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Staff Recommendations – November 2019

BG Staff Rec Banner

The Bennett Martin Public Library downtown maintains an ongoing “Staff Recommendations” display – Staff from throughout the library system are encouraged to submit book, audio, CD and DVD/video recommendations for items to be placed onto this display. Items on the display have bookmarks inserted, giving brief descriptions about the item’s appeal factors, and listing similar books, audios or videos that the reader might also enjoy.

This page on BookGuide is used to highlight some of the items that have appeared on our Staff Recommendations displays in the past, including our staff members’ descriptions of the books, plus links to any “official Web sites” for the books, authors or series, if they exist*. Items on both the display and on this webpage may be recent releases, or older titles that deserve another look. Hotlinks on titles or formats (downloadable audio, book-on-CD, Large Print) connect to the appropriate entry in our on-line catalog, so that you may check on the availability of the item.

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

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November 2019 Recommendations

The Testaments
by Margaret Atwood

I was in the middle of reading another book when the opportunity to read this one came along. I was hesitant, but knew it’d take a long time before I’d get another chance. So I dumped the other book and read this one. I’m SO glad I did!!! I loved this book almost more than The Handmaid’s Tale!

I really appreciated getting some background on how Gilead got its start, as well as behind-the-scenes points of view of Wives, Commanders, and Aunts. It was really just so perfect! I was worried that Atwood wouldn’t be able to pick up where she’d left off, or that it wouldn’t work well enough. I worried for no reason!!! This book was fabulous and my faith in humanity is restored! 🙂

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood.] [ publisher’s official The Testaments web page ] | [ official Margaret Atwood web site ]

See Tracy T’s review of The Handmaid’s Tale in the March 2015 Staff Recommendations

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Recommended by Tracy T.
Anderson and Bethany Branch Libraries


I Love You, Michael Collins
by Lauren Baratz-Logsted (j Baratz-Logsted)

This current Golden Sower Award-nominated youth novel is a lovely combination of humor and seriousness, told from the perspective of a 10-year-old girl writing letters to astronaut Michael Collins shortly before and during the historic Apollo 11 mission to the moon in the summer of 1969. Mamie, an unusual girl to be sure, with an equally unusual best friend, Buster, is the only child in her class to choose Command Module Pilot Mike Collins as the recipient of her letter-writing assignment. This turns into an outlet for Mamie to describe her personal and home life, and she continues writing even after school is out. Without giving too much more of the plot away, not only is it a landmark summer for the space program, but for Mamie and her family members as well. And one of the morals of the story is that every ship needs a good pilot, someone who can pick you up and take you back home after any side trips you make.

[ publisher’s official I Love You, Michael Collins web page ] | [ official Lauren Baratz-Logsted web site ]

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Recommended by Becky W.C.
Walt Branch Library


Tips at Your Fingertips: Teaching Strategies for Adult Literacy Tutors
by Ola M. Brown (374.012 Bro)

Although there is an infinity of information on the internet about teaching adults and English language learners how to read, I found this book informative and practical. I personally often find myself overwhelmed with the amount of information available on the web, so I appreciate Ola M. Brown’s survey of techniques and strategies that are useful for both the experienced tutor and the novice. Admittedly, the book is not new, but the information provided is solid and a good starting point to help a tutor with practical ideas they can use that are grounded in best practices.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Reading Reflex: The Foolproof Phono-Graphix Method for Teaching Your Child to Read, by Carmen McGuinness (372.43 McG), 200+ Proven Strategies for Teaching Reading, Grades K-8, by Kathy Perez (available via Hoopla).] [ Wikipedia page for Ola Brown (a.k.a. Ola Orekunrin) ]

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Recommended by Carrie K.
Bennett Martin Public Library


Teetotaled
by Maia Chance

Lola Woodby is one of the most delicious characters I’ve ever read about! I’m not typically a fan of mysteries… but I read the Come Hell or High Ball a couple years ago, and I absolutely fell head over heels for Lola! The stories are set in the Roaring 20s, which is a time period I love! Lola is a bit on the heavy, curvaceous side, surrounded by waifish flappers. She loves her dog more than anything. And she’s big on food and drink. So really, you could put Lola Woodby in any kind of story, and I’d enjoy reading about her. It just happens that she’s in mysteries. Lucky for me, the writing is fabulously funny and captivating!

