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Staff Recommendations – June 2019

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

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June 2019 Recommendations

Batman ’66 Meets Wonder Woman ’77
by Marc Andreyko [YA PB (Graphic Novel) Andreyko]

I’ve previously reviewed volumes in both the Batman ’66 and Wonder Woman ’77 graphic novel collections for the Staff Recommendations here on BookGuide, and having jokingly said “I wonder if they’ll ever try to cross over these two comic book series?”, not thinking that they would, considering the 10+ year difference in their setting. And yet, here we are — they did, indeed cross them over. Batman ’66 is a series of comic books in which the comic writers/artists try to recapture the tone of the campy late-1960s Batman TV series, starring Adam West and Burt Ward as Batman and Robin. The stories are set in that same era, and feature “comic-book” fight scenes (“POW!” “BAM!”) and Adam West’s typical super-serious Batman dialog to Robin’s young gee-whiz reactions. Similarly, the Wonder Woman ’77 comic books recapture both the era, and the style of the Wonder Woman series, in which Lynda Carter starred as Diana Prince/Wonder Woman (after an initial season in which the Wonder Woman stories were set in the World War II era).

In this multi-part storyline, Diana Prince/Wonder Woman first encounters a very young Bruce Wayne at an event in Gotham City in which Bruce is still just a boy. Later, she encounters him again in the late-60s era in which the Adam West Batman series takes place. And still later, in the era of her own late-70s TV series, Wonder Woman must call the embittered and retired Bruce Wayne out of a self-imposed retirement back to active status, as well as former Robin (now Nightwing). All these storylines cross over with a single villain — Ra’s al Ghul. This legendary leader of the League of Assassins constantly seeks out rare spots where a rejuvenating elixir can be found, which bring him back his youth.

The fact that the over-arching storyline in this multi-comic-book-issue graphic novel covers decades of time is intriguing. The art is excellent. My one major complaint is that the writer takes the relatively light-hearted nature of the 60s Batman show and tries to make it super-serious, overlaying some of the more “dark” themes of the comic book onto something that was always supposed to be light and comical. Basically, they try to turn what Adam West always called “The Bright Knight” into “The Dark Knight” more familiar to recent comics fans. It’s a glaring change in tone and somewhat difficult to adjust to.

None-the-less, it’s both fun and intriguing to see the Lynda Carter Wonder Woman and the Adam West Batman co-exist in the same “reality”, in a storyline that makes logical sense. Ignoring the sudden and drastic change in tone for the Batman ’66 characters, I really did enjoy this title overall, and recommended it for fans of both TV series! The covers are particularly gorgeous, and are reprinted in a gallery at the back of this trade paperback collection.

[ Wikipedia pages for Batman ’66 and Wonder Woman ’77 ] | [ Marc Andreyko on the Comic Books Database site ]

See Scott’s review of Batman ’66 Meets the Green Hornet
See Scott’s review of Wonder Woman ’77 and Wonder Woman ’77 Meets the Bionic Woman

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Recommended by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library


The First King of Shannara
by Terry Brooks

This novel is the prequel to ‘The Sword of Shannara’ trilogy, which really ought to be read before this one; however, doing so does make you aware from the onset that the main quest here is not quite doomed, but certainly not as successful as the characters hope it to be. Brona, a rouge Druid, also known as the Warlock Lord, is at large and taking over all the land with his massive army of trolls, demons and Skull Bearers. The Druids, Bremen, Mareth, Tay, and Risca go on their own separate quests with the common goal to wage war and discover a way to overtake evil before the world is totally destroyed. One of these quests is to forge sword to serve as a talisman to overcome the great magic of Brona as no physical means could defeat him. After seeing the sword, later named the Sword of Shannara, in the book of the same name it was really fun to see it’s origin and creation in this story. It was also really enjoyable to see characters who only existed in lore in the later stories living their adventures in this book. What I like about this book, and others in the series, is discovering who is related to who, as quite often it’s the same families drawn together again and again throughout the Shannara tales even though they can be set hundreds of years apart. I highly recommend the series to fantasy readers, just be a bit thoughtful to which order you read them in – Brooks’ website has a reading order guide , but I’m sure there are other fan made ones out there.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try The Sword of Shannara, The Elfstones of Shannara, or The Wishsong of Shannara, all also by Terry Brooks.] [ Wikipedia page for The First King of Shannara ] | [ official Terry Brooks web site ]

