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Friday, November 16, 2018

Bohemian Rhapsody Puts Queen Back in the Spotlight

Written by Jon Williams

Now going into its third weekend in theatres, moviegoers still can’t stop talking about Bohemian Rhapsody. The film has made over $110 million at the box office to date, already making it one of the biggest musical biopics of all time. Detailing the story of Freddie Mercury and Queen from the band’s formation in 1970 through their astonishing 1985 Live Aid performance, the movie has spurred a resurgence of interest in Queen’s timeless music.

Band members Brian May and Roger Taylor were performing together in the band Smile until Mercury joined them in 1970, when they took the name Queen. When bassist John Deacon joined in 1971, the lineup was complete. In 1973, they released their eponymous debut album, Queen, which drew some critical acclaim but otherwise garnered little attention. That started to change with the follow-up, 1974’s Queen II, which contained their first U.K. hit, “Seven Seas of Rhye,” a finished version of an instrumental track from the first album. That album’s cover art would become perhaps the most iconic image associated with the band. Their second album of 1974, Sheer Heart Attack, and its lead single “Killer Queen” helped to establish their classic sound, and brought them success in North America as well.

From there it was a rocket ship to the top as Queen produced one radio smash after another. Their fourth album, 1975’s A Night at the Opera, was the most expensive ever produced at the time. It contained the epic six-minute style mishmash “Bohemian Rhapsody,” which gave the movie its name. Their next album, the sequel A Day at the Races, spawned the hit “Somebody to Love.” And then came 1977’s News of the World, and with it, perhaps their most well-known, biggest hit: the anthem “We Will Rock You” and the accompanying ballad “We Are the Champions.” But the hits didn’t stop there—far from it. The 1978 album Jazz included such songs as “Fat Bottomed Girls,” “Bicycle Race,” and “Don’t Stop Me Now,” while 1980’s The Game brought “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” and “Another One Bites the Dust.” Then they showed off their versatility by finishing off 1980 with the soundtrack for the sci-fi movie Flash Gordon.

One of Queen’s big hits happened spontaneously, as David Bowie came into their studio to sing backup on a track—that performance was nixed, but while he was there, they wrote and recorded “Under Pressure.” That appears on their 1982 album Hot Space. The different sound on the album was a source of contention between Mercury and the rest of the band, and they took a break from performing live while they worked on a new album and pursued side projects. They came back with The Works in 1984, containing “Radio Ga Ga” and “I Want to Break Free.” In July of 1985 came their celebrated performance at the benefit concert Live Aid, which ranked in a 2005 poll as the greatest rock performance of all time. Energized, they recorded the 1986 album A Kind of Magic. That was followed by their final tour with Mercury, where they played to record crowds. In 1989 they released The Miracle, and followed it in 1991 with Innuendo. Mercury, who had been ill for some time, passed away later that year. Nevertheless, the band had enough leftover material, including songs recorded during previous album sessions, for Made in Heaven, released in 1995.

The movie’s popularity has brought Queen’s music back to the forefront—the soundtrack is at #3 on the current Billboard albums chart, the highest position for the band in 38 years, since The Game hit #1 in 1980. It has also brought the song “Bohemian Rhapsody” back into the Hot 100, making it just the second song to chart in three different decades (in addition to its original 1976 release, it also charted in 1992 due to its inclusion in the movie Wayne’s World). It speaks to the fact that Queen’s music is timeless, and your patrons will be looking for it now as they learn about the band and its amazing lead singer due to the incredibly popular movie. Use the links above to find their studio albums, and SmartBrowse the band’s name on our website to find their acclaimed live albums and video of their performances. And for patrons who want to dig more into their history, check out the audiobook Queen Unseen by Peter Hince.