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Come Hell or High Ball, by Maia Chance, or Mr. Churchill’s Secretary, by Susan Elia MacNeal.] [ official Discrete Retrieval Agency series page on the official Maia Chance web site ]

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Recommended by Tracy T.
Anderson and Bethany Branch Libraries


Shoot for the Moon: The Space Race and the Extraordinary Voyage of Apollo 11
by James Donovan (629.454 Don)

Among the many offerings marking the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing is this worthy volume. Being not quite 10 years old at the time and recalling watching the historic moment with my family, I’ve been browsing a variety of materials and am glad I selected this one to read from cover to cover. Meticulously researched and contextually narrated, this is an excellent and rather thorough look at the developments leading up to the successful apex of the USA’s race to be first in setting human foot on the Moon. Although it contains much technical information, a somewhat detailed background on rocket scientist Wernher Von Braun, information on all of the Gemini and Apollo missions including much of the behind-the-scenes developments, and well-known and little-known pivot points along the way, it is not a dry read. Donovan manages to make everything cohere well and be comprehensible to non-rocket-scientists. Three sections of photos add to the book’s appeal and organization of information. I found it very engaging and even page-turning. In fact, it seems amazing that despite some tragic setbacks, things went so well in the end.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Moon Shot: The Inside Story of America’s Race to the Moon, by Alan Shepard, A Man on the Moon, by Andrew Chaikin, or Rocket Men: The Epic Story of the First Men on the Moon, by Craig Nelson.] [ official Shoot for the Moon and James Donovan web site ]

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Recommended by Becky W.C.
Walt Branch Library


Moonshot: The Flight of Apollo 11
by Brian Floca (j 629.454 Flo)

This updated edition of the 2009 non-fiction picture book is suitable for low to middle grade readers but I enjoyed it as well, particularly for its attention to detail combined with a poetically flowing narrative. Thus, it could be appealing to anyone with an interest in the history of the moon missions. Bonus points are awarded for endpapers which give a graphic timeline of the stages of Apollo 11’s journey and a synopsis of how it was accomplished.

[ official Moonshot and Brian Floca web site ]

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Recommended by Becky W.C.
Walt Branch Library


Carrying Albert Home
by Homer Hickam

After reading, the The 100 Year Old Man Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared by Robert Gustafsson, I was on the hunt for another adventure journey sort of read, and I found it, and fell in love, when I found Carrying Albert Home, by Homer Hickam. From the cover with an embossed title and a happy alligator, to the silent movie style intermissions in between the “acts” of the journey, to the relationship and lack of one between Elsie and Homer, and finally the rooster who is repeatedly included for unknown reasons . . . this book felt like it was written for me.

I enjoyed the strong characters, including the critters, as well as the journey that provides a backdrop for meetings with various personalities both real and fictional, and adventures that left me wondering “Did that happen?” “COULD that happen?” We may never know. Together Elsie and Homer Sr. wrote the story of their post marital courtship, and we get to go along for the ride as their son puts it together with gentle humor.

The main character (other than the wedding-gift-alligator) is Elsie. She’s a vivacious woman, the kind of woman that everyone admires, and her husband Homer is strong, honest, handsome and hardworking, and it’s only Elsie who can’t see what a catch she has. You can’t blame her: all her life she wanted to escape the coal mining town of . . . Coalwood. It’s just too small for her. But how can you marry a coal miner AND escape the life of being a coal miner’s wife? It’s a conundrum that both Elsie and Homer try to solve on their journey to Orlando to take “Albert” home.

