Kathy

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg (1967)

I first read From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler in fifth grade, so when my son, now a fifth-grader himself, said he needed a Newbery Prize winner for his book report, I was quick to suggest it to him. The adventures of Claudia and her younger brother Jamie are what childhood dreams are made of. After running away from home, the siblings live on their own in a strange and wonderful new city. They uncover a mystery at the Metropolitan Museum of Art that they're determined to solve. Their clever sleuthing leads them to discover much more than clues however — it leads them back home.

I enjoyed reading this classic children's book by E. L. Konigsburg just as much as an adult as I had as a child. The audiobook would be great to listen to on a family road trip as well. Check out this article from Smithsonian Magazine for a glimpse behind the story and its author. 


Kathy

The Wife (2017) R

The Wife is the bittersweet tale of the life of Joan Castleman and her husband, Joe, a beloved, acclaimed novelist.  The movie begins with what seems to be a relatively ordinary marriage, but a quiet tension builds in the days leading up to Joe's receipt of the Nobel Prize in literature.  Joan, played by Academy Award nominee Glenn Close, looks back on their forty-year marriage with a mixture of love and regret.  As she examines the consequences of the compromises she has made, the film takes on a palpable urgency which is driven not just by the storyline, but by Close's amazing performance as well.

The Wife expertly presents the husband-wife dynamic in all its complex glory.  From the mundanity of daily life to the once-in-a-lifetime joys to the oh-so-often-overlooked betrayals, this is a movie chock full of drama not to be missed!

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Kathy

Elevation by Stephen King (2018)

Stephen King takes us back to the fictional town of Castle Rock in his latest novella, Elevation, where we are introduced to Scott Carey, a good-hearted, hard-working man, who, as is the case in all of King's works, discovers something rather unusual is happening.

What's most disturbing to Scott is that the unusual thing is happening to him. He's losing weight at a rapidly increasing rate, yet his size doesn't change, ever. No matter how Scott tries to weigh himself down, the number on the scale continues to decrease. As Scott's journey toward weightlessness progresses, the lightness he feels helps him see things more clearly, which inspires the town to go through a kind of lightening as well.

This odd little tale lacks the usual Stephen King horror, so makes for a pretty, quick, dare I say, fun read.


Kathy

My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite (2018)

Oyinkan Braithwaite's debut novel is a classic tale of sibling rivalry with a dark twist—one of the sisters happens to be a serial killer. In its darkly humorous telling, this book explores universal questions about the relationship between two sisters and how their lives intertwine in ways that can never be undone. My Sister, the Serial Killer is a character study, a love story, and a family drama all rolled into one. Oh, and given that one of the sisters can't seem to avoid murdering any man that shows interest in her, it's also a bit of a crime drama too.

This is a book about love and loyalty that asks the question: How do you choose between doing the right thing and doing what you know to be right?



Kathy

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson (1959)

hauntingA short, spooky novel that will have you sleeping with the lights on, Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House brings together four strangers to investigate reported paranormal activity at an unoccupied dwelling. The house itself is curiously constructed with a labyrinth of rooms and towers that seem to creep around corners all on their own. Ghostly events occur shortly after the guests arrive and each visitor has their own individual experience even when in the presence of the others. Hill House is alive. It breathes and sighs. It is as much a character of the book as the strangers it traps inside.

This classic was first published in 1959, adapted to the big screen in 1963 and again in 1999, and most recently released as a Netflix series in 2018. Read it before you binge watch—it’s a great story to curl up with on a cold winter night!
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Kathy

The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes (2011)

senseI was looking for a short, yet thought-provoking audiobook to act as a sort of palette cleanse between two light-hearted, popular works of fiction, so I opted for The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes. It turned out to be the perfect choice.

In less than five hours, we journey through the life of the narrator, Tony, and the story of two relationships from his youth, one a friend and one a lover. Now in his sixties, Tony is confronted with the truth of those relationships and forced to reevaluate his past behavior and his own carefully curated story of self. The audiobook narration (by Richard Morant) was terrific—the voice you hear becomes Tony, which really brings the story to life. This character-driven book examines the importance of memory in shaping self and questions what we remember as truth. I recommend it for fans of Kazuo Ishiguro and Marilynne Robinson.
Kathy

Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover (2018)

educatedTara Westover’s Educated is the fascinating true story of a young woman raised in a survivalist family in the southern mountains of Idaho. Throughout her childhood, Tara’s father uses end-of-days fear, isolation, and the threat of eternal damnation to maintain control over his family. Every decision the family makes is informed by their father’s religious doctrine, so formal education is out of the question. Tara’s interest in the outside world combined with a desire to escape a life of working in the family’s scrapyard leads her to challenge her father’s ideas and, eventually, the lifestyle her family leads.

This compelling book is at times both heartbreaking and horrifying, but Westover’s matter-of-fact style of storytelling makes the reader feel right at home in this extreme, unfamiliar world.

 
 
 
 
Kathy

The Stranger (1946)

indexIt’s 1946 and the infamous ex-Nazi Franz Kinzler is living under an assumed name while teaching at an elite private school in small-town Connecticut.  He’s charmed the townspeople, including the headmaster’s daughter played by Loretta Young.  They marry, then Kinzler’s true identity is revealed to her, but is she too blinded by love to see the truth about her husband?

This post-WWII noir classic was directed by and stars Orson Welles.  Fabulous shadow effects, long camera shots, and dramatic angles are hallmarks of Welles’ style and make this movie a visual delight.  The Stranger was nominated for an Academy Award and was the first Hollywood feature film to include documentary footage of the Holocaust.  It’s a must see for lovers of classic noir and fans of suspense. Check out our list of other 1940s Noir Classics too!
Kathy

The Death of Stalin (2017) R

deathofstalinOne of the most unique films I’ve seen in a long time is Armando Iannucci’s The Death of Stalin. Fans of the horribly absurd (or the absurdly horrible) will find themselves cringing while laughing through this warped historical comedy. Nikita Kruschev (Steve Buscemi) and Lavrentiy Beria (Simon Russell Beale) jockey for the top Soviet position after the 1953 death of Joseph Stalin.

Jeffery Tambor sweats up a storm as Georgy Malenkov, Stalin’s nervous-wreck of a second-in-command. With each member of the Soviet politico watching over his shoulder for the other, this satire bites down hard on the realities of tyranny, cruelty, power, and fear. Given the truth underlying the farce, it sometimes felt wrong to laugh, but I found it impossible not to. This dark comedy will make you think and stays with you long after it ends.
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Kathy

Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan (2017)

manhattanbeachJennifer Egan’s epic novel Manhattan Beach is set in the Brooklyn Naval Yards during World War II. This coming-of-age novel features Anna Kerrigan as a fiercely independent young woman who longs to serve the war effort as a diver, an occupation reserved solely for men in 1940s America. Anna’s underwater training takes her deep into the murky waters of New York Harbor, while her quest to uncover the mystery that has torn her family apart leads her into the dark underworld of organized crime.

Manhattan Beach was long-listed for the National Book Award in 2017. I recommend giving this one a listen — the audiobook narration by Vincent Piazza of Boardwalk Empire adds the perfect touch of noir to this historic novel.