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Staff Recommendations – July 2023

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July 2023 Recommendations

Hollywood: The Oral History
by Jeanine Basinger and Sam Wasson (791.43 Bas)

As the authors say, in their introduction, this book is compiled from interviews conducted by the American Film Institute, beginning in 1969, with individuals from across the spectrum of movie-making. Basinger and Wasson were given total and unprecedented access to all of the the AFI’s Harold Lloyd seminars, oral histories, and complete archives, featuring more than 3000 guest speakers and almost 10000 hours of conversation.

The authors then pulled quotes and organized them into thematic chapters: Beginnings, Comedy, Silent Directors, Silent Actors, Sound!, Studio Heads, Studio Style, The Studio Workforce (itself broken in ten sub-chapters), The Product, The End of the System, Identity Crisis, New Hollywood, The Creep Up, The Deal, Packaging, Everybody’s Business, and Monsters.

This book makes for absolutely fascinating reading but it is also a bit stop-and-go. Anyone who is interested in the history of movie-making here in the United States should find much of the content of this volume essential reading. However, at the same time, it doesn’t make for fast-flowing reading, as the voices jump back and forth between people you recognize and people from the industry that you may never have heard of.

I ended up loving Hollywood: The Oral History, while at the same time wishing that it was a video documentary, so I could have actually seen the individuals as they were being interviewed. None-the-less, a marvelous book on Hollywood and film-making history! Nearly every page has some nugget of information I never heard about before!

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try It Happened on Broadway: An Oral History of the Great White Way by Myrna Frommer, though it deals with stage productions rather than film.)

( publisher’s official Hollywood: The Oral History web site ) | ( Wikipedia page for Jeannine Basinger )


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

The Troubleshooters series
by Suzanne Brockmann (see hotlinks for each individual story)

Four short stories and a novella from the Troubleshooters series By Suzanne Brockmann.

Only download the following Hoopla and Libby audio books if you are a fan of the Troubleshooters series by Suzanne Brockmann. These five stories are novellas and shorts that are hilarious, scary, thoughtful, and poignant. They catch you up with some of our favorite characters, giving you more insight into the lives of Adam, Izzy, Gilman, Jules, Robin, and others beyond what we’ve read in the full-length novels. The narrators, Patrick Lawlor and Melanie Ewbank, are perfect as they portray our characters.

Book #12.1 “When Tony Met Adam” 2hrs/10min, story timeline Dec 2007-Feb 2008.
Main characters: Navy SEAL Tony Vlachic, actor Adam Wyndham.

This story starts at the end of book #12, “All Through the Night” (the night before Jules and Robin’s wedding), when Adam has been escorted out of Jules and Robin’s home after the stalker has been captured. If you remember, as he’s walking down the street to the corner, Tony is one of the SEALs guarding the house and recognizes Adam as his favorite actor, runs up to him and writes his phone number on Adam’s palm, then they go their separate ways. “When Tony Met Adam” picks up their story over the course of the next several months. By the end we understand Adam much better, he’s pulled his life together, and he becomes one of our likeable characters.

Book #18.1 “Free Fall” 1hr/29min, story timeline early Jan 2010.
Main characters: SEAL Team 16.

This take places after novel #18, “Do or Die,” with our favorite SEAL team doing a High Altitude training jump when Tony’s equipment fails. Izzy to the rescue with an innovative plan which will either work, injure one or both of them, or kill one or both.

Book #18.2 “Home Fire Inferno (Burn, Baby, Burn!)” 1hr/29min, story timeline Jan 2010, just a couple of weeks after 18.1 “Free Fall.”
Main characters: Navy SEAL Team 16 including new guy Hubert Bickles (HoBoMoFo), Eden Zanella, Jenn Gillman, Brianna Bickles, Brianna’s 5th grade teacher Carol Redmond, and Adam Wyndham.

SEAL Team 16 is at the airport Mission Ready for an overseas job – meaning they are set to leave at any moment for location unknown for reason unknown for mission-length unknown with no communication with anyone outside of the team. Then Jenn goes into labor a month early while stranded in the California desert, unable to contact anyone. Jenkins, recovering from a knee injury in the previous story, fills-in for HoBoMoFo for his daughter’s Career Day at school and sets his eye on the teacher.

Book #18.3 “Ready to Roll” 6hr/8min, story timeline four weeks after #18.2 (late Feb 2010).
Main Characters: SEALS Izzy, Gillman, Jenkins, and Tony, Eden and her brother Ben, with cameos by Kelly, Sam, Alyssa, and Robin, and we meet Lt. ‘Grunge’ Green (who gets his own story in novel #19 “Some Kind of Hero”).

