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Staff Recommendations – October 2020

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

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October 2020 Recommendations

Things My Son Needs to Know About the World
by Fredrik Backman (Biography Backman)

Backman is perhaps best known for his prose fiction, starting with A Man Called Ove, and including such recent bestsellers as Beartown and its sequel Us Against You.

In Things My Son Needs to Know About the World, Backman offers up a series of interconnected personal essays (hence it is cataloged as a biography in the libraries’ collection), all connected to the theme of sharing his adult wisdom with his young son. Each chapter is one long essay, paired with a series of humorous side notes. The titles of the chapters may be somewhat accurate, but Backman goes off (seemingly) on tangents with each one — “What you need to know about motion-sensitive bathroom lights”, “What you need to know about stuff”, “What you need to know about why that Felicia girl’s mother hates me”, and “What you need to know about when I hold your hand a little too tight”, for examples. Backman’s writing in this book is both hilarious, yet poignant. Wise, yet self-deprecating. Absurdist, yet at times almost gut-wrenching in its honesty.

I really didn’t know what to expect when I picked up this short volume (193 pages), but in the end, I found this to be very touching, and I laughed at it more than any other book I’ve read in the past few years.

Highly recommended, especially for anyone interested in exploring parenthood issues from a dad’s point-of-view.

[If you enjoy this, you may also enjoy anything else written by Fredrik Backman, but be aware that most of his other writings are far more serious.] [ official Things My Son Needs to Know About the World page on the official Fredrik Backman web site ]

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


The Library of Legends
by Janie Chang (ebook)

This book of historical fiction shows the journey of a thousand miles from Minghua University to western China. The book takes place in 1937, when students, faculty, and staff walked through harsh conditions to escape the dangers of aerial attacks from Japanese bombs. While saving their lives, they also carried a the Library of Legends, which was a collection of over a hundred books chronicling the myths they believed. Each student and staff member was responsible for carrying one of the five hundred year-old texts, and their studies took place on the road while they walked.

Lian, the narrator, realizes she is witnessing first-hand one tale from the Library of Legends: The Willow Star and the Prince. The storytelling within the novel is one of the stories that braid into the novel itself. It is based on true events.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try The World That We Knew by Alice Hoffman, The Gift of Rain by Tan Twan Eng or Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress by Dai Sijie.] [ official The Library of Legends page on the official Janie Chang web site ]

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Recommended by Jodi R.
Anderson and Bethany Branch Libraries


What I Lick Before Your Face and Other Haikus by Dogs
by Jamie Coleman (821 Col)

This is a hilariously funny look at dog psychology, in the form of poetry. Author Coleman combines very expressive dog photos with haikus — a very structured form of Japanese poetry, always composed of three lines — 5 syllables, 7 syllables, then 5 final syllables.

The haikus are ostensibly written by the dogs, and combine amusingly with the chosen images. Some work better than others, but on the whole the book is a quick read that will lead to many chuckles, at least if you’re a dog lover. Subject matter ranges over everything that dogs experience, especially in their relationships to both the humans in their lives and other dogs — playing fetch, eating, “walkies”, being left alone in the house all day, sniffing things, more eating, etc.

Fun, funny and entertaining. Also, something you’ll read in less than a half hour!

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try I Could Chew on This: and Other Poems by Dogs, and I Could Pee on This: and Other Poems by Cats, both by David Marciuliano.] [ publisher’s official What I Lick Before Your Face web page ] | [ official Jamie Coleman Twitter feed ]

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


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

It’s the season for scary movies, and there’s nothing better than the perfect soundtrack to go with a horror film. Some horror soundtracks do such a good job tracking on-screen action that you can almost watch with your eyes closed and still have a sense of what’s happening as quiet, subtle tension builds in the music to an intense violin stab or dissonant repeating figure. There has been renewed interest in this music lately, too, as several record labels have cropped up who focus on reissuing classic horror movie scores on vinyl or CD.

