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Thursday, January 22, 2015

New Collection Takes Aim at Bullying

Written by Jon Williams

It’s one of the hottest topics of today, a conundrum that unfortunately has no easy solutions and isn’t even easy to discuss. The topic is bullying, and it’s a situation that occurs far too often. Teachers, school administrators, parents, and students themselves often deal with it on a daily basis. That was the case for Carrie Goldman, for whom the bullying of her daughter led her to write a book that lays out ways to help deal with bullying situations, hopefully before they start. That book is Bullied, and it’s an essential guide for anyone who deal with children on a day-to-day basis.

The one bright spot is that there are any number of resources, both fiction and non-fiction, that deal with bullying. The fiction titles can help students—and adults—think about bullying from different perspectives and perhaps come to terms with its causes and effects. The non-fiction titles offer anyone who might find themselves dealing with a bullying situation (from any angle) with practical advice on how to get through it as peacefully as possible and prevent it from happening again.

To that end, Midwest Tape has put together a collection of these audiobook resources that libraries can put on their shelves for those who need them. Kids & Bullying: Audiobooks for Conversation can be found via a panel on our homepage. In the coming weeks, you can look for a number of audiobook collections like this on a variety of topics. We hope you find them useful, and that they expose you to some great titles you may have missed. You can let us know what you think here in the comments.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Golden Globes Reflect Changing Face of Television

Written by Jon Williams

If you watched the Golden Globe awards ceremony on Sunday night—or even if you just perused the list of winners on Monday morning—you may have noticed something a little odd on the television side. Despite garnering a fair number of nominations, the major over-the-air networks (ABC, CBS, FOX, and NBC) did not take home a single award. Instead, the shows celebrated for their excellence were all from non-traditional, premium cable, or streaming services.

Non-network stations did quite well for themselves. In fact, the CW, jointly operated by CBS and Time Warner, was the closest thing to a major network to come away with the win. The channel, which is generally aimed at a young adult audience, earned its first major award nomination and win, with Gina Rodriguez taking home Best Actress in a TV Comedy for her portrayal of the title character on Jane the Virgin (which is not yet available on DVD/Blu-ray). Also winning awards were Downton Abbey (Best Supporting Actress Joanne Froggatt) and The Honourable Woman (Best Actress in a Miniseries Maggie Gyllenhaal); both were produced for British television and aired on this side of the pond via PBS and SundanceTV, respectively. Finally, FX’s television reboot of Fargo won two awards: Best Miniseries and Best Actor in a Miniseries Billy Bob Thornton.

The streaming services also won big on the night. Kevin Spacey, star of Netflix’s powerhouse political show House of Cards, won the Golden Globe for Best Drama Actor just ahead of the release of Season 3 on February 27. Following in Netflix’s footsteps of developing original programming, Amazon had a winner on its hands this year with Transparent (not yet available), which took two awards: Best TV Comedy and Best Actor Jeffrey Tambor. The show’s full first season was made available to users in September, and it was recently renewed for a second season that will be released later this year.

The premium cable outlets also came away with three awards. With fifteen nominations, it seemed like something of an upset for HBO to end the evening with just one win, but that’s the way it went down. Their award was for Matt Bomer’s Best Supporting Actor turn in The Normal Heart. Also in something of a surprise, the award for Best TV Drama went to Showtime’s The Affair (not yet available), which also featured the night’s Best Drama Actress, Ruth Wilson.

This shift in where the best shows call home is indicative of a shift in the way viewers watch television. Fading are the days of being in front of a television at a certain time on a certain day to catch the latest episode of a favourite show. More and more, it seems that viewers prefer the freedom of watching episodes at their leisure, or being able to watch multiple episodes at once, as soon as the season “starts,” and these non-network outlets are capitalizing on that. Along those lines, this column on the Huffington Post has an interesting (if non-scientific) note on most-recommended series for binge watching, including a breakdown along gender lines (which, apparently, do not diverge as much as you might expect).

The takeaway? It’s true: non-network shows are the hottest right now. In addition to this year’s crop of Golden Globe winners, make sure you’re stocking seasons of shows like Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad, Orange Is the New Black, and The Wire for your patrons who just can’t get enough, as well as for those who don’t have access to those channels or services.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

LibraryReads Recommends Great Books

Written by Jon Williams

Working as a partnership between public libraries and a group of major publishers, LibraryReads is a program designed to promote librarians’ favourite novels to adult readers each month. Beginning in September of 2013, each month they produce a list of ten newly published titles nominated and voted on by librarians across the U.S. That very first list was a winner right off the bat, containing, among others, the very popular Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell.

