Wednesday, May 23, 2018

The Backstagers, Vol. 1: Rebels Without Applause by James Tynion IV and Rian Sygh

The Backstagers, Vol. 1: Rebels Without Applause
by James Tynion IV (writer), Rian Sygh (artist) and Walter Baiamonte (colorist) [YA PB Tynion]

Being active in the local community theater culture, this youth graphic novel caught my eye on a library book display. The “Backstagers” are a group of oddballs and misfits who serve as the backstage crew for theatrical productions at an all-boys private high school. This first graphic novel follows new transfer Jory, as he looks for an after-school group he could potentially join. The on-stage Drama Club isn’t a good fit, but he immediately bonds with the quirky gang who build the sets, create the props, and run both sound and light for the shows.

If that were all that this story were going to cover, it would have been enough — “introverted loner finds group of fellow quirky oddballs that he can belong to”. However, this is also a storyline with a strong dark fantasy element to it. The doors at the back of the crew area lead to a series of tunnels, storerooms, and, ultimately, other doors to other dimensions. The tunnels and rooms change their configuration every time you enter them — sometimes even while you’re in them! In fact, an entire backstage crew from the late 1980s disappeared in the tunnels and was never heard from again.
While newcomer Jory is the central protagonist, every member of the Backstagers gang is a well-rounded character, and has a moment to shine — Hunter (the whiz with power tools), Aziz, Sasha, and Beckett (the light/sound board operator who’s created his own little fiefdom, powered by an energy crystal taken from one of the alternate dimensions in the tunnel labyrinth. This “Volume 1” paperback compiles four comic book issues, and the storyline continues/concludes in “Volume 2”. The art is pretty good, but the character of diminutive Sasha is drawn as if it stepped out of a cross-breed between big-eyed Disney animation and Japanese manga. That’s one element I didn’t care for.
Overall, this was an entertaining read, though the heavier the dark fantasy element became, the less I cared for the story. Your mileage may vary. I look forward to reading the rest of the story when the libraries add the second volume as a paperback.

[ official The Backstagers web site ] | [ official James Tynion IV web site ] [ official Rian Sygh web site ]

Recommended by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library

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New reviews appear every month on the Staff Recommendations page of the BookGuide website. You can visit that page to see them all, or watch them appear here in the BookGuide blog individually over the course of the entire month. Click the tag for the reviewer's name to see more of this reviewers recommendations!

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

#NotYourPrincess edited by Lisa Charleyboy and Mary Beth Leatherdale

#NotYourPrincess: Voices of Native American Women
edited by Lisa Charleyboy and Mary Beth Leatherdale [j 970.1 Not]

This book is for the young Native American woman who would like to see more of herself in print. It touches upon the stereotypes we have about Native American women and busts them. The poetry, short essays, and visual art are each thoughtfully placed for maximum impact. I would caution a reader to take their time and read pieces multiple times to absorb everything the authors are trying to impart with us. My favorite poem is “The Things We Taught Our Daughters” by Helen Knott. Aside from teaching us about some of the patterns that have perpetuated violence in our history, this book is critical because it also features role models (the authors and protagonists themselves) from many tribes around the continent. I would gift this to a young woman of color, even from another racial or ethnic background, because it reminds the reader that they have the strength they need inside themselves. I mean to say that those who do not have mainstream princess stories published about them yet *do* have incredible stories to tell, and I hope we continue to see more books and other works of art created by the folks who have historically been pushed too far into the sidelines.

[ publisher’s official #NotYourPrincess web site ]

Recommended by Naomi S.
Eiseley and Williams Branch Libraries and the Bookmobile

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New reviews appear every month on the Staff Recommendations page of the BookGuide website. You can visit that page to see them all, or watch them appear here in the BookGuide blog individually over the course of the entire month. Click the tag for the reviewer's name to see more of this reviewers recommendations!

Monday, May 21, 2018

The Silver Chair by C.S. Lewis

The Silver Chair
by C.S. Lewis [j Lewis]

This is the second to last book in the Narnia series chronologically speaking, and was the fourth out of seven to be published. The four children, Peter, Susan, Edmond, and Lucy are not in this story but their cousin Eutice who was with Lucy and Edmond in the ‘Voyage of the Dawn Treader’ is, along with a girl he knows from school named Jill. Euctice and Jill commonly call each other by their last names Scrub and Pole respectively because it seems to be what they do at school. They both get summoned to Narnia from school and are told by Aslan to find and rescue the prince (son of King Caspian from the ‘Voyage of the Dawn Treader’) who has been missing for many years and believed to be dead. As before in the Narnia books more time passes in Narnia than in our world, so each visit is sort of a time travel forward into Narnia. Aslan gives specific yet vague instructions for completing the quest which the two do their best to follow but don’t always. They still end up finding him with the help of a non-human character named Puddleglum. The prince has been under a spell of a wicked witch who straps him to a silver chair each day to re-administer the spell, which is where the title comes from. I thought it was a good moral filled story with a number of different side tracks along the main story. You could read this as a standalone if you wanted without too much confusion but I would suggest you read ‘Voyage of the Dawn Treader’ before this one, and ‘Prince Caspian’ before ‘Voyage of the Dawn Treader’. Compared to others in the series this is I’d say is a bit darker but still has its lighter moments. Recommended for all ages of readers who enjoy classic fantasy.

[ official www.narnia.com web site ] | [ official C.S. Lewis web site ]

Recommended by Kristen A.
Gere Branch Library

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Saturday, May 19, 2018

Mamma Mia! (on DVD)

Mamma Mia!
[DVD Mamma]

I checked this 2008 film out on DVD to watch before attending a performance of the stage musical version at the Lincoln Community Playhouse here in town, just to remind myself of the plot — and had a blast watching it again. But, then, I’m a huge fan of the musical group ABBA, and their music infuses the film with a lot of its energy. It appears that most people have a “Love/Hate” relationship with this film/musical, usually tied into their appreciation of ABBA — I’ve run across very few people who are ambivalent about it. Personally, I love it — the huge cast of familiar movie stars — Meryl Streep, Pierce Brosnan, Christine Baranski, Colin Firth, Stellan SkarsgĂ„rd, Amanda Seyfried and more, throw themselves into unexpectedly exuberant song and dance numbers in the midst of a bubbly and frothy soap-opera of a plot.

