Thursday, June 30, 2022

Books Review: Fortune Favors the Dead and Murder Under Her Skin by Stephen Spotswood

Fortune Favors the Dead and Murder Under Her Skin

by Stephen Spotswood (Spotswood)

 

For the May meeting of the libraries’ Just Desserts mystery book discussion group, participants were encouraged to sample the first 1 or 2 entries in ANY new mystery/suspense/thriller series, and report back to the group to share info about characters, setting, time period, writing style, etc., and whether or not they would continue with the series in the future. I randomly stumbled across the second in the new “Pentecost & Parker” series, tracked down the first, and proceeded to read them both to report back to the Just Desserts members. I am SO glad I found this series, as I absolutely loved both of these books.

 

Set in the late 1940s, Fortune Favors the Dead introduces our central narrator, Willowjean “Will” Parker, and her boss, legendary New York City private investigator Lillian Pentecost (something of a female Sherlock Holmes/Hercule Poirot). Will ran away from home at 15, joined a traveling circus as a roustabout and was subsequently taught the skills to serve as an assistant to many of the circus performers (knife throwing, animal handling, high wire and trapeze, etc.). With circus business on the decline, Will is encouraged by the circus owner to take a job with Ms. Pentecost, when Lillian recognizes skills in Will that could prove useful in her line of work. Lillian, meanwhile, suffers from multiple sclerosis, which creates increasing numbers of physical limitations to what she can do…so she desperately needs a “leg-man” to assist her with a lot of the physical investigations. In Fortune Favors the Dead, three years after they’ve first teamed up, Pentecost & Parker investigate a locked room mystery in which a socialite was brutally murdered — not long after her husband killed himself.

 

In Murder Under Her Skin, the murder of the tattooed lady in the circus Will used to travel with, calls Pentecost & Parker to a small town in Virginia, to try to prove that Will’s mentor, the circus’ knife thrower, didn’t commit the murder. The dramatic difference in setting, from New York City to Stoppard, Virginia provides a unique look at how Lillian Pentecost operates, and also gives us more insight into the background and emotional motivations of Will Parker.

 

This series is marvelous. Lillian and Will are terrific characters, who I want to learn more about. Will, through her actions, shows herself to be bi-sexual, and that very fact proves to be critical to solving the case in Fortune Favors the Dead. How this is handled, especially regarding characters living in the late 1940s, is impressively portrayed. Will’s patter throughout the novels is very reminiscent of the “tough guy” patois more commonly associated with male detectives of the noir and hard-boiled mystery sub-genres, and she is a refreshing and welcome addition to pantheon of private investigators. And the tidbits we learn about the background of Lillian in Murder Under Her Skin make her even more intriguing as a character. I can’t wait for the third volume, due out in December 2022! Highly recommended!

 

( official Pentecost & Parker and Stephen Spotswood web site )

 

Recommended by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library — Public Services

 

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 reviewer’s recommendations!


If you're a mystery fan, join us for this month's Just Desserts meeting tonight, June 30th, at 6:30 p.m. in the 4th floor auditorium of the Bennett Martin Public Library downtown at 14th & "N" St. -- this mystery-themed discussion group meets on the last Thursday of each month, January through October. This month's espionage master John Le Carre's final novel, "Silverview". Even if you haven't read this specific book, you can still participate, and learn about great new mysteries to try! For more information, check out the Just Desserts schedule at https://lincolnlibraries.org/bookguide/book-groups/#justdesserts

Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Book Review: How to Read a Dress by Lydia Edwards

How to Read a Dress: A Guide to Changing Fashion From the 16th to the 20th Century

by Lydia Edwards (391.2 Edw)

 

In How to Read a Dress: A Guide to Changing Fashion From the 16th to the 20th Century, Lydia Edwards provides some amazing fodder for the imagination for sewists, costume designers and others fascinated by clothing and clothing construction. You will find centuries of style represented in sumptuous annotated photographs that reveal subtle distinctions in style and workmanship, and explanations of how different design elements fit into the history of costuming. Edwards honors the skills, talents and visions of the craftspeople who produced clothing artifacts as she elaborates on the clothing items themselves as interesting touchstones for different sartorial and social experiences.

 

Each artifact is presented with general description including museum collection information, as well as some fascinating facts. For example, the “Silk robe a l’anglaise with skirt draped a la polonaise, c. 1775, Los Angeles County Museum of Art” has a skirt which is “looped up into sections in the back using special buttons and ties” In the notes, however, we learn that to make their manual work easier, working class women would achieve a similar effect by drawing sections of the skirt up through pocket slits. Did the style originate with the working class, to be copied by the wealthy, or did the lower classes admire the style and devise their own imitation? Annotations also describe the history of materials used, the design of the petticoats, choice of shoes, style of bodice and which accessories were selected.

 

In today’s world where cloth and clothing is cheap and ubiquitous, it is fascinating to ponder cloth, how it was made and what was done with it, as a reflection of the era that produced it and how it is emblematic of the progression of “civilization.” Not only are the items beautiful to look at, but they each tell a story of their times.