In Scored to Death, J. Blake Fichera conducts interviews with 14 renowned composers of horror film music, responsible for classics like Suspiria, Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th, and Halloween. The conversations generally shy away from getting too technical about musical details, instead focusing on issues like collaborating with directors, trying out new technology, the freedom of working with horror film compared to some other genres, and some of these composers’ own favorite films and inspirations. You don’t have to be a musician to find many of these interviews interesting — just a fan of scary movies! You’ll find that most of Fichera’s interview subjects are fun-loving movie fans themselves, no matter how frightening their music can be.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Sounds of the Future: Essays on Music in Science Fiction Film, edited by Michael J. Bartkowiak, or Blood on Black Wax: Horror Soundtracks On Vinyl, by Aaron Lupton.] [ official Scored to Death web site and companion podcast ]

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Recommended by Scott S.
Polley Music Library


Wicked Deeds
by Heather Graham (Graham)

Who best to help solve a murder of a Poe admirer, then the ghost of Poe himself. Poe appears to Vicki Preston and FBI agent Griffin Pryce when a modern murder reflects Poe’s work and appears to be related to his own mysterious death. Book 23 of the Krewe of Hunters series, this title can stand on it own (though books 21 & 22 also have Vicki and Griffin as the main characters). A suspenseful read with a satisfying ending.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try any Krewe of Hunters titles but especially Dying Breath (21) and Dark Rites (22) also by Heather Graham. Romantic paranormal mysteries. Another series that pairs romance, mystery, the FBI and sometimes a bit of paranormal is The FBI Thriller series by Catherine Coulter. Book 1 is The Cove.] [ official Krewe of Hunters page on the official Heather Graham web site ]

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Recommended by Sandy W.
Gere Branch Library


Kitharologus: The Path to Virtuosity
by Richardo Iznaola (Music 787.872 Izn)

This is an unusual book primarily aimed at classical guitarists, but many of the exercises contained here will also help to tighten up technique for steel-string and electric guitar fingerpicking. Aimed mostly at right-hand technique, Kitharologus takes readers through a wide variety of string combinations to gain independence and fluidity. Most of the exercises use open strings to keep the focus on the right hand, though there are a few left land stretching exercises later in the book. The first appendix at the back of the book lays out a suggested practice routine.

Unless you’re planning to be a professional-level classical guitarist, you probably don’t need to learn every exercise in this book. However, even incorporating just a few of the exercises into your practice routine, especially ones that address any weaknesses you may have already identified in your right hand, can make a huge difference in your overall playing.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Pumping Nylon, by Nathaniel Gunod, Fingerstyle Guitar: Lessons in Technique & Creativity, by Brian Gore or Playing With Ease: A Healthy Approach to Guitar Technique, by David Leisner.] [ http://www.iznaolaguitarworks.com/ ]

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Recommended by Scott S.
Polley Music Library


Spooked!: How a Radio Broadcast and The War of the Worlds Sparked the 1938 Invasion of America
by Gail Jarrow (j 791.447 WarYj)

This marvelous volume from author Gail Jarrow does a terrific job of looking back at the 1938 radio broadcast of “The War of the Worlds”, starring Orson Welles and the panic it is supposed to have caused in the listening public at the time. This radio play is an updated and relocated adaptation of H.G. Wells classic science fiction novel of invaders from Mars. In the radioplay, instead of landing in the English countryside, the aliens first land in Grover’s Mill, NJ. The radio play was done in “as it happens” style, combining fake news reports, interruptions to regular broadcasts, and a full cast of performers treating the alien invasion as a real event. Unfortunately, due to a variety of odd circumstances, many listeners tuned in late and the verisimilitude of the radio program led many to believe the events truly were happening. Jarrow’s book explores the history of the broadcast and also the repercussions in days and years after the “panic broadcast” let to such a misunderstanding. All the information is presented in quick, bite-size nuggets, and the book is filled with gorgeous photos and illustrations. Definitely a fun read for anyone who’s a fan of this classic Halloween broadcast, or of radio and pop culture history in general.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try listening to the original 1938 radio broadcast — available online from several sources, the original novel The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells, or Aliens Are Coming!: The True Account of the 1938 War of the Worlds Radio Broadcast by Meghan McCarthy.] [ Wikipedia page for the 1938 War of the Worlds radio broadcast ] | [ official Gail Jarrow web site ]

