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Multimedia Gift Guide 

Gifts for the readers, gamers, cinephiles and music nerds on your list.

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Last week, we published our first Gift Guide of the year, with 80 gift ideas for the people on your list, be they aspiring Julia Childs, or mythical hominoids, geeks, Greeks, revolutionaries or the 1 Percent

This week, our focus is on media — on all of the books, DVDs, CD box sets, videogames and board games that the cook, kook, jetsetter or nester on your list is slavering to devour.

So here they are: DVDsVideogamesMusicBooksBoard games

DVDs

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Doctor Who: The David Tennant Years

The suit-and-Converse combo is an appropriate summation of the new doctor in this British series. He’s an authoritative, confident figure who also indulges in childlike whimsy on a regular basis. The 10th incarnation of the time-traveling alien is a favorite among fans of the long-running science-fiction show Doctor Who, thanks to David Tennant’s energetic and emotionally dynamic performance.

Now, the BBC offers a complete DVD set of Tennant’s time as the Doctor. The 26 discs include more than just the episodes of series two, three and four. All special episodes (including the animated ones), audio commentary, outtakes, deleted scenes, video diaries and Doctor Who Confidential documentaries are also included to keep fans occupied for a while. So what are you waiting for, Whovians? (Lydia Zuraw)

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Ken Burns: The Civil War (Commemorative Edition)

(b) This year marked the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War. Now available in a commemorative edition is Ken Burns’ masterful documentary of the destructive and defining conflict. The history buff must have is digitally enhanced and includes never-before-seen interviews, commentary from Ken Burns, and a 16-page collector booklet.

The 11-hour documentary has won numerous awards, including two Emmy Awards, and, since it first aired on PBS over 20 years ago, it remains a powerful narrative that targets the heart as well as the head. With The Civil War, Burns created a new film language and altered our expectations of what a documentary can and should do. (LZ)

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ADELE LIVE AT THE ROYAL ALBERT HALL (DVD/CD)

Apart from the throat surgery to remove a benign polyp from her vocal cords, Adele Atkins has had a pretty good year. The singer’s sophomore album, 21, spent 18 weeks at the top of U.K. album charts and 13 weeks atop the U.S. Billboard 200. It has also broken numerous records and been nominated for six Grammys.

To keep the momentum going and satisfy fans who missed out on her live gigs, Adele has released a DVD of her Sept. 22 concert in London. The 90-minute concert includes favorites from 21 and her debut album, 19, as well as covers of Bonnie Raitt’s “If I Can’t Make You Love Me” and “If It Hadn’t Been For Love” by the Steeldrivers. The package also includes a CD of the live show for you to enjoy away from the television. (LZ)

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THE HANGOVER, PART II

(d) It was a quandary that divided the critical community and the common man alike: What movie was better, The Hangover or The Hangover Part II?

Part II takes us to Thailand, where the familiar crew of binge-drinking dudes is this time in the midst of celebrating Stu’s upcoming wedding. But a cautious (after what happened last time) bachelor brunch takes a turn for the predictably ridiculous, spinning them into a world of cocaine-addicted monkeys, dick jokes and face tattoos. It’s some pretty wacky stuff.

So is it better than the first? The world may never know for sure. But the holidays are a good time to gift the films. This way, the Hangover fan in your life can study them and build a philosophically sound argument either way. (Tiffany Harms)

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HARRY POTTER: THE COMPLETE EIGHT-FILM COLLECTION

The wait is over. For those of you who haven’t been purchasing or bootlegging the Harry Potter movies as you go, the box set containing all eight films has arrived. Huzzah.

Now, it should be noted that this isn’t the official superplatinum-ultimate-extreme-collector’s edition that comes in a holographic case and has trading cards and 20 hours of bonus features and maybe even a pack or two of Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans crammed in there, too. That hasn’t been released yet. But it does include all of the movies. And it doesn’t cost an extra $100 due to the potential holo-case/ cards/footage/beans.

Plus, since filming took place over 10 years, you get to experience the actors’ transformations from eccentric little cherubs to full-blown sexpots in just 1,182 minutes, or 19.7 hours, roughly (we did math). Even Neville got kind of hot. And that’s the most magical thing of all, isn’t it? (TH)

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ESPN FILMS 30 FOR 30 GIFT SET COLLECTION, VOLUME 1

There is a middle ground for your loved one — the avid sports fan who owns and operates a deep fryer and drinks domestic lager beers and does things like name game-watching days “Sunday Fun Day” — and you, the disinterested.

