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Staff Recommendations – October 2022

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October 2022 Recommendations

The Simon and Chester series
by Cale Atkinson (jP Atkinson and j Atkinson)

This absolutely delightful series of children’s graphic stories began with the 2018 picture book Sir Simon, Super Scarer, in which a blobby little ghost named Sir Simon Spookington is looking forward to his first assignment to haunt an actual house (he’s previously haunted a forest, a boat, a bus stop, and…a potato. But Simon is concerned to discover that the house he’s been transferred to is newly occupied by not only a kindly little old lady (great for hauntings) but also by a curious little boy (Chester), who quickly sees Simon and tries to befriend him. The picture book covers Simon showing Chester all of the “ghost chores” he must accomplish each day (spooky animal noises, chain clanking, mysterious footsteps in the attic, etc.) and Chester shows Simon the human chores he’s responsible for (cleaning, vacuuming, laundry, etc.).

The two later volumes, both released in 2021, are rebranded as part of the “Simon and Chester” series, and take the form of juvenile graphic novels — the art, while still terrific, is a bit less detailed and more restrained, and more emphasis is placed on the storytelling. In the first, Simon and Chester: Super Detectives, Simon and Chester are bored and borrow some costume to take on the role of detectives in search of a mystery. In the second, Simon and Chester: Super Sleepover!, Chester (an introvert) accepts an invitation to a friend’s sleepover birthday party, and Simon nervously awaits his annual “haunting” review by a notoriously picky ghost supervisor. Both are nervous about their respective appointments, but both train each other on how to be successful.

The artwork, while a bit cartoonish, is excellent, with both Simon the ghost and Chester the kid being very expressive. The storytelling is amusing, and each book has a positive message for kids. I really enjoy this series, and can’t wait for more Simon and Chester adventures from this author/illustrator. Simon is a particularly engaging little spook!

( official Cale Atkinson web site )


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

The Sound of the Machine: My Life in Kraftwerk and Beyond
by Karl Bartos (Music 781.66 Bartos)

It’s been a great few years for books on German electronic pop pioneers Kraftwerk, starting with David Buckley’s book “Kraftwerk: Publication” about two years ago. That remains a fantastic resource if you want to know more about the music of Kraftwerk—it’s quite an exhaustive overview of their music. Since then, we added another interesting book related to Kraftwerk called Kraftwerk: Future Music from Germany by Uwe Schutte, which is a compact book but also very much worth reading. And here we’re going to look at a monster of a new book that you can now borrow from the Polley Music Library called The Sound of the Machine: My Life in Kraftwerk and Beyond. This is the autobiography of long-time Kraftwerk member Karl Bartos, who joined the band during what’s arguably their heyday, representing the period between their Autobahn album and Computer world, 1974 to 1990. After leaving Kraftwerk, he went on to form his own band Elektric Music, released a pair of well-received solo albums, and also collaborated with Kraftwerk again on the later albums Electric Café and The Mix.

My first response to this book was a bit of shock at its sheer size: it clocks in over 600 pages! However, I was a bit relieved once I opened the book to find that it’s using a large font, approaching large print text. It’s larger typesetting than any music book I’ve examined in a while, and I must admit that it’s a nice change of pace compared to some of the tiny text one finds in typical music history books.

With that unusual technical detail aside, let’s get into the book itself. Originally published in Bartos’ native German, the English edition was translated by Katy Derbyshire, and it finds Bartos writing in an affable, conversational manner throughout. Early chapters focus on his youth and early education. Like many aspiring musicians of his generation, he was inspired to pursue music after hearing the Beatles, and initially focused on the guitar and a little bit of drums. Eventually he found himself working mostly with drums, simply because there were lots of guitar players around. From this mostly self-taught beginning, he was able to get into Robert Schumann Conservatory, where he studied classical percussion in depth. But he continued to learn about the more unusual strains of rock music activity happening in the late 60s and early 70s, too, such as Zappa and Can. For much of the early 70s, Bartos was immersed in a combination of rock music idioms, classical music, and jazz, while earning his degree.

In 1974, it turned out to be his classical training that led Bartos to his long-time membership in Kraftwerk: they were looking for a classical percussionist to try playing their newly-developed electronic drum kit. The main pair of composer-performers in Kraftwerk, Ralf Hutter and Florian Schneider, were also working with drummer Wolfgang Flur, but ultimately decided to add Bartos to their lineup. They began rehearsing to tour for the “Autobahn” album in earnest. Bartos lived a professional double-life in 1974 and 75, playing with Kraftwerk while continuing to work as a percussionist in opera and classical ensembles.

