An Audiobook for Young Harry Potter Fans

Fans of J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter series and especially fans of the audiobooks narrated by Jim Dale may be interested to learn about The Worst Witch audiobook by Jill Murphy.

Like the Harry Potter series, The Worst Witch takes place at a school for young witches (though no young wizards here), complete with broomstick lessons, potion tests and uniforms with house colors. At Miss Cackle's Academy, we meet Mildred Hubble, dubbed the worst witch at the school because of her talent for getting into trouble. What kind of trouble? How about turning a rude classmate into a pig! (She meant to turn her into a toad, you see.) It's a short but magical story -- and very funny too.

Oh, yes, and did I mention that it's narrated by Miriam Margoyles, whom you may remember as Professor Sprout in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets?

The audiobook series continues with The Worst Witch Strikes Again and The Worst Witch All at Sea.

Author John Charles Simon Discusses His Book "Why We Laugh: A New Understanding"

Tuesday January 22, 2013: 7:00 pm to 8:30 pm -- Downtown Library: Multi-Purpose Room

John Charles Simon visits to discuss his new book, "Why We Laugh: A New Understanding." The book presents a comprehensive explanation for human laughter -- every human, every laugh, every context, and every reason. Offering insight into laughter's most probable origin, this fascinating book answers difficult questions of laughter's contagious quality, our sense of humor, and what laughter says about us as individuals and as a species.

This event includes a book signing and books will be for sale.

Audiobook for Teens

One of the best things about audiobooks is finding a voice that makes the character come alive, a voice that makes you feel as if the character herself is speaking to you. I found such a voice in Catherine Gilbert Murdock’s Dairy Queen.

Fifteen-year-old D. J. Schwenk has always done what was expected of her, taking on the brunt of running her family’s small Wisconsin dairy farm when her father injured his hip. When a family friend sends Brian Nelson, the quarterback from her high school’s rival football team, to help out on the Schwenks’ farm that summer, D. J. decides to do something unexpected and try out for her high school’s own football team.

Narrator Natalie Moore’s perfect Wisconsin accent brings this hilarious story to life, and whether you’re a football fan or not, you’ll find yourself cheering D. J. on in her quest to try something unexpected. The series continues with The Off Season and Front and Center.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel on DVD

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel follows seven retirees who decide to chance their retirement to spending time in a less expensive resort community in India. They arrive expecting lavish amenities, but find that the Marigold Hotel is not quite up to par, and the young, energetic owner does what he can to keep his first guests happy and at the hotel. Many of the guests make the most of it and try to enjoy the life in India, while others yearn to get back home.

The film features an all-star British cast of actors, including Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, and Bill Nighy, as the adventurous group whose lives are forever changed after their visit to India. It's full of laughter, warmth, and touching moments as the characters evolve and grow into new lives. While the film’s goal is to entertain, not necessarily to inspire or awe, it does go to show that life can begin at any age. To quote the young hotel owner, “Everything will be all right in the end and if it's not all right, then it's not yet the end.”

Parks and Recreation

Parks and Recreation has been one of the funniest shows on television the past few years. Currently in its fifth season, it’s a show well suited to its time slot on Thursday nights along side (the now dwindling) The Office and 30 Rock. It’s also a show that seems to fall under the radar with some crowds. Once you get used to it, this show is a serious laugh-out-louder, where every other sentence seems like comedic gold.

The show stars former SNL funny girl Amy Poehler as the positive, high-energy, do-gooder Leslie Knope, who works at the Parks and Recreation department in fictional Pawnnee, Illinois. Filmed mockumentary style, the show focuses on Knope and her colleagues as they work daily on a variety of city government issues. The cast is full of quirky and oddly matched personalities, played by the likes of Aziz Ansari, Rob Lowe, Rashida Jones, and Adam Scott, which make an amazing comedy team. To be honest, Ron Swanson is one of the best characters ever written for television. If you haven’t already done so, give it a whirl!

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #366

Mrs. Queen Takes the Train is historian/biographer William Kuhn's first foray into fiction and I hope, with more to follow.

On a cold and drippy November afternoon, The Queen, suffering from a recent bout of melancholia found herself walking towards Jermyn Street looking for cheddar - a special kind for her horse Elizabeth. Remembering happier times, she caught a train heading for Edinburgh where the royal yacht Britannia is docked as a tourist attraction. Meanwhile, in Buckingham Palace her royal attendants, fearing the worst, frantically searched for clues as to her whereabouts while fending off MI5, eager to chase down the errant monarch, hopefully one step ahead of the tabloids.

