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Staff Recommendations – May 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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May 2021 Recommendations

The Heap
by Sean Adams (Adams)

The Heap turned out to be a thriller, though a weird one. It’s also a book about experimental sociology. A mega high-rise that housed a small city worth of people has collapsed and there’s a dig effort to rescue the radio DJ who is somehow still broadcasting from somewhere down in the rubble.

Between the chapters about the dig effort and the looming threat of violence (that I feel is worth mentioning because the cover sure doesn’t shout “thriller”), there are 2-3 page short stories about life in the building before the collapse. I expected to be annoyed by the interruptions, but I enjoyed every one of these glimpses into the society that developed inside the building. You could even read all of them in a row and have a nice experience apart from the main post-collapse storyline.

I recommend this book to readers who like a strong mix of food for thought and thrills.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try John Henry Days or Apex Hides the Hurt both by Colson Whitehead.] [ publisher’s official The Heap web page ] | [ official Sean Adams web page at the HarperCollins website ]

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


What Ollie Saw
by Joukje Akveld (jP Akveld)

How do you see the world? Your view is a lot more fun if you have an imagination. What Ollie Saw is a sweet story about Ollie, but not his older sister! Ollie is a little pig who perceives the world as an entertaining place. His bossy sister, however, thinks it’s really boring.

When the pigs go out to have “Family Time” with their mom and dad, Ollie’s sister is uninterested by the sights around them. But not Ollie. While she sees boring old cows, Ollie sees dangerous bison who have sharp horns and hooves. Even in school Ollie uses his imagination. A’s on the chalkboard become birds flapping around with pointy noses.

And so his teacher — and mother — and father — and sister — insist that Ollie get glasses. But now when he wears his glasses, cows look like cows. A’s look like A’s. Are the glasses better they ask? “Well no,” he says. At least, not if he doesn’t wear them all the time.

What Ollie Saw offers a whimsical look at what life can be like if only we are willing to use our imagination. It’s well worth the read.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Milo Imagines the World by Matt De La Pena.] [ official English-language Joukje Akveld web site ]

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


Anxious People
by Fredrik Backman (Compact Disc Backman)

I’ve been a fan of the novels of Swedish author Fredrik Backman (in English translation, of course), since my wife introduced me to A Man Called Ove several years ago, and ended up loving both Beartown (a One Book — One Lincoln finalist) and its sequel Us Against You. And I’ve particularly enjoyed listening to the audiobook versions of his work — most often narrated by voice actress Marin Ireland. Anxious People is the the latest, having been released in late 2020.

Anxious People is a meandering story about different personalities in conflict. When a bank robber’s attempts to rob a bank for a very small amount of money go awry, the robber escapes into what they think is an empty apartment in a nearby building. Only…it’s not empty. There’s an apartment showing going on with several prospective buyers — and a very odd hostage situation quickly develops. The group of hostages (and the bank robber) are all quirky personalities, with unexpected conflicts, as are the father/son pair of local cops who want to solve the hostage crisis before the big city police specialists come in to take over the case.

Backman’s laid-back writing style allows the plot to just sort of wander around, back and forth in time, from one group of characters to another. And, I’ll admit, I wasn’t as engage by it for the first 80% of the book, as I usually am by his novels. But he does a masterful job of pulling all the seemingly loose plot threads together and creating a unified story by the end. And I ultimately did enjoy this one — just, perhaps, not as much as the other Backman books I’ve read or listened to so far. Still, a good read, and Ireland does a terrific job creating unique and different voices for all the many characters.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try other Fredrik Backman titles, particular as audiobook adaptations!] [ official Anxious People page on the official Fredrick Backman web site ]

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


Stolen: Five Free Boys Kidnapped Into Slavery and Their Astounding Odyssey Home
by Richard Bell (306.362 Bel)

I saw Stolen on the New Book Display at the library and thought it sounded fascinating. I am familiar with books about the Underground Railroad in the 1800s, but had never heard of the “Reverse Underground Railroad,” which was traffic between the northern states and southern states which resulted from the kidnapping of free blacks in the north who were forced to march to southern states to be sold as slaves there in the slave market. Many of these children and adults never saw their families again. Using newspaper articles, court documents and first-hand accounts of these events, the author has produced a marvelous story that documents this time in history and the atrocities that occurred to tear apart black families all in the name of greed. Richard Bell uses meticulous research methods to present the story along with historical photographs and maps. I highly recommend this book.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Twelve Years a Slave by Solomon Northup.] [ official Stolen book page on the official Richard Bell web site ]

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


Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen: Who Killed Jimmy Olsen?
by Matt Fraction (writer) and Steve Lieber (artist) (YA PB (Graphic Novel) Fraction)

Growing up and reading comic books in the 1970s, I fondly remember the wacky adventures that were had by “Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen”, in which the freckled, redheaded ace photographer for Metropolis’ Daily Planet newspaper would find himself in the most outrageous situations. But he could just push a button on a special wristwatch he wore, and Superman would be alerted that his little buddy was in need of super-assistance.