Both the movie and stage musical are what are known in the theater community as “Jukebox Musicals” — where a connective storyline is created to showcase a collection of an artist or group’s hit songs. Other shows in this genre from the 70s through the early 2000s would include Forever Plaid, Jersey Boys, Saturday Night Fever and Smokey Joe’s Cafe. In the past 10 years, this style of musical (both for film and stage) has exploded in popularity, with dozens of new shows/films making use of the format. Mamma Mia!, the 1998 stage musical, was one of the early ones.

Actors who you don’t normally expect to see singing do a remarkably good job, and seem to be having a huge amount of fun doing so. The story, in a nutshell — 20-year-old Sophie Sheridan is getting married in the Greek Isles, but was raised by a single mother who never told her who her father is. She wants to invite her father to give her away at her upcoming wedding, but in sneaking a read of her mom’s diary, she discovers her “Dad” could be one of three different men — Ben Carmichael, Bill Austin or Harry Bright. She invites them all to the wedding. When all three guys arrive on the remote Greek island where Sophie’s mom, Donna, owns and operates a taverna, the reunions aren’t necessary good experiences. Throw in Donna’s two old singing-group friends, Rosie and Tanya, and a bunch of the friendly locals, and you’ve got a festive atmosphere with lots of different emotions bubbling beneath the surface. Nearly every major character gets a moment to shine, both dramatically and musically. And around 20 ABBA hits get to take center stage in moving the plot forward — set in the late 90s, but featuring music from the late 70s. An emotional highlight is Donna confronting Ben musically with “The Winner Takes It All”. Other highlights are “Does Your Mother Know”, “Slipping Through My Fingers”, “Voulez-vous”, “Super Trouper”, “Dancing Queen” and the titular “Mamma Mia!” If you can accept the premise and the crazy casting, this is a terrific, feel-good film. If you can’t get past those initial obstacles, this is not the movie for you! [NOTE: The 2008 film was so successful that a sequel is coming out in the Summer of 2018, reuniting the entire original film’s cast!]

[ Internet Movie Database entry for this film ] | [ official Mamma Mia! Film Musical web site ]


Recommended by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library

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New reviews appear every month on the Staff Recommendations page of the BookGuide website. You can visit that page to see them all, or watch them appear here in the BookGuide blog individually over the course of the entire month. Click the tag for the reviewer's name to see more of this reviewers recommendations!

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Slime Sorcery by Adam Vandergrift

Slime Sorcery
by Adam Vandergrift [j745.5 Van]

Growing up as a pre-teen and teen in the 1970s, I fondly remember my first experiences with “Slime”, toy company Mattel’s ooeey, gooey, green glop, that was originally solt in a little green plastic garbage can. It was a huge sensation with both me and my friends. My next awareness of “slime” was the movie Ghostbusters, where Bill Murray’s character, Dr. Peter Venkman, got “slimed” by a hot dog-guzzling specter (nicknamed “Slimer” on the subsequent animated series) on the Ghostbusters’ first field case. The kids television network Nickelodeon dumped buckets of slime (which they called gak) on cast members and contestants on their shows throughout the 1980s and early 1990s. In other words, “Slime” has a long and illustrious history.

But none-the-less, “Slime” has probably never been more popular than it is now, with multiple websites dedicated to the gooey stuff — how to make it, how to use it, videos of it being used, etc. Slime Sorcery is by one of those online slime gurus — Adam Vandergrift. In this book, Vandergrift provides 97 different recipes for how to make Slime, based on about a half-dozen basic standard recipes, including Fluffy Slime, Galaxy Slime (with sparkles), Crunchy Slime (with solid chunks), Magnetic Slime, Color-Changing Slime and Glow-in-the-Dark Slime. Most Slime recipes are made from chemical components that are NOT to be eaten, if they look like food. But 6 of the 97 recipes included here are actually for edible Slimes. Nearly everything in this book is relatively simple to made, and about 80% of the recipes include photos to show you what the finished product should look like. There are also numerous photos of kids playing with Slime to give you some ideas of what you could do with it once you’ve mixed up a batch. I have no earthly need to have a tupperware container full of Slime, but after reading this fun and simple recipe book, I feel the urge to mix up a batch of “Cameron’s Midnight Slime”, with its silvery glitter in a deep blue-black base that looks like a sparkling midnight sky!

[ Adam Vandergriff’s official Will It Slime web site, including pics and videos ]

Recommended by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library

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Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Belinda the Unbeatable by Lee Nordling and Scott Roberts

Belinda the Unbeatable
by Lee Nordling and Scott Roberts [jP Nordling]

A classroom game of musical chairs is better when everyone is included. Belinda brings a friend into the game who was previously going to be left out, sitting alone by the lockers. As the game continues, the cheery musical notes and fun twists and turns in the route become a little more and more stressful. Without any words whatsoever, the book’s illustrations shows us which characters are good sports and which could use a little more kindness. The ending teaches us a newer, more improved way to play musical chairs, and it showcases the great way that Belinda became unbeatable.

[ publisher’s official Belinda the Unbeatable web page ]

Recommended by Naomi S.
Eiseley and Williams Branch Libraries and the Bookmobile

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New reviews appear every month on the Staff Recommendations page of the BookGuide website. You can visit that page to see them all, or watch them appear here in the BookGuide blog individually over the course of the entire month. Click the tag for the reviewer's name to see more of this reviewers recommendations!

