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Soulless by Gail Carriger

Soulless by Gail Carriger (2009)
Set in Victorian London, Soulless follows Alexia Tarabotti – a spinster with a secret. She’s a preternatural – without a soul – and her abilities cancel out the powers of other supernatural creatures.

It sounds farfetched, but Gail Carriger creates vivid characters and sharp humor that draw you in. I admit I don’t usually read and enjoy books with vampires, werewolves, and alternate history, but I was hooked. There’s a mystery to solve, a romance to enjoy, and secondary characters to follow.

A fun read and a good introduction to steampunk! If you enjoy Soulless, check out the next two books in the Parasol Protectorate: Changeless and Blameless.

Sleepy Hollow

Sleepy Hollow (1999) R
This Tim Burton film starring Johnny Depp and Christina Ricci borrows characters and the setting from Washington Irving's The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, but otherwise bears no resemblance to the story. Although I am usually unhappy when Hollywood drastically alters a classic, I was happily surprised with this film.

Depp plays Ichabod Crane, a New York City police detective rather than Irving’s schoolmaster. The time is 1799. Crane is despised by the New York authorities because he uses scientific methods to solve crimes as opposed to the old-fashioned methods of beatings and torture. To get him out of their hair, he is sent to Sleepy Hollow to investigate three grisly murders. All of the victims have been decapitated.

The film is very atmospheric and you get the feeling of gloom that sets in during the late fall after all the leaves have fallen from the trees, the days are short and dark, and winter will soon arrive. The Oscar nomination for best cinematography is well earned.

Sleepy Hollow is not for young children or sensitive viewers as there is a lot of blood and gore, but everyone else should enjoy this film – especially if viewed in late October or early November and of course at night.

Ghost Town

Ghost Town (2008) PG-13
This delightful romantic comedy stars Ricky Gervais, Greg Kinnear, and Tea Leoni. A dentist named Bertram Pincus (Gervais) has zero people skills and in fact despises people so much, it is surprising he didn't choose a different career such as hermit or public executioner. And as though life isn't tough enough for Pincus, he acquires the ability to see and speak with ghosts as a result of faulty anesthetic.

The ghosts are people who had unresolved issues at the time of their deaths and they all want Pincus to help him. For a man like Pincus, this is a disaster, as he has spent most of his life avoiding the living and now he's being haunted almost nonstop. However, things get even more complicated when one of the ghosts, Frank Herlihy (Kinnear), pesters Pincus into helping him break up his widow's engagement. This is a particularly difficult task since her fiancé is handsome, fit, wealthy, and a great humanitarian, whereas Pincus is plain, plump, and spectacularly obnoxious. In addition, Pincus has offended and antagonized Gwen several times in the past.

There are a lot of laughs in this movie and it is very definite feel good romance.

Check out other reviews from The New York Times, CNN, Roger Ebert, and The Seattle Times.

The Girl Who Chased the Moon by Sarah Addison Allen

The Girl Who Chased the Moon by Sarah Addison Allen (2010)
In this delightful confection of a novel, “strange and wondrous things” happen in Mullaby, North Carolina. Teenager Emily Benedict comes to her mother’s hometown to live with her grandfather (who happens to be eight feet tall). Her wallpaper changes to suit her mood. She sees the “Mullaby lights” (which no one will explain) in her backyard. When she meets Win Coffey, the locals won’t tell her why they shouldn’t be friends.

Julie Winterson is an avid baker running her late father’s BBQ joint with a plan to get out of town. Sawyer’s “sweet sense” is triggered whenever Julie is baking cakes. The two have a shared past – and Julie has her secrets – but can they move on?

In this magical town where not everything can be explained and strange happenings are simply accepted, two women find what they’ve been looking for.

Visit the author’s website for excerpts, tidbits, recipes, and more!

The Merlin Trilogy by Mary Stewart

The Merlin Trilogy by Mary Stewart (1980)
The story of Merlin has been told often. Mary Stewart’s account, however, has Merlin's point of view and his magic. It is full of detail, vivid images and realistic characters in a time far from our own. The Crystal Cave (Book 1) shows Merlin, at age five, living in his grandfather's household with his mother. Merlin helps defeat the High King Vortigern by using his powers to foretell the future. The book continues the story of his young life until the conception of Arthur.

The Hollow Hills (Book 2) picks up with Merlin taking care of Arthur, teaching him and helping him attain the throne by setting the sword Caliburn in the stone. It ends with Merlin in middle age and Arthur as High King. In The Last Enchantment (Book 3), readers learn of Merlin's last years before he disappears from the legend.  Truly memorable books!

Preview the trilogy and read an interview with the author.

Speed Racer

Speed Racer (2008) PG
Based on the animated TV series, Speed Racer may start out slow, but it soon becomes engrossing. Race car driver Speed Racer (Emilie Hirsch) loves driving – it’s in his blood (and it’s the family business). When he makes it to the big leagues, Speed learns about the dark side of the sport that took the life of his older brother.

