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Tuesday, October 3, 2017

In Memoriam: Tom Petty

Written by Jon Williams

On a day already darkened by sadness, music lovers everywhere were shocked Monday by the news of rocker Tom Petty’s passing. He was 66.

Born in 1950 in Gainesville, Florida, Petty overcame a rough childhood to find fame in the music industry. With early influences including Elvis Presley, the Beatles, and the Rolling Stones, and guitar lessons from Don Felder of the Eagles, he first formed a band that eventually became known as Mudcrutch. After that band struggled to find success, some lineup shuffling eventually resulted in the Heartbreakers, the band which Petty was associated with for most of his music career. In 1976, their self-titled debut album hit the charts first in Great Britain, and then spread to the U.S. Containing the classic hits “Breakdown” and “American Girl,” it kicked off a musical legacy that would grow to legendary status over the course of the next 41 years.

The band’s first taste of success soon led to more. You’re Gonna Get It!, released in 1978, was their first album to chart in North America, and 1979’s Damn the Torpedoes (currently unavailable on CD, although patrons can stream it on hoopla) gained multiplatinum status. The ‘80s were a very productive time for the band, spawning albums including Long After Dark (1982) and Southern Accents (1985). Petty’s greatest success came on 1989’s Full Moon Fever, technically a solo album, although members of the Heartbreakers did contribute.

Full Moon Fever also benefitted from the presence of a number of other musical legends: Roy Orbison, Bob Dylan, George Harrison, and ELO’s Jeff Lynne. The five of them had gotten together in 1988 for a single (“Handle with Care”), and ended up recording an entire album as the Traveling Wilburys. Although Orbison passed away late that year, the remaining members put together a second album, joking titled Volume 3, which was released in 1990. Of course, Petty was no stranger to high-profile collaborations. His duet with Stevie Nicks, “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around,” appeared on her debut solo album, while another duet, “Insider,” was released on his album Hard Promises. He and the Heartbreakers also backed Johnny Cash on the country icon’s 1996 album Unchained.

In 2007, Petty reunited his first band, Mudcrutch, and together they recorded two albums: their eponymous “debut,” released in 2008, and 2, released in 2016, which would be Petty’s final recording. Through it all, though, Petty never stopped working with the Heartbreakers. Their two most recent albums, Mojo and Hypnotic Eye, were released in 2010 and 2014. The band had just finished their 40th anniversary tour, with the final performance coming September 25 at the Hollywood Bowl.

Tom Petty is sadly gone, but his classic rock hits will endure. Make sure you have his music on your shelves for patrons to check out and enjoy again and again. You can SmartBrowse his name on our website to find all the albums listed above and more.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Follett Adds to Kingsbridge Series

Written by Jon Williams

Like so many authors, Ken Follett didn’t originally have his heart set on a career writing fiction. Born in Wales before moving as a child to London, he studied philosophy in college, he started out working in journalism. The tide began to turn a few years later when he moved into a publishing career and began writing fiction of his own. After a number of novels were released under pen names, Follett finally found success under his own name with Eye of the Needle in 1978. A World War II spy thriller, it won the Edgar Award for Best Novel, and it set Follett on the path of an internationally bestselling author.

He followed that novel up in 1979 with Triple, another spy novel, this time set in the Middle East of the late 1960s. Indeed, Follett would become known primarily as a purveyor of fast-paced spy novels full of action and intrigue. Novels in this vein include 1985’s Lie Down with Lions, 1991’s Night Over Water, and 2001’s Jackdaws. And although it’s actually a true story, 1983’s On Wings of Eagles fits into much the same mold, as it explores a daring rescue mission to liberate two men being held in an Iranian prison. It was adapted into a miniseries in 1986.

However, this type of action thriller is not all that Follett writes. Although many of his novels were based around various points of 20th century history, in 1989 he planted his feet more firmly in the realm of historical fiction with The Pillars of the Earth, which explores the building of a cathedral in a fictional English village in the Middle Ages. It became his bestselling work to that point. After a long layoff, Follett finally followed up The Pillars of the Earth in 2007: World Without End revisits Kingsbridge Cathedral more than 150 years later, during the time of the Black Death, through the eyes of the descendants of characters from the original novel. And now, at long last, there is a third installment in the series. A Column of Fire, which came out last week, brings the cathedral and its surroundings into the Elizabethan era.