Friday, October 19, 2018

Classic Horror Fiction in the Spotlight

Written by Jon Williams

There were no new episodes of Stranger Things this year, with Season 3 of the popular show not coming until 2019. Television lovers looking for their fix of a creepy show to binge watch to get them in the Halloween spirit, however, are in luck anyway. The latest sensation is The Haunting of Hill House, a loose adaptation of Shirley Jackson’s classic 1959 horror novel, bringing it into the modern day and spreading it across ten episodes exploring the lives of a family who spent a fateful summer in the titular house and the rest of their lives dealing with the aftermath. Show creator Mike Flanagan is well known to horror fans, with movies like Oculus and Ouija: Origin of Evil to his credit. He also recently adapted the Stephen King novel Gerald’s Game, and is working on the author’s Doctor Sleep (coming in 2020) as well.

The show is certain to spur new interest in Shirley Jackson’s novel, and the author’s other works are great for this time of year as well. One such novel is We Have Always Lived in the Castle, a gothic murder mystery from 1962. She also wrote a non-fiction exploration of the Salem Witch Trials, The Witchcraft of Salem Village, in 1956. All of these titles are available in the audio format on hoopla as well, as is a collection of short stories that includes “The Lottery,” perhaps her most famous and chilling work.

This is also a great time to promote other classic horror fiction to your patrons. That begins, of course, with Mary Shelley’s 1823 novel Frankenstein. This story of a creature cobbled together and animated by a young scientist has been adapted any number of times over the years, perhaps most famously in 1931 with Boris Karloff as the monster. The most recent, 2015’s Victor Frankenstein, starred James McAvoy as Dr. Frankenstein and Daniel Radcliffe as his assistant Igor. Starting in 2005, bestselling novelist Dean Koontz (an author whose work horror fans would do well to explore) put out a five-book series bringing Frankenstein and his monster into modern times.

And of course, it’s impossible to mention Frankenstein without also mentioning Dracula, the seminal vampire novel published in 1897 by Bram Stoker. Like Frankenstein, Dracula too received a 1931 adaptation, with Bela Lugosi in the starring role, although an earlier, unlicensed adaptation, Nosferatu, rivals that version as the most famous. The vampire novel is one of the most enduring horror traditions, with iconic tales like Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend and Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire just two examples. More recently, Canadian author Dacre Stoker has taken up the tale originated by his ancestor, co-authoring 2009’s Dracula, the Un-Dead, a direct sequel to the original, and the just-released Dracul, a prequel written in part from documents Bram Stoker left behind.

And this is just scratching the surface of classic horror. Other works include the stories of Edgar Allan Poe, The Turn of the Screw by Henry James, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irvine,  At the Mountains of Madness by H.P. Lovecraft, Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury, and The Woman in Black by Susan Hill, to name just a few. And although they’re perhaps more well known for their terrifying movie adaptations, Ira Levin’s Rosemary’s Baby and William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist bear mention as well. There’s a lot to choose from for those who love things that go bump in the night. What are some of your and/or your patrons’ favourites? Let us know!

Friday, October 5, 2018

Celebrate 15 Years of The Walking Dead

Written by Jon Williams

On October 8, 2003, The Walking Dead issue #1 hit comic shops everywhere. Coming right on the heels of the acclaimed movie 28 Days Later, it helped start a snowball effect to begin the zombie craze that is still building to this day. Now, The Walking Dead is still going strong as a comic series, with issue #184 coming out earlier this week, and creator Robert Kirkman saying the end is still “far away off.” In conjunction with the fifteenth anniversary of the first issue’s release, October 13 has been designated as Walking Dead Day. To help your library celebrate with your patrons, here’s a look at the pop culture phenomenon that The Walking Dead has become.

The namesake television series The Walking Dead premiered, fittingly enough, on Halloween, October 31, 2010. Like the comic, it centered on Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln), a small-town sheriff who awakes from a coma to find the hospital he is in, as well as the world outside, overrun by zombies. His life becomes a fight for survival as he struggles to figure out what’s going on and search for other survivors, particularly his family. The show has been a sensation, breaking viewership records for a cable series, and has gone on through its various seasons to explore the threat posed by other human survivors, personified by such memorable villains as the Governor (David Morrissey) and Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), as well as the ever-present zombie menace. This Sunday, October 7, the ninth season debuts, with this being notable as Andrew Lincoln’s last, as the show will shift its focus to Daryl (Norman Reedus) and Maggie (Lauren Cohan) as they attempt to lead the survivors.

