One Man’s Part in Mankind’s Greatest Adventure (Feb 2017)

The Ordinary Spaceman: From Boyhood Dreams to Astronaut
by Clayton Anderson (Biography Anderson) Nebraska Author

Clayton Anderson is Nebraska’s contribution to the astronaut corps. He famously applied to the astronaut program 15 times before finally being accepted. I met him when he was on book tour in Lincoln while promoting this book. I enjoyed his talk, and found him personable and humorous.

His book is so interesting as he relates a lot of behind-the-scenes stories not usually shared in other astronaut memoirs. He writes about the process for acceptance into the space program, the training involved, and the politics and stress with so many high achievers. He was required to learn Russian for one of his missions and spent many months in Russia training and discusses how difficult his absence was on both he and his family. We re-live the sorrow of the Challenger tragedy when he writes about his role as one of the family escorts.

An enjoyable book full of laughter, grief, and astronaut stories, this is a quick, engrossing read even at 400 pages.

( publisher’s official Ordinary Spaceman web site ) | ( official Clayton Anderson Twitter feed ) | ( Clayton Anderson’s NASA biography page )


Recommended by Charlotte M.
Bennett Martin Public Library

Toucan Keep a Secret
by Donna Andrews (Andrews)

I had already been a fan of Donna Andrews’ “Turing Hopper” series (4 volumes 2002-2005), but had never sampled her “Meg Langslow” series before the libraries’ Just Desserts mystery fiction discussion group selected a quartet of the Langslow volumes for their June 2019 discussion meeting. The Langslow series has reached 25 volumes (with a 26th due before Christmas) as of 2019, and Toucan Keep a Secret is #23.

In much the same way that Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum mysteries are filled with quirky, colorful, bigger-than-life family members, so are the Meg Langslow books. Toucan Keep a Secret is an enjoyable, competently written mystery — I’ll admit I hadn’t tumbled to who the killer was before that was revealed. But it also feels like a recent entry in a long-running series, featuring so many relatives and friends of Langslow, each of whom has an extreme personality, that I felt like I was joining a story part-way through. In this entry, Meg is one of the evening caretakers of the church she belongs to, while the female pastor is on forced medical leave (she’s pregnant). One night, Meg sees someone with a flashlight in the locked columbarium, where the ashes of cremated church members are stored in personal niches. When she investigates, she finds the body of a troublesome older man who was on the church’s governing board, and evidence that he, or someone else, had been opening multiple niches with a crowbar. Digging into the history of all the individuals whose burial niches were disturbed ends up stirring up some bad blood and makes somebody nervous enough to take a pot shot at Meg.

Learning about the ins-and-outs of how her church handles its behind-the-scenes business was interesting, and Andrews does a good job making Meg a likeable character, but there seemed to be way too many subplots going, and some of the outrageous supporting characters were not really believable. On the other hand, I enjoyed this one enough to follow the recommendations of several Just Desserts members that I should go back at read the earliest few entries in the Meg Langslow series — so I’ve already got a copy of Murder With Peacocks, the very first Langslow book, and I’m eager to see how the series started.

(Special Note: I was informed by a friend that her late parents made a guest appearance in 9th Meg Langslow entry, Cockatiels at Seven. If you’re at all familiar with retired Nebraska Wesleyan University theater professor Henry Blanke, and his wife NWU Costume Librarian Phyllis Blanke, check out that entry in the series! They do make an appearance, through altered slightly to be native’s of Meg Langslow town and not Lincoln, NE.)

( official Donna Andrews web site )


Recommended by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library

Apollo 11’s Moon Landing
(Microfilm 629.454 Apo)

This microfilm reel is one of the library system’s most unusual research resources, especially for space exploration buffs. Though there have been many books about humankind’s first physical visit to the Moon’s surface, written in the over-forty years since that mission took place, none have quite the same sense of immediacy as reading the articles that are included in this microfilm collection. This reel includes over 1000 pages of articles from 16 different newspapers (including The Chicago Tribune, The Denver Post, The Houston Chronicle, The New York Times, and The Washington Post), and over 13 magazines (including Life, Look, National Geographic, Newsweek, Sky & Telescope, Time and U.S. News and World Report), all covering the build-up to the launch of Apollo 11, and the subsequent success of that mission that placed Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin in the moon’s surface. Though the technology of microfilm may seem a bit antiquated in today’s world of digitization, the images on this film capture the world-wide fascination with the Apollo program in a way that a book or a website just can’t seem to manage. If you are a space buff, I highly encourage you to stop at Bennett Martin Public Library downtown and ask to explore this excellent research archive! (B&W printouts can be made of articles for 10¢ per page)

