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Lights, Camera, Novel: Nicholas Sparks’s The Last Song, The Lucky One and Safe Haven

When it comes to romance, Nicholas Sparks has made a name for North Carolina. Although not a native North Carolinian (he hails from Omaha, Nebraska) Sparks’s geographical obsession with the state has become a hallmark of his writing. In all, Sparks has authored seventeen novels and one autobiographical travelogue. All but the travelogue are set in various locations around North Carolina. Sparks is often very active and hands-on in the process of adapting his novels for the big screen. As of now, eight of Sparks’s novels have been made into films and the ninth and tenth are on the way. Three of the eight adapted novels have been blogged on here in the past: The Lucky One (2008), The Last Song (2009), and Safe Haven (2010), so we’ll focus on those. His five earlier adapted novels: The Notebook (1996), Message in a Bottle (1998), A Walk to Remember (1999), Nights in Rodanthe (2002), and Dear John (2006) haven’t been covered on the blog, at least not just yet.

Chronologically, Sparks wrote The Lucky One before the The Last Song, but the film based upon the later was released first. The Last Song (book released 2009, movie released 2010) is a bit of an anomaly in that formulating the screenplay for the film inspired Sparks to create a corresponding novel.

The idea for the novel came about when Miley Cyrus, at the time primarily known for her starring role in Disney’s Hannah Montana, was searching for newer, more mature work. Cyrus met with Sparks and he devised an idea based on her interest. His story focuses on a daughter and father healing their estranged relationship. A budding romance between the daughter and a privileged local boy and loggerhead sea turtles appear heavily in the sidelines. The Last Song was a slight departure from his other works as the characters were teenaged and most of his works featured adult and middle-aged characters.

Although Sparks stuck to his customary North Carolina setting (Wilmington) for the novelization of The Last Song, the film was relocated to Georgia and shot on Tybee Island and in Savannah. North Carolina vied against Georgia during the selection process. Ultimately, Disney selected Georgia over North Carolina on the basis of film tax incentives. Losing a deal with Disney and The Last Song was an especially hard blow since Sparks’s last adaptation, Dear John, was also filmed outside of North Carolina. Reviews of the film were mixed, though Miley Cyrus’ performance was praised — see an enthusiastic review of her acting by Roger Ebert here.

By contrast, The Lucky One and Safe Haven featured romances between attractive twenty-and-thirty-somethings. The Lucky One (novel released in 2008, film released in 2012) starred another Disney teen sensation, Zac Efron and Taylor Schilling.  Like Cyrus, The Lucky One was one of Efron’s gateway roles as an adult actor. The plot follows a Marine, who during his third tour in Iraq, finds a photo of a mystery blonde woman that becomes his lucky charm. After his return to the US, the Marine searches for his lucky Jane Doe. Again, the setting was the defining change for the adaptation. The movie was set and filmed in Louisiana as a result of film tax incentives. Sparks seemed unconcerned about the geographical shift. In a quote from Nola.com, website of The Times-Picayune, Sparks explains that he aims for his novels to feel interchangeable and relatable: “I try to write stories that feel like they could happen anywhere…And that’s what I’m trying to do, too, is write a universal story that people will really enjoy.” Audiences enjoyed The Lucky One while critics were split.

Safe Haven (novel released in 2010, film released in 2013) tells the tale of another mystery woman, who quietly moves into the small, coastal city of Southport. She doesn’t mean to fall in love, but she can’t escape the attentions of a handsome widower with two children. Once she gets to know him, she can’t help but to fall in love. Unlike the other two films, Safe Haven was filmed entirely on location in Southport and Wilmington. IndyWeek notes that the movie is only the third of Sparks’ eight adaptations to be shot exclusively in-state. The other two films were A Walk to Remember (2002) and Nights in Rodanthe (2008). Yet again, the critical response was mixed. Roger Ebert issued a much harsher review compared to his review of The Lucky One, based on his visceral response to Safe Haven’s surprise ending. Despite critics’ response to Safe Haven, it was a success with audiences again. Clearly the divide between critics and audience is a pattern with Sparks’ book-to-movie adaptations.

A Look at box office stats

Screen capture from Box Office Mojo site representing the box office sales of Nicholas Sparks film adaptations.

