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Staff Recommendations – June 2021

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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 2021 Recommendations

Home: A Memoir of My Early Years and Home Work: A Memoir of My Hollywood Years
by Julie Andrews, and Julie Andrews with Emma Walton Hamilton (Music 782.14 And & Biography Andrews)

These two autobiographies should appeal to and even fascinate anyone who is a Julie Andrews fan — she of the sublime soprano and the bawdy sense of humor. Home: A Memoir of My Early Years goes into great detail about her childhood and teen years and the very hard work it took to be one of the world’s most “naturally gifted” singers. It also covers her Broadway trials and triumphs. Home Work: A Memoir of My Hollywood Years delves into her two marriages, her primary film career, and her blended and growing family. Did you know that she and second husband, acclaimed movie director Blake Edwards, adopted two Vietnamese orphans? That’s just one tidbit you will learn more about. Andrews is, of course, most strongly identified with the iconic musical films “Mary Poppins” and “The Sound of Music” but has done a number of other movies of differing genres. She is very open in both memoirs about her family relationships and associated dynamics and her personal struggles and satisfactions. Home Work was co-written by Andrews’ biological daughter, Emma Walton Hamilton. The two ladies have also shared authorship of over 30 young people’s books.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try any autobiographies of Carol Burnett, Debbie Reynolds, or other variety performers; any movies written and/or directed by Blake Edwards or starring Julie Andrews; any movie soundtracks or other music albums featuring Julie Andrews.] [ publisher’s official Home web page ] | [ official The Julie Andrews Collection web site ]

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Recommended by Becky W.C.
Walt Branch Library


The House That Wasn’t There
by Elana Arnold (j Arnold)

First impressions are not always the best impressions. The House That Wasn’t There uses the story of two middle school neighbors to tell the story of how friendship needs time to grow. At first, the two main characters in The House That Wasn’t There seem very different. But as the story unfolds, coincidences begin to sprout up, almost magically, and they discover that what they share goes deeper than they would ever imagine.

Sixth-grade Alder lives with his mom — his father, a folk singer and musician, passed away when he was very young. He is an introvert, likes to knit, has lived in his house most of his life, and only hangs out with one friend, who now seems to have found a new best friend. The exciting school year he anticipated quickly falls apart around him. Oak, also in sixth grade, moves in next door. She lives with both of her parents; a new job brings them from San Francisco. She is outgoing and easily makes lots of friends. Although she dreaded a term at a new school, she happily settles into her new class.

It’s not surprising that they don’t start out as friends. When Oak’s family moves in, her mother arranges to have a cherished tree cut down between the two houses, which immediately angers Alder and his mother. The tree was a reminder of Alder’s father; a reminder they can’t get back.

But a school project throws the two kids together. And that’s when the twists of fate begin. Alder’s mother surprises him when they go to adopt a kitten, one of a set of siblings. When he returns the next day to purchase the other cat, it has been adopted. Surprise, surprise. Oak’s mother had the same idea and she adopts the other cat. The two cats escape in the middle of a storm and when the two kids search for their lost cats, they stumble into a magical portal — a house between the two houses that wasn’t there. After the unusual experience, strange coincidences keep happening, until the final chapter, where we unearth the biggest revelation of all.

I found The House That Wasn’t There an easy-to-read book with a charming story and an unexpected twist at the end. It’s a story that love and family can be found all around us, we just have to be willing to look.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try The Sea in Winter by Christine Day, or These Unlucky Stars by Gillian McDunn.] [ publisher’s official The House That Wasn’t There web page ] | [ official Elana Arnold web site ]

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


Just Desserts Mystery Discussion GroupThe Windsor Knot
by S.J. Bennett

I am only very marginally an Anglophile. I’m slightly interested in British history, and have been a fan of Sherlock Holmes, Doctor Who, Steed & Peel of the Avengers, and of the plays and poetry of Shakespeare for many years. But I have never been particularly interested in the Royal Family, per se.

None-the-less, this charming new mystery intrigued me enough to select it for the “Series Share” meeting of the libraries’ Just Desserts Mystery Fiction Discussion Group, where all the members sampled a “new” mystery series and shared our opinions about whatever we had each selected. I selected The Windsor Knot for this year’s entry. It was published in early 2021, and a second volume in the series is due by the end of the year.

This is a mystery, with some twists that cause it to stand out. The sleuth at the heart of the story is Queen Elizabeth II herself, but she is far from a traditional mystery solver. Set in 2016, just before and including the Queen’s 90th birthday celebrations, this story reveals that Elizabeth has been helping (behind the scenes) to solve a variety of mysteries since her teen years. As the monarch, she can’t been seen to be meddling in the affairs of the police or MI-5. So when she has a hunch, born from years of careful observation of everyone and everything around her, she sets some of her many loyal, hand-picked employees on the trail of clues, or slips carefully planned “suggestions” to the appropriate authorities on new avenues to pursue in their investigations.