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


Isaac’s Storm: A Man, a Time, and the Deadliest Hurricane in History
by Erik Larson (976.413 Lar)

It has been 120 years since Galveston was devastated by one of the deadliest hurricanes in our nation’s history. On the day that I started reading this book, another hurricane was bearing down on the Gulf Coast with incredible intensity, bringing to mind all the horrors of the after-effects of the destruction caused by the tidal surge that inundated lands along the Texas coast with the Galveston hurricane. I have always been fascinated by weather, especially storms, so this book was hard to put down. The story is presented from the point of view of Isaac Cline, head of the U.S. Weather Bureau in Galveston at the time of the hurricane. A combination of politics, misguided loyalties and vanity caused the people in charge of predicting weather to fail to provide the warning to the public so desperately needed before the storm hit. The descriptions of the days following the hurricane are horrific: soldiers sent to help survivors after the storm were horrified to see bodies piled up everywhere; boats could barely keep clear of the floating bodies of dead men, women and children. Throughout Galveston, people stepped from their homes to find corpses piled up at their doorsteps. No one could escape the stench of rotting flesh from people and animals alike. Attempts to bury hundreds of bodies at sea, weighted down with whatever could be found, was thwarted by the tide which brought the bodies right back into Galveston. The descriptions of the post-hurricane scenes were so powerful that I could not sleep the night I read them. We can be thankful that current storm prediction centers have the ability to warn us of impending destruction — if only we will heed the warnings. I highly recommend this book, another fascinating book by author Erik Larson.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try The Devil in the White City, also by Erik Larson.] [ publisher’s official Isaac’s Storm web page ] | [ official Erik Larson web site ]

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


Snapdragon
by Kat Leyh (jPB (Series) Leyh)

Something about this new paperback graphic novel caught my eye. Snap (short for Snapdragon) has reason to believe that the one-eyed motorcycle-riding old woman named Jacks who may or may not be a witch is the one who can help her find her lost dog.

Aside from having an old biker for a babysitter when I was a child, there was also an ivy-covered, spooky-looking house I was always suspicious about on my walk to elementary school many years ago. My friends and I truly believed there were vampires or witches living in that house. Just by looking at the cover, the book had already caught my attention because of those two similarities to stories from my youth.

This is a quick read about reaching past first impressions, learning from neighbors, and the power of family and friends. I would indeed recommend it to anyone curious about the weird neighbor down the block or anyone who appreciates a little magical realism in their stories of brave youth.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Cardboard Kingdom, by Chad Sell, Hey Kiddo, by Jarrett Krosoczka, Bingo Love, by Tee Franklin or the Steven Universe comic or TV show.] [ publisher’s official Snapdragon web page ] | [ official Kat Leyh web site ]

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Recommended by Naomi S.
Eiseley Branch Library


Mulan: Before the Sword
by Grace Lin (j Lin)

Mulan: Before the Sword is both a prequel to the original Mulan animated film and — surprisingly — a prequel for a major new character (Xian Lang) in the live action remake which came out in late September 2020. It’s told in the same framework as Grace Lin’s beloved, award-winning novels Where the Mountain Meets the Moon and When the Sea Turned to Silver: a girl must go on a magical journey to acquire something which will save people she loves. Every few chapters someone has a “Tale of the [something]” to tell that works as a little story by itself but also helps fill in the overall plot. It’s a *great* formula. Think “The Neverending Story” with little legends sprinkled in everywhere.

This is likely to be the first dive into Chinese legends and folk figures for many kids. It was pretty neat for me to see echoes of the classic Journeys to the West in the overall quest, but also offhand comments about well known characters like Sun Wukong messing with the same immortality fruit Mulan is tempted with.

The main “lesson” intended for kids has to do with Mulan feeling like she’s a failure for being bold and clumsy when her parents praise her dainty “proper girl” sister. So it’s a solid feminist tale in that sense. I was glad to see that it did go farther by letting the reader know most of the way through the book that a major character is gender fluid, and not just because they’re an immortal who can shapeshift (like all of them seemed to be doing), but that they actually do change pronouns and their friends know to check when they meet up again. Sometimes he is a high class healer. Sometimes she is a wrinkled old woman. So this book may be of special value to transgender kids.