I’m really really really excited about this book. If you are interested in fashion design, women’s issues, world history, or are just interested in how and why things are made, this book is for you.

 

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Icons of Fashion of the 20th Century by Gerda Buxbaum, Worn: A People’s History of Clothing by Sofi Thanhauser, or Only the Clothes on Her Back: Clothing and the Hidden History of Power in the Nineteenth-Century United States by Laura Edwards.)

 

( publisher’s official How to Read a Dress web page ) | ( official Lydia Edwards web site )

 

Recommended by Carrie K.
Bennett Martin Public Library — Public Services

 

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 reviewer’s recommendations!

Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Book Review: Long Lost by Jacqueline West

Long Lost

by Jacqueline West (j West)

 

Definitely a page turner, this suspense-filled juvenile novel by Jacqueline West has the reader racing to find out who-dun-it and uncover the secret of the village of Lost Lake.

 

Two sisters move to town. Eleven-year-old Fiona has always had to play second fiddle to her older sister Arden. It’s always all about Arden. Not only does Fiona give up the friends it took so long for her to make to move to Lost Lake for Arden’s skating career, but Fiona has to miss out on her own plans because of Arden’s skating competitions. And that’s when Fiona isn’t freezing at Arden’s skating practices after school and in the early hours. The only good thing that Fiona has found in town is the library. The old mansion was once owned by a wealthy family. Now it holds volumes of promising books. Tucked up on the third floor Fiona discovers a mysterious antique green-leather-bound book obviously not part of the library’s collection.

 

The book tells the story of another pair of sisters. These sisters were best friends and inseparable. But something happens to the older sister. No one knows for sure. Was she taken by an evil dark shadowed Searcher in the forest? Fiona is left guessing because the book ends abruptly with blank pages not yet written. Hoping to someday become a historian, Fiona delves into the story and the town’s history to discover the story about the set of sisters who lived in the library mansion. But as she asks questions and revisits sites from the book, Fiona fears she may have stirred up old ghosts. Even worse, she may have reawakened the Searcher itself.

 

Will something happen to this set of sisters, as well? You will race to the end of the book to find out what haunts the community of Lost Lake and if the ghosts of what happened will ever be laid to rest. Great read for students who love a scary mystery.

 

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try A Touch of Ruckus by Ash Van Otterloo, or The Troubled Girls of Dragomir Academy by Anne Ursa.)

 

( official Long Lost and Jacqueline West web site )

 

Recommended by Cindy K.
Bennett Martin Public Library — Public Services

 

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 reviewer’s recommendations!

Sunday, June 26, 2022

New BooksTalk Booklist: Not Your Mama's Romance Novels, presented by Alicia G.

On April 14th 2022, former Lincoln City Libraries staff member Alicia G. was the guest BooksTalk presenter at the South Branch evening BooksTalk group, presenting a talk on edgy contemporary romance fiction.

Check out Alicia's list of recommended reads, in this booktalk booklist on the Lincoln City Libraries' BookGuide reader resources pages at the following link:


Saturday, June 25, 2022

DVD Review: Dunkirk

Dunkirk

directed by Christopher Nolan (DVD Dunkirk)

 

Dunkirk is a masterpiece of tone and atmosphere. Featuring a large cast, the storyline moves between various different characters during the tense and dramatic period of time when a group of thousands of allied troops and civilians awaits evacuation from Dunkirk and advancing German forces during World War II. Action takes place on land, on the sea, and in the air, as a flotilla of civilian pleasure craft from England joins forces with the military to cross the choppy English Channel in hopes of rescuing those who are trapped.

 

The thing that will stick out in my memory about Dunkirk is not any individual performance, though Kenneth Branagh does lead a stellar cast. Instead, it is the film’s soundtrack and sound editing that will forever be branded in my mind. There is a constantly building sense of tension and despair — the music and a vague sense of buzzing/vibration do not let up for a single second, ratcheting up the viewer’s sense of dread.

 

Admittedly, I didn’t end up truly invested in the fate of any individual character, but the viewing of this film was definitely still an unforgettable experience.

 

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try any of Christopher Nolan‘s other films. Also: 1917, a different war but the same escalating sense of foreboding.)

 

( Internet Movie Database entry for this film ) | ( official Facebook page for Dunkirk )

 

Recommended by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library — Public Service

 

Have you watched 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 reviewer’s recommendations!

Friday, June 24, 2022

Music Book Review: Sellout: The Major-Label Feeding Frenzy That Swept Punk, Emo and Hardcore (1994-2007) by Dan Ozzi

Sellout: The Major-Label Feeding Frenzy That Swept Punk, Emo and Hardcore (1994-2007)

by Dan Ozzi (Music 781.66 Ozz)

 

When we think of 1990s popular music, probably the main musical movement that springs to mind is grunge, the mostly Seattle-based bands who took over the airwaves. In a broader sense, though, grunge was just part of a larger musical movement, often called “alternative music” in that era, but really part of a continuum of indie music bands that were called “college rock” before alternative. What all of these bands tended to have in common was a shared background in some variant of rock music, which could manifest as various forms of punk or post-punk, and a kind of noncommercial aesthetic. “Alternative” as a genre name, after all, was intended to reflect that the music was an alternative to the commercial mainstream.