As Albert would say, “yeah, yeah, yeah.”

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try The 100 Year Old Man Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared, by Robert Gustafsson, or On the Bright Side: The New Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen, 85 Years Old, by Hendrik Groen.] [ official Carrying Albert Home page on the official Homer Hickam web site ]

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Recommended by Carrie K.
Bennett Martin Public Library


The Parker Inheritance
by Varian Johnson (j Johnson)

If you pick up The Parker Inheritance for a kid, be sure to check out The Westing Game (1978) by Ellen Raskin at the same time. Not only do these two books share the similarity of a riddle-filled letter with a millionaire’s inheritance as the promised prize, but the characters in The Parker Inheritance read and talk about The Westing Game during their own puzzle challenge.

In the present-day timeline, Candice and her mom have moved to her late grandmother’s house for the summer. Things start to look up when she finds out that Brandon, the boy next door, is also a voracious reader. When they exhaust their current haul of library books and go adventuring in her grandma’s attic, Candice finds a mysterious letter addressed to her. The letter promises an inheritance that will be split between the city of Lambert and the one who solves the puzzle.

To solve the puzzle, Candice and Brandon research city history, especially about critical events that took place in 1957 involving a secret tennis match between the white and “colored” tennis teams.

A good portion of the chapters take place in 1957, giving readers an immersive experience in Jim Crow era Lambert and a personal connection to the people that Candice and Brandon are learning about in yearbooks, photographs, and news articles. It’s worth looking at the physical book The Parker Inheritance because the page edges are darkened for the flashback chapters. You can also see time ripple across the cover, with Candice and Brandon riding bikes along a contemporary street that turns monochrome as it shows a scene from the 1950s. It’s a beautiful cover that rewards careful scrutiny as you read the book.

The Parker Inheritance is an authentic way to introduce the Jim Crow era to kids because–unlike some other commonly used books–it’s by a Black author and centered on Black kids, teens, and adults. It draws a line from racism in the 1950s to the racism that Black kids are still experiencing today. Colorism is clearly shown, even if the term for it isn’t used. This book doesn’t rely on shock value of the N-word, though that word is alluded to. It uses language of the time—most notably “colored” and “negro”—but lets readers know these terms are not as acceptable today.

Racial prejudice is not the only prejudice addressed in this story. In the current-day chapters, the kids experience and challenge homophobia. Some other reviewers have considered this to be “too many issues” for one book. I take strong exception to this because it would erase all queer people of color from children’s literature for having more than one degree of difference from a white/straight/male “norm.” That’s unrealistic even based on my own experience as someone who checks all the privilege boxes.

As a final note, this is not the kind of puzzle book where kids can be expected to figure it out ahead of time based on clues. There’s a *lot* going on. I was completely surprised and impressed by a key point in unraveling the mystery. But that’s okay. The story is engaging and would reward a re-read after knowing the mystery.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Escape From Mr. Lemencello’s Library, by Chris Grabenstein.] [ official Parker Inheritance and Varian Johnson web site ]

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Recommended by Garren H.
Bennett Martin Public Library


The House That Pinterest Built
by Diane Keaton (747 Kea)

I don’t “do” Pinterest… That being said, this book caught my eye because of the title and, doubly, because of the author. Actress/Director/Author Diane Keaton’s entry into the world of house-building is detailed in this coffee-table tome. Although I don’t share her particular home aesthetic/style for the most part, I still found this to be intriguing. Keaton discovered Pinterest after already having ‘flipped’ a few houses, and long after she had developed strong ideas of what her dream home would be like. The amount of material she mined on Pinterest then became her repository for fleshing out her from-the-ground-up domicile. A major part of the book is the many images from which she gleaned her ideas. Then the last one-third or so is shots of the interior and exterior elements that make up her unique, and uniquely Californian, creation.