Three stories going on with this one. Eden’s 16-year-old brother Ben is dealing with a homophobic classmate, but things may not be as they appear. Izzy is an instructor, along with Lt Grunge, at BUD/S SEALs training during Hell Week where we meet the most interesting crew – Boat Squad John. And Dan and Jenn’s new baby cries constantly, what in the world is wrong?

19.1 “Beginnings and Ends” 1hr/12m, story timeline June 2012. This takes place five years after Jules and Robin’s 2007 wedding in book #12 (and two years after the final novel, #19, “Some Kind of Hero”).
Main characters: FBI Agent Jules Cassidy, actor Robin Chadwick Cassidy.

Robin has been starring in an award-winning TV series but is ready to leave the show. What will the future bring? This story pretty well ends the series and it’s a perfect ending – unless Brockmann writes further in-between shorts.

( official Troubleshooters page on the official Suzanne Brockmann web site )


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

Music for Prime Time: A History of American Television Themes and Scoring
by Jon Burlingame (Music 781.546 Bur)

Author and journalist Jon Burlingame, whose books often focus on music for film and television, wrote TV’s Biggest Hits back in 1996, one of the first books to take a serious look at television music. Now he has just published Music for Prime Time: A History of American Television Themes and Scoring,” tremendously expanding on his previous book on the subject, and you can borrow it from the Polley Music Library.

One of the first big takeaways from this book for most readers will probably be about the early origins of television music. While most educated guessers would probably postulate that the methods for adding music to movies would be the primary influence, the reality is that a lot of early television shows started out life as what we now call “old time radio.” From roughly the 1920s to the 50s, radio was the dominant medium inside American homes, and serialized dramas in various formats were programmed on the radio. Obviously there was no picture, but between the dialogue, sound effects, and music, listeners could put the pictures together in their own heads that would accompany these stories. Although the television was invented in 1927, it wasn’t until 1947 that the modern era of commercial television broadcasting began, and most households started to pick up televisions in the late 40s. By the mid-50s, half of the homes in America had a television set. This means that the music in the early days of commercial broadcasting was conceptualized much more like it had been on the radio, and that meant the use of “canned” music, or pre-existing musical selections brought on at appropriate moments. This music was mostly stored by means of pressing it to 33 1/3 RPM “transcription records,” and could be used over and over. For programming that would happen on a weekly basis, adding up to dozens of hours of programming over time, this was a far more cost-effective way to work, compared to music for film, which would only need to be used for one production of an hour or two in length.

To some extent, television music over the decades has retained a bit of this practice, using canned music that’s more often known now as “library music,” as the companies producing it would create entire libraries of prerecorded selections to serve a variety of generic moods and transitions for television and film productions. David Chudnow founded the first of these music library companies, the Mutel Library, in the late 1940s, asked composers to write music for various moods, had their music recorded by overseas orchestras to avoid paying US musicians union fees, and made the music available to production companies on records that they could buy for relatively large sums, which in turn gave them the right to use the contents in their TV and film productions. But a few composers started to write original music for television shows, too. Despite catalogs of library music being available, there are inevitably going to be moments in a production where you just can’t quite find the right thing for a particular scene, and composers like Alexander Laszlo and Albert Glasser would write a custom cue to fit such scenes. Glasser started to take on some work like the series “Big Town” that was conceived in a manner similar to film as well, working from the scripts to come up with appropriate thematic and underscoring material.

A lot of early television music was classical in style, whether originally composed or from music libraries. The first major figure to change that was Henry Mancini, who brought jazz to the forefront in his work for the “Peter Gunn” series. The music became wildly popular on its own, and Alan Livingston, who was the VP of television of NBC, and had formerly been VP of the A&R department at Capitol records, saw the potential to release the music on an LP. Indeed, “The Music from Peter Gunn” hit #1 on the Billboard charts in 1959 and stayed there for 10 weeks, and also earned Mancini the Album of the Year Grammy. Around the same time, composer Benny Carter also created weekly jazz-inflected scores for the show “M Squad,” which also was released as an LP and garnered two Grammy nominations (and Carter also became the first black composer to get screen credits for writing an original prime-time score). Television music was on its way to becoming a respected art form all its own.