 

But in the 90s, “alternative” became quite commercially successful and had an increasingly wide appeal. Some bands readily adjusted to being able to pack arenas, while others struggled with the idea publicly, and others tried to reject it altogether, staying away from major label record deals and trying to maintain a kind of independent authenticity. And these things get complicated: in some underground music circles, the idea of signing any kind of contract that will radically increase your exposure to a much wider fan base is “selling out,” yet maintaining that indie ethos is itself a marketing tool. It’s a lot to unpack.

 

Fortunately, we now have a new book by music journalist Dan Ozzi that investigates how various different bands navigated the waters of commercial interest in the grunge and post-grunge era. It’s called Sellout: The Major-Label Feeding Frenzy That Swept Punk, Emo and Hardcore (1994-2007), and you can borrow it from Polley.

 

Ozzi handles this ’94-’07 timespan by devoting each chapter to a band whose major label debut album was released somewhere within it, going chronologically. And as the title suggests, he ends up documenting bands that represent a few different subgenres of alternative music, with a focus on emo, punk and hardcore bands. His brief introduction recognizes that this phenomenon of major labels taking an interest in more underground forms of music wasn’t exactly a new phenomenon: punk bands like the Ramones, the Sex Pistols, and the Clash had all signed with major labels all the way back to the 70s. Then the 80s were a period of relative isolation for indie music, where the major labels stuck with more tried and true forms of pop music with stronger melodic tendencies. But in the early 90s, there was just something about Nirvana’s sound, still raw and authentic as underground music, but also very melodic and memorable, that rocketed their sophomore album, “Nevermind,” to rapid success. With very little promotional work, the record went platinum in only 8 weeks! Labels couldn’t help but take notice of this, which launched a new era of sending A&R reps out to see the kinds of bands they’d mostly been ignoring for the last decade, hoping to repeat Nirvana’s success. So what follows is the story of 11 alternative bands of various styles who ended up signing to major labels, and how things went for them. The stories are very different, and make for fascinating contrasts between one another.

 

Take the first band highlighted in the book, for example. Punk band Green Day was a Bay-area punk band that had been enjoying relative success with their first 2 albums on the indie label Lookout Records. Their scene was based around the little Berkeley punk club 924 Gilman, an interesting venue started by Tim Yohannan from Maximum Rocknroll magazine that attempted to create a respectful and fun kind of atmosphere. The club was as DIY as things get, run by volunteers, and open to bands just starting out. Although the punk scene around this club was generally still dominated by bands that were somewhat heavier sounding, pop-punk bands started to gain a little traction in the early 90s, and Green Day was at their forefront. They put in a lot of work, too, touring the country playing tiny clubs and house shows, got better as a band, and were doing well for themselves by the time of their sophomore album on Lookout, called “Kerplunk.” But Nirvana’s Nevermind was screaming to the top of the charts just as “Kerplunk” came out, and major label A&R folks started looking for bands they thought could follow the same trajectory. Reprise Records ended up with the band, released their major label debut “Dookie” in February of 1994, and the record had gone triple platinum by December. And of course we all know how this story ended: the band continued to enjoy success and has stayed together to the present. For them, “selling out” seems to have worked just fine.

 

But the next featured band, Jawbreaker, didn’t have so much luck. They held out as indie artists for a long time, even getting to open for a week of Nirvana dates earlier in their career while maintaining their indie cred, but eventually things seemed to be positioned for them to have larger success, and they signed a 3-album deal with Geffen for around a million dollars. Long story short, their first record for Geffen, “Dear You,” just didn’t sell well, topping out around 40,000 copies, and all of the pressure on the band to succeed turned inter-band tensions into band-ending arguments. And they started out in the same scene as Green Day, used the same record producer, engineer, and videographer, but it just didn’t pan out.

 

The extreme success of Green Day and the collapse of Jawbreaker describe the extremes of what can happen to staunchly independent bands when major labels take them on. Most of the other bands featured in the book had results that landed somewhere in between. The band At the Drive-In is a good example of the more nuanced results most bands experienced. Like Green Day, they enjoyed relative indie success with their first two albums on independent labels. They released their own major label debut, “Relationship of Command,” to lots of critical acclaim, and things were looking up. But like Jawbreaker, touring on the record proved to be very stressful, as the band couldn’t control the destructive behavior in their newly-large audiences. Ultimately the band decided to break up just as their record sales were starting to climb. But they found new pathways into music: some members of the band went on to form Sparta, while others formed The Mars Volta. Both of those bands have been successful on their own terms in the many years since.

 

And that’s the fun of this book: you’ll learn about a variety of bands’ responses to the pressures of major label success, both real and perceived, and although there are commonalities, each took a path as unique as their music. Since the book highlights bands in this kind of situation over the course of 13 years, you’ll likely read about some familiar favorites and some bands you missed, and it’s always fun to find out about new-to-you music, too.

