Six Picks: Recommendations from the Monitor staff

Dip into Katharine Weber's novel 'True Confections,' take a tour of early Oscar contenders in a new DVD collection, listen to Midlake's newest CD, and more.

The Oscars' first decade

Get ready for the March 7 Oscars with an offbeat look at some of Tinseltown's early award-winning filmmaking in "Academy Collection: The Envelope Please, Volume 1," on DVD Feb. 23 from Infinity Entertainment Group. In a decade that took film from silent to early color, this four-disc set offers a rare look at Best Picture contenders during the Oscars' first decade (1929-39), including: "The Racket" (1928), "A Farewell to Arms" (1932), "A Star Is Born" (1937), "Pygmalion" (1938), and "Love Affair" (1939). Bonus: original trailers from other "Best Picture"-nominated/winning films of the decade.

Like a box of chocolates

In "True Confections," novelist Katharine Weber ("Triangle") serves up the delicious tale of Zip's Candies – a small New England confectioner whose politically incorrect candy bars have an unfortunate cultural provenance. Written as an affidavit by Alice Ziplinsky, a lonely Unitarian who married into the family business, the novel whisks up a combination of immigrants, gunrunning, betrayal, and chocolate. Throw in a double handful of dark humor and let the gloriously unreliable narrator stir, and you have a winning recipe for smart literary fiction.

Black experience, on demand

In celebration of Black History Month, the nation's major cable companies, including Time Warner and Comcast, have launched "Black Experience on Demand." This new category presents hundreds of television and feature films, offering everything from Nickelodeon's series 'True Jackson, VP' (cast pictured) to some of the top award-winning and influential films from the likes of Spike Lee, Morgan Freeman, and Angela Bassett. It's available via the digital cable services' "On demand" feature.

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Midlake's mystical depths

Despite a home base in the flat college town of Denton, Texas, Midlake makes music that sounds more at home on the misty mountaintops of Middle Earth. With elements of pastoral 1970s folk outfits Jethro Tull and Emerson, Lake and Palmer, Midlake uses folk arrangements and instrumentation in their latest album, "The Courage of Others" (Bella Union), to set mystical moods that eventually climb to greater heights in gorgeous and epic songs.

A N'Orleans jam

Galactic started as a hipster take on New Orleans' brass band tradition and morphed into one of the city's best psychedelic-funk exports. With the band honing its chops on the jam-band circuit for years, this new album, "Ya-Ka-May" (Anti), finds it delving into its hometown roots due to vocal guest spots from local luminaries John Boutte, Allen Toussaint, Irma Thomas, and many others. The result is the best New Orleans party record post-Katrina, an assembly of heavily rhythmic tracks spanning street funk to hip-hop bounce to traces of jazz and blues.

Travel vignettes

Geobeats' quirky videos from around the world, all made by local filmmakers, offer a flavor of a destination before you go. Take a dip at geobeats.com.

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