A Spider on the Stairs is a “contemporary reimagining of the classic English mystery.” It is refreshingly old-fashioned in its absence of gore and forensic razzle-dazzle.
This is part of a series featuring Scotland Yard Sergeant Jack Gibbons and his best friend, Phillip Bethancourt. Bethancourt is an upper-class dilettante who tags along with Gibbons while he investigates first one, then several murders around the beautiful, yet tourist-clogged town of York. Chan does a marvelous job of evoking the cozy atmosphere of the bookshop, York’s warren of streets and the countryside during a particularly rainy spell.
Phillip’s social connections provide Jack with insider knowledge that help to solve the case. Because he doesn’t have to work and has no real family obligations, Bethancourt can devote whatever time and energy he has left over- after socializing late into the evening and romancing women.
The book begins with a murder in Mittlesdon, a charming old bookshop. There is a feeling of calm, unhurried serenity as the bodies stack up – even the bad guys remain polite and civilized.
Sherlock Holmes comes to the 21st century in the new BBC series Sherlock. Consulted reluctantly by the police, Holmes is brilliant, sarcastic and socially awkward. Watson, a military doctor that has just returned from Afghanistan after being wounded, is not the bumbling fool so often portrayed in film but is an equal partner in the detective work and also serves as a moral compass for Holmes.
The familiar framework remains, just tweaked in places for the modern setting. Thus, the deerstalker becomes a scarf, Watson keeps a blog rather than a journal, London atmosphere comes from a skyline that includes the Millenium Wheel and the Gherkin building rather than foggy, cobblestone streets and Holmes finds his informants among the homeless rather than street children. What doesn’t change, however, is the brilliant Holmes – socially misfit, actively disliked by many, hyper intelligent.
As you would expect from the BBC, the production values are excellent. Filming on location in London lends authentic atmosphere; the writing is sharp and witty with many homages to the Arthur Conan Doyle originals; and the acting is outstanding. The only negative? There are only three episodes. However, the series proved to be so popular in England that they are currently filming three more episodes – watch for them on PBS in the fall.
Whether you’re new to Sherlock Holmes, or longtime fan you’re sure to enjoy this fun new series.
The White Queen by Philippa Gregory, begins a new series, The Cousin’s War, in which each book focuses on an important woman who had a pivital role in England’s War of the Roses.
The White Queen tells the story of Elizabeth Woodville, a recent widow with young children, who catches the eye of the young Kind Edward IV. Elizabeth then marries him in a secret ceremony and becomes queen. Soon thereafter, the King leaves to fight a battle against his brother, in which the winner will be declared the rightful King of England.
Years later, Elizabeth is caught in the middle of the long standing war and makes drastic decisions as a mother and as a queen. Her most difficult decision concerned her two sons whose fate as the “princes in the tower,” has baffled historians for centuries. Philippa Gregory’s book seamlessly weaves historical fact with a fictional but personable account of medieval life in the first person. This fascinating book portrays the epic battles for power, treason, humanity and the dynamics of a royal family.
If you’re looking for a thriller that’s engaging and scenic, The Ghost Writer fits the bill. Both Martha’s Vineyard (actually Germany) and a cast that includes Pierce Brosnan and Ewan McGregor are easy on the eyes. The windswept beaches and desolate rainstorms are forbidding yet stunningly beautiful.
Ewan McGregor plays a professional ghostwriter who is hired to finish the memoirs of Adam Lang, a Tony Blair-like ex-prime minister. The book takes on more importance when Lang is accused of war crimes, and it becomes apparent that the job of ghostwriter may be a highly risky occupation.
Directed by Roman Polanski and based on The Ghost by Robert Harris, the movie is intelligent and full of twists and turns right up until the last moment.
MI5 intelligence officer Liz Carlisle stars in Dead Line, the fourth Stella Rimington spy novel.This time, an agent passes along a tip about a threat to a Middle East peace summit being held at a golf resort in Scotland, in which European, American and Middle Eastern heads of state will be in attendance. Liz tries to anticipate and prevent the unknown event without disrupting the conference.
Rimington was the head of the UK counter-intelligence and security agency in the mid-90′s. Her insider knowledge of surveillance units and the relationships between the Israeli Mossad, the CIA and the home British security agencies is surely authentic. There are interesting insights as to the etiquette of other friendly nations spying on each other. For example, Israeli diplomats who are also spies are supposed to be “registered” as such.
The MI5 in these books is a more genteel and much less frenetic organization than that of the BBC series, which was all about technology, violence and derring do. Liz and her courtly boss Charles Wetherby have the occasional turf battle with MI6 but it’s all very civil. It makes for a pleasant change from the hyper and profane American thriller. As a matter of fact, the British make a few snide remarks about their arrogant, but highly polished Secret Service brethren.
Winter Solstice is a perfect book for a sweltering summer day. Rosamund Pilcher does an amazing job of describing the quiet beauty of snow and the cold winter light. This is in contrast to the heartwarming style Pilcher is known for. Sometimes referred to as literary comfort food,the characters and the domestic settings are appealing – people you’d like to know and places you’d like to live.
This is an unusual romance; a group of relative strangers who are all suffering in their own ways end up together in an old house in Scotland. As they prepare to celebrate Christmas, they begin to heal and to care about each other.