(This review re-printed from March 2011 on BookGuide)

( Apollo 11 page on the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum site ) | ( Interactive Online Recreation of Apollo 11 mission )

— Hear Scott C. talk about the Apollo 11’s Moon Landing microfilm in the ‘Casting About podcast series episode #61

Recommended by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library

Camouflage: The Hidden Lives of Autistic Women
by Dr. Sarah Bargiela (j618.928 Bar)

Camouflage is a very short, nonfiction book in graphic novel format that introduces what it means to be on the Autism spectrum, then focuses on recent research into why so many fewer women have been diagnosed with Autism than men. The overall answer given is that Autism tends to present partly the same but partly differently in women. One of those differences is that Autistic women tend to be be better at passing as neurotypical in their social interactions. Another is that when Autistic women have intense special interests, those interests are often more mainstream (less ‘odd’ sounding) to people who hear about them.

The latter half of the book asks questions of a multi-racial group of three real life Autistic women from age 19 to 30. You find out what social situations are like for them, how their diagnosis was denied early on, what it’s like “masking” their Autism, and how they’ve learned to become more assertive in their relationships, including intimate relationships.

I would say this book is most directly fitting for girls and women in middle school through college. The book itself has “11+” listed on it. I also strongly recommend it to parents and educators of young women. Camouflage mentions the increased risk of sexual assault and suicide for Autistic women, which is a topic that can’t wait until after their teens. There are some book and Internet resources spelled out, and others mentioned in a way that Internet searching will get young women to places they can find help.

You’ll find this book in the children’s nonfiction section here, which includes young adult materials when in hardcover format.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Thinking in Pictures: My Life with Autism, by Temple Grandin, or All Cats Have Asperger Syndrome, by Cathy Hoopmann.)

( official Camouflage page on the official Dr. Sarah Bargiela web site — site appears to be offline )


Recommended by Garren H.
Bennett Martin Public Library

The Murder on the Links
by Agatha Christie (Christie)

A tale of mistaken and multiple identities would describe this book. While the victim is found on a golf course as the title implies, but there is actually nothing more about golf in the story. A wealthy family move into a small French village and soon the husband begins to show signs of anxiety and nervous behavior; he writes to Poirot to come to his aid, but it is too late as when he arrives the man is dead. With all the mysterious identities of several characters it is a pretty engaging novel. It is also one that features Captain Hastings as Poirot’s side kick, which I always enjoy as it’s reminiscent of Sherlock and Watson (whose stories I’d also recommend). So if you are looking for a historical mystery set in Britain, this is a good pick.

( official The Murder on the Links page on the official Agatha Christie web site )


Recommended by Kristen A.
Gere Branch Library

Star Wars ReviewsMaster and Apprentice
by Claudia Gray (Gray)

This book proved a harder one for me to like than I initially thought. Claudia Gray has proven to be an excellent author. However, I still have very fond memories of the “Jedi Apprentice” series by Jude Watson (HIGHLY recommended if you can find them) which also covers the same ground as “Master and Apprentice”: the time before Episode I when Qui-Gon was training Obi-Wan as his Padawan. It took me about a third of the way through the book before the author finally won me over. It’s a different story, but still a very good one. While “Bloodlines” remains her best work so far, this one is also a worthwhile read for any Star Wars fans out there.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Leia, Princess of Alderaan, Lost Stars, and Bloodlines, all by Claudia Gray or Legacy of the Jedi, by Jude Watson (no longer “canon” but still a good read).)