While critics might not universally laud his films, audience-goers buy the tickets. All three films were box office successes. Sparks has cracked the secret to commercial success, now only if North Carolina could figure out a way to keep his adaptations in-state. The Best of Me stars James Marsden (who replaced the late Paul Walker) and Michelle Monaghan. Filming is underway in Louisiana. His latest novel, The Longest Ride, is in pre-production and it was recently announced that Clint Eastwood’s son, Scott Eastwood will play one of the lead roles. Here’s to hoping that movie will be filmed locally in NC.

Read the original blog posts on The Last Song, The Lucky One, and Safe Haven. The novel and film for The Lucky One are available through the UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog. Currently, only the novels for The Last Song and Safe Haven are available. Both films are available through the Chapel Hill Public Library though.

Sources consulted:

Box Office Mojo, Forbes, Hollywood Reporter {two articles}, IMDb {Miley Cyrus, Zac Efron, Nicholas Sparks, The Last Song, The Lucky One, Safe Haven, The Best of Me, The Longest Ride, Message in a Bottle, A Walk to Remember, IndyWeek, Movie Clips, New York Times, News & Observer {two articles}, Nicholas Sparks, Nola, Relativity Media/iamROGUE, Roger Ebert {The Last Song, The Lucky One, Safe Haven}, Touchstone Pictures, Variety, Vox, Vulture, Wikipedia {Nicholas Sparks, The Last Song – novel and film, The Lucky One – novel and film, Safe Haven – novel and film}

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Filed under 2000-2009, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2010-2019, 2012, 2013, Brunswick, Coast, Romance/Relationship, Sparks, Nicholas

Lights, Camera, Novel: Allan Gurganus’s Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All.

Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells AllOn-screen, the Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All is much like its novel counterpart. Clocking in at a hefty 718 pages, Allan Gurganus’ debut work is no quick read. And the miniseries isn’t exactly a half-hour sitcom either. Given the length and the detail of the novel, it’s not surprising it would take four hours to adapt the epic life story of Confederate widow, Lucy Marsden.

Lucy’s life story was heavily influenced by her marriage at age fifteen to Captain Willie Marsden, thirty-five years her senior, and, until his death, the last surviving Confederate soldier. Gurganus’ celebrated novel is told from the perspective of the still spunky ninety-nine year-old Lucy who resides in a North Carolina nursing home.

Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All spent eight months on the New York Times Best Seller list and sold more than four million copies. The novel also won Gurganus the Sue Kaufman Prize from The American Academy of Arts and Letters. All this proving it was worth the seven long years it took to Gurganus to write Confederate Widow.

Gurganus was born in Rocky Mount, North Carolina. He drew a great amount of inspiration from his grandmother, Willie Ethel Pitt Gurganus, who he would visit during his lunch breaks when in grade school. Despite their time together, she never shared her life stories with him. Lucy is his imagination of his grandmother’s experiences as a Confederate-era woman.

Right around the release of the novel in 1989, New York Magazine wrote a detailed profile on Gurganus, still available here through Google Books. The miniseries, which was broadcast on CBS, starred Diane Lane, Donald Sutherland, Cicely Tyson, Anne Bancroft and Blythe Danner. Lane played Lucy from teenage to middle age. Bancroft portrayed elderly Lucy.

Confederate Widow Miniseries

Photo courtesy of the Sonar Entertainment website.

The adaptation won four Emmys (Art Direction, Costume Design, Hairstyling, and Best Supporting Actress) out of its nine nominations. The miniseries was filmed in Madison, Georgia rather than North Carolina. The novel was set in the fictional town of Falls, North Carolina.

Gurganus did not write the screenplay, which was instead adapted by Joyce Eliason. The New York Times review of the miniseries indicates that Gurganus played a small part in the production. And, Gurganus in turn spoke positively of the television adaptation.

In 2003, Ellen Burstyn starred as Lucy in a theatrical adaptation of Confederate Widow on Broadway. A critic from Variety notes that it was a very long two hours and twenty minutes, attributed partially to the fact that the page-to-stage adaptation was conceived as a one-woman show. Apparently the production closed after one official show. A few years later in 2007, the novel was adapted again for the stage, this time by Gurganus, as a part of the Theater of the American South Festival. The production was pared down to a one-act, one-woman play that was better received than its ill-fated Broadway predecessor.

