The Three Weissmanns of Westport by Cathleen Schine

After 48 years of marriage, Joseph has asked Betty for a divorce, citing “irreconcilable differences”. This confuses Betty because of course they have “irreconcilable differences” – what did that have to do with divorce? And thus begins a tale of manners and family ties, heartbreak and second chances.

To save money Betty and her two adult daughters – each facing life changing situations of their own – move into a dilapidated cottage on Long Island, loaned to them by an benevolent cousin. It is here that each woman faces her new future, making connections to their neighbors, town and each other that are both unexpected and comforting.

The Three Weissmanns of Westport by Cathleen Schine is a decidedly modern look at society, inspired by the novels of Jane Austen (you’ll recognize a lot of Sense and Sensibility and a bit of Pride and Prejudice here) Witty, thoughtful, sharply observant, this is a novel of picking up the pieces and starting anew.

DVDs for February

February 2

Amelia – Hillary Shank, Richard Gere

Bound by ambition and love, Amelia Earhart and husband and business partner George Putnam’s enduring marriage could not be broken by Amelia’s determination to fly, nor her passionate affair with Gene Vidal. Amelia set off on her most daunting mission yet, a solo flight around the world that she and George both anxiously foresaw as destined, whatever the outcome, to become one of the most talked-about journeys in history.

Zombieland – Bill Murray, Woody Harrelson, Abigal Breslin

In a world that has become overrun with zombies, two men must figure out how to survive. Wimpy Columbus is afraid of his own shadow, while Tallahassee is the biggest, baddest gun-toting zombie-slayer who ever lived. When they meet two sisters, Wichita and Little Rock, the four strike out for an amusement park that is said to be zombie-free. This mismatched group will have to rely on each other to survive, which could be worse than surrendering to the zombies.

February 9

Couples Retreat – Vince Vaughn, Jason Bateman, Kristin Bell

Eight friends are on vacation in paradise, one they’ll never forget. Their group-rate vacation comes at a price when they discover that participation in the resort’s unconventional couples therapy activities is anything but optional.

Good Hair – Chris Rock

Comedian Chris Rock tackles the very personal issue of hair, and how attaining good hair can affect relationships, wallets, and a person’s self-esteem. Features interviews with Dr. Maya Angelou, Nia Long, Ice-T, Raven Symone, and more.

Time Traveler’s Wife – Eric Bana, Rachel McAdams

Clare has been in love with Henry her entire life. She believes they are destined to be together, even though she never knows when they will be separated. Henry is a time traveler, cursed with a rare genetic anomaly that causes him to live his life on a shifting timeline, skipping back and forth through his lifespan with no control. Despite the fact that Henry’s travels force them apart with no warning, Clare desperately tries to build a life with her one true love.

February 23

The Informant! – Matt Damon, Scott Bakula

The U.S. government decides to go after an agri-business giant with a price-fixing accusation based on the evidence submitted by their star witness, vice president turned informant Mark Whitacre. The FBI needs evidence, so Whitacre eagerly agrees to wear a wire and carry a hidden tape recorder in his briefcase, imagining himself as a kind of de facto secret agent.

Think warm thoughts

It throws one for a bit of a loop to write down dates like 2010 without seeing George Jetson puttering around in his airborne aquarium.

Similarly, assembling a list of fiction titles that hits shelves long after the subzero temps have left creates a warm feeling, albeit brief.  There will be a baseball game or two on the television, and, heck, I might finally be writing the correct date on my checks.  What’s crazy is you can place those holds now.

The possibilities of short-term time travel might not be that awe-inspiring, but given the bleakness of being Iowan right now, grade me on the curve.

Jodi Picoult — House Rules
Rita Mae Brown — Cat of the Century
Alexander McCall Smith — Double Comfort Safari Club
James Patterson — Worst Case
Tim LaHaye — Matthew’s Story

Moonlight in Odessa by Janet Skeslien Charles

moonligh in odessaOdessa is a study of contrasts – a beautiful city situated on the Black Sea whose residents are fiercely proud of its history and culture, it is also wracked by poverty, corruption and the lingering effects of Soviet rule. People are forced to “do what they have to do” to survive such as a doctor that works a second job as a taxi driver, a marine biologist who becomes a mobster, and multiple generations of families living together in tiny, rundown apartments.

