Jennifer

Covert Affairs. Season 1

Covert Affairs. Season 1 (2010)
With a love of travel and penchant for languages, Annie Walker (Piper Perabo) joins the CIA two years after being abandoned in Sri Lanka by her mysterious boyfriend. Suddenly that past experience is somehow embroiled in the present. Can she trust anyone in her division?

With more questions than answers, each episode brings a new case, a new adventure, and a new threat. Annie is a very likeable character; you see her grow and struggle and deal with the shades of gray her job brings. And she couldn’t survive her new job without Auggie (Christopher Gorham), a blind computer geek with a biting sense of humor.

Fans of Alias and Chuck should try Covert Affairs.
Jennifer

Baking Cakes in Kigali by Gaile Parkin

Baking Cakes in Kigali by Gaile Parkin (2009)
A beautifully written novel set in Rwanda, Baking Cakes in Kigali eloquently demonstrates that life isn’t always black and white. Angel is a baker with a booming cake business; she is a wife; and she is a mother to her five orphaned grandchildren.

The family moves from Tanzania to Rwanda for better opportunities. They settle in a community of people from all walks of life – aid workers from the West, refugees trying to rebuild, and so many affected by AIDS.

Check out this debut author’s thought-provoking and enjoyable story set in a foreign land. If you enjoy Alexander McCall Smith’s The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series, I think you’ll like this book.
Jennifer

Bossypants by Tina Fey

Bossypants by Tina Fey (2011)
I loved listening to this book on CD. It was narrated by the author, Tina Fey, probably best known for her impersonation of Sarah Palin during the 2008 presidential election. She’s also been the head writer on Saturday Night Live; writes and stars in the TV series 30 Rock; and has written and/or starred in a number of films. She talks about getting her start in comedy in Chicago with the Second City troupe.

There are many laugh-out-loud moments throughout the book, and she delivers them perfectly.  She’s gutsy, intelligent, and irreverently funny, with a no-holds-barred attitude about most things. Highly recommend this for anyone who wants a good laugh, although there is “adult language” which may offend some people.

-Denise

Comedian Tina Fey entertains in her well-written memoir covering her personal life plus her stints at Chicago’s Second City, Saturday Night Live, and 30 Rock. I suggest listening to the audiobook narrated by Fey. Even if you haven’t followed her career, it’s easy to relate to this down to earth comedian and actress. I burst out laughing during her recollections of her childhood and her honeymoon as well as her responses to mean-spirited comments.

Wondering about the cover? Check out this interview with the hand model.
-Jennifer

For more about the book, check out TIME, NPR, Entertainment Weekly, and The New York Times.
Jennifer

Megamind

Megamind (2010) PG
Will Ferrell, Tina Fey, Brad Pitt, and Jonah Hill provide the voices in the latest animated film from DreamWorks. When the (sort of) evil Megamind destroys his nemesis, the perfect Metro Man, he takes over Metropolis. But without someone to battle, Megamind gets bored and creates a new superhero Tighten.

When Tighten fails to work for the good of the city, Megamind finds himself in the unlikely position of potential hero. With reporter Roxanne Ritchie as his moral compass, Megamind fights to save Metropolis.

A laugh out loud adventure for the whole family.
Jennifer

Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay

Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay (2007)
It’s popular with book clubs. Colleagues have raved. When I saw Sarah’s Key on the Friends shelf on the eve of my trip to Paris, it seemed perfect.

Set in Paris, Sarah’s Key alternates between 1942 and 2002. The novel is centered on a forgotten tragedy in Parisian history – the Vel d’Hiv roundup – when thousands of French men, women, and children of Jewish descent were rounded up by the French police, stripped of their possessions, and sent to concentration camps.

In the 1942 chapters, we see the tragedy unfold in occupied Paris through the eyes of 10-year-old Sarah. In 2002, we follow an expat American journalist who discovers a story larger and more complicated than she imagined.

The hype is well-deserved. A one sitting read. Have a tissue handy.

Watch the trailer of the movie version Sarah's Key.
Jennifer

Red

Red (2010) PG-13
When retired CIA agents become the target of assassination attempts, they fight back. This action comedy proves that some things do get better with age.

The old black ops team of Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, Helen Mirren, and John Malkovich is joined by newcomer Mary-Louise Parker. Together they must elude top level assassins and discover who’s trying to kill them and why.

I especially enjoyed seeing a different side of Helen Mirren and Morgan Freeman.
Jennifer

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand (2010)
They say it takes a village to raise a child. Based on the eight pages of acknowledgments by the author, it can take a village to tell a story. And what a powerful, amazing, awesome story it is…

Born in 1917, Louie Zamperini was a precocious child, a prankster, and later a runner. He smashed California track records as a student at USC and raced at the 1936 Berlin Olympics.
During World War II, as a bombardier in the Army Air Corps, he flew combat missions in the Pacific Theater. On May 27, 1943, his B-24 crashed into the ocean. Louie and pilot Alan Phillips survived 47 days at sea, only to be captured by the Japanese.

Unbroken is the unbelievable story of Louie. The detail is amazing yet not overwhelming. Hillenbrand (author of Seabiscuit) has a wonderful storytelling ability that makes 400 pages fly by. And her story is fascinating in its own right. For over half her life, she has suffered from chronic fatigue syndrome. This Newsweek article provides more about Hillenbrand, her relationship with Louie, and the book.
Jennifer

Star Trek

Star Trek (2008) PG-13
I’ve never seen the original Star Trek series. You don’t have to know anything about Star Trek to enjoy this film; I’m proof of that.

