Monday, April 22, 2024

Book Review: Ponyella by Laura Numeroff and Nate Evans, with illustrations by Lynn Munsinger

Ponyella
by Laura Numeroff and Nate Evans, with illustrations by Lynn Munsinger (jP Numeroff)

 This is a terrific re-telling of Cinderella using ponies as the characters.

 

We meet Ponyella who is a beautiful pony who is happy on her small farm with the pastures and the barn and she loves jumping. Then the farm is sold and as the new owners move in they bring along two ponies as well. And as we know the Cinderella story these ponies pick on Ponyella who ends up being moved out of her clean stall and into a small, dirty stall. Ponyella does all the work pulling the coal carts and her coat becomes dirty. She is so unhappy.

 

Then, we see the Princess driven by who will be selecting the winner of the Annual Grand Royal Pony Championship! Everyone wants to attend but Ponyella is forced to remain at home. Until…her Fairy Godmare arrives.

 

The drawings by Lynn Munsinger are excellent, you feel so sorry for Ponyella. I love the fabulous trailer she rides in to the championship (as opposed to a coach). And her horseshoes are embedded with diamonds. Sadly, the clock struck Noon and Ponyella had to dash for home, leaving behind a horseshoe.

 

The story was so creative at inserting horse-themed items yet remaining close to the original story. Adults will get a kick out of this story as much as the kids. The illustrations pull you into the emotions of Ponyella – but she gets her Happy Ending.

 

I highly recommend this clever remix of Cinderella.

 

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Federico and the Wolf by Rebecca J. Gomez, or It’s Not Little Red Riding Hood (It’s Not a Fairy Tale) by Josh Funk.)

 

( official Nate Evans author web site ) | ( official Laura Numeroff author web site )

 

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

 

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

Saturday, April 20, 2024

DVD Review: The Madame Blanc Mysteries (Series One)

The Madame Blanc Mysteries (Series One)
(DVD Madame)

British antiques dealer Jean White learns her now-late husband — killed in a suspicious auto accident — had pulled all their money out of the business leaving her penniless, and he possibly had an affair. Also, a valuable ruby ring is missing from the vehicle. She has one asset left and that’s a cottage in fictional Sainte-Victoire, a village in the south of France. She leaves Cheshire, England to get the cottage ready and sell it.

 

Still reeling from his lies and his death, she meets several members of the community and is pulled into their lives and community activities. She befriends the local police officer when her antiques expertise helps resolve the first case, and he asks her to be his assistant in the future when necessary. Which turns out to be often.

Originally aired by Acorn TV, this is a character-drive, contemporary, cozy murder mystery series with also a romance between Jean and another character that advances slowly. Each episode is approximately 45 minutes in length. Be sure to turn on closed-captioning unless you understand both English and French. The English translation is provided on-screen when French is spoken.

 

The library owns Series One (six episodes) and Series Two (seven episodes).

 

( Internet Movie Database entry for this film )

Recommended by Charlotte M.
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, April 19, 2024

Music Book Review: The Past is Always Present: The Revival of the Byzantine Musical Tradition at Mount Athos by Tore Tvarno Lind

The Past is Always Present: The Revival of the Byzantime Musical Tradition at Mount Athos
by Tore Tvarno Lind (Music 782.3 Lin)

Before Gregorian chant came Byzantine chant! The beginnings of what we now call “Western Civilization” largely focused on an area of the Mediterranean where the boundaries between West and East shifted and overlapped over millennia. On the West, we had ancient Greece; on the East, we had Byzantium, the area now called Turkey, and its capitol Constantinople. The two were mostly separated by the Aegean Sea, though they share a border on land approximately 120 miles long. It is the area of Byzantium from which Byzantine chant gets its name, a tradition that started around the time of the establishment of Constantinople in 330, and continued to evolve until roughly 1453. In between, this whole area enjoyed both periods of relative peace, and times of great unrest during the Crusades. Roughly in the middle of that period, Byzantine chant traditions made their way to Mount Athos, on the Athos Peninsula in Greece. Starting in the late 900s, Eastern Orthodox monks made their way to Mount Athos, and many followed. Today, there are still 20 monasteries located there, and like other early music organizations, they have started to focus on caring about the performance practices associated with their musical traditions. Their stories of reconnecting with these traditions, and finding places for them in modern-day life, are detailed in the book The Past is Always Present by Tore Tvarno Lind, which you can borrow from the Polley Music Library.