This graphic novel is a compilation of a 12-issue limited series that was published in 2019-2020, which attempts to capture that same “wacky” sense of adventure and outrageous humor in the modern comics-publishing era. The story bounces back and forth in time, with numerous flashbacks and flashforwards. Time periods range from the history of Metropolis before it became Metropolis, generations ago, to the current era. The story is told in small bits and pieces, and most of them open with a over-hyped splash page, which treat each part of the story as an installment in a serialized adventure.

The writing is…enthusiastic and challenging, and the art ranges from excellent to “what was he thinking?”. The storyline is peopled by a cast of crazy and surrealistic characters. Batman and Superman (and Lois Lane) make guest appearances, in a plot in which someone appears to assassinate Jimmy Olsen, and he must go into hiding and on the run, to stay one step ahead of his enemies — only he doesn’t know who it is that’s out to get him! Could it be Lex Luthor? Or the intergalactic jewel thief Jimmy accidentally married? Or someone he ticked off in Gorilla City? Or somebody closer to home?

If you’re a long-time comic book fan, with an extended knowledge of Jimmy and his history in the DC comics universe, this is likely to appeal to you. If you’re only tangentially aware of Jimmy Olsen, this is NOT the story to try to learn about him for the first time. In the end, while I did ultimately enjoy this, overall, though I felt like I got a case of whiplash being yanked back and forth between multiple plot threads in multiple time periods. It was an interesting comic book experiment, even if not 100% successful!

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try the original Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen from the 1960s and early 1970s, with art by Jack Kirby] [ Wikipedia page for Matt Fraction ] | [ official Steve Lieber web site ]

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


Dream Catchers, POPS the Club Anthology
by Amy Friedman (and others) (YA PB (Non-Fiction) Friedman)

In the United States mothers and fathers go to prison at troubling rates. One of every 12 American children, more than 5.7 million kids under age 18, have experienced parental incarceration at some point during their lives. (https://www.sentencingproject.org/publications/6148/) It’s an issue that hadn’t crossed my radar until I picked up Dream Catchers, POPS the Club Anthology. I was attracted to the essays because of my interest in first person views of the childhood experience.

The authors, poets and artists in this anthology have parents or family that are incarcerated and they are striving to find their own ways to deal with this pain in their lives. They share their resilience and wisdom through pieces about navigating change and overcoming adversity.

One of my favorite essays is by John Rodriguez, who shares how he feels when slips out of his house at night and how his art is an escape from the negative factors in his world. Another favorite is by Julian Izaguirre, who invites us to paint our own version of his life, and challenges us to use the tools he’s been given to paint a different picture than what we assume. The poem Visiting Day by Kei’Arri McGruder, is poignant and heartbreaking. So many of these pieces deserve deep consideration. We often assume that childhood is carefree, when in reality so many children are experiencing things that are nearly impossible to fathom.

Dream Catchers is the seventh volume produced by POPS clubs. It is a fascinating lens into the lives of teenagers with incarcerated parents. As with any compilation of material by teenagers, there’s a range of polish in the works, but the depth of feeling is consistent all the way through.

For more information on POPS Clubs: https://popsclubs.org/.

[ publisher’s official Dream Catchers web page ]

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


A Perfectly Good Guitar: Musicians on Their Favorite Instruments
by Chuck Holley (Music 787.87 Hol)

This is an engaging book of short interviews with 46 guitar-playing artists from a wide range of backgrounds. Some are well-known performers, while others are studio musicians and journeyperson-type players who work with many artists as support musicians. Most interviewees have enjoyed long musical careers, during which many start to gravitate toward one or two particular guitars over years of playing. This book asks them to riff about those favorite instruments: where they came from, why they love them, what kinds of music they’ve been inspired to play with them. There’s quite a variety of guitars represented: some are well-loved vintage guitars, lap steels from the dawn of electrified instruments, or handmade acoustics designed to perfectly fit their hands. But sometimes their favorite guitars turn out to be more sentimental in nature. Maybe they’re inexpensive or common instruments, but they take their owners back to the place where they were first inspired to become musicians. Sometimes they’re reminded of dear friends who gave these instruments to them, or who used to own them and have since passed on.

