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The Bennett Martin Public Library downtown maintains an ongoing "Staff Recommendations" display -- Staff from throughout the library system are encouraged to submit book, audio, CD and DVD/video recommendations for items to be placed onto this display. Items on the display have bookmarks inserted, giving brief descriptions about the item's appeal factors, and listing similar books, audios or videos that the reader might also enjoy.

This page on BookGuide is used to highlight some of the items that have appeared on our Recommendations displays in the past, including our staff members' descriptions of the books, plus links to any "official Web sites" for the books, authors or series, if they exist*. Items on both the display and on this webpage may be recent releases, or older titles that deserve another look. Hotlinks on titles or formats (downloadable audio, book-on-CD, Large Print) connect to the appropriate entry in our on-line catalog, so that you may check on the availability of the item.

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

December 2011 Recommendations

book cover  Amazing Cows
by Sandra Boynton [j741.5 Boy]

Sandra Boynton, best known as a childrens' board book illustrator and the creator of a long-running line of greeting cards featuring cartoon animals (such as "Hippo Birdie Two Ewe"), occasionally tackles a bigger project, and always with satisfyingly hilarious results. Amazing Cows is her latest -- appropriate for all ages, "up to a hundred and moo". This book, cataloged in our youth collection, is jam-packed full of cow jokes, poems, fake facts and humorous comic books. It's all illustrated with Boynton's highly-recognizable cartoony animals. Anyone who's a fan of cows, or of Boynton's other works, should get a chuckle out of this one. [Note: a song, referenced and linked to at the end of the book, is no longer available at the publisher's website!] [Obviously, Boynton fans can check out all the many board books for little kids. But for the slightly older reader, I recommend Rhinoceros Tap and Philadelphia Chickens.]

[ official Sandra Boynton web site ]

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


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book cover  Steve Jobs
by Walter Isaacson [Biography Jobs]

A detailed and very interesting book even at 600 pages. It bogged down only for 40 pages or so when Jobs was being expelled from Apple, and Isaacson seemed to go on and on and on about how nasty Jobs could be - we'd already figured this out. This also turned out to be a fascinating history of the computer industry as well. Jobs seemed to be bipolar, slightly psychotic, and missing the social filter most of us have that prevents us from speaking EXACTLY what's on our mind and deliberately hurting people's feelings. Told mostly chronologically, this includes the requisite photos in the middle of the book, as I feel all good biographies should. It was made more poignant knowing Jobs died of cancer shortly before this book came out. Some of the events in this book I vaguely remember occurring, such as the "1984" Super Bowl commercial, so I went online to You Tube and got to giggle again during 13 "Hi, I'm a PC, and I'm a Mac" commercials, watched some of Jobs' product releases during the MacWorld conferences, and viewed the Jobs/Gates co-interview. It was interesting to visit these videos as a supplement to reading this book. One does not need to be a computer nerd to understand or enjoy this biography. [If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Roone: Memoir by Roone Arledge.]

[Also available in book-on-cd format.]

[ Publisher's official Steve Jobs book web site ] | [ Wikipedia page for Walter Isaacson ]

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


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book cover  Tour de Lincoln: Artistic Bicycles Celebrating Lincoln's Unique Trails System
by The Lincoln Arts Council [739 Tou]

Remember the Tour de Lincoln public arts project from 2003? You know -- when 71 different variations on the same bicycle sculpture were scattered throughout Lincoln during an entire Spring and Summer, and then at the end of the event, most of them were auctioned off to support the arts in Lincoln? Well, this cute little book was released at the time that all 71 bikes were on display that year. Though it's a bit artsy-fartsy, and occasionally uses fonts and layouts that aren't very pleasing to the eye, the Tour de Lincoln book is none-the-less an excellent guide to all 71 of the bikes. After a general introduction to the background of the project as a whole, each bike then gets its own two-page spread, with photographs, bike title, artist and sponsor names, some brief information about how the design was chosen and created. An article in the November 27th, 2011 Lincoln Journal Star, about a local woman's quest to find all of the surviving indicated that 60 of the 71 bikes are still around (a few in other cities), in case (like me and my wife) you'd like to track them down all over again! [Note: I just wish a similar book had been published in conjunction with the Star Art public arts project that was a follow-up to Tour de Lincoln!]