With that novel just coming out, hold lists may be long, for the initial installments as well as the latest release. However, you can direct impatient patrons to check out another series of historical novels from Follett. This trilogy began with Fall of Giants in 2010, following a number of characters through such events as the Russian Revolution and World War I. Follett wrote the novels in this series much more quickly than the Kingsbridge novels; the second, Winter of the World, was released just two years later, in 2012 and deals primarily with World War II. The third, Edge of Eternity, came out in 2014, and carries the families through the Cold War, from the 1960s through the 1980s.

Whatever he’s writing—whether it’s spy thrillers, historical fiction, or even non-fiction—Ken Follett’s work is always popular with patrons. Make sure you have his latest hit novel on your shelves for them to enjoy, and SmartBrowse his name on our website to find all we have to offer.

Friday, September 1, 2017

In Memoriam: Tobe Hooper

Written by Jon Williams

Acclaimed horror director Tobe Hooper passed away last weekend at the age of 74. He was considered an incredibly influential filmmaker—a quick Internet search will return a number of articles praising his work—and looking over his body of work, it’s easy to see why.

Growing up in Texas with parents who owned a theatre, Hooper came by his love of movies naturally. He took that love with him to film school at the University of Texas in Austin, and he jumped into his career with his first film in 1969, at the age of 26. Eggshells, a low-budget horror/sci-fi movie, barely made a ripple as it came into the world. The same could not be said for his next feature. In 1974, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre terrified audiences and revivified a flagging horror genre. Filmmakers including Wes Craven, Guillermo del Toro, William Friedkin, and Ridley Scott have cited this seminal film as an influence in their work. He followed it up with a sequel in 1986, and the original was remade in 2003, with Hooper serving as co-producer.

Then, in 1982, came Poltergeist. Written by Steven Spielberg, who was unable to direct while he worked on E.T., the film was instead directed by Hooper. It was a critical and commercial success, and is still considered a classic 35 years later. Despite some confusion over Hooper’s role in the film, he pressed on, following it up with a pair of horror/sci-fi mashups: Lifeforce in 1985, and Invaders from Mars (a remake of a 1953 movie) in 1986. In 1995 he directed The Mangler, based on a short story by Stephen King and starring horror icon Robert Englund. His final film was 2003’s Djinn, about an apartment that is haunted by demons.

However, the silver screen was only part of Tobe Hooper’s career; he also did quite a bit of work for the small screen. That began in 1979 with his first Stephen King collaboration: the miniseries adaptation of the vampire novel Salem’s Lot. Over the years he would contribute to a number of anthology shows like Amazing Stories, Body Bags, Tales from the Crypt, and Masters of Horror. He also directed individual for a number of other shows, such as The Equalizer, Dark Skies, and Taken.

Tobe Hooper loomed large in the world of horror filmmaking, and his absence will be sorely felt. With Halloween right around the corner, now is a perfect time to stock your shelves with his classic films and lesser-known gems. You can SmartBrowse his name on our website to find all the titles listed above and more.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Princess Diana, 20 Years Later

Written by Jon Williams

Lady Diana Spencer was born on July 1, 1961, into a prominent family of the British nobility, and she came to the attention of the world when she married Prince Charles on July 29, 1981, shortly after her 20th birthday. Their wedding drew a television audience of 750 million people worldwide. Initially shy, Diana would grow into her role in the spotlight over the course of their 15-year marriage, making a number of international visits both with the prince and on her own.

Princess Diana and Prince Charles’s marriage could best be described as “tumultuous,” and the couple divorced in July of 1996. Diana retained her title of Princess of Wales, and rededicated herself to a number of charities, including AIDS research and landmine elimination, using her status to highlight causes that were near and dear to her. Her signature style during her time in the spotlight also made her a fashion icon. She was a beloved figure worldwide who transformed the way so many people viewed the royal family.

Princess Diana was killed in a car accident on August 31, 1997, sending shockwaves around the world. Her funeral procession drew an estimated 2.5 billion viewers globally. Elton John, a close friend of the princess, performed a version of his hit song “Candle in the Wind” with the lyrics revised to honour Diana’s life. While that song is one of the highest-selling singles of all time (with proceeds benefitting Diana’s charities), it has never been included on any of his albums or compilations, and Sir Elton has stated that he would only perform it again live if asked to do so by her sons, Princes William and Harry.