Visit Sonar Entertainment’s site for a short clip from the miniseries and some production shots. But if you’re interested in watching the miniseries for yourself, copies of the movie are available through the UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog in two locations in addition to the novel. The original blog post on Gurganus’ novel is available here.

Sources consulted: Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times, New York Magazine, New York Times, News & Observer (two different articles), People, Sonar Entertainment, Variety (two different articles), Wikipedia (Allan Gurganus, Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All)

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Filed under 1990-1999, 1994, Gurganus, Allan, Historical, Novels Set in Fictional Places

Kathy Reichs. Bones of the Lost. New York: Scribner, 2013.

Bones of the LostThings just aren’t going Temperance Brennan’s way. At the opening of Kathy Reichs’ sixteenth installment of her best-selling Temperance Brennan series, Temperance is stuck tapping her toes in a very uncomfortable pair of Louboutin pumps at the Mecklenburg County Courthouse. She was called for jury duty and even though her role as medical examiner will exempt her from selection, the inexperienced prosecutor makes Brennan jump through all the hoops first. Because losing more than half a day wasn’t enough, Brennan locks herself out of her car with her purse and cell phone inside. After several unsuccessful attempts to jimmy open the lock and an awkward exchange with an overeager parking attendant turned vigilante, an unwanted savior arrives.

Police detective Erskine “Skinny” Sliddell appears and gives Brennan a lift back to the Medical Examiner’s office. But not before filling her in on the latest case. Early that morning, an unidentified teen was killed in a hit and run. Although the girl didn’t have any form of ID for herself, she was carrying John-Henry Story’s U.S. Airways club card. Story was a businessman who died when a fire broke out at his flea market six months ago. Or at least, Brennan determined that the remains found at the scene fit the profile for Story. Sliddell speculates that the Jane Doe was involved in prostitution, based on her possessions, her estimated time of death, and her location. When Brennan returns to the Medical Examiner’s office, she examines the Jane Doe’s body. Because of the nature of the case (young, innocent victim and brutal death), Brennan struggles to not let her emotions overrule her logic, especially when she rules the supposed accident to be something more sinister. The Jane Doe wasn’t killed by accident, she was murdered.

Brennan is already busy though. She has four sets of mummified dog remains from Peru that she must certify as human or nonhuman. U.S. Customs seized the remains from former Marine, Dominick Rockett upon his reentry to the country. Rockett has a history of smuggling smaller antiques and trinkets out of South America. His usual inventory consists of inexpensive jewelry, crafts, and home wares. But apparently Rockett is expanding his market.  The two crimes run parallel at first, but as Brennan investigates with a keener eye, she identifies that both cases involve illegal trafficking of goods and that some of the implicated figures overlap.

Meanwhile, Reichs weaves in elements of Brennan’s personal life into the story. Her daughter Katy has enlisted in the army as a means to recover from the grief of her boyfriend’s unexpected death. Katy soothed her mother’s anxieties by reassuring that she would never be sent into combat. Then the US Army lifted the ban on women in combat and sent Katy to Afghanistan. But Brennan gets the opportunity to visit Katy overseas. Her estranged husband Pete, who is pressuring her for divorce papers, pressures Brennan into traveling to Afghanistan to help out an old buddy’s nephew who is accused of shooting two unarmed villagers. Pete wants Brennan to exhume the bodies and take the stand as an expert witness. With the promise of seeing Katy, Brennan boards Turkish Airlines to do a little extra detective work. And, as it turns out, Brennan owes Pete a huge thank you. Going to Afghanistan helps her lace the evidence together and reveal a surprising conspiracy at work.

Browse the blog for other coverage on Reichs’ Temperance Brennan series. You can filter the search by clicking on and navigating through the author category in the top right-hand column. With this view you can see all the past authors we have blogged about and the number of entries available. Or click on the categories and tags below.

Check this title’s availability in the UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog.

