Friday, January 30, 2009

This skeleton should have stayed in the closet

The Scottish author M.C. Beaton can be guaranteed to write funny, faced-paced mysteries with flawed characters and lots of action. In her "one off" novel Skeleton in the Closet, however, she didn't manage too make her characters likable while putting them in one hair-raising situation after another.

The story opens by introducing us to Fellworth Dolphin, a nearly 40 year old virgin who still lives with his mother. His mother is a thoroughly unpleasant woman, constantly nit-picking and controlling, so it is with little sadness that Fell comes home one day from his job as a waiter and discovers her dead. His father had died several years before, so for the first time, Fell is able to take control of his life. He is stunned to learn that his parents have left both a sizable inheritance for him in their wills, as well as a box of cash in a desk drawer in the house. Fell quits his job and convinces his only friend, the dumpy and equally maternally brow-beaten Maggie Partlett, to move in with him (strictly on a platonic basis).


Maggie and Fell set out to discover where the money could have possibly come from. Was his father, who worked for the railroad, involved in a famous unsolved robbery? Are there secrets in Fell's background that might explain it? The plot moves along briskly as the two amateur detectives try to track down leads, and there are plenty of surprises to keep the story moving along.

The main problem is that Fell is a selfish, mean and totally unlikeable character. We feel sorry for Maggie, who is in love with Fell, but the way he treats her is just outlandish. He constantly belittles her, and as she has come to depend on him in order to have a place to live (as he's convinced her to quit her job, too), she simply accepts his humiliating comments and remains stubbornly loyal. Even though everything is neatly tied up with a bow at the end, it still is impossible to enjoy the story with such a bully for a leading man.

M.C. Beaton's Agatha Raisin and Hamish MacBeth mystery series are much more enjoyable. Even though the leading characters can be eccentric at times, the reader is still rooting for them. Fell Dolphin, on the other hand, is in no way deserving of sympathy. Thank goodness, it doesn't appear as if this was the start of a new series.

Final Verdict for Skeleton in the Closet: One Gherkin, for some exciting plot twists, but a nasty hero


Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Bits and pieces from Britain

My goodness, but it seems as if Britain has been in the news one way or another quite a bit over the past few days. Where to begin?

How about this article, from my own local newspaper this morning, about how the BBC and SkyNews are both refusing to air an appeal asking for donations to a charity which aids Palestinians in Gaza after the recent fighting there. The situation is creating quite a stir, apparently, with demonstrations and calls in other media outlets for the appeal to be shown. The most interesting thing is that, according to the article, the reason the top two media companies are refusing to air the appeal is that they must "protect their journalistic impartiality." I'm sorry, but coming from Rupert Murdoch (king of all things Fox in the US), that is too funny.

In other news that I'm sure will come as a shock, Chelsy Davy and Prince Harry are no longer a couple. One newspaper carried photographs of the seemingly unheartbroken Ms. Davy, but pointed out that she was wearing a bit too much makeup. I guess we can deduce from this that the press is taking Prince Harry's side in the breakup. Still, I suppose that's the smart thing to do, given that Ms. Davy will have outlived her usefulness to the press if the breakup is permanent.

The travel site Frommer's has found some travel bargains to London, courtesy of the weakening pound. I'm sure we don't wish any financial hardships on our overseas friends, but all American anglophiles are breathing a sigh of relief that the exchange rates are getting a bit more favorable.

Finally, it appears that there will be a U.S. version of Absolutely Fabulous after all (again with the Fox network, they are popular today!). I'm a bit afraid of how it will turn out. Still, Jennifer Saunders is an executive producer, so maybe she will be able to keep some of the original flavor.

Monday, January 26, 2009

If only I knew whan an alvar was . . .

The Swedish novel Echoes from the Dead by Johan Theorin takes place almost entirely on the Swedish island of Öland, although the time covered in the novel swings between the 1930s to the present. The pivotal events in the story occur in the fall of 1972 when 5 year old Jens Davidsson disappears one foggy afternoon. The story then swings between the 1930s, to tell the story of Nils Kant, the suspected kidnapper, and the present day when Jens' mother and grandfather finally find out what happened to him.