[ 11/27/11 Lincoln Journal Star article about bikes' locations as of 2011 ] | [ Collections of photos of the Tour de Lincoln bikes: Steve Adamson (Omaha) | Dietrich family (of Lincoln) | CannellFan (Flickr user) ]

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


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book cover  Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President
by Candace Millard [364.152 Mil]

This is no ordinary biography of a mostly- forgotten president. Candice Millard brings President James A. Garfield to life. Not only did I learn a great deal about Garfield's early life and short presidency, I was also fascinated to learn so much about his assassin as well as the doctors and scientists who tried to keep him alive. Although I knew how this story was going to end, there were moments of suspense as well. I also was unaware of the part that Alexander Graham Bell played in trying to save Garfield's life. This really was an enjoyable read, and peaked my interest in the medical world at that time. [If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt's Darkest Journey also by Millard or Devil in the White City by Erik Larson.]

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

[ official Candace Millard web site ]

Review Score - 8
Recommended by Alyse S.
Bennett Martin Public Library


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book cover  The Night Circus
by Erin Morgenstern

I LOVED this book! From the very first pages I was completely engaged and could not wait to find out where this story was going to go. Le Cirque des RÍves is only open at night and travels from city to city without notice. Morgenstern's descriptions of each tent and the acts within them are so wonderful that I can only hope this book is made into a movie so I can see it all come to life! At the heart of the story is a competition between two illusionists, Marco and Celia, who have been brought up to think of nothing else. The circus is somewhat of a stage for the competition and showcases each competitor's skill and imagination. Marco and Celia fall deeply in love. A love that will not only change the course of the competition, but will dramatically affect each person involved with the circus as well. This story has many layers and I think has a little bit for everyone. [If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try The Time Traveler's Wife or Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger or Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen.]

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

[ official Night Circus page on the official Erin Morgenstern web site ]

Review Score - 10
Recommended by Alyse S.
Bennett Martin Public Library


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book cover  Across a Wide Horizon: Discovering the Beauty of Nebraska's Plains
by Jorn C. Olsen [917.82 qOls]

Originally from Oregon, Olsen has lived in Nebraska for over 30 years and clearly demonstrates his affection for his adopted home state in this volume of photography. Most of the selections are 2-page landscapes, with a few gate-folds for the extremely panoramic compositions. Many of the most striking images have intense or deep colors, or a wow factor, such as the butter-colored mist over a lake in "Morning Glow" or the dramatic cloud formation of "Framed by the Trees II". As one who loves Nebraska's wide prairie views, I very much enjoyed the volume and I especially appreciated Olsen's clever phrasing in many of his titles.

[ official Jorn Olsen web site ]

Review Score - 8
Recommended by Becky W.C.
Walt Branch Library


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book cover  This review is for the Book-on-CD format of this titlePoe's Detective: The Dupin Stories
by Edgar Allan Poe [Compact Disc Poe]

As a long-time fan of the mystery genre, I'm embarrassed to admit that I had never read Poe's "The Murders in the Rue Morgue", nor any of the other stories to feature his intellectual crime solver C. Auguste Dupin. When I saw that Bronson Pinchot -- one of my favorite TV actors (Balki on Perfect Strangers) was the narrator of this audiobook set, I couldn't pass it up. Pinchot was almost unrecognizable and his heavily accented Dupin is perfectly appropriate for these stories. I will admit that the Dupin stories are historic for their role in helping to create the modern genre of murder mysteries. However...though intriguing, I found these stories somewhat bland and unengaging. I did, however, love the biting humor of the fourth (non-Dupin) story in this audio collection. Despite some disappointment, I would still recommend this set to any mystery fans!

[The works of Poe are available in a variety of formats through the libraries.]