 

Author Lind is a Danish ethnomusicologist who spent the better part of a decade researching the material found in this book, mostly done on location at Mount Athos. He brings with him both a deep interest in Orthodox chant, as well as interests in a diverse range of musical practices, from musical healing to research of black metal and hardcore music genres. As part of a series of books called “Europea: Ethnomusicologies and Modernities,” this is an academic book in nature, but Lind’s treatment of both his subject and the people who are reconnecting with the music today make this one of the most readable and engaging books I’ve ever read by an ethnomusicologist. Lind spent a decade of his life on and off working on this book, visiting the monasteries at Athos, and his research was very direct, including living at the monasteries, taking music lessons, and participating in chant, as well as conversing with them about the related religious issues that are fundamental to the purpose and function of the chants. His presence doing this research coincided with the height of the “byzantine chant revival,” a period during which the monks were focused on re-connecting with the musical components of their traditions. These practices have led to lots of new recordings of Byzantine chant traditions from many parts of the world in the last 20 years, including the Mount Athos monasteries.

 

The introductory chapter of the book features an historical overview of Mount Athos, and an overview of the themes that Lind took away from his time there. Athos is a unique place in the world that has mostly been self-governing over millennia. Even in modern Greece, the peninsula enjoys a special status as a “self-ruled monastic state,” which has remained an internationally important location for Orthodoxy. As for the primary themes that emerged during Lind’s research, there are interweaving strands of consideration about concepts like tradition, modernity, authenticity, and restoration, all informing and indeed transforming one another. Re-discovering or restoring the past in the present, even when it is being done in locations that have been part of sustained traditions, is always a complex endeavor.

 

In the “Musical Blossom” chapter, Lind details a period of several months in which he stayed with the Vatopedian monks to study Byzantine chant personally. He notes that his time there coincided with extensive renovations happening to the monastery, and it also was shortly after the monastery had implemented changes to both their singing style and lifestyle, efforts they made in an attempt to connect more closely to tradition. Lind is able to look at the liner notes of early CDs the monastery has produced as the early fruits of this labor, and notes that they present both the monastery and the music as having been in a period of “crisis and decline” until recently, but now are flourishing again, revived and full of energy that is affecting monks, pilgrims, and tourists. At roughly the 10-year mark into this process, the monastery is highlighting their newfound grip on tradition, while also connecting with the modern world through tourism and producing artifacts like CDs and CD-ROMs able to take their work anywhere in the world. And there is evidence that they remain connected with other centers of Orthodoxy and Byzantine chant: “Contact with the chanting world outside the monastic walls and the Athonite border is customary, desired, and frequent.” While the Vatopedians work to revive and retain their own relatively rural approach, they remain engaged with more “urban” styles of chant such as those practiced in Istanbul. Both CDs and the ease of travel in the modern era have made exchanges between Orthodox communities much easier, and it turns out that they love to check one another out!

 

The ”Sacred Musical Transorthography” chapter is where musicians interested in how this music is written and performed will start to find some important details. Byzantine chant has long used its own system of notation, which looks rather daunting at first! Rather than using extensive staff lines, the movement of the music has traditionally been documented in a series of symbols. It’s also important to note that this music contains microtonal elements: the octave is divided into 72 intervals, so a half-step in modern Western music equals 6 “moria,” and a whole step is 12 moria. A similar system is still in use in both the sacred and secular music of Turkey, and similar to Turkish music, much of Byzantine chant may still sound relatively “tonal” to our Western 12-tone ears, but there are regular microtonal adjustments featured in the foundational scales used in all of this music. Like older chant traditions, some of the older notational symbols themselves had fallen into disuse, but were being revived again among the Vatopedians. Early 19th C. reforms within the church had brought what was called the “New Method” into practice, but during this new period of reform, musicians were finding that some of the older symbols were simply clearer in use than using the smaller set of compound symbols in the New Method. Of course, connecting with older traditional symbols is another way of connecting the music of today to its more distant history as well. There are also a set of related hand gestures used to guide choral singing, which are briefly touched upon. Lind also discusses the use of drones within Byzantine chant. While they have been a long-term component of the tradition, they too have been utilized differently over time, sometimes shifting more or less frequently under the unison melodies they support, and sometimes appearing as a “double drone” of two intervals that are a 4th, 5th, or octave apart. He makes some fascinating comparisons between the “isokratema” drone in Byzantine chant, and the “Om” of Hindu Vedic chant.

 

The next section, “Producing Mount Athos,” is a discussion that attempts to position the Mount Athos monasteries within modern life. While these are still places where monks live and work, they also accept visitors on pilgrimages, and they are largely open to tourism as well. To the extent that the traditions that developed at Mount Athos have their own unique local flavor, many tourists are attracted to the kind of authenticity that one can only find by going to such sources. Of course, the act of accepting tourists, and making the buildings and even the music as presentable as possible, can’t help but alter that sense of “authenticity” on some level, too. The whole area is recognized as a World Heritage Site, and its location at the end of a somewhat isolated peninsula has helped to preserve the location and its traditions for centuries, so tourists of many backgrounds find their way to Mount Athos. Some are Greeks interested in the long-form traditions of their own country (even though this area has at times been part of Turkey, too). Some are religious tourists, interested in the history of their own faiths. And pilgrims have been making the journey to Mount Athos since the 1100s. While they all have their own unique contexts for comparing the modern to the authentic, their collective presence has had at least some effect on long-term residents.

