I recently re-read The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society,  a book I liked.  Upon second reading, I re-liked it all over again…but even more.  I LOVED it on the second read.
Why?  Well, could it be attributed to growing older (I first read it in 2009)? Or experiencing more loss and pain in life?  Or maybe just being in the mood for a sentimental book?
Well, whatever it was that made me change my GOOD read to a GREAT read, I thoroughly enjoyed every page of this story.  There is something for everyone here…romance, history, sentimentality, friendship, etc.
One of the things I forgot was how immersed you get into the world of Guernsey and the period of the story (post-WWII).  I remember adding Guernsey to my “must see” travel list right after I finished this book the first time.  Well, this time, I wanted to RUN there.  Between the sense of place and the sense of history, I felt like I was right there, in 1940s Guernsey, chatting with the characters and partaking of some potato peel pie.  The characters all jump off the page so it is easy to imagine them conversing with me about books and travel and the hardships of the war.
Told exclusively through letters exchanged from Guernsey natives to Juliet, a writer who is searching for her next story, this book begins in 1946, after the Germans left Guernsey.  Juliet lives in London and somehow, one of Guernsey’s residents comes across a book that has Juliet’s name in it so he writes to her.  This letter strikes up a series of events that leads to Juliet and some of her friends traveling to Guernsey and becoming one of the Guernsey family.
No, it is not one of the finest books ever written.  But, sometimes you just need a book to transport you to another world for a little while…something that takes your mind away from the ordinary and the mundane.  For me, this was that book.  Maybe it will be yours too.

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What was Coco Chanel like before she became the name behind an empire? Was she always interested in fashion? Did she grow up wearing haute couture? Does she know how to sew or is she just the visionary behind the clothing empire? Well, all of these questions, plus many more, will be answered after watching this engaging movie. Coco, born Gabrielle, was abandoned at a young age by her father to an orphanage. From that rocky start, in adulthood, she found herself working as a cabaret dancer at a less-than-respectable bar. There, she meets a man who will change her life…taking her into his life and his home. But, even after her life switches from poverty to affluence, it is not an easy road. The major problem I had with this film is that it moves from her opening a modest but elegant millenary shop (Coco’s start was in making hats for herself and friends, one of whom was well-known stage actress) in Paris to models wearing her designs parading down the runaway. I know that the point of this film must have been her pre-success life, but how she went from hats to evening gowns still mystifies me. That aside, this is a wonderful film that really captures the early essence of this remarkable woman.

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The Vintage Caper by Peter Mayle is a fun, light wine mystery set mostly in the South of France that will get your taste buds all set for a good bottle of vino! Not really a true “mystery” (there is a caper element towards the end of the book) but rather more of a breezy whodunit where the end result is no where near as much fun as the finding-out-who part. Mayle (of A Year in Provence fame) knows how to write great characters with wonderful inter-play and chemistry…making this almost as much fun as an episode of Moonlighting (the TV show from the 1980s). And the setting of Marseilles, rural Provence, Paris, and even Los Angeles make for a perfect backdrop to this entertaining romp about stolen wine.

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This film is what I wanted the film Under the Tuscan Sun to be…a true experience of the culture, people and general “soul” of the place. The region of Provence in France is a beautiful region…similar to Italy’s Tuscany in the way people rave of its beauty and its scents and its postcard images. This series is based on the book of the same title by Peter Mayle, a former ad man in London who, along with his wife, decide to retires early in a farmhouse in Provence’s Luberon region. Mayle’s book became a sensation (mostly because it is about someone who actually does something that most people just dream of) just like Frances Mayes’ book about “escaping” to Italy…Under the Tuscan Sun. Unfortunately, the film version of Mayes’ book was changed into more of an exploration of romance instead of a study of Tuscany and its people. This TV version of Mayle’s book, on the other hand, is exactly what the book is…and more! When I say more, I do not mean to criticize Mayle’s beautiful book in any way. I just mean that SEEING Provence in its full glory surpasses the written word some. And what sights you see here! A Year in Provence is filled with the “air” of Provence…the images, the language, the smells, the culture, etc. This is a FUN time…there is something for everybody: scenery, humor, culture, beauty. How can you miss!

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From the writer and director of The Closet, this film is another French comedy success…in the grand tradition of some of the classic French farces (i.e. La Cage aux Folles). The main character is a nerdy guy who’s unsuccessful in the love, looks, and job departments (he’s a valet). Coincidentally, he gets photographed next to a supermodel. Because of a series of comic circumstances, he and the model must “pose” to be lovers and even live together so it appears their proximity in the photograph is legit. Both actors, the valet (Gad Elmaleh) and the model’s real but married lover (Daniel Auteuil), are just perfect in their roles…especially Auteuil, who is one of France’s most talented actors, in both comedies and dramas. It’s a short movie that you want to go on and on since it’s almost too good to end. A must for all comedy lovers…whether you like foreign films or not! And, while you’re at it, check out The Closet too. That one is also a must see!

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When I saw Monster or The Queen, I felt like I had seen movies where the actors (in these cases, Charlize Theron and Helen Mirren respectively) embodied the persona of a real-life person. In La Vie en Rose Marion Cotillard takes it one step forward…she embodies the persona and the SOUL of the Edith Piaf. When I was watching this, I just became immersed with Piaf and this movie. I was in a trance…mesmerized in the performance. I had seen Cotillard in A Good Year, a romantic comedy in which she played the love interest to Russell Crowe. She was a striking, tall, stunningly beautiful woman with close-to-perfect features and almost an ethereal quality. In La Vie en Rose, she is truly Piaf…hunched over, small, course, and beautiful only the eyes of a few select people. What is beautiful, mostly, about Piaf, is her voice. Watching Cotillard, though, makes this short, awkward woman a striking person without an overabundance of physical beauty. Without adding any physical attributes to her, Cotillard brings out the inner beauty of Piaf…in both the depth of the fabulous performance and with the sparkle always shining through Piaf’s eye whenever Cotillard is shown. The movie, itself, is a good deal too long and would be quite tedious if I were not memorized with the performance. I’m sure it could have benefited with some serious time in the editing room…as long as no scenes featuring Piaf were cut out. She’s way too good to leave on the cutting room floor.

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A little bit of French Kiss mixes with the screwball elements of The Valet and The Closet for a fun, wild romp in this romantic comedy set in the French Riviera. Audrey Tautou stars in this fabulously funny film about a woman looking less for love and more for money in a beau. Being devastatingly beautiful helps her snag some rich gentlemen, but it also snags her a bartender, whom she mistakes for a wealthy playboy and he does little to correct her misperception. From there, the two set about together trying to out-do each other in the “rich” loves department. The bartender, who was hilarious in The Valet, is played by comic French star Gad Elmaleh. Between Tautou and him, they make the movie…his expressions of terror and her naivety make for a highly entertaining film.

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