Musical Countdown to 2013 :: New Year’s Eve Playlist

Time to ring in the New Year, friends! Hopefully you all have fun plans for counting down to 2013. Just like last year, I put together a fun playlist that has a little bit of everything — new music to get excited about, classics that will make your guests smile and sing along; dance songs, love songs, quiet songs, loud songs  . . .  Enjoy! 

As always, head on over to your local HPB to look through our vinyl and CD selections, and maybe even pick up a USB turntable for the New Year. 

Which songs would you include on YOUR New Year’s Eve playlist? — Kristen 


Kristen is Public Relations Specialist at Half Price Books Corporate. 
You can follow her on Twitter at @kristendickson.


Judging a Book by its Cover: The Best of 2012

Back again! The 2nd annual tribute to eye candy that is a bookstore. Out of the thousands of books that have been released in the past year, there are some that may have stopped you in your tracks and made you look twice. Through a combination of illustration, photograhy, typography and negative space, book cover designs can compell our attention. A book can suddenly beg to be picked up and opened.

Here’s my round-up of 50 of the best book cover designs to hit the shelves in the past year, including some reprinted literary classics and paperback releases, alongside brand new publications in 2012. Enjoy this collection of eye-catching book covers.

What book cover caught your eye in 2012?

Meredith is Associate Creative Director at Half Price Books Corporate.
You can follow her on Twitter at @msquare21.

Top 5 Unconventional Holiday Film Classics

via BuzzFeedSixty-six years ago yesterday, It’s A Wonderful Life was released to the American public and despite losing RKO studios over $500,000 during its initial release, its legend has grown over the years and has become what many consider the quintessential holiday picture.  That it has persevered isn’t a terrible shock – it boasts one of the most iconic Jimmy Stewart performances in a career built out of them and delivers its message proudly and unambiguously (a hallmark of director Frank Capra’s films that has led some to dub them ‘Capra-corn’) with an ending that doubles as an affirmation for living.  So I understand fully why people would like to settle in for such an affirmation after a season of holiday shopping that is more likely to leave them in a state of existential panic.  

That said,  IaWL, Miracle on 34th Street, Charlie Brown and A Christmas Story have kept a stranglehold on our holiday film viewing for far too long, so what I would like to do here is propose an alternate brand of Christmas viewing for the more adventurous filmgoers who frequent this blog.  And why not start with one of the most heart-wrenching, glorious celebrations of the holiday spirit ever captured on film…


“But”, I can hear you saying already, “the film is only set during the holiday, it is in no way emblematic of the spirit of the season!”  To the contrary, good reader – is there any more powerful example of the seasonal axiom ‘’Tis better to give than receive’ than John McClane proving it ten times over as he cuts a bloody swath through Hans Gruber and his associates?  He even kindly gives Hans his wife‘s watch as a parting gift at film‘s end!  And I’d argue that Bruce Willis’ performance as our hero captures the ‘disheveled but willing to make an effort’ nature that truly embodies the season for most of us.   But if one of the most immaculately constructed films ever made doesn’t give you the holly jollies, then let me suggest…


Joe Dante’s paean to X-Mas anarchy features antagonists who perfectly encapsulate the unchecked greed and avarice that the holidays can unfortunately foster and then proceeds to blow them up in the microwave.  And look no further than the classic monologue delivered by Phoebe Cates’ Kate explaining her distaste for Christmas that lays this movie’s gooey, darkly comic heart bare.  Much like Die Hard, this film might not be an all-ages holiday treat, unless that is, your kids are awesome.  If more austere holiday fare is what you seek, then perhaps…


…will fit the bill.   Consider this the yang to Double Indemnity’s coal-black yin.  Once again pairing Barbara Stanwyck (the greatest actress of all time!) with Fred MacMurray (inventor of Flubber!), and backed by a sterling script from Preston Sturges (underrated genius!), this holiday romance features both actors at their best (Stanwyck plays damaged with a chance for redemption better than anybody ever will) as MacMurray plays the Assistant DA who bails Stanwyck’s petty shoplifter out of jail and takes her home to his family for the holidays, showing her a graciousness of spirit and warmth she was never provided by her own family.   If by this film’s pitch-perfect ending you find your heart insufficiently warmed, then let’s burn that sucker down with…


