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INDEXES TO PAST STAFF RECOMMENDATIONS: BY TITLE | BY REVIEWER | TV SERIES/SPECIALS ON DVD/VHS

December 2008 Recommendations

book cover  This review is of material for a Young Adult audienceForgotten Ellis Island: The Extraordinary Story of America's Immigrant Hospital
by Lorie Conway [j325.1 Con]

This nonfiction selection tells the story of the state-of-the-art hospital built on man-made Ellis Island to accommodate thousands of immigrants who were found not to be physically/mentally well enough to enter the United States. Some patients viewed the hospital, in use for only three decades, as a place of rescue while others viewed it as a "place of tears." It housed a "mental defect" wing as well as a separate contagious diseases facility. The reader becomes acutely reminded of the giant steps in medical knowledge from that era to this one. A corps of doctors, nurses, and interpreters worked at the site where 7-8,000 immigrants were seen on a busy day. One of the service interpreters spoke Yiddish, Italian, and Spanish, and was noted for his kindness of bringing a chocolate bar to patients from the city where he was attending law school. Fiorello LaGuardia would eventually become Mayor of New York City and suffered over the deportation decisions (marked by a large chalked "X" inside a circle on the right shoulder) made regarding mental health. With the window of a year in 1999, the author was given exclusive rights to document the remains of the hospital before restoration efforts began (despite such obstacles as poison ivy, asbestos and lead paint). Because of Conway's work, the reader is able to relive some of the authentic history of this one-of-a-kind facility through fascinating photos and anecdotes. (Even the survivors of the Titanic were required to disembark at Ellis Island!)

[ Wikipedia entry on the Documentary filmed by Lorie Conway ] | [ official Publisher's Page for Lorie Conway ]

Review Score - 10
Recommended by Kay V.
Bennett Martin Public Library


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book cover  This review is of material for a Young Adult audience1602
by Neil Gaiman (author) and Andy Kubert (illustrator) [j741.5 Gai]

Intriguing look at the traditional heroes of the Marvel Comics universe, reimagined into the year 1602 by master fantasist Neil Gaiman (American Gods, Good Omens). The characters of Nick Fury, Daredevil, the Fantastic Four, Captain America, Spiderman, Dr. Doom, The Watcher, the X-Men, Magneto and many more are not simply transported through time. Rather, Gaiman takes these archetypal characters and "reinvents" them -- providing equivalents (with variations on similar names) from individuals in the Elizabethan age. The writing in this series is a nice mix of serious and humorous -- with a major, surprising plot twist towards the end of the story. The art ranges from rough and rustic to highly detailed, often resembled woodcuts. This was original a series of monthly issues, since compiled into a "graphic novel" format. When it originally came out, it polarized comics fans -- some hated it and some loved it. Personally, I found it an interesting comics artifact, and recommend it to anyone who's at least slightly familiar with well-known Marvel Comics characters. If you're not at least passingly family with the Marvel Universe, you probably won't appreciate this as much.

[ Wikipedia entry for Gaiman's 1602 ] | [ official Marvel Comics web site ] | [ official Neil Gaiman web site ]

Review Score - 7
Recommended by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library


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book cover  Dead Witch Walking
by Kim Harrison

This is the first volume in the increasingly popular Rachel Morgan series. This series has a contemporary setting, but in an alternate history in which a man-made genetics disaster has wiped out over 10% of the human population. In order to allow humanity to continue to survive, the Interlanders -- the creatures of nightmare and fantasy (vampires, werewolves, witches, fairies, pixies, etc.) have revealed themselves publicly and tried to integrate into the human world. Rachel Morgan is a white witch, specializing in capturing the Interlander bad-guys for the equivilant of the Interlander cops. This novel features Rachel leaving her job and partnering (reluctantly) with a vampire friend to set up their own "bounty hunter" agency. Rachel has to deal with the fact that she has a "contract hit" on her, as she investigates a powerful industrial figure who may be producing and distributing illegal biodrugs. Rachel is an interesting character, and her scenes with her Pixie sidekick as hilarious. Harrison has created an interesting world here...my only complaint is that there's not a real sense of any kind of closure at the end of this book. It really feels like simply an introductory volume to Rachel's later, more interesting, adventures. Still...an entertaining read, and I'll definitely sample further novels in the Rachel Morgan series.

