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Staff Recommendations – June 2020

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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 2020 Recommendations

City of the Lost
by Kelley Armstrong

The protagonist of this series lets us know early on that she’s a homicide detective who killed a man while in college, but was never caught. Her best friend is in trouble & needs Casey to disappear with her which leads Casey to Rockton, a town that exists on no map. In the middle of northern Canada, Casey finds a town much like one of out the old west where people escaping danger can come for up to two years. Her first task: help find a murderer. This is the first in an on-going series.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try The In Death series by J.D. Robb.] [ official Rockton series page on the official Kelley Armstrong web site ]

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Recommended by Sandy W.
Gere Branch Library


Do or Die
by Suzanne Brockmann (Compact Disc Brockmann)

Two young children have been kidnapped by their father, to force their scientist mother to return to their country where she’ll be forced to work for that anti-American government. To try to get the kids back yet keep the mother safe, a former SEAL is gotten out of prison months before his sentence is served (which, for some reason he’s perfectly happy serving and is unwilling to assist). Along the way we’re involved with the FBI, terrorists, mobsters, and international criminals, not to mention the requisite car chases, shootings, and explosions. There are several story threads to follow as well as flashbacks to fill in the gaps. Just your basic action, adventure, romance that we’ve come to expect from Brockmann.

Her characters are usually intelligent, brave, and capable – including the women – which is one of the reasons I enjoy this series. A woman isn’t the standard victim waiting around for a man to rescue her. But this is the first book of Brockmann’s that had a main female character who was so naive I wondered how she managed to make it through law school and get hired by a top-notch firm. Our heroine drove me crazy. I’ll forgive Brockmann this one misstep as by the end of the book the woman redeemed herself, but it was slow-going for me in that particular instance.

This is the first installment of a new series, “Reluctant Heroes,” that includes crossover characters from her “Troubleshooters” series. You don’t need to have read “Troubleshooters” to follow this story, but I also suspect this series is dead-in-the-water as she’s written this six years ago and there’s been no follow-up book. (P.S. “Troubleshooters” is great so read that one in order.)

At 16 discs (19+1/2 hours) this ran a little longer than some of her books, but overall I enjoyed watching all the threads come together and all the problems resolved.

[ official Troubleshooters page on the official Suzanne Brockmann web site ]

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


Killed at the Whim of a Hat
by Colin Cotterill (Compact Disc Cotterill)

During the period while the libraries have been closed to the public, I’ve been trying to sample some audiobooks in my car’s CD player on the ways to and from work — particularly authors I’ve not tried before. One of those was British author Colin Cotterill. Cotterill had already established himself with 8 novels in the Dr. Siri Paiboun mystery series (since continued to 15), when Killed at the Whim of a Hat came out in 2011. The series is anchored by a mid-30s female Thai crime reporter, Jimm Juree, who finds her life in chaos when her mother, the head of her household, uproots the entire family from the big city in the north of Thailand and settles them down in a south Thailand coastal village, operating a run-down tourist hotel. Desperate to keep herself involved in crime reporting, Jimm jumps (actually rides her bicycle) at the chance to investigate when an old VW van is discovered buried in a farmer’s field — and has been for several decades — with a pair of dead hippies’ bodies in it. While investigating that, a modern day murder occurs at a nearby monastery — a visiting Abbot (essentially an “internal affairs” investigator for the Buddhist church) is killed. When Jimm attempts to investigate that as well, she befriends a chief suspect and sets out to prove a friendly nun could not have committed the murder.

The plot is very complex and twisty, but it is primarily the characters that drive this novel. Particularly the witty, sarcastic and world-weary Jimm — in her 30s and without much prospect of finding a suitable husband (much to her mother’s dismay). Jimm has a shy bodybuilding brother Arny, a transgendered brother (now sister) Sissi, whose computer hacking skills come in handy, plus Grandpa Jah (a retired by-the-books cop, whose laconic attitudes belie serious investigative skills). And there’s her seemingly-dotty mother, Mrai, who Jimm fears is becoming senile, but who comes up with the most thoughtful observations when least expected. In this entry volume in the series, Jimm befriends several of the local police officers, particularly the flamboyantly gay Lt. Chompu, who’s perhaps the book’s most memorable character. I can’t wait to see what additional stories there are with Jimm Juree.