No offense to It’s A Wonderful Life, but it’s a pretender to the “best Jimmy Stewart holiday film” crown.   This, one of the best movies ever made by one of the best directors (Ernst Lubitsch) of all time, filled to the brim with humanity, compassion and heart.   The story may seem familiar (originally a stage play, it’s been retold as both In the Good Old Summertime and You’ve Got Mail over the years), but nobody has spun the tale as beautiful and humanely as Lubitsch and his brilliant cast.   Margaret Sullavan and Jimmy Stewart share exquisite chemistry as rivals who don’t realize the truth staring them right in the face and Frank Morgan (The Great and Powerful Oz!) provides dramatic heft to the proceedings as the emotionally frayed shop owner.   I truly believe this is one of the best movies ever made and that it happens to be set during and exemplifies the best of the holiday season is simply icing on the cake.   But I fear these selections have veered too far in the direction of the heart-filled and classic, so let’s wrap my suggestions up with…


Why bother with elegantly rendered, gorgeously constructed masterworks of cinema when you could opt for one of the most misguided, absurd and blatantly incompetent movies ever made?  The original Silent Night, Deadly Night made some waves after being pulled from theaters shortly after its release, with the PTA and film critics alike decrying the “killer dressed as Santa” premise.  And if you’re at all concerned that you haven’t seen the original before you’d delve into this crapsterpiece of a sequel, don’t worry, the majority of part two is the actual footage from part one being shown again under the guise of a series of flashbacks.  That said, you will get a nun decapitation thrown in there towards the end as well as the greatest psychotic rampage in the history of cinema (just hop on YouTube and type in ‘Garbage Day’ to get a taste).   And the original footage that does comprise the structure for the sequel features the greatest amateur acting performance of all time, as Eric Freeman takes what could’ve been (and honestly, still is) a craven cash-grab masquerading as a movie and elevates it to the level of fine art with his stilted line deliveries, awkward physicality and AMAZING facial expressions.   Unfortunately the filmmakers have still not been able to pin down Mr. Freeman ever since, but if they did, I would thank him for the greatest Christmas gift I’ve ever been given, which is his embodiment of one Ricky Caldwell in the most gloriously inept films ever made.

This of course barely scratches the surface of the truly varied and interesting films that one can watch at Christmastime in lieu of the same old, same old; for example, the gnarly Black Christmas, a holiday slasher flick made by the same man who brought you A Christmas Story or the more recent gonzo Finnish action-comedy Rare Exports, which rescues the darker folklore of Santa Claus from obscurity with European aplomb!  But  the films I’ve listed above are the real deal, and you just might find yourself creating a new holiday tradition if you give any of them a chance! 

Tom is Assistant Store Manager at our Brookfield, WI HPB.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs Premieres

December 21, 1937 – Walt Disney released his first full length animated film – Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.  It’s gone on to be among the top ten grossing films, but it took a mammoth effort – 570 artists just for starters – and a mammoth risk.  Would adults sit still for an animated feature?

Based on Grimm’s Fairy Tales, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is a classic tale of good and evil, so there’s plenty of suspense to draw viewers of all ages in.  But it’s a cartoon, too.  And the adults embraced it along with the kids.

Back in the 1970s, Snow White was the first film I ever saw in the theater.  At least, that’s the way my mom tells it.  Ever notice many of your childhood stories depend on the retelling by adults?  They tell it so often, you repeat it, and are certain it’s true.  Though I’d like to doubt the one where I climbed the kitchen cabinets to open a can of frosting and somehow dumped it out on my little brother’s head.  Surely I would’ve eaten some first.

Still, Walt Disney’s retelling of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is so clever, we want it to be true.  Good triumphs.  True love prevails.  Evil is vanquished.

The initial showing of Snow White gave people something to smile and laugh about in the time of WWI and WWII.  Perhaps we can celebrate the 75th anniversary of this classic, and have something more to smile and laugh about in this time of both sorrow and joy.

— Kim

Kim is Store Manager of our Half Price Books store in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables: From the Book to the Screen

From the moment I saw the preview at the theater, I have been excited about the new movie Les Misérables, starring Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway and Russell Crowe. This book-turned-musical has been adapted for the screen more than 60 times, but this adaptation proves to be different because the actors actually sing live while filming the scene instead of recording first and lip-syncing later.  In this way, the actors can allow whatever they are feeling at the moment to come through in the music.  Some critics are already talking an Oscar nomination for Anne Hathaway’s performance as Fantine.