[ publisher’s official House That Pinterest Built web page ] | [ Wikipedia page for Diane Keaton ]

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Recommended by Becky W.C.
Walt Branch Library


Looking Back: A Book of Memories
by Lois Lowry (B L9568)

Lois Lowry, author of The Giver, Gathering Blue, Number the Stars, Crow Call, and many others, presents a collection of family photos and essays about her life as a child and as a mother. She includes quotes and passages from her own writing and others, prompting one to compare and relate this album to one’s own family stories and consider how they might be preserved.

Don’t let the black and white photos put you off, this gathering of tidbits is a feast for Lois Lowry fans, and for fans of history through the eyes of a real person.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Crow Call, by Lois Lowry, A picture book tale of when Lowry’s father came back on furlough and the loving re-connection they made. Beautifully illustrated by acclaimed artist Bagram Ibatoulline. You may also enjoy other biographical tales about authors, such as: A Poem for Peter: The Story of Ezra Jack Keats and the Creation of The Snowy Day, by Andrea Davis Pinkney (j Bio Keats), or Willa : the Story of Willa Cather, an American Writer, by Amy Ehrlich (j Bio Cather), or Becoming Madeleine: A Biography of the Author of A Wrinkle in Time by Her Granddaughters, by Charlotte Jones Voiklis (j Bio L’Engle)] [ official Looking Back web site ] | [ official Lois Lowry web site ]

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Recommended by Carrie K.
Bennett Martin Public Library


The Season of Styx Malone
by Kekla Magoon (j Magoon)

The Season of Styx Malone is a book about the summertime adventures of Caleb and Bobby Gene: two brothers in a small town. It has a similar warm, nostalgic feel to the movie The Sandlot. First they get in trouble and are assigned daily chores with a boy who has a history of bullying them. Then they run into a new teenager in town, Styx Malone, who comes from a big city and seems like the coolest person they’ve ever met. Styx uses his negotiation skills to get them out of a jam. After that, the boys start working on their “elevator trade” scheme: trading an item for a more valuable item until they can trade up for a custom moped called “The Grasshopper.”

Bobby Gene has concerns that maybe not everything Styx is doing is strictly legal, while Caleb is more intent on copying Styx’s laid-back style. Older readers will realize early on that Styx is in foster care. The brothers initially believe Styx’s freedom is all up-side, but they come to realize that Styx is coping with the lack of some things they’ve been taking for granted in their much-complained-about “ordinary” life.

This is a great book that catches kids’ attention right away with shenanigans, but gives them real opportunities to improve their understanding of themselves and others along the way.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Maniac McGee, by Jerry Spinelli.] [ publisher’s official The Season of Styx Malone web page ] | [ official Kekla Magoon web site ]

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Recommended by Garren H.
Bennett Martin Public Library


Where We Find Ourselves: The Photographs of Hugh Mangum, 1897-1972
by Hugh Mangum and Margaret Sartor (779.12 Mag)

For me, it’s a delight to get a glimpse of the period in American history known as “The Jim Crow South” through the viewfinder of Hugh Mangum’s camera.

Mesmerizing individually, taken as a whole, these portraits tell the enlightening story of the people who came to have their images recorded. Mangum, in an economical solution to the expense of negative plates, often used the same negative for multiple exposures. This is fascinating for two-fold reasons: his clients were not segregated by color—here they are recorded for posterity in the order that they came to the studio, and I believe the smaller exposure area made for a quicker portrait, allowing the subject to strike a natural pose. Many of the portraits are charmingly informal.

On one plate, you will see a young black man, experimenting with different poses, different hats, with his jacket on, or off. He’s followed by another black man, also experiments with hats and “looks”. Next two white women are recorded with fancy hats, without hats, together and individually. Another plate starts with a joyful portraits of four white young women, group photos where they take turns being in front of the camera, reminiscent of a modern photo booth. They are followed by five poses of young white man, in some he’s wearing a distinguished bowler hat, in some he’s sideways, and some looking straight at the camera. The final subject on this plate is a spirited young black woman, smiling and posing playfully at the camera.