( official Master and Apprentice page on Wookiepedia ) | ( official Claudia Gray web site )


Recommended by Corey G.
Gere Branch Library

Doctor Who: The Key to Time – A Year-by-Year Record
by Peter Haining (791.457 DocYh)

Doctor Who: The Key to Time – A Year-by-Year Record by Peter Haining documents the 1963-1989 classic British science fiction television series, from the arrival of creator Sydney Newman at the BBC on April 23rd 1963 through the premiere of Colin Baker’s first episode as the Sixth Doctor; March 22nd 1984. Each chapter of the book is devoted to a specific year in the show’s run, with dated entries interspersed by official photographs and fan art. Published to time with the show’s 21st anniversary, it is an interesting time capsule in genre media fandom and supplementary reference work.

Peter Haining (1940-2007), a journalist-turned-author/editor, specialized in anthologies and reference books devoted to genre fiction and other subjects such as horror, Sherlock Holmes, and the historicity of Sweeney Todd. Doctor Who: The Key to Time was the second of six books focused on the original series of Doctor Who published between 1983 and 1999. The Lincoln City Libraries maintain the first four of these volumes.

Of Haining’s four books in the LCL catalog, I would recommend Doctor Who: The Key to Time above the rest, due to the possession of an editorial focus that the rest of them lack. By concentrating on a chronological documentation of what happened when, it avoids the tarnished reading experience one gets when flipping through “A Celebration” or “The Doctor Who File”: chaotically lurching from topic to topic with smatterings of random photos and artwork. The Key to Time also has the advantage of covering the program’s first twenty years and the whole tenure of the first five Doctors. The promotional and production photographs break up the text nicely, and while the fan art varies wildly in quality, it also provides an interesting glimpse into a side of historical media fandom most don’t normally see outside of the world of fanzines.

Another vintage text I would recommend in the LCL system is Doctor Who – The Early Years (1986, 791.457 qDocYb) by Jeremy Bentham. The Early Years focuses key stories from the first three seasons with first Doctor William Hartnell, and includes production insights, behind-the-scenes photos, concept art and model blueprints, in addition to summaries and stills of certain stories that had been deleted from the BBC Archives through the 1960s and 1970s.

( Wikipedia page for the multi-episode Doctor Who arc The Key to Time ) | ( Wikiepedia page for Peter Haining )


Recommended by Dave D.
Bennett Martin Public Library

Paperbacks From Hell: The Twisted History of 70s and 80s Horror Fiction
by Grady Hendrix with Will Errickson (808.386 Hen)

This large, glossy, thick volume is a marvelous look back at the boom in publishing paperback horror novels in the 1970s and 1980s, when publishers put out literally hundreds of new horror novels every year, frequently follow trends in tastes and popularity. By the end of that time period, changes in how the publishing industry operated led to a massive decrease in horror output — but this book is a celebration of the crazy, macabre world of horror publishing at its height.

Author Hendrix breaks the field of horror publishing into categories — “Hail, Satan”, “Creepy Kids”, “When Animals Attack”, “Real Estate Nightmares”, “Weird Science”, “Gothic and Romantic”, “Inhumanoids” and “Splatterpunks, Serial Killers and Super Creeps”. Full-color reproductions of literally hundreds of lurid and exotic book covers accompany detailed articles about each of these horror sub-genres, with lots of information I’d never been aware of before. Appendixes at the back of the book include short but helpful “Publisher and Creator Biographies”, and a horror Recommended Reading list by Will Errickson.

Recommended for anyone who’s a fan of the horror genre, or who grew up during the ’70s and ’80s, and remembers seeing this plethora of gaudy covers on book spinners at your neighborhood drug store or the B. Dalton’s Booksellers and Waldenbooks in the local shopping malls!

( official Paperbacks From Hell page on the official Grady Hendrix web site )


Recommended by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library

The Sentence is Death
by Anthony Horowitz (Compact Disc Horowitz)

This is the second volume in the Daniel Hawthorne series by author Anthony Horowitz, perhaps best known as the creator/writer of Foyle’s War on PBS. I enjoyed this as an audiobook adaptation, with narration by British actor Rory Kinnear.

