Saturday, February 16, 2019

Review: The Mummy (1999) (on DVD)

The Mummy
[DVD Mummy]

I saw this movie for the first time recently, although I’d heard about it when it first came out in 1999. I was told that it was a bit scary, so it was surprising to see how funny it was too. It’s set in Egypt in the 1920s and stars a librarian, her brother (a treasure seeker), and an adventurer who team up to find a city of the dead, as supposedly located there is a mythical book the librarian is after and treasure for her brother and the adventurer. However, they aren’t the only ones searching for the city, which they find out on the way there. The two teams at first in competition must later work together when unexpectedly they bring a mummy back from the dead and have to vanquish it. It does have some creepy scenes, as I was warned about, especially if you don’t like bugs very much. I enjoyed it quite a bit, particularly all the humor mixed in the with adventure and the historical time period. If you haven’t seen this one I think it’s worth seeing.

[ Internet Movie Database entry for this film ]

Recommended by Kristen A.
Gere Branch Library

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New reviews appear every month on the Staff Recommendations page of the BookGuide website. You can visit that page to see them all, or watch them appear here in the BookGuide blog individually over the course of the entire month. Click the tag for the reviewer's name to see more of this reviewers recommendations!

Friday, February 15, 2019

Review: Mary Poppins Returns: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack

Mary Poppins Returns: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
composed by Marc Shaiman, performed by Emily Blunt, Lin Manuel Miranda and more

Creating a sequel to a legendary classic musical is always a daunting project, particularly one that comes 54 years after the original. That was the challenge faced by the creators of Mary Poppins Returns, a 2018 film that is a direct sequel to the original Mary Poppins in 1964. Though the P.L. Travers novels that inspired the original Walt Disney film first saw publication as early as 1934, I would venture to presume that most peoples’ memories of Mary Poppins are of the Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke film, filled with unforgettable tunes such as “A Spoonful of Sugar”, “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious”, “Feed the Birds”, “Chim Chim Cheree”, “Step in Time” and “Let’s Go Fly a Kite”. That film featured music by Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman, and is, perhaps, one of the most recognizable and memorable movie soundtracks of all time.

For Mary Poppins Returns, the film starred Emily Blunt as Mary Poppins, Lin-Manuel Miranda as Jack the Lamplighter, Ben Wishaw as Michael Banks and Emily Mortimer and Jane Banks (the two children from the original film), as well as Dick Van Dyke, and many more. The film-makers brought in composer/lyricist Mark Shaiman and co-lyricist Scott Wittman. The film is witty, emotionally engaging and visually stimulating, with great performances across the board. But, for me, the key question was — will the soundtrack hold a candle to the quality of the original. In my opinion, the soundtrack to Mary Poppins Returns is excellent, but still not quite up to the “classic” standard set by the music of the Julie Andrews film. There are several marvelous songs, which serve as the anchor for some of the film’s most impressive sequences, including: “Can You Imagine That?”, “The Royal Doulton Music Hall”, “A Cover is Not the Book”, “Turning Turtle”, “Trip a Little Light Fantastic” and “(Underneath the) Lovely London Sky”. But for me, the most memorable song is “The Place Where Lost Things Go”, which was recently nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Song.

Emily Blunt and Lin-Manuel Miranda are incredible singers and easily hold their own with the music from this film, though I’ll have to admit that Emily Blunt is no Julie Andrews. Miranda is probably the most…energetic…of the performers, and even gets to have shades of his trademark hip-hop influence in a few moments of his centerpiece songs. Many (most) of the songs are multi-voice pieces (i.e. the full cast), and I wish that there had been more than just one song as a solo for Blunt as Mary Poppins. But it is what it is. I’m also quite pleased that the soundtrack includes not just the vocal tracks, but 11 tracks of instrumental score music from the film. And many of those include ghostly little refrains of the music from the original film, expertly woven into the action of the new film.
If you can’t tell, I do, indeed, love this soundtrack, and strongly recommend it. And if you haven’t seen the film in the theater, it will soon be out on DVD/Blu-Ray and streaming services.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Mary Poppins (Soundtrack from the original film).]