The audiobook narration by Kim Mai Guest really brought this story to life, with its exotic setting and colorful characters. Not being a Thai speaker, I kind of wished I had a printed character sheet to track who was who, as the names were all very hard to follow. But it was still fun to listen to.

Cotterill has had two more Jimm Juree novels published that were set after Killed at the Whim of a Hat, plus a prequel novel, set before the family uprooted from their previous lives. There have also been a dozen or so individual short stories published digitally, featuring Jimm and family. I’m sorry more novels don’t appear to be forthcoming.

[ official Killed at the Whim of a Hat page on the official Colin Cotterill web site ]

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


Star Wars ReviewsI Am C-3PO: The Inside Story
by Anthony Daniels (Biography Daniels)

“I was hooked. Forget it was sci-fi. Forget Luke and Han and Vader. Threepio was the one for me !”

In this quote from his new book, I Am C-3PO: The Inside Story, actor Anthony Daniels is not just speaking for himself. Legions of fans of the lovable, fish-out-of-water droid feel exactly the same.

Daniels tells the story of how he was cast and, with help from a dedicated crew and movie magic, brought the hapless humanoid to life. His style is warm and engaging, while still maintaining a wry British sense of the absurdity of it all. I laughed out loud many times while reading this book, and found myself going back to re-read particularly funny or fascinating passages.

C-3PO and the other inhabitants of George Lucas’ universe are so much a part of the fabric of popular culture, it’s hard to imagine anything new we could learn about them. Yet, I found myself wondering, along with Daniels. if the young director was even going to be able to complete the film. That’s the mark of a great memoir — you know the ending, but the author’s experience shows you how easily, at every turn, things could have ended very, very differently. Daniels does offer insight and analysis of the movie-making process he has gained with time. But, we feel the fear, doubt, trepidation and joy right along with him as the cast, crew and technicians struggle to bring the young director’s vision to the screen.

This book is perfect for the casual Star Wars fan as well as those who put the fan in “fanatic”. Even readers who know little or nothing about the film series (are there any of those readers?) would get a lot out of it. Just following Daniels’ trajectory from stage actor to the seasoned movie performer he became is compelling. I know that I’ll never watch Star Wars: A New Hope or any movie where Anthony Daniels plays his shiny alter-ego the same way again after reading “the inside story”…

[ publisher’s official I Am C-3PO web page ] | [ official Anthony Daniels web site ]

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Recommended by Lisa V.
Eiseley Branch Library


The Diva Spices It Up
by Krista Davis

Sophie is hired by a Senator’s wife to help ghost write her cookbook when the previous ghost writer disappears. Sophie finds a secret code in the manuscript and starts poking around, ultimately helping to discover a dead body. Unable to leave the mystery alone she keeps talking to neighbors until she discovers who killed whom. This is the latest in a cozy mystery series featuring food and drink recipes.

I like Krista Davis’ books and find she’s getting better as she goes on. In the early books Natasha really just irritated me, but she’s mellowing and becoming more tolerable. Maybe it’s because Sophie’s mellowing towards her? If you like her previous books you won’t be disappointed with this one.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Sticks and Scones by Diane Mott Davidson, Pumpkin Spice Peril by Jenn McKinlay or The Quick and the Thread by Amanda Lee] [ official Domestic Diva series page on the official Krista Davis web site ]

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Recommended by Marcy G.
South Branch Library


Federico and the Wolf
by Rebecca J. Gomez (jP Gomez)

Federico is on his way to his abuelo’s house, wearing his red hoodie, to make salsa together. A terrific re-telling of the Little Red Riding Hood story. A few basic Spanish words are sprinkled throughout the story to introduce a non-Spanish speaker to the language. Wonderful rhyming, a fun story, includes what the author calls “the best salsa recipe,” and Spanish/English translation included at the back.