Continuing in the same vein as the first volume, The Word is Murder, this is another very “meta” work of mystery fiction. The author is Anthony Horowitz, and the narrator of the story is, also, Anthony Horowitz. The conceit of the story is that author Horowitz has been convinced by a retired London police investigator (and supposedly a past advisor on Horowitz’s television work), Daniel Hawthorne, to accompany him in his work as a consultant to the police on unusual cases — Horowitz is supposed to observe Hawthorne at work and then write a non-fiction book about the solving of the case. In reality, the novels are told from Horowitz’s point-of-view, as he feels alternately alienated by the notoriously uncooperative Hawthorne, and frustrated that he (Horowitz) feels he should be able to solve the cases as easily as Hawthorne, who’s something of a modern-day Sherlock Holmes.

In the first novel, Horowitz nearly got killed by the murderer when he got too close to solving the case without Hawthorne’s involvement, and in this second entry, he doesn’t want to repeat that mistake. In this story, a famed divorce attorney is killed by being struck with an incredibly expensive bottle of wine — and he didn’t drink wine. The suspect list features authors, agents, fellow lawyers, unfaithful spouses and more. The solution to the murder is crafty, and Hawthorne and Horowitz’s interactions are quirky. We get to follow along as Horowitz unearths new facts about Hawthorne’s background, which in many ways proves to be even more interesting than the mystery plot. I particularly enjoyed this in audiobook form — Kinnear invests each character with their own distinctive “voice” and personality. Because Horowitz talks, within the novel, about having a three-book deal covering Hawthorne’s exploits, we should be seeing a third entry soon!

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try The Word is Murder, also by Horowitz.)

( official The Sentence is Death page on the official Anthony Horowitz web site )

Read Scott C.’s review of The Word is Murder audiobook from the May 2019 Staff Recommendations on BookGuide


Recommended by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library

Find Momo Across Europe: A Hide-and-Seek Photography Book
by Andrew Knapp (jPB (Picture Book) Knapp]

This is the newest publication in the Find Momo series, a collection of photographs by the author of his adorable dog, Momo. This book was more challenging than the first two books due to the complexity of the photographs. Momo and his sidekick Andrew travelled across Europe looking for dog-friendly venues and eateries (this information is provided by the author as well). I was very thankful for the “clues” section in the back of the book. The photographs are smaller in this publication which makes it a little harder to find Momo. I enjoyed looking at the photos so much I sometimes forgot to look for Momo! This book made me want to book a trip to Europe to see some of these places. I highly recommend this book.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Find Momo: My Dog is Hiding in This Book: Can You Find Him?, Find Momo Coast to Coast: My Dog is Taking a Road Trip : Can You Find Him?; Another Hide-and-Seek Photography Book, and Let’s Find Momo!, all by Andrew Knapp.)

( official Andrew Knapp web site — formerly official )

Read Kim J.’s review of the previous two Find Momo books from the May 2019 Staff Recommendations here on BookGuide


Recommended by Kim J.
Bennett Martin Public Library

hooplaSpace Cat
by Ruthven Todd (currently available from the libraries only as a Hoopla eBook)

“The Moon is only the start,
Says Flyball the Flier
Oh, no one ever can guess
How far we can fly!”

Flyball is a stowaway kitten who by pluck and luck gets to travel to the moon in this first in a series of four books featuring the spacely adventures of a cat and his rocketeer.
Clever Flyball and Captain Fred have a lot of adventures, including convincing Fred’s superiors to allow a cat in the rocket, exploring the moon, and meeting aliens.

The original 1950s illustrations by Paul Galdone are charming and the “futuristic” take on space travel is endearing.

But that leads me to a warning: If your personal space cadet is more into reality than fiction, they might find this book perturbing. In that case, this story could be a starting point for an interesting discussion about “what they got wrong” and how much more we know about the moon and space travel than they did in 1952. For example, I’d love to travel back in time and ask my five year old son if he thinks a hammock would be an appropriate way to travel in a rocket. I think he’d have some definite ideas on the topic.

Space Cat is an easy read chapter book that most children will enjoy (Cats! Space!), and a nostalgia trip for adults. I believe this imaginative adventure would be perfect to share as a read-aloud bedtime story.