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Filed under 2010-2019, 2013, Mecklenburg, Mystery, Novels in Series, Piedmont, Reichs, Kathy, Suspense/Thriller

Mark de Castrique. A Murder in Passing. Scottsdale, AZ: Poisoned Pen Press, 2013.

murder inReaders of the previous novels in this series know that author Mark de Castrique serves up engaging mysteries that are rich with literary and local history.  These novels are not just set in North Carolina, they weave our state’s history into the plot and the characters.

In A Murder in Passing, de Castrique introduces readers to the Kingdom of the Happy Land, a communal settlement of former slaves that existed on the North Carolina-South Carolina border in the late nineteenth century.  Detectives Sam Blackman and Nakayla Robertson are at the kingdom site for a mushroom hunt when Sam trips onto a fallen tree and discovers a skeleton. The skeleton is a big story on a quiet news day in western North Carolina, and soon Sam is once again the subject of a lot of talk. Coincidentally (or maybe not), the Blackman & Robertson Detective Agency is approached by Marsha Montogmery who wants them to find a rifle and a photograph stolen in the 1960s.  The photograph was made in the 1930s by the famous photographer Doris Ulmann at the site of the Kingdom of the Happy Land.

When Marsha’s mother, Lucille Montgomery, is arrested for the murder of the man whose body Sam discovered, it’s clear that the two crimes are linked–but how? The police don’t even have a proper ID of the victim, so they attempt to obtain DNA evidence from the family of Jimmy Lang, the man who was Lucille’s lover–and Marsha’s father.  This brings the story of America’s racial history closer to the present–to the time of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Loving v. Virginia. Did Lucille kill a man who now could, but wouldn’t, marry her, or did someone else kill him to prevent him from making a new life with Lucille and Marsha?  Family relations are under the microscope in a mystery that invites readers to consider how true Faulkner’s famous quote–“The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”–still is.

Regular readers of this series will be happy to know that interspersed with the business of the mystery are interludes with some of the characters from previous novels such as the lawyer Hewitt Donaldson, an antagonist deputy sheriff,  Sidney Overcash, and Ron Kline from the Golden Oaks Retirement Center.  De Castrique also introduces a promising new character, an injured young veteran Jason Frettwell, who is in rehab at the Asheville V.A. center.

Check this title’s availability in the UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog.

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Filed under 2010-2019, 2013, Buncombe, deCastrique, Mark, Henderson, Mountains, Mystery, Novels in Series

Sharon Wildwind. Loved Honor More. Detroit, MI: Five Star, 2012.

This book opens in early May, 1975, a time when television sets across America were full of frightening and heartbreaking scenes from Vietnam as North Vietnamese forces took Saigon and American forces and their allies evacuated the country by any means possible.  The images trouble Vietnam veteran Elizabeth Pepperhawk, leaving her particularly vulnerable when she is visited by a stranger who tells her that her love, Colonel Darby Baxter, has died at the U.S. embassy in Saigon.  Along with that devastating news, the woman brings Elizabeth a baby–Darby’s baby?– and a demand for $3,000 to compensate her for her expenses and the risks she took getting the child out of Vietnam.  Elizabeth turns to her housemates Avivah Rosen and Saul Eisenberg to raise the money to give the woman.  Within a day of receiving Elizabeth’s payment, the woman who brought the baby to Elizabeth is dead.  This disturbing development puts Avivah, now an Asheville police lieutenant, in an awkward situation.  Can she investigate this murder when she had prior dealings with the victim and when she herself might be an accessory in the illegal transport of a baby?

Elizabeth plans to find a Vietnamese couple to adopt the child and soon learns that there is a small community of Vietnamese refugees nearby.  But Elizabeth can tell that things don’t add up–at the hatchery where the refugees live and work, at the clinic where Elizabeth works and the woman died, and with the Army whose story about Colonel Baxter’s death doesn’t match the evidence that Elizabeth received from the dead woman.  Elizabeth and Avivah try to sort this out even as anti-refugee sentiment flares in the community, their friend Benny’s boss goes missing, and Elizabeth’s boss–who is married to Avivah’s boss–appears to be hiding something that may or may not be related the woman’s death.

