Category Archives: Holiday Gift Guide

Dastardly and dramatic and a heaping of unctuous piety: Welcome “Poldark Season 3”

The election results are in from yesterday . . . but we always knew PBS Distribution would continue being a winner by releasing Poldark Season 3 on DVD and Blu-ray. Does George Warleggan finally have the upper hand against his archenemy, Ross Poldark? Can George’s growing power in Cornwall cement his control over the fate of his populist foe? Dream on! Follow the latest thrilling exploits of Ross Poldark and his fiery partner, Demelza, starring Aidan Turner and Eleanor Tomlinson as the intrepid eighteenth-century duo.

The new season costars Jack Farthing as the dastardly George and Heida Reed as his bewitching wife, Elizabeth, now estranged from her first love, Ross—or is she? Also returning are Caroline Blakiston as Ross’s crusty Aunt Agatha, whose passion in life is tormenting George; Beatie Edney as the irascible servant Prudie; Luke Norris as stalwart Dr. Dwight Enys; and Gabriella Wilde as Dwight’s secret fiancée, the fetching heiress Caroline Penvenen.

Last season, TV Guide was captivated by Poldark’s “myriad pleasures, not the least of which is Aidan Turner’s swarthy charisma as the chivalrous and perilously proud crusader of Cornwall . . . Poldark is the sort of great escape you would be foolish to resist.”

Critics have been equally enthralled with Season 3, which recently aired in the UK. London’s The Independent lauded the “action-filled opener,” with its panoply of plot developments that “helped the atmospheric drama gallop out of the starting blocks.”

And gallop it does. Episode one introduces fresh doubts about the paternity of Elizabeth’s impending baby, along with some consequential new characters, including Ellise Chappell as Elizabeth’s pretty cousin Morwenna. Hired as the governess for Elizabeth’s young son (by her previous marriage to Poldark’s cousin Francis), Morwenna is soon a pawn in George’s grand game to win political influence.

Morwenna would prefer to share company with Demelza’s strapping brother Drake, a lay minister played by Harry Richardson, but George intends her to marry the recently widowed Reverend Whitworth, portrayed with unctuous piety by Christian Brassington. Whitworth gives every indication of being a rank libertine, to the horror of the upright and innocent Morwenna. Meanwhile, George manages to abuse every privilege he accrues in his ruthless climb to power.

Also enlivening the new season are a mysterious plague of frogs, a thwarted famine, and Aunt Agatha’s eagerly anticipated one-hundredth birthday party, which has a catastrophic catch. But the most stirring action involves the French Revolution, which manages to ensnare one of the program’s main characters in its Reign of Terror, prompting Poldark’s most dangerous mission yet.

Perhaps even more perilous—at least for his psyche—is Ross’s cooling attitude toward Demelza. Reckless to a fault, he appears to be throwing it all away—a magistracy, a seat in Parliament, his lands, and even his red-haired beauty. What on earth could he be thinking?

Holiday Gift Guide 2016: The Year’s Best Shows, Specials and Documentaries from PBS

We have praised the DVDs releases from PBS Distribution, Lionsgate and Public Media Distribution for years, and this time we offer a wide selection of some of their best releases from 2016 that make super gift choices. Educate and entertain yourself with specials, documentaries and specials that r\demand a place in your library and a place close to the “play again” button! In no particular order we offer. . .

Spillover-Zika, Ebola & Beyond takes us around the globe, where viruses are on the march: Zika, Ebola, Nipah, Chikungunya, Dengue and West Nile. All of these viruses reside in animals and have the potential to “spillover” and infect humans. What’s behind the rise in spillover viruses? Are the United States and the world prepared to anticipate, contain and prevent the next outbreak? The program traces the spread of viruses and reveals strategies to prevent devastating outbreaks. The program features scientists across Africa, Asia, North America and South America who are searching for ways to combat these dangerous diseases.
The program mixes stunning graphics and compelling personal stories to provide much-needed scientific context for the current Zika crisis, the devastating Ebola pandemic and recent Nipah outbreaks. Viewers encounter the new frontiers of disease detection, prevention and containment as they travel the world with virus hunters, whose mission is to identify, track and ultimately control dangerous pathogens. Interspersed throughout the documentary are in-depth interviews with a range of leading researchers, epidemiologists, doctors and public healthcare experts, who shed light on how human behaviors increase spillover events, how science is learning to anticipate and tame spillover events and how the global community must pull together to face the public health threat.

Public Media Distribution’s Black America Since MLK: And I Still Rise, the series hosted, executive produced and written by Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. In the program Gates looks at the last 50 years of African American history—from Dr. King to Barack Obama, from James Brown’s “I’m Black and I’m Proud” to Beyoncé’s “Formation”—charting the remarkable progress black people have made and raising hard questions about the obstacles that remain. The series begins at a point in history when the story we tell about ourselves as Americans becomes complicated. Almost every schoolchild today learns about the civil rights movement—about how our nation moved itself forward, against the will of many, out of a shameful past. Yet what has happened since?  From here, the series steps out of the sanctified past and into the complex, raw, conflicted present. Today, Barack Obama sits in the White House and African Americans wield influence in every domain, from business to academia to the arts.

From left are Black Panther members, 2nd Lieutenant James Pelser, Capt. Jerry James, 1st Lieutenant Greg Criner and 1st Lieutenant Robert Reynolds, shown Feb. 20, 1969 in New Brunswick, NJ. (AP Photo/John Rooney)

At the same time, black people are incarcerated at six times the rate of white people, and due to financial inequality white people now have 13 times the wealth of black people. Many of our schools and neighborhoods are more segregated than they were in 1965, and police killings of unarmed black men in places like Ferguson, Baltimore and Baton Rouge recur with tragic frequency—inspiring radically different responses within black and white communities. How did we end up here, when half a century ago racial equality seemed imminent—even inevitable?

The program begins in 1965, in the wake of Malcolm X’s assassination and the passage of the Voting Rights Act, which was followed five days later by an incendiary explosion of black rage: the Watts riots. It moves on to explore the burgeoning Black Power movement which took much of America (including many old-school black leaders) by surprise, telling stories of Stokely Carmichael, the Black Panthers and cultural icons like James Brown alongside an exploration of the cultural trends that expressed black pride—from Afros and dashikis to Soul Train. The series continues, charting a wave of new opportunities and new consciousness that would lift African Americans to undreamed-of heights—in Ivy League schools, major corporations, the Supreme Court and even the White House.

Cook’s Country Explores: All-American Recipes: Season 9  features the best regional home cooking in the country and relies on a practical, no-nonsense food approach where family-friendly recipes are scientifically re-imagined for the modern home cook. Join the experts from America’s Test Kitchen as they uncover blue-ribbon regional specialties from across the country, and classic fare in need of a makeover. And as always, find out which cookware, kitchen tools, and supermarket foods are worth the dough, and learn more about the history of American food. Cook’s Country: Season 9 also includes tips and techniques, food tastings, equipment tests and printable versions of all 31 recipes.

Our ancient human ancestors once lived as tiny bands of hunter-gatherers scattered across the vast continent of Africa. Numbering no more than a few thousand, small groups of these intrepid humans began to move out of Africa—eventually reaching every corner of the earth. How did these early humans overcome the world’s most difficult terrain and ultimately dominate the planet? How did our prehistoric forebears acquire the skills, technology and talent to thrive in every environment on earth? How did they cross the furnace of the Sahara survive frigid ice ages or manage to sail to the remotest Pacific islands? The program takes viewers on a spectacular global journey through the past, following our ancestors’ footsteps out of Africa along a trail of fresh scientific clues to help unravel the mystery of how we got where we are. Profound answers are to be found NOVA: GREAT HUMAN ODYSSEY.

Our species has the unique ability to live almost anywhere, in any climate and any terrain. NOVA crisscrosses the world to examine why and how Homo sapiens has spread everywhere—from the far corners of Africa to the Siberian Arctic to the Pacific Islands and the Americas and beyond. The program features interviews with leading historians, anthropologists, archaeologists and geneticists, opening a door to a world of fascinating new discoveries about the origins of us. With unique glimpses of today’s Kalahari hunters, Siberian reindeer herders and Polynesian navigators, NOVA unveils the amazing skills in these traditional hunter-gatherer communities that hint at how our ancestors may have survived and prospered long ago.

Throughout the program, NOVA follows anthropologist Dr. Niobe Thompson as he travels the globe, searching for echoes of the past in the skills of people living in remote and demanding environments—conditions that may be similar to the ones our ancestors had to surmount on their global journey. For decades, anthropologists have been observing such societies trying to understand their social, cultural and spiritual beliefs, and how they live their day-to-day lives—from the food they eat to the natural medicines they use.

Charlie Hebdo. Paris. Brussels. Since January of 2015, a wave of attacks by terrorists linked to Al Qaeda and ISIS has overwhelmed Europe, killing nearly 200 people and injuring hundreds more. Could those attacks have been prevented? And why does Europe remain so vulnerable to the terrorism threat? The program tells the inside story of the missteps and systemic breakdowns that allowed known terrorists to strike in the heart of Europe, the problems that persist today, and the unprecedented threat the continent now faces.