[ publisher’s official Federico and the Wolf web page ] | [ official Rebecca J. Gomez web site ]

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


Fever
by Mary Beth Keane

I knew nothing about Mary Mallon, known as “Typhoid Mary”, before reading this historical fiction. The novel follows her life from the time she left Ireland at age fifteen, through her two forced quarantines on North Brother Island (1907-1910 and 1915-1938). It also described other historical tragedies of the time: the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire of 1911; the preparation for World War I; the debate of medical ethics in imprisoning a carrier of disease (and of trying to force a gall bladder removal surgery against her will); and the end to doctors prescribing cocaine, heroine, opium, and morphine for pain. She was the first person in the United States identified as an asymptomatic carrier of the disease. Through her cooking she infected fifty-three individuals, causing three known deaths. Fever was written by the author of the current bestseller Say Again, Yes.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Say Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane, The Andromeda Strain by Michel Crichton, or The Stand by Stephen King.] [ official Fever page on the official Mary Beth Keane web site ]

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Recommended by Jodi R.
Anderson and Bethany Branch Libraries


This Tender Land
by William Kent Krueger

“Does anyone ever get used to having their heart broken?”

Minnesota author William Kent Krueger offers up a powerful look at faith – both that forced by rote and that earned by life’s experiences, and what makes a family truly a family, with this tale of four youth on the run, looking for where they can be safe, and trying to survive in the Depression-era Midwest.

Storyteller Odysseus “Odie” O’Banion is the pre-teen narrator of this coming-of-age story. It starts in the brutal world of an Indian School in Minnesota, where Odie and his older brother Albert are the only two Caucasians in a school for Indian youth – the purpose of which is to remove all traces of the students’ Indian-ness. Dangerous circumstances force the brothers to flee from the school, with an Indian youth who can only speak in sign language, and a 6-year-old orphan girl they are protecting. Taking a canoe, the foursome plans to journey by river from Minnesota to St. Louis, MO, where the potential promise of a distant relative seems to offer them hope.

Much like the rivers they float upon, this story meanders along a slow but steady path, as the foursome encounter a rogue’s gallery of colorful supporting characters – including a one-eyed farmer who holds them captive for forced labor, a Native American bounty hunter, train-hopping hobos, a homeless camp of Depression victims, a kindly family of ghetto-ized Jews in a shantytown by St. Paul, a boardinghouse owner offering room and food, and a faith healer who may or may not actually have miraculous powers.

This story is part Grapes of Wrath, and part Huckleberry Finn, and is essentially an updating of Homer’s The Odyssey in a more modern setting. In addition to his long-running Cork O’Connor series, Krueger is best known for his previous stand-alone novel, Ordinary Grace (2013). This Tender Land was originally to have been a companion volume to Ordinary Grace, but Krueger was unsatisfied with his finished novel, and shelved that, focusing all his creative energy on This Tender Land instead.

This novel is filled with fascinating and well-drawn characters. It contrasts youthful innocence and wonder, against the harsh realities of life and cruelties of average ordinary humans – all set in a time and placed filled with crushing poverty and the sense of loss that permeated the Great Depression. This Tender Land ultimately reveals the power and impact that kindness and compassion can have when employed by honest characters..

[ official This Tender Land page on the official This Tender Land web site ]

See also: Jodi R.’s recent review of This Tender Land here on BookGuide in January 2020

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


In the Dream House
by Carmen Maria Machado (Biography Machado)

They say that Machado’s writing is unlike any other. I agree. It is extremely powerful. Also, we do not have enough published voices like hers. I somewhat wish that the topics she writes about were more commonplace, so that we do not gush so hard when we have a singular title to idolize over our years and years of living. This is one of those titles that reminds me why I am a librarian. I hope that the gems I find, such as this, can help make it easier for other readers in town to find what they need, although I realize we are all just tiny specks of dust in a giant’s eye.

