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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

August 2014 Recommendations

book cover  The Blade Itself
by Joe Abercrombie

For those of you (im)patiently waiting for George R. R. Martin to finish the next entry in "A Song of Ice and Fire" looking for a brilliant fix of fantasy and non-stop action. The Blade Itself is the first volume in Joe Abercrombie's trilogy The First Law, in which he provides a tongue-in-cheek take on traditional high fantasy tropes, mixed with a healthy dose of graphic murder and brutal mayhem. The story revolves around a former cavalry officer turned torturer for the inquisition, a narcissistic nobleman with vain ambitions, an extremely capable barbarian with a dark past and an even darker temper and a scheming old wizard who is more Machiavelli than Gandalf. None of these guys come across as particularly sympathetic, but it is hard not to root for them — even though you are never really sure whether they are actually the good guys. Epic, fast-paced, colorful, well written and a whole lot of fun. For me it became one of those books I had to force myself to put down, so I wouldn't binge-read it in a single day.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch, Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence, Name of the Wind by Pat Rothfuss or Blood of Elves by Andrzej Sapkowski.]

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

[ The Blade Itself page on the official Joe Abercrombie web site ]

Review Score – 10
Recommended by Rasmus T.
Bennett Martin Public Library - Temporary


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book cover  Ready Player One
by Ernest Cline

In 2044 humanity has bled the world dry of fossil fuels and the majority of people live out their lives in OASIS, a completely immersive virtual world created by James Halliday. Halliday, who grow up during the 1980s let that decade inspire him in everything he did. In his last will Halliday reveals that he, in true video game fashion, has hidden an Easter egg behind three gates within OASIS. Whoever finds it first will receive Halliday's entire fortune and gain total ownership of his company — essentially a modern-day version of the deeds to Willy Wonka's chocolate factory. In the book we follow the young Wade Watts, a gunter (Egg Hunter) in his quest to find the Easter egg and protect OASIS from those who intend to control it for their own nefarious purposes. The limitless virtual world of OASIS is an unabashed love letter to 1980s culture and is ripe with geeky references to movies, music and literature and video games. Anyone who has ever pretended to fight with a light saber or played Dungeons & Dragons until sunrise will feel right at home here. As someone growing up in that decade, Ready Player One was a shot of pure gleeful nostalgia for me, but it can be enjoyed as a great story in its own right, even without getting all the cultural references Ernest Cline throws at the reader. If you prefer movies and video games to the written word, this is the one book you should read this year.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Redshirts by John Scalzi.]

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

[ Publisher's official Ready Player One web site ] | [ official Ernest Cline web site (very creatively designed!!) ]

Review Score – 9
Recommended by Rasmus T.
Bennett Martin Public Library - Temporary


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book cover  Bacon 24/7: Recipes for Curing, Smoking and Eating
by Theresa Gilliam, photos by E.J. Armstrong [641.636 Gil]

I admit I am a carnivore, and crisp, smoky, savory bacon is one of the meats I enjoy the most. I noticed this slightly oversized book as it went through check-in, nabbed it, and have only glanced through it but it looks fabulous! Not only is this a bacon cookbook, it has a range of recipes for all types of meals and snacks. Each recipe is accompanied by a mouth-watering photo of the dish. Plus, there are instructions for curing and smoking bacon if you want to go "whole hog", ahem. Here are a few of the intriguing offerings: Maple Bacon Twists, Bacon Cheese Puffs, Fatso Cornbread, Chicken Normandy (variation), Onion & Bacon Jam, and Bacon Buttermilk Caramels. Thank-you to pigs everywhere!

[ Publisher's official Bacon 24/7 web page ] | [ Publisher's Theresa Gilliam web page ]

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


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book cover  Elizabeth is Missing
by Emma Healey

Set in present day England, Maude is an elderly woman with dementia. She is worried about her friend, Elizabeth, who is missing. The present day story is interwoven in Maude's mind with the memory of her sister, Sukey, who went missing shortly after WWII and who was never found. Maude's persistence in finding Elizabeth leads to the discovery of what happened to Sukey. A wonderful story, but may be hard to read if someone you love has or had Alzheimer's.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Still Alice by Lisa Genova.]

