Thursday, December 18, 2014

Staff Recommendation #37 -- "The Grand Budapest Hotel"

Films from director Wes Anderson are not to everyone's liking. Until recently, they weren't completely mine either. They've slowly been growing on me and his latest, The Grand Budapest Hotel has made me a convert!

Wes Anderson is a darling of the indie film world with his unique storytelling style. Since his days as a student at the University of Texas, he's been making films; many with his good pal Owen Wilson. Their first collaboration was on a short film called Bottle Rocket (1994) which did well enough at the Sundance Film Festival that they turned it into a full length film which was released in 1996.

Minor successes followed with Rushmore (1998), The Royal Tenenbaums (2001), The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004) and The Darjeeling Limited (2007). He started getting even more critical and audience attention with the animated Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009) and Moonrise Kingdom (2012).

His latest film, The Grand Budapest Hotel, stars Ralph Fiennes in one of his finest performances. He plays M. Gustave, the concierge of the Grand Budapest Hotel, the finest and grandest hotel in Eastern Europe just before the start of the Second World War. He is well loved and respected by the guest and co-workers alike. Young Zero, the new lobby boy, comes to Gustave's attention and he takes the young man under his wing. Gustave plans on grooming Zero to be his successor some day.

Before that can happen, Gustave ends up in jail for the murder of a rich and titled widow who was quite found of Gustave. He must rely on Zero and Zero's girlfriend Agatha, the town baker's assistant, to free him. What follows is a mad cap and zany adventure of jail breaks, shoot outs and a wild race down a ski slope in a sleigh.

Family is a recurring theme in any Wes Anderson film, and this film is no exception. Gustave and Zero form a tight family unit, although more like brothers than father and son. This bond will help them through a few tight spots.

I don't claim to understand the technical aspects of making a film, but I know a unique vision when I see one and Wes Anderson sure has it. An Anderson film has a visual style all its own. He intertwines many different film making techniques into almost everyone of his films, such as stop motion animation, which is used frequently in The Grand Budapest Hotel.

I have to admit I'm not very familiar with Anderson's early films. I started to become a fan with Fantastic Mr. Fox and my admiration for his uncommon way of telling a story has continued to grow. The Grand Budapest Hotel, has made me a firm fan of Wes Anderson.

Request The Grand Budapest Hotel [DVD] from the Catalog.

Request Bottle Rocket [DVD] from the Catalog.

Request Rushmore [DVD] from the Catalog.

Request The Royal Tenenbaums [DVD] from the Catalog.

Request The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou [DVD] from the Catalog.

Request The Darjeeling Limited [DVD] from the Catalog.

Request Fantastic Mr. Fox [DVD] from the Catalog.

Request Moonrise Kingdom [DVD] from the Catalog.

--Post by Tracy

Monday, December 15, 2014

Sounds of the Season: Part III

Part Three of our "Sounds of the Season" music recommendations comes from Mark Hudson, Adult Services Librarian and today's guest poster:

I usually wait until December to start listening to holiday music, and the music I like tends to be fairly traditional -- old hymns and spirituals, jazz and rhythm and blues from the 1950s and 1960s. Even the newer music I listen to is strongly roots-based, as you can see from my list of favorites:

-- Oy Chanukah! (Klezmer Conservatory Band)

I'll start with Hanukkah, because it always comes before Christmas. Oy Chanukah!  includes lively klezmer versions of traditional Hanukkah songs, interspersed with reminiscences and explanations of Hanukkah traditions from immigrant elders and other sources. If you're looking for just one CD to celebrate Hanukkah, this is probably the one.

