The Good Wife. Seasons 1-3 (2009-2012)

The Good Wife is a fascinating legal drama that centers on Alicia Florrick’s (Julianna Margulies) return to her former profession as a litigator after 12 years spent at home raising her children. Her husband is the disgraced Cook County attorney, who is currently incarcerated due to a very public sex and corruption scandal.

The show chronicles Alicia’s struggles as she deals with a new job, her conflicted feelings toward her husband, and the pressure of raising her two children. It is such a smart and well-acted television show and definitely one of my favorites.

 
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The Last Kind Words by Tom Piccirilli (2012)

This is at once a modern family saga of the Brands, who have produced generations of thieves, con men, and crooks, but it also story of two brothers. One brother, wild Collie, is in prison, waiting to die for the brutal, senseless, massacre of eight people; the other brother, Terry, a man with regrets, left the family for five years but has returned because Collie needs him to solve a mystery. Now there is twist. Collie claims one of the victims was killed by serial killer, who is flying under the radar and will continue to kill more women.

And so the reader enters the world of the dark side. Is there honor among thieves? Is loyalty to the family their strange salvation? Will Terry find his own core? Wasn't the "good thief" the first to enter heaven?

This book is more than crime fiction; it explores the psychological effects of one man against his environment who dares to find peace. The author is the winner of the International Thrillers Writers Award and rightly so. Check out The Last Kind Words today.

The Gunfighter (1950)

In The Gunfighter, Gregory Peck demonstrates that being the best gunfighter is not all it's cracked up to be; you just can't quit. Jimmy Ringo rides into his hometown, hoping to find his wife and child. He is tired and wants to settle down. Wherever he goes, some young buck challenges him. His hometown is no different. Of the three westerns I watched, this movie is the most realistic. The Old West loses its glossy Hollywood veneer. Check out The New York Times review of the film.

Here are three movies set in the west, each with different and distinctive theme (see reviews of The Big Country and Duel in the Sun). Peck is said to play most of the scenes without a double. He claims he could do a running mount. I’m impressed.

The Care and Feeding of Exotic Pets by Diane Wagman (2012)

Winnie, a mom and ex-wife to a famous game show host and daughter of a movie star, is kidnapped and she doesn't really understand the motive behind it. As the novel goes on, clues are revealed. The book is told from numerous points of view and the characters are very well developed for as short as the book is.

According to a Booklist review, "The novel is a darkly humorous and occasionally violent exercise in suspense, and a dramatic exposition of the Stockholm syndrome. Wagman does a nice job of lending her characters psychological depth and creating a fast-paced, readable plot."

Check out The Care and Feeding of Exotic Pets by Diane Wagman.

Grandad, There’s a Head on the Beach by Colin Cotterill (2012)

Like all of Colin Cotterill’s mystery novels, Grandad, There’s a Head on the Beach is laugh-out-loud funny with an underlying seriousness. It is a tightly plotted mystery involving corrupt cops, slavery, and some self-serving charities!

This is the second in the series with Jimm Juree, an unemployed crime reporter, and her eccentric Thai family. In a rural village on the coast of Southern Thailand (where her family has purchased a run-down resort), Jimm finds a severed human head washed up on the beach. Of course, she must follow her crime reporter instincts and solve the mystery! The plot, as it turns out, centers on a topic which has gotten some attention in America of late: the exploitation of Burmese refugees in Thailand.

The Queen of Versailles (2012) PG

At the beginning of The Queen of Versailles, a fascinating documentary, we meet the impossibly wealthy Seigel family: patriarch David is the founder of Westgate Resorts, a timeshare company; and the family is in the midst of the construction of their own version of Versailles, billed as the largest private home in the U.S. Before too long though, the economic crisis of 2008 leaves the company floundering, construction halted on Versailles, and the family making extreme cuts to their extravagant lifestyle.

David’s wife Jackie is the “Queen of Versailles” and she is the quirky, stoic, and often over-the-top heart of the movie. Jackie married into money and has enjoyed it to the fullest, but in the face of an uncertain future she is resiliently planning how to cope if her life takes yet another dramatic turn.

A Girl Named Zippy by Haven Kimmel (2001)

In this memoir, Haven Kimmel recounts her small town Indiana childhood where her father took a gun to his factory job every day, and her mother read science fiction novels in her corner of the couch. A delightful, humorous read.

Check out A Girl Named Zippy and these discussion questions.

Boardwalk Empire: The Complete First Season (2010)

The HBO series opens on New Year’s Eve, 1920, the moment Prohibition becomes the law of the land. Local politician Nucky Thompson runs Atlantic City and wants to control all of the liquor coming in off the shore and distributed across the country. The likes of Lucky Luciano, Al Capone, and other real-life gangsters appear in Boardwalk Empire.

