Staff Picks Category: England

The Road to Little Dribbling by Bill Bryson []

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Bill Bryson is at his sincerely sardonic best as he roams his adopted country in search of what he loves best: quaint villages, good hiking, exquisite views, mysterious ancient sites, and odd people to make fun of–including himself. It’s just as unputdownable as all his other travel memoirs.

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The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens []

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This was the first novel by Charles Dickens and really a pleasure to read. It tells the story of Mr. Pickwick and his fellow Pickwick Club members as they travel the English countryside and describes their adventures in a very humorous manner but also with a keen eye into the social and political landscape of the time. It was a great re-introduction to Dickens for me and I am looking forward to reading many of his other works.

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A Book of Secrets by Michael Holroyd []

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A fascinating combined biography of a place, the Villa Cimbrone on a hill above the Italian village of Ravello, and the people connected to it throughout different time periods. The work of biographer Michael Holyrod reads like a detective story and features such characters as Alice Keppel, the mistress of both the second Lord Grimthorpe and the Prince of Wales; to Eve Fairfax, a muse of Auguste Rodin; to the novelist Violet Trefusis, the lover of Vita Sackville-West and daughter of Alice Keppel. Having read extensively about some of these people already because of my interest in Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group, this book was a wonderful way to fill in some of the missing gaps and to add to my interest of this subject.

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Anthem for Doomed Youth by Carola Dunn []

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The 19th Daisy Dalrymple mystery was my introduction to this cozy murder series. Daisy is an aristocratic young mother whose husband is a Detective Chief Inspector at Scotland Yard. Set in 1920s London, the mystery revolves around some veterans of the ‘Great War’ whose bodies were found secretly buried in Epping Forest. The heroine possesses curiosity, common sense, intuition and a sly sense of humor. The period setting is engaging and the unraveling of the plot complicated enough to keep turning the pages. With the lead character’s appeal and just the right amount of Anglophilia, this was fun enough for me to borrow another one.

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Fish Tank []

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This Cannes Jury Prize award winning indie film from British Director Andrea Arnold captures an English ‘Coming-of-Age’ tale far from the stereotypical pastoral village green. Set in a bleak Essex council estate, the films energy and success is derived mainly from the talented young lead, Katie Jarvis. Jarvis was discovered yelling at her boyfriend across platforms at a local train station by the casting director after numerous unsuccessful auditions for the role by better known and established actresses. The film centers on the adolescent conflicts of her character (Mia) and her discovery of dance as an escape and outlet from fights with her family and peers. Unlike so many dance related films, Arnold wisely avoids the typical clichés of the genre, with no dance-offs, miraculous improvements in skill overnight or extended montages showing a sudden rise to fame. Instead Mia’s dancing is shown for what it is, a creative outlet and escape rather than a possible career choice. Without laboring the point, the film contrasts Mia’s love of and desire to learn the basic skills of ‘break-dancing’ with the hyper-sexualized dance moves of her peers, who are plainly mimicking popular music videos. The introduction of her mother’s new Irish boyfriend (played by rising heart throb Michael Fassbender) expands and ultimately threatens Mia’s fragile world . His influence on Mia and her selfish and neglectful mother and charming and foul mouthed little sister is, by turns, both inspiring and disturbing. Arnold, who won an Oscar in 2003 for her short film Wasp, directs the film with a skilled hand, anchoring it in social realism without wallowing in cliché or misery. It is decidedly not a light hearted family film but also not without hope or joy.

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The Beekeeper’s Apprentice by Laurie R. King []

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This historical mystery, by an Edgar Award-winning author, introduces the strong intelligent character of Mary Russell, with a well-imagined ‘retired’ Sherlock Holmes in a supporting role. Mary Russell first meets Holmes as her neighbor in Sussex Downs in 1915 at the age of 15, as she almost stumbles over him. Holmes, impressed with her wit and intelligence, takes the orphaned Russell under his wing, and gives her the equivalent of an apprenticeship. After working together on a few interesting cases, Russell and Holmes soon find themselves faced with a nefarious foe who wants to make Holmes suffer, and his friends die.

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Cold Comfort Farm []

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This witty satire is based on Stella Gibbons’s 1932 comic novel. It’s clever, charming, hilarious, and delighfully twisted in that inimitable British way. A large extended family of eccentric (not to say depraved) characters is brilliantly cast, featuring, among others, Kate Beckinsale, Stephen Fry, and Joanna Lumley. It milks every drop of humor out of its simple premise: a young woman, recently orphaned, goes to live with her relatives in the country and attempts to create order out of generations of chaos. The movie is remarkably faithful to the novel, which is hilarious too.

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