[ Elizabeth is Missing page on the official Emma Healey web site ]

Review Score – 10
Recommended by Tammy T.
Collection Management Department


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book cover  The Art of the Muppets: A Retrospective Look at 25 yeras of Muppet Magic
by The Staff of Henson Associates [791.457 Hen]

Let me just start off by saying that there have been a lot of books written about the history and behind-the-scenes details of The Muppets over the years, and many of those go into much greater details than this. However, this book published in 1980 is a very nice look back at these felt and foam creations on the occasion of the Muppets' 25th anniversary. The book provides a short history of puppetry, and the ways in which the Muppets both differ and resemble traditional puppets and puppet shows. There are a lot of rare images from the Muppet sudios, from Jim Henson's very earliest designs up through the heydey of the early years of Sesame Street at The Muppet Show. There are also small sections of the book dedicated to the Muppets that were used in the early seasons of Saturday Night Live, and Emmet Otter's Jugband Christmas (an underappreciated holiday special from 1976. For anyone interested in the very earliest years in Muppet history, this is a charming introduction, filled with excellent images. For a detailed and in-depth look at the Muppets, you'll probably want to track down one of the larger books, published in more recent years.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try The Muppet Show Book by Jim Henson and Jack Burns, or Jim Henson: The Works, the Art, the Magic, the Imagination by Christopher Finch.]

[ Disney's official Muppets web site ] | [ official Muppet Wiki web site ]

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


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book cover  Chasing Shackleton: Recreating the World's Greatest Journey of Survival
by Tom Jarvis [919.89 Jar]

Tim Jarvis, a seasoned explorer, recreates the voyage that Ernest Shackleton took in 1916 voyage in the 23 foot wooden boat, the James Caird, to save his crew marooned on Elephant Island. This story starts in 2002 when Jarvis meets Ernest Shackleton's granddaughter, Alexandra and she asks him to recreate her grandfather's journey. Jarvis writes that "the plan viewed from a distance was straightforward enough: build a replica James Caird, take her to Antarctica on a larger ship, hire a dedicated support vessel for the duration of the journey, select the right team, get the permits and insurance, and do it. I would finance the expedition with corporate sponsorship and sales of the film rights, supplemented by funds from fee-paying passengers who'd get a once-in-a-lifetime trip on our support vessel." As with many plans that seem straightforward, this one become fraught with stumbling blocks. Sponsors backed out and there were problems with permits and customs officials. Jarvis and his crew made this voyage as authentic as possible. They wore Shackleton-era gabardine clothing and ate food similar to Shackleton's rations including Pemmican, a concoction of lard and beef seasoning heated on Primus kerosene stove that is apparently, as disgusting to drink as it sounds. Their sails were made by a traditional sail maker. The only modern touches on their whaling boat were cameras that the film crew used to record up close activity for the documentary made of this expedition. They set sail from Point Wild on Elephant Island and crossed the rough Southern Ocean in twelve days landing on the western shore of South Georgia Island. From there Jarvis and two of the crew crossed the Trident Mountains as Shackleton did to get help. This book is a good companion to the documentary that was made of Jarvis' expedition. It goes into more detail about Jarvis' preparations for the journey.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try the documentary movie, Chasing Shackleton, on DVD.]

[Also available in DVD format.]