Since the beginning, 160 novels have been selected by LibraryReads for recommendation to patrons, with a fresh batch ready to go for the first month of the new year. With December being somewhat slow for the publication of new titles, instead of producing a new list, LibraryReads instead came out with their “Favorite of Favorites,” the very best of previously selected titles. It’s a list of great books that showcases the great taste librarians have for literature. The previously mentioned Fangirl made the list, as did another novel by Rowell, Landline. The list also includes Pulitzer Prize winner The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt and National Book Award finalist All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr.

The book selected as the overall favourite, though, was The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin, originally selected for the April 2014 list. The story of a grumpy bookseller and collector who undergoes a gradual transformation when a young girl comes into his life, it is Zevin’s eighth novel. Her first, Elsewhere, published in 2005, was a YA novel dealing with the afterlife. Since then, she has written for both teens and adults, with Storied Life being her most acclaimed work to date.

The full list of LibraryReads Favorite of Favorites can be found in our January audiobook buyer’s guide, or on our website. And for January, it’s back to the usual list of ten brand new novels for patrons to check out. This first list is headlined by such titles as As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust, the new Flavia de Luce title from Alan Bradley, and The Rosie Effect, follow-up to The Rosie Project, by Graeme Simison. It also includes The Magician’s Lie by Greer Macallister, The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins, The Bishop’s Wife by Mette Ivie Harrison, Vanessa and Her Sister by Priya Parmar, First Frost by Sarah Addison Allen, and Full Throttle by Julie Ann Walker.

Interested in LibraryReads for your library? No problem! Check out the program’s website for materials you can use to promote each month’s titles to your patrons. While you’re there, you can find out how to nominate books for the list and participate in selection, if you don’t already. Help bring your love of books—and audiobooks!—to patrons who might otherwise miss these great reads.

Friday, December 19, 2014

The Newsroom Fades to Black

Written by Jon Williams

The third and final season of The Newsroom concluded this past season, bringing an end to HBO’s series about the perils and challenges of trying to do serious TV journalism in an era of reality TV and the endless quest for ratings. The lead role of passionate newsman Will McAvoy was ably handled by Jeff Daniels (in quite a departure from his other recent appearance as Harry Dunne in Dumb and Dumber To), heading an ensemble cast that also included Sam Waterston, Jane Fonda, Emily Mortimer, and Olivia Munn, among others.

The Newsroom was created by Aaron Sorkin, who also served as the primary writer for all 25 episodes. Sorkin started his career as a playwright, and got his start in Hollywood by writing the play A Few Good Men, adapting it himself for the movie starring Jack Nicholson and Tom Cruise. With its famous “You can’t handle the truth!” line thundered by Nicholson’s character, Sorkin’s reputation as a writer of smart, snappy dialogue was born. He would then go on to write the films Malice (currently unavailable) and The American President.

From there, Sorkin would make his first foray into the television world—in more ways than one. His first series, Sports Night (also unavailable), was, like The Newsroom, a show about doing television. Inspired by ESPN’s SportsCenter, the show focused on a group of people putting together a nightly sports show. The comedy was well received by critics but scored low ratings (perhaps inspiring one of the conflicts at the heart of The Newsroom) and was only on for two seasons. It led, however, directly into The West Wing, the breakthrough drama starring Martin Sheen as President Jed Bartlet and focusing on his staff and administration.

The West Wing ran for seven seasons, ending in 2006, which saw the debut of Sorkin’s next series, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. With it, he returned to the world of television production, this time looking at a sketch comedy series. However, it garnered much the same reaction as Sports Night, and only lasted one season. At that point, Sorkin returned to working for the big screen, adapting books into screenplays for the hit movies Charlie Wilson’s War, The Social Network (for which he won an Academy Award), and Moneyball.

With The Newsroom heading into the sunset, one of the projects on Sorkin’s horizon is another adaptation for the silver screen, this time of Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs. He has said recently that he is unlikely to write again for television; if that’s true, he’s certainly left viewers with some great shows and memorable moments. Make sure you have his acclaimed work on your shelves for patrons to explore and enjoy.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Grammys More Than Just Music

Written by Jon Williams

In case you missed it somehow, the Grammy Award nominations were announced last week in an all-day event that culminated in a concert special that came with the Album of the Year nominees. The artists and albums up for that coveted award are Beck’s Morning Phase, Beyonce’s self-titled surprise, Pharrell’s GIRL, Ed Sheeran’s X, and Sam Smith’s In the Lonely Hour. You can find these CDs, along with all the others up for awards in all categories, in our collection of 2015 Grammy nominees.