[ official Mary Poppins Returns web site ] | [ official Mark Shaiman web site ]

Recommended by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library

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New reviews appear every month on the Staff Recommendations page of the BookGuide website. You can visit that page to see them all, or watch them appear here in the BookGuide blog individually over the course of the entire month. Click the tag for the reviewer's name to see more of this reviewers recommendations!

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Review: The Dark Sacred Night by Michael Connelly (in audiobook format)

The Dark Sacred Night
by Michael Connelly [Compact Disc Connelly]

Though I’ve never been a hard-core fan of the Harry Bosch series of crime novels by Michael Connelly, I have read a couple of them and recognize that they are extremely well-written. When Connelly started a new series, focused on a young female police investigator, Renee Ballard, in 2017, I immediately became hooked, and knew I would be looking forward to the next Ballard novel. The big question on the minds of most Michael Connelly fans was — how soon would he cross over Bosch and Ballard? After all, Bosch clearly crosses over with another of Connelly’s on-going L.A. series, those focused on seedy lawyer Mickey Haller.

Well, we didn’t have to wait long — The Dark Sacred Night is the second Renee Ballard novel, and it is simultaneously the twenty-first Harry Bosch novel. Bosch’s position in the police heirarchy has changed dramatically over the years, but he’s still with the department. Ballard is still working the Hollywood Division late night shift. When their paths cross and Ballard figures out the old, cold, case that Bosch is working on, she insists that she wants to work it with him. Each of these detectives has primary cases that they’re working, but they team up to do the nitty-gritty research to identify a potential suspect in the murder of a young woman — the daughter of a trouble friend of Bosch’s.
This is another extremely well-written police procedural, and Bosch and Ballard play off of each other very well. I can see them being good investigative partners in years to come. However, I will admit to some disappointment. I really would have liked to have seen Ballard establish herself more on her own bonafides before teaming up with Bosch. It would have been nice to see at least two or three Ballard novels before Harry entered the picture. That quibble notwithstanding, I enjoyed this novel very much — especially the audiobook version that I listened to. It is narrated by two voices — Christine Lakin (who narrated the first Ballard audiobook) does the honors for the chapters focusing on Renee Ballard; actor Titus Welliver narrates the Bosch chapters — very appropriate since he has been portraying Harry Bosch in the television series which is exclusively available on Amazon Prime streaming. He really has become the “voice” of Bosch, and his narration here is tired and gritty, just like the character has become.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try The Late Show, the first Renee Ballard novel by Michael Connelly.]

[ official The Dark Sacred Night page on the official Michael Connelly web site ]

Recommended by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library

Have you read or listened to this one? What did you think? Did you find this review helpful?

New reviews appear every month on the Staff Recommendations page of the BookGuide website. You can visit that page to see them all, or watch them appear here in the BookGuide blog individually over the course of the entire month. Click the tag for the reviewer's name to see more of this reviewers recommendations!

Monday, February 11, 2019

Review: My Girls: A Lifetime With Carrie and Debbie by Todd Fisher

My Girls: A Lifetime With Carrie and Debbie
by Todd Fisher [Biography Fisher]

Most people know the names Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds. Their brother/son, Todd, is not so well known but is just as essential to the story of their lives. What may also be not as well known is that the Reynolds-Fisher family were definitely not always rich even though they were absolutely famous. In this loving biography of these two extraordinary women, Todd pays tribute to their struggles and their indomitable spirits. Not to be outdone, he includes the escapades and relationships he’s had himself, and the range of film and recording industry expertise he’s gained throughout his life. Todd’s and Carrie’s father, and Reynolds’ first spouse, singer/actor Eddie Fisher is about as ne’er-do-well a character as you can find — until you meet Debbie’s other husbands! And then there’s Carrie’s lifelong struggle with bipolar disorder and drug abuse coupled with her own romantic disappointments. From an “only in Hollywood” childhood to managing his mother’s short-lived Las Vegas hotel-casino-museum to having to cope with his sister’s and mother’s concurrent deaths, Fisher has worn many hats as only one of two stable male members of their little nuclear family. Debbie’s older brother, Bill, always near by over the years, outlived her but had his own health scare less than a week after her death. Through all the turmoil and triumph of their lives, Todd remained very close with his mother and his sister, always ready to defend them and to accept them as they were, always the one true ‘man of the house” even at a young age. And now he and his wife, his Uncle Bill, and Carrie’s daughter, Billie, are all who are left of the Reynolds clan from Texas. While being emotionally charged, the book is also pragmatic in its assessment of fame and fortune, and how fickle those can be. And, in the end, it is borne out that a loving family can make it through seemingly insurmountable odds and heartaches if they stick together, have faith, and never say “Can’t.”