**Some spoilers below in the critical part of this review**

It’s neither good nor bad, but this was a more violent book than I expected from the Age 8 / Grade 3 and up label that the review sources give it. Rabbit kills himself by jumping into a fire in order to become a meal to feed a guest. Daji fakes her own suicide by hanging, which is after she had people executed in a way inspired by her seeing an ant fall into a frying pan. These are in the back-in-time stories, but Mulan herself is part of a graphically gory blinding & killing of a large sea beast by means of repeated impaling [p. 288-292]. She also intentionally kills a (very deserving) human when she comes to understand her destiny [p. 347].

I do have some criticisms around personal appearance. There’s a lot of attention in this story to the notion that something or someone can look beautiful but be deadly. Or someone can look humble but be great. That’s all well and good, but what really alarmed me is that only one character is clearly described as being fat [p. 201]. He turned out to be corrupt. When people find out, he bolts “like a runaway pig” [p. 210]. There’s reference to “a poisonous wart that needed to be cut off” [p. 221] and the only person shown with warts happens to be an irredeemable villain [p. 201]. The sea beast that Mulan kills is described as having “mottled, slimy skin and and evil eyes protruding like boils” [p. 286]. Aside from attacking the adventuring party because of unspecified enmity with one of them, it’s this “evil” appearance that seems to justify Mulan killing it instead of, say, helping everyone escape the peril. In fact Mulan is told that she “didn’t slay that ugly brute for nothing” [p. 293] and she smiles.

So the impression I got is that while you don’t have to “beautiful” and “willowy,” you do still need to be clear-skinned and not fat. This story will shame some kids who don’t fit into the plain, powerful peasant mold that Mulan is being assured is an okay way to be.

There are what seemed like some loose threads in the story. We’re told that the prophecy of the Hua sisters was incomplete [p. 83], but it’s never completed in this book. Maybe that’s part of the prequel to the live action film where we’ll hear the rest of the prophecy? Also, I’m not sure why the red fox chapters have a shadowed background other than it being a cool effect.

Overall, this is a great children’s book that deserves attention even for people who aren’t into the Disney movies, and it’s a great bridge from the Disney movies to Grace Lin’s other very similar novels plus Chinese legends and culture, and names! We flat-out didn’t have books on this level this when I was young and I’m a bit envious of today’s kids, but also excited to promote this title to them.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, also by Grace Lin] [ official Mulan: Before the Sword page on the official Grace Lin web site ]

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


Can I Give You a Squish?
by Emily Neilson (jP Neilson)

This adorably-illustrated book is a great way to teach children to ask before hugging anyone. Although some of us are especially comfortable hugging, be it with family or strangers, COVID-19 has given us extra reasons to be extra careful. Not only do we need to be aware of everyone’s 6-foot bubble these days, but we also need to be aware that not everyone enjoys being hugged. This book reminds us of our options for showing love to our friends. I would encourage everyone to continue imagining what friendship looks like now that we need additional safety measures in place.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try I Like It When, by Mary Murphy or Will Ladybug Hug?, by Hilary Leung.] [ publisher’s official Can I Give You a Squish? web page ] | [ official Emily Neilson web site ]

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Recommended by Naomi S.
Eiseley Branch Library


Home Before Dark
by Riley Sager (Sager)

Maggie’s parents bought a house that had a storied past when she was five. They spent a total of fifteen days in the house before the family left for good. Her father wrote a best selling book about the experience which as an adult Maggie has grown to despise. Upon her father’s death, Maggie finds out that he has left the house to her and she is determined to find out what really happened that summer.

[ official Home Before Dark page on the official Riley Sager web site ]

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Recommended by Susan S.
Eiseley Branch Library


The Sun Down Motel
by Simone St. James (St. James)

This story has both ghosts and serial killers. The story also goes back and forth in time so that the reader can meet both Carly and Vivian. The Sun Down Motel which is haunted due to a tragic accident that happened when it opened, it is also the place where Vivian, Carly’s aunt mysteriously disappeared without a trace; Carly comes to the Sun Down almost twenty years later to find out what happened to her aunt.