With the show’s success, it’s no surprise that it has spawned a spinoff of its own. Unlike The Walking Dead, which began more or less with the zombie apocalypse already underway, Fear the Walking Dead explores what it was like to experience the world descending into chaos. Debuting in August of 2015, it follows Madison (Kim Dickens) and Travis (Cliff Curtis) as they try desperately to keep their family alive and together. The fourth season, which just concluded on September 30, brought the two shows together with the introduction of Morgan, a character originated by Lennie James in the first season of The Walking Dead and brought back in season 5. Fear the Walking Dead has been picked up for its own fifth season, as it and the original show seem poised to continue far into the future.

The Walking Dead began its life in the comic format, but it has expanded into other areas of publishing as well. In 2011, the novel Rise of the Governor brought the backstory of that intriguing villain to life, and it was followed by The Road to Woodbury and The Fall of the Governor Parts 1 and 2 to round out the story arc. Series creator Robert Kirkman teamed up with writer Jay Bonansinga to tell the Governor’s story, and then Bonansinga continued on with four more novels: Descent, Invasion, Search and Destroy, and Return to Woodbury. Fans of the comic series and the show won’t want to miss these stories that delve into the niches of beloved characters and settings.

With so much content available, and plenty more on the way, fans of The Walking Dead are everywhere, and they’ll be looking for ways to celebrate on October 13. Make sure you have plenty of zombie-related media on your shelves for them to check out. And for those who just can’t wait, point them toward hoopla, where they can find Jay Bonansinga’s audiobooks, as well as the entire comic series, available with no holds and no waiting.

Friday, September 28, 2018

Plenty for Beatles Fans to Be Excited About

Written by Jon Williams

Paul McCartney’s latest album, Egypt Station, came out on September 7. It was his first release of new material since 2013’s NEW. As hard as it may be to believe, based on his iconic career, Egypt Station was Sir Paul’s first solo release to debut at #1 on Billboard’s album chart, and the first to attain that position at all in 36 years, since 1982’s Tug of War got there more than a month after its release.

Although this is his first new album in five years, he has been anything but idle in the meantime. In that span he released remastered editions of his classic albums Venus and Mars and Wings’ At the Speed of Sound (2014), Pipes of Peace and the aforementioned Tug of War (2015), and Flowers in the Dirt (2017), as well as putting together the post-Beatles career-spanning hits collection Pure McCartney. All of this on top of his constant tour schedule, and it’s hard to believe this man is 76 years old.

Another project McCartney had a hand in is the upcoming 50th anniversary re-release of the Beatles’ seminal self-titled ninth album, familiarly known as “The White Album” due to its plain white album cover with just the band’s name embossed on it. Originally released as a double album on November 22, 1968, the new edition will be available on November 9 in two configurations. A 3-disc set will include the original album plus the “Esher Demos,” a set of 27 songs recorded acoustically at George Harrison’s home (some of which were included on Anthology 3). The 6-disc deluxe edition includes all of that as well as outtakes and demos from the album’s recording sessions, plus a Blu-ray featuring the original mono mix of the album, the new stereo mix, and a 5.1 surround-sound mix. This comes on the heels of last year’s similar anniversary release of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

And that’s not all that’s on the horizon for fans of the Beatles and their solo careers. Coming next week, in celebration of what would have been his 78th birthday on October 9, are new Ultimate Editions of John Lennon’s classic 1971 album Imagine. On the strength of its title track, it has proved to be his most popular solo album. The reissue will include a remastered standard edition, a 2-disc edition that includes B-sides and outtakes, and a Super Deluxe version that explores the evolution of each song through four CDs and bonus Blu-ray content. In addition, the films Imagine and Gimme Some Truth have been restored and are being re-released on DVD and Blu-ray at the same time. The project was overseen by Yoko Ono, Lennon’s widow and creative partner.

