Jennifer

Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys (2013)

I was excited to read Out of the Easy after I finished Ruta Sepetys' first novel (and if you were discouraged by the depressing nature of Between Shades of Gray, this one isn’t quite as dark). Her sophomore effort features Josie Moraine, a strong, spunky teen trying to improve her circumstances in 1950s New Orleans. Surrounding Josie is a colorful cast of characters from all walks of life.

I love the way Ruta Sepetys writes a story, but she always leaves me wanting just a little bit more. In both Between Shades of Gray and Out of the Easy, there are a few plot points I wish she had addressed. Overall, though, I highly recommend her novels – while they’re classified for teens, I think people of all ages will fall in love with her characters and settings.

Check out Jennifer's review of Between Shades of Gray.

 
 
Jennifer

Cars (2006) G

As part of my “homework” for an upcoming trip to Disneyland, I finally watched Cars. I can see how this movie has become a favorite for kids and adults alike – with a combination of Pixar animation, talented voice actors (Owen Wilson, Bonnie Hunt, Paul Newman, and Larry the Cable Guy, to name a few), humor and action, plus a nostalgic Route 66 setting, there’s something for everyone.

Lightning McQueen (Wilson) is an up-and-coming talented racer with an attitude problem. When he ends up stranded in ramshackle Radiator Springs, he discovers there’s more to life than winning.
Jennifer

Dream Team by Jack McCallum (2012)

In Dream Team: how Michael, Magic, Larry, Charles, and the greatest team of all time conquered the world and changed the game of basketball forever, sportswriter Jack McCallum presents a behind-the-scenes look at the creation and execution of the greatest basketball team ever assembled. I was eight during the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona, so my memory of the events is a bit sketchy. I loved learning about the politics behind the creation of the team (ever wonder why Isaiah Thomas wasn’t invited?), the antics of the players in Monte Carlo and Barcelona, and their post-retirement lives. I grew up idolizing Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen– this is a great glimpse into one part of their storied careers.

The author interviewed each member of the team in 2011, plus he was part of the contingent of journalists following the team in 1992 (and a basketball writer for Sports Illustrated in the years before and after). There’s at least one chapter on each member of the team: 11 of the 12 members of the 1992 Dream Team are members of the Hall of Fame (mindboggling, isn’t it?).

Want to learn more about the Dream Team? Check out a NBA.com article complete with images and video clips.

Enjoy this clip of the Dream Team’s Hall of Fame enshrinement speech:

Jennifer

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys (2012)

Enlightening. Educational. Moving. Resilience. Cold. These are just a few of the words members of the GenLit Book Group used to describe Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys. Horrifying yet heartwarming, the book traces 15-year-old Lina’s journey during a little-known part of history.

In 1941 Lithuania, Stalin and the Soviet secret police started deporting men, women, and children he considered a threat. Teachers, musicians, artists, doctors, lawyers, and servicemen were exiled for alleged anti-Soviet activities.

Lina and her family were forcibly removed from their home and transferred to a Siberian labor camp. Their experiences represent those of the hundreds of thousands deported from 1941 to 1953. Sepetys writes a bleak, moving tale of historical fiction; she drew inspiration from her own family’s history.
Definitely worth the read, but have a tissue handy!

Jennifer

Argo (2012) R

Yes, sir. There are only bad options. It's about finding the best one.
You don't have a better bad idea than this?
This is the best bad idea we have, sir, by far.
I loved Argo so much that I’ve seen it twice in the past month. The film tells the story of the rescue of six Americans in Tehran who escaped the embassy at the start of the 1979 Iran Hostage Crisis. Despite knowing the end of the tale, you’ll be on the edge of your seat throughout this engaging thriller. Quick-witted, snarky dialogue balances tense situations.

And if you're wondering how true to real life the Hollywood version is, check out this NPR review from a former White House aide.