[ official Simone St. James web site ]

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Recommended by Susan S.
Eiseley Branch Library


Switched on Pop: How Popular Music Works and Why it Matters
by Nate Sloan and Charles Harding

This is a fun and informative book with an interesting structure: addressing pop music hits of the last 20 years, Switched on Pop analyses 16 hit songs by looking at unique attributes of their construction. Each song represents a particular kind of approach to songwriting, placed into context using bits of relevant music theory and music history. Taken as a whole, the book is a great stroll through important musical concepts that you can simply enjoy as a reader, but you can also apply these ideas to songwriting yourself.

There are great illustrations throughout the book that help to explain all kinds of musical phenomena visually, from reverb shown as a bouncing ball around a room to song forms shown as rollercoaster rides. While many of the concepts addressed in the book are fairly simple, the authors also tackle more complex musical ideas through pop music, including counterpoint and bitonality. Most importantly, they maintain a sense of fun and curiosity no matter what musical topic comes up. You might find yourself listening to new and different aspects of your favorite songs after reading this book, and liking all kinds of music even more.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try How Music Works, by David Byrne, or Why You Like It: The Science and Culture of Musical Taste, by Nolan Gasser.] [ official Switched on Pop web site ]

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Recommended by Scott S.
Polley Music Library


The List of Things That Will Not Change
by Rebecca Snead (j Snead)

The List of Things That Will Not Change is a finely crafted, heartfelt book about a girl whose family life has changed and is about to change again.

When the book opens, it’s been several years since Bea’s parents divorced and she has become used to her schedule of living in two homes. On the day her parents told her they were separating, they gave her a notebook and a numbered list of things that will not change. Number Six was, “We are still a family, but in a different way.” Now, her dad tells her there’s another family meeting and Bea worries what it could be this time, but he tells her he’s going to marry his boyfriend. A little later in the book, Bea realizes this also means she’s going to be gaining a sister like she’s always wanted!

The thing that stood out to me the most about this book is the way it models emotional intelligence for kids in so many ways. Bea and her parents have set up signals to check in on each other or to say they love each other with hand squeezes. Bea is seeing a therapist which demystifies and destigmatizes therapy for kids reading the book. This also gives the opportunity for Bea to be mindful about how feelings can layer on top of each other and how her body responds to feelings like anger and guilt.

All characters are well-rounded with things happening that sometimes only adult readers are likely to notice, but other times kids are likely to pick up on before Bea does. There’s a bit too much time hopping for the age group, so I’d recommend making a time chart if reading with younger kids.

The biggest frame of suspense about how the sound of corn growing ties into Bea’s life is lovely but maybe abstract for kids. However, they will all want to know how the wedding will go, whether Bea and her new sister will get along, how Bea and the classmate that Bea is bullying will work out, whether Bea’s cousin will recover from Bell’s Palsy, how the colonial breakfast project at school will play out with Dad’s fiancé attending, and what happens after you maybe get bitten by a bat.

It’s not clear that any of the specific disabilities (like eczema) and experiences in this book are from the author’s personal experience, but it all seemed sensitively written to me.

It’s a sweet book that had me misty-eyed a lot. There’s just so much good stuff for kids here while staying firmly in the perspective of a kid their age who is not always doing the right thing the first time but gets there by the end.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Blended, by Sharon Draper.] [ publisher’s official List of Things That Will Not Change web page ]

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


Tales of Sea and Shore
by Edward Rowe Snow (910.45 Sn6t)

Edward Rowe Snow was a master storyteller and prolific writer who devoted most of his life to collecting unusual tales and mysteries of the sea, particularly in the New England area of the United States. This collection of stories has been my favorite so far with stories of horrific events and crimes that took place on ships in the 1600s-1800s along the Atlantic coast. One story involved a duel on Castle Island outside Boston that brought to mind the famous duel between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr. Lt. Robert Massie of Virginia was killed in a duel on Christmas Day by another officer. The officer who killed Massie suddenly disappeared. Years later, a young Edgar Allan Poe was stationed there and asked what had happened to the opponent. The officers there told him that the killer was made drunk and then walled up in a dungeon in the Castle, still alive. Sound familiar? Names and locations were changed, but Poe knew a good story when he heard one. In 1905, workers discovered the skeleton behind a brick wall in a section labeled as the dungeon on old maps of the Castle. This is just one of many stories that fill this book as well as the other titles that our library system still has in the collection. If you are looking for creepy stories with a historical bent, look no further. This is the book for you!

