February 2020


The Last Woman in the Forest

Penguin Random House, 2019

By Diane Les Becquets

I almost gave up on this book. It seemed to take forever to get rolling. But once it did, it picked up speed fast. Like a locomotive on the dTheownhill.

The hair-rising Prologue starts with murder “Victim #1.” There are four victims in all. Four young women. All with an independent streak. All with trusting natures. All dead in or near the Stillwater Forest, apparently by the same psycho serial killer.

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In his novel, A River Runs Through It, author Norman Maclean struggles to make sense of what happened to his family in the early 20th century and why. Set in rural Montana, this hauntingly evocative novel was made into a major motion picture in 1992. It’s directed by Robert Redford.

Lynda Cohen Loigman’s The Wartime Sisters echoes themes from A River Runs Through It. Especially the final scene featuring Tom Skerritt as Norman’s pastor father. The last message we hear Rev. Maclean deliver is called We Can Love Completely:

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Someone has finally come up with an idea I can sink my teeth into! Mom calls it Read Across America Day! Mom is so excited! So I! Am! Excited! Too!

Mom says this special day is a nationwide observance. We’re giving you a little head start. Cuz it coincides with the March 2 birthday of Dr Seuss. You know. That “hat cat” and Grinch guy. (Nobody’s perfect.)

Anyway, Read Across America Day is our kinda day! Yeah, Lassie! One whole day to focus on my favorite two things in the world: reading and books. (Well, okay. Maybe a nice, thick New York steak, too.) So, here are…

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Ever notice how blogging can be like whistling in the wind? Swirling around in a raging storm? Just about the time you think you have a handle on your topic or audience, a huge cloudburst of doubt or writer’s block rolls in. Soaks you to the skin. And you’re not sure which end is up.

 

LOTS of It

That’s kind of what rural life on the Olympic Peninsula is like. Yep, it’s green. Outdoor opportunities abound. But the lush landscape, soaring evergreens, and feral beauty of western Washington come with a price: Rain.  Lots of it.

 

In fact,  in the largest temperate rain forest in the world, we measure rain in feet, not inches. Locals joke that the four seasons are:

 

  •  Raining
  •  Almost Raining
  •  Just Finished Raining
  •  Construction

 

Only tourists argue with that. Because by this time of year we’re starting to feel like Noah. Sunshine seems like a distant memory.

 

What’s a blogger and writer to do besides sprout gills and webbed feet, especially when hitting a writer’s block wall? Well, I dive in to an old favorite: Under the Tuscan Sun.

 

Incongruous?

Under the Tuscan Sun seems incongruous. But a favorite is a favorite, regardless of weather:

 

  • Two hundred and eighty pages redolent with France Mayes’ delicious descriptions of her restoration of an abandoned villa in the spectacular Tuscan countryside.
  • Incandescent, the text drips with the beauty and simplicity of life in Italy.

 

Because Under the Tuscan Sun is the kind of tome you tuck into a summer picnic basket. Or wrap yourself around during one of the wettest PNW winters on record.

 

 

Meanwhile, Back on the Peninsula

Diving into Tuscan Sun, I’m soon adrift in a sea of Italian terra cotta, palazzi, gelato, and padrones. Sun-soaked vineyards and Chianti.

 

 

What’s The Hurry?

I envy Frances Mayes and her villa’s fireplace, large enough to sit in. “I think most Italians have a longer sense of time than we do,” she writes. “What’s the hurry? Once up, a building will stand a long, long time, perhaps a thousand years. Two weeks, two months, big deal.”

 

A severe storm? Two hours, two days, two weeks, big deal.

 

I can’t quite wrap my head around that.

 

The wind howls like a banshee. Frogg-Toggged, I take Kimber the pup out, snatching a few minutes from the elements.  Frances and Ed Mayes try to decide on what to renovate/upgrade first – the leaky roof or central heating.

 

Stormaggedon?

By nightfall passing cars have switched their windshield wipers off. Somber prognostications of Stormaggedon seem far-fetched. Even if the wind is tossing buckets of rain from gray-cement skies.

