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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

March 2015 Recommendations

book cover  The Handmaid's Tale
by Margaret Atwood

I read this book a number of years ago, and I decided to re-read it, as I'm nominating it for One Book, One Lincoln. This is actually one of the first dystopian novels I've ever read. I remember being a bit frightened, as well as thrilled, by the concept that our society had gotten so out of hand--so gluttonous and vile--that there was a complete overhaul. I felt that way again reading this story for a second time... in fact, even more so this time around! Our main character is now known as Offred, and she is a Handmaid for a Commander in the new society. Her sole purpose in this new life is to provide a child for the Commander and his wife. She does not speak with anyone unless spoken to, she may not read or do anything else to amuse herself or occupy her time. Where are her husband and daughter, from before? She does not know, and sometimes, she doesn't WANT to know... Will Offred survive in her new surroundings? Will "surviving" be enough for her?.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try 1984 by George Orwell; Divergent by Veronica Roth; A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess.]

[Also available in downloadable E-book format.]

[ Wikipedia page for this novel ] | [ official Margaret Atwood web site ]

Review Score – 10
Recommended by Tracy T.
Bennett Martin Public Library


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book cover  The Miniaturist
by Jessie Burton

In 1686, eighteen year old Nella Oortman enters an arranged marriage with a much older, successful, merchant trader in Amsterdam. As a wedding gift, her husband gives her a cabinet-sized replica of their home. A mysterious miniaturist begins sending her tiny creations that replicate their counterparts in the house. These eerie gifts from the miniaturist help Nella unlock the many secrets of her new home. This book is historical fiction at its best and will keep you turning the pages as the secrets are revealed.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try The Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier.]

[ official Jessie Burton web site ]

Review Score – 9
Recommended by Tammy T.
Collection Management Department


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book cover  The Quilter's Kitchen
by Jennifer Chiaverini

I chose this book because I found it on a search in the NoveList database--I was looking for novels that include recipes. This particular story is the 13th book in a series of 20, but I was able to follow along quite well without having read the previous 12 books. The main focus of the series, I believe, is quilting, although this story definitely put a lot of emphasis on various dishes and treats enjoyed by generations. There were so many recipes at the end of each chapter, I felt the book was a bit of a treasure! The story itself was light and quick to read--I may yet go back and begin at the beginning of the series!.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe by Fannie Flagg; or Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel.]

[Also available in Large Print format.]

[ official BOOK web site ] | [ official AUTHOR web site ]

Review Score – 7
Recommended by Tracy T.
Bennett Martin Public Library


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book cover  This review is of material for a Young Adult audienceThe Matched Trilogy
by Allyson Braithwaite Condie [YA Condie]

In this YA dystopian trilogy (Matched, Crossed, Reached), Ally Condie weaves together the stories and lives of three youth on the very cusp of adulthood. Cassia, the protagonist of the novel, believes she is living in a perfect society; she has just been "matched" with her best friend Xander and is currently training for her dream job as a sorter. After arriving home from the match ceremony, Cassia is in for a shock when another face appears on her port screen after Xander's. It's Ky the mystery boy from down the block. Does this mean she has two matches? How did this happen? The Society attempts to convince her it was a rare malfunction, but as Cassia begins to spend time with Ky, she soon discovers that the perfect society she thought surrounded her turns out to be more controlling and flawed than she realized. She and her two matches, Xander and Ky, are thrust into an adventure that forces them to go against everything they have ever known and one they may not survive. This trilogy is so full of suspense, romance, and intrigue you won't want to put it down.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try The Giver by Lois Lowry.]

[Available in the following formats --
Matched: downloadable audio, book-on-cd, downloadable E-book and Traditional Print
Crossed: book-on-cd, downloadable E-book and Traditional Print
Reached: downloadable audio, downloadable E-book and Traditional Print.]