That’s the real beauty of A Perfectly Good Guitar: ultimately it’s not about the guitars at all, but the relationships and musical growth they represent. At the end of the day they’re simply tools, even when we ascribe a little mystical mojo to certain instruments. What’s really happening is these guitars remind their owners of the mojo that’s been inside of them all along.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try The Strat in the Attic by Deke Dickerson (in print) or The Strat in the Attic 2 also by Deke Dickerson (but only as an E-book).] [ publisher’s official A Perfectly Good Guitar web page ]

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Recommended by Scott S.
Polley Music Library


The Vision: The Complete Collection
by Tom King (writer) and Gabriel Hernandez Walta (artist) (YA PB (Graphic Novel) King)

This graphic novel compiles the 12 issues of the monthly comic-book series Vision (from 2015) into a single volume. With the recent popularity of the limited-run TV series WandaVision on Disney+ (which I, admittedly, have not seen), the character of The Vision, from the Marvel Comics continuity, has been more popular than ever before.

An artificial life form, created by the Avenger’s enemy, the robotic Ultron, The Vision was designed to destroy that superhero team but rebelled against its evil creator and set out to forge its own destiny. Though The Vision was destroyed in the recent Marvel Cinematic Universe film series, in the comics, he continues to exist. This series covers a period after his relationship with The Scarlet Witch has ended, in which The Vision wishes to have a family of his own — so he creates a wife and two children. But not all is well in the perfect world he has created. In fact, lots of bad things happen and this is the story of that downfall.

Excellent writing and superb art, in a depressing storyline. Highly recommended for fans of Marvel Comics and the fascinating character The Vision — just don’t expect an uplifting and feel good narrative.

[ official Vision: The Complete Collection page at Marvel.com ] | [ Wikipedia page for Tom King ] | [ Gabriel Hernandez Walta on Instagram ]

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


The Last Bookshop in London: A Tale of World War II
by Madeline Martin (Martin)

Recently I have been on a kick reading historical fiction, especially World War II fiction, and I was pleased to see this new book by Madeline Martin. I wasn’t disappointed. The Last Bookshop in London not only vividly depicts what it must have been like living day-to-day during World War II, but also how books help us grow, explore new places, and continue to find hope.

The story begins in August 1939 when a young woman, Grace Bennett, moves to London with her best friend Viv. After her mother passed away Grace had been living with an unkind uncle and his family, taking care of his shop in the small town of Drayton, Norfolk. But now she is setting off to London for a fresh start with her mother’s friend Mrs. Weatherford and her son Colin. Because her uncle refused to write her a letter of recommendation, Grace is grateful that Mrs. Weatherford has lined up a job for her at a small local bookshop, Primrose Hills Books, where she can work and earn a recommendation letter.

But when she shows up the first day for work, it’s not what she expects. The shop is dusty. Books lie everywhere, many are still boxed in the back room. There is no semblance of order. And the bookstore owner, with his nose constantly buried in a book, tells her he doesn’t want her assistance. Lacking courage, Grace returns home dejected. However, the job details are quickly ironed out by the strong-willed Mrs. Weatherford and Grace begins her six-month temp job for Mr. Evans. Grace whips the shop into shape, cleaning out the grime, putting books in order, and creating attractive displays. Not a reader herself, Grace gets ideas on how a bookshop should be organized after visiting the prime book shops on Pasternoster Row.

And into the story walks George Anderson. Intelligent and attractive, they hit it off. But then Great Britain goes to war. He is called up as a pilot before they can go to tea. But he leaves her something, The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas. And it changes her life forever. She becomes locked in the book’s grasp and she discovers what it is like to be transported to other places and live the lives and experiences of other people without leaving home. Grace then turns that new love into her work at the bookstore: reading books, recommending books, and helping others in London find that same escape from their troubles through reading.

Throughout the book, Grace invests herself in her new community, becoming an Air Raid Precautions (ARP) warden to help during blackouts, then bombings. She reads to fellow Londoners in the local shelter to create a distraction while the bombs drop and the city burns. And when Primrose Hill Books becomes “the last bookshop in London” she even offers other bombed book stores an opportunity to sell their undamaged wares.