In unusually candid interviews, counter-terrorsim veterans tell ProPublica senior reporter Sebastian Rotella how the attackers escaped detection, and how European countries have failed to put in place effective intelligence sharing and border enforcement — such as procedures for tracking air travelers that became standard in the United States after the 9/11 attacks.

The program reveals stunning details of many missed chances in the run-up to the attacks. It tells the story of how previously convicted terrorists who attacked Charlie Hebdo were able to hatch the plot with al Qaeda in Yemen—and of the decision to end surveillance on them. It details how more than a dozen Paris and Brussels attackers shuttled across Europe and back and forth to Syria, crossing borders and fending off police repeatedly—even though most of them were wanted or on watch lists.

Neither pestilence, starvation, nor betrayal can stop Ross Poldark from fighting for justice in his native Cornwall. Aidan Turner returns as the ex-officer, class warrior, lover and mining entrepreneur, called by The New York Times “the noblest, hottest, most down-to-earth hero.”

Also back is co-star Eleanor Tomlinson, playing Demelza, the miner’s daughter who is Ross’ equal in passion, wit, and daring—which is, of course, why they marry. Catch up with the adventures in Poldark Season 2.

New this season—or thrust into prominence from last—are Gabriella Wilde as Caroline Penvenen, a flirtatious young heiress under the watchful eye of her rich uncle, Ray, played by John Nettles; Luke Norrisas earnest young doctor Dwight Enys, who only has time for his patients nd for Caroline; and Henry Garrett as Captain McNeil, Ross’ old comrade from the war, now hunting smugglers and an opportunity to woo a certain married lady.

Viewers of the first season will recall that Ross shocks his relatives and neighbors when he shows up from America, since all had presumed him dead. Then he sets about upending their lives—threatening the copper mining interests of his uncle and cousin, Charles and Francis Poldark, and the rival operation of upstart George Warleggan. He is also ensnared in a romantic web that connects him, Francis, and George to the beautiful Elizabeth. Nevertheless, Ross happily marries Demelza and they have a daughter. But in the final episode of Season 1, an epidemic takes the child away, and a shipwreck and drowning are blamed on Ross.

So at the start of Poldark Season 2, Ross stands accused of murder and “wrecking”—luring a cargo ship to the rocks for plunder. It’s a capital offense, the judge is unsympathetic, hostile witnesses have been bribed and Ross appears headed for the gallows. It’s just the first in a string of suspenseful episodes every bit as precipitous as the steep cliffs of Cornwall.

Cats are one of the most diverse and studied mammals in the world, yet only now is their real identity being understood. Evolutionary tricks and adaptations have contributed to their successful survival. In fact, all 37 species of the cat family behave similarly in the way they hunt, utilizing flexible spines and sharp teeth to catch their prey. No surprise, then, that they are one of the greatest predators since the dinosaurs and are still evolving.

NATURE: The Story of Cats chronicles the 11 million year history of how the most widespread carnivore on the planet evolved, from their roots in ancient rainforests to today’s popular house cat. The latest discoveries by scientists studying their physiology and behaviors are also incorporated into the series.

The first episode, Asia to Africa, shows how the first cats arose in the rainforests of Southeast Asia and moved throughout the continent adjusting to other environments such as high altitudes (snow leopard, Pallas’s cat) and frozen forests (Siberian tigers). The film introduces the most ancient type of cat existing today, the rare clouded leopard, whose genetic blueprint is shared by all cats. Learning how to become ambush predators through play is one of the crucial traits that all young members of the cat family must develop in order to survive in the wild. Cubs of species like the clouded leopard don’t have much time to master these skills before their mother forces them out to find their own territories as solitary predators. It is one of the reasons that around nine million years ago, the ancient tree climbing felines began to fan out all over Asia.

The program explains that a drop in sea level about eight million years ago made Africa accessible via the Red Sea land bridges to the adaptable cats. On the African plains, a keen sense of hearing and an ability to jump high were often necessary attributes for these solo hunters to catch prey. The lion however is the only cat who transitioned from being solitary to living in prides with shared responsibilities and defined roles. Experts theorize that early lions figured out they could hold the best hunting grounds if they worked together. The second episode, Into the Americas, traces how the first cats crossed the Bering Strait land bridge from Asia into North America around nine million years ago, competing for food and territory with the early canida ancestors of wolves and foxes.

But the origins of the most successful cat of all, the domestic house cat, lay in the wildcat’s ability to catch mice attracted by grain stored in villages. They made their way from the Mideast to Europe to America serving the same mouser role on trading ships. The program states that a genetic mutation created the first distinct feline breed, the Siamese cat, in Southeast Asia. People then bred domestic cats for the features they wanted, resulting in more than 40 different types of felines. But although cats are still wild at heart, they may evolve yet again if owners want to reduce the time their pets spend hunting.

Holiday Gift Guide 2016: The Year’s Best Last-Minute Gifts

FOR TV FANS
Get an exclusive look behind the scenes of the first two seasons of Outlander with The Making of Outlander: The Series: The Official Guide to Seasons One & Two (Delacorte,$50), an official, fully illustrated companion to the hit TV series based on the bestselling novels. Millions of readers captivated by the epic romance of Claire Beauchamp Randall and Jamie Fraser have eagerly followed. Now the must-watch drama has inspired this must-have guide, which reveals that it takes a village (or perhaps a Scottish isle) to bring the breathtaking world of Outlander to life in front of our eyes. Spanning the first two seasons of the small-screen, The Making of Outlander leads readers behind the scenes and straight into the action as cast members, writers, producers, musicians, costume designers, set decorators, technicians, and more share the many adventures and challenges they face to make this sweeping saga come alive on the screen.

In the special treat Wild Kratts: A Creature Christmas (PBS Distribution), the Wild Kratts crew is resting and relaxing as they get ready for the Wild Kratts Christmas party after a busy year filled with amazing creature adventures. It’s too bad their arch villains Donita Donata, Gaston Gourmand, and Zach Varmitech are about to spoil the fun. The sound of jingle bells is replaced by alarm bells as the team discovers that Donita, Gaston, and Zach are capturing baby animals from around the globe. With Christmas fast approaching, can Martin and Chris rescue their baby animal friends and return them to their homes in time for the holidays?

Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood: Daniel’s Winter Wonderland (PBS Distribution)features four stories including “A Snowy Day,” “Daniel’s Winter Adventure,” “Neighborhood Nutcracker,” and “Baking Mistakes.” In the stories “Daniel’s Winter Adventure” and “Neighborhood Nutcracker,” Daniel discovers that when sledding, ice skating, or learning a dance for “The Nutcracker” ballet, “if something seems hard to do, try it a little bit at a time!” In addition to these grr-ific stories, kids can watch Daniel and Miss Elaina play snow astronauts in “A Snowy Day,” and Daniel and Prince Wednesday make cookies with Baker Aker in “Baking Mistakes.”

FOR NATURE LOVERS
In The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate—Discoveries from a Secret World (Greystone Books, $24.95), Peter Wohlleben shares his deep love of woods and forests and explains the amazing processes of life, death, and regeneration he has observed in the woodland and the amazing scientific processes behind the wonders of which we are blissfully unaware. Much like human families, tree parents live together with their children, communicate with them, and support them as they grow, sharing nutrients with those who are sick or struggling and creating an ecosystem that mitigates the impact of extremes of heat and cold for the whole group. Drawing on groundbreaking new discoveries, Wohlleben presents the science behind the secret and previously unknown life of trees and their communication abilities; he describes how these discoveries have informed his own practices in the forest around him.

Countless books and blogs have extolled the virtues of the Cat Lady, now photographer David Williams celebrates cat-owning men and the precious kitties who have stolen their hearts. Men With Cats: Intimate Portraits of Feline Friendship (Quirk Books, $12.95) represent a cross-section of American society—musicians and artists, soldiers and CEOs, truck drivers and tattoo artists—with one very furry common denominator. These fun, fuzzy, and offbeat portraits are full of personality, and the accompanying stories share everything from “how we met” to how the cats earned their names. Men with Cats is a delightful gift book for anyone who appreciates the bond between pets and their people.

Small is size, big in tips and hints. Miniature Garden Grower (Mitchell Beazley, $14.99) from garden designer and writer Holly Farrell shows how to grow a variety of miniature gardens from scratch, using inexpensive, everyday equipment and materials. Projects include: one-pot gardens, terrariums, wildlife gardens, water gardens, herb gardens and vertical gardens. Heavily illustrated with diagrams and photographs, and packed with charts and tables, this book is a gardening book the whole family can enjoy.

FOR POP-UP PRAISERS:
LEGO Pop-Up (Scholastic, $29.99) is the first-ever LEGO pop-up book Matthew Reinhart creates another spectacular pop-up book, this time telling the LEGO story with equal amounts facts, fun and adventure. Packed with a variety of features- pop-ups, pull tabs, turning wheels and more, this “fun-formative” book will be a delight for both LEGO and pop-up fans alike. Part book, part comic strip, all fun, this is the ultimate collector’s item for LEGO fans.

