Commonwealth by Ann Patchett

w204Book – Franny Keating falls in love with a well-known older author, Leo Posen, in her twenties. She shares the story of her turbulent childhood with him, which he publishes into a bestselling book. It stirs up the past and Franny, her siblings and stepsisters must finally face the events that led to a family tragedy many years ago. The chain of events began when Franny’s mother fell in love with a guest, Bert Cousins, who showed up with a bottle of gin at Franny’s christening. She eventually divorced Franny’s father to marry Bert, a father of four. Franny, her sister and their step-siblings were often left to their own devices over Summer vacations and holidays. Cal, the oldest of the bunch, led them on adventures and the six forged a strong bond, which endures even after the tragedy. The book traces the relationships and lives of the families over forty years and their different memories of the past. I thought this book was honest in its examination of families, their struggles and the love that prevails throughout.

Before I Go by Colleen Oakley

indexBook–  Daisy is crushed when, on the anniversary of three years free of cancer, she receives a surprise stage four diagnosis, with a life expectancy of 4 months. This is especially galling for Daisy because she did everything ‘right’– ate healthy, cancer-fighting foods, got all of her scheduled follow-ups, and exercised regularly. Rather than dwelling on her own mortality, Daisy is worried about her husband Jack. Jack is a brilliant airhead who relies on Daisy to take care of him.

Oakley does a great job at characterizing both Jack and Daisy:  we get a clear picture of Daisy the type A, detail-oriented organizer and list-maker and her partnership with Jack, the big-picture, charming, dreamer type. Daisy comes to the conclusion that she should spend her last few months finding Jack a new wife/caretaker. With the help of her best friend, she frequents dog parks and coffee shops looking for her replacement, even making a dating website profile for Jack. However, once one of the prospects she’s scouted for seems to be getting too close to Jack for Daisy’s liking, and she begins to re-evaluate how she’s planned to spend the final months of her life.

This book has a definite downer ending, but that’s what you expect reading a book about terminal cancer. I especially liked that, even while near death, Oakley did not make Daisy become a  caricature of the brave cancer patient:  she retained her personality, flaws and all. This is the author’s first novel, and it will be interesting to see what she writes next.

 

Lost in Austen (2008)

51h8cwyC6nLTv Mini-Series– Long a fan of movie adaptations of Jane Austen’s classic novel, Pride and Prejudice, I absolutely adored the 2008 British Tv Mini-Series, Lost in Austen.  This film follows the Jane Austen obsessed Amanda, who lives in present day London with her boring boyfriend who just doesn’t hold up to her precious Darcy.  A girl in love with the romance and time period of Pride and Prejudice, Amanda is in for the shock of her life when she finds herself trapped in a real life world of her favorite Jane Austen novel.  There she stays with the Bennett’s, meets the sobering Darcy, and manages to ruin relationships while making a mess of the entire plot.  Will she ever return to modern London or is she forever fated to live her life in a broken edition of Pride and Prejudice?

Amanda is such a wonderfully quirky, cute character full of sass and spunk; I immediately adored her.  She speaks her mind, which often backfires on her, but makes for a good laugh.  Lost in Austen’s Darcy (Elliot Cowan) does not disappoint the eyes, and is definitely in the same ranks as Matthew Macfadyen (Pride and Prejudice, 2006) and Colin Firth (Pride and Prejudice, 1995 Tv Mini-Series).  The story itself is fun and magical, taking a step into your favorite fictional world.  It was whimsical twist on the classic tale of Pride and Prejudice, and I loved it.

I would recommend it to Jane Austen enthusiasts and romantic comedy lovers alike.  For more fun Austen adaptations, check-out Austenland The Jane Austen Book Club, and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies*! *All three films are based on novels of the same titles.

