Friday, January 31, 2014

Winter Magic by Elizabeth Sinclair

During our cold spell, I had the pleasure of reading Elizabeth Sinclair's new novel, Winter Magic.  The fourth book in her popular Hawk's Mountain series, it was an engrossing read.  Like her other Hawk's Mountain novels, I read it during the course of one evening.

It is the story of Jonathan Prince, the wealthy son of a prominent family.  His father and his aunt want him to settle down and have children of his own.  At 34, he has no illusions about why women seek him.  He knows he is attractive, but it's his money they all want.  How could he possibly trust any woman after his experiences?  His elders persuade him to hire a new party planner, named Miranda Cameron, for their annual charity Christmas gala.  He has seen Ms. Cameron before.  She is an ambitious business woman who drives a red Ferrari.  Jonathan is on to his father and his aunt.  He knows they hope Miranda will turn out to be Ms. Right.  Wrong!! She is just the type he abhors and tries to avoid.

Enter Miranda's twin sister, Andrea, known as Andi.  She is a kindergarten teacher who loves her job.  She dresses simply and sensibly.  Andi treasures her "Teacher of the Year" necklace that she always wears, not designer clothes. Her car is an old battle-scarred orange Volkswagen Beetle. Though identical twins, they are two distinctly different individuals.

When Miranda has a medical emergency, she begs Andi to impersonate her and meet with the formidable Mr. Prince.  Andi agrees with great reluctance.  The action from that point gets very interesting.  Jonathan is drawn to Andi when they meet.  He is puzzled about the changes he senses in "Miranda" from their inital meeting.  He finally decides that this is a ploy to ingratiate herself and win him.

The longer he works with Andi ("Please call me Andi.  All my friends do...") the more drawn to her he becomes.

Winter Magic is a warm, inviting story, filled with the gentle humor indicative of Ms. Sinclair's writing.  The love story does not run smoothly, as you can imagine.  The reader is drawn along the roller coaster relationship between Jonathan and Andi.  Each character harbors their own secrets and doubts about why their courtship will never work.

As always, the characters are superbly drawn.  You will care about these people, laugh with them, and root for them.

Winter Magic is narrated by Granny Jo, the matriarch of the series.  She is involved in the story's action as well.  And for the fans, like me, who wanted to know her story, Ms. Sinclair has obliged us with an epilogue that tells the story of Granny Jo and her beloved husband Earl. 

This lovely novel will leave you warm and smiling.  The rich story will touch your heart.

Another fine novel, Ms. Sinclair!

He’s naughty. She’s nice. Will he believe her reasons for masquerading as her twin sister, the high-society party planner he hired to organize his charity fundraising gala? Or will he decide that this kindergarten teacher is just another beautiful woman who’s willing to lie, cheat, and seduce her way into his bank account?

Christmas on Hawks Mountain is about to go from “apple cider sweet” to “somebody put moonshine in the eggnog.”

Links to purchase:

Barnes and Noble

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Welcome to the palm lined tundra

What is with this weather?  Places got snow that never had it before.  We the people in the southeastern part of the country are not equipped for icy roads and snow pack (no matter now thin it might be.)

Okay, I cheated by lumping myself in with the folks in the above paragraph.  I've faced blizzards and below zero temps when my parents lived in Chicago.  I vividly remember one Christmas eve, flying in when it was 25 below for the ACTUAL temperature, and 80 below for the windchill - seriously.  When we landed, the pilot came on the loudspeaker and said "Welcome to the tundra."  We all looked in horror at the snow blowing across the tarmac.  Because of the extreme temps, the baggage handlers could only work a few minutes at a time.  So we had to wait on the runway for a gate to become available.  I had learned long before to carry on my luggage when arriving at O'Hare.  Those were the days! There were no security checks, no luggage inspection.  You just got to the gate, gave them your boarding pass and they let you go on to the jetway.  Unfortunately, our world is no longer that safe, nor are we so complacent in our own security.

But I'm digressing...give me a break, I had freezing drizzle on my windshield a while ago when I went out to lunch.

