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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

April 2015 Recommendations

book cover  Go Ask Alice
by Anonymous

I'll admit, I had never heard of this apparently *famous* book before. I saw it come across the desk to be checked in, and I was intrigued. Before I even began to read it, a friend commented, "Oh, cool, you're reading that!" Go Ask Alice is written in diary format... we're never actually told the name of the author. It's presented as a work of fiction, though it could totally have been a true story. The protagonist is a young teenager who is struggling with life, as teenagers often do. She wants to fit in, she wants a certain boy to like her, she finds her parents and siblings irritating but loves them SO MUCH! Quite by random, she is given a drink, at a party, that has been laced with acid. She has a "trip" and decides she loved the experience. What follows is her slow descent into drug addiction, sexual promiscuity, and life on the streets. As a parent, I find it frightening -- as someone who went through similar teenage issues, I found it quite relatable.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger, Breakfast at Tiffany's by Truman Capote.]

[ Go Ask Alice page on Wikipedia ]

Review Score – 9
Recommended by Tracy T.
Bennett Martin Public Library


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book cover  This review is for a music CDHealing Waters
by David Arkenstone [Compact Disc 534 Ark]

All the tracks on this CD are piano music combined with the sounds of running water from a stream. The sound of the water was continuous track to track. The instrumentals would stop but you'd still hear the running water between the songs, then the music would start up again. It was very relaxing to listen to. Some people may find it so relaxing you could try listening to it to get to sleep. I think it's a nice CD to have on while studying because I like gentle music on in the background.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Blue Mind: The Surprising Science That Shows How Being Near, In, On, or Under Water Can Make You Happier, Healthier, More Connected and Better at What You Do by Wallace Nichols; Swim: Why We Love the Water by Lynn Sherr; Any music by George Winston.]

[ David Arktenstone entry on Wikipedia ] | [ official David Arkenstone web site ]

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


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book cover  Faceoff
edited by David Baldacci [813.08 Fac]

Eleven short stories that pair our favorite authors and their characters. I'm a Lincoln Rhyme (Jeffery Deaver) and Lucas Davenport (John Sandford) fan so was pleased to see a short story that put them together ("Rhymes with Prey" -- gotta love that title). In this case, the two of them cementing a friendship seemed to happen rather quickly for their natures but this is afterall a short story format. On the plus side, their mystery was interesting and believable, and most of the favorite series characters made an appearance. Other authors were paired with" like" characters, for example Repairman Jack (by F. Paul Wilson) is a paranormal series -- he "repairs" situations for people that involve curses, ancient evil, and demons. Jack is set in a short story in New Orleans with Heather Graham's series characters - Michael Quinn and Danni Cafferty - who also deal with old, supernatural evil. No need to read this book in order, pick and choose which authors you're interested in, or find a new author based on who they are paired with. Sit back and enjoy Harry Bosch, Aloysius Pendergast, and Jack Reacher, to name a few. If you haven't yet read some of these characters, these short stories will give you a quick introduction that might pique your interest enough to pick up a full-length novel starring that character.

[ publisher's official Faceoff web site ]

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


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book cover  This review is of material for a Young Adult audienceThe Ruins of Gorlan
by John Flanagan [YA Flanagan]

The is the first book of The Ranger's Apprentice series. Set in a land of Kings and Queens, we meet Will, an orphan boy who has been dreaming of joining battleschool ever since he learned that his father died a hero in battle. On the day that he hopes to have his dream fulfilled, he is turned away from battleschool due to his small size. Instead the Ranger Halt says that he would like Will to become his apprentice. The Rangers are dark and quiet, and said to practice magic. What will happen to Will? I have had this book recommended to me several times, but always put it off because there are 11 books in this series (rather daunting!). However, it was a very quick read and I enjoyed it quite a bit. I am now reading the 3rd book in the series.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Graceling by Kristin Cashore.]

[Also available in Playaway Audio format.]

[ official The Ranger's Apprentice page on the official John Flanagan web site ]

Review Score – 8
Recommended by Marie P.
Bennett Martin Public Library


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book cover  This review is for the Book on CD format of this itemThe Magicians
by Lev Grossman [Compact Disc Grossman]

I started off reading this one for my science fiction club's monthly book discussion, then ran out of time and switched to the audio book-on-cd adaptation, which I ended up enjoying far more than the traditional printed version. Narrator Mark Bramhall brings a perfect narrative tone to all the characters in this modern-day fantasy tale. Often described as "Harry Potter for adults", this is the story of a group of disaffected young adults, who were all "discovered" in their youth and given the opportunity to go to a school for magicians in the eastern United States. The first third of the book chronicles their education -- and their rebellious nature -- while the latter two thirds follows their lives after their schooling is over and they have to find a way to integrate into a mundane society, when they've got the wonders of the magician world at their fingertips. There are parts of this novel that I enjoyed tremendously, and other parts that were completely off-putting -- the sex and drug abuse for example. There are many fascinating characters, although you'll end up being annoyed at many of them. In the end, I find myself grudgingly recommending this book -- it is exceptionally well-written -- but with the caveat that many readers will ultimately be either offended or exasperated by both the characters and the plot. Let the reader beware!

