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

December 2010 Recommendations

book cover  Ansel Adams in the National Parks: Photographs From America's Wild Places
by Ansel Adams, edited by Andrea G. Stillman [917.3 qAda]

Ansel Adams' photography is synonymous with Yosemite National Park. His photos of Half Dome are breathtaking. Yosemite is not the only park that Adams visited. He spent time in more than forty parks, traveling from Alaska to Maine to Hawaii with stops at points in between. Adams said, "a photograph is made, not taken." And he set about to make magnificent images in the parks, national monuments and national wildernesses. This book is filled with page after page of glorious black-and-white images. Many are landscapes; some are close-ups, such as the photo of the spiked sword plant that he photographed in Haleakala National Park. Anyone who loves black-and-white photography will be charmed by this book.

[ Wikipedia page on Ansel Adams ] | [ official Ansel Adams Gallery web site ]

Review Score - 9
Recommended by Donna G.
Virtual Services Department


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book cover  The Crocodile's Last Embrace
by Suzanne Arruda

This is the latest entry in this fine series set in Kenya in the 1920s. Photojournalist Jade del Cameron makes her living by writing articles about Africa for the magazine, The Traveler. At heart, she is an adventurer. Before she moved to Kenya Jade drove ambulances in France during World War I. She ferried the wounded from the front line to treatment centers. After the war Jade settled in Kenya along with her close friends, Lord and Lady Dunbury. When this book opens Jade is troubled by strange visions and worried by notes that she is receiving. The notes appear to be from her dead fiancÚ, asking her why she let him die. Jade sets these worries aside when, one night, she witnesses a car being pushed off the side of a bridge by another car. More murders follow. Jade is drawn into investigating these murders that, on the surface, appear to involve a fraudulent gold mine. Arruda draws her characters with a deft hand. Jade is drawn so well that you expect to find the articles that she has written in the magazine's archive. The other characters also pop off the page. The indigenous people are well crafted. You get a sense of the tension between the original inhabitants and the British colonial rule. This series has everything -- adventure, mystery and romance. [If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try the works of Barbara Cleverly, Charles Todd, and Malla Nunn.]

[ official Jade del Cameron series page on the official Suzanne Arruda web site ]

Review Score - 8
Recommended by Donna G.
Virtual Services Department


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book cover  Startide Rising
by David Brin

Startide Rising is one of the most impressive science fiction novels I've ever read. It is the second in Brin's Uplift Saga, following Sundiver. The background and plot of Startide Rising are complex, and hard to hint at in a brief recommendation -- In the far future, an Earth space vessel crewed by uplifted dolphins, humans and chimpanzees is the first to stumble across a derelict fleet of ancient starships, presumably left behind by The Progenitors -- the oldest and most revered species in known space...the race that seeded and "uplifted" (helped to evolve) most of the other known species to space-faring capabilities. On the run from other space-faring races who would kill for access to the technologies represented by this abandoned fleet of starships, the Earthship Streaker has crashed on a water planet, trying to hide from its pursuers long enough for the crew to affect repairs to their vessel. Filled with brilliant ideas, political and military confrontations and maneuverings, and some of the most fascinating human and alien characters in genre fiction, Startide Rising won a triple crown of the three top awards the year it came out -- the Hugo Award, the Nebula Award and the Locus Readers Award. It was followed by The Uplift War and then another complete trilogy set in the same universe. If you love Hard SF -- science fiction in which the extrapolations of believable science and technology form a critical element -- this is essential reading. Although the libraries don't own it, I recommend a companion volume Brin released, Contacting Aliens: An Illustrated Guide to David Brin's Uplift Universe. Brin's aliens can be quite unusual, and this guide helps to "see" them more accurately. It may also be helpful to read Sundiver -- although it is not essential to an understanding of what's going on in Startide Rising. You can order both through our InterLibrary Loan Service.

[ official Uplift Saga page on the official David Brin web site ]

Review Score - 10
Recommended by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library


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book cover  Homer's Odyssey: A Fearless feline Tale, Or How I Learned About Love and Life With a Blind Wonder Cat
by Gwen Cooper [636.8 Coo]

Homer was two weeks old when he was found on the streets of Miami. His eyes were so infected they had to be removed to save his life. Gwen adopted him as her third of three cats and was told he'd forever be a subdued, cautious cat. But they forgot to tell this to Homer who apparently didn't realize he was blind. He caught flies in mid-air, climbed bookshelves, and could move around a room unhindered within a few days. Homer made friends wherever he went and lived life to the fullest. A favorite chapter is Gwen moving to NYC and the logistics of flying with all three cats. Each chapter begins with a relevant quote from "The Odyssey" by Homer. The quote for the chapter dealing with Sept 11, and Gwen being unable to get to her cats for several days is especially poignant: "We wept and lifted up our hands to heaven on seeing such a horrid sight, for we did not know what to do." Homer is a wonderful tale of a lively, loving cat given a second chance.

