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Staff Recommendations – November 2021

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November 2021 Recommendations

The Very Nice Box
by Laura Blackett and Eve Gleichman (Blackett)

The Very Nice Box is a contemporary office culture satire mixed with a finely characterized look at dealing with trauma. Ava is a product engineer for an IKEA-like company. Her current design project is the Very Nice Box, a large general storage box that she’d rather think about than the car accident she survived that killed her parents and her girlfriend.

Her focused life is disrupted by vandalism to her car amid environmental protests of the company, then by a hotshot new boss who is trying to inject “1000% positivity” into the workplace, which she doesn’t think is appropriate to engineering concerns. Things start to tangle farther when she develops feelings for her ever-optimistic boss. He does, after, take care of his dog: a trait Ava trusts.

This was a read that gave me strongly mixed feelings throughout, but I was completely satisfied with how it all wrapped up. Recommended especially to fans of Robin Sloan.

( official Laura Blackett web site ) ( Eve Gleichman on Twitter )


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

All These Bodies
by Kendare Blake (YA Blake)

In late 1950s Minnesota, Michael is a high-schooler who dreams of becoming a journalist. Everyone has been glued to the newspapers lately as a mysterious murder in Loup City, Nebraska happens again in Norfolk, then Sioux City and across Iowa to Wisconsin. In all cases, the bodies were cut deeply with a sharp instrument and their blood removed with none left at the scene. When the “Bloodless killings” come to their small Minnesota town, a teen girl is found at the scene, completely soaked in blood. She’s arrested as an accomplice, but she refuses to talk anyone but Michael about who the killer she was traveling with might be.

This is Michael’s chance to start his dream career, but between the Nebraska DA from Lincoln calling for the girl’s extradition and execution and the strange happenings around town, he may not have much time to find a believable truth.

One thing I appreciated about this book was the way it avoids 1950s pop culture and cloying nostalgia. It sticks to the technology of the time, but it feels like a novel set in contemporary times, as it would have been for the narrator. As you may already suspect, this book was directly inspired by the Starkweather killings, but it’s not a historical rendition. I do expect Young Adult fiction readers across the nation will be taking a renewed interested in that history since the author talks about it in the notes at the end. This book was un-put-downable for me.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try In Cold Blood by Truman Capote.)

( official All These Bodies page on the official Kendare Blake web site )


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

hooplaDiana: The Musical
by Joe DiPietro and David Bryan (Hoopla Music)

Few members of the British royal family have engendered such love and attention in our lifetime as the ill-fated Princess Diana. This stage musical features book and lyrics by Joe DiPietro (Memphis, Nice Work if You Can Get It) and music and lyrics by David Bryan (also Memphis). Diana: The Musical‘s story is the life arc of Diana Spencer from her first introduction to Prince Charles, at a formal event, through the years of their courtship/marriage/divorce, to her untimely and tragic demise.

Unlike feel-good princess-centered fairytales, Diana: The Musical tells her story with honesty and emotion, highlighting the complicated relationships between her, Charles and Camilla Parker-Bowles, with the rest of the royal family as a backdrop — Queen Elizabeth II is another major role in this musical. the songwriters don’t shy away from controversy, choosing to portray some elements in that messy family which are scandalous, and others which have been accusations over the years but have never been proven.

Diana: The Musical was one of the victims of COVID-19 shutting down Broadway. However, the producers had the foresight to record a performance of the production, which has been available for viewing on Netflix. The show returns to live Broadway performances again in November 2021, and the soundtrack is available for purchase on CD. The libraries have the soundtrack available only through out Hoopla digital service. Jeanna de Waal is spectacular as Diana. Judy Kaye gives a heartfelt performance as Elizabeth II. Erin Davie as Camilla and Gareth Keegan as James Hewitt are good in supporting roles. Unfortunately, for my taste, Roe Hartrampf is poorly cast as Charles — his singing voice is much higher-pitched than the actual Charles, and that threw me out of the world of the play any time he sang. Royal apologists have attacked Diana: The Musical as bending the truth beyond acceptable levels, but I felt these songs told an emotional and engaging story, which gibes with my memories from the years that Diana was in the public spotlight. Your mileage may vary.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Andrew Morton’s biography, Diana: Her True Story.)

( official Diana: The Musical web site )


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

My Lovely Wife
by Samantha Downing (Downloadable Audio Downing)

Edge of my seat the whole time — I did NOT see it coming! I love books like this, where it’s more thriller than outright mystery. Good stuff!

In a nutshell, a married couple finds a new, interesting way to keep the spark in their marriage alive. Nothing wrong with that, right? Except that in keeping their marriage alive, random women in the area keep dying!