If you haven’t seen the Best Picture winner yet (or just want to watch Argo again), join us on Friday, March 15. We’ll start the movie at 7pm and follow with an optional discussion. Sign up here. It’s part two of our Movies & More series featuring Academy Award-nominated films (March 29 is Skyfall).
Jennifer

A Vintage Affair by Isobel Wolff (2010)

I’m so glad I finally read A Vintage Affair – Mary P. recommended it to me years ago! The delightful story follows thirty-something Londoner Phoebe Swift. After a personal tragedy, Phoebe leaves her safe job at Sotheby’s auction house to open a vintage clothing shop (the descriptions of the clothing are amazing!). An unexpected friendship with the elderly Mrs. Bell introduces a story of wartime France. For

It reminded me a bit of Sarah’s Key by Tatiana De Rosnay. And it brought to mind a slightly serious chick lit tale. However you want to classify it, this charming tale was a pleasing way to spend a few hours. Check out our list of other British Chick Lit titles. And for more books with an element of fashion, read this Library Journal article.
 
Jennifer

Trouble with the Curve (2012) PG-13

I loved Trouble with the Curve, a baseball journey featuring an all-star cast. Clint Eastwood is Gus, a stubborn, ailing scout with a job in jeopardy. Amy Adams plays Mickey, his estranged daughter on the fast track of a big law firm. The two embark on a road trip to find the next great baseball star and along the way, meet Johnny (Justin Timberlake) – a former ballplayer, a rival scout, and a love interest for Mickey.

I appreciated seeing another side of the baseball game, plus enjoyed the interaction between the actors (the three mentioned above as well as John Goodman). I’ll definitely watch this one again!

For other baseball movies at Indian Prairie, check out our list. And Spring Training is underway. Are you ready for another season of Chicago baseball?
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Jennifer

The Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick (2008)

I was motivated to pick up The Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick after seeing the previews for the movie adaptation starring Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence. I was not disappointed.

34-year-old Pat Peoples believes in silver linings despite his 4+ years in a mental institution, his “apart time” from his wife, and his underperforming Philadelphia Eagles. When he returns home, his father won’t talk to him, his mother is overly accommodating, and his friend Ronnie attempts to help by introducing his sister-in-law Tiffany.

In this quirky and heartening novel, Pat’s stream-of-conscious narration provides a unique perspective on life (including a hilarious take on classic literature). Nancy Pearl calls the novel “heartwarming, humorous, and soul-satisfying.”
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Jennifer

Hungry Girl to the Max by Lisa Lillien (2012)

Cooking is not my strong suit. So I was excited to discover Hungry Girl (aka Lisa Lillien) – she creates easy-to-follow (and healthy!) recipes. In her latest book, Hungry Girl to the Max, she covers everything from breakfast to dessert with party treats mixed in. The 650 recipes include hundreds of new recipes plus reprints of old favorites. I absolutely love the white lasagna and buffalo chicken salad. Next, I think I’ll try one of the foil packs. Visit her website to see chapter breakdowns and photos of the recipes.
Jennifer

MWF Seeking BFF: My Yearlong Search for a New Best Friend by Rachel Bertsche (2011)

In this funny and engaging memoir, 27-year-old Rachel Bertsche details her quest for new friends in a new city. After moving to Chicago with her boyfriend, Bertsche realizes that her close friends are scattered across the country. In an effort to find her next best friend, Bertsche joins cooking classes, meet ups, and improv classes and then schedules 52 friend “dates” throughout the year.

With a witty tone, Bertsche interweaves her experiences with research from friendship experts. Entertaining and a little bit educational. Check out MWF Seeking BFF to read more of her story. And before you get the book, read the blog that started it all.
Jennifer

Summer at Tiffany by Marjorie Hart (2007)

Summer at Tiffany is a delightful portrait of a moment in time. During the summer of 1945, Marjorie and her roommate Marty leave the University of Iowa for New York City. While jobs aren't quite as easy to procure as promised, they get hired as the first female pages (runners) at Tiffany’s flagship store.

More than 60 years later, Marjorie recounts that special summer: celebrity sightings (Judy Garland and Marlene Dietrich – did you know her role in WWII?), saving pennies for a few treats, dancing with soldiers, her own summer romance, and experiencing V-J Day in Times Square.