The Beatles’ popularity continues unabated more than 48 years after they broke up, and their music, both as a band and from their individual solo careers, truly is a gift that keeps on giving. Your patrons will be clamouring for the new album from Paul McCartney, as well as these explorations of the Beatles’ and John Lennon’s classic albums. You can get them from the links above, and you can SmartBrowse on our website for more timeless music from these artists (and don’t forget George Harrison and Ringo Starr, who also have plenty of celebrated solo work).

Friday, September 21, 2018

American Horror Story Brings the Chills

Written by Jon Williams

Fall begins this weekend. As we close the book on summer and inch closer to October and the spooky season, it’s entirely fitting that the new season of American Horror Story is now in full swing. Subtitled Apocalypse, the acclaimed show’s eighth season began with a widespread nuclear attack wiping out much of the world’s population, and then focused in on a small group of survivors brought together by a mysterious “Cooperative.”

Praise for American Horror Story began in 2011 with its first season. Murder House dealt with a troubled family trying to make a new start by moving to the West Coast; unfortunately, the house they bought for a steal had a troubled history of its own, with its victims (both old and new) being quite a bit livelier than you might expect. The star-studded cast featured Dylan McDermott, Connie Britton, and Kate Mara, as well as Jessica Lange, Taissa Farmiga, Evan Peters, Frances Conroy, Alexandra Breckenridge, Zachary Quinto, Sarah Paulson, Denis O’Hare, and Lily Rabe.

Although each season tells its own self-contained story, many of these stars (and others) would become familiar faces in different roles as the show progressed. The second season, Asylum, added Chloe Sevigny into the mix, and also featured James Cromwell (who won an Emmy for Best Supporting Actor) and Joseph Fiennes. The third season, Coven, added Kathy Bates, Angela Bassett, and Emma Roberts to the rotation of regulars, and starred Gabourey Sidibe as well, as it detailed the exploits surrounding a school for young witches. Freak Show took on a circus sideshow act, adding Finn Wittrock and John Carroll Lynch (in a memorable role as Twisty the Clown), as well as Michael Chiklis. Then came Hotel, about a group of vampires living in a haunted hotel, led by Lady Gaga’s Countess, and starring Wes Bentley, Alexandra Daddario, and Cheyenne Jackson. The sixth season, Roanoke, tells of a reality show and documentary taking place on the site of a famous mass disappearance, and adds Andre Holland and Cuba Gooding Jr. to the cast. Then last season, Cult, took on the aftermath of the 2016 U.S. presidential election, with Alison Pill joining the fray.

With Apocalpyse, American Horror Story creators Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk are in the midst of their eighth season of acclaimed, award-winning television, and the show has already been renewed to run at least through its tenth season. Even outside of this show, they are no stranger to good, popular television. Murphy created the show Nip/Tuck in 2003, and met Falchuk while working on it. When it ended, they joined forces to create the musical sensation Glee, which ran for six seasons. They created the two-season series Scream Queens, and they also serve as executive producers for another anthology series, American Crime Story, whose first season focused on the O.J. Simpson trial and whose second season, The Assassination of Gianni Versace, took home five trophies at this week’s Emmy Awards. They also created the series 9-1-1 focusing on first responders, currently in its second season.

Television lovers are always looking for good new shows to binge-watch, and with Halloween right around the corner, American Horror Story is a can’t-miss. The varied storylines and incredible performances are sure to keep viewers coming back for more. Find all previous seasons on our website so your patrons can get caught up with all the horrific happenings that have led into this season as well as whatever the show has in store for the future.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Jack Ryan Returns to the Screen

Written by Jon Williams

On August 31, the entire eight-episode first season of Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan became available for streaming. This new iteration brings the character to life for the first time since 2014, and to the small screen for the first time ever. Positive critical and viewer reactions are already rolling in, and the series has already been renewed for a second season.