Request Oy Chanukah! from the Catalog

-- Woody Guthrie's Happy Joyous Hanukkah (Klezmatics)

In 1942, the renowned singer-songwriter and folk musician Woody Guthrie moved to Brooklyn. Through his mother-in-law, the influential Yiddish poet Aliza Greenblatt, he became involved with the Jewish community, and wrote songs about Hanukkah and other aspects of Jewish history and spiritual life. Woody's Hanukkah lyrics sat forgotten in archives for decades until they were rediscovered in 1998 by his daughter, Nora Guthrie, who asked the Klezmatics to write new music for them. Woody Guthrie's Happy Joyous Hanukkah deftly mixes klezmer with country, bluegrass, funk and jazz in a collection of songs that's almost certainly destined to become a perennial holiday classic.

Request Woody Guthrie's Happy Joyous Hanukkah from the Catalog

-- A Christmas Celtic Sojourn (Various Artists)

This album and its sequel, Comfort and Joy, have become two of my favorite Christmas music compilations. Musicians from all parts of the Celtic world perform an idiosyncratic mix of ancient and modern songs on traditional and modern instruments. Some of these songs are ethereal and contemplative, some are more raucous, but they're all beautiful and quite unusual -- definitely "off the beaten path," musically speaking. Even the few better-known melodies in the collection (e.g., "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear") are given unique interpretations and sound nothing like the more commonly-heard versions.

Request A Christmas Celtic Sojourn from the Catalog

-- Christmas in Bethlehem (Bach Choir of Bethlehem)

The Bach Choir of Bethlehem, PA was organized in 1898 and is the oldest Bach choir in the United States. This collection includes some well-known Christmas hymns, along with many others you may have not heard before!

Request Christmas in Bethlehem from the Catalog

-- Soul Christmas (Various Artists)

This absolutely must-have collection is a 1991 reissue, which includes eight of the eleven tracks on the original 1968 release, plus eleven newer songs from the vaults of Atlantic Records. The artist list comprises some of the most illustrious names in soul/R&B history: Clyde McPhatter and the Drifters, Carla Thomas, Booker T. & the M.G.'s, The Impressions, Otis Redding, Joe Tex, Solomon Burke, King Curtis and more.

Request Soul Christmas from the Catalog

-- Christmas Spirituals and Beautiful Star (Odetta)

Odetta, who Martin Luther King, Jr. once called "the queen of American folk music," recorded Christmas Spirituals at Carnegie Hall in 1960. In 1987, she re-recorded the same set of thirteen traditional and original spirituals in Burlington, Vermont, and the resulting CD was issued under the title Beautiful Star. The earlier recording is rougher, the later one more heavily produced. Both are magnificent.

Request Christmas Spirituals from the Catalog

Request Beautiful Star from the Catalog

-- Verve Presents: The Very Best of Christmas Jazz (Various Artists)

This is a collection of classic Christmas songs from the catalog of Verve Records. If you love jazz, this is the Christmas record for you! Artists presented include Ella Fitzgerald, Billy Eckstine, John Coltrane, Louis Armstrong, Count Basie, Dinah Washington and Oscar Peterson. Fitzgerald's version of "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" leads off the CD and is, without a doubt, my favorite version of that song ever recorded. Coltrane's version of "Greensleeves" is likewise not to be missed.

Request Verve Presents: The Very Best of Christmas Jazz from the Catalog

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Staff Recommendation #36: "Becker"

I like sit-coms, as you've probably gathered. I've mentioned several of my favorites in previous posts: The Big Bang Theory, Frasier, Everybody Loves Raymond

But I've never actually mentioned my favorite of all sit-coms, and that is the 1998-2004 CBS series Becker.

Becker and friends. 
(It's an unusual picture of Becker: he's smiling.)

Before Dr. Gregory House, there was Becker. A brilliant Harvard Med School graduate who was a rising star in the world of medical research, John Becker gave it all up to open a small family practice in the Bronx. His office is run by Margaret, a good-humored and no-nonsense registered nurse, and Linda, an office assistant whose airhead nature is, fortunately, offset by her big heart.