 

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try The Grunge Diaries: Seattle, 1990-1994 by Dave Thompson, or Now is the Time To Invent!: Reports From the Indie Rock Revolution, 1986-2000 by Steve Connell.)

 

( publisher’s official Sellout web page ) | ( official Dan Ozzi web site )

 

Recommended by Scott S.
Bennett Martin Public Library — Polley Music 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 reviewer’s recommendations!


Check out this, and all the other great music resources, at the Polley Music Library, located on the 2nd floor of the Bennett Martin Public Library at 14th & "N" St. in downtown Lincoln. You'll find biographies of musicians, books about music history, instructional books, sheet music, CDs, music-related magazines, and much more. Also check out Polley Music Library Picks, the Polley Music Library's e-mail newsletter, and follow them on Facebook!

Thursday, June 23, 2022

Book Review: One Italian Summer by Rebecca Serle

One Italian Summer

by Rebecca Serle (Serle)

 

I really enjoyed Rebecca Searle’s first book from the best seller list, In Five Years. A freak instance gives a young woman a glimpse of how different her life is going to be in five years — not at all how she anticipated. She spends the next five years warily anticipating how things can change so immensely. Loved the book. Loved the mystery of it and the big twist at the end.

 

So I tried her newest books, One Italian Summer. Once again Searle plays tricks with time. A thirty-something daughter (Katy) has just lost her mother to cancer. Katy and her mother Carol were extremely close. They were best friends. Feeling lost and unsure how she could possibly go on without her mom — even unsure if she can stay in her marriage–a week later Katy decides to go on the epic Italian vacation to the stunning Amalfi Coast that the two had planned to take together before the cancer.

 

But when Katy gets to Italy and starts on the itinerary they had planned, life takes an odd turn. Katy runs into a woman who frighteningly resembles her mother. But how could her mom be in Italy, back in her 30s?

 

To say much more of the plot would ruin the book for you. I spent several chapters trying to decipher if this was really Katy’s mother in her 30s. And suffice to say that Katy’s mother is not exactly the same person Katy thought she was. Can Katy cope with the realization that her mother wasn’t who she thought she was so soon after the loss? Can seeing her mother in a different light help Katy to realize that life really can go on without Carol in her life? Will Katy leave her husband for the attractive man she befriends at the hotel?

 

I enjoyed the story, and especially the little twist at the end of the book. It made me want to visit the Amalfi Coast in person. I recommend One Italian Summer as a great read for the summer.

 

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try In Five Years by Rebecca Serle, or The Postmistress of Paris by Meg Waite Clayton.)

 

( official One Italian Summer page on the official Rebecca Serle web site )

 

Recommended by Cindy K.
Bennett Martin Public Library — Public Services

 

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 reviewer’s recommendations!

Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Book Review: A Clash of Steel: A Treasure Island Remix by C.B. Lee

A Clash of Steel: A Treasure Island Remix

by C.B. Lee (YA Lee)

 

A Clash of Steel is a wonderful mash-up of the famous “Treasure Island” story, where a young man heads to sea in hopes of finding treasure that will save his family’s inn, and the history of Zheng Yi Sao, a Chinese woman who united a formidable fleet of over 70,000 pirates. These stories provide a brilliant background for the story of two young women who are questing for their futures and headed towards their dreams. One girl, who has led a life of “adventure” wishes for peace, meanwhile the other girl, who has led a pampered life, wishes for “more.” Both girls are born to sail, although one spent the first part of her life landlocked in a remote village, sequestered there by her protective mother, while the other grew up on boats, her mother encouraging her to learn the ways of the sea. Their backgrounds couldn’t have been more different, but their hearts were the same. This romantic adventure was a lot of fun to read. I enjoyed the descriptions of port towns, village life, and working on a ship; I came away feeling like I learned a bunch of interesting tidbits.

 

(If you enjoy this, this book was recommended on a BookRiot list for people who enjoyed the show “Our Flag Means Death” which is also about pirates. They also recommend Cinnamon and Gunpowder by Eli Brown, The Wisteria Society of Lady Scoundrels by India Holton, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz, Travelers Along the Way: A Robin Hood Remix by Aminah Mae Safi, and So Many Beginnings: A Little Women Remix by Bethany C. Morrow.)

 

( official A Clash of Steel page on the official C.B. Lee web site )

 

Recommended by Carrie K.
Bennett Martin Public Library — Public Services

 

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 reviewer’s recommendations!

Tuesday, June 21, 2022

Book Review: New From Here by Kelly Yang

New From Here

by Kelly Yang (j Yang)

 

Nothing seems to go right for 10-year-old Knox. It’s the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic and his parents decide to move from Hong Kong to San Francisco so they can be safe from the virus. His mom loses her job as a respected banker and she moves with the kids. Knox’s dad stays behind with the family dog to work to support the family until he is able to move and get a new job. They think it will take no time for his mom to find something new, for the kids to get settled in a new school, and for everyone to stay safe in America.