 

Kick Writer’s Block to the Curb

Does your keyboard ever look like gray-cement? Is dredging up new blogging inspiration like trying to recover the Titanic?

 

When this happens – and it always does, sooner or later – take a blogging vacation. If you can’t swing a change in scenery physically, take a mental vacation. Stop trying so hard. Take a break from writing and disconnect:

 

  • Go for a walk
  • Play with your kids.
  • Eat a banana split
  • Take up line-dancing, a watercolor class, or wood carving.
  • Find a new author
  • Make a new friend
  • Change the oil in your car. Quit stressing about your next blog post or series. There’s something therapeutic and bracing about shifting gears, trying something novel, exploring new territory
  • Whatever it takes to replenish the well.

Rest to Recharge

A “rested” mind is a more creative mind. Some of my best ideas and creative bursts arrive after I’ve turned off the computer and gone “on vacation.”

 

How long should your writing vacation last? That’s up to you. But running on fumes isn’t doing you or your readers any favors. When you start feeling like writing is fun rather than a chore, or something to check off your To Do List, you’re on the right track.

 

Aftermath

Suddenly it’s Monday.  The storm has passed, subsiding to a soggy threat.

 

 

Kimber chomps her breakfast. The Etruscan wall necklacing Frances’ villa is rebuilt. The weed-choked cistern cleaned. The roof fixed. Aging interior polished to its former patina and newly planted herb gardens blooming, Frances’ restored villa gleams in the Tuscan sun.

 

Blue and gray, overhead skies here clash like troops at Gettysburg. But the worst, it seems, is over. The sun is elbowing flannel-gray clouds out of the way. Wait! Is that a patch of blue?

 

Well. I’ll be ‘et fer a tater if I don’t sense some writing inspiration on this rise…

 

 

How do to kick writer’s block to the curb?

Wings of Fire: The Dragonet Prophecy

By Tui T. Sutherland

 

You know that “We who are about to die salute you” gladiator scene in Spartacus? Where Kirk Douglas is forced to duke it out to the death with another gladiator?  Add some scales, talons, and wings. Stir in five dragonets who are the only hope for peace between endlessly warring dragon tribes. And you’ve got the gist of Tui T. Sutherland’s Wings of Fire: The Dragonet Prophecy. It’s Book 1 of a 12-book fantasy novel series set in the mythical land of Pyrrhia.

 

Plot Summary

A war has been raging between the dragon tribes of Pyrrhia for years. MudWing dragonet Clay and four other dragonets have lived their entire lives – six years – under a mountain. Purloined from their homes as eggs, the quintet has been hidden from the rest of the world until they’re ready to fulfill their destiny. According to a mysterious Prophecy, five dragonets will end the bloodshed and choose a new queen.

 

Or will they?

 

When Clay and his spunky buddy, Tsunami, make a daring escape and return to rescue the others from their subterranean existence, everything kind of goes sideways. Inches from freedom, plucky Clay and his friend are captured by the deadly SkyWing dragon queen, Scarlet. She forces her prisoners into to-the-death gladiator battles reminiscent of Spartacus. (See? I told you so.)

 

Queen Scarlet’s champion is an undefeated SkyWing named Peril. She responds to Clay’s kindness. But is Peril friend or foe? And who will become queen?

 

Wit and Humor

A rapier wit and subtle humor enliven this delicious fantasy tale. Sutherland’s world-building is also first-rate. You can almost hear fire sizzle, smell the musty earth and feel the waves of an icy river and waterfall lap at the pages.

 

The plot picks up speed quickly as “huge, handsome idiot” Clay and his pals battle to escape Queen Scarlet’s evil clutches and search for their own families while trying to unravel their intertwined destinies. A fun read for older elementary or middle schoolers or anyone who enjoys exploring fantasy worlds, dry humor and traipsing in and out of dragon lairs.

 

Don’t Eat the Block Rocks

Along the way we learn that old scrolls and dusty lectures can come in handy. Eating black rocks from the Diamond Sky River turns out not to be such a great idea. Peril and the Champion Shield uncover a secret.