After some general history of the early days of music in television, most of Burlingame’s book is divided up by various television genres, rather than featuring an across-the-board chronological history. You’ll learn about the work of Mancini and Carter in the “Cop and Detective Shows” chapter, for example, and you’re likely to find a chapter dedicated to whatever your favorite kind of TV programming might be: westerns, sci-fi, dramas, comedies, action/adventure, documentaries and news, prime-time cartoons, and made for TV movies and miniseries all have their own sections covering their own full histories. Of course, every kind of show can require a range of moods, but considering that we think of television largely through the lens of these broad genres, the music within each category often settled into unique traditions and styles. It’s worth noting, though, that although this book is very thorough, it’s not an exhaustive look at every genre of television—as the title says, the focus is on “prime time,” or evening TV. That means that you’ll only find references to the music for game shows and soap operas, to name a couple of examples, mentioned in terms of various composers’ careers, many of whom wrote music for a wide variety of shows. And some of the more curious corners of the television world like infomercials aren’t on the bill.

As mentioned earlier, this book is essentially an overhaul and update to Burlingame’s previous book “TV’s Biggest Hits” from 1996. You’ll find updates in each section addressing television shows well into the Oughts and 2010s that keep the material fresh. Everything that’s here is very well-written and fun to follow. However, my biggest complaint about this book is that there isn’t much space devoted to the extreme changes that have taken place in the television industry since around 2000. Toward the end of the book, Chapter 12 is devoted to the music for programs on premium cable and streaming services, but it’s a short chapter that reads like an afterthought. For an era of programming that has often been referred to as “Television’s Second Golden Age,” full of popular programs with incredible music, I think that a book like this could easily contain as much information about the last 20 years of music for TV as it does for the first “Golden Age,” particularly considering that most of the new cable and original streaming shows are intended as prime time-style entertainment. The changes that technology has brought to the way audiences consume these programs, such as binge-watching instead of having to wait for weekly installments, also tend to make the details about musical themes and musical development within the shows more apparent to the average viewer, too.

I would definitely recommend this book for TV buffs, 20th C. history buffs, and those looking for some good old TV nostalgia. It will be a useful book for those aspiring to write music for TV as well, but it would be exponentially stronger in that arena with a dramatically expanded section on post-2000 television. Since that time, there have been drastic changes in the ways that composers produce finished music for TV and film that are nearly as paradigm-shifting as the transition between using library music cues and composers, and the whole subject is simply lacking here. Perhaps there will be a 2nd volume someday dedicated to these most recent decades and their rich music traditions, but until then, Music for Prime Time is a good start.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try TV a-go-go by Jake Austen or Hollywood Rhapsody: Movie Music and its Makers 1900-1975 by Gary Marmorstein.)

( official Jon Burlingame web site )


Recommended by Scott S.
Polley Music Library

The Bodyguard
by Katherine Center (Center)

If you like the movie Miss Congeniality, I’m 98% certain you’re going to like this novel. The character description and behavior of our heroine, Hannah Brooks, kept putting me in mind of Gracie Hart as portrayed by Sandra Bullock. Like Gracie, Hannah is a ‘tough cookie’. She’s a personal security specialist who gets assigned to protect a pretty-boy actor who’s trying to fly under the radar while visiting his ill mother. Complications already exist, and more ensue. There is plenty of humor in the story, but also moments of tenderness, conflict, and deep sadness. It’s a combination of romance, comedy, and real-life struggles. How will it all turn out? You’ll need to read it to know!

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try some other books by Center:  Happiness for Beginners, Things You Save In a Fire;or What You Wish For.)

( official Katherine Center web site )


Recommended by Becky W.C.
Walt Branch Library

The Spite House
by Johnny Compton (Compton)

Eric is on the run with his daughters when he sees an ad to stay in a haunted house. It’s enough money to make a safe new life for them all.

An old woman, terrified by what comes for her cursed family members when they die, hires Eric to stay in the thin house on the hill overlooking her Texas town. Could he be the one to make the house perform on camera to prove the dead are truly active? Then maybe someone will find a way for her to die peacefully.

In The Spite House, the violent Civil War history of a small community endures for those capable of seeing it. Eric’s youngest daughter is both the reason they’re in hiding and the most attuned to death. This book is about the twin mysteries of the spite house and of Eric’s family. The old woman is right about this particular family being a catalyst for the house.

Strong read-alike for The Shining by Stephen King in terms of a father interviewing to watch a building and bringing a special child into contact with it. It also reminded me of The Parker Inheritance by Varian Johnson because both are by Black writers uncovering a connection between local history and the present. Finally, it reminded me of The Mysterious Disappearance of Aidan S. (as Told By His Brother) by David Levithan when I read more about why the family was on the run.