[ official Dead Witch Walking page on the official Kim Harrison web site ]

related lists See more books like this on our Mean Magical Streets booktalk booklist
Review Score - 6
Recommended by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library


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book cover  Straight Into Darkness
by Faye Kellerman

In Munich Germany in 1929, a serial killer challenges the professional abilities of Inspector Axel Berg. Simmering in the background is the rise of Hitler and the Nazis, a subplot not to be dismissed lightly when one of the suspects is Jewish and when it influences police policy and procedures. The novel is stylish and reflects the period well.
[Also available in unabridged audiotape, book-on-cd, and Large Print formats.]

[ official Faye Kellerman web site ]

Review Score - 7
Recommended by Rianne S.
Bennett Martin Public Library


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book cover  Ishi in Two Worlds: A Biography of the Last Wild Indian in North America
by Theodora Kroeber [970.3 K91i]

Theodora Kroeber, wife of famed anthropologist Alfred Kroeber, tells a touching story of Ishi, the last Yana/Yahi Indian. Starving and near exhaustion from being chased by white Indian hunters, Ishi is found near a corral on a ranch. The sheriff turned him over to Kroeber who proceeded to unravel Ishi's past and that of the last of his people. He and Ishi became great friends. After a trip to Washington he was also taken to heart by the American public. Ishi taught Kroeber to use a bow and arrow like his forefathers did and provided Kroeber with a mountain of knowledge on his California tribe. Ishi died while in Kroeber's care and monuments to him can be found throughout the area. A truly touching biography.

[ Publisher's page for the book ] | [ Wikipedia entry on Theodora Kroeber ]

Review Score - 8
Recommended by Rayma S.
South Branch Library


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book cover  The Convivial Codfish
by Charlotte MacLeod

As Exalted Chowderhead of the Comrades of the Convival Codfish, Jeremy (Jem) Kelling, presides over their Christmas revels. Part of the merriment includes skewing a plastic inflatable Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. The company yells, "Bah, humbug!" Because he is the Exalted Chowderhead, Jem wears the Great Chain with its sterling silver codfish, but when he notices that the insignia is missing, Jem puts in a call to his niece and nephew-by-marriage, Sarah Kelling and Max Bittersohn. This mystery is totally off-the-wall and Jem is an endearingly puckish curmudgeon and eccentric. (When he is injured later in the book, he ducks hospital rules and drinks eggnogs laced with brandy.) Max must tread carefully in his investigation because a member of the Comrades obviously took the "sacred relic" as Jem describes the codfish, and some of them are even family members. The pranks do not overwhelm the mystery in this effort (as they sometimes do with MacLeod). A really great read.

[ Wikipedia page for Charlotte MacLeod ]

related lists See more books like this on our Mistletoe Mysteies booklist
Review Score - 10
Recommended by Rianne S.
Bennett Martin Public Library


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book cover  The Johnstown Flood
by David McCullough [974.877 M13j]

I decided to read The Johnstown Flood because I have read all of David McCullough's books. He is a great storyteller. He makes history come alive.
[Also available in unabridged book-on-cd format.]

[ Wikipedia page for David McCullough ] | [ official Publisher's Page for David McCullough ]

Review Score - 10
Recommended by Vicki J.
South Branch Library


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book cover  Finishing Stroke
by Ellery Queen

In 1929, Ellery Queen accepts an invitation to a Christmas party at the Craig estate. On Christmas morning, all the packages have disappeared from under the tree. Then, a Santa appears in the doorway, laden with packages. Other packages, with mysterious markings, are delivered throughout the twelve days of Christmas. Ellery speculates on the frequency of the number 12 in this mystery. There are 12 guests, 12 months in the year--and all of the guests were born in a different month, so their gifts were gold money clips or brooches fashioned to order at a 5th Avenue jeweler and representing signs of the Zodiac. Other guests contribute to the theme: twelve good men and true, Hercules' twelve labors, Shakespeare's Twelfth Night, since one of the guests is an actress. However, the mystery remains unsolved until 1957, when police headquarters is cleaning out some old files and the chief asks Ellery if he would like to look at them. This is a most satisfying and challenging mystery; the title is a clue to the solution.
[Also available in unabridgedaudiotape format.]