 

You should also know that there’s more than one kind of dragon in Pyrrhia. The different dragon tribes are: SandWings, MudWings, IceWings, RainWings, and NightWings. And not every dragon breathes fire.

 

One other thing: Mud isn’t just for squishing in.

 

Keep An Eye Out

One other, other thing. And this is kind of important. Not every dragon wants the Great War to end. Like Burn. And what’s up with Morrowseer? I’d also keep an eye on Blister, ‘fize you.

 

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

 

Is this unlikely band of rag-tag dragonets really destined to fulfill a mighty Prophecy, or are they just being lured out into the open where evil stalks their every move and treachery awaits…?

 

Oh, the dragonets are coming

They’re coming to save the day…

 

3.0

 

For more on our rating system, click here.

 

What makes a great romantic story or movie? One that tugs at the heart strings over and over? Makes you laugh and cry, sigh and buy stock in Kleenex?

The Basics

“Most romantic movie” is highly subjective. (IMHO, Hollywood hasn’t cranked out much worth seeing in this category in decades.)

But basic elements include credible dialogue and a solid, poignant script. Three-dimensional characters who learn, grow and develop. Superlative acting. A story that typically goes like:

1) Boy meets girl

2) Boy loses girl

3) Boy finds girl again.

Boils Down To

In between are all sorts of obstacles, angst, turmoil and tumult. Misunderstandings. Heartbreak. Despair. Tragedy and triumph. But the essence of a great romantic movie boils down to:

Love Conquers All

Additionally, an element of selflessness and/or self-sacrifice should be evident in order to make the cut. (That’s why the truculent, self-absorbed characters of Titanic aren’t on this list.) With these basic criteria in mind, here’s my 100% subjective, totally unscientific list of:

The 10 Most Romantic Movies of All Time (in no particular order):

1. Casablanca – Starring Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman, 1942

World War II is raging. Rick Blaine, an exiled American and former freedom fighter, runs the most popular nightspot in Casablanca. Rick’s café has become a haven for refugees seeking to obtain illicit letters that will aid their escape to America.

One of these refugees is a Czechoslovak underground leader Victor Laszlo who’s on the run from the Nazis. When Laszlo suddenly shows up with his wife Ilsa, Rick’s former lover from Paris, the cynical café owner must make a heartbreaking decision.

Play it, Sam.

2. An Affair to Remember – Starring Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr, 1957.

Handsome playboy Nickie Ferrante and beautiful night club singer Terry McKay meet aboard ship while sailing from Europe to New York. Despite being engaged to other people, they suddenly find themselves falling in love. They agree to meet on top of the Empire State Building in six months. But fate intervenes…

3. The Bridges of Madison County – Starring Meryl Streep and Clint Eastwood, 1995.

A National Geographic photographer on assignment in Iowa meets a lonely housewife.

While her husband and children are away at the State Fair in the summer of 1965, Robert Kincaid (Clint Eastwood) happens to turn into the Johnson farm and asks Francesca Johnson (Meryl Streep) for directions. The next four days change their lives forever.

4. Out of Africa – Starring Meryl Streep and Robert Redford, 1985.

Looking for a better life in early 20th century Denmark, Karen Blixen (Meryl Streep) enters into a marriage of convenience with a womanizing baron. But when the couple moves to Kenya to start a dairy farm, an unexpected adventure awaits Karen: she falls in love with an English safari hunter who can’t be tied down.

A stirring John Barry score.

5. Somewhere In Time – Starring Jane Seymour and Christopher Reeve, 1980.

A haunting love story that transcends time.

When a young playwright Richard Collier (Christopher Reeve) struggles with writer’s block, he heads to a hotel on Michigan’s Mackinac Island to clear his head. While there, he notices a photograph of a beautiful young woman hanging on a wall of the hotel’s Hall of History.

He later discovers that the young woman, Elise McKenna (Jane Seymour), performed a play at the hotel some 60 years earlier… and he was there.