 

The closing chapters focus more on the religious aspects of Byzantine chant. After all, this music existed first and foremost as a form of prayer. Lind finds that much like other aspects of modern life in Mount Athos including music, lives of prayer also can be viewed from several perspectives. While the monasteries collectively revive their own traditions, they do so in ongoing presence of modern life and those afore-mentioned tourists. The longer he was there, and the more often he visited, Lind started to feel that the notion of an “Athonite style” that has long been discussed by scholars, and has been one of the selling points for tourism, might not be so pervasive in reality. While there may be a bit of a regional style, in truth there are differences in performance even from monastery to monastery in the same area, and chanting itself is practiced by a wide range of monks, who do remain individuals despite living their lives together. There will always be variety and multiplicity within these traditions. In truth, there always was, too, back to the beginnings of what is now thought of as the “traditional” or the “authentic.” Perhaps this is what’s most beautiful about being up close and personal with long-standing traditions like this: you learn to appreciate both the tradition, and see and know the individuals that are keeping it alive.

 

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Western Plainchant: A Handbook by David Hiley, Gregorian Chant and the Carolingians by Kenneth Levy.)

 

Recommended by Scott S.
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, April 18, 2024

Book Review: Wild and Distant Seas by Tara Karr Roberts

Wild and Distant Seas
by Tara Karr Roberts (Roberts)

Call her Evangeline. Evangeline Hussey. In the mid 1800’s, a young woman on her own, Evangeline has come to Nantucket to find her fortune and start a new life. She marries an innkeeper, but when he disappears at sea, she is on her own again. Knowing that as a single woman, she would be ousted from the Try Pots Inn, she resorts to using her unique ability to cloud people’s memories to make the townsfolk believe her husband would be home soon.

 

Her inn becomes a gathering place for men who are headed to sea, including the young Ishmael and his companion Queequeg, who you might remember from their adventures in another book where they were chasing a certain whale…This story runs parallel to that one and the plots occasionally crisscross.

 

Evangeline’s descendants have their own quest, their own “white whale” that they are pursuing, and the women in her family each has a similar but different ability that they use in their pursuit of answers. I enjoyed this touch of magic surrealism, it felt authentic and possible.

 

Wild and Distant Seas is an interesting and pleasant read. There’s strife and troubles, no doubt, but they are handled in, I can’t help but say, in a way similar to books I really enjoyed when I was young, such as A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett. There’s bad things that happen, but magical good things as well and you know everything is going to turn out well in the end. Sometimes, that’s exactly the kind of read you are looking for.

 

It’s a classic tale with women at the helm. And the cover is beautiful.

 

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try A Clash of Steel by C.B. Lee, The Unbinding of Mary Reade by Miriam McNamara, or The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea by Axie Oh.)

 

( official Tara Karr Roberts web site )

 

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

 

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

Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Music Review: Weather by Huey Lewis and the News (2020)

Weather
by Huey Lewis and the News (Hoopla Music)

This final new album from the veteran rockers was released in 2020, and features a mere 7 songs. It was also Huey Lewis and the News’ first new album in 10 years, and their eleventh original album overall. Subsequent to Weather‘s release, Lewis revealed that he was suffering from Meniere’s Disease, a hearing disorder that will prevent him from further live performances or music-writing.

But if they had to go out, at least they went out with an album that captures the essence of what the band has been about for the many decades they’ve performed together. 6 of the 7 songs on the album, more an EP than a full LP, are upbeat, fun, pop rock. Only the very last song, “One of the Boys”, takes on an introspective tone and leaves the listener a bit wistful. Otherwise, the rest of this small collection recaptures the “feel good” sound of classic Huey Lewis, and will leave you nodding and tapping your foot as you listen.

Sadly, the libraries don’t own this on CD, but Weather is accessible via the digital Hoopla Music service.

Oh, and Huey Lewis isn’t fading into the background — he recently was involved in bring his music to life in the Back to the Future stage musical, and a new “jukebox musical”, The Heart of Rock and Roll, just opened on Broadway!

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to listen to the rest of Huey Lewis and the News’ output, especially the albums Sports, Small World and Greatest Hits.)

( official Huey Lewis and the News web site )

Recommended by Scott C.

Bennett Martin Public Library — Public Service

Saturday, April 13, 2024

DVD Review: Dark Winds (Season One)

Dark Winds (Season One)
(DVD Dark)

I am a fan of the Longmire television series and am especially impressed with the Native American actors in the film version of the Longmire books by author Craig Johnson. One of the standouts in Longmire is actor Zahn McClarnon who portrays Officer Mathias on the Reservation in mythical Absaroka County. Recently I discovered that McClarnon is currently starring in the series Dark Winds as Lt. Joe Leaphorn in Navajo Nation, New Mexico. The series is based on the Leaphorn, Chee & Manuelito novels by acclaimed author Tony Hillerman (and continued by Tony’s daughter Anne Hillerman following Tony’s death), and produced by author George R.R. Martin and Robert Redford. The mysteries are top-notch and incorporate history, Navajo customs and language, and superb acting from the Native American actors and extras. Shot on location in New Mexico, this is one of the most powerful series I have seen in recent years.