Enter Rozie Oshodi — a young British Nigerian with a military background, who’s a newly installed Assistant Personal Secretary to the Queen. Little did she know, when she took the job, that it would include secret missions on the Queen’s behalf, to question possible murder suspects or to make contact with some of the Queen’s former allies in crime-solving. In this first entry in the series, Rosie and the Queen investigate the suspicious death of a Russian pianist who was a guest in Windsor Castle, who was made to appear as if he accidentally killed himself. But the Queen’s suspicions about an incorrectly tied Windsor Knot leads to a possible international incident…and another killing.

The Windsor Knot was fast-paced, with charming characters (though a bit simplistic). I do look forward to seeing where this series goes in future volumes, especially as Prince Philip has recently passed away in real life, and he has a fairly large role in this first mystery novel, set 5 years ago.

[ official The Windsor Knot page on the official S.J. Bennett web site ]

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


When No One is Watching
by Alyssa Cole (Cole)

When No One is Watching is a suspense thriller from contemporary romance favorite Alyssa Cole. She does include a romance vibe with chapters more-or-less alternating between Sydney, a long-time Black resident of a Brooklyn neighborhood who is putting together a historical tour and Theo, a new-arrival white resident who suddenly has a lot of time on his hands. Sure, he can help research for the tour.

The suspense comes in when the push for long-time residents to sell their homes might possibly be turning into something less friendly than offers of money. Both Sydney and Theo are seeing some strange things around the neighborhood. Maybe they’re overthinking it? But if they’re not…

Recommended for people who like their fiction fun, medium heat, and honest.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try A Princess in Theory by Alyssa Cole or Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia.] [ publisher’s official When No One is Watching web page ] | [ official Alyssa Cole web site ]

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


Mad Skills: Midi and Music Tech in the 20th Century
by Ryan Alexander Diduck (Music 786.7 Did)

The MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) specification, which allows multiple digital instruments to communicate with each other, was recently approved for update to a new MIDI 2.0 standard, the first major update to its functionality since the 1.0 standard was adopted in 1985. Think of how often your computers or phones or tablets need software updates, and consider how well-designed a software standard must have been to survive without significant changes for 35 years!

On the surface, software standards might not be the most exciting aspect of music-making, but the truth is that MIDI allowed unparalleled possibilities with digital music that have changed our musical landscape. Before MIDI, synthesizers and other digital electronic musical instruments could only interface through proprietary systems made by their own manufacturers, if at all. Once MIDI was in place, a musician could use products made by any company, and all of them could be used together in large, complex systems. Computer systems could also implement MIDI, making it a great way to combine hardware and software setups. A lot of the most cutting-edge music being made today still relies on MIDI.

In Mad Skills: Midi and Music Tech in the 20th Century by Ryan Alexander Diduck, we leave the more contemporary deployments of MIDI technology behind, and look at the development of the specification and its uses through the late 1990s. Diduck heads even further back in history to find music-tech antecedents that required standardization, like piano rolls for player pianos, and then he looks at the complex circumstances that led to MIDI. Music industry advocacy organizations and trade unions played roles just as important at times as hardware and software engineers, creative visionaries, and startup computer companies. After laying out the history of MIDI, he goes on to compare its functionality to some of the proprietary systems it replaced, and outlines how the General MIDI specification that arrived in 1992 served as a kind of simplified deployment of the specification to streamline its use in non-professional environments. Finally, he explores the initial proposals and failure to introduce a MIDI 2.0 spec in the late 1990s, a task just now being realized 20 years later.

The topic turns out to be much more interesting to read about than I would have guessed initially. To some degree, the story of MIDI reminded me of the early days of the electric guitar, when market forces and maverick designers met in unexpected ways. I’d particularly recommend this book for electronic music producers, but even folks who are just interested in the history of evolving technology will find something to love here.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try How to Wreck a Nice Beach: The Vocoder from World War II to Hip-Hop by Dave Tompkins, or How Music Works by David Byrne.] [ publisher’s official Mad Skills web page ] | [ official Ryan Diduck blog ]

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Recommended by Scott S.
Polley Music Library


Carville’s Cure: Leprosy, Stigma and the Fight for Justice
by Pam Fessler (362.196 Fes)

When Pam Fessler, NPR correspondent, discovered that her father-in-law’s father was taken away from his family for having contracted Hansen’s disease (leprosy) during the 1902 campaign in the Philippines. (He, along with an unknown number of Americans, contracted the disease while in the Philippines, Japan and other parts of the world fighting for the US Military.) She decided that this was the book she needed to write. The Louisiana Leprosarium was established in 1894 and the state of Louisiana contracted with the Catholic Daughters of Charity to run the home. This was not a luxury hospital as many of the Tuberculosis Sanatoriums. This was a rundown mansion where the Sisters lived, and the slave shacks on the former plantation housed the victims of the disease.

Though the medical community could not come to a consensus on the disease, Hansen’s was not exceptionally contagious, unlike Tuberculosis. Also unlike TB the people who contracted Hansen’s were still considered at cause for their disease and treated as outcasts and often punished for having the disease. Ms. Fessler’s extensive research gives us an inside view to what life was like at the home and how individuals fought for their rights and for better accommodations. In 1921 the Federal Government took over running the home, though it brought better food, it did not necessarily bring better living conditions. The home did not close until 2005.