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

From Doon With Death by Ruth Rendell

From Doon With Death
by Ruth Rendell [Compact Disc Rendell]

In advance of the April 2017 Just Desserts mystery fiction discussion group meeting, where we discussed the entire body of work by British suspense writer Ruth Rendell, I sampled both one of her stand-alone suspense titles, and one of her police procedurals, featuring Inspector Reginald Wexford. This was the Wexford novel.

From Doon With Death is actually the first in the Wexford series, with 23 more to follow if you end up enjoying it. As Rendell put it in interviews, Wexford was “born a 52-year-old-man”. In this novel, he’s already a gruff, seasoned police veteran, one of the more experienced members of the force in a relatively small country community. When a seemingly mild-mannered housewife is killed, with some emotionally-based brutality, Wexford and his young partner have to start digging into lives that on the surface seem placid and normal, but which, under the surface, have a lot of turmoil. The characters in this are extremely well-defined, from the central police investigators to the myriad of suspects in the murder. And, while some the police procedural elements seem quite realistic, there’s also a bit of a laissez-faire attitude about the whole thing that seemed unprofessional.

However, the plot is fairly fast-paced, the sleuths are intriguing, and the ending, while shocking in 1964 standards, when the book came out, is still a bit of a twist even today. I do still recommend this volume, and the Inspector Wexford series in general. If you like these characters, you can also check out the Ruth Rendell Mysteries on DVD, four seasons of a TV series adapting many of her key Wexford novels. You can see a complete list of Rendell’s works in the Just Desserts handout from that meeting.

[ publisher’s official From Doon With Death web page ] | [ publisher’s official Ruth Rendell web site ]

Recommended by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library

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New reviews appear every month on the Staff Recommendations page of the BookGuide website. You can visit that page to see them all, or watch them appear here in the BookGuide blog individually over the course of the entire month. Click the tag for the reviewer's name to see more of this reviewers recommendations!

Monday, May 14, 2018

A Wrinkle in Time: 50th Anniversary Edition by Madeleine L'Engle

A Wrinkle in Time: 50th Anniversary Edition
by Madeleine L’Engle [j L’Engle and YA L’Engle]

A Wrinkle in Time has always been one of my favorite childhood classics. When I first read it, I was not old enough to understand many of the scientific concepts presented in the book, but I loved the story anyway because it was unlike anything else I had ever read. That opinion still stands true today. With the movie adaptation that just came out of “A Wrinkle in Time,” I was moved to get the book out and re-read it to see if it still held up as a classic after 55 years. The answer is yes — the relationships between the characters are just as meaningful today as they were then. If you have never read the book, I would suggest reading the book before viewing the movie. The movie pales in comparison with the story that Madeleine L’Engle created. This particular edition is especially nice with the Afterword written by L’Engle’s granddaughter, Charlotte, and the Newbery Medal acceptance speech written by L’Engle herself.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try A Swiftly Tilting Planet, by Madeleine L’Engle, A Wizard of Earthsea, by Ursula K. LeGuin or The Chronicles of Narnia series, by C.S. Lewis]

[ official A Wrinkle in Time page on the official Madeleine L’Engle web site ]

Recommended by Kim J.
Bennett Martin Public Library

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New reviews appear every month on the Staff Recommendations page of the BookGuide website. You can visit that page to see them all, or watch them appear here in the BookGuide blog individually over the course of the entire month. Click the tag for the reviewer's name to see more of this reviewers recommendations!

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Fantasyland by Kurt Anderson


by Kurt Andersen [973 And]


There are many books out there that why one group of people are wrong or why another group of people are insane. “Fantasyland” stands out by taking a big picture approach of how our country came to a place where we appear to be polarized on the very definition of reality itself. Kurt Andersen traces America’s relationship with “wishful magical thinking” all the back to the Protestant Reformation. The author does take a consistently critical view of religion (especially Christianity). So, those readers easily agitated by religious criticism may have a hard time with this book. Rest assured that Kurt Andersen is an equal-opportunity critic. It is a long read, but never a tedious read. It would take the most closed of minds to not at least acknowledge that the author makes some valid criticisms and observations about America’s “fantasy industrial complex”. For anyone wondering how it is we got to where we are as a country, for better or worse, I cannot recommend this book enough to you. It is one of the most entertaining and insightful books you are likely to read.

[ official Fantasyland page on the official Kurt Andersen web site ]

Recommended by Corey G.
Gere Branch Library

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Sunday, April 29, 2018

A Street Cat Named Bob (the film on DVD)

A Street Cat Named Bob
[DVD Street] 

This 2016 movie (released on DVD in 2017), is adapted from the first two autobiographical books by James Bowen, A Street Cat Named Bob and How He Saved My Life (2013) and The World According to Bob: The Further Adventures of One Man and His Streetwise Cat (2014). I loved both of those volumes, especially the first, which was a painfully honest account of Bowen’s struggles to recover from drug addiction and survive on the street of London, first as a street busker (musician) and later as a seller of The Big Issue. Bowen’s life was forever changed when a ginger tomcat adopted him and gave his life focus and a greater purpose.

For this film, the “plot” of the book is streamlined, and a lot of extraneous material, including Bowen’s time in Australia with his mother, cut out, in order to focus primarily on his interactions with Bob the cat, once Bob shows up in his life. Luke Treadaway gives a terrific performance as Bowen, and the actual Street Cat Bob performs as himself (with several other stand-in cats) in this film. There are some other good performances, including Ruda Gedmintas as Betty, the friend who helps James get his life together and develops a romantic attachment, Joanne Froggatt as Val, James’ social worker, and Anthony Stewart Head (Giles from Buffy the Vampire Slayer!!) as Bowen’s father.
This isn’t a deep film, but it has lots of nice “moments”, and for anyone who, like me, loved the books, this is a charming little nugget. There’s also some very nice original music that Treadaway as Bowen performs during his busking scenes. I definitely recommend this one for anyone looking for a “feel good” film with an engaging cat!

