The Gherkin Scale
Fair to middlin'
Has some good points
Oi! Wot you playin' at?
Don't be givin' me evils!
I'm waiting! My library holds
- ▼ May (4)
- ► 2012 (36)
- ► 2011 (47)
- ► 2010 (88)
- ► 2009 (114)
Thursday, May 9, 2013
Helen, the most brash, unapologetic and unconventional of the sisters had a somewhat thriving business as a private detective. She had her own apartment (even if the decor and furnishing were alarming to most people), a great friend (her only friend) named Bronagh, and a relationship with the equally oddball Jay Parker. Then it all came crashing down. The Irish economy took a severe hit at the same time that Helen was hit with crippling depression. The novel opens with Helen dealing with the repercussions of all this mess -- her business has dried up, she can no longer afford to pay her mortgage, all her furniture has been repossessed, and even Bronagh and Jay are not in the picture any longer.
What else is there to do but move back in with Mammy Walsh? Mr. and Mrs. Walsh aren't too pleased to see the 32-year-old Helen coming back home, but she's family, so it's accepted as part of the bargain. Luckily, things aren't all gloom and doom for Helen. She does have a hunky new boyfriend in the form of policeman Artie, but he comes with baggage: three kids ranging from clingy (Bella) to hostile (Bruno) and a gorgeous ex-wife who seems to spend an awful lot of time at his house. Also, Jay Parker has turned back up offering to hire Helen as a private investigator to find Wayne Diffney, member of the boyband Laddz, before their reunion tour begins in less than a week. Wayne has disappeared, and all Jay's efforts at finding him have come to nothing.
Helen is relieved to have a job to do again, mainly because she's begun experiencing the horrible beginnings of another bout with depression. It was quite insightful to read about the symptoms Helen experienced, as well as her efforts to find some sort of treatment that would magically cure her. Since the author herself has written quite a lot about her own battles with depression, most recently in the cookbook Saved by Cake: Over 80 Ways to Bake Yourself Happy I know that she was speaking from experience.
Helen's lack of progress in the case, coupled with her less-than-ideal living situation, cause her to spiral downward into more severe depression. Still, she continues on with trying to find Wayne, even when another member of Laddz hires another private detective. Her work on the case is the only thing that's keeping her from suicide, and eventually even that isn't enough of a distraction to keep her mind from wandering in that direction.
Although this book, like many others by Marian Keyes, has, at its heart, a very sad story, she has such a funny way of writing and and her characters are so charming that the books don't feel terribly sad at all. I hope that we will still have more books about the Walsh sisters and Mammy Walsh to look forward to in the future.
Final Verdict for The Mystery of Mercy Close: Four Gherkins, for being a welcome visit with the Walsh clan
Wednesday, May 8, 2013
Arriving at his new home/office, he's quickly met by some of the locals: his quirky (unasked for) receptionist Elaine, a gaggle of giggling obnoxious schoolgirls, and a hairy four-legged companion who adopts the doctor on sight and refuses to be parted from him (despite ever increasing
Luckily, Doc Martin does have one ally in town: his Aunt Joan, a no-nonsense older lady with a gorgeous hillside farm. His childhood visits to her farm are part of the reason that he wanted to move to the town of Portwenn. The other reason is something he tries, unsuccessfully, to keep hidden. He left his successful job as a surgeon because he suddenly developed a fear of blood. Unfortunately, once the secret is out, the townspeople waste no time in teasing and pulling pranks on the squeamish physician. It's all very annoying to the short-tempered Martin, but seeing him become the butt of jokes (when he has no sense of humor himself) is somewhat enjoyable.
The series continues with a cast of quirky townspeople getting up to no end of trouble, various receptionists with their own problems, and Martin and Louisa struggling to continue their careers and have a relationship. The stories are all engrossing, and with Martin's gruff demeanor, watching him sort out everyone's problems is truly enjoyable. The set also includes extras such as a look behind-the-scenes and cast filmographies. There is reportedly a series 6 to be shown this fall in Britain, so we can all anticipate more fun from the irritable Doc Martin in the future!
Disclaimer: I received a copy of Doc Martin: Special Collection from Acorn Media in exchange for this review
Final Verdict for Doc Martin: Special Collection:
Five Gherkins, for being a delightful look at a beautiful Cornwall village and its somewhat unconventional doctor
Tuesday, May 7, 2013
The first chapter begins with the author describing how she came to write this book. While trying to find an Amish cookbook from her community to give a friend, she discovered that such a book had yet to be written. As a weekly contributor to the century old Amish-Mennonite newspaper The Budget, she was able to send out a call for recipes.
The result is this marvelous book packed with recipes ranging from appetizers to desserts, from breakfast to breads. Some of the recipes are a bit unexpected, such as the one for Alligator Stew, but I guess being in Florida, you make do with the local flora and fauna. Non-Amish cooks need not be overly concerned that the recipes require a lot of "from scratch" preparation. Many recipes include well-known time-saving ingredients such as Velveeta, "non dairy whipped topping" and Rotel. Mouth-watering color photos of many of the recipes make me eager to try them, and a helpful index at the back makes it east to locate a favorite recipe again.