[Also available in downloadable audio format.]

[ official Homer's Odyssey Gwen Cooper web site ]

Review Score - 7
Recommended by Charlotte K.
Bennett Martin Public Library


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book cover  The War to End All Wars: World War I
by Russell Freedman [j 940.3 Fre]

When this book was recently returned, the production value of it really caught my eye and I couldn't help but start browsing it. Aimed at young history researchers, this is a marvelous history of the first World War, filled with numerous photographs, clean and simple maps, and very simple text that tells the details about that era in world history. From explanations of the political, religious and ethnic conflicts that led to the start of the war, through the numerous bloody combat campaigns, to the historic Treaty of Versaille that brought the war to a close, this volume brings history to life. Includes a short chapter about the aftermath of the war, and the circumstances that led to the rise of Adolf Hitler into power in Germany in the 1930s. Excellent reference work, for both teens and adults!

Review Score - 9
Recommended by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library


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book cover  The Politically Correct Stories series
by James Finn Garner [398.2 Gar/817 Gar]

James Finn Garner hopped on the bandwagon of "political correctness" parodies in the mid-1990s with several volumes which retold classic tales in a more...progressive...tone. The humor in all three of the books owned by the libraries (Politically Correct Bedtime Stories, Once Upon a More Enlightened Time: More Politically Correct Bedtime Stories, and Politically Correct Holiday Stories: For an More Enlightened Yuletide Season) is all a bit heavy-handed and blatant, but still chuckle-worthy. The holiday version, with its retelling of "A Christmas Carol", "The Hanukkah Story" and "'Twas the Night Before Christmas", with the removal of all references that could be considered sexist, ageist, spiritual or imperialistic, is particularly bizarre. Give these a try if you're a fan of broad humor!

[ official James Finn Garner web site ]

Review Score - 6
Recommended by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library


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book cover  Ghost Trails to California: With Selected Excerpts from Emigrant Journals
by Thomas H. Hunt [917.8 qHun]

What drew me to this book is Thomas Hunt's eloquent prose. Hunt allowed his imagination free rein as he backpacked along remnants of the California trail. He wrote "there are alpine valleys where one can conjure images of travel-battered wagons drawn up beside the gurgling, crystalline waters of snowmelt streams, while beyond them the bony oxen fairly groaned with pleasure and contentment in swales of knee-deep mountain grass." Hunt and Adams became interested in the California Trail because as they hiked and backpacked in the Sierras they came across vestiges of it -- a rusted barrel hoop here and a shard that had been a pioneer's crock over there. They used emigrant journals, maps and guides in order to follow the adventurers' routes as closely as possible. They spent six years and traveled about twenty thousand miles to follow all nine segments of the California Trail. They used their own breath-taking photos and excerpts from emigrants' journals to illustrate each branch of the trail. One traveler, Isaac Wistar, wrote in his journal about the trials of moving their wagons over the mountains. Wistar wrote "The whole day had been employed in the hardest labor, dragging the wagons over rocky ledges, and hoisting and lowering them over 'jump-offs' by 'Spanish Windlasses' and other mechanical means. At dark we found ourselves at the top of, and looking down into, a deep rocky gorge with impassible precipices on either hand." I marveled at the undertaking of these people. They packed up their belongings and, with only scant information, headed west to make better lives for themselves in California, the Promised Land.

Review Score - 7
Recommended by Donna G.
Virtual Services Department


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book cover  The Silver Kiss
by Annette Curtis Klause

A smart, poignant, and atmospheric young adult vampire love story, published long before beautiful and tragic teen vampires were a mainstream fad. [If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try The Darkangel by Meredith Ann Pierce, Twilight by Stephenie Meyer, The Vampire Book by J. Gordon Melton.] [Note: This trade paperback edition features two new short stories by Klause.]