( official Samantha Downing web site )


Recommended by Tracy B.
Anderson and Bethany Branch Libraries

Batman ’66 Meets Mr. Steed and Emma Peel
written by Ian Edginton with art by Matthew Dow Smith (YA PB (Graphic Novel) Edginton & Hoopla Digital)

I’ve been following the Batman ’66 comic books (and their graphic novel compilations) for several years now. Batman ’66 tells retro comic book stories in the style and tone of the late 1960s Batman TV series, which starred Adam West and Burt Ward as the dynamic duo. That TV series featured a philosophizing and sermonizing Batman, who was as likely to make speeches to the villains as to hit them. And when it did come to fisticuffs, there were plenty of silly “POW!”, “BAM!” and “BANG!” sound effects balloons superimposed over the action. The comic book recreation perfectly captures this somewhat innocent and straightforward approach — ignoring the darker tone that Batman has taken in the past 50 years, as epitomized by the graphic novel The Dark Knight, and all of the films from 1989’s Batman to the present.

One of the most enjoyable things about Batman ’66 is that the writers and artists have teamed up Batman and Robin with other late-1960s and early-to-mid-1970s cultural icons. I’ve previously enjoyed their meetings with Wonder Woman ’77 (a similar comics venture styled after the Lynda Carter TV version of Wonder Woman), the spies of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and The Green Hornet and Kato. This 2017 Batman ’66 Meets Mr. Steed and Emma Peel graphic novel collects a six-issue storyline that crosses Batman and Robin over with TV’s original The Avengers — John Steed and Emma Peel. The story starts with an attempted robbery by Catwoman in Gotham City, of the famed White Diamond (on loan from the U.K.) — a robbery foiled by Steed & Peel, rather than Batman (who is attending a gala as Bruce Wayne). The caped crusaders share intelligence with Steed & Peel, and realize that an old Avengers foe — the cybernetic Cybernauts (and a vengeful operator behind them) — are in league with Catwoman, Mr. Freeze and Lord Ffogg — three of Batman’s arsenal of enemies. Batman and Robin must travel to Jolly old England to assist John and Emma in breaking up this cadre of evil and stop their pernicious plans.

Lots of fun, reasonably good art work, and enjoyable dialog very reminiscent of the original Batman TV series. Should appeal to fans of both franchises!.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try all the other Batman ’66 titles available through the libraries by a variety of creative teams. The libraries do NOT have all Batman ’66 titles, but there are quite a few in the collection!)

( Wikipedia page about Batman ’66 ) | ( Batman ’66 page on )

See Scott C.’s review of Batman ’66 Meets The Greet Hornet and Kato, in the March 2016 Staff Recommendations here on BookGuide!
See Scott C.’s review of the 1966-1968 Batman TV series, in the June 2017 Staff Recommendations here on BookGuide!
See Scott C.’s review of Batman ’66 Meets Wonder Woman ’77, in the June 2019 Staff Recommendations here on BookGuide!


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

Scored to Death 2: More Conversations With Some of Horror’s Greatest Composers
by J. Blake Fichera (Music 781.542 Fic)

Last year, I recommended the original Scored to Death volume that J. Blake Fichera originally published in 2016. It remains one of the best resources for anyone who might be interested in film scoring (and especially horror and sci-fi movies) as a career path, featuring extensive interviews with 12 of the most important composers of the genre. After the first book was published, he became more active in the horror film community through social media, hosting a Scored To Death Podcast since 2018 that feels like an extension of the original book. Now Fichera is back with 16 fresh interviews in the same conversational and wide-ranging style. Like the first book, composers represented here are a mix of those who have created some classic soundtracks, such as Richard Band (Re-Animator, Puppet Master), and folks new to the scene who are bringing fresh perspectives to the discipline, like Rob (a.k.a. Robin Coudert) (Gretel & Hansel).

Scored to Death 2 will surely be inspirational for those who aspire to write music for movies themselves. Although the focus is of course on horror films, much of the advice given here is universally applicable to film scoring. As just a short example, I especially liked Bear McCreary’s (The Walking Dead, Outlander) observations here about what role music plays in film: “I think the function of music in film — and this might be reductive, obvious, and maybe not even the right answer — is to do the sum of what everything else cannot. It’s the subtext, it’s what’s missing. It’s that added suspension of disbelief.”