The author does a good job of moving between the past and the present, and keeping the reader involved in both. There are plenty of red herrings thrown in to keep the reader guessing about the true fate of the little boy until the very end. Unfortunately, the resolution of the story didn't really ring true. There was more than one person involved in the child's disappearance, and not everyone's involvement was sufficiently explained in the somewhat hurried resolution. Still, at the end, at least the child's family is finally able to solve the mystery of what happened
out there on the foggy alvar so long ago.

Which brings me to another point: what the @#$% is an alvar? It's never defined or explained, just thrown in to the story with people wandering around on the alvar, going hunting on the alvar, glimpsing wildlife on the alvar, etc. I have no problem with the rest of the translation of the book, but wouldn't you think an unfamiliar word that's repeated, oh, about 1,876 times in the book would merit some explanatory note at the beginning? None of my dictionaries even have the word listed, but I was able to find it in some online dictionaries: alvar -- a limestone plain with thin or no soil and, as a result, sparse vegetation. Seems like they could have found some other word that would have been similar and known to English readers, like heath.

Final Verdict for Echoes from the Dead: Two Gherkins, for being an interesting page-turner with a hurried, unsatisfying resolution

Thursday, January 22, 2009

I need my niblets!

As a big fan of Lewis Black, I was thrilled when I found out he would be coming to Knoxville. I know he is a frequent guest on The Daily Show, but I'm too disorganized to remember to watch it. I "discovered" him on the XM Comedy Channel. His rants on current topics are always very funny and hard to disagree with. The show wasn't totally sold out, but the theatre was very full. The opening act (whose name I've forgotten) was a bit of an unnecessary "potty mouth." I have no problem with bad language now and then, but this guy seemed to be from the "Eddie Murphy School of Stand Up Comedy", where every other word is "the 'f' word." Quite hard to separate out all those exclamations from whatever it was he was trying to say. Lewis Black, on the other hand, was wonderful. He was at first, he said, a bit worried about the future of his career -- what with all the problems of the world now being solved upon the ascension of the new president. It will be interesting to see how his rants go during the Obama years! He had plenty of anger for both Clinton and Bush, so he's an equal opportunity critic. He also had unkind words for the local coal ash spill, the bank bailout, and the wasteful use of food for fuel (as referenced by the title of this post). He was at his sputtering, finger twitching best! (As an unexpected thrill, between the opening act and Lewis Black, Chelsea Hotel by Dan Bern was played over the loudspeakers. Oddly, I was the only one singing along . . .)

The Academy Award nominations were announced this morning, and I was pleased that my two predictions came true: that Happy-Go-Lucky was mostly shut out for nominations (it did receive a screenplay nod) and that Michael Shannon received a Best Supporting Actor nomination. Ha! Take that USA Today!


On a sad note, the BBC reported that John Mortimer, the author of the Rumpole of the Bailey series, has died at the age of 85. Of course, it seems as if "Rumpole" actually died in 2002, when Leo McKern, who so wonderfully brought Rumpole to life, passed away.

Final Verdict for Lewis Black Let Them Eat Cake Tour: Four Gherkins -- Lew was great, but the opening act guy is a turn-off

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

I *do* have an Uncle Bob!

As an Anglophile, I must admit that I am occasionally puzzled by the odd word or phrase that I encounter in a book or TV series. Sometimes, I will consult the Internet or the OED in an effort to find out just what in the world that odd word meant, but generally, I forget it almost as soon as I hear it. This does not add to my understanding of the work in question, I'm sure. That's why I was so happy to discover the delightful tome The Septic's Companion by Chris Rae. This book undertakes to explain common British terms to confused Americans.

The book is not only a dictionary. The front part of the book contains some helpful explanations about British life and culture in general. Among the sections covered are the political geography of the U.K., weights and measures, the British educational system, and getting around. I was especially glad to see a section on "telling time." You'd think this would be obvious, something that you'd mastered by the time you entered second grade, but even something so elementary is fraught with opportunities for misunderstandings. I was especially relieved to see an explanation of the term "half three" (3:30). One really doesn't like to ask someone for a clarification of such a basic term ("Excuse me, when you say 'half-three', is the little hand on the two or the three?"), but it might be necessary. Unfortunately in my case, I've lived in Sweden, so the waters are even more muddled. In Sweden, when someone says "half three", they mean 2:30 -- because you're half-way to three, get it? So I wasn't sure if it was the same way in Britain or not (I've been set straight -- NOT!).