In this spectacular pop-up guide to the White House by bestselling paper engineer Robert Sabuda, readers can take a tour behind the scenes of the office of the executive branch and the residence of the president and his family. Enter The White House: A Pop-Up of Our Nation’s Home (Orchard Books, $29.99) and travel through time as you open each spread and discover the North Face of the White House, the East Room, the Lincoln Bedroom, the Rose Garden, the Oval Office, and the South Lawn of the White House. year. According to First Lady Michelle Obama, “It’s the ‘People’s House.’ It’s a place that is steeped in history, but it’s also a place where everyone should feel welcome.”

The iconic art of Japanese artist Hokusai, from great waves to waterfalls and mountains, are reimagined in dramatic 3-D pop-ups in Hokusai Pop-Ups (Thames & Hudson, $29.95). Realized in jewel-like colors, Hokusai’s simple views of everyday scenes in Japan, his sense of balance and harmony, and his highly stylized but ever-changing techniques seem to capture the spirit and traditions of his homeland. Hokusai Pop-Ups brings this stunning art to life.

FOR MUSIC MAVENS
As the 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love floods the media with debates and celebrations of music, political movements, flower power, acid rock and hippies, The Explosion of Deferred Dreams: Musical Renaissance and Social Revolution in San Francisco, 1965–1975 (PM Press, $22.95)  offers a critical re-examination of the interwoven political and musical happenings in San Francisco in the Sixties. Musician and native San Franciscan Mat Callahan uses dozens of original interviews, primary sources and personal experiences to show how the intense interplay of artistic and political movements put San Francisco, briefly, in the forefront of a worldwide revolutionary upsurge.

Prince: Life & Times (Chartwell Books, $24.99) is a lavishly illustrated authoritative chronicle of his ground-breaking career, covering every album, every movie and every tour. Jason Draper includes profiles of key collaborators such as The Time, Sheila

E and Vanity 6, assesses his various business dealings, reviews of every album and details his many side-projects, on stage, on record, on screen, and beyond. This updated second edition includes detailed information on Prince’s activity from 2008 up to his death this year.

In the new book Fleetwood Mac: The Complete Illustrated History (Voyageur Press, $40) music historian Richie Unterberger digs deep into the band’s entire career, highlighting details that will surprise even the most loyal fans. The scope of the book is as large and varied as Fleetwood Mac’s career, starting with their formation as a blues band in the ’60s to the pop superstardom of the ’70s and ’80s to their 2015 reunion. Each chapter features separate reviews of each of Mac’s 17 studio albums, authored by noted rock critics such as Barney Hoskyns, Tom Moon Martin Popoff and Gary Graff. In addition, there’s a myriad of photographs and images and memorabilia, including rare and little-seen items.

He is, without a doubt, one of the most popular and controversial artists of all time. Now, for the first time ever, author Daryl Easlea explores the life and history of Michael Jackson, in reverse, in Michael Jackson: Rewind (Race Point Publishing, $40). Starting with his tragic death and rewinding to his early hits with the Jackson 5 and life in Gary, Indiana, this is a complete illustrated history of the King of Pop: his genius, his life and his demons.

Life Amplified World Tour: Live at WVU (City Drive Films) is the new live concert DVD and CD from multi-platinum country superstar Brad Paisley. The concert was shot with 20 cameras in front of a hometown crowd of more than 15,000 people. Paisley played an electrifying two-hour show that included many of his 23 number one singles, such as “Mud on the Tires,” “Then,” and a surprise rendition of “I’m Still A Guy,” featuring Chris Young.  The show also includes a very special version of the John Denver song “Take Me Home, Country Roads,” which has become an anthem for WVU.
The early ’50s was a heyday for vocal groups, riding the wave of middle-of-the-road popular music in the Tin Pan Alley-dominated years before rock ‘n’ roll changed pop music for ever. The Ames Brothers were one of the most popular of those groups, making their US chart debut in 1948, and racking up a lengthy string of hits over the next few years.
Their following was such that despite the upheaval that rock ‘n roll occasioned in the pop landscape, they continued having chart entries right through to the start of the new decade. This 54-track two-CD collection from Acrobat comprises all of the Billboard Top 100 entries they achieved during their career. It’s an evocative and definitive souvenir of one of the most popular and successful groups of their era.

FOR THOSE WHO LIKE DEAD THINGS
The Driller Killer (Arrow Films) is the definitive look at NYC s underbelly a slasher that is as much at home in the arthouse as it is the grindhouse. None of Abel Ferrara’s films have quite managed to match the shock, extremity and downright notorious nature of the fright flick. Ferrara plays struggling artist Reno, a man pushed to the edge by the economic realities of New York living in the late seventies and the No Wave band practicing in the apartment below. His grip on reality soon begins to slip and he takes to stalking the streets with his power tool in search of prey . . . Remember, it’s only a movie. or is it?

The Walking Dead tells the story of Rick Grimes and his band of survivors living in the gruesome aftermath of a zombie apocalypse. This deluxe The Walking Dead Blood Globe (Running Press, $12.95) includes a one-of-a-kind blood globe, featuring a scene of walkers. When the globe is shaken, it fills with fake “blood.” The kit also includes a 32-page book with quotes and images from the show.

An Ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead: The Papyrus of Sobekmose (Thames & Hudson, $40)is the first-ever  translation of the ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead of Sobekmose―fully illustrated and explained by a leading Egyptologist. The Book of the Dead of Sobekmose, in the collection of the Brooklyn Museum, is one of the most important surviving examples of ancient Egyptian Books of the Dead. Such “books”―actually papyrus scrolls―were composed of traditional funerary texts, including magic spells, which were thought to assist the deceased on their journeys into the afterlife. The ancient Egyptians believed in an underworld fraught with dangers that needed to be carefully navigated, from the familiar, such as snakes and scorpions, to the extraordinary: lakes of fire to cross, animal-headed demons to pass, and the ritual Weighing of the Heart, whose outcome determined whether or not the deceased would be born again into the afterlife for eternity.

FOR THE YOUNG AND YOUNG-AT-HEART

In a quiet wood, a gray squirrel declares war on the machines that invade his wood, threatening his nest and tree. Taught words and how to use simple machines like the wheel by a young boy who names him Jack, the squirrel shares what he’s learned with the other animals. And so we enter the world of Evolution Revolution: Simple Machines (CreateSpace Independent Publishing, $5.99.)
This
 is a smart and charming book for younger readers that will have them wondering just what the animals in the yard are up to! Watch for the next book in this series coming

With Jumbo Stickers for Little Hands: Jungle Animals (MoonDance Press, $5.99), sticker fans of all ages can play with large vinyl, resusable stickers of colorful, jungle animals. From Siamese fighting fish to lions, 
tigers, monkeys, zebras, butterflies and panda bears-what’s your favorite animal? With 24 pages of jungle scenes, monkeys can hang from trees. And so  can elephants and lions!

The battle between cats and dogs goes galactic! Star Paws (MVD Entertainment Group) stars Adventure Cat and his evil kitty army, who hope to snatch a magical galactic bone that will give them the power to take over the entire galaxy. It’s up to an elite group of space dogs, headed by the intrepid General Ruff to beat Adventure Cat to the bone. Four paws up!

HOLIDAY GIFT GUIDE 2016: THE YEAR’S BEST RECIPE AND FOOD BOOKS (PART TWO)

Following up on their best-selling The Kentucky Bourbon Cocktail Book, award-winning bartender Joy Perrine and restaurant critic and drinks writer Susan Reigler return to offer new recipes that will delight both the cocktail novice and the seasoned connoisseur. More Kentucky Bourbon Cocktails (University Press of Kentucky, $16.95) features more than 50 delicious new concoctions―including variations on classics such as the Old Fashioned and the Manhattan. The useful bourbon glossary and bibliography will appeal to professional or at-home bartenders eager to experiment, invent, and savor their own recipes.

Gwyneth Paltrow is back to share more than 125 of her favorite recipes that can be made in the time it would take to order takeout (which often contains high quantities of fat, sugar and processed ingredients). All the dishes in It’s All Easy: Delicious Weekday Recipes for the Super-Busy Home Cook (Grand Central Life & Style, $35) are surprisingly tasty, with little or no sugar, fat or gluten. From easy breakfasts to lazy suppers, this book has something for everybody. Yummy recipes include Chocolate Cinnamon Overnight Oats, Soft Polenta with Cherry Tomatoes, Chicken Enchiladas, Pita Bread Pizzas and Quick Sesame Noodles. There’s also an innovative chapter for “on-the-go” meals that you can take for lunch to work or school, to a picnic,or to eat while watching soccer practice.

Cattail Moonshine & Milkweed Medicine: The Curious Stories of 43 Amazing North American Native Plants (Storey Publishing, $19.95) is an offbeat and welcome food book. History, literature, and botany meet in this charming tour of how humans have relied on plants to nourish, shelter, heal, clothe, even entertain us. 61qubgvxcwlDid you know that during World War II, the US Navy paid kids to collect milkweed’s fluffy white floss, which was then used as filling for life preservers? And Native Americans in the deserts of the Southwest traditionally crafted tattoo needles from prickly pear cactus spines. These are just two of the dozens of tidbits that Tammi Hartung highlights in the tales of 45 native North American flowers, herbs, and trees that have rescued and delighted us for centuries.