( official Johnny Compton web site )


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

On Music Theory and Making Music More Welcoming for Everyone
by Philip Ewell (Music 781.09 Ewe)

Discussions in the world of music theory generally go without much notice from the general public, but there is a unique backstory to this book that has reached further into the public consciousness than anything about music theory has in decades. At the 2019 conference of the Society for Music Theory, author Dr. Philip Ewell presented a keynote address entitled “Music Theory’s White Racial Frame,” and later published the full paper from which he prepared his address in their Music Theory Online journal. Dr. Ewell focused on a branch of music theory called Schenkerian Analysis, named after its author Heinrich Schenker. In response, the Journal of Schenkerian Studies, a niche academic journal published through the University of North Texas’ Center for Schenkerian Studies, devoted most of their 12th issue to written responses to Ewell’s work. It’s worth noting that the editors were later found to have created this issue while ignoring many standard scholarly practices such as peer review, publishing anonymous responses, and not inviting Ewell to respond to the accusations presented. These arguments eventually grew loud enough to enter the larger culture, where they were mentioned in mainstream news outlets, and videos were produced discussing the underlying issues by social media music influencers like Adam Neely. The music theory community has continued to discuss these issues for the last few years.

Now Dr. Ewell has expanded his original argument into a book-length discussion of the subject, in which he is able to incorporate even more of his own experiences and background in the several years since his keynote address. Published as part of the “Music and Social Justice” series by University of Michigan Press, On Music Theory manages to speak to these larger issues on several levels: It restates Ewell’s initial argument in more detail, it addresses why we should be talking about the subject, and it makes some suggestions as to how we could proceed in a more welcoming and inclusive manner for future students of music. One chapter of the book also serves as his response to the materials featured in Volume 12 of Journal of Schenkerian Studies.

On Music Theory has to toe an unusual line for a music book: as a continuation of a discussion rooted in academia, the book can’t help having an academic feel in some places. These are heady conversations, both in terms of the history of music theory and the social implications of his analysis. But these are also timely and urgent issues, and Ewell has crafted a voice here that also has a conversational flow and appeals directly to readers, many of whom may not be coming from an academic musical background. This is a book that I’d recommend to a wide audience of music readers, including music students and educators, and I think it’s likely that it will become an historically important book in music literature. There are many reasons to read it, but most important of all, it may help us to do better and more inclusive music education moving forward. And Dr. Ewell isn’t just raising issues and pitching hypothetical solutions: he is presently under contract with W. W. Norton to coauthor a new music theory textbook that will put his ideas into immediate action. That book is tentatively scheduled for publication next year, and I’m excited to see where it might take us.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Silenced by Sound: The Music Meritocracy Myth by Ian Brennan, Broken Beauty: Musical Modernism and the Representation of Disability by Joseph N. Straus or Can’t stop the Grrrls: Confronting Sexist Labels in Pop Music from Ariana Grande to Yoko Ono by Lily E. Hirsch.)

( official Philip Ewell web site )


Recommended by Scott S.
Polley Music Library

Black Tide
by K.C. Jones (Jones)

Black Tide is a horror novel reminiscent of disaster thrillers. Instead of something bad happening to people insolation, two people who were in relative isolation come out to find a civil disaster in progress and everyone too busy dying to explain what’s going on.

Beth has had trouble keeping her life together but is currently on a good streak as she house-sits (and dog-sits) for a wealthy couple in the Pacific Northwest. Mike is a burned-out film producer trying to drink himself to death next door. There’s a meteor shower the night they meet that leaves strange objects scattered down the beach. Outside their empty-for-the-season neighborhood, they encounter people trying to flee the area by boat and by road. The two of them — plus Jake the yellow lab — soon become stuck on a beach with a violent, unknown threat.

Highly engaging.

(Recommended for fans of Stephen King’s short stories “The Raft” and “The Mist”, the Strugatsky short story “Roadside Picnic”, the films Attack the Block, Skyline , and Nope, or Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer.)

( official K.C. Jones web site )


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

I Have Some Questions For You
by Rebecca Makkai (Downloadable Audio)

Your roommate is murdered during your senior year of high school at boarding school. Now you are back to teach a class at your alma mater. Was it really the school athletic trainer who killed her in a love affair/drug deal gone bad? If you had just been more forthcoming and told the police everything you knew back then…

A now-famous podcaster and film professor, Bodie Kane, returns to Granby High in New Hampshire to teach a class about podcasts. It’s an emotional return, considering that Bodie’s roommate Thalia Keith was found drown in the gymnasium pool in 1995. The conviction of the athletic trainer Omar Evans never sat well with Bodie. She feels guilty that she initiated the idea that drugs were an issue; Thalia wasn’t into drugs. Bodie never forgave herself for not revealing Thalia may have been having an affair with a teacher. Could that have been a factor in her death?

As part of the podcast class, Bodie instructs students to pick an old unsolved crime to review. Of course one of her students picks Thalia Keith — Omar has been looking for a retrial. Bodie struggles with the choice. Will justice really be served by stirring up old secrets? Will she be perceived as a fame seeker? Is everyone better off just moving on?