I give the book 10 stars because I love books with resourceful heroes that also happen to be cats.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try any of the other Space Cat series, by Ruthven Todd, or Anatole, Anatole Over Paris or Anatole and the Cat, all by Eve Titus, about another resourceful hero, this time Anatole the mouse.)

( publisher’s official page for the latest edition of Space Cat ) | ( Wikipedia page for Ruthven Todd )


Recommended by Carrie K.
Bennett Martin Public Library

All Systems Red
by Martha Wells (Wells)

All Systems Red is one of the most smartly-written, most entertaining, science fiction stories I’ve read in the past few years. This story won the Hugo Award, the Nebula Award, the Alex Award and the Locus Award for Best Novella (slightly shorter than a novel, at under 50,000 words) released in 2017.

This futuristic sci-fi story is narrated by an unnamed security android, a SecUnit, assigned to accompany a scientific expedition to a planet being considered for material exploitation. When bad things start to happen, both to the survey expedition this SecUnit is assigned to, and another elsewhere on the planet, the SecUnit has to work with its human team members to try to survive against a canny adversary.

All this sounds like a nifty but simplistic sci-fi action adventure story on the surface. What makes this particular story truly fascinating is the voice of the narrator — this SecUnit is a fully self-aware artificial intelligence (AI), which has hacked its own computerized programming and eliminated the controls placed over it by its overseers. Having unwittingly killed a number of humans on a previous assignment, it has nicknamed itself Murderbot — in fact, this series is “The Murderbot Diaries”. Murderbot is a unique character, which is trying to determine who and what it is — its self-awareness is “new” and its not quite sure what to do with itself. It doesn’t really feel like it belongs with the humans, although it is addicted to the future equivalent of soap operas, but it still feels extremely protective of the team of scientists. There are strong shades of being an ostracized outsider — bordering on LGBTQ or autism spectrum — to this quirky narrator.

The action is fast-paced, the world-building is believable, and the voice of Murderbot is unforgettable. I strongly recommend this title, and there are three more novellas to follow, which wrap up the storyline that begins in All Systems Red. The author has indicated she also has a full-length novel featuring Murderbot on the horizon.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Artificial Condition, Rogue Protocol, or Exit Strategy, all by Martha Wells, the rest of the current “Murderbot Diaries” series.)

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


Recommended by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library

Screening Room

formatdvdBack in Time
(DVD 791.437 Bac)

I absolutely love Back to the Future. The first film in that trilogy is what I consider to be a “perfect” film, and although the second and third aren’t quite as flawless, they’re still highly entertaining and form a marvelous story arc. 2015 saw multiple celebrations of the 30th anniversary of the original film, including this charming 95-minute documentary about the impact the trilogy has had.

The first half of this documentary is about the making of the movie, with the writers, director (Robert Zemeckis), producers (including Steven Spielberg), cast members (Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Lea Thompson and more), score composer (Alan Silvestri), special effects supervisors and more all reminiscing about how the movies were created. The second half then looks at the fervent fan base this series of films has generated — including the many people who’ve purchased Delorean cars and modified them into the film’s iconic time machine, individuals who’ve dedicated themselves to sharing the word about Fox’s Parkinson’s organization, collectors, convention attendees, and so much more.

Producer/Director Jason Aaron has assembled dozens of interviews, creating a very “personal” feel to this documentary. Interspersed with the interviews are rare pieces of behind-the-scenes footage from the filming of the trilogy (including a few clips of “original” Marty McFly, Eric Stoltz, in scenes that had to be jettisoned after the role was recast 6 weeks into filming).

Anyone who’s a Back to the Future fan will enjoy this, but it should also appeal to any fan of moving-making and general pop culture. My only complaint, and it is a minor one, is that the pacing of this film is very slow and laconic, almost like a slow Ken Burns documentary — an odd choice considering how peppy and fast-paced the movies are. None-the-less, I highly enjoyed this and strongly recommend it to fellow BTTF aficionados.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Back to the Future movie trilogy, Back to the Future Animate Series or We Don’t Need Roads: The Making of the Back to the Future Trilogy by Caseen Gaines.)