This memoir is about a violent relationship. The literary devices used in this book help propel the reader through the very quick chapters. Despite that, I had to put the book down often for its intensity of emotion. It was interesting and depressing to learn that Machado ran the gamut of literary devices to write her experiences partly because they were so terrorizing, even in their retelling. This is a critical read for those needing to learn more about how violence presents itself in domestic partnership.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado, The Rules Do Not Apply by Ariel Levy, Milk and HOney by Rupi Kaur or The Apology by Eve Ensler.] [ official In the Dream House page on the official Carmen Maria Machado web site ]

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Recommended by Naomi S.
Eiseley Branch Library


Virginia Wolf
by Kyo Maclear (jP MacLear)

Having read a Virginia Woolf book for a radical feminist book club a few years back, seeing this title in the picture book section intrigued me. Although a couple of key details point back to the famous 20th century author, a reader of this book does not need that background whatsoever to understand this book. This book is ideal for elementary-aged children and their families. This is a heartwarming story about a young girl who is feeling gloomy and full of doldrums, and how she comes out of it with great support from her sister. Unfortunately, I can imagine this book having wider appeal now that so many children are dealing with the trauma of COVID-19. The way Virginia’s sister Vanessa was able to use her artistic skills to build an imaginary place for Virginia is inspiring. It reminds us we can use the ready skills we have at our disposal to help try and cheer up a friend or family member. If I were reading this with children, I would encourage them to envision their most perfect place and try to draw or paint it.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try The Fog by Kyo Maclear, Rabbityness by Jo Empson, Places to Be by Mac Barnett or Through With the Zoo, by Jacob Grant.] [ official Virginia Wolf page on the official Kyo Maclear kids literature web site ]

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Recommended by Naomi S.
Eiseley Branch Library


Six: The Musical
by Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss (Compact Disc 782.14 Six)

Are you an anglophile, fascinated with British history? Did you also enjoy listening to the soundtrack of the Tony Award-winning, Hamilton: An American Musical? If you answered “Yes” to both those questions, then Six: The Musical is for you.

When trying to convince friends to listen to the soundtrack to Six, I recommend it as “the British Hamilton”. Six features six female performers, each portraying one of the six wives of England’s famous king, Henry VIII. The soundtrack features a mere 9 tracks. The six singers perform together on three — the opening track “Ex-Wives”, the closing track “Six”, and the track “Haus of Holbein” right in the middle. Otherwise, each of them gets a bravura solo that tells of her connections to Henry and her individual fate. Renee Lamb is Catherine of Aragon on “No Way”, Christina Modestou is Anne Boleyn on “Don’t Lose Ur Head”, Natalie Paris is Jane Seymour on “Heart of Stone”, Genesis Lynea is Anna of Cleves on “Get Down”, Aimie Atkinson is “Katherine Howard” on “All You Wanna Do” and Izuka Hoyle is Catherine Parr on “I Don’t Need Your Love”. The emphasis in this show is on the lives and loves of these six women — Henry’s had plenty of press. It’s time for “girl power”!

The comparison to Hamilton is in both the musical stylings and the color-blind casting. The songs of Six are fast-paced and raucous pop tunes, a mixture of hip-hop and dance club, with pounding beats and rapid-fire lyrics. The songs pack a massive amount of history into their lyrics, and if you have only a passing knowledge of the history of Henry VIII and his many wives, you’ll learn a lot by listening to this. The performers, all relatively young Brit gals, from a variety of cultural backgrounds, are all superb. The only minor drawback for me was clearly understanding the lyrics in a few spots, due to the thick British accents and the speed with which the lines were delivered. But, like Hamilton before it, it helped to have the CD booklet with its full lyrics to follow, and after a few listens, it was all pretty clear.