But like the first volume, I think this book will also have great appeal for those who are simply fans of horror films, or fans of film music in general. These composers are all huge film buffs and soundtrack fans themselves, and their conversations overflow with enthusiasm and love for their work.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Scored to Death: Conversations With Some of Horror’s Greatest Composers by J. Blake Fichera or Sounds of the Future: Essays on Music in Science Fiction Film by Mathew J. Bartkowiak.)

( official Scored to Death web site )


Recommended by Scott S.
Polley Music Library

The Crime Buff’s Guide series
by Ron Franscell and others (various)

Between 2010 and 2017, true-crime writer Ron Franscell, sometimes working with additional researchers, published a series of 8 volumes called “The Crime Buff’s Guide to…_____”. Entries covered Los Angeles, Texas, Washington DC, Pennsylvania, The Rockies, The Southwest, Arizona and New Mexico. The libraries have available the Rockies volume in paperback, and the Southwest and Los Angeles volumes as eBooks.

Each volume follows a similar pattern — the books are broken into chapters, either geographically or thematically. The Rockies volume, for example, has chapters on The Denver Metro Area, The Colorado Front Range, The Colorado Western Slope, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and the Wild Bunch, and a final chapter on Wyoming. Each chapter starts with a map, covering the wide area of all the crimes that follow. The crimes covered range from relatively recent to historical, mostly murder but also sometimes bank robberies, major fraud and disappearances. Each crime (or series of crimes) receives its own set of pages — starting with the physical address and GPS coordinates to locate it, where a crime took place, followed by a description of the crime in question — ranging from simplistic to very detailed. Most entries then also include photo illustrations — pictures of the victims, the killers, the grave-sites, the buildings where murders took place, etc.

There are occasional sidebar articles, related to the main focus articles, and Franscell includes booklists that feature titles readers can track down for additional information on many of the cases he includes. As the series grew, he tended to re-use entries from earlier volumes in the later volumes, when there were thematically-appropriate reasons (even if occasionally tenuous).

If you’re a true crime “buff” and would like to learn tidbits about a LOT of different crimes in the areas covered, rather than exhaustively researched full books on individual crimes/criminals, this is definitely a series to sample — the 5 volumes not owned by the libraries can be borrowed through InterLibrary Loan. (Disclaimer: One of my best friends was Franscell’s co-author on the Pennsylvania entry, and she has shared many discussions with me about how much research goes into compiling volumes like these. Believe me…it’s a lot!)

(The true crime section in all Lincoln City Libraries locations is generally under 364, with murder cases being 364.152, in case you’d like to browse for additional reading material. Also, a new library-sponsored book group — Once Upon a Crime — started meeting once a month at the Gere Branch library this Fall. Check out the link for their upcoming schedule and monthly focus topics.)

( official Crime Buff’s Guide page on the official Ron Franscell web site — sadly, the series has been discontinued )


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

Hanged at Auschwitz: An Extraordinary Memoir of Survival
by Sim Kessel (940.531 Kes)

This is the true story of Sim Kessel, a Jewish Frenchman, and member of the French Underground for two years before the Nazis captured him and sent him to Auschwitz.

As the title indicates, he really was hanged but something went wrong with the rope and he survived. He also avoided being executed by handgun and via the gas chamber. As Kessel writes, “…survival boiled down to pure luck, the result of successive tosses of the dice. Each lucky throw granted a few days’ reprieve, or at most a few weeks…And so to be a survivor of Auschwitz is really nothing to boast about. In that hell there was no survival of the fittest. Intelligence, courage, knowledge, vitality, the desire to live — all counted for nothing…common misery reduced everyone to the same level, erasing all values, breaking down all wills…life or death depended on the whim of soldiers and kapos.”

Kessel begins his book with the story of his capture, and provides a riveting narrative of his two years at Auschwitz. He doesn’t gloss over the horrors but neither does he provide a constant stream of blood and gore. I can’t say I enjoyed this book (as one would enjoy a pleasurable activity), but rather found it compelling and hard to put down. His was such a fascinating story that I put aside all my other books to concentrate on this.

I wish he had provided more of a background of himself and his family prior to WWII, and an epilogue of his life and recovery — physical, mental, and emotional — that he writes could not have happened without his family. I wanted a short bio of his life after the war but he ended the story so abruptly telling us, “A few hours later, I was finally able to rejoin my family in their temporary home at Villeparisis. And then my true rehabilitation began, for without them, I would never have recovered my enjoyment of life.”

Regardless, this story will stay with you, and I highly recommend this book.


