gone-with-the-wind

One of the most beloved and acclaimed movies of the 20th Century, Gone with the Wind is the winner of eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture. Best Actress winner Vivien Leigh stars as Scarlett O’Hara, who is one of the most timeless characters in cinema history, not to mention one of the prettiest Southern Belles ever. From Margaret Mitchell’s iconic novel on life in the South before, after, and during the Civil War, Scarlett becomes engrained in the American consciousness as the epitome of beauty and selfishness. She spends most of her time pining over a man she can never have (Ashley Wilkes), and when she wins him over, she wants the man she has had all along (the infamous Rhett Butler). Her fickleness comes off mostly as charming – the men in her life understand that this is how she is. And every time she is let down by one of her beaus, her Mammy (Best Supporting Actress winner Hattie McDaniel) is right there to help Scarlett survive. After all, tomorrow is another day!

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maxmary

I’m not that fascinated by contemporary animated films. I love what Aardman Animation does (Wallace and Gromit, Shaun the Sheep), but aside from that, most animation of today leaves me yearning for the non-computerized animation of the past…where tedious work was done all by hand to bring to life a spectacular finished product. This is why when a colleague recommended an animated film for adults and older kids entitled Mary and Max, I was highly skeptical. And, boy was I surprised at what awaited me.

Mary and Max is done in the “Claymation” style of animation, meaning CLAY animation. Claymation has advanced since the days of watching Davey and Goliath in grammar school (if you are not familiar with D&G’s stop-motion style of Claymation, don’t worry – it was not worth remembering). This movie’s animation, in addition to the sweet, touching story, is most definitely worth remembering, and even savoring. Mary and Max are both endearing characters that will stay with you for a long time. I do tend to gravitate towards holding “sad sack” characters in higher esteem…Eeyore was always my favorite Pooh character, as well as the Looney Tunes’ Elmer Fudd, and the ever-pathetic Dopey, the silent dwarf. Mary and Max both fall into that category…each being sad, lonely and lost in their own unhappy worlds.

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her-dvd

Set in the near future (specific year unnamed), Theodore is a sad sack. His marriage just broke up, he does not want to go out or do things, like hang out with friends, and his day job is writing personal letters (love letters, thank you letters, etc.) for other people who are just as pathetic as he is. So, what does he do to try to change things up some in his life: he buys a new computer with a personal, talking, interactive, emotive operating system (OS). And this OS changes his life.

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obit-writer

A riveting and ominous tale of loss, love and heartbreak set in both 1919 and the early 1960s. The 1919 story involves a past love who most likely perished in the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and a woman, Vivian, who cannot get over her loss. Vivian is “the kept woman” to David, a married man who might or might not leave his wife for her. The earthquake ends whatever future they might have, but Vivian is determined to find him and she is still hoping for a passionate, heartfelt reunion all the way until 1919, when she finds out the truth.

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BEFORE-MIDNIGHT-stills

The third and last (?) in the Richard Linklater directed and Julie Delpy/Ethan Hawke starring series, Before Midnight again features more dialogue and banter between characters than plot. But, after three movies, we are used to that and we know these characters so well, we pretty much know what they are going to say and do. Not that this is a good or bad thing…but it’s comfortable. Like an old pair of slippers, these films have charmed us, endeared us, and romanced us. A little refresher on the series: Before Sunrise (1995) is set in Vienna and has Jesse (Hawke) and Celine (Delpy) meeting on a train and taking a risk by spending the whole day with each other. They talked and walked and laughed and talked and walked and laughed some more. As they fell in love, so did we with them.

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age of desire

First of all, I need to say that I am an Edith Wharton fan. She is probably my favorite author ever. So, stating that, I really, really loved this book, which is historical fiction about her life…and somewhat about her work.

The novel is told from the point of view of both Wharton herself and Wharton’s assistant/secretary/confidant Anna, who was more like a mother to Edith than Edith’s own mother ever was. Aside from being a friend and constant companion, Anna helped Edith with her writing…by typing her pages but also by offering her tips on story structure and character development.

Though Anna is technically a servant, Edith and Anna are quite close…but when Edith begins to stray away from her marriage into the arms of another man (who Anna believes is a cad and a gold-digger), Edith begins to question Anna’s loyalty.