In celebration of their 30th anniversary as a sports news source, ESPN has released the first 15 of 30 sports documentaries that are, believe it or not, interesting for fans and not-such-fans alike.

These docs are all about finding deeper meaning and exploring the minutiae of various subjects in the wide world of sports. In this case, sports fans gain extensive geek knowledge, which can be used to one-up other fans in social situations, and you get reasons to be interested in sports. Win. It’s always great when a gift for another is secretly also kind of a gift for yourself. (TH)

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STUDIO GHIBLI SAMPLER

Studio Ghibli is kind of like the Disney of Japan — Cinderella-era Disney, though, not like Emperor’s-New-Groove-era.

And, really, since Disney’s last animated film Oscar was for Ghibli co-founder Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away, it has kinda become the Disney of America as well.

Miyazaki’s films (Princess Mononoke, My Neighbor Totoro, Castle in the Sky) are well-known in America, but his partner, Isao Takahata, has released some underrated gems, like Pom Poko, about shape-shifting raccoons, and Grave of the Fireflies, about two orphans who starve after WWII. (Roger Ebert considers it one of the greatest war films of all time.)

Studio Ghibli films are — almost without exception — wonderful, magical, socially aware and edgy without being graphic. They are the perfect introduction to Japanese animation. They’re also all pretty cheap to buy at this point, so snag a handful, package them together, and make someone’s year. (Luke Baumgarten)

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NETWORK AND BROADCAST NEWS

People are always saying that the world is going to hell, and that our increasingly vapid cultural values are steering the tour bus. They’re like, “There’s nothing of substance any more. What ever happened to the good old days?” We have news for those people. America has always been vapid. It’s what we do. We’re world leaders in low-attention-span infotainment, and we always have been.

Our proof: two cinematic masterpieces — one from 35 years ago, the other from 25 — that both lament (as though for the first time) what an insipid hole America’s popular culture has become.

Sidney Lumet’s Oscar-conquering Network burns the newslessness of television news in effigy and then, a decade later, James L. Brooks (directing Holly Hunter) did it again in Broadcast News. This holiday season, give the gift of historical context. (LB)

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CITIZEN KANE 70th ANNIVERSARY EDITION

With apologies to the $1,000 Scarface Deluxe Humidor Edition (which is a real thing, and not something we just made up, despite how unbelievable such a thing sounds), the coolest Blu-Ray remastering of the year is the 70th Anniversary of Orson Welles’ classic, Citizen Kane.

Revered as one of the great films of American cinema (the best ever, in the mind of the American Film Institute), Kane is the story of a newspaper magnate who was orphaned as a boy and adopted by a wealthy industrialist. Money has not brought happiness, though, and the film spends 119 bracing minutes unraveling how the man who has everything only really wants to be a child again — the one thing he can’t have.

This edition is such an embarrassment of film-geek riches — featuring a new film transfer, better audio, commentary by Roger Ebert, and even audio recordings of Welles’ famous War of the Worlds radio broadcast — that simply buying it earns you Film History credits at the University of Wisconsin. Look it up. (LB)

VIDEOGAMES by Marty Demarest

Need an escape? Did 2011 ever deliver the games for you…

Videogames offer a quick escape during the stressful holiday season. I like to find a quiet corner and pull a DS out of my pocket. Or I sneak downstairs on a sleepless night and turn on the PlayStation. Within minutes, I’ve abandoned this artificially heated, oversold and crowded holiday season, and taken up residence in another world.

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This season, no game creates as magical and detailed a world as Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (Rated Mature; PS3, 360, Windows PC).

It’s not the size of Skyrim’s world that makes it feel so big — although I’m sure it would take me hours to walk from one end of it to another. What makes Skyrim so vast is that players can do almost anything they want within that world. Of course, swinging swords and casting spells — one with each hand — is expected in a fantasy roleplaying game. But players can also break into strangers’ homes and steal their wine collections. Want to live life as a werewolf? No problem.

Unlike other roleplaying games, Skyrim allows players to find their own way through the game’s tangled web of stories. And each player’s character becomes unique. They gain their skills and statistics based on how they actually play the game, instead of being assigned points and an identity.