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Unsinkable, A Memoir, and Debbie : My Life, by Debbie Reynolds, or Wishful Drinking and Postcards From the Edge by Carrie Fisher]

[ publisher’s official My Girls web page ] | [ official Todd Fisher web site ]

Recommended by Becky W.C.
Walt Branch Library

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New reviews appear every month on the Staff Recommendations page of the BookGuide website. You can visit that page to see them all, or watch them appear here in the BookGuide blog individually over the course of the entire month. Click the tag for the reviewer's name to see more of this reviewers recommendations!

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Review: The Grinch (on DVD)

The Grinch
[DVD j Grinch]

Having been a fan of the old Chuck Jones animated half-hour cartoon version of How the Grinch Stole Christmas since my childhood, I’ve always had issues with anyone wanting to “update” or “modernize” this classic Dr. Seuss story for film. For instance, I am not much of a fan of the Jim Carrey live-action version of How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000). However, despite my hesitancy about yet another Grinch film, I ended up enjoying this one quite a bit.

This is a computer-animated film, in the same way that most modern animated films are — it is from the same people who did the series of Despicable Me films. The filmmakers pay a lot of tribute to the 1966 animated film from Chuck Jones (known for his work with Warner Brothers cartoons (Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, etc.). There are numerous shout outs to the music and character appearances from that animated short. There is also, obviously, a lot of tribute paid to the original 1957 children’s picture book by Dr. Seuss (Theodore Geisel). An almost-unrecognizable Benedict Cumberbatch provides the voice of The Grinch, with a few familiar names in the voice cast (Keenan Thompson, Pharrell Williams, Rashida Jones), though most of the voice actors are child actors whom I didn’t recognize. The relatively simple plot of Dr. Seuss’ original story is expanded upon, to give a deeper understanding of what would have caused The Grinch to become so…Grinch-like…that he’d want to ruin an entire town’s Christmas.

The humor throughout this charming re-telling of the story is marvelous and sweet, unlike the slightly edgy humor in the Carrey film. Mr. Grinch’s relationship with his put-upon dog Max, and their partnership with Fred the overweight reindeer (a new addition for this film) is cute and sentimental, and nicely balances out against Grinch’s more anti-social attitudes towards everyone else in nearby Who-ville. An amusing subplot of Cindy-Lou Who’s efforts to work with all her friends to stay up and have an interview with Santa (on behalf of her mother) provides some added emotion to the plot. But at the heart of it, this is still a story of The Grinch making elaborate plans to steal Who-ville’s Christmas, and the effects of this on the rest of the characters.

As someone who grew up on the 1966 classic version of this story, I’ll have to say that nothing will ever replace that in my heart — the images, the voice performances and the music are unforgettable. But I did enjoy The Grinch a lot, and do recommend it. My only real complaint was with the music. Danny Elfman’s orchestral score soundtrack was marvelous and inventive. But I found the rap and/or hip-hop adaptions of classic Grinch songs (“You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch”) to be unpleasant. It was also unusual to have traditional pop Christmas songs scattered throughout the film as background music. That caveat notwithstanding, it’s a fun film!

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try the original 1966 How the Grinch Stole Christmas animated film, the 2000 How the Grinch Stole Christmas live-action film or Dr. Seuss’s 1957 book How the Grinch Stole Christmas.]
 
