Finding Neverland

Finding Neverland (2004) PG
The story of the man who wrote Peter Pan, author James M. Barrie, Finding Neverland features another phenomenal performance by Johnny Depp. As the story begins, playwright Barrie (Depp) has staged a recent flop and his producer (Dustin Hoffman) is getting impatient.

Finding Neverland presents a fictional account of Barrie’s creative life and the inspirations that helped bring Peter Pan to the stage. Barrie meets the four Davies boys and their mother, Sylvia Llewelyn Davies (Kate Winslet) in London’s Kensington Gardens. Captured by their boyish imagination and touched by the recent loss of their father, he begins to tell them stories and is eventually inspired to write a play about a boy who stays young forever. The Davies boys show him Neverland, and he shows it to the world.

Depp, with his own boyish looks and childhood spirit, is perfect as Barrie. Freddie Highmore, who portrays the young Peter Davies, gives a remarkable toughness and sensitivity to his first movie role.
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A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith (1943)
Many of us read about Francie Nolan and her life 100 years ago growing up poor in Brooklyn when we were young ourselves. Try it now as an adult. Although the writing is at times a little stilted and too often we are told things instead of shown them, the spirit of Francie and her practical and hardworking mother and her dreamer of a never-do-well father comes through. Some scenes are absolutely delightful: Papa taking Francie and her brother on a fishing trip or Aunt Sissy finally finding a way to get herself a baby. Other parts are poignant beyond words: Six-year-old Francie having to take her younger brother for their vaccinations before starting school or Francie finding that she must work instead of going to high school.

Preview this American classic and check out the reading group guide.

Mean Girls

Mean Girls (2004) PG-13
Written by the talented Tina Fey, Mean Girls is a funny movie about girls in high school. Cady Heron gets a lesson in teenage hierarchy when she enters high school after years of being homeschooled in Africa. An all around good comedy.

Lindsay Lohan gives a great performance. Also featuring Rachel McAdams, Lacey Chabert, Amy Poehler, and Tim Meadows. Read an interview with Tina Fey on BlackFilm.com or watch an interview with Fey on Spike TV.
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Guernica by David Boling

Guernica by David Boling (2008)
David Boling’s first novel is the tale of Justo Ansotegui, the strongest man in Guernica and a successful farmer; and Miguel Navarro, a fisherman's son too prone to seasickness to be of much use on a boat. In a broader sense, it's about Guernica during the Spanish Civil War and beginning of World War II, and the Basque who proudly held onto their traditions at a time when their language and customs were outlawed by the Spanish government.

Boling tells the story of Guernica and her people while telling the story of human suffering, heroism, and amazing fortitude. He draws a wonderful picture of the Basque culture and describes the countryside of Spain so well that you can see, hear, taste, and smell it. The bombing of Guernica on the eve of World War II was a devastating experiment in total warfare by the German Luftwaffe. Boling, along with many historians, sees the bombing of Guernica as an act of terrorism. Perhaps, as I did, you will make a connection between that long-ago atrocity and the modern world. And perhaps as I did, you will finish this novel with a sense of hope.

Learn more about the bombing of Guernica at PBS.org. Visit the author's website for reviews and his bio.

Shadow Warriors by Tom Clancy

Shadow Warriors by Tom Clancy (2002)
Written with substantial contributions by General Carl Stiner and Tony Koltz and read by Jonathan Marosz, this is the story of America’s Special Forces. The stories include the US embassy bombing in Beirut, the hijacking of TWA 847, the murder of political officer William Buckley, the Achille Lauro, Egypt Air 648, operations in Afghanistan and Somalia and the capture of Noriega. General Stiner and the Special Forces are tough customers and you’ll be glad they’re on our side. This book makes you proud of our Special Forces soldiers.

Check out the reviews at Amazon.com and read an excerpt at Penguin's website.

Miracle at St. Anna

Miracle at St. Anna (2008) R
The movie is about a black infantry outfit in Italy during WWII, but the film starts in the 1980s. A man is working in a New York post office as a teller selling stamps. A guy comes to buy stamps; the postal worker recognizes him, pulls out a gun and shoots him dead.

Then the movie goes back to WWII and we find out what triggered the attack. Four American soldiers end up behind enemy lines; they are sequestered in an Italian village after rescuing a young Italian boy. A statue is involved. Someone is a traitor.