 

The Wei-Evans family quickly learns that things aren’t as wonderful in the United States as they imagined. Because of a mounting anxiety about the coronavirus and its origins, the family has trouble finding jobs, making friends, and fitting into their new life. It’s so bad that Knox’s family decides to keep their home country a secret, telling everyone that they are “new from here.” (It’s technically true because Knox’s parents once lived in California and met at Berkeley.) Without a job, his mom has no healthcare in America, so they must stay well.

 

Making matters more difficult, Knox is struggling with ADHD and it seems to play havoc with any progress the family makes. His hasty actions ruin his moms job interviews, cause costly disasters in stores, and lose irreplaceable family heirlooms.

 

His family just can’t seem to catch a break. The family faces more financial hardship when his dad’s hours at his job back in Hong Kong get cut, and he has to give up their home and move into a small apartment there.
But Knox and his family discover that no one is immune to each other’s problems, especially during a pandemic. That’s why they have to care about one another. And when it comes to facing racism, Knox discovers a technique online that he can help his family and friends called ICEE: interrupt, correct, educate and echo statements of support. Knox employs this technique when he witnesses cruelty to his brother at track practice and when faced with racism in the grocery store. Knox is often reminded of his mother’s words that “the vaccine to racism is love.”

 

Although New From Here is fiction, Kelly Yang — also the author of Front Desk — wrote the book after moving her own family in 2020 from Hong Kong to the United States, leaving her husband behind. She says her family experienced similar instances of racism. They were verbally assaulted in the park, told to go back to where they came from, and her children always were forced to be “It” during coronavirus tag. The book is well written and a very honest story about family conflicts, the challenges of ADHD, and perseverance in tough times.

 

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Front Desk by Kelly Yang, Just Roll With It by Lee Durfey-Lavoie, or Sunny Days Inside by Caroline Adderson.)

 

( official New From Here page on the official Kelly Yang web site )

 

Recommended by Cindy K.
Bennett Martin Public Library — Public Services

 

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 reviewer’s recommendations!

Monday, June 20, 2022

CD Review: The Secret by Alan Parsons

The Secret

by Alan Parsons (Compact Disc 781.66 Par)

 

Released in 2019, this album reminds of the ‘glory days’ of The Alan Parsons Project while taking on a more contemporary groove as well. Themes of magic, mystery, and melancholy combine in ballads and uptempo pieces. The liner notes include a quote revealing Parsons’ lifelong interest in magic acts.There are 3 or 4 tracks I’m not crazy about but over all it’s well worth a listen if you enjoy progressive rock. In addition to Parsons himself, guest lead vocalists include Lou Gramm of Foreigner and Jason Mraz. Instrumentally, Parsons plays and/or conducts on several tracks. His tight backing band of seven members is supplemented by musical artists such as Steve Hackett of Genesis and original TAPP member Ian Bairnson. The album booklet is visually interesting and includes all lyrics and credits.

 

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try The Best of The Alan Parsons Project by The Alan Parsons Project, Tales of Mystery and Imagination by The Alan Parsons Project (based on the works of Edgar Allan Poe, The Best of The Moody Blues by The Moody Blues, or The Best of Emerson, Lake & Palmer by Emerson, Lake & Palmer.)

 

( Wikipedia entry for The Secret ) | ( official Alan Parsons web site )

 

Recommended by Becky W.C.
Walt Branch 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 reviewer’s recommendations!

Sunday, June 19, 2022

New specialized index to BookGuide content: LGBTQ+

 

Following several requests for an easier way to find content on the BookGuide readers advisory pages that would be of specific interest to readers seeking LGBTQ+ materials, we added a new specialized index page. This LGBTQ+ index on BookGuide consolidates all the reviews of LGBTQ+ book/dvd reviews, booklists, bookstalk booklists, Award Winner lists, If You Like... lists, information about LGBTQ+ book groups, etc.

Check out the new index page at the link below, and continue to visit in the future, as new content is added when it becomes available on BookGuide!

LGBTQ+ Specialized Index to Content on BookGuide

Saturday, June 18, 2022

DVD Review: Werewolves Within

Werewolves Within

(DVD Werewolves)

 

Part whodunit. Part horror. Part comedy. Part small town “slice of life”. The fact that this film doesn’t seem to know what it is, is actually both its greatest strength and its greatest weakness. Werewolves Within is peopled by a cast full of quirky characters, and our “everyman” is newly arrived forest ranger Finn Wheeler. As he navigates through surprisingly treacherous waters of the relationships between the local townsfolk in this small northwestern town, a series of potential werewolf attacks cause the locals to form into various “camps”. This is a very atmospheric film but the plot barely holds together. Fortunately, the quirky characters more than make up for it! Reminded me a bit of the TV series Twin Peaks, if you threw in a werewolf! Sam Richardson, as the lead, Finn, was a terrific discovery — I’d never seen him in anything before!

 

(Note: Based on the plot of a popular video game.)

 

( Internet Movie Database entry for this film ) | ( official Werewolves Within web site )

 

Recommended by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library — Public Services

 

Have you watched 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 reviewer’s recommendations!