I loved this modern whodunit by award-winning author Rebecca Makkai. I Have Some Questions for You grabs you in the first chapter and keeps you guessing if or how justice will be served. I enjoyed the inclusion of modern elements in Makkai’s novel: the true-crime podcasts, and the social media outrage and trolls. This is the world we have come to live in now. I also am a fan of how the main character envisioned how each suspect could have committed the crime. Don’t we all have a little bit of a dark side?

If you love a good mystery, check this one out.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try One by One by Ruth Ware or The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai.)

( official Rebecca Makkai web site )


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

Mexican Gothic
by Silvia Moreno-Garcia (Moreno-Garcia)

Gothic. Dark. Creepy. Yep. That’s the book Mexican Gothic. If you are looking for a hair-raising thriller, this book checkmarks all the boxes. Silvia Moreno-Garcia has a dark surreal method of storytelling that keeps the reader uneasy until the book’s disturbing conclusion.

Socialite Noemí Taboada’s father calls her home and into his office. He has received an unsettling letter from her newly-wed cousin Catalina. Catalina claims someone is trying to kill her at her new home in the remote Mexican countryside. It’s plausible considering how quickly she married the Englishman Virgil Doyle whose family is in financial decline. If nothing else, Catalina may be going insane. She needs rescuing, that’s for sure. So Noemi’s father wants her to enlist her wits and go check on her cousin’s health and state of mind.

Since the silver mine has closed, the Doyle’s High Place manor is in disrepair. Just to get there is a treacherous travel up the mountain through dangerous forests. Want to go for a walk to clear your head? The best destination is the family cemetery, complete with creepy statues and eerie mausoleums. The head of the household spends his days mainly in bed. The rest of the household must keep quiet, no talking at dinner. The matriarch aunt is overbearing. Virgil is handsome but also stubborn and intimidating. The only comfort is the kind, introverted nephew Francis who she befriends.

The Doyles claim Catalina is simply recovering from an illness, although Catalina covertly shares that she is in danger. Noemi’s dreams take a turn for the creepy. Golden ghosts haunt the halls. Mold creeps up the walls. She discovers the family has a frightening history of violence and bloodshed in this unsettling home.

Will Noemi and Catalina fall victim to the family’s bad luck? You will find yourself racing to the end of the book to see who makes it out of this gothic horror alive.

( official Silvia Moreno-Garcia web site )

Read Garren H.’s review of The Return of the Sorceress, by Silvia Moreno-Garcia, in the October 2021 Staff Recommendations, here on BookGuide!


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

How to Write Lyrics and How to Write Chord Sequences
by Rikky Rooksby (Music 781.315 Roo and Music 787.87 Roo)

This pair of books from long-time guitar teacher Rikky Rooksby are a great compliment to other songwriting books, because they’re more technical in nature. Once you get inspired by other books, these are a great place to turn for some concrete, line-by-line breakdowns of how to get lyrics to work their best, for example, or how to use chord progressions that will best support the kinds of melodic ideas that you’re working with.

In “How to Write Lyrics,” Rooksby starts with some big-picture ideas, but quickly moves into more detailed techniques to find the best way to phrase your ideas so that they are lyrically impactful but also musically punchy. After introducing a lot of concepts, I especially liked sections 7 and 9, in which he annotates a variety of good lyrics with the tools and techniques they contain. The enormous section 10 is also very intriguing, highlighting a variety of common themes in popular songwriting and listing noteworthy songs that have addressed them in the past.

In “How to Write Chord Sequences,” Rooksby is essentially presenting some basic music theory, aimed primarily at guitar players (though pianists will be able to follow along as well), introducing common chord progressions and song forms and discussing the hows and whys behind them. The book covers all of the basic chord progressions and song forms used in popular musical idioms, and eventually it gets into some fairly advanced harmonic ideas, too, again explaining how and why they work. I think books like this are especially valuable for aspiring songwriters in that they can help to both learn what has traditionally been done, while also pushing writers to try new things with some understanding of how they can be done successfully.

Between these two books, I think most songwriters focused on popular music genres will find the nuts and bolts of how modern music is put together, and in combination with other songwriting books that are more philosophical in nature, readers can really position themselves for success.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Music, Lyrics, and Life: A Field Guide for the Advancing Songwriter by Mike Errico, Saved by a Song: The Art and Healing Power of Songwriting by Mary Gauthier or How to Write a Song That Matters by Dar Williams — see review below!)

