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Cover art for Ready Player One

Ready Player One

Written by Ernest Cline

The premise of this book -- a perfect virtual reality simulation that's popular over the whole planet -- is becoming rapidly more believable everyday. I didn't expect the plot to keep up with such interesting world building, but the adventure story loaded with 80s pop culture and video game history kept me coming back for more. Previous generations pine over their elusive jetpacks, but I just want my VR visor and haptic gloves. Maybe next year?

Recommended by Max
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Hungry Johnny

Written by Cheryl Minnema
Illustrated by Wesley Ballinger

The author of Hungry Johnny is Cheryl Minnema. She's Ojibwe, and so is the illustrator, Wesley Ballinger. The story tells of an Ojibwe boy named Johnny. Who is--as the title suggests--hungry! In Hungry Johnny, Minnema presents a believable character throughout the story. Johnny is like many children: a busy, hungry little boy who must learn patience from his family members.
Johnny lives in a modern home. His grandma, in jeans, sweater, and a ball cap, is at an electric stove, and as Johnny plods to another room, we see hardwood floors and photographs on the wall. It allows the reader to see a contemporary Native child instead of an outdated stereotype.
Elders eat first, so Johnny has to wait. His grandma waits with him, telling him to be patient. He wonders why she's not eating with the elders, and she explains she is a "baby elder" that is "too young to be old and too old to be young.” I love that definition.
In both text and illustrations, the attitude-modeling is delivered in a gentle, non-lecturing way; it’s just a sweet, satisfying read.

Recommended by LouAnn
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20 Feet from Stardom

Written by Morgan Neville

20 Feet from Stardom tells the stories of some of the backup singers who, over the past half-century, have provided an integral part of the sound of rock and roll, R&B and pop music, largely without receiving much recognition, or sometimes without even being credited for their work. Director Neville Morgan interviews prolific backup singers such as Darlene Love, Merry Clayton and Lisa Fischer, who recall their remarkable and varied careers, and the amazing stories of their involvement in creating some of the best-known music of the 20th century, but also the struggles and low points, especially the heart-breakingly frequent failure to achieve success as solo artists. Interviews with various well-known musicians, such as Mick Jagger, Sting & Bette Midler are also included. Watch this one for the great stories, and of course, for the music.

Recommended by Catherine
Cover art for Visitation Street

Visitation Street

Written by Ivy Pochoda

Two girls, June and Val, best friends, decide one warm Brooklyn night to take a raft into the waters off the Brooklyn pier. Only one comes home.

This is the story of what happened, who bore the responsibility and how it affected everyone around them.

This is the story also of a Brooklyn that is transforming. A place of two separate communities that live side by side in an uneasy alliance. And then there is the third community moving in; a community of tourists, easy money and upscale hipsters. They aren't here yet but changes are coming.

Pochoda takes us into the girls' lives and thoughts, giving the reader a real sense of time and youth. And as the community is changing so are the neighborhood residents. Alliances are formed and enemies are made. But in easy time; this is a novel of soft atmospheres, warm breezes, dark nights, and dreams lost and found.

I loved the characters, including the Red Hook neighborhood of Brooklyn. This is a second novel of a very talented writer. I can't wait to see what comes next!

Recommended by Suzi
Cover art for The Last Policeman

The Last Policeman

Written by Ben Winters

What would you do if you knew that an asteroid was headed to Earth on a collision course? For Detective Hank Palace the answer is simple: solve what may or may not be a murder. Suicides have become so commonplace that most people don't even react and this includes the Detectives of Concord, NH.

When a body is found in the bathroom of a local McDonald's restaurant with a noose tied around its neck only Detective Palace questions the circumstances. After all, the world that exists now will vanish in several months. So who cares? He does, and with an unswerving sense of duty. After all, if this doesn't matter isn't the world already gone?

Winters captures his pre-apocalyptic world with amazing precision. Some people hide in fear, some people run chasing a time-limited future.

Believable characters, an interesting premise and an involving mystery make this a compelling read. Give it a chance and you will understand why Winters book won an Edgar for Best Paperback Original!

This is the first of a trilogy and the second is out - "Countdown City", now available at the JPL Downtown Branch. I suggest you read them in order as the second book is a true sequel, beginning where the Last Policemen leaves off.