Friday, June 17, 2022

Music Book Review: Records Ruin the Landscape: John Cage, the Sixties and Sound Recording by David Grubbs

Records Ruin the Landscape: John Cage, the Sixties and Sound Recording

by David Grubbs (Music 780.904 Gru)

 

As I’ve mentioned before, we have lots of books in the Polley Music Library that discuss records and the record industry. But here’s an interesting angle: what about music that isn’t well represented through recordings? Now don’t get me wrong: recordings are great for most composers and songwriters. In some circles, they’ve essentially replaced the need for things like sheet music, now that folks can make their own high-quality recordings without needing to put together a million-dollar studio. And they’re great for listeners in many cases, as we can always go back to our favorite recordings and remember how they make us feel, or share in moments together as we listen.

 

For more traditional classical music and most forms of popular music, this business of recordings representing music works out just fine. But what about jazz? We start getting into a gray area right away: there typically isn’t a “definitive” version of a tune, but instead we love many different versions, even different takes by the same performers at different gigs or different studio sessions. Each improvisation has something new and different to offer us, responding to a different moment in time. In some ways this problem is solved by simply having more recordings, capturing all of those performances and making them available. But it’s still like trying to capture lightning.

 

Then we can run into even more trouble with recordings in contemporary classical or free improvisation circles. In these kinds of music, we might not have a sense of what a piece is going to sound like at all — every performance could be wildly different. From that perspective, recordings are problematic because they can act as a kind of limiting factor. The debut release of a recording of a piece like this tends to influence subsequent performances, because listeners will now have a preconceived notion of how the piece should sound.

This gets into some nuanced territory, which author and musician David Grubbs covers acrobatically in his book Records Ruin the Landscape: John Cage, the Sixties and Sound Recording, a book you can borrow from Polley. As Grubbs states eloquently in his preface, “My purpose is to consider the distance between experimental music in the 1960s and the ways in which this music is experienced at present through the medium of sound recording.” Elsewhere in his preface, he reveals how he came to discover much of this music in the 1990s through recordings (and so did I), so there are some complexities to all of this.

 

Grubbs repeats a variation of his intentions in the introduction, reflecting that we have found ourselves in a period where lots of music from the exciting world of the 1960s avant-garde has been released and reissued in the last few decades. While these pieces occasionally receive performances, it’s far easier for the average listener to gain access to them through this large body of recordings. In most circumstances, this would be considered a wonderful thing, because this music and its history continue to be preserved and shared with the world, but there are many things about this music that are missing from the historical record if one is primarily focused on recordings. From the simplest practical perspective, many of the pieces from this era are too long to fit on records or CDs — they either have to be interrupted or edited to a shorter length, which often changes the weight and feel of the pieces. Then there’s the higher concept behind many of the works, which can be quite open-ended musically, with aleatoric or interpretive elements that can result in almost completely different sounds in multiple performances of the same piece.

 

Sometimes these historical distortions even effect more predicable forms of music. Grubbs uses the work of Henry Flynt as an example: in the 21st Century, many albums of his work have been released, and many sound like compelling examples of 60s protest music with folk and hillbilly overtones. Indeed they were recorded in the 60s, but they were never released back then, and they were mostly solitary experiments. They are fascinating to hear, but a modern listener — especially one using a streaming music service where there are no liner notes to provide historical context — might get a sense that the music they’re hearing had a social and popular significance in its time, which it simply didn’t.

 

For the rest of the book, Grubbs leans heavily into the work of two artists whose music might be difficult to fully understand through exposure to recordings alone: composer John Cage and non-idiomatic improviser Derek Bailey. Although the issues that affect their music as encountered through records also apply to lots of their contemporaries, they are excellent and better-known examples of the phenomenon. And amusingly enough, they both had serious reservations about recordings which they discussed publicly on occasion, yet they both participated in recording sessions, too. If you’re new to the work of Cage or Bailey, this book is a pretty solid look at their work, at least in the 1960s, which is arguably one of the peak decades for both.

 

Starting with Cage, author Grubbs leads us through his work in the 60s, with an emphasis on the Cageian focus of incorporating chance elements into the act of composition. Arguably Cage had already hit the peak of welcoming chance into the compositional process all the way back in 1952 with his legendary 4’ 33’’ piece, whose sounds are entirely left to whatever happens in the performance hall, but the composer spent much of the next 20 years composing pieces that incorporated various forms of contemporary technology into his works, and these almost always included chance elements. Grubbs discusses many of the specific LP releases that were made in the 60s featuring Cage compositions, and how different they can be from one another, even if they feature the same pieces. The presentation of his work is again somewhat hampered by the physical limitations of the LP, the dominant media format of the era, and many pieces are only known to the record-buying public in heavily edited form. And others are simply so different with each recording that a listener might not even recognize them as the same piece without being explicitly told so. “Cartridge Music,” for example, composed in 1960 and presented on several LPs throughout the subsequent decade, focuses mostly on the phonographic cartridge as an instrument, and it is “prepared” in a manner conceptually similar to prepared piano. Players create their parts from a series of drawings of irregular shapes and transparencies, and as you might expect, each performance is wildly different. Grubbs observes that many of these records have “the truth-content of a snapshot,” which is a great way of looking at their true significance within a greater compositional context. And he points out that other composers who worked in Cage’s time found themselves having to make one of two choices where recordings were concerned: either their music became even more difficult to represent on recordings and stayed alive in concert halls, or they had to start thinking of recording studios as part of their compositional process and really embrace them.

