Friday, July 31, 2009

From one anglophile to another!

Melissa over at the wonderful and informative blog Smitten By Britain has been very kind in awarding my blog the Your Blog is Bloody Brilliant Award! Woo Hoo! I always enjoy reading the blog of another rabid Anglophile, and Smitten is very informative and well-written!

Thanks again for the recognition!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Brother, can you spare a corpse?

In the year 1537, King Henry VIII and his vicar general, Thomas Cromwell, are busily going about the country gaining the land and riches formerly owned by monasteries. The inhabitants of the monasteries, not surprisingly, are none too thrilled with this turn of events. That is the setting for the creepy mystery Dissolution by C.J. Sansom.

Matthew Shardlake, a lawyer who also happens to be a hunchback, is employed by Cromwell to travel to the monastery at Scarnsea to investigate a murder. Cromwell had previously sent an envoy there to investigate the monastery's finances, and that man had been murdered. Shardlake and his assistant, Mark Poer, arrive to investigate but discover that there are other dark deeds and dead bodies to contend with at the monastery.

The story is a bit confusing, with all the monks being "brother" somebody. One of the monks stutters, which helps to identify him, but there are a confusing number of them to keep straight otherwise. I listened to the audio book version, so it was sometimes difficult to remember which "brother" was speaking. The historical facts are also fascinating, and the setting, an 11th century dank and creepy monastery, adds a great deal of atmosphere to the story.

This is the first Matthew Shardlake story in what so far has been a four book series. I also read on Bookbrowse that Kenneth Branagh has been tapped to play Shardlake in the BBC version of Dissolution. So expect to hear more from the Tudor lawyer!

An aside: Speaking of Kenneth Branagh, who played Kurt Wallander in the series Wallander, author Henning Mankell has announced that he has written the final Wallander book. It will be published in Sweden in August, with the English translation surely soon to follow. I know that he said that The Pyramid would be the last novel with Kurt Wallander as the main character, but he really means it this time!

Final Verdict for Dissolution: Three Gherkins, for being an interesting historical mystery

Monday, July 27, 2009

The dead body in my front yard

This morning I went out, as usual, at 5:30 am to get the newspaper. Our house is on a corner lot, and therefore, for some reason, people think this means they can use our yard as a garbage dump. Nearly every day we have to pick up an assortment of cans, bottles, soiled diapers, fast food detritus, etc. that has magically appeared overnight. Today was no different. I noticed that in the ditch that runs along the side of our house, there was a large white object. I figured someone had just dumped an extra large garbage bag there. As I was walking back to the house, though, it occurred to me that the object looked rather like a dead body -- or how a body would look curled into a fetal position and put into a big bag. It was still dark outside, so I decided that I would get my husband to go out and look at it before I left for work.

Several times as I was getting ready, I looked out and saw it still lying there. Finally, at about 6:30, I decided to get my husband up to see if he would investigate and either clean up the trash or call the police to report a dead body (whichever scenario would be called for at that point). I glanced outside, and THE OBJECT WAS GONE!

Then I looked to the front of the house, and saw a disheveled woman, barefoot, wrapped in a white sheet or blanket, walking, zombie-like, toward the trashy apartments at the end of the road. Sorry to call the apartments trashy, but why else would the roadway leading from there to my house be strewn with new litter every day??? I calls 'em as I sees 'em.

Anyway, just like in the Princess Bride, the dead body was apparently only mostly dead. I just hope the next time an attack of the "mostly-deads" strikes this person that she will decide to pass out somewhere else. I have read enough mystery/ghost stories to be creeped out by apparent dead bodies in my yard first thing in the morning (or any time, come to think of it).

Saturday, July 25, 2009

This is what real policemen smell like

Although a film about Jack the Ripper should ideally be viewed in the fall, the suitably creepy new series Whitechapel makes for interesting viewing no matter what the season.

The setting for this latest telling of the JTR story is modern day East London. The dapper new DI Chandler is assigned to oversee a motley bunch of coppers who are investigating a brutal murder. The slovenly, somewhat lazy group is none too happy to be ordered around by the new boss, and they really resent it when he starts telling them how to eat, how to dress, and offers up suggestions on the use of deodorant. You'd hardly think those lessons would be needed in 2009, but I guess there are still pockets of unprofessionalism in all professions.

A Ripperologist who has spent his life studying the case notices similarities between current murders and the unsolved cases from 1888. He brings it to the attention of the police, who at first refuse to believe his claims. Soon, however, it becomes all too apparent that there is a copycat Jack at work. The police know when and, in a vague sense, where the next crime will occur, and they are in a race against time to prevent new murders.