Occurring in an alternate reality to avoid continuity issues with the original series, Star Trek follows a young James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) and Spock (Zachary Quinto) as they learn to coexist to battle the evil Nero (Eric Bana). The film exhibits smart dialogue, witty humor, engaging friendships, and explosive special effects.

If you want to escape for a couple hours, I recommend discovering the new generation of Star Trek – and then you’ll be ready when the sequel comes out in 2012!
Jennifer

Morning Glory

Morning Glory (2010) PG-13
Ambitious 28-year-old producer Becky Fuller (Rachel McAdams) takes the helm of a failing morning show. To revitalize the show, she snares legendary newsman Mike Pomeroy (Harrison Ford) to partner Colleen Peck (Diane Keaton). Hilarity ensues. The banter between Ford and Keaton is spot on.

Becky learns that there’s life outside of work, childhood heroes may disappoint, old dreams may no longer fit, and there may be a guy for her after all.

Check out a featurette at IMDb.com.
Jennifer

Soulless by Gail Carriger

Soulless by Gail Carriger (2009)
Set in Victorian London, Soulless follows Alexia Tarabotti – a spinster with a secret. She’s a preternatural – without a soul – and her abilities cancel out the powers of other supernatural creatures.

It sounds farfetched, but Gail Carriger creates vivid characters and sharp humor that draw you in. I admit I don’t usually read and enjoy books with vampires, werewolves, and alternate history, but I was hooked. There’s a mystery to solve, a romance to enjoy, and secondary characters to follow.

A fun read and a good introduction to steampunk! If you enjoy Soulless, check out the next two books in the Parasol Protectorate: Changeless and Blameless.
Jennifer

The A-Team

The A-Team (2010) PG-13
Don’t take this movie too seriously. This remake of the '80s TV show provides a very entertaining two hours. The A-Team is comprised of Liam Neeson, Bradley Cooper, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, and Sharlto Copley. After they’re framed for an op gone bad, the quartet must break out of military prison to clear their name and finish the mission.

Check out a video interview with Bradley Cooper and Liam Neeson. Also read an interview with director Joe Carnahan.
Jennifer

Russian Winter by Daphne Kalotay

Russian Winter by Daphne Kalotay (2010)
Alternating between 1950s Moscow and present day Boston, Russian Winter tells the story of prima ballerina Nina Revskaya. The tale set in Moscow gives a (fictional) firsthand account of life under Stalin in communist Russia. Even with a semi-privileged life as a respected dancer, Nina was never totally safe – wondering who was spying, who was talking, and aware that one small action could change everything.

In present day Boston, Nina has decided to auction her jewelry collection and donate the proceeds to support the arts. We get three points of view – Nina, auction house organizer Drew, and Russian professor Grigori. Their lives will be intertwined in unexpected ways. A sad, yet beautiful and engrossing story from a debut author, Russian Winter is a hard book to put down. It ended too soon.

Visit the Tottenville Review for an interview with the author.
Jennifer

Just Wright

Just Wright (2010) PG
Leslie Wright (Queen Latifah) is a diehard basketball fan, a successful physical therapist, and every guy’s best friend. At 35, she’s ready to meet the man she can’t live without.

And then there’s her friend Morgan – a woman looking for the man who can make all of her financial dreams come true (better than looking for a job, in her opinion). Through a chance meeting, the pair attends a birthday party for professional basketball player Scott McKnight (Common).

Morgan meets Scott, he falls hard, and the rest is history. Not quite. When Scott suffers a career-threatening knee injury, Morgan ends the engagement.

Leslie becomes his physical therapist, his friend, and his motivator. But the road to love is never smooth. This enjoyable romantic comedy provides the usual laughs while giving sports fans something to watch (see cameos by Dwyane Wade and Dwight Howard). For a basketball romance with a little drama, check out Love & Basketball (2000).

Read a review from Roger Ebert.
Jennifer

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot (2010)
An engaging and thought-provoking read, this book tells the complicated story of a poor black woman who died of cervical cancer in the 1950s, her cells, and the scientific revolution they spawned. Henrietta Lacks was treated at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, where doctors removed some of her cancerous cells without her knowledge.

Known as HeLa (pronounced hee lah), Henrietta’s cells were the first “immortal” human cells. They keep growing – today, 60 years after her death, scientists still perform experiments on HeLa cells. Henrietta’s family had no knowledge of her impact on science until more than 20 years later; and even then, did not fully comprehend.

Skloot skillfully weaves the tragic story of generations of Lackses with understandable scientific information. Check out the author’s website for more on her journey and the book. Named the best book of 2010 by Amazon.com, it’s also a top ten pick of Publishers Weekly and Library Journal.

Attention 20-30somethings! We’re discussing this book at GenLit on Tuesday, January 18 at 6:30. We meet for dinner and discussion at Cooper’s Hawk in the Burr Ridge Village Center. Find us on Facebook to learn more.
Jennifer

Volume One by She & Him

Volume One by She & Him (2008)
The multidimensional Zooey Deschanel impresses once again at the “She” half of this duo (“Him” is M. Ward). Perhaps better known as an actress from films including (500) Days of Summer and Elf, Deschanel showcases her songwriting and singing abilities on Volume One. Likened to early 1960s pop, this indie rock album is a delight to listen to in the car or on a lazy afternoon. Check out “I was made for you,” “Black Hole,” “Sweet Darlin’,” and “Why do you let me stay here?” (see video below).

Check out the duo's website for news, music and more. Wait! There's more -- Volume Two was released earlier this year.