Aside from the doctor's office, Becker spends plenty of time at a nearby diner. There, we meet Jake, Becker's best buddy, who lost his sight in a car accident when he was a teenager, and Reggie, who serves as both the diner's owner and staff. There's other supporting cast members, too: the patients, the customers, and the people of the neighborhood -- all who, as often as not, end up on the receiving end of one of Becker's tirades.

Because oh, are there tirades. While we're never exactly certain what made Becker turn his back on his rising career in the big leagues for the smaller prospects of an obscure family practice, we can at least be sure his fellow researchers weren't sorry to see him go. If there's one thing you can say about Becker, it's that he is, to put it kindly, an opinionated soul:

"The world is full of idiots, and someone needs to point it out to them or they will never know."

"The [New York City] Marathon just gets my hopes up. At first it seems like 20,000 idiots are leaving the city, but then they just make a big loop and come right back."

"What is the matter with you people?!  This is a movie!  You're here to listen to the actors talk!  That's why the seats face the screen, and not each other!"

"Romance is like the cheese in the mousetrap -- it baits you into position so the cold, metal bar of reality can come down and snap your neck."

"I never told you to shut up."
"You hung up on me once!"
"So I didn't have to tell you to shut up."

"I have this friend -- well, we aren't really friends. We just share custody of an ex-wife."

"If you and I were the only people on the face of the Earth, that would be the only thing we'd have in common."

"That's the problem with the world!  Everybody says, 'Everybody does it,' so everybody does it!"

"Someday you'll look back on this and laugh!"
"Maybe I will. But before then, I will kill you. And then I'll use my powers as a physician to bring you back to life. And then, I will kill you again."

Like Dr. House, it's an almost cathartic experience to watch Becker rant and rave about life's little indignities, which are unfailingly hilarious and utterly relatable. But if there was no more to Becker than frustrated outbursts and angry tirades, I doubt the show would've hooked me. What really made Becker special to me is that our title character has a far bigger heart than his gruff exterior would lead one to believe.

For all his anger, Becker is a guy who genuinely cares -- not just for his patients, but for the friends he's managed to find who can tolerate his rather abrasive personality. (Reggie and Company are all pretty adept at simply ignoring him, which is generally the best tactic for dealing with Becker when he's in full-rant mode.) Many episodes give us an example of Becker acting out of genuine compassion: baby-sitting a neighbor's kids for the evening when she's got nowhere else to turn, quietly paying for a patient's specialist care out of his own pocket, lending a gruff but sympathetic ear to his friends as they navigate through their own struggles. Becker may be an opinionated soul -- but his friends find him worth the rough edges.

Becker himself was not the only engaging character. My personal favorite was Reggie, a former model who's back in New York after inheriting her dad's diner -- and, with it, her dad's most faithful customer: Becker himself. Reggie is a smart, independent thirtysomething who is also confronting the reality of her life not quite turning out the way she had expected it to, and we see her struggle to decide what she really wants for herself and her future.

Real depth of character extended to the rest of the cast and storylines, and such real-world issues as poverty, the AIDs epidemic, race, ableism, and political correctness were tackled throughout the show's six-season run. With its ability to balance the serious with the satirical, the weightiest of issues with the simplest of day-to-day routine, the result was a unique blend of philosophy and fun that I've rarely encountered in other sit-coms.

Besides, we've all got a little bit of Becker in us.

"Just when I think God couldn't screw me any further, He gets out the old Black & Decker and twists a little harder!"
"Interesting. You're being persecuted by a God you don't believe in."
"That's why He's after me, Margaret."

Request the first season of Becker from the Catalog

-- Post by Ms. B 

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Honorable Mentions

Charles Dickens is rightly remembered for such beloved classics as Great Expectations and Oliver Twist -- but his most famous work remains A Christmas Carol. First published on December 17, 1843, the story tells the tale of the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge, and the three Christmas ghosts who appear throughout Christmas Eve night to warm his heart -- and save his soul. It's been adapted dozens of time for stage and screen, and has become an undeniable staple of the holiday season.