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try the two sequels, The Magician King and The Magician's Land.]

[Also available in traditional print format.]

[ official The Magicians page on the official Lev Grossman web site ]

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


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book cover  The Astronaut Wives Club
by Lily Koppel [629.45 Kop]

I was checking this book in for a patron when I stopped to take a look at it. I thought, "I don't know that anything has ever been written about the WIVES of astronauts before--I'd really like to know their perspective!" And that's exactly what this book was about. It began with The Original Seven--the wives of the first group of astronauts--and ended with The Nineteen--the last group of wives to have husbands going up in space in the late 60's and early 70's. These women formed the Astronaut Wives Club, and they were the glue that held the NASA space team together. I really enjoyed this book, though it was difficult to follow, at times, since several new people were being introduced all the time, yet older members of the group were still prominent. Nevertheless, I really felt for these women and the joys and struggles they endured during such a radical, changing time in the history of our country and our world!

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Mozart's Wife by Juliet Waldron.]

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

[ official Astronaut Wives Club web site ]

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


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book cover  Ordinary Grace
by William Kent Krueger

I read this book for the libraries Just Desserts mystery fiction discussion group, which recently chose it as their book-of-the-month. I've enjoyed the books in Krueger's Cork O'Connor series, and had the opportunity to see Krueger in person in April 2014, when he appeared at a bookstore in Lincoln, to promote Ordinary Grace. At the time, Krueger said that Ordinary Grace is his personal favorite of all the books he's written, and the one of which he's the most proud. This stand-alone novel, which won the Edgar Award for best Mystery Novel of the year, is set in the early 1960s, in a small, rural Minnesota town -- New Bremen. Told from the point-of-view of Frank Drum, the 13-year-old son of the town's Methodist minister, this is a coming-of-age tale for both Frank and his younger brother Jake, during a summer in which several local deaths all have a major impact on the townspeople of New Bremen. This tale is told very simply, but still reaches out and grabs you, demanding that you pay attention to all the small details of description and dialog. The character relationships make this story feel exceptionally "real" -- several Just Desserts group members, who grew up in small towns just like New Bremen, said the story pulled them in and reminded them of what small town life was like for them as children. In the end, though a mystery lies at the heart of this story, this is not a traditional "mystery novel", the likes of which Krueger is well-known for. Instead, this is a slice-of-life novel, with unforgettable characters and emotional confrontations. I can't recommend this highly enough!

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try other books by William Kent Krueger, although be aware that Ordinary Grace is different than any of his other novels.]

[Also available in book-on-cd and Large Print formats.]

[ official Ordinary Grace page on the official William Kent Krueger web site ]

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


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book cover

book cover 
Stories I Only Tell My Friends (2011) and Love Life (2014)
by Rob Lowe both [Biography Lowe]

I wouldn't have described myself as a Rob Lowe "fan" up to now but I've enjoyed him very much in a handful of the movies and tv shows in which I've seen him. And in recent years he's been 'everywhere' in view, as they say. So, I decided to take a look at these two recent memoirs from this pretty-boy "Brat Pack" alumni and found them quite enjoyable. Lowe, who started acting in local and regional productions as a child and has rarely been out of work in the last 30+ years, being sober and married for almost 25 of those -- but not before falling into the trap of excesses that tempt many a young and handsome actor -- is an excellent writer and story-teller. Lowe grew up in Ohio, but after two divorces and some health problems, his mother moved him and his brothers to Malibu, California in 1976. In this ultimately fortuitous change of fate, Rob spent his teen years down the street from the Sheens and the Penns and in just a few years became one of the hottest young male celebrities in the world, dating everyone from Melissa Gilbert to Princess Stephanie of Monaco. In addition to growing up around current and future acting royalty, he's also met an array of other actors and celebrities over the years, some in odd circumstances, such as drinking milk with a bath-robe-wearing Cary Grant when on a house date with Grant's daughter. Lowe relays such surreal events with both wryness and affection. In addition, I kept being amazed at how he has ended up at so many crucial 'intersections' of pivotal events. For example, and unknown to him for several years after the fact, he was on a plane flight that some of the 9/11 hijackers were using as a practice run in August 2001. For all that he has lived a life of fame and sometimes fortune, Lowe manages to 'keep it real' by recognizing the value of his family and friends and filtering out most of the nonsense that accompanies a life in film and television. The first book is mainly about himself and his earl y career and the second is focused more on the importance of his wife and sons to him, and how he keeps sight of the goal of living an honest and fulfilling life. The title of the second book, in fact, is as much an admonition "[You should] love life", as it is an account of the loves of/in his life. I still wouldn't describe myself as a hardcore fan of Rob Lowe, but he's definitely a very interesting and very hard-working celebrity. And still very easy on the eyes!.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try the audiobooks of these same titles; also The Outsiders; St. Elmo's Fire; The West Wing; and Parks and Recreation.]