[ official Chasing Shackleton web site from PBS ]

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


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book cover  Kiss of Deception
by Mary E. Pearson

Princess Lia, as first daughter of a king and queen, is destined to marry a man of her parents' choosing. She is set to marry the prince of a realm with whom her country is on edge. This match is supposed to calm the waters between the two countries, but Lia wants no part to play, especially if it means marrying a man she has never met. She and her faithful sidekick Pauline escape on her wedding day to Pauline's hometown, a place where royal traffic is minimal and their treason will not be discovered. The girls become barmaids at the local tavern and Lia catches the eye of two men passing through. She thinks she has everyone fooled. Who would recognize this shabby, hard-working barmaid as the royal girl who was supposed to solve a kingdom's problems? Little does she know, these two men are far more aware of who she is than they let on. Neither of them intended to fall for Lia, but as they grow to know her, they find their tasks much more difficult. This story is told from three different points of view — that of Lia, "the Assassin", and "the Prince," in a way that allows readers to get to know the minds of all three involved in the complications of politics, religion, and love.

[ official Mary Pearson web site ]

Review Score – 8
Recommended by Sam N.
Gere Branch Library


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book cover  The Outsmarting of Criminals
by Steven Rigolosi

This breezy novel introduces us to Felicity Prim, a criminal outsmarter. Criminal outsmarting is Miss Prim's second career. She had lived in New York City and worked in a doctor's office until she was mugged. After the mugging Felicity looked at her life and decided that she wanted something different. She retired and moved to Greenfield, Connecticut where she hoped to become a sleuth. Her first opportunity to work as a detective came while Felicity was settling into her new home. She found a secret entrance to a cellar in her kitchen. At the bottom of the stairs Felicity found the body of a recently deceased man. When she told the police about the man she asked Detective Ezra Dawes if they could work together. She pointed out that two heads are better one when solving crimes. He graciously agreed. Felicity made friends (and frightened people with her erratic driving) while trying to figure who the man was and how he got into her basement. This witty book is populated with warm and wacky characters.

[ official Steven Rigolosi web site ]

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


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book cover  Dinner with the Smileys : One Military Family, One Year of Heroes, and Lessons for a Lifetime
by Sarah Smiley [Biography Smiley]

Sarah grew up a military brat, and is now married to navy officer and pilot Dustin. She is used to military deployments but this time the two older boys (aged 11 and 9) are at an age when their father's absence will have a bigger impact on them. Sarah decides to invite someone to dinner with them once a week so Dustin's empty chair is not quite so noticeable. She decided on dinner because that is often the most loneliest of times for a family facing a deployment. We watch the family deal with Dustin's absence, as well as meet each of the 52 dinner guests. Olympic athletes, state senators, the local Food Bank manager, a US Marshal, a local celebrity, the local Game & Parks ranger, their school teachers, and a wide variety of other people from all walks of life spent time with the family and demonstrated the important of spending time together. And the boys learn each person, regardless of occupation, is important and has a special perception on life. At times Sarah herself drove me crazy, but beyond that the dinner guests and their stories were fascinating. I especially enjoyed the final chapter, where Sarah invited back all the dinner guests with an invitation reading, "You had dinner with the Smileys, now it's time for dessert - with Dustin." I like a good epilogue and this provided an emotionally satisfying ending.

[ Dinner With the Smileys page on the official Sarah Smiley web site ]

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


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book cover  Rivers
by Michael Farris Smith

Endless hurricanes have made the Gulf Coast a no man's land abandoned by the government. For reasons of his own, Cohen has chosen to stay and make it his home. A chance encounter and a bad decision changes the course of his life. A real page tuner perfect for when you're in the mood for a good apocalyptic read.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try The Road by Cormac McCarthy.]

[ Publisher's official Rivers web page ] | [ official Michael Farris Smith web site ]

Review Score – 10
Recommended by Tammy T.
Collection Management Department


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book cover  Vanishing Point
by Judith Van Gieson

Very few books engross me from the first page but this is one of them. Jonathan Vail wrote a "coming of age" novel that made him famous. His disappearance shortly after the book was published made him a legend. Today, archivist Claire Reynier preserves Vail's papers at the University of New Mexico. Vail was a gifted writer who disappeared 35 years ago while on a camping trip with his girlfriend, Jennie Dell. They took refuge in a cave in Slickrock Canyon when a thunderstorm arose. Jennie said that Vail inexplicably walked out into the downpour and disappeared. Park rangers searched for him but never found a trace. Rumors swirled about Vail. Some said that he went to Canada to avoid being sent to Vietnam. Others said that he was in Mexico. Still others claimed that Jennie had murdered him. Officials believed that he had fallen off a cliff and that the flood water had swept him away. One day a graduate student walks into Claire's office with an old dusty briefcase saying that he found Vail's missing journal in a cave in Slickrock Canyon. Claire authenicates the journal and starts for her own search for Vail.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try the works of Steven F. Havill, Aimee Thurlo and Michael McGarrity.]