The sets, the costumes, and most particularly the soundtrack transport you to the early days of 1920s Atlantic City, where the magnetic Nucky Thompson pulls all the strings. Because the series was first shown on premium cable and portrays gangsters and prostitutes as many of the characters, this show does have graphic violence and nudity.

Want other gangster movies and TV shows? Check out our list.

A Cold Day in Paradise by Steve Hamilton (1998)

I love a good mystery series and this book entranced me with the awkward characters who are flawed in loveable ways. Set in the upper peninsula of Michigan, usually in winter, the twisted plot vibrates with suspense. I was so taken with the first book, I immediately checked out Winter of the Wolf Moon (2000). What really impressed me is the subtle changes in relationships from book one to book two. Read A Cold Day in Paradise by Steve Hamilton today.

Duel in the Sun (1946)

Welcome to round two of Gregory Peck westerns (did you see last month's review of The Big Country?): "A la Hollywood," this steamy western stars Peck as the spoiled son of a land baron and Joseph Cotten as the educated, ethical other son the same land baron.

Along comes Jennifer Jones as the orphan, Pearl (hardly a child), sent to ranch by her father (recently hung) to live with the land baron's wife, who was his first love. How's that for a situation?

We have the ultimate triangle, but bold, brazen, bad boy Peck lights a passion in Pearl that will ultimately consume them. The casting, the acting, the scenery, makes this tempestuous love story irresistible. Gregory Peck is a hunk. Who would have thought "the man in the grey flannel suit" could be so appealing. Run, don't walk, to the library to check out Duel in the Sun!

And don't forget to return next month for the third in the trio of Gregory Peck westerns.

The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton (2012)

In England, sixteen-year-old Laurel witnesses a shocking crime during a summer house party. Fifty years later, Laurel is a successful actress living in London. As the family gathers at the ancestral house for her mother’s 90th birthday, Laurel tries to discover what really happened so many years ago.

The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton goes back and forth from the present to WWII London following the life of her mother and two other people. A VERY satisfying ending. I cannot stop thinking about it.

For other books where the past impacts the present, check out our bibliography.
 
 

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)

Starring Kevin McCarthy and Dana Wynter, Invasion of the Body Snatchers is listed as one of the top ten sci-fi films of all time by the American Film Institute. It is probably my personal favorite sci-fi film and far superior to the subsequent remakes. And this is despite the fact that the special effects are very limited and there is very little action.

So what makes this film so special? It's the story, the acting, the musical score, and
perhaps the cinematography. And it contains maybe one of the scariest scenes you'll ever see in a film that does not involve a monster, a slashing knife, or something that jumps out at you.

And a word of warning, you may have trouble sleeping after you see this film, but if
you haven't seen this film, you should. Also, just before you do go to bed, you might
want to check your basement, under your bed, in your car, and any other place in or
around your home where a body might be waiting.

The Casual Vacancy by J. K. Rowling (2012)

J. K. Rowling has written a book for adults! The Casual Vacancy is a story of love and loathing, pity and passion, full of more than everyday English village life. Her development of the characters is masterful, each one paramount to the conclusion, with the main character dying in the first chapter. It’s not a Harry Potter story.
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The Descendants (2011) R

Basically we humans want life to be simple, but for Matt King (George Clooney) it has become anything but! With his wife Elizabeth on life support after a boating accident, his two daughters in need of his attention, and the responsibility of a family land trust, he finds himself in the most difficult of situations.

The Descendants, with the atmosphere of its Hawaiian setting (including the native music), was surprising, moving, and frequently very funny, but the best part is how well it all works.
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Bill Veeck: Baseball's Greatest Maverick by Paul Dickson (2012)

Bill Veeck was at different times the owner of the Cleveland Indians, the St. Louis Browns, and the Chicago White Sox (twice). Many people remember Bill Veeck as the baseball owner who brought Eddie Gaedel, a 3’7” tall man in as a pinch hitter in a baseball game between the St. Louis Browns and the Detroit Tigers in 1951, or as the White Sox owner responsible for Disco Demolition Night. Still others may remember him for the funny and outrageous but harmless promotions he conducted as owner of the Indians, Browns, and White Sox.

But he was much more than that.  He was a great humanitarian, an advocate of civil rights, a baseball fan's owner who cared about the fans, a player's owner who cared about his players, an employer who cared about his employees, an innovator who introduced many changes in the game, a patriot, a thinker, a listener, an avaricious reader and man who despite a severe physical handicap would never quit.

This is easily the best biography I have read in the last twenty years and maybe the best ever.  This book is especially for White Sox, Indians, and Browns fans. It's for Cub fans too, as Veeck and his father had a profound influence on the Cubs as well (the ivy on the walls, Harry Caray and the singing of  "Take out to the Ball Game" during the seventh inning stretch and others.)  But it is also for any baseball fan and for anyone who appreciates the story of man who lived a truly remarkable life. Read Bill Veeck: Baseball's Greatest Maverick by Paul Dickson.