Starting with his accounts of activities in 1975, Bartos reveals his time as part of what’s now thought of as the “classic lineup” of Kraftwerk, starting with the recording of Radio-Activity. This narrative takes up the bulk of the rest of the book. Perhaps the biggest strength of this book for Kraftwerk fans will be the unique perspectives of Bartos regarding this period of fertile imagination for the band. He discusses lots of in-the-studio moments throughout the book, addressing both conceptual and technical elements of making this iconic music. But his perspective as a classically-trained musician continues to filter through all of his experiences, adding a unique take on this music that can’t be found in other books. Bartos has a great way of discussing the music in multi-layered, thoughtful, and introspective dimensions while managing to avoid the more technical jargon that could make things harder to understand for non-trained musicians.

The passages regarding Kraftwerk around early 1990, when Bartos and Flur left the group, are revealing as well. It’s been rare to read about this part of Kraftwerk history outside of the perspectives of Hutter or Schneider, but ultimately their slow work on “The Mix” album, while also insisting that Kraftwerk members only work within the band, ultimately led both percussionists to pursue other interests, for both emotional and financial reasons. It’s kind of a sad story. While there was a certain emotional detachment among band members that kept everything civil at first, eventually lawyers got involved over songwriting credit disputes.

The final section of the book is quite short, despite covering the time period from 1990 to the present. Bartos hasn’t been overly prolific as a musician in his time since Kraftwerk, though he’s released several solid albums as Elektric Music and under his own name. Ultimately, the book focuses on the period that most fans probably find the most compelling, and Bartos is a thoughtful and grateful guide through the heyday of Kraftwerk.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Kraftwerk: Publication by David Buckley, or Kraftwerk: Future Music from Germany by Ewe Schutte.)

( publisher’s official The Sound of the Machine web page ) | ( official Karl Bartos web site )


Recommended by Scott S.
Polley Music Library

Andre the Giant: Life and Legend
by Box Brown (YA PB (Graphic Novel) Brown)

In a sport that bills itself as larger than life, Andre Roussimoff (a.k.a. “Andre the Giant”) truly was larger than life in every way. This graphic novel gives us a biographical look at key events in Andre’s life. It’s not comprehensive or definitive, but it is a fun, engaging look at one of pro wrestling’s greatest legends.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try the film The Princess Bride by director Rob Reiner)

( publisher’s official Andre the Giant: Life and Legend web page ) | ( official Box Brown web site )

This was one of dozens of Graphic Novel reviews submitted by library staff during our 2022 In-Service Training day on 9/23, all collected on A Day Full of Graphic Novels

Recommended by Corey G.
Gere and South Branch Libraries

Endless Endless: A Lo-Fi History of the Elephant 6 Mystery
by Adam Clair (Music 781.66 Cla)

Jeff Mangum is probably best known for his work in the band Neutral Milk Hotel, and the scene that he led is known as the Elephant 6 Collective, named after the Elephant 6 Recording Company which was started by members of the bands featured on the label. The music of Elephant 6 has been quite influential on pop music that followed their heyday 20 years ago, but there hasn’t been much written about how their scene developed, or what happened to the collective. Journalist Adam Clair, however, has been quietly documenting their history for years, gathering hundreds of interviews, and he has just published Endless Endless: A Lo-Fi History of the Elephant 6 Mystery, which you can borrow from Polley.

Clair’s introduction clarifies the scope of his inquiry into Elephant 6: he’s looking for the human history behind the collective, as opposed to analysis of albums or lyrics. And ultimately he’s looking for any loose ends that might need to be tied up in the absence of public work from Neutral Milk Hotel or their bandleader Jeff Mangum since the early Oughts. As he puts it, “What’s missing—or at least what’s not immediately apparent—from both the album (“In the Aeroplane Over the Sea”) and the public understanding of Mangum himself becomes just as compelling as what is actually there.” When Mangum pulled away from public discourse, his music and band continued to grow in popularity, taking on an unusual kind of legendary status in absentia.

The first chapter elaborates further on the mystery of Mangum and its effects on Elephant 6 as a whole: Neutral Milk Hotel released their final full-length in February of 1998, and performed their last show for New Year’s Eve 1998. As their music continued to grow in popularity, the effect of no more activity from Neutral Milk Hotel was fans old and new digging into the other bands of the Elephant 6 collective. And ultimately this has created a growing audience for many of the bands connected to their scene, some of which are still together, like Of Montreal.