6. Sleepless in Seattle – Starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan, 1993.

A Baltimore reporter, Annie, tunes in to a talk radio show on her way to her engagement party on Christmas Eve. She hears a young boy, Noah, wishing his father, Sam, would find a new wife because his mother recently died.

Unable to forget Sam and Noah, Annie begins to look for something she didn’t know she was missing. Something like… magic.

7. Gone With the Wind – Starring Vivian Leigh and Clark Gable, Olivia de Havilland and Leslie Howard, 1939.

Based on the sweeping epic by Margaret Mitchell in which a manipulative Southern belle and a roguish blockade runner meet their match – in each other.

8. West Side Story – Starring Natalie Wood, Rita Moreno, Richard Beymer and George Chakiris, 1961

A modern, musical re-telling of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Set in New York City amid warring street gangs, the Jets and the Sharks.

Jets member Tony (Richard Beymer) falls for Maria (Natalie Wood). She’s the sister of the Sharks leader, Bernardo (George Chakiris). Tensions simmer and boil over into a battle to the death and a heartbreaking finale.

Winner of 10 Academy Awards including Best Picture.

9. The Princess Bride – Starring Cary Elwes & Robin Wright, 1987

The beautiful Princess Buttercup and the dashing Westley must overcome incredible odds to find happiness amid six-fingered swordsmen, murderous princes, Sicilians and rodents of unusual size.

An enchanting love story that not even the Dread Pirate Roberts can sink. (Did you know the 1987 movie was based on a book?)

10. The Bodyguard – Starring Kevin Costner & Whitney Houston, 1992.

Former Secret Service agent Frank Farmer (Kevin Costner) takes a job as a bodyguard to protect a temperamental pop singer (Whitney Houston) who’s been receiving death threats. Lots of ruffled feathers ensue before Cupid’s arrows start hitting their marks.

11. I Can Only Imagine – J. Michael Finley & Dennis Quaid, 2018

Discover the untold story behind the beloved chart-topping song. No list of “love conquers all” movies would be complete without this one. A personal favorite.

Honorable Mention:

  1. Camelot – loosely based on the T.H. White Arthurian classic, The Once and Future King.
  2. Les Miserables – Based on the novel by Victor Hugo. (I am speaking of the 1995 dream cast musical version, not that God-awful 2012 Russell Crowe knock-off.)
  3. Dr. Zhivago – Based on the 1957 novel by Boris Pasternak.

Did your favorite make the cut? What would you add?

Valentine’s Day is just around the corner. And what better way to ring in the day than with a love story?

Now, I could line the bottom of my bird cage (if I had one) with most of what passes for “romance” stories these days. That’s not what this list is about. You won’t find any cheap dime store boiler plate trash here. This list focuses on timeless love stories that go above and beyond basic romance.

Some of these titles are relatively new. Others have been around for centuries. All reach straight for your heart. Climb in. And settle in to stay. B.Y.O. tissue.

Here are 16 of the most unforgettable love stories of all time, along with memorable quotes. Many have been made into movies. Some might surprise you:

1. Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen

Jane Austen’s masterpiece of love and life among English gentility during the Georgian era. Mr. Bennet is an English gentleman living in Hartfordshire with his overbearing wife, one of the most ridiculous mothers in all literature. Mrs. Bennet’s chief goal in life is to see her five daughters married off and living comfortably. But fate intervenes…

Memorable quote:

“My good opinion once lost, is lost forever.”

2. Doctor Zhivago – Boris Pasternak

This novel traces the lives and loves of its two tragic protagonists, Yuri Zhivago, a physician and poet, and Larissa Antipova. Pasternak’s epic love story takes place between the Russian Revolution of 1905 and World War II. First published in Italy in 1957.

Memorable quote:

“Oh, what a love it was, utterly free, unique, like nothing else on earth! Their thoughts were like other people’s songs.”

3. A Common Life – Jan Karon

Laughter and wedding bells ring as Father Tim and his artist neighbor, Cynthia, get ready to tie the knot. Finally!

Memorable quote:

“I am not proud, but I am happy; and happiness blinds, I think, more than pride.”