 

Season One looks at events that occurred in 1971 involving conspiracies, murder and cover-ups with the FBI and the Buffalo Society. McClarnon gives an incredibly emotional performance as Joe Leaphorn who is determined to solve the cases of the murders of Navajo people at all costs. I am looking forward to seeing Season Two soon. Nebraskans should be very proud of actor Zahn McClarnon who spent part of his youth in Omaha, graduating from Omaha Central High School. Be sure to watch the bonus film on the making of this series which is included on the second disc.

 

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Longmire. Also, Season Two of Dark Winds is now out on DVD as well. A third season is in pre-production, for airing in late 2024 or 2025.)

 

(Also available in traditional print format from authors Tony Hillerman and then Anne Hillerman.)

 

( Internet Movie Database entry for this film )

 

Recommended by Kim J.
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, April 12, 2024

Music Book Review: 3 Shades of Blue: Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Bill Evans, and the Lost Empire of Cool by James Kaplan

3 Shades of Blue: Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Bill Evans, and the Lost Empire of Cool
by James Kaplan (Music 781.65 Kap)

Among all of the classic albums in the jazz canon, Kind of Blue by Miles Davis has gradually risen to become the best-selling jazz album of all time, and one of the most critically-acclaimed as well. It’s a remarkable album, and it also features several of the most iconic jazz musicians of all time, such as pianist Bill Evans, saxophonist John Coltrane, and of course trumpeter and bandleader Miles Davis himself. While much has been written about all of these artists, there is a great new book by James Kaplan called 3 Shades of Blue that talks about these three artists and their confluence around the Kind of Blue album in depth, and you can borrow it from the Polley Music Library.

 

Author James Kaplan starts the book with a great personal anecdote — one of his early nonfiction writing assignments was for Vanity Fair magazine, who wanted to run an interview with Miles to coincide with the publication of his massive autobiography in 1989. At the time, Kaplan was only a casual fan of jazz, and had only heard a couple of Miles albums, but once he got the gig, he bought a bunch of CDs and crammed for the interview. Although he was initially allotted only one hour, they ended up chatting for two, and Miles invited him back for another hour the following day. He reflects that it ended up being a fairly superficial piece, but Kaplan got it published, and the experience started him down a path of getting more into jazz.

 

The overall structure of this book feels almost like a novel at times, which makes some sense considering that Kaplan is also a published novelist. The biographies of Miles, Coltrane, and Evans are introduced, he follows their early careers as though they’re main characters in the broader world of jazz, the climax of the book is the recording of Kind of Blue, and then substantial sections follow their careers as they went on to become independent bandleaders. The history of jazz immediately before and after Kind of Blue is discussed in relative detail, which is an interesting story unto itself for those who aren’t super familiar with the history of the record. Besides simply being interesting reading, it gives us a deeper context for the significance of the album, or perhaps a better sense of the interconnected working lives of jazz artists in the 1950s. Now that we regard Kind of Blue as such a legendary, historically significant album, we lose some of that perspective. But at the time of its release, it wasn’t a mega-seller, and for the artists who performed on it, making records was a common occurrence, and it’s unlikely they felt like they were making history on those sessions.

 

Jazz was evolving quickly in the late 1950s, and Kaplan provides lots of context for how musicians found themselves working in various small combos, as well as how the music started to change. Kind of Blue is now regarded both as the pinnacle of the “cool jazz” movement, generally mellower music than some of the preceding styles of jazz, as well as an example of the move away from traditional chord changes. In the case of the Miles Davis Quintet, new modal approaches to music became their focus, and are especially apparent on tunes like “So What.” There is still plenty of harmonic function in these songs, but the focus narrows to fewer chords harmonically, and more sophisticated thinking in terms of scales. Interestingly, while we think of cool jazz as a 50s phenomenon and “free jazz” as more of a 60s movement, they were in fact developing simultaneously: in the chapter immediately following the recording of Kind of Blue, Kaplan looks at the career of Ornette Coleman, whose breakthrough album The Shape of Jazz to Come arrived within a few months of Kind of Blue.