The Elephant 6 bands formed a tight collective, and the earlier portions of the book discuss the early history of individuals who eventually formed many of the bands within the label’s umbrella. It’s an interesting story that takes us across the country a few times. The book goes from Ruston, Louisiana in the late 70s and early 80s, where the young Robert Schneider met the young Jeff Magnum in 2nd grade. The pair of friends were eventually joined by Will Cullen Hart, Ty Storms, and Bill Doss by middle school, where they formed their first bands. They all explored new and unusual forms of music together as listeners and performers, and Jeff and Will become DJs at WLPI radio in 1987, where they could play free-format music after 10 PM.

As friend groups do, people spread out and moved around the country upon graduation, but these friends stayed in touch, and eventually the core of the Elephant 6 Recording Company was formed by Bill, Hilarie Sidney, Jeff, Jim, Robert and Will. United by their friendships, as well as a love for psychedelic pop music that was unique for the era, the label become a reality in 1993, with core groups of participants settling in Denver, CO and Athens, GA. Perhaps the key to the “collective” aspect of Elephant 6, most musicians played in multiple Elephant 6 bands. They played on each others’ albums, toured with one another, and advocated for the whole collective of bands in music press.

Through a little over the halfway point in the book, Clair smoothly ties together countless interviews into a narrative of the rise of all of the Elephant 6 collective bands, with some emphasis on the most well-known acts connected to Jeff Mangum, Neutral Milk Hotel and Olivia Tremor Control. At this point, we reach the early-Oughts moment around 2002 when it becomes clear that Mangum really is removing himself from public view. The rest of the book, then, addresses the post-Neutral Milk Hotel period, during which other Elephant 6 collective members have mostly continued to create and perform, though most have also adopted a certain desire to protect their privacy. Mangum declined to be interviewed for this book, but so many others agreed to participate that it’s possible to get a picture of the modern era of Elephant 6 members. And that is to say that the modern era is somewhat more subdued again—after Bill Doss of Olivia Tremor Control and The Sunshine Fix passed away unexpectedly in 2012, a lot of momentum among the collective was slowed. There were occasional Jeff Mangum performances in the early teens, including a brief reunion of Neutral Milk Hotel in 2013 through 2015, which felt like a moment where the band was able to enjoy the boost in their reputation after a decade of inactivity. But broadly speaking, now that they’re far enough ahead in their respective careers that in most genres they’d start to be billed as nostalgia circuit acts, those that are still very active like Of Montreal are still writing some of the best work of their careers, while those that have stopped playing continue to enjoy a kind of mythical reputation that informs new bands to the present day.

It’s a very readable book—Clair’s style is simply to string together moments of historical context, and let his interview subjects speak for themselves. While he doesn’t get into great detail about every single Elephant 6-related band, almost everyone is at least mentioned, and you can get a very good sense about the bands, their music, their influences, and most importantly, their relationships over the decades, through the course of Endless Endless. Perhaps my biggest takeaway from the book is that almost all of these bands share an old-school kind of artistic integrity: they’ve all had ambivalent relationships with the fame and money that often comes with music stardom, and for the most part, they’ve found strategies to either work on their own terms, or stop working altogether when they feel it’s not possible to have the kind of impacts and audiences they prefer. This has kept a lot of Elephant 6 participants from being able to live as full-time musicians, but through the course of these many interviews, one gets a very clear sense that their memories of the times and music they made together are the most important part of the work. These are priorities one doesn’t see often in biographies of popular musicians, and for that reason alone, I think this is a personable, attractive book for many music fans.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Now is the Time To Invent! Reports from the Indie-Rock Revolution, 1986-2000 by Steve Connell, or Your Band Sucks by John Fine.)

( publisher’s official Endless Endless web page ) | ( official Adam Clair web site )


Recommended by Scott S.
Polley Music Library

hooplaThe Dreaming of His Convenient Kiss
by Jessie Gussman (Hoopla Audio)

This is a cozy, Christian Fiction romance that begins as an epistolary novel (almost entirely of their emails back-and-forth) which gradually introduces the characters to us and to each other. The characters are likeable as are their friends, his family, and the town.

Natalie Moody is having housing and, just in general, money issues. Her rental house has been condemned and she and her five children must relocate. She contacts an online dating service for those seeking a marriage of convenience and has the email address of someone who is undaunted at the idea of marrying a young woman with five children. But she mistypes the address and ends up texting with Denver Barclay.

Denver is a welder who is working on a ship-at-sea doing underwater welding, a dangerous job between the sharks, the weather, the job itself, and the threat of decompression sickness (the bends). While he enjoys the high salary he’s making for this job, he’s eager to return home for the holidays – and possibly forever – to his farm.

This is Book #02 in the Cowboy Mountain Christmas series. One does not need to have read the first book as you quickly sort out who the other characters are. A short listen at only 10-hours.