( Internet Movie Database entry for this film ) | ( official Back in Time Facebook feed )

Read Kristen A.’s review of the Back to the Future film trilogy, from the October 2013 Staff Recommendations here on BookGuide
Read Scott C.’s review of We Don’t Need Roads: The Making of the Back to the Future Trilogy by Caseen Gaines, from the November 2015 Staff Recommendations here on BookGuide


Recommended by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library

formatdvdThe Bookshop
(DVD Bookshop)

I’m a sucker for almost any story set in a quaint old bookstore or library, so this film caught my eye in the libraries’ DVD collection.

Emily Mortimer plays Florence Green, a young-ish widow who takes a chance to fulfill a life-long dream by setting up a small bookshop in an English coastal town. In the process, she incurs the ire of a local wealthy townswoman, Violet Gamart (played by Patricia Clarkson), who had been eyeing the property where the bookstore is for an arts center that is a passion project for her. On the other hand, Florence’s efforts cause her to be admired and supported by a local eccentric, Edmund Brundish (played by Bill Nighy), and she also gains the friendship of a local girl, Christine (played by Honor Kneafsey), who comes to work in the store after school.

This is a quiet little film, beautifully shot, which has moments of increasing intensity. The performances are all understated but still impressive. Bill Nighy is especially charming as the eccentric reader Mr. Brundish, who is driven to abandon his isolation in order to support Florence’s dream. And Honor, as Christine, is a stunning young actress.

I’ll have to admit that I had not read the novel by Penelope Fitzgerald on which this film is based, so I had no idea where the plot was going. In the end, while I did enjoy the film, I was somewhat unsatisfied with the ending, which drops my overall rating for the film by a few points. But it is definitely worth watching for the excellent performances and beautiful views of English seaside life.

(Also available in traditional print format.)

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


Recommended by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library

formatdvdFirst Man
(DVD First)

Oscar winners Damien Chizelle and Ryan Gosling, who worked together on La La Land, reunited to work on this marvelous film about Neil Armstrong as he was selected to be part of the Apollo program, assigned to be the leader of the Apollo 11 mission, and ultimately was the first man to set foot on the surface of the Moon. The film is based on the book First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong by James R. Hansen. In addition to Gosling as Armstrong, the film also stars Claire Foy, Jason Clarke, Kyle Chandler, Corey Stoll, Ciarán Hinds, Christopher Abbott, Patrick Fugit, and Lukas Haas.

The film is far more a biographical portrait of Armstrong than it is an exploration of the Apollo program and Apollo 11 mission. While those significant events form an important backdrop to the movie’s plot, it’s most emotional moments come in looks at Armstrong’s personal life. Neil Armstrong was historically known as a rather reserved individual, and Gosling plays that very effectively — in fact as I sat in the theater watching this film, I almost felt he was too emotionally disconnected. But, in retrospect, the film portrays his reaction to the loss of his young daughter very realistically — a loss that results in a very poignant moment when Armstrong actually finds himself on the lunar surface.

The performances in this film are tremendous, as is both the production design (the “look” of the film) and the soundtrack. But the true shining star is the special effects, which won the Academy Award for SFX. In particular, the meticulously recreated sequence in which Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin bring the lunar lander to the moon’s surface is nail-bitingly intense. If this was supposed to be primarily about the Apollo 11 mission, I might’ve been a little disappointed in this film. But since it is more a biographical portrait of Armstrong leading up to the moon landing, as indicated by the title First Man, I found this to be an excellent film, well worth the viewing experience.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try the From the Earth to the Moon mini-series, To the Moon (a special on NOVA) or In the Shadow of the Moon (a documentary film by Ron Howard), or the Neil Armstrong biographies First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong by James R. Hansen and Neil Armstrong: A Life of Flight by Jay Barbree.)

(Also available in traditional print format.)