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

The Last Interview and Other Conversations
by and about various individuals (Biography _____ )

I first stumbled across early entries in this The Last Interview and Other Conversations series a few years ago, and enjoyed reading the Ray Bradbury and Kurt Vonnegut entries when they came out. Subsequently, I’d lost touch with the series, until stumbling across several newer volumes (Fred Rogers, Marilyn Monroe, Ruth Bader Ginsburg), and I recommended that the libraries purchase additional entries. As of late 2021, the Lincoln City Libraries now own 8 of the 35+ volumes that have been published by Penguin Random House to date.

Each volume, which is focused on someone significant who has passed away, opens with an essay by that volume’s editor. This is then followed by reprints of anywhere from 4 to 5, all the way up to 9 or 10, interviews conducted with the individual in question over the course of their career. The final reprinted interview in each book is also literally the final interview that the focus individual was ever a part of in their lifetime.

Unlike the experience of reading a full-fledged biography of each individual, which can give you in-depth understanding of their lives, this reading experience is more of a detailed snapshot of the subjects, at varying times in their lives — summing up their thoughts and experiences in their own words.

Of the first 35 volumes in this series, there are a lot of writers, musicians, politicians, artists and performers represented. Some I’ve known a lot about, while others I’ve known almost nothing about. But these Last Interview books have really broadened my knowledge about each person who has been featured, without committing to full biographies.

Highly recommended. The libraries currently have volumes on: Fred Rogers, John Lewis, Shirley Chisholm, Frida Kahlo, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Ray Bradbury, James Baldwin and Kurt Vonnegut. Additional volumes exists for the following — consider getting them through InterLibrary Loan, or suggesting them as purchases for the library: Prince, Diego Maradona, Janet Malcolm, Johnny Cash, Marilyn Monroe, Toni Morrison, Graham Greene, Anthony Bourdain, Billie Holiday, Julia Child, Kathy Acker, Christopher Hitchens, David Bowie, Jane Jacobs, Nora Ephron, Ernest Hemingway, Lou Reed, Hannah Arendt, Robert Bolano, Ursula K. LeGuin, Hunter S. Thompson, Martin Luther King, J.D. Salinger, Philip K. Dick, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Jorge Luis Borges, David Foster Wallace and Oliver Sacks. I’ve enjoyed this series enough that I’ve purchased the Bradbury, LeGuin, Rogers, and Monroe volumes for my personal collection.

( publisher’s official The Last Interview web page)

See Scott C.’s review of the Ray Bradbury entry in this series, in the February 2015 Staff Recommendations here on BookGuide!


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

by Alex McElroy (McElroy)

the_atmospherians by Alex McElroy caught my eye with its cover that looks like a social media post with water drops on it. What I found was a story of two friends with recently failed careers trying to start a rural cult to rehabilitate toxic men. As you might guess, this doesn’t go smoothly.

For me, the broad-level plot was catching at first, floundered a bit midway, and then had a strong finish. The best value in this story, however, is in the satirical bits and pieces and very lovely turns of language throughout. This would make a great book for book club discussion simply because so many aspects of gender are talked about and referenced. It’s difficult to tell where the author themself stands, but maybe diving in and exploring these ideas was the point. It’s a weird book that embraces its own weirdness.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try The Incendiaries by R.O. Kwon.)

( official the_atmospherians page on the official Alex McElroy web site site currently offline )


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

Just Desserts Mystery Discussion GroupDevil in a Blue Dress
by Walter Mosley (Mosley)

When the library’s Just Desserts mystery fiction discussion group chose the Easy Rawlins series by Walter Mosley for their October 2021, it gave me the opportunity to try a series I had previously not appreciated. I had read the 4th Easy Rawlins mystery, Black Betty, over a dozen years ago, and not enjoyed it. But this time, I started with the very first entry in the series, Devil in a Blue Dress, and I was astonished at how much I enjoyed it.

Devil in a Blue Dress introduces us to Ezekiel “Easy” Rawlins, a black laborer in 1948 Los Angeles, originally from Texas. Easy served in WWII but as this novel begins, he’s had a financial setback and is in danger of losing the mortgage on his house — a house that, though simple, is still his life’s dream. Because of this, he finds himself hard pressed to turn down the offer to help a mysterious white man, who wants to hire him to find a missing white woman. Ultimately, he agrees, which sets him on a dangerous path that is ultimately to lead to multiple deaths, deceit, seductions, betrayals and sacrifices. Racial and class distinctions form a big part of the stories featuring Easy, and that’s especially true in this first volume — but there’s heroism and villainy amongst the members of all groups that are encountered here. This is part noir, part amateur detective, and part historical fiction.

Easy is a fascinating character, and one I found easy to grow to like. He is surrounded by a colorful collection of supporting characters, both friends and enemies, the most distinctive of which is his brutal little friend “Mouse”, who will come to play an integral part in later volumes in this series. This was supremely well-written, with an incredible sense of place and plotting. Highly recommended!

