The Girl You Left Behind by Jojo Moyes (2013)

An enthralling novel that travels from WWI France to present day London, The Girl You Left Behind will captivate you. In 1916, Sophie is living in a French town controlled by German soldiers; her most prized position is a portrait painted by her husband. In 2006, widow Liv must fight to keep her beloved honeymoon gift after the painting becomes the center of a restitution battle.

The latest from Jojo Moyes (after Me Before You) is a quick read that I couldn’t put down. If you enjoyed Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay or The Art Forger by Barbara Shapiro, I think you’ll love this book

The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith (2013)

When the news broke the J. K. Rowling had released a mystery under a pseudonym, I (like millions of others) rushed to see what The Cuckoo’s Calling was about. The premise sounded interesting: a disabled veteran turned PI investigates the alleged suicide of a supermodel in contemporary London.

This was the only book I read on my weeklong vacation. It was engrossing with sympathetic characters, a fascinating mystery with twists and turns, and those fabulous descriptions that Harry Potter fans will recognize. Robert Galbraith garnered great reviews even before the Rowling connection was revealed. I can’t wait to read the next book in the series (due in 2014) featuring PI Cormoran Strike and his very capable assistant Robin.

The Girls of Atomic City: the untold story of the women who helped win World War II by Denise Kiernan (2013)

Shrouded in secrecy, Oak Ridge didn't officially exist despite its population of over 70,000 residents at its peak in 1945. Denise Kiernan unveils the amazing true story of the government’s efforts to harvest fuel for the atomic bomb by building industrial factories – and an entire town – from scratch in rural Tennessee. As a history major with an avid interest in World War II, I had never heard of this – so I’m guessing many others are unaware of this aspect of the Manhattan Project.
The Girls of Atomic City traces the lives of several women working in Oak Ridge for the war effort – which is about all they knew: that their job would help end the war, but no more. Workers were given just enough information to properly complete their jobs. Part military base (guards patrolled entrances), part small town America, Oak Ridge housed military and medical personnel, scientists, and skilled and unskilled laborers from all walks of life from across the United States.

Read this book – it provides a fascinating glimpse into a little known part of American history and effortlessly weaves history, science, biography, and ethics through vignettes about several strong women.

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.

 
 

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.

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:

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!

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).

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.
 

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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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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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.

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.

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.

 

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.