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Philadelphia

Philadelphia DVD coverTom Hank won his first Academy Award for his portrayal of Andrew Beckett in the 1993 TriStar Pictures production Philadelphia.  Beckett is a successful corporate attorney who is wrongfully terminated because he has contracted AIDS.  Determined to fight for his rights, he enlists the help of a homophobic small-time lawyer (Denzel Washington) to sue his former firm.  Jonathan Demme directs strong performances to underscore the power of the story, including an understated turn by Antonio Banderas as Beckett’s devoted partner.  Even after fifteen years, Philadelphia raises important questions on the courage, compassion, and dignity that should be celebrated in each human being.  One of the working titles for the movie, People Like Us, is a reminder that this is not just a gay rights film, but a human rights one.

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell book coverDiane of Fiction/AV/Teen Services recommends Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke:

Astonished to find another practicing magician in early 1800s England, Mr. Norrell accepts the garrulous, charming Jonathan Strange as his pupil. However, it soon becomes clear that their ideas of what English magic ought to be are very different. Strange’s heedless pursuit of long-forgotten magic threatens to destroy not only his partnership with Norrell, but everything he holds dear.

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell is a New York Times bestseller, the winner of the 2005 World Fantasy and 2005 Hugo Awards, and Time magazine’s #1 fiction book of 2004.

The Book of Bright Ideas

Book of Bright Ideas book cover“Bright Idea #84:  When you go through a new town that don’t look like much, stop anyway, because you just might find a best friend waiting there.”  So begins a fast friendship between nine-year-olds Winnalee Malone and “Button” Peters in The Book of Bright Ideas.  Winnalee, who arrives in the quiet Wisconsin town with her free-spirited older sister, carries everywhere her two prized possessions:  an urn containing her mother’s ashes and a book in which she records clues to the secrets of life.  Button hardly knows what to make of this strange girl, and she tells the story of the eventful summer in which two wildly different families are brought together through a series of unexpected events.  The girls continue to collect lessons for Winnalee’s book, but it is the discovery of a much bigger secret that will truly change their lives.  The Book of Bright Ideas is written by Sandra Kring, whose debut was celebrated with Carry Me Home.

The Undecided Voter’s Guide to the Next President

The Undecided Voter's Guide to the Next President book cover‘Tis the season to be overwhelmed by politics, candidates, and debates.  Mark Halperin, political analyst for both Time magazine and ABC News, wants to help you make sense of the who, what, and why of the potential players in the 2008 Presidential race.  In his new book, The Undecided Voter’s Guide to the Next President, Halperin has created a practical tool by which you can easily browse candidates’ positions and priorities as well as their answers to more unusual questions.  His summaries are remarkably well-organized and concise, including insightful assessments of strengths and weaknesses.  The author makes effective use of the candidates’ own words, and his analysis is notable for providing detail in an accessible and non-intimidating format.  This book will benefit anyone who wants to move from “undecided” to “informed”.

Once

Once DVD coverOne of the best-reviewed movies of 2007, Once is a modern musical that balances authenticity and sweetness with admirable finesse.  Beginning with little more than a guy, a girl, and a broken vacuum cleaner, the story deepens into a compelling tale of two musicians in Ireland who create a real connection and together decide to realize a dream.  The original soundtrack serves as a vibrant character of its own, intertwining the players in harmonies both powerful and heartfelt.  A particularly poignant collaboration is “Falling Slowly,” which just received an Academy Award nomination for best original song.  Once is written and directed by John Carney and stars the talented Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova.  Distributed by Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment, it is a film well-worth seeking out more than just once.

Eleanor Taylor Bland

Eleanor Taylor Bland author photoAward-winning author of the Marti MacAlister mystery series, Eleanor Taylor Bland was born in Boston, Massachusetts on December 31, 1944.  At only fourteen she married a sailor, and eventually they settled near the Great Lakes, his last duty station.  Bland graduated from College of Lake County and Southern Illinois University, later working at Abbott Laboratories as an accountant.  After surviving a serious bout with cancer, she adopted a “live in the present” philosophy, one that is also evident in her writing.  Her heroine, African-American police detective Marti MacAlister, made her first appearance in the novel Dead Time and soon resurfaced in Slow Burn and Gone Quiet.  The thirteenth book in the series, A Dark and Deadly Deception, was published in 2005.   An interesting note:  the town of Lincoln Prairie, fictional location for her novels, is actually a mix of Waukegan, North Chicago, and Zion.

T is for Trespass

T is for Trespass book coverOne of the most frightening forms of evil is that which preys on the defenseless.  Such is the premise of Sue Grafton’s newest book, T is for Trespass.  A chilling read even for those who aren’t established fans of the series, the story centers on Solana Rojas, a home health care worker who victimizes those she is hired to protect.  Private detective Kinsey Millhone suspects the woman is not who she seems to be, uncovering a frightening pattern of abuse and identity theft.  The narrative is divided, deftly twisting between the perspectives of hero and villain, which effectively heightens the suspense in what Publisher’s Weekly names  “one of the series’ high points”.

Grafton’s books are easily enjoyed individually for their self-contained stories. Those interested in earlier installments will appreciate S is for Silence, Kinsey’s previous adventure, and A is for Alibi, her first case.

Helvetica

Helvetica DVD coverHelvetica is an original documentary film about typography in everyday life.  Director Gary Hustwit explores the impact that type has in advertising, art, psychology, and communication.  Singling out the Helvetica font, which celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2007, experts from around the globe take sides on the love/hate relationship with “the ultimate typeface”.  Entertaining interviews with modern pioneers of graphic design are interspersed with montages of street signs and corporate logos to illustrate the thousands of applications of this single but definitive construction of letters.  Produced by Swiss Dots, Ltd. in association with Veer, Inc., this film is carefully researched and winningly presented.  It will undoubtedly change your notice of the influence of words and the power of design.

Rhett Butler’s People

Rhett butler's People book coverLawbreaker.  Gentleman.  Opportunist.  Hero.  Who exactly is Rhett Butler?  In a new book fully authorized by Margaret Mitchell’s estate, award-winning author Donald McCaig peeks behind the curtain of the man who stole Scarlett O’Hara’s heart.  The title, Rhett Butler’s People, illustrates that this is much more than a simple retelling of Gone with the Wind.  The author examines Rhett’s life, creating a backstory that rings true with the original but which also makes the character his own.  Intriguing new supporting players are introduced, and the narrative revisits favorite characters (such as Ashley and Melanie Wilkes and Belle Watling) in scenes both familiar and fresh.  What results is a complex portrait of life through the transitions of antebellum South to the Civil War and its aftermath, all as experienced by Rhett Butler and his people.

For a real treat, listen to the audiobook of John Bedford Lloyd‘s exceptional unabridged reading of the novel.  His narration perfectly captures the drama, charm, and complexity of the South through all its changes.

Year of the Dog

Year of the Dog book coverYear of the Dog by Shelby Hearon:  When 25-year-old Janey Daniels’ high school sweetheart and husband of five years betrays her for an old girlfriend, she decides she must get away.  Taking a sabbatical from her meddling mother and her job as a pharmacist at the local drugstore in Peachland, S. C., Janey moves to Vermont where she volunteers to raise a Labrador puppy named Beulah to be a companion dog for the blind.  Janey then meets James and the two form a relationship that helps them both deal with betrayal, love, and loss.