The author doesn’t overdo it in terms of describing the blood and gore, but she also doesn’t leave out the hardships of war. Characters you come to love in the book fall victim to bombs and fires; and as an ARP warden, Grace isn’t spared the sights of these horrors. In order to keep calm and carry on, she attempts to pack those experiences in a neat box, locked tight and set in a dark, dark corner of her mind where someday she will carry them like scars.

I enjoyed and would recommend The Last Bookshop in London because it vividly depicts through imagery and storytelling how it felt to live during wartime in London — how it felt to keep losing everything but yet to carry on. I especially enjoyed the message that hope and a new beginning can always be found for those who look for it. And the book will also strike a chord with avid readers who remember how it felt to discover their first book love.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try The Lilac Girls by Marsha Hall Kelly, The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah or Light in the Ruins by Chris Bohjalian.] [ official The Last Bookshop in London page on the official Madeline Martin web site ]

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


A Wealth of Pigeons
by Steve Martin and Harry Bliss (741.5 Bli)

In his introduction, stand-up comedian, artist and musician Steve Martin describes the origins of this collaboration — despite his success in so many creative fields, Martin had never attempted to express his humor through printed comics. As his mental notebook of possible comic strip ideas continued to grow, he asked colleagues to connect him with an artist who might be willing to collaborate — enter Harry Bliss, acclaimed New Yorker single-panel cartoonist.

The two creative types “clicked” and began working together to create this collection, with the idiosyncratic title A Wealth of Pigeons. Sometimes, Martin would create an intriguing and thought-provoking one-line caption, and Bliss would create art to match. Sometimes, Bliss would have a quirky piece of art but no caption to attach, and Martin would respond. And sometimes, they just spit-balled together.

The result is an incredibly wry, quirky, and very humorous collection.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try The Ten, Make That Nine, Habits of Very Organized People. Make That Ten: The Tweets of Steve Martin by Steve Martin or any of the various New Yorker Cartoons collections by a variety of artists.] [ publisher’s official A Wealth of Pigeons web page ] | [ official Steve Martin web site ] | [ official Harry Bliss web site ]

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


How to Hold Animals
by Toshimitsu Matsuhashi (636.083 Mat)

This brand-new, tiny hardbook addition to the libraries’ collection is an English translation of a 2015 book intended for Japanese readers. Author/photographer Matsuhashi works with a pet shop owner, a veterinarian and a reptile shop owner, to create a series of 36 short guides to the best/safest ways to manually handle a variety of common (hamsters, dogs, cats, ferrets) and uncommon (cockroaches, scorpions, crayfish, geckos) animals. Definitely aimed at a Japanese reading audience — many of the animals included are common to Japan, and often end up as pets in Japanese households, but not might be as well-recognized here in the U.S.

Each of the guides in How to Hold Animals features very specific text descriptions of how to pick up and hold the type of creature, with (usually) helpful illustrative photos. Each guide features small sidebar “datafiles”, giving the size, origin and natural habitats (in the wild) of each animal. Some guides offer more than one example of a subspecies — for example, the guides for dragonflies and butterflies show how to hold 5 or 6 different varieties of each, and several different types of snakes are included.

Some of the chosen animals, you may be thinking to yourself “why would I ever want to hold one of these?” Matsuhashi goes to great lengths to suggest scenarios in which you might have to hold them, or explain to others how best to safely hold such a creature. This is a light, simple read, filled with simple, useful information for anyone who’s adventurous around animals. Don’t expect detailed care guides for the included animals, but if you’ve ever wondered what the best way to pick up a snapping turtle, sugar glider, hedgehog, prairie dog or monitor lizard is, this fun little book will give you the basics!

[ publisher’s official How to Hold Animals web site ]

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


Murder at Melrose Court
by Karen Baugh Menuhin (Menuhin)

This book originally caught my eye on the New Mysteries display with the description “Downton Abbey meets Agatha Christie with a dash of Wodehouse.” It didn’t disappoint.

Major Heathcliff Lennox served as a pilot during World War I, and is now quite content to spend his days shooting birds at his manor house and playing golf, surrounded by his dog and staff. He’s to leave soon for Melrose Court to spend the holidays with his remaining family — his uncle, the eighth Lord Melrose, and his cousin, Edgar Coleman.

But before he leaves, a dead man turns up at his door and the police inspector is determined to find Heathcliff guilty of the murder. And when Heathcliff finally receives permission to head out for Melrose Court, there he finds other surprises – both good and bad. Turns out it’s a houseful at the manor, with of course more mysterious murders and naturally he’s also a suspect here.