Anyway, my parents met me at the gate - another thing we miss today.  We walked through the terminal and out to the parking garage where Dad had parked.  I kid you not,when I walked from the terminal into the parking garage, my nose hairs froze in an instant.  If you haven't experienced that particular sensation, count yourself fortunate.  It's not something I'd care to repeat. This ominous little "plink" rang in my head when it happened.

As for our current weather conditions, I want to blame Al Gore, but intellectually know it is not his fault.  It's climate change - something our planet undergoes every few decades or so.  Can you believe Alaska has temps in the 60s and we're all cracking the ice off the palm trees and citrus?  I mean, this is FLORIDA.  People move here to avoid cold winters.  Not this year.  The loose translation for the word "Florida" means "land of the flowers." That does not go well with freezing drizzle, snow, or ice storms.  People were sledding in Panama City - a town known for its beautiful white sand beaches. Makes me cold just to picture it. Of course, we had diehard surfers here braving the temps in their wetsuits.
And as for the folks in Atlanta, I really feel for them.  I've gone through a few ice and/or snowstorms in Texas that were much worse than predicted. I remember one during which I got so bored, I learned to make bagels from scratch.  That's a lot of work, by the way.  But I was glad for the diversion that kept me from going stir-crazy.  I have one hard and fast rule.  I never drive on ice.  I will brave snow, but never ice. I will walk outside for the sake of my Tzus, despite having hit the sidewalk hard a few times.

The best news about this cold spell is its move away from us.  For the next few days, we'll be in the upper 60s moving to the upper 70s.  Whew.  That's so much better.

Except for having to take one of my Tzus outside at 4:00 this morning in a driving rainstorm with temps in the 30s, the cold hasn't been an inconvience to me this time.  After all, when a Tzu says he has to go, you'd better listen.  Just wish I had on a warmer nightgown...

I hope all of you are warm and safe with your loved ones.  The front is moving away for all of us.  Our best friend, a big area of high pressure is moving into the area.  That means the cold fronts won't reach us.  Whew.

I hope you've all made good use of your time if you were  house-bound.  Lots of good movies out there these days to download.

Oh, I did watch a strange, but fascinating film on the SyFy channel last weekend.  It was called Skyline and for once was a theatrical release from a couple of years ago, not a SyFy original.  It centered around an alien invasion, focusing on Los Angeles.  I won't tell you more than that about the plot.

I will say, this one is gory, with unexpected action throughout. The aliens reminded me of some of the creatures in the recent film Pacific Rim.  But these aliens had a special little quirk unique to them.
Parts of the film were ugly in viewing and in the concept.  But if my cryptic notes appeal to you, check it out.  I'm sure SyFy will repeat it. The ending has stayed with me ever since I watched it.

That's it for now.  I've finally found my printer (missing since my recent move). I just can't find the cable to connect to the computer...It's always something!

I plan to be posting a couple of book reviews in the next few days.

Until then, take care.  Thaw out.  Be safe.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Lee Daniels The Butler

I have been waiting since last Thursday to post my review of this great movie.  In the meantime, my phone service (which includes my dsl) died.  Turns out the landscapers had dug trenches all over the property without checking where the phone cables were laid.  It's finally repaired.  So I'm baaaaaccckkk AGAIN!  My life recently has had the slogan once used for the 1970s film "Westworld" - "Where nothing can go worngg!"  (Too bad Yul Brynner didn't show up in his black gunslinger suit to chase me around with evil intentions! I wouldn't have missed being online at all.)

But as usual, I digress.  Last week I watched Lee Daniels' wonderful film, "The Butler."  It was loosely based on the life of a real person, an African-American man who grew up in the rural south in ugly times for his people.  He became one of the butlers at the White House and served for over thirty years through the administrations of eight presidents.

