Wednesday, December 29, 2010

There's a reason you don't fit in

Vampires are all the rage these days.  In the novel The Radleys, author Matt Haig takes a look at a family of vampires living today in northern England.  Father Peter is a doctor, while Helen, the mother, is an artist who doesn't work outside the home.  The two teenaged children, Rowan and Clara, have been raised without knowing they are vampires.  They are pale, regarded by their classmates as strange, and constantly ill.  Peter and Helen have determined to live as "abstainers" -- vampires who attempt to overcome their craving for blood by following the advice in The Abstainer's Handbook.

Things would have probably gone on like this for the foreseeable future, except for an unfortunate incident involving Clara.  One evening she is attending an outside party with Eve, a new girl at school, when she begins to feel ill.  Clara starts walking home, but one of the drunken boys follows her and refuses to leave her alone, even after she throws up on his shoes.  He becomes more violent, and, without really knowing what she is doing, Clara transforms into her vampire self and kills him.  She is understandably confused about what has happened, so she calls her parents in a panic.  They arrive and her father is able to fly the body out to sea to get rid of it.  Then the parents are in the awkward position of having to explain to their children that they are vampires.

While in a panic over the situation, Peter makes a call to his estranged brother Will.  Will is a very active vampire, killing anyone who attracts his attention.  His negative influence is one reason why Peter and Helen have chosen to distance themselves from him.  He shows up and parks his somewhat distinctive van outside the Radley's respectable suburban house.

With the taste of blood, Clara has transformed into a beautiful, calm and confident girl.  Rowan becomes very interested in the possibility that he might also feel better if he indulged in blood also.  Uncle Will is, of course, all for the children to become their true vampire selves.  Some members of the police force are aware of the activities of the vampires in their communities, but they have a truce with the Sheridan Society, a vampire association which attempts to keep the more rogue vampires in check.

Unfortunately, Clara's victim washes up on a beach and is quickly identified as being the victim of a vampire.  The police are sniffing around, and there is a great deal of tension between Uncle Will and the rest of his family.  Can the Radleys continue to live among regular society, or will they be punished for their vampire activities?

The book is interesting in that the author has created a vampire society which has its own rules.  Crosses don't bother vampires in this book, but they do become violently ill if they accidentally ingest garlic.  They can inherit their vampire charistics, or they can be "converted" by a practicing vampire.  Many famous people throughout history were vampires, including Lord Byron and Jimi Hendrix.  Most chapters begin with some instructions for vampires from The Abstainer's Handbook.

The book is a rather pleasant addition to modern vampire literature. The chapters are short and the book moves quickly.

Final Verdict for The Radleys: Three Gherkins, for being an interesting, if somewhat predictable vampire tale

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Gritty but gorgeous!

Walking is a popular pastime in England, and I wonder how many people stop to think about what is UNDER their feet?  That is the question that the book Granite and Grit: A Walker's Guide to the Geology of British Mountains attempts to answer.

The book begins with the author, Ronald Turnbull, discussing how he became interested in the geology of Britain through various school trips and visits to a holiday cottage.  The next section of the book concerns the history of Britain.  How did it come to reach its current shape and composition?

After giving a brief overview of how Britain came to be, the author then gives an in-depth discussion of 17 types of stone that can be found in the country.  An interesting feature of the book is that the author describes walks that the reader may want to follow, and what sort of rocks and other features (algae, fossils, etc.) can be found along the route.

The book is written in a very engaging and conversational style.  The author puts a lot of his own experiences into the text, which helps to make it very relevant to the casual reader.  At the end of the book is a glossary of terms, which is very helpful!  The book has many, many large and colorful illustrations of not only various geologic features, but also of lovely landscapes.

All in all, I found this to be a gorgeous, very informative book about what lies UNDER a beautiful country.

Granite and Grit will be released in mid-January and is now available for pre-order through Amazon.

Disclaimer:  I received a review copy of Granite and Grit from the publisher

Final Verdict for Granite and Grit:   Four Gherkins, for being a very thorough introduction to an unusual subject

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Business sense from the past

It seems that almost every day there are new business books which come out discussing "new" and "revolutionary" techniques which guarantee success or improved leadership skills.  Sometimes, we can learn more from looking to the past than in trying to invent new skills. 

The author Stuart Finlay, while reading the memoirs of Winston Churchill, became struck by the personal and professional qualities Churchill employed in order to help him successfully lead his country through the dark days of WWII and emerge victorious.  The book What Churchill Would Do is a fascinating look at how Churchill's skills can be applied in today's workplace.

The book is a mix of an examination of Churchill's writings and action during and following the war years, and the author's personal experiences in the modern corporate culture.  Each chapter examines a trait that Churchill exhibited, followed by a discussion of the historical actions that exhibit this trait.  For example, in the chapter titled "Disarmingly Ruthless," Finlay shows how Churchill could be ruthless but compassionate.  To illustrate this trait, the author discusses Churchill's actions during the blockade of French ships at Oran in North Africa.  The British were concerned that French ships would fall into the hands of the Germans, so Churchill gave the French naval commander several options, including handing over the ships to the British, destroying them, or sailing them to a conflict-free area of the world.  The French naval commander refused all these conditions and attempted to flee a British blockade.  There was a battle with a large loss of life on the French side.  Churchill had attempted to avoid the loss of life, but he had to show a ruthless streak to send a message that he would follow through with consequences if provoked.