A classic 1920’s murder mystery at Yuletide in England with humor tossed in for good measure. British all the way in the behaviors of the characters, the slang, and the murder investigation. I could feel Christie’s ghost in the writing style.

Murder at Melrose Court is the first book in the Heathcliff Lennox series. At this point the library does not own the other five titles. Books #2-5 are available through Inter-Library Loan, book #6 was just published last month and at this time no libraries report owning it.

[ official Murder at Melrose Court page on the official Karen Baugh Menuhin web site ]

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


Finding Home
by Esteli Meza (jP Peza)

This quick and easy read, about Conejo looking for his home that has recently blown away, is about the importance of friendship during our most difficult times. A few of his friends each try to help him find his house, but when it cannot be found, they offer gifts of the heart and other mementos. This book is in English, but the characters’ names are the animals’ names in Spanish. This book does not rush or abandon the grief process, but instead shows how being a caring friend can help carry a friend through traumatic circumstances. This reminded me of many other books I have read that deal with social-emotional concepts for children. It is a very valuable addition to our library.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try The Rabbit Listened by Cori Doerrfeld, The Lion and The Bird by Marianne Dubuc, May I Come In? by Marsha Diane Arnold, Shelter by Céline Claire, Thanks to the Animals by Allan Sockabasin, Rabbityness by Jo Empson, “I Have a Little Problem,” Said the Bear by Heinz Janisch or My Friends / Mis Amigos by Taro Gomi.] [ publisher’s official Finding Home web site ] | [ semi-official Esteli Meza web page ]

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Recommended by Naomi S.
Eiseley Branch Library


Stella’s Stellar Hair
by Yesenia Moises (jP Moises)

This book has a cover of a brown-skinned girl with big, curly hair. We can also see a few outlines of stars and a little dipper constellation on the cover. This story is set in our solar system with a few planetary facts that complement Stella’s great head of hair. Since Stella has a gala to attend today, she wants her hair to be perfect for the event. Her mom encourages her to visit her aunts, who live on other planets, to see if they can give her the perfect hairdo. Although I wouldn’t necessarily use this to teach about our solar system, I think what it says about the way hair acts in different environments could definitely help a young child understand that their hair is perfect and normal no matter how different it looks from day to day. As a curly-haired reader, I found this book to be very lovely.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Hair Love by Matthew Cherry, Sulwe by Lupita Nyong’o, Bedtime Bonnet by Nancy Amanda Redd, Cool Cuts by Mechal Renee Roe, Super Hair-o and the Barber of Doom by John Rocco, Mommy’s Khimar by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow or Crown by Derrick Barnes.] [ official Yesenia Moises web site ]

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Recommended by Naomi S.
Eiseley Branch Library


Talking Guitar: Conversations With Musicians Who Shaped Twentieth Century American Music
by Jas Obrecht (Music 787.87 Obr)

As you’ll likely guess from the book title, former editor of Guitar Player magazine Jas Obrecht has interviewed a range of guitar players who have worked in blues, rock and pop idioms, asking them to dig deep into their love for the instrument. There are some crucial interviews featured here by folks who are not well-known but are essential to the status of the guitar in American music culture, like Nick Lucas, who recorded a couple of the earliest solo guitar singles ever to be released back in the 1920s, or Pops Staples, who recorded gospel, soul, and pop albums starting in the pre-rock and roll 1950s. Some of the more well-known guitarists here have since passed on, like Jerry Garcia, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and Eddie Van Halen.

These are unique interviews compared to the more general questions these artists are typically asked for magazine and newspaper interviews, and you’ll get more personal insights relating to how these artists express themselves through the guitar, as well as their deep love for guitarists who came before them. As a cool bonus, this book also features a CD that has audio clips taken from each of the interviews in the book — considering that many of the featured artists do most of their talking through the guitar, it’s fun to hear them talk about the instrument with their voices, instead.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Texas Flood: The Inside Story of Stevie Ray Vaughan by Paul Alan, Jerry on Jerry: The Unpublished Jerry Garcia Interviews by Jerry Garcia or Strange Beautiful Music: A Musical Memoir by Joe Satriani.] [ publisher’s official Talking Guitar web site ]

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Recommended by Scott S.
Polley Music Library


The Birth of Loud: Leo Fender, Les Paul, and the Guitar Pioneering Rivalry That Shaped Rock and Roll
by Ian S. Port (Music 787.87 Por)

This is a great book that delves into the early development of the electric guitar, and a popular favorite at Polley for the last few years. The narrative focuses primarily on the history of the two companies who were first to initiate mass-production of electric guitars in the 1950s: Gibson and Fender. The two continued to dominate the electric guitar market throughout the first decades of rock and roll, and their rivalry led to continued innovation. We’re treated to a peek behind the manufacturing curtain at the personalities involved in inventing and perfecting instruments the likes of which had never been seen before.