When I think of 1945, World War II immediately comes to mind. Marjorie's story is a different slice of that year. As she said, everyone she knew was affected. Yet the story she shares is a 21-year-old small town girl experiencing the big city for the first time.

 
Jennifer

Spotlight: European Travel

I love to visit Europe. And in between those rare trips, I enjoy learning more about a new place. So whether you’re an armchair traveler or planning your next vacation, we have the DVDs to get you started on the right path.

Samantha Brown hosted Passport to Europe on Travel Channel. Check out the DVDs on France & Italy or England, Ireland, & Scotland. Each set contains 22 minute episodes on different regions in each of the countries listed. As your guide, Brown presents a charming mix of history and entertainment.
And then, of course, there is PBS darling and European travel guru Rick Steves. For the past 40 years, he’s spent about one-third of each year traveling throughout Europe. Take advantage of his expertise by checking out one of the Rick Steves’ Europe DVDs. The 30 minute episodes from 2000 to 2012 traverse the continent from old favorites England and France to newer shows on Sweden and Croatia. See episodes arranged by country with this complete guide to shows.
Jennifer

Size 12 and Ready to Rock by Meg Cabot (2012

After a five year wait, Heather Wells finally returns in Size 12 and Ready to Rock, the latest installment of this chick lit mystery series by Meg Cabot. Don’t worry if you haven’t read the previous three books – or, like me, you don’t remember the specifics – it’s easy to jump back into Heather’s zany life.

At 15, Heather Wells was a famous pop star who traveled the globe. At 30, she’s the assistant residence hall director at Fischer Hall (aka “Death Dorm”) in NYC. There’s another dead body and another mystery to solve, but more importantly, plenty of humor. I think I had a smile on my face for much of the novel. Escape for a few hours with this entertaining and engaging story.

To see how it all began, check out my review of Size 12 is Not Fat. And for more chick lit, check out our book list.
Jennifer

Harry Potter, Page to Screen: The Complete Filmmaking Journey by Bob McCabe (2011)

A must read for fans of Harry Potter and also recommended for movie buffs.

Harry Potter, Page to Screen details just about every aspect of the eight films. Learn how they cast the characters (and the directors); find out how they made Hagrid so tall; read a copy of The Daily Prophet; and discover how Daniel Radcliffe filmed the underwater scenes for Goblet of Fire. The author was on set for a time, so look for interviews with several of the cast and crew, plus exclusive photographs.

This hefty tome weighs over seven pounds and is over 500 pages long. And although I read the book all the way through (over the course of a month), you don't have to. It's great to page through and browse the pictures or artwork that interests you. Find the little details such as the glossy images underlying the text and the symbols used throughout the book.

The book contains chapters on each movie, then explores the art of Harry Potter with behind-the-scenes looks at characters, locations, creatures, and artifacts. Those interested in movie-making will enjoy the detail given to costuming, prop making, digital effects, and set design. It's amazing how much work goes into each detail. And the book itself is truly a visual treat.

Are you ready for J. K. Rowling’s newest book? Put yourself on hold for The Casual Vacancy today – it’s being released at the end of September.
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Jennifer

Jasmine Nights by Julia Gregson (2012)

Settle in and get swept away in this lush globetrotting tale set in 1942. As British fighter pilot Dominic Benson is recovering in a hospital, he is mesmerized by talented singer Saba Tarcan. The daughter of a Turkish engineer and a Welsh mother, Saba defied her family to audition for the Entertainments National Service Association (ENSA). Her duties for ENSA are supplemented by a few side jobs for the British secret service

Their paths continue to cross as they travel to Cairo, Alexandria, and Istanbul to serve their country. With an engaging cast of characters and richly described settings, this is one historical novel you don’t want to miss. Read Jasmine Nights by Julia Gregson for a different perspective of World War II.

For one performer’s experiences of serving with ENSA, read this article from the BBC: here.