Here it is, the hot book of the summer! A sensation in England, the movie adaptation, starring Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess, is already in pre-production and is scheduled to hit the local multi-plex in 2011. Just published in the US, One Day by David Nicholls doesn’t disappoint.
Emma and Dexter meet on July 15, 1988, the day they’re graduating from university. While there’s an instant connection between them, they go their separate ways the next day. For the next 20 years on the anniversary of their first meeting, we take a look at their lives, how they’ve grown and changed (or not), the mistakes they’ve made and their triumphs. Through it all, they remain best friends, turning to each other in good times and bad, weathering disappointments and a falling-out. Dexter becomes a tv presenter, slips into a black hole of alcohol abuse and drugs and struggles to right himself. Emma endures dead-end jobs and unhealthy relationships until finally realizing her dream of becoming an author. The constant in each of their lives is the other, an extraordinary friendship that transcends time and distance. Finally, in the end, the true significance of July 15 is revealed.
Witty, thoughtful, somber, quirky, hilarious – this is a story that will bring you to tears and also make you laugh out loud. That movie has a lot to live up to.
To be honest, I only planned to skim this book when I picked it up, expecting that it would be rather dry and academic. Instead Sissinghurst: an Unfinished History by Adam Nicolson turned out to be a fascinating, beautifully written history of a remarkable landscape.
To any gardener worth their compost, the name Sissinghurst is instantly recognizable as the site of one of the most beloved gardens in England. It’s gardens, especially the famous White Garden, continue to influence and inspire gardeners today, 70 years after it was created. Sissinghurst was also the home of one of Englands most famous literary couples (and the creators of the gardens), Harold Nicolson and Vita Sackville-West. Now owned and managed by the National Trust, Adam Nicolson (Harold and Vita’s grandson) wished to bring the land surrounding the castle and gardens back to their earlier incarnation as a working farm with all that that involved – an integrated system of meadows, grain, crops, fruit, vegetables and livestock as well as managed woodlands. It was a landscape that encouraged diversity, sheltered wildlife and sustained a strong community.
Nicolson covers the wide-ranging history of the estate, how the land shaped the people that lived there and how people shaped the land. Nicolson’s proposal to return parts of Sissinghurst to farm initially met with resistence that surprised him and had to be addressed. Through it all, his fond memories of growing up on the estate beautifully illustrate both the beauty of and his love for the land, it’s history and it’s people.
What happens when that gang of friends you’ve run around with since your college days – your drinking buddies, your partners-in-mischief, your closest confidants – begin to grow up, pair off, start families? And you suddenly realize that, while you’re godmother to several charming children that you love dearly, the prospect of having your own children still seems distant, maybe even unreachable? These are some of the questions that Tessa King must wrestle with in The Godmother, a look at growing up that is by turns poignant, funny, dark and heartwarming.
Tessa seems to have it all – youth, beauty, fabulous friends. Everything except a family of her own. After a crisis at work she takes a closer look at her life choices and those of her friends and realizes that seemingly perfect arrangements are often cracking under stress, that the fairy tale doesn’t always come true and that hard choices have to be made. Tackling infertility, difficult teenage children, single-parenthood and infidelity, The Godmother doesn’t sugarcoat modern life, but it also celebrates the joys – friendship, family, love.
Set in an urbane, modern London, this book brims with both sophistication and warmth; Tessa and her friends are funny and smart and sharply observant of the world around them. They also genuinely care for each other, just as you’ll soon care about each of them.
“I know of few novels—except Pride and Prejudice—that inspire as much fierce lifelong affection in their readers.” – Joanna Trollope
When most people ask me what my favorite book is, they do so while thinking that they already know the answer. Being the flamboyant Harry Potter fan that I am, they are a bit shocked when exclaim “I Capture the Castle!” followed by a deep sigh–a deep sigh that signifies how much I wish I was curled up and reading that book right that very moment.
My first copy of I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith (who also wrote the wonderful children’s book The Hundred and One Dalmatians) was given to me by my aunt (who was notorious for her excellent book recommendations) when I was in my early teens. I say “first copy” because that book is long gone having been lent to friends who then lent it to friends who then lent it to friends. So I bought myself another copy; one with a quote by J.K. Rowling on the cover (who is also a big fan of the book. If you go to her website at www.jkrowling.com and click on the spectacles, you will see Dodie Smith’s classic sitting on Rowling’s bookcase not far from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.) and have been rereading it and lending it to more friends ever since. I have even been known to check out a copy of the book from the library while my own is being borrowed, and was recently surprised by finding a cheerful yellow flower pressed between the pages of a copy from the University of Iowa.
I Capture the Castle takes place in 1930′s England where seventeen year old Cassandra Mortmain begins to journal her everyday experiences about her family and surroundings in order to prepare herself for a career as a writer. Luckily, her family and surroundings provide ample opportunity for expression: Cassandra happens to live in a crumbling castle on the English countryside that she shares with her father, a former famous author who has retreated into himself after a decade-long writer’s block, her step-mother, an eccentric artist’s model who holds the family together while also spending a great deal of her time walking naked around the grounds, and her beautiful, gold-digging older sister, who is determined to marry the wealthy American who just inherited the neighboring estate. But it is Cassandra’s own heart that keeps the pages turning as she grows as a young lady and learns how to break and be broken. I have never met a narrator so lovely as Cassandra, and reading her journals feels truly as natural as listening to my own thoughts. And so I will continue to read and reread and reread.