 

They May Not Mean To, But They Do by Cathleen Schine

51Jz8l7pWXLBook – About Joy Bergman: “Oh, they broke the mold when they made that one. People who loved her said it, people who did not love her said it, too, for the same reason.” I fall into the former category. Joy is in her eighties and caring for her beloved husband Aaron, who has dementia along with other serious health issues. They are New Yorkers and Joy misses their daughter, Molly, who is living in California with her wife. Their son, Daniel, still lives close by, with his wife and their two young daughters. This story is about family and the ties that bind us during good times and bad. It highlights the issues we are forced to confront as we age, both from the perspective of the parents and their children. Schine, who also wrote The Three Weissmanns of Westport, explores these themes as she relates and finds humor in the most ordinary conundrums and routines. Joy laments about her physical deterioration, defends her take-out order meals and is determined to remain independent and upbeat. Molly feels guilty about living far away and she and Daniel search for ways (with sometimes hilarious results) to reassure Joy about her importance in their lives. Joy enjoys a special bond with her grandchildren and acknowledges that although she loves being in the midst of her family, she also finds them exhausting. This book reminded me that despite the differences in our individual circumstances, there is a shared commonality in our experiences as we face life’s transitions.

Britt-Marie Was Here by Fredrik Backman

indexBook – Britt-Marie is in her 60’s, socially awkward and incapable of tolerating a mess. She has just left her husband, Kent, and is looking for a job. After haranguing the young unemployment officer, she lands a temporary position in the tiny, down-on-its-luck town of Borg as a caretaker of the recreation center. As she arrives into town, she is surprised to discover that the residents, particularly the children, are fixated on soccer. The children practice without a coach and proper playing field. Britt-Marie compulsively cleans their uniforms, as well as the recreation center and adjoining shop. Despite her very definite views on proper conduct (and correcting everyone’s lack of it), Britt-Marie finds that she is accepted and understood for the first time in her life. The story unfolds with hilarious antics and heart-rending moments. I loved these characters and their town. As stated in the book, “At a certain age almost all the questions a person asks him or herself are really just about one thing: how should you live your life?” Britt-Marie is finally able to figure out the answer for herself, as she learns to live life on her own terms.

Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper by Phaedra Patrick

indexBook – Arthur lost his wife, Miriam, a year ago and copes with his grief by clinging to his old routines. He takes tea at the same time every day, wears the same stiff collared shirts and uncomfortable pants and waters his fern, Frederica. He hides from the food-laden visits of his neighbor, Bernadette, and has infrequent contact with his two adult children, Lucy and Dan. But, when Arthur decides to clean out Miriam’s closet, he finds a charm bracelet that he’s never seen before. As he examines it, he impulsively dials a phone number engraved on one of the charms and is launched on a journey to learn the truth about his wife. Along the way, he learns truths about himself and his relationships. He discovers new friends and learns about their hardships and joys. This book is a cozy tale about life’s surprising twists and savoring what is in the present.

Caution: may cause hunger pains (Part I)

Movies – I enjoy a good film about cooking, food adventures, and or anything that features cooking. Food and movies go hand in hand. Here are couple of films without fail always make me hungry.

onesheetThe first one always makes me crave brie with pears, and fried egg sandwiches with a good beer. Spanglish, star Adam Sandler as a chef of a small restaurant. The movie is about boundaries and relationships, where they should start and end. Cultural and family dynamic differences are the major cause of drama in the movie. But it’s his fried egg sandwich that gets me every time.

chefNext on the list is Chef. It stars Jon Favreau as a chef who loses it after a bad review and his rant goes viral causing him to rethink his career and family responsibilities. This sends him from LA to Miami with his ex-wife and son, and into a new venture, the food truck business. While driving the truck back to LA, various stops are made and include beignets from New Orleans and brisket from Austin.  Brisket looks amazing and this film makes me want tostones (pressed fried plantains with garlic sauce) and yuca with garlic and vinegar! Mmm!!!

91XUvt3NWxL._SL1500_Tortilla Soup stars Hector Elizondo as a chef and father of three women. Hector has lost his taste and needs others to taste the food as he preps. The food shots of the films are gorgeous and tempting. His red snapper and nopales (cactus) make me crave breakfast by the ocean in Puerto Vallarta, MX. It also reminds me of my aunt in Mexico making fresh flour tortillas and huevos con chorizo (eggs and sausage). It always takes me back to when I was a kid!

chocolatFor dessert I give you Chocolat starring Juliette Binoche. A movie about a wandering women and her young daughter who come to a small French village to open up a chocolate shop on the eve of lent. Her hot chocolate drink is rich and thick the way it is traditional made in Spain. She uses her chocolate to change the lives of the citizens of this small village. It is only right for them to change hers as well. She also makes a chocolate with a kick from chili peppers. It’s a good thing I know a place that sells chocolate jalapeno ice cream. Hope I didn’t make you too hungry.