There is lots of interesting historical detail about the unsolved crimes, as well as lovely shots of modern day London. The story, however, contains some odd ideas. For instance, the instance that DI Chandler "must decide who the 1888 killer was" in order to catch the current killer. The idea being that the current killer had picked a suspect to base his actions upon. How are we to know if the "suspect" the policeman chose was the same one that the current killer was modeling??

If nothing else, the series highlights the peculiar fascination that people still have with the over 120 year old unsolved murder. From academics, to deranged killers, to tourists, to armchair detectives, it seems that no one can get enough of the Ripper! There is also an extremely suspenseful sequence where the police are racing against time to catch the killer. The series was only 3 episodes long, so unless another killer decides to copy the copycat, I don't see how there could be more episodes. Still, it was fun while it lasted!

Final Verdict for Whitechapel: Four Gherkins, for being a heart-stopping modern telling of a gruesome series of crimes

Friday, July 24, 2009

Giveaway Results!

I was really thrilled to have so many people entered to win the 3 copies of Life on Mars kindly offered by Acorn Media. This morning, I used to choose the three winners, and they were:




Congratulations to the winners!!! I hope you will all enjoy the series as much as I did.

If you didn't win this time, watch this space! I hope to be offering more giveaways in the future!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Speak Gently

The viewer will be excused for thinking that he or she has been dropped into the middle of the story when we watch the first episode of George Gently. It's 1964 and DCI Gently is mourning the hit and run death of his wife and planning his retirement when he decides to investigate one more case. The investigation takes him to sleepy Northumberland, where the scenery is spectacular.

DCI Gently is paired with an ambitious young sergeant, DS Bacchus, who is on the lookout for a new posting to London -- or anywhere more exciting than his current situation.

Gently and Bacchus investigate a number of murders, but of course, it is up to Gently to train his young partner in the finer points of policing. Gently is intolerant of police corruption, although he seems to overlook quite a few failings in Bacchus. It is also amusing and somewhat puzzling to see nearly all of the women who make an appearance on the screen basically throwing themselves at the rather hangdog Gently.

The first season included three episodes, all involving murders. The second episode revolves around nefarious doings by the IRA, and is a bit confusing in all the double-crossing that's going on. I quickly lost the plot in that one. Other than that one problem, however, the series is very enjoyable. In addition to the beautiful scenery, it is interesting to see the growing "father-son" relationship dynamic that develops between Gently and Bacchus.

Unfortunately, the second series isn't yet available in the U.S., but I hope we won't have to wait long for it. More Gently, please!

Final Verdict for George Gently: Four Gherkins, for being an enjoyable trip back to a bygone time in a lovely setting

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

It ain't all that cozy

Adrian Beauclerk-Fisk is a thoroughly unpleasant person, but a wildly successful mystery writer. He gathers his four estranged children to his estate in order to announce his upcoming marriage. The children, naturally, are shocked and worried that their potential inheritances are going to be drastically cut back with a new stepmother in the picture. Naturally, when all are gathered, several deaths occur, and, as there are no footprints in the newly-fallen snow, they must have been an "inside job." DCI St. Just and his assistant DS Fear are left to interview the survivors and work out just whodunit.

In Death of a Cozy Writer, G.M. Malliet pays homage to the classic country estate mysteries. In fact, the book was nominated for a 2008 Agatha Award for Best First Novel. Still, I found the story to be less than engaging. Introducing the characters and their various grievances took nearly half the book. There were three brothers who were a bit difficult to keep straight and lots of sniping that didn't really add anything to the story.

I went to a conference and took this book with me to read, so I did finish it. If I'd had other reading material along, I would have put this one aside after the first few chapters. It wasn't a bad story, and there were some interesting revelations near the end, it just took a long time to get started. By the time the first murder occurred, I had long ago lost interest. There is also an unbelievable character with . . . er, unnatural dedication to the job that also caused me to lose patience with the novel.

Final Verdict for Death of a Cozy Writer: Two Gherkins, for being a promising story that never really takes off

Monday, July 20, 2009

Raise your voice!

Fans of classical and choir music can rejoice at a wonderful new recording from the Choir of King's College, Cambridge. England, My England is a two disc compilation of "essential English music" offered by EMI UK which is sure to delight every Anglophile!

Some of the tracks included are Ave Maria, Psalm 23, and of course, the the Hallelujah Chorus by Handel. Both ancient and modern songs are included. The songs were recorded by the choir in their chapel, which provides a unique experience for the listener.

Many of the songs included have ties to great events in English history, such as Song for Athene, played at the funeral of Princess Diana.

This is a lovely compilation by a matchless group of singers celebrating all that is great about England!
Final Verdict for England, My England: Five Gherkins, for being a moving and uplifting tribute to a great country

Saturday, July 18, 2009

I may be poor, but I'm color coordinated

Poor Gwendolyn. Her family is facing ruin, and even though she tried to win her way back into wealth, she ended up having to pawn one of her beautiful necklaces. Luckily, the dashing young Daniel Deronda sees her plight and buys it back for her. Thus begins the BBC adaptation of George Eliot's Daniel Deronda.