Finlay then shows that this same trait of ruthlessness can be harnessed successfully in the business world, if, as Churchill displayed, it is tempered with fairness and compassion.  He shows how at some jobs he's had, ruthless bosses who display only the negative side of the trait, have workers who are fearful and do not work for the good of the company -- but rather not to make any mistakes that might cause the boss to turn his or her negativity on them.  On the other hand, bosses who display a ruthless streak in business matters while at the same time showing understanding and support for their employees have workers who are willing to work hard for the greater good of the company.  I know which sort of boss I'd rather be  . . . and work for!

The book has 21 chapters which demonstrate the traits that made Churchill so successful. The last chapter of the book is the text of Churchill's "victory speech" from May, 1945, in which he discusses his strategies during the war and the hardships that he and the country have overcome, while not dismissing the dangers that were still present at the time.

This book combines the best of two genres:  history and business.  Times may change, but the personal traits which make people successful can be applied at any time.  Today's business leaders would do well to take note of What Churchill Would Do -- and follow suit!

Disclaimer:  I received a review copy of What Churchill Would Do from the author.

Final Verdict for What Churchill Would Do Four Gherkins, for being a fascinating book filled with personal examples of how following a great leader can make you a better leader

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Actions speak louder than words

We all wish we could do more to help solve the many problems in the world.  Many of us, especially at this time of year, try to help out by giving donations to charitible causes.  In the book Under the Overpass by Mike Yankoski, a young man feels compelled to act on his desire to really understand the problem of homelessness in America.  As he stated, "We were created to be and to do, not merely to discuss.  The hypocrisy of my life troubled me."  He made the decision to go onto the streets and live as a homeless person, both to experience homelessness, and to discover how churches are responding to the needs of the homeless.

At the time of his decision, Yankoski was a Christian college student.  Needless to say, his family and friends were somewhat shocked and dismayed at his decision.  He began slowly, volunteering at a homeless shelter and even gathering a group of advisors who helped him plan his journey.  Before he left, he was joined on his mission by another young man, Sam Purvis.  They both wanted to learn more about the problem, and felt that two men travelling together would have safety in numbers.

They set out to experience homelessness in 6 cities:  Denver, Washington, D.C., Portland, San Francisco, Phoenix and San Diego.  They found differences in the homeless populations in each city.  In Washington, DC, for example, they found that most of the homeless people they encountered were African American veterans in their 50s.  In Portland, most of the homeless were young people in their teens and 20s.  And in San Francisco, they were dismayed at the racial hatred that played out frequently among the various groups. Mike and Sam took their guitars with them, and tried to earn money by panhandling.  This went better in some places than in others, but they were often able to make enough money for at least one meal per day.

They encountered a few people who helped them along the way, but for the most part, they found that to be homeless was to be invisible.  Whether through fear or some other reason, they found it was rare that anyone would even make eye contact with them.  The most shocking thing they discovered was that many churches were not only not helping the homeless, but were actively avoiding them.  They found churches that were padlocked when "church business" wasn't being held, and were told to leave several churches where they had come to either attend services or perhaps find a meal.  In one memorable instance, Mike and Sam slept in the doorway of a church to be there first thing in the morning when the doors opened.  They were awakened by singing -- every member of the church had entered for services through a side door, in order to avoid the two "vagrants" at the front door!

Through all of this, Mike and Sam knew that at the end of their journey, they had warm beds, clean clothes and hot meals waiting for them.  They constantly wondered and worried about the people who had been living for years in the existance that was nearly unbearable for them to endure.

At the end of the book, Mike gives many suggestions for people who might want to get more involved in working with the homeless.  He encourages everyone to step outside of their comfort zones and truly live the life that God intended.  I found the story to be very touching and encouraging.  It is wonderful to see someone who really puts his faith into action.

You can download an Under the Overpass action plan for Christmas here.

Disclaimer:  I received a review copy of Under the Overpass from WaterBrook Multnomah for posting my honest opinion

Friday, December 10, 2010

A creepy English castle, what could go wrong?

Creepy English castles are always a great setting for a story, so I was excited to read The Distant Hours by Kate Morton.  While the events covered in the novel move back and forth in time between the 1940s and the 1990s, the creepy house, Milderhurst Castle, is featured prominently throughout.