This time around Ryan is played by John Krasinski, as the series focuses on the early days of the burgeoning CIA agent’s career. Krasinski has been in the pop culture spotlight lately as the star, director, and co-writer of the hit horror flick A Quiet Place, which came out earlier this year. He is probably even better known for his breakout role as Jim Halpert on The Office, which he played for the entirety of the comedy series’ nine-season run. The rest of Jack Ryan’s main cast is rounded out by Wendell Pierce, Abbie Cornish, Ali Suliman, and Dina Shihabi.

The show may be new, but the character of Jack Ryan is anything but. He originally came to be in Tom Clancy’s 1984 The Hunt for Red October. The novel tells how Jack Ryan, at this point a young CIA analyst, helps to ensure the defection of a grizzled Soviet navy captain with a devastating new submarine. The book became a bestseller following huge critical reaction, including an endorsement from U.S. President Ronald Reagan. Ryan has since featured in more than twenty novels, including such titles as Clear and Present Danger, Executive Orders, Command Authority, the recently released Line of Sight, and the forthcoming Oath of Office. Sadly, author Tom Clancy passed away in 2013, but the mantle of writing the Ryan character has been taken on by fellow authors Mark Greaney, Mike Maden, and Marc Cameron.

Jack Ryan remained as words on a page until 1990. That was the year The Hunt for Red October made him a big-screen sensation as well, bringing in over $120 million at the domestic box office. The movie featured a star-studded cast that included Sean Connery, Sam Neill, and James Earl Jones, as well as Alec Baldwin as Ryan himself. It was followed in 1992 with Patriot Games, with Harrison Ford taking over as Jack Ryan, a role he reprised in 1994’s Clear and Present Danger. The series was rebooted with 2002’s The Sum of All Fears, with Ben Affleck in the main character’s role. That movie took Clancy’s novel of the same name from 1991 and updated it for a 2002 setting. The series was then rebooted again in 2014 with Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, an original origin story not based on any specific Clancy book, this time with Chris Pine starring.

And that’s where Jack Ryan’s screen presence left off, until the new streaming series debuted two weeks ago. As more and more people discover the show, Tom Clancy’s audiobooks and the past movies are sure to be in demand. Use the links above to find the materials, or SmartBrowse ‘Jack Ryan’ on our website for a full list of audiobooks we carry in the series.

Friday, August 24, 2018

In Memoriam: Aretha Franklin

Written by Jon Williams

The music world lost a legend last week with the passing of the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin. She was 76.

While Aretha’s mother passed at a young age, her father was a well-known minister, giving her exposure to influential gospel singers of the time, including Mahalia Jackson and Clara Ward, both of whom served as role models. Aretha began touring and performing with her father when she was just 12, and her first single was released when she was 14. She stuck with gospel until she was 18, at which time she moved to New York with hopes of breaking into the pop music world. Her first secular album, Aretha: With the Ray Bryant Combo, was released early in 1961, just before her 20th birthday.

The rest, as they say, is history. She went on to have one of the great careers of all time, recording such iconic, instantly recognizable hits as “Respect,” “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman,” and “I Say a Little Prayer,” among so many others. In 2008, music authority Rolling Stone named her the greatest singer of all time. With a career that spanned more than five decades, her influence is legendary, inspiring generations of singers and musicians with her talent and powerful performances. Some of these notable names include Whitney Houston, Beyonce, and Jennifer Hudson, who Franklin herself chose to play her in an upcoming biopic.

We join the music and pop culture worlds in mourning the monumental loss of Aretha Franklin. SmartBrowse her name on our website to find a number of collections of her music, as well as a few related audiobooks and films (including her incredible performance in the classic comedy The Blues Brothers). Patrons can also check out her wonderful music, including a broad collection of original albums, on hoopla digital.
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