 

Then we have the school of free improvisation that flourished in the 60s, represented in the book by guitarist Derek Bailey. Like Cage, Bailey felt that records didn’t represent what he was doing musically, because his work was all about the moment and place of improvisation, but he too not only participated in recording sessions but even ran his own small record label. This ambivalence was common among free improvisers, and to an extent things remain similar today — many such musicians continue to operate small record labels, which help listeners get an idea of what they do, and frankly help to pay the bills. Bailey’s career remains somewhat of a model for free improvisers.

 

Just as we learned a lot about Cage’s work through his exploration of chance elements, here we learn about Bailey’s definition of “non-idiomatic” improvisation, and how he contrasts it with the more common idiomatic forms of improv. In his classic book “Improvisation,” which you can borrow from Polley, Bailey apparently felt that there were fundamental differences in focus between the two types of improvisation: briefly put, that idiomatic improv was focused on ends, and non-idiomatic on means. But in a later edition he revised his thinking on this, finding that both types of improvisation at their most profound focus on means. I never knew he had so significantly edited his thinking on the matter!

 

Toward the end of the book, Grubbs shifts the focus from LP and CD recordings to how digital archives of materials can have similar and even more exaggerated effects on the circulation of these kinds of recordings. Through streaming or downloading, all of the problems with these kinds of musical forms being presented through recordings remain, but now they’re compounded by being lower-resolution copies of the original recordings, and usually with incomplete or altogether missing liner notes that further isolate these recordings from their origins and historical contexts. And again, this is a complex area to navigate, because many folks may only discover such music because they stumble across it online, minus those original contextual clues. For art forms that embraced unrepeatability as a “feature,” a kind of inherent repeatability by virtue of old recordings of such pieces is slowly defining the indefinable. Kind of like books!

 

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Improvisation: Its Nature and Practice in Music by Dereck Bailey, or Everything We Do Is Music: Cross-Curricular Experiments in Sound Based on the Music of John Cage by Russell Bailey.)

 

( publisher’s official Records Ruin the Landscape web page ) | ( Wikipedia entry for David Grubbs )

 

Recommended by Scott S.
Bennett Martin Public Library — Polley Music 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 reviewer’s recommendations!


Check out this, and all the other great music resources, at the Polley Music Library, located on the 2nd floor of the Bennett Martin Public Library at 14th & "N" St. in downtown Lincoln. You'll find biographies of musicians, books about music history, instructional books, sheet music, CDs, music-related magazines, and much more. Also check out Polley Music Library Picks, the Polley Music Library's e-mail newsletter, and follow them on Facebook!

Thursday, June 16, 2022

Book Review: A Pictorial History of Costume by Wolfgang Bruen

A Pictorial History of Costume: A Survey of Costume of All Periods and Peoples From Antiquity to Modern Time Include National Costume in Europe and Non-European Countries

by Wolfgang Bruen (391 qBru)

 

A Pictorial History of Costume: A Survey of Costume of All Periods and Peoples From Antiquity to Modern Time Include National Costume in Europe and Non-European Countries by Wolfgang Bruhn, a German art historian and Max Tilke, a German costume designer, ethnographer, historian of fashion design, illustrator, and Kabarett artist.

 

This is definitely a book for one who likes to “read pictures’ about fashion. Included are 500 drawn illustrations mostly in color that include approximately 1900 distinct costumes that demonstrate clothing and dress styles from two thousand years of clothing, up until and including the 19th century. The artist, Max Tilke, was both an artist and a scientist, interested in ethnography as well as costume design. He uses the illustrations to show both the details of costume and accessories, and their relationship to the humans wearing them.

 

Interestingly, this is a book of very few words. There’s a paragraph of introduction, in several languages, a table of contents, and at the back, a description of the plate appearing on each page.

 

It’s an oversized volume with many illustrations large enough to fill a page. For costuming, there’s plenty of inspiration, but it is sorely lacking in labeling and defining. The way it is set up, with the descriptions at the back of the book rather than accompanying the illustrations, makes it difficult to ascertain dates and regions for the costumes. The information that is there seems rather vague and unimpressive. On the other hand, the illustrations themselves are fascinating. The illustrator has gone to much detail work to describe with his drawing tools, the finer points of each outfit, showing both the front and the backside of costumes from similar time periods. A student of fashion design, with experience in drawing patterns, might enjoy the challenge of discerning how these items are made.