[If you enjoy this, you should absolutely read Bowen’s book. I found the first book to be far more interesting than the subsequent ones, but they’re all good reads: A Street Cat Named Bob and How He Saved My Life, The World According to Bob: The Further Adventures of One Man and His Streetwise Cat or A Gift From Bob.]

[ Internet Movie Database entry for A Street Cat Named Bob ] | [ official Street Cat Bob web site ]

Recommended by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library

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New reviews appear every month on the Staff Recommendations page of the BookGuide website. You can visit that page to see them all, or watch them appear here in the BookGuide blog individually over the course of the entire month. Click the tag for the reviewer's name to see more of this reviewers recommendations!

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Lost in Paris (on DVD)

by Abel & Gordon [DVD Lost]

This is a modern gem of gentle(-ish) humor, using a formula of 1 awkward Canadian spinster + 1 rakish French bum = 2 quirky people in love. Add on a mesmerizing tango for extra credit. Blissfully comedic and connubic filmmakers Fiona Gordon and Dominique Abel have created a vaguely autobiographical adventure through the streets (and a crematorium!) of Paris, in which their characters do a dance of happenstance romance. The pivot point for this unlikely pairing is Fiona’s search for her “missing” aunt, Martha/Marthe, played by famed French actress Emmanuelle Riva in her final film role. What a goof-ily sweet treat of a movie! [Hey, US movie makers, this is what La La Land should have been more like.] Be sure to watch the special features to get a better idea of Abel & Gordon’s burlesque (no, not the definition you think you know…) techniques and 30-year career if you are not familiar with them.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try French Kiss with Meg Ryan and Kevin Kline, The Navigator and Spite Marriage with Buster Keaton or Girl Shy and Safety Last with Harold Lloyd.]

[ Internet Movie Database entry for Lost in Paris ] | [ official Lost in Paris web site ]

Recommended by Becky W.C.
Walt Branch Library

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New reviews appear every month on the Staff Recommendations page of the BookGuide website. You can visit that page to see them all, or watch them appear here in the BookGuide blog individually over the course of the entire month. Click the tag for the reviewer's name to see more of this reviewers recommendations!

Monday, April 23, 2018

Penguin the Magpie by Cameron Bloom

Penguin the Magpie: The Odd Little Bird Who Saved a Family
by Cameron Bloom and Bradley Trevor Grieve [Biography Bloom] 

A few years back, I gave a book talk to our Bethany and Gere BooksTalks groups entitled “Creature Comforts“, all about unique relationships between humans and the animals in our lives. Penguin the Magpie: The Odd Little Bird Who Saved a Family would easily have fit into that talk! When I saw this book on the New Books display at the downtown library, recently, the beautiful B&W photo on the cover, of a child holding a gorgeous magpie bird, immediately leapt out at me.

Author Cameron Bloom is an Australian photojournalist. He and his wife, Sam, are adventurers, preferring treks through unexplored spaces over sticking to “tourist” traps. While on a family vacation with their three young sons to a remote part of Thailand, Sam Bloom was the victim of a freak accident, that left her with a broken spine and fractured skull. Returning to their home in Australia, she was forced to adapt to a new lifestyle, filled with excruciating pain, partial paralysis, and the need for assistance with some of the simplest everyday tasks — torture for someone who had previously lived a very “active” life.

Around this time, one of the Blooms’ sons came across a helpless baby Magpie bird in a store’s parking lot, blown out of its nest and abandoned by its mother. The Bloom family adopted the bird, which the kids named Penguin, due to its black & white coloring, and decided to nurse it, at least until it could be released into the wild. This book features a variety of B&W and color photos of the family with the bird, as it grew up, acclimating to their family life and becoming like one of their kids. Sam, in particular, bonded with the bird, and the process of helping something even more fragile than herself to survive and then thrive contributed to her own rehabilitation. The photos are paired with text that is almost journal-like in format, chronicling Sam’s recovery and the impact it has had on her entire family’s life. There are afterwords, including a “letter” from Sam, herself, which are definitely worth reading, and which add to the emotional impact of the book.

The descriptions of Sam’s struggles are stark, but when contrasted with the beautiful photography of the family and their avian adventures, provide for a bittersweet exploration of how relationships with animals can have a healing quality. This was truly a moving story.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Wesley the Owl, by Stacey O’Brien, Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World, by Vicki Myron, A Street Cat Named Bob and How He Saved My Life, by James Bowen, or any of the many other books on my Creature Comforts booktalk booklist.]

[ official Penguin the Magpie web site ] | [ official Cameron Bloom Photography web site ]

Recommended by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library

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Saturday, April 21, 2018

John Wick (on DVD)

John Wick
[DVD John] 

What is initially a sad story of a man who loses his wife to illness soon becomes an action thriller when a gang breaks into his house, steels his car, and kills the puppy his wife left for him. I thought it was sweet of her to arrange a puppy for him as she knew her time was short and didn’t want her husband to be all alone when she was gone. The main character’s name is John Wick and it’s evident early on that his name has some weight and history behind it. He used to work as a sort of hit man so tracking down the people responsible for stealing his car (which is a very nice car) and murdering his dog is something he’s quite used to doing, and he used to do it so well that those who know his name are quite terrified they don’t get on his bad side. Even though after the set up the movie is very action packed the motive of Wick’s character for revenge is not lost. I thoroughly enjoyed this movie and if you like action movies with some plot to them, then I think you will too.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try John Wick 2.]