While all this is going on, major life events occur for some of the recurring characters in this series–Benny and Lorraine have a child and Avivah and Saul set a date for their wedding.  Author Wildwind is tying up loose end in this novel, the last book in the Elizabeth Pepperhawk/Avivah Rosen Mystery Series.

Check this title’s availability in the UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog.

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Filed under 2010-2019, 2012, Buncombe, Madison, Mountains, Mystery, Novels in Series, Wildwind, Sharon

Ann Tatlock. Traveler’s Rest. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House, 2012.

There is an old adage about letting going of what you love: if it returns it was yours all along, if it doesn’t it never was. But what if you are the one who was let go, and you never wanted to be in the first place?

Jane Marrow finds herself in that heartbreaking situation when her fiance, Seth Ballantine, returns from Iraq a quadriplegic. He loves her, but Seth is unwilling to let Jane forfeit a “normal life”: to be carried over the threshold by her husband, to become a mother, and to be free of full-time care giving responsibilities.  He worries that she will waste her life away with him and will eventually resent him if they go through with the wedding. For her part, Jane is unwavering: she is resolved to never leave Seth or to give up on their plans, even though practically everyone has given her an “out”. Seth finally explains that her insistence on staying together is hampering his recovery, so she gives him some space.

At the Veterans Affairs hospital in Asheville, Jane meets a variety of people who support her and Seth in this difficult time. Two Ugandan cousins serve as aids in the hospital, and they always lighten the mood. A retired doctor with an uncomfortable past, Truman Rockaway, helps Jane understand forgiveness and faith. And Jon-Paul Pearcy is a volunteer musician at the VA who shows Jane and Seth that it is possible to live a full life with a disability. Along the way, Jane learns about love, trusting God, and letting go.

Check this title’s availability in the UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog.

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Filed under 2010-2019, 2012, Buncombe, Mountains, Religious/Inspirational, Tatlock, Ann

Gregory Funaro. The Impaler. New York: Pinnacle Books, 2011.

FBI Special Agent Sam Markham barely has a day to adjust to his new home in Quantico, Virginia before his boss comes calling. Another body has been found in Raleigh, North Carolina: bound, gagged and horribly impaled, just like the first two. Even though Sam is still recovering from an exhausting case in Tampa as well as dealing with the impending execution of his wife’s murderer, he doesn’t hesitate. He goes to Raleigh to hunt down the killer the press is calling the Impaler. But finding the killer is easier said than done– the Impaler has his own strange codes, symbols, and portents that lead Agent Markham and the rest of the FBI on a twisted journey through Babylonian mythology, the Iraq War, and medieval Romania.

Edmund Lambert works by day as an assistant in the theater at local Harriot College, but by night, he is the General. Meticulous in his plans, the General is laying the way for the Prince to return to Earth…but in order to do that, the General must kill. Within the ancestral Lambert family farmhouse, he reeducates his victims, and topping their headless corpses with the taxidermied head of a lion, uses them as a sacred door through which to communicate with his Prince. The hour of the Prince’s coming is getting closer, andLambert must ensure that all is in perfect readiness.

As the body count increases almost daily, Agent Markham employs all of his skills to find this monster before it’s too late. But will his work be enough? A grisly psychological thriller, this prequel to The Sculptor leaves the reader pondering the thin line between cop and killer.

Check this title’s availability in the UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog.

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Filed under 2010-2019, 2011, Funaro, Gregory, Horror, Piedmont, Wake

Ron Rash. The Cove. New York: Ecco, 2012.

It’s 1918, and the United States is knee-deep in the First World War. Everyone feels the effects, even in a place as far away from Europe as Mars Hill, North Carolina. Food and good hired help are scarce, and local boys are dieing in the killing fields across the sea. Those who don’t come home in a box return maimed or shocked, like Hank Shelton. Missing his right hand, Hank learns to perform the same tasks as a man with two hands and does a good job running the farm where he and his sister Laurel live in the Cove. He even plans on marrying pretty Carolyn Weatherbee. But the Cove is cursed, and while Hank Shelton might be a war hero and an all-American boy, the good people of Mars Hill are inclined to believe that Laurel, with her large purple birthmark, is a witch.

