The Queens of Animation

In this eye-opening, fascinating, and heartbreaking account, author Nathalia Holt takes readers through the history of female animators at the storied Walt Disney Company. Women faced great obstacles personally and professionally (harassment, intimidation, abuse), making this story difficult to read at times. And yet, it's gripping. The stories of Mary Blair, Sylvia Moberly-Holland, and Bianca Majolie intertwined with the detailed history of the studio and the larger world make for a compelling read. While the focus is on the early years, the author takes readers through the studio's renaissance of the early 90s and the 2013 blockbuster Frozen. Warning: life at Disney wasn't always a fairy tale.

If you enjoy hidden histories (such as Hidden Figures), you'll appreciate The Queens of Animation: The Untold Story of the Women Who Transformed the World of Disney and Made Cinematic History (2019). The engrossing story is well worth a listen, thanks to the fantastic performance by Saskia Maarleveld.



Blinded by the Light

What kind of world do we want to live in? From Gurinder Chadha, director of Bend It Like Beckham, comes another feel-good film about coming of age and struggling with familial expectations.

Set in 1980s England, British Pakistani teen Javed discovers the music of Bruce Springsteen, inspiring him to change his life. Loosely based on the memoir of journalist Sarfraz Manzoor, the film Blinded by the Light (2019, PG-13) features Bruce Springsteen's words and music as a character.


The Worst Best Man

Wedding planner Carolina (Lina) Santos doesn't advertise the fact that she was left at the altar three years ago. So when she walks into the biggest meeting of her career and sees her ex-fiancé and his brother Max, she impulsively pretends she doesn't know them. When she must work with Max to pitch to a potential boss, the forced proximity makes them see each other in a new light.

The Worst Best Man (2020) is a romantic comedy full of heart, humor, and awkward situations. It also has fabulous characters: Lina's strong Brazilian family plays a large role, as do her girlfriends. If you enjoyed Nora Roberts' Bride Quartet (start with Vision in White) or Lauren Layne's Wedding Belles (start with To Have and To Hold), you'll enjoy Mia Sosa's story of weddings, family, and friendships. For another romance featuring strong family ties, try His Perfect Partner by Priscilla Oliveras.

Find more romantic comedies (we made a list!).

Join us on Tuesday, February 18 at 7pm to Celebrate Romance Reads. Hear about recent releases, books into movies/TV shows, and more. Whether you're a voracious reader or a romance newbie, there will be something for you.



Lobby Baby

In his 2019 comedy special, Seth Meyers provides plenty of heart with his humor.  Named after the infamous incident of his wife giving birth in the lobby of their apartment building, Lobby Baby (TV-MA) features funny anecdotes mostly about family, relationships, and life.  If politics aren't your thing, Netflix even built in an option to skip over the political comedy.

Former head writer of Saturday Night Live and current host of Late Night with Seth Meyers, Meyers provides sweet and charming stories throughout this hour-long standup routine.  Check out one of our Rokus with Netflix to watch this special.

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Get a Life, Chloe Brown

In this sweet and steamy romantic comedy, a near-death experience spurs Chloe into action. After years of being stuck in a rut, chronically ill Chloe makes a list to "get a life." That, of course, doesn't go as planned and leads her to Red, the local handyman and a secret artist. The snarky banter and the warm characters make Get a Life, Chloe Brown (2019) a delightful read. Talia Hibbert gracefully handles portrayals of living with disability and surviving emotional abuse.

This own voices enemies-to-lovers rom com is perfect for fans of Jasmine Guillory and Helen Hoang. Discover more romantic comedies (we made a list!).

Join us on Tuesday, February 18 at 7pm to Celebrate Romance Reads. Hear about recent releases, books into movies/TV shows, and more. Whether you're a voracious reader or a romance newbie, there will be something for you.


The Mars Room

This beautifully written and moving novel opens with Romy Hall serving a double life sentence after she murders her stalker. Her difficult life is unveiled in a nonlinear timeline. The Mars Room is a bleak story, filled with characters who have so much working against them—but the author deftly includes comedic moments to enhance the story.

Rachel Kushner writes about the forgotten members of society in such a way that you'll be thinking about this book long after you've finished the novel. The Mars Room is an excellent choice to discuss with your book club. Topics include class and privilege, gender and sexism, incarceration, and writing and symbolism.

This is not Orange is the New Black. If you enjoyed An American Marriage by Tayari Jones or Evicted by Matthew Desmond, try this novel. Kushner adeptly narrates her novel, putting the reader in the mind of Romy—definitely worth a listen!

Yesterday

If you love The Beatles, you need to watch this movie.  In Yesterday, a mysterious worldwide 12-second power outage triggers an alternate reality.  Struggling British musician Jack Malik is debating whether to give up on a music career.  Then, when playing a Beatles classic for his friends, he discovers that in this new universe, the Beatles never existed.  Jack becomes an international sensation with his alleged songwriting prowess.  But is it too good to be true?  Jack discovers what's truly important on his unbelievable journey.

This feel-good film (2019, PG-13) stars Himesh Patel and Lily James, with Kate McKinnon and Ed Sheeran in supporting roles.  Directed by Danny Boyle and written by Richard Curtis.  Listen to the soundtrack on Hoopla or check out the cd for a delightful assortment of Beatles covers.



