Sergeant Stubby: How a Stray Dog and His Best Friend Helped Win World War I and Stole the Heart of a Nation by Ann Bausum (2014)

stubbySergeant Stubby appeals to both military history buffs and dog lovers. This remarkable story follows James Robert Conroy and his brave canine companion, Stubby, from their early days to the battlefields of France during World War I, to their homecoming as heroes and then retirement. The soldiers’ lives during wartime are contrasted with the bond between soldier and dog. Photographs of Conroy and Stubby enhance the book.

In 1917, Conroy enlisted in the Connecticut National Guard and his unit became part of the 26th (Yankee Division) of the U.S. Army. Stubby was a stray that showed up at training on Yale University’s athletic fields and favored Conroy. He learned how to follow along with the soldiers as they paraded on the athletic fields and even learned how to salute. Stubby was smuggled and stowed away on the ship taking Conroy’s unit to France. Supposedly after officers became aware of Stubby’s presence, Stubby charmed them and became the official mascot of the unit.

James Robert Conroy returned to the States as a hero and Stubby became a celebrity.

Ann Bausum’s book was released to coincide with the 100th anniversary of World War I. If you are interested in reading further about World War I see All Time Faves: Our Favorite books about World War I.

Seven Pounds (2008) PG-13

7poundsWhy does IRS agent Ben Thomas, portrayed by the versatile actor Will Smith, contact seven people primarily struggling with health issues? Ben is a tormented soul with sadness about him, but is driven to see his plan through. This is a riveting, touching, and mysterious film. It has great writing and a unique plot. Rosario Dawson plays Emily Posa, a woman Ben develops a special bond with.

You might also like The Pursuit of Happyness, which stars Will Smith and has the same production team and director as Seven Pounds.
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Parenthood, Seasons 1-4 (2010-2013)

parenthoodFollow the Braverman family through life’s ups and downs. Zeek (Craig T. Nelson) and Camille (Bonnie Bedelia) head up the clan revolving around four grown children and grandchildren. Both the funny and the heartbreaking moments make me look forward to the next episode. It is well acted and has engrossing story lines. I enjoyed the real life issues, such as Asperger's syndrome, single parenting, romance, illness, new babies, dealing with young adults, and career decisions.

Parenthood is currently in its 5th season on NBC. After hearing what a good show it was, I started watching it in the middle. Luckily the library carries the earlier seasons on DVD, so I was able to catch up.

You might want to check out a similar series, Brothers and Sisters.
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Rush (2013) R

This exciting and thrilling movie follows self-destructive playboy British auto racer James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and serious Austrian auto racer Niki Lauda (Daniel Bruhl), competing in the 1970s to become the Formula 1 champion. There is intense rivalry between the two drivers, and the race scenes had me on the edge of my seat.

Rush is based on a true story and is directed by the renowned Ron Howard. Check out an interview with Lauda.

Other auto racing movies you might want to check out are Grand Prix and Le Mans.

 

I, Toto: the autobiography of Terry, the dog who was Toto by Willard Carroll (2001)

Did you know that the cute cairn terrier that played Dorothy’s dog, Toto, in The Wizard of Oz performed in fourteen major motion pictures? This is a timely book to read since August 2014 is the 75th anniversary of the release of The Wizard of Oz movie (and check Bill’s review last month on other films of 1939). I, Toto, a charming book, is written from Terry’s point of view and is filled with photographs and newspaper clippings. Her first film was with Shirley Temple in Bright Eyes.

Other books about animal performers are Rin Tin Tin: the life and the legend by Susan Orleans and Zamba: the true story of the greatest lion that ever lived by Ralph Helfer.

 

Now You See Me (2013) PG-13

This entertaining, fast paced movie centers around four magicians, played by Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Isla Fisher, and Dave Franco, who are mysteriously brought together to perform a lavish act with amazing feats including pulling off elaborate heists. Are these thefts real or illusions?

Early on Eisenberg’s character says, “The more you think you see the easier it will be to fool you.” “The Four Horsemen” stay one step ahead of the FBI and Interpol in Now You See Me. Director Louis Leterrier also directed the action movie The Transporter.
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Still Foolin’ ‘Em: Where I’ve Been, Where I’m Going, and Where the Hell Are My Keys? by Billy Crystal (2013)

Upon turning 65, Billy Crystal, a comedian, actor, and director, wrote this entertaining, humorous, and sometimes poignant book. It alternates between quips about aging and reflections on his family life and career. In the audio version of Still Foolin’ ‘Em, the chapters on aging seem right out of his stand-up act complete with laugh track. I especially enjoyed the sections on the making of the movies When Harry Met Sally and City Slickers and learning about his friendship with Muhammad Ali. Reading about his early marriage years with Janice through being a grandpa gave me a different perspective on this funny man.

Winter’s Bone (2010) R

In this moving story, seventeen-year-old Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence) determinedly tries to find her father in order to save the family home in the Missouri backwoods. For her exceptional, riveting performance, Lawrence received an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress in a Leading Role.

Because her mother is incapacitated, Ree has been raising her younger sister and brother. Her father, a meth cooker, has just been released from prison and is missing. If he does not appear in court, the bail bondsman will take their home and timberland. Ree persistently talks to closed-mouthed relatives and neighbors, putting her in peril, to track down her father.

