Brothers and Sisters on DVD

Meet the Walker family – a large California family whose trials and tribulates make for a superb television drama on Brothers and Sisters. The award winning cast includes Sally Field, Calista Flockhart and Rob Lowe as well as a handful of other well known actors. The series is funny, serious and heartbreaking all at the same time and is combined with smart and sophisticated writing. The fifth season of series will begin on television at the end of September and if you haven’t caught the series yet, it is a great time to check out Seasons One, Two, Three and Four, which are available on DVD and get to know the Walker family.

The family, which is made up of five vastly different siblings, own a fruit and vegetable company that was started by their father.  The series opening scene starts out with a large birthday celebration that ends tragically with the death of William Walker, the patriarch of the family.  This event sets forth a chain of events that serves as the setting for the entire series, including: their father’s secret life, a new sibling and the threat of losing the family business.  Many twists and turns throughout the series will make you believe you are part of the family!

More Great Scandinavian Intrigue

If you have already read Steig Larsson’s Millenium Trilogy (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl who Played with Fire and The Girl who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest) and want to try a different type of Swedish crime fiction, I would highly recommend Camilla Läckberg’s first novel, The Ice Princess, set in the picturesque town of Fjällbacka, Sweden.

The Ice Princess centers around writer Erica Falck who returns to her hometown after the death of her parents in a car accident.  Shortly after she arrives from Stockholm she happens to discover her childhood friend, Alexandra, who has died of an apparent suicide.  Grieving for their daughter, Alexandra’s parents ask Erica to write an article about Alexandra for the local paper.  While researching Alexandra’s death Erica runs into an old friend, Patrick, who is a police officer in town.  The two discover many secrets about Fjällbacka’s most prominent family whose past is intertwined with the death of Alexandra and eventually learn that her death may not have been at her own hand.

I’ve also included a beautiful photo of Fjällbacka, Sweden which happens to be the hometown of a friend.  She snapped this photograph over the summer (which was taken late in the evening).  Since Läckberg is also a native of this fishing village, she uses authentic street names, landmarks, and other notable and unique features of the village, including Ingrid Bergman Square, named for the Swedish actress who spent a good amount of time in Fjällbacka.

Heart of the Matter by Emily Giffin

The latest book by Emily Giffin, Heart of the Matter, delves into the dynamics of what can happen with a chance encounter and how seemingly small things can completely change lives.

Stay at home mom Tessa Russo’s days are spent with her two young children while her husband, Nick, a world renowned pediatric plastic surgeon, works long hours which keeps him away from his family much of the time.  While celebrating their anniversary at a five-star restaurant, Nick receives a call that will completely alter their future as a couple.  A five year old boy, Charlie Anderson, has been burned on his hands and face at a birthday party and Nick has been called to the hospital to treat him.

In the days and weeks to follow, Nick develops a strong bond with Charlie’s single mother, Valerie, and with the boy.  With the days, nights and weekends in which they spend together watching over him through surgeries and rehabilitation, their relationship slowly turns romantic.  Nick’s wife Tessa eventually learns of the affair after his admission that he has just ended his relationship with Valerie.  Tessa’s decision about her future is not easy or simple, and Giffin’s characters have true depth and thoughfulness in the decisions which they make.

Each chapter of Heart of the Matter alternates between Tessa’s and Valerie’s voices and this technique makes each of the two women multi-layered, complex and real. Giffin has a talent for creating empathetic female characters which the reader truly cares about.  Heart of the Matter is Giffin’s fifth book and each of her previous novels conquer similar themes – women at a juxtaposition in their lives as well as the complex choices which go with them.

The Final Chapter of the Millenium Trilogy

The final installment of Stieg Larsson’s Millenium Trilogy, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, was released at the beginning of the summer to rave reviews along with a bit of sadness that this is the final book in the series due to Larsson’s death in 2004, shortly before this book was published.

The book begins immediately after the epic battle from the last pages of the previous book, The Girl Who Played with Fire, which leaves Lisbeth Salander recovering from her injuries hospitalized in critical condition.  Mikael Blomkvist, a journalist who has been teaming up with Salander throughout the series, is working tirelessly on her behalf and is determined to get to the bottom of the intricate web of corruption within the Swedish government which runs deep and rampant.  

Blomkvist’s detective work  – exposing those who are trying to send Salander to prison for life by framing her for a variety of crimes – is fascinating and intricately detailed.  The book ends in a thrilling wrap-up of all the carefully interlaced story lines throughout the books. The Milenium Trilogy books are some of the best I have read in quite awhile – I am tempted to go on at length about the book but don’t want to reveal too much to anyone who may pick up the trilogy in the future.  In addition to complex and interesting characters, Larsson gives a vivid account of modern day Sweden.

Books on CD – Twenties Girl by Sophie Kinsella

In addition to listening to an audiobook while on a long car ride, books on CD are a great way to pass the time while gardening or listening to while cleaning the house, or just about anything else!  One of my most recent discoveries is a great mystery with a hint of “chick lit,” Twenties Girl by Sophie Kinsella.

Young, London-based businesswoman Lara Lington has just learned that her 105-year old great-aunt has just passed away – an aunt that she did not even know.  While attending Sadie’s funeral, Lara hears voices and catches an occasional glimpse of a young woman dressed in 1920s attire.  She then realizes that the young woman is not an illusion but is actually the ghost of Sadie at age 23!  Sadie has decided to relentlessly haunt her grand-niece in order to nearly force Lara to help her find her most prized possession, a dazzling, diamond, dragonfly necklace that was stolen before she died.   The pair form an unlikely duo that argue, confide in each other and share a friendship in the most unlikely of ways – all while solving the mystery of the missing necklace.