 

In a way, these differing styles are a great way to show how the major performers in the Miles Davis Quintet grew and evolved in subsequent years. Miles had a standoffish relationship with Ornette, and while his style dramatically evolved in the 60s and 70s, it was more toward further distillations of modal playing in new electrified contexts, informed by rock and funk music. Coltrane saw new kinds of melodic freedom in Ornette’s work, and through relationships with other free jazz-leaning players like Eric Dolphy and Albert Ayler, his later work gradually moved in their direction in the years after his own landmark album A Love Supreme. Pianist Bill Evans, who originally fit with Miles’ cool jazz vibes and modal approaches, continued to develop his work in a manner that hewed closer to the “cool” sound, though he’s also one of the more harmonically sophisticated jazz thinkers of his time. And to mention another performer on Kind of Blue, saxophonist Cannonball Adderly maybe even stepped backward a little stylistically in his post-Miles career, playing a lot of soul, blues, and more harmonically traditional bebop.

 

Though Miles, Coltrane and Evans ended up in different musical places, 3 Shades of Blue is also an unflinching look at some of the things they had in common: all 3 struggled with addictions, and all 3 died fairly young. Rock music, which took over the popular consciousness not long after Kind of Blue,” has generally become the genre where we read the most about legendary musicians leading lives of addictions and excess, but these most respected jazz artists were victims of the same kinds of lifestyles. Despite it all, though, all three remained dedicated musicians through their final days, and they all changed the direction of music in their own way. It’s impossible to imagine what modern music would look like, jazz or otherwise, without Coltrane and Miles in particular, who truly explored music inside and out, incorporating influences from all around the world, always evolving.

 

While I knew most of the information discussed in this book already, it’s never been presented in such a perfectly intertwined and readable manner before. Perhaps my biggest takeaway from the book was really getting a feel for the intense speed with which jazz evolved in the late 50s. Musicians have had decades to unravel this music, live with it, be inspired by it, and the traditions spawned by just a handful of musicians in a couple of years of the late 1950s have carried on for generations now. But what feels like a mythical tradition today can really be attributed to just a few years of explosive creativity among a dozen or so musicians. But it’s been hard to find the story of these years from such a personable perspective–after all, the main protagonists of the story are all gone, and they all kept looking forward with little interest in nostalgia. If you’re into any kind of modern jazz, I think that you’ll find 3 Shades of Blue to be one of the best documents of the period that’s been written yet.

 

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try The Making of Kind of Blue: Miles Davis and his Masterpiece by Eric Nisenson, Miles, the Autobiography by Miles Davis, John Coltrane: His Life and Music by Lewis Porter, or Bill Evans: How My Heart Sings by Peter Pettinger.)

( official James Kaplan web site )

 

See Jeremiah J.’s review of Kind of Blue by Miles Davis in the December 2012 Staff Recommendations here on BookGuide!

 

Recommended by Scott S.
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!

Sunday, April 7, 2024

New Booklist on BookGuide: Military SF


Following several patron questions about "What is Military Science Fiction (Military SF)" or "What are some good examples of Military SF?, our readers advisory staff have created an in-depth booklist on this popular topic, which can now be found in the library's BookGuide pages.

Check out this new booklist on BookGuide at the following link:

 Military SF

Saturday, April 6, 2024

DVD Review: The Retirement Plan

The Retirement Plan
(DVD Retirement)

I’ll have to admit, Nicolas Cage stars in a lot of my “guilty pleasure” films — such as The Rock, Con Air, Face/Off, the National Treasure series, the Ghost Rider series and The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. Usually, I find that a Nicolas Cage film is one where I can turn my brain off and just be entertained by mindless action and/or quirky characters.

 

The Retirement Plan is one of those types of films, but it doesn’t even live up to the promise of the others I already listed. In this film, Cage plays Matt, an ex-intelligence operative and assassin, who is trying to quietly live his post-employment life of leisure in the Cayman Islands, off the radar of past allies and enemies alike. When his estranged daughter gets sucked into her husband’s theft of a flashdrive filled with information critical to a Miami mobster, she sends her daughter to the Caymans (with the flashdrive hidden in her carry-on), hoping the girl’s grandfather (who’s never met her) will protect her.

 

What follows is a madcap adventure, as one of the mobster’s low-level henchmen sends team-after-team of thugs to get the little girl and flashdrive back. No-one (including his own daughter) is aware of Matt’s true history, so no one expects a grey-haired 60-year-old to be a threat, but Matt keeps eliminating bad guy after bad guy.

 

The plot is extremely predictable and the dialog is often cringe-worthy. But some of the performances are terrific, particularly Ron Perlman as Bobo, a philosophical but not particularly reluctant bad guy, and Ernie Hudson as one of Matt’s fellow retirees.

 

But you’ll definitely want to turn your logical brain off and don’t expect any Shakespeare (even though you’ll get some!).

 

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try pretty much any other Nicolas Cage action film, including the ones linked above.)