This book tells a story, not of separate water fountains and separate establishments, but the story of people who were living alongside each other. It’s a moving, spectacular witness to an age and mental geography in America that is still rife with stereotypes and assumptions.

[ page at Duke University dedicated to Hugh Mangum exhibit ] | [ official Margaret Sartor web site ]

 

See our specialized reading list The Essential Photographers on BookGuide for works by/about other noteworthy photographers

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Recommended by Carrie K.
Bennett Martin Public Library


The House Husband
by James Patterson and Duane Swierczwynksi

This 119-page, stand-alone murder mystery is told from the perspective of both the detective and the murderer. We don’t know the identity of the killer and it’s maddening that we become familiar with his thoughts and personal life but no clue yet as to who he is. Actually, there is one clue but it’s slyly presented and you miss it – I had to go back and re-read that section.

Alternating chapters give you glimpses into each of their lives and let you watch while the detective tries to solve the crimes, and the murderer plots each successive murder of an entire family.

And there’s a surprise in the middle that I didn’t expect.

A fast read (you can devour this in one evening) with suspense building in each chapter. Patterson’s BookShot books are meant to be page-turning, quick reads and this one doesn’t disappoint.

For the most part, that is. Once the crime is solved I felt it ended too abruptly. There should have been at least another short chapter. Also, I felt there were a couple of holes in the plot. But overall an attention-grabbing mystery, well-written, with a surprise ending.

[For another fast-paced mystery with a strong, female detective try The Late Show and The Dark Sacred Night, both by Michael Connelly.] [ official House Husband page on the official James Patterson web site ]

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Recommended by Charlotte M.
Bennett Martin Public Library


Screening Room

formatdvdThe Adjustment Bureau
[DVD Adjustment]

This is a story of Fate vs Free Will, starring Matt Damon and Emily Blunt.

David Norris (Damon) is running for a Senate seat for the state of New York when he has a chance meeting with a ballet dancer, Elise Sellas (Blunt). They begin to fall in love during that initial meeting, then, due to circumstances, are forced to go their own way. David only has her first name and cannot locate her.

Three years later a mysterious man (John Slattery) in a suit reminds another man in a suit (Anthony Mackie) that he’s to ensure that David spills coffee on his tie no later than 7:05 a.m. The second man doses off and is late in this task, and David accidentally meets Elise for a second time on the bus. They continue to encounter people who try to prevent their meeting. Terence Stamp plays the man you love to hate.

Fate has plans for our two main characters, which does not include them being together, but separately they reach the pinnacle of their careers. Do you fight Fate, can you fight Fate, if so, how do you go about it? Fate makes an impassioned explanation, which makes a lot of sense, for their continued interference.

There’s an exciting segment near the end as David has been shown by a sympathetic Fate how to move between locations. Watch the bonus features to learn how intricately the director had to film those moves to make it all work.

This 2011 film is based on the short story “The Adjustment Team” by Philip K. Dick, in the anthology collection “We Can Remember it for you Wholesale,” (and others) available at Lincoln City Libraries in the Fiction area under “Dick.” At only 106 minutes running time the film pulls you in to the story and moves along quickly as you try to figure out how this all is going to end.

[ Internet Movie Database entry for this film ] | [ official The Adjustment Bureau web site ]

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Recommended by Charlotte M.
Bennett Martin Public Library


formatdvdAnd Then There Were None
[DVD And]

Having just reviewed the novel And Then There Were None for last month’s Staff Recommendations page, I finally got around to watching this 2015 TV 3-part mini-series adaptation of the novel, from the libraries’ DVD collection.