The story concerns modern (well, 1992) woman Edie, who works for a small bookshop and has just broken up with her boyfriend and become homeless in the process.  She is staying with her kindly boss and trying to figure out how to break the news to her parents.  While visiting her parents one day, her mother receives a letter that had been sent in the 1940s, but for some reason was only just now delivered.  The sight of the handwriting on the letter has a profound effect on Edie's mother, and she eventually tells a story that she had not mentioned before.  During WWII, she was evacuated from London and sent to live in the countryside.  She ended up staying at Milderhurst Castle, home to writer Raymond Blythe and his 3 unmarried daughters.  She states that after she returned home, she had never been back to visit the castle nor the Blythe sisters, but the long-lost letter was from one of the sisters, Juniper.

Edie becomes very interested in Milderhurst Castle, both because of her mother's association with it, and the fact that it had been the home of Raymond Blythe, the author of one of her favorite books.  The book The True History of the Mud Man (Blythe's best-known work) is mentioned as a beloved children's classic, although everything mentioned about the book seems to indicate that it would be quite dark and scary, not the sort of thing that would appeal to children at all. 

Edie eventually visits the castle and meets the now elderly Blythe sisters, who still live there.  The two oldest sisters, Persephone and Seraphina, are twins (although nothing alike) and the youngest sister, Juniper, suffers from some sort of mental disorder that causes her to wander around the castle, lost and ghostlike, mumbling incoherently. I know this is supposed to be creepy and Gothic and all, but really could we have had some more believable names?

So anyway, the story begins to alternate between Edie in the present, who has been tapped to write a biography of Raymond Blythe (and therefore has access to the castle, his papers, and the sisters) and the 1940s, when events happened which caused Juniper to go all loopy.  The big mystery is what happened to Juniper's fiance.  She was kept virtually as a prisoner in the castle by her father, who felt that her "talent" as a writer would be wasted if she were to marry and have children.  She escapes, however, and travels to London where she meets Thomas Cavill, a young teacher (the teacher of Edie's mother, the war refugee, in fact) and they fall in love.  They decide to marry, and Juniper decides to introduce her strange family to Thomas.  On the night she and Thomas go to the castle for the introductions, Thomas disappears, along with Juniper's sanity.  Oh, whatever could have happened???

Well, by the time the mysteries of the novel have been revealed (what happened to Thomas and what was in the long delayed letter), the reader is really ready for some big, earth-shaking, mind-blowing, wildly unexpected revelations.  The build-up to the ending is so agonizingly slow that you think, "It must be worth waiting for."  Therefore, it's a huge disappointment when the ending just sort of fizzles out.  Nothing that is revealed is all that shocking or even interesting.  There is a huge feeling of let-down when you realize you've slogged through nearly 700 pages (in my Advanced Reader's Copy) for . . . well, not much.  Very depressing.

The book had the elements to be really good, but it leaves the reader flat.  As I mentioned, I didn't read the final edition of the novel, so I can only hope it has been pared down somewhat.  Not much of interest was revealed, but it sure took a long time to get there.

Final Verdict for The Distant Hours Two Gherkins, for some creepy potential, but an ultimately disappointing story

Thursday, December 9, 2010

If he had a brain cell, it'd be lonely

As an avid reader of mystery stories, I love anything featuring private detectives.  Most mystery series on TV seem to focus on policemen and women as they attempt to solve crimes.  I was therefore excited to discover the series Vincent, which features Ray Winstone as a former cop turned private investigator. The series I watched was from 2005 and contained 4 episodes.  There was a season 2, so I'd be interested to see it as well if it's ever released in the US.

We drop in on Vincent just as his personal life is going down the drain.  His long-time girlfriend Cathy has moved in with another man (a surprisingly mild-mannered Phillip Glenister) and is pressuring him to sell their jointly-owned flat.  Vincent still has a thing for Cathy and tries to convince her to come back to him, but she's having none of it.

Vincent has an office with 4 assistants who perform various duties.  In the four stories presented in the first series, the team investigates a cheating girlfriend (with tragic consequences), a young man's death in a nightclub, an autistic young man who might have killed a woman, and a cocaine distribution ring.  While the stories are interesting, there are quite a few events that make the series not quite as believable as it should be.  In the episode where the team is investigating the young man's death in a club, Vincent and his co-workers are threatened by a menacing, powerful crime boss, whose son is suspected of the crime.  By the end of the episode, the crime boss has inexplicably decided to confide in Vincent (rather than follow through with trying to kill him, which he has been doing non-stop up to this point).  In the final episode, Vincent gets a bit to close to a beautiful, jet-setting cocaine dealer, and after knowing each other a few days, she apparently decides to give up a life of crime to be with Vincent.  And let's not forget the fact that the not-exactly-svelte, generally rumpled, aging Vincent is inexplicably irresistible to beautiful women (even if they are sometimes annoyed by his habit of having to answer phone calls and rush off after exchanging two sentences with them).  There are also story lines which are developed, but never resolved.  In one case, Vincent's young assistant is sent to follow a teen aged boy who is getting into trouble and suspected of doing drugs.  The tape of the son's activities is shown to his father, who is upset, but that's the end of that story.  What happened as a result of the father seeing the tape?  We never find out.