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try the rest of the Easy Rawlins series, as well as the many other series that Walter Mosley writes.)

( Wikipedia page for Devil in a Blue Dress ) | ( official Walter Mosley web site )


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

Mortality and Music: Popular Music and the Awareness of Death
by Christopher Partridge (Music 781.64 Par)

Music plays a complex and lifelong role in so many of our lives, and that relationship often extends to the very end of life and beyond, as we use music to celebrate those who we have lost, or to help us work through our grief. Many literary and musical forms exist for this purpose: the funeral march, the dirge, the requiem, the threnody, the lamentation, the elegy, sounds of the oppari, ululation and keening, and from the opposite kind of perspective, the murder ballad tradition

As its title suggests, Mortality and Music: Popular Music and the Awareness of Death by Christopher Partridge explores this ongoing relationship between music and our collective sense of mortality. The musical focus here is on relatively contemporary popular music, and Western pop music at that. As we learn in the introduction, Partridge chose the modern era for this survey because our cultural conception of and exposure to death has shifted in the modern era, particularly in Western countries. That is to say that historically, when we all lived shorter lives and modern medicine wasn’t so modern, everyone was still exposed more directly to death. Death happened all around us then, relatively speaking, and now it more often happens behind the walls of hospitals or care facilities. And when you’re not exposed to something as frequently, it becomes more mysterious. So we should see new dimensions in our musical relationship to death, or the way mortality is represented in music, as our exposure to death changes.

I don’t envy anyone trying to organize a book around such a difficult subject. Partridge handles this by breaking up the book into different cultural conceptions of death, more or less: the sacred versus the profane, our cultural conceptions of the undead or immortal, violence and death in transgressive art, and devotion and myth-making around departed musical celebrities. These kinds of divisions end up being handy because different kinds of musical contrasts fit into them nicely. The first of five sections, called “Mortality and Immortality,” serves as a bit of an historical overview of that shift in our cultural exposure to death that’s changed in the modern era, as alluded to in the introduction. While it’s not an exhaustive survey, you will find some references to historical literature and historical music, and how they reflected the relationship to death held in previous eras, which is a useful comparison. I’m glad he took a chapter to further establish this shift, because it seems like one of those situations you really have to think about — it’s hard to “feel” it, per se. Just like it’s difficult for us to really hear old monophonic plainchant music the way it was originally heard — our ears are too trained to listen for the implications of harmony and chords — it’s hard to imagine living in previous eras where everyone is dead around 40 years of age, some even younger. As Partridge reflects, “Death has shifted from the center of Western culture, where it was accepted as a natural part of everyday life, to its edges, where as far as possible, its grotesque reality is excluded from peoples’ minds.”

So how is this shown in our music? It’s hard to summarize such a nuanced book, which goes on to discuss many perspectives on mortality found in modern music, but broadly speaking, we address death as something philosophical or symbolic, mostly. We play with it, contrasting it with sex, another extreme in human experience. Sometimes when it seems like we’re engaging with it more directly in transgressive forms of art and music, it still turns out to function mostly symbolically, as the “transgressive” or “profane” must frame its dialogue in the language of the more commonly-held morality, or “sacred.” It’s a fascinating read — I hadn’t thought about the relationship quite like Partridge presents it here, but he makes a compelling argument. And while doing so, he weaves lots of popular music styles into the narrative, from goth rock to death metal to indie rock to punk to hip hop and more. I feel like there are a few weaknesses in the book — in particular the audience appeal and demographic for genres like death metal and gangsta rap aren’t fully understood by the author, by my estimation. Those issues aside, there is a lot of substance to wrestle with here.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Singing Death: Reflections on Music and Morality edited by Helen Dell and Helen M. Hickey or Opera’s second death by Slavoj Žižek.)

( Wikipedia page for Christopher Partridge )


Recommended by Scott S.
Polley Music Library

Hidden in the Mix: The African-American Presence in Country Music
by Diane Pecknold (Music 781.642 Hid)

There’s been a meme going around recently that lists a number of music genres with origins in black culture: “Blues came from black culture, jazz came from black culture,” rock n roll, funk, soul, disco, hip hop, house, and so on. The country music genre isn’t part of the list, and country is often discussed in terms of having come from folk music origins that trace mostly back to Western Europe.