"Kuhn explores not only the queen's inner life (and the secrets she carries in that iconic purse), but the Downton Abbey style-tensions between servants and royals, the old guard and the new. The servants are the real stars here".... Among them is William, her butler, Lady Anne (her Lady-in-Waiting), her Chief Dresser Shirley (from humble beginnings but definitely the Queen's confidant), and Luke Thomason, her equerry, a decorated young officer recently returned from Iraq, wounds and all. Their back stories, their inner lives, and their friendship are engaging, but it is their utterly selfless devotion to the Crown that shines through.

Fans of Lilibet would enjoy Sue Townsend's immensely entertaining The Queen and I, and as brilliantly and sympathetically portrayed in The Queen by Dame Helen Mirren.

It's A Fact...

Wasn't The Kids in the Hall fantastic? Even thinking about some of their skits is enough to make me laugh. The Headcrusher, Cabbage Head, the Chicken Lady and all the rest are sure to put a smile on anyone's face. Not every act was was great and many people found their show off-putting, but hey, the same can be said of Monty Python's Flying Circus or Saturday Night Live. Being comic geniuses means taking risks, and take risks they did. If you missed out on the first run of The Kids in the Hall, do yourself a favor and put Season One on hold this very instant. Or indulge in some nostalgia and request this for a second viewing. Also, be sure to check out their movie debut Brain Candy.

Phyllis Diller, extravagantly 'out there' comedic genius, has died

Phyllis Diller, one of America's most beloved, goofy comics, died today at her Los Angeles home.

Diller, who had ties to Washtenaw County (she lived in Ypsilanti during World War II), got her show biz start in radio in the 1950s. From there, she started doing stand-up at the famous Purple Onion Comedy Club in San Francisco. In the 1960s, she and Bob Hope teamed up for two dozen TV specials. In addition to her extensive television appearances on dozens of shows, Ms. Diller worked in Hollywood. In a rare out-of-character role, Diller had a walk-on part in Spendor in the Grass (1961).

In addition to her wild platinum blonde hair and her signature guffaw, a cross between fingers scraping a pitted blackboard and a hormonally-challenged cat, Diller's running riff on her unseen, imaginary husband, Fang, entertained her audiences for decades.

In 2005, she somehow found time to pen her autobiography, Like a Lampshade in a Whorehouse: My Life in Comedy.

Ms. Diller, who had recently fallen and broken several bones, was 95.

Ron Palillo, a.k.a. Horshack on Welcome Back, Kotter, has died

Ron Palillo, who played Horshack on the 70s (1975-1979) hit sitcom, Welcome Back, Kotter, (season 1 is on order), died unexpectedly today at his West Palm Beach, Florida home.

Palillo's goofy character, Arnold Horshack, whose snorty horse-laugh masked his academic incliniations, was one of The Sweathogs, four rambunctious, lovable students in a remedial Brooklyn High School class taught by the wry Mr. Kotter (himself a former Sweathog), played by Gabe Kaplan. The other three Sweathogs were:

Vincent "Vinnie" Barbarino, the requisite heartthrob, played by John Travolta whose career took off with this role.

Freddie "Boom Boom" Percy Washington, brought to life by Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs, was musical and athletic and somewhat of a peacemaker.

Rounding out the quartet was Epstein (Juan Luis Pedro Felipo de Huevos Epstein, the short, tough guy Puerto Rican Jew, forever immortalized by Robert Hegyes.

Palillo, who was 63, died of a massive heart attack.

David Rakoff, beloved NPR humorist and author, has died

David Rakoff, whose special, sweet gift for humor and sympathy, died last night at home in Manhattan.

A Canadian by birth, great friends with Amy and David Sedaris, Rakoff stole the hearts of This American Life fans on NPR / Public Radio International with his hilarious contributions, told with a calm charm that delighted.

Rakoff wrote just three collections of essays. In his first, Fraud (2001), he wrote of his first battle with cancer. His third book, Half Empty (2010), won the 2011 Thurber Prize for American Humor.

When his cancer returned, Rakoff did not go gentle into that good night. In a powerful New York Times Magazine piece published in April of 2011, Rakoff wrote about the diagnosis that his cancer was terminal: "It leaves you exposed, like grabbing onto the trunk of a tree for support in a storm only to find the wood soaked through and punky and coming apart in your hands."

The announcement on Twitter today of Mr. Rakoff's passing, saw a flood of sorrowful tweets that brought him to the top of the Trending list. He was only 47.

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