I ran across this book during an author promotion on one of my Facebook author/book pages. She neglected to mention this is Christian Fiction and I’m not normally a reader of that genre (though I like Jan Karon’s Mitford series, and love Mary Connealy’s “Petticoat Ranch”).

So I can’t say I enjoyed this title because this isn’t really my niche. But the characters were well-drawn and the storyline was interesting and kept you involved. The author had me at “Cowboy,” “Mountain,” and “Christmas” in the series title, but Denver is not a cowboy and this wasn’t the Hallmark cowboy mountain Christmas romance thing I was anticipating.

However, if you enjoy the Amish romances and Christian Fiction by Francine Rivers, then this is right up your alley.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Petticoat Ranch by Mary Connealy.)

( official Jessie Gussman web site )


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

Blue Note: Uncompromising Expression
by Richard Havers (Music 781.65 Hav)

In the history of jazz music, there have been several important record labels that have helped to bring recordings of the music to audiences all around the world, from Atlantic Records to Impulse to Columbia to Verve. Taken together, all of these labels have made essential contributions to the art form, preserving styles of jazz as they developed, and exposing people to the music outside of the major hubs where it was being played. But one record label stands above them all for documenting such a wide variety of jazz over the last century: Blue Note. Founded in 1939, the label documented the transition from hot jazz and early 20th century forms of the music through all of the major jazz trends to the present day. Bebop, cool jazz, hard bop, free jazz, you name it and you can find it on Blue Note. With a legacy of thousands of releases, the label has already been the subject of three documentary films and a handful of books, the best of which so far has been Richard Havers’ lavishly illustrated book Blue Note: Uncompromising Expression from 2014. That book has been hard to come by for some time, perhaps because its author passed away in 2017, but this year it’s finally been reprinted in a beautiful paperback edition that you can borrow from Polley.

Besides containing a wealth of information about the history of the venerable Blue Note label, this book has one of the best combinations of great writing and beautiful photos and ephemera I’ve ever seen in such a book. And the information you’ll learn in this book covers several areas of 20th century music history. Of course you’ll learn about the label itself, but the label has been such an extensive and long-term endeavor that you’re really learning about the greater history of jazz. Additionally, Blue Note was formed in the same era as the major record labels that have dominated the music industry ever since, and it has changed hands several times as labels have consolidated, so there is a fascinating window into the world of the commercial side of the record business to explore as well. And all the while, readers benefit from stunning photography that helps to bring these bygone eras to life.

It may be a surprise to some jazz fans that the founding of Blue Note, a label that has always documented the uniquely American art form of jazz, is largely indebted to the unique Weimer Republic era in Germany between the World Wars. Label founder Alfred Lion first got into jazz during that unique period in 1920s Berlin. He moved to New York City in 1928 after the Nazi party started to take power, then returned to Berlin for a while, then to Santiago, Chile in 1933, and ultimately back to NYC in 1936. The 1920s had been an interesting period for jazz, too, as Prohibition in the United States had caused many artists to look for careers in Europe, particularly around Paris and Berlin. Jazz continued to develop in both the US and Europe through the 20s—swing bands became particularly popular—and between the end of Prohibition in 1933 and the increasing political turmoil in mid-30s Europe, the founding of Blue Note in 1939 proved to be perfect timing for both Mr. Lion and many NYC jazz artists of the time.

In the early days, Blue Note focused on boogie woogie piano music and swing or “hot jazz,” but right out of the gate, Lion was innovating. The first releases on the label were done as 12” records, allowing for a little more time for performers to improvise compared to the standard 10” pop records of the era. While the label struggled financially in its first few months, a record featuring Sidney Bechet, whom Lion had seen perform in Berlin the decade before, proved to be a hit record that helped to boost the label into financial security.

Once we get to the 1950s, though, Blue Note’s importance to jazz really began to shine. This was precipitated in part by changes in technology: 78 RPM records were on their way out, and 33 1/3 RPM records, which can hold much more music per record, were on their way in. Blue Note started out with a series of 10” 33 1/3 albums in 1950, and gradually starting reissuing music from 78 RPM releases while continuing to produce new records. By the mid-50s, Down Beat editor Leonard Feather was writing liner notes for albums, a new innovation that let people read more about the artists they were hearing. And then 12-inch 33 1/3 RPM records became the standard, allowing for lots of liner notes and great space for album cover design, which became the work of Reid Miles, who designed many now-iconic covers for the label.