But the truth is more complicated. A good portion of what made country music unique from its European folk counterpart is how it absorbed influences from black musical forms in the United States. Some of these were stylistic — blues music and jazz are obvious influences on country music, for example. Even musical instruments were absorbed from black culture: the banjo is a uniquely African-American invention, developed as a refinement of some West and South African instruments like the kora and the akonting.

In Hidden in the Mix, edited by Diane Pecknold, we find a collection of 12 great essays that look at the foundational influence of black music on the development of country music, the continued relationships between later forms of black music like soul and hip hop with more modern styles of country, and the experiences of early African-American country music performers as they navigated musical scenes and eras that were often hostile to their participation. Here we can learn about the history of artists like Arnold Shultz, a guitarist whose style was pivotal to the development of bluegrass music, and Fiddlin’ Bill Livers, known as the last African-American old-time fiddler from Kentucky, who suffered horrible racist attacks in childhood but grew up to be a dynamic entertainer who could bring white and black crowds together.

In the early days of the recording industry, we learn about the marketing of so-called “race” and “hillbilly” records, and how there was substantial participation by black artists in the “hillbilly” music of the time. On the more contemporary side of the spectrum, Adam Gussow’s essay “Playing Chicken With the Train” explores the trend of hip hop/country crossover tracks, a phenomenon that has become even more popular in the years just after this book was published, with tunes like the massive Lil Nas X hit “Old Town Road.” All told, this is a great book that presents a solid overview of the black influence on country music between its many well-researched essays. There’s a great bibliography at the back of the book for further reading on the topic, too.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Segregating Sound: Inventing Folk and Pop Music in the Age of Jim Crow by Karl Hagstrom Miller, or Country Soul: Making Music and Making Race in the American South by Charles L. Hughes.)

( publisher’s official Hidden in the Mix web site )


Recommended by Scott S.
Polley Music Library

The Darkness Outside Us
by Eliot Schrefer (YA Schrefer)

What do you get when you take the enemies-to-lovers trope, a murderous space ship AI, and the premise of the game “Among Us” and put it into freeze-dried space ready smoothie? Eliot Schrefer’s The Darkness Outside Us.

This book had been on my radar already for a while — an LGBTQ+ representative science fiction novel is right up my alley. However, when the book became the center of a controversy involved with a local literary festival, it jumped to the top of my to-be-read list. With action, romance, and a mid-point twist worthy of the best sci-fi thrillers, The Darkness Outside Us stands out for much more than its place in the center of a censorship controversy.

Ambrose Cusk is more than just the prodigal son of one of future Earth’s two remaining nations — he’s the champion for humanities future. Chosen to go on a rescue mission to save his sister, Minerva, from her failed mission to colonize Pluto, Ambrose is hoping to not only save his family but the hope of mankind as well. Along with him on his mission is a representative from the other of Earth’s nations, a mysterious boy his own age named Kodiak. Though they’ve never met, they’re expected to live and work together in a joint effort to save Minerva and the planet’s future. Of course, things don’t start off well, with Ambrose waking up after being comatose from an accident with the ship’s launch and Kodiak refusing to communicate. Slowly, the two boys come together and begin to get to know each other with the help of the ship’s AI guiding them to complete essential tasks to ensure the success of their mission.

But all is not as it seems (after all, if things went according to plan, we’d have a much shorter and far less interesting book). After a few solid chapters full of relationship building, cute almost-dates eating freeze dried space food, and emotionally charged backstory reveals, we take a sharp twist from a budding romantic enemies-to-lovers space romcom to a heart-pounding thriller complete with existential dread, a murderous AI, and timorously unraveling mental states (for both the characters and the reader). This book had me on the edge of my seat for the majority of the second half, and the pay-off was more than worth the rise in blood pressure. Eliot Schrefer ends on a refreshingly hopeful note that doesn’t cheapen any of the tension or twists.

Schrefer’s writing is enrapturing, with a tone that is engagingly straight forward supported by the perfect juxtaposition of exhilarating fast paced action and slow, heart pounding tension. While the setting is contained almost entirely on the two main character’s space station, Schrefer builds the single setting into an entire complex world full of tantalizing details and easy to miss clues that delightfully reveal themselves as the novel goes on.

Plus, there’s an adorable helper robot. I love a little robot in any context.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try 2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke, The Martian by Andy Weir or Interstellar, a film by Christopher Nolan.)

( official The Darkness Outside Us and Eliot Schrefer web site )

The Darkness Outside Us was a book up for discussion at a recent Let’s Get Books Together book group meeting at the Gere Branch.
Check out this library-sponsored LGBTQ+ book group’s upcoming titles on their schedule at this link.


