Six Picks: Recommendations from the Monitor's staff

A photo-packed magazine on Central Asia, Miss Marple's mysteries out on DVD, the best of IMAX on TV, and more.

Courtesy of Laurent Weyl / ARGOS/Steppe Magazine
Courtesy of Acorn Media
Courtesy of Deana Newcomb/IMAX


When was the last time you imagined yourself traveling to Central Asia to investigate whatever happened to the Aral Sea and the people who depend on it? Or thought about comparing the strange and colorful bus stops, hats, or vehicles that cover the region? A quick perusal of Steppe magazine ( could just hasten that latent desire. Each issue is packed with vibrant photo essays, articles, and guest diarists that light the imagination and make the less-­traveled region accessible. The biannual magazine, available in Europe and Central Asia since 2006, recently made its US debut.


August is the perfect month for murders most foul – and who better to solve them than Agatha Christie's venerable sleuth, Miss Marple. Back in her latest incarnation by actress Julia McKenzie, Agatha Christie's Marple: Series 4 (Acorn Media, $59.99), a four-DVD boxed set, arrives Aug. 4. The British television series has lush production values, an A-list cast, and pitch-perfect mysteries.


If you enjoy tracking down your favorite movie scenes, Film + Travel: A Curated Guide to Your Obsessions (Museyon Guides, $15.95) will be dog-eared before you know it. The photo-packed paperback guides you to some of the best-known film locations in Europe (there are separate guides for North America, South America, and Asia/Africa/Oceania), and not always for the films you think. "A Fistful of Dollars" and "Lawrence of Arabia," for instance, were both shot in ... Spain.


How would you like to be called by a pint-sized elephant seal pup or a Mexican wolf, or even a bobcat – on your cellphone that is. offers nearly 100 howls, croaks, and warbles of endangered species to download as ring tones free of charge. The wildlife recordings put out by the Center for Biological Diversity are a clever way to educate about the extinction crisis.


For five Sunday nights in August, the Documentary Channel will run 21 of the top IMAX films, including three of the largest-grossing ones in IMAX history. Some will run back to back, including: "T-Rex: Back to the Cretaceous" (Aug. 2, 8 p.m.); "China: The Panda Adventure" (Aug. 2, 9 p.m.); "The Nutcracker" (Aug. 23, 8 p.m.); "Magnificent Desolation: Walking on the Moon" (narrated by Tom Hanks, Aug. 30, 8 p.m.), "Space Station" (narrated by Tom Cruise, Aug. 30, 8:45 p.m.) and "Galapagos" (also narrated by Cruise, Aug. 30, 9.45 p.m.). See:


Maria Teresa, a French vocalist born to Portuguese parents, tackles songs of the Portuguese diaspora (Brazil and Angola) in Maria Teresa: Era Uma Vez Um Jardim (Le Chant du Monde, $18.99). While her voice lacks the passion of Mariza, today's Fado queen, there's a light buoyancy in her vocals, set against restrained acoustic guitar, suggesting an emergent talent with chutzpah and panache to spare.

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