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BacallYoungThe entertainment world lost another legend this week with the passing of actress Lauren Bacall at the age of 89.  Of her many fine film performances over the years, she is perhaps most fondly remembered for the four classic films in which she co-starred with Humphrey Bogart.  Already a successful fashion model, the 19 year-old Bacall made a storied film debut in the 1944 film To Have and Have Not opposite the then 43 year-old Bogart, and the rest, as they say, is history.  The sexual tension between the pair is palpable and is not something put on just for the movie cameras; the pair was truly smitten and married soon after the completion of the film.  The couple made three more films together before Bogart's untimely death in 1957, each showcasing the unique onscreen chemistry that was so apparent in their first pairing.  Although she ultimately dated other prominent public figures and later married actor Jason Robards, Bacall often referred to Bogart as the love of her life.

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A product of Hollywood's studio system, Bacall went on to star in films with many other iconic actors of the era including Kirk Douglas, John Wayne, Gary Cooper, and Gregory Peck.  As her film career began to wane, she took her talents to the Great White Way.  Although not a trained singer, Bacall wowed Broadway audiences with her unique voice and style, winning two Tony Awards for Best Actress in a Musical in the process for her performances in the musicals Applause (1970) and Woman of the Year (1981).  She turned to character parts in films in her later years, earning an Oscar nomination for her supporting performance in the 1996 film The Mirror Has Two Faces;  and ultimately receiving an Honorary Oscar for her contributions to the film industry in 2009.  Known  throughout her life for her intelligence, wit, and unbridled candor, Bacall charmed her many fans with two memoirs:  By Myself (1978) and the National Book Award-winning By Myself and Then Some (2005). 

 

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Williams200We were sad to hear of the tragic passing of Robin Williams this week at the age of 63.  To say that Williams possessed an incredible range and depth to his talent is an understatement that borders on the absurd.  The insanely talented comic was a Julliard-trained actor as well, and many of his most memorable movie roles allowed him to flex his formidable skills as a dramatic actor.  Though we may never know the extent to which he struggled with personal demons over the years, what is clear is that he left us with a treasure chest full of wonderful performances by which to remember him.

Williams began his professional career as a stand-up comic in California in the 1970's, ultimately hitting it big in his breakout role as the alien Mork from the planet Ork in the television sitcom Mork and Mindy.  Feature film offers soon followed.  Appearing in over 50 films during his long career, Williams won an Oscar for his supporting performance as a sympathetic analyst in the 1997 film Good Will Hunting, opposite Matt Damon and Ben Affleck.  As a testament to his versatility, Williams ultimately racked up three more Academy Award nominations over the years for his leading roles in Good Morning Vietnam, The Fisher King, and Dead Poet's Society.

 Whether we'll most remember his outstanding dramatic roles, his outrageously funny stand-up routines and appearances on late night television programs, or his memorable comic performances in film favorites such as Mrs. Doubtfire and Aladdin, one thing is certain:  we can be thankful that he shared his vast array of talents with us  for so many years. 

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Quirky characters abound in Amy Bloom’s new story about an unusual family’s attempt to survive during World War II. 

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Are you a mystery reader? If so, I highly recommend Julia Keller, author of the Bell Elkins mystery series. Her books, A Killing in the Hills (2012) and Bitter River (2013), are atmospheric, literary, and utterly engaging. The series centers around Belfa Elkins, an attorney who returns to Acker’s Gap, West Virginia, the scene of her dark and unhappy childhood, to become the county prosecuting attorney. Confronted by the poverty and the increasing power of the meth trade in this rural area, Bell is determined to make a difference in the war against drugs, but is frustrated by the slow progress of change. Together with Nick Fogelsong, the local sherriff and longtime friend and confidante, Bell doggedly continues to fight for the town and people she loves. On the personal front, Bell has a fractured relationship with her ex-husband, a lobbyist in Washington, DC, and her teenage daughter, Carla. Keller’s characters are flawed and multi-dimensional, which makes them all the more realistic and likable.

Keller, a native of West Virginia, knows her location well, and it shows in her books. The beauty of the mountains is vividly drawn, and the stories have a strong sense of place. The landscape is as much a character in her books as any of the people.  Keller's language is rich and descriptive – no terse sentences here!  Keller's books remind me of Louise Penny and Julia Spencer-Fleming, who also write mysteries set in small towns with characters that leap off the page.

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b2ap3_thumbnail_rebeccamakkainew_20140805-142746_1.jpgReading Rebecca Makkai’s inventive sophomore novel, The Hundred-Year House, is like solving a complex puzzle.

When we first visit the grand estate, we meet the elderly Gracie Breen, who is descended from a famous old-money Canadian family, the Devohrs. The home was built north of Chicago in 1900 by her great-grandfather Augustus to oversee his grain investments. A few years later, when Augustus’ wife Violet committed suicide in the attic, he moved out. The house eventually was turned into an artist’s colony from the 1920s to the 1950s, and the artists believed it was haunted by Violet’s ghost.

b2ap3_thumbnail_hundredyearhouse_20140805-142949_1.jpgGracie now lives in the mansion with her current husband, Bruce Breen. They soon are joined by Gracie’s daughter Zee and husband Doug, who move into the coach house for free. Zee is a Marxist literary professor at a nearby college and Doug is a writer who is struggling to finish a biography about a little known poet named Edwin Parfitt. Doug hopes his stay at the old house will motivate him to finish his biography on Parfitt, who had been a resident of the estate when it was an artist’s colony. But when Doug asks Gracie for permission to explore the locked attic for files about the colony, she refuses. What is Gracie hiding? Is the house haunted? What other surprises does the hundred-year-old house hold?

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