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Boston Bay Mysteries and Other Tales and Incredible Mysteries and Legends of the Sea, also by Edward Rowe Snow.] [ Wikipedia page for Edward Rowe Snow ]

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


Clean Getaway
by Nic Stone (j Stone)

Clean Getaway is Nic Stone’s first middle grade novel. I was excited to read this since I enjoyed some of her teen stuff, and can report that she absolutely nails the early middle grade tone.

Scoob’s white little old grandmother takes him on a road trip through the American south in her newly purchased Winnebago. She’s pretty cryptic about what their goal is, but she’s retracing a journey she took with Scoob’s grandfather a long time ago. Scoob is initially just happy to get out of the house since his dad grounded him for some in-school misbehavior. But as they go farther, stopping to visit sites of personal interest to grandma and historic sites related to Black civil rights, Scoob starts to worry more about his grandmother’s behavior. She may even be…breaking laws!

Chapters are short with a clear sense of progress since there’s an illustrated map of each state they enter. It has the standard “state facts” plus some hand drawings that Scoob is making along the way as a sort of visual journal. I liked flipping back to the previous state’s map to see how the events I just read about were represented. There are also illustrations every dozen pages or so, mostly of Scoob and his tiny grandma on their journey. Chapter numbers are in a “Route” sign and mid-chapter breaks are in the form of a road with dotted line.

In addition to all of these visual markers, there is a double line of suspense to hook and keep kids’ interest. First, what is Grandma’s goal in taking Scoob across state lines and why is she doing such suspicious things along the way like swapping license plates? Second, what’s the truth about Scoob’s grandfather that neither his dad nor grandma would talk about all these years? Both storytlines “hooks” are equally strong and come together by the end, as you might expect.

This is a great introduction to vital pieces of Jim Crow history that kids don’t tend to hear about in school, such as the Green Book, sundown towns, and miscegenation laws (though that big word isn’t used in the text). Nic Stone mixes the light humor of the road trip adventures with the mystery of family history and some important tough stuff of national history (and national present). It’s so touching that I cried through the last few chapters in a mix of sad and happy for the characters.

I’d put this at the lower end of the Grades 3-5 range overall. Not a lot of text on the page and lots of chapter breaks. There’s silly ‘cuss’ words that aren’t really cuss words, and a couple of “damns.” Scoob has recently started to look at his best friend in a new way, signaling a first crush and nothing more, which is appropriate for our age group, whether it’s same sex or different sex. There’s a reference to n-word, literally as “the n-word” which is again appropriate for all third graders to read about. As Blair Imani wrote, “If Black children are ‘old enough’ to experience racism then white children are ‘old enough’ to learn about it.” This book has both explicit and implicit anti-racist education for kids. An example of implicit would be grandma teaching Scoob about starting a fire in the woods, since Black people have been systematically excluded from activities like hiking and camping. G’ma herself is a complex character, trying to do right by Scoob while acknowledging that she has — and continues to do — some things that the book clearly portrays as not right.

The only complaint I have about the book is “fat” being used as an insult by Scoob [p. 13, p. 15, p. 52] with no pushback in the book for him doing this. Grandma describes someone as “the ugly woman with the hooked nose” which is harmful to kids who think of their nose as hooked [p. 58].

Overall, this is one of the best early middle grade books I’ve read in terms of suck-you-in-story *and* quality important content for all kids to know about. It’s a great story about doing what we can to right the past. Even if it’s just a little, that counts for a lot.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try In the Footsteps of Crazy Horse, by Joseph Marshall, or The Parker Inheritance, by Varian Johnson] [ publisher’s official Clean Getaway web page ] | [ official Nic Stone web site ]

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


In a Dark, Dark Wood
by Ruth Ware (Ware)

Leonora “Nora” is a crime writer and almost recluse, living in London. She agrees to go to a school friend’s “Hen Night” only because another mutual friend is going. Being held in a remote cabin, odd things begin to happen and then Nora wakes up in the hospital. She’s been injured in a car accident and doesn’t remember what happened. As she begins to piece together she learns someone has died. Nora isn’t sure what or who to believe.