[ Annette Curtis Klause interview/semi-official web site ]

Review Score - 9
Recommended by Becky W.C.
Walt Branch Library


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book cover  Profiles of Nationally Distinguished Nebraskans
by Elmer A. Kral and Jean Sanders [920.078 Kra] [Gage County Historical Society]

This book provides short biographies of Nebraskans who have distinguished themselves in many fields, including the arts, business, education, public affairs, science and sports, to name a few. All areas of the state are covered with biographies of nationally-known representatives, as described in the Foreword -"from western Nebraska with Frank Cyr, father of the yellow school bus, to central Nebraska with Jay Forrester, co-pioneer of the modern computer, and the eastern area with Hollywood film star Robert Taylor." I was impressed with the fact that many people were included that I had never heard of, such as Charlotte Buettenback Johnson, co-designer of the first Barbie doll, and Charles Purcell, chief engineer of the SanFrancisco-Oakland bay Bridge. There are also biographies of more well-known Nebraskans such as Joyce C. Hall, founder of Hallmark Cards, and Charles E. Taylor, the mechanic who built the engines for the Wright brother's airplanes. This book does not attempt to provide information about every famous Nebraskan, but it does help fill in the gaps by providing sketches of Nebraskans who are not as well represented in past publications. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in famous Nebraskans or in historical research.

[ official Gage County Museum web site ]

Review Score - 10
Recommended by Kim J.
Bennett Martin Public Library


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book cover  Christmas Letters from Hell: All the News We Hate From the People We Love
by Michael Lent [817 Len]

Ah...year-end Christmas letters -- that once-a-year opportunity to catch up on the happenings in the lives of distant relatives and friends (at least before you all became "friends" on Facebook). These holiday-time jewels can range from simple notes to monstrously bloated tomes filled with more absurdly self-congratulatory and/or woe-is-us news than anyone cares to read about. With this book, Michael Lent pokes a ridiculous amount of fun at this annual tradition. Lent includes 57 Holiday Letter parodies here, from both celebrities and average families. As with any comedy anthology, there are some sad misfires here, but there are enough funny or absurd letters in this collection to give you a few chuckles. The subject matter is so easy to make fun of that you're bound to find a few in this humor collection to make it worth your while. [If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try The Lazlo Letters.]

[ Publisher's official Christmas Letters From Hell web site ]

Review Score - 5
Recommended by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library


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book cover  Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void
by Mary Roach [571.091 Roa]

The latest from Roach (Stiff, Spook and Bonk) brings her sense of humor and scientific curiosity to bear on the the various scientific pursuits that are required when preparing astronauts for trips into outer space -- both to near-Earth orbit and for a theoretical mission to Mars. Roach specializes in unearthing the tiny, trivial details about topics...the things an ordinary person would never think to ask about, yet which turn out to be endlessly fascinating once they're revealed. In this volume, in addition to looking at the physical and psychological testing and training of astronauts, she poses such questions as "how would you have sex without gravity?", "could you die if you threw up in your spacesuit helmet?", "what are the long-term effects of not bathing?", "why do astronauts often faint when they return to Earth", and "what's really going into those strange space foods the scientists are preparing for future exploratory missions?". Roach's sense of humor infuses every page, but so does her sense of curiosity. You'll move from cringes and winces on one page, to laughing out loud on the next. An essential read for space enthusiasts and fans of "observational humor."

[Also available in downloadable audio and book-on-cd formats.]

[ official Mary Roach web site ]

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


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book cover  Two Hour Quilted Christmas Projects
by Cheri Saffiote [746.46 qSaf]

Step-by-step instructions for completing 40 quilted holiday projects. Excellent projects for the beginner but enduring patterns to attract the long-time quilter as well. You'll find patterns for wall-hangings, small decorative pillows, hanging stockings, ornaments, and small quilts all in the folk art homespun style. Excellent, clear basic instructions including how to tea dye if you wish. Applique patterns at the back of the book are large enough to photocopy. Angels, Santas, snowmen, hearts, cats, stars, and holiday messages are among the basic designs. Also a section on decorative embroidery stitches. Best of all, these projects really take only an afternoon to complete.

[ official Cheri Saffiote web site ]

Review Score - 8
Recommended by Charlotte K.
Bennett Martin Public Library


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book cover  The Anteater of Death
by Betty Webb

Zookeeper Theodora "Teddy" Bentley must defend Lucy, the Giant Anteater, from a charge of murder. Grayson Harrill, a member of the Gunn Landing Zoo Board of Directors is found dead in Lucy's enclosure. Initially, Lucy was the suspect because she slashed Harrill with her razor-sharp claws after he entered her enclosure. An autopsy revealed that Harrill was killed by a gunshot. Lucy is off the hook but suspicion now falls on the humans involved with the zoo -- the employees, the Board of Directors and the Gunn family. Grayson Harrill was married to Jeanette Gunn and was a proponent of breaking the family trust -- putting the Gunn family high on the suspect list. The sheriff, who happens to be Teddy's old high school sweetheart, asks Teddy to become involved in the investigation because she grew up in the same social circle as the Gunn's. Teddy eventually sorts things out with help from an assortment of eccentric characters. [If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try the works of Donna Andrews, Ellery Adams or Tracy Kieley.]