Recommended by Suzi
Cover art for What the Dog Knows: The Science and Wonder of Working Dogs

What the Dog Knows: The Science and Wonder of Working Dogs

Written by Cat Warren

About one year after the death of her previous German shepherd, journalism professor Cat Warren decided she was ready for a new dog. Unfortunately, Solo, born without siblings, was the polar opposite of his predecessor: full of energy, resistant to conventional obedience training, and aggressive with other dogs. Eventually, an obedience trainer told Warren that what Solo really needed was a job, and Solo's career as a cadaver dog began. This book is not only the story of the process by which Solo and Warren learned how to find the bodies of missing people, but also an examination of working dogs of all types, and the human handlers who partner with them to do a variety of difficult (and sometimes unpleasant) jobs. All by itself, the story of Solo and the work he does is pretty amazing, but the addition of information on the science of canine sense of smell, and the history of humans and their canine partners make this book a fascinating read.

Recommended by Catherine
Cover art for Tearing Down the Wall of Sound: The Rise and Fall of Phil Spector

Tearing Down the Wall of Sound: The Rise and Fall of Phil Spector

Written by Mick Brown

Phil Spector's Wall of Sound was the music of my childhood. From Ronnie and the Ronettes (To Know Him is to Love Him), the Righteous Brothers (You've Lost that Lovin' Feelin'), to John Lennon (Happy Christmas, War is Over), George Harrison (My Sweet Lord), and the Rolling Stones (The Last Time) - all produced by Phil Spector.

So the music was GREAT. The man who produced all that lovely music however, was troubled. Mick Brown gives a very fair and unbiased look at what made Phil Spector. From his childhood to the trial for killing Lana Clarkson, we are given a unique look at his life. Without giving too much away, as we learn about his family, the events of his childhood, and how those events stayed with him his entire life, we develop an understanding of his trajectory. Phil is a total contradiction, make him an enemy and he will write you off, but he also could be an unswerving friend. Phil took Lenny Bruce under his protection and supported him while he lived, and buried him when he died.

I respect both his talent and the music he gave us. A strange, troubled man - one hopes he is able to find some happiness in his life. Is he guilty of killing Clarkson? I have no idea and Mick Brown does not address the issue of guilt or innocence either. He does relate Spector's fascination with and constant possession of guns.

Whether or not you are interested in the life and times of Phil Spector this book is engaging. It's a trip through musical history and the people and productions that made the soundtrack of America from the 1950's to the 1980's and on and on....

Recommended by Suzi
Cover art for The Ocean at the End of the Lane

The Ocean at the End of the Lane

Written by Neil Gaiman

My first Gaiman book and it was a winner! The main character returns to his home for a funeral and begins to drive past the place where his childhood home had been (it is gone) and follows the road to where it becomes a lane. The lane leads to a farm where the events of his childhood return to memory. As his memory returns he relates how those events changed his life forever. Magical and strange, this novella stays with you. It begins with death and ends with life. I've never read anything quite like it before.

Gaiman has a wonderful way expressing how a child would view the world; isolated and beset with mysterious occurrences, the boy (he is not named in the book) quietly reacts to the events around him sometimes with disastrous results.

While this is not a happy story, it is beautiful and poignant like a bittersweet chocolate. Read it and think of those ragged edges of childhood memory.

Recommended by Suzi
Cover art for The Information: A Theory, a History, a Flood

The Information: A Theory, a History, a Flood

Written by James Gleick

Gleick’s book is broad in scope -- providing a global history of information technology and its effects on the world today. The book is a blend of science, history, and biography that covers everything from the talking drums of Africa to the creation of the dictionary; from the development of computing to the discovery of DNA. More than just a history of information science, Gleick takes us through a history of communication and how radical inventions, such as the telegraph and telephone (not to mention the computer) completely remade cultural norms and had far-reaching, worldwide impacts. Most importantly, Gleick shows that “hardly any information technology goes obsolete” and understanding where we came from helps us get a handle on current technology and inventions.

At more than 500 pages this book covers a lot of ground, but Gleick has a way of explaining difficult and complex concepts in an easy to understand, and often humorous, manner. His mini-biographies on the various scientists and inventors who have pushed along information science are not to be missed, especially those of Charles Babbage, Ada Lovelace, and Claude Shannon. Highly recommended!

Recommended by Andi
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Happy People: A Year in the Taiga

Written by Werner Herzog

In this intriguing documentary, acclaimed filmmaker Werner Herzog follows hunters and trappers from the remote Siberian village of Bakhta through their seasonal routines in the isolated wilderness of the taiga.

The cinematography is beautiful and Herzog pays special attention to how the characters evolve emotionally throughout the year. He also captures simple yet precise observations of their lives. Culture, landscape, and the rhythm of each season are also important features of this film. To delve even deeper into the understanding of landscape and season, check out the special features.

Recommended by Beth

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