If you’re vegan or simply looking to go dairy-free, enjoying the creamy simple pleasure of a cone or dish of ice cream can be a challenge. Then there’s the longing for the ooey, gooey goodness of cheese. vegancheeseicecreamadvancecoverThe answers (and recipes) can be found in The Best Homemade Vegan Cheese & Ice Cream Recipes (Robert Rose, $19.95), the only vegan recipe book that combines both ice cream and cheese recipes. All of the recipes, by Marie Laforet, contain natural and organic ingredients, making them healthy and surprisingly easy to prepare. With a little bit of organization and preparation, you’ll be creating sorbets, ice cream, ice pops and frozen desserts, along with flavorful artisanal cheeses, in the warmth and comfort of your kitchen.

Introduce your baby to a world of flavors with easy-to-make recipes for homemade baby food, featuring healthy ingredients, baby-friendly spices, and cuisines from India, China, France, Mexico and Morocco. The recipe for such success is Around the World in 80 Purees: Easy Recipes for Global Baby Food (Quirk Books, $19.99). The recipes are quick and easy, with imaginative variations featuring your favorite spices and flavors. Broaden your baby’s palate by the spoonful!

The warm sand. The salt air. The boardwalk. And, of course, Coastal cuisine from Asbury Park to Cape May. Summer at the Jersey Shore is unforgettable no matter which seaside destination is yours. And with The Jersey Shore Cookbook (Quirk Books, $22.95), you can have a taste of summer all year long. It features 50 recipes contributed by well-loved shore town restaurants, bakeries, markets, and more. From fresh oysters, scallops and tilefish to Garden State tomatoes, corn and blueberries, the perfect New Jersey ingredients shine.

When Candace Nelson started Sprinkles, America’s first cupcakes-only bakery, in 2005, people thought she was crazy. But Sprinkles sold out on opening day . . . and hasn’t slowed down since. Now, in The Sprinkles Baking Book: 100 Secret Recipes from Candace’s Kitchen (Grand Central Life & Style, $26), Candace opens up her recipe vault to bring you 100 irresistible desserts she can’t live without. But Candace doesn’t stop there. She shares the recipes for her all-time favorite cakes, pies, quick breads, cookies, bars, and other treats, plus delicious guest recipes from Sprinkles friends like Reese Witherspoon, Julia Roberts and Michael Strahan. Treat yourself to this sweet cookbook and share in the fun.

Over two years in the making, with Mario Batali searching for truly delicious dishes from all corners of the U.S., Big American Cookbook: 250 Favorite Recipes from Across the USA (Grand Central Life & Style, $40) features the best America has to offer. With over 250 simple recipes celebrating the treasures of the state fairs and the dishes of the local rotary clubs and ethnic groups. Batali has interpreted these regional gems with the same excitement and passion that he has approached traditional Italian food.All the dishes are  simple to prepare, and while Batali uses recipes passed down through the generations, he also shares hints on what he would add to the recipe to take the flavor up a notch.

Air-frying food is an innovative method of cooking that is incredibly healthy because although it produces crispy and tasty results, it uses very little oil. And although they are called air fryers, they also roast and bake, making them an ingenious and indispensable kitchen appliance. The recipes in 175 Best Air Fryer Recipes (Robert Rose, $24.95) are guaranteed to perform in an air fryer. On the Top 10 fave list: Beer Battered Fried Fish, Buttermilk Fried Chicken, Coconut Fried Shrimp, Potstickers and Old-Fashioned Cake Donuts. Yum!

Holiday Gift Guide 2016: The Year’s Best Books for Kids

Even the wee ones can be a handful at bedtime. Kangeroo Kisses (Otter-Barry Books ( $17.99) follows one mischievous child as she delays getting ready for bed, and has some amazing wildlife encounters along the way. A perfect picture book for reading aloud at bedtime . . . or any time. Cute words by Nandana Dev Sen, cuter illustrations from Pippa Curnick.

We always knew bananas had appeal. So does Anna Banana. Join Anna and her beloved wiener dog Banana for some entertaining adventures with the first four books in the illustrated Anna, Banana chapter book series. The delightful series about a third-grader named Anna, who navigates the joys and challenges of elementary school friendships with her beloved wiener dog Banana by her side.  the charming Anna, Banana, and Friends (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, $64.99) box set includes Anna, Banana, and the Friendship Split; Anna, Banana, and the Monkey in the Middle; Anna, Banana, and the Big-Mouth Bet; and Anna, Banana, and the Puppy Parade.

We have no problem sticking out our neck and praising Giraffes Can’t Dance (Scholastic, $14.99)The gift set includes a book as well as an adorable plush doll of Gerald the giraffe. Giraffes Can’t Dance is a touching tale of Gerald the giraffe, who wants nothing more than to dance. With crooked knees and thin legs, it’s harder for a giraffe than you would think. Gerald is finally able to dance to his own tune when he gets some encouraging words from an unlikely friend.

Art isn’t easy. But learning about great artists is, thanks to Kid Artists: True Tales of Childhood from Creative Legends (Quirk Books, $13.95). Hilarious childhood biographies and full-color illustrations reveal how Leonardo da Vinci, Beatrix Potter, Keith Haring and other great artists in history coped with regular-kid problems. Kid Artists tells their stories and more with full-color cartoon illustrations on nearly every page.

Make learning math fun by sharing hands-on labs with your child. Math Lab for Kids (Quarry Books, $24.99) presents more than 50 activities that incorporate coloring, drawing, games, and items like prisms to make math more than just numbers. Add up what kids can do and learn! Platonic solids, Möbius strips, tangrams and mind-bending fractals with straight lines and repeat shapes. Everything needed to complete the activities can be found in the book or around the house.

The newest book in the LEGO line, Factastic (Scholastic, $19.99), takes on the biggest subject of all: Our world and everything in it! There’s a whole world of information inside on almost every subject under the sun, from science to technology, from history to geography to popular culture. Each spread contains a LEGO scene to facilitate the learning journey: a vignette, mini story, or icon featuring LEGO models, characters, and sensibility. Graphic design combines the LEGO illustration with real-world photography and facts for an immersive experience.

A 6000-pound wrecking ball is about to demolish Benjamin Pratt’s school…and he only has 28 days to figure out how to stop it. In the four-volume fast-paced and action-packed mystery series Benjamin Pratt & the Keepers of the School Collection (Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books, $35.99), Benjamin Pratt and his friends Jill and Robert must figure out who is trying to destroy his school and why. At first having the school demolished to make room for an amusement park sounds pretty awesome. But when Ben stumbles upon the truth behind this grand scheme, and the ancient history buried deep within the school that goes all the way back to the Founding Fathers, he decides he’s got no choice but to stop the bulldozer before it starts and protect his school.

A mysterious island. An abandoned orphanage. A strange collection of very curious photographs. It all waits to be discovered in this groundbreaking novel, which mixes fiction and photography in a thrilling new kind of reading experience. As our story opens, a horrific family tragedy sets 16-year-old Jacob Portman journeying to a remote island off the coast of Wales, where he discovers the crumbling ruins of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. Together for the first time, this slipcased collection holds Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children and its two sequels, Hollow City and Library of Souls.  Also included: a special collector’s envelope of twelve peculiar photographs, highlighting the most memorable moments of this extraordinary three-volume fantasy.

An undercover teen agent discovers the ups and downs of espionage in the first six books of the CHERUB series, now available together in CHERUB Collection (Simon Pulse, $63.99). CHERUB agents are highly trained, extremely talented—and all under the age of seventeen. For official purposes, these agents do not exist. It is a tough job, but these agents have one crucial advantage: adults never suspect that teens are spying on them. Follow James through his training and his action-packed missions as he learns what it means to be a true CHERUB agent. This action packed boxed set includes The Recruit, The Dealer, Maximum Security, The Killing, Divine Madness, and Man vs. Beast.

Get your dork on with the ultimate Dork Diaries Squee-tastic Collection (Aladdin, $153.99). This complete collection contains books one through 10 (including three-and-a-half) in the wildly popular series. This collectible boxed set chronicles the oh-so-fabulous life of Nikki Maxwell as she navigates the halls of middle school, mean girls, BFF drama, and first crushes. From the first not-so-fabulous adventure, to the interactive How to Dork Your Diary, to the latest pet-sitting catastrophe, these books are filled with dorktastic fun!

Ella keeps her cemetery visits secret. Her father died before she was born, yet she knows they have a supernatural connection. And she may not be the only one with secrets. Ella’s mother might be lying about how Dad died 16 years ago. Newfound evidence points to his death in a psychiatric hospital, not as a result of a tragic car accident as her mother always claimed. Yikes! When a hand print much like the one Ella left on her father’s tombstone mysteriously appears on the bathroom mirror, at first she wonders if Dad is warning her of danger as he did once before?  We’re not telling, so find out in Yvonne Ventresca’s thrilling Black Flowers, White Lies (Sky Pony Press, $16.99).

