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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 2014 Recommendations

book cover  Remembered
by Tamera Alexander

I liked this historical Christian fiction book. A young lady from France comes to America in search of her father who left her Mom and her when she was very young. She enlists the aid of a man to take her to many towns by horse drawn carriage to find him. This may even become a mild romance between the lady and her driver.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Janette Oke, who has a series Love Comes Softly and it is really good too.]

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

[ official Tamera Alexander web site ]

Review Score – 10
Recommended by Kathy H.
Walt Branch Library


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book cover  The Twelve Clues of Christmas
by Rhys Bowen

This is the 6th book in the Royal Spyness mystery series, and takes place in Dec 1933/Jan 1934. Lady Georgiana Rannoch is 34th in line for the British throne but has no income of her own and no place to call her own. Her family home now belongs to her married brother, and her sister-in-law heartily dislikes her. Not eager to spend the holidays w/her brother's family and his in-laws, she answers an advertisement for a job to assist a hostess with a large Christmas party. The best thing is that the home is in the same quaint village that her mother will be staying in with Noel Coward as they co-write a play. Deaths begin to occur in the area, one per day, that everyone chalks up to accidents. But Georgiana doesn't believe it even when it's learned there's been a prison break from Dartmoor prison and the escapees are believed to be in the area. This is very much a character-driven story as we get involved in the Christmas party and Georgiana's life, with the murders occurring almost as an aside. The common thread to these killings was inventive and caught me by surprise, even though all the clues were there to see. A very enjoyable cozy mystery/historical fiction with likeable main characters.

[Also available in Large Print format.]

[ official Rhys Bowen Facebook Fan Page ] | [ official Rhys Bowen web site ]

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


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book cover  This review is for a music CDA Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Death Star
by Curt Bright and the String Beans [Compact Disc j782.42 Str]

The cinematic Star Wars universe is enjoying a rebirth, with new films in production right now (the first scheduled for release in December 2015), a new animated series (Star Wars Rebels) on TV, and excitement building over the direction the new films will go. This seems like a perfect time to look back with fondness and a bit of tongue-in-cheek at the original trilogy that started it all. Curt Bright, singer/musician with the popular Lincoln children's music group The String Beans, has created a musical parody/tribute to Star Wars/The Empire Strikes Back/Return of the Jedi. In the fannish tradition of Filking -- setting new lyrics to popular existing music -- Bright created a staged musical that retells the events of the original trilogy through songs -- hilarious, goofy and perfectly rewritten songs. Some of the examples include "Sand People" (to Randy Newman's "Short People"), "Don't Stop Rebelling" (to Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'"), "Leia" (to Eric Clapton's "Layla"), "Lake of Fire" (to Johnny Cash's "Ring of Fire"), "Vader Cut Off My Hand" (to the Beatles' "I Want to Hold Your Hand"), "Stormtroopers" (to the "Ghostbusters" theme by Ray Parker Jr.), and "Always Look on the Dark Side of Life" (to Eric Idle's "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life") - these just scratch the surface! The stage show was performed in various formats at various venues (including area sci-fi conventions), before culminating in a live show produced at YAAL (Youth Actors Academy of Lincoln), twice. Bright and his adult String Beans associates recorded this soundtrack album, which first became available for fans at the YAAL shows. Although it is not the YAAL actors performing on the CD, if you've been lucky enough to have seen the staged musical, this soundtrack album will still bring back fond memories. If you never saw A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Death Star live, well then, first, you've missed a true treasure of sci-fi pop culture, but second, you'll still enjoy this album for its hilarious take on Star Wars tropes. And the best news? The show may be coming back to a Lincoln stage again in the near future! [Note: Although this is cataloged in the library collection as a juvenile item, it may actually appeal to adults even more -- some of the reworked fannish song lyrics may go over the heads of the youngest listeners.]