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But for players looking for a little more guidance, there’s no more familiar character in videogaming adventures than Link, the star of The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword (Rated Everyone 10 ; Wii). Finally, after decades of classic games to his credit, the story of how Link was captured by the Zelda franchise is told, allowing players insight into the inner life of one of videogaming’s icons.

Even though it’s for the aging Wii — which never really delivered as much fun as its motion-sensitive controller promised — Skyward Sword is a polished, extravagant production. The Wii Remote pilots Link as he flies through the clouds. It steers bombs as they roll into place. And, of course, it swings my sword for me, but with more finesse than previous Wii games have shown. Random swinging won’t cut it in Skyward Sword’s world, where precise control and patience are necessary to survive.

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Another icon finds himself in a world that could only exist in videogames. Batman: Arkham City (Rated Teen; PS3, 360, PC) drops the dark knight into a city-sized Arkham Asylum, which means that classic villains like Penguin, the Riddler and Joker are loose on the streets. And, of course, the prison setting gives them hundreds of nameless thugs to use as backups. The variety keeps Arkham City moving from large battles to small skirmishes, from the big story to tiny sub-plots.

Batman is a crime fighter, so his brawling skills are pretty remarkable. It’s intuitive and fun to fight as Batman, ducking punches and dodging enemies with a swirl of black cape. But the game also rewards stealth and cunning, putting Batman’s full arsenal of gadgets to use as he zips around the streets. He may be in prison, but in a videogame this nicely designed, it feels as though he has access to an entire world.

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Adventure doesn’t only happen in sprawling, epic worlds. Sometimes the greatest challenges can be found in simple, straightforward landscapes. Super Mario 3D Land (Rated Everyone; Nintendo 3DS) proves that a few building blocks can create a world just as challenging as any detailed kingdom or decaying metropolis.

Super Mario 3D Land was designed to show off Nintendo’s handheld 3D gaming system, the 3DS, and while it can still be played with the machine’s 3D setting turned off, players would be missing out on some of Nintendo’s most ingenious innovations. Many of the jumping puzzles that Mario has mastered through the years are entirely different experiences when played in 3D. As he bounces off a springy mushroom, or falls through a shower of coins, Mario in 3D feels as fresh and frantic as the first time he ran across TV screens.

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This holiday season also offers some familiar settings and storylines. Perhaps the most classic of all the shooters is Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary (Rated Mature, Xbox 360). This remastered version of the 2001 classic game allows players to experience the classic Halo game that launched the franchise (and thousands of deathmatch careers). Players can select between vintage graphics or the new renditions with the touch of a button, and changing between the two option reveals that graphics don’t make a game good or bad.

Even with its decade-old graphics, the combat in Halo is more imaginative and intense than any shooter released this year. Part of the game’s success comes from the pitiless programming of the enemies. But the real triumph is the airy, open spaces that Halo’s designers carved into the virtual landscape. These big levels allow for players to fight each other across wide chasms, or to pursue each other up and down towering structures. It might be a decade old, but it’s still hard to find a game that has evolved beyond Halo.

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Perhaps the newest contender to Halo’s shooter throne is Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 (Rated Mature; PS3, 360, PC). There’s nothing too glitzy about this shooter, which makes it perfect for multiplayer shootouts. While games like Halo offer players dazzling arrays of weapons and battlegrounds with which to distinguish themselves, the more mundane Modern Warfare 3 puts everyone on pretty much the same level: boots on the ground, gun in the hand.

From there, Modern Warfare 3 plays out like any war — that is to say, it gets brutal, ugly and frenzied pretty fast. The simple, clean gameplay of Modern Warfare 3 allows players to stalk each other with a minimum of fuss. It’s classic multiplayer, and it doesn’t get much smoother than this.

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However, veteran gamers might want to have their notions of multiplayer action challenged by the awesomely difficult Dark Souls (Rated Mature, PlayStation 3). While it has the sword-and-sorcery setting and the character-development mechanics of a roleplaying game, Dark Souls is also a combat game that takes the hacking and slashing seriously. Players will die in this game, and in the process they will discover one of the most interesting ideas in multiplayer gaming.