There is plenty of other useful information in this book, and it's all presented in a very humorous style that makes for enjoyable reading. The dictionary that comprises most of the book is helpful as well as laugh-out-loud funny. If you encounter an unfamiliar British word, just look it up in the back and, well, Bob's your uncle!

Chris Rae, the author, also keeps a very entertaining and enlightening blog at America: Things America does right. Things America does wrong.

Final Verdict for The Septic's Companion: Four Gherkins, for being a very amusing and educational explanation of unfamiliar British terms

Thursday, January 15, 2009

I have NOT lost my mind

I know there are many who disagree with that sentiment, but today brought the wonderful, joyous news that the film abomination Happy-Go-Lucky was not nominated for ANY Bafta awards! I was beginning to think some sort of terrible mass hypnosis had taken over the world, and somehow I was absent from the re-education sessions. Nearly every review I've ever read has been glowing, they are over the moon at IMDB, and just last week Sally Hawkins won a Golden Globe Award for the film. I love Sally Hawkins and think she is a wonderful actress -- just not in this particular film. (It also wouldn't hurt the poor thing to eat a sandwich, but that's another topic for another post.) It's so refreshing that the British Academy of Film and Television Arts didn't decide to gush over the hometown entry, even though it would have been understandable if they had (although they are being accused of gushing a bit too much over Kate Winslet).

I wasn't thrilled with some of the nominations (and non-nominations), but I can live with the overall selections. It's especially encouraging news, given that the Academy Award nominations come out next week. Let's hope this unprecedented reign of sanity continues for a little while longer.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Che and Eva have nothing to fear

After Kate Winslet won the Best Actress Award at the Golden Globes the other night, I was interested to see the film Revolutionary Road in order to check out her performance. Actually, I had seen a trailer for the film but it looked -- um, shall we say, less than riveting. It turns out the trailer really told almost everything you need to know about the film.


Kate Winslet is April and Leonardo DiCaprio plays her husband Frank Wheeler. They are a young couple in suburban Connecticut in the 1950s. They are both young, attractive, healthy, fairly affluent, and have two beautiful children. Oh how they suffer!!! They are trapped in this suburban nightmare and are just so darned bored and unhappy that they can hardly stand themselves. It was really hard to feel sorry for all the moaning and complaining by people who had basically nothing to be unhappy about. I can just picture it now:

Kate Winslet to Sam Mendes (her husband and the director): "But, just what, exactly, is my character's motivation?"

Sam Mendes: "Well, Kate, she's actually just really, really bored."

Kate W. : "I see."

Exhilarating stuff, I'm sure you'll agree. I know that being a housewife in the 1950s was not a bed of roses in terms of social freedom or personal development. I'm also sure that April was suffering from depression and she did exhibit bipolar tendencies (manically planning new things, only to fall into a funk when things don't pan out). Still, her whining and carrying on about how miserable she is quickly wears thin. I would never wish ill on anyone, but since these are fictional characters, here goes: a child abduction, house fire, or bout with cancer would have given these people something to whine about.

The dialogue and delivery were also somewhat odd. I guess they were going for the "50s feel" in imitating the style of films from that era, but it sounded unnatural and painful to modern ears. One of the things uttered by April (early on, before terminal malaise set in) was so cringe-inducing that I had to rummage in the dark theater for a pen to write it down: "You're the most beautiful and wonderful thing in the world. You're a man." EEEEEWWWWW!

Another annoying thing (while I'm on a roll) was the fact that neither Kate Winslet nor Leonardo DiCaprio could begin any big dramatic scene without pausing for a cigarette. Hardly anyone else in the film smoked (although I know smoking was much more common then than it is now), but April and Frank were always stopping to fumble with cigarettes and lighters. WHY was so much screen time taken in lighting up? It added absolutely nothing to the story (other than serving to annoy me). Is Hollywood getting kickbacks from the tobacco industry to try to convince us all that smoking is still cool? I don't get it.

