Bigger by Sugarland (2018)

sugarlandbiggerIn their first new album since 2010, country pop duo Sugarland (Jennifer Nettles and Kristian Bush) return with an emotional and uplifting arrangement of songs. Particularly powerful are “Bigger,” “On a Roll,” and “Tuesday’s Broken.” For more about the album Bigger and what’s been happening with Sugarland over the last decade, check out the NPR review.
Borrow the CD or download the album from Hoopla.
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Ginny Moon by Benjamin Ludwig (2017)

ginnymoonFive years after being taken from her abusive mother, 14-year-old Ginny is in a forever home. And yet, not everything is proceeding smoothly. Narrated entirely from her perspective, Ginny Moon features the inner thoughts and interactions of this lovable yet troubled young autistic girl. The adults around her don’t understand why Ginny won’t let go of the baby doll left behind in her birth mother’s apartment, and Ginny doesn’t get why the adults won’t take action—leaving the reader trying to figure out the mystery.

Debut novelist Benjamin Ludwig will capture your attention with this moving and heartwarming story. If you loved Eleanor in Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, I think you’ll also enjoy Ginny’s story.
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The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang (2018)

kissquotientPretty Woman with a twist: The Kiss Quotient is a delightfully frothy and hot romantic comedy. In her debut novel, Helen Hoang introduces two lovable yet troubled characters. 30-year-old Stella excels professionally (as an econometrician) yet struggles socially, in part due to her Asperger’s Syndrome.

After a not-so-subtle hint from her parents about grandchildren, Stella employs her trademark logic, hiring an escort to help her improve in the sex and relationship department. Michael struggles with debt, and cynicism, and his boisterous Vietnamese family, and, well, this is a romance: happily ever after happens, but not before the pair hit a few roadblocks. Their journey is delightful, and shows a couple realistically coping with the challenges of neurodiversity. This story is a perfect summer read.

The Greatest Showman (2017) PG

greatestshowmanA visually stunning original movie musical, The Greatest Showman stars Hugh Jackman, Michelle Williams, Zac Efron, and Zendaya. The story follows P. T. Barnum and the origins of the circus, but at its heart, the film is about acceptance and relationships and dreams. Oscar-winning lyricists Benj Pasek and Justin Paul wrote the show stopping Oscar-nominated anthem "This is Me" along with so much other memorable music (such as redemption song “From Now On”). After you watch the movie, you’ll definitely want to check out the soundtrack on Hoopla.

Check in next month for Mary S.’s take on the film.
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The Wedding Date by Jasmine Guillory (2018)

This fun and flirty debut novel is a charming contemporary romantic comedy. After Alexa and Drew are stuck in an elevator, she agrees to be his fake girlfriend for his ex's wedding. Hilarity ensues between the lawyer-turned-mayor’s chief of staff and pediatric surgeon from opposite ends of California as they navigate their relationship in this multicultural romance.

Pick up The Wedding Date by Jasmine Guillory when you’re in the mood to laugh (although it’s not all fun and games as they overcome obstacles). For other contemporary romances featuring smart protagonists, try The Thing About Love by Julie James or our new list of recommended romantic comedy novels.

An Extraordinary Union by Alyssa Cole (2017)

extraordinaryunionSet during the American Civil War, An Extraordinary Union features spies working on behalf of the Union. Alyssa Cole’s historical romance features adventure, intrigue, period details, and memorable characters.

Born into slavery, Elle Burns is now a free woman. In 1862, she goes undercover, working as a slave in the household of a Confederate senator in Richmond, Virginia. She meets Pinkerton Secret Service Agent Malcolm McCall, a Scottish immigrant, and the pair form an uneasy alliance. As their relationship (both professional and personal) grows, Elle and Malcolm must navigate the uneasy world of race, politics, and war.

For other historical romances featuring spies, try Lauren Willig’s The Secret History of the Pink Carnation, Beverly JenkinsThe Winds of the Storm, or Joanna Bourne’s The Spymaster’s Lady.

The Woman Left Behind by Linda Howard (2018)

womanleftbehindLinda Howard again successfully balances humor and romantic suspense (a la Mr. Perfect). Tech expert Jina starts a G. I. Jane-like quest to join a special ops group in the field. Her determination to conquer physical and mental challenges is inspiring. As leader, Levi ensures the team is at top preparedness—and because of his guidance, sparks fly between the pair. Jina’s interactions with her teammates are hilarious. But it all takes a serious turn when a mission goes haywire. With immensely likeable characters, strong relationships, and a compelling story, The Woman Left Behind will grab your attention—just hang on for an exhilarating ride.

Big Mushy Happy Lumpy by Sarah Andersen (2017)

bighappymushyAfter reading Heather’s review of Adulthood is a Myth, I immediately whipped through the first in the “Sarah Scribbles” collection. Sarah Andersen’s comic strips offer sparse drawings and humorous relatable insights. Big Mushy Happy Lumpy, the second book in the collection, is also a quick and enjoyable read—but it takes a different turn, highlighting struggles with social anxiety. This shift in tone brings to mind Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh and Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson.

