Monday, April 27, 2009

I was really pleased and excited to read all the comments on my Poirot DVD giveaway sponsored by Acorn Media! Everyone was asked to share their favorite British TV series to enter, and there were lots of great shows mentioned. I was pleased that there were some that were new to me, so I'm excited to discover those.

I used to choose the comments that won, and the winners were:




Thanks again to everyone for your comments. I hope to be having another giveaway in the future!

Saturday, April 18, 2009

The novel Face of Betrayal by Lis Wiehl suffers from trying to do too much too quickly. The book centers around three longtime friends: Allison, a prosecutor; Nicole, an FBI agent; and Cassidy, a TV reporter. All three women get drawn in to the mystery when 17 year old Katie Converse, home in Portland after working as a Senate page in DC, disappears.

Here is a small sampling of events that occur (generally briefly): online predators, infertility, menacing stalkers, domestic violence (male and female perpetrators), hidden marijuana fields, a politician who announces he’s an alcoholic and enters rehab, etc. There are simply too many events thrown in that aren’t developed at all – just mentioned and then dropped as the next one appears. Even the action is somewhat disappointing, as the two biggest mysteries in the novel (the identity of the stalker and the revelation of what happened to Katie) are revealed and resolved suddenly and without much drama.

Still, the book is a quick read and it does make you wonder what in the world the author will include next. However, it was overall a disappointing read. I wish the author had left out a few of the plot elements and developed the remaining ones somewhat more fully.

Final Verdict for Face of Betrayal: Two Gherkins, for being a fast-paced but ultimately unsatisfying read

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Many Anglophiles no doubt are introduced to the green and pleasant land that is England via the works of the incomparable Agatha Christie. Through her unique and lovable characters, intricate plots and lovely settings, it's impossible not to become enchanted.

Next month, a classic collection of tales featuring the Belgian detective Hercule Poirot will be released by Acorn Media. Set one includes the episodes:

The Disappearance of Mr. Davenheim
The Veiled Lady
The Lost Mine
The Cornish Mystery
Double Sin
The Adventure of the Cheap Flat
The Kidnapped Prime Minister
The Adventure of the Western Star
How Does Your Garden Grow?

These episodes feature the wonderfully talented David Suchet as the fussy, fastidious and always sharply dressed Poirot. Whether he is cooking, playing Monopoly or pet sitting for a testy parrot, Poirot is nonetheless able to effortlessly apply his "little gray cells" and quickly solve whatever mystery comes his way. It is quite amusing to see his reactions to his baffled colleagues as they struggle with solving the cases. Poirot is both pleased to explain how simple the solution was for him and at the same time somewhat exasperated that it isn't obvious to everyone else. Hugh Fraser is wonderful as Poirot's assistant Hastings, and Phillip Jackson is very entertaining as the perpetually puzzled Inspector Japp.

I have been fortunate to preview this new release, and I can report that the stories, settings and acting are all superb!

Wonderful news: Acorn Media is generously providing three copies of Agatha Christie's Poirot: The Classic Collection, Vol. 1. to my readers. To enter, simply leave a comment stating your favorite British TV show (past or present!). You will be helping me to discover great new British programs that I might have missed! You have until midnight eastern time on Saturday April 25 to enter. On Sunday, April 26, I will randomly choose 3 winners and notify them. You will have 48 hours to respond with your shipping address, or I will have to choose another winner. Make sure that you include your email address in your comments or in your profile (if you have a blog), so that I will have a way to contact you. Due to shipping costs, this contest is only valid in the U.S.

Good luck, and I hope the winners will come back with a post about how they enjoyed the series!

Final Verdict for Agatha Christie's Poirot: The Classic Collection, Vol. 1: Five Gherkins, for bringing to life one of the most intriguing characters in fiction in a charming and unforgettable manner!

Monday, April 13, 2009

Over the weekend I was startled to see another one of those "Britain is becoming more Americanized than America" articles in my local newspaper. It was from the Associated Press, and featured examples of how the United States is being a bad and overwhelming influence on Britain, forcing the British to accept everything from fast food to cosmetic dentistry (the horror!). I was pleased to see Mike Harling, of Postcards from Across the Pond quoted prominently.