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try the classic movie/tv musical parodies from Mad Magazine, reprinted in various Mad Magazine archival collections. Mind you, this is a recommendation of the movie musical parodies, not just the straight-forward movie parodies.]

[ Extended Review (also by this reviewer) and photos from past local productions of this staged musical ] | [ official The String Beans web site - where you can order this CD ]

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


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book cover  The Public Library: A Photographic Essay
by Robert Dawson [027.7 Pub]

This is a fascinating and impactful collection of photographs and short essays, focused on the history and future of Public Libraries across the United States. Over the course of more than 18 years, photojournalist Robert Dawson toured the entire country, visiting libraries both tiny and huge, and capturing images of those facilities. Those images -- featuring small shed-like structures all the way up to magnificent new buildings like the main library in Seattle, alternate with thoughtful and frequently emotional stories illustrating the importance of public libraries to the American way of life. From a bookmobile driver visiting impoverished rural areas in the Southwest, to the venerated halls of the main New York City Public Library and its famed reading room, the stories of lives changed and futures made in public libraries are uplifting. And the essays looking at decreased library funding, coupled with images of abandoned and/or dilapidated libraries may make you become a library advocate. As the Lincoln City Libraries campaigns for public support for a new downtown Central Library, I found this book to be both timely and timeless. This book will appeal to both library lovers and to fans of architectural photography -- the types and varieties of architectural styles used in libraries in the United States is incredible!

[ official Robert Dawson's Blog ] | [ official Robert Dawson Photography web site ]

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


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book cover  A Charlie Brown Christmas
by Vince Guaraldi [various call numbers]

This soundtrack album is essential holiday listening for me - in fact, if prompted to complete one of those "what music would you want to have with you if trapped on a desert island?" quizzes, this would be one of my choices. Having grown up watching the A Charlie Brown Christmas special on television, Vince Guaraldi's jazzy, light-hearted yet sentimental riffs perfectly capture the Christmas season for me. Of course, the "Linus and Lucy" track is probably the best-known, and carried over thematically to the many other Peanuts television specials. But the soft, thoughtful, vaguely plaintive "Christmastime is Here", in either instrumental only, or even better with vocals, snaps me back to my childhood, being comforted by family gatherings, festive decorations and smells, and a general sense of seasonal well-being. The only other album that does that is John Denver and the Muppets - A Christmas Together. If you're a Peanuts fan, you probably already own this CD. If it is not already part of your holiday music rotation, consider checking it out...it will most likely bring back a lot of memories!

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try the actual DVD of A Charlie Brown Christmas -- the music is also available in various printed sheet-music collections for various instrumentations.]

[ Bibliography of Vince Guaraldi music ] | [ official Vince Guaraldi web site ]

Check out Scott's newsletter issue from 2013 highlighting memorable holiday CDs

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


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book cover  Christmas at Historic Houses
by Patricia Hart McMillan and Katherine Kaye McMillan [745.594 McM]

This is a gorgeous table book for browsing through to enjoy, and perhaps copy, the Christmas decorating schemes of over 60 American and English historic estates and simple homes – from the palatial Biltmore to the simplistic Nelson-Galt Office in Colonial Williamsburg. Homes include Mount Vernon (Virginia), Molly Brown House (Colorado), Waddesdon Manor (England), Maymont Mansion (Virginia), Hearthside Homestead (Rhode Island), and Monticello (Virginia). We learn the importance of preservation and restoration, and about the Christmas celebration customs of other countries and previous time periods. Entire (short) chapters on decorating with Christmas stockings, trees, and wreaths. Then you'll encounter the beautiful color photos of the estates, mansions, and homes, and their decorated gardens and interiors. No need to read or thumb through this book in order. Just jump around and enjoy the various styles and colors. And for those wishing to order from the gift shops, a listing at the back of the book includes website, address, and phone numbers of the historic buildings.