[ official Matched pages on the official Ally Condie web site ]

Review Score – 10
Recommended by Katrina S.
Anderson and Bethany Branch Libraries


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book cover  How to Fake a Moon Landing
by Darryl Cunningham [001.9 Cun]

As the subtitle to this book says, this is a very straight-forward book about "exposing the myths of science denial". Cunningham uses the graphic novel format to tackle 8 hot button topics, all of which have been in the news in recent years. Each of these topics has a great deal of verifiable scientific evidence, accumulated over years, even decades, of testing an observation, to lend support to views that have somehow become political and religious hot potatoes -- each and every topic's facts have people who are diametrically opposed to accepting the evidence placed in front of them. Cunningham doesn't suffer fools gladly, and uses humor and sarcasm to shine a light on such subjects as: The Moon Landing Hoax, Homeopathy, Chiropractic treatments, the MMR Vaccination Scandal, Evolution, Fracking, Climate Change and the basic category of Science Denial in general. This book should appeal to anyone with an open mind, who prefers the scientific method of testing an d observation over blind acceptance of dogma.

[ official Darryl Cunningham blog ]

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


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book cover  Smoke Gets in Your Eyes...and Other Lessons From the Crematory
by Caitlin Doughty [Biography Doughty]

Told with humor and compassion, this memoir is about a young woman's desire to explore the topic of death. She takes a job at a crematory and later attends mortuary school and becomes a licensed mortician. This memoir is a frank behind the scenes look at the death industry in this country. It will make you think about how our society approaches death and dying.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Stiff: the Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach.]

[ official The Order of the Good Death web site - managed by Caitlin Doughty ]

Review Score – 9
Recommended by Tammy T.
Collection Management Department


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book cover  The Good Nurse: A True Story of Medicine, Madness and Murder
by Charles Graeber [Biography Cullen]

Charles Cullen was arrested in 2003, and the media quickly gave him the title "The Angel of Death." A nurse in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, Charlie was implicated in the deaths of up to 300 patients. This book was a very interesting read. I was interested in the medical aspects of this book, having family members who are nurses, as well as the suspense of wondering how the police were finally going to arrest Charlie for his crimes. Though passages of this book read a little slow, I was still very interested in it, and once the investigation began, I couldn't put it down.

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

[ official The Good Nurse and Charles Graeber 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 itemTheir Eyes Were Watching God
by Zora Neale Hurston [Compact Disc Hurston]

I didn't know anything about this book before I picked it up. I hadn't known that Ms. Hurston was criticized by black, male authors of her time for not writing something that was more political, something that shined a more "positive" light on blacks in the south. I also didn't know that, while the story itself is extremely captivating, the writing is some of the most poetic I've ever known! The dialogues between characters are, in my opinion, accurate and true-to-life; but the descriptions of scenery, of people and of every day occurrences--those are absolutely lyrical! A movie was made about this book, about 10 years ago... I've never seen it, but I'm definitely going to watch it now. And more important, I'm going to read more of Hurston's work!.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try The Color Purple by Alice Walker, or Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf by Edward Albee.>

[Also available in multiple other editions and formats.]

[ official Their Eyes Were Watching God page on the official Zora Neale Hurston web site ]

Review Score – 10
Recommended by Tracy T.
Bennett Martin Public Library


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book cover  What If? Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions
by Randull Munroe [500 Mun]

I've been a fan of Randall Munroe's online webcomic XKCD for many years -- he mixes heavy doses of sarcasm with a great deal of intelligence. His simple stick figure illustrations belie a very active mind behind the simplistic imagery. Some time ago, Munroe started a sideline to the XKCD strip, in which his readers and fans submit bizarre yet intriguing "What If" questions to him, which despite their patently absurd nature, he still attempts to answer. His answers combine his trademark humorous cartoons with rigorous scientific research, often with the assistance of experts in a variety of scientific fields. In this new hardback book (also available as an audiobook, narrated by actor and geek icon Wil Wheaton), Munroe gathers over 50 of these "serious scientific answers to absurb hypothetical questions", along with some lists of some of his favorite "Weird (and Worrying) Questions From the What If Inbox". Are you curious what the answers would be to the following questions -- "Is it possible to build a jetpack using downward-firing machine guns?", "What would happen if you tried to hit a baseball pitched at 90% of the speed of light?", "How fast can you hit a speed bump while driving and live?", "What if a rainstorm dropped all of its water in a single giant drop?", or goofy questions like "How much Force power can Yoda output?" - look no further than this tome...you'll find your answers. Personally, my favorite parts of the book were the "rejected" questions that cause Munroe to worry abou the states of mind of his many readers. This book should appeal to anyone with an interest in the scientific research process, anyone who has a sarcastic sense of humor, or anyone who just likes pondering the unponderables!