 

( Internet Movie Database entry for this film )

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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, April 5, 2024

Music Book Review: Bowie at the BBC: A Life in Interview edited by Tom Hagler

by Tom Hagler (Music 781.66 Bowie)

After the long, illustrious career of David Bowie, which ended on a high note with the release of the acclaimed “Blackstar” album just days before his passing in 2016, there have been lots of think pieces about the meaning and relevance of his work, and quite a few books published, too. As a somewhat unusual artist among his classic rock peers, Bowie reinvented himself several times along the course of his career, sometimes being called the “chameleon of rock” for his shifts in personae and style. This can make it somewhat difficult to follow along with his work. The BBC may have simplified this process for us all, though, having recently published a 4-decade spanning collection of interviews with Bowie as Bowie at the BBC, which you can borrow from the Polley Music Library.

 

A book consisting of interviews can be tricky to navigate sometimes, but BBC reporter and Bowie authority Tom Hagler was brought in to provide context and a degree of narrative structure to this book’s astonishing 36 radio and television interviews spanning 1964 to 2005. Hagler writes a short introduction and conclusion, but perhaps more importantly, he sets up each interview with the circumstances of the time and place in Bowie’s life. In his introduction, he makes a startling point that I think is probably news to most audiences outside of the British Isles: we may never have had David Bowie the artist if it weren’t for the BBC, since they dominated all radio and television coverage in England at the time he launched into music. And he got off to a rough start with them, as well: at first, the BBC panel who selected artists for radio play rejected Bowie’s music as not being compelling enough. DJ John Peel had to intervene and ask them to reconsider! Of course, they did, and their relationship became a mutually beneficial one: Hagler notes that Bowie’s appearance of Top of the Pops in 1972, for example, both helped to make him a household name in England, and gave kids the impression that the show was still “cool.”

 

Speaking of Top of the Pops, the first interview featured in the book dates to November 12, 1964, which was an early night in the broadcast history of that show. Bowie wasn’t a guest that night, though — instead, he was on the show immediately preceding it, called “Tonight.” He was only 17, and he was still Davy Jones, not David Bowie. And he wasn’t a musical guest! Instead, he had started a somewhat tongue-in-cheek organization called The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Long-Haired Men, ostensibly concerned about getting kicked out of taverns or not getting hired at factories for their choice of hairstyle. Hagler’s introduction notes that Bowie must have gotten the idea from some of the heckling he received while performing with his first band, and that this was an interesting way for him to look for more publicity since David Jones and the King Bees hadn’t captured the public’s imagination. The next interview jumps five years ahead to 1969, in a moment that Hagler notes was especially difficult for Bowie, as his father had just died, his girlfriend had left him, his first solo record had flopped, and his manager had abandoned him. “Space Oddity” had just entered the top 10, but typical for Bowie, he was always looking ahead, and he chose different tunes for his appearance on the DLT Show. This is followed by his band’s first appearance on John Peel’s show, a headlining concert that was broadcast live on BBC radio.

 

The next entry in the book isn’t an interview, but it documents that famous 1972 performance of “Starman” on Top of the Pops, which many regard as a kind of sea change in pop music. Glam rock had officially made it to the mainstream with this performance, complete with the bright, tight-fitting clothes and makeup. Many of the important bands of the 70s and 80s attributed their musical aspirations to catching this performance on TV when they were kids. It was a new thing, with a little of the 60s hippie sentiments of peace and love left over, but the new look, outer space lyrics, and more of a funky hard rock sound opened the doors to new musical approaches. A clip from this performance is featured on the cover of the book, too.

 

But the BBC was still a bit of a stodgy old organization, even when they knew a good thing. The following year, a special edition of “Nationwide” featured Bowie, and host Bernard Falk was somewhat rude and condescending to his subject. BBC Radio was more receptive, though, hosting several friendly interviews with Bowie throughout the rest of the 70s. Of note, these document Bowie’s “Berlin trilogy” period, somewhat misunderstood by the record-buying public at first, but now generally regarded as the pinnacle of his work. Then we launch into the 1980s, which was a relatively slow decade for coverage of Bowie. He was still quite busy, but had branched into acting, and there wasn’t as much music to talk about with the BBC. Of course, there is another sad reason: two days after the December 1980 BBC radio interview featured in the book, Bowie’s mentor, hero, and friend John Lennon was assassinated outside of his NYC apartment. As police investigated the plans of murderer Mark David Chapman, they discovered that Bowie was also on his hit list, and that he had tickets to the next day’s performance of “The Elephant Man,” where Bowie was making his Broadway debut. If his plans hadn’t worked out with Lennon, it’s very possible that Bowie would have been his victim instead. At the next performance, Bowie noted that there were three empty seats in the front row, belonging to Yoko Ono, Lennon, and Chapman. This led to Bowie becoming a more private and guarded person during the 80s.