The only thing that made this film even marginally interesting was the outstanding performance by Michael Shannon as the mentally ill son of the Wheelers' real estate agent, played by Kathy Bates. Shannon's character, John Givings, is brought to the Wheeler house by his mother while he's out on a 4 hour pass from the asylum. He is the only character who is brave enough (or disturbed enough) to say what he really feels. He sees through polite social convention and cuts immediately to the heart of every situation. At first, the Wheelers find his brutal honesty refreshing, but before long they react to his "home truths" with anger, shock and horror. I know everyone says Heath Ledger has the Best Supporting Actor Oscar wrapped up this year, but I sincerely hope Michael Shannon receives a nomination. His performance was one of the best and most memorable I've seen in years.

The other interesting thing about this film was the clothes. It was "all linen all the time" and nary a wrinkle in sight. April might have been spectacularly bored, but by god, that woman could work an iron (the starch budget alone on this film must have been astronomical).

Final Verdict for Revolutionary Road: Two Gherkins, which is a compromise for Michael Shannon's outstanding performance in an otherwise bland film

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

I came all the way to Knoxville for this?

I was very excited when a pen-pal of mine told me he'd seen Knoxville on the new Stephen Fry program being shown on British TV. Luckily, I've been able to see some of the episodes and I was curious to see what interesting things he would visit while in town.

Stephen Fry decided to take a black London cab (modified for the U.S., of course) on a road trip to all 50 states in a program titled (appropriately enough) Stephen Fry in America. The program is only 6 hours long, so naturally that doesn't leave much time for each state. Still, he does try to show some scenery and explain a bit about what each state is known for.

What, exactly, would Knoxville be known for? Its proximity to the Great Smoky Mountains, perhaps? The iconic Sunsphere? The obscenely large Neyland stadium and its orange festooned fans? The Women's Basketball Hall of Fame? Well, those things apparently aren't worth visiting (or even mentioning, beyond some lovely views of the mountains). No, what draws our international visitor is, of course, the Body Farm. Made famous by Patricia Cornwell's novel of the same name, the University of Tennessee's Anthropology Research Facility allows researchers to study how human bodies decay in a variety of situations: exposed to the elements, under plastic, in car trunks, etc. Everyone in Knoxville knows it exists and is heavily guarded against nosy-parkers, but I had no idea that it would be viewed as a tourist destination.

Stephen Fry seemed a little surprised that the facility would be so well-guarded, what with all the inhabitants being unlikely to escape. Still, I suppose the macabre sights might attract hordes of unwanted visitors, or at least the occasional teenager climbing over the fence on a dare. While gruesome, the research done at the Body Farm has been groundbreaking in helping scientists and law enforcement understand how bodies decay.

After entering the facility, Fry gets a look at the bodies in various stages of decomposition. His helpful guide, a graduate student, is more than happy to uncover bodies and point out various features to the somewhat bemused actor. He does seem to spend a lot of time there, peering into plastic bins and under tarps, so I guess it's only natural that he wouldn't have the time or inclination to see anything else in Knoxville. Pity. On the other hand, at least we did get some international exposure (so to speak), which doesn't happen every day. I just hope the throngs of British tourists who turn up won't expect a guided tour of the facility!

As an aside, I have been somewhat astounded that the Americans Fry encounters don't seem to have the faintest idea who he is. Only a professor from Harvard University is appropriately excited and enthralled to be in the presence of the Great Fry. Of course, there could have been a lot of fawning and jumping up and down edited out, but somehow I doubt it . . .

By a strange coincidence, I happen to be reading two books about the Body Farm right now. Both are by Dr. Bill Bass, the acknowledged founder of the facility, and Jon Jefferson. These books are non-fiction accounts of the events that demonstrated the need for the research and study of human decomposition as well as some of the more famous cases that Dr. Bass has been involved with. The two authors have also used their writing skills and intimate knowledge of the topic to write some novels as well.

Death's Acre, from 2003, includes some well-known cases, such as Knoxville's "Zoo Man" serial killer and the infamous Tri-State Crematory case from Georgia. Dr. Bass makes the science behind piecing together burned, decayed and dismembered bodies quite fascinating. The most interesting case discussed, from my point of view, involved a body found in a freshly disturbed Civil War-ear grave. Dr. Bass was called in to try to figure out how long it had been since the person found in the grave had been killed. The assumption was that some killer had thought an old grave would be an ideal place to hide a new body. The body in question "appeared" fresh to Bass, and he stated that the person had been dead for two to six months. It turned out, however, that someone had been trying to remove the body of the Civil War soldier, not add a new one. The corpse had been remarkably, and unusually, well-preserved. Dr. Bass points out several times in the book how he was only off 113 years in his estimation of time of death! While this was an early case for him, it is reassuring to read about how even the experts can be spectacularly wrong at times!

