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The Lost Recipe for Happiness by Barbara O’Neal

The Lost Recipe for Happiness by Barbara O’Neal (2009)
Great, fast-paced, escapist novel for anyone who loves food and romance. The main character, Elena, is a gifted chef hired for a new restaurant in Aspen. The story is well-crafted and filled with complex, likable characters, even though it is somewhat predictable. The brilliant descriptions of the food, its preparations, and the inner workings of a restaurant made me wish that I were a better cook, but not in a restaurant! I’d love to try a few of the recipes that the author includes throughout.

I also loved another book by this author, titled The Secret of Everything, and plan to read her next novel (How to Bake a Perfect Life) due out at the end of December. One warning: there are a few graphic sex scenes that may be off-putting to some.

Read an excerpt and reviews, visit the author's website and view the reading group guide.

Christmas in Connecticut

Christmas in Connecticut (1945)
Elizabeth Lane (Barbara Stanwyck), a successful food writer for Smart Housekeeping (a popular magazine such as Family Circle), writes about her idyllic life on a farm in Connecticut with her husband and baby. Her readers and her publisher, Alexander Yardley (Sydney Greenstreet) love her columns and believe them to be true.

The truth is Elizabeth is unmarried, has no child, lives in a New York City apartment, has never lived on a farm, and can't cook. Elizabeth is well paid and loves living in New York. But both her position and her lifestyle are threatened when Yardley decides it would make wonderful publicity for Elizabeth to invite Jefferson Jones (Dennis Morgan) into her home at Christmas. Jones is a war hero who had spent weeks at sea in a lifeboat after his ship had been sunk. To complicate matters even further, after Yardley is put on an extremely restrictive diet, he decides to invite himself to Elizabeth's farm.

How Elizabeth copes with her dilemma leads to very funny film. You'll roar with laughter at times and the romance that develops between Elizabeth and Jones is both comic and heartwarming. This is one of my favorite Christmas films.

It’s Complicated

It’s Complicated (2009) R
Jake and Jane have been divorced for 10 years. Jake’s younger second wife is pressuring for a second child and Jake is evaluating what he had and what Jane now offers to his life. Jane’s kids are out of the house; her business is running and she meets a very nice architect who is doing her home remodeling.

Then Jake and Jane spend a dancing, drinking night together and suddenly the affair of the exes begins. Jane becomes a livelier, energetic person but grows closer to Adam, the architect. Finally, when Jake wants to get back with Jane she nixes the idea (it’s complicated) and tries to follow her heart and be true to her own feelings.

Starring Meryl Streep, Alec Baldwin, and Steve Martin. Check out a funny interview with the trio in USA Today.

Letters to Juliet

Letters to Juliet (2010) PG
A sweet story starring Amanda Seyfried (Mamma Mia) and Vanessa Redgrave, Letters to Juliet features beautiful shots of the Italian countryside. Women with romantic dilemmas write letters to Juliet and leave them in a wall in Verona. Juliet’s “secretaries” diligently answer all of the letters. When Sophie (Seyfriend) discovers a 50 year old letter from Claire (Redgrave), she embarks on a journey in search of Lorenzo and in the process she re-evaluates her life.

Visit IMDb.com for interviews with the cast and trailers and clips from the film. To learn about the real story of letters, ladies, and Verona, check out Letters to Juliet by Lise Friedman (2010).

The Young Victoria

The Young Victoria (2009) PG
The teenage Victoria struggles with the adults around her that want to control her life and destiny as best as they can. Her mother and scheming John Conroy want to take the power an act as her regent in the days before the King dies. Her uncle, King of the Belgians, is planning on marrying her to someone who will do his bidding in the English court. Lord Melbourne is entrancing her and almost causes a constitutional crisis due to her stubbornness. But Albert comes to her aid, helps her see her way and she proposes to him to marry. Wonderful costumes (worthy of an Oscar) and a small glimpse into royal life will provide interesting movie entertainment.

Starring Emily Blunt and Rupert Friend as Victoria and Albert.

Check out reviews from Entertainment Weekly, Salon.com, and the Los Angeles Times.

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.

A Room with a View

A Room with a View (1986) R
In this romantic tale, young Lucy Honeychurch (Helena Bonham-Carter) takes a trip to Italy with her fretting, old-maidish cousin Charlotte (Maggie Smith). Among the interesting people Lucy meets is a middle class father (Denholm Elliott) and his introspective moody son George (Julian Sands). A picnic in the country, the heat of the day, and a kiss between Lucy and George changes Lucy forever. This is a witty and beautifully imagined filming of the E. M. Forester novel.