The film has true elements but is mostly fictional.  It is the story of Cecil Gaines, who as a young boy watched his father get shot to death by a cotton plantation owner.  Cecil's father objected after the plantation owner raped his wife (Cecil's mother).  When the shooting was over, the owner's mother/grandmother (not clear in the film but well played by Vanessa Redgrave) took Cecil into the house to train to be a house servant.  Cecil's mother was so traumatized, she wasn't really present for the rest of her days.  When he was old enough, Cecil left the place and was on the streets for a while.  He finally was given a job in a restaurant.  Eventually, he landed a prestigious job in DC at a fancy hotel where all the dignitaries met for cocktails. 

He was observed being diplomatically silent during a heated political debate by a White House staffer.  As a result, Cecil was hired to be a butler at the White House - one of nine butlers.  Gradually, he worked his way up the hierarchy.

He and his wife had two sons.  The older one was bookish, serious.  The younger one was a happy child delighted by life.

The entire cast is stellar.  There is not a mediocre performance among them.  Honestly, I was very disappointed at the Oscar nominations for this year.  The good cast members of this film were overlooked, despite a lot of Oscar buzz when it opened.  At least the Screen Actors' Guild recognized them.

Forest Whitaker plays Cecil Gaines.
Oprah Winfrey plays his wife, Gloria.
Clarence Williams III plays mentor to Cecil as a young man.
David Oyelowo plays Cecil's eldest son.
Elijah Kelley (wonderful in the movie "Hairspray") plays his youngest son.
Nelsan Ellis (aka as Lafayette on "True Blood") plays Martin Luther King.
Yaya DeCosta, the lovely young dancer from Antonio Banderas' film "Take the Lead", plays Cecil's oldest son's love interest - a young radical who bears a striking resemblance to Angela Davis during the years of the black power movement.

The casting of the roles of the presidents and their wives in some cases is inventive, to say the least.

Robin Williams plays Eisenhower. (Robin Williams?!! But he is very true to the character. His performance reminded me what a gifted actor he is.)
James Marsden (also great in "Hairspray") plays JFK.  While his appearance only suggests the real man, his vocal impression is the most spot-on I have heard to date.
Liev Schreiber plays LBJ - No, I'm not kidding.  The handsome actor does an incredible job as the bigger than life Texan. (Believe me, I can spot a fake Texan a mile away.)
John Cusack plays Nixon, with all the inherent paranoia of his later years.  He wears a fake nose to look more like Nixon, but the expressions and voice make the resemblance praise worthy.

Jane Fonda, in a surprising turn, plays Nancy Reagan.  I wonder what the real Mrs. Reagan thinks of that casting?  Ms. Fonda does a wonderful job in the role.
Alan Rickman, a famed British actor, known best as Professor Snape in the Harry Potter films to most Americans, plays Ronald Reagan.  He does wear facial prosthetics to look more like the president. He captures the essence of the extrovert in the White House.

The film moves from the Eisenhower administration to the Obama administration.  In the story, Gaines works until the first Bush administration.  But as retirees, he and his wife are still around for President Obama's election.

The story chronicles the history of Civil Rights with no holds barred.  Cecil's eldest son becomes a freedom rider and ultimately a member of the Black Panthers.  This causes a rift between Cecil and his son.

Cecil's youngest son believes in his country and joins the military.  He goes to Vietnam with disastrous results.

The plot is resolved in a surprising but most believable way.  The film has excellent performances throughout.  The story will make you laugh and make you cry.  It is a rich panoply of our recent history.  It tells the real story of the Civil Rights movement and the gains made and not made.  All of this is seen through the eyes of the butler, an intelligent man with no formal education.

It's well worth your time.  Check it out.  It's a great movie.

Remember to have some tissues where you can reach them.  You'll need them a time or two.

Until next time, enjoy our rich pop culture.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

The Boarding House by Sharon Sala

I've been reading the backlog of books downloaded to my Kindle since my move.  There's no cable hook-up in my bedroom.  During the holidays I clicked on The Boarding House by the incredible writer, Sharon Sala. 

I can honestly say it grabbed my interest from the beginning of the book and held it long after I read the last line.  I've told several friends about it and encouraged each of them to read this amazing novel.