When you hear about the Grammys, your mind automatically turns to music—which is only natural, as the awards honour the best and brightest in the music industry, and at the ceremony the awards themselves take a backseat to some of the most notable performances of the year. With that in mind, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that not all Grammy Awards are given out for music. One such award is that for comedy album, which has a stellar lineup this year. Here are the nominees for this year:

Louis C.K. – Oh My God: Even if you don’t know Louis C.K. by sight, chances are excellent that you know his work. In addition to his standup, he has a long and successful comedy writing career, including for Letterman and Saturday Night Live. He has been nominated for several Emmy Awards, winning in 1999 for The Chris Rock Show, and again just last year for his own show, the acclaimed FX series Louie.

Jim Gaffigan – Obsessed: If there’s one overarching theme in Jim Gaffigan’s comedy, it’s that he likes to talk about food. A lot. He has authored two books of humour: Dad Is Fat and Food: A Love Story; the titles should give you some idea. As such, his humour is generally pretty clean and family-appropriate. Although he doesn’t maintain a steady presence in Hollywood, it’s certainly not out of the ordinary to see him on film or TV, with roles in Super Troopers and That ‘70s Show, to name just a couple.

Patton Oswalt – Tragedy Plus Comedy Equals Time: Patton Oswalt, on the other hand, is all over the place. Performing as a comedian for over twenty years, he has also gotten regular Hollywood work. He does a fair amount of voice work, most notably starring as Remy the Rat in Disney/Pixar’s Ratatouille. Most recently he’s had a recurring role on Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. He’s also frequently found on Twitter, where he’s been known to experiment with the form as a method of delivering comedy.

Sarah Silverman – We Are Miracles: Like Louis C.K., one of Sarah Silverman’s first jobs was writing for SNL, although she had little success and was fired after one season. Obviously, that hasn’t deterred her, as she has gone on to become one of the biggest names in comedy. She, like Patton Oswalt, has done some voiceover work, such as in Wreck-It Ralph, and plenty of other acting work besides. She has appeared on Louie, and most recently was in the Seth MacFarlane comedy A Million Ways to Die in the West.

Weird Al Yankovic – Mandatory Fun: Okay, so this one actually is musical in nature, as well as being hilarious. Al took the Internet by storm earlier this year with the release of this, his fourteenth album, releasing a video per day for a week, including parodies of Pharrell’s “Happy” and Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines.” We wrote about him and his career at the time, but one thing we failed to mention (specifically) is that he won a previous Grammy for Best Comedy Album in 2003 for Poodle Hat.

All of the nominees have plenty of hilarious material available; SmartBrowse each of their names on our website for their films, audiobooks, and standup specials on DVD and CD. Who do you think is the funniest of the bunch?

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

True Detective Season 2 Cast Announced

Written by Jon Williams

Early in 2014, HBO continued its string of buzzworthy hit shows with the original series True Detective. The first season of the show featured Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson as the detectives in question, and its eight episodes followed their 17-year hunt for a serial killer in southern Louisiana. The series was received well by audiences and critics alike, garnering ten Emmy nominations and five wins, including Outstanding Casting.

That outstanding casting is on display once again as the stars for Season 2 have been confirmed. As an anthology series, each individual season will tell an entirely new story, and so McConaughey and Harrelson will not return in their roles. Instead, a completely different cast of characters will focus on another case, set this time somewhere in California.

One of the early casting announcements, and one that raised some eyebrows, was Vince Vaughn as a criminal kingpin. Vaughn, of course, is known primarily for screwball comedies like Wedding Crashers and Dodgeball, which are at odds with True Detective’s dark, gritty tone. Despite this perception, he’s no stranger to dramatic (and often dark) roles, having starred in such films as Clay Pigeons and Domestic Disturbance—not to mention his portrayal of one of the most iconic villains of all time, Norman Bates, in the 1998 remake of Psycho.

Playing Vaughn’s character’s wife in True Detective will be Kelly Reilly, who was just confirmed earlier this week. This English actress has had quite a variety of roles in a career that dates back to the mid-1990s. Most prominent among them might be as Mary Morstan, paramour of Dr. John Watson in Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes and its 2011 sequel. She also starred as detective Anna Travis in three seasons of the British television Above Suspicion, and has been seen recently in films like Cavalry and Heaven Is for Real.