[ official Judith Van Gieson web site ]

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


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book cover  The Steampunk Adventurer's Guide: Contraptions, Creations and Curiosities Anyone Can Make
by Thomas Willeford [646.48 Wil]

I've been on a Steampunk binge for the past couple of years -- reading a lot of Steampunk fiction, and looking at the increasing collection of Steampunk related non-fiction books the libraries have been picking up -- dedicated to costuming, jewelry making and decorating. The Steampunk Adventurer's Guide is a marvelous addition to the libraries' Steampunk collection. Classified as an "adult" item, this is actually aimed at responsible teens and even pre-teens. Each chapter of this nifty volume features a short continuation of an ongoing Steampunk adventure story, focusing on the escapes of a couple of brilliant but reckless kids, lavishly illustrated by Phil Foglio, whose work in Dragon magazine many years ago was among my favorite fantasy art. In recent years, he has written and illustrated the adventures of Girl Genius -- a series of Steampunk graphic novels. Alternativeing with the storyline in this volume are sections in which author Thomas Willeford provides detailed step-by-step instructions for how to create pieces of Steampunk costumes, from things as simple as airship goggles, to as complex as glider wings, a rocket pack, or a rivet gun. The illustrations that accompany each craft project as simple and straight-forward, and Willeford adopts a very easy-to-follow conversational tone in his instructions. Anyone with an interest in Steampunk trappings and a modicum of craft skills will find this book an excellent introduction to how to create accessories for simple Steampunk costumes. I particularly like Willeford's "invention" of Fleather -- a flexible craft fabric made of soft craft foam and double-sided duct tape, which very closely resembles leather if not examined too closely. [Check out my Steampunk booktalk booklist for some great reads to put you in the mood to create your own costume!]

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try any of the libraries' many other Steampunk craft books, almost all of which are aimed at a far more adult audience.]

[ Publisher's official Steampunk Adventurer's Guide web page ] | [ official Thomas Willeford (author/crafter) web site ] | [ official Phil Foglio (illustrator) web site ]

Review Score – 7
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 itemDoing Hard Time
by Stuart Woods [Compact Disc Woods]

Reading this 27th book in the Stone Barrington series for the July 2014 Just Desserts mystery fiction book group was my first exposure to the works of Stuart Woods. And I actually listened to it on CD rather than reading it as a physical book. I will have to say -- I think Stuart Woods has a fairly simplistic writing style, and the world of his fiction is peopled with unrealistic characters. But, oddly enough, the audiobook version of Doing Hard Time was extremely compelling. I found myself sitting in my car at the curb when I'd get home, wanting to listen to just a few more minutes on my car's CD-player to see what happened next. The Stone Barrington books are filled with stereotypical male fantasy scenarios -- all women immediately fall for Stone's manly charms and most of them bed him quickly. His heroes are close to flawless and his villains are cartoonish in their obvious villainy. Way too much time is spent on the glories of guns, planes and boats. But still...I couldn't wait to see what happened next! Compelling and yet formulaic...kind of like eating popcorn or potato chips - I can see why these have become so popular! Make of this what you will. Fans of Lee Child's Jack Reacher series may enjoy the non-stop action of this one -- the Teddy Fay anti-hero character strongly reminded me of Reacher.

[Also available in traditional print and Large Print formats.]