When a player dies in Dark Souls, and they want help coming back to life, they need to summon a stranger from another game. There’s no telling if this person will be very helpful, or if they will be difficult and mysterious. Dark Souls asks players to open their private virtual worlds to strangers, and to see what kinds of things happen. It’s awkward. It’s difficult. It’s a little creepy. And it’s perfect for gamers who are tired of making predictable progress through every action game they play.

And what about players looking for adventure with the latest gadgets and special effects? Aside from the superb use of 3D in Super Mario 3D Land, and the tight motion-sensitive swordplay in The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, there are still some innovations to be found outside of a dance/karaoke game.

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The underdeveloped Kinect shows some programming finesse in Kinect Sports: Season Two (Rated Everyone; Xbox 360 Kinect). These aren’t long, complex sports games like Madden. These are quick sports-style games based around actions like swinging a golf club or throwing darts. For families who want to goof around with their Kinect, or players who want to engage friends in a casual competition, Season Two has everything necessary. And videogame enthusiasts will be happy to notice how the Kinect has been made more accurate, tracking subtle movements and changes of speed. Motion-sensitive gameplay may still be in development, but Kinect Sports: Season Two takes it further than any other game this season.

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But the game with the most movement this season may be Mario Kart 7 (Rated Everyone; Nintendo 3DS). Designed for the 3DS, Mario Kart 7 makes every bomb and obstacle on the racetrack appear with solid realism, not just flat pixelation. Passing opponents actually feels like a victory as they slide from view and the racetrack opens up ahead.

A simple racetrack doesn’t seem like a particularly big or even interesting world in which to play. But once that racetrack is full of Mario and the other Nintendo stars, their oddball racing carts, and the bombs, turtle shells and banana peels that they throw at each other, the landscape becomes much more interesting and unpredictable.

And like the best videogame worlds, it’s waiting and available to be visited whenever it’s time to escape.

MUSIC

SMILE SESSIONS

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The Beach Boys The line between brilliance and total insanity has never been breached quite like Beach Boys mastermind Brian Wilson did during the infamous SMiLE sessions. Hot off of Pet Sounds, Wilson took to the studio and attempted to outdo himself by basically recording every crazy idea he had. And then he tried to fit them all together into one big pop adventure. Grueling recording sessions with perfectionist Wilson were tearing the band apart, and somewhere along the line, the album was lost in Wilson’s mind. Though famously re-recorded by Brian Wilson and the Wallflowers in 2004, no one had a chance to hear the real sessions in an official, re-mastered order until now. Casual fans stick to the two-disc set, but Beach Boys enthusiasts could lose hours sifting through the five-disc mess of these frustrating, often hilarious, but ultimately brilliant sessions. (Jordan Satterfield)

DVDsVideogamesMusicBooksBoard games

PART LIES, PAT TRUTH, PART GARBAGE: 1982-2011 - R.E.M.

2011 marks the year that your favorite band broke up. And it was the year that you finally realized that R.E.M — that band who broke up — had been playing for nearly 30 years when they called it quits. And you’ve been listening that whole time. Damn, I feel old.

In one grand finale, the band released Part Lies, Part Truth, Part Garbage this year, collecting the best of the best from their storied career. Among a host of fan favorites, you’ll find all the hits here: “Radio Free Europe,” “Stand,” “Losing My Religion,” “Man on the Moon,” “Bad Day.” Looking over the 40-song track listing, it’s staggering how many radio and music video slam dunks the band had. Your R.E.M. fan will pop this in and bliss out for hours as they enjoy the band’s earliest rock hits, and late-career pop snafus. Plus, it’s like nine bucks on Amazon. (Leah Sottile)

FOO FIGHTERS VINYL BUNDLE

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The late Elliott Smith was such a remarkably gifted and incredibly consistent songwriter that choosing tracks for a compilation could be as easy as writing the name of each of his songs on a ping-pong ball, throwing them in a hopper and drawing about a dozen of them randomly. No matter what, you’d end up with something pretty incredible. For its part, this retrospective does an excellent job of pulling heavily from Smith’s early records and assembling a collection of some of his most haunting and striking melodies, such as “Miss Misery,” “Between the Bars” and “Alameda.” Introduce somebody. (Mark White)

WHEEDLE’S GROOVE

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Seattle’s past of musical innovation does not stop at grunge music. Though often overlooked, those musicians who were there in the late ’60s and early ’70s will tell you that funk and soul was the Seattle sound. And it wasn’t until just six years ago that the scene saw its second coming — when Light in the Attic Records compiled a respectable set of classic Seattle funk records under the title Wheedle’s Groove.