This is a suspense novel and not a bad one. The main character isn’t the most likable, but that makes it all the more believable. Did Nora snap? Did Nina? Or was it Flo? Not a horror novel, but it definitely kept me on the edge of my seat!.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Sharp Objects, by Gillian Flynn, In a Cottage, In a Wood, by Cass Green or Thin Ice, by Paige Shelton] [ official In a Dark, Dark Wood page on the official Ruth Ware web site ]

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Recommended by Marcy G.
South Branch Library


The End of October
by Lawrence Wright (Wright)

A novel of a pandemic – and apparently prophetic. I don’t usually read disaster stories, especially while in the middle of one, but I’d heard that this tale Wright had written just before our current predicament ended up recounting nearly point by point what we’ve been going through with Covid-19.

Talk about hair rising on the back of your neck.

Wright pulls you into the story immediately. He includes some interesting pandemic history, along with multiple characters you will bond with and worry about. Don’t let the 400 pages deter you, I read half of it in one sitting. There were no boring parts, every page kept me riveted.

This is a fascinating, worldwide story of people and events that I couldn’t put down..

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try The Andromeda Strain by Michael Crichton or The Stand by Stephen King.] [ official The End of October page on the official Lawrence Wright web site ]

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


Screening Room

Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice soundtrack and The Nightmare Before Dinner
film directed by Tim Burton, soundtrack music by Danny Elfman (available only on Hoopla from the libraries), book by Zack Neil (641.568 Nei)

This is an thematic combo of three reviews combined into one.

First, nobody has previously reviewed the 1988 horror/comedy film Beetlejuice for Staff Recommendations. After 32 years, it’s rather borderline to call is “modern” but I do place it in the modern horror classics category. Directed by Tim Burton, this absurdist horror film mixes true scares with crazy, insane humor. Michael Keaton, who at that time was best known for comedies, including Night Shift, Mr. Mom, and Johnny Dangerously (he was still a year away from starring in Burton’s own Batman), stars as the demon Betelgeuse, who has been waiting for eons to be summoned to the physical world by a mortal saying his name three times in a row — it sounds like “Beetlejuice”. In the meantime, he uses what powers are available to him to “haunt” the mortal world, on behalf of fellow “dead” beings. When young couple Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis die in their new dream home, their attempts to linger in peace are ruined by the obnoxious new family to move in (Jeffrey Jones and Catherine O’Hara), though they bond with troubled teen Winona Ryder. Eventually, the underworld is set loose and chaos ensues as the good ghosts try to figure out how to put the genie back in the bottle. Keaton turns in a comedy tour de farce, and the rest of the cast are great foils for him.

The Beetlejuice soundtrack is by Danny Elfman, Tim Burton’s regular music collaborator, and is one of his most memorable. It features 20 tracks of (mostly) instrumentals, ranging in length from 34 seconds to over three minutes. Elfman’s fast-paced, comic sounds are in full swing, and capture the mood of this comical horror film perfectly.

Finally, in the libraries’ cookbook collection, you’ll find The Nightmare Before Dinner, chef Zach Neil’s collection of recipes from his “The Beetle House” restaurants in New York and L.A. — these restaurants feature a menu inspired by ALL of the films of Tim Burton, and the decor in the restaurants is very elaborate (see photos in this book). The cookbook features recipes in a variety of categories — sauces/dips, appetizers, soups & salads, main entrees, desserts, cocktails and themed parties. Each recipe has a name inspired by a Burton film — “Edward Burger Hands”, “Charlie Corn Bucket”, “The Butcher’s Stew”, “Shrimpy Hollow”, “Bloodbath Cobbler”, “The Coco Skellington”, and “Red Velvet Midnight Espresso Cake with Stained Glass Candy Shards”. The recipes range from extremely simple, to very complex, and some may require some cooking devices beyond what might be found in an average kitchen. There are gorgeous photo examples in the book, but only for about 1/3 to 1/2 of the recipes. If you’re planning a Halloween-themed dinner party, this one is definitely something I’d encourage you to sample — you’ll find lots of great ideas, and the accompanying photos will help you in your decorating!