Though the music is powerful, and the acting in this movie is going to be stellar, we must not forget that Les Mis began as a French historical novel, by Victor Hugo, and this 1,400-page novel has a bit more information than its musical counterpart.  So here are a few things you may not know about Les Mis if you have not read the book:

  • ·        Did you know that Valjean saves Cosette from the Thenardiers on Christmas Eve?  (I wonder if that had anything to do with Les Mis, the movie’s release date.)
  • ·        Did you know that Eponine and Gavroche are brother and sister?  Gavroche is an unloved middle child who lives on his own. When Eponine is dying she asks Marius not to tell her brother Gavroche because he will scold.
  • ·        Did you know that Javert was born in prison to a convict father and a gypsy mother?  He renounces them and starts working as a guard in the prison.
  • ·        Did you know that Cosette’s father is named Félix Tholomyès, and that her mother Fantine is illiterate?  She has to get others to write her letters to the Thénardiers.
  • ·        Did you know that Marius’ father was ennobled by Napoleon Bonaparte, causing Marius’ loyalist grandfather to disinherit him, and is the colonel whose life is saved (accidentally) by M. Thénardier?

The movie is scheduled to be released on Christmas Day, and I’ve already made my plans to see it. I’ve also got my copy of the book on my bedside table to brush up on the story before seeing the movie. 

So, are you excited about seeing Les Mis? Hopefully these five previews can tide you over till next week:  

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Tell us your favorite Les Mis story in the comments!

Julie is Production Manager at Half Price Books Corporate.
You may follow her on Twitter at @auntjewey.

40 Books You Can Read Over & Over

We’ve been talking quite a bit around here about this Mayan calendar end-of-the-world business, and a debate just ensued — is it End of the World, or End of the World As We Know It? If it’s the latter, then I immediately picture desolation as far as the eye can see, survivors holed up in seaside cliffs, and darkness everywhere — no electricity, and certainly no digital devices. What’s a post-apocalyptic booklover going to do for entertainment, apart from spending the day trying not to die a horrible bloody death? Answer: READ. (Right? Right.)

With that in mind, we asked our bibliomaniacs: What’s the one book you could quote chapter by chapter, the one that’s lost its cover from so many reads, the one you’d risk saving from your burning house — or in less hyperbolic terms: What’s the one book you could read again and again? So here it is: Classics, SciFi, Children’s, Mystery, horror, political humor and general fiction.  Something for everyone, this side of the apocalypse or the other.


Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury; The Fellowship of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien; Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, by J.K Rowling; Grendel, by John Gardner; Cat’s Cradle, by Kurt Vonnegut; Watership Down, by Richard Adams; Lonesome Dove, by Larry McMurtry; The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien; The Master and Margarita, by Mikhail Bulgakov; Siddhartha, by Hermann Hesse; Rebecca, by Daphne du Maurier; The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, by C.S. Lewis; Outlander, by Diana Gabaldon; Booked to Die, by John Dunning; Winnie the Pooh, by A.A. Milne; Slaughterhouse Five, by Kurt Vonnegut; The Count of Monte Cristo, by Alexandre Dumas; Danny the Champion of the World, by Roald Dahl; The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger

Lamb, by Christopher Moore;  The Left Hand of Darkness, by Ursula Le Guin; Decline and Fall, by Evelyn Waugh; Tropic of Capricorn, by Henry Miller; Imagined London, by Anna Quindlen; A Child’s Christmas in Wales, by Dylan Thomas; Flowers in the Attic, by V.C. Andrews; Mr. Perfect, by Linda Howard; The Giver, by Lois Lowry; Ferdinand the Bull by Munro Leaf; Eyes of the Dragon, by Stephen King; The Polar Express, by Chris Van Allsburg; Someday Angeline, by Louis Sachar; Me Talk Pretty One Day, by David Sedaris; The Eyre Affair, by Jasper Fforde; Anne of Green Gables, by L.M. Montgomery;  The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald; Les Miserables, by Victor Hugo; Mists of Avalon, by Marion Zummer Bradley; Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card; Parliament of Whores, by P.J. O’Rourke

Kristen is Public Relations Specialist at Half Price Books Corporate.
You can follow her on Twitter at @kristendickson.