I really enjoyed the recipes, cooking tips, photos and clippings of articles from The Budget that help to give a more vivid picture of the day-to-day life of the author. Her blurb on the back of the book mentions that, as well as being a writer, she is also an "official pie-contest judge" so I'm waiting for her follow-up book on how one trains for that occupation! If you're looking for a cookbook with simple, easy to prepare recipes made with ingredients you likely already have in your pantry (well, except for the alligator), this book is highly recommended!
Disclaimer: I received a copy of Simply Delicious Amish Cooking as part of the Booksneeze book review program
Wednesday, May 1, 2013
While the series Downton Abbey unfolds before throngs of obsessed viewers, the curious relationship between the upper classes and their servants during Edwardian times is portrayed in all its bewildering manifestations. In the new book The Real Life Downton Abbey by Jacky Hyams, the society where such interactions occurred is explained and explored to help us better understand a uniquely British phenomenon.
The book is divided into sections which help to clarify all aspects of servant/employer relations, including chapters on how households were set up, money (both how much wealthy aristocrats were getting through and how little the staff was expected to survive on), manners, food and relationships.
One very useful section details the "pecking order" of the staff. Starting from the top (the butler) all the way down through the ranks to the lowliest of the lowly (the downtrodden scullery maid), the author details everyone's position in the hierarchy and just what exactly each job entailed. I was very interested to read, for instance, the different duties of the butler vs. the valet vs. the footman, and what the various maids might be expected to do as part of their daily chores. I was also fascinated to read more about how many American heiresses (including Winston Churchill's mother) came over to England at this time to marry into aristocratic, if not exactly super-rich families, injecting a welcome dose of cash -- along with a somewhat unwelcome disregard for obeying the rigid conventions of British society.
The social time period that is being observed is mainly the Edwardian period, covering the years from Queen Victoria's death in 1901 and the ascension of her son King Edward VII to the start of WWI in 1914. After the war, many things conspired to make the old servant/master class more or less obsolete: heavy death duties which reduced enormous fortunes to shadows of their former grandeur, more employment opportunities in factories and towns for unskilled labor, and a growing sense of independence among the lower classes that came from having an income and life apart from that of the folks up at "the big house." While many people today would feel that the life of the domestic servant of 100 years ago was nothing to aspire to (little privacy or free time, poorly paid and involving backbreakingly hard work), the truth is that many people "in service" felt fortunate to have such a position. They were living in a clean, safe environment and knew where their next meal was coming from -- luxuries many from the lower classes didn't have at that time. During and just after Victorian times, many people in society viewed poverty as a part of life that was unavoidable. After the social upheavals following WWI, many came to demand that the government step in and help the poorest in society to obtain a better standard of living.
As the author provides details of particular situations within the house, she gives examples of the corresponding character in Downtown Abbey for reference. For instance, "lady's maid O'Brien" or "the butler Mr. Carson," which helps to give a frame of reference. The book is also illustrated with lots of black and white illustrations of stately homes, servants, and ads from the time period. Each chapter also ends with some more detailed facts and statistics from that era that help to put the information into context.
Disclaimer: I received a copy of The Real Life Downton Abbey from Independent Publishers Group in exchange for this review.
Final Verdict for The Real Life Downton Abbey: Four Gherkins, for being an enlightening look at the day-to-day existence of Edwardian servants
Tuesday, April 30, 2013
The main character in the story is the disgraced Scotland Yard detective Arthur Beck. Through a series of stressful, job-related events, Beck has become a haunted man. Although the demands of the job have resulted in the loss of his fiancée, his mental health and ultimately his position, he remains obsessed with finding the man he believes is responsible for his downfall: the anarchist Peter Piatkow. Beck was among a group of policemen sent to investigate some strange goings-on at an apartment building, only to be ambushed by the criminals inside. While severely wounded, Beck watches the deranged Piatkow shoot his fellow unarmed colleagues in cold blood. Later attempts to corner Piatkow result in more bloodshed, and an eventual nervous breakdown on the part of Beck. He decides to leave behind the bad memories and sail toward a new life in the United States.
Another character we meet is the American journalist Martha Heaton. Martha has been sent to cover the upper classes on their luxurious journey across the Atlantic. Her trip across the ocean to meet up with the Titanic was less than comfortable, so she's not exactly looking forward to another journey by sea. Still, it was generous of her editor to book her into first class on the Titanic!
An elderly Swede dying of cancer, Sten-Åke Gustafson, is the final character whose journey we follow. A widower with only one child, he decides to visit his daughter in the United States and meet his grandchildren before his fast approaching death. Sten-Åke, due to his age and illness, is moved into a private compartment, which will eventually be shared with an unwelcome companion.
