Olympus Has Fallen (2013) R

olympushasfallenWhen telling a friend about Olympus Has Fallen, I called it “Die Hard for the 21st century.” If you’re in the mood for an intense action adventure film (and don’t mind the implausibility), check this one out. Gerard Butler gives a strong performance as the disgraced Secret Service agent who penetrates the White House to save the president (Aaron Eckhart) after terrorists seize the building. Also starring Morgan Freeman, Angela Bassett, Melissa Leo, and Dylan McDermott.

The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez (2014)

unknownamericansTold in alternating first person narratives, The Book of Unknown Americans details the experiences of multiple Latin American immigrants living in a Delaware apartment complex. Cristina Henriquez’ moving, compelling tale showcases families, communities, triumphs, and tragedies.

I loved this book – the endearing characters, the enthralling story, and the lyrical writing grabbed me, prompting me to keep frantically turning the pages, only to be disappointed when there were no more pages to turn.

For other immigrant experiences, check out our bibliography here.

Woman in Gold (2015) PG-13

womaningoldA gripping historical drama, Woman in Gold travels between 1930s Austria and 1990s America. Based on a true story, the film centers around Gustav Klimt’s painting, Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I. Austria looked at the portrait as a national treasure; Maria Altmann simply saw it as a picture of her aunt. Stolen from her family by the Nazis in 1938, the painting becomes the center of an international controversy in the late 90s when Altmann fights for the return of her family’s property.

The present day legal battle is complemented by flashbacks to Maria’s childhood, her relationship with her beloved aunt, and her daring escape from a no-longer-safe Austria.

You’ll get drawn into the story starring Helen Mirren and Ryan Reynolds. And if you’re like me, you’ll wonder about the true events that inspired the movie: check out this book for what really happened.

Join us on Thursday, September 17 at 2:00 p.m. We’re showing Woman is Gold as part of our Thursday Afternoon Movie series. Register here.
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The Other Daughter by Lauren Willig (2015)

otherdaughterThe glittering veneer of the Bright Young Things cracks under the pressure of secrets large and small in 1920s England. After her mother's death, governess Rachel Woodley discovers her father isn't a long deceased botanist, but a powerful earl living in London. A chance meeting with a gossip columnist launches Rachel's adventures as Vera, a witty girl flitting from one party to the next -- under the guise of uncovering more about her family.

Lauren Willig's latest engaging historical drama contains rich period details, flawed yet likable characters, and a few surprises along the way. Check out The Other Daughter today.

Signal by Patrick Lee (2015)

signalWith a device that can't be explained by logic or reality, power hungry villains, and a secret government project, Signal is another fast-paced futuristic thrilling adventure. Once I got over my disappointment that we wouldn't be seeing more of Rachel, I became engrossed in Sam's next escapade. Brought in by his old colleague Claire, Sam must race against the clock to battle a sightless enemy with a constant advantage.

Just like the first in the series (Runner), you'll need to suspend your disbelief. A lot of crazy stuff is going to happen, but you'll be frantically flipping the pages to discover what comes next in Patrick Lee’s latest conspiracy novel.

One Plus One by Jojo Moyes (2014)

oneplusoneJoin an unlikely group on this wacky road trip across England. In One Plus One, Ed drives Jess and her two kids Tanzie (10) and Nicky (16) and their dog Norman to a math tournament in Scotland. Single mother Jess is juggling two jobs, two kids, and too many bills. Tanzie is a math whiz, and this tournament is her shot at earning enough money to attend an exclusive school. Nicky’s differences make him a target of the neighborhood bullies. Tech geek Ed encounters a slew of problems relating to his business dealings, and without knowing quite how it happened, offers to transport the stranded family across the country. What should be a quick trip turns into an unexpected adventure.

The story is told from multiple points of view. Jojo Moyes’ novel is quirky, sweet, and memorable with endearing characters. Though it has moments of sadness, you’ll finish with a smile on your face.

What If (2014) PG-13

whatifIn this offbeat comedy, Wallace (Daniel Radcliffe) and Chandry (Zoe Kazan) meet at a party, strike an instant connection, and become best friends. She has a boyfriend and he’s been burned too many times. Can the pair really be just friends? What If is a sweet and smart romantic comedy set in Toronto with both funny and dramatic touches.
- Jennifer

What if your best friend was a girl? What if you liked her for more than just a friend? What if you don't know how to tell her?

This charming film stars Daniel Radcliffe as Wallace, a med school dropout rebounding from recent heartbreak, who finds himself questioning all of these things.

Enter his roommate's cousin Chantry, an animator living with her long term boyfriend Ben. The two hit it off immediately and continually enjoy each other’s witty banter and humorous dialog. In a disastrous attempt to tell Chantry his true feelings, Wallace finally answers the question What If...- Chris

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson (2013)

lifeafterlifeKate Atkinson delivers a beautifully written, wildly imaginative tale of 20th century England. In Life After Life, Ursula Todd lives her life, over and over again. From the pre-war bucolic setting to the Great War and 1918 Influenza, to the horrors of WWII in London and beyond, Atkinson guides the reader through the first half of the 20th century through Ursula’s eyes. A novel of historical fiction with a fantastical element, Life After Life is a thought-provoking read of what might change if you could relive your life.

