TV Series – Breaking Bad features brilliant but timid high school chemistry teacher Walter White, who is diagnosed with lung cancer. A father of a special needs son and husband of a pregnant stay-at-home wife, he worries about how he can possibly pay for his treatments and care for his family in case of his death. He decides to produce meth to subsidize his income. He enlists the aid of a former student and naively embarks on his new moonlighting career. What ensues is chaos, tragedy and hilarity as Walt and his hapless associate encounter ruthless kingpins, territory squabbles and bumbling employees. To complicate matters, Walt’s brother-in-law is a DEA Officer who is (unknowingly) hot on his trail. Juggling matters with his wife (annoyed at his frequent unexplained absences), teaching responsibilities, drug operations and cancer treatments keep Walter busy and viewers entertained. I’m just finishing Season 2 and all other non-essential activities in my household are on hold until we finish the series. Breaking Bad, which was first aired in 2008, ended in 2013 and won over fifty awards.
Book – Personal finance Editor and syndicated “Funny Money” Detroit News columnist O’Connor moved to Detroit with his family shortly before the Great Recession of 2007. As his personal financial situation declines, he is looking for ways to save more, invest more and spend less. He makes a mission to cut his family’s expenditures by $1,000 a month over the course of ten weeks, and record their progress in a series of newspaper columns. He sets up ten categories to target for savings, such as transportation, groceries, entertainment and groceries. Devoting a chapter to each category, he discusses ways to free up cash, make ends meet and “pinch pennies so hard that Lincoln gets a headache.” I liked his approach, although I found his humor a bit monotonous. I didn’t find many new specific ideas, but was intrigued by the idea of setting a specific family budget challenge and methodically working through categories to explore possible savings.
Book – Meet the Riordans. Gretta, a devout Irish Catholic, discovers her husband has gone missing during a crippling heat wave in 1976 England. Her three adult children gather together for the first time in years to help search for their father. Monica, the oldest daughter, is her mother’s rock and seems to have a well-ordered life. But her partner’s daughters despise her and she hides secrets that she has never faced. Her brother, Michael Francis, feels guilt over a past indiscretion and wonders if his wife, newly enrolled in community college, is having an affair. The youngest sibling, Aoife, has always had issues. She was a screaming infant and an unruly child, until finally, as an adult, she escapes to America and reinvents herself. The disappearance of their father is the catalyst that brings everyone together, and in the search for him, they discover and are forced to address the secrets and misunderstandings that have wedged between them. I listened to the audiobook of this title and was absorbed in the story and the narration by John Lee.
Book – The Spellmans are a madcap, zany family and a lot of fun to spend some pages with. Mom and Dad are the owners and directors of Spellman Investigations and employ their daughter, Izzy, as a detective. The problem is that Izzy is a bit of a rebel and not good at following rules or, in some cases, even the law. Not only do the Spellmans investigate their cases, but they usually have some hidden agendas within their agency and much of their time is devoted to discovering and exposing their own family’s secrets. Izzy’s seemingly perfect lawyer brother is often enlisted for help and her precocious younger sister Rae infiltrates the best-laid plans. Izzy narrates the books and provides footnotes at the bottom of the pages to offer further explanations regarding her family’s background, her romantic foibles and other items of interest. The series kicks off with The Spellman Files and the sixth Spellman novel was published earlier this year.
Book – Don Tillman, socially awkward professor of genetics, wants a life partner despite “evidence” that he is “unsuitable” for women. He enlists the aid of his only two friends, Gene and Claudia, and embarks on the Wife Project. A madcap, often hilarious, quest to find true love ensues. Don’s scrupulous honesty and literal interpretation of events creates laugh-out-loud scenes and exposes the sometimes hypocrisy of social conventions and norms. When he meets spontaneous and troubled Rosie, Don’s ordered world is turned upside down. He attempts to approach the new situations he encounters with his usual controlled focused intensity, but is surprised by the outcomes and his own reactions. I didn’t want this entertaining adventure to end. Happily, a sequel is in the works and the screen adaptation of the book has been optioned by Sony Pictures. If you enjoyed Christopher in Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, you may want to meet Don Tillman.
