Accidental TouristIf you’re waiting for the new Anne Tyler, A Spool of Blue Thread, why not dip into the Tyler archive? Old friends like the charmingly odd Leary family are the center of The Accidental Tourist.

Macon, the travel writer who hates to leave home, moves in with his siblings when he breaks his leg. Macon, along with Rose, Charles and Porter resume their comfortable routines, including a card game so intricate only the three brothers and sister can master it.

Written in 1985, the absence of cell phones and answering machines allow Macon to leave his marital home and go off the grid. The Learys often ignore the ringing landline, so those looking for Macon are forced to show up at the door.

Air travel prior to 9/11 is also charmingly free of TSA regulations. Macon writes a series of books for the business traveler, and the chief goal is to replicate one’s home environment. His desire for order and quiet set him up for a collision with Muriel, who is a dog trainer, among other things.  She’s Macon’s equal in eccentricity – but on the other end of the spectrum. She’s outgoing and confessional, with considerably fewer boundaries than the Learys.

Though the tone is sometimes comic, there’s an undertone of sadness and complexity. In the recent past, Macon’s son was killed in a shoot-out at a fast food restaurant. Muriel has had to struggle all her adult life to patch together a life for herself and her young son.

Tyler’s gift is to create fascinating characters and then let them bounce off each other in unpredictable ways.

What Alice ForgotWhat Alice Forgot is a great novel for audio, due in large part to the wonderful narrator, Caroline Lee.

Lee’s lilting, open Australian accent is critical to understanding  Alice’s character. The 1998 Alice is wonderfully innocent, quirky and enthusiastically in love with her husband.

The 2008 amnesiac Alice, who is living ten years in the past, is, in her own mind, still that person. She gradually begins to put together the puzzle of her new identity. To the listener, it’s almost like a mystery. You wonder who the new Alice is and how she got that way. Like Alice,  you’re also relying on what people are telling Alice, and no more. Both Alice and the reader/listener are frustrated when it seems other people are withholding information.

Liane Moriarty’s breezy style keeps the story light, while delving into the darker sides of Alice and her family’s journey over the last decade. Life has gone on; there have been births, deaths and marriages. Alice confesses to her sister that she has no idea how to feed and take care of her children, or any children for that matter. She speculates that a diet of sausages would probably be popular.

Elizabeth, her older sister, is a great foil; she had always been Alice’s protector and support which allowed Alice to be the funny, spacey one. One of the mysteries is why they had grown apart. The many well-drawn characters make this rather long audiobook absorbing to the end.

first frostIt’s October in Bascom, North Carolina, and autumn will not go quietly. As temperatures drop and leaves begin to turn, the Waverley women are made restless by the whims of their mischievous apple tree… and all the magic that swirls around it. But this year, first frost has much more in store.

Claire Waverley has started a successful new venture, Waverley’s Candies. Though her handcrafted confections – rose to recall lost love, lavender to promote happiness and lemon verbena to soothe throats and minds – are singularly effective, the business of selling them is costing her the everyday joys of her family, and her belief in her own precious gifts. Sydney Waverley, too, is losing her balance. With each passing day she longs more for a baby – a namesake for her wonderful Henry. Yet the longer she tries, the more her desire becomes an unquenchable thirst, stealing the pleasure out of the life she already has. Sydney’s daughter, Bay, has lost her heart to the boy she knows it belongs to…if only he could see it, too. But how can he, when he is so far outside her grasp that he appears to her as little more than a puff of smoke?

When a mysterious stranger shows up and challenges the very heart of their family, each of them must make choices they have never confronted before. And through it all, the Waverley sisters must search for a way to hold their family together through their troublesome season of change, waiting for that extraordinary event that is First Frost.

Lose yourself in Sarah Addison Allen’s enchanting world and fall for her charmed characters in this captivating story that proves that a happily-ever-after is never the real ending to a story. It’s where the real story begins. (description from publisher)

some luckLonglisted for the 2014 National Book Award From the winner of the Pulitzer Prize : a powerful, engrossing new novel – the life and times of a remarkable family over three transformative decades in America.