For those vinyl-lovers who drool over the details, Light in the Attic has expanded upon its original compilation CD and released a pristine collection of 10 45-RPM singles, each with vintage label art and heavy amounts of re-mastering. Also included is the first CD release of the sessions that would have been the sound’s goto record, before label troubles prevented the album from postproduction. Not just an interesting insight on a scene, Wheedle’s Groove collects some fantastic funk and soul music that, sadly, wouldn’t see light any other way. (JS)

THE SMITHS COMPLETE VINYL BOXED SET

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If you have a Smiths fan to buy for this holiday season, they already know about this boxed-set-of-all-boxed-sets. It’s just a matter of whether they can afford the $235 price. This set delivers a hefty wallop of Smiths nerdery: five vinyl singles, three LPs, a 12-inch book of uber-liner notes and a massive poster. What’s cool about this set is that the entire thing — including Meat is Murder, The Queen is Dead and the band’s only live album — was re-mastered by the band’s guitar genius, Johnny Marr. And if shelling out that much cash is out of the question, there’s a CD version, too, for a mere $54. And before you gift it, give it a listen first. That singer is the reason your teenager has been perfecting his pompadour in the mirror every morning. Long live the Moz. (LS)

PEACE SELLS … BUT WHO’S BUYING? — Megadeth

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The best part about classic thrash metal is that it doesn’t need huge box sets or anniversary editions to be validated as an awesome musical movement with a few minor masterpieces. Still, it’s hard to ignore the fact that no thrash record has really gotten a chance to shine in delicious big-box glory like Megadeth’s fantastic Peace Sells … but Who’s Buying? Though largely composed of material available on the 2004 re-release of the album, this new set contains five CDs and three LPs and provides a few extra unreleased goodies, namely an amazing concert from 1987 that somehow never saw plastic or vinyl. Also on display here: a re-mastered disc of the original Capitol Records version of the album, Dave Mustaine’s remixes from 2004, and producer Randy Burns’ mixes of the record (before they were remixed, again). The stars of the show are the three LPs and the box they come in, crammed with photos, posters and liner notes. A bit pricey, but a must-have for self-respecting metalheads. (JS)

NEUTRAL MILK HOTEL BOX SET

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Neutral Milk Hotel existed in a time before anything obscure and cool was instantly labeled “hipster,” when indie pop was still “twee.” In this climate, NMH’s beautiful lo-fi pop stood out for its utter lack of pretension and irony. Jeff Mangum, the brains behind the brilliance, chose 2011 to finally emerge after being essentially M.I.A. since the band dissolved in 1998. The musical hermit decided to selfrelease a careerspanning NMH box set, which includes both 12-inch LPs, two 10-inch EPs, two seven-inch singles, a seven-inch picture disc, a couple posters, and 15 unreleased NMH songs. The centerpiece here is NMH’s masterwork In The Aeroplane Over the Sea. The album sounds like the jumbled, jangly pop ramblings of a syphilitic brain, with Mangum’s warbles being counterbalanced by garish horn accents. Scoff at the haters crying “hipster!” at this purchase and unabashedly wail along with Mangum in twee bliss. (SS)

BOOKS

THE OXFORD COMPANION TO BEER Edited by Garrett Oliver

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“Beer is fun.” Never have simpler, wiser words been spoken, and when they come out of the mouth of Garrett Oliver, editor of the new Oxford Companion to Beer, you can tell he “gets it.” Still, the brewmaster of the Brooklyn Brewery has overseen something far from simple here.

Like others in the Oxford Companion series (Art, Film, Australian Folklore — seriously), this aims to be uber-comprehensive. And with more than 1,110 encyclopedic entries written by 166 experts from 20 countries, they seem to have nailed it. Heck, there are more than 100 listings on the various subjects under “hops.” Oh, and there’s even a guide to the world’s beer museums.

You won’t find a list of all your favorite micros and their brews here, but a gift of the Oxford Companion to Beer will show anyone that beer is fun. (Ted S. McGregor, Jr.)