Laurel is used to this kind of talk. Tormented as a child and blamed for all manner of ill things, she has learned to keep her peace when she can and fight back when she can’t. But it’s a lonely existence, and she looks forward to Hank’s marriage and having Carolyn as a sister. Then one day, she finds a stranger in the Cove: a young, mute vagabond stung by yellow jackets to the point of death. Despite Hank’s suspicions, Laurel nurses the man, whose name is Walter, back to health and he soon becomes an indispensable helper on the farm. Even better, Walter plays the small silver flute he carries with him with surpassing skill and beauty. Laurel is surprised to discover, one day, that she is in love with Walter– and he returns her feelings. The outcast witch of the Cove is happier than she ever dared hope.

But Walter carries a dark secret, and as hatred and anger at the war build in Mars Hill, the young couple’s romance–and possibly their lives–might end in tragedy. A beautifully written tale of love and loss, Rash examines the superstition and intolerance of a very different time, leaving the reader with a poignant message that is nevertheless relevant today.

Check this title’s availability in the UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog.

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Filed under 2010-2019, 2012, Historical, Madison, Mountains, Rash, Ron, Romance/Relationship

Roy Irwin Gift. Moon Blue.[United States]: Spirit Books, 2011.

Sergeant Holly Rollins comes home to Raleigh, North Carolina in the spring of 1943 to recover from the bloody carnage he experienced on Guadalcanal. With him he brings malaria and a lung fungus, a load of shrapnel embedded in his back, and a mind tormented by the horrors of fighting the Japanese. His hometown hails him as a hero, he’s given a medal of honor, and the mayor asks Holly to ride next to him in a victory parade, but that doesn’t change the fact that Holly’s best friend since childhood and comrade-in-arms, Powell Reddy, is buried in a swamp back on that island. Sergeant Rollins needs time and space to heal wounds both physical and mental.

Unfortunately, Raleigh in 1943 isn’t a peaceful place for healing. LaBelle Blue, the black woman who raised Holly, needs him to investigate the murder of her granddaughter Lana, and bring justice to her killer. This is no easy task in a time of such rampant disregard for the life of a young, poor, black girl, but LaBelle wants to bury her grandchild, so Holly goes looking. As he investigates, the young sergeant turns up old friends, enemies, lovers, and many memories. Angered by the racism and segregation that frustrate his attempts to discover the murderer, Holly quickly becomes entangled in the events surrounding Lana’s death, which encompass more than he could imagine.

Check this title’s availability in the UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog.

 

 

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Filed under 2010-2019, 2011, Gift, Roy Irwin, Historical, Mystery, Piedmont, Wake

Zolene. Ecstasy’s Angel. New York: Xlibris, 2000.

In the years following the Civil War, the fiery Katherine St. Clair is a beautiful young woman who is tragically orphaned when her father and stepmother are killed in a bandit-induced train accident. Because Katherine’s stepmother was a malicious woman who squandered away her husband’s wealth and accrued enormous amounts of debt, the extensive St. Clair estate near Wilmington, North Carolina must be sold. The St. Clair family’s sympathetic barrister takes care of all the arrangements, not wanting to hurt the emotionally traumatized young woman further. But Katherine’s trials have just begun.

One dark and stormy night, she takes in a wounded young man, not realizing that he is both the new owner of her ancestral home and a former Yankee captain. Brandon Morgan is handsome, passionate, and completely delirious with fever. Katherine nurses him back to health, all the while fighting her growing attraction to him. Although unintended, the two eventually spend the night together. Brandon, still fevered, is convinced that he has met an angel. Katherine, distressed at her deflowering, sends him to a nearby hospital, determined to forget his name. Besides, her stepbrother, the tall, dark and sultry Ramon Van Marcus, has returned; together they hatch plan to marry in order to receive their small inheritance. But Katherine cannot avoid Brandon Morgan forever, or his determination to find and possess the woman he thinks of as his angel.

Readers of romance novels will be fascinated by Zolene’s highly dramatic interpretation of Reconstruction in this, her debut novel. The portrayal of race and gender are true to nineteenth century opinions, but this does not stop the novel from being a steamy bodice-ripper of the most exciting kind.

Check this title’s availability in the UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog.

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Filed under 2000, 2000-2009, Coast, Historical, New Hanover, Romance/Relationship, Zolene