Though we learn a lot about what Hansen’s disease is and how the cure was discovered, we also learn that medical professionals still don’t know really how it’s spread. This book is mostly about the patients and the caretakers of Carville’s Leprosy Colony.

I’ve read some information about Hansen’s disease, but this is by far the most informational and fascinating look at the disease and how the patients were treated in America.

I highly recommend Carville’s Cure to people who like history books, social justice books, and medical history.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Pox: An American History by Michael Willrich, The Ghost Map: The Story of London’s Most Terrifying Epidemic — and How it Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World by Steven Johnson, or The Radium Girls: The Scary But True Story of the Poison That Made People Glow in the Dark by Kate Moore.] [ publisher’s official Carville’s Cure web page ] | [ official Pamela Fessler Twitter feed ]

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Recommended by Marcy G.
South Branch Library


Just Desserts Mystery Discussion GroupThe Zig Zag Girl and Smoke and Mirrors
by Elly Griffiths (Griffiths)

In April 2021, the libraries’ Just Desserts mystery fiction discussion group reading assignment was to sample one or more of the series novels written by British mystery author Elly Griffiths. Having long been a fan of stage magicians, and fondly remembering the 1973-1974 Bill Bixby TV series The Magician (featuring a crime-solving prestidigitator), I decided to try The Zig Zag Girl, first in a 1950s-set series that features a team-up between Max Mephisto, star stage magician, and his old Army friend turned small town police detective Edgar Stephens. I ended up enjoying the first one so much, I immediately read the second entry, Smoke and Mirrors as well. Both are very good, but actually have somewhat different tones.

In The Zig Zag Girl, a brutal murder of a young woman occurs, in which her body is cut into thirds, much like a stage illusion done by Max Mephisto. The senior detective on the case, Edgar Stephens, served with Max in WWII, in a unit called The Magic Men, comprised of magicians and illusionists, who were tasked with creating large-scale illusions to fool the Germans into believing the English coast was better-defended than it actually was. Edgar calls on Max’s magic-trick background for advice, but then more murders occur, each tied in some way to the old Magic Men unit. The characters are engaging, with the magician angle in the 1950s providing a fresh viewpoint. There’s a strong sense of place, in the British seaside town of Brighton. And the mystery of a young woman who’s appeared who may have some connection to Max’s past is intriguing. The mystery itself is fairly commonplace and easy for the reader to solve, so the fun here is getting to know the characters.

In Smoke and Mirrors, two young children are murdered and their bodies left to be discovered in a staged tableau, but are hidden by a snowstorm. Edgar, once again in charge of the investigation once the bodies are found, finds himself emotionally torn up by the events. Fortunately, Max is appearing in a nearby musical comedy stage show, where his illusion skills are put to good use, and is there to provide insight. New recurring characters are introduced (who will become even more prominent in subsequent entries), and the mystery is a lot more complex this time. But this one has a much darker feel than the first one in the series.

I really like this series, especially the friendly relationship between Edgar and Max, and look forward to reading more — there are five so far with a sixth due in late 2021. If you like a 1950s time frame, police procedurals, or the world of stage performers (particularly magicians or illusionists), you’ll probably enjoy this series.

[If you enjoy these, I recommend trying to track down the following TV shows featuring stage magicians, illusionists or mentalists who help solve crimes: The Magician (1973-74, 22 episodes), starring Bill Bixby; Blacke’s Magic (1986, 13 episodes), starring Hal Linden and Harry Morgan; Jonathan Creek (1997-2016 — a UK show with 26 episodes with several year gaps between seasons) starring Alan Davies; The Mentalist (2008-2015, 151 episodes) starring Simon Baker and Robin Tunney; and Deception (2018, 13 episodes) starring Jack Cutmore-Scott.] [ official The “Brighton Mysteries” page on the official Elly Griffiths web site ]

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


The Midnight Library
by Matt Haig (Haig)

If you could go back and change one thing, unwind one regret, would you?

Nora Seed’s current life is not what she imagined and she attempts to commit suicide. She goes to a special library, where she can see how all of her regrets would have played out, had she not committed them.

Follow Nora along her journey towards the meaning of true happiness and how to achieve it. The author leaves us with a satisfying, if predictable ending.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman, A Long Way Down by Nick Hornby, Before the Coffee Gets Cold by Toshikazu Kawaguchi, or Oona Out of Order by Margarita Montimore.] [ official The Midnight Library page on the official Matt Haig web site ]

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

“Between life and death there is a library, she said. And within that library the shelves go on forever. Every book provides a chance to try another life you could have lived. To see how things would be different if you had made other choices…

At the age of 35, Nora Seed feels as if she is free falling into a black hole; her life had so much potential — she was a swimming phenome and a blossoming singer/songwriter–but instead went nowhere. Anxiety robbed her of taking chances. So she decides to end it all. But instead of a black abyss, Nora awakens in the pillared halls of a library. The only other occupant is her old high-school librarian, Mrs. Elm. Here Mrs. Elm says that time stands still at midnight; the library houses books of all the life stories Nora might have lived had she made other choices. Nora may try out other lives. If she doesn’t like the choice, she will be brought back to the library. If she finds the perfect life, she may stay. While the Midnight Library stands, she will be preserved from death and she can decide how she wants to live.