 

The bulk of the book, though, documents interviews and appearances with the BBC from the 90s and Oughts. Even within the context of such a regularly-transformative career, Bowie’s run in the 90s was astonishing. He started the decade with a retrospective of his work in the form of a reissue series and a worldwide tour, after which he vowed to leave his previous material behind and strike out in new directions. Renowned composer Philip Glass began turning his “Berlin trilogy” albums into symphonies. And Bowie created some of his most interesting work, though not his most popular, such as the cyberpunk-inspired “Outside,” and the straight-ahead modern rock band Tin Machine, in which he refused to take top billing. Industrial, hip-hop, and EDM genres were incorporated into his music throughout the decade. And he toured with the hippest bands of the day like Nine Inch Nails. Overall, these interviews show an artist navigating a difficult crossroads for many artists of the classic rock era: instead of settling for becoming a kind of rock music elder statesman, Bowie managed to both retain his previous audience and their love for his music of the 70s and 80s, while putting himself in front of brand new audiences with his latest music. As a child of the 90s, I especially enjoyed this period in the book, too, and I remember how Bowie was thought of as much “cooler” than other artists of the classic rock era: he collaborated with Trent Reznor. Nirvana covered “The Man Who Sold the World.” He was embraced as both an influence and a part of the new musical generation.

 

The interviews featured in the book end in 2005, when Bowie entered a period of mostly private life. Some of this was probably related to his health—he suffered a heart attack in 2004, and pulled away from large tours and making records after that. In fact, there was a 10-year gap between his 2003 album “Reality” and his return in 2013 with “The Next Day.” He completed a final burst of activity in his remaining few years, with the debut of the musical “Lazarus” in 2015, and the release of the album “Blackstar” in 2016, upon which we soon learned that he had been fighting cancer. Though there are periods of his life that aren’t as well-documented by the interviews in this book, it’s fair to say that those periods aren’t more comprehensively covered anywhere else, either. Inevitably, there will be periods in the life and world of a chameleon like Bowie that forever remain a mystery.

 

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try David Bowie All the Songs: The Story Behind Every Track by Benoit Clerc, Bowie on Bowie: Interviews and Encounters with David Bowie by Sean Egan, or David Bowie in Darkness: A Study of “1. Outside” and the Late Career by Nicholas P. Grego.)

 

See Scott C.’s review of The Best of Bowie in the January 2016 Staff Recommendations here on BookGuide.

 

Recommended by Scott S.
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, April 4, 2024

Book Review: Ponyella by Laura Numeroff and Nate Evans, with illustrations by Lynn Munsinger

Ponyella
by Laura Numeroff and Nate Evans, with illustrations by Lynn Munsinger (jP Numeroff)

This is a terrific re-telling of Cinderella using ponies as the characters.

 

We meet Ponyella who is a beautiful pony who is happy on her small farm with the pastures and the barn and she loves jumping. Then the farm is sold and as the new owners move in they bring along two ponies as well. And as we know the Cinderella story these ponies pick on Ponyella who ends up being moved out of her clean stall and into a small, dirty stall. Ponyella does all the work pulling the coal carts and her coat becomes dirty. She is so unhappy.

 

Then, we see the Princess driven by who will be selecting the winner of the Annual Grand Royal Pony Championship! Everyone wants to attend but Ponyella is forced to remain at home. Until…her Fairy Godmare arrives.

 

The drawings by Lynn Munsinger are excellent, you feel so sorry for Ponyella. I love the fabulous trailer she rides in to the championship (as opposed to a coach). And her horseshoes are embedded with diamonds. Sadly, the clock struck Noon and Ponyella had to dash for home, leaving behind a horseshoe.

 

The story was so creative at inserting horse-themed items yet remaining close to the original story. Adults will get a kick out of this story as much as the kids. The illustrations pull you into the emotions of Ponyella – but she gets her Happy Ending.

 

I highly recommend this clever remix of Cinderella.

 

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Federico and the Wolf by Rebecca J. Gomez, or It’s Not Little Red Riding Hood (It’s Not a Fairy Tale) by Josh Funk.)

 

( official Nate Evans author web site ) | ( official Laura Numeroff author web site )

 

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

 

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, March 30, 2024

DVD/TV review: Annika - Season 1

Annika – Season 1
(DVD Annika)

In January, I reviewed Season Two of this wonderful detective series while waiting for Season One to come in. The first episode begins with the words “Call Me Annika” which brings to mind the opening words of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick: “Call me Ishmael.” Each episode of the series begins with Detective Annika Strandhed talking about a classic work of literature and how it relates to the current case she is trying to solve. Each episode builds on the previous one with Annika confiding to the audience her worries and fears regarding the relationships in her life. Set in beautiful Scotland, we get to enjoy breathtaking views of the sea, lochs and rivers that Annika and her team work in as the Marine Homicide Unit of Scotland’s police force. Be sure to watch season one before starting season two — episode six is especially good in terms of dramatic tension and a major plot development in the final scene. I highly recommend this series.

 

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Shetland, or Prime Suspect.)

 

( Internet Movie Database entry for this series )

 

See Kim J’s review of season two of Annika in the February 2024 Staff Recommendations here on BookGuide!

 

Recommended by Kim J.
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!