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


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book cover  The World of Pooh: The Complete Winnie the Pooh and House at Pooh Corner
by A.A. Milne [j Milne]

These are the original stories of the Hundred Acre Wood written by A.A. Milne 90 years ago now in 1924. This is really a collection of both books, in the series. I hadn't read them as a child; I just knew the Disney versions, as I'm sure is the same for many people. The books had some familiar stories like the invention of the game Pooh Sticks, the night Tigger arrived in the woods, and the great flood. I really enjoyed reading it. It'd make a good gift for a child, or you could check it out from the library and read it together. Either way I think this is a classic to not miss out on.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try The World of Christopher Robin By A.A. Milne.]

[The Winnie the Pooh books are available from the libraries in a wide variety of formats and editions.]

[ official A.A. Milne entry at Wikipedia ]

Review Score – 10
Recommended by Kristen A.
Gere Branch Library


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book cover  The Big Book of Christmas Mysteries
edited by Otto Penzler [813.08 Pen]

The category of Christmas mysteries within the broader mystery publishing business has been a popular one for decades. So much so that one of the booklists on the libraries' BookGuide site that gets the largest number of comments is our Mistletoe Mysteries list - updated each year. This oversized trade paperback anthology came out in 2013, and I kicked myself for not picking up a copy before it disappeared from local bookstores after the holidays. So, I was thrilled to see it appear again this year, AND to see that the libraries have also added it to our collections. In The Big Book of Christmas Mysteries, editor Otto Penzler gathers a set of 60 of his favorite holiday-themed mysteries, covering over 100 years in publishing. Time periods range from old-style Victorian (Sherlock Holmes) to modern and contemporary. Writing styles range from typical cozies or puzzle stories, to noir, hard-boiled and pulp tales, with stops along the way for comical farces and super natural mysteries (think Dicken's "A Christmas Carol"). Many of these stories are popular and get reprinted regularly in holiday collections, but quite a few are rare, previously hard-to-find tales by authors you might not be familiar with. If you, like me, enjoy reading seasonal mysteries as the year winds down, then I highly recommend that you add this marvelous collection to your end-of-year reading list!

[ official The Mysterious Bookshop web site - the bookstore run by Otto Penzler ]

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


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book cover  Which Way, Yahweh?
by Hilda Neufeld Schmidt

This book chronicles the story of a young man who fell in with the wrong crowd, and he lost his life for it. This particular crowd, living in various midwestern areas (ending up in Rulo, NE), basically became a sort of religious cult. As a part of their directions from their leader, who claimed he was spoken to by God, the group tortured and killed a 5-year-old boy and a young man named James Thimm. This was really difficult to read, due to the detailed description of abuse the protagonists endured, but I felt it was important to learn what can happen right under our noses. So sad, so very heartbreaking and sad. It's pretty graphic... almost made me upset to my stomach, reading it. The story is somewhat poorly written – grammatical errors, that sort of thing; but the information is pretty complete and detailed. The story gets across with no problem. Considering it was written by the victim, James Thimm's, mother, I let that slide. (Am usually so critical of that sort of thing.)

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try In Cold Blood by Truman Capote; Helter Skelter: The True Story of the Manson Murders by Vincent Bugliosi and Curt Gentry.]

[ "Nightmare in Rulo" Nov 16 1986 article in the Chicago Tribune ]

Review Score – 8
Recommended by Tracy T.
Bennett Martin Public Library


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book cover  This review is for a music CDDecember
by George Winston [Compact Disc 781.65 Win]

This is an album of wintery piano solos that make a nice soundtrack to the cold winter days. There are some holiday songs on the album, but not all of them. I did enjoy it but I do prefer his "Linus and Lucy" album. I'd recommend either if you like piano music or if you are looking for music for your drive in the snow.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Summer, Autumn, Winter Into Spring, Linus and Lucy: Music of Vince Guaraldi, all by George Winston.]