[ Internet Movie Database entry for this film ] | [ official John Wick movie series web site ]

Recommended by Kristen A.
Gere Branch Library

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Friday, April 20, 2018

Book of Nature Poetry edited by J. Patrick Lewis

Book of Nature Poetry
edited by J. Patrick Lewis [j811.08 Nat]

A beautiful ‘coffee table book’, this is appropriate for readers of any age. Produced by National Geographic and edited by J. Patrick Lewis, former US Children’s Poet Laureate, it is full of gorgeous photographs to accompany the many poems, old and new, about flora, fauna, and other natural topics and phenomena. A variety of poets, ranging from venerable scribblers such as Emily Dickinson and Robert Frost to ‘youngsters’ in the field of young people’s poetry like X. J. Kennedy and Jane Yolen, are represented. The shortest (and funniest) verse in the book may be this, by Douglas Florian:

The Rhea
The rhea rheally isn’t strange –
It’s just an ostrich, rhearranged.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Julie Andrews’ Treasury For All Seasons, by Julie Andrews.]

[ publisher’s official Book of Nature Poetry web site ] | [ official J. Patrick Lewis web site ]
Recommended by Becky W.C.
Walt Branch Library

Don't forget -- April is National Poetry Month!
 
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New reviews appear every month on the Staff Recommendations page of the BookGuide website. You can visit that page to see them all, or watch them appear here in the BookGuide blog individually over the course of the entire month. Click the tag for the reviewer's name to see more of this reviewers recommendations!

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
by C.S. Lewis [j Lewis] 

In this novel, we travel back to Narnia with Edmond and Lucy, but not with Peter and Susan as they are elsewhere in our world when the traveling occurs. However Edmond and Lucy are not alone; they are staying with their cousin Eustace who is a rather irritating person and he is pulled into Narnia with them through a painting of a ship at Eustace’s house. They arrive in the water and are hauled into the ship and meet their friend from the last adventure, Caspian, now King of Narnia. Caspian is on a journey to find his father’s friends who traveled away long ago and never returned. Their ship is called the Dawn Treader, hence the title. The adventures that occur before Edmond, Lucy and Eustice return home, include Eustice turning into a dragon, a pool who’s water turns anything to gold, a sea monster, a retired star, invisible creatures, and sweet seawater. It’s a pretty fun story much more light-hearted than ‘The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe’, not that that one is dark. Recommended for readers of any age looking for fantasy adventure or classic fantasy stories, however I would suggest you read ‘Prince Caspian’ first as it explains how Edmond and Lucy met him last time they were in Narnia.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try the entire Narnia series, by C.S. Lewis: Publication Order:
1. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (1950)
2. Prince Caspian: The Return to Narnia (1951)
3. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (1952)
4. The Silver Chair (1953)
5. The Horse and His Boy (1954)
6. The Magician’s Nephew (1955)
7. The Last Battle (1956)
Chronological Order:
1. The Magician’s Nephew
2. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
3. The Horse and His Boy*
4. Prince Caspian: The Return to Narnia
5. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
6. The Silver Chair
7. The Last Battle
* Takes place within the time of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe]

[ official C.S. Lewis web site ]
Recommended by Kristen A.
Gere Branch Library

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Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Psych's Guide to Crime Fighting for the Totally Unqualified by "Shawn Spencer"

Psych’s Guide to Crimefighting for the Totally Unqualified
by “Shawn Spencer” with “Burton Guster” [791.457 PsyYs] 

After watching the Psych reunion TV-movie in December 2017, I’ve lately enjoyed watching a bunch of episodes (on both cable TV and DVD) of this charming and eccentric comedy/drama, which ran from 2006 to 2014. Re-watching episodes reminded me of this book, one of the strangest and quirkiest TV tie-in books I’ve ever seen, and I’ve been collected tie-in books since the early 1970s!

Credited as being written by the series’ main characters, “psychic detective” Shawn Spencer and his sidekick/parter, pharmaceutical rep Burton “Gus” Guster, this book is a totally nuts, stream-of-consciousness wander through the kinds of information you might need if you wanted to become a private detective, only told by someone who has absolutely no true skills in that subject. In the series, Shawn pretended to be a psychic detective, so that he could use his uncanny gift of a photographic memory and the ability to almost instantaneously interpret the connections between random facts and evidence, to solve crimes and be the “big shot”. That, and make use of the training his retired cop father drilled into him throughout his misspent youth.

In this book, “Shawn” runs roughshod over traditional detective guidebooks, bouncing from one unconnected topic to another like a pinball machine with ADHD. On one page, he may be offering tips on how to read a crime scene, then he jumps to fantasizing about appropriate cars for P.I.s (like Magnum’s Ferrari and the helicopter from Airwolf), then he’ll offer a pop quiz on how to be a sidekick, a family tree of cop friend Lassiter’s favorite guns, and a stick-figure guide to how to tail someone (drawn on cocktail napkins). He’ll also throw in random pie charts, tables and statistical graphics, that have no real bearing on what he’s just been talking about.

Those who appreciated the off-kilter humor of the Psych TV series, with Shawn’s frequent non-sequiturs and divergences into things unrelated to the cases he and Gus worked on, will appreciate this book, filled as it is with seemingly unrelated pop culture references, and tons of photos from the series.

However, those looking for a legitimate book about how to be a private investigator, should drop this book and run screaming into the hills.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try all eight seasons of the television series Psych. There were also several Psych tie-in novels, which you can see on our TV Tie-Ins booklist.]

[ publisher's official Psych’s Guide to Crime Fighting… web site ] | [ official Psych TV series web site ]

Recommended by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library

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New reviews appear every month on the Staff Recommendations page of the BookGuide website. You can visit that page to see them all, or watch them appear here in the BookGuide blog individually over the course of the entire month. Click the tag for the reviewer's name to see more of this reviewers recommendations!