In 2007's Beyond the Body Farm there are more interesting forensic cases, including one involving J.P. Richardson (aka "the Big Bopper"), killed in a plane crash along with Buddy Holly and Ritchie Valens. Dr. Bass is called in to help disprove some rumors that have been concerning Richardson's family since his death in 1959.

I'm waiting to see the rest of the episodes of Stephen Fry's program before giving it my final rating. On this side of the pond, it appears that the companion book Stephen Fry in America: Fifty States and the Man Who Set Out to See Them All will be released in the U.S. in May. Something to look forward to!

On another note, Stephen Fry takes offense at anti-American sentiments in Britain. He likes us, he really likes us (apologies to Sally Field)!

Final Verdict for Death's Acre and Beyond the Body Farm: Three Gherkins, for giving the reader a fascinating inside look at a relatively new and interesting scientific subject


Monday, January 12, 2009

Confessions of a frustrated reader

During the Golden Globe awards, I saw a commercial for the film Confessions of a Shopaholic. It is going to be released on Feb. 13. Unfortunately, the film has been inexplicably moved from London to New York, so I'm very concerned about how it's going to turn out. I have no problem with Isla Fisher playing Becky, but her parents are going to be played by Joan Cusack and John Goodman. They are both fine actors, but somehow that makes me even more worried about the film. I think it will bear no resemblance to the book.

At least it seems the Kate Hudson version of Can You Keep a Secret has been put on hold. Why can't they film it as Sophie Kinsella and God intended, with British actors in London??? We can always hope . . .

Sunday, January 11, 2009

OMG! Is that . . .

Since I watch a lot of British TV series, it isn't unusual for me to see an actor that I just know I've seen before, but can't immediately remember where. I will ponder for a while, but if it doesn't come to me, there's always the Internet Movie Database to help solve the puzzle.

Today I was watching the first episode of Kavanagh Q.C. with John Thaw when it happened again. There was an actor that looked so familiar . . . I was just beginning my pondering when he disappeared. I became engrossed in the story and forgot about him until he popped up on the screen again near the end of the episode. He sort of tilted his head and then . . . oh . . . my . . . goodness. It hit me: IT WAS MINTY WITH HAIR!! I suppose I must have known, that somehow, somewhere, such a sight existed, but I had never encountered it before.

On another Eastenders note, I had to giggle when Kate Winslet thanked Pauline Fowler during her Golden Globe acceptance speech. OK, so it wasn't that Pauline Fowler, but it was still funny!

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Are you logy tonight?

It must be tough to be a mystery writer today. How can you top the gruesome killers that already populate the genre? Between "Buffalo Bill" from Thomas Harris skinning women, John Sandford's eye-mutilating Dr. Mike Bekker, and Patricia Cornwell's werewolf killer, hasn't it all pretty much been done in the gore department? Apparently not. The novel The Calling, by Inger Ash Wolfe (intended to be the first in a series featuring 61-year-old Detective Inspector Hazel Micallef) strains mightily to reach new levels of outrage to inflict upon helpless victims. To add insult to injury, the victims in this story are nearly all terminally ill elderly people.

The story opens in the sleepy Canadian town of Port Dundas with a horrific murder. Hazel Micallef, who lives with her 87-year-old mother, eventually realizes that a serial killer is at work. This killer targets the terminally ill who are seeking assistance in escaping lives of pain. Each of the victims is humanely put to sleep, having been given a "tea" of herbs carefully prepared by the killer. Once the victim is unconscious and insensible to pain, the killer dispatches them in horribly imaginative ways. There are guns, knives, hammers and other implements used to end lives, and then the bodies are terribly mutilated: heads are removed and left in freezers, spikes are driven through ears, eyeballs are pushed back into the brain, etc. It's as if the author felt that jaded readers would need ever-increasing horrors to sate their bloodthirsty palates. There is speculation among the police that the killer varied his methods so no one wouldn realize there was a serial killer at work. However, the killer is presented as being totally insane (naturally) so we are never sure if there is a method behind the madness or not. Personally, I think the author just wanted to see how far he/she could go in the butchery stakes.

