Hombre

Hombre (1967)
Paul Newman perfected the role of the anti-hero. In Hombre, Newman plays a white man who had been raised by the Apache Indians and adopted their way of life. When John 'Hombre' Russell unexpectedly inherits a lodging-house, he sells it and heads to Bisbee, Arizona. He joins a party on a stagecoach – travelers who are incapable of protecting themselves or coping with the Western badlands. He becomes the natural leader of the group in its survival against a robber band headed by Richard Boone. In doing so, he becomes the hero, the guy who can handle things and defend the weak.

This could just be the best western ever made! Critics praise the performance of Newman and the writing of Elmore Leonard. All of the performances are excellent, making it an intelligent and important entry to the Western genre. It gets better with time, and the message is universal brotherhood.

The Reader

The Reader (2008) R
In 1958, a 36-year-old German woman has an affair with a 15-year-old boy. Later in life when he is a law student, she is on trial for World War II war crimes. Kate Winslet gives an outstanding (and Academy Award-winning) performance in this movie.

Want to find more out about the basis for the movie? Read the novel by Bernhard Schlink. Also check out Sally’s review of the novel in our Current Picks blog.
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The Two Mrs. Grenvilles by Dominick Dunne

The Two Mrs. Grenvilles by Dominick Dunne (1985)
This novel was inspired by the sensational Woodward murder case of 1955 in which a well-born society figure, William Woodward, was shot by his actress/showgirl wife.

In the novel, showgirl Ann Arden marries wealthy Billy Grenville hoping to be accepted by high society and become the well-bred woman of her fantasies. To do this, she must contend with the disapproval of her patrician mother-in-law, Alice. Ann's rag-to-riches ascent into New York society comes to a halt when she shoots and kills her husband, claiming she thought he was a burglar. The newspapers call it "the shooting of the century." Alice has no doubts her son was deliberately killed. The Grenvilles and their high-society friends draw a protective shield across the tragedy, and, as a result, the two Mrs. Grenvilles become bound together in a conspiracy of silence.

Read the reviews at Amazon.com and visit the author's website.

The Longest Trip Home by John Grogan

The Longest Trip Home by John Grogan (2008)
John Grogan, the author of Marley and Me, writes another winner. This is a funny, sentimental good read about John Grogan, the not-so-good Catholic boy, who grows up navigating life with his ultra-conservative Catholic parents. His deep love for his parents shows through in every page as his values clash with theirs, and he becomes a man.

Catholic or not, this memoir will make you think about your life and your relationship with your parents. John Grogan is a wonderful storyteller and writes another beautiful memoir, minus Marley.

Visit the author's website and read reviews at Amazon.com.

The Captain’s Paradise

The Captain’s Paradise (1953)
In this delightful British comedy, Alec Guinness is Henry St. James, the captain of a steam ship between Gibraltar and North Africa. In North Africa waits his wife Nita (Yvonne de Carlo), a beautiful hot blooded spitfire with whom he dances the nights away and drinks champagne. In Gibraltar waits his prim and proper wife Maud (Celia Johnson) – a woman delighted with a new vacuum cleaner as an anniversary gift.

With Maud, St. James has home cooked meals and a mug of hot chocolate before promptly turning in at 10:00.  The only one in on the captain's double life is his envious first mate. All is well until each woman begins to want what the other has. All three leads are completely winning and surprising.

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley (2009)
Eleven-year-old Flavia De Luce is old and wise beyond her years. When first a dead bird and then a dead man turns up on the doorstep of her family's English country estate, she sets out to solve the crime herself. Set in 1950, Flavia's household consists of two older self-involved sisters, a remote father, and a faithful gardener, shell shocked from the war. Flavia researches old newspapers and tracks down village eccentrics to quiz about current and past events to solve the crime and get her father off the hook for the murder.

You might also like Hotel Paradise by Martha Grimes (1996) for another depiction of a young sleuth or I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith (1948) for a story about an eccentric English family told from the point of view of the youngest daughter.

Discover more about the author, read reviews and an interview with the author at Amazon.com, and visit the Flavia de Luce Fan Club.

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953)
This funny and entertaining musical just might be Marilyn Monroe’s best movie. In Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Monroe and costar Jane Russell are superb. To publicize the movie, the actresses put their handprints in cement at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre – and they both wrote “gentlemen prefer blondes.”

For more fun facts about the movie, visit the TCM website. And enjoy this video of the leading ladies at Grauman's Chinese Theatre.