[ official Gunn Zoo mysteries page on the official Betty Webb web site ]

Review Score - 6
Recommended by Donna G.
Virtual Services Department


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The Screening Room

book cover  This review is for the DVD format of this itemCriminal Minds
[DVD Criminal]

Criminal Minds is a modern, fascinating procedural crime series about the FBI's Behavioral Analysis Unit. The BAU team members study the crime scene and pull together clues that enable them to establish psychological profiles of the criminals, to think as they do, and ultimately move one step ahead of the next crime to capture the "unsub" (unknown subject). Initially starring Mandy Patinkin as Jason Gideon; Joe Mantegna was added to the team (as David Rossi) when Patinkin left the series (early in the third season). Team members include Unit Chief Aaron "Hotch" Hotchner (Thomas Gibson, of Dharma & Greg), Lola Gladini as sex-crimes expert Elle Greenway (who left the series in season two), Paget Brewster as multi-lingual Emily Prentiss, Derek Morgan (Shemar Moore) a man with a private history we later learn about, young genius Spencer Reid (Matthew Gray Gubler), uber computer tech Penelope Garcia (Kirsten Vangsness) -- a very colorful character, and media liaison Jennifer "J.J." Jareau (A.J. Cook, who left the series early in season six). There are the occasional criminals who carry over between episodes, but for the most part each crime is resolved each week. The storylines are the main stars, but the histories of the characters and their interaction with each other are important as well and add to the flavor of the show. This is an intelligent, suspenseful series following characters we come to care about.
[Also available are several Criminal Minds tie-in novels, which you will find listed in the TV Tie-Ins booklist here on BookGuide]

[ Internet Movie Database entry for this series ] | [ official Criminal Minds web site ]

related lists See more books and TV boxed sets like this on our TV Tie-Ins booklist
Review Score - 8
Recommended by Charlotte K.
Bennett Martin Public Library


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book cover  This review is for the DVD format of this itemDancing With the Stars exercise DVDs
[DVD 613.71 Dan]

Looking to get fit with some fun exercises led by some of your favorite TV stars? Look no further than the three Dancing With the Stars exercise DVDs in the libraries' collections: Cardio Dance (with Maksim Chmerkovsky, Ashly Costa and Kym Johnson), Latin Cardio Dance (with Maks and Cheryl Burke), and Dance Off the Pounds (with Dmitry Chaplin, Lacey Schwimmer and Kym). Each disc features the stars (and a group of support dancers) going through a dancer's traditional warm-up, then spending 15 minutes each on the essential techniques of several dance styles, followed by a cool down period. Each disc also features healthy eating tips from Slim-Fast (one of the sponsors of the Dancing With the Stars touring show), and a "music-only" version of the DVD, in case you don't want to hear the dialog and instructions on subsequent viewings. Dances covered include: Cardio Dance (Paso Doble, Cha-Cha, Samba, Jive), Dance Off the Pounds (Swing, Jive, Quick-Step), and Latin Cardio Dance (Merengue, Cha-Cha, Samba, Mambo). Fun to watch, both from the fitness standpoint and as a fan of DWtS -- but make sure you've got plenty of room to move around if you want to actually do the moves!

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


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book cover  This review is for the DVD format of this itemFlight of the Conchords - the Complete Season One
[DVD Flight]

My sister had told me about this show a few years ago, and I'm glad I finally got around to watching the first season. The Flight of the Conchords is a band made up of two guys from New Zealand named Jemaine and Bret. The guys are trying to make it big in New York City with the help of their agent, Murray and their number one fan, (actually only fan) Mel. The cast is small but great. Jemaine and Bret write off the wall songs that make you scratch your head, but their innocence is endearing. My favorite character is actually Murray, the band's manager played by Rhys Darby. Murray refuses to give up on the band, even though Jemaine and Bret never make his job easy. The band meetings are some of my favorite parts of each episode. It is hilarious to see Murray at work in his attempt to make Flight of the Conchords a success. This series is quirky and fun, and with only 12 episodes in the first season, it is a fairly quick series to watch.