Book – The All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion alternates between the present day story of Sookie Poole, a sweet, conservative wife of a dentist and mother of four who lives in Point Clear, Alabama and the 1940′s adventures of Fritzi Jurdabralinski, a WASP (Women Air Force Service Pilot) from Pulaski, Wisconsin. Sookie receives a letter that brings unwelcome news and she discovers that the past holds secrets she never imagined. While she dodges her bossy, larger-than-life mother and fields questions from her friends and neighbors, she sets out to sort out the truth. Fritzi is a lively, determined young woman who dares to fly stunt planes, run the family service station with her sisters and train for military service. When the two stories weave together, Sookie learns that she’s braver and happier than she realized. I enjoyed learning about the WASPs and the musings of Sookie and her friends were sometimes laugh-out-loud funny. Fannie Flagg has written several novels including Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle-Stop Cafe, Standing in the Rainbow and Welcome to the World, Baby Girl.
Book - Cecila Fitzpatrick’s husband John-Paul has a secret. And it’s a doozy. She finds a letter he has written “To be opened only in the event of my death.” What she discovers shatters her orderly life in Sydney, Australia as a Tupperware sales rep, mother of three daughters and school volunteer. Meanwhile, Tess and her son Liam arrive in town. Tess has also received some shocking news and has fled to her hometown to figure out the next step in her life. She meets a man from her past and begins to question her own role in her marriage troubles. What lengths will we go to protect our family? How well do we ever know another person? As both women confront these issues, their lives head toward a cataclysmic conclusion. This book was a quick read with many humorous moments despite the gravity of the decisions the women face. Liane Moriarty also wrote What Alice Forgot.
Book – Fifty-year-old Alice Howland is an accomplished Harvard psychology professor. A published author, traveling lecturer and beloved teacher, she is content with her life and work. But she begins to worry about her forgetfulness. She loses things, forgets words and then, one day when she’s out for a run, she doesn’t know where she is or how to get home. A visit to the doctor results in a devastating diagnosis: Alice has early onset Alzheimer’s disease. Alice, her husband and three grown children must cope with the ravages of the disease. This book is told from Alice’s perspective and gave me a sense of her growing confusion, panic and sadness as the disease progressed. She tries to live in the moment, but also recognizes and mourns the loss of the life and memories that meant so much to her. Still Alice also deals with the varying reactions of her family, friends and colleagues as they struggle to address and accept the changes in Alice.
Book – After living happily in the city as a newly married couple, Mark Falanga and his wife relocate to the suburbs to raise their young family. The Suburban You: Reports from the Home Front is a compilation of stories about suburban life in the North Shore of Chicago. I laughed out loud at Falanga’s descriptions of neighborhood block parties, Halloween costumes, family Christmas cards and father-son outings. His stories gently poke fun at the hierarchies and unwritten rules governing life in the suburbs. He also tackles issues in commuting to work and being married with kids with deadpan humor. Although this book was written in 2004, it’s still a relevant and entertaining trip into the suburbs, even if you live in the city.
TV series - I was hooked on Homeland from the very first episode. Nicolas Brody (played by English actor Damian Lewis) is a marine returning to the United States and his family after eight years of captivity in Iraq. Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes), an Intelligence Officer for the CIA, spent several years in Iraq trying to infiltrate terrorist organizations. Both Brody and Carrie carry psychological scars from their experiences in the Middle East which continue to plague them. Carrie suspects that Brody may not be what he seems and has her own secrets to protect as well. The cast of interesting and conflicted characters, including Mandy Patinkin as Carrie’s boss and mentor, contributes to the depth and intrigue of the show. The plot twists and turns, the characters grapple with difficult choices and their own vulnerabilities and the result is a riveting TV drama. Season 2 has just been released on DVD. Since its first season aired in 2011, Homeland has won five Golden Globes.