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Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Fantasy Authors Go Bieber

Written by Jon Williams

If you follow fantasy authors Brandon Sanderson and James Dashner on Facebook, you may have noticed something slightly off about their profile pictures recently when both men changed their avatars to pictures of pop music phenom Justin Bieber. No, their accounts weren’t hacked. So what gives?

As it turns out, the pic switch was the result of a friendly wager between the two…which both men ended up losing! It began when Sanderson, whose YA novel Steelheart released in hardcover late in September (and is coming soon to audiobook), realized that Dashner, who lives nearby in Salt Lake City, Utah, had a YA book coming out shortly thereafter: The Eye of Minds. He proposed to track the books’ sales numbers for a week in October, and whichever author sold fewer books would display Bieber’s face as his profile picture.

So how did both of them end up with the Biebs on their profile?

When Sanderson checked in on the sales numbers after the week in question, he saw that they had both done quite well. However, both of them had been outsold in the YA fantasy genre by yet another Salt Lake City author: Wild Born (part of the multi-author Spirit Animals series) by Brandon Mull. That being the case, both authors agreed to declare Mull the winner, and therefore both of them ended up changing their photos. (Dashner has since switched back to his standard author photo; Sanderson’s profile, as of right now, still displays a photo of Bieber).

Of course, the real winner in all of this is the world of young adult fiction, which has been enriched by the works of all three authors. Be sure to SmartBrowse each author’s name on our homepage for more YA fiction (and some adult fiction as well). And while you’re there, don’t forget to search for some tunes from Justin Bieber.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Classic Van Morrison Remastered

Written by Jon Williams

This week marks the re-release of Van Morrison’s landmark 1970 album Moondance. The standard edition features a complete remastering of the original album, while the expanded edition includes a second disc containing alternate takes and mixes of tracks from the album, as well as a number of previously unreleased tracks from the album’s recording sessions.

Morrison, a legendary Irish singer-songwriter, started his career as lead singer for a garage rock band simply called Them. After two albums (and a brief tour of the U.S., during part of which they were supported by an up-and-coming band called the Doors), Morrison left the band to embark on a solo career. He was generally unsatisfied with his 1967 debut compilation, Blowin’ Your Mind!, but the lead single “Brown-Eyed Girl” continues to be his signature hit more than 45 years later.

Given his distaste for that album, Morrison considers his second album, 1968’s Astral Weeks, to be his true debut. The album drew wide critical acclaim upon its release, and continues to do so—Rolling Stone, for instance, listed it #19 in its 2003 list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. Sales didn’t match the reviews, though, and Astral Weeks didn’t go Gold until 2001, 33 years after its release.

That wasn’t the case for Moondance, Morrison’s commercial breakthrough in 1970. It continued the critical success of Astral Weeks while also becoming popular with music buyers. From that point on, Van Morrison was a bona fide star. To capitalize on this success, another album, His Band and the Street Choir, was released later that same year. While it didn’t perform as well as Moondance, it did contain the single “Domino,” one of his biggest hits.

Unfortunately, the follow-up to that album, 1971’s Tupelo Honey, is currently out of print. I say “unfortunately” because that album contains my personal favourite of Morrison’s songs (and one of my favourite songs overall), the gorgeous title track. Fortunately, a version of the song can be found on the 2007 compilation The Best of Van Morrison, Vol. 3.

Now, nearly fifty years since his musical career began, Van Morrison is still going strong. His most recent album, 2012’s Born to Sing: No Plan B, contains ten original songs and was, again, well received critically. With 34 studio albums to his credit, he has covered any number of themes and genres. He has won two Grammy Awards and been nominated for several more. The albums Astral Weeks and Moondance are in the Grammy Hall of Fame, and Morrison himself was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1993. Be sure to SmartBrowse his name on our homepage for a full list of albums available from this classic performer.