[ Internet Movie Database entry for this series ] | [ official Flight of the Concords web site ]

Review Score - 6
Recommended by Alyse S.
Bennett Martin Public Library


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book cover  This review is for the DVD format of this itemSherlock - Season One
[DVD Sherlock]

Sherlock is a reimagining of the classic tale of Sherlock Holmes, bringing the legendary, well-known characters out of the foggery era of horse-drawn carriages and into the modern era. Holmes in this case is a brilliant yet somewhat unstable man, still a "consulting detective" for Scotland Yard (and the stolid yet unremarkable Inspector Lestrade), and running a website extolling his theories of deductive reasoning. Dr. John Watson is a military veteran of the Middle East conflict, looking for lodgings and trying to reassimilate himself into society (while dealing with nightmares about his war experiences). The first episode is a very nicely done reworking of the first Sherlock Holmes story, A Study in Scarlet, introducing the Holmes and Watson characters. Beyond that similarity, however, everything is very modern and up-to-date, with the characters making heavy use of contemporary electronic technologies -- cellphones, laptops, texting, etc. Sherlock is a very stylish series, with lavish production design, funky music and a fascinating editing style -- lots of fast cuts and computer graphics super-imposed as Sherlock rapidly makes calculations about the evidence before him. The performances from Benedict Cumberbatch (Holmes) and Martin Freeman (Watson) are absolutely terrific, and they very quickly develop a likeable chemistry as the characters. That's a good thing, since there were only three 2-hour movies produced for this first season, which ends on a major cliffhanger. Holmesian purists seem split on their attitudes towards this reinvention of the characters, but I found it remarkably true to the essence of the Sherlock Holmes canon and highly recommend it. And never fear...if you're wondering if arch-enemy Professor Moriarty puts in an appearance, you won't be disappointed. Written and produced by some of the same folks who are bringing us the newest version of Doctor Who, Sherlock originally appeared on British television in July/August of 2010, then aired as part of the PBS Masterpiece Mystery series in October 2010. A second season is in production for broadcast in 2011.

[ Internet Movie Database entry for this series ] | [ official Sherlock on PBS Masterpiece web site ] | [ official The Science of Deduction site maintained by Holmes in the series ]

related lists See more variations on the Sherlock Holmes mythology in our Elementary... booklist
Review Score - 9
Recommended by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library [in December 2010]

If you haven't caught the recent series "Sherlock" on PBS yet, it is definitely worth checking out from LCL. This fast-paced, quick-witted modern take on the 19th century Sherlock Holmes first aired in 2010 on BBC's Masterpiece Mystery. Benedict Cumberbatch ("Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy" and "Warhorse") plays Sherlock, whose savant-like ablitity to notice details and solve crimes has even Scotland Yard coming to him for help. Martin Freeman (BBC's "The Office) plays Watson, an Afghan war vet whose wry and quiet demeanor lends a perfect balance to Sherlock's frenetic intensity. The acting and writing on Masterpiece Mystery! never disappoints, and Sherlock is an engaging, fun series. If you like this series, you might try the Inspector Lynley or Inspector Lewis series, also Masterpiece Mystery! programs.


Review Score - 9
Recommended by Steph E.
Gere Branch Library [in July 2012]


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book cover  This review is for the DVD format of this itemTime After Time
[DVD Time]

Time After Time is a marvelously inventive film -- part science fiction, part fantasy, part romance, part thriller, and filled with terrific performances. Directed, and with a screenplay, by Nicholas Meyer (Star Trek II, The Seven Percent Solution), Time After Time posits that H.G. Wells is not only the writer behind The Time Machine, but that he's actually invented a working model. One of Wells' group of 1890s associates turns out to be Jack the Ripper, and must quickly disappear once the authorities start tracking him down. Having seen Wells' working model of the time machine, "Jack" steals it, and travels to 1979. Wells, guilt-stricken at having allowed his former friend to get away, follows. The rest of the film is a psychological thriller, as both men adjust to late-20th century San Francisco and a pretty young banker becomes a pawn in a menacing game of cat-and-mouse between the two time travelers. Malcolm McDowell makes a great flawed hero, and Mary Steenbergen is nice as the modern woman who falls for him. But David Warner steals the show as the legendary Jack the Ripper transplanted into a new killing ground. Absolutely terrific and entertaining film! Note: This DVD version features a commentary track with McDowell and Meyer. Fun to listen to!

[ Internet Movie Database entry for this film ]

Review Score - 9
Recommended by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library


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last updated September 2013
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