Twenties Girl has a little bit for everyone -mystery, romance, intrigue and comedy.  A definite recommended read – you may find yourself  circling your block a few dozen times to find out how the book ends!

Meg Cabot’s Mysteries

Size 12 is Not Fat and Size 14 is Not Fat Either by Meg Cabot, are the first two books featuring former teen queen and singing sensation Heather Wells.  Through an unfortunate series of events, Heather’s days of singing in shopping malls have come to a halt.  Her bad luck includes a mother who ran off with her entire fortune to Argentina and her father who currently resides in prison.  To get back on her feet she takes a job at the fictional New York College as the resident assistant in Fisher Hall, which is also known as “Death Dorm.”  In each of these mysteries, Heather plays an amateur sleuth and assistant to her landlord who, conveniently, is a private investigator and the two team up to solve the crimes that take place in Fisher Hall.

Whether she is trying to find out if her female residents are truly elevator surfing (or being thrown to their deaths) or attempting to seek out the wealthy New York College students who killed the star cheerleader for knowing too much, Heather Wells is a likeable character whose escapades will keep you laughing and guessing.  The third book featuring Heather Wells, Big Boned, completes this series.  Meg Cabot’s mysteries are full of humor, mayhem, murder and a little romance too. 

A Summer Trip to Paris Without Leaving Home!

 Twenty notable directors collaborated on a wonderful movie that gives a great sense of the French capital, Paris, Je T’Aime, which celebrates Paris and Parisian life in eighteen short films.  Each film is located in a different neighborhood of the city so it gives the viewer a sense of life and love in the “City of Lights.” The films are very similar in that they each contain the same theme of love and explore the cosmopolitan feel of Paris, its residents and the tourists who fill the city.  Each film ends where the other begins and that gives the entire film a sense of continuity. In the chance that you don’t like the current selection all you have to do is wait 5 minutes for the next film. 

Paris, Je T’Aime has an impressive lineup of stars including Natalie Portman, Elijah Wood, Nick Nolte and Juliette Binoche.  Directors of the short films include Wes Craven, the Coen Brothers and Gus Van Sant.  Ces’t Magnifique! 

Re-Reads: Life with Picasso by Francoise Gilot

With the recent record-breaking amount paid for a single painting – a portrait by Pablo Picasso painted during a single day in March 1932 – which sold for a staggering $106.5 million in early May in New York, it reminded me of one of my favorite books on the artist, Life with Picasso, written by Francoise Gilot.  Gilot, who lived with Pablo Picasso for nearly a decade, is the mother of two of his children, Paloma (the fashion and jewelry designer) and Claude and she continues to have a successful art career.

Gilot initially published this memoir of their life together, which spans the years 1944 until 1953, in 1964 after their relationship ended. The two met in Paris during World War II when she was a 21 year old art student and he was 62 years old and was already a world famous artist.  Gilot found inspiration working next to Picasso while creating her own artwork. The book is a fascinating read into the  process of how Picasso created his paintings, sculptures and prints as well as how he dealt with those who were around him and part of his inner circle.

This is highly recommended not only for fans of the artist but for those who enjoy a glimpse into the biography of an legendary and talented individual told from the viewpoint of someone who was living her life next to his for many years.

Green Ideas for Your Home

In celebration of Earth Day this month, below are a sampling of books that focus on different ways that you can contribute to a green planet right in your own home!  These books, along with countless others in the library, can help you make your home and your life more environmentally friendly.

The simple “green manual,” Easy Green Living is based on the author’s TV series dealing with green home and garden care issues.  The author provides basic tips to make healthy living affordable and not time consuming.  By not overwhelming the reader with too many suggestions, Loux breaks down and gives examples of small daily differences that you can make to be more environmentally friendly and peppers each chapter with a “5 Step List” of products that can be easily found in your home.

Super Natural Home by Beth Greer is a fantastic resource for the environmentally conscious family with its easy to use format with helpful quizzes that identify a home’s “toxic hot zones.”  Chapters include tips on healthy tap water, indoor air quality and safer alternatives to household cleaners.

Green Goes with Everything Transform your home into a “safe sanctuary” free of harsh chemicals with this book by author Sloan Barnett.  The author advises on the best ways to make healthy and safe choices for your family.  Topics featured in the book include healthy food preparation, cleaning solutions and safe water tips.

Green Housekeeping is an extensive resource by Ellen Sandbeck and includes chapters such as: clearing clutter and organizing your belongings in an environmentally sound way and learning to live without some toxins that could be found in homes, as a few examples.  Green Housekeeping contains numerous ancedotes that are authoritative and useful to help families save money and time – something we all can use!

The Girl Who Played with Fire

An international best-selling thriller, The Girl Who Played with Fire by Stieg Larsson, transports us to present day Sweden where crime, corruption, and the little known world of human trafficking run rampant.  Lisbeth Salander, a smart, tattooed, self-sufficient computer hacker, is the focus of a criminal investigation centered on the murder of two journalists who are close to exposing the international sex trade business.  Mikael Blomkvist, a magazine publisher whose magazine was to eventually publish the expose, has a history of working with Salander and is intent on proving her innocence – if he can find her before the police do.  On the run from authorities, Salander’s alarming past is revealed and she is intent on revenge.

The twists and turns in this book will keep you wondering if she is innocent or guilty and, most importantly, what is the motive for these murders if she is the culprit?  Even though this book is the second in the Millennium series, it is easy to start with this book before reading the first book in the series, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.  The final book in the series, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, will be published later this spring. Sadly, Stieg Larsson died in 2004 while working on his fourth book.  This series will also hit the big screen with the first installment being released in 2010.  This is an exciting book that combines contemporary Scandinavian culture with the elements of a little-known underworld of betrayal, deceit, murder and corruption.