Though known for writing romance both as Sharon Sala and Dinah McCall, the talented author has penned a strong novel not of the romance genre.  The Boarding House will be appreciated by anyone who loves an excellent story, major conflicts, memorable characters, and a plot twist that still has me cocking my head and thinking "Whoa, I never saw that coming!"  A little voice in my head says with my career, I should have realized the secret.  But I was so spellbound by the brilliant novel, I did not see the surprise until it was revealed.

And no, I am not going to do Ms. Sala the disservice to reveal it to you.  All I will tell you is that this is one of the best novels I have read in many years.  It is the story of unimaginable pain, the kind that would destroy the average person.  Yet, the lead character, Ellie Wayne, not only copes, she triumphs in the end.

I'll leave the blurb below to describe the plot for you.

As for me, I bow down to Ms. Sala for her ability to portray a tale of ongoing abuse and ultimate redemption in a realistic way. Only an author with deep understanding of the human condition could create this story and bring it to such vivid life.  Brava!

This is a novel that will make you applaud and tell your friends.  Read it, you won't be sorry.

Oh, and by the way, this would make one heck of a movie!  Listen to me Hollywood, this is the stuff Oscar voters await. 

I truly give this one all five stars!


Ellie Wayne doesn't just live. She survives.

New York Times bestselling author Sharon Sala brings emotional intensity to an unforgettable story of survival, empowerment and raw courage.

Ellie Wayne has grown up in frightening circumstances, damaged by a sexually abusive father and mentally fragile mother. Scarred and still threatened by a father she hates and fears, Ellie believes her future holds nothing more than danger, shame and secrets . . . until the unspeakable happens, and Ellie is forced to choose. She can claim her life or continue to hide in the shadows.

One amazing man might be the miracle worker who can help Ellie see that she has the power to move on with her life, to hope for something more. If she can trust him.

Readers will cheer for this amazing woman as she struggles to leave victimhood behind.

Sharon Sala is a long time member of Romance Writers of America writing as Sharon Sala and Dinah McCall. She writes romantic suspense, Young Adult, and Women's Fiction. First published in 1991, she's a seven-time Rita finalist, winner of the Janet Dailey Award, four-time winner of the Career Achievement award from Rt Magazine, five time winner of the National Reader's Choice Award and five time winner of the Colorado Romance Writers Award of Excellence as well as the Bookseller Best Award. Her books are New York Times, Usa Today, Publisher's Weekly mass market best-sellers. Writing changed her life, her world, and her fate.

Look for her Young Adult paranormal mysteries, the The Lunatic Life series from Bell Bridge Books.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

I'm Baaaaaaaaaacccckkkk!!!

I know now that many of you have your own move-from-hell stories, so I won't bore you with mine.  The fact that I've been offline since December 18th should tell you something.

It's been a strange few weeks, lots of drama-rama around the holidays.  Why is it some people invariably act up during the holidays?  Must be something in the eggnog or chemicals from the artificial trees.

Oh, and I'm still not completely unpacked nor able to find certain things...oh well.

I don't know about you, but it's perishing cold here today.  It got down to about 24 in my neighborhood, which isn't as low as some places, I know, but this is Florida.  We're not really equipped for such temps.  There were a few diehards walking on the beach this morning in their UA thinsulate, but they were obviously delusional.

I layered up and walked the tzus, who were clad in their own thinsulate coats.  Ming, the macho, promptly stepped out of his, having none of it.  Oh well, we survived.  I am happy to report the fountain on the lake beside my place did not freeze overnight.

Hope all of you enjoyed your holidays, or at the very least did not suffer serious injuries or food poisoning during your clan's holiday hoopla.  To bypass those indignities is always a plus.

Today, I am posting a new blog, Sharon Drane's Free Reads.  I am posting a Christmas story I wrote recently called "Christmas Is For Kids."  I will post pieces of my fiction from time to time.  There will be short stories or chapters of longer works, whatever takes my fancy.  I hope you enjoy them.

So here we all are in 2014.  I truly hope it will be a better year than this last one.

Take care and keep warm while we experience the Polar Vortex currently blanketing most of the US.

Until later...