Next week will mark the twentieth anniversary of Princess Diana’s untimely passing. With so many still fascinated by her life and enduring legacy, you’ll want to have plenty of material on your shelves for them to check out. SmartBrowse Princess Diana on our website for a collection of materials put together by our media experts in commemoration of this melancholy milestone.

Friday, August 18, 2017

The Lion King Roars Out of Disney’s Vault

Written by Jon Williams

Disney’s The Lion King was released in theatres in June of 1994 and immediately became a smash success. It would go on to be the second-highest earning film of the year (behind Forrest Gump), and its domestic box office gross of more than $420 million is currently good for #18 of all time. It won Academy Awards for Best Score and Best Original Song, and it was also awarded the Golden Globe for Best Picture – Musical or Comedy.

Now the original animated movie hit is being released from the Disney vault in new DVD and Blu-ray editions, and it’s not coming alone. Capitalizing on the success of the film, Disney released The Lion King 2: Simba’s Pride as a direct-to-video offering in 1998 with most of the voice cast returning. It was followed in 2004 by The Lion King 1 1/2, a “sequel” that takes place at the same time as the original film, but from the perspectives of Timon and Pumbaa, the movie’s popular meerkat and warthog sidekicks. All three movies will be released on DVD and Blu-ray on August 29, the first time they’ve been available since 2011.

More than twenty-three years since the film’s original release, fans are still enthralled by the timeless story and characters of The Lion King. In 1997, it was adapted into a musical that has enjoyed a very long run and is the highest-grossing Broadway production of all time. It has also been kept alive on television, starting with an animated series featuring Timon and Pumbaa that aired from 1995 through 1999. In 2015, the TV movie Return of the Roar kicked off a new series called The Lion Guard that centers on the cub Kion and a new group of friends that protect the pridelands. In addition, Timon and Pumbaa star in a number of Wild About Safety shorts that aim to teach young viewers about how to be safe in a variety of situations. And all of this will culminate in 2019 with a new live-action version, much like what Disney did with Beauty and the Beast earlier this year.

With The Lion King and its sequels being released on DVD and Blu-ray for the first time since 2011, make sure you get copies now. When it goes back into the vault, it will be several years before it’s available again. If you have questions about the Disney vault’s origins or which Disney movies are subject to the process, make sure you revisit our blog post on the topic.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

The Dark Tower Beckons

Written by Jon Williams

As The Dark Tower opens in theatres this week, casual observers could be forgiven for thinking it’s nothing more than another Stephen King adaptation; there are certainly quite a few of those happening right now. More devoted King fans will tell you that The Dark Tower is more than just a book, more than just the seven-book series it eventually turned out to be. It is, in fact, King’s magnum opus, spreading its tendrils to touch, in one way or another, perhaps every book he has ever written.

The series begins with the simple yet elegant line that has become one of King’s most famous: “The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.” He wrote those words in 1970, as a senior at the University of Maine. He was inspired by a poem, “Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came” by Robert Browning, which itself comes from a line in Shakespeare’s King Lear. He wedded that in his imagination with elements of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, Clint Eastwood’s Man with No Name, and the Arthurian legends, among other influences, for a dark fantasy quest that was unlike any other.

He began writing in 1970 and laboured for twelve years before the first volume, The Gunslinger, was published in 1982. This established a pattern that would persist for much of the series, with several years elapsing between the publications of the individual volumes. The second book, The Drawing of the Three, came out in 1987; the third, The Waste Lands (also inspired by a poem, this one by T.S. Eliot), in 1991. One of the longest gaps, six years, came before Wizard and Glass appeared, with its many Wizard of Oz references, in 1997. This exploration of the gunslinger’s fundamental backstory will be the basis for an upcoming TV series that will feature Idris Elba in a reprisal of his role from the movie.

It was another six years before another Dark Tower book would be published. In 1999, King was hit by a minivan while out for a walk, an incident that threatened his life and drastically altered his writing career when he was finally able to get back to it. Seeing the Dark Tower series as his life’s work and now feeling his own mortality, King set to work with a will. Wolves of the Calla was released in November of 2003; the sixth and seventh books, Song of Susannah and The Dark Tower (currently unavailable on audiobook) came out three months apart in 2004.