 

Being a visual person who enjoys “reading pictures”, I did enjoy reading this book and I can see using it as a resource if I were brainstorming ideas for my next sewing project, but without text, I don’t see sitting down with it to gather information and to learn about different periods or styles. It feels rather like watching TV with the sound muted and no subtitles. Interesting, but without the words to guide you, it’s not as engaging as it could be.

 

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try What people wore : a visual history of dress from ancient times to twentieth-century America by Douglas Gorsline, The complete history of costume & fashion : from ancient Egypt to the present day by Bronwyn Cosgrave, or Costume by L. Rowland-Warne.)

 

Recommended by Carrie K.
Bennett Martin Public Library — Public Services

 

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 reviewer’s recommendations!

Wednesday, June 15, 2022

Audiobook Review: The Ocean at the End of the Lane written and narrated by Neil Gaiman

The Ocean at the End of the Lane

by Neil Gaiman (Compact Disc Gaiman)

 

The narrator of this story is a middle-aged man who’d returned to his childhood home in Sussex, England for a funeral, and suddenly recalls events of one summer when he was seven. A man committed suicide in a stolen vehicle, and began a series of magical, scary events. Living in a rundown farm at the end of the lane is 11-year-old Lettie Hempstock, her mother, and her grandmother.

 

A lot is going on in this quiet, little story — suicide, how to be a friend, sacrifice, and Other creatures. And Lettie, who has promised to protect that little boy no matter what.

 

Read by the author, Gaiman is one of the few authors who is capable of reading his own material. His soft, British voice knows his own work to add emphasis and pause in just the right manner in just the right places. If given the choice, always select a Gaiman-read story.

 

And he gives us a tale that slowly unfolds including witches, magic, paranormal, other universes, horror, and an epic battle near the end.

 

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains: A Tale of Travel and Darkness also by Neil Gaiman, also available as an audiobook-on-cd.)

 

( official The Ocean at the End of the Lane page on the official Neil Gaiman web site )

 

See Wyatt P’s earlier review of the print edition of The Ocean at the End of the Lane in the August 2013 Staff Recommendations here on BookGuide.

 

Recommended by Charlotte M.
Bennett Martin Public Library — Public Services

 

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 reviewer’s recommendations!

Monday, June 13, 2022

Book Review: Nebraska and the CCC: Young Men at Their Best by Suzanne Williams

Nebraska and the CCC: Young Men at Their Best

by Suzanne Williams (978.2 Wil)

 

I helped a young man recently who was looking for information about the Prisoner of War Camps in Nebraska during the Second World War. I ran across this book (which has a section on Prisoner of War camps) and became so intrigued that I checked it out and read it. I have visited many State Parks across the country which have buildings that were built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and I realized that I knew little about the camps in my own state. This book is an excellent resource for anyone with an interest in the CCC, Nebraska history, World War II, or The Great Depression. Never has a government program done so much to help its citizens during the worst of times than when Roosevelt started the CCC making an impact on thousands of families who were starving to death during the Depression. I was moved by the stories and first-hand accounts of Nebraskans who were helped by this program and remained loyal to its memory over 50 years later. The photos and historical information are incredible and help to re-create the situations that these men faced as they helped to build dams, planted millions of trees and helped farmers wherever they could. I highly recommend this book.

 

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Fighting for the Forest: How FDR’s Civilian Conservation Corps Helped Save America by P. O’Connell-Pearson, or Rightful Heritage: Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Land of America by Douglas Brinkley.)

 

( Article about Nebraska and the Civilian Conservation Corps from History Nebraska )

 

Recommended by Kim J.
Bennett Martin Public Library — Public Services

 

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 reviewer’s recommendations!

Saturday, June 11, 2022

DVD Review: The 355

The 355

(DVD 355)

 

The 355 is a fast-paced and intelligent suspense thriller, from writer/director Simon Kinberg, better known as the producer of numerous similar action films from the past 15-20 years.

 

The key difference in this one is that most of the main characters are women, instead of the stereotypical men. Jessica Chastain is Mace, a disgraced American agent, out to avenge the death of the ex-flame she had recently reignited with (played by Sebastian Stan — Winter Soldier/Bucky Barnes in the Avengers movies). Diane Kruger is vengeful German intelligence agent Marie. Penelope Cruz is Graciela Rivera, a psychologist called upon to become a woman of action. And Lupita Nyong’o is Khadijah Adiyeme, a wizard with surveillance technology. When all four women end up on the run and being hunted, they decide the turn the tables on the leaders of an international conspiracy (and attempt to clear their own names while they’re at it).

 

There’s a tremendous amount of well-choreographed action, fight sequences, chases sequences, and explosion, all in service of a plot that, if not brilliant, at least holds together well enough. All the performances across the board were excellent, but especially Chastain and Kruger, who grow from antagonists to allies.

 

Is it the best action film ever? No, but for taking the chance and breaking the mold from what audiences are used to seeing, I really enjoyed this one. Although the explanation for where the title of the movie came from could have been clearer.

 

( Internet Movie Database entry for this film ) | ( official Facebook page for The 355 )

 

Recommended by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library — Public Services

 

Have you watched 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 reviewer’s recommendations!