4. Message in a Bottle – Nicholas Sparks

When a woman discovers a tragic love letter in a bottle on a beach, she’s determined to track down its author – and finds much more.

Emotionally intense story of love after loss. Set in Wilmington, North Carolina.

Memorable quote:

“Without you in my arms, I feel an emptiness in my soul.”

  1. The Princess Bride – William Golding

Six-fingered swordsmen. Murderous princes. Treachery. Gallantry. Sicilians and rodents of unusual size.

Buttercup and Westley’s love story is a classic that not even the Dread Pirate Roberts can sink. Did you know the 1987 movie was based on a book?

Memorable quote:

“As you wish.”

  1. Where the Red Fern Grows – Wilson Rawls

The powerful, poignant story of the unbreakable bond between a young boy and his two Redbone Hound dogs, ‘Ole Dan and Li’l Ann, reminds us what love really means. Set in the Ozarks during the depths of the Depression.

Once in a lifetime, a story comes along that inspires generations of readers. Where The Red Fern Grows is one of those stories. Bring Kleenex.

Note from Kimber: My personal favorite, friends! Even better than bacon! Mom always wants to snuggle up with this one. I’m a good helper, ya know. But I’m a World Class Snuggler and face-licker!

Memorable quote:

“I looked at his grave and, with tears in my eyes, I voiced these words: ‘You were worth it, old friend, and a thousand times over.’”

  1. Out of Africa – Isak Dinesen

Set largely in Kenya, East Africa, this sweeping epic is a story of discovery, loss and love.

Karen Blixen followed her dreams until her dreams became reality. She came to Africa from Denmark to search for something inside herself. There, she discovers a man and a country. And life as she’s never known it.

Blixen published her autobiographical Out of Africa under the nom de plume, Isak Dinesen.

The 1985 movie won seven Academy Awards including Best Picture. It stars Meryl Streep as Blixen and Robert Redford as her lover, Dennys Finch-Hatton.

Memorable quote:

“If I know a song of Africa, of the giraffe and the African new moon lying on her back, of the plows in the fields and the sweaty faces of the coffee pickers, does Africa know a song of me? Will the air over the plain quiver with a color that I have had on, or the children invent a game in which my name is, or the full moon throw a shadow over the gravel of the drive that was like me, or will the eagles of the Ngong Hills look out for me?”

  1. The Notebook – Nicholas Sparks

A touching story about what we long for. What we settle for. And who we were meant for. Full of longing and wistfulness. Despair and hope. And unexpected plot twists. Vintage Nicholas Sparks.

“I read to her and she remembers.”

Memorable quote:

“We fell in love, despite our differences, and once we did, something rare and beautiful was created. For me, love like that has only happened once, and that’s why every minute we spent together has been seared in my memory. I’ll never forget a single moment of it.”

  1. Rome and Juliet – William Shakespeare

Don’t make me explain this.

Memorable quote:

“My bounty is as boundless as the sea,
My love as deep; the more I give to thee,
The more I have, for both are infinite.”

10 – 13. The Last Promise, A Perfect Day, The Letter, The Sunflower, – Richard Paul Evans

  1. The Velveteen Rabbit, Margery Williams

How a brand new toy becomes Real.

Don’t think this “children’s” classic is a love story? Think again.

Memorable quote:

“Real isn’t how you are made,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”

  1. Jane EyreCharlotte Brontë

Beloved love story between the plucky orphan and governess Jane Eyre and the dark and brooding Rochester.

Memorable quote:

“Life appears to me too short to be spent in nursing animosity or registering wrongs.”

 

16. Bid Time Return – Richard Matheson

A haunting story of the link between a man and a woman that transcends time. The novel upon which Somewhere in Time is based.

My husband rolls his eyes every time I drag out my SIT DVD. I just smile and grab some more chocolate.

This story and the movie that followed starring Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour prove how little critics know and how even a predictable love story never fails to tug at the heart strings.

An unforgettable John Barry score doesn’t hurt, either.

Memorable quote:

“Come back to me.”

What would you add?

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