But did you know that A Christmas Carol wasn't Dickens's only ghost story?  Dickens actually wrote a variety of stories featuring ghosts -- some of which, like The Signal-Man, could be considered outright horror thrillers. (The title character of The Signal-Man works on the railway, and is haunted by a specter who appears before him every time a terrible event is to occur.)

Dickens is not the only author whose own wild success actually overshadowed some of his lesser-known efforts. Here are five more authors whose littler-known works are still undeniably worthwhile:

~ Louisa May Alcott's Thrillers

She's best remembered for writing titles that might now be considered part of the "young adult" genre -- classics like Little Women and Eight Cousins. But Louisa May Alcott wrote several stories for older audiences, usually under the pen name "A. M. Barnard" -- and many of those works were not only thrillers, but stories that dealt with radical issues of nineteenth-century sexism and the constraints of society and culture.

Her most critically-acclaimed work is, arguably, the thriller novella Behind a Mask. The story details the life of Jean Muir, a character with a shady past (she was formerly an actress, a considerably more scandalous profession in the nineteenth century) who has reached her thirtieth birthday still a spinster. And then she finds one last chance to fulfill society's expectations of her: she takes the job of governess in a house with two unmarried sons and one unmarried uncle. She means to adopt the mask of a "little woman" herself -- appearing the perfect example of a polite, respectable young lady (she wins her place as governess with a feigned fainting spell in front of the family) until she ensnares a husband. But Jean's motives are far more clever, and downright manipulative, than what you'd see from the March sisters -- though this may not stop you from rooting for her!

Request Behind a Mask from the Catalog

~ Edgar Allan Poe's Detective Stories

Sherlock Holmes is the name we remember, but C. Ausguste Dupin got there first. While Conan Doyle drew on several inspirations for his Sherlock Holmes character (including his med-school professor Dr. Joseph Bell), he was always quick to praise Edgar Allan Poe for his detective stories that paved the way for Sherlock Holmes. ("Where was the detective story," Conan Doyle once asked, "until Poe breathed the breath of life into it?")

Poe is remembered as the master of horror, but he actually wrote in a wide variety of genres, including science fiction and detective stories. In the latter category, he produced three short stories: Murders in the Rue Morgue, The Mystery of Marie Roget, and my personal favorite, The Purloined Letter. The stories star Dupin, an amateur detective (although the word "detective" had not yet been invented) who assisted the police in a trio of bizarre investigations. He's accompanied in his adventures by our unnamed narrator, who serves as Dupin's closest friend and our window into Dupin's world.

Request the Dupin stories from the Catalog

~ Conan Doyle's Historical Fiction

Most Sherlock Holmes fans already know about Arthur Conan Doyle's love-hate relationship with his most famous fictional creation. While Conan Doyle ultimately seemed to be fond enough of his consulting detective (and also loved writing about the adventures of Professor Challenger in such tales as The Lost World), he always considered his best and most important works to be his historical fiction.

Such historical works include extensively-researched novels like The White Company and Sir Nigel, both set during the Hundred Years' War between the royal houses of England and France. There was also Micah Clarke, a coming-of-age story set in seventeenth-century England that details the religious and political tension of the time; and a series of comical short stories about Brigadier Gerard, a soldier in the French Army during the Napoleonic Wars, who Conan Doyle used to comment on the stereotypes and prejudices that the British and French had for one another.

Request The White Company from the Catalog

Request Sir Nigel from the Catalog

Request Micah Clarke from the Catalog

Request the Brigadier Gerard stories from the Catalog

~ Agatha Christie's Love Stories

Agatha Christie remains the best-selling novelist of all time, beloved for her classic mysteries like And Then There Were None and Murder on the Orient Express, as well as such characters as Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple. But while she has come to be affectionately known as "the Queen of Crime" due to her incredible skills in the mystery genre, she also wrote half a dozen novels of a different sort entirely.