THE 50 FUNNIEST AMERICAN WRITERS Edited by Andy Borowitz

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You read him every week at the front of this newspaper, and now he’s edited a book that makes the perfect gift. Perfect, as Borowitz has put it in interviews, for being the ultimate bathroom book — one you can read in bits during visits to the commode, where a few well-timed laughs can even be therapeutic.

Borowitz has an ear for funny, as he’s been writing comedy since his undergrad days at Harvard with the Harvard Lampoon; he wrote and created sitcoms (like Fresh Prince of Bel-Air) and now writes for the likes of The Inlander and some lesser-knowns, like The New Yorker. Here, he’s collected the best from writers as diverse as Mark Twain, Wanda Sykes, David Sedaris and Jack Handey.

Chances are somebody on your list could use a good laugh — or maybe a laxative. (TSM)

WONDERSTRUCK By Brian Selznick

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One of the coolest novels of the past few years was The Invention of Hugo Cabret. What was a dear secret for its fans went nationwide last month, as Martin Scorsese released his animated adaptation, Hugo.

So the secret’s out, and in a bit of perfect timing, author Brian Selznick just released his next book, Wonderstruck. And with 460 pages of artwork, this one’s even bigger than Hugo Cabret. This time, two seemingly unrelated stories run parallel — one graphically, the other written. They combine as the two main characters meet for a final adventure in New York.

Selznick has illustrated more than 20 children’s books, and he won the Caldecott Medal for Hugo Cabret in 2008. Wonderstruck continues his exploration of how to make a book an immersive experience that can still deliver subtle themes, like how the smallest things can connect us. (TSM)

LONDON UNDER By Peter Ackroyd

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One of the greatest urban epics ever written, London: The Biography, came out a decade ago. Now its author, Peter Ackroyd, has released a kind of addendum, London Under.

Unlike its 800-plus-page predecessor, this one comes in under 200 pages and takes you on a quick tour of the 40 vertical feet (in some places) that have built up over where the old city used to stand. It starts in Roman times, examines the sewering that came after the Great Stink of 1858 (winner of the most horrifically named historical event) and takes you through the Tube and its heroic use as a citywide bomb shelter during the Blitz.

If you’re one of those people who like to go where you’re not allowed, this fits the bill — and you get one of the great London-lovers of all time as tour guide. (TSM)

DEATH COMES TO PEMBERLEY By P.D. James

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Like some kind of literary zombie, Jane Austen just will not die. And oddly enough, the most recent sensation surrounding her work was its reanimation in the oddball 2009 bestseller, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Well, Pride and Prejudice is getting another revival, and this time in the sure hands of P.D. James.

Best-known for her long-running series about policeman/poet Adam Dagliesh, James is a lifelong Austen lover. Now that (Ample she’s parking retired Dagliesh, available she right produced before a railroad book she’s been thinking about for years: a mystery at Pemberley Estate.

You’ll recall Pemberley is where Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy retired at the end of Pride and Prejudice. James has them living happily ever after when her reckless sister Lydia shows up with news that her 6 husband, the wicked Mr. Wickham, has been murdered. James, Austen — this one’s gonna be good. (TSM)

EVA BRAUN: LIFE WITH HITLER By Heike B. Grtemaker

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Ever lay in bed at night and wonder to yourself who in their right mind would date Adolf Hitler? Yep, us too. German historian Heike B. Grtemaker apparently did, too, and she went ahead and wrote a book on it. Grtemaker takes Eva Braun, whom Hitler first met when she was 17, and goes deep as she can into their relationship, up until their shared suicide in a bunker in the war’s waning hours. “A serious study of personal relationships and power at Nazi Germany’s pinnacle. [Eva Braun] deserves a broad readership, taking us as it does behind the scenes of history’s most criminal regime,” writes the San Francisco Chronicle. (Joe O'Sullivan)

CHANGO’S BEADS AND TWO- TONE SHOES By William Kennedy

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As America teeters on the brink of political tensions (the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street have now given us three years of simmering protests), William Kennedy’s new novel brings us back into the past to the tumult of another generation.

Kennedy, whose novel Ironweed won the 1983 Pulitzer Prize, draws on life experiences and as a reporter during the mid-20th century to tell two stories: the repression of late-1950s Cuba and race riots in late-1960s Albany. Two different worlds, two intense expressions of anger. Is the past prologue? (JO)

ARGUABLY By Christopher Hitchens

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Christopher Hitchens is one of the bravest, rawest and most controversial writers alive, and Arguably is his latest essay collection, mostly comprised of works from Vanity Fair, the Atlantic and Slate.

