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.”

 

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman (2017)

I dare you not to fall in love with the delightfully quirky Eleanor Oliphant. She is charming, logical, and socially awkward. In her early 30s, Eleanor struggles with falling in love, making friends, and connecting with colleagues—and it is slowly revealed that Eleanor’s dark childhood may have stunted her social development.

A cross between The Language of Flowers and The Rosie Project, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine will tug at your heartstrings. Gail Honeyman’s debut novel is set in Scotland, which will be immediately apparent if you listen to the audiobook (the narration by Scottish actress Cathleen McCarron is spot on). You’ll laugh and cry as Eleanor’s orderly solitary life is turned upside down.

Hacksaw Ridge (2016) R

A gripping true story about a man who stood for his convictions while defending his country, Hacksaw Ridge details the life and service of Desmond Doss. A conscientious objector, Doss refused to bear arms. Nevertheless, like many others, he volunteered to join the army after the attack on Pearl Harbor. As a combat medic, Doss's heroics saved 75 lives during a WWII battle. Just a warning: the combat scenes (which start about halfway through) are quite graphic.

Hacksaw Ridge won Oscars for film editing and sound mixing. Andrew Garfield (actor) and Mel Gibson (director) received Oscar nominations.

Learn more about the true story of the first conscientious objector to receive a Congressional Medal of Honor in an NPR article and Army history.

 
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Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah (2016)

At turns heartwarming and heartbreaking, Trevor Noah’s candid memoir is a powerful, moving story of his life as a mixed race child growing up during apartheid. Told in vignettes, Born a Crime documents his relationship with his mother, his childhood and teenage antics, and his struggle to fit into a world that considered him a crime (at the time of his birth, interracial relationships were illegal).

Perhaps best known as the host of The Daily Show on Comedy Central, Noah does infuse humor into his stories, but this is not your typical comedian’s memoir. Listen to the audiobook: the author’s command of multiple languages and skill at impersonations shine in his engaging narration.

Sully (2016) PG-13

A gripping movie that will keep you enthralled from beginning to end, Sully is based on a true story: on January 15, 2009, after a bird strike killed both engines, Chesley Burnett "Sully" Sullenberger III landed his US Airways plane on the Husdon River in New York City. All 155 people on board survived.

Knowing about “the miracle on the Hudson” will not dull your interest in Sully. Starring Tom Hanks (Sully) and Aaron Eckhart (Jeff Skiles, his copilot) and directed by Clint Eastwood, the film focuses on the humble hero during the water landing and the subsequent chaos. This heartwarming drama is so worth an uninterrupted screening (or two).

Based on the autobiographical memoir Highest Duty: My Search for What Really Matters.
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Memory Man by David Baldacci (2015)

David Baldacci’s latest hero is quirky and troubled Amos Decker: he can’t forget anything thanks to a head injury in his first (and last) NFL game, and he abandons his career as a police detective following the murder of his wife and daughter. Sixteen months after the tragedy, a man unexpectedly confesses to that crime—but is he guilty?

In Memory Man, an introspective antihero is drawn back into police work by a school shooting. Is it somehow connected to his family’s murder? A gripping story and a memorable character. Intrigued? Check out The Last Mile and The Fix (just released last month) for more Amos Decker action.

The Thing About Love by Julie James (2017)

FBI agents Jessica Harlow and John Shepherd didn't exactly bond during their training six years ago. When they're paired together for an undercover assignment, sparks fly and banter ensues. With charming characters and witty dialogue, Julie James pens another smart contemporary romance. If you enjoy Susan Elizabeth Phillips, try The Thing About Love.

Bells Are Ringing (1960)

A delightfully charming musical romantic comedy, Bells Are Ringing stars Dean Martin and Judy Holliday. Ella is a kindhearted telephone answering service operator who can’t help but meddle in her customers’ lives: making love connections and arranging employment opportunities. She’s in love with one of her clients: Jeffrey, a playwright with writer’s block. The storyline is full of silliness and warmth, and the film is definitely one worth revisiting (and thanks to Debbie for the recommendation).

Directed by Vincente Minnelli (Meet Me in St. Louis, Designing Women, etc.).

On Turpentine Lane by Elinor Lipman (2017)

In this charming romantic comedy, author Elinor Lipman writes lovable characters, smart dialogue, and zany situations. Thirty-something Faith Frankel returned to her small Massachusetts hometown after a stint in New York City. She spends her days writing thank you notes as a fundraiser for a local private school while her fiancé "finds himself" on a walk across America. Faith impulsively buys a semi-decrepit cottage, setting off a hilariously bizarre series of events (including a mystery). On Turpentine Lane is a gem, deserving of a read or listen (narrated beautifully by Mia Barron). I can't wait to read more by Lipman.

America's Sweethearts (2001) PG-13

americassweetheartsJohn Cusack and Catherine Zeta-Jones play America's sweethearts (Eddie and Gwen): they're actors who married, starred in several movies together, then split publicly and messily (sounds like real life, right?). The studio needs them to promote their final movie, and sends veteran publicist Lee (Billy Crystal) to control the chaos. Add Julia Roberts as Kiki, Gwen's sister/assistant, and you've got America's Sweethearts, a comedy about love and the ridiculousness of Hollywood.

In the mood to binge watch romantic comedies? We’ve got romantic comedies you’ll love – part 1 and part 2.