Winter’s Bone won the best picture and best screenplay awards at the Sundance Film Festival. The movie is based on Daniel Woodrell’s novel. After this film, Jennifer Lawrence went on to star in The Hunger Games and Silver Linings Playbook. For her performance in the leading role of Silver Linings Playbook, she won both a Golden Globe and an Academy Award.
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Grave Goods by Ariana Franklin (2009)

I am not usually a fan of medieval historical fiction, but this compelling book held my interest. Set in twelfth century England and Wales, Adelia Aguilar, a doctor and forensic expert, is asked by King Henry II to investigate claims that two skeletons found near the burned Glastonbury Abbey belong to King Arthur and Guinevere. Because of the times, Adelia has to pretend to be assisting Mansur, her servant, when solving crimes. A subplot deals with Adelia’s travelling companion Emma, widow of Lord Wolvercote, who is attempting to win back his lands and castle.

The characters are well developed, and there is a nice balance between historical details and suspense. Grave Goods is the third book in Ariana Franklin’s Adelia Aguilar (Mistress of the Art of Death) series, but you don’t have to read the first two to enjoy this one.

 

Big Miracle (2012) PG

I loved Big Miracle, which tells the inspiring, heartwarming story about a family of whales trapped in the ice in Alaska in 1988 and the effort that was undertaken to try to save them. The world becomes aware of the whales’ plight when Adam (John Krasinski), a TV reporter in the small town of Barrow, Alaska, broadcasts the story for the local station. NBC has one minute forty seconds to fill and uses his story. Rachel (Drew Barrymore), a Greenpeace activist and Adam’s ex-girlfriend, was one of the first to arrive on the scene and really spearheaded the effort to rescue the whales. The native whale hunters, an oil company owner (Ted Danson), journalists, and state and U.S. government have to put aside their differences to try to rescue the whales.

Take time to watch the special feature, Truth is Stranger than Fiction, which features Cindy Lowry, the real-life Rachel, and some of the other people involved in the crisis. The movie is based on a book by Tom Rose.

For other animal films at the library, browse our list Movies Featuring the Animal Kingdom.

I Am Maru by Mugumogu (2011)

Maru is an adorable Scottish Fold cat living in Japan who became famous from a “The Sliding Box Cat” entry for a YouTube contest. The photos of Maru’s expressive face and round body in all sorts of creative positions are delightful. In addition to sliding into boxes, he loves jumping and squishing into trash cans, and peeking into bags. It is amazing to see him diving and pushing his chubby body through diet soda boxes.

Cute captions from Maru’s point of view increase the enjoyment of the photos. Maru was born on May 7, 2007, and went to live with the author on September 7, 2007. The book features Maru in the first two years of his life. The text is in English and Japanese.

In addition to reading I Am Maru by Mugumogu, it is a treat to see Maru in action on youtube –

http://youtu.be/kDolQlZWSmw

Muddy Waters & The Rolling Stones: Live at the Checkerboard Lounge (2012)

On November 22, 1981, the Rolling Stones were in Chicago for a concert and stopped into Buddy Guy’s Checkerboard Lounge to hear Muddy Waters and get back to their blues roots. Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Ronnie Wood, and Ian Stewart joined in. It was incredible watching a young Mick Jagger singing and interacting with the father of modern Chicago blues and Keith Richards jamming on the guitar. Buddy Guy, Lefty Dizz, and Junior Wells are also featured. Bootleg copies existed, but this is the first official film recording of the historic night. The Rolling Stones were named after the Muddy Waters song, “Rollin’ Stone.”

Muddy Waters & The Rolling Stones reminded me of the historic night at Sun Records in 1956 when Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, and Elvis Presley had an impromptu jam session. No film footage exists, but most of the sound was recorded and released as The Million Dollar Quartet. This event spawned the musical, Million Dollar Quartet.

Chicago’s State Street Christmas Parade by Robert P. Ledermann (2004)

Reminisce about Chicago’s Christmas parade and other unique Chicago Christmas experiences. The first Chicago Christmas parade started in 1934 and signaled the start of the Christmas season. Although I never attended the parade, I enjoyed reading about it and viewing the photos of the floats, bands, and celebrities during various eras in this book.
More than half of the book features other Chicago institutions featured prominently at Christmastime: Carson Pirie Scott and Company, Berghoff Restaurant, Miller’s Pub, and Marshall Field’s. It brought back memories of going downtown and viewing the magical windows of Carson’s, Field’s, Wieboldt’s, and Goldblatt’s on State Street. Marshall Field’s was also well known for its main floor decorations and the great tree in the Walnut Room. Ledermann also wrote Christmas on State Street, 1940’s and Beyond (2002).

 

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2011) PG-13

I thoroughly enjoyed this charming movie about a group of retirees who are enticed to spend their golden years at a supposedly luxury resort in India.  The exotic, colorful, and bustling locale enchants them and forces them out of their comfort zones.  Some adapt to and embrace their new situation better than others.

I enjoyed both the comic and poignant moments of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.  The enthusiastic young manager’s favorite words are “In India we have a saying, everything will be all right in the end so if it is not all right it is not yet the end.”  The movie features British veteran actors Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Bill Nighy, and Tom Wilkinson.

The film is based on a novel of the same name by Deborah Moggach.
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The French Cat by Rachael Hale (2011)

Delight in the photos of cats set against the backdrop of Paris and French villages. It is lovely to see a pampered cat in a grand chateau sitting regally on a brocade chair, cats walking along cobblestone streets surrounded by Old World architecture, strays roaming among the tombstones in Montmartre Cemetery, and a cat relaxing on a wrought iron balcony. While expecting a child, Rachael, an animal photographer, moved with her new husband from New Zealand to southwest France. It was interesting reading about her background and how she undertook this project including the effort involved in photographing the cats that required patience, teasers, and treats.

This book will appeal to cat lovers, Francophiles, and photography lovers.

Check the catalog for The French Cat by Rachael Hale.