Still, if America is taking over Britain, you would think they would do it correctly, wouldn't you? The article mentions the popularly of the restaurant chain KFC in particular, but when I ate there on a visit to the UK, I must admit to being rather puzzled. I mean a BURGER, by definition contains hamBURGER. And, I'm sorry, but the hash browns go on the side, not on top of the sandwich. Clearly, there has been a breakdown in communication somewhere along the way . . . .

Another interesting article I recently read concerned the photograph of a "ghostly figure" at Tantallon Castle (and not a very happy one, judging by the photo). A few years ago I was lucky enough to win a ghost tour with International Tours and Events. We visited many reportedly haunted sites, and were assured that some of us would find otherworldly apparitions on our film when we got home. No such luck. Still, I'm happy that some photographers are apparently talented enough to capture the ghosts on film during their brief periods of visibility!

Thursday, April 9, 2009

You would think that a film with a title screen showing a silhouette of London would surely have some interesting scenery, wouldn't you? Sadly, I've been taken in once again by a film set in London that seems to have precious little to do with the city at all. This film, I Really Hate My Job, could have been set in New York City or Tokyo, as all the action takes place during one day in a restaurant.

The synopsis of the film mentions that the five women who work in the restaurant all see themselves as something else: a writer, an actress and "a revolutionary" among other things. Well, I doubt it's any earth-shattering news that most people don't get into waitressing as a permanent career choice.

The manager, Madonna, tries (mostly unsuccessfully) to get the four women working in the restaurant to actually work. Abi, played by Neve Campbell, is the surly frustrated actress who spends most of her time smoking, snarling and snapping at customers. Alice, the struggling writer, is roped into being the cook for the day when the regular cook phones in with a hangover. Even before she starts cooking, she has odd long strands of hair hanging in her face, but once she gets into the heat of the kitchen, it gets even worse.

There was absolutely no story. The "cook" is harried and borderline competent. The rest of the workers stream in and out of the kitchen to alternately lounge around and smoke or bark orders at her. What a great idea for a film, no?

Toward the end, when the restaurant is inexplicably nearly full, Abi strips off her clothes and makes a bizarre speech that clears out the diners right sharpish. I think we are supposed to feel sympathy that she has reached the age of 30 (although she is constantly adjusting her age) and is still a waitress. Naturally, taking your clothes off in a crowd will make things *so* much better!

Final verdict for I Really Hate My Job: No Gherkins and absolutely nothing to recommend it (well, unless you are a huge Neve Campbell fan who wants to see her in the buff)

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Women from three generations of the Raike family are followed in the novel After You'd Gone by Maggie O'Farrell. There's grandmother Elspeth, mother Ann and daughter Alice. Rather than just choosing to tell the story from one character's viewpoint, or allowing each character to tell her story in a linear fashion, the novel jumps constantly between narrators and time periods. The novel unfolds in a series of short episodes, each revealing a bit more of the story.

At first, I was very annoyed by the jagged and wrenching story-telling. One page will be talking about the grandmother's traumatic abandonment by her missionary parents as if it is happening to the 7 year old girl in the present. The next page will be happening "now" to the grown-up Alice, who is unconscious (but not unaware) in a hospital. Then we'll hear a story from Alice's childhood, perhaps from her viewpoint, perhaps from that of her mother, and so on. I nearly gave up in frustration many times, but eventually, I got over the annoyance of attempting to figure out which "she" was being referred to in the various sections. There was also some of the "Barbara Vine effect," which I always dread -- many, many references to "that horrible thing I saw which changed everything" and naturally, you have to keep reading to figure out what it is.

A major problem is that there were many of the small scenes thrown in that didn't seem to add anything at all to the story. For instance, when Alice's parents are visiting her in the hospital, her mother goes outside for a cigarette. It takes nearly 2 pages for O'Farrell to describe this. We follow along as Ann gets to the outside, fumbles with her smoking materials, and looks at the windows from the outside to figure out which room is her daughter's. There is also a lot of back and forth between Alice and her boyfriend that goes like this:

Boyfriend: I have something that I need to tell you.

Alice: What is it?

Boyfriend: I can't tell you right now, but I will tomorrow, I promise.

Alice: If you don't tell me now, I won't meet you tomorrow.

Boyfriend: I can't, but I promise that I'll explain tomorrow.

Alice: Why can't you tell me now?

Boyfriend: It's complicated.

Alice: I don't care, if you need to tell me, just tell me.