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

[ official What If page on the site of Randall Munroe's online XKCD webcomic ]

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


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book cover

book cover
I Am Not Spock [791.092 Nim] and I Am Spock [791.452 Nim]
by Leonard Nimoy

In the wake of the passing of actor Leonard Nimoy on February 27th, much mention was made in his various tributes, obituaries and remembrances online, of his two autobiographies. I Am Not Spock (1975), seemingly a knock on the iconic Star Trek character with which Nimoy was forever linked, is far more than that. A struggling actor, who joked with his children that he frequently didn't have any jobs that lasted for longer than a week-or-two at a time prior to Star Trek, Nimoy was justifiably concerned of being typecast after Star Trek's 3-year run ended, but the fans refused to let Kirk, Spock, McCoy and the others fade from memory. I Am Not Spock should more accurately have been titled "I Am Not Just Spock", and readers should enjoy Nimoy's look back at his early career.

So many critics misinterpreted the earlier autobiography as a slam against Star Trek and its obsessive fans, that it seems that Nimoy had little choice but to flip the argument around with his later, second, autobiography, which he titled I Am Spock (1995). Looking back at a much more extensive career, Nimoy fully embraced his half-human/half-Vulcan alter-ego, relishing the many opportunities that Spock provided for him. Nimoy was much more than merely an actor. He directed films, he was a poet, a philanthropist and a photographer. If you are interested in learning more about this fine actor's career, I highly recommend reading both of these books, back-to-back -- they provide for a "fascinating" perspective on his career, at least up through the late 1990s. It is too bad that he couldn't have written a third volume, that caught us up to his later career achievements, including his involvement in the rebooted Star Trek feature films (see review below), and his recurring role on Fringe (2008-2013). In the meantime, it is only logical that you should read these two volumes...and then reflect on Nimoy's final Twitter post: "A life is like a garden. Perfect moments can be had, but not preserved, except in memory. LLAP" He certainly did "Live Long and Prosper"! [My "9" review score reflects a roughly rounded up average, giving I Am Not Spock a 7 and I Am Spock a 10.]

[ Leonard Nimoy's Twitter Feed ] | [ Wikipedia article on Leonard Nimoy ]

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


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book cover  Star Stuff: Carl Sagan and the Mysteries of the Cosmos
by Stephanie Roth Sisson [j Biography Sagan]

This picture book is an absolutely charming biography of astronomer Carl Sagan, the man who brought the original Cosmos science mini-series to television back in 1980. Told in simple phrases and illustrations that are both simplistic and yet hauntingly accurate representations of the young Sagan, this book perfectly captures what it must have been like for an inquisitive dreamer like Sagan to be inspired by the study of the unknown. Sagan did so much to popularize the studies in various fields of science for two generations of young people -- it's marvelous to see his own journey of study and exploration captured in this unique and engaging youth biography.

[ official Stephanie Roth Sisson web site ]

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


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book cover  A Match Made in Texas: A Novella Collection
by Karen Wilemeyer (and others) [Wilemeyer]

This is a collection of four novellas, each about 100 pages long. They were lighthearted and humorous, great for a quick read over your lunch break!

[ publisher's official A Match Made in Texas web page ]

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


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book cover  This review is for a music CDMandatory Fun
by Weird Al Yankovic [Compact Disc 781.66 Yan]

This album is done in the usual Weird Al style. He sings parody versions of pop songs with his own strange lyrics and polka influences. They are funny, but are more enjoyable if you've heard the original song. This one came out recently so it has recent pop tunes tracks. I didn't think this one was as good as previous ones, but I don't listen to pop music much these days, so I didn't know too many of the tunes. I'd recommend it if you want a laugh, although you might try some older Weird Al albums too if you're like me don't keep up with pop music anymore.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Weird Al Yankovic's other albums, includingo Poodle Hat.]

