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.
Book - Fin & Lady is a story about love and finding your family. When young Fin is orphaned, his free-spirited half-sister Lady becomes his legal guardian. Practical Fin and glamorous Lady have only spent a brief time together previously, but Fin adores her. They move to New York City and become part of the counter-culture of the sixties. Fin struggles to understand Lady’s turbulent relationships with several admirers and the new world around him. A cast of entertaining characters including the admirers, a spunky housemaid and a gentle dog move the story through many humorous situations. Lady is obsessed with being “free,” and this book explores what being “free” and loving someone really means. If you enjoy books by Elinor Lipman, you may enjoy this book centered on a family dealing with unconventional situations. I found this book to be a delightful read, with interesting dilemmas and some laugh-out-loud moments. Cathleen Schine also wrote The Three Weissmanns of Westport.
Book – Bit was born in a commune in the 1970’s. Arcadia traces his coming-of-age in this idealistic setting. While his parents have big dreams, the reality of living in a communal setting is much harsher than they anticipated. Projects are delayed due to lack of participation or follow-through, drug use is rampant and the commune’s residents are often hungry and cold. However, the bucolic setting and the genuine love of his extended family hold Bit and his family to Arcadia House and the rise and fall of its fortunes. Bit falls in love with Astrid, the daughter of the charismatic leader of the commune, and as they grow up, he is forced to confront the truths about his beliefs, himself and those he loves. This book made me think about human nature and how things might play out in a communal setting. Through Groff’s writing, I could vividly picture the place and the characters.
Book – When Paul and his wife Claire meet another couple for dinner at a fine restaurant in Amersterdam, tensions run high. As the meal and conversation progress, the reader is pulled into an undercurrent of old wounds and treacherous secrets about the couples and their children. The dark comedy that unfolds through the voice of the narrator contrasts sharply with the posh setting of the dinner. Social conventions, the justice system and family dynamics are probed during the courses and the discussion forces the reader to ask “How would I react in this situation?” Fans of Gone Girl and Defending Jacob may enjoy this disturbing tale. This book is translated from the Dutch.