[ Wikipedia page for The Finishing Stroke ]

related lists See more books like this on our Mistletoe Mysteries booklist
Review Score - 10
Recommended by Rianne S.
Bennett Martin Public Library


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book cover  The Stranger Room
by Frederick Ramsay

I love books that incorporate local history in the plot. Frederick Ramsay uses the phenomenon known as the "stranger room" in this mystery. In the early centuries wealthy stagecoach passengers did not like to stay in crowded public inns and often rented rooms in nearby private homes. These homes had rooms built specifically for travelers. The rooms had only exterior entrances that allowed the travelers to come and go without disturbing the household. The rooms came to be known as "stranger rooms" because the boarders were strangers to the homeowners. History repeats itself in the latest entry in the Ike Schwartz series. In1864 a boarder, Franklin Brian, was found shot to death in the "stranger room" of Jonathan Lydell?s home. The door was locked from the inside. Lydell had to break down the door to get in. The room had no access to the rest of the house. How had the killer escaped? The murder was never solved. Fast forward to 2008. Jonathan Lydell IV has restored his ancestral home to its former glory, complete with a "stranger room" that he rents to lodgers. One summer morning he knocks on the door of the "stranger room" to wake the lodger. He gets no response and the door is locked. Lydell tries to unlock the door with his key but finds that the door is locked from the inside and that the key is still in the lock. Jonathan Lydell breaks down the door and finds his lodger, Anton Grotz, lying dead on the floor. Grotz had been shot just like Franklin Brian one hundred forty-four years before him. How had the murderer escaped? Ike and his deputies have to solve this locked room puzzle.

[ official Stranger Room page on the official Frederick Ramsay web site ]

Review Score - 10
Recommended by Donna G.
Eiseley and Walt Branch Libraries


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book cover  Mistaken Identity: Two Families, One Survivor, Unwavering Hope
by Don VanRyn [363.1 Van]

This is a heartbreaking, true story of a extremely deadly car accident that took place on April 26, 2008. Like me, you may have followed the story through CNN or other news sources. This story is chilling and absolutely riveting and comes highly recommended. I read this entire book in less than two days. Two girls, Whitney Cerek and Laura Van Ryn, who happen to look very similar in appearance, were students of Taylor University. Both were riding in the same van that was struck head on by a semi-truck. At the accident scene, these two girls were mistaken for one another by medics due to their similar appearance and Laura's purse lying next to Whitney in the grass. Whitney was alive, severely injured but believed to be Laura Van Ryn. Laura died at the scene, but was identified as Whitney Cerek. Whitney's parents were notified that their daughter was one of the students who did not survive the accident, and Laura's parents were told that their daughter was hospitalized with a severe head injury and was in a coma. When the Van Ryns first saw what they thought was their daughter, she was in a coma, tubes in her mouth and nose with her face was partially bandaged. The doctor's warned the family Laura may not look like herself. They did not question the identity. Laura Van Ryn's parents held vigil at a hospital for weeks nursing a woman they believed to be their daughter, Laura. The Cerek's buried what they thought was their daughter Whitney on Whitney's 19th birthday when in fact it was Laura Van Ryn. Over 1,400 people attended Whitney's funeral. As Whitney slowly came out of her coma, her behavior and things she said were not making sense. They also noticed a few physical traits that were different, but thought nothing of it. After five weeks, the Van Ryn family began to question whether this was really their Laura. After dental records were ordered and their worst fear confirmed, two families' worlds were once again torn apart. For two years the families were asked "how could you not know your own child?" Now the Cerek and Van Ryn families have come together to write the true story about their daughters' mistaken identity and how unwavering faith in god, helped both families cope with tragedy twice.
[Also available in unabridged book-on-cd and Large Print formats.]

Review Score - 10
Recommended by Jessica H.
Walt Branch Library


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The Screening Room

book cover  This review is for the DVD format of this itemBees: Tales From the Hive [DVD 595.799 Bee]
Fascinating episode of NOVA from 2000, using a specially-designed macro camera to examine the life of bees within a beehive. Narrated by David Ogden Stiers, this documentary traces the life of one hive over the course of a single year, and features some truly astonishing footage of these industrious insects. Even if you have a fear of bees, I encourage you to watch this fascinating and educational show!
[Also available in VHS format.]

[ official Companion Web Site to this episode of NOVA ]

Review Score - 8
Recommended by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library


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last updated December 2008
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