And so on . . . and on . . . and even when they meet the next day there's more around and around before he finally spits it out (and then there's no explanation as to why he couldn't have done it immediately).

In short, I got the feeling that either the author was being paid per word (do they do that anymore?) or else she had to deliver a certain number of pages to the publisher. At any rate, the book had many, many unnecessary and extensive scenes that could have been cut. All in all, a disappointing book.

Final verdict for After You'd Gone: Two Gherkins for an intriguing concept, but an ultimately exasperating and unsatisfying novel.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

I am forever finding recommendations for movies and books that deal with Britain in some way. One such gem is the hard-to-classify Unconditional Love. The story is simple enough: Grace is a Chicago housewife whose marriage is falling apart at the same time her favorite singer is murdered in her hometown by "the Crossbow Killer." Since she is suddenly without a reason to stay in Chicago, she decides to attend the singer's funeral in England. While there, she meets the singer's lover Dirk, played by Rupert Everett, and together they decide to return to Chicago and track down the killer.

The time spent in England is brief, but there are some lovely scenes of the English countryside. The film was filled with unexpected events (the characters were forever breaking into song) and appearances by celebrities. Aside from the major characters, played by Kathy Bates, Dan Aykroyd, Rupert Everett and Jonathan Pryce, we also get to see Julie Andrews, Barry Manilow and Sally Jessy Raphael portraying themselves. Lynn Redgrave also has a major role playing the uptight sister of the murdered singer, and Peter Sarsgaard is a voyeuristic window-washer. With such a strong cast, I was surprised not to have heard of this film before.

The action becomes somewhat slapstick as the trio of Grace, Dirk and Maudey (Grace's short-statured daughter-in-law) go on the hunt for the killer. Maudey, played by Meredith Eaton, was the true star of the show. She was fearless and always had a cutting remark ready, whether confronting rude waitresses or menacing serial killers. There might be one too many singalongs, but other than that, the film is a lot of fun and never boring!

Final Verdict for Unconditional Love: Four Gherkins, for being an unconventional and entertaining story with an oddball cast of characters

Saturday, April 4, 2009

I don't know why I had the impression that the film Greenfingers had to do with growing marijuana (perhaps I had it confused with Saving Grace), but I was pleasantly surprised to discover the real story behind the film. The film concerns Colin, played by the always-easy-on-the-eyes Clive Owen, sent to prison for a serious crime, which he is reluctant to reveal to his fellow prisoners. He prefers to keep himself to himself and do his time with as little interaction as possible with anyone else. Because he doesn't cause any problems, he is transferred to a minimum security prison. There, he shares living quarters with Fergus, a kindly frail old man. Colin, true to form, continues to rebuff any friendly overtures from Fergus. At Christmas, Fergus, still trying to be friendly, gives Colin some seeds as a gift. They plant the seeds, but Colin is scornful of the entire endeavor.

In the spring, they are both delighted to discover that the plants, despite all odds, have thrived and bloomed. Their attempts to protect the flowers from their rough-housing fellow inmates leads the prison warden to a novel idea: he puts the sparring inmates on "garden duty." The inmates are originally scornful of the idea, but as they learn about plants, soil, and design, they become true gardening enthusiasts. Their gardening skills eventually catch the eye of gardening queen Georgina Woodhouse, played to perfection by Helen Mirren. With her help, the prisoners are able to obtain work release jobs in gardening. Their skill and Georgina's backing gets them invited to submit a garden to the prestigious Hampton Court Palace Garden Show.

Of course, things do not go smoothly and there are some unexpected complications along the way. The film is by turns funny and touching. In the end, the gardeners are wildly successful and the prisoners have learned not only a valuable skill, but a true passion for their new found interest. The only question I had was how the prisoners were able to construct their life-like "Fergus" watering plants in their show garden!

Final verdict for Greenfingers: Three Gherkins, for being a pleasant, ultimately uplifting film with lovely gardens

About Me

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I'm a librarian who is interested in all things British. I try to visit London as often as possible, and am always planning my next trip. I lived in Sweden for a few years with my Swedish husband, so the occasional Swedish reference may occur . . .

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The Gherkin Scale

5gherkinsb Brilliant!

4gherkinsb Good, innit?

3gherkinsb Fair to middlin'

2gherkinsb Has some good points

1gherkin Oi! Wot you playin' at?

0gherkins3Don't be givin' me evils!

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