The plot may seem farfetched, but the author structures the book in such a way that it is believable. If you enjoy reading historical or literary fiction, WWII novels, stories about families, alternative histories, or just want a good story, try this book – you won’t regret it!

And if you’re hooked, a companion novel, A God in Ruins, will be released in May (and focuses on Ursula’s beloved younger brother Teddy).

Chef (2014) R

chefOnce a rising star, Chef Carl Casper (Jon Favreau) has a meltdown that goes viral. Adrift and unemployed, Casper accepts help from his ex-wife Inez (Sofia Vergara) in the form of a beat-up food truck. With his sous chef Martin (John Leguizamo) and his young son Percy (Emjay Anthony), Casper rediscovers his love of cooking and his creative mojo on a road trip from Miami to Los Angeles. Chef is a heartwarming comedy about food and family.
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Twisted by Andrea Kane (2008)

twistedFormer FBI Special Agent Sloane Burbank still struggles with her career-ending hand injury. When her consultant gig brings her to the attention of her childhood friend’s parents, Sloane knows the chances of finding the long-missing Penny are remote. Reluctantly partnering with ex-flame Derek Parker, Sloane follows a bizarre trail of evidence suggesting that Penny isn’t the only missing woman – and that Sloane might be at the center of it all.

A psychological thriller with a bit of romance, Twisted by Andrea Kane is a pulse-pounding page turner – I finished it in one sitting. Find more romantic suspense novels on our website.

Beauty and the Beast (1991) G

beautybeastBefore heading to Disney World and the new Be Our Guest restaurant, I revisited this classic from my childhood. Beauty and the Beast was the first animated film to receive a Best Picture Oscar nomination. The Oscars for Best Original Song (“Beauty and the Beast”) and Best Score (the talented Alan Menken and Howard Ashman) come as no surprise as you listen to the enchanting music throughout the film. The story is engaging, the characters endearing (how can you not love a girl who is thrilled by books and libraries?), and the movie simply magical.

Roger Ebert was equally enthralled. Check out his review. And something else to look forward to – Beauty and the Beast will be here live on stage in late March as part of Broadway in Chicago.

The Grand Sophy by Georgette Heyer (1950)

grandsophyIn Georgette Heyer's The Grand Sophy, a lighthearted and witty regency romance along the same vein as Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice, Sophia Stanton-Lacy returns to England after traveling around continental Europe with her diplomat father…and immediately throws her cousin’s household into chaos. With her effervescent personality and managing manner, Sophy effortlessly fixes familial and romantic relationships. You’ll admire Sophy’s mad skills as a horsewoman, her disregard for silly rules, and the way her kindhearted yet devious mind conceives her madcap plans.

I listened to the engaging narration by Sarah Woodward -- and you can too by downloading the book through Hoopla!

Runner by Patrick Lee (2014)

runnerGripping, suspenseful, definitely need to suspend disbelief, but oh what a ride. In Runner, Patrick Lee keeps you guessing from beginning to end. In the wee hours of the morning, ex-special forces operative Sam Dryden encounters 12-year-old Rachel. She’s terrified, on the run, and can’t remember anything from before two months ago. What follows is a heart-pounding adventure with endearing characters.

Raúl Esparza narrates the book brilliantly – I kept inventing excuses to stay in the car so I could listen to just a bit more of the audiobook.

Dear Committee Members by Julie Schumacher (2014)

dearcommitteemembersJulie Schumacher's brief epistolary novel offers a glimpse of academia from a crotchety and beleaguered middle-aged creative writing professor. In a series of snarky letters, Jason Fitger laments the death of liberal arts on college campuses, endorses his struggling grad student, and documents the ridiculousness of teaching in a decrepit building. His own literary career trending downward, Fitger channels his creativeness into countless pithy letters of recommendation written over the course of a school year.

Pick up Dear Committee Members for a quick laugh, an endearing character, and a nostalgic look at days gone by. And if you’re a fan of stories told in letters, emails, and more, check out our list of epistolary novels.
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The Opposite of Loneliness: Essays and Stories by Marina Keegan (2014)

oppositelonelyIn 2012, Marina Keegan’s final essay in the Yale Daily News went viral after her sudden tragic death five days after graduation. In The Opposite of Loneliness, her teachers and family compiled a selection of her writings, both fiction and nonfiction.

I enjoyed listening to Emily Woo Zeller’s narration – she captures the wry humor in Keegan’s writing. The title essay – “The Opposite of Loneliness” – is powerful, relatable, moving. “Against the Grain,” which tracked her life with celiac disease, brought tears to my eyes. And while I particularly enjoyed her nonfiction work, her short stories were lovely as well.

Check out a review from The New York Times.