It’s an epic story that has an archetypal folk tale kind of feel, with new ideas coming from a startup Fender company, who suddenly find themselves in competition with the established and respected Gibson. Fender focuses on invention, bringing the first solidbody electric guitar to the market, followed not long after with the first electric bass. Then Gibson moves into the solidbody electric world with what they advertise as more luxurious instruments, built by experienced luthiers using the best woods and upscale appointments like carved tops. Both companies quickly realized that success would come not just from their designs, but also from attracting well-known artists from the burgeoning blues and rock and roll scenes to play their instruments, as the modern concept of celebrity started to gain traction in the early days of rock and roll. In the end, you might say that everyone was a winner, as great artists played great instruments that changed the music the course of music history.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try 60 Years of Fender: Six Decades of the Greatest Electric Guitars by Tony Bacon or The Gibson Les Paul: The Illustrated History of the Guitar that Changed Rock by Dave Hunter.] [ official The Birth of Loud page on the official Ian S. Port web site ]

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Recommended by Scott S.
Polley Music Library


The Wonder Twins: Activate and The Wonder Twins: The Fall and Rise of the Wonder Twins
by Mark Russell (writer) and Stephen Byrne (artist) (YA PB (Graphic Novel) Russell)

The Wonder Twins are characters who were introduced into the world of DC Comics back in the late 1970s. Originally created as supporting characters in one of the incarnations of the Saturday morning cartoon, The Superfriends, which starred all the main DC heroes — Superman, Flash, Aquaman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, etc.

Jayna and Zan were twins — sister and brother — from an alien planet, and had super powers which only became active when they fist-bumped and shouted “Wonder Twin Powers — Activate!” Jayna could shapechange into any animal, and Zan could shapechange into any form that water could take. In their cartoon TV series appearances, they were often comic relief — especially as they were accompanied by their pet space monkey, Gleep!

Over the years, the characters have made various appearances in DC comic books, establishing them as part of the DC universe beyond that cartoon show. However, their “origins” have been reinvented several times. In 2019, writer Mark Russell and artist Stephen Byrne started a six-issue limited series that re-established their place in current DC comics heirarchy — they are alien visitors, immigrants, currently working as interns for the Justice League in the “Hall of Justice”. The initial 6-issue mini-series was a hit and expanded to a 12-issue maxi-series. Both halves of that series were released as trade paperbacks.

The writing in this extended story is very humorous and pokes a lot of fun at the decades these characters have spent as “second bananas”. But, at the same time, a serious story is being told, addressing issues of racism, identity, “social justice” and how easy it is to manipulate the public. The artwork is clean and sharp and distinctive. I really enjoyed these two graphic novels, and am disappointed to know this is not an ongoing series.

[ Wikipedia history of The Wonder Twins ] | [ Wikipedia page for Mark Russell ] | [ official Stephen Byrne Instagram ]

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


The Least Interesting Place
by Matt Steinhausen (978.2 Ste)

What a hoot! And gorgeous, to boot — speaking of which, boots on fenceposts have their own 2-page spread. This is a book which I wish I had written. Nebraska farmer and amateur historian and photographer Steinhausen has put together a satirically loving tribute to Nebraska, ranked 50th of 50 in the states which people want to visit… The skill, knowledge, affection, and eye for the prairie aesthetic he shows in this deservedly large-format photo book are impressive. Aside from all the tongue-in-cheekiness, there are many tidbits of historical and geographical information included. As a native of Nebraska myself, I thoroughly enjoyed it and think it could be a great marketing tool. 😉 Not only is Steinhausen 6th-generation Nebraskan but he lives ‘right here’ in Lancaster County, in which the capital city, Lincoln, is located!