I did mostly enjoy the series, even if I found the story lines to be a bit far-fetched.  Still, it was interesting to see the gadgets that the team employed in their investigations, and the relationships between the members of the team.  Small bits and pieces were dropped from time to time about Vincent's employees  (the two female assistants have children/former partner problems), so it would be interesting to see if these events came into play later in the series.
Final Verdict for Vincent:  Three Gherkins, for a generally enjoyable look at a modern private detective

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Prize Pack Winner!

Thanks to everyone who entered my prize pack giveaway from Warner Bros. online.  The lucky winner was:

Jinxy and Me!!

A big congrats and I hope you really enjoy the prize.  With all those great gifts, who wouldn't?

Thanks again to Bridget at Warner Bros. online for providing the great prizes.

Keep watching for future giveaways!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Holiday Sweepstakes!

This holiday season WIN $1,000 (two $500 Gift Cards, one for you and one for a friend) redeemable toward purchases at BBCAmericaShop.com with the annual Holiday Sweepstakes: http://on.fb.me/BBC-Sweeps2010.

Imagine all the great gifts you could buy for the holidays with that!  Not to mention all the gifts you could get for yourself if Santa somehow managed to misplace your wish list!

The BBCAmerica Shop has some great gift ideas (sugar plums!) as well as an amazing assortment of DVDs, books, mugs, T-shirts and those all important "Mind the Gap" items!

Click on the link above to go to enter the Holiday Sweepstakes!  The Sweepstakes is only open to US residents and ends on Dec. 19.

While you're waiting to find out if you've won (fingers crossed!), you can enter my own giveaway for a prize pack containing DVD copies of Are You Being Served, Being Human, Last Of the Summer Wine, as well as the book The Guide To the Queen's English, a Big Ben Ornament and Lemon Soap.  To enter, just leave a comment stating the #1 item on your Christmas wish list (I'm angling for the complete All Creatures Great and Small myself!). That's it!  Due to mailing restrictions, the giveaway is only open to US residents.  Submit your comment by Dec. 1, and remember to leave your email address in the comment (or in your Blogger profile, if you have one!) so that I can contact you.

Thanks for entering and good luck!

Disclaimer:  I was provided with the prize pack to give away by Bridget at Warner Bros. online.

Friday, November 12, 2010

A haul for the holidays!

Although I do tend to veer wildly off topic on frequent occasions, one of the main purposes of my blog is for me to rave/complain/recommend some of the books that thrill or disappoint me throughout the year.  I just adore books, and can't stop myself from always being on the lookout for new ones, even though it would probably take several lifetimes to get through all the ones I already have in my teetering TBR pile . . .

So I was thrilled to find out about the Happy Haul-idays contest being run right now by Chronicle Books.  Bloggers can post a list of Chronicle Books that they'd love to win, up to $500. One lucky winner will win their entire list!  In addition, if you comment on a blog post about the contest, you're entered to win, too!  Rules and details about the contest (including a list of other bloggers who are participating = more chances to win!) can be found here.

Here's my list of books that I'm crossing my fingers will find their way under my tree this Christmas:

Wow! That was fun! I was really surprised at how many books I was able to add to my list.  Of course, plenty of worthy candidates had to be left off.  {sigh} Isn't that always the way?

Good luck to all!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Patriotic Daily Readings

The American Patriot’s Almanac is a wonderful book for everyone who is interested in American history and politics.  The book is arranged by date, with every day featuring an engaging description of an event that occurred on that date, as well as an “American History Parade” at the bottom of the page listing other years when significant things happened.  The preface, introduction and “12 Great Reasons to Love a Great Country,” which lead off the book, are perhaps a bit too “rah-rah” and over-the-top in their flag-waving nationalism, but the rest of the book is a treasure-trove of interesting facts about people and events that have shaped the United States.  There are also many useful historical documents included, such as the texts of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Gettysburg Address.  At the end of the book can be found State Flags, Facts and Symbols, including such obscure state symbols as state rocks, reptiles, folk dances and insects listed for each of the 50 states.  While most of this information can be found online, it is helpful to have it all together and easily accessible in one handsome volume.  Great fun to browse through and learn something new!

Disclaimer:  I received a copy the The American Patriot's Almanac from Thomas Nelson Publisher's Booksneeze.com

Friday, November 5, 2010

Folksy, downhome visits

For over 20 years, Charles Kuralt took his motor homes (he eventually wore out 6 of them!) along the back roads of America to visit people and places that were off the beaten path.  In On the Road, Set 3, we get to follow along as Kuralt discovers what's "just around the bend." On the Road became a regular feature on CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite and won an Emmy and three Peabody awards.

This DVD set features 3 volumes of stories.  There are a total of 14 episodes, each containing 3-5 segments.  A bonus feature includes a 55 minute interview with Kuralt's longtime cameraman, Isadore Bleckman. Each disk also contains some Road Updates on the people and stories featured, including websites where available.  Since most of the episodes appear to be from the 1970s, it's good to find out what happened to some of the more memorable characters.  There is also a biography of Kuralt.