[ Wikipedia page about C. Auguste Dupin ]

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


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book cover  Habibi
by Craig Thompson

Habibi is Craig Thompson's latest graphic novel bound, drawn and written with an exquisite attention to detail. The story follows two young slaves, Dodola and Zam, through the ins and outs of desert life, a harem and a developing urban center. The story transcends any specific time and place giving it a seemingly post modern setting. Thompson has clearly labored intensively to integrate the Arabic language throughout the book. While written in English, Arabic calligraphy is incorporated throughout, providing a stunning text layer to the backgrounds on many pages. The story itself is a rather dark romance. Dodola and Zam's story is filled with terrible tragedy. As Dodola and Zam face the environmental and social challenges of poverty and slavery, they incorporate mythical stories and Islamic parables into each problem in efforts to overcome. The book's binding and drawings are breathtaking. The drawings will make you feel as though you are looking at a fine art piece, not simply a graphic novel. [If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi, Ghost World by Daniel Clowes, Blankets by Craig Thompson, and Good-bye, Chunky Rice by Craig Thompson.]


[ official Habibi web site ] | [ official Craig Thompson web site ]

Review Score - 8
Recommended by Glory B.
Bennett Martin Public Library


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book cover  This review is for the Book-on-CD format of this titleMy Lucky Life, In and Out of Show Business
by Dick Van Dyke [Compact Disc Biography Van Dyke]

Dick Van Dyke does a marvelous job of narrating this audiobook format of his recent best-selling autobiography. Like many TV and movie buffs, I've been a fan of Van Dyke's for his legendary sitcom The Dick Van Dyke Show, as well as the movies Mary Poppins and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and his more recent series Diagnosis Murder. I was also aware of Van Dyke's bouts with alcoholism in the past. This bio is not a "tell all" about anybody except for Van Dyke himself. But the memories he shares of working on the various projects that have contributed to his professional life are fully engaging. His frank discussion of the disintegration of his marriage, and falling in love a second time, are both sad and uplifting at the same time. Van Dyke's open and gregarious personality on screen conceals a much more private and thoughtful persona out of the spotlight. This biography does a great job of bringing the private Van Dyke to the forefront. The only drawback to listening to this as a Book-on-CD is that you don't get to enjoy the large section of photos that is featured in the traditional print version of the book!

[Also available in downloadable audio, regular print and downloadable E-book formats.]

[ Wikipedia page for Dick Van Dyke ]

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


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The Screening Room

book cover  This review is for the DVD format of this itemCaptain America: The First Avenger [2011]
[DVD Captain]

The story follows Steve Rogers, an American who desperately wants to join the military and serve his country. The problem is that he is too small and has too many ailments so he is constantly turned down. After a mysterious doctor approves his application he joins a special military project that turns him into a super soldier. Now known as "Captain America" Steve fights to save the world from the evil hands of Johann Schmidt and his army known as Hydra. While the storyline wasn't all that fantastic, the special effects were very impressive as they were able to make Chris Evans look tiny and frail in every scene until his tranformation. [If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Iron Man, Thor, The Hulk and all the other movies leading up to the great anticipated "Avengers" movie coming out in 2012.]

[ Internet Movie Database entry for this film ] | [ official Captain America: The First Avenger web site ]

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


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book cover  This review is for the DVD format of this itemThe Lost Valentine
based on the book by James Pratt [DVD Lost]

I'm a sucker for the Hallmark Hall of Fame productions that pop up on television two to three times per year. Invariably heart-warming and frequently sappy, these "movies with a message" are always well-made, with impressive casts and great production values. I originally watched The Lost Valentine when it aired on TV, mainly to see how Betty White did in a purely dramatic role. She is the heart and soul of this movie, and her performance is emotionally resonant. The rest of the cast, including Jennifer Love Hewitt as a pushy, but ultimately good-hearted reporter, who ends up falling into a relationship with Betty's character's grandson. It's all schmaltzy, but it's good schmaltz...and I dare you not to be teary eyed as White's Caroline learns what happened to her true love 65 years earlier. Good stuff! [Most other entries in the Hallmark Hall of Fame DVD series would work well -- I personally recommend Silver Bells, a Christmas-themed story of love, redemption and perseverance.]

[ Internet Movie Database entry for this film ]

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


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last updated December 2011
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