The Christie estate has been very proactive in the past few years about encouraging new adaptations, for film and/or TV, of Christie’s works. The novel, And Then There Were None, is the best-selling mystery novel in publishing history, with well over 100,000,000 copies in print, and is one of the top-ten best-selling novels of all time. It has been adapted, in both accurate and highly modified forms, numerous times over the years for film and TV, but the last such filmed version was in 1989. This 2015 made-for-TV version features an all-star cast of British film and TV performers, including Charles Dance (Rebecca) as Judge Wargrave, Aiden Turner (Poldark) as Philip Lombard, Toby Stephens as Dr. Armstrong, Burn Gorman (Torchwood) as Detective Blore and Miranda Richardson as Emily Brent. The novel has gone through several edits over the years, with changes made to both the title and some of the plot elements in the name of racial and cultural sensitivity. This mini-series adapts the most recent iteration of that novel, with the setting being Soldier Island, and the ten disappearing figurines being stylized soldiers.

The plot in a nutshell — ten diverse individuals with no apparent connection to each other, all accept mysterious invitations for a week at a remote island estate. Once they are all “trapped” on the island, with no means of leaving and no means of communicating with the mainland, they discover that they’ve all been lured there on false pretenses — a recorded message accuses each of them of being guilty of at least one murder, which they “got away with” without justice being served. Immediately, what was an usual situation becomes a highly-charged tense situation.

When one of the ten dies, under suspicious circumstances, then a second, possibly by accident, the remaining eight are on edge. When a third dies violently, and they discover that the ten carved soldier figures in the dining room are disappearing one-at-a-time, they realize they’ve all been brought to a death trap — and the killer may very well be one of themselves.

The production values in this are marvelous, including set decoration, costuming, etc. The sense of claustrophobia is well done. The performances are all fine, though a few seem “over the top”. Most of the major plot points remain in place, but extremely liberties have been taken with the plot of the novel, which I found very frustrating. The reasons for the guilt of a few of the trapped individuals have been radically altered. And the methods by which some of the island’s victims meet their ends are also dramatically different from the novel. Additionally, some unneeded changes were made to some of the characters and their relationships. All of which were totally unnecessary when dealing with one of the most famous works of fiction in the English language.

So…my review score is lower than I anticipated. I give the novel “10” but this mini-series only gets a “7”. The quality of the production is, sadly, offset by the changes made to the source material. It’s still worth watching for Christie fans and others, but it’s not a very loyal translation of her work to the screen. On the other hand, if you’ve never read the novel, you may love this sumptuous production. (But read the novel!)

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try And Then There Were None (also known as “Ten Little Indians”).] [ Internet Movie Database entry for this film ] | [ official And Then There Were None page on the BBC web site ]

See Scott’s review of the novel And Then There Were None in the October 2019 Staff Recommendations

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Recommended by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library


formatdvdBarry: The Complete First Season
[DVD Barry]

My television viewing is a bit behind-the-times — I don’t subscribe to any “pay cable” or “streaming services” — I stick with traditional cable and broadcast networks. So, watching the Emmy Awards the past couple of years has been an exercise in frustration, as most of the nominated works have been on services I don’t get. On the other hand, this has also introduced me to a number of interesting shows that I otherwise might not have tried to track down, especially those that come out on DVD and which are added to the libraries’ collection.

Case in point — Barry, which airs on HBO, was created by and starring former Saturday Night Live regular Bill Hader. Barry has been nominated for Best Comedy each of the past two years (2018/2019), and cast members Bill Hader and Henry Winkler have each been nominated in the acting categories for the series, with Winkler actually winning for Best Supporting Actor in a Comedy. When I saw that the libraries had the first season of Barry on DVD, I had to try it. It’s quite the series! Season One was comprised of only eight 30-minute episodes.