On their farm in Denby, Iowa, Rosanna and Walter Langdon abide by time-honored values that they pass on to their five wildly different children: from Frank, the handsome, willful first born, and Joe, whose love of animals and the land sustains him, to Claire, who earns a special place in her father’s heart. Each chapter in Some Luck covers a single year, beginning in 1920, as American soldiers like Walter return home from World War I, and going up through the early 1950s, with the country on the cusp of enormous social and economic change. As the Langdons branch out from Iowa to both coasts of America, the personal and the historical merge seamlessly: one moment electricity is just beginning to power the farm, and the next a son is volunteering to fight the Nazis; later still, a girl you’d seen growing up now has a little girl of her own, and you discover that your laughter and your admiration for all these lives are mixing with tears.

Some Luck delivers on everything we look for in a work of fiction. Taking us through cycles of births and deaths, passions and betrayals, among characters we come to know inside and out, it is a tour de force that stands wholly on its own. But it is also the first part of a dazzling epic trilogy–a literary adventure that will span a century in America: an astonishing feat of storytelling by a beloved writer at the height of her powers. (description from publisher)

lucky us“My father’s wife died. My mother said we should drive down to his place and see what might be in it for us.” So begins this remarkable novel by Amy Bloom, whose critically acclaimed Away was called “a literary triumph” ( The New York Times ). Lucky Us is a brilliantly written, deeply moving, fantastically funny novel of love, heartbreak, and luck.

Disappointed by their families, Iris, the hopeful star and Eva the sidekick, journey through 1940s America in search of fame and fortune. Iris’s ambitions take the pair across the America of Reinvention in a stolen station wagon, from small-town Ohio to an unexpected and sensuous Hollywood, and to the jazz clubs and golden mansions of Long Island. With their friends in high and low places, Iris and Eva stumble and shine though a landscape of big dreams, scandals, betrayals, and war.

Filled with gorgeous writing, memorable characters, and surprising events, Lucky Us is a thrilling and resonant novel about success and failure, good luck and bad, the creation of a family, and the pleasures and inevitable perils of family life, conventional and otherwise. From Brooklyn’s beauty parlors to London’s West End, a group of unforgettable people love, lie, cheat and survive in this story of our fragile, absurd, heroic species. (description from publisher)

ice cream queenIn 1913, little Malka Treynovsky flees Russia with her family in The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street. Bedazzled by tales of gold and movie stardom, she tricks them into buying tickets for America. Yet no sooner do they land on the squalid Lower East Side of Manhattan, than Malka is crippled and abandoned in the street.

Taken in by a tough-loving Italian ices peddler, she manages to survive through cunning and inventiveness. As she learns the secrets of his trade, she begins to shape her own destiny. She falls in love with a gorgeous, illiterate radical named Albert, and they set off across America in an ice cream truck. Slowly, she transforms herself into Lillian Dunkle, “The Ice Cream Queen” — doyenne of an empire of ice cream franchises and a celebrated television personality.

Lillian’s rise to fame and fortune spans seventy years and is inextricably linked to the course of American history itself, from Prohibition to the disco days of Studio 54. Yet Lillian Dunkle is nothing like the whimsical motherly persona she crafts for herself in the media. Conniving, profane, and irreverent, she is a supremely complex woman who prefers a good stiff drink to an ice cream cone . And when her past begins to catch up with her, everything she has spent her life building is at stake. (description from publisher)

February 4th

dallas buyers clubDallas Buyer’s Club – Matthew McConaughey, Jared Leto, Jennifer Garner

Texas cowboy Ron Woodroof’s free-wheeling life was overturned in 1985 when he was diagnosed as HIV-positive. Shunned and ostracized by many old friends and bereft of government-approved medicines, he decided to take matters in his own hands, tracking down alternative treatments from all over the world by means both legal and illegal. Bypassing the establishment, he joined forces with an unlikely band of renegades and outcasts and established a hugely successful ‘buyers’ club.’ Rated R

February 11th

riddickRiddick – Vin Diesel, Karl Urban, Katee Sackhoff

Riddick must fight for his life after his people betrayed him, leaving him stranded on a desolate planet to die. On this unbearably hot planet, Riddick is up against predators of an alien race. Using his emergency signals, he summons two ships: one transporting a mercenary, and the other led by an old acquaintance. Rated R

 

 

enders gameEnder’s Game – Asa Butterfield, Harrison Ford, Hailee Steinfeld, Abigail Breslin, Ben Kingsley, Viola Davis