[ Internet Movie Database entry for this film ] | [ official The Grinch web site ]

Recommended by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library

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New reviews appear every month on the Staff Recommendations page of the BookGuide website. You can visit that page to see them all, or watch them appear here in the BookGuide blog individually over the course of the entire month. Click the tag for the reviewer's name to see more of this reviewers recommendations!

Friday, February 8, 2019

Review: Project Smoke by Steven Raichlen

Project Smoke
by Steven Raichlen [641.578 Rai] 

Smoked foods are my culinary passion, and the libraries have a large number of books dealing with the art of smoke cooking — slow cooking over a low heat source with various types of smoke to flavor the food being cooked. Steven Raichlen is one of the gurus of BBQ and smoke cooking, having put out such well-known cookbooks as The Barbecue! Bible, How to Grill, Beer-Can Chicken, BBQ USA, and Planet Barbecue prior to this volume. Those earlier volumes dealt with the art of cooking on a grill, and some of them included information about “smoke cooking” but it wasn’t the focus of any of those titles. Project Smoke is all about the smoke, and how best to incorporate it into the cooking process.

In this 293-page tome, the first 55 pages and the last 30 pages are highly-detailed guides to the mechanics and technical details of smoke cooking — looks at the many different types of smokers on the market, explorations of the differences between lump charcoal and briquettes as your base burning fuel, the differences between forms (logs, chunks, chips, sawdust) and types of wood, and their difference flavor profiles — do you know your Hickory from your Mesquite, your Apple from your Mulberry — and do you know which foods are best complimented by which wood smokes? He includes detailed looks at the tools and accessories necessary for successful smoke cooking, and he explores how to start and effectively maintain a fire at the proper burn level. The section at the back of the book compares and contrasts the features and drawbacks of each type of smoker on the market — from upright barrel/drum smokers (the type I personally use), to off-set barrels, ceramic/Kamado cookers, gas/box smokers, pellet grills, stovetop smokers (for indoor cooking), and even handheld smokers for introducing smoke flavors into cocktails.

As always, with Raichlen books, the majority of the content is recipes — broken into ten categories: Starters, Beef, Pork, Lamb, Burgers – Sausages -and More, Poultry, Seafood, Vegetables – Side Dishes – and Meatless Smoking, Desserts, and Cocktails. Some of the more intriguing recipes in this volume make me think I’m going to have to buy a copy for myself. They include: “Deviled Smoked Eggs”, “Hay-Smoked Mozzarella”, “Bacon-Crab Poppers”, “Home-Smoked Pastrami”, “Honey-Cured Ham Ribs”, “Made-From-Scratch Bacon”, “Double Whisky-Smoked Turkey”, “Smoked Shrimp Cocktail (with Chipotle-Orange Cocktail Sauce)”, “Salmon Candy”, “Creamed Smoked Corn”, “Smoked Chocolate Bread Pudding”, “Dragon’s Breath” (a bourbon cocktail that is served with smoke in the glass), and “Bacon Bourbon” (bourbon infused with the flavor of smoked bacon). Raichlen scatters sidebar articles throughout the entire book, filled with fascinating and helpful factoids — things such as lists of ingredients that can impart a smoke flavor when you don’t have the equipment to actually smoke cook, or “You Can Smoke What? 28 Foods You Never Dreamed You Could Smoke”.

My only complaint is that the use of photos is somewhat limited — those photos that are included are gorgeous and very helpful in showing what finished dishes should look like. But less than half the recipes have corresponding photos. Still, this is a minor complaint in the overall scheme of things, and I otherwise highly recommend this volume to anyone who likes to cook with smoke.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try The Barbecue! Bible and Planet Barbecue, also by Steven Raichlen, or Smoke & Spice, by Cheryl Alters Jamison.]

[ official Steven Raichlen web site ]

Recommended by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library

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New reviews appear every month on the Staff Recommendations page of the BookGuide website. You can visit that page to see them all, or watch them appear here in the BookGuide blog individually over the course of the entire month. Click the tag for the reviewer's name to see more of this reviewers recommendations!