[Links above should take you to all available formats of both of Lowe's biographies.]

[ Rob Lowe page on Wikipedia ] | [ official Rob Lowe page on IMDb ]

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


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book cover  The Great Heist: The Story of the Biggest Bank Robbery in History
by Jeff McArthur [364.155 McA]

In 1930, six men entered a bank in Lincoln, NE and in 8 minutes made off with more than 2.7 million dollars. This book explores the local officials, a connection to Al Capone that led the Secret Six of Chicago to offer assistance, and Al Capone's brother who had disappeared but was living in Nebraska as an upright citizen.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try The 1931 Hastings Bank Job and the Bloody Bandit Trail by Monty McCord 364.155 McC.]

[ official Jeff McArthur web site ]

Review Score – 8
Recommended by Sandy W.
Gere Branch Library


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book cover  Pearls Falls Fast
by Stephan Pastis [741.5 Pas]

Enjoyable oversized trade paperback collection of recent Pearls Before Swine comic strips, featuring the sarcastic and anti-social "Rat" and the doofus "Pig", plus their various quirky anthropomorphic neighbors. I particularly enjoy the idiotic attempts by the legion of crocodiles to convince Zebra to let them kill and eat him. Pastis has an occasionally (unpleasantly) nasty sense of humor, while at the same time regularly poking fun at himself, with the various characters speaking directly to him as an animated (and much beleaguered) cartoonist. The thing I appreciate the most about this oversized collection is that Pastis has provided background notes for many of the cartoons in this compilation -- making this kind of a "director's cut" collection. If you're not into biting satire, with occasional forays into cartoon violence, then this is definitely not the comic strip for you. But, if you don't have thin skin, and you're looking for a good laugh -- I highly recommended Pearls Before Swine, and this collection in particular!

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try the various other Pearls Before Swine compilations.]

[ official Pearls Before Swine web site ] | [ Pearls Before Swine page on Wikipedia ]

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


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book cover  This review is for the Book on CD format of this itemPaw and Order
by Spencer Quinn [Compact Disc Quinn]

The latest (2014) book in the Chet and Bernie series, narrated by Chet the Dog, takes the duo away from their comfortable and arid valley in the Arizona desert, and drops them into Washington D.C. Trying to repair his relationship with his girlfriend, Susie Sanchez, who took up a job offer to move to Washington and be a reporter for the Wasington Post, Bernie and his partner Chet drive from the site of their last case -- the Louisiana Bayou country, cross-country to surprise Susie in her new East coast environment. When Bernie is soon framed for a murder, associated with a story that Susie was working on, the detective and his canine partner end up sniffing around the politically-charged environment of our Capitol City. As usual, I listened to this as a book-on-cd version, rather than reading it in hardcopy. Narrator James Frangione does a marvelous job of telling the story from Chet the Dog's point-of-view -- Frangione captures Chet's doggie mindset perfectly, without distracting the reader/listener from the mystery elements. Great fun, and a great new chapter in the lives of Chet and Bernie -- I can't wait for the next one!

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try the other Spencer Quinn titles.]

[Also available in traditional print format.]

[ official Chet the Dog web site ]

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


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book cover  Four: A Divergent Story Collection
by Veronica Roth [YA Roth]

This is companion book to the Divergent series. "Four" includes 4 short stories written from the viewpoint of Four (the leading male character from the Divergent series). I enjoyed reading this to add some more depth to Four's character. Getting to hear his internal thoughts adds much to what the reader already knows about him. If you choose to read this book, I would recommend reading "Divergent" first.


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

[ official Veronica Roth web site ]

Review Score – 7
Recommended by Marie P.
Bennett Martin Public Library


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The Screening Room

book cover  This review is for the DVD format of this itemAll the President's Men
[DVD All]

One of the most outstanding films of the 1970s -- based on the book by reporters Woodward and Bernstein, which chronicled their journalistic investigations into the Watergate scandal that ultimately led to Richard Nixon stepping down from the office of President of the United States. The performances in this are flawless -- Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman bring the reports to life, and Jason Robards definitely earned his Supporting Actor Oscar for his portrayal of Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee. Though a dark moment in our country's political history, this film celebrates the free press and the pugnacious nature of journalism in the 1970s -- a journalistic era that's quite different from the one in which we live now. This DVD release includes numerous "special features", sure to appeal to anyone interested in both American history, and the craft of film-making. One of my top ten favorite films of all time!