( official Rikky Rooksby web site )


Recommended by Scott S.
Polley Music Library

Lavender House
by Lev A.C. Rosen (Rosen)

San Francisco, 1952. Evander ‘Andy’ Mills has just been fired as a police inspector because they found out he’s gay. His plan is to drink all day and take a permanent bath in the bay, but a high class woman comes into the bar and offers Andy a case: find out who murdered her wife. Irene Lamontaine was the famous owner and scent designer for a large soap business. Her secluded country estate, Lavender House, is home to a found-family of queer people. It’s a place where they can be themselves openly, but big business is always a motive and the relationships among the people living in Lavender House have their tensions.

This historical mystery was lovely to read for the setting. The author clearly put a lot of work into researching the San Francisco area of the time. Despite being about a murder, I found it to be a story that moves from despair to deeply rooted hope as Andy discovers a form of community he’s never known.

It felt a lot like the film Knives Out due to physical and social setting, except with better human beings.

( official Lev A.C. Rosen web site )


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

Musical Theatre for Dummies
by Seth Rudetsky (Music 782.14 Rud)

I’ve been a fan of both Seth Rudetsky, and the “…for Dummies” series of books for years, so this was a perfect combination! I regularly listen to Rudetsky as he hosts the “On Broadway” program on SiriusXM radio, playing Broadway music, interviewing fellow Broadway stars, and dishing about Broadway history. And, since the inception of the “For Dummies” series in 1991, I can easily say I’ve read at least 20 “For Dummies” volumes on topics as widely diverse as Guitar Playing, Wine Basics, Digital Photography, various computer software packages, and Playwriting.

Seth (with his co-authors Ryan M. Prendergast and Bill Jenkins) breaks the world of Musical Theatre into three major sections (with multiple sub-sections) — Getting Started With Musical Theatre, The People Who Make Musical Theatre Happen, and The Blood, Sweat and Tears of Theatre Life. He follows this up with an extra, fourth, section “The Part of Tens”, covering “Ten (Plus) Songs You Didn’t Realize Came From Musical Theatre” and “Ten Celebs Who Started in Musical Theatre”. Seth uses the typical format of the “For Dummies” series to include sidebar articles marked with little icons: “Seth Speaks”, in which he shares tangential stories; “Tip”, in which he highlights useful tips for those wanting insider info; and “Remember” for his most important points.

Two of the most enjoyable things about listening to Seth on the radio are his encyclopedic knowledge about all things Broadway (and his inherent love for the subject matter), and his brassy, sassy, over-the-top personality. Both of those come through in this volume in spades. For anyone only vaguely familiar with the wild and crazy world of musical theatre — from Broadway to small community theatres — Musical Theatre for Dummies may feel a bit like an overdose. But for anyone who has a passion this field, reading this will feel like sitting in on a multi-hour dish session with one of the most knowledgeable Broadway insiders you’re ever likely to encounter — and not someone with a dry “informational/educational” tone, rather someone who simply loves musical theatre and can’t wait to tell you all about it.

(Reading all the tidbits Seth shares in this book may make you wish to read more books about Broadway history and the shows made famous there — our Polley Music Library on the second floor of the downtown library has tons on this topic. I also recommend Razzle Dazzle: The Battle for Broadway (no longer in the libraries) and Singular Sensation: The Triumph of Broadway by Michael Riedel.)

( official Seth Rudetsky web site )


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

Remarkably Bright Creatures
by Shelby Van Pelt, with audio narration by Marin Ireland and Michael Uhry (Compact Disc Van Pelt) (a 2023 One Book – One Lincoln finalist)

Seeing that it was one of the three finalists for One Book – One Lincoln in 2023, I managed to grab Remarkably Bright Creatures as an audiobook-on-cd, and am incredibly grateful that I did. I loved this book, but especially as an audiobook!

This shares the intersecting stories of three individuals (and the people in their immediate periphery) at a pivotal point in all their lives. Tova Sullivan is an active senior, who has been working at the Sowell Bay Aquarium, cleaning up after closing hours, since her husband passed away. The biggest mystery in her life is the question of what happened to her son, many years ago, who disappeared after his part-time job one night and was never seen again, though circumstantial evidence seems to indicate that he took a small boat out on the ocean and committed suicide. The second main character is Cameron, a young man who’s drifting through life without any real purpose, who ends up in Tova’s town in search of the man he thinks is his father, based on an old photo of his absent mother from her high school years. The third main character is Marcellus McSquiddles. That’s right. He’s a Giant Pacific Octopus, nearing the end of his 4-year lifespan, who’s on exhibit in the aquarium.

Each of these three characters narrates their own story. Tova’s and Marcellus’ stories intersect one night when Marcellus who’s a bit of an escape artist, is found outside his tank, tangled up and unable to save himself, by Tova, who rescues the arthropod. After circumstances force Tova to take a partial leave of absence from her aquarium job, Cameron (temporarily in town) ends up filling in for her.