Which brings up an interesting point about this particular work. I had no idea until I was reading some Amazon.com reviews, but the author of this book is a well-known author who is trying out his/her hand in the mystery field. Inger Ash Wolfe is acknowledged as a pseudonym, and there has been rampant speculation in the media about who the "real" author could be. In an interview in January Magazine, the author states, "I wanted these novels to be read in their own context and to succeed or fail on their own terms. I can’t do that under my own name." Hmmm, I wonder if the author is internationally well-known, or would be best known to Canadian readers? Since the story is set in Canada, most of the speculation seems to be that the author is Canadian.

Since I listened to the audio version of the book, I noted that the author used the word logy several times. I'd never heard it before, although the context seemed to suggest it meant "sleepy." My handy dictionary defines it as "characterized by lethargy; sluggish."

Overall, the story was quite engaging while the female police chief was chasing the killer and watching the bodies pile up. The book just seems to end rather abruptly, though. Hazel, while in trouble with her boss toward the end of the novel, will no doubt be back soon chasing another deranged killer from the Great White North.

Oh, and there is an Anglophile connection: the audio book is published by BBC Audiobooks!

Final Verdict for The Calling: Two Gherkins, for suspense early on, but an overall disappointing resolution

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

When the author portrays himself

Not having grown up in Sweden, I'm sure I missed some of the finer nuances in the TV series Talismanen, but I was savvy enough to pick up on a few of them. The hugely popular authors Henning Mankell (which I was surprised to learn is pronounced MANK-el, not man-KELL) and Jan Guillou play themselves, and Mankell's most famous character, Kurt Wallander, also makes an appearance.

The story consists of 8 parts and revolves around the talisman, a small pendant which brings bad luck to all who obtain it by false pretenses (in other words, everyone who touches it, basically). It also seems to have some sort of magnetic power, because people who see it cannot resist taking it even though it is a fairly ugly piece of jewelry.

Our hero in this story is a disgraced policeman named Wallton (which my husband pointed out was a combination of Henning Mankell's detective Wallander and Jan Guillou's spy Hamilton). Sent to prison for beating a handcuffed prisoner, Wallton is approached by a fellow inmate with a job offer to track down the lost talisman once he is released from prison. At first, Wallton is uninterested, but the lack of any other jobs and the dissolution of his marriage leave him little choice.

As a detective, Wallton stays just one step behind the talisman. Since it is cursed, he always manages to locate the dead body that the talisman was recently stolen from. Naturally, his presence at numerous murder scenes does not endear him to police, and he spends several nights in jail while his stories are checked. At one point, he sees an interview on a train station monitor with Kurt Wallander, in this incarnation played by Lennart Jähkel. While I adore Jähkel, and he does a reasonable enough job as Wallander, I'm still pushing for Trevor Eve to portray the good detective at some future point.

It is amusing to see how the two authors work themselves into this story. Wallton originally approaches them in a bar to see if they can shed any light on the origins of the talisman. The story he tells is so fantastic that Mankell and Guillou decide to write a TV series based on it. In the meantime, there is a somewhat odd side story where the apparently controversial Guillou shoots and kills some actors from a reality-type series who "storm" his house. I'm not sure what that had to do with the story, other than to give Guillou more screen time. Mankell, for his part, is mugged on the way to deliver the first part of the series to the TV station, setting up a final confrontation between Wallton and the talisman.

Jan Guillou and Henning Mankell


There are also many famous Swedish actors who show up throughout the series, including Alexandra Rapaport, Katarina Ewerlöf, and the hunky Per Graffman as Wallton. The always adorable Shanti Roney also makes an appearance, but the shaved head look really isn't for him.


Final Verdict for Talismanen: Four Gherkins, for an interesting story, unexpected plot twists, and appearances by beloved actors

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Good sudsy fun

I had a lovely book in the mail the other day from over the waters. Michael Harling sent me a copy of his delightful Postcards from Across the Pond. Unfortunately, it was a few days before I was able to read the book. My husband picked it up and started thumbing through it. Before long, he was laughing out loud and reading sections aloud to me. I knew then that I'd have to wait before I would be able to read it. Thank goodness, the book is so readable and enjoyable so that I didn't have to wait long.