I can’t wait to read Herding Cats, a new collection out next month.

White Collar. Season 1 (2009-2010) TV-PG

whitecollar1After his girlfriend leaves him, Neal Caffrey (Matt Bomer) breaks out of maximum-security prison with four months left in his four-year sentence. Caught (again) by FBI Agent Peter Burke (Tim DeKay), the charismatic con man finagles a deal to help the FBI catch other white collar criminals in exchange for his (supervised) freedom. With interesting cases and entertaining banter, White Collar is a comedic crime show that proves life isn’t always black and white.

If you wondered what would happen after the end of Catch Me If You Can, this might be the show for you. We’ve also created a list of movies featuring Criminals We Love—check that out too.
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The Art of Running in Heels by Rachel Gibson (2017)

runninginheelsRachel Gibson sparkles in her return to sports romance. Lexie Kowalsky (daughter of the characters of 1998's Simply Irresistible) flees her wedding to a groom she met on a reality TV show. Her escape comes via a floatplane heading from Seattle to a remote town in Canada. Also aboard is hockey star Sean Knox, who decides Lexie doesn’t need to know who he is just yet. When they return to Seattle, Lexie concocts a plan to deal with her recent notoriety—and keeps Sean involved by bombarding him with detailed lists and memos.

The Art of Running in Heels, a sweet and sassy contemporary romance with witty banter, is perfect for fans of Susan Elizabeth Phillips, Jennifer Crusie, and Julie James.

The English Wife by Lauren Willig (2018)

At the start of this riveting Gilded Age mystery, a man is dead. What happened? One thread of the story follows his sister Janie in her quest for answers; another details his courtship of his wife five years earlier. With a compelling combination of historical detail, strong characters, and intricate plot, The English Wife will grab you immediately and keep you guessing until the shocking end. Lauren Willig's latest novel is darker than her previous works, but so worth a read.

Before the Fall by Noah Hawley (2016)

At the beginning of this compelling novel, a private plane crashes 16 minutes after takeoff from Martha’s Vineyard; only 2 (of 11) people survive. The rest of the story alternates between the investigation of the crash and the stories of those on board leading up to the crash (we get a chapter from the perspective of each person on board).

Fargo showrunner Noah Hawley writes a compulsively readable novel, revealing bits of information until you unravel what happened and why. Before the Fall is an excellent choice for a book group, inspiring discussions about truth, technology, the media, and flawed characters.

Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie (1934)

I picked up this classic British mystery after seeing a preview for the movie adaptation. My first foray into the world of Agatha Christie and Detective Hercule Poirot did not disappoint. Murder on the Orient Express has an abundance of suspects, an engrossing story, and a clever plot.

Listen to actor Dan Stevens (of Downton Abbey and Beauty and the Beast fame) narrate the novel (available on CD and Hoopla). Between his performance and Christie’s story, you will be hooked immediately. Stevens’ range of accents makes it easy to follow the large cast of characters. And it's only 6.5 hours long!

Want more? We’ve got you covered with whichever direction you go: check out our lists of classic mysteries and audiobooks for a quick trip. Also, check out Shows ‘n Tunes in January for Corrine’s review of the movie adaptation.

 

World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks (2006)

Full disclosure: I didn’t think I’d like World War Z (Zombies? No thank you.) and only started the novel because I had to (yes, that still happens). Nevertheless, author Max Brooks surprised me with a unique structure and intriguingly compelling story. Set 12 years after the end of the zombie war, character Max Brooks is traveling the globe interviewing those involved in the conflict. Each character shares their experiences, relaying information on the causes of the zombie uprising, challenges of the war, and the rebuilding process. The story is not graphic or gruesome and somehow, is realistic (despite the zombies and the post-apocalypse).

Listen to the audiobook: because the story is composed of a variety of interviews, a full cast narrates the immersive story—lending the book true crime and living history elements. Narrators include Alan Alda, Martin Scorsese, Simon Pegg, Alfred Molina, and many more.

Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic by Sam Quinones (2015)

What an eye-opener—investigative journalist Sam Quinones pens a compelling and horrifying tale of how a combination of factors lead to the current devastating opiate problem affecting people across the United States.

In Dreamland, short chapters focus on various individuals (dealers, doctors, addicts, and their families) and corporations (marketing firms and pharmaceutical companies). Quinones weaves multiple threads together, showing how an influx of black tar heroin from Mexico (and a new delivery system) and the rise of OxyContin and other legal pharmaceuticals created today’s widespread challenges. He successfully humanizes people in this narrative, including some individuals that may surprise you.

There is so much to talk about—consider discussing Dreamland with your book group.