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.

Their Finest (2017) R

In the early part of World War II, Catrin Cole (Gemma Arterton) is hired as a scriptwriter to accurately portray women’s dialogue in propaganda films. The war office wants these films to strike the right balance of realism and optimism, boosting morale throughout Britain (oh, and inspiring the United States to join the war). In Their Finest, Catrin works closely with fellow writer Tom Buckley (Sam Claflin) and aging film star Ambrose Hilliard (Bill Nighy) during the Blitz in London to contribute to the war effort.

Based on the novel of the same name by Lissa Evans. Discover other movies set on the home front during WWII.
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The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir by Jennifer Ryan (2017)

Did you love The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society? Then race to the library to get a copy of The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir! Set in 1940 England, Jennifer Ryan’s debut novel focuses on the women in a small village during World War II. Told through letters and journals from multiple points of view, this charming story displays resilience, hope, and heartbreak on the home front.

Try the audiobook, which features an engaging full cast. You might also enjoy browsing our lists of epistolary and WWII novels.

 

Table 19 (2017) PG-13

Experience a wedding reception through the eyes of the guests who probably should have RSVP’d “no” in Table 19. Eloise (Anna Kendrick), who was relieved of her maid of honor duties after being dumped by the best man, leads this heartwarming band of misfits. In this dramedy, unexpected friendships develop and life lessons are shared among this random assortment of people.

Wonder by R. J. Palacio (2012)

I dare you not to fall in love with 10-year-old Auggie Pullman in this sweet, moving story about the power of kindness. Although written for a middle grade audience, Wonder is a book that readers of all ages can savor. R. J. Palacio’s debut novel follows Auggie, who was born with extreme facial abnormalities, through his first year at school: the fifth grade. One of the story’s strengths is that we get multiple points of view: we hear from Auggie, a few of his classmates, and his sister.

Some readers wanted to hear from other characters. A few years after the original novel, the author released Auggie & Me: Three Wonder Stories. And if you prefer reading the book before the movie, start reading: a November release stars Julia Roberts, Owen Wilson, Daveed Diggs, and Jacob Tremblay.
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Legally Blonde (2001) PG-13

Whether you need a pick-me-up or are just in the mood for a solid escapist comedy, Legally Blonde is the movie for you. Sorority girl Elle Woods (Reese Witherspoon) is graduating college and anticipating a proposal from Warner; instead, he dumps her for not being “serious enough.” Elle hatches a plan to win back Warner—she heads to Harvard Law School and learns life lessons both in and out of the classroom. A feel-good movie about girl power, Legally Blonde has more substance than you might think.

Costarring Luke Wilson, Selma Blair, Jennifer Coolidge, and Victor Garber.

Mad Enchantment: Claude Monet and the Painting of the Water Lilies by Ross King (2016)

In this engagingly readable mix of art, history, and biography, author Ross King details the later years of Claude Monet’s life. Set against the backdrop of WWI, Mad Enchantment documents Monet’s work on paintings both large and small as well as his life in Giverny, France (and his relationships with other artists such as Renoir and Rodin). The prolific artist, although hindered by grief and failing eyesight, produced the massive paintings found in l’Orangerie in Paris.

The Art Institute of Chicago plays a role in the book, too. Did you know its representatives tried to purchase the paintings that ended up in l’Orangerie? At least we have many other Monet works in Chicago. Whether you’re planning a trip to Paris or Chicago, or just want to learn more about one of the greats (who was not always admired during his lifetime), I recommend this book—I lost track of the number of times I thought, “I didn’t know that.”