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Recommended by Kristen A.
Gere Branch Library


Dumb Witness a.k.a. Poirot Loses a Client
by Agatha Christie

One of many Poirot novels, but one of few with Captain Hastings as well. Personally I enjoy the stories with Captain Hastings more than those without, and this was no different. He actually is the narrator in this novel which was particularly fun. The story is of an older woman who has a considerable amount of money with nieces and nephews who’d love to have some of it and may even go so far as murder to get some inheritance early. As it happens during the Easter holiday when they are all in the house, the old woman ‘accidentally’ falls down the stairs, but is mostly unharmed; however, she gets suspicious and semi-secretly changes her will so all the inheritance goes to her nurse companion, but she also writes to Poirot for help. When she dies a few weeks later due to ‘natural causes’ and the the family hears that none of them are getting any inheritance, they aren’t exactly happy. It’s not until this point that Poirot receives the letter, by curious circumstances, but he is then on the case. I found this one quite entertaining and would highly recommend it to mystery readers or those looking for a particularly interesting plot and characters (including Bob the dog, who was inspired by Christie’s own dog).

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Nemesis, also by Agatha Christie, but featuring Miss Marple, is similar to this one in that the sleuth receives a letter for help from someone who’s already passed away and they need to solve the case with very little information to go on.] [ official Dumb Witness page on the official Agatha Christie web site ]

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Recommended by Kristen A.
Gere Branch Library


A Willing Murder
by Jude Deveraux

I’ll have to admit, I’ve never read any of Jude Deveraux’s 70+ romance or romantic-suspense novels, though her name is one of the first when thinking about contemporary best-selling romance authors. However, when the May theme for the library’s Just Desserts’s mystery book group came up — to read the first or second volume in ANY new mystery/thriller/suspense series that had just recently started, I stumbled across A Willing Murder — the first in the new Medlar Mysteries series by Deveraux, which came out in 2018. [A second entry (A Justified Murder) in the series is already out in 2019, and a third is scheduled for 2020.]

This novel (and the series in general) features a trio of central characters. Sara Medlar is a best-selling romance novelist (a thinly-veiled version of Deveraux herself) — a silver-haired senior who stays fit by boxing — who lives in the small community of Lachlan, Florida, not far from Miami. Living with her in her large, mansion-like home, are Jack Wyatt, son of a local trouble-maker, who’s establishing himself as a success on his own terms, and Kate Medlar, Sara’s niece, who’s only just moved to Lachlan and is staying with the aunt she’s never met before, while she takes a new job with a local real estate firm. When the toppling of a large poinciana tree (in the backyard of a property that Jack had recently bought) reveals a pair of bodies buried under the tree many years ago, and Jack’s late father is implicated in murder, which the local cops don’t feel is worth digging into, this trio decides to investigate, in order to clear Jack’s father’s name.

As they look into the deaths from more than a dozen years earlier, they uncover old rivalries, hidden shames, and secrets that other folks would like to keep out of sight. The witty banter among this trio of amateur sleuths is amusing, the story is fast-paced, and Deveraux has great skill at creating interesting settings. Does it matter that the mystery itself is fairly light-weight and easy for the reader to figure out before the conclusion of the book? Not really, as this one is more about establishing these new characters and letting them start to interact. And Deveraux’s career as a romance novelist certainly shows through, as the beginnings of a romantic entanglement between Kate and Jack are firmly planted in this entry. I enjoyed this amiable introduction to the Medlar Mysteries, and look forward to future volumes…though I hope that the mysteries themselves turn out to be a bit more robust in upcoming stories.

[ official A Willing Murder page on the official Jude Deveraux web site ]

Check out other “new series” recommended by the members of Just Desserts at our May 2019 “Series Share” meeting

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Recommended by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library


Amish Community Cookbook: Simple, Delicious Recipes from Amish and Mennonite Homes
by Carol Ruth Giagnocavo [641.503 Gia]

I am a sucker for cookbooks. As a librarian, many cookbooks cross my desk and I love to look at each and every one of them. Last month this particular cookbook caught my eye, so I took it home to browse through the recipes in it. I can usually tell how good a cookbook is by the number of recipes I mark down to copy. This book has all kinds of great recipes, from mouth-watering desserts to canning fruits or vegetables to comfort foods. The book also features facts about the Amish or Mennonite lifestyle which I really enjoyed learning about. I highly recommend this book!