Another early announcement, confirmed in September at the same time as Vaughn, was Colin Farrell. Farrell will play one of the cops, but one that also owes allegiance to Vaughn’s criminal mastermind. First and foremost a movie star, Farrell actually got his start in television, appearing in Series 4 and 5 of the BBC’s Ballykissangel. Shortly thereafter he made his way to Hollywood with roles in films like Hart’s War with Bruce Willis and Minority Report with Tom Cruise. He’s been involved in several high-profile remakes, including Miami Vice, Fright Night, and Total Recall, and he won a Golden Globe for In Bruges.

Playing another troubled cop will be Taylor Kitsch, who burst onto the scene playing Tim Riggins, the much-loved high school football player at the heart of the Friday Night Lights TV series. From there he jumped into effects-laden blockbusters, starring in Disney’s adaptation of John Carter and as part of the Battleship group. Toning down the bombast, he recently appeared in another HBO production, the critically acclaimed drama The Normal Heart, whose ensemble cast drew rave reviews across the board.

And finally we come to the last member of True Detective’s main cast for Season 2. Rachel McAdams, like Reilly and Kitsch, was just confirmed this week, signing up to play a straight-laced detective (some descriptions list her character as a sheriff) in charge of the investigation. Also like Reilly, McAdams is an alumna of Sherlock Holmes, although she is probably most recognized for earlier roles in Mean Girls and The Notebook. McAdams has a bit of television background, with a role in the Canadian series Slings & Arrows among her first acting jobs.

With a cast like this, it’s easy to assume that the second season of True Detective will be just as big a hit as the first. Make sure you have that first season on your shelves for patrons who may have missed it on TV, and don’t forget all these other great movies and TV shows from these talented actors.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Looking at the Mockingjay Soundtrack

Written by Jon Williams

The third movie in the Hunger Games series, Mockingjay Part 1, releases into theatres this Friday, and is already projected to be one of the biggest films of 2014. The soundtrack for the film came out earlier this week, and chances are good that you already have it on your shelves (or, more likely, you don’t have it on your shelves, as zealous patrons have already nabbed it). The artists who provide the music on the soundtrack are likely to become in-demand as they’re discovered by new listeners, so let’s take a look at a few of them.

It was announced months ago that the soundtrack would be curated by singer Lorde, best known for her hit “Royals,” which appears on her debut album Pure Heroine. Having just turned 18, you’d think that putting together a soundtrack for a movie in an established blockbuster series might prove a daunting task, but Lorde knocked it out of the park. She provided the lead single, “Yellow Flicker Beat” (a Kanye West rework of the track appears as well), as well as another track, “Ladder Song,” in addition to co-writing four other songs and performing on one of them.

The track she performs on is the opener, “Meltdown” by Stromae, which also features Pusha T, Q-Tip, and Haim. Stromae is the stage name of Paul Van Haver, a Belgian hip-hop/electronic musician. Very popular in Europe, Stromae is just beginning to find an American audience, having been featured over the summer on Late Night with Seth Meyers and NPR.

Two of the songs co-written by Lorde feature collaborations between artists with more familiar names. The fifth track, “All My Love,” is by Major Lazer, the electronic music project of Diplo, and it includes vocals by Ariana Grande, the gold-selling pop sensation whose second album, My Everything, was released in August. The penultimate song on the album is “This Is Not a Game” by the Grammy-winning Chemical Brothers, another electronic duo, in collaboration with R&B artist Miguel, a fellow Grammy recipient for his song “Adorn” from his 2012 Kaleidoscope Dream album.

Collaborations are definitely a strength of the soundtrack, with another coming in the form of “Kingdom,” a song credited to Charli XCX. Known for co-writing and performing on Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy,” her own debut album, Sucker, will be released in December and feature the hit single “Boom Clap.” On the Mockingjay soundtrack, she works with Simon Le Bon of Duran Duran fame.

And there are plenty of non-collaborative songs on the soundtrack as well. One of the singles released for the album is “Dead Air” by Chvrches, an electronic band whose work has been featured in several TV shows. One of the more familiar names on the album is multitalented musician and actress Grace Jones, who contributes “Original Beast.” Other musicians and bands featured include Tove Lo, Tinashe, and Bat for Lashes.

As patrons get a chance to spend some time with this soundtrack—or if they have a hard time getting their hands on it—they’ll be looking for music by these artists. Help fuel their passion by having their CDs on your shelves.
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