Six made headway in England and was preparing to open on Broadway. In fact, it had had some “preview” performances, and was set for a big run on the Great White Way in March. Its opening night turned out to be the day that COVID-19 safety concerns closed down Broadway. Here’s hoping the production can survive and re-launch once social distancing is no longer as big a concern. I do recommend looking online for pictures of the actresses in their fabulous costumes, and for a few video clips from Six on the show’s website and YouTube. It is a tremendous show, and the soundtrack CD is both entertaining and educational! As the snappy opening lyrics to the opening song cheekily say, “Divorced. Beheaded. Died. Divorced. Beheaded. Survived! And tonight, we are…LIVE!”

[ official Six: The Musical web site ] | [ Six background on Wikipedia ]

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


Dear Edward
by Ann Napolitano

This novel is quietly breathtaking. Dear Edward is author Ann Napolitano’s fictionalizing of an actual event from 2010 — the crash of a commercial airliner in North Africa, which started in South Africa and was bound for London. In that real-life event, a 9-year-old boy was the sole survivor of the crash. In this novel, the setting has changed from Libya to the U.S. — the flight was from New York to L.A., and crashed in Colorado. And the sole survivor is 12-year-old Edward Adler.

The novel alternates chapters between Edward’s life after the crash, and the few hours leading up to it. Edward, already a bit of an introvert even before the disaster, finds himself disconnected from the world, once he’s moved in with his only surviving relatives, his Aunt Lacey and Uncle John in New Jersey, whom he barely remembers. With the help of the next-door-neighbor kid, a 12-year-old girl named Shay, he tries to fit into his new reality. In the alternating chapters, we learn the story of several other passengers on the ill-fated airplane — finding out just enough about their lives, their hopes and dreams, to make it all the more painful that we know their coming fate.

Dear Edward is a fascinating look at how we process grief. About the impact of obsessive social media coverage of tragedies. About finding your way in a world that has tipped sideways from everything you’ve ever expected. It is equally heartbreaking, and heartwarming.

[ official Dear Edward page on the official Ann Napolitano web site ]

See also: Jodi R.’s recent review of Dear Edward here on BookGuide in March 2020

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


hooplaThe Complete Roadtrip Z
by Lilith Saintcrow (Hoopla)

If you are looking for your next zombie book, look no further! A little dark, a lot gritty, with a hero you just can’t help but relate to, Lilith Saintcrow describes the collapse of the modern day world wonderfully. The two main characters, Ginny and Lee, are opposites. Lee, a former military vet and country handyman travels with Ginny, a New York upstate librarian (I know, that is part of why I was drawn to the book) who wants to check on her family. A little romance, a lot of action and several side stories help complete the picture, this series is delightful and makes me want to learn more handy skills as a just in case!

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Steelflower by Lilith Saintcrow, Guilty Pleasures by Laurell K. Hamilton, Written in Red by Anne Bishop or Feed by Mira Grant.] [ official Roadtrip Z page on the official Lilith Saintcrow web site ]

For some similar items, check out the Zombies — The New Vampires Reader List here on BookGuide!

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


Hear the Wolves
by Victoria Scott (j Scott)

Hear the Wolves by Victoria Scott is a middle-grade survival thriller that I picked up because of the striking cover and interesting title. I’m glad I did!

This is the story of Sloan, an Alaskan girl who experienced a traumatic event that left her half deaf and with the need to be close to a safe person at all times. She’s not keen on school, but she is an excellent hunter under her dad’s training and sees the world through an artist’s eyes from her mom’s influence.

When almost everyone in their remote town leaves one October morning to participate in an important vote, Sloan’s family leaves her behind in hopes she will see that she’s braver than she thinks.