[ official Amish Community Cookbook web site ]

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Recommended by Kim J.
Bennett Martin Public Library


Library on Wheels: Mary Lemist Titcomb and America’s First Bookmobile
by Sharlee Mullins Glenn [j Biography Titcomb]

I’ve heard various stories over the years of what the very first Bookmobile in the United States was, but had never seen any of those stories codified into book form until seeing this lovely little gem of a juvenile biography recently.

This marvelous book is both a biography of Mary Lemist Titcomb, and a chronicle of the history of her development of a mobile library. This volume is not told in purely traditional book form, but instead is a collection of artifacts — ticket stubs, program itineraries, newspaper articles, personal diaries, and much more. Some are reproductions of actual documents and some are stylistic recreations. They all combine to make an absolutely fascinating read.

Though this book is classified as a juvenile biography, I found it a compelling read as an adult, and recommend this for anyone interested in library history, bookmobile history, and the lives of significant women in American history.

[ publisher’s official Library on Wheels web site ] | [ official Sharlee Glenn web site ]

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Recommended by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library


Fence 1 + 2
by C.S. Pacat [YA PB (Graphic Novel) Pacat]

The intense characters on the covers of the first two entries in this series of graphic novels are what initially caught my attention — that, plus I’ve always been fascinating by the competitive sport of fencing.

Nicholas Cox, the illegitimate son of a former U.S. Olympic fencing champion, has followed his father into the sport, but without any traditional training. When he enters a fencing competition, he finds himself up against one of the rising talents in the sport, Seiji Katayama. Though Nicholas’ unorthodox fencing skills initially give Seiji some difficulties, the intense Japanese fencer quickly adapts and then destroys Cox in their match, belittling him in the process. This drives Cox into developing a revenge fantasy in which he can ultimately improve enough to take on Seiji and defeat him.

Which becomes somewhat ironic, when Cox is surprisingly able to an elite boys school with a stellar fencing program — and finds that his newly assigned roommate is none other than…Seiji Katayama. The other fencing students, and staff at the school, make for a large cast of recurring characters. There are lots of different personalities at play, with intense rivalries, growing friendships, and the complications of massively different social backgrounds. Throw all of that into the pressure cooker of a competitive sport the requires you to always be at the top of your game, and some fascinating stories are told.

Admittedly, I could have easily done without some of the subplots, involving flippant relationships and a cult of fannish adulation. But I’m willing to put up with those in order to find out what is ultimately going to happen to Nicholas, Seiji and the other fencing students. This was originally intended to be a short limited-series, but the publisher was so happy with the early issues of the comic that they allowed writer/artist C.S. Pacat to turn it into an ongoing, continuing series. These first two trade-paperback “graphic novel” books collect the first 12-or-so issues of the comic book, and each book ends on something of a cliffhanger. I look forward to reading the third volume!

[ Wikipedia page for the entire Fence series ] | [ official C.S. Pacat web site ]

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Recommended by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library


Chato’s Kitchen and Other Stories From the Hispanic Tradition
by Gary Soto [Playaway j Soto]

Have you seen the little orange boxes in the children’s reading room? These are called Playaways, a nifty system for listening to audiobooks that doesn’t require special equipment other than headphones and a battery. Being old enough to have enjoyed playing little records that came with Read Aloud books, I wanted to try out this technology and see how it compared. I found it to be super simple to use; I put in the battery and plugged in my headphones and pushed play and it was easy as that. The bookpack I chose, Chato’s kitchen : and other stories from the Hispanic tradition includes several stories, (with books as well as the player), two about a cat named Chato and another about Mexican pottery. In the jewel of the set, Chato’s Kitchen, Cheech Marin voices the characters wonderfully, and the background music is a fun match for the voices and illustrations. I don’t think I would have enjoyed the story so much without the added flavor combination of Marin’s voicing and the snippets of Chicano rock music.