 

Holiday Gift Guide 2016: The Year’s Best DVDs and Box Sets (Part Two)

Johnny Carson defined late-night television.  For more than 30 years, America watched together, laughed together, and sang together on the couch with the Original King of Late Night.  Now, audiences will be able to enjoy the very best of late night, any night, with The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson: The Vault Series (Time Life). The singular collections, new to retail and available in multiple configurations, feature Johnny and the inimitable Tonight Show crew in full episodes fresh from Carson’s vaults, including commercials. The Vault Series gives viewers the opportunity to relive the incomparable magic of a night with Johnny, Ed and Doc.  These collections feature some of the best and most requested episodes from more than 30 years and 4,000 shows, including material not seen by the public since the original broadcasts.

Rex is a cab driver who has never left the mining town of Broken Hill in his life. When he discovers he doesn’t have long to live, he decides to drive through the heart of the country to Darwin, where he’s heard he will be able to die on his own terms; but along the way he discovers that before you can end your life you’ve got to live it, and to live it you’ve got to learn to share it. Share the ride with Last Cab to Darwin (First Run Features).

Think you’ve seen the antics of Groucho, Harpo, Chico and (sometimes) Zeppo? Wait until you see them in Blu-ray. The Marx Brothers Silver Screen Collection (Universal Studios Home Entertainment)  boasts five restored Marx Brothers’ films–The Cocoanuts, Animal Crackers, Monkey Business, Horse Feathers and Duck Soup, the only five movies to feature all four brothers. The collectible set, filled with unforgettable comedy sketches, musical numbers, witty dialogue and plenty of gags, also includes all-new bonus features (such a feature-length documentary on the rise of the Marx Brothers) and audio commentaries for all the films.

To commemorate the 100thanniversary of Gregory Peck’s birth, Gregory Peck Centennial Collection (Universal Studios Home Entertainment) features two of the actor’s most iconic roles in To Kill a Mockingbird and Cape Fear.

Sure to lift any “Fanshee” out of the doldrums, the 3-disc Banshee: The Complete Fourth Season (HBO) is  this action drama charts the final twists and turns that follow Lucas Hood, an ex-convict who assumed the identity of sheriff in the Amish-area town Banshee, where his former lover and partner-in-crime was living under her own alias, Carrie Hopewell. The final season set is packed with behind-the-scenes extras including audio commentaries, exclusive deleted scenes, episode recaps, “Banshee Origins” (which tells the story behind the story with eight prequel videos featuring the cast of Banshee), “Zoomed In Episodes 1- 8” (an on-the-set feature highlighting how key, adrenaline-filled scenes were created), and specially-created cast retrospectives on “Best Fight Scenes” and “Job’s Best Outfits.”

Cohen Media Group continues to amaze cinephiles with their restored, spectacular releases. This year’s tops: Two Films By Douglas Sirk. The set features A Scandal In Paris, starring George Sanders is at his debonair best as we see him climb from clever criminal through the ranks of French society in the early 1800’s, with seemingly nothing to stop him from the biggest heist of his career . . . except, perhaps, the charms of a young lady. The other feature is Lured.

A serial killer is on the loose in London, luring young women into his web through ads placed in the personal column.  Scotland Yard’s bait to ensnare the villain is a young American dance hall girl (played by a stunning Lucille Ball), who encounters a series of likely suspects, including the always dashing George Sanders as a sophisticated playboy and an unforgettable Boris Karloff as a mad fashion designer.
Then there’s Sudden Fear. In this rediscovered masterpiece of film noir, Joan Crawford plays a successful playwright who marries a mediocre actor (Jack Palance) with a troubling secret. She soon discovers that he not only married her for money but that he plans to murder her with the help of his lover (Gloria Grahame). This taut thriller also features a score by Elmer Bernstein that is sure to keep you on the edge of your seat.

Directed by two-time Academy Award winner Barbara Kopple, Hot Type: 150 Years of The Nation (First Run Features) is a vivid look at America’s oldest continuously published weekly magazine. Centered through editor Katrina vanden Heuvel, as well as an impressive array of passionate writers, the film is a journey into the soul of American Journalism.
With unfettered access and unfiltered honesty, Hot Type captures the day-to-day pressures and challenges of publishing a weekly magazine and illuminates how the past continuously ripples through and shapes current events. It is the story of The Nation-and the nation-evolving into the future as it is guided by its remarkable past.

It’s easy to name the HBO drama that has consistently been the top selling TV on DVD/BD for the past five years. Now fans can get the most recent season with Game of Thrones: The Complete Sixth Season (HBO Home Entertainment).
The set features all 10 episodes, plus extensive bonus content. The cover is the best!

Disney’s adventure The Lion Guard (Disney) continues with Simba and Nala’s (from the classic The Lion King) second-born cub, Kion, and his Lion Guard team as they protect the Circle of Life! Follow our group of unlikely heroes: Bunga the honey badger, Fuli the cheetah, Beshte the hippo and Ono the egret. Join this heroic band as they use their unique abilities to protect the Pride Lands and maintain the Circle of Life. This series also features Simba, the spirit of Mufasa and the hilarious antics of Timon and Pumbaa.  You’ll go wild for all the ferocious fun, because whether the Lion Guard team is tracking a rogue leopard, foiling tricky jackals or facing stubborn crocodiles, Life In The Pride Lands is always “hevi kabisa”  totally intense! This new DVD, features five new episodes and is packed with laughs, music, beloved characters and heart, The Lion Guard: Life in the Pride Lands is a must-own. Bring home this heroic adventure on January 10. C’mon, Santa gave you $ in your stocking!

Poetic, riveting and moving, three-time Academy Award nominee Carlos Saura’s latest foray into the music of Argentina (First Run features) explores the heart of traditional Argentine folklore and its stunning musical heritage, from traditional styles to modern dance. Now 84, the legendary director states: “By beginning with the most beautiful traditional songs, I wish to explore the deep, telluric connection between song and soil, tradition and the future. I will create a film that is not only for aficionados but for all lovers of music and dance – as well as those who especially liked Carmen or Tango. My desire is to create a cinematic experience unlike any other.” Ole!

Time Stand Still (Rounder) This feature-length documentary film chronicles the final major tour for legendary rock band Rush. It is an intimate view of a historic moment from the perspective of the band, their fans, crew and management. Featuring interviews with the band throughout their sold-out 2015 40th Anniversary tour, the film also shows rarely seen backstage footage capturing the final moments of life on the road. Encore!

 

 

 

Holiday Gift Guide 2016: The Best Fox (as in 20th-Century) Finds

The laughs continue as one of television’s wittiest comedies returns for a hilarious fifth season–and its landmark 100th episode. Welcome to New Girl: The Complete Fifth Season. Although Jess (the brilliant Zooey Deschanel) and Nick (Jake Johnson) remain broken up, Schmidt and Cece (Max Greenfield and Hannah Simone) are headed down the aisle. Disaster arrives when the loft becomes an Airbnb, Schmidt’s bachelor party hits the road, and Cece’s judgmental mom shows up. Meanwhile, Jess lands a fantastic teaching gig, only to learn her boss is dating her ex, and Winston (Lamorne Morris) gets a great new girlfriend. Or does he? This series boasts fresh writing, standout performances and popular guest stars Henry Winkler, Julie Hagerty, Fred Armisen and Nasim Pedrad. New Girl simply does not get old.

Rebels, radicals, mavericks, and change makers. I Am Rebel is a documentary series about unfamiliar yet game-changing characters who prove that beneficial change can happen when you break the rules.

These stories are seemingly disparate, but they share a common thread–outsiders finding their voices in the underworlds of vice. Out of this darkness comes lightning bolts that lead to progress.

How outrageous can the animal kingdom get? Whether it’s out-of-bounds behavior or savage instincts run amok, when animals act out they’re a force to be reckoned with. From the mysterious depths of the deep blue sea to the jungle’s untamed edge, see just how rough, rowdy, and lawless Mother Nature’s most unruly creatures can be. Yes, the third season of Animals Gone Wild prove they do. And can.

For the first time, a human herd of Americans joins the great wildebeest migration across the Serengeti. They must use their expert survival skills to navigate without a map or compass–carrying limited food rations–and survive in the face of the world’s deadliest predators as they cross two hundred miles of brutal terrain. Do they have what it takes to reach the Mara River? We think future seasons of Myrations: Season One will be just as riveting.

From America’s coastline to exotic beaches around the world, the number of reported shark attacks has increased in the last half century. Many of the attacks are popping up in new and surprising locations. When Sharks Attack: Season Three investigates these terror-filled events, with underwater photography, compelling news archives, and gripping testimony exploring recent attacks to see what is affecting some of nature’s most feared fish.

Meet Dr. Michelle Oakley, vet to pretty much everything that moves in the Yukon. Follow the experienced veterinarian as she sees clients and makes house calls across thousands of square miles in the Yukon, helping animals big and small, wild and domestic, including an angry musk-ox,a caribou with a tumor, a defensive mama lynx, and a great grey owl with an amputated wing.  The (mis)adventures of Dr. Oakley Yukon Vet: Season Three! Accompanied by her teenage daughters and armed with humor as sharp as a scalpel, Dr. Oakley deftly juggles being a full-time vet, wife, and mother, while taking us across some of the most rugged and remote landscapes in
the world.