Mike has kept a blog of his experiences as an American in Britain at Postcards from Across the Pond (and before that on his website here). Before long, he realized he had enough material for this charming book. Unlike others I could mention the author of this book seems to genuinely enjoy his life in his new, if occasionally strange, country.

As someone who also married a "furriner" and has lived abroad, I can recognize many of the situations described in this book. Daily activities which should be simple (mailing a letter, opening a door, locating an address) suddenly become fraught with confusion and multiple chances for making yourself look stupid. I can also identify with the problems he describes with immigration. (Although as an aside, it is much easier as an American to move to another country than it is to LEGALLY bring your foreign-born spouse to the U.S. The U.S. has numerous seemingly pointless rules and regulations, all of which involve the payment of large fees, not to mention gestapo-trained employees who delight in barking orders and slamming doors in people's faces. Or that has been my experience.) I also had the experience of attempting to navigate an immigration office that was staffed with non-native speakers. I can still remember my indignation when a security guard at the American Embassy in Stockholm yelled something at me in gibberish (although it was probably Swedish, which I didn't understand yet). I mean, wouldn't you expect that at the American Embassy that they might speak American?? But I digress . . .

There's also a really handy and humorous glossary at the end of the book which explains such terms as berk, nick and yob. I'll have to keep it close by the next time I watch Eastenders!

I was interested to note that this book also pointed out the seemingly unique British quirk of not rinsing the soap suds off dishes. This was the second time I've encountered this issue recently, so it's definitely something that needs further investigation!

Final Verdict for Postcards from Across the Pond: Four Gherkins, for being a hilarious look at the oddities of life abroad

Friday, January 2, 2009

R.I.P. Radar Magazine

2009 is starting off on with a bad omen. I received a card in the mail today to convert the remaining issues in my subscription to Radar Magazine to another publication, since Radar has stopped publishing. What a sad day! I was always amazed and shocked by at least one thing in every issue of the magazine, and so I'm going to miss it terribly. As a frequent lurker on alt.gossip.celebrities, I'm no stranger to "blind items" (an example: "They have been together for several years, and enjoy the prestige and perks that come from being part of a famous couple. The only problem is that they can’t stand each other. They essentially lead separate lives, but are photographed together at red carpet events to allay suspicions, and to allow each of them to continue to command top dollar for their respective projects."). What was refreshing about Radar was that they didn't beat around the bush. If they had some dirt on someone, they put it right out in the open. {sniffle} I'm really going to miss that, although I was genuinely amazed that they printed some of the things they did. Perhaps the lawsuits (or threats of lawsuits) finally did them in.

The Radar website is still active, although it looks as if only the "Fresh Intelligence" section is still being updated. Maybe they will make another comeback one of these days (this was apparently the third time the magazine ceased publication).

R.I.P. Radar . . . it was fun while it lasted.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Good guy goes bad

I have written before about my great admiration for the Swedish actor Reine Brynolfsson. On a recent Swedish film buying spree, I was excited to see that he had starred in a TV drama called Kungamordet last year. This 4 part series concerns Gert and Linda Jacobsson and their abusive relationship. Although they have been married for 30 years, Gert has become more and more physically abusive towards Linda. Linda has developed a severe alcohol problem in an attempt to deal with the abuse.

To make matters even more complicated, Gert was recently the Finance Minister in the Social Democratic government. When his party loses the election, he begins a plot to oust the current party leader and take over that position himself. At the same time, he acquires a pretty young assistant, Yasemin Aydin. Yasemin is a recent college graduate and very eager, but she doesn't know that others are conspiring against her: Gert has evil designs on her, and her own family is secretly plotting to have her married to a cousin in Turkey.

Eventually, Linda has enough and flees to a battered women's shelter. Before long, Yasemin joins her there and the two women become unlikely allies. This series was very difficult to watch at times, but it did showcase the talents of both Reine Brynolfsson as the unpredictable abuser, and the wonderful Marie Richardsson as the abused Linda. Even so, it dragged at times, and could easily have been one episode shorter without losing any of the action.

Final Verdict for Kungamordet: Three Gherkins, for being a very realistic dramatization of an abusive relationship