Holiday Cookie Swap

Stock-up on butter because it’s baking season! Here are a handful of our favorite sweet treats to share with your friends and family during the holiday season.

1 holiday confetti cake batter cookies / 2 ginger snap cookies with lemon cream cheese frosting
 3 chocolate mint oreo cookies / 4 thumbprint cream cheese cookies
5 chocolate gingerbread men / 6 sugar and spice snowflakes


Let’s put the “swap” in cookie swap – tweet or tag us on Instagram with pictures and recipes of your favorite holiday cookies. Also, make sure to check out these books for more cookie creations. — Stephanie

Stephanie is Art Director at Half Price Books Corporate
You can follow her on Twitter at @saltpepperpress

Frank Sinatra and a Rat Pack Christmas

A Rat Pack Christmas

Yes, there is a CD that handily collects Christmas songs by Frank, Dino, Sammy (and Peter and Joey, as pictured above), so you could go that route.  But wouldn’t it be more fun to go looking for some of those classic Christmas albums by the Rat Pack guys, and maybe include some of their fellow holiday crooners?

Here are some suggestions for some albums and song choices that you could use to put together an ultra-cool playlist that might approximate who you would hear sing at a swingin’ holiday soiree hosted by the Rat Pack.

Dean Martin, “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”

Dino could make anything swing, even “White Christmas.”  OK, well, maybe not “White Christmas.”  But Mr. Suave shares vocals on “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” with a whole female chorus rather than the usual one female vocalist.  It’s gotta be in the mix.

Frank Sinatra, “Mistletoe and Holly”

Ol’ Blue Eyes made “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” and “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” into bittersweet holiday ballads, but to meet the Rat Pack hip quotient, my choice is “Mistletoe and Holly,” if only to hear Frank croon “Oh, by gosh, by golly.”

Sammy Davis, Jr., “Jingle Bells”

The LP bins are lousy with records by Frank and Dean, but, incredibly, Sammy never released a Christmas album!  He has recorded some Christmas songs, though, and one has got to be included.  I’m going with “Jingle Bells” to keep things hoppin’.

Nat “King” Cole, “The Christmas Song”

Cole wasn’t in the Rat Pack, but he should’ve been.  He was a lot cooler than Joey Bishop.  All of these guys sang versions of “The Christmas Song” (You know, “The Christmas Song”: “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire…”—that one), but Nat Cole made it one of his trademark numbers, and we’ll make it the low-key change of pace to break up the Rat Pack holiday party cheer.

Ella Fitzgerald, “Winter Wonderland”

Ella knew how to swing the holiday stuff, and was a big influence on the Rat Pack crooners.  Her version of “Winter Wonderland” bounces right along, and earns her a spot as a Rat Pack special guest.

Tony Bennett, “My Favorite Things”

Why Tony Bennett was not a member of the Rat Pack I don’t know. His version of “My Favorite Things” (yes, it’s a Christmas song) is peppy.  Tony’s still goin’, and in 2008 released an album with the Count Basie Band called A Swingin’ Christmas.  Perfect!

Peggy Lee, “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town”

The Rat Pack always had a few ladies around, so we’ll let Peggy join Ella to represent the feminine element.  All she has to do is sing to Dino, Frank and Sammy: “Gonna find out who’s naughty or nice.”  

Of course, there’s room for other Rat Pack wannabes at the party, like Steve and Eydie, Bobby Darin, and Vic Damone. A nice, swingin’ way to dig the holidays! – Steve

Steve is Staffing & Development Manager (aka the “Buy Guy”) at Half Price Books Corporate.

Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: 10 Movie-Making Facts

If you haven’t heard that Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit opens on December 14, you probably haven’t had the TV on at all. I remember this time last year I saw the trailer for the first time. And now, opening night is almost here. Everyone probably knows the story of The Hobbit, a novel by J.R.R. Tolkien, but you might not know these movie facts about making the film. Enjoy The Hobbit – in theaters on Friday, December 14!