A hostile alien race attacked Earth, and if not for the legendary heroics of Fleet Commander Mazer Rackham, all would have been lost. In preparation for the next attack, Colonel Hyrum Graff is training only the best young children. Ender Wiggin, a shy, but brilliant boy, is soon ordained by Graff as the military’s next great hope. Once at Command School, he’s trained by Mazer Rackham to lead them into an epic battle that will determine the future of Earth and save the human race. Rated PG-13

all is lostAll is Lost – Robert Redford

An open-water thriller about one man’s battle for survival against the elements after his sailboat is destroyed at sea. Using only a sextant and nautical maps to chart his progress, he is forced to rely on ocean currents to carry him into a shipping lane in hopes of hailing a passing vessel. But with the sun unrelenting, sharks circling, and his meager supplies dwindling, the ever-resourceful sailor soon finds himself staring his mortality in the face. Rated PG-13

austenlandAustenland – Keri Russell, Jj Feild, Jennifer Coolidge, Bret McKenzie, Jane Seymour

Jane Hayes’s adoration of all things Jane Austen is complicating her love life. Determined to be the heroine of her own story, Jane spends her life savings on a trip to Austenland, an eccentric Austen-inspired resort, where she meets two very different gentlemen…but has a difficult time determining where fantasy ends and real life, and maybe even love, begins. Rated PG-13

 

February 25th

rushRush – Chris Hemsworth, Daniel Bruhl, Olivia Wilde

Set against the golden age of Formula One racing in the 1970s, Rush is based on the true story of a spectacular sporting rivalry between English playboy James Hunt, and his structured, intelligent opponent, Austrian driver Niki Lauda. Directed by Ron Howard. Rated R

 

 

gravityGravity – Sandra Bullock, George Clooney

Dr. Ryan Stone is a brilliant medical engineer on her first shuttle mission with veteran astronaut Matt Kowalsky. On a seemingly routine spacewalk, the shuttle is destroyed, leaving Stone and Kowalsky spiraling out into the blackness. The deafening silence tells them they have lost any link to Earth and any chance for rescue. As fear turns to panic, every gulp of air eats away at what little oxygen is left, and the only way home may be to go further out into the terrifying expanse of space. Rated PG-13

nebraskaNebraska – Bruce Dern, Will Forte

After receiving a sweepstakes letter in the mail, a cantankerous father thinks he’s struck it rich, and wrangles his estranged son into taking a road trip to claim the fortune. Getting waylaid in the father’s hometown in Nebraska, the son tries to reconnect with his impenetrable father. Rated R

 

 

thorThor – the Dark World – Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Idris Elba, Christopher Eccleston, Stellan Skarsgard, Natalie Portman

Thor fights to restore order across the cosmos, but an ancient race led by the vengeful Malekith returns to plunge the universe back into darkness. Faced with an enemy that even Odin and Asgard cannot withstand, Thor must embark on his most perilous and personal journey yet, one that will reunite him with Jane Foster and force him to sacrifice everything to save us all. Rated PG-13

 

 

In honor of Banned Books Week, which lasts until October sixth, I’m revisiting my favorite banned book: Beloved by Toni Morrison. I first read this masterpiece in a high school English course; it’s dense and lyrical and moving. The story is based on a real-life tragedy: an escaped slave woman who murdered her own children to stop her owner from recapturing them. That woman is Sethe, and her life story is one of mingled despair and hope, tragedy and good luck. The narrative is touched by the supernatural: the spirit of Sethe’s murdered baby, whose headstone only reads Beloved, has haunted her house ever since her death. 20 years later, when a pretty 20 year old girl turns up on Sethe’s front step knowing things only a family member could know, it’s unclear what her intentions and her identity really are.

Sethe’s story is magical and moving. It’s been banned or challenged for containing offensive language, explicit sexuality, and being “unsuited to age group,” according to the American Library Association’s list of banned and challenged books. When I read this novel as a teenager, I wasn’t scarred, offended, or damaged: Morrison’s book was, instead, eye-opening and moving. It made me more interested in literature and in history, and it gave my class fodder for discussions that improved our understanding of reading and the way it impacts real life. I hope you’ll check it out: you won’t be disappointed.