I really enjoyed the story of Moses Walters, an elderly mailman in Magoffin County, Kentucky who delivered the mail by mule for over 50 years.  I was most intrigued by this, because my mother is actually a mail carrier in that same county today.  I'm sure there are some roads where she wishes she could trade in her car for a mule!  I was happy to find out that Moses Walters achieved fame late in life by virtue of being profiled by Charles Kuralt (although I'm sure he never sought the recognition!).

That is the beauty of Kuralt's work.  He looked for ordinary people doing ordinary things, and allowed the rest of America to become acquainted with them, too.  In the days before the Internet gave everyone his or her own website, video channel and podcast, Kuralt showcased what made people special and unique.  I'm glad I was able to see the varied personalities and locations in this wonderful set of stories.

Disclaimer:  I received a review copy of On the Road, Set 3 from Acorn Media

Final Verdict for On the Road, Set 3:  Four Gherkins, for being an interesting collection of the extraordinary stories of ordinary people

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Bodies turning up in Wales

Last year when I visited Cardiff, I had the quaint idea that it might be interesting to study the Welsh language.  A bit more research into that idea showed me the folly of my ways, but I remain fascinated with the country and the language.

That's why I was thrilled to receive a review copy of A Mind to Kill, Series 2 from Acorn Media.  This is the second season of a Welsh detective drama that ran for 5 seasons, between 1994 and 2002.  The action concerns the sufficiently grizzled yet oddly attractive (he has no problem finding female companionship)Welsh DCI Noel Bain, played by Philip Madoc.  Twelve years before the action in this series takes place, his wife was hit and killed by a drunk driver.  This event has left a massive scar on Bain's life, as will be shown toward the end of this season.

Dr. Edwards looking fondly upon a corpse
Bain has a twenty-something daughter, Hannah, who is off at college but still tends to show up and need rescuing from time to time!  There's also Bain's on-again/off-again relationship with the pathologist Professor Margaret Edwards.  Margaret is something of a puzzle.  I haven't seen the first series yet (although I'm planning to rectify this situation soon!) so I'm not entirely sure what her story is.  She and Bain flirt and spend time together, yet he is also open to overtures from other unattached ladies.  Margaret also seems to enjoy her job a little too much, generally looking all too pleased as she examines the burned or drowned or the otherwise unpleasantly dispatched  corpses of the recently departed!

Rounding out the cast of characters are two of Bain's officers, DS Alison Griffiths and DS Carwyn Phillips.  They appear genuinely fond of their somewhat cranky and unpredictable boss, although they do smirk behind his back at his relationship with Professor Edwards.

The series takes place in Wales, which provides a magnificent backdrop to the horrible crimes that Bain is forced to investigate.  There is some forest shown, but for the most part, the hills are quite barren and stark.  Maybe that's why the people who live there get up to such mischief!

One fascinating aspect of the series is that it was filmed in both English and Welsh versions.  This DVD has the English version (of course), but you can watch 7 minutes of one of the episodes in the Welsh language.  It's a very beautiful and mysterious sounding language!  Even when the actors are speaking English, their lilting Welsh accents are very pleasant.

The 7 episodes on this DVD deal with horrible murders and hostile members of the public.  In one case, two brothers are found tied together at the bottom of a lake, and Bain must work out if it really was a murder-suicide (as it appeared to be at first), or a double murder.  In another case, Bain goes undercover at a seaside resort town to look for a killer, but things are complicated when his daughter Hannah shows up.  Another episode deals with a housing estate where residents don't take kindly to the police coming in to investigate the discovery of a burned body in a car.  I found the most unusual episode to be the last one, in which Bain decides to track down the man who was responsible for the death of his wife 12 years previously.

All in all, this was a very interesting entry into the detective fiction genre.  I really enjoyed the stark scenery and the (for me) unusual accents.  I hope I can find the rest of this series to find out what happened to Bain and crew in future seasons!

Disclaimer:  I was sent a review copy of A Mind to Kill by Acorn Media

Final Verdict for A Mind to Kill Four Gherkins, for being a gripping and atmospheric tale of crime in the Welsh countryside

Benny Hill Winner!

Congrats to the winner of the Benny Hill Megaset giveaway:

dave

Thanks to all who entered, and I hope to have more giveaways to entice you in the future!

Monday, November 1, 2010

Alien Autopsy winners!

Congratulations to the three winners of the DVD of Alien Autopsy:


Nicole C.

susan

leandrew

There's still time to enter my giveaway of the DVD set of Benny Hill: The Complete Megaset.  That contest ends on Nov. 3, so hurry!

Friday, October 29, 2010

Where's Stig Winner!

Random.org kindly chose the winner of the Where's Stig book provided by Warner Bros., and the lucky winner was:

Homemaker

Yay!  Congrats to Homemaker, and I hope she doesn't get so caught up with trying to find The Stig that she neglects her other duties at home!