At this point in the book, Havers starts to incorporate a fantastic format change: after talking about the history of a musical decade, several of the most essential albums from that decade are highlighted, with excellent photos and frequently some great descriptions of the music and its historical context. These sections are a great way to both celebrate some of the finest jazz recordings of the last century, and perhaps to discover a few albums you might have missed along the way. After a series of fantastic 50s albums, we find the section discussing the 1960s, another banner decade for the label that includes its first forays into “the new thing” or free jazz. Sadly, though, the decade also ends with Alfred Lion selling Blue Note to Liberty Records and ultimately retiring.
After a long series of classic 60s Blue Note albums, the next chapter leaps through several decades, from the late 60s through the 80s. The discussion here focuses largely on the business side of the label, as it changed hands several times in record label consolidations. First came the Liberty Records acquisition. Then Transamerica, owners of United Artists, bought Liberty in 1968. Finally, EMI bought United Artists in 1979, and retired the Blue Note label temporarily, from ’79 to ’85. But the label marched on, albeit as a small imprint among many in its new home.

The final chapter is surprisingly short given the span of time it tackles: the 90s to the present. There’s a final business consolidation, as Universal bought EMI in 2011, which making Blue Note part of the overall Capitol Records Group. In more recent years, the label has continued to expand its horizons just as modern jazz has evolved, and you’ll find information on some great records by Brian Blade, Norah Jones, and Madlib, to name a few contemporary Blue Note titles that expand into pop, hip-hop, and rock in exciting new ways.

Overall, it’s an excellent book about the history of Blue Note. I would have liked to see a little more coverage of the recent history of the label, but the coverage of the prime 50s and 60s Blue Note periods is excellent. This is a great book for both jazz record collectors and jazz fans more generally. It’s hard to imagine what the jazz world would have been like without Blue Note, but fortunately we don’t have to!

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Blue Note: Photos by Francis Wolff, or Always in Trouble: An Oral History of ESP-Disk by Jason Weiss.)

( official web site ) | ( Wikipedia entry on the late Richard Havers )


Recommended by Scott S.
Polley Music Library

No One is Talking About This
by Patricia Lockwood (Lockwood)

This book is in two parts, the first being about a woman and her experience of becoming an influencer and really speaks to how weird and abstract the “portal” (the internet) can be. The second half of the book is a crash landing back IRL (in real life) when the woman’s sister starts having complications with her pregnancy.

This book both gave me faith in humanity and destroyed me. The author used a lyrical, sideways approach in her first half of the book, that is still slightly present in her second half but the second half is a more present, concrete narrative that I believe was intentional. Fabulous book that provides commentary on internet life vs IRL.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try The Candy House by Jennifer Egan, To Rise Again at a Decent Hour by Joshua Ferris, or True Love by Sarah Gerard.)

( publisher’s official No One is Talking About This web page ) | ( Patricia Lockwood on Twitter )


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

Murder by Page One
by Olivia Matthews (Matthews) (pseudonym of Patricia Sargeant)

Disclaimer: I am a big fan of the murder-mystery movies on the Hallmark Movies & Mysteries network, which tend to be amateur detective stories featuring a sleuth with a particularly distinctive background — florist, antiques dealer, crossword puzzle editor, criminology professor, wedding planner and in the culinary field, baker/caterer/gourmet chef. They follow a certain formula, in which the central sleuth, usually a woman, has a give-and-take relationship with a law-enforcement official, who usually doesn’t want them interfering in an investigation, but ultimately our sleuth’s specialized knowledge in their specific profession gives them insight into the location of the murder, the psychology of the murderer, or the motivation behind the crime. If the series of TV-movies lasts more than just 2 or 3 films, then invariably a complicated romantic relationship will start heating up between our amateur sleuth and the detective (or FBI agent, etc.)

So, when I saw that Hallmark’s book-printing division, Hallmark Publishing, had published several new mystery novels, specifically written to capture the tone and style of their successful TV-movies, but featuring all-new, never-before-seen characters and settings, I had to give them a try. Following new series by Tracy Gardner (The Shepherd Sisters) in 2019 and Amanda Flower (Piper and Porter) in 2020, this third new series (The Peach Coast Library mysteries) was by Patricia Sargeant, writing as Olivia Matthews, and its central character is a librarian. Marvella “Marvey” Harris is a transplant to Peach Coast, Georgia from New York City. She’s been hired to boost the local library’s profile and increase customer traffic, through community engagement. As part of that, she’s attending a local writing group’s group book-signing event at the local independent book store, owned by her friend Jo. When one of the writing group, whose first novel just came out, is discovered dead in the back storage room of the bookstore, the police suspect Marvey’s friend Jo. Together with the rich and handsome young Spencer Holt, a member of the library’s board of directors, Marvey promises her friend Jo that she’ll help discover more likely suspects, since the police don’t seem to want to do so themselves.