To learn more about this book, censorship, and Banned Books Week, check out the ALA Banned Books Week website.

October 2

People Like Us– Chris Pine, Elizabeth Banks

A twenty-something, fast-talking salesman’s latest deal collapses the day he learns his father has suddenly died. Against his wishes, Sam is called home to put his father’s estate in order and reconnect with his estranged family. While there, he uncovers a startling secret that turns his entire world upside down – he has a 30-year-old sister he never knew existed Rated PG-13

October 9

The Raven – John Cusack,

Baltimore 1849. While investigating a horrific double murder, police detective Emmett Fields makes a startling discovery: the killer’s methods mirror the twisted writings of Edgar Allan Poe. Suspecting Poe at first, Fields ultimately enlists his help to stop future attacks. But in this deadly game of cat and mouse, the stakes are raised with each gruesome slaying as the pair races to catch a madman before he brings every one of Poe’s shocking stories to chilling life, and death. Rated R

October 11

Prometheus – Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender

Explorers have discovered a clue that brings them to the origins of mankind on Earth. This leads them on a journey that takes them to the darkest corners of the universe.Rated R

 

October 16

Moonrise Kingdom – Bruce Willis, Bill Murray

Set on an island off the coast of New England in the summer of 1965, tells the story of two twelve-year-olds who fall in love, make a secret pact, and run away together into the wilderness. As various authorities try to hunt them down, a violent storm is brewing off-shore, and the peaceful island community is turned upside down in more ways than anyone can handle.PG – 13

Madagascar 3 – Europe’s Most Wanted – Voices of Ben Stiller, Chris Rock

Your favorite characters are back in their most hilarious adventure yet! Alex, Marty, Melman and Gloria are on the run through Europe in this wildly-entertaining and outrageous comedy critic’s call ‘charming and very funny’! With the fame-loving King Julian and take-charge Penguins, the whole crew joins the circus to escape Captain Dubois of Animal Control Rated PG

Tyler Perry’s Medea’s Witness Protection – Eugene Levy, Tyler Perry

Madea’s back in an all-new movie. A Wall Street investment banker has been set up in a mob-backed Ponzi scheme, forcing him to be put under witness protection with his entire family in Madea’s house down South. Rated PG-13

Abraham Lincoln : Vampire Hunter – Benjamin Walker, Dominic Cooper

Abraham Lincoln, history’s greatest hunter of the undead, must risk the presidency, his family, and his life to protect America from the bloodthirsty vampires.Rated R

 

October 30

Dark Shadows – Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter

Imprisoned vampire Barnabas Collins is inadvertently freed from his tomb and emerges into the very changed world of 1972. He returns to Collinwood Manor to find that his once-grand estate has fallen into ruin. The dysfunctional remnants of the Collins family have fared little better and are in need of his protection. Rated PG-13.

 

After hearing a glowing review on NPR praising this witty and charming book, I quickly placed a hold on a copy of Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple.  Told primarily through emails, faxes, letters, and transcripts of taped conversations, the novel explores the events leading up to agoraphobic housewife Bernadette Fox’s disappearance.  She and her Microsoft bigwig husband promise their gifted daughter Bee that if she gets straight A’s at her prestigious middle school, she can have anything she wants as a graduation gift.  Bernadette’s worst nightmare comes true when Bee succeeds and chooses a family trip to Antarctica.  She attempts to cope with this sudden obligation to be around (gasp) people; she even hires a virtual assistant in India to make all the vacation preparations!  That’s why it is such a shock when Bernadette disappears just before they are due to embark on the trip.  Bee compiles these documents looking for clues, hoping against all evidence that she can bring her mom home again.

Semple was a writer for Arrested Development and it shows in this book, in which witty dialogue and over-the-top scenarios abound.  Bernadette’s feud with the PTA moms at Bee’s school, most notably with the one who lives next door, is ridiculous and hysterical.  Neighbor tresspasses to insist that Bernadette remove some unsightly blackberry vines?  Better erect a 5 ft. x 8 ft. billboard telling her to stay off the property, of course!  But despite all of the wacky humor, at the heart of this novel is a very touching mother-daughter relationship.  Bee will stop at nothing to find out what happened to her mother, and it is her unconditional love and determination that will render you unable to stop reading until you find out how their story ends.