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

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!

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

Have you watched 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, 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!
 
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 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

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!

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

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!

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

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!

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

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!

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

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!

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

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!

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

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!

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
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, March 29, 2018

The Silver Pigs by Lindsey Davis

The Silver Pigs
by Lindsey Davis

The libraries’ Just Desserts mystery book discussion group had selected the historical mystery series featuring Marcus Didius Falco, Ancient Rome’s version of a private investigator, for our February 2018 meeting, only to have an ice storm keep most of the group’s members home from the meeting. This was particularly frustrating to me, as I tremendously enjoyed reading the first of the Falco books, The Silver Pigs, and was eager to learn the opinions of the other Just Desserters about the series.

In this series premiere volume, private “Informer” Falco literally stumbles into the biggest job of his career, when he assists a young noblewoman to escape some thugs who were pursuing her. This leads to him being hired to investigate what turns out to be a major case of corruption involving Roman government officials. As part of his investigation, Falco must go undercover in a brutal silver mine in the Roman territory of Britain. Add to that that Falco develops strong feelings for a second headstrong young noblewoman, whom he must escort from Britain back to Rome, and then he has to figure out which politician he can trust, and which wants to kill him, and you’ve got a fast-paced, colorful mystery novel.

The Falco series is an acquired taste, and I’ve run into many mystery fans who don’t care for it. Personally, I love the gritty, noir-like style that Davis writes this series in, and I find Marcus Didius Falco to be a funny, admirable character — an occasionally foul-mouth tough guy, with a mushy heart of gold. I will definitely look forward to reading more in this 20-volume series! In our group discussion of the series, we learned that Davis varies the writing style in future volumes — they’re not all “noir” novels, some volumes in the series are legal thrillers, others are psychological suspense, and others are serial killer thrillers. But, The Silver Pigs is definitely a “noir” private eye novel set in Ancient Rome.

You can join Just Desserts for the March 2018 meeting TONIGHT, at South Branch Library (27th & South St.) at 6:30, when we'll be discussing Triple Crown by Felix Francis.

[ official The Silver Pigs page on the official Lindsey Davis 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!

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Happy Death Day (on DVD)

Happy Death Day
[DVD Happy] 

Tree Gelbman is a college sorority girl forced to live her birthday over and over when she gets murdered and stuck in a time loop. With each new life she tries to figure out who her murderer is in order to make it stop. Along the way she meets Carter – over and over – and realizes that maybe she’s not the nicest person and begins to change her ways. So really it’s a “feel good horror movie.”

I waited patiently for this to come out on DVD and I wasn’t disappointed. There aren’t really any big name actors in it, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth a shot. I really enjoyed it. There were moments of comedy and lots of drama. Plus it’s a horror movie so get ready to be freaked out.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try It (2017) – same creepy vibe, Scream – series of 4 movies, or Groundhog Day – living the same day over and over.] [ Internet Movie Database entry for this film ] | [ official Happy Death Day Facebook page ]

Recommended by Carrie R.
Bennett Martin Public Library

Have you watched 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!

William Gibson's Archangel

William Gibson’s Archangel
written by William Gibson and Michael St. John Smith, with art by Butch Guice, Alejandro Barrionuevo and Wagner Reis [741.5 Gib]

I’ve been a fan of William Gibson ever since reading his Hugo- and Nebula-award winning 1984 novel Neuromancer. When I saw that he had authored a graphic novel, I knew I had to give it a shot. William Gibson’s Archangel, co-written with Michael St. John Smith, and with art from Butch Guice, Alejandro Barrionuevo and Wagner Reis, is a fascinating amalgamation of science fiction, World War II adventure, time travel, alternate history, and dystopian fiction.

There are not just one, but rather several central characters, whose storylines all intersect and interweave. Naomi Givens is a WWII-era British intelligence officer, and U.S. soldier Captain Vine Matthews is her ex-lover. When an unexplained event occurs involving the crash of a U.S. bomber, they find themselves at odds, as Naomi tries to locate and interrogate a mysterious pilot who survived the plane crash. That unnamed pilot is the other central character — a soldier on a mission from the future, sent back in time to try to prevent his own future from happening — a future in which the U.S. made a pre-emptive strike against the Soviets at the end of World War II, which led to a dark, dystopian political tyranny in the United States. With the pilot, Naomi and Vince all ending up working together to try to stop a fellow time-traveler from enacting that dystopian future, the other side of the story is set _in_ that very future, with a gritty female military tech leading the rebellion against the corrupt government and trying to still lend assistance to her time-traveling pilot.
The story of this complex five-issue comic book was compelling, and much of the graphics was well done. Unfortunately, the quality of the art overall was quite mixed, even to the point of not being able to recognize some characters during fight and action sequences. I would have given this graphic novel a “9” overall, but the irregular quality of the art drops it to an overall “7” from me.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Neuromancer, or any of the other novels by William Gibson.]