The Painted Veil by W. Somerset Maugham

The Painted Veil by W. Somerset Maugham (1925)The Painted Veil, published in 1925, has well-developed characters not captured in the 2006 movie. This is a great short book that uses the English language concisely and descriptively. The setting is early 1920s Hong Kong, yet the story concentrates on the personalities of the characters rather than on the story's geographical settings. It’s an interesting read about humanity. This novel has as much to say as books which are much longer. It's surprising how short the time period is in which this story takes place. Before Maugham wrote The Painted Veil, he published Of Human Bondage, which is a classic book and movie.

Watch the trailer for the movie, learn more about Somerset Maugham and visit Google Books to preview his works.

Lethal Legacy by Linda Fairstein

Lethal Legacy by Linda Fairstein (2009)
Set amid the treasures of the New York Public Library, Linda Fairstein gives us a fascinating glimpse into the history of the NYPL including its start as a scholarly research facility that housed rare books, documents, and maps. What I enjoyed, besides the mystery itself, was learning about the curators, cartographers, conservators, special librarians and rare, priceless donations still housed in the building. It was very cool that librarians with their special knowledge, background and expertise were crucial in helping the police solve the mystery.

Go to the author's website and watch the video tour of the NYPL before you read the book! Read an excerpt from the book and check out Harlan Coben's review plus others at Amazon.com.

Gaslight

Gaslight (1944)
Gaslight is a superb example of a woman-in-peril suspense film. It is a psychological thriller, perfectly atmospheric, set in a foggy, dark London of the Victorian period.

Ingrid Bergman’s performance as a woman slowly losing her mind is great – she received an Oscar for it. She is the victim of games being played to make her doubt her sanity. (The term to gaslight someone to make them doubt themself comes from the movie’s title. It refers to the frequent dimming of the gas lights she sees.)

Charles Boyer is the devil trying to destroy his wife’s mind, and Joseph Cotten the dashing, intelligent inspector whose suspicions save the day. Angela Lansbury, at 18 years old, makes her screen debut in this very enjoyable, albeit old film.

Changeling

Changeling (2008) R
In 1928 Los Angeles, 9-year-old Walter Collins disappears. His mother, Christine (Angelina Jolie), is hopeful when a boy claiming to be Walter is found in Illinois. However, when they bring him to California, she knows the boy is not her son. Christine takes care of the boy for a time, but when she tells police he is not Walter, they put her in an insane asylum.

This unbelievable scenario is based on a true story. Read about it in this 1999 LA Times article. Visit IMDb.com for movie trailers, clips, and interviews with director Clint Eastwood and Jolie.
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A Narrative of My Captivity Among the Sioux Indians by Fanny Kelly

A Narrative of My Captivity among the Sioux Indians by Fanny Kelly (1871)
Originally published in 1871, this is a great firsthand account of life on the frontier in the latter 19th century. Fanny Kelly describes a wagon train, an attack by the Sioux, her life among her captors, and by extension, their lives, and the story of what happened when she got back. This book has plenty of drama and action. Plus it is a historical snapshot of an America now long forgotten.

Preview the book, read reviews from other readers, and explore other "captivity" narratives.

Old Acquaintance

Old Acquaintance (1943)
Bette Davis and Miriam Hopkins are childhood friends who, as adults, compete in every area of their lives. Hopkins is an overly excitable successful writer of potboilers with the husband and daughter serious writer Davis longs for. Sometimes poignant, sometimes funny, always worth discovering. See these two powerful actresses in another great movie, The Old Maid (1939).

Not familiar with Miriam Hopkins? Catch her in the these delightful Ernst Lubitsch comedies: Trouble in Paradise (1932) and Design for Living (1933).

Letter to My Daughter by Maya Angelou

Letter to My Daughter by Maya Angelou (2008)
Letter to My Daughter is a collection of 28 essays on life, faith, motherhood, kindness, and what it means to be human. The pieces are short but are wonderful words of wisdom and insight.

I am right with Angelou as she takes on popular culture and our acceptance of obscenity. She calls on us to improve our values to be a people of substance, and to require the same from our elected officials. I found this to be a very thought provoking read.

Read the reviews at Amazon.com, watch the author introduce her book, and visit the author's website.

The Black Tower by Louis Bayard

The Black Tower by Louis Bayard (2008)
Twenty years after the horrors of the French Revolution, sometimes medical student Hector Carpenter is minding his own, rather aimless, business, when the mysterious Vidocq involves him in the search for the missing (or dead) lost Dauphin. Vidocq, a real life police detective and founder of the Brigade de Sûreté, leads his young friend through dangerous escapades through the French countryside and Paris until they find the truth about the lost Dauphin. Or do they?

Visit the author's website, read reviews at Amazon.com and check out the reading guide for the book.