The mystery is fairly typical, and in this first entry, the characters are all kind of cardboard — they haven’t really developed full yet. I love the library and bookstore backgrounds, and Marvey’s team of library co-workers shows some promise. But, just like many of the Hallmark Movies & Mystery channel’s movies, there are a lot of implausible elements and coincidental plot developments, not to mention some inconsistencies that a tighter editorial oversight might have fixed. Still…I’ll give the second one in this series a chance, to see if it improves — I did find enough about this appealing to see if there’s growth down the line. If you’re looking for a simple amateur sleuth mystery with characters who love both libraries and bookstores, you’ll likely appreciate this one.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try the next in this Peach Coast Mysteries series, Murder Out of Character also by Olivia Matthews.)

( Hallmark’s official Peach Coast Library mystery series web page ) | ( publisher’s official Olivia Matthews web page ) | ( official Patricia Sargeant web site )


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

by Will McPhail (741.5 McP)

Will McPhail is a cartoonist and contributor to the New Yorker magazine.

An aging, lonely millennial (Nick) visits (hilariously-named, and satirical) coffee shops in an attempt to reach out and connect with people — to combat his work-from-home loneliness. He goes through the same surface-level interactions in his daily life. (Hi, How are you, Fine thanks and you, What can I get you, …)

He feels that there is more to life he is missing out on, and he decides to stop playing by the same script and tries to heartfully open up to others. Sometimes it works; sometimes it hilariously doesn’t. When people do let him “in” — the black and white graphics change to metaphorical and colorful illustrations (think Dorothy in Oz).

A few emerging storylines mesh together in a dark twist of a clever yet poignant ending. Hilariously funny at times, contrasted with serious life issues that creep in. Completely relatable to modern-day post-COVID times.

With all this technology and social media “bringing us together”, why are we all still so distant?

( official Will McPhail web site )

This was one of dozens of Graphic Novel reviews submitted by library staff during our 2022 In-Service Training day on 9/23, all collected on A Day Full of Graphic Novels

Recommended by Jeremiah J.
Anderson and Bethany Branch Libraries

Just Desserts Mystery Discussion GroupThe Maid
by Nita Prose (Prose)

The libraries’ Just Desserts mystery fiction discussion group had selected this for a July reading and discussion but had to push it back to September, when high demand for this title delayed some group members from getting copies that early. The Maid is the debut novel from author Nita Prose, a long-time editor in the publishing field.

Molly Gray is a maid, in a high-end hotel. It’s a job she loves because it has clearly defined rules, regulations and goals. Though not mentioned by name, it is obvious to the reader that Molly is a high-functioning autistic, who appreciates “structure” to her daily life and has difficulty coping when her routines are disrupted. And a major disruption occurs when Molly enters the suite of a pair of rich hotel “regulars” and discovers the dead body of the husband. Molly goes from chief witness to chief suspect in the eyes of the police. Meanwhile, she has to be careful which of her “friends” at the hotel are truly her friends, and which are just people who’ve been using her. Along the way, Molly grows, expanding her own capabilities and skills.

This was an exceptionally well-written novel, part mystery and part general fiction, with an unforgettable character in Molly. Molly’s behavior (and therefore the narrative tone of this novel, which is told from her point-of-view) is very much in line with the behavior models I’ve seen from the high-functioning autistic persons in my circle of contacts. This is NOT a plot-driven mystery novel…it is very much a character-driven story, and if you find Molly’s narrative style off-putting (intense descriptions, carefully reiterations of every step of her activities, somewhat emotional-less interactions with most other characters, lack of appreciation for subtleties, etc.), you probably won’t like this. But if you’re interested in a clever mystery story told from a very unique perspective, I strongly recommend giving The Maid a try…I really loved it!

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon, The Speed of Dark by Elizabeth Moon, or The Don Tillman (“Rosie”) trilogy by Graeme Simsion.)

( official The Maid page on the official Nita Prose web site )


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

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

This is a perfect choice for when the temperatures are starting to drop & there’s a wind blowing outside your windows, so you can’t tell which chills are weather-related are which are from the ghosts in the book. Both timelines, 1982 and 2017, take place in the small town of Fell, in upstate New York. Thirty-five years after Viv Delaney disappeared there, her niece, Carly Kirk travels to the eerie motel where her aunt worked to find answers about what happened one scary night.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try A Guide to the Ghosts of Lincoln by Alan Boye.)

