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The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993) PG

nbcburtonTim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas  is timeless movie magic and a visual delight. Burton created this stop-motion animation film in which Jack Skellington, the Pumpkin King of dreary Halloweentown, finds a secret passageway to Christmastown. He likes what he finds so he decides to better himself by taking over for Santa! This ghoulish fairy tale is in no way mean-spirited. It is more playful than nasty so go ahead and add it to your Christmas movie list!

American Gods by Neil Gaiman (2001)

americangodsThe novel opens in the very realistic setting of a prison where model prisoner and likable character Shadow finds himself about to be released into society. Tragedy strikes and Shadow is released into a dismal, lonely future.

When Shadow believes he has nothing to lose, he agrees to work for Mr. Wednesday. In American Gods, Neil Gaiman creatively switches gears and the reader is on a fantasy quest in a strange world where gods and goddesses are as real as prison was just hours before.

Enjoy this novel? Check out our list of the best fantasy novels for adults.

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke (2004)

jonathanstrangeSusanna Clarke writes a historical fantasy novel full of curious characters and thousands of rich details that are woven together masterfully. Set in the age of Napoleon, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell follows two English gentlemen determined to bring magic back to England. While old Mr. Norrell wishes to hoard the magic for himself and is overly cautious, Jonathan Strange daringly forges ahead producing new and exciting magic despite the risks. Many of the scenes are comical, but there is an ominous cloud of dark magic which hangs over the entire story creating a feeling of foreboding and suspense. (The book was made into a BBC miniseries in 2015.)

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson (2013)

lifeafterlifeKate Atkinson delivers a beautifully written, wildly imaginative tale of 20th century England. In Life After Life, Ursula Todd lives her life, over and over again. From the pre-war bucolic setting to the Great War and 1918 Influenza, to the horrors of WWII in London and beyond, Atkinson guides the reader through the first half of the 20th century through Ursula’s eyes. A novel of historical fiction with a fantastical element, Life After Life is a thought-provoking read of what might change if you could relive your life.

The plot may seem farfetched, but the author structures the book in such a way that it is believable. If you enjoy reading historical or literary fiction, WWII novels, stories about families, alternative histories, or just want a good story, try this book – you won’t regret it!

And if you’re hooked, a companion novel, A God in Ruins, will be released in May (and focuses on Ursula’s beloved younger brother Teddy).

The Princess Bride (1987) PG

princessbrideThe Princess Bride was adapted by William Goldman from his novel, which he says was inspired by a book he read as a child, but its transformation by his wicked adult imagination has made the story witty and irreverent. And the film adaptation has remained popular since its original release in 1987.

It is story within a story with Peter Falk as a grandfather reading a fairy tale to his reluctant grandson. This clever romantic comedy-fantasy-adventure film can be enjoyed by every member of the family.

And if you can’t get enough of The Princess Bride, check out Cary Elwes’ (Westley) recent book, As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride.

Beauty and the Beast (1991) G

beautybeastBefore heading to Disney World and the new Be Our Guest restaurant, I revisited this classic from my childhood. Beauty and the Beast was the first animated film to receive a Best Picture Oscar nomination. The Oscars for Best Original Song (“Beauty and the Beast”) and Best Score (the talented Alan Menken and Howard Ashman) come as no surprise as you listen to the enchanting music throughout the film. The story is engaging, the characters endearing (how can you not love a girl who is thrilled by books and libraries?), and the movie simply magical.

Roger Ebert was equally enthralled. Check out his review. And something else to look forward to – Beauty and the Beast will be here live on stage in late March as part of Broadway in Chicago.

Scrooged (1988) PG-13

scroogedScrooged loosely follows the storyline of the classic Dickens’ novel A Christmas Carol. Bill Murray’s comic sarcasm and a romance between Frank Cross (the Scrooge character played by Murray) and old flame Claire (played by Karen Allen) expand on the original theme.

The four ghosts are not lost amongst the modern tale of a selfish, greedy TV executive who learns his lesson the hard way during the holiday season. It was interesting watching this movie from a twenty first century perspective, as Christmas 1988 is already Christmas Past for us.

Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake (2011)

index.aspxKendare Blake’s Anna Dressed in Blood is THE dark, twisted romance story for fans of the television show Supernatural. I appreciated gruesome moments that made me both throw up in my mouth and say “aww” at the same time.