The Midnight Library grabbed me from the first chapter. The story begins, “Nineteen years before she decided to die.” And as I was reading this book, It’s A Wonderful Life came to mind. In each new life Nora lives, she encounters people from her previous life. But she discovers that their lives may be better or worse without her. Tiny decisions we each make every day may lead to an entirely different outcome for ourselves and the people around us.

It’s an incredible idea: would you do things differently; would you resolve your regrets if you had the chance? I left this book with the realization that perhaps if we all had to opportunity, we might choose to actually live our lives, not relive our regrets.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by Victoria Schwab or In Five Years by Rebecca Serle.]

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Reviewed in August 2021 by Cindy K.
Bennett Martin Public Library — Public Services

 


Just Desserts Mystery Discussion GroupMagpie Murders
by Anthony Horowitz (Horowitz)

Anthony Horowitz is rapidly becoming one of my favorite contemporary mystery writers. In part, because he refuses to play by the rules of modern mystery fiction, and instead reinvents the genre regularly, with most of the novels he’s published in the past 10 years or so.

With the novel Magpie Murders, which the members of the libraries’ Just Desserts mystery fiction discussion club read and discussed in March 2021, Horowitz deconstructs the Agatha Christie-style traditional murder mystery, and then rebuilds it with multiple overlapping levels. Magpie Murders is a mystery novel set inside of another mystery novel. Editor Susan Ryeland has handled the cantankerous and pushy author Alan Conway for many years, shepherding his series of Atticus Pund novels (think Hercule Poirot, only German) to the bestseller lists. When his latest — and what he has threatened will be his last — Pund novel is delivered to the publishing office incomplete, Ryeland needs to get the final chapter — only Alan Conway is murdered before she can, falling from the rooftop observation level of his ostentatious rural medieval castle.

Magpie Murders features the incomplete Conway novel, surrounded by chapters in which Ryeland attempts to investigate Conway’s death. It turns out that Conway included not-so-loosely fictionalized versions of the many people he had poor relationships with, as suspects in his final Pund story — and identifying who the killer in the seemingly unfinished Pund novel is may be the clue to Ryeland figuring out who had enough motive to kill Conway in “real life”.

Filled with innumerable twists and turns, I found Magpie Murders to be compulsively readable, even at over 500 pages. This is not a casual read — clues and red herrings abound, and you have to really pay attention to everything that everyone says and does! Even though I thought I know “who done it” in both levels of the mystery, it still surprised me in the end.

Magpie Murders is in the process of being filmed as a six-part British television adaptation (ironic, as one of the plot points in the novel is that a TV producer is negotiating for the rights to adapt the Atticus Pund novels!) Hopefully, it will end up on PBS’s Masterpiece Mystery series.

[If you enjoy this, there’s already a second novel in this series, 2021’s Moonflower Murders also by Horowitz. This novel will also be most appreciated by people who are already fans of Christie’s Poirot novels and short stories.] [ U.S. publisher’s official Magpie Murders web page ] | [ official Anthony Horowitz web site ]

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


Later
by Stephen King (Compact Disc King)

I’ll be the first to admit, there was a point at which I “burned out” on Stephen King, and one King story started to feel like any other King story…so I stopped reading everything he put out. But, at the same time, I’ll also equally admit that pretty much every King story I’ve tried in the past 10 years has still impressed me, and Later definitely falls into that category.

King has released three novels through publisher Hard Case Crime, which specializes in “pulp” fiction, epitomized by the “tough guy” novels of the 1950s and 1960s, but brought up to modern sensibilities. The first two were The Colorado Kid and Joyland. Later is the third, and my favorite of those three. I enjoyed Later as a book-on-cd, narrated by actor Seth Numrich.

In Later, the central protagonist is Jamie Conklin, who’s telling the story in retrospect as someone in their early twenties. We first see him as an 8-year old and again in his early teens. Jamie is the son of a single mom, and (as often is the case in King novels) has a paranormal ability. He can see dead people, for the first 3 or 4 days after they’ve passed away, usually hanging around the places that were significant to them in their lives, before they fade out and are gone for good. He can also speak to them — and any question he asks them they have to answer truthfully. His mother is aware of this unusual ability but prefers not to think about it. Until an emergency situation happens, and she needs to make use of his particular skill to ensure their financial stability. That action has repercussions from that day onward, both good and bad.

The characters are sharply defined in this one, from Jamie and his mom, to her female ex-lover, a corrupt cop who knows Jamie’s secret, to an elderly professor friend, to all the somewhat muted “ghosts” that Jamie converses with. Perhaps the most memorable character is this story’s “big bad” — a paranormal threat that Jamie, as a pre-teen, must figure out a way to face down. Numrich is a superb narrator for this title, bringing Jamie to glorious life and allowing us into his mental processes, while also still making us realize that for most of the story, Jamie’s just a kid.