And then the blizzard hits. And heating fuel is lower than expected. One of the few remaining adults is severely injured and needs surgery. To top it all off, the wolves of the area have had their food supply cut off from land mismanagement. The desperate wolves are getting closer to the houses and less shy about being seen.

It’s up to Sloan and a handful of others to cross the wilderness to the nearest river where a boat waits to take them to safety.

They will not all survive.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George, or Hatchet by Gary Paulsen.] [ official Hear the Wolves page on the official Victoria Scott web site ]

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


Giants of the Monsoon Forest: Living and Working With Elephants
by Jacob Shell (599.67 She)

Giants of the Monsoon Forest: LIving and Working With Elephants takes us on an adventure through the rainforests of Burma and India. We are shown a glimpse of the Asian Elephants and their unique relationship with their mahouts – elephant riders. Giants of the Monsoon Forest is a non-fiction nature book written by Professor of Geography and Urban Studies, Jacob Shell.

This book celebrates the symbiotic relationship between humans and the magnificent Asian elephant. Through a collection of personal stories, Shell illustrates how intelligent, emotional and independent elephants are. Similar to working dogs and horses, elephants engage in a medley of work. During wartime, elephants transported people through secret and treacherous pathways to avoid the enemy. In day to day operations, they log giant teak trees and transport goods. But their true courage comes out during monsoon season where, time after time, they save their humans from being whisked away and drowning. The book abounds with harrowing stories of villagers who were saved solely by the wit and athleticism of the elephants.

What astounded me most, and ultimately drew me in, was the fact that these elephants are never truly domesticated. They are released into the wilderness in the evenings and during mating season, only to willingly meet up with their human counterpart the next day to continue working. They seem to instinctively enjoy work, creating a mysteriously primitive and organic alliance between elephant and man. Further, the nature of their work require them to rely upon their own wit, intelligence, athleticism. Many of rescues were the result of the initiative of the elephant, not simply the actions of a beast of burden following orders.

I would describe Shell’s writing style as feature journalistic in that it is informative and well-researched yet captivating. A smart, engaging read that still feels accessible and not overly technical or dry. Several beautiful black and white photographs are sprinkled throughout the book as well, including maps for those who are intrigued by cartography.

This book will appeal to many as it is part history, part zoology, and part anthropology. Shell also touches on environmental and ethical dilemmas. If you enjoy reading about the relationships between animals and humans, I highly recommend this book.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try The Eighty-Dollar Champion: Snowman, The Horse That Inspired a Nation by Elizabeth Letts, or Born Free: A Lioness of Two Worlds by Joy Adamson.] [ publisher’s official Giants of the Monsoon Forest web site ] | [ official Jacob Shell web site ]

See also: Bob B.’s review of When Elephants Weep: The Emotional Life of Animals here on BookGuide in August 2006

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Recommended by Monica K.
Bennett Martin Public Library – Public Service


Front Desk
by Kelly Yang (j Yang)

This book was on my TBR pile for longer than it should have been. The cover has a young woman who looks capable, confident, and intrepid despite her chaotic surroundings. To me, this is an empowering cover compared to many that we see in juvenile and young adult books.

When I found out that this book dealt with a family living full-time in a motel, in Orange County, California, two details which are very near and dear to me, I was hooked before even reading the first page. It would have been easy for any author to take this setting and glamorize it and glorify how amazing it is that the protagonist Mia was able to pull herself up by her bootstraps and escape her horrid surroundings as soon as possible. However, Kelly Yang really showed a young child’s perspective, listening in to adult conversations, scheming with friends to imagine solutions, and using the tools at Mia’s disposal. Although a couple details seemed a bit of a stretch for me to imagine, as a cynical adult, I appreciated that the conversations between Mia and friends and adults in her motel were believable and appropriate. The author’s note at the back of the book that briefly mentions why many Chinese immigrated to California in the 1980s and ’90s was also very educational!

I hope you find this book as heartwarming as I did. I hope you also look forward to the sequel as much as I do: Three Keys, due out this fall.