My ratings: Beetlejuice the film (10), Beetlejuice the Soundtrack (9), The Nightmare Before Dinner cookbook (8). Watch for my review of the soundtrack from the 2019 Broadway adaptation of Beetlejuice in an upcoming month!

[ Internet Movie Database entry for this film ] | [ official Get On Up web site ] [Fans of the film Beetlejuice will most likely enjoy any of Tim Burton’s other directorial offerings, especially A Nightmare Before Christmas and Edward Scissorhands. Fans of Elfman’s scores will find many of them available on CD or via the Hoopla digital service — again, Edward Scissorhands and A Nightmare Before Christmas are among the most iconic. And if you like cookbooks that tie humorously into pop culture media productions, you’ll probably enjoy The Snacking Dead and Fifty Shades of Chicken.] [ official BOOK web site ] | [ official AUTHOR web site ]

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


formatdvdGoodbye Christopher Robin
[DVD Goodbye]

This film tells the biographical story of the relationship between author A.A. Milne and his son, and the circumstances that led Milne to create the world of Winnie-the-Pooh and Christopher Robin (who was based on Milne’s son).

The performances are magnificent, particularly newcomer Will Tilston as the 8-year-old version of “Billy Moon” — which was the nickname that everyone used for the boy who’s official name was Christopher Robin Milne. Also outstanding was Kelly Macdonald as Billy’s nanny, whom he called “Nou”. Domhnall Gleeson as Milne and Margot Robbie as his wife, Daphne are also excellent. The visuals of the story, both in terms of set design and cinematography in the English countryside that inspired the “100 Acre Wood”, are gorgeous.

This is a fairly low-key, low-energy film, with bursts of intense emotion. As “Billy Moon” grows and becomes an adult (portrayed at 18 by Alex Lawther), joining the armed forces in WWII, watching the fracturing relationship between father and son is somewhat painful. Yet in the end, this is an uplifting and hopeful film. And if you’ve ever wondered about the origins of the iconic Winnie-the-Pooh characters and settings, you’ll leave this film fully educated.

Highly recommended!

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Christopher Robin (2018), a more light-hearted look at an adult Christopher Robin (portrayed by Ewan McGregor), reconnecting with his childhood stuffed animal friends still fully alive.] [ Internet Movie Database entry for this film ] | [ official Goodbye Christopher Robin web site ]

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


formatdvdSpider-Man (2002)
[DVD Spider]

After viewing the newer film versions of Spider-Man (starring Tom Holland), co-worker Scott recommended that I also check out the earlier film versions starring Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield as the Amazing Spider-Man, also known as teen-age science wiz Peter Parker. I watched the earliest version last. Tobey Maquire stars as the teen-age superhero with Kirstin Dunst as his love interest, Mary Jane Watson. Of the three movies, the second movie was my favorite, mainly because of the casting. Alfred Molina plays the infamous villain, Doctor Octopus, and Rosemary Hunt plays Peter’s Aunt May. The story lines are good and the acting is well done. The third movie, Spider-Man 3, pales in comparison to the first two movies, but Tobey Maguire is fun to watch in his portrayal of “your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man.”

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Spider-Man 2 (2004) and Spider-Man 3 (2007) (also with Tobey Maguire), the two The Amazing Spider-Man films (with Andrew Garfield, 2012 and 2014), Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017) and Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019) (with Tom Holland).] [ Internet Movie Database entry for this film ]

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

I love the Tobey Maguire Spider-Man films — as much as I’ll admit Tom Holland has done a great job in the role of Peter Parker in more recent films, Tobey will always be “my” Peter Parker/Spider-Man. He was absolutely perfect in the role — an extreme introvert, with a crush on the prettiest girl in school, suddenly gifted with incredible powers, but also faced with unthinkable tragedy. I also have a fond space in my heart for the 1977-1979 TV series The Amazing Spider-Man, starring Nicholas Hammond as Peter. Sadly that hasn’t been released to DVD, although the various episodes, including the pilot film, came out on VHS back in the day. You can find clips (and some complete episodes) on YouTube!

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


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

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