Starring Emmy nominees Rob Lowe and Fred Savage, The Grinder is a comedy about two brothers: Dean (Lowe) is a spotlight grabbing actor who plays TV’s most popular lawyer, and Stewart (Savage) is a real-life, small-town attorney who has yet to find his spotlight. When Dean’s series is cancelled, he moves back to his hometown where it doesn’t take long before he’s inserting himself into every aspect of Stewart’s life, both in the courtroom and at home. But when the brothers stop arguing with each other, and start arguing together in court, they make a formidable team. Sort of.

If the plot sounds familiar–a Broadway producer Bill and his actress-wife Julie, unable to have children, find an imaginative orphaned girl and decide to adopt her–the 1946 gem Sentimental Journey was remade in 1958 as The Gift of Love starring Lauren Bacall and Robert Stack.

The original stars Maureen O’Hara and John Payne.  A nostalgic valentine from Fox’s vaults. This and the following are goodies from the Fox Cinema Archives.

Maureen O’Hara return in the treasure Sitting Pretty, a 1948 comedy film which tells the story of a family who hires a man, Lynn Belvedere, with a mysterious past to babysit their children. It stars Robert Young, Maureen O’Hara and Clifton Webb. So popular was the character of Belvedere, Webb reprised his role in two more movies: Mr. Belvedere Goes to College (1949) and Mr. Belvedere Rings the Bell (1951).  Some trivia: Photographer Loomis Dean visited the set to photograph the filming for Life magazine and photographed Webb together with then unknown actress Marilyn Monroe, who does not appear in the film. And get this! This is one of few films Webb made where he dances.

Webb and Bacall resurface in the 1954 comedy Woman’s World, a subtle comedy with feminist overtones. Webb plays Gifford, an executive with a large automobile manufacturer who is having trouble deciding who to hire as his chief sales manager. His three candidates are equally competent, so he brings their wives with them to New York headquarters, planning to hire the one whose wife is most suited to be an executive’s wife. The cast is super: There’s Cornel Wilde, June Allyson,  Van Heflin,  Arlene Dah, even underrated Margalo Gillmore! Funny stuff.

Set at the turn of the century, smooth talking con man Eddie Johnson weasels his way into a job at friend and rival Joe Rocco’s Coney Island night spot. Eddie meets the club’s star attraction (and Joe’s love interest), Kate Farley, a brash singer with a penchant for flashy clothes. Eddie and Kate argue as he tries to soften her image. Eventually, Kate becomes the toast of Coney Island and the two fall in love. Joe then tries to sabotage their marriage plans.

A great score, a gorgeous Betty Grable and a warning. Fifteen seconds into the film there’s a character in blackface; later there is an entire musical number in blackface.  And, yikes!, the finale has a number in blackface.

Fritz Lang directed a western? No, he also  directed The Return of Frank James (1940). Western Union is a 1941 Western film starring Robert Young, Randolph Scott, and Dean Jagger. Filmed in Technicolor on location in Arizona and Utah, the flick’s about a reformed outlaw who tries to make good by joining the team wiring the Great Plains for telegraph service in 1861. Conflicts arise between the man and his former gang, as well as between the team stringing the wires and the Native Americans through whose land the new lines must run. In this regard, the film is not historically accurate; the installation of telegraph wires was met with protest from no one. The film is based on the novel Western Union by Zane Grey, although there are significant differences between the two plots.

 

Holiday Gift Guide 2016: The Year’s Best Fiction Books (Part One)

We truly believe that Mary Higgins Clark on her cut-and-paste mind. Often. Too often. Maybe co-author Alafair Burke has something to do with making The Sleeping Beauty Killer (Simon & Schuster, $26.99) a better read than usual. We refuse the reveal anything more about this book, the third installment in the Under Suspicion, other than television producer Laurie Moran puts everything on the line to help a woman she thinks was wrongfully convicted of murder. Beauty Killer will keep you guessing until the very end.

Growing up on Long Island, Shelby Richmond is an ordinary girl until one night an extraordinary tragedy changes her fate. Her best friend’s future is destroyed in an accident, while Shelby walks away with the burden of guilt. What happens when a life is turned inside out? Alice Hoffman always hits a home run; Faithful (Simon & Schuster, $26) is the story of a survivor, filled with emotion—from dark suffering to true happiness—a moving portrait of a young woman finding her way in the modern world. For anyone who’s ever been a hurt teenager, for every mother of a daughter who has lost her way, Faithful is a roadmap to healing.

Ever since Super Heroes like Thor and the Guardians of the Galaxy started stomping around planet Earth, we’ve had to open our horizons a little and embrace the wider reaches of space. If you’re thinking of journeying to one of the many new realms for a little R ‘n R, then don’t leave home without Hidden Universe Travel Guides: The Complete Marvel Cosmos: With Notes by the Guardians of the Galaxy (Insight Editions, $19.99) Universe’s guide to the cosmos. Whether you’re looking to enjoy the divine splendor of Asgard or soak up the multicultural atmosphere of intergalactic waypoint Knowhere, this is the book for you.

In this gripping page-turner, an ex-agent on the run from her former employers must take one more case to clear her name and save her life. She used to work for the U.S. government, but very few people ever knew that. An expert in her field, she was one of the darkest secrets of an agency so clandestine it doesn’t even have a name. And when they decided she was a liability, they came for her without warning. Now, she rarely stays in the same place or uses the same name for long. They’ve killed the only other person she trusted, but something she knows still poses a threat. They want her dead, and soon . . . can you put down Stephanie Meyer’s The Chemist (Little, Brown and Company, $28)? 

Thinking no one is reading, a blogger who calls herself LBH writes about her most personal feelings, especially her overwhelming loneliness. She goes from day to day showing a brave face to the world while inside she longs to know how it would feel if one person cared about her. Alex Bartlett cares. Nursing his own broken heart and trust issues, he finds himself falling for this sensitive, vulnerable woman whose feelings mirror his own.  And then he ventures to find her . . . Richard Paul Evans story unravels in The Mistletoe Secret (Simon & Schuster, $19.99)

The world is watching as massive crowds gather in Rome, waiting for news of a new pope, one who promises to be unlike any other in history. It’s a turning point that may change the Church forever. Some followers are ecstatic that the movement reinvigorating the Church is about to reach the Vatican, but the leading candidate has The world is watching as massive crowds gather in Rome, waiting for news of a new pope, one who promises to be unlike any other in history. It’s a turning point that may change the Church forever. Some followers are ecstatic that the movement reinvigorating the Church is about to reach the Vatican, but the leading candidate has made a legion of powerful enemies who aren’t afraid to kill for their cause. Is it possible that the new Pope is a woman?” James Patterson’s Woman of God (Little, Brown and Company) is a gem!

In a spine-tingling new collection, Helen Phillips offers an idiosyncratic series of “what-ifs” about our fragile human condition. Some Possible Solutions (Henry Holt, $26) offers an idiosyncratic series of “What ifs”: What if your perfect hermaphrodite match existed on another planet? What if you could suddenly see through everybody’s skin to their organs? What if you knew the exact date of your death? What if your city was filled with doppelgangers of you? Forced to navigate these bizarre scenarios, Phillips’ characters search for solutions to the problem of how to survive in an irrational, infinitely strange world. We especially love the wealthy woman who purchases a high-tech sex toy in the shape of a man.  A hoot!

After a harrowing, otherworldly confrontation on the shores of Exmouth, Massachussetts, Special Agent A.X.L. Pendergast is missing, presumed dead. Sick with grief, Pendergast’s ward, Constance, retreats to her chambers beneath the family mansion at 891 Riverside Drive–only to be taken captive by a shadowy figure from the past. Proctor, Pendergast’s longtime bodyguard, springs to action, chasing Constance’s kidnapper through cities, across oceans, and into wastelands unknown. And by the time Proctor discovers the truth, a terrifying engine has stirred-and it may already be too late. The twists and turns in The Obsidian Chamber (Grand Central Publishing, $28) will keep you up later.

James Lee Burke’s The Jealous Kind  (Simon and Schuster, $27.99), is an atmospheric, coming-of-age story set in 1952 Texas. On its surface, life in Houston is as you would expect: drive-in restaurants, souped-up cars, jukeboxes, teenagers discovering their sexuality. But beneath the glitz and superficial normalcy, a class war has begun, and it is nothing like the conventional portrayal of the decade.The Jealous Kind: A Novel (A Holland Family Novel) by [Burke, James Lee]Against this backdrop Aaron Holland Broussard discovers the poignancy of first love and a world of violence he did not know existed. Written in evocative prose, The Jealous Kind may prove to be James Lee Burke’s most encompassing work yet.