As the ship begins its journey, Beck thinks he spots the fugitive Piatkow among the passengers. Because he's become somewhat obsessed with the murderous criminal, though, he's not sure he can trust his instincts. Still, he decides to alert the captain, as well as J. Bruce Ismay, the owner of the ship, to the fact that there may be a dangerous felon on board. Since he wants to be taken seriously and have access to all areas of the ship, he neglects to mention that he's no longer employed by the police.
Martha makes the acquaintance of Beck, and soon feels that there is a story associated with him somewhere. She sneaks around to various areas of the ship in search of that story, putting herself in danger as she searches for a scoop. Beck is attracted to Martha, and debates whether or not to let her in on the secret.
Meanwhile, the passengers are all abuzz with the news that a fire is burning below decks, while at the same time the ship is being pushed to its limits in an effort to reach New York in record time. The old Swede Sten-Åke knows that they are nearing iceberg territory, but he figures that technological advances must mean that the new ship is able to avoid such dangers. Oops . . .
Naturally, as the ship hits the iceberg and begins its descent, Beck's search for the wanted man becomes more desperate. Has Piatkow escaped in a lifeboat, or gone down with the ship? Which of the passengers will manage to escape the disaster? Do Martha and Beck have a future together? All of these questions make for an engrossing and thrilling conclusion!
Disclaimer: I received a copy of Unsinkable from Independent Publisher's Group in exchange for this review.
Final Verdict for Unsinkable: Four Gherkins, for being an evocative and engrossing mystery set inside a familiar tragedy
Monday, April 29, 2013
Disclaimer: I received a copy of Fearless from the Blogging for Books program in exchange for this review
You would think that being a titled aristocrat would come with enough responsibilities to keep one busy, but Lord Peter Wimsey finds plenty of time to devote to crime-solving in the delightful Lord Peter Wimsey Mysteries. The series, based on the stories by Dorothy L. Sayers, contains 5 episodes which were originally broadcast in the 1970s.
Ian Carmichael stars as the dashing, intelligent Lord Peter. Although the episodes don't take place in chronological order, we do get some information about Wimsey from each of them. The events in the series take place from WWI through to the 1930s. We are shown how Wimsey and his butler/assistant, Bunter, came to have such a strong bond. After serving together in the trenches in WWI, Wimsey was rescued by Bunter following a bunker bombing. That isn't the only time Bunter comes to Wimsey's aid, as he pulls him from a bog, disguises himself to go undercover in investigations, and basically takes care of things while Wimsey goes off in search of clues. On several occasions, it's left to Bunter to look around and, wondering where Wimsey's disappeared to, goes in search of his boss only to find him in a tricky situation. Wimsey is never deterred, though, and generally goes dashing off in search of clues with little regard to placing himself in jeopardy. I guess we would all do the same if we had a Bunter to come to our rescue!
The episodes here are:
1. Clouds of Witness -- The fiance of Wimsey's sister is found shot to death, and his brother, the Duke of Denver, is charged with the murder.
2. The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club -- An old man is found dead at Wimsey's club, but due to a provision of his will, it becomes imperative that Wimsey discover exactly what time he died.
3. Murder Must Advertise -- Wimsey goes undercover as a copywriter at an advertising agency to discover if a workplace accident was really murder (this episode features a very young Christopher Timothy).
4. Five Red Herrings -- With six suspects in the frame, Wimsey must narrow them down and find the real killer.
5. The Nine Tailors -- Some emeralds go missing after a wedding at a stately home, and Wimsey must solve the mystery several decades later.
My favorite episode was the one involving the Bellona Club, because it seemed the most straightforward. Some of the others lost me a bit in the intricate plotting, but that was more a
I really enjoyed the character of Lord Peter Wimsey. With no apparent money problems, he's free to indulge his passions: music, cars, attending society functions, and of course, solving murders. Unexpected talents also are highlighted from time to time as we learn that he is an accomplished bell-ringer (takes some skill) and is an admired author of at least one book, "Notes on the Collection of Incunabula."
Most of the disks also include portions of an interview with the actor who portrayed Wimsey, Ian Carmichael. It was fascinating to see how long he had to agitate for the series to be made before he was finally successful. He states that by the time it was agreed to make the series, he already felt too old to play Wimsey, but he took on the role anyway. He does a marvelous job as the cheerful, intelligent and utterly suave sleuth!
Disclaimer: I received a copy of The Lord Peter Wimsey Complete Collection from Acorn Media in exchange for this review
Final Verdict for The Lord Peter Wimsey Complete Collection: Four Gherkins, for being a delightful look at an upper class sleuth
Brit Related Blogs
1 day ago
3 days ago
10 hours ago
2 months ago
3 weeks ago
6 hours ago
10 months ago
4 weeks ago
3 months ago
19 hours ago
1 week ago
1 day ago
3 days ago
1 day ago
20 hours ago
4 days ago
2 hours ago
16 hours ago
6 months ago
10 hours ago
1 week ago
11 hours ago
8 hours ago
20 hours ago
2 hours ago
18 hours ago
9 hours ago
18 hours ago
1 day ago