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

Read Charlotte M.’s review of Jay Barbree’s book Neil Armstrong: A Life of Flight from the January 2015 Staff Recommendations here on BookGuide


Recommended by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library

formatdvdHidden Figures
(DVD Hidden)

This 2016 film is a historical biopic, loosely based on the non-fiction book of the same title by Margot Lee Shetterly. It looks at the experiences of three African-American female scienctists working at NASA during the early days of the space race in the early 1960s. Taraji P. Henson plays Katherine Johnson (nee Goble), a brilliant mathematician who is ultimately called upon to calculate the flight trajectories of the Mercury flights and other missions. Janelle Monae plays Mary Jackson, an engineer in training who joins the team working on the heat shields for the Mercury vehicles, helping to identify a fatal flaw in their designs. And Octavia Spencer is Dorothy Vaughn, who initially serves as the “acting supervisor” for the African-American workers on the project, and then learns FORTRAN computer programming (from library books!) and teaches it to her team, in order to form one of the earliest computer programming units within NASA. Additional cast members include Kevin Costner, Mahershala Ali, Kirsten Dunst and Jim Parsons.

The film highlights both the racial and sexual prejudices the three central characters faced and overcame in their careers at NASA, and shines a light on a little-known chapter in America’s history of space exploration. Indeed, I was completely unaware of the events chronicled in this film, including Katherine Johnson’s incredible contributions to the Mercury program. Oddly enough, about the same time this film was in theaters, an episode of the NBC time travel series Timeless also touched on this exact same storyline. I was fascinated by the events portrayed in this film, and enjoyed reading even more about it in Shetterly’s book.

(Also available in traditional print format, by Margot Lee Shetterly.)

( Internet Movie Database entry for this film )


Recommended by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library

(DVD j Leap)

I first saw a trailer for this charming animated film as a promo on another DVD I checked out from the library. The trailer was eye-catching and the story of a young orphan girl aspiring to be a ballet dancer was appealing enough for me to snag a copy of this to watch.

This is the story of Felicie, an 11-year-old orphan girl who, with her best friend Victor, escapes from her countryside orphanage to go to Paris, where she dreams of entering the ballet school and performing on the big stage. Victor is enamored of Felicie, but also things Paris is his ticket to the big time — he’s an aspiring inventor, trying to create wings that will allow humans to fly.

In part by chance, and in part by intent, Felicie gets a chance to join the group of pre-teen dancers all vying for a coveted spot in an upcoming production of the Opera Ballet School. She receives training from the school’s crippled custodian, and gets both encouragement and challenges from the director of the ballet. Complications arise from a rival dancer, as well as a challenger to Victor for Felicie’s affections. Will she be chosen to dance? Will she have to return to the orphanage? Will she learn the self-confidence to trust her instincts? Will she lose her heart to either Rudolph or Victor? You’ll have to watch to find out.

Featuring the voice skills of Elle Fanning, Nat Wolff, Maddie Ziegler, Carly Rae Jepsen, Kate McKinnon and Mel Brooks. I wasn’t expecting much from this one, and it surprised me — I enjoyed it quite a bit, despite some inaccuracies in the timeline of events in Paris, and an unfortunate choice to use present-day slang in the film’s dialog — a bad decision for a film supposedly set in the 1880s.

( Internet Movie Database entry for this film )


Recommended by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library

formatdvdOctober Sky
(DVD October)

The true story of Homer Hickam, a NASA Engineer, and his high school friends who were worried by the October flight of Sputnik and decided to work on rocketry to make the US a leader in the space race.

Growing up impoverished in the coal mining state of West Virginia their parents saw no use for college or the study of science or rocketry. They aren’t the villains here, they simply believed coal mining to be an honorable profession, and Hickam’s father was very proud of his job as a miner. We follow the boys as one of their high school teachers sees a potential for them and works with them after school as they try to build reliable rockets. Eventually, they find their way to a science fair that offers college scholarships to the winning team.

Even though you know the boys make it out of the coal-mining life, it’s still exciting to watch their success and the eventual pride of their parents.

Based on Hickam’s New York Times bestselling 1998 book Rocket Boys which became the basis for this film. Interestingly, “October Sky” is an anagram for “Rocket Boys.” The film’s producers felt girls wouldn’t watch a film entitled “Rocket BOYS” and thus made the switch.

( Internet Movie Database entry for this film )

Read Patty L.’s review of Rocket Boys, the biography this film is based on, from the September 2004 Staff Recommendations here on BookGuide


Recommended by Charlotte M.
Bennett Martin Public Library

last updated June 2023
* Please Note: The presence of a link on this site does not constitute an endorsement by Lincoln City Libraries.