Highly recommended, particularly in the audiobook format. Honestly, this just makes me want to sample even more of King’s recent works.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Doctor Sleep, King’s sequel to his classic, The Shining, read in audiobook format by actor Will Patton.] [ official Later page on the official Stephen King web site ]

See Tracy T.’s review of the audiobook of The Colorado Kid by Stephen King in the April 2016 Staff Recommendations here on BookGuide!
See Tracy T.’s review of Joyland by Stephen King in the February 2015 Staff Recommendations here on BookGuide!
See Scott C.’s review of the audiobook of Doctor Sleep by Stephen King, in the March 2014 Staff Recommendations here on BookGuide!

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


Accidentally Wes Anderson
by Wally Koval (910.2 Kov)

This fascinating book, combining exotic photography with descriptions of unusual places around the globe, first caught my eye on a display at a bookstore, and I was intrigued at the time, so I was excited to see it show up in the libraries’ collection! The concept for this book began online, as an international group of devotees started sharing photos tagged #accidentallywesanderson. The photos looked like images that could have come from the auteur film director’s stylistic palette — bright pastel shades, idiosyncratic, oddly symmetrical lines and angles, and simply beautiful in their simplistic composition and often surreal quirkiness. The book collects several hundred images, from locations on all seven continents (including Antarctica!), with intriguing descriptions of each image — sometimes lengthy and sometimes brief. The photographic reproductions are absolutely gorgeous, and will put you in the same kind of mood that watching The Grand Budapest Hotel, Moonrise Kingdom, The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou, Rushmore or The Royal Tenenbaums might. I’m not sure that this is a travel book of destinations you’ll want to visit on your own, but just knowing they exist brought a smile to my face. My only complaint about the book is the size of the text in the descriptions — the author and publisher have chosen to use extremely small print, which my middle-aged eyes occasionally had difficulty making out.

[ official accidentallywesanderson.com web site ]

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


Hold On to Your Dreams: Arthur Russell and the Downtown Music Scene: 1973-1992
by Tim Lawrence (Music 780.92 Rus)

Midwestern native and musical maverick Charles Arthur Russell, better known as Arthur Russell to his fans, didn’t release a lot of material during his all too short lifetime, but his work has received a lot of posthumous attention in recent years, particularly with the excellent “Iowa Dream” album released last year. Here at the Polley Music Library, we have the definitive biography on Arthur Russell’s unique music, Hold On to Your Dreams: Arthur Russell and the Downtown Music Scene: 1973-1992 by Tim Lawrence, published in 2009.

The book doesn’t spend much time on Russell’s early years, where he grew up in Oskaloosa, Iowa, and then spent some of his high school years in Iowa City. Instead, it spends the vast majority of its time on his tenure in New York City, which extended from 1973 until his death in 1992, during which he was a part of the vital “downtown scene.” He still had some affection for his Midwestern roots, though, occasionally returning home to visit family, and naming a few tunes after Midwestern memories, like “Corn” and “Iowa Dream.”

For most of his career, he was an excellent example of the unique musicians who came up in New York’s 80s downtown scene. Of particular interest in that era, many composers thought of themselves more as composer-performers, an extension of the kinds of work one saw from minimalist composers like Steve Reich and Phillip Glass who ran and performed in their own working ensembles. In the downtown scene, many such composer-performers collaborated with one another to realize compositions of various sizes and scales.

There was also lots of cross-genre music happening. Particularly in the late 70s and early 80s, this was the time and place where new forms of dance and experimental music were coming out of the clubs in New York, and rap music was new to the airwaves. For a few glorious years, all kinds of music intermingled both on dance floors and sometimes among performers who found themselves working in myriad new directions with their music. Arthur Russell, whose formal background was initially as a cello player, found himself moving freely between pop and avant-garde musical worlds, producing dance singles, writing folk and pop songs, and practically inventing a new genre of ambient art-rock with his electronically-manipulated cello and voice album “World of Echo” from 1986.

Toward the end of the book, Lawrence addresses the impact of the AIDS epidemic on New York’s music and club scenes, as well as on Arthur Russell personally. Russell’s health suffered from the disease over the last few years of his life, and he worked at a frantic pace to complete as much music as he could. He may have left us far too soon, but he devoted his final years to producing recordings that still continue to be released 30 years later.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try New York Noise: Radical Jewish Music and the Downtown Scene by Tamar Barzel, or Life and Death on the New York Dance Floor, 1980-1983 by Tim Lawrence.] [ official Hold On to Your Dreams page on the official Tim Lawrence web site ]

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Recommended by Scott S.
Polley Music Library


A Sound Mind: How I Fell in Love With Classical Music (and Decided to Rewrite Its Entire History)
by Paul Morley (Music 781.68 Mar)

Author Paul Morley is no stranger to writing about music. He’s been a music journalist for 40 years, mostly focusing on pop and rock music, and he’s written several books about bands such as Joy Division and David Bowie. He was also one of the founding members of the early digital sampling pioneers The Art of Noise, and is said to have helped with early publicity for the band Frankie Goes to Hollywood.

Until now, though, Morley was only known for his pop criticism. Then technology changed, streaming music became possible, and he found himself expanding his horizons into jazz and classical music, at first during travel downtimes. As his musical horizons became more inclusive, he also became philosophical about the era of his youth, the “album era,” and how short-lived it might be compared to other ways of consuming and thinking about music. Before you know it, he was headlong into classical music, and he shares his new journey with us in his latest book, A Sound Mind.

