Staff Picks

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

For fans of: Carlos Ruiz Zafon and Ernest Cline.

National Treasure collides with Google in this delightful caper filled with old-school clues and digital problem solving. When Clay Jannon is hired to tend to Mr. Penumbra's Bookstore during the night shift little does he know that his curiosity will draw him into the strange goings-on of its mysterious customers. Like Clay, you will be drawn into the mystery and want to know why he must record his night shifts in the ancient logbooks stored below the cash register - or why he is not allowed to open the books he so laboriously pulls from the three-story bookshelves using a rickety ladder and pure pluck.

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The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka

For fans of: Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden, Foe by J.M. Coetzee.

2013 One Book, One Philadelphia selection

In the early 1900s, numerous Japanese mail order brides came to America seeking better lives. Using a collective first-person narrator, Otsuka looks at the experiences of these "picture brides," organizing their stories into themes which include: their arrival in America; their first nights with their husbands; their interactions with white people; their children; and finally, the experience of World War II. Each section is beautifully rendered, a delicate amalgam of contrasting and complementary experiences.

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Pink Flag by Wire (CD)

For fans of: The Clash, The Ramones, Gang of Four.

Wire were born at the dawn of punk, but they became the quintessential art band. In the three closing years of the 1970s, the English quartet had one of the greatest opening runs of any band, shifting to post-punk before punk began to go stale and forging three masterpieces in a creative furnace so hot it burned out by the end of 1980. Those albums-- Pink Flag,Chairs Missing, and 154-- still sound remarkably fresh... Pink Flag was a fractured snapshot of punk alternately collapsing in on itself and exploding into song-fragment shrapnel. Read the rest of the Pitchfork review here.

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Building Stories by Chris Ware

For fans of: Dave Eggers, Alison Bechdel, Charles Burns.

The pieces, some previously published in various places and others new for this set, swarm around a Chicago three-flat occupied by an elderly landlady, a spiteful married couple, and a lonely amputee (there’s also a bee bumbling around in a rare display of levity)...It’s all about the grind and folly of everyday life but presented in an exhilarating fashion, each composition an obsessively perfect alignment of line, shape, color, and perspective...In terms of pure artistic innovation, Ware is in a stratosphere all his own.

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The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook

Think: Rachel Ray meets Ina Garten (aka the Barefoot Contessa). Home cook meets simple, sophistication.  

Deb founded her award-winning blog, The Smitten Kitchen, on the premise that cooking should be a pleasure, and that the results of your labor can—and should—be delicious . . .  every time. Deb is a firm believer that there are no bad cooks, just bad recipes. She has dedicated herself to creating and finding the best of the best and adapting the recipes for the everyday cook.

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The Cabin in the Woods (DVD)

For fans of: the Scream series, Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog, Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

 Kicking off with the best title card of the year, the film follows a standard assortment of college kids as they head to the creepy, cobwebby location of the title. Meanwhile, a pair of blasé white-collar drones trudge through what appears to be just another day in the office. An affectionate, extremely knowing spoof that also manages to be a full-blooded, rip-snorting scary movie, this Joss Whedon production should have horror fans levitating off of their seats with bliss.

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The Other Woman's House by Sophie Hannah

For fans of: Tana French, Ruth Rendell, Sophie Hannah's Simon Waterhouse & Charlie Zailer series.

It's past midnight, but Connie Bowskill can't sleep. To pass the time, she logs on to a real estate website in search of a particular house, one she is obsessed with for reasons she's too scared to even admit to herself. As she clicks through the virtual tour, she comes across a scene from a nightmare: a woman lying facedown on the living room floor in a pool of blood. But when she returns to show her husband, there is no body, no blood—just a perfectly ordinary room, with a perfectly clean beige carpet.

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Q: Are we not men? A:We are Devo! (CD)

For fans of: Gary Numan, The B-52's, post-punk, new wave.

Produced by Brian Eno, Q:Are we not men?...was a seminal touchstone in the development of American new wave. It was one of the first pop albums to use synthesizers as an important textural element, and although they mostly play a supporting role in this guitar-driven set, the innovation began to lay the groundwork for the synth-pop explosion that would follow very shortly.

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Queen of Versailles (DVD)

For fans of: social documentaries, quirky documentaries, schadenfreude.

The film begins with the family triumphantly constructing the largest privately-owned house in America, a 90,000 sq. ft. palace. Over the next two years, their sprawling empire, fueled by the real estate bubble and cheap money, falters due to the economic crisis. With epic proportions of Shakespearean tragedy, the film follows two unique characters, whose rags-to-riches success stories reveal the innate virtues and flaws of the American Dream. 

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Midwinter Blood by Mons Kallentoft

For fans of: Stieg Larsson, Jo Nesbo, and Karin Fossum. 

In a small, frozen town in the north of Sweden, Supt. Malin Fors combines heavy brooding with a strong work ethic. When the town outcast is found naked, beaten, and hanging from a tree, Malin and the rest of the police force must devote all their resources to finding the killers. But a motley family of degenerates, a nosy journalist, and a ritualistic cult all stand in the way of a clean, speedy investigation.

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Who's Landing in My Hangar: An Anthology 1977-1984 by Human Switchboard (CD)

For fans of: Talking Heads, Velvet Underground, Elvis Costello.

Recommended Song: Refridgerator Door

As part of the first generation of indie-rockers, Human Switchboard were transplants from Ohio that found their way into the NYC club scene of the early 1980s. Inspired by the writing of the Velvet Underground, H.S. worked up a great batch of edgy post-punk rockers with battling boy/girl vocals before imploding. This collection documents Human Switchboard's integral contribution to the history of alternative music.

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Bloodchild and Other Stories by Octavia Butler

For fans of: 1984 by George Orwell, Ursula Le Guin, Margaret Atwood. 

A perfect introduction for new readers and a must-have for avid fans, this New York Times Notable Book includes "Bloodchild," winner of both the Hugo and the Nebula awards and "Speech Sounds," winner of the Hugo Award...Like all of Octavia Butler’s best writing, these works of the imagination are parables of the contemporary world. She proves constant in her vigil, an unblinking pessimist hoping to be proven wrong, and one of contemporary literature’s strongest voices.

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Philadelphia Noir (book)

For fans of: Dennis Lehane, Michael Connelly, and Lee Child.

The 15 stories in this Akashic noir anthology mostly support Romano's thesis in his introduction: Philadelphia noir is different from the mood, the sensibility, the dimensions, of noir encountered in more glamorous American cities such as New York or L.A., because it is ordinary noir--the humble killings, robberies, collars, cold cases that confront people largely occupied with getting by. 

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Art of the Steal (DVD)

For fans of: Wordplay, Helvetica, and Freakonomics.

Note: Though we know the outcome, seeing the drama unfold behind the legal battle surrounding the Barnes Foundation's move from Merion to Philadelphia is quite gripping. 

In 1922, Dr. Albert C. Barnes formed a remarkable educational institution around his priceless collection of art, located just five miles outside of Philadelphia. Now, more than 50 years after Barnes’ death, a powerful group of moneyed interests have gone to court for control of the art, and intend to bring it to a new museum in Philadelphia.

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Freaks (DVD)

For fans of: The X-Files, classic horror. 

Tod Browning, who directed Bela Lugosi in the original Dracula, stepped into even eerier territory with this 1932 story of betrayal and retribution in the circus. Evil trapeze artist Olga Baclanova seduces and marries a midget in the circus sideshow, hoping to inherit his wealth. But in doing so, she has crossed the wrong folks: the tightly knit group of nature's aberrations, who stick together like family--and who set out to avenge their little pal.

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