Costarring Christina Ricci, John Goodman, Susan Sarandon, and Matthew Fox, Speed Racer is psychedelic fun for the whole family.

Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian

Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian (2009) PG
Another Ben Stiller winner. Everyone will enjoy watching the authentic Smithsonian Museums' artifacts come alive! The story tells interesting historical facts about Amelia Earhart and General Custer.

I went to Washington, D.C., two years ago; therefore, the movie impressed me in that it was based on facts like the largest sea monster caught being at the Smithsonian and the use of the Air and Space Museum for action. Of course, you'll love seeing Abe Lincoln come to life walking and talking...and having recently climbed all those stairs up the Lincoln Memorial, I was impressed that the movie used Abe to great advantage.

See this on DVD for lots of laughs. And don't forget to check out the original Night at the Museum.

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.

Specimen Days by Michael Cunningham

Specimen Days by Michael Cunningham (2005)
This novel tells three stories interrelated with Walt Whitman's influence being woven in each. In "In the Machine," 13-year-old Lucas spouts Whitman's verse, faces grief and finds love only to be tormented by his dead brother's voice in the machines in the Ironworks where he is employed during the Industrial Revolution of the 1920s in New York.

The next story, "The Children's Crusade," is in 21st century New York City with African American police detective Cat investigating a band of Whitman quoting children terrorizing the city. The final story is "Like Beauty," dealing with the futuristic android with a Whitman poetry chip implanted in its circuits and its journey with Luke, a young boy, to find its maker. The novel is artistically constructed and showcases Cunningham's flair for language and developed characters.

Visit the author's website, read reviews at Amazon.com, or listen to a review on NPR.

The Sugar Queen by Sarah Addison Allen

The Sugar Queen by Sarah Addison Allen (2008)
Twenty-six year old Josey still lives with her mother in the family mansion in the mountains of North Carolina. Acting as her mother’s cook, caregiver, and chauffeur, Josey has no life of her own until she wakes up one morning and finds local waitress Della Lee hiding in her closet. Through Della Lee, Josey meets and befriends Chloe, becomes involved in Chloe’s romantic problems and goes on a date with the man of her dreams. A charming romance with a touch of magical realism and maybe a touch of just plain magic.

Visit the author's website for an excerpt, deleted scenes, tidbits, discussion questions, and a preview of all of the candy mentioned in the book.

Ladyhawke

Ladyhawke (1985) PG-13
Visually a work of art, this film is based on a 13th century European legend about a beautiful maiden (Michelle Pfeiffer), a stalwart knight (Rutger Hauer) and a pickpocket (Matthew Broderick). The knight and the lady were once lovers, but a curse by the jealous Bishop of Aquila has left them "always together, eternally apart." By day, she is a hawk; by night he is a wolf.  
          
This one has a great storyline and interesting characters. Philipe's (Broderick) conversations with God add a wonderful dimension to the film as does Leo McKern as the old monk. Check out the original trailer.

Something from the Nightside by Simon Green

Something from the Nightside by Simon Green (2003)
ATTENTION MYSTERY LOVERS -- don’t let the “science fiction” sticker on the spine scare you away! This book is just as much a mystery as a work of fantasy. A private detective, with a few special powers, works in London’s other-world, the Nightside. Take the adventure. You won’t regret it!

Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman

Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman (1995)
Three generations of a family form the core of this novel. Sisters, Gillian and Sally, are raised by their aunts Frances and Jet, also sisters. Sally’s two daughters, Antonia and Kylie, create the third generation. Magical realism is woven into the storyline which focuses on the issues of fate, trust, love, sibling rivalry, and family ties. I highly recommended Practical Magic for readers of multigenerational tales, magical realism, and stories where love, both romantic and between family members, can conquer all.

The movie has much more “magic” to show off the special effects department.

The Man Who Loved Jane Austen by Sally Smith O’Rourke

The Man Who Loved Jane Austen by Sally Smith O’Rourke (2006)
If you've read or seen the Jane Austen books/movies, you will like this witty, suspense-driven story about Jane Austen. Contemporary and historical alternating settings make for an enjoyable story. If you do not know Mr. Darcy and the other Jane Austen characters, you’ll still enjoy the novel, but you may not get the references to Austen’s novels. Fast, fun, female read for all Jane Austen's fans and new readers.

Xena, Warrior Princess: Season 3

Xena, Warrior Princess: Season 3 (1997-1998)
Join Xena and Gabrielle (Lucy Lawless and Renee O’Connor) in this action-packed comedy adventure. Set in Ancient Greece, Xena decides to reform her outlaw ways by wandering the country to fight evil. Learn a bit about Greek mythology. Watch Xena come up with clever solutions by the end of each show.

During season 3, Gabrielle gives birth to a daughter, who ages quickly and soon becomes a source of contention. Follow the drama throughout the season. Also check out the musical episode in season 5 – it's hilarious.

If you like this, you’d also like Buffy – same action packed comedy adventure, but with a vampire slant (and high school kids).