If you didn't win, there's still time to enter a few more giveaways here on my site:


Alien Autopsy (Hurry! ends 10/29)



 
Congratulations to all the recent winners, and thanks again to Warner Bros. for providing such an interesting prize this time around!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Being Human winners!

Thanks to everyone who entered my giveaway for DVDs of Being Human: Season Two.  The winners were:

Jessica

Chrystal

ky2here

kitkat234

devotus

kanderspina

Maja

MAT

david boyington

jsc123

Congrats to the winners, and I hope you enjoy watching!

If you didn't win this time, there's still a chance to enter my other drawings:

Where's Stig? (Hurry!  ends 10/28)

Alien Autopsy (ends 10/29)

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Queen winner!

I had the drawing for the DVD of The Queen, and the winner was:

clc408
Congratulations!  If you didn't win this time, be sure and enter one of my other giveaways:

Being Human ( Hurry! ends 10/27)

Where's Stig? (ends 10/28)

Alien Autopsy (ends 10/29)


Thanks again to Acorn Media for providing the copy of The Queen!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Midsomer winner!

I'd like to thank everyone for the comments on my Midsomer Murders: Village Case Files giveaway.  I used random.org to choose the winner, who was:

wcc-whitechocolatecherries

Thanks again to all who entered.  If you didn't win this time, why not enter one of my other current giveaways?

The Queen (hurry, ends 10/22!)

Being Human (ends 10/27)

Where's Stig? (ends 10/28)

Alien Autopsy (ends 10/29)


Ain't British TV great?  :)

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Benny Hill Giveaway!

The hilarious Benny Hill is widely regarded as one of the greatest comedians of the 20th century.  His groundbreaking TV series ran for many seasons, most popularly produced by Thames Television from 1969-1989.  A&E Home Video is now releasing the complete 20 year run of the series.  The set contains 58 episodes on 18 DVDs and will be sure to delight his many fans!

BENNY HILL: THE COMPLETE MEGASET contains Benny’s raucous 20-year reign over the television-sketch variety genre, from the naughty early years to the debut of the nubile Hills Angels, through the final episodes. Witness the birth of crazy caricatures like Fred Scuttle, Chow Mein, and Pierre de Terre. Laugh out loud as Benny and his bevy of buxom babes flaunt their racy rowdiness and tongue-in-cheek satire in characteristically outrageous sketches like The Little Dimpton Street Party and The Crook Report.

BONUS FEATURES:
  • Bonus Documentary: The Worlds Favorite Clown;
  • The Benny Hill Cheeky Challenge Trivia Quiz # 1-6
  • Liner Notes DVD Insert Booklets
  • Benny Hill: Laughter and Controversy Episode of A&Es Award-Winning Series BIOGRAPHY®
  • Eddie in August
  • Featurettes: I Was A Hills Angel, Hills Angels: Off the Record and Hills Angels: In Conversation
Thanks to Jelena at A&E Home Video, I have one copy of Benny Hill: The Complete Megaset to give away!  To enter, just leave a comment naming your favorite comedian.  Be sure your email address is in your comment or visible in your profile (if you have a blog) so that I can contact you.  Open to the US only.  Contest ends 11/3.  Good luck!

Disclaimer:  A&E Home Video provided the DVD  set for this giveaway

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Anglophile dream come true!!

Yes, that's right.  It's me and my new pal, Elton John!  I was incredibly lucky and won the Godiva Chocolate Valentine's Day Game sweepstakes.  The prize was an all-expenses paid trip to New York City, along with the opportunity to attend the Elton John AIDS Foundation's Enduring Vision benefit.  I also got to present Sir Elton a check, on behalf of Godiva, in the amount of $200,000 for the foundation:

Me, my husband Hans, Elton John, Jim Goldman (CEO of Godiva) and Gigi Goldman
 As if that weren't exciting enough, I also got to choose a charity to receive a $20,000 donation in my name.  I was thrilled to be able to choose the Best Friends Animal Society in Kanab, Utah as the recipient!

So I've had an exciting few days.  Not only did Sir Elton perform numerous songs, but plenty of delicious Godiva chocolate was on offer, so it was a perfect evening!

Thanks so much to the Godiva company for providing such a wonderful experience!!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Alien Autopsy giveaway!

A film about aliens starring Ant & Dec?  What could be more perfect?

Alien Autopsy is a humorous film that looks at the incidents surrounding the release of the infamous "alien autopsy" video from 1995. That year, mysterious top-secret black-and-white footage, supposedly filmed during the 1947 Roswell incident, was broadcast around the world. It showed the autopsy of an alien lifeform. The men responsible for the discovery of the footage, buddies Ray (Declan Donnelly) and Gary (Ant McPartlin), are thrown into intense media scrutiny. But the guys have an even bigger secret. And it's not very pretty. Based on true events, Alien Autopsy is the alternately bizarre and frequently quirky story of the two unlikely lads from London who become icons in UFOlogy with a discovery that stunned millions who've long searched for evidence of extraterrestrial life. Bill Pullman and Harry Dean Stanton also star.  Watch a clip from the film.