Rita Dove’s Collected Poems 1974-2004 (W.W. Norton, $35.99) showcases the wide-ranging diversity that earned her a Pulitzer Prize, the position of U.S. poet laureate, a National Humanities Medal and a National Medal of Art. Gathering 30 years and seven books, this volume compiles Dove’s fresh reflections on adolescence in The Yellow House on the Corner and her irreverent musings in Museum. She sets the moving love story of Thomas and Beulah against the backdrop of war, industrialization, and the civil right struggles. The multifaceted gems of Grace Notes, the exquisite reinvention of Greek myth in the sonnets of Mother Love, the troubling rapids of recent history in On the Bus with Rosa Parks, and the homage to America’s kaleidoscopic cultural heritage in American Smooth all celebrate Dove’s mastery of narrative context with lyrical finesse.

Russell Green has it all: A stunning wife, a lovable six-year-old daughter, a successful career as an advertising executive and an expansive home in Charlotte. He is living the dream, and his marriage to the bewitching Vivian is the center of that. But underneath the shiny surface of this perfect existence, fault lines are beginning to appear. And no one is more surprised than Russ when he finds every aspect of the life he took for granted turned upside down. In a matter of months, Russ finds himself without a job or wife, caring for his young daughter while struggling to adapt to a new and baffling reality. Throwing himself into the wilderness of single parenting, Russ embarks on a journey at once terrifying and rewarding-one that will test his abilities and his emotional resources beyond anything he ever imagined. Such is the magic of Nicholas Sparks’ Two by Two (Grand Central Publishing, $27).

 

Holiday Gift Guide 2016: The Year’s Best Non-Fiction Books (Part Two)

In When Broadway Went to Hollywood (Oxford University Press, $29.95) Ethan Mordden directs his unmistakable wit and whimsy to these challenging questions and more, charting the volatile and galvanizing influence of Broadway on Hollywood (and vice versa) throughout the twentieth century. Along the way, he takes us behind the scenes of the great Hollywood musicals you’ve seen and loved, as well as some of the outrageous flops you probably haven’t. The first book to tell the story of how Broadway affected the Hollywood musical, When Broadway Goes to Hollywood is sure to thrill theatre buffs and movie lovers alike.

When JFK and Jackie took the White House in 1961, Jackie appointed famed designer and family friend Oleg Cassini, as her personal “Secretary of Style.” From classic pillbox hats to casually elegant daywear and A-line and empire dresses, Cassini created an enduring look for the stylish her, and the First Lady became a fashion muse for the ages. Jackie and Cassini: A Fashion Love Affair by [Marino, Lauren]Meanwhile, women across the country enthusiastically copied her look; one that endures today and that transformed Jackie into one of the most beloved style icons of all time. Jackie and Cassini showcases the fashions and details the collaborations of an extraordinary teaming of designer and muse.

The cat’s meow . . . of sorts. Gain a deeper understanding of your canine friends through these in-depth breed profiles that showcase how working dogs think. From familiar breeds like the Border Collie, Corgi, and Dachshund to the lesser-known Akbash, Puli, and Hovawart, Janet Vorwald Dohner describes 93 breeds of livestock guardian dogs, herding dogs, terriers, and traditional multipurpose farm dogs, highlighting the tasks each dog is best suited for and describing its physical characteristics and temperament. Farm Dogs: A Comprehensive Breed Guide to 93 Guardians, Herders, Terriers, and Other Canine Working Partners (Storey Publishing, $26.95) also offers an accessible history of how humans bred dogs to become our partners in work and beyond, providing a thorough introduction to these highly intelligent, independent and energetic breeds. Purr-fect!

This Way Madness Lies (Thames & Hudson, $45) is a thought-provoking exploration of the history of madness and its treatment as seen through the lens of its proverbial home: Bethlem Royal Hospital, London, popularly known as Bedlam. Mike Jay’s book charts the evolution of the asylum through four incarnations: The eighteenth-century madhouse, the nineteenth century asylum, the twentieth-century mental hospital, and the post-asylum modern day, when mental health has become the concern of the wider community. Moving and sometimes provocative illustrations sourced from the Wellcome Trust’s exceptional collection and the Bethlem Royal Hospital’s archive highlight the trajectory of each successive era of institution. Each chapter concludes with a selection of revealing and captivating artwork created by some of the inmates of the institutions of that era.

Just before midnight on March 12, 1928, the St. Francis Dam, a 12-story-high concrete structure just fifty miles north of Los Angeles, suddenly collapsed, releasing a devastating flood that roared 53 miles to the Pacific Ocean, destroying everything in its path. What caused this unexpected catastrophe, and why are the facts largely missing from history books? With research gathered over more than two decades, award-winning writer and filmmaker Jon Wilkman revisits the deluge that claimed nearly 500 lives in Floodpath: The Deadliest Man-Made Disaster of 20th-Century America and the Making of Modern Los Angeles (Bloomsbury, $28). Driven by eyewitness accounts and combining urban history, technological detective story, and life-and-death drama, Floodpath grippingly reanimates the reality behind noir fictions such as the film Chinatown.

Millions of people around the world believe we have been visited in the past by extraterrestrial beings. What if it were true? And if so, what if there were clues left behind? Each week, hundreds of thousands of viewers tune in to the wildly popular Ancient Aliens television series to seek insight into those very questions and to become part of a thrilling, probing exploration of the mysteries at the heart of world civilizations. Ancient Aliens: The Official Companion Book (HarperElixir, $29.99) takes readers even deeper into the mysteries that have made the show a pop culture phenomenon. Filled with exciting insights and behind-the scenes stories from the show’s creators and leading experts in ancient alien theory, the book explores the key questions at the heart of the series: Who were they? Why did they come? What did they leave behind? Where did they go? Will they return? A perfect companion: The first official adult coloring book that ties into the hit series, brimming with 40 detailed illustrations of ancient artifacts, awe-inspiring archaeological locations and cultural phenomena, Ancient Aliens: The Coloring Book (HarperElixir, $9.99) immerses both the show’s fans and coloring enthusiasts in the wonder of these enigmas.

In the late 1800s, the city of Austin, Texas was on the cusp of emerging from an isolated western outpost into a truly cosmopolitan metropolis. But beginning in December 1884, Austin was terrorized by someone equally as vicious and, in some ways, far more diabolical than London’s Jack the Ripper. For almost exactly one year, the Midnight Assassin crisscrossed the entire city, striking on moonlit nights, using axes, knives and long steel rods to rip apart women from every race and class. At the time the concept of a serial killer was unthinkable, but the murders continued, the killer became more brazen, and the citizens’ panic reached a fever pitch. With vivid historical detail and novelistic flair, Skip Hollandsworth brings this terrifying saga to life in the sweeping The Midnight Assassin: Panic, Scandal, and the Hunt for America’s First Serial Killer. (Henry Holt, $30).

Ask any fashioniosta, and she (he?) will always remind you all it takes is the right accessory to pull off a great look. And if that accessory happens to be handmade by you? All the better! In  Melissa Leapman’s Designer Crochet Accessories, the author shows you how to make more than 25 fresh and beautiful crocheted accessories for women. From winter warmers like cozy hats and scarves that make a statement to all-season wardrobe builders such as one-of-a-kind jewelry, colorful handbags, and stunning shawls. The projects include something for crocheters of all levels, from beginners to intermediate and advanced knitters. Crafters of all skill levels will find a a project to keep their fingers busy. Each project offers easy-to-follow instructions, stitch diagrams using international symbols, and a clear photo to illustrate the finished piece.

Although many will remember the stirring adventures of “Swamp Fox” Francis Marion from the Walt Disney television series of the late ’50s and the fictionalized Marion character played by Mel Gibson in the 2000 film The Patriot, the real man bore little resemblance to either of those caricatures. But his exploits were no less heroic as he succeeded, against all odds, in repeatedly foiling the highly trained, better-equipped forces arrayed against him. In The Swamp Fox: How Francis Marion Saved the American Revolution (Da Capo Press, $26.99), we meet many colorful characters from the Revolution.  In  this first major biography of Marion in more than 40 years, John Oller compiles striking evidence and brings together much recent learning to provide a fresh look both at Marion, the man, and how he helped save the American Revolution.

 Let the People Rule: Theodore Roosevelt and the Birth of the Presidential Primary (W.W. Norton, $27.95)  tells the exhilarating story of the four-month campaign that changed American politics forever. In 1912 Theodore Roosevelt came out of retirement to challenge his close friend and handpicked successor, William Howard Taft, for the Republican Party nomination. To overcome the power of the incumbent, TR seized on the idea of presidential primaries, telling bosses everywhere to “Let the People Rule.” The cheers and jeers of rowdy supporters and detractors echo from Geoffrey Cowan’s pages as he explores TR’s fight-to-the-finish battle to win popular support. Using a trove of newly discovered documents, Cowan takes readers inside the colorful, dramatic, and often mean-spirited campaign, describing the political machinations and intrigue and painting indelible portraits of its larger-than-life characters. But Cowan also exposes the more unsavory parts of TR’s campaign: seamy backroom deals, bribes made in TR’s name during the Republican Convention, and then the shocking political calculation that led TR to ban any black delegates from the Deep South from his new “Bull Moose Party.”