Although the story is named after the male lead, in this adaptation played by the charming Hugh Dancy, the story centers mainly on the beautiful and spoiled Gwendolyn (Romola Garai). Gwendolyn is always attired in the latest, most beautiful fashions, with matching jewelry and hats. As her family is facing ruin, where the money for this fashionable attire is coming from is never mentioned (as in the recent Jane Austen films where the young Jane frequently attended balls, despite being nearly destitute). Luckily, Gwendolyn catches the eye of the wealthy yet emotionally distant Grandcourt. In order to save her family from poverty, she agrees to become Mrs. Grandcourt, even though she has feelings for Daniel.

Meanwhile, Daniel saves a young woman from drowning. She turns out to be Mirah, a Jewish singer. He is able to obtain lodging for Mirah with a family and he becomes interested in her story. She is trying to find her long-lost mother and brother. In attempting to help her reunite with her family, Daniel is drawn into the Jewish sub-culture and the somewhat radical elements within it who are agitating for a Jewish state.

The costumes and scenery are lovely but the story lags somewhat. There are some less-than-surprising revelations about Daniel's past, and not everyone lives happily ever after. There are enough plot twists to keep the viewer entertained, even if the ending is somewhat bland.

Final Verdict for Daniel Deronda: Two Gherkins for being a beautifully presented if somewhat dull Victorian tale

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Another Great Giveaway!

Once again, I'm happy to be able to offer a giveaway of a wonderful British TV series on DVD, courtesy of Acorn Media. Life on Mars tells the story of Manchester DCI Sam Tyler, who is hit by a car and wakes up in the same place, but the year is 1973. He is still himself and working for the police, but he must come to terms with the decided lack of technology and the unenlightened attitudes of his fellow coppers.

Sam is not at all reluctant to tell everyone that he is "from the future," although they are understandably skeptical of his claims. To add to the general confusion, Sam keeps hearing snippets of conversation that are apparently happening to his unconscious form in the hospital in the present day. While trying desperately to figure out a way to get back to the present, he has to adjust to life in 1973 as well as continue his work on the police force.

I was surprised that there are so many humorous moments in the show. Sam is understandably horrified when he first glimpses himself wearing wide-collared shirts and bell-bottomed pants. He is also frustrated at the difficulties in communicating in a pre-mobile phone world. He does try though:

Sam to Operator: I need you to connect me to a mobile number. {He rattles off a long string of numbers.}

Operator: Is that an international number?

Sam: No, I need you to connect me to a Virgin Mobile number.

Operator: Don't you start that sexy business with me, young man. I can trace this call!

Poor Sam! How can he ever adjust to a world that is familiar, yet totally foreign to him? Will he ever make it back to the present day? It's an amusing journey watching him try!

To enter to win one of 3 copies of the first season of the British version of Life On Mars, leave me a comment stating whether you prefer the British or the U.S. version of the series. If you haven't seen it, please leave me a comment stating what year you'd like to wake up in, if you found yourself in Sam's situation. I think I'd have to go for 1888 myself, to catch Jack the Ripper red-handed (uh, literally)!

Please make sure your email is on your profile if you have a blog, or include your email in your response so that I can contact you. Enter your comment by the end of the day on July 23. Winners will be chosen by on July 24. I'll notify you by email on July 24, and you'll have 3 days to respond before I choose another winner. Due to shipping costs, this contest is only open to U.S. residents.

Thanks and good luck!

Friday, July 10, 2009

A history of race in America

In the excellent book Dred Scott’s Revenge, Judge Napolitano explores the long and tangled history of race relations in America. He starts with the beginnings of slavery in the New World, through the Civil War, Jim Crow Laws and “separate but equal” educational rulings and explores how the federal government has often been at the root of causing the racial divide. Judge Napolitano has a negative view of Abraham Lincoln and gives his reasons in clear, well-reasoned arguments. The book also looks at how race relations have shaped current policies in law enforcement and politics. The titles of the chapters in the book are somewhat predictable, except for the last one: baseball.In this chapter, the author stresses how one person with a strong moral compass and personal fortitude can change entrenched and accepted practice for the better. The conclusion of the book gives an overview of some of the author’s other books, and how he stresses natural law (those rights given by God or by being human) is necessary to our continued freedom. By embracing natural law, nations must therefore reject positivism (the law that rejects natural rights and allows the majority to dictate what the law should be).

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Great new video featuring London

Check out this great new video "Goodbye London" by Luke Jackson:

Very cute 2-D animation and scenes of London. Even a shot of the gherkin! What more could you want! The album features Per Gessle's (Roxette) band.