I went into reading The Paris Wife by Paula McLain with a blank slate.  I had never read any of Ernest Hemingway’s novels, and I knew only the bare minimum of biographical information about his life.  This book is a fictionalized account of Hemingway’s first wife Hadley.  It details all of the highs and lows of their complicated relationship, from their first meeting in Chicago in 1920 and subsequent whirlwind marriage to their years of living in Paris and the unraveling of their once happy life together.  Their lives seem glamorous on the surface: spending time with the Fitzgeralds and Gertrude Stein, writing in chic Paris cafes, and taking extended vacations to exotic locales around Europe.  But boiling below the surface is a host of problems.  As attentive and accommodating as Hadley tries to be, she simply cannot contend with Ernest’s ambition, neediness, and thirst for the drink.

The story is told through Hadley’s point of view.  She grew up in a very different setting, much more conservative and traditional than the Jazz Age Paris of the 1920s, so we’re learning about this time and place through brand new eyes.  The writing is lovely and McLain is very successful in making the time period come alive.  Plus, the English major in me got giddy every time a different historical figure popped up in the story.  I actually listened to the audio version of The Paris Wife and it was very well done.  Even though anyone who knows even a little bit about Hemingway has an idea of how this story ends, it’s still a compelling and engaging read that I would recommend to fans of historical fiction, novels about love and marriage, and Ernest Hemingway.

It’s so lovely when a novel can turn a well-worn trope into a fresh, lively story. Just as she did with time travel in The Time Traveler’s Wife, Audrey Niffenegger turns cliches into something more in Her Fearful Symmetry. The story follows 21 year old twins Julia and Valentina, who inherit their aunt Elspeth’s London flat and fortune on the condition that they live in the dwelling, without their parents or any other chaperone, for one year. The catch: Elspeth, mute and invisible, has clung to her flat and haunts it – and she’s getting stronger every day. Don’t groan! It sounds horribly cliched – identical twins; an inheritance contingent upon ridiculous demands; London; ghosts – but it’s so much more than it seems. Elspeth is the estranged twin sister of Julia and Valentina’s mother, Edie; the elder sisters have a history of secrets that Niffenegger unravels throughout the tale. Even more impressive is the host of delightful secondary characters: Martin, an obsessive-compulsive neighbor who writes crossword puzzles for a living, and his estranged wife Marijke (pronounced Mah-RYE-Kuh); Robert, a cemetery historian and Elspeth’s former lover; even the white kitten the twins adopt has personality and verve. They call him “The Little Kitten of Death.”

It’s a beautiful, unusual tale that unfolds slowly and doesn’t pander to the reader. Both of Niffenegger’s novels tell the stories of ordinary, although perhaps quite unusual, people who must find a way to navigate a frightening, supernatural situation. She tells the tale at the pace she wants, rather than dropping in action sequences and extra dialog where they don’t belong. If you liked the style of The Time Traveler’s Wife, you’ll be pulled in by this ghostly, ethereal tale. I listened to this as an audiobook, and it was excellent in that format; a perfect companion for rainy springtime commutes!

How often do you actually gasp with surprise anymore? Towards the end of Crazy, Stupid, Love, the many plot strands of this movie come together and there is a “reveal” that is truly unexpected.

 I applaud director Glenn Ficarra for adeptly weaving together so many relationships and wonderful performances, especially by Emma Stone. She and Ryan Gosling have a chemistry, rivaled only by that between Gosling and Steve Carell. When the last two have a falling-out, it’s almost more upsetting than the breakup of Carell and Julianne Moore. Gosling, as the epitomy of cool confidence, is a pleasure to watch. (There is a scene that will have you running to the library catalog to see if Dirty Dancing is on the shelf)

Go now, and have the time of your life-

 

Looking for a different way to honor Dad this coming Father’s Day?  How about checking out a movie featuring a fabulous father?  There’s a lot to choose from — it all depends upon your interests, or perhaps, more importantly, upon the ages of your kids.

For the younger crowd, The Incredibles is a fun choice, and all the people in that family are pretty amazing!

One of my favorites is Mrs. Doubtfire with Robin Williams.  This is a good choice for slightly older kids;  it’s hilarious, but also quite touching.

If your kids are older — maybe even adults — you may want to check out Father of the Bride. You can chose the popular newer version with Steve Martin, but it might be refreshing to go way back and view the original movie starring Spencer Tracy.  See how things have changed, or possibly, how much has stayed the same!

For those of you who’d rather have a real book connection, why not look into To Kill a Mockingbird. Atticus Finch has to be one of the most understanding fathers in the world.

And if you prefer TV shows, you might like watching some true oldies, like My Three Sons or Father Knows Best. Have a Happy Father’s Day!