Using the pen name "Mary Westmacott," Christie wrote a series of romance and family stories, referring to them as "bitter-sweet stories about love." The books enjoyed modest success -- much to Christie's delight, as the novels succeeded under their own merits and not due to her name being on the cover (her identity as Westmacott would remain hidden for nearly two decades). She wrote the Westmacott books throughout her life, telling stories that focused not only on romance, but on family relationships between parents and children or between siblings. The results were among the works she was most proud of.

Read an essay about "Mary Westmacott" written by Rosalind Hicks, Christie's daughter

Request Westmacott books from the Catalog

~ Michael Crichton's Medical Thrillers

Before he was a best-selling author of such novels as The Andromeda Strain and Jurassic Park, Michael Crichton was a med student. But while he was earning his MD from Harvard Medical School, Crichton had his first publishing success, writing under the pen names "Jeffery Hudson" and "John Lange."

He published ten mystery thrillers that sold well enough to help pay his way through med school -- no mean feat, as any pressed-for-time med student could tell you. While Crichton viewed them mostly as pulpy entertainment ("I write them fast and the reader reads them fast and I get things off my back," he explained in a 1969 interview), they showcased his skill at engaging characters and tightly-plotted storylines, not to mention a love of research and accuracy. Though Crichton successfully graduated with his MD, it's not surprising to know he turned to writing full-time -- always incorporating his love of science into his stories.

Read more about Michael Crichton's "med school" thrillers

Request A Case of Need from the Catalog

-- Post by Ms. B 

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Sounds of the Season: Part II

When it comes to Christmas music, I am a traditionalist. I like the standards from the 40s and 50s and many of the stars who sang them. There have been some new songs along the way that haven't been bad, but not enough to make me stray from my old standbys.  As you will see with my list of holiday favorites, there may be a few "newer" singers and musicians, but they are still singing the oldies but goodies!

-- Johnny Mathis

Of all the Christmas albums I have listened to in my lifetime, there is none better than Merry Christmas by Johnny Mathis. Mathis, known for such hits as Chances Are and It's Not For Me To Say, has released several Christmas albums throughout his long career, but none could top that first album released in 1958. Merry Christmas combines traditional Christmas songs with more modern tunes. If you listen to the album on vinyl, as I did growing up, you'll hear the modern songs on the first side with the traditional songs on the second side.

This is one of the first albums I can every remember listening to and was well worn from the numerous times it was played.

Request Merry Christmas from the Catalog

Request Sending You A Little Christmas from the Catalog

Request The Christmas Album from the Catalog

-- Harry Connick, Jr.

I have been a fan of Harry Connick Jr. for a very long time and I own most of his albums. But my favorite album of his just might be When My Heart Finds Christmas, the first of three Christmas albums from Connick. While the other two are fine recordings, this one has a wonderful combination of traditional and original songs. 

My favorites are (It Must've Been Ol') Santa Claus, What Are You Doing New Year's Eve? and the title track, When My Heart Finds Christmas

-- A Charlie Brown Christmas

If there is someone not aware of this very special 1965 Christmas special, they must be living under a rock. As a kid I couldn't wait for this to be on television. And now as an adult I still feel the same! Besides being a Peanuts fan, I've grown to love the music as much as the show. 

A Charlie Brown Christmas was the first of many collaborations between Vince Guaraldi and the producers of the Peanuts specials. They wanted a different sound than the usual cartoon music and boy, did they ever get that! The jazz trio created a very atmospheric and beautiful accompaniment to Charlie Brown's quest to find the true meaning of Christmas.

-- Barenaked Ladies

This wonderful eclectic collection of Christmas and Hanukkah songs comes from one of my favorite bands. The band includes several very traditional songs, like Jingle Bells and God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman/We Three Kings (with Sarah McLachlan). There are also quite a few covers of more contemporary Christmas favorites like Do They Know It's Christmas? and Wonderful Christmastime

But for me the highlight are the original songs such as Elf's Lament (with Michael Buble), Hanukkah Blessings and Green Christmas. If you are looking for something just a little bit different, but still somewhat traditional, this is the album for you!