Each of these characters is suffering grief, lonelieness and uncertainty about their futures. And each of them ultimately discovers that the other two characters fill a void in their life. To tell you more would be to spoil the joy of seeing the story unfold.

The one thing I was say is that the audiobook of Remarkably Bright Creatures features TWO narrators. Actress Marin Ireland does the bulk of the story, but actor Michael Uhry narrates the segments told in the voice of Marcellus, and he makes that octopus come to life. By the end of this novel, I was emotionally moved and 100% invested in the fates of everyone in the story. This isn’t a truly “deep” novel, but it is an incredible character study and left me fully satisfied in the end. Hopefully you will be too! And definitely give the audiobook a try!

( official Shelby Van Pelt web site )


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

In His Sights
by K.C. Wells (Hoopla Digital)

A murder mystery, a romance, and a psychic – three of my favorite combined tropes.

A serial killer is targeting Boston’s gay population, leaving puzzling clues for the police. The victims are killed in the same fashion, and a Scrabble letter tile is always left behind leaving the police to wonder if the tiles are random or will ultimately spell something – and can they anticipate the spelling clue to possibly figure out who’s the next victim or who’s the killer?

After several months of frustration, the police chief decides to bring in a psychic. Homicide detective Gary Mitchell is stunned at this tactic, as are the rest of Boston PD. But the chief points out that Dan Porter has had success with NYPD and Chicago PD.

The story moves between the killer and our main characters, but we don’t learn whodunit until the end.

Both Gary and Dan are gay, giving the reader a slow burn romance as they get to know each other while trying to sort out the clues Dan picks up from the various homicide scenes.

This is the first book in the Second Sight series, but as this title has been out only since May, 2023, subsequent titles have not been published yet.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try The Bishop Special Crimes series by Kay Hooper (psychic FBI agents) or The Psychic Eye cozy, mystery series by Victoria Laurie.)

( official K.C. Wells web site )


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

How to Write a Song That Matters
by Dar Williams (Music 781.316 Wil)

Author Dar Williams has been a very successful singer-songwriter in the folk, folk-pop, and alt-country genres for decades. With 15 albums and dozens of singles and EPs under her belt, she certainly knows her way around songwriting. The writing style, a mix of practical knowledge and moments of zen-like insight, remind me a lot of the classic “Writing Down the Bones” by Natalie Goldberg, an essential book for aspiring writers. While I’m mentioning it, that book can be useful for songwriters, too—songwriting is a close cousin of literary writing, after all.

Williams addresses just about anything an aspiring songwriter might need to consider, including details of working through lyrics verse by verse, basic chords and how to use them, where ideas can come from, and carefully evaluating the little kernels of inspiration that can sometimes become a great new song. Toward the end of the book, the advice extends to reaching out to the world in meaningful local ways, like starting or participating in song circles or open mic nights. Most of her advice comes with personal anecdotes that support how these ideas have worked for her, though she also recognizes that different people sometimes needs different kinds of workflows. So don’t feel like you have to incorporate every idea in this book, or similar books—use what works for you.

The only weakness in this book is that it focuses overwhelmingly on lyrics and the big-picture elements of songwriting, rather than chords and harmony, arranging, etc. Considering that Williams has mostly worked in singer-songwriter contexts, this makes sense—she just needs a guitar and her voice to get her songs out to the world. There is a chapter that includes some basic musical concepts around chord structures and voicings, but it doesn’t really get into chord progressions and how basic music theory works. I think that’s okay in this case—there are plenty of other places to dig deeper into that information, and what’s here is incredibly valuable and approachable. It doesn’t really get into the new-fangled ways of marketing your own music, either, but again, there are other places to find that information as well, and what you’ll take away from this book relates directly to nurturing your own relationship with the art and craft of songwriting. You won’t have much to market if you haven’t absorbed the kinds of material in How to Write a Song That Matters first!

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Insider Secrets to Hit Songwriting in the Digital Age by Molly Leikin, Music, Lyrics, and Life: A Field Guide for the Advancing Songwriter by Mike Errico or Saved by a Song: The Art and Healing Power of Songwriting by Mary Gauthier.)

( official Dar Williams web site )


Recommended by Scott S.
Polley Music Library

Screening Room

formatdvdHarry Potter 20th Anniversary: Return to Hogwarts
(DVD 791.437 Har)

Absolutely charming and nostalgia-filled visit with many of the actors from the Harry Potter films, as they gathered in 2021 for interviews and private conversations to discuss the experience of being part of the Harry Potter film universe on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone‘s 2001 release.