1. Daniel Radcliffe, David Tennant, Shia LaBeouf, James McAvoy, Erryn Arkin and Tobey Maguire were considered for the role of Bilbo Baggins.
2. The Hobbit is the first feature film to be shot and projected at 48 frames per second, twice as fast as theindustry standard of 24 frames. The intention of this is to provide the film smoother, more realistic motion with reduced strobing. This is particularlybeneficial when viewing the film in 3D, as the higher frame rate helps to correctly synchronize the images for each eye.
3. Christopher Lee commented that he would have loved to voice the Dragon Smaug in a film adaptation of ‘The Hobbit’. Lee, along with Ian Holm, Bilbo Baggins, both shot all of their scenes at Pinewood Studios due to fear of flying to New Zealand because of health concerns.
4. Richard Armitage who plays Thorin Oakenshield, has said that his first experience acting on stage was playing an elf in a theatrical production of The Hobbit.
5. Gollum only appears in one scene in the book. Andy Serkis, who reprises his role as Gollum, completed that scene during the first week of production, but stayed on as Second Unit Director.
6. Martin Freeman previouslyappeared in Hot Fuzz, which featured cameos by director Peter Jackson as “Santa Claus,” Cate Blanchett (Galadriel) as a CSI agent, and Bill Nighy (who played Sam Gamgee on BBC Radio) as a police officer. He also appeared in Shaun of the Dead, also opposite Nighy, as well as Penelope Wilton, who had been married to the previous Bilbo, Ian Holm.
7. This movie went through severalstages of pre-production nightmares, the first being Guillermo del Toro stepping down as the Director as a result of MGM freezing the project while it emerged out of bankruptcy, it was almost cast out of New Zealand when several unions and guilds blacklisted the project and shooting was delayed again while Peter Jackson recovered from surgery from a perforated ulcer.
8. Bill Bailey auditioned for the role of Gloin. In Spaced, a British comedy series featuring the dup of Simon Pegg and Nick Frost (Shaun of the Dead) he plays a character named Bilbo, named after this film’s title character.
9. Martin Freeman (Bilbo Baggins) and Benedict Cumberbatch (Smaug/Necromancer) both star together in the BBC production of Sherlock; Cumberbatch plays the title role with Freeman playing Dr. Watson.
10. Evangeline Lilly appeared on Lost opposite former hobbit Dominic Monaghan (Merry). The two also dated for several years.

Jim is Art Director at Half Price Books Corporate.

How some of our holiday movie favorites almost never were…

One of my favorite parts of the holidays is getting to watch my favorite holiday movies. Now, I mean no offense to the more modern holiday movies like Elf and The Santa Clause, but when I think of holiday movies, I think of the older classics and cartoon specials I grew up watching.  Recently, I came across some interesting facts about some of my favorite holiday movies that I just had to share.

The network executives and sponsors of A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965) were disappointed with the finished product. They were wary of the religious overtones and objected to real children voicing all the characters. They agreed that they would air it “once and that will be all.” Thank goodness, network execs and sponsors don’t know everything.

In the book, How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1965), the Grinch was a black-and-white character. It was Chuck Jones, the illustrator behind Looney Tunes, who had the idea to make him green because it reminded him of the rental cars popular in the Washington-Baltimore area during that time. Another thing Chuck gave to the cartoon Grinch was his face, which actually resembles Chuck Jones’ face more than the it does its Grinchy counterpart in the book.

Edmond Gwenn, who played Santa in the original 1947 version of Miracle on 34th Street, actually played Santa Claus during the real 1946 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.  The parade scenes from the movie were taken from the real 1946 parade.

The musical White Christmas (1954) was intended to reunite Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire, who had previously co-starred in Holiday Inn and Blue Skies, but Astaire declined the project after reading the script, and Danny Kaye stepped in to take the role.

It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) was a box office flop. It was television broadcasters, who picked up the film from the public domain and played it every Christmas, that made It’s a Wonderful Life a holiday classic. If you love It’s a Wonderful Life, be sure to watch for Tom’s blog on this holiday classic later this month.

If you are like me and love classic movies, here are a few more you may want to watch this holiday season.

So what’s your favorite holiday movie?

Julie is Production Manager at Half Price Books Corporate.
You may follow her on Twitter at @auntjewey.