Morley’s style is one of the most appealing things about this book — he does check some boxes for music history and biographical information throughout the book, but fundamentally this works as a memoir that happens to document his own investigation into classical music. He’s worked successfully with this kind of approach before in his 2000 book “Nothing,” which reflected on his own childhood and the suicide of his father while considering the work of Ian Curtis (Joy Division), Elvis, and Marc Bolan. Where that book focuses on the darker side of life and missed opportunities, though, this book seizes the moment and finds new life in the embrace of centuries of music that might have been overlooked by many of us surrounded by contemporary rock and pop records.

One of my favorite things about this book is how capably Morley weaves modern and older classical traditions together. He’s discovering and enjoying this music in a modern, hyperlinked kind of way, so he looks for asynchronous associations that many of us who have studied all of these works chronologically might not have considered before. These movements through time are beautifully depicted in playlists that periodically illustrate points throughout the book. Moving at one point between Bach, Steve Reich, Beethoven, George Crumb, Kraftwerk, Keith Jarrett, and Thomas Arne, for example, turns out to be an incredible experience. This book proves to be a great introduction to classical music, and a breath of fresh air for those of us already on the inside.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try RIYL: Mozart in the Jungle: Sex, Drugs and Classical Music by Blair Tindall, or Year of Wonder: Classical Music to Enjoy Day by Day by Clemency Burton-Hill.] [ publisher’s official A Sound Mind web page ]

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Recommended by Scott S.
Polley Music Library


Ghost Boys
by Jewell Parker Rhodes (j Rhodes)

An excellent story and winner of the 2020-2021 Nebraska Golden Sower for Best Juvenile Novel.

This is a moving tale of a 12-year-old Black boy killed on the streets of his neighborhood. The chapters alternate between DEAD and ALIVE. He’s now a ghost but can only be seen by one person.

As a ghost he encounters the ghosts of Emmett Till and thousands of other boys (and men) of color who were victims of lynching, the KKK, and police shootings. In the DEAD chapters he’s trying to adjust to his new condition. In the ALIVE sections we follow the events of That Day and the aftermath.

The first seven sentences of the book begin:

“How small I look. Laid out flat, my stomach touching ground. My right knee bent and my brand-new Nikes stained with blood.
I stoop and stare at my face, my right cheek flattened on concrete. My eyes are wide open. My mouth, too.
I’m dead.”

Ghost Boys is a juvenile book but certainly not childish. Have a box of tissue nearby — you won’t be able to read this in public over lunch. An afternoon read that will stick with you.

[ official Ghost Boys page on the official Jewell Parker Rhodes web site ]

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


The Vanishing Girl
by Josephine Ruby (Hoopla Audiobook)

Ever since the original series Scooby Doo, Where Are You?” premiered in 1969, when I was a six-year-old addicted to Saturday morning cartoons, I’ve been a fan of the teenaged team of sleuths known as Mystery Inc., driving around in their day-glo van, solving mysteries around the country. Over 50+ years, these characters have gone through constant tweaking and modification, as the series has been reinvented in animated form for new audiences every few years. Live action feature films and TV-movies have added to the mix, with a 2019 computer-animated film, Scoob! being the latest addition.

The characters of Scooby Doo have also appeared in video games and comic books. But (as far as I can tell) never in traditional prose fiction…until now. The Vanishing Girl takes extreme liberties with the characters. This novel is a prequel to the kids’ well-known adventures, taking place when they knew each other, but before they all decided to team up and hit the road — in fact, they’re all still high school students (with the exception of Scooby, of course). This novel, and its sequel The Dark Deception, are focused primarily on brainiac Velma Dinkley and red-headed glamour girl Daphne Blake, with Shaggy Rogers and Fred Jones as relatively minor supporting characters. Despite their differing personalities, introverted and anti-social Velma and extroverted Daphne were good friends growing up, until some personal crises drove them apart and actually turned them into antagonists towards each other. Now, then snipe and yell at each other, saying nasty things and trying to get a rise. When Daphne’s replacement best friend disappears AND Velma’s mother loses her job, all over an apparent haunting at the theme park that tells Crystal Cove’s history, the former-friends, now-can-barely-stand-each-others must team up once again to find out the truth of what’s going on.

I have mixed feelings about this novel. As a Young Adult mystery, it’s not bad, featuring characters with complex relationships and a mystery that’s fun to see them solve. But as a novel featuring beloved characters with over fifty years of established tone and anticipated friendship, this novel really failed. Plus, the characterization and backgrounds established for both Fred and especially Shaggy don’t jibe with how those characters have been portrayed throughout their history. In part, that may be because this novel has them all as teenagers in the contemporary era, instead of the late 60s or early 70s that were created to inhabit, particularly Shaggy — who was originally patterned after the Beatnik character Maynard G. Krebs (from the TV series The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis) — setting him up as a relative well-to-do teen in the 2010s but having the same behavior quirks just doesn’t work! I think I would have preferred seeing Velma, Daphne, Shaggy and Fred hew more closely to what fans would expect, rather than be so extremely divergent. None-the-less, there were moments when I saw my beloved old characters peek through the harder, edgier versions here, and that kept me going. So…there’s just enough traditional Scooby Doo elements to have me giving this one a 6 rating, with the hopes that future novels tone down the antipathy between Velma and Daphne. Fingers crossed!