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Review: Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty (audiobook)

Nine Perfect Strangers
by Liane Moriarty [Downloadable Audio] 

Just when I think I can’t love Liane Moriarty anymore, she comes along and writes something like this! OMG!!! This ranks up there with my favorite books of all time! She’s such a great writer…. I mean, really. Moriarty tells a story like few others can.

I love the character development in this story–this is classic Moriarty, devoting each chapter to a different character’s viewpoint. I found myself looking into health retreats in my area, as, in the beginning, the idea of getting away from it all and doing a whole-person cleanse by way of 10-day retreat was made to sound so appealing! (I still think I’d like to try!) The book has the usual twists and turns that Moriarty so expertly delivers–she gets you sucked into the story properly, so you forget there may be twists coming, and then BAM! she hits you with one…. you’re still sort of reeling from it, and BAM! another! And while the twists and turns make the story what it is, it could almost stand on its own without them… The whole thing is a solid, beautiful work of art!

I hang on her every word, I can’t stand to put it down, and then when it’s over, I wind up with the best book hangover ever!

[ official Liane Moriarity web site ]
]
Recommended by Tracy T.
Bennett Martin Public Library

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New reviews appear every month on the Staff Recommendations page of the BookGuide website. You can visit that page to see them all, or watch them appear here in the BookGuide blog individually over the course of the entire month. Click the tag for the reviewer's name to see more of this reviewers recommendations!

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Review: Smallfoot (on DVD)

Smallfoot
[DVD j Smallfoot] 

This fun animated film didn’t get anywhere near the acclaim it deserved during its short theatrical run in 2018. Hopefully, it will find a larger audience with its DVD and streaming releases. It features stellar voice work by Channing Tatum (Migo), James Corden (Percy), Zendaya (Meechee), Common (The Stonekeeper), LeBron James (Gwangi), Danny Devito (Dorgle), Gina Rodriguez (Kolka) and many more.

Smallfoot puts a humorous twist on the Bigfoot/Sasquatch/Yeti mythology, in which humans for decades have claimed to have seen or found evidence of the existence of large, furry, bipedal humanoid figures that live in the remote wilderness. In this film, our heroes are a community of Yeti in a remote, cloud-shrouded village high in the (Himalayan?) mountains. When main character Migo sees a human plane crash near his Yeti village, and encounters the human pilot, he reports to his fellow Yeti villagers that he has seen the legendary Smallfoot himself. The village’s tradition-bound spiritual leader, The Stonekeeper, who wears a robe made of enscribed stones that detail the rules the Yeti villagers must all abide by, banishes Migo to the wilderness for his heretical statements. Migo teams up with a small group of outcasts who all believe in the existence of Smallfoot, and by a series of accidents, ends up finding himself journeying below the cloud bank to a human village further down the mountain. Meanwhile, Percy, a nature show TV host desperate to improve his ratings, plans to feature a pretend Yeti encounter, only to find himself face-to-face with Migo. Hijinks ensue…but it’s not all fun-and-games, because revealing the existence of humans to the Yeti society could cause more problems than Migo can imagine, and Percy has to be taught some lessons in what’s truly important before he can empathize with the Yeti’s plight.

Very funny, very entertaining, but also very thought-provoking. The animations is top notch, and the storytelling was compelling. This film can and should be enjoyed by families! And, surprisingly, it is also a musical, with several well-done original pop music numbers scattered throughout the plot. Who knew Channing Tatum could sing as well as he does here?

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

Recommended by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library

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New reviews appear every month on the Staff Recommendations page of the BookGuide website. You can visit that page to see them all, or watch them appear here in the BookGuide blog individually over the course of the entire month. Click the tag for the reviewer's name to see more of this reviewers recommendations!