Friday, October 18, 2013

The Bible Coming to Big Screens

Written by Kyle Slagley

Earlier this year, beginning in March to be exact, it seemed like everyone was talking about The Bible – The Epic Miniseries that ran every Sunday on the History Channel. The miniseries consisted of ten episodes and History ran two episodes per Sunday—because March contained five Sundays in 2013, the series was perfectly timed so that the final episodes depicting Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection were aired on Easter Sunday, March 31.

The miniseries set viewing records consistently during March, and after reruns, syndications, and translations for foreign airings, over 100 million people viewed the saga. In its first week on DVD and Blu-ray, it sold over half a million copies, making it the fastest-selling TV show on disc since 2008.

Now, the big news concerning the series is that it will be heading to the big screen in an abridged adaptation titled Son of God. Husband-and-wife producing duo Roma Downey (of Touched by an Angel fame) and Mark Burnett (whose production credits include Survivor, The Apprentice, and The Voice), announced earlier this week that the final five episodes of the miniseries would be condensed into a 2.5-hour feature film and would release on February 28, 2014 – the Friday before Ash Wednesday.

Just prior to the miniseries premiere, Downey and Burnett released a novel titled A Story of God and All of Us that debuted at No. 27 on the NY Times Bestseller list. Considering the success of The Bible, it’s unsurprising that NBC has already commissioned a follow-up from Downey and Burnett. Little is known about the project, other than that it will portray the early days of Christianity and will be titled A.D.: Beyond the Bible; there is no known premiere date yet.

The year 2014 is shaping up to be a year of multiple biblical blockbusters, in fact. In addition to Son of God releasing on February 28, a feature film about the Great Flood will also release exactly one month later on March 28.

Noah, starring Russell Crowe, Emma Watson, Jennifer Connelly, and Anthony Hopkins, has been in development for some time. The storyline is, well, fairly self-explanatory: it’s the story of Noah, his ark, and the Great Flood. The real twist in the coming adaptation, from what I understand, is that far from the grand and majestic Noah we all came to know in Sunday School, Crowe’s Noah will be a much more conflicted man who struggles with survivor’s guilt, making him much more relatable.

With Easter Sunday on April 20 next year, moviegoers will have ample time to see both films before the holiday. For a larger selection of biblical films and adaptations, check out our collection here.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Rock Hall Nominees Named

Written by Jon Williams

Nominees for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s class of 2014 have been announced. It’s a diverse list that features grunge pioneers, glam superstars, hip-hop legends, disco dynamos, and more. The full list includes: the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Chic, Deep Purple, Peter Gabriel, Hall & Oates, Kiss, LL Cool J, the Meters, N.W.A., Nirvana, the Replacements, Linda Ronstadt, Cat Stevens, Link Wray, Yes, and the Zombies.

Of course, not all of these bands and artists will make it, deserving though they may be. Inductees will be determined by a panel of 600 voters, among them music critics and industry insiders, as well as previous inductees. In addition, fans have a chance to vote at  The top five vote-getters from the list above will be tallied into an official ballot that will count as one of the 600 votes to determine the inductees.

The winners will be inducted in April of 2014 in New York (the Hall itself is in Cleveland, Ohio). The induction ceremony includes a concert that has, over the years, turned into quite an event unto itself, featuring performances by and collaborations among music legends. The ceremony and concert will be broadcast on HBO.

Artists are eligible for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame 25 years after the release of their first single. This is Nirvana’s first year of eligibility. The 2013 class was made up of Heart, Albert King, Randy Newman, Public Enemy, Rush, and Donna Summer.

SmartBrowse 'Rock and Roll Hall of Fame' on our website for more CDs from previous nominees and inductees, as well as CDs and DVDs from induction concerts.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Taylor Swift to Act in The Giver Adaptation

Written by Jon Williams

Country-pop starlet Taylor Swift is taking her talents to the silver screen once again. It was recently announced that the singer would join the adaptation of Lois Lowry’s young adult novel The Giver. The cast already includes such notable names as Meryl Streep, Jeff Bridges, Katie Holmes, and Alexander Skarsgard.