Thursday, March 28, 2024

Audiobook Review: Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie, narrated by David Suchet + Just Desserts reminder

Death on the Nile
by Agatha Christie, audiobook narrated by David Suchet (Compact Disc Christie – also available in Hoopla eAudiobook)

In the past couple of years, I made it a goal for myself to listen to all of the Hercule Poirot novels and short story collections by Agatha Christie, as audiobooks. The actor Hugh Fraser (who placed Captain Hastings in the long-running series of Poirot adaptations to television) narrates many of them, but for certain key titles, actor David Suchet (who played Poirot on television from 1989 to 2013) does the audio narration. That is the case with Death on the Nile.

 

Of all of Poirot’s famed cases, the two which are probably most recognizable to casual readers are Murder on the Orient Express and Death on the Nile. Death on the Nile is a twisty tale, with a group of characters all trapped on a luxury excursion boat on a tour of Egypt’s Nile river. When a wealthy young American heiress is murdered (following various threats against her), and her newlywed husband is badly injured, fellow passenger Hercule Poirot is called upon to solve the case. The suspects and motives are plenty. One of Christie’s other recurring sleuths, Col. Race, is also present to partner with Poirot. And the exotic location is put to good use.

Suchet’s voice as Poirot very effectively pulls you into the story, but it is his deftness at creating distinctive vocal personalities for every other character in the story that is truly amazing. I know that Kenneth Branagh narrated a new audiobook version in conjunction with his recent movie version of the story, but Suchet really inhabits Poirot much more successfully than Branagh, and I highly recommend his version of Death on the Nile. It is truly one of the “crown jewels” of Christie’s works.

 

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Suchet’s audiobook version of Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie. There have been multiple film/tv adaptations of this story, starring actors such as Peter Ustinov, David Suchet and Kenneth Branagh in the role of Poirot.)

 

( official Agatha Christie web site )

 

Read Kristen A.'s review of Death on the Nile in the February 2017 Staff Recommendations here on BookGuide!

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

 

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, you're invited to join us for this month's Just Desserts meeting tonight, March 28th, 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.


Tonight, we'll be discussing the the first six entries in the Flavia de Luce series by British author Alan Bradley.

 

Even if you haven't read any of the Flavia de Luce entries for this specific discussion, you can still participate, and learn about other great new mysteries to try! For more information, check out the Just Desserts schedule at https://lincolnlibraries.org/bookguide/book-groups/#justdesserts

Monday, March 25, 2024

Book Review: The Only One Left by Riley Sager + Just Desserts meeting reminder

The Only One Left
by Riley Sager (Sager)

When the libraries’ Just Desserts mystery fiction discussion group used Riley Sager’s The Only One Left as our book for discussion at the February 2024 meeting, it was my first time reading anything by thriller writer Riley Sager (a pseudonym for Todd Ritter), despite the fact that he’s had a string of hit novels in the past several years.

 

The Only One Left is definitely a psychological suspense thriller, with numerous twists and turns to its plot. After being penalized for a lapse of judgement which led to the death of her last client, home healthcare worker Kit McDeere is offered a “take it or kiss your job goodbye” position providing round-the-clock aid to reclusive and paralyzed senior Lenora Hope in her decaying old mansion on the Maine coast. The catch? Lenora Hope was the young woman who was the only survivor when her family was all killed when she was 17 — the police (and most of the populace) believe she killed the rest of her clan but could never prove it. But the case remained so notorious that a sing-song schoolyard chant permeates the local culture:

 

At seventeen, Lenora Hope Hung her sister with a rope Stabbed her father with a knife Took her mother’s happy life “It wasn’t me,” Lenora said But she’s the only one not dead

 

Kit’s introduction to the household has her meeting a colorful cast of supporting players, but it is initial interactions with the enfeebled Lenora, mute and paralyzed except for limited use of one of her arms/hands, that sets a series of mysterious events in motion. After building up some mutual trust, Kit helps Lenora use a typewriter, and one of her first messages is “I want to tell you everything”. But can Kit believe what Lenora types out? And is there anyone else who’d rather not have Lenora sharing secrets, even after 50 years have passed?

 

I fond The Only One Left to be a suspenseful, engaging story, filled with intriguing characters. Unfortunately, both I and most of the other Just Desserts attendees at our discussion agreed that we found the ending disappointing. But the journey of getting to that ending was still worth the trip!

 

( official Riley Sager web site )

 

See the handout The Works of Riley Sager prepared for the libraries Just Desserts mystery fiction discussion group

 

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

 

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, you're invited to join us for this month's Just Desserts meeting this Thursday, March 28th, 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. Tonight, we'll be discussing the the first six entries in the Flavia de Luce series by British author Alan Bradley.

 

Even if you haven't read any of the Flavia de Luce entries for this specific discussion, you can still participate, and learn about other great new mysteries to try! For more information, check out the Just Desserts schedule at https://lincolnlibraries.org/bookguide/book-groups/#justdesserts