The Dark Tower brought the series to a conclusion, but that wasn’t quite the end of the story. In 2012, King returned with The Wind Through the Keyhole, another framed story of Roland’s backstory that fits in between Wizard and Glass and Wolves of the Calla. There’s also a bit of backstory to be found in “The Little Sisters of Eluria,” a short story written in 1998 and included in the collection Everything’s Eventual.

Of course, the full tale of the Dark Tower isn’t contained solely in these books and stories. Readers and listeners will notice connections throughout King’s entire oeuvre, some more pronounced than others. For instance, near the beginning of Wizard and Glass, the gunslinger and his band of travelers pass through a world that has been ravaged by Captain Trips, the weaponized flu strand from The Stand. The man in black that Roland pursues throughout the first book of the series (played in the movie by Matthew McConaughey) appears, in different forms, in both The Stand and The Eyes of the Dragon. The character Father Callahan from ‘Salem’s Lot joins Roland’s crew for a time beginning in Wolves of the Calla, and Dinky Earnshaw (from the title story of Everything’s Eventual) and Ted Brautigan (from Hearts in Atlantis) show up with roles to play as well. The 1994 novel Insomnia becomes a plot point of its own in the final book of the series.

While the Dark Tower books are popular in their own right, they are somewhat less well known than King’s other works. With the movie in theatres and a TV show in the works, though, the series is about to come to the forefront in a big way. Patrons who are stepping into this world for the first time have a rich, rewarding journey ahead of them, and others will want to relive Roland’s adventures again and again. Make sure you have the series and its related works on your shelves for them to explore and enjoy.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Dunkirk Brings WWII to Life

Written by Jon Williams

May, 1940. With World War II in its early days, the Battle of France raged. As the month wore on, the advance of the German military left a group of Allied forces cut off and pushed back to the sea near Dunkirk. Thus began Operation Dynamo, a British-led effort to evacuate the Allied soldiers, so crucial to the already tenuous war effort, from their perilous situation. Because of the shallow waters in the area, only small craft could be used. Nevertheless, the eight-day action resulted in the successful rescue of more than 300,000 men.

This is the story told by the new epic war movie Dunkirk, in theatres this week. It’s the latest from filmmaker Christopher Nolan, who’s known for his trilogy of Batman films (Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, and The Dark Knight Rises), as well as movies like Inception and Interstellar. Dunkirk stars Batman alumni Tom Hardy and Cillian Murphy along with Kenneth Branagh and pop star Harry Styles in his acting debut.

Patrons interested in the story behind the Battle of Dunkirk are in luck, with a wealth of materials examining this momentous event. To go along with the movie, historian Joshua Levine has taken a fresh look at the lives of all those involved in the battle for a companion audiobook. Walter Lord’s 2012 work The Miracle of Dunkirk was based on extensive interviews with the battle’s survivors. And in 2004, the BBC put together a three-episode docudrama that broke the battle down to show how it progressed on a day-by-day basis.

With the end of World War II now more than seventy years in the past, it won’t be long before it fades from living memory. However, there is no shortage of media that will preserve its legacy for future generations. One of the most valuable contributions is from acclaimed documentarian Ken Burns, whose documentary series The War deals primarily with the perspective of Americans on the home front. Along similar lines is WWII in HD, which uses immersive footage to depict the front lines. Also produced by the History Channel, The Third Reich examines the rise of Nazi Germany. On the other side of the world, War in the Pacific and Hell in the Pacific look at the war as it took place away from the Atlantic Theatre.

There are also plenty of dramatized accounts; as Dunkirk shows, World War II is always fertile ground for stories to be told on the big and small screens. Saving Private Ryan and Band of Brothers come immediately to mind, as do The Dirty Dozen and The Bridge on the River Kwai, as well as Schindler’s List for the Holocaust. The miniseries The Winds of War, based on Herman Wouk’s novel, follows a far-flung American family as they get caught up in the war along with the United States. On the Pacific side, Clint Eastwood’s duology consisting of Flags of Our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima is hard to beat.

There are literally hundreds more documentaries and movies which delve into World War II and its various aspects. To find more, simply SmartBrowse World War II on our website, and please let us know about those you’ve found to be interesting and/or popular at your library in the comments section below.