While there are, indeed, some comedic elements to the show, I found it to be more of a dark and morbidly funny drama. Hader stars as Barry Beckman, a former U.S. Marine who has been working as a hitman-for-hire, managed by Monroe Fuches (Stephen Root), who also serves as a tough-love father figure to Barry. Though the people he kills are usually scummy “bad guys”, Barry’s been growing increasingly disillusioned by his career and looking for a way out. When he is sent to L.A. for a hit, he follows his target into a warehouse where an acting class is being taught by egotistical acting coach Gene Cousineau (Winkler), and Barry is accidentally roped into participating. Through various twists in the plot, Barry ends up enrolled in the acting class, while still using his deadly skills for his “day job”. In the class, Barry falls for the intense Sally Reed (Sarah Goldberg), Cousineau’s most skilled student, who’s got a raft-full of emotional issues of her own.

The humor is derived from the characters, their relationships and the odd juxtaposition of Barry’s violent job vs. his desire to leave the dead bodies behind and become a stage actor. All the cast members are superb, particularly Hader and Winkler. A wide variety of guest roles come and go over the season, and featured some particularly memorable performances.

All of which are easy to recommend. On the other hand, this is an HBO production, and therefore there are no language filters — if you’re not a fan of swearing, don’t even consider trying this show out — it will “trigger” you. If you can handle an excessive amount of “four letter words”, I strongly recommend this. But I’d never call this a comedy…it’s a drama with some comedic elements.

[ Internet Movie Database entry for this series ] | [ official Barry web site ]

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Recommended by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library


formatdvd8 Days: To the Moon and Back
(DVD 629.454 Eig)

Educational and entertaining at the same time, 8 Days is a docudrama. It takes archival video and still footage from CBS news and NASA, and recently declassified cockpit audio-recordings from the Apollo 11 capsule, and combines them with performances by three British actors as Neil Armstrong, Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin and Michael Collins, to recreate the 8-day journey of Apollo 11 from the launchpad to the the moon and back home. With 2019 being the 50th anniversary of this moon landing mission, many of the details this documentary covers may have already gotten some detailed coverage. But I’ll have to admit — though I watched a lot of other TV specials, and the Apollo 11 documentary that was released to theaters earlier this year, there were a few bits in this one that I’d never heard before, particularly the chit-chat between the astronauts as they flew. These are re-created here with the contemporary actors lip-synching (very effectively) to the original cockpit recordings!

The special effects shots of the Apollo 11 craft components in orbit around the moon add to the “magnificent desolation” that they experienced. My only complaint is that the actors who portrayed the three astronauts didn’t really resemble the actual men in any way whatsoever, so any time they were on screen, I wasn’t really sure who was playing who. Otherwise, highly recommended. It’s only 55 minutes long, and I wished it was a full two hours!

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try the documentary Apollo 11.] [ Internet Movie Database entry for this film ] | [ official 8 Days page on the BBC web site ]

 

See a number of other Apollo 11-related reviews in the July 2019 Staff Recommendations

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Recommended by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library


formatdvdFlash Gordon
[DVD Flash]

This 1980 film is one of my guilty pleasure films. It first played in theaters while I was in high school, and I saw it twice on the big screen, before buying it on VHS when that was the home video format in vogue.

The movie is a campy adaptation of the groundbreaking serialized sci-fi adventure comic strip that started in the 1930s (and continued in various forms until the early 21st century). In this film, Sam J. Jones plays Flash, superstar New York Jets quarterback, Melody Anderson is his beautiful girlfriend Dale Arden, and Topol is the eccentric scientist, Dr. Hans Zarkov. From the far distant planet Mongo, its despotic rule, Ming the Merciless (Max Von Sydow) has been using his own super-science to wreak natural disasters upon the Earth. Flash, Dale and Zarkov are snatched from the Earth and brought into Ming’s realm, where Flash must fight numerous battles, forge alliances with other kingdoms fighting against Ming (led by handsome Timothy Dalton and winged Brian Blessed), and hold off the amorous advances of Ming’s lascivious daughter Prince Aura (Ornella Muti). Meanwhile, Ming plans to take Dale as one of his concubines, and Dr. Zarkov is being help captive to assist Ming in his intergalactic plans of conquest and destruction — if he can’t have Earth, he’ll destroy it.