They are the band that created metal music . . . and they have defined it for more than four decades. Black Sabbath’s career spans 11 different line-ups and 19 studio albums in addition to the 28 solo albums of the original four members. In The Complete History of Black Sabbath: What Evil Lurks (Race Point Publishing, $35), Joel McIver explores the complete history of Sabbath, from the precursor bands to the release of the holy trinity of heavy metal . . .  “Black Sabbath” (the song) on Black Sabbath (the album) by Black Sabbath (the band) to the present. With more than 150 photos, a gatefold family tree tracing the development of the band, a complete discography, and a foreword by Machine Head frontman Robb Flynn, this is where evil (and entertainment) lurks.

As an American student living abroad, Jennifer L. Scott found a Parisian mentor in her host mother, Madame Chic, who instructed her in the fine art of living. Now, Jennifer shares her lessons in the box set The Madam Chic Collection (Simon & Schuster, $55), including Lessons from Madame Chic, At Home with Madame Chic, and Polish Your Poise with Madame Chic. Based on what she learned from Madame Chic, Jennifer explains how to cultivate old-fashioned sophistication while living an active, modern life, teaching us to take pleasure in everyday routines, to dress presentably, perform household tasks with cheer, and how to conduct oneself both in public and in private.

 

Holiday Gift Guide 2016: The Year’s Best Non-Fiction Books (Part One)

Everything old is new again. A Very Vintage Christmas (Globe Pequot Press, $24.95) embodies the nostalgia and sentimentality associated with the holiday season. Vintage ornaments, lights, decorations, cards and wrapping all conjure up happy memories of Christmases past and serve as tangible mementos of holidays shared with family and friends. In fact, finding these objects, decorating with them and sharing them with others brings an instant feeling of comfort and joy. Coupled with beautiful photographs, tips on collecting, and secret shopping haunts, A Very Vintage Christmas offers a look at holiday decor in America and gives suggestions on how to make vintage finds work for today’s audience. While each chapter of A Very Vintage Christmas is unique, there is a common thread that runs through them all: the love of beautiful holiday decorations, and the interest in their history, value, and preservation. Quite merry.

On August 29, 2005 Hurricane Katrina made landfall in southeast Louisiana. Much of New Orleans still sat under water the first time Gary Rivlin glimpsed the city after Hurricane Katrina as a staff reporter for The New York Times. Four out of every five houses had been flooded. The deluge had drowned almost every power substation and rendered unusable most of the city’s water and sewer system. Six weeks after the storm, the city laid off half its workforce—precisely when so many people were turning to its government for help. How could the city possibly come back? A decade later, Rivlin traces the storm’s immediate damage, the city of New Orleans’s efforts to rebuild itself, and the storm’s lasting effects not just on the area’s geography and infrastructure—but on the psychic, racial, and social fabric of one of this nation’s great cities.

In 1535, William Tyndale, the first man to produce an English version of the Bible in print, was captured and imprisoned in Belgium. A year later he was strangled and then burned at the stake. His co-translator was also burned. In that same year the translator of the first Dutch Bible was arrested and beheaded. These were not the first, nor were they the last instances of extreme violence against Bible translators. The Murderous History of Bible Translations: Power, Conflict, and the Quest for Meaning (Bloomsbury, $28) tells the remarkable, and bloody, story of those who dared translate the word of God. Harry Freedman describes brilliantly the passions and strong emotions that arise when deeply held religious convictions are threatened or undermined. Can I hear an amen?

Unmentionable: The Victorian Lady’s Guide to Sex, Marriage, and Manners (Little, Brown and Company, $25) is a most deliciously scandalously guide to the secrets of Victorian womanhood. Therese O’Neill opens the doors to everything we secretly wanted to know about the Victorian era, but didn’t think to ask. Knickers with no crotches? Check. Arsenic as a facial scrub? Check. The infrequency of bathing and the stench of the Victorian human body?  It’s silly, sinful and superb! And the photos!

Herbs are hot! And in Making Love Potions (Storey Publishing, $16.95), Stephanie L. Tourles shows you how to bring that heat into your bedroom. She playfully presents 64 easy recipes for natural body oils, balms, tonics, bath blends and sweet treats to share with your special someone.  With beautiful illustrations and engaging explanations of the power that herbs, flowers, and natural oils have over our physical bodies, this is the perfect gift for lovers everywhere.

Buzz! Listen closely. The international bee crisis is threatening our global food supply, but we have a secret fix. The user-friendly 100 Plants to Feed the Bees: Provide a Healthy Habitat to Help Pollinators Thrive (Storey Publishing, $16.95) shows what you can do to help protect our pollinators. The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation offers browsable profiles of 100 common flowers, herbs, shrubs and trees that attract bees, butterflies, moths and hummingbirds. The recommendations are simple: Sow seeds for some plants—such as basil, rhododendron and blueberries—and simply don’t mow down abundant native species, including aster, goldenrod, and milkweed. This guide will empower homeowners, landscapers, apartment dwellers—anyone with a scrap of yard or a window box—to protect our pollinators.

For a new generation of homeowners and renters, the dual Domino books are the decor bible: a constant source of guidance, inspiration, and excitement. The Domino Decorating Books Box Set: The Book of Decorating and Your Guide to a Stylish Home Domino: The Book of Decorating (Simon & Schuster, $70) crack the code to creating a beautiful home, bringing together inspiring rooms, how-to advice and insiders’ secrets from today’s premier tastemakers in an indispensable style manual. The editors take readers room by room, tapping the best ideas from domino magazine and culling insights from their own experiences. With an eye to making design accessible and exciting, this book demystifies the decorating process and provides the tools for making spaces that are personal, functional and fabulous. Expert decorating tips, lush photography, and shrewd shopping strategies converge in straightforward guides. Maybe that sofa should be a bit closer to the window?

The Bible doesn’t call homosexuality a sin, and it doesn’t advocate for the one-man-one-woman model of the family that has been dubbed “biblical.” The Bible’s famous “beat their swords into plowshares” is matched by the militaristic, “beat your plowshares into swords.” The often-cited New Testament quotation “God so loved the world” is a mistranslation, as are the titles “Son of Man” and “Son of God.” The Ten Commandments don’t prohibit killing or coveting. What does the Bible say about violence? About the Rapture? About keeping kosher? About marriage and divorce? In The Bible Doesn’t Say That (Thomas Dunne Books, $25.99), acclaimed translator and biblical scholar Dr. Joel M. Hoffman walks the reader through dozens of mistranslations, misconceptions and other misunderstandings about the Bible. In 40 short, straightforward chapters, he covers morality, life-style, theology, and biblical imagery explores what the Bible meant before it was misinterpreted over the past 2,000 years.

Is your handwriting simply scribble? In the digital age of instant communication, handwriting is less necessary than ever before, and indeed fewer and fewer schoolchildren are being taught how to write in cursive. Anne Trubek argues that the decline and even elimination of handwriting from daily life does not signal a decline in civilization, but rather the next stage in the evolution of communication. In The History and Uncertain Future of Handwriting (Bloombury, $26), Trubek uncovers the long and significant impact handwriting has had on culture and humanity-from the first recorded handwriting on the clay tablets of the Sumerians some four thousand years ago and the invention of the alphabet as we know it, to the rising value of handwritten manuscripts today. Establishing a novel link between our deep past and emerging future, Trubek offers a colorful lens through which to view our shared social experience.

Give us a little Razzle Dazzle. Please. Michael Riedel’s book is a love letter to Broadway, both a splendid history of this American institution and a wonderful account of how art gets made. Filled with Broadway’s history and its myths—heroes and villains, ups and downs, dirt and dish—raise the curtain. Please. Razzle Dazzle:  The Battle for Broadway (Simon & Schuster, $17) builds suspense as Riedel chronicles productions from idea to stage to reviews to Tony Awards. A captivating gift to theater lovers. This narrative account of the people and the money and the power that turned New York’s gritty back alleys and sex-shops into the glitzy, dazzling Great White Way is perfect for Broadway buffs.

Did you know that Frank Sinatra was nearly considered for the original production of Fiddler on the Roof? Or that Jerome Robbins never choreographed the famous “Dance at the Gym” in West Side Story? Or that Lin-Manuel Miranda called out an audience member on Twitter for texting during a performance of Hamilton (the perpetrator was Madonna)? In Show and Tell: The New Book of Broadway Anecdotes (Oxford University Press, $19.95), Broadway aficionado-in-chief Ken Bloom takes us on a spirited spin through some of the most intriguing factoids in show business, offering up an unconventional history of the theatre in all its idiosyncratic glory. From the cantankerous retorts of George Abbott to the literally show-stopping antics of Katharine Hepburn, you’ll learn about the adventures and star turns of some of the Broadway’s biggest personalities.

Agates: Treasures of the Earth (Firefly Books, $19.95) is a comprehensive, easy-to-use identification guide for rock lovers. The book describes names of agates (mineralogical, geological, local, trade, trivial); properties of agates (color, wall-banded, level-banded, cracked, thunder eggs); sources of agates (eruptions, lava, sediment, limestone beds, fissures);
lapidary (sawing, grinding, sanding, polishing); imitations and forgeries of agates  . . . and much more. Amateur gemologists and agate collectors alike will find this informative and beautifully illustrated book to be an indispensable resource.