[Also available in traditional print format.]

[ Internet Movie Database entry for this film ]

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


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book cover  This review is for the DVD format of this itemFury
[DVD Fury]

Army sergeant Wardaddy - played by Brad Pitt - commands a group of rag tag soldiers in a Sherman tank. After the death of a member of his crew he is given a rookie as replacement. Out-gunned and out-numbered the story follows this crew going into battle in Nazi Germany.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Kelly's Heroes, Lebanon, and other tank movies along with Saving Private Ryan, Band of Brothers, and the Hurt Locker.]

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

Review Score – 9
Recommended by Carrie K.
Benett Martin Public Library


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book cover  This review is for the DVD format of this itemInto the Storm
[DVD Into]

My wife and I watched this schlocky natural disaster movie mainly due to the presence of Richard Armitage in the cast -- we've both enjoyed him in the Hobbit trilogy, and in North & South and the BBC's recent Robin Hood series as Sir Guy of Gisborne. In this, Armitage is merely one of several key ensemble players whose lives are impacted by a series of tornados in a small Oklahoma community. The plot follows two main threads -- the quest of a bunch of storm chasers to track and engage with a monster twister, and the lives of various members of the community of Silverton, Oklahoma. The acting ranges from impressive and believable, to overblown high school play. The plot is very loose and -- for the most part -- forgettable. However, the special effects are tremendous. The multiple tornados seen on screen are exceptionally believable, and the physical weather and wind effects on the actors in multiple scenes are frighteningly realistic. Additionally, I have to give this film's scenic and set designers kudos -- the look of tornado ravaged neighborhoods was devastatingly realistic as well. If you're looking for a well-acted and well-thought-out movie, don't bother. But if you're a weather junkie, and in the mood for a mindless "popcorn" movie, give this one a try!

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Twister.]

[ Internet Movie Database entry for this film ] | [ official Into the Storm web site ]

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


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book cover  This review is for the DVD format of this itemLand Girls: Series 1
[DVD Land]

This is a drama set in World War II England about a group of women working on a farm as land girls. During the war women living in the city went to the countryside and worked on farms for the war effort. I picked this up thinking I'd get a sense of what life was like for the land girls; I liked it at the beginning but it turned into a soap opera type of show before long. I thought it'd be of a historical focused show, but the time era is really just a backdrop to the gossipy characters. I didn't really enjoy it, but if you're more into dramas than I am, you may like it better than I did.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Land Girls: Series 2 and 3; Call the Midwife: Seasons 1-4.]

[ Internet Movie Database entry for this film ] | [ Land Girls episode guide on Wikipedia ]

Review Score – 6
Recommended by Kristen A.
Gere Branch Library


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book cover  This review is for the DVD format of this itemNightcrawler
[DVD Nightcrawler]

Lou Bloom - played by Jake Gyllenhaal - decides to try out crime journalism and purchases a camera and police scanner. After his first story he's addicted and soon blurs the line between reporting and participating. Gyllenhaal was great in this role, totally transformed himself to fit the character. Very intense storyline, somewhat graphic at times, but worth the watch.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try All The President's Men, Zodiac, and other movies about journalists.]

[ Internet Movie Database entry for this film ] | [ official Nightcrawler 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 itemRosemary & Thyme: Series 1 - 3
[DVD Rosemary]

Rosemary Box is a former university lecturer on plant pathology and Laura Thyme is a former police woman. When they meet in the first episode Rosemary has just lost her job and Laura's just been through a divorce. They start doing gardening jobs together, but it's a mystery series so each time they get a new job, there is a new murder mystery and sometimes a botany mystery to solve. I like the balance this show has between the mystery and gardening aspect. I feel in some mystery series it's rather unlikely that one small village has murder after murder. However, these two take jobs around England and Europe so it seems less odd that there is a murder in each and every show. I also like the character development over the three seasons, particularly with Laura. She moves on with her life after the divorce, heals relationships with her daughter and becomes comfortable with life as a gardener. There is nothing graphic in nature so even if you like lite mysteries I'd recommend this. I really enjoyed the series.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Plants in Garden History by Penelope Hobhouse; Drunken Botanist: The Plants That Create the World's Great Drinks by Amy Stewart.]

[ Internet Movie Database entry for this film ] | [ Rosemary & Thyme episode guide on Wikipedia ]

Review Score – 9
Recommended by Kristen A.
Gere Branch Library


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last updated April 2015
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