People! Why haven’t you been watching this show? It is one of the best shows on television – ever. And now this ratings-challenged, critically acclaimed show is gone (episodes originally aired on Direct TV; now showing on NBC, the final season is nearly over) Fortunately, the library has the DVDs – learn from the error of your ways and watch Friday Night Lights now.

Let me make this clear right from the start – Friday Night Lights is not about football. OK, sure, there are several scenes with shots of  football games, and life in Dillon, Texas seems to revolve around the local high school football teams and the lead character is a football coach. The truth is, this show is about people – how they live, how they fall into and out of love, how they care for other people, how they try to be the best they can with what resources they have. For the younger people, it’s about how you think high school is the be-all and end-all of your life, only to realize it’s barely the beginning and you have some decisions to make that will affect the rest of your life. For the older people, it’s about how those decisions have shaped you and how you’ve learned to live – or not live – with those decisions. It’s poignant and funny and sad and beautiful – kind of like real life.

Brilliant acting (especially Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton), innovative photography, compelling story lines and characters that you can love and understand (even if you think they’re making dumb decisions), Friday Night Lights is both classic and modern, showing us who we are and what we are capable of. The fifth and final season does not disappoint and includes a bittersweet reunion of many of the characters from previous years. Also included in the DVD is a heartfelt retrospective of the series – there won’t be a dry eye in the house after watching this.

Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose.

 

Here are some new books that should tie-in well with Mother’s Day.  After reading the reviews, I know I’m looking forward to reading both of these titles.

In Daughters-in-Law, author Joanna Trollope explores how Rachel’s life has changed since her three sons have grown up and married.  Once accustomed to being the center of her family, she now finds her position as matriarch slipping away.  She also realizes that other women — the daughters-in-law — are now the main focus in her children’s lives and it’s a bit disconcerting.  Will she be able to find a way to still preserve the relationships she’s held dear for so long?

Please Look After Mom by Kyung-Sook Shin received a starred review in Library Journal, which declared that it “should be one of this year’s most deserving bestsellers.”  Basically, the story concerns a family’s search for their mother, who has gone missing in a crowded Seoul subway station.  In probable fashion, the children argue over how best to find her, while her husband returns to their country home in hopes she’ll return there.  Meanwhile, each recalls their own memories of her and wonder if they have lived up to her expectations.  The book concludes with Mom’s own version of the story, and the reader learns what really happened that day.  Sound intriguing?  Check it out and have a Happy Mother’s Day!

Overwhelmed by mounting pressures from school, home and life, 16-year-old Craig contemplates suicide. Planning to jump off the Brooklyn Bridge, at the last minute he detours to the local mental health clinic hoping for a simple solution. What he finds instead, after a minimum five-day stay, is that there are no simple answers, just the support of family and friends and the belief in your own true self.

Starring Keir Gilchrist, Zach Galifianakis and Emma Roberts, It’s Kind of a Funny Story is a charming, witty and heartfelt movie. Craig finds himself surrounded – and accepted – by a colorful cast of characters. His fellow patients are all struggling with their own personal demons but pull together and support each other, sometimes in surprising ways. There are a lot of funny scenes and quiet moments, and there are heartbreaking insights. It’s a story not so much about mental illness as it’s about finding a way to live again.

February 1

Conviction – Hilary Swank, Sam Rockwell

Betty Anne Waters is a young woman whose world is shattered when her beloved brother Kenny is convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison. Steadfastly convinced of his innocence, Betty Anne embarks on an 18-year journey to set Kenny free, using state-of-the-art forensic technology. The unshakable bond between a brother and sister at the heart of this real-life drama will stir your emotions and inspire you.

Never Let Me Go – Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightly

Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy are best friends who grow up together at an English boarding school with a chilling secret. When they learn the shocking truth that they are genetically engineered clones raised to be organ donors, they embrace their fleeting chance to live and love.

February 8

You Again – Signourny Weaver, Jamie Lee Curtis

For Marnie, high school was a horror movie, and her brother’s wedding is the sequel when her archrival comes back to haunt her as his bride. It’s nice girl versus mean girl in this hysterical reunion with the one person Marnie would really like to forget. And if that weren’t enough, Marnie’s mom reunites with her own high school nemesis.

Life As We Know It – Josh Durhamel, Katherine Heigl

Holly is an up-and-coming caterer and Messer is a promising network sports director. After a disastrous first date, all they have in common is their dislike for each other and their love for their goddaughter Sophie. But when they suddenly become all Sophie has in this world, Holly and Messer must set their differences aside. Juggling career ambitions and competing social calendars, they’ll have to find common ground while living under the same roof.

