A chance encounter with a book by Charles Lamb, leads to a inquiring letter written to an author, who just happens to be looking for her next project, and her curiosity leads her to the island of Guernsey in the The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows have written a book that is full of characters that we want to get to know – right away- and the format that the authors use – personal letters between characters – gives us the opportunity to be eager (and inquisitive) for the next missive.
Their letters give us the chance to examine the relationship between the characters, as it grows from being formal strangers, and moves to becoming beloved friends. They contain a lot of the minutia of life, and give the reader a bit of the background of the main writer – Juliet and what her life has been like during the war. All of the characters are experiencing the recovery of Great Britain from the war, but those on Guernsey have a special reason to be grateful after the sorrowful years of occupation.
The Literary society came about because of a special pig dinner. Special because it was being hidden from the Nazis. And as the islanders bonded over dinner and being in trouble, the society grew to be more than just a group of people talking about books. And one person, Elizabeth, seems to be the catalyst that brings them all together. When Juliet learns about their stories, she wants more than ever to bring their tale to light in a book because she is falling in love with the island too.
Filled with war stories, book references, British slang, and good humor, the authors have a definitely created a great story to tell. If you don’t like the style of the book – personal letters – you might have trouble with it. But I think it is splendid! A very good read.
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When the dead body of a stranger lies in the garden of an disheveled ancient family home, what’s an eleven year old girl with a passion for chemistry (and a unnatural knowledge of poisons) supposed to do? Solve the mystery of course. Welcome to Flavia’s world.

Flavia de Luce is 11 going on 40. She’s the neglected youngest daughter of an absent minded stamp collector in Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley. With her trusty bicycle Gladys, Flavia is determined to solve this crime. When her father is charged with the murder, it becomes even more important. She doesn’t realize that the investigation will lead her to finding out more about her father’s past.

Bradley does an excellent job showing us an eccentric dysfunctional family and manages to make it seem “normal” to Flavia. And when her older sisters lock her up in a closet or tell her she was really brought home as a baby from a store, she does what any normal youngest child does. She takes revenge. She just does it a little differently, with poison ivy in a lipstick.

I’m excited that this is to be a series. There are too many de Luce family secrets that have been hinted at and need to be uncovered. As a reader, I am looking forward to seeing Flavia and her sisters growing up in this odd environment. Perfect for traditional mystery fans.

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A sharp, methodical mystery from Canadian writer Peter Robinson. This is his first mystery featuring English cop Alan Banks…who has subsequently become a continuing character of Robinson’s. Set in Yorkshire, Banks recently made the move from London to the North of England…and is still getting used to small-town ways. Robinson does a great job of setting Banks up as a character we want to get to know better. We feel comfortable with this man and like him…because he’s human. He has flaws, bad habits and is not always Super Cop. This book deals with two crimes…one involving a peeping tom and one involving a murder. Robinson does a great job of letting Banks unfold both cases. A superb mystery with a fascinating new police character!

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As far as film adaptations of novels go, this is one of the best. Which is very odd since the film only covers a little more than half of Emily Bronte’s classic novel of the same title. The movie ends and avid Bronte readers must wonder…hey, what happened to the second part of the story??? And, then you’re probably wondering about me and why I called this one of the best film adaptations since it only is an adaptation of half a novel. To state my case, I will say that even though this movie is WAY too short and it does not cover much of Bronte’s original plot, the movie is a beautiful, vivid portrait of the love story between the star-crossed lovers Catherine and Heathcliff. So what if it ends in the midst of Bronte’s story (I can almost imaging her rolling over in her grave…) since the part of the novel that is filmed here is pretty close to a perfect rendition of the book. Director William Wyler follows the book closely and uses the sets to his full advantage, lavishing showing the vastness of the Yorkshire landscape. From there, actors Laurence Olivier and Merle Oberon take over and enter the souls of the characters, making us believe that they are really dying inside without each other. Olivier’s performance as he is driven to madness without Catherine is one of the best he ever gave. So, for all you Bronte fans out there, do not discard this one because of its fatal flaw of cutting off the story too soon. The part that IS filmed is pure magic and well worth seeing.