[ The Works of Stuart Woods Just Desserts handout - listing all of Woods' intermingled series ] | [ official Stuart Woods web site ]

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


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book cover  The Red Chameleon
by Erica Wright

Kathleen Stone spends her days catching cheating spouses. She relies on the skills that she learned as an NYPD undercover cop to blend into the background. With the help of an excellent wigmaker Kathleen creates a variety of personas ranging from a posh real estate agent to a sulky teenage boy. When one of the husbands that she is trailing ends up dead, Kathleen goes back undercover with the NYPD to find his connection with a high-end rehab facility. The twists and turns in this book make it perfect for a summer read.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try the works of Ingrid Throft, Alafair Burke or Linda Fairstein.]

[ Publisher's official Red Chameleon web page ] | [ official Erica Wright blog ]

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 itemGolf for Dummies
Gary McCord [DVD 796.352 McC]

As Ray Floyd said, "They call it 'golf,' because all the other four letter words were already taken." For anyone looking to brush up on their golf game (even beginners!), this DVD does a great job of making golf appealing and breaking the game down into simple steps. It is presented by PGA Golfer Gary McCord, and I really like how it isn't just a dry instructional DVD, but it is really rather entertaining! All the basics are covered including: types of clubs, gripping the club, improving putting, different types of shots, hazards and how to deal with them, and typical swing problems that occur and how to fix them. He offers practice tips and drills as well for these common issues. For anyone looking to brush up on their game, or look for some golf instruction from a seasoned golfer to beginner, I would highly recommend this DVD!.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try David Leadbetter - Golf Instructional DVD's, 796.352's non-fiction.]

[Also available in traditional print (2nd edition) formats.]

Review Score – 10
Recommended by Jeremiah J.
Bennett Martin Public Library


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book cover  This review is for the DVD format of this itemRipper Street - Season One
[DVD Ripper]

Set in London just months after the Jack the Ripper killings in the neighborhood of White Chapel. Inspector Reid, Sergeant Drake and Jackson, an American surgeon, work together to solve crimes. The first episode is about a murder that may or may not be the work of the Ripper again. The following episodes are not directly related to the Ripper cases, but the burden of the unsolved mysteries surrounding Jack the Ripper are evident around the police station. What was really enjoyable about this was how the characters develop over the season. At first the focus is on the case at hand and then we see more of their personalities and back stories, including more about Inspector Reid's missing/deceased daughter. The atmosphere of the series is rather dark and gritty. It is not rated but I do warn viewers that there is not an episode with out some or all of the following: blood, guts, violence, prostitution, nudity, autopsies, drug use, and murder. Because of the dark a nd graphic scenes this show is not for everyone, but I do highly recommend it you you like crime scene investigation shows or historical mysteries.

[If you'd like to know more about Jack the Ripper I'd recommend The Ultimate Jack the Ripper Companion by Stewart P. Evans and Keith Skinner.]

[Also available: Season Two.]

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

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


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book cover  This review is for the DVD format of this itemStar Trek: The Motion Picture
[DVD Star]

This is the first of the Star Trek movies. The crew, characters and actors, from the original series reunite aboard the revamped Enterprise. Their mission is to investigate and intercept a destructive object headed for Earth. Initially the ship is captioned by Decker who is not happy when Kirk abruptly takes over before even leaving Earth. The film is full of long shots of the ship and the mysterious object. It seems like they were trying to impress viewers with the graphics, which aren't bad, however the appeal wears off when all that happens for almost a minute is just looking at the ship. This isn't just when we first see the ships either and in my opinion it just slows down the movie. When comparing it to the original series TV show and the other movies, it really lacks the action, excitement and personality that the others have. Star Trek and science fiction fans may enjoy this film. However if you have never watched Star Trek before, I'd suggest starting with the TV series or another one of the movies because this film just has a different feel to it than everything else that stars the original cast.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Star Trek (the original series) on DVD.]

[ Internet Movie Database entry for this film ] | [ official Star Trek web site (for all things Star Trek) ]

Review Score – 7
Recommended by Kristen A.
Gere Branch Library


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last updated August 2014
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