The Dead Travel Fast by Deanna Raybourn

The Dead Travel Fast by Deanna Raybourn (2010)
This one has what every good Gothic romance should. There is the handsome yet troubled count with the string of conquests behind him. There is the beguiling heroine who travels from Scotland to a remote mountaintop castle in Transylvania. There are the locals who talk about werewolves and vampires and the much hated last count. There are dark and stormy nights and hidden tunnels. This one hits all the right notes without being either too serious about it all or tongue in cheek.

Watch the book trailer and visit the author's website.

Two Weeks Notice

Two Weeks Notice (2002) PG-13
Lucy (Sandra Bullock) is a lawyer who never met a lost cause she didn’t support, most particularly the saving of her Coney Island neighborhood landmarks. When she takes a job as legal counsel to George Wade (Hugh Grant), a local developer, she soon is not only managing his divorces but choosing his ties and writing his speeches. Finally Lucy can stand it no longer and she offers her two weeks notice. Can this mismatched pair find true romance? You bet they can.

Check out other reviews by Roger Ebert, in the LA Times, and in Entertainment Weekly.

Ever After

Ever After (1998) PG
Drew Barrymore plays a spunky heroine (Danielle) in this modern take on the classic Cinderella. In 17th century France, Danielle works as a servant in her own household after her father dies. When she impersonates a nobleperson to rescue a fellow servant from being transported to Australia, she catches the eye of Prince Henry (Dougray Scott). The prince is fascinated by her attitudes, her beauty, and her aim.

But there’s always a catch – her evil stepmother (Angelica Huston) and stepsister are plotting to ensnare a prince – and will stop at nothing to snag him. The second stepsister, Jacqueline, played by Melanie Lynskey, isn’t quite what she seems. Lynksey is great in one of her earliest films (you may recognize her as Rose from Two and a Half Men or her supporting roles in Sweet Home Alabama and Up in the Air).

See what the critics say at Rotten Tomatoes.

The Awful Truth

The Awful Truth (1937)
This is the movie that made Cary Grant a star. The big name at the time was his co-star, Irene Dunne. The two play a divorcing couple who fight over custody of their dog and attempt to break up any new romance the other might start. The physical comedy is perfect and the dialog witty. A classic of screwball comedy.

Check out the original 1937 New York Times review and read some background information on the film at TCM.com. Want more romantic comedies from the 1930s? Check out our list.

Emma

Emma (1996) PG and Emma (2009)
These are my two favorite movie treatments of my favorite Jane Austen novel. In the 1996 Gwyneth Paltrow version, Mr. Knightly (Jeremy Northam) is warm and charming. Paltrow is suitably strong minded yet likeable, and the supporting characters are all well done. In the 2009 miniseries, I found Emma even more likeable yet suitably wrong-headed and the other characters equally well cast. The father seems a bit too hearty, although appropriately frettish. But no Mr. Knightly can for me match Jeremy Northram’s in the 1996 version.

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!

Fever Pitch

Fever Pitch (2005) PG-13
Drew Barrymore and Jimmy Fallon pair up in this hilarious movie from the Farrelly brothers. Fallon plays Ben, a high school math teacher with a (possibly) unhealthy obsession with the Boston Red Sox. Lindsey (Barrymore) is a workaholic corporate executive. Life is great…until baseball season starts.

Check out Roger Ebert’s review. See how the movie’s ending changed with the miraculous run of the Red Sox in the 2004 postseason. And read an interview with Jimmy Fallon.

Nick Hornby’s novel Fever Pitch inspired two movies -- Fever Pitch (starring Colin Firth as an obsessed soccer fan) and this baseball film.

I Can See You by Karen Rose

I Can See You by Karen Rose (2009)
When the lines between virtual reality and real life blur, psychology grad student Eve Wilson gets drawn into a police investigation and catches the attention of a serial killer. While conducting a study of an online role-playing game, Eve discovers several participants have been murdered. Together with Detective Noah Webster, Eve’s in a race against time to stop the killer from claiming another victim. Filled with lots of twists, turns, and surprises, I Can See You keeps you on the edge of your seat from beginning to end.

Visit the author's website, check out her interview on YouTube and read reviews at Amazon.com.