--Post by Tracy

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Sounds of the Season: Part I

I love Christmas music. I rarely make it until after Thanksgiving before I break out the Christmas albums, and I've been known to listen to Carol of the Bells or Star of Bethlehem during the middle of the summer.

But as much as I love The Little Drummer Boy and Merry Christmas, Darling -- there are quite a few Christmas albums I cherish that don't fit the conventional mold. Read on for my holiday music recommendations:

-- Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas: The 2000 soundtrack

Though I'm a big Jim Carrey fan, I confess that his live-action How the Grinch Stole Christmas is not my personal cup of tea. That doesn't stop me from loving the soundtrack, however, which features original Christmas-themed songs from the Barenaked Ladies, Ben Folds, Smash Mouth, Faith Hill, and the Trans-Siberian Orchestra.

The songs are mostly not featured in the film, yet still retain a very Grinch-y flavor; if Christmas is not your favorite time of year, you may be able to relate!  But there's plenty for Christmas-lovers here, too -- including an updated version of You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch, sung by Jim Carrey himself. (And, whatever your feelings on Jim Carrey, the truth remains: the guy can sing.)

Perfect for Scrooges and Tiny Tims alike, this album is the first one I reach for come Christmastime.

Request the Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas soundtrack from the Catalog

-- A Colbert Christmas

In 2008, Stephen Colbert (of The Colbert Report) did a Comedy Central Christmas special entitled A Colbert Christmas, complete with original Christmas songs and a plethora of musical guest stars that included Willie Nelson, John Legend, Feist, and Elvis Costello. The songs are both utterly hilarious -- the album won a Grammy for Best Comedy Album -- but also ridiculously catchy. The satire flies strong, with Colbert's "Another Christmas Song" poking gentle fun at Christmas commercialism and Feist's "Please Be Patient" using a Christmas carol standard as telemarketing muzak. (It's funnier than it sounds.)

My favorite tunes feature Colbert in duets with his guest stars. There's "Can I Interest You In Hannukah?" as performed with fellow comedy show host Jon Stewart. And then there's Colbert's duet with Elvis Costello, in the funny and surprisingly philosophical "There Are Much Worse Things to Believe In." If you're looking for some humor this holiday, give A Colbert Christmas a try.

-- A Christmas Story: The Musical

Based on the holiday classic A Christmas Story, the adapted musical was first performed over 25 years after the film was first released. I've not seen the musical itself, but as a big fan of show tunes, I've checked out the soundtrack. And I'm pleased to report that, while not every song is instantly memorable, there are a whole host of selections that are: "Genius of Cleveland Street," "Up on Santa's Lap," and "When You're a Wimp," among others.

You don't have to be familiar with the original film to appreciate the tunes on the album -- particularly the opening number, "Counting Down to Christmas." If parents are frantic to get ready for the season in time, our protagonist, Ralphie, is equally frantic: he's running out of time to make his Christmas gift wishes known to his parents. After all, what's a boy who just wants an Official Red Ryder Carbine-Action Range Model Air Rifle BB gun (with a compass and a stock and this thing that tells time) to do??  It's Christmas from a kid's point of view, and, for the most part, the music captures that world beautifully.

Request the Christmas Story soundtrack from the Catalog

-- Mr. Hankey's Christmas Classics

I recently mentioned my affection for the rude, crude, classic animated series South Park. The show runners have done a number of holiday-themed episodes, but my favorite is their musical installment, Mr. Hankey's Christmas Classics. Styled like a (rather unconventional) variety show, the episode features ten holidays standards with a decided South Park twist, including O Tannenbaum, Carol of the Bells, O Holy Night, and a version of Dreidel Dreidel Dreidel sung in rounds. (The album version of the episode features an additional eight songs.)