Evvie Drake Starts Over

Evvie (rhymes with Chevy) is a loveable character, who is trying to figure out what's next. She is struggling in her mundane life in small town Maine after the death of her not-so-great husband. Dean is a former Major League baseball player whose career ended quite dramatically. He's looking for a place to disappear, and rents Evvie's spare apartment.

The novel is divided into seasons. Over the course of a year, Evvie's relationships with those around her change—in both challenging and rewarding ways. At times, the book is laugh-out-loud funny; at others, it's heartbreaking.

Linda Holmes, host of NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour, has written a heartwarming and satisfying debut novel. Pick up Evvie Drake Starts Over (2019) for authentic characters overcoming life's obstacles. 

Meet Cute

Kailyn literally collides with former child star and crush Daxton on their first day of law school. This meet cute seems picture perfect, but nothing materializes other than a betrayal. Fast forward to five years after law school when circumstances bring the pair together again: Kailyn is appointed as guardian to Daxton's 13-year-old sister.

Meet Cute (2019) is full of heart, humor, and family. This witty romantic comedy from Helena Hunting is perfect for fans of Julie James (especially Practice Makes Perfect) and Sally Thorne (The Hating Game).


Late Night

You can't go wrong with a movie starring Emma Thompson and Mindy Kaling.  I adored the workplace comedy Late Night.  Katherine Newbury (Thompson) is a seasoned talk show who is being replaced.  Molly Patel (Kaling) is a rookie writer who shakes up the status quo in the previously all-white male writers' room. The humor in this 2019 film written by Mindy Kaling was spot on and relevant (rated R).


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The Radium Girls

Be prepared: this book is heartbreaking and infuriating. But it is so worth the read. The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America's Shining Women (2017) tells the true story of a tragic time in American history. In the early 20th century, advertisements touted radium as a miracle cure. During World War I, factories in the U.S. were employing women to paint watch faces. Their method? Lip, dip, paint.

The constant exposure to radium eventually led to workers' horrific pain and suffering—and the companies denied any wrongdoing. Author Kate Moore shares the personal stories of these women, their fight for justice, and the impact their perseverance had on workers' rights and labor laws.

There is a local thread about a radium plant in Ottowa, Illinois. Check out the NPR Illinois article for more details.

If you enjoyed The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks or The Girls of Atomic City, try this book. It has a mix of hidden history and compelling characters—and it's great for book clubs.



A Few Good Men

When I think of A Few Good Men, the first thing that comes to mind is the iconic scene of Jack Nicholson shouting, "You can't handle the truth!"  But since that was about all I could remember, I decided it was time to re-watch the classic 1992 film.  

Tom Cruise is Lt. Daniel Kaffee, a young and cocky Navy lawyer assigned to defend two Marines accused of murder while on duty at Guantanamo Bay. The film includes conspiracies, political machinations, and many shades of gray.

Featuring that signature Aaron Sorkin dialogue (it's his first movie screenplay), A Few Good Men was directed by Rob Reiner (rated R). Costarring Demi Moore, Kevin Bacon, and Kevin Pollak.  You'll also spot a young Kiefer Sutherland, Cuba Gooding Jr., and Noah Wyle.

If you enjoy films featuring lawyers, check out Great Movies: Lawyers in the Movies and Great Movies: More Lawyers in the Movies to discover what to watch next.  A Few Good Men is also on the American Film Institute's list of top courtroom dramas.

Where Am I Now?

Did you enjoy Matilda, Mrs. Doubtfire, or the remake of Miracle on 34th Street? These 90s films feature a delightful performance by the adorable Mara Wilson. She's all grown up now, and has written an engaging series of essays. In Where Am I Now?True Stories of Girlhood and Accidental Fame (2016), Wilson covers her childhood in the spotlight (both good and bad), her struggles with OCD and depression, and coming of age as an aspiring storyteller in New York City.

Don't let the childhood stardom fool you. Wilson pursued the creative arts (both performing and writing) in high school and in college at NYU. She is a gifted writer and experienced storyteller, and those talents shine throughout her memoir. It is full of heart, featuring both heartbreaking and humorous stories.

Listen to her memoir via Overdrive. Watch a video with Mara on mental health for Project UROK. 



A Place for Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza (2018)

In this lyrical and leisurely novel, debut author Fatima Farheen Mirza introduces us to a Muslim Indian family gathering for a wedding. The story is nonlinear, jumping forward and backward, giving us glimpses of the siblings' childhood, their parents' initial meetings, and their post-wedding relationships.

A Place for Us is a moving story shared from multiple perspectives. This interesting narrative structure might sound challenging, but the story is not difficult to follow. Read this book when you have a chance to delve deep into a story and emotionally invest in characters.

A great pick for book clubs: discuss familial relationships and expectations, cultural heritage and traditions, and characters and their choices. 


Pitch Perfect Trilogy

For lighthearted movies featuring a charming mix of comedy, music, and girl power, try Pitch Perfect (2012) and its sequels Pitch Perfect 2 (2015) and Pitch Perfect 3 (2017).  In the first film, freshman Beca (Anna Kendrick) reluctantly joins a collegiate acapella group.  Heartwarming hilarity ensues. The performances feature catchy music, a range of voices, and a variety of styles.

Each sequel gets more ridiculous, but it is worth going along for the ride.  Anna Kendrick, Brittany Snow, Anna Camp, Rebel Wilson star in all three with Hailee Steinfeld added in the second film.  The first two films also feature a pre-Dear Evan Hansen Ben Platt.

If you enjoy the music featured in the films, check out the soundtracks on Hoopla.


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