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try any of the many variations on the Scooby Doo characters on DVD in the libraries’ collection — either the animated series, or the live-action films.] [ publisher’s official The Vanishing Girl web page ] | [ Note: “Josephine Ruby” is a pen-name for a female author, coined after “Joe Ruby”, who was co-creator of the Scooby Doo, Where Are You? television series and characters. ]

See Scott C.’s review of Scoob! in the November 2020 Staff Recommendations here on BookGuide!

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


Dial A for Aunties
by Jesse Q Sutanto (Sutanto)

As I read Dial A for Aunties, I kept thinking — this book could be a movie. It has wacky characters. It has comic situations. It has a romantic plot line to boot. So when I got to the Acknowledgments, I was not surprised to discover that “Dial A for Aunties” will be featured on Netflix in the near future.

Meddeline Chan is waiting for the family curse to kick in. The men in her family either die or leave. The curse has followed the women in her family from China to San Gabriel, California. And so Meddy feels too guilty to move out and leave Big Aunt, Second Aunt, Ma, and Fourth Aunt. She abandons her hopes of a career in art photography and the college love-of-her-life to live with her Aunties and become the wedding photographer in their family wedding business with the motto, “Don’t leave your big day to chance, leave it to the Chans!” Big Aunt does the food, Second Aunt the hair and makeup, Ma does the flowers, and Fourth Aunt is the lead in the wedding band.

Sister jealousy and the generational age gap causes a good deal of comic relief. But in spite of their conflicts, the family would do anything for one another, even move a dead body. Ma arranges a blind date for Meddy. But when things don’t go as planned, her date ends up dead and the Aunties agree to help hide the body — all the while preparing for a big wedding for two rich families at a new resort island hotel. Hilarity ensues, and lo and behold the old college flame reenters the scene, creating another plot twist.

I would definitely recommend Dial A for Aunties to anyone looking for a comic, light-hearted read. It is a celebration of the fierce love a Chinese family has for one another. Plus it is the first in a new series, to boot!

[ official Dial A for Aunties page on the official Jesse Sutanto web site ]

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


Just Desserts Mystery Discussion GroupA Study in Scarlet Women
by Sherry Thomas (Thomas)

I read A Study in Scarlet Women this month by Sherry Thomas. It is the first in the Lady Sherlock Series. Here Charlotte Holmes, who has always had trouble fitting into London upper class society in the 1880s, finds herself an outcast from society and her own family. She ventures out to make it on her own, and quickly discovers it is not easy for a young lady without resources or references to find adequate lodging or employment. By happenstance she lands a job as a lady’s companion to a kind widow. This allows her to assist the authorities under the assumed name “Sherlock Holmes”.

Charlotte employs the same skills as the Arthur Conan Doyle version of Sherlock, putting together facts and clues based on simple details and appearances. Unfortunately, she must do this through correspondence. She also creates the rumor that Sherlock is in a sickbed, and acts as a “go-between” for clients and the fictitious Sherlock in another room. Other reoccurring characters are a concerned younger sister, a patient police inspector, and a love interest from her past.

This installment, A Study in Scarlet Women, features the deaths of three unconnected persons. Until Charlotte steps in, the deaths may have been deemed natural causes and unrelated. Charlotte must help the police find the killer to clear her family from involvement.

I found A Study in Scarlet Women to be a pleasant read, but lacked any page-turning elements or much action. The series rests more on the uniqueness of a female detective mastermind. Perhaps the next five installments A Conspiracy in Belgravia, The Hollow of Fear, The Art of Theft, and Murder on Cold Street — will be more dramatic. The latest in the series — Miss Moriarty, I Presume — sounds a lot more promising and will be released November of this year.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try The Gaslight series by Victoria Thompson, or the William Monk series by Anne Perry.] [ official A Study in Scarlet Women page on the official Sherry Thomas web site ]

See the Elementary (Sherlock Holmes) booklist here on BookGuide!

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


Hench
by Natalie Zina Walschots (Walschots)

I really, desperately, wanted to love this novel. I was intrigued by the concept. Hench is told from the point of view of Anna Tromedlov, a tech-savvy young woman who’s part of the workforce employed by supervillains, in a world where super-powered heroes and villains are somewhat commonplace. Being a “hench” is just a job, but can sometimes be a well-paying one. Anna is required by her employer to appear at a public event (as a token female among his henchmen), and she ends up being badly injured when an overly-muscled superhero (Supercollider) shows up to battle the bad guy and causes a lot of collateral damage.

While recovering, Anna starts to gather statistical data about others who’ve suffered as “collateral damage” when heroes’ actions proved to be highly destructive. In fact, the actions of “heroes” might even be more detrimental to ordinary citizens than the petty schemes of villains whom they oppose. Which brings her to the attention of one of the most powerful and vengeful villains (Leviathan)…who hires her to continue her research and come up with ways to harass the heroes with bad P.R.