( publisher’s official The Sun Down Motel web page ) | ( official Simone St. James web site )


Recommended by Jodi R.
Anderson and Bethany Branch Libraries

Paper Girls
by Brian K. Vaughn (author) and Cliff Chiang (artist) (741.5 Vau)

In the late 1980s, a group of four paper girls set out on their routes and encounter time travelers, supernatural beings and their future selves, in this nostalgic graphic novel series consisting of 6 volumes. Now made into an Amazon TV series, reminiscent of Stranger Things, but with a group of hard-core young women.

( publisher’s official Paper Girls web page ) | ( official Instagram account for Brian K. Vaughn )

This was one of dozens of Graphic Novel reviews submitted by library staff during our 2022 In-Service Training day on 9/23, all collected on A Day Full of Graphic Novels

Recommended by Jackie S.
Bennett Martin Public Library — Public Service

Screening Room

(DVD Jaws)

Based on the best-selling 1974 novel by Peter Benchley, I consider the 1975 film Jaws, directed by Stephen Spielberg and starring Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw and Richard Dreyfuss to be one of the best films every made. Despite being a production nightmare, which ran more than 100 days over the proposed filming schedule, and featuring a physical special effects shark that broke down more often than it worked, Jaws still manages to be an intense character study against a backdrop of a community being terrorized by horrors beyond its understanding.

Personally, I believe Scheider, Dreyfuss and Shaw give the best performances of their respective careers. Jaws’ unexpected success — it became the first “summer blockbuster” — certainly set director Spielberg on the course for a lengthy and distinguished career. The Oscar-winning soundtrack by John Williams is also one of the most memorable in that composer’s lengthy career as well — everyone recognizes his shark music within just a few beats of music.

When a Great White Shark claims the waters around the New England tourist community of Amity as its feeding grounds, Sheriff Brody (a New York City transplant) is prepared to close the beaches, but the Mayor and town council members oppose these efforts, knowing tourism and visitors to their beaches are the town’s lifeblood. But additional shark attacks make their concerns moot. While local fishermen attempt to cash in on a bounty for the killer shark, grizzled seaman Quint (Shaw) is hired by Brody (Scheider), and reluctantly takes on oceanographer Hooper (Dreyfuss), to find and destroy the deadly killer. The second half of the film becomes a claustrophobic exploration of what these three men are willing to do to survive under extreme circumstances — as Brody says in one of the film’s most memorable lines — “You’re going to need a bigger boat!”

Three moments are forever branded in my memory from this film: (1) The first shark attack near the beginning of the film. (2) When Mrs. Kintner (Lee Fierro) confronts Sheriff Brody and slaps him, accusing him of knowing about the shark and keeping the beaches open…leading to her young son’s gruesome death. And (3) The late night discussion aboard The Orca, in which Quint shares the harrowing description of being a survivor of the sinking of the U.S.S. Indianapolis in shark-infested waters during WWII. Any of these three scenes is movie magic, and then you’ve got an entire epic film layered on top of them.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try: I did enjoy Jaws 2, but the other sequels weren’t worth watching. I’d recommend watching any other films with Scheider, Shaw and Dreyfuss…but it’s hard to beat this one. Despite other later shark films having better effects, I don’t think any other shark movie beats this one for overall drama and acting performances.)

(Also available in traditional print format.)

( Internet Movie Database entry for this film )


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

formatdvdThe Lost Boys
(DVD Lost)

This 1987 film is something of a cult favorite. It was moderately successful at the time of its original release but has gained much more of a following in the decades since, with huge audiences for both its VHS and DVD releases. It inspired both 2008 and 2010 sequels (loosely connected to the original) as well as several comic-book storylines.

The Lost Boys was directed by Joel Schumacher, and stars Dianne Wiest as Lucy Emerson, moving her two sons, Michael (Jason Patric) and Sam (Corey Haim) to the Southern California coastal community of Santa Carla to live with her cantankerous old father (played by Barnard Hughes). Michael is an angry teen and strikes up a friendship with some quirky and questionable types hanging out in town every night. Sam is more trusting and innocent, and strikes up a friendship with two paranormal-obsessed town boys — “the Frog brothers” — who insist Santa Clara is infested with vampires. The only problem is…they’re right! And the vampires, all sexy and young-appearing (and led by Kiefer Sutherland as David) want to make Michael one of their own.

This is a funny, scary and very atmospheric production, with some absolutely terrific performances, and some unforgettable lines. The soundtrack is filled with great music — check out the soundtrack album for some great October music to listen to. Other noteworthy performances include Edward Herrmann as Max, Lucy’s new love interest, Jami Gertz, Michael’s friend also being courted for the vampire life, and Corey Feldman, who nearly steals the film as Edgar Frog (the only character to appear in all three films in this series).