What Maisie Knew (2012)

maisieMovie–  I watched this emotional drama during my “Alexander Skarsgård” phase, following my seven season binge on True Blood.

What Maisie Knew is the heartbreaking story of a young girl subject to the wrath of her parents’ divorce.  Hungry with greed, Maisie’s parents (played by Julianne Moore & Steve Coogan) force their daughter into the midst of a heated custody battle.  Thrown from house to house, parent to parent, Maisie is repeatedly neglected and forgotten, with no sense of stability in her life.

Her mother, a hot-headed rockstar and her father, a distant art dealer, are too wrapped up in their own little worlds to provide a supportable life for their young daughter.  Living in environments subject to drug addiction and neglect, Maisie is often left in the care of  her longtime nanny, and the mother’s boyfriend (Alexander Skarsgård).

I didn’t expect to get so emotionally wrapped up in the sorrowful and whirlwind life of Maisie.  The acting was spot on in this film–I adore Julianne Moore, and obviously Alexander Skarsgård.  Maisie is played by newcomer Onata Aprile, who I thought did a fantastic job capturing the complexity of the character.  All I wanted was for someone to give her the love and care she deserved.  Heartbreakingly mesmerizing, grab some tissues, just in case.

 

 

Parenthood (2010)

TV Series – After reaching the end of my favorite television series, Parks and Recreation, I was in dire need of finding a new show to fill my void.  Parenthood turned out to be that show.12760510

Parenthood is like Modern Family, in that both shows have a strong focus on family dynamics and relationships.  Parenthood, however, concentrates on more serious content, things that test the bonds that hold a family together.  The show follows the day to day trials and tribulations of the Braverman family.  Zeek and Camille have raised four children, who are now grown with their own families.  Crosby is a carefree guy who lives on a houseboat, enjoying his limitless freedom.  Julia is partner at a prestigious law firm, trying to juggle work while raising a young daughter with her husband.  Sarah wants to make a fresh start, taking her teenage kids and moving back into her childhood home with her parents.  And finally, Adam, the eldest of the  Braverman children, and caretaker to everyone, including his wife and two children.

What makes this series special are the intense bonds shared by the members of the Braverman clan.  Together, this family endures everything that life throws their way.  I would strongly recommend Parenthood to anyone who loves realistic family dramas.  I was completely invested in each of the main characters, and though fictional, their stories often left me tearful.      

10/10 would recommend to friend.

Remember Me? by Sophie Kinsella

remember meBook – I’ve been reading a lot of Sophie Kinsella recently.  The Summer season always puts me in the mood for lighthearted comedies, and Kinsella’s books really hit the spot.

Remember Me? (not to be confused with the emotionally moving film featuring Robert Pattinson, although also worth a gander), by Sophie Kinsella , is a great choice for anyone who loves a good mystery with their comedy.  The novel follows Lexi sMART, a spunky young woman nicknamed “Snaggletooth,” who’s having a pretty crappy time in life. It’s 2004, and her boyfriend, Loser Dave, is always a no show, she was the only one who didn’t get a bonus at work, and then she’s in an accident to top it off.

When Lexi wakes up from her accident, she can’t remember anything.  It’s suddenly 2007, and she has no memory of the past three years.  She can’t recognize the tan, slim, flawless woman in the mirror. Life seems perfect: she’s married to a drop-dead gorgeous man, lives in a million dollar penthouse and is head of the company!  Things couldn’t be better, or so it would appear.  But things start to fall through when Lexi learns what kind of person she’s become, and just how imperfect her life really is.  Is it too late to rewind and change those last three years?  Is the past really lost for good?  Dive in to find out what happens!

With a quirky cast, drama, and secrets, Remember Me? makes a splash as a beachside read!  If you fancy some more Kinsella books, I highly recommend checking out Can You Keep a Secret? and The Undomestic Goddess.