Recommended by L.G.
Gere Branch Library

The Mystery of the Moon Tower
by Francisco Sedita (jPB Series Sedita)

The Mystery of the Moon Tower is a good choice for students third through fifth grade who enjoy adventure, travel, and mystery and prefer a graphic novel. New kid Kyle is enrolled in a Pathfinders summer camp by his mother as a way to get to know friends before school starts. He is quickly thrown into a group with four other kids his age, each one with a strong personality trait. Kyle is good at drawing. Beth is good at history. Harry loves magic. Victoria may be a cheerleader but she is a math whiz. And Nate likes to invent stuff. The group is sent out on a Pathfinder scavenger hunt of sorts, following a map and looking for special tiles to find a camp “treasure.” But the kids go above and beyond what is expected and end up searching for the real treasure left behind by the camp’s Pathfinder founder, to possibly help his great niece come up with the money to save the castle, the land, and the camp. At first I was not really impressed by the graphic novel. There is little to no character development, so you aren’t very attached to any of the characters. They are also pretty one-dimensional, each fitting a role in their team. However, I did find that the mystery of the Pathfinders, the Moon Tower, and what happened to the treasure to be pretty intriguing by the time I got to the end of the book. And the mystery is not solved in the end, leading the way for additional books in a series.

Although I wouldn’t say this is a must-read, it is a good option to encourage reading in elementary-aged readers who enjoy graphic novels.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Investigators by John Patrick Green or Oh My Gods! by Stephanie Cooke.)

( publisher’s official The Mystery of the Moon Tower web site ) | ( official Francisco Sedita web site )

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

Roll With It
by Jamie Sumner (j Sumner)

This current-year Golden Sower nominee chapter book is an honest and hopeful portrayal of a young teen girl who is wheelchair-dependent due to having cerebral palsy. Ellie (her preferred nickname) is also a child of divorce whose father usually finds excuses not to visit her, including having a baby with his new wife. And her grandfather suffers from Alzheimer’s disease. Other than that she is a typical baking-obsessed, independent-minded nerd/outcast. When her mom decides to extend their holiday visit to “Mema” and “Grandpa” in order to help out, Ellie finds herself with two new “trailer park” friends, a gym teacher who is also a great physical therapist, and the will to persist and excel by being who she is.

( official Jamie Sumner web site )


Recommended by Becky W.C.
Walt Branch Library

Taste: My Life Through Food
by Stanley Tucci (Compact Disc Biography Tucci)

The story of actor Stanley Tucci’s life growing up in an Italian family in New York state, where meals were family recipes handed down for generations. We learn his family history, the history of the dishes they prepared, and the story behind dishes – and cocktails – he sampled in restaurants.

We follow him through his youth, career, friends, the death of his first wife, his courtship with his second wife (Felicity Blunt), his friends, both restauranteurs and actors, and much more.

Well-written with humor and recipes throughout the book. I’m not a Foodie but I thoroughly enjoyed this book on CD, even as he read aloud the recipes. Being an actor, he was qualified to read his own book (not many authors can). Also available as a physical book, so Foodies may wish to grab a physical copy of the book to write down the recipes.

( publisher’s official Taste: My Life Through Food web page ) | ( Wikipedia page for Stanley Tucci )


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

Ruby’s Sword
by Jacqueline Veissid (jP Veissid)

This book is for all those little sisters who continually get left behind. Ruby’s brothers always race ahead of her and won’t include her in their adventures. As she is left trailing her brothers once again, she happens upon three perfect sticks — no, they are swords! She imagines the swords could make for great quests. She is quick to share her discovery, but yet again her brothers won’t let her join in their sword play.

Instead of feeling sorry for herself, Ruby goes off on her own adventure: battling cloud dragons, harvesting apples for hungry squirrels, and assisting ants across a stream. And then it happens. A sheet blows off the drying line and Ruby catches it with her trusty sword. An idea takes shape. Ruby uses her sword as a tent pole and makes a shelter for herself and her animal friends. This time the brothers want in. But not so fast. First they have to bring her “honorable offerings” such as rocks, dandelions, and even their swords. Together the three siblings turn Ruby’s meager tent into a magnificent castle with three sword peaks. And finally they find an adventure they can experience together.

Ruby’s Sword is a sweet picture book, beautifully illustrated by Paola Zakimi. It teaches the lesson that our best adventures are the ones we make for ourselves. Don’t follow someone else’s path, blaze your own trail.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try I am the Storm by Jane Yolen, or My Papi Has A Motorcycle by Isabel Quintero.)