Man of Steel (2013) PG-13

This 2013 retelling of the origin of Superman is superb. Man of Steel stars Henry Cavill as Superman and Clark Kent, and he is outstanding. Amy Adams gives a fine performance as Lois Lane.

If you are looking for action, there is plenty of it. And the special effects should get at least an Oscar nomination if not a win.

The chief villain is General Zod (Michael Shannon), and he is a great nemesis. The battles between General Zod and Superman are titanic. Kal-El’s father Jor-El is played by Russell Crowe, and he gives a very solid performance. For those of you who’ve forgotten, Kal-El is Superman’s Kryptonian name.

The movie, although a little dark at times, is a lot of fun.

Shades of Grey: The Road to High Saffron by Jasper Fforde (2009)

Shades of Grey is science fiction, suspense, and comedy rolled into one. It is set in a dystopian future in which everyone is color blind and one’s class status is determined by the amount of color that he or she can see, with the greys toiling at the bottom, the purples at the top, and several other hues in constant conflict.

Jasper Fforde has a vivid imagination, an eye for detail, and a gift for writing. I especially enjoy the clever dialogue, and each comically absurd scene outdoes the last. John Lee is excellent as the narrator of the book on CD. I would highly recommend listening to this book.

Midnight in Paris (2011) PG-13

Did you ever wonder what Paris was like in the 1920s? Here is your chance. Owen Wilson is visiting Paris with his fiancé and her family. He is a writer with writer’s block. One evening he decides to take a walk to clear his mind. When a limo pulls up and the passengers offer him a ride, he accepts. This is the start of his adventure and a chance to go back to the Paris of the 1920s.

Kathy Bates as Gertrude Stein and Adrien Brody as Salvador Dali welcome him into their world. When Owen’s fiancé and her family become suspicious of his disappearing every night, they hire a detective. The results lead one to believe this may or may not be a dream.

Midnight in Paris is one of Woody Allen’s best. The acting is great and the literary characters are true to life.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman (2013)

This is my first taste of Neil Gaiman as a writer for an adult audience. The same master storytelling and ability to keep you on the edge of your seat is there. The Ocean at the End of the Lane seems like a child's novel at first. The main character is reminiscing about a nightmarish memory from his childhood. After a while, it becomes quite apparent that the content is straight from a nightmare and also for mature audiences.

Gaiman keeps the reader questioning. Is this reality, fantasy, or are we dealing with mythical creatures as old as life itself? As a consolation to readers, no matter how horrible the nightmare gets, we know our hero survives to recount the story as an adult.

 

The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan (2005)

Percy is a twelve-year-old dyslexic boy who doesn’t fit in, his mother lives with an abusive stepfather, and he has just been expelled from his sixth school in six years. Life is frustrating, and the future seems bleak, when he suddenly learns the truth: his father is one of the Greek Gods! This, of course, means that Percy is half a God, and it opens up a whole new world full of danger, but also hope. The Lightning Thief is the first book in Rick Riordan’s young adult series Percy Jackson and the Olympians, and it will make you wish you paid attention more in high school when you were studying mythology. This is a fun book with a Herculean quest, prophecies, and plenty of action.

Oz: The Great and Powerful (2013) PG

Discover how “Oz” came to be in Oz: The Great and Powerful. James Franco stars as Oz, a magician caught in a power struggle between three witches (Michelle Williams, Mila Kunis, and Rachel Weisz).

For all things Oz, also check out the original movie The Wizard of Oz (1939) or the novel of the same name by L. Frank Baum.

From Time to Time (2009) PG

From Time to Time promo movie poster AFM 2009This fantasy film starring Maggie Smith is the story of a thirteen-year-old boy named Tolly staying with his grandmother in the country in 1940s England. Grandmother lives in a very old house built during the time of the Normans. While living there, young Tolly travels back to the time of Napoleon and meets some distant ancestors.

This film was adapted from the second of the Green Knowe books by Lucy M. Boston, The Chimneys of Green Knowe (released in the US as Treasure of Green Knowe). From what I have read, most people are enchanted by the movie with the exception of those who have read the book before seeing the film.  Since I had not read the books, I too loved the film, but I have to agree that the film could have been much better if it had stuck closer to the book.

Nevertheless I still recommend seeing From Time to Time. Although the books were written for children, if you like things British, you will thoroughly enjoy them.