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Everything is Flammable by Gabrielle Bell

Everything is Flammable
by Gabrielle Bell [Biography Bell] 

This is a book that I believe I picked up solely because of the eye-catching cover and title. It is a memoir about a young woman with anxiety, depression, and other increasingly common mental health issues, her tenuous relationship with her mother, and their struggles to find quality of life despite financial issues. Although I would’ve preferred a traditional book for the subjects the author writes about here, it seems that Bell still has quite a lot to process regarding her relationship with her mother and her responsibilities towards her, so the graphic novel format here leaves a lot to ponder for all parties (author, reader, subjects, etc.). The extremely short chapters here describe the ways in which her friends take care of her as she determines her next steps, and there are many chapters that introduce us to the people in her mother’s life as well. This great work showcases how it sometimes takes a village to raise an adult, even one who has adult children of their own. This great work only barely touches on the interconnected reliance we need to rebuild to help stabilize the lives of our loved ones and neighbors.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Fun Home, by Alison Bechdel.]

[ publisher’s official Everything is Flammable web page ] | [ official Gabrielle Bell web site ]

Recommended by Naomi S.
Eiseley and Williams Branch Libraries and the Bookmobile

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New reviews appear every month on the Staff Recommendations page of the BookGuide website. You can visit that page to see them all, or watch them appear here in the BookGuide blog individually over the course of the entire month. Click the tag for the reviewer's name to see more of this reviewers recommendations!

Monday, April 16, 2018

Light on the Prairie by Nancy Plain


If you have any interest at all in Nebraska pioneer history or the history of photography, you must take a look at this wonderful little volume. Intended for a middle-grades audience, this is just as valuable for young adults and adults in recounting the life, and what would become a large part of his life, of Nebraska homesteader Solomon Butcher. Having learned photography as a teen living in Illinois, he later joined the male members of his family who decided to go west after the Homestead Act took effect. They settled in Custer County and the rest, completely literally, is history. Butcher was a much better photographer than farmer and he decided to start documenting fellow pioneers in his own and surrounding counties at their soddies, church picnics, etc. With his camera, a wagon-mounted darkroom, and notebooks to record their stories, Butcher spent as much or more time traveling the countryside as he did at his own 160 acres. Many years into his endeavor, a devastating fire at his home destroyed his papers but not the 1,500 photo negatives he had accumulated. So, he recreated the oral narratives and resumed his project, eventually culminating in the seminal Pioneer History of Custer County. Today Butcher’s work is considered crucial to western settlement history, and his images are widely disseminated. A couple of things I found especially interesting were his shots of ranch daughters in their riding finery with their trusty steeds, and the fact that he would sometimes draw in elements such as plants or birds to make an image more representative of what he or the subject wanted to depict!

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Prairie Settlement, Lincoln’s Early Architecture, by Ed Zimmer and Jim McKee or Mari Sandoz’ Native Nebraska, by Mari Sandoz]

[ Light on the Prairie page on the official Nancy Plain web site ]

Recommended by Becky W.C.
Walt Branch Library

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New reviews appear every month on the Staff Recommendations page of the BookGuide website. You can visit that page to see them all, or watch them appear here in the BookGuide blog individually over the course of the entire month. Click the tag for the reviewer's name to see more of this reviewers recommendations!

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Hallowed Grounds (and) A Cemetery Special (on DVD)

Hallowed Grounds and A Cemetery Special
[DVD 393.1 Hol and DVD 393.1 Seb] 

A little over a year ago, I caught a repeat airing on PBS of Hallowed Grounds, and enjoyed it very much. After stumbling across the DVD of that special on the shelves at the downtown library, I found A Cemetery Special right next to it, and the similar look of the packaging led me to think both documentaries were similar in nature and tone. It turns out, they were quite different, but equally recommendable in their own ways.

A Cemetery Special came first, in 2005. It was written, produced, directed and narrated by Rick Sebak, a documentary producer who specializes in what he calls “scrapbook documentaries”, a somewhat more informal style of documentary storytelling featuring bits of home movies, still photos, interview fragments of people’s personal memories, and the input of both professional and amateur historians. In the case of A Cemetery Special, the film crew visited an eclectic group of U.S. cemeteries, from Vermont and Pennsylvania, to Key West, Florida and Alaska. Sebak keeps a light tone throughout, interviewing colorful locals and area historical experts, talking about the history of “cemeteries” in the United States — the expansive, beautiful park-like grounds that began with Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, MA in 1831. As opposed to more bare-bones, utilitarian burial grounds and graveyards, that had no aesthetically uplifting qualities. A Cemetery Special is a celebration of landscaping, architecture, art, and history — neither morbid nor depressing. It includes a look at a granite quarry in Vermont, and artists creating unique tombstones and sculptures. This is an enjoyable hour-long look at the beauty of some eternal resting places, and may put you in the mood to stroll through Lincoln’s own Wyuka Cemetery and appreciate the sculptures, obelisks and quirky inscriptions.

On the other hand, Hallowed Grounds, while also only an hour long, is written and produced by Robert Uth and Glenn Marcus, directed by Uth, and narrated by Peter Thomas. It is a somber and reflective look at 22 of America’s overseas military cemeteries, where as many as 125,000 Americans lost in WWI and WWII, and 94,000 still listed as missing in those conflicts, are either buried or memorialized. Ranging from tiny Flanders Field American Cemetery (where 411 are buried), to Manila American Cemetery in the Philippines (where over 53,000 are buried), the film-makers include gorgeous footage of what these cemeteries looked like around 2009 (when this film was first shown), filled with personal stories of many of the noteworthy American soldiers buried in each. This documentary is also filled with interviews, of ordinary Europeans who come to these cemeteries to pay tribute to the Americans who helped liberate their countries, and world historians and military historians who shed light on the wars that left so many American soldiers buried beneath foreign skies.