You’ll have to watch Miracle at St. Anna to find out what happened in this interesting movie that will keep your attention throughout. Based on the novel by James McBride. Directed by Spike Lee.
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The Matchmaker of Perigord by Julia Stuart

The Matchmaker of Perigord by Julia Stuart (2008)
When all of his regular customers are going bald or deserting him for a snazzy new barber in the next town, Guillaume Ladoucette gives up barbering for matchmaking. Trying to pair up his friends and neighbors, though, turns out to be harder than Guillaume imagined. Especially when he can't even manage his own love life. A charming story set in a magical town and chock full of good French food and eccentrics.

Read an interview with the author and explore the publisher's reading guide for this title.

The Waterworks by E. L. Doctorow

The Waterworks by E. L. Doctorow (1994)
Setting is Manhattan after Civil War. This suspenseful story takes place in 1871 and the descriptions of life in New York City with the corrupt Tweed government are a good reminder that all was not well for people in historical times. A good mystery thriller for those who like the true grit of Doctorow's writing. Easy, enjoyable reading with a good tied together ending.

Learn more about the author and his writings at BookBrowse and read reviews at Amazon.com.

Charade

Charade (1963)
Charade, a film written by Peter Stone and Marc Behm, tells the tale of a woman (Audrey Hepburn) pursued by several men, including Cary Grant, who want the fortune her murdered husband has stolen. Directed by Stanley Donen, it also features Walter Matthau, James Coburn, George Kennedy and an Oscar nominated score by Henry Mancini.

It spans three genres: suspense/thriller, romance, and comedy, and is both charming and amusing. The interaction between Hepburn and Grant is the best part of this 1963 film shot in Paris. Check out About.com for more about the plot, cast, backstory, and more.

Panini Express by Daniel Leader

Panini Express by Daniel Leader (2008)
As we were checking in books, we started salivating over the pictures of the sandwiches in this book. To celebrate a colleague’s last day, we made some of the paninis. Delicious!

Read the reviews at Amazon.com. For more staff cooking  recommendations check out our All Time Faves cooking booklist.

Little Voice

Little Voice (1998) R
Shy and timid Little Voice can not even leave her home, but she sings like an angel. Listening to her dead father’s albums she can mimic her father’s favorite singers, including Judy Garland. But when her mother’s new boyfriend sees a way to cash in on Little Voice’s talents, Little Voice must decide if its time to break out of her cocoon. With Brenda Blethyn and Michael Caine.

A Cure for Night by Justin Peacock

A Cure for Night by Justin Peacock (2008)
This novel will jar your perspective of legalese, presenting new twists and turns. Peacock invents a plausible plot that takes place mostly in the seediest part of Brooklyn. The story unfolds through the eyes of a young male attorney. He is mentored by a young female attorney, who plunges him into her high profile murder case. Wow. Step by step, the reader follows the process of the preparation for trial, the trial, and the aftermath of the trial. The conclusion is the final twist of ironic justice.

Read an inteview with the author and view reviews at Amazon.com.

Final Theory by Mark Alpert

Final Theory by Mark Alpert (2008)
Albert Einstein’s colleagues are being killed by someone trying to discover his long-hidden theory. A science historian receives a key from one of the dying men. To unlock the key, he encounters one puzzle, which leads him to another puzzle. He’s trying to solve the mystery while running for his life. This suspenseful novel is a good read-alike for people who like The Da Vinci Code.

View the author's YouTube video about his book and read the New York Times review.

Winter in Madrid by C. J. Sansom

Winter in Madrid by C. J. Sansom (2008)
Set in 1940-41, this is a political novel in the very best sense. It offers a taste of the hardship and fear gripping Madrid under its new Fascist dictator, Francisco Franco. It is a novel that thoughtfully considers what can happen to an ordinarily decent man in wartime. Harry Brett, Sandy Forsyth and Bernie Piper who were together at school are the players. The underlying question of Spain’s neutrality has the British worried. While Spain considers its options Harry Brett is recruited by British intelligence to discover if Sandy Forsyth has found gold reserves that will strengthen Franco’s hand. Bernie Piper vanished on the bloody battlefields of the Jarama. An attempt to rescue him becomes a dangerous game which draws the strands of this saga together. A first rate thriller.

Check out the book discussion and read reviews at Amazon.com.

Murder Inside the Beltway by Margaret Truman

Murder Inside the Beltway by Margaret Truman (2008)
A typical Margaret Truman mystery. I love the way she weaves the local color of Washington, D.C. in the book. It had some interesting twists and turns. Two of the main characters are intriguing blends of current political figures.

Check out other titles in the Capitol Crimes mystery series, and read a review of this book on Amazon.com.