For Colored Girls – Janet Jackson, Thandie Newton

A vibrant world where friends and strangers dream, fear, cry, love, and laugh out loud in an attempt to find their true selves. Adapted by writer/director Tyler Perry from Ntozake Shange’s acclaimed choreopoem, this gripping film paints an unforgettable portrait of what it means to be a woman of color in the modern world.

February 15

Waiting for Superman

An engaging and inspiring look at public education in the United States. This documentary has helped launch a movement to achieve a real and lasting change through the compelling stories of five unforgettable students such as Emily, a Silicon Valley eighth grader who is afraid of being labeled as unfit for college, and Francisco, a Bronx first grader whose mom will do anything to give him a shot at a better life.

Unstoppable – Denzel Washington, Chris Pine

A runaway train, transporting deadly, toxic chemicals, is barreling down on Scranton, Pennsylvania, and only two men can stop it: a veteran engineer and a young conductor. Thousands of lives hang in the balance as these ordinary heroes attempt to chase down one million tons of hurtling steel and prevent an epic disaster.

February 22

Due Date – Robert Downey Jr., Zach Galifianakis

Expectant first-time father Peter Highman looks forward to his new child’s due date five days away. As Peter hurries to catch a flight home from Atlanta to be at his wife’s side for the birth, his best intentions go completely awry. An encounter with aspiring actor Ethan Tremblay forces Peter to hitch a ride with Ethan on a cross-country trip that will ultimately destroy several cars, many friendships, and Peter’s last nerve.

Weeds Season 6 – Mary Louise Parker

Season 6 of this highly acclaimed series turns over a new leaf when pot-selling soccer mom Nancy Botwin tries to leave behind her illegal operations. Includes the complete Season 6 with all 13 episodes.

February 25

Megamind – Will Ferrell, Tina Fey

Over the years, Megamind has tried to conquer Metro City in every imaginable way. Each attempt is a colossal failure thanks to the caped superhero known as ‘Metro Man,’ until the day Megamind actually defeats him in the throes of one of his botched evil plans. Suddenly, the fate of Metro City is threatened when a new villain arrives and chaos runs rampant, leaving everyone to wonder if the world’s biggest ‘mind’ can actually be the one to save the day.

Right about now, in the frigid frost of  a typical Midwestern mid-winter, a nice hot beach read can come to the rescue.   Fortunately, Dorothea Benton Frank’s Lowcountry Summer fills the bill.  Previous fans will find familiar ground in this sequel to her bestselling novel, Plantation. Though Frank resides in New York, she was born and raised on Sullivan’s Island, South Carolina, and her knowledge of the area and it’s cultural customs certainly seem to authenticate the already colorful characters.

For some reason, I don’t know why, maybe it was all the references to the mouth-watering food they were eating , but the narrator kept reminding me of Paula Deen.  But then she’d reinvent herself when describing her laugh-out-loud love-life, and yet again when trying to deal with a drunken sister-in-law or comfort her grief-stricken brother.  So there’s more than just sass and sex  — there’s all the dynamics of complicated family relationships with some unexpected and poignant outcomes thrown in along the way.

I think the thing I enjoyed most was how she used dialog for the narrator, Caroline.  For example, Caroline might respond verbally one way (to her 19 year old son in college who’s shacking up with an older single mom) but she also lets the reader know her real thoughts, as shown here:

“But it’s nothing really.  I just go over to her place for dinner, that’s all”

Oh. My. God.  He was having sex.  My son was having sex!

“Oh, Is she a good cook?”  She had better not be a good cook.

See what I mean?  So, come to the library,  pick up a copy and than pretend you’re on vacation on a beach near Charleston.

How do you define family? Is it just the people you’re related to by blood or by marriage? Or does it include the friends that stand by you through thick and thin? What about the people that leave but come back? And what about those that live on only in your memory? In a world that is constantly redefining itself, who do you call your family?

Despite their differences Janey, Jill and Katie become best friends, bound together by the common stresses of working as post-grad students in Seattle in The Atlas of Love. When Jill becomes pregnant and then is abandoned by the baby’s father, the three form a makeshift family and come together to raise Atlas themselves. Juggling teaching schedules, classes and child care at first seems just possible if everything goes smoothly, but of course, life is not smooth or predictable. Katie falls in love and decides to marry, Jill becomes depressed and begins to drift away and Janey struggles to hold everything together by herself. Then Atlas’ absent father returns and the little family is thrown into chaos. The resulting turmoil of anger, fear, concern and yes, love means that while almost everything is different, one thing stays the same – family. Family that is no longer defined by rigid rules, but is flexible enough to encompass all kinds of people from all kinds of backgrounds, all drawn to one common goal – to love and support each other no matter what.

Narrated in Janey’s wry voice, this book moves from laugh-out-loud funny to infuriating to sweet and sad as these young women define and redefine their own improvised family.