Special features on the DVD include:
  • The Making of Ant and Dec's Alien Autopsy
  • Additional Scenes
  • Outtakes
  • Alternate Opening
Thanks to Bridget at Warner Bros., I have 3 copies of the DVD to giveaway!  To enter, just leave a comment stating whether or not you've ever seen a UFO.  Be sure to include your email address in your comment or you profile (if you have a blog) so that I can contact you.  Open to the US and Canada.  Ends on Oct. 29.

Disclaimer:  I was sent 3 copies of the DVD to giveaway by Warner Bros.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Where's Stig?

Fans of the BBC series Top Gear will enjoy this new companion book.  Where's Stig is a picture book based on the popular "Where's Waldo" books.  The white-clad, white-helmeted The Stig manages to lose himself in 12 different Top Gear inspired locations, including the Studio, Tokyo, the Deep South and the English Channel.  In addition to trying to find The Stig, there is a list of other things that you can look for in each location, including his colleagues Jeremy, Richard and James.  At the end of the book there is also a checklist of things to look for specific to each scene.

The illustrations are very colorful and humorous, and contain jokes and other elements that fans of the show will surely recognize.  While this is a picture book, it is aimed at adults.  There's nothing really offensive contained, but it is not a children's book.  If you are a fan of the series, you will find a lot to engage you in this book.  Even if you've never seen Top Gear, you'll enjoy the illustrations and the challenge of trying to find all the elements!

Thanks to Warner Bros., I have one copy of the book Where's Stig to giveaway!  To enter, please leave a comment stating your favorite location to "lose yourself."  Please be sure your email address is in your comment or in your profile (if you have a blog) so I'll have a way to contact you.  Open to the US and Canada.  Contest ends on Oct. 28.

Disclaimer:  I was sent a copy of Where's Stig to give away by Warner Bros.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Being Human giveaway!

While most of us take the attributes of "being human" for granted, the three main characters of the BBC series of the same name don't have that luxury.  Being Human is the story of George (a werewolf), Mitchell (a vampire) and Annie (a ghost) attempting to get by in the modern world.

In Being Human Season Two, the vampire leader Herrick has been defeated, but there are new enemies and dangers facing our heroes at every turn.  Mitchell (Aiden Turner) has a new girlfriend, but he's unable to enjoy the relationship due to the disarrayed vampire community.  George (Russel Tovey) also has a new girlfriend, but a new twist in his werewolf life disrupts their relationship as well.  Annie (Lenora Crichlow) has a difficult time trying to figure out how to cross over to the other side, and if that is really a good idea.  To top it off, all three of them are now being threatened by CenSSA, headed by the mysterious Professor Jaggat and the ruthless Kemp.  CenSSA is a religious organization determined to destroy and convert all supernatural beings.  And here you probably thought being a supernatural entity was all superpowers, wearing black, and looking mysterious!

The undead aren't exactly tidy, are they?
Check out this creepy preview clip from the DVD.

In addition, there are bonus features on the DVD including:

o Behind the Scenes Featurettes:

o Blood Bursting

o The Caves

o Unleashing the Beast

o The Swinging Sixties

o Behind the Makeup

o Making the New Werewolf

o Train Carnage

o Easter Eggs

Thanks to Bridget at Warner Bros., I have *TEN* copies of Being Human Season Two to giveaway!  To enter, just leave a comment stating whether (given the chance), you'd prefer to live as a ghost, a vampire or a were wolf.  Be sure and leave your email address in your comment so I'll have a way to contact you.  Open to the U.S. and Canada.  Contest ends on Oct. 27. 
 
Check out the official site: BBCAmericaShop.com

Disclaimer:  Warner Bros. provided the 10 DVDs for giveaway.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Top Gear winners!

Congratulations to the winners of my Top Gear Season 13 DVD giveaway.  I chose the winners using random.org, and they were:

Mark N.

Hotsnotty2

The winners have been contacted and the DVDs sent out.  If you didn't win this time, why not enter my other current giveways for The Queen or Midsomer Murders DVDs?

Watch this space for more upcoming giveaways!

Duty before self

Queen Elizabeth II is certainly a popular subject in film and on TV lately.  I wonder what she herself thinks about all the dramatizations of her life?  I was very interested to receive a copy of the recent Channel 4 miniseries, The Queen to learn even more about the life of this long-serving monarch.

I was expecting this to be just a dramatization of various points in the life of the queen, but I was pleasantly surprised by the format of this program.  Five different actresses portray the queen at different ages, and important events are dramatized.  The introduction to each episode states "The drama is imagined."  I think they imagined a bit too far in one episode, as the queen is shown doing the washing up while having a cosy chat with the current prime minister.  Somehow, I don't think "we" do washing up ourselves!  Aside from the re-created scenes, there are also interviews with people who were involved with the events, archival footage, and a narrator tying all the events together.  So the series isn't a straightforward dramatic telling of the story as I had imagined.