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A fabulous, sweet romantic comedy that deal with father-daughter issues, aging issues, and later-in-life love issues. Emma Thompson shines as a woman in the middle of her life…dealing with a possessive mother and friends who continually try and set her up with Mr. Right. She meets Dustin Hoffman, a man in the midst of life crisis, and they befriend each other. When the idea of the friendship becoming something more surfaces, both characters insecurities get in the way, at first. A sentimental and pure story of love and relationships and how even though something might not be perfect, it still might work.

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An American businessman (Cary Grant) visiting London falls in love with a London stage actress (Ingrid Bergman). The only problem is that he is married…or is he? This confusion leads to a hilarious ending of mistaken identity and comical twists. This is Grant and Bergman’s second pairing (the first being 1946’s Notorious). Years have not affected this duo’s chemistry at all, allowing them to portray characters just as passionate and in love as they did over a decade earlier.

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Agatha Christie stuck mainly to her continuing characters…Hercule Poirot, Miss Marple, etc…when writing. But, occasionally she would go off on a limb and write something original, introducing new characters to the audience. With the stage play Witness for the Prosecution, she created an entirely new world of people and situations, which kept the reader on his/her toes throughout. Made into a film in 1957 by talented and well-rounded film director Billy Wilder, the movie keeps us hanging until the last possible second and delivers the same kind of wallop as the play. Set in London, the story revolves around Leonard Vole’s (played by Tyrone Power) guilt or innocence. He is being tried for the murder of a wealthy, older woman he befriended. Unlike a lot of thrillers that are made, this one does have a very satisfying ending, do mostly to the relationship between Vole and his wife…one of Marlene Dietrich’s finest performances. But, the main character of the film is Sir Wilfrid Robarts, the crotchety, ailing barrister Vole gets to represent him. Not really known for light-ish roles, Charles Laughton dives into the barrister with a droll vigor that makes the audience LOVE Wilfrid even though he’s crass, brash, insubordinate, and very pig-headed. Laughton just seems to be having so much fun playing this character; without him, Wilfrid would have just been another forgettable character.

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At the amazing age of 88, Dick Francis has recently published his 44th novel, Silks. Francis’ son Felix gets a co-author credit on this, as in their first collaboration, Dead Heat. Despite a heavy-handedness in the characterizations, Silks has all of the Francis trademarks: absurdly handsome hero, check; ascension of right over might, check; horse racing, check; violence, check. Geoffrey Mason is a widowed barrister and amateur steeplechase jockey who makes a dangerous enemy when he prosecutes the young ruffian Julian Trent. Too soon, Trent is out of jail and becomes the executor of a series of anonymous threats Mason receives when he undertakes the defense of a jockey accused of muder. Along the way you learn about foaling operations, horse racing over hurdles, how jockeys cheat at weigh-ins, and the English justice system (which is just like ours). This might not be Francis and company at the height of his powers, but how could Dick Francis not be a good read?

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OK — I LOVED the first one — Silent in the Grave — and this one is good, but somehow, it didn’t captivate me the first novel did. This one also features Lady Julia Gray and her PI cohort Brisbane — who have sort of a Victorian Maddie Hayes/David Addison relationship…meaning they are civil to each other at time, argue at times, claim they can’t stand the other and really just want to sleep together. This time, Julia, Brisbane, members of her family and some friends are snowbound in a castle retreat…and then one of the houseguests turns up murdered. Julia and Brisbane once again provide the right amount of sexual tension…without being too un-Victorian about it.

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Can Cary Grant be a murderer? That is the question director Alfred Hitchcock attempts to answer in this film. Grant plays wandering playboy Johnny Aysgarth who catches the eye of rich, dull Lena, played in her Oscar-winning role by Joan Fontaine. The question that continually plagues the audience, and eventually Lena, is why did Johnny pick her. One of the more obvious reasons is her money, something which becomes almost a given after Johnny pawns some wedding gifts to gamble. The major flaw in this film is the end, but that is not the fault of Hitchcock nor the actors. Hitchcock wanted to remain faithful to the book this story is based on (Before the Fact by Francis Iles) and keep the dark ending, but his producers had trouble dealing with Cary Grant as a murderer. Even with that disappointing final scene, this is still a taut, tense thriller that will keep the audience guessing.

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