Unlike A Cemetery Story, Hallowed Grounds has very little humor to it, and treats its subject matter with respect and reverence. It serves to both entertain and educate, as well as to give the viewer a pause to think of the lives lost in foreign wars of our parents’ and grandparents’ generations.
Both documentaries are equally excellent and I highly recommend them. I give Hallowed Grounds a full 10 rating for the thoroughness with which it covers its unique subject matter, while A Cemetery Special earns only an 8 — it was entertaining and informative but barely scratches the surface on the subject of U.S. cemeteries, and doesn’t even touch on any of the most famous, like Forest Lawn or Arlington or Hollywood Forever or Saint Louis Cemetery #1 in New Orleans.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Rest in Peace: A History of American Cemeteries by Meg Greene, Hollwood Remains to Be Seen by Mark Masek, Tombstones: 75 Famous People and Their Final Resting Places by Gregg Felsen, Where Valor Rests: Arlington National Cemetery by the National Geographic Society, American Military Cemeteries: A Comprehensive Illustrated Guide to the Hallowed Grounds of the United States, Including Cemeteries Overseas by Dean W. Holt. For those interested in local cemetery history, don’t miss Lincoln historian Ed Zimmer’s book Wyuka Cemetery: A Driving and Walking Tour]

[ Internet Movie Database entry for A Cemetery Special ]
[ Internet Movie Database entry for Hallowed Grounds ] | [ PBS’ official Hallowed Grounds web page ]

Recommended by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library

Have you watched either of these? What did you think? Did you find this review helpful?

New reviews appear every month on the Staff Recommendations page of the BookGuide website. You can visit that page to see them all, or watch them appear here in the BookGuide blog individually over the course of the entire month. Click the tag for the reviewer's name to see more of this reviewers recommendations!

Friday, April 13, 2018

The Perfect Nanny by Leila Slimani

The Perfect Nanny
by Leila Slimani

Myriam and Paul have discovered a’miracle’. “The Perfect Nanny” in their neighborhood. Nanny Louise quickly becomes an intregal part of the family. Myriam can return to work and Paul rises in the ranks at his own job. They even have time for one another again, and make sure Louise is almost always with them – even on family vacations.

All the other nannies at the park watch themselves carefully when Louise brings the children around….having heard the wonderous tales of Louise’s long hours, gourmet meals and strong yearning for perfection.

What will happen then when the youngest child, Adam, grows closer to the age of school enrollment? What will become of Louise and her new family?

A psychological thriller that keeps you guessing and racing through. This slim, 228 page turner is nearly impossible to put down.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn, Girl on the Train, by Paula Hawkins.]

[ publisher’s official The Perfect Nanny web page ] | [ Wikipedia page for Leila Slimani ]

Recommended by Sarah J.
South Branch Library

Have you read this one? What did you think? Did you find this review helpful?

New reviews appear every month on the Staff Recommendations page of the BookGuide website. You can visit that page to see them all, or watch them appear here in the BookGuide blog individually over the course of the entire month. Click the tag for the reviewer's name to see more of this reviewers recommendations!

Thursday, April 12, 2018

A New Class (and) The Force Oversleeps by Jarrett J. Krosoczka

A New Class and The Force Oversleeps
by Jarrett J. Krosoczka [j Krosoczka] 

Following in the path of the first three volumes in the Jedi Academy series (by Jeffrey Brown), artist/writer Jarret J. Krosoczka does an admirable job of introducing a new bunch of students at the Jedi Academy on Coruscant. The teachers are mostly all the same as in Brown’s trilogy, but it’s an all new class of Jedi underclassmen. The central character is Victor Starspeeder, a headstrong boy who thinks that Jedi studies are going to be a breeze and that he’ll be the “star” of his class, even though in the first book he is joining the Academy half-way through the school year as is “the new kid”. At least his sister is already there as one of the older students, even if they have an awkward relationship. An amusing subplot in both of these first two volumes is having Yoda assign Victor to participate in the Drama Department’s annual musical. In The Force Oversleeps, we get to see deeper into a family issue that has plagued both Victor and Christina for years.

Krosoczka’s art style is considerably different from Brown’s, but he keeps the concept of an illustrated journal going quite nicely. I enjoy the batch of new supporting characters. This is a fun series, and each volume is a quick read. I recommend them for kids and adults alike — basically anyone who’s a Star Wars fan.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try the original trio of Star Wars Jedi Academy illustrated journal novels, by Jeffrey Brown.]

[ publisher’s official Star Wars: Jedi Academy web site ] | [ official Jarrett Krosoczka web site ]

Recommended by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library

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New reviews appear every month on the Staff Recommendations page of the BookGuide website. You can visit that page to see them all, or watch them appear here in the BookGuide blog individually over the course of the entire month. Click the tag for the reviewer's name to see more of this reviewers recommendations!

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Why I'm an Only Child by Roger Welsch


A lighthearted yet also heartfelt examination of the category of folk humor he has christened “civil ribaldry”, this offering from Nebraska author Roger Welsch is a true, if sometimes “naughty”, delight. Welsch, whose career as a folklorist, critic, and commentator spans several decades by now, delves into his own inspirations for what he does (and loves), be it from his family members, his neighbors/townsfolk, the historic tradition, or the larger culture. Along the way he provides a clear explanation of this form of rural/folk humor and many fun (and a number of subtly racy) examples of jokes and comical conversations which are mostly suitable to share in mixed company. Grab an adult beverage, put your feet up, and enjoy!

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Shingling the Fog and Other Plains Lies or Everything I Know About Women I Learned from My Tractor, also by Roger Welsch]

[ publisher's official Why I'm an Only Child: And Other Slightly Naughty Plains Folktales web site ] | [ Roger Welsch page on the CBS Sunday Morning web page ]

Recommended by Becky W.C.
Walt Branch Library

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New reviews appear every month on the Staff Recommendations page of the BookGuide website. You can visit that page to see them all, or watch them appear here in the BookGuide blog individually over the course of the entire month. Click the tag for the reviewer's name to see more of this reviewers recommendations!