This being South Park, most of the songs are warped to humorous effect, making for holiday music filled with the show's typical irreverent humor. For those familiar with South Park, however, it's all part of the fun, making this an ideal holiday treat for fans.

Request Christmas Time in South Park [DVD] from the Catalog

-- Straight No Chaser

A professional a cappella group, SNC first came to prominence with their holiday-themed music, performed with only vocal back-up. Though they have since released other albums, they remain best-known for their holiday offerings.

Rather than detract from the sound, the a cappella approach offers a wholly unique performance, with singers in the place of instruments creating the songs' back-up. With a handful of delightfully fun unique pieces, Straight No Chaser is an unconventional take on classic carols. Not to be missed!

Request Holiday Spirits from the Catalog

Request Christmas Cheers from the Catalog

Request Under the Influence from the Catalog

-- Post by Ms. B 

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Giving Thanks: 2014 Edition

As we approach Thanksgiving Day, your friendly neighborhood Library bloggers are here to tell you what they're most thankful for this year ...


-- Orphan Black (BBC America)

Just what I needed -- another television show to obsess about. But once I got into it, there was no turning back for me with Orphan Black. This Canadian-produced show became a huge hit for BBC America in the spring of 2013. Actress Tatiana Maslany stars as Sarah, a street-wise single mother desperately attempting to get her act together so she can get her daughter back. She discovers that she is not as alone as she thought she was. After witnessing the suicide of Beth, a woman who looks exactly like her, Sarah finds that she is one of many clones who have been placed with a variety of families. And now, someone is trying to kill them off, one by one.

The show can be a little out there at times, but the heart of the show is about families and relationships. First off is Sarah's relationship with her daughter, Kira, and her foster brother, Felix. And then there are the other clones, each one more unique than the last. From hippy scientist Cosima to control freak Allison to trained assassin Helena, television has never really seen the likes of them before. The most amazing part of the show is the fact that Ms. Maslany plays every one of the clones. Sometimes it's easy to forget that they are not different actresses playing these parts. She is truly amazing.

So, for this wild and never-boring show, I am very thankful!

Click here to request Season One and Two of Orphan Black from the Catalog

-- The Guardians of the Galaxy Soundtrack

Guardians of the Galaxy was a lot of fun, but far from the best superhero film I've ever seen. However, I absolutely LOVED the soundtrack! These are the songs of my youth. I was pleasantly surprised throughout the entire movie with 70s hit after 70s hit blaring throughout the theater.

Listening to the soundtrack makes me so happy and takes me back to a much simpler time in my life, when all I had to worry about was whether I wanted to go out and play, watch TV or listen to 13Q on my brand-new clock radio. For the past several months, this has been my go-to music to cheer me up, help me to clean my house and to just pass the time.

My favorites are Come and Get Your Love by Redbone, Hooked on a Feeling by Blue Swede, Fooled Around and Fell in Love by Elvin Bishop and I Want You Back by the Jackson 5.

For these songs, and the whole soundtrack, I am truly thankful.

Click here to request Guardians of the Galaxy: Awesome Mix Vol. 1 from the Catalog

-- Comic Books

This past year, I rediscovered my love of comic books. Not that I was ever a huge fan of the genre, but as a kid, and even into my teens, there were several comic books that I liked. Of course, I loved to read just about anything, so it's really no surprise that the stories were more important to me than the artwork. While I can't remember every comic book that I read, I know that I liked a wide variety of them. One of my favorites as a teen was The Fantastic Four.

Now I'm mostly reading comic books with characters I already know from television shows (Doctor Who, The X Files, Sleepy Hollow). I've also been reading graphic novels like Snowpiercer by Jacques Lob, The Books of Magic by Neil Gaiman and The Intergalactic Nemesis by Jason Neulander.

For rediscovering my love of comic books, I am thankful.

Click here to request The X-Files Season 10 from the Catalog

-- Honorable Mention: The Phryne Fisher Series by Kerry Greenwood

For finding a new mystery series to check out, I am thankful! Thanks, Ms. B!