Anna’s journey, from the near-poverty of having to scrape by on temp jobs, to brilliant mastermind of complicated strategies, in charge of an entire tech team to enact them, is fascinating. Unfortunately, though the author does a good job of showing that there are amoral “good guys” and well-meaning “bad guys” in the world of this novel, I never got to the point where I was actually rooting for Anna…her easy embrace of the villains and their objectives was disturbing. Don’t get me wrong, Walschots is an excellent writer, and this story is told very well, but I, personally, never found myself rooting for any of the characters, especially the narrator. Your mileage may vary…and, in fact, if you enjoy stories about comic-book style superheroes and villains, told in different and unique ways, you’ll actually probably enjoy Hench very much!

[ publisher’s official Hench web page ] | [ official Natalie Zina Walschots web site ]

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


Flyy Girls series: Lux – The New Girl
by Ashley Woodfolk (YA Woodfolk)

The daring and adventurous Flyy Girls attend the Augusta Savage School of the Arts in Harlem. Lux – The New Girl is the first book in a series of four. It tells the story of a young woman who has been expelled from several different schools and the Savage School of the Arts is her last chance before her father sends her to military school. She’s prone to angry outbursts and fighting, but this time she wants things to be different. Will she be able to keep her secrets as she tries to convince the crew that she fits in?

Lux – The New Girl was an enjoyable and quick read. The Augusta Savage School of the Arts (the main backdrop of the stories) is attended by a cast of interesting students who are depicted with diverse interests and families. I’m looking forward to reading Micah the Good Girl and the other books in the series.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try The Denim Diaries by Darien Lee (and others), or The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas.] [ publisher’s official Lux: The New Girl web page ] | [ official Ashley Woodfolk web site ]

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


Screening Room

formatdvdAll Creatures Great and Small (2020)
based on the books by James Herriot (DVD All)

I have been a fan of James Herriot’s “All Creatures Great and Small” for many years, beginning with the 1975 movie version with Simon Ward as the young James Herriot. Although many people will argue that nothing can replace the 1978 series by the same name, I would argue that this new British production is exceptional in many ways. The casting for this series is spot-on. I just finished reading the book and I believe that the writing and the casting for the new series are both superb. Samuel West portrays Siegfried Farnum with flair and wit; Nicholas Ralph does a wonderful job as James Herriot, especially when exasperated by Siegfried and his brother Tristan. My favorite character, however, is undoubtedly Mrs. Pumphrey, the eccentric widow played with panache by the late Diana Rigg. Harry Potter fans will want to take note of Matthew Lewis’ role as Hugh Hulton, Herriot’s rival for the affections of Helen. Matthew is the actor who portrayed Neville Longbottom in the Harry Potter series. I can hardly wait for season two of this remarkable new series!

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Herriot’s original autobiographical books, the original 1978-1990 TV series or the 1975 feature film starring Simon Ward and Anthony Hopkins] [Also available in traditional print format.] [ Internet Movie Database entry for this series ] | [ official All Creatures Great and Small (2020) web site ]

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


formatdvdNews of the World
based on the novel by Paulette Giles (DVD News)

My wife is a huge fan of the Paulette Giles novel, News of the World, upon which this film is based, and was looking forward to seeing the movie, despite it being released in 2020, during which movie theaters were closed. And, in spite of the fact that she thought Tom Hanks was miscast in the central role. So, I was pleased to see the libraries finally get the DVD, so that we could see the film. We ended up watching it the week after the 2021 Oscars ceremony, in which it was a multiple-nominee (though it didn’t take home any statues).

A grizzled Hanks stars as Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd, a former publisher who lost his business when he was called into service for the South in the Civil War. Since the war, he has made his living traveling from town to town, throughout the south, sharing dramatic readings of news stories from the many small town, big city and foreign newspapers he is able to acquire. On his travels, he comes across an abandoned pre-teen girl amidst the wreckage of another traveler’s wagon and camp. Paperwork he locates there indicates she was kidnapped as a little child, when her parents were killed, and has been raised by the Kiowa tribe — she appears not to know English, and is hostile to the concept of being returned to her surviving caucasian family members, which is her fate. Circumstances force Captain Kidd to take on the responsibility of transporting her into South Texas to reunite her with an aunt and uncle. The odd couple bond as they face multiple challenges, including bad weather, post-war prejudices, violent rogues and the loss of almost all of their traveling supplies. But they also learn that sometimes “family is more than just blood ties”.

I thought the performances were superb, including both Hanks and young German actress Helena Zengel as Johanna. Having just started to read the novel, I can see that the writer/director, Paul Greengrass, took several liberties with the original plot — condensing or excising some elements of the story to make it more cinematic. I would agree that Captain Kidd should have been played by an older less-well-known actor, perhaps someone better recognized as a “character actor,” rather than the “leading man” Tom Hanks. None-the-less, I thought this was a marvelous film, very atmospheric, and an excellent addition to the classic Western genre of film-making.

[Also available in traditional print format.] [ Internet Movie Database entry for this film ] | [ official News of the World film web site ]

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


last updated June 2021
* Please Note: The presence of a link on this site does not constitute an endorsement by Lincoln City Libraries.

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