An unrepentant atheist, a defender of the so-called war on terror, a relentless critic of politicians and institutions, this ne’er-do-well has raged against all manner of human foibles. And Hitchens now rages against the dying light, as he succumbs to cancer of the esophagus.

So enjoy the fine-brained madman while he’s here, because once Hitchens departs, you will feel a big black hole in our intellectual life. (JO)

THE TIGER’S WIFE By Tea Obrecht

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10 pm A young doctor named Natalia arrives at an orphanage in a Balkan country recuperating from that region’s years of war. By the time she and her friend Zóra start inoculating kids, Natalia begins sensing that her new world is inhabited by strange, strange secrets.

Meanwhile, the good doctor wrestles with riddles inside her own family, like why her grandfather disappeared to die alone, rather than open to making the public the visit to see her that he announced. MEEt thE ARtiStS Obrecht, who grew to age 7 in former Yugoslavia and now lives in Ithaca, N.Y., has inhabited The New Yorker’s rarefied “20 Best American Fiction Writers under 40” list. So if you’re the kind of person who wants to read a Balkan mystery book that everybody’s talking about, written by a young author everyone is raving about, this would be your pick. (JO)

BLUE NIGHTS By Joan Didion

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Can a person recover from the death of his or her child? It might be appropriate to call Joan Didion’s Blue Nights a grieving companion to her 2005 book, The Year of Magical Thinking. The latter chronicled her life during the death of her husband, John Gregory Dunne, as their daughter fell suddenly ill. This newest work from one of America’s most incisive journalists circles back to her experiences as the couple’s only daughter, Quintana Roo Dunne, dies shortly after John Gregory. Let’s hope it’s the end of Didion’s tragedy. (JO)

BOARD GAMES by Mary Stover

TWILIGHT STRUGGLE

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Gamers love online forums, and good ones put their almighty faith in boardgamegeek.com. It’s super-nerdy but the website is equally super-awesome. Right now, the No. 1 game on the website is Twilight

Struggle. The two-player game is about the Cold War, and unlike the romantic nostalgia that surrounds WWII, there were no Nazis to fight and no Pearl Harbors to avenge. The Cold War was fought by spies, politicians, scientists and now … you.

The game spans the 45-year debacle between the Soviet Union and the United States, pitting the superpowers against each other, fighting over the wreckage of WWII. The card-driven game requires players to move units and exert influence in an attempt to gain allies and control. Special “event cards” bring milestones like the Space Race and the Cuban Missile Crisis into the game. Gamers who know their history will fare better. Gamers who are lazy will end the game in nuclear war. (Jordy Byrd)

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AGRICOLA

Uwe Rosenberg is a saucy minx. The European board game designer created Agricola, the most riveting agriculture game on the market. If you think “riveting agriculture game” sounds like an oxymoron, you’re wrong. In this game sheep, cattle and wild boars are sent to slaughter, hungry families beg for food, and, much like commercial agriculture today, hunger isn’t caused by a shortage in the food supply but by people’s lack of resources.

The one- to five-player game makes players the masters of their own domain. The goal essentially is to create a well-rounded efficient farm. Players can plow fields, sow grain and, if they select the right cards, bake bread and feed their family. If not, all hell ensues. Players can also keep and breed animals and, if they select the right cards, slaughter them and feed their families. If not, all hell ensues. (JB)

POWER GRID

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If you can get past the boring name, you’re in for a good time. The object of Power Grid, a game for two to seven players, is to supply the most cities in the United States with power. In order to power the cities, you must first acquire raw materials (coal, oil, garbage, uranium, and wind or solar power), and then build power lines that connect the cities. What’s interesting about the game is that newer, more efficient power plants eventually become available on the market.