The Giver was originally published in 1993, to much acclaim. Set in a society in which emotion has been removed, it tells the story of Jonas, the “Receiver of Memory,” a young boy who holds the memories of a time when emotion still held sway, in case that experience is ever needed. The book won the coveted Newbery Medal in 1994. It was Lowry’s second time receiving the award; she won it first for 1989’s Number the Stars. She has since followed up The Giver with three loosely related novels: Gathering Blue, Messenger, and Son.

Although it seems like she’s been around forever, Swift is still just 23 years old. She broke out in a big way in 2006, when she was sixteen. Her first single “Tim McGraw” touched a chord with teenagers all over the world, and her eponymous debut album spent 24 weeks atop Billboard’s country chart and went platinum many times over. Since then she’s become a bona fide sensation, scoring similar success with each following album: Fearless, Speak Now, and Red.

Obviously, though, music isn’t Swift’s only artistic interest. After appearing in an episode of CSI and hosting Saturday Night Live in 2009, she made her full-fledged acting debut in 2010’s ensemble romcom Valentine’s Day (and also contributed two songs to the soundtrack). In 2012, she voiced the character Audrey in the animated feature The Lorax. Most recently she guest starred in an episode of New Girl that aired in May. The Giver will be her first acting work since then.

The Giver is a popular book for young adults, and Taylor Swift’s involvement in the movie is sure to drive them into a frenzy. Be sure to have the audiobook on hand for those who can’t wait until August of next year, when the movie is scheduled to be released.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

American Psycho, the...Musical?

Written by Kyle Slagley

Certain movies fall into a group of “cult following staples,” if you will. Among this group you will find films like Boondock Saints, The Big Lebowski, almost any movie made by either Quentin Tarantino or Kevin Smith, and also American Psycho.

American Psycho started as a novel by Bret Easton Ellis that was published in 1991. It is a stream-of-consciousness novel, narrated by the main character Patrick Bateman. The film, released in 2000 and starring Christian Bale, follows the same formula. The plots are also largely the same. Bateman is a 27-year-old Wall Street protégé by day, and a sadistic serial killer by night. Both the novel and the film were intended to be satirical interpretations of the narcissistic, yuppie culture of the late ‘80s, and they both do a very good job of that…if you can get past just how disturbing the plots are.

I won’t ruin the ending for you, but suffice it to say it’s equally surreal.

Because the movie was, well, disturbing, imagine my surprise when I read about American Psycho: The Musical earlier this week. You read that correctly. American Psycho: The Musical is an actual thing, it’s currently in rehearsals, and stars Matt Smith, who has spent the last three years growing his fame playing the infamous Doctor Who. The show is set to run at the Almeida Theatre in London from December 3 of this year through January 25, 2014.

Of course American Psycho is not the first musical to hit Broadway or the West-End that deals primarily with murder in some way, shape, or form. Others include Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, Assassins, Little Shop of Horrors, and Phantom of the Opera.

No word yet on if American Psycho will make its way across the pond to Broadway, but if you’re really curious, the show’s director Rupert Goold has been tweeting photos from rehearsals that you can check out on his feed.

Friday, October 4, 2013

New York City Opera Takes a Bow

Written by Kyle Slagley

This week, New York City and opera aficionados everywhere bid farewell to a 70-year-old institution that unfortunately fell victim to the economics of the times. The New York City Opera’s curtain fell for the final time last Saturday after a performance of the production Anna Nicole, a modern opera about the late actress and model.

The NYCO has been plagued with budgetary constraints for the last decade, and on Monday announced they failed to raise the $7M necessary to save the current season. The organization began the bankruptcy filing process this week.