The story itself was fun: Low-riding Chato is a cat from East LA. And like many cats, he thinks a dinner “with” the local family of rodents could be the feast of his dreams. He invites his friend, Novio Boy, to help him in the kitchen where they are whipping up some Chicano dishes that will make your mouth water: Tamales, frijoles, churros, and more . . . it’s a feast for sure. The music will make you want to dance along with Chato and Novio Boy as they cook.

Recognized as one of the best 100 books in the last 100 years by New York Public Library in 2014, Chato’s Kitchen is a fun take on the “mice pull one over on the cat who invited them to dinner genre.” And the play-away book version is extra special.

The other stories included in the set were Chato and the Party Animals (Chato’s friend, Novio Boy, has never had a birthday party. So Chato decides to throw him one – a “pachanga” – and everyone is invited.) and The Pot that Juan Built: (Juan Quezada, one of Mexico’s most famous potters, used his creative gifts to transform his impoverished village into a thriving artists’ community. The book includes a rhyming story and background on Juan Quezada).

This bookpack of three books and a player was thoroughly enjoyable and Cheech Marin did a wonderful job of voicing all the different characters, and, as I mentioned before, the background music made me want to get up dance. If you haven’t tried a Playaway book, and you (or your kids) like stories about cats, I’d highly recommend giving it a go!

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Chato or Chato’s Day of the Dead, also by Gary Soto, or my favorite series of cat books Catwings, by Ursula K. Le Guin] [ publisher’s official Chato’s Kitchen web site ] | [ official Gary Soto web site ]

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Recommended by Carrie K.
Bennett Martin Public Library


Anathem
by Neal Stephenson

Anathem is a grand sci-fi adventure novel, initially set in a strange sort of monastery where philosophers, mathematicians, and the like have been separated from the rest of the world and are only allowed to use a limited set of technology. Their vocabulary seems off, but familiar, e.g: the men are called Fraas, the women are Suurs, and they study theorics in a concent hoping to have an upsight. It’s a bit confusing at first, but thankfully the human story of a young Fraa named Erasmus getting involved in sneaky business with his friends is so relatable that the lingo will make its way comfortably into your head.

The first section of this book is like a cozier version of The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco, complete with seemingly pie-in-the-sky philosophical discussions that turn out to be integral to the plot. Eventually some of the characters you’ve grown to know and love venture into the outside world in a Jules Verne style adventure. Something unprecedented has happened forcing the outside powers to call in these cloistered thinkers for help.

Audiobook format highly recommended, if you overlook the brief pre-chapter quotes that are read by the author. William Dufris — the main narrator — is now one of my favorites.

Recommended to people who love world-spanning adventures, philosophy, and well thought out science fiction.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Around the World in 80 Days, by Jules Verne, The Name of the Rose, by Umberto Eco, The Sparrow, by Mary Doria Russell or A Canticle for Leibowitz, by Walter M. Miller.] [ official Anathem page on the official Neal Stephenson web site ]

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Recommended by Garren H.
Bennett Martin Public Library


Cicada
by Shaun Tan [YA Tan]

Having long been a fan of Shaun Tan’s imaginative graphic storytelling, in books from The Arrival to Tales From Outer Suburbia to The Bird King, I was excited to see a new Tan title on the Young Adult “New Books” display. It does not disappoint.

Cicada is a very short picture book for all-age readers. It tells the short story of a cicada who is living the drone-like life of an office worker in a stereotypical big office building. Think Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis” crossed with either the British or U.S. version of The Office television series. Only, in this case, the gigantic bug is wearing a three-piece suit, and all the humans around him take him for granted as just another little schlubb behind a desk.

Over the course of this short tale, we see how Cicada interacts with his co-workers and the heirarchical structure at his company, but we also see how his very cicada nature is being held back. A not-unexpected twist at the end gives this slightly depressing story a bit of a happy ending. Shaun Tan’s artwork is, as usual, gorgeous, and a feast for the eyes. I really enjoyed this one.