[ official December page on George Winston web site ]

Review Score – 8
Recommended by Kristen A.
Gere Branch Library


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The Screening Room

book cover  This review is for the DVD format of this itemHannibal - Seasons 1 and 2
[DVD Hannibal]

At first I didn't think I'd like this series, too gory, possibly creating nightmares. After watching a few episodes I realized its more psychological, although there are some graphically violent visual scenes, I can look at it in a different way. Its interesting the way the characters relate to one another and try to figure each other out. After watching this, I always watch something funny.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try The Walking Dead, complete first and second seasons DVDs; Sherlock, seasons one and two DVDs; Grimm seasons one and two DVDs; I Know What You Did Last Summer DVD (we own the YA book by Lois Duncan, not the DVD); Scream DVDs (we do not own).]

Internet Movie Database entry for this film ] | [ Hannibal episode guide at EpGuides.com ]

Review Score – 8
Recommended by Kathy H.
Walt Branch Library


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book cover  This review is for the DVD format of this itemMillion Dollar Arm
[DVD Million]

J.B. Bernstein is a sports agent whose business is going under. While watching cricket on TV he is inspired and comes up with an idea to bring cricket players from India to America and train them to play professional baseball. They hold a contest in India to find the best pitchers and bring the top two to America where they train and tryout in front of scouts for major league baseball. At first they have trouble adjusting to the new environment and also to baseball itself and end up living with JB. This cramps his style as he's not used to being responsible for other people. They grow attached to his neighbor who also takes an interest in them. As they grow more comfortable in America JB also grows in maturity and they become like one big happy family. It's a good movie for baseball fans. It also has moments of comedy, is based on real events and has a feel-good ending.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Bend it like Beckham, Draft Day, or other baseball movies.]

[ Internet Movie Database entry for this film ] | [ official Million Dollar Arm 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 itemModern Family - Seasons 1 through 5
[DVD Modern]

This TV series is hilarious. It involves Ed O'Neill's character and his wife, played by Sofia Vergara and their children and grandchildren. Sofia plays the second wife to Ed's character Jay, and being younger than Jay's first wife, she is close in age to his children.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Parenthood TV series drama on DVD (we don't own), The Devil Wears Prada DVD, Glee TV series DVDs.]

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

Review Score – 10
Recommended by Kathy H.
Walt Branch Library


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book cover  This review is for the DVD format of this itemMystery, Alaska
[DVD Mystery]

Mystery is a small town in Alaska, where the residents skate everywhere they go. The local draw is the Saturday Game where the best of the best play a game of pond hockey every week. After being featured in Sports Illustrated the town of Mystery hosts an exhibition game against the New York Rangers.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Miracle, Breakaway and other hockey movies.]

[ Internet Movie Database entry for this film ]

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 itemSafety Not Guaranteed
[DVD Safety]

This is a wonderful, quirky, offbeat character study film, spun off of a real-life personal ad that appeared in print several years ago. Darius is a young female intern at a big Seattle magazine, who ends up on a field trip with one of the senior writers and a shy fellow intern, to research a human interest story. Someone in a backwater community placed a personal ad stating: "WANTED: Someone to go back in time with me. This is not a joke. You'll get paid after we get back. Must bring your own weapons. I have only done this once before. SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED." After her writer-boss (who's using the trip for his own non-work-related reasons) alienates the man who wrote the personal ad (Kenneth), Darius ends up being the one to try to befriend the apparent nutjob and learn what his story is. Kenneth is an odd man, possibly a bit unstable. But Darius, herself is somewhat damaged goods, and as she pretends to become his potential time travel partner, they actually do bond. In a subplot, writer Jeff tries to reconnect with his youth by seeing an old girlfriend, and intern Arnau is forced to break out of his introvert shell. This is a slow-paced film, in which the best moments are often the quiet and introspective ones. I was never quite sure where it was ultimately going, but the journey along the way was fun. Actress Aubrey Plaza was marvelous as Darius, an emotionally-stunted twentysomething who slowly connects with the people around her.

[ 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 2014
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