( official Ruby’s Sword page on the official Jacqueline Veissid web site )


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

Screening Room

formatdvdBlithe Spirit
based on the novel by Noel Coward (DVD Blithe)

Having been a long-time fan of Noel Coward’s witty farces, and having enjoyed Dan Stevens in a few other roles in the past few years, I was looking forward to this version of Coward’s Blithe Spirit, with Stevens as put-upon author Charles Condomine. Surprisingly, this 2020 production has very little “oomph”, and coasts along solely on the limited charms of its primary cast members.

The plot, in a nutshell — Condomine is a 1930s British novelist, charged with writing the screenplay adaptation of one of his own novels. Only…he’s hit a brick wall, creatively, and is facing looming deadlines for his work. He has the brilliant idea to invite a spiritualist, Madame Acarti (Judy Dench) to his own home for an-person display of her prowess (and based on her recent public shaming, he believes her to be a charlatan), but things go horribly awry and Acarti is successful in summoning the spirit of Condomine’s first wife, Elvira (Leslie Mann), back from the dead. In the five years since Ruth passed, Charles has remarried to Ruth (Isla Fisher). It turns out that Elvira (who only Charles can see) inspires Charles to successfully start writing again…in fact, she dictates the story to him, without getting any credit for herself. Elvira then plots to get Charles killed, so he’ll be hers again…for all time. Wacky paranormal shenanigans ensue.

The performances are fine, but there’s a sense of the lackluster to this version of the story. There is a sense of lushness to the look of the film, with gorgeous sets, terrific costumes, and great music. But, it all just feels a little bit…empty. At least that was my feeling…maybe you’ll enjoy it more!

(Also available in a variety of other formats.)

( Internet Movie Database entry for this film ) | ( official Blithe Spirit web site )


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

(DVD Maudie)

Pristine characterizations and stellar performances by Sally Hawkins, Ethan Hawke and the other cast members distinguish this 2016 movie, based on the life of Canadian folk artist Maud Lewis. If I had know quite how loosely based it was on actual circumstances before watching it, I might not have been as moved as I was. Nonetheless, it is an evocative, touching, infuriating, redeeming story of a small woman with a magical talent for art and a mighty will to persevere. I wasn’t aware of Maud until watching this, so for that alone, I’m glad. Born with some deformities, Maud also developed rheumatoid arthritis but had been taught piano and painting by her mother when she was a girl. After her parents’ deaths, her older brother cut her off completely. In an effort to support herself she answered an ad for a housekeeper posted by a local fishmonger. In short order she moved into his tiny house and they were married. Her physical ailments prevented her from being very effective at cleaning but she soon began painting flowers, birds, and other decorations on the inside and outside of the house. This developed into a cottage industry of producing postcards and paintings on various types of boards and selling them to neighbors and passers-by for nominal sums. Her work is distinctive for its bright colors and cheery and nostalgic themes, primarily with a backdrop of her Nova Scotia environs. Maud remained humble and shy but sweet and optimistic even though she and Everett barely subsisted while she lived. Sadly, her husband was even more of a cad than he is portrayed in the film. Gladly, however, their little painted house was preserved and installed at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia in Halifax.

( Internet Movie Database entry for this film ) | ( official Maudie Facebook page ) | ( Canadian Encyclopedia Entry on Maud Lewis )


Recommended by Becky W.C.
Walt Branch Library

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

I am generally not a fan of Tom Hanks, but this movie was superb, mainly because of Hanks’ acting abilities and the depth of the story presented. The story is set five years after the Civil War in rural Texas. Poverty is the norm and everyone is hurting as they try to rebuild their lives and their villages. Captain Jefferson Kidd travels across the country bringing news to areas without access to what is going on in the rest of the world. While traveling across the plains of Texas, he runs into an abandoned child, a 10-year-old German girl who was raised by the Kiowa people after her parents were killed. The girl only speaks Kiowa, so Captain Kidd and the girl have to learn how to communicate with one another. The girl, Johanna, is being transported across Texas to her only living relatives, an aunt and uncle, also of German descent. It falls to Captain Kidd to transport her to her aunt and uncle. Through many trials, both Captain Kidd and Johanna learn things about themselves and their need for each other as they heal from the tragedies in their past.

(Also available in traditional print format.)

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try The Patriot starring Mel Gibson, Hacksaw Ridge starring Andrew Garfield, or Harriet starring Cynthia Erivo.)

( Internet Movie Database entry for this film ) | ( official News of the World film web site )

See also: Scott C.’s review of this film in the June 2021 Staff Recommendations here on BookGuide!


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

last updated September 2023
* Please Note: The presence of a link on this site does not constitute an endorsement by Lincoln City Libraries.