To make things even more special, the interviews/conversations were filmed on the standing sets from the films, which have been available for tourists to visit since around 2013. In addition to the interviews/conversations, this documentary features a ton of behind-the-scenes footage from the filming of all 8 movies, as well as “home movie” footage and media-sourced coverage. Most of the primary cast are here — of course Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint, who share what it was like growing up relying on each other’s friendship, but also under the eyes of the worldwide media. Directors Chris Columbus (#1 and #2), Alfonso Cuaron (#3), Mike Newell (#4), and David Yates (#5-8) offer their fascinating takes on the making of the movies. And a huge cast of other significant Harry Potter actor also offer their memories as well — Gary Oldman, Jason Isaacs, Ralph Fiennes, Helena Bonham Carter, Bonnie Wright, Tom Felton, Evanna Lynch, Matthew Lewis, Toby Jones, James and Oliver Phelps, and Robbie Coltrane, in his last on-screen appearance before his passing in 2022. The producers also pay tribute to the many Harry Potter actors who’ve passed away in the intervening years — including Richard Harris, Alan Rickman, John Hurt, Richard Griffiths and Helen McCrory.

For anyone who isn’t a Harry Potter fan or who hasn’t seen all the films in the series, this is not for you. But if you grew up on the Potter films and novels, and feel close to the actors and characters, this 102-minute documentary reassures you that these performers all still love each other and realize how important this series of films is to so many people all around the world.

I loved this program, and only subtract 1 point from a perfect “10” rating for the unfortunate absence of several of the film actors who weren’t able to participate in the making of the documentary, like Maggie Smith.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try all of the Harry Potter films in the 8-film series)

( Internet Movie Database entry for this documentary )


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

formatdvdMrs. Harris Goes to Paris
(DVD Mrs)

This 2022 film is the third time Paul Gallico’s 1958 novel has been adapted for the screen. In 1958, a shortened version was filmed for the American television series Studio One, featuring British comic actress Gracie Fields. In 1992, Angela Lansbury, Omar Sharif and Diana Rigg headlined a TV-movie version. And now, Lesley Manville stars in the titular role in this absolutely charming little film.

Mrs. Harris is a British cleaning women, who scrapes by on meager means. When she sees a Christian Dior gown in the wardrobe of one of her clients, she is enthralled, and becomes enamored of the idea of own such an elegant and beautiful item of clothing herself. She scrimps and saves, and some fortuitous changes of fate result in her having the money needed to make a trip to Paris. The bulk of this film is her adventures in Paris, where she basically forces her way into the exclusive Dior facility, and the interactions she has with the people she encounters, including everyone from Dior’s executive assistant to the clothing cutters and sewing staff.

Manville is marvelous in the role, and the supporting cast is terrific. The set design feels very authentic, and the gorgeous dresses are either Dior originals, or based off of his designs. This story is about a woman who is out of place but makes the best of it, and the people who aid her along the way, becoming friends while they do so.

It is a quiet little film with a big heart. I strongly recommend this, especially for anyone who’s a fan of couture.

(Also available in traditional print format.)

( Internet Movie Database entry for this film ) | ( official Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris web site )


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

formatdvdThe Umbrellas of Cherbourg
(DVD Umbrellas)

Stunning and vivid and beautiful, and also kind of crazy, I can see why this movie, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964) would be on Greta Gerwig’s “Required Reading List” for the actors in the upcoming (Summer 2023) Barbie movie.

The backgrounds of every scene are lush with color. There’s the vibrant pink striped walls and black cabinets of the umbrella shop, the bold pink roses on bright blue of Genevieve’s bedroom, brilliant blue and green stripe of Guy’s home, and the orange of the cafe/bar where they go to enjoy a drink. Each scene is punctuated by saturated color. Instead of washing out in the face of all the intensity, the actors shine in equally vibrant costuming and colors.

This movie, which stars the blonde and perfect Catherine Deneuve and the dark haired and handsome Nino Castelnuovo as young star-crossed lovers, is a feast for the senses. Genevieve, who works in her mother’s umbrella shop worries that her mother thinks she is too young for love so she sneaks out to see her beau, Guy, a talented mechanic.

Classic antics ensue, miscues and missed appointments, a mother with debt trouble, an aunt who is bedridden, somebody gets drafted, someone gets married . . .

Did I mention there’s singing? And it’s in French? <3 <3 <3

For those who like this kind of stuff, this is definitely the kind of stuff they’ll like.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try  La La Land (nods to the visuals of Jacques Demy), Swinging Mademoiselles: Groovy French sounds from the 60s or Dressing Barbie.)

( Internet Movie Database entry for this film )


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

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