Read Ms. B's review of this series here.


-- Interstellar (Directed by Christopher Nolan)

When I heard that Christopher Nolan -- one of my favorite filmmakers -- was doing a movie about space travel, I could not have been more excited. So when I say Interstellar exceeded my wildest expectations, that is no mean feat.

There's no need to spoil the plot; I've found that Nolan movies are at their most effective when the story beats and plot twists come as a surprise. What I can tell you is that, as a lifelong enthusiast for all things related to astronomy and space travel, watching Interstellar on an IMAX screen was the emotional equivalent of buying a first-class ticket on board the next space shuttle. This was the first film that made me feel just how overpoweringly vast, immensely lonely, and awesomely mind-bending space really is. The alien worlds were more alien, the cost to visit them more extreme. It makes for a story that feels like a true window into the possibilities of uncharted territory -- along with a great set of characters, a crackerjack plot, an emotional core that deeply resonates, and a fantastically sarcastic robot.

So, for a sci-fi film that gave my imagination a ride through the final frontier, I am truly thankful!

Click here to request the making-of book Interstellar -- Beyond Time and Space: Inside Christopher Nolan's Sci-Fi Epic by Mark Cotta Vaz from the Catalog

-- Eighteen Years of South Park

As often as not, I try to keep my affection for South Park under wraps. Convincing non-fans that this rude, crude, foul-mouthed, and all-around irreverent television show is anything more than its surface appearance can often prove something of a challenge.

But what started life as a rather simple animated television show (that is absolutely not intended for children) has grown into something more than a showcase for swear words and crude humor. Don't get me wrong; there's still plenty of that. But for years now, South Park has been used by its creators (Trey Parker and Matt Stone) to offer biting social commentary on a wide variety of issues --  politics, religion, freedom of speech, the environment, poverty, sexism, prejudice, and, at the core of it all, childhood.

South Park's continual ability to provide all that and more, while still telling good stories filled with irreverent humor, is an incredible feat. All the more stunning is their track record. As this year's eighteenth season continues, many of the episodes are on par with the best work Parker and Stone have ever done.

South Park can't last forever, but for now, it's going strong -- and, for that, I'm quite thankful!

Click here to request Season 17 of South Park from the Catalog

-- Loki: Agent of Asgard (by Al Ewing and Lee Garbett)

"You are your own worst enemy." The saying's a cliché for the best of reasons: it's so utterly true. For most of us, the person who holds us back from reaching our full potential is ourselves.

It's a concept that forms the backbone of the story being told in the pages of Marvel's new comic Loki: Agent of Asgard. If you've seen the Marvel movies, you already know that Loki is not only the kid brother of the heroic Thor -- he's also a jealous megalomaniac who is bent on conquest, revenge, and all your usual boilerplate bad-guy schemes.

... or at least, he used to be that guy. Now, after a rather complicated series of events, Loki finds himself on the path to redemption. He's got a fresh new outlook, and he's keen to do what he can to make up for his past ways. But there's a few problems along the way -- including an older version of Loki himself, traveling through time to lure this new and improved Loki back to his former ways.

It all makes for a unique, heartbreaking, and undeniably fun story that explores the struggle to keep the world from stuffing you into its own expectations of who you really are ... and what you have to do to find your own path to the truest version of yourself. It's a story that resonates with me more than any other comic I've ever read -- which, as a lifelong comics fan, is truly saying something.

With crackerjack writing and stunningly emotive artwork, it all makes me quite thankful for the Agent of Asgard.

Click here to request Loki: Agent of Asgard - Vol 1 from the Catalog

-- Honorable Mention: The Martian by Andy Weir

For introducing me to one of my new all-time favorite novels, I am thankful. Thanks, Tracy!

Read Tracy's review of The Martian here.

And, of course, Dancing Groot. Who isn't thankful for Dancing Groot?

-- Post by Tracy and Ms. B