The NYCO was established in 1943 as an alternative to the Metropolitan Opera (commonly called ‘The Met’) and was dubbed “the people’s opera” by then-Mayor Fiorello La Guardia. They offered younger singers – particularly Americans – an opportunity that The Met did not, and they offered the public more access to opera with cheaper ticket prices.

In its 70-year tenure, the NYCO is responsible for having helped to launch the careers of many performers that went on to become the operatic equivalent of rockstars. Performers Sherrill Milnes, Shirley Varrett, Samuel Ramey, and, perhaps most notably, Placido Domingo and Jose Carreras, who would go on to become two of the Three Tenors along with the late Luciano Pavarotti.

Opera is a very niche market for both libraries and the general retail market and true opera fans are few and far between – particularly outside those major cities that have an arts culture that thrives enough to sustain an opera company. What may be surprising for some is that common opera songs can be found, repurposed, in even the most common of places – children’s cartoons, TV commercials, and even as hooks in pop or rap music.

Opera is simply the art of telling a story through song – just like any other genre of music – but I think one of the biggest barriers the genre faces with the general public is that most operas and nearly all the classic operas are written in languages other than English, requiring subtitles. As I said, though, chances are most of the public has heard some of opera’s greatest songs and arias, they just don’t know it.

If you want to introduce your patrons to opera, start with the best. The three albums I would recommend are Best Opera Classics 100, Nessun Dorma: Best of Opera, and if you happen to have it on the shelves already, The Best of The Three Tenors.

For more titles, simply SmartBrowse ‘Opera’ on our website. To read more about the closing of the iconic New York City Opera, click here.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Star Wars Reads Day Celebrates Literacy

Written by Jon Williams

If you see an influx of patrons dressed in costume and carrying lightsabers this Saturday, don’t worry. They’re just there to participate in Star Wars Reads Day, an international event to celebrate reading and promote literacy.

The Star Wars franchise is most well known, of course, for the movies: the original trilogy of A New Hope (1977), The Empire Strikes Back (1980), and Return of the Jedi (1983), and the prequel trilogy of The Phantom Menace (1999), Attack of the Clones (2002), and Revenge of the Sith (2005). The animated The Clone Wars also played in theatres in 2008, paving the way for a television series that spanned five seasons before ending earlier this year. And of course, it’s common knowledge that a new trilogy is on the horizon, with the first installment slated for release in May of 2015.

While the films will always be what comes to mind first when someone mentions Star Wars, there’s no doubt that the books have expanded the universe and provided many hours of adventure for fans of all ages. However, that wasn’t always the case. Although the original trilogy created a huge number of fans for all things Star Wars, fandom went into a “dark time” following the release of Return of the Jedi in 1983, a period of time when there was little new material to satisfy the craving for more. That period was brought to a screeching halt in 1991 with the publication of Heir to the Empire, the first of a three-book series by acclaimed sci-fi author Timothy Zahn.

Since then, the literary reach of Star Wars has exploded, with books filling out the timeline from 25,000 years prior to the events of the original movie to nearly 50 years after. Along the way, there’s been something for just about everyone. Interested in the history of the Millennium Falcon? Fan of Han Solo or Obi-Wan Kenobi? Want to know the origin of Emperor Palpatine? Like zombies? All of these stories and more are available.

With the announcement of more movies leaving the stability of the Expanded Universe timeline in doubt, new books focus on eras that won’t be affected by the new trilogy. The most recent addition, Razor’s Edge, details Princess Leia’s struggle to establish a new base for the fledgling Rebel Alliance. Two entries are currently scheduled for 2014: Honor Among Thieves will begin a new series detailing the exploits of Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, and Princess Leia after the destruction of the Death Star, while Lockdown will follow Darth Maul on a mission for his dark master.

These titles will be in high demand for Star Wars Reads Day on Saturday, but Star Wars audiobooks are always a big hit. Be sure to SmartBrowse ‘Star Wars’ on our homepage for a complete selection of titles we offer, and to stay up-to-date with new titles as they’re announced.