[ official Front Desk page on the official Kelly Yang web site ]

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Recommended by Naomi S.
Eiseley Branch Library


Screening Room

formatdvdBreakthrough
[DVD Breakthrough]

Based on a real series of events, this tells the story of John Smith, a teenaged Missouri boy who came back to life in the emergency room after a technically unsurvivable, or at the very least massively disabling, drowning mishap. Chrissy Metz stands out as his overprotective mother who, despite her own health concerns and what anyone else thinks and fears, persists in believing (and pushing medical personnel to accept) that he can recover. The cast also features Josh Lucas and Dennis Haysbert. This Christian/inspirational film was directed by Roxann Dawson, of “Star Trek: Voyager” cast and direction fame. Of note is that she is married to casting director Eric Dawson, who is a Lincoln, Nebraska native.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Heaven is For Real, Miracles From Heaven, Extraordinary Measures, The Miracle Worker or The Blind Side] [ Internet Movie Database entry for this film ] | [ official Breakthrough web site ]

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Recommended by Becky W.C.
Walt Branch Library


formatdvdHail, Caesar!
[DVD Hail]

Another quirky entry from the Coen Brothers (Ethan and Joel), known for their idiosyncratic and unpredictable dramas willed with fascinating characters and complex plots.

Hail Caesar definitely falls into that style. The plot of this film centers around the U.S. film industry in Hollywood in the early 1950s. Josh Brolin plays Eddie Mannix — a “fixer” who solves problems for his clients in the entertainment industry. Leading Man Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) has disappeared just before filming the climax of a religious epic, and is believed to have been abducted. Through the course of the investigation into what’s happened with Whitlock, Mannix interacts with assorted and sundry odd individuals on the periphery of movie-making, including a group of blacklisted communist screenwriters (responsible for Whitlock’s disappearance).

The plot of this one isn’t really much to speak of, but the performances of some of Hollywood’s most interesting actors is what draws your notice. The attention to detail in costuming, set design, music, and the overall look of this film were all excellent. In the end, I didn’t really care about any of the characters, so the film ended up mainly being “style over substance”. But that style was excellent, and enough for me to recommend this film. If you liked past Coen Brothers productions (Fargo, No Country For Old Men, The Big Lebowski, Oh Brother Where Art Thou?, Burn After Reading, or Inside Llewyn Davis), you’ll enjoy this one as well.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try basically anything else by Ethan Coen, and Joel Coen] [ Internet Movie Database entry for this film ] | [ official Hail Caesar! Facebook page ]

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


formatdvdLet the Right One In
[DVD Let]

After multiple recommendations from friends who’d seen and loved Let the Right One In, I finally took a chance and watched a library DVD copy of this 2008 horror/romance film. I use that description, because that’s what several online reviews describe it as.

Lonely, 12-year-old Oskar lives in a housing complex in Sweden. He is routinely bullied by other kids at school, and has violent fantasies of enacting his vengeance on them. A new family moves into his complex, an older man and his 12-year-old daughter. Though the girl doesn’t go to school, she meets Oskar in the courtyard of their complex and the two young ones become friends. The girl, Eli, advises Oskar on how to deal with the bullying. Meanwhile, a series of attacks and murders begins in their community, in which bodies are strung up and drained of blood.

This IS a vampire story, and fairly early on into the film, it’s revealed that Eli is the vampire, so that’s not a huge spoiler. But the rest of the plot, as Oskar and Eli become ever more inextricably entwined, and the people around them are put in greater danger, is what drives this drama. Director Thomas Alfredson wisely doesn’t kowtow to traditional “vampire movie” tropes, and this film is refreshing because of that.

My only complaints were that the pacing was very slow, and the English dubbing of the Swedish dialog was very…disjointed. But the performances of the two young “unknowns” as Oskar and Eli was compelling, and the set design and cinematography really gave this film a strong sense of place. This one won’t be for everyone, but I actually enjoyed it quite a lot.