It is all comic-book style action and adventure, with technicolor sets and garish costumes, and outrageously over-the-top acting. And the best part is that the rock band Queen created the soundtrack, which is unforgettable!

Flash! Ah-ah
Savior of the universe!

Flash! Ah-ah
He’ll save everyone of us!

There’s really not a lot to recommend about this cheese-fest, but on the other hand, if you grew up in the 1980s, it is one of the more indelible sci-fi/fantasy film memories you can have. And that Queen music was marvelous!

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try the syndicated Flash Gordon series that ran for one season, 2007-2008, out on DVD.] [ Internet Movie Database entry for this film ] | [ official Flash Gordon web site ]

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Recommended by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library


formatdvdThe Happy Prince
[DVD Happy]

I’ve been fascinated by Oscar Wilde ever since seeing a stage production of The Importance of Being Earnest directed by my father at Nebraska Wesleyan in my youth, and then stumbling across numerous witty and biting quotes attributed to Wilde over the years. He’s a giant figure in the world of English literature, despite having only a limited selection of written works, including the novel The Picture of Dorian Gray.

The Happy Prince is written and directed by actor Rupert Everett, who also stars in it as Wilde, in the final few years of his life. Despite his superstar status as a British playwright, Wilde ended up dying destitute and nearly friendless, in a cheap Parisian hotel. Wilde lived a non-traditional life, reveling in the arts and partaking in “beauty” in whatever forms he found it. In the case of his interpersonal relationships, this means he found both women and men to be beautiful and had relationships with both genders. It was his relationship with the younger man, Lord Alfred Douglas, that led to his downfall. He was accused of being a “posing sodomite” by Douglas’ father, The Marquess of Queensbury. When Wilde sued the Marquess for slander, it backfired on him, and his relationships with Lord Douglas and other young men were brought into the public eye, resulting in Wilde being convicted of “Gross Indecency” and sentenced to two years of hard labor. While in prison, he was injured — injuries that plagued him the rest of his relatively-short life. He was also abandoned by most of his friends and supporters, and his relationship with his wife and two sons was destroyed. In order to find someplace where he would not be hounded by the ghosts of his past, Wilde settled in Paris, but was never able to revitalize his writing career. This film covers those final years in Paris, with flashbacks to some of the times of his life in England, ultimately leading to the circumstances that culminated in his death at the age of 46.

This film is sumptuous to look at — the production design and costumes are superb. The performances are all quite excellent, particularly Everett as Wilde (though at 60 he appears too old as Wilde, in my opinion). I can only give this one a lukewarm recommendation, though — the pacing is irregular, and the plot is told by jumping back and forth in time in a way that provides for little sense of cohesion. The “Happy Prince” refers to an elaborate story Wilde shares, first with his two young sons, and later with two Parisian street urchins.

The Lincoln Community Playhouse will be producing an Oscar Wilde festival, with two concurrent plays in late January and early February — Wilde’s play The Importance of Being Earnest will alternate performances with “Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde”, a play written by Moises Kaufman about the real life of Oscar Wilde and the three court trials that led to his downfall, conviction and imprisonment. [Note: Wilde (and 50,000 others) was pardoned in 2017 with the passage of “The Policing and Crime Act” (a.k.a. “The Alan Turing Law”), which decriminalized same-sex relationships in England.] [If you enjoy this, you may also wish to track down the film Wilde (1997), starring Stephen Fry as Oscar Wilde.] [Also sample Oscar Wilde’s body of work (novels, plays, essays) in traditional print and digital formats.] [ Internet Movie Database entry for this film ] | [ official The Happy Prince web site ] | [ Wikipedia page for Oscar Wilde ]

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Recommended by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library


last updated November 2019
* Please Note: The presence of a link on this site does not constitute an endorsement by Lincoln City Libraries.

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