If you blow all your wad and buildings on coal plants (after all, it’s the American thing to do), hippies could sweep in on Round Three and build cheaper, more efficient wind-power plants. And because those environmentalists don’t have to buy resources, they’re spending all their money on kicking your ass and building a monopoly. If you don’t adapt and upgrade your plants, you’ll be left in the dust burning dinosaurs by the minute. (JB)

BOHNANZA

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Who wants to trade some beans? No really, this simple game is all about trading green beans, stink beans, chili beans and soybeans, planting them, and then selling them for gold coins. First things first: Yes, you can play this game while drunk, and yes, it does get better the louder, sexier and more persuasive you think you are. The goal of the two-to-seven-player game is to make money, but in order to do that, you need to be conniving and manipulating. Ultimately, you need to convince other players to trade or bargain and give you all the good cards. Because of which, this is a deadly game for best friends and couples. Conversation tends to get a little rowdy (just give me your red beans, bitch) and feelings will inevitably be hurt. (JB)

ZERO

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The easiest way to describe Zero is like Family Feud in reverse. In the popular and long-running TV game show (“Survey says!”), teams earn points by answering questions in the same fashion as 100 surveyed people. If 90 people responded “Ford” to the prompt “name a car company that begins with F,” and you answer “Ford,” your team gets 90 points.

In Zero, the fewer points, the better. Using the same car example, if you answered “Fiat” and in fact no one in the survey answered the same way, you receive no points — and that’s a good thing. It’s fitting, then, that the game’s tagline is “Aim Low, Score High.” (Scott A. Leadingham)

MONOPOLY (AD NAUSEAM)

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Be the first player to reach Dork Paradise. This game is for Jackass wannabes. It’s not for kids, and it’s not for families. The rules are muddy and the point is silly, but it’s a memorable game. Players start in the “gene pool,” separate into Dorks and Keeners, then make their way around the board. There are silly questions, ridiculous stunts, improvisational performances and more. Some challenges are momentary, while other challenges last throughout a round or the entire game. If you’re shy, don’t even think about this game. From the way you talk to the actions you take, this game will definitely make a dork out of you. ($43)

Fundamentally, there’s nothing new about Monopoly, which was first introduced in 1935. Tell people to “get out of jail free” or “do not pass ‘Go,’ do not collect $200” and they’ll most likely know the reference.

But the interests Monopoly caters to are now so widespread, one wonders if entire temporary Christmastime stores could sell nothing but the game and its many spinoffs. Consider all the special editions just for dog lovers, including: Chihuahua-Opoly, Pug-Opoly, Lab-Opoly, Dachshund-Opoly, Boxer-Opoly, Yorkie-Opoly and Shihtzu- Opoly, to name a few.

Fear not, equine lovers, for Horse- Opoly has you covered.

Don’t forget Bible-Opoly, Space- Opoly, Wine-Opoly, Brew-Opoly and Cocktail-Opoly.

From old-school comedy to contemporary pop culture, there are versions for The Three Stooges and Family Guy, John Wayne and Hello Kitty. Even the Tim Burton film The Nightmare Before Christmas has a special edition.

You can even buy a “make your own Monopoly kit” to customize the game to any interest you want. The kit comes with computer software so you can design and print your own property names. Your South Hill mansion can even be Boardwalk. (SAL)

TELESTRATIONS

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If it’s a fun, quick, easy-to-understand party game you need (think at-home New Year’s Eve party), this may be the hands-down winner. Two separate employees at different Spokane game stores recommended it as such.

What’s best, it’s simple to pick up the rules. Combine the quick drawing of Pictionary with the random and lostin-translation nature of the childhood game “Telephone” and you have Telestrations.

The maker, USAopoly, recommends it for ages 12 and up, though at least a few reviewers have said it could work for those as young as 8. But considering how longgrown adults can skewer the “Telephone” game and haven’t mastered the art of stick-figure drawing, age may not matter much. (SAL)

Kids Battle the Grown-Ups

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Perhaps one of biggest hindrances to family game night (other than the teen rulebook strictly forbidding it) is an unequal playing field and skill level between generations. For as much as I prided myself on youthful Trivial Pursuit knowledge, the questions on Bob Hope and Audrey Hepburn were clearly unfair for me and my brothers.

Kids Battle the Grown-Ups tries to account for this knowledge gap, weighting the questions to which team — kids or adults — is being asked. The motif and set-up is as a “family tug of war,” but depending on the complexity of the supposed kid questions, it might be a real-life version of Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader? It’s suggested as suitable for ages 8 and up, for two or more players. So if you bore of watching newly unwrapped movies all day, most of the family can sit down and actually talk and play a game. Another Christmas miracle! (SAL)

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