[Also available in traditional print format.] [ Internet Movie Database entry for this film ]

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


formatdvdRocketman
[DVD Rocketman]

I’ll have to admit, I haven’t followed Elton John’s music all that closely — I’ve enjoyed many of his songs, and have his “greatest hits” collection, but have never really read much about his life.

Therefore, Rocketman was something of a revelation. Born Reginald Kenneth Dwight, the man who would become Elton John had a complicated life early on, and creatively seemed to become energized when he teamed up with lyricist Bernie Taupin in 1967. Rocketman is a fairly faithful biopic, hitting the highlights and lowlights in Elton John’s life. From the awkward relationship with his parents, to his broken relationships with both men and women, this film weaves a tapestry of “moments” in Elton’s life, constantly overlapping with samples of his music. The filmmakers chose to include a great deal of fantasy or surreality in their storytelling, which I occasionally found a bit offputting.

But Taron Egerton’s performance as Elton is stunning, and he actually sings the songs throughout the film. The production design and costume design (including all of Elton’s outrageous stage costumes) are both incredible.

All in all, this was a fascinating film to watch, though I’ll have to admit that I enjoyed the Freddie Mercury biopic, Bohemian Rhapsody a bit more. But that’s mainly because I’m more of a Queen fan than an Elton fan. Fans of Elton John and his music should love Rocketman.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Me (Elton John’s recent autobiography), or any of the many CDs and DVDs of Elton John’s performances.] [ Internet Movie Database entry for this film ] | [ official UK Rocketman web site ]

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


formatdvdWelcome to Marwen
[DVD Welcome]

Based on the 2010 documentary Marwencol, this 2018 feature film was directed by Oscar-winner Robert Zemeckis (Forrest Gump, the Back to the Future trilogy), and starred Steve Carrell. Carrell portrays Mark Hogancamp, a middle-aged man who was brutally assaulted outside a bar in Kingston, NY, and suffered both brain damage and PTSD. Hogancamp’s method of coping with the stresses life throws at him after the attack is to create an alternate reality — the WWII-era village of Marwen, populated by highly-detailed action figures (including a central heroic American soldier that is his own alter-ego). The real-life Hogancamp did this, crafting detailed settings for scenes which he then photographed in a very artistic manner. Marwen is constantly threatened by Nazi soldiers, and is defended by both Mark’s soldier and a variety of exotic and capable women.

The twist in Welcome to Marwen, as opposed to the documentary, is that the filmmakers bring the action figures to life, and we see their adventures in a complicated mash-up of “stop motion animation” and computer-generated effects. The “dolls” definitely share the appearance of the actors whose movements were recorded for those performances — including Eiza Gonzalez, Janelle Monae, Gwendoline Christie and more.

But the technical elements are only a part of the story. In the “real world” of Hogancamp, we see his difficulty in interacting with the people he’s surrounded by, and his stark terror at showing up for the trial and sentencing of the group of men who assaulted him. We also see his discomfort at making a public appearance when a gallery does a showing of his acclaimed photography. Carrell turns in a terrific performance, as do many of the supporting actors. I will say, however, that since I had previously seen (and review) Marwencol, and therefore know what the actual Mark Hogancamp looked and behaved like, I was a bit disappointed that his eccentricities were not better captured for this film.

None the less, though I recommend viewing Marwencol either before or after Welcome to Marwen, I do recommend this film. It’s an interesting mix of a vivid internal fantasy world, crossed with an emotional journey of recovery for a damaged man.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try the 2014 remake of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty with Ben Stiller.] [ Internet Movie Database entry for this film ] | [ official Welcome to Marwen Facebook page ]

See also: Scott C.’s review of Marwencol here on BookGuide in August 2018

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


last updated June 2020
* Please Note: The presence of a link on this site does not constitute an endorsement by Lincoln City Libraries.

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