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Review: Dune Messiah by Frank Herbert

Dune Messiah
by Frank Herbert

This is the second book in the Dune series and I recommend you read the first one, Dune, before you read this one. Dune Messiah is quite a bit shorter, less action based, and generally a little slower paced than Dune. We see Paul Atreides as a new Emperor preforming his duties as political, military and religious leader, as well as his sister Alia who has her own responsibilities and roles. As is better explained in the last book, Paul is also a Kwisatz Haderach, meaning among other skills he is capable of seeing bits of the future; he is only human but was a result of a centuries long breeding program to become a person with these abilities. Throughout the book his responsibilities and powers grate on him, wearing him down during his wife’s/significant other’s pregnancy (it’s a little complicated, he’s married to a Princess, but does not consider her his wife, while the woman he cares for most is not his wife but is considered as such). He foresees the birth of his child will be his wife’s death, which he is unable prevent and keeps as a secret to himself. It a pretty sad story full of doom, frustration, sorrow, and longing to know normalcy. It has it’s twists and surprises like the first book and is worth reading if you’ve read Dune and enjoyed it.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Dune, by Frank Herbert.] [ official Frank Herbert page on the official Dune Novels web site ]

Recommended by Kristen A.
Gere Branch Library

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New reviews appear every month on the Staff Recommendations page of the BookGuide website. You can visit that page to see them all, or watch them appear here in the BookGuide blog individually over the course of the entire month. Click the tag for the reviewer's name to see more of this reviewers recommendations!

Monday, February 4, 2019

Review: The Great Grilled Cheese Book by Eric Greenspan

The Great Grilled Cheese Book
by Eric Greenspan [641.84 Gre] 


For anyone used to the simplicity of a white bread, grilled cheese sandwich featuring either sliced processed cheese or Velveeta, the forty recipes in this gourmet cookbook, by chef Eric Greenspan, will throw you for a major loop.

Greenspan emphasizes using fresh, quality ingredients, preferably homemade if at all possible. So…in addition to the grilled cheese recipes, he includes many other side recipes — you can make your own American cheese, fruit jams, pickled vegetables, and exotic breads (cornbread, focaccia, etc. But — if you don’t want to do literally everything from scratch, Greenspan encourages you to experiment with store-bought ingredients — just use the best you can find.

The recipes themselves are quite exotic and perhaps a little outside of my culinary comfort zone. Greenspan breaks the book into 8 sections — 7 dealing with 7 different categories of cheese (the gooey-er the better!), and an 8th for “wild card” recipes. Here are just a few of the highly creative recipes included — I’ll list one for each chapter: American Cheese – “Bad Moon Rising” — Sriracha-infused American cheese on sourdough with friend eggs, arugula and bacon.; Mozzarella/Provolone – “Muffuletta” – Mozza and provolone on focaccia with olives, pickled carrots and tasso ham; Cheddar – “Johnny Apple Cheese” – Cheddar on sourdough with pastrami and apple mustard chutney; Blue – “Frenchie” – blue cheese on baguete with date marmalade and prosciutto; Bloomy and Washed Rinds – “Cherry Cheese Ball” – Camembert on challah with sour cherry marmalade and pistachios; Gouda, Gruyere and Swiss – “The Gobbler” – Gouda on pumpernickel with cranberry olive tapenade, roast turkey, green beans and friend shallots; Goat – “Elvis” – Goat cheese on white bread with peanut butter, banana and bacon; Wild Cards – “Mole Melt” – Cotija on wheat bread with chocolate mole mayonnaise, chorizo and black beans, and marinated red onion.
If you’re looking for simple comfort food, perhaps to accompany a nice bowl of tomato soup, this is not the book for you. But if you’re looking to take your grilled cheese up a notch, you may find the recipes and gorgeous photos in this volume to be an inspiration in your cooking.

[ publisher’s official The Great Grilled Cheese Book web site ] | [ official Eric Greenspan Twitter feed ]

Recommended by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library

Have you read this one? What did you think? Did you find this review helpful?

New reviews appear every month on the Staff Recommendations page of the BookGuide website. You can visit that page to see them all, or watch them appear here in the BookGuide blog individually over the course of the entire month. Click the tag for the reviewer's name to see more of this reviewers recommendations!