[ publisher’s official Archangel web page ] | [ official William Gibson web site – Archangel not listed on this 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!

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Spaceballs (on DVD)

Spaceballs
[DVD Spaceballs] 


I found this movie really funny, even though I’m sure I didn’t get all the in jokes, as I’ve only seen the original Star Wars movies once and this is a parody of them. The plot is basically a princess being forced into a marriage because a planet is running out of air, she runs away from her wedding, two buddies find her and hope her father will give them lots of money for her return. The planet running out of air hires Dark Helmet to get the princess back, so the two buddies are being chased by him. It’s a really goofy movie with spoken and unspoken jokes. I thought it was pretty funny and like action movies, sometimes the action or comedy in this case matters more than the story (which itself is overly absurd). It’s good if you want a comedy movie with some sci-fi in it, just like Spam-a-lot is good it you want comedy with some British folklore in it.

[ Internet Movie Database entry for this film ] | [ official Mel Brooks web site ]

Recommended by Kristen A.
Gere Branch Library

Have you watched 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!

Monday, March 26, 2018

Pashmina by Nidhi Chanani


Pashmina
by Nidhi Chanani [jPB (Series) Chanani]



This book caught my eye because it has a beautifully illustrated cover and I could tell right away that the main character is a young woman of color. I didn’t know it yet, but this book was going to be magical. Pri finds an old but still gorgeous pashmina of her mother’s, from her younger years in India. When she puts it on, she is transported to a dreamy India. When her mother won’t let her fly to India, she gets frustrated, and has to find out why. This book is a lovely coming-of-age story, although it is very short, as many graphic novels are, and therefore it will only leave you wanting more.

[ official Pashmini page on the official Nidhi Chanani web site ]

Recommended by Naomi S.
Eiseley 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!

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Coco (on DVD)

Coco
[j DVD Coco] 

Winner of the Academy Award (Oscar) for Best Animated Feature Film for films released in 2017. Also winner of the Best Song at the Academy Awards for “Remember Me”, by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez (previous winners for “Let It Go” from Frozen).

This charming 2017 animated film from Pixar, released by the Walt Disney company, is a celebration of the Mexican culture’s holiday “Dia de Los Muertos” (the Day of the Dead). A young boy (12-year-old Miguel) in a Mexican village wishes to pursue music as his life’s passion, but is forbidden from being involved with music by his elders, as a result of a heartbreaking story involving his Great-Great-Grandmother Coco, who was abandoned by a musician. Miguel is headstrong, and obsessed with a legendary Mexican troubadour and film star (Ernesto de la Cruz), and Miguel’s actions lead him to “borrow” de la Cruz’s guitar to perform in a talent competition. One thing leads to another and ultimately the “living” Miguel finds himself having crossed over the land of the dead. Miguel then needs the help of a charming but untrustworthy trickster spirit, as he navigates his way through the extensive community of passed-on souls who await The Day of the Dead each year for the chance to reunited with living loved ones. Miguel must earn his way back to the land of the living or be trapped among the dead forever…along the way he develops bonds with some of the passed-on spirits he encounters on the other side.

The music in this film was marvelous, the storytelling and the animation and character voice work were all top-notch. This was easily my favorite animated film in 2017, and overall was one of my 3 or 4 favorite films which I saw in a movie theater last year. I look forward to owning this one in my own collection, and highly recommend you check it out from the libraries if you haven’t had a chance to see it yet yourself!

[Various tie-in books associated with this film are also available in traditional print format.]

[ Internet Movie Database entry for this film ] | [ official Coco web site ]

Recommended by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library

Have you watched 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 16, 2018

The Hollow by Agatha Christie

The Hollow
by Agatha Christie

This mystery novel is also, in large part, a romance novel. It starts out with a man (John), his wife, his lover and his ex-wife, who all visit family and friends in a house in the countryside, which is called The Hollow. The romance is not limited to this circle, but others in this large group who are all staying the weekend at The Hollow together, or live there already. John is murdered during this getaway and several witnesses arrive at the scene to see his wife standing over the body with a gun in her hand, however it’s proved that the gun she was holding was not the one that fired the fatal shot. The mystery aspect, and Poirot’s role in the story does at that point balance out the romance plots till the end. Overall I didn’t really care for this one because of the multiple love stories tangled in with the mystery, but it would be perfect if you did enjoy both genres.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Lord Edgeware Died, by Agatha Christie.]