[ official Weird Al web site ]

Review Score – 7
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 itemCrash
[DVD Crash]

I remember, when this movie came out in 2004, there was a LOT of buzz about it--there was an all-star cast, the music was supposed to be so fabulous, and it won three Academy Awards. But I didn't get around to seeing it until 11 years later. The story is about several different individuals and couples, and how their lives intertwine as they're living in Los Angeles. I had to keep in mind that this film was made just a few years after 9/11, and America's wounds were still very fresh. I was stunned by the blatant racism and anger that was portrayed by people of ALL races in this story! I think I had assumed that such open animosity was something that wouldn't be expressed in a place like LA. I couldn't be more wrong. This movie was very emotionally stirring for me, especially since there have been recent events that proved, to me, that we haven't really come that far yet, with regard to racism and prejudice. It was a great reminder for me.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Grand Canyon, Boyz n the Hood, Brokeback Mountain and American History X.]

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

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


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book cover  This review is for the DVD format of this itemThe Expendables 3
[DVD Expendables]

When one of his team members is shot on a mission, Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone) is shaken. He is assigned a new mission that has a poor chance of success, so Barney selects a new team so he will have no emotional ties to anyone in case there would be fatalities along the way. So I admit I have never seen the first movie in this series, but I enjoyed the 2nd one. I appreciated the cast in this third installment, my favorite character being Galgo (played by Antonio Banderas). I have never seen Antonia Banderas play this type of quirky, wacky character, and it made me laugh-out-loud more than once. The action was non-stop, and I was entertained from start to finish.

[ Internet Movie Database entry for this film ] | [ official Expendables 3 web site ]

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


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book cover  This review is for the DVD format of this itemPacific Rim
[DVD Pacific]

If you like monster and or robot movies, this one is for you. There are giant monsters attacking earth. The humans build giant robots called Jaegers to fight and defeat them. The robots are controlled by two people working as one with a mind bridge, whose movements move the robot. A veteran operator, who lost his brother and co-operator in battle, must return to the battlefront with a rookie to avoid an apocalypse brought on by the monsters. I think this is a great action film with a good story and characters. The veteran and the rookie have interesting pasts that they must confront in order to work together to operate the Jaeger. I highly recommend it if you like action movies.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Dredd and Godzilla (2014), both on DVD.]

[ Internet Movie Database entry for this film ] | [ official Pacific Rim 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 itemRequiem For a Dream
[DVD Requiem]

My younger brother recommended this movie to me a few years ago, but I hadn't gotten around to seeing it yet. Recently, I saw this movie on a list of "Movies You Must See--But Only Once". I was intrigued. I'll admit, the viewer should be warned about some graphic content; however, it's not the worst I've seen, by a long shot. The movie centers around four main characters: Harry, his mother Sara, his girlfriend Marion, and his best friend Tye. It follows them over approximately six months as they all go on their own downward spiral into addiction. That, to me, is not so original a concept. What struck me as unique about this film was the inner-workings of the relationships and how they slowly unravel as time goes on. Although this unraveling is what's to be expected, the actors portray the characters in such a gritty, naked way, that I couldn't help coming away from the movie slightly refreshed and relieved that I have such small problems to deal with, in comparison. Despite the opinion of the person who created that list I'd mentioned, I actually watched this movie twice within a week's time. I thought it was VERY compelling!

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Traffic, Rush (1991), and Blow.]

[ Internet Movie Database entry for this film ]

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


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

This is a newer Star Trek movie, staring Chris Pine as Captain Kirk, Zachary Quinto as Spock, and Karl Urban as Dr. McCoy. I really liked the original series of Star Trek and overall enjoyed the new remake. The characters in this newer version are younger and more inexperienced than their original series counterparts, and I enjoyed that aspect of the movie. I found Uhura's character a bit of a know it all and rather out of character from the original series, which I didn't like. There are other differences of course, but I think it's still certainly worth viewing if you like science fiction action movies.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try the sequel, Star Trek Into Darkness, and Star Trek the Original Series.]

[ Internet Movie Database entry for this film ] | [ official Star Trek (2009) film web site ]

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


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last updated March 2015
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