( Internet Movie Database entry for this film ) | ( official The Lost Boys Facebook page )


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

formatdvdMinions: The Rise of Gru
(DVD j Minions)

Fifth in the successful franchise of films from Illumination Studios, to feature the bizzare, hyperactive, gibberish-spouting group of little yellow Minions. They’ve appeared in Despicable Me 1, 2 and 3, and their own film, Minions. Now, in The Rise of Gru, they’ve got a prequel film, set back in the late 1970s. Gru, once again voiced by Steve Carrell, wishes to impress the supervillain group the Vicious 6, led by his personal hero, Wild Knuckles (voiced by Alan Arkin). When there’s a shake-up in the Vicious 6′ membership, Gru decides to leave his little yellow Minion cohorts behind to do an audition meeting with the remaining Vicious 6 members, led by Belle Bottoms (voiced by Teraji P. Henson).

With lots of complicated plot twists, Gru ends up teaming up with Wild Knuckles as mentor, and a foursome of the Minions (Kevin, Bob, Stuart and Otto) have to work on their own to try to recover a mystic device that everyone wants and prevent Gru from falling victim to the rest of the Vicious 6′ nefarious plans.

There’s a lot of fun poked at 1970s tropes, but there’s a terrific soundtrack to this film. I laughed a lot at the visual humor and the inside jokes. I pitied poor voice actor Pierre Coffin for having to perform as all of the different Minion characters…whose nonsense dialog still somehow remains understandable.

In addition to the five feature films and a whole lot of 5-minute shorts, I understand there’s a Despicable Me 4 in pre-production. I wonder how long the Minions will continue to dominate pop culture!?

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try The three Despicable Me films and the other prequel, Minions.)

( Internet Movie Database entry for this film ) | ( official Minions account on Instagram )


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

formatdvdThe Mummy Returns
(DVD Mummy)

Rick and Evy are back for more adventures, this time with a son. Unfortunately, they’re not the only ones who return, as a group of worshippers brings Imhotep back to life. He is set on reviving his beloved – Anck Su Namun – and taking over an undead army belonging to the Scorpion King, a man who made a pact with Anubis and only awakens once every 5,000 years. For Imhotep to take over his army he must kill the Scorpion King. To do so will involve the bracelet of Anubis, which Rick and Evy have just managed to uncover. When Imhotep goes to steal the bracelet he sees that their son Alex is wearing it. They take him with the bracelet, leaving Rick and Evy reeling. Now they must save their son, retrieve the bracelet, and stop Imhotep before he raises the Scorpion King and all hell breaks loose, literally.

Loved this sequel almost as much as the original. It was great to have the original cast back together, and even adding some new faces to go with them. The humor is there, the action and romance as well, and being set in Egypt you get to see a lot of really neat places from history.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try The Mummy (Brendan Fraser version), The Scorpion King or Raiders of the Lost Ark)

( Internet Movie Database entry for this film )


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

formatdvdA Royal Night Out
(DVD Royal)

With the recent passing of Queen Elizabeth II in England this past week, there has been renewed interest in her life, especially as presented in films and television. I checked out this DVD to see how she was portrayed as Princess Elizabeth on VE Day, the day that the war with Germany was declared to be over. With the deprivation and sacrifice behind them, the people in Britain are given the opportunity to celebrate the end of the war this particular night. Elizabeth and her sister Margaret receive permission from their parents to go out that evening to celebrate the end of this terrible war. This opportunity is not one to be missed — the one time in their lives when they can mingle with the crowds “incognito” and celebrate alongside their British subjects. Unfortunately, the Queen Mum has other ideas in mind — she sends them out with military escorts who take them to the Ritz to celebrate with older upper crust society members — certainly not their idea of a good time! Both Princesses manage to escape and the adventure begins, taking them all over London and into areas that were considered to be the roughest at that time. Here Elizabeth meets Jack, a pilot gone AWOL who helps her to navigate the streets of London in an effort to find Margaret who is caught up in the wild partying throughout the London streets. This DVD was very enjoyable — it has romance, humor and drama, much like Roman Holiday with Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn, one of my all-time favorite films. Sarah Gadon and Bel Powley do an excellent job of portraying the young royals, Elizabeth and Margaret. I especially enjoyed the performance by Roger Allam (DCI Thursday of Endeavour fame) as Stan, a kingpin in the underworld of London. This is definitely a film worth watching!

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Roman Holiday, or The King’s Speech.)

( Internet Movie Database entry for this film ) | ( official A Royal Night Out web site )


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

last updated June 2023
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