Moonlight in Odessa is Daria’s story. Trained as a mechanical engineer, she must take a job as a secretary to keep herself and her Boba (grandmother) alive. Fearing the sexual advances of her employer, she introduces him to her friend Olga who then turns on Daria in a jealous rage. Thinking she’ll soon be out of a job, she agrees to work for a matchmaking service, where lonely American men can meet Odessan women, most of whom are desperate to find a way out of poverty.

Daria is desperate too and, despite her better instincts, gets pulled into a match with an American. What she finds in America – and in herself, her friends and her family – changes her forever and sets her life on a course she could not have imagined.

This is a fascinating look not only at another country and it’s traditions and manners, but at how other countries see America. Daria is smart, witty and gutsy and following the twists and turns of her life choices makes this a real page turner and a wonderful story of a strong woman finding her way.

My Cousin Rachel by Daphne DuMaurier

my cousin rachelEvery once in a while I get a hankering for the classics.  Okay, I’ll confess — it’s usually in the wee hours of the morning and the only books on my shelf that I haven’t read are the classics.  So it was with My Cousin Rachel by Daphne du Maurier.

I’d loved the author’s Rebecca which I’d read many years ago, but somehow this one had escaped me. For those of you not already familiar with the book, it relates the story of Philip Ashley, whose privileged life on his ancestral Cornwall estate is turned upside-down by a sophisticated and mysterious older woman.  Orphaned at a young age, Philip was raised by his bachelor uncle Ambrose, who falls in love and marries while traveling in Florence.  When Ambrose dies under suspicious circumstances, Philip is determined to hate “his cousin” Rachel forever — that is until she shows up at the estate and Philip, too, falls under her spell.

If you enjoy historical fiction, and a little romance with your mystery, then this is a good fit for your late-night or rainy-day reading.

The Armchair Traveler – Traveling through Time

s WifeAudrey Niffenegger’s Time Traveler’s Wife will be released as a movie starring Rachel McAdams and Eric Bana on August 14th. This combines two excellent genres – novels featuring librarians and time travel. (There can never be enough stories about “hip, handsome” librarians).  Henry works for the Newberry library in Chicago and involuntarily pops up in his own past and future.

Add to this, time travel as an “impossible romantic trap” and you have box office magic. Consider the romantic traps inherent in movies such as Somewhere in Time, The Lake House and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. When your lover is aging at a different rate or is in a different time zone, so to speak, it makes for a relationship complication.

So, here’s your chance to expand your travel choices – really expand them. Outside our time/space continuum.

Time of My Life by Allison Winn Scotch

time-of-my-life1What if you had the chance to live your life over? Would you make the same choices? Marry the same person? Work the same job? How different would your life be now, and where would you be? These intriguing questions are at the center of Allison Winn Scotch’s Time of My Life when Jillian Westfield gets the chance to re-live part of her past.

Mired in an unhappy marriage, feeling trapped by her “perfect Mommy” image, Jillian finds herself dreaming of her former boyfriend and how different he was than her husband. While life with Henry was steady and reliable, life with Jackson had been exciting and fast-paced, and her career had begun to take off. She begins to believe that if she had stayed with Jackson everything would be glamorous and fun.

One morning Jillian wakes up seven years in the past, before she left Jackson, before she married Henry, before her daughter was born. Now armed with 20/20 hindsight, she aims to get things “right’ this time. But it’s not as simple as she thought – the absence of her daughter is a sharp, constant ache, the fast-paced job isn’t as alluring as she’d remembered and fond memories of Henry keep returning. There are poignant moments too, such as when she sees her friend Meg who, in her former world, would die is a couple years, and when she runs into the current Henry and realizes she’s still in love with him. Can she change the course of her life and the lives of those she loves? What might appear to be a simple chick lit is in fact a thoughtful look at choices and consequences and living the life you’re given.

Reader’s Recipe

  • Check out Mary Alice Monroe’s new book, Time is a River.time-is-a-river4
  • Take one recent breast cancer survivor (Mia Landan)
  • Add one cheating husband who files for divorce
  • Locate in a remote, dilapidated fishing cabin in the mountains of North Carolina
  • Sift in mysterious, scandalous details about the former owner (legendary fly-fisher Kate Watkins)
  • Temper Mia’s quest for the truth about Kate with her friend’s command to not dig up the ruinous past
  • Add prescribed tall and handsome love interest
  • Simmer for 369 pages
  • Top with predictable (convenient but still ultimately satisfying) plot line
  • Note: This is a quick and easy recipe. Not for the gourmand, but perfect for reading at the beach (or in a little fishing cabin in the woods!) End result: another popular novel by a New York Time’s bestselling author. Serves multitudes. Bon appétit!