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

The Phoenix on the Sword by Robert E. Howard

The Phoenix on the Sword
by Robert E. Howard

This is just a short story of about 20 pages or so featuring Conan the Barbarian, written by the creator of the character, Robert E. Howard. Often seen as a traveler, Conan has a bit of a different position in this story as king of a land he had conquered. There are some people plotting to murder him and in sort of a dream-like reality he is forewarned of this assassination attempt and acquires a phoenix marking on his sword which enables it to slay demons. I found it very entertaining and full of action while vividly creating the Conan world I’m used to seeing in his and Red Sonja’s comics. If you enjoy sword and sorcery stories, the Conan movies or comics, or Red Sonja, this deserves a try. I enjoyed it quite a bit and if I had more reading time would most likely read more of the Howard stories featuring Conan; I’ve been told by someone whose read them all, that the order in which you read them does not matter as they told in a non-consecutive manner anyway.

You can read this story on Hoopla as “The Phoenix on the Sword” or it can be listened to on Hoopla or OverDrive as the first story in the collection of Conan stories by Howard “The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian”. It is also freely available on Australia’s Project Gutenburg.

[NOTE: This story is literally the first “Conan” story written and published by Howard, and is credited with launching the “Sword & Sorcery” genre.]

[If you enjoy this, also on Hoopla is The Phoenix on the Sword, which is a comic by Timothy Truman. I’m guessing it’s the same story but I haven’t read it, but I do think it’d be interesting to read both and compare them.]

[ Wikipedia page for Robert E. Howard ] | [ official Robert E. Howard/Conan web site ]

Recommended by Kristen A.
Gere Branch Library

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New reviews appear every month on the Staff Recommendations page of the BookGuide website. You can visit that page to see them all, or watch them appear here in the BookGuide blog individually over the course of the entire month. Click the tag for the reviewer's name to see more of this reviewers recommendations!

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Murder on the Orient Express (2017) (on DVD)

I am a huge Agatha Christie fan, having been introduced to Dame Agatha’s novels back in my teen years by my mother. I am also a hugh Kenneth Branagh fan — his Henry V and Dead Again are two of my all-time favorite movies! So, you’d think this was a slam dunk for being a film that I would love. While I did enjoy this 2017 version of Murder on the Orient Express, I was ultimately a bit disappointed in it.
Not because it isn’t a good film — it is a very good film, with many good performances in it. It’s just that the 1974 version with Albert Finney as Poirot is one of my all-time favorite films, and this didn’t quite match up to it. Branagh as Poirot gives a decent enough performance, but he physically does not resemble the character as described by Agatha Christie in her novels and stories. And his interpretation of the fussy little Belgian detective’s mannerisms just felt “off”. And don’t get me started on the mustache! That was just wrong in every way. Still…this version of the film (like the 1974) features an all-star cast, including Johnny Depp, Daisy Ridley, Leslie Odom Jr., Josh Gad, Derek Jakobi, Judy Dench, Willem Dafoe, Penelope Cruz, and Michelle Pfeiffer (and more). The backgrounds of several of Christie’s characters are tinkered with in order to accommodate some of these “star castings”, sometimes in ways that pay disservice to the original story.
The setting of the Orient Express train is done very well, though the extensive use of CGI effects to show the train in motion is sometimes painfully obvious. A sequence involving an action-adventure chase on scaffolding is added, which wasn’t in the book, and feels unnecessary. However, another scene that differs from the book turns out to be one of the best in the film, as Poirot angrily confronts the tableau of suspects in a train tunnel at the film’s climax.
Christie purists may have lots of problems with this film. I came into it wanting to love it, and left wishing I liked it more than I did. As a film, on its own merits, its perfectly fine. It just suffers in comparison to other versions of Murder on the Orient Express. I do, ultimately, recommend it…but I also recommend viewing what’s come before!
[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Murder on the Orient Express (the 1974 version with Albert Finney), Murder on the Orient Express (the 2010 2-hour version with David Suchet) or the original print novel Murder on the Orient Express

Internet Movie Database entry for this film ] | [ official Murder on the Orient Express (2017) web site ]

Recommended by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library
Have you read this one? What did you think? Did you find this review helpful?

New reviews appear every month on the Staff Recommendations page of the BookGuide website. You can visit that page to see them all, or watch them appear here in the BookGuide blog individually over the course of the entire month. Click the tag for the reviewer's name to see more of this reviewers recommendations!

Friday, March 30, 2018

The Butchering Art by Lindsey Fitzharris

Set in the Victorian age when pus and inflammation were considered necessary for healing this biography of Joseph Lister is fascinating.
Dr. Joseph Lister, son of Joseph Jackson Lister, an optician who made great strides in the value of microscopes, was a proponent of cleanliness in hospitals and in particular the operating room. Even though most of his colleagues at the time felt his methods were time consuming and unneeded, he persevered and changed how surgery was done. He was truly the father of modern surgery. When Lister died, he’d asked that all his personal papers be destroyed, but his nephew refused and because of that we have this wonderful book about not only his great achievements, but also his personal life as well.
Fitzharris does an excellent job of describing him and his life as well as explaining life during the era. If you like biographies, or medical history books, you’ll love this title.
[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try The Speckled Monster: A Historical Tale of Battling Smallpox, by Jennifer Lee Carrell, Yellow Jack: How Yellow Fever Ravaged America and Walter Reed Discovered Its Deadly Secrets, by John R. Pierce or Flu: The Story of the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918 and the Search for the Virus That Caused It, by Gina Kolata.]

[ publisher’s official The Butchering Art web site ] | [ official Dr. Lindsey Fitzharris web site ]

Recommended by Marcy G.
South Branch Library
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New reviews appear every month on the Staff Recommendations page of the BookGuide website. You can visit that page to see them all, or watch them appear here in the BookGuide blog individually over the course of the entire month. Click the tag for the reviewer's name to see more of this reviewers recommendations!