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Nebraska: An Illustrated History by Frederick C. Luebke, Along the Edge of Daylight: Photographic Travels from Nebraska and the Great Plains by Georg Joutras, Nebraska Impressions by Steve Mulligan, Abandoned Eastern Nebraska: Rural Wandering by Nicole Renaud, Abandoned Nebraska: Echos of Our Past by Trish Eklund or Nebraska: 150 Years Told through 93 Counties by David L. Hendee.] [ official The Least Interesting Place Facebook page ] | [ Nebraska Photography page on the official Matt Steinhausen web site ]

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Recommended by Becky W.C.
Walt Branch Library


More Than Love: An Intimate Portrait of My Mother, Natalie Wood
by Natasha Gregson Wagner (Biograpy Wood)

A book of love, and pain, and mystery, and discovery — this is the story of Natalie Wood, one of the biggest Hollywood stars of the second half of the 20th century, from the late 1940s through the 1980s, as recounted by her firstborn child. Natalie’s given name was Natasha and, so, she named her first daughter after herself. It was indicative of not only the very close bond they would have for the first eleven years of Gregson Wagner’s life but also the devastating loss of that relationship due to Natalie’s death in 1981. To be expected, much of the content includes Natalie’s first — and also third! — husband, actor Robert Wagner. The main focus, though, is what a devoted mother Wood was to her children and stepchildren, especially Natasha, and how her “little Natooshie” came through years of heartache to be able to be her own person and more fully appreciate her mother’s legacy, as well as her immediate and extended families, eventually having her own blended family. I especially wanted to read this biography because Wood (nee Gurdin) is one of my very favorite American actresses, and her death was such a strange tragedy. When visiting Los Angeles about 25 years ago I was surprised and moved to discover that her handprints and footprints at the famous Chinese Theater are an exact fit to mine.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Natalie Wood: A Life by Gavin Lambert, Carrie and Me by Carol Burnett, Unsinkable by Debbie Reynolds or My Girls: A Lifetime with Carrie and Debbie by Todd Fisher.] [ publisher’s official More Than Love web site ] | [ Wikipedia page for Natasha Gregson Wagner ]

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Recommended by Becky W.C.
Walt Branch Library


Race Against Time: The Untold Story of Scipio Jones and the Battle to Save Twelve Innocent Men
by Sandra Neil Wallace (j 305.8 AfrYw)

This gripping youth non-fiction work focuses on righting an injustice: the fact that many do not know the story of Scipio Jones, a formerly enslaved and self-taught lawyer, or how he came to champion the cause of a dozen men unfairly arrested and condemned to die. This enlightening work delves into part of American history leading up to, and surrounding, the Elaine, Arkansas massacre of 1919, as well as a man who refused to give up in the face of adversity and racism at great personal cost and peril.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice by Phillip Hoose or I Am a Man: Chief Standing Bear’s Journey for Justice by Joe Starita.] [ official Race Against Time page on the official Sandra Neil Wallace web site ]

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Recommended by Meagan M.
Walt Branch Library


Screening Room

formatdvdBlazing Saddles
by Mel Brooks (DVD Blazing)

Blazing Saddles is a parody western, released in 1974. The film was directed by Mel Brooks and is considered one of his masterworks — alongside Young Frankenstein and The Producers. Blazing Saddles was ranked #6 on the American Film Institute’s “100 Years…100 Laughs” list. It was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry in 2006.

All of which is offered as preface to say that Blazing Saddles is a well-regarded comedy film, BUT it is also one of the most outrageous, offensive and insensitive films ever released. Personally, I can’t recommend it highly enough — I find it to be one of the funniest films every to appear on the big screen, but I know many viewers with more sensitive tastes who don’t find it appealing.

As mentioned, Blazing Saddles is a western parody — it mercilessly and incessantly pokes fun at every last western film tradition. Set in the “Old West” era, Cleavon Little stars as Bart, a black man rescued from execution from a trumped up case to serve as the new Sheriff of Rock Ridge — an assignment the corrupt attorney general Hedley Lamarr (Harvey Korman) believes will cause the citizens to eventually leave town, allowing him to buy up the land in advance of a railroad line coming through. The townspeople are, indeed, shocked to have a black man as their new sheriff, but surprisingly, Bart proves resilient, and with the help of a retired gunslinger Jim (played by Gene Wilder), also know as the Waco Kid, law and order begins to assert itself in Rock Ridge. Seeing his simple plans thwarted, Lamarr sends multiple assassins after Bart, but each is won over by the sheriff, including Mongo (Alex Karras), a horse-punching strongman, and Lili Von Shtupp (Madeline Kahn), a saloon-singing femme fatale.