[ The Hollow page on the official Agatha Christie web site ]

Recommended by Kristen A.
Gere 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, March 15, 2018

The Shrinking Man by Richard Matheson

The Shrinking Man
by Richard Matheson [Hoopla eBook and eAudiobook] 

My local science fiction book club recently read this for a group discussion, and I really enjoyed it. This is one of the earliest novels by genre master Matheson, who established a lengthy reputation as a science fiction, fantasy and horror author. Other than for this novel, he’s probably best known as the author of I Am Legend (a post-apocalyptic vampire novel) and as the author of numerous acclaimed short stories, many of which were adapted into fan-favorite episodes of the original 1960s B&W Twilight Zone series, including “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet”.

In The Shrinking Man, adapted into the movie The Incredible Shrinking Man (which was the title used for several paperback reprints of the novel over the years as well), businessman Scott Carey discovers that he is shrinking 1/7th of an inch every single day. The novel is told in two intersecting timelines — the first is Carey’s struggles after he’s reduced in size to less than 1 inch in height, and is trapped in a locked basement cellar. The second is a series of scenes from the months leading up to that condition, as Carey’s continually shrinking height leads to changes in his relationship with his wife, his daughter, his employer (who happens to be his brother), and his sense of masculinity and identity. The novel is a mixture of social commentary and observation, and thrilling adventure. Originally published in the mid-1950s, the “social SF” elements of this story feel a bit dated. However, the action sequences, as the ultra-miniature Carey fights off a monstrously huge (to him) black widow spider with a sewing pin (which is the size of a knight’s lance to him), are pulse-pounding. This is a classic of the sci-fi genre, and I highly recommend it!

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try I Am Legend, Steel, Nightmare at 20,000 Feet, or any of the many short stories by Richard Matheson that were adapted into Twilight Zone episodes!]

[ U.S. publisher Macmillan’s official The Shrinking Man web page ] | [ Wikipedia page for Richard Matheson ]

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!

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Prince Caspian by C.S. Lewis

Prince Caspian
by C.S. Lewis [j Lewis] 

All four children, Peter, Susan, Edmond and Lucy all return to Narnia about one Earth year after their adventure in the wardrobe. When they arrive on a beach with castle ruins nearby they realize that many years in Narnia have passed since they’ve been gone, as the castle ruins are that of their castle Cair Paravel, still with some of their belongings inside. Once they save a dwarf from drowning on the beach the story really gets going as the dwarf recalls the story of Prince Caspian’s escape from his home and uncle, the talking animals of Narnia who’ve gone into hiding, and Caspian’s quest to unite with them and take back the throne as King. In his battles to do so he called the old high kings and queens (Peter Susan, Edmond and Lucy) back with Susan’s horn to help him. Before they can aid him however they must find him.

This was a pretty good story, and it’s been interesting to see the various ways to get to Narnia in the stories so far, as I was only familiar before with the wardrobe. I’d say you could read this easily without reading the others in the series first (although preferably you’d have some inkling as to the plot of The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe). However this is the start of a string of books featuring Caspian, so I would read this before reading The Voyage of the Dawn Treader and The Silver Chair. It’s been rather satisfying reading the other tales of Narnia and discovering how wide the world is. Part of my drive to read them was to compare them to Tolkien’s works and so far it feels Lewis’s gentler for lack of a better word; his are not as action packed and develop at a slower pace but still have diverse characters, personal growth and moral themes. I would recommend it if you are looking for a cozy fantasy series (I’m not sure that’s actually a genre but it’s descriptive).

[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

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!

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf

The Story of Ferdinand
by Munro Leaf [jP Lea] 

Having recently seen and enjoyed the animated film Ferdinand, which was based on this children’s picture book, I wanted to revisit the source material.

This is a simple story, of a Spanish bull who is more interested in the sights and smells of butterflies and beautiful flowers than he is in the physical feats of daring-do that his fellow young bulls engage in, in order to impress the bullfighters enough to win their way into the bullfighting ring. The story by Munro Leaf, with art by Robert Lawson, is sweet, and comical. I hadn’t read it since I was a child myself, back in the late 1960s. And I remember both reading and listening to it as a thin floppy plastic record LP that accompanied my childhood copy of the book.

However, having just enjoyed the animated film version (2017) of the story, I can say that the filmmakers expanded the tale, adding many layers of depth to the storyline, including Ferdinand’s acquired knowledge of the ultimate fate of any bulls that make it into the bullfighting ring. Knowing these story elements, and then not seeing them reflected in the original story, makes we wish the picture book had touched on those elements too! None-the-less, The Story of Ferdinand is a charming little story, that hasn’t lost any of that charm despite it having been first published in 1936! I still strongly recommend it!

[ Penguin Random House’s official The Story of Ferdinand web site ] | [ Wikipedia page for Munro Leaf ]

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!