[ official Picture Books page on the official Shaun Tan web site ]

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Recommended by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library


Girls on the Verge
by Sharon Biggs Waller [YA Waller]

Girls on the Verge is a short novel about three teens on a road trip to find abortion pills. Though the book was released in April 2019, it’s technically historical fiction set in 2014 in order to accurately represent the details of finding abortion care in Texas at that point in time. Anyone who glances at the news knows this is a quickly changing situation.

The “present time” road trip is the main narrative, but we get brief flashback chapters about how the main character, Camille, became pregnant and how she was treated when trying to buy a pregnancy test and obtain an abortion where she lived. There’s tension between the two friends taking the trip with her. Bea has been Camille’s best friend forever, but Bea comes from a family that’s against sex education for religious reasons and she has reservations about going on an abortion trip herself. Annabelle is a new friend from the theater program Camille and Bea were in, and she’s the one supplying the car.

This is a well-crafted and contemporary-feel book about the experiences of many young women. From the safety of reading about it in a book, readers will see what it’s like to visit an anti-abortion “crisis pregnancy center,” what it’s like to visit Planned Parenthood, and what it’s like to take pills for a medical abortion. Teens will learn where to go in real life to find information on obtaining an abortion if it’s difficult or illegal where they live, which may lead to this becoming a banned book as abortion restrictions spread.

I would recommend this Girls on the Verge strongly to all high school and college teens (young men need to understand this stuff too), but also to adults who want to understand the some of the story behind the politics in the news. It’s probably too explicit for most middle school teens, but that will be up to those readers and families to decide.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Exit, Pursued by a Bear, by E.K. Johnston.] [ publisher’s official Girls on the Verge web page ] | [ official Sharon Biggs Waller web site ]

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Recommended by Garren H.
Bennett Martin Public Library


Screening Room

formatdvdApollo 11
directed by Todd Douglas Miller [DVD 629.454 Apo]

This marvelous documentary film was released to theaters earlier in 2019, and is now available on DVD and Blu-Ray just in time for the celebration of the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11’s mission to the moon in July.

This documentary uses a lot of archival footage which has never been seen before, and was cross-matched with archival audio recordings, to give viewers an opportunity to see and hear elements of the Apollo 11 mission in a way that has never been experienced previously. The film-makers made the decision to not include an omniscient narrative voice, and instead use only the voices and footage as found in the original 1960s footage. In some ways, this leads to a seemingly less-structured method of storytelling, yet at the same time, it introduces an incredible feeling of authenticity and immediacy to what they share with us.

The humanity of the Apollo astronauts shines though, but the incredible spotlight of worldwide attention on them lends them a super-human element as well. But, by following the nuts-and-bolts details of the moon landing mission, viewers can come to a serious appreciation of all the work that went into landing men on the moon for the very first time. Highly recommended!

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try the documentaries In the Shadow of the Moon, The Last Man on the Moon or Magnificent Desolation: Walking on the Moon. Also the specialized research microfilm reel – Apollo 11’s Moon Landing.] [ Internet Movie Database entry for this film ] | [ official NASA Apollo 11 web page ]

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Recommended by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library


formatdvdThe Greatest Showman
[DVD Greatest]

I was probably one of the few people who did not see this fabulous film when it was in the theaters, but I finally watched the DVD this weekend and was sorry that I didn’t see the movie in the theater when I had the chance! The Greatest Showman tells the story of American showman and politician Phynius Taylor Barnum, better known as P.T. Barnum, creator of Barnum and Bailey’s Circus. Although the movie is loosely based on Barnum’s true life story, there is enough of the truth to make this an interesting look at the life of someone who became a self-made man and politician from a very humble background. Some of the more interesting facts that were shown was Barnum’s trip to England to meet Queen Victoria with some members of his troupe, in particular, General Tom Thumb. While in Europe, he meets the Swedish singer Jenny Lind and decides to take her show on the road in America (which made both of them very wealthy in real life, but she gave her money to favorite charities). What makes this film stand out is the superb music and dancing, especially those songs performed by Hugh Jackman. I highly recommend this film.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try P.T. Barnum: The Legend and the Man, by A.H. Saxon.] [ Internet Movie Database entry for this film ] | [ official The Greatest Showman Facebook page ]

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Recommended by Kim J.
Bennett Martin Public Library


last updated June 2019
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