Blazing Saddles, alongside The Princess Bride, is probably one of the most quotable “cult favorite” films ever made. If you can tolerate filthy language and casual yet pointedly mocking racist terminology, this film is unforgettable. If that sounds like it’s out of your comfort zone, you’ll probably want to avoid this. This is probably one of the best examples of “Love it or Hate it” out there!

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try other films from Mel Brooks, including Young Frankenstein, or The Producers.] [ Internet Movie Database entry for this film ]

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


formatdvdHal Holbrook: Mark Twain Tonight
a one-man stage show featuring Hal Holbrook (not currently in the Lincoln City Libraries’ collection — I strongly encourage you to try our InterLibrary Loan service to get this one!)

From 1954 until his retirement in 2017, American actor Hal Holbrook was forever linked to the role of Mark Twain, in the one-man show he originated in 1954 at the age of 29. Based on the extensive fiction and essays of legendary American writer Samuel Clemens, who took on the “stage name” of Mark Twain, this show varied from performance to performance, depending on Holbrook’s whims on each performance night. Holbrook as Twain was a favorite of variety show host Ed Sullivan, who brought him on show repeatedly, which increased public interest in the traveling one-man show. Holbrook eventually won a Tony Award for Best Leading Actor in a Play for the one-year stint that Mark Twain Tonight appeared on Broadway.

This recording is of a CBS television recording/airing of the show, produced in 1967, for which Holbrook received an Emmy Award nomination. I enjoyed this one very much — Holbrook’s performance as Twain is simply uncanny. The show is broken up into three acts, in between which Holbrook takes a brief intermission. In the first act, Twain shares some personal recollections about his own life and the people he knew and interacted with. The second and third acts draw directly from Twain’s printed tales, including The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. I’ll have to admit, Twain seems like a senior with memory problems in the first act — lots of pauses and searching for what he means to say. But the remaining two thirds of the show, he is on fire.

If you are a fan of the works of Twain, or of the performances of Holbrook in other productions, this is an unforgettable show. I really wish the Lincoln City Libraries had this in our collection. Since we don’t, I strongly urge you to seek it out as an InterLibrary Loan request. It’s worth the $2.50 request fee through our ILL service! Otherwise, you can can find clips of Holbrook as Twain on YouTube.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try any of the works of Mark Twain (a.k.a. Samuel Clemens), or any of the other films or TV series starring Hal Holbrook.] [ Internet Movie Database entry for this film ] | [ 3-hour video interview with Hal Holbrook for the Television Academy Foundation ]

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


formatdvdSoul
(DVD j Soul)

Soul is the latest Pixar animated film produced for the Walt Disney film studio. It was released in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic — to streaming platforms like Disney+ initially, and to DVD and BluRay in 2021.

Soul is a quirky little heartfelt film, that explores the worlds of live-performance music, and the goal of identifying what your life’s purpose is. Joe (voice of Jamie Foxx) is a middle-aged jazz musician, who’s never achieved his goal of performing jazz live, but instead is a teacher, looking for new talents in his endless stream of kids seeking personal music lessons. When Joe lucks into being hired for a temporary gig performing with a legendary jazz musician/singer, he’s on cloud nine. And then he accidentally steps in an open manhole and falls…seemingly to his death. He next finds himself in a mysterious, nebulous zone which is a crossover point, both for souls leaving the physical world and moving onto whatever comes next, and for new souls needing to be assigned new bodies to begin their journey on Earth.

Encouraged to “move on” to his next stage, Joe instead finds a loophole that might allow him to return to his body on Earth, and the life he desperately wishes to continue — he has to help a problematic new soul to discover their purpose and move into the physical realm. The only problem is #22 (voiced by Tina Fey), who has spend thousands of years avoiding finding their true purpose. Joe and #22 both end up on Earth, but not in ways that do either of them any good. What follows is a comical adventure, featuring mistaken identities, role reversals, humor and touching looks at life and relationships.

I can’t say Soul is one of my all-time favorite Pixar films, but it is certainly solid and well-made, with exception voice work from Foxx, Fey and the supporting cast. The story could have used some tightening, and for being the first Pixar film focused on a central Black character, too many opportunities seemed squandered. None-the-less, Soul is an entertaining film, with a spectacular soundtrack — it won for Best Picture and Best Original Soundtrack in this year’s Academy Awards ceremony just a few weeks ago.

[ Internet Movie Database entry for this film ] | [ official Soul web site ]

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


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

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