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 In 1981 Nora Roberts published her first novel, Irish Thoroughbred. Some thirty years later Roberts has written her 200th published novel, Witness and it is a ROMANCE WINNER!  Elizabeth Fitch is a sixteen year old daughter of a frigid surgeon mother in Chicago, who fed up with the rigid life style her mother commands, goes to the mall, buys clothes not dictated by her mother and goes to a club with a school acquaintance. She drinks too much, winds up at the home of a member of the Russian mob and witnesses several murders. She runs for her life and calls 911. Ultimately she is in a safe house under the protection of several agents but on her birthday her good guy protectors are killed by fellow agents in league with the mob. Elizabeth escapes and knows she can trust no one.
Fast forward twelve years Elizabeth Fitch is now Abigail Lowery, a computer genius running a profitable security company, hiding out in Bickford Arkansas with her gun collection and well trained dog. The new handsome chief of police, Brooks Gleason is curious and is not shy about trying to unlock the puzzle of Abigail Lowery.
 I stayed way past my bedtime finishing this novel. It is a strong romantic suspense read with good characterization and pacing.   Her computer hacking skills, sharp intelligence and vulnerability make Abigail an interesting study.  Brooks Gleason is kind, handsome, smart and of course the perfect male. Roberts is deft with dialogue and the humor is well spaced with the suspense.  On a cold winter night, Witness provided cozy relaxing comfort.
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An adorable, fun film starring two of my favorite unsung actors…Myrna Loy and Melvyn Douglas. Loy stars as a single lady who pretends to be married to keep all unwanted suitors away…one in particular. Through a series of comic events, Douglas begins passing himself off as her husband, who was supposedly away on business. Myrna Loy has never been better than she is here. She is vibrant and full of life. She is constantly irritated at Douglas’ character, even though we know she’s madly smitten with him at the same time. And Douglas, who always has a knack for comic timing, is spot-on here as the goofy, long-lost hubby. The chemistry between both of them is perfect and sure to please all. I had seen this film once ages ago on Turner Classic Movies and wanted to re-watch it instantly. Unfortunately, it was never put on VHS (at least not that I could find) and took a while coming out on DVD…so now that it is out, please do yourself a favor a check it out!

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A moving drama about a tutor and her student who survive a plane crash in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, only to wash up on a deserted island.  TJ missed a year of school while he was battling cancer.  Now that he’s in remission, his folks enlisted teacher Anna to tutor him while the family vacations in the Maldives.  All of that, of course, goes very wrong when their pilot has a heart attack en route to meet up with TJ’s parents already in the Maldives. 
At first, I found the story pretty Cast Away-esque.  Starting the first fire, cracking coconuts and catching fish for the first time were all VERY akin to the 2000 Tom Hanks movie, where Hanks’ character is stranded on an island in the middle of nowhere after a plane crash.  Sound familiar?  But, where this tale deviates is the growing, evolving, changing relationship between Anna and TJ.  Right after the crash occurs, they are very much teacher and student.  But, they soon learn to become partners in their desperate attempt to survive.  They care for each other.  They worry about each other.  And most of all, they learn to help each other survive under the direst of circumstances.  Yes, there are fights and frustrations.  But, for the most part, their mutual survival is aided by their strong and constant rapport.  Both characters grow quite a bit as people, both emotionally as well as physically.  One would think the TJ would do most of the growing here, since he is only 16 when they get stranded, but Anna starts off this story uncertain of her future and her life; she basically is not that grounded of a person.  They both are forced to toughen themselves up in all ways and to grow up fast.   There is no learning curve on the island — TJ doesn’t have high school and college to prepare him for “the real world” and Anna no longer can blame everything on the bad relationship she was in. 
And the relationship between the two of them is the best part of this novel.  I’m not talking about the romance.  I’m talking about the companionship and the friendship and support these two have together.  Each needs the other one to survive and when one’s survival is in jeopardy, the other is not sure they will be able to go on without the other.  And all of this is conveyed with sincerity and honesty in the book.  Garvis-Graves is an author to watch. 
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First of all, I don’t want to give the impression I am pitting these authors against each other. Anytime I see “vs.” between two names, I think of an anticipated boxing match. My goal here is to compare, non-violently, these two historical romantic suspense authors and help readers decide if one or both of these authors are for them.
First, Deanna Raybourn, who I have loved since her first book featuring Lady Julia Grey, Silent in the Grave, is an author with an exceedingly light touch. A light touch in writing style…a light touch when it comes to Lady Julia and a light touch when it comes to the story. Nothing ever gets too dark or threatening here. Even when Lady Julia or another character, such as her P.I. husband Nicholas, encounters a dangerous and potentially fatal situation, Raybourn always shines a little air of affability into the mix. Saying that, this does not mean I do not savor everything Lady Julia does. I do and I try my best to wait patiently for her next book. All I’m saying is that there is no sense of continual doom with Raybourn like there are with some suspense writers. She keeps it light…and I keep reading.
Onto Tasha Alexander, who I first discovered at a mystery writer’s conference where I bought a book and had Alexander sign it based on hearing her speak. But, the book sat on my shelves for over a year until Julia Keller, the Chicago Tribune’s Cultural Critic, wrote a piece on Alexander (December 4, 2011, Arts and Entertainment) for Keller’s LitLife column. So, I got the book, A Fatal Waltz, out, dusted it off and began, quite pleased I did. Unlike Raybourn, Alexander’s writing style is a little more refined, a little more literary. I hesitate to say more polished, since I think Raybourn is a good writer, but Alexander’s entire style does enhance the affluent world that her main character, Lady Emily Ashton, lives in. Both Raybourn’s Lady Julia and Alexander’s Lady Emily are wealthy Victorian London crime-solving ladies, but the way Alexander writes her tales includes the required upper-class effect. Does this mean I like Alexander more? No. It means that when I’m looking for something lighter, I will reach for Raybourn and Lady Julia. When I am ready for something more meaty and more challenging, I’ll pull out another Alexander and Lady Emily.
Both writers create fiercely strong ladies who enjoy solving crimes, even though it’s highly unladylike in late 1800s London. Both writers weave compelling stories that hold the reader’s interest from start to finish. Basically, both writers excel in this genre (or is historical romantic suspense a SUBgenre?). Try both and see for yourself.

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