The five episodes in the series look to especially stressful or difficult times in the queen's life.

Episode 1: Sisters  This episode looks at the early relationship of Queen Elizabeth and her younger sister Princess Margaret just after the death of their father, King George VI.  After being crowned queen, Elizabeth was surrounded by the mostly elderly male advisers who had worked with her father.  Margaret fell in love with a divorced man, and the queen faced her first crisis in attempting to persuade her sister to avoid this potentially explosive match.

Episode 2: Us and Them  Events from 1969 to 1975 are covered.  In those years, the UK was in economic upheaval.  It was beset by strikes, IRA bombings and demands to abolish the monarchy.  Amidst all this, the queen had to ask for more money from the government to continue to run her increasingly expensive household.  The country is briefly united for the wedding of Princess Anne, but even this turns out badly when she becomes the target of a botched kidnapping.

Episode 3: The Rivals  This turned out to be my favorite episode, mainly because I hadn't realized (or had forgotten) that there was such tension between the queen and former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.  Their icy relationship was mainly caused by Mrs. Thatcher's refusal to impose sanctions on South Africa, which the queen feared would cause the break-up of the Commonwealth.

Episode 4: The Enemy Within  The queen's famous annus horribilis (1992) is played out in all its gory glory, from the divorces of her children to the fire at Windsor Castle to tax problems.  Can't a queen get a break?

Episode 5: How Do You Solve a Problem Like Camilla? The queen must struggle with her son, Prince Charles, over his decision to marry his mistress Camilla Parker Bowles.  Princess Diana had given television interviews blaming Camilla for the break-up of her marriage, so the queen was not especially eager to give her blessing to the union.

I was surprised to see the Queen portrayed as forever reading tabloid newspapers and taking note of opinion polls on the future of the monarchy.  I suppose when your livelihood depends upon "the affection of the public" that it pays to keep up with their moods!

I really enjoyed this series.  It provided a fascinating look behind one scenes at the life of one of the most famous women in the world.  She never had a choice about whether or not to be queen, and she certainly had to endure more than her fair share of controversies and tragedies.  She has still managed to maintain an air of dignity and grace that probably few of us could match!

Thanks to Alyssa at Acorn Media, I have a copy of The Queen to give away!  To enter, just leave a comment naming your favorite member (past or present) of the British royal family.  Be sure that your email is in your comment or in your profile (if you have a blog) so I can contact you. Open only to the U.S. Ends Oct. 22, so get to commentin'!  The winner will have 48 hours to respond to my email, or I will have to choose another winner.

Disclaimer:  I was provided with a review copy and a giveaway copy of the DVD.

Pop a ciggy in her hand, and you've got Dot Cotton!
Final Verdict for The Queen Four Gherkins, for being a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at a royal life

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Midsomer giveaway!!

If you want a real taste of beautiful scenery, village life, chocolate-box-pretty towns, and the occasional dead body, I've got just the thing for you!  Acorn Media is releasing a collection of recent DVDs in the Midsomer Murders Village Case Files

If you've never visited the lovely English county of Midsomer, you're in for a treat!  Nestled in the middle of England (the real filming takes place in villages in Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire), the events portrayed in Midsomer Murders take place in towns with charming names like Midsomer Mallow, Midsomer Wellow, Badgers Drift and Morton Fendle.  It's up to the dogged DCI Tom Barnaby (played by John Nettles) and his assistants DS Dan Scott and DC Ben Jones to clear up the many cases of murder that inexplicably happen in such gorgeous surroundings.

In every episode we are also treated to scenes from DCI Barnaby's home life, including his long-suffering wife Joyce (very sweet, but decidedly lacking in culinary skills) and daughter Cully (an aspiring actress).  The play between Barnaby and his underlings is also interesting to watch.  Somehow the assistants are always the ones directed to chase and tackle fleeing suspects or to overnight in barns and lofts to await developments.

The episodes generally start with the victim meeting his untimely end, and Barnaby and sidekick rushing to the scene.  There will likely be more bodies piled up before the evildoer is finally tracked down!  Many of the mysteries are set in specialized worlds.  The people involved (victims and suspects) might be involved in the local horse racing scene, or be collectors of rare orchids or all have psychic powers.  Everyone is a suspect (well, until he or she turns up dead, that is!) and it's fun to see if I can suss out the murderer before Barnaby does (generally not!).

The series began in 1997 in the UK and since then more than 65 feature-length episodes have aired.  The series is still in production, although John Nettles is set to retire from the show this year).  The Village Case Files set contains 4 sets of DVDs containing 16 mysteries.  The scenery is lovely.  There are plenty of thatched cottages, flowers, stately churches and village fetes to whet the appetite for a quick visit to this lovely area of England!  Bonus features include text interviews with John Nettles and Jason Hughes, fascinating facts, The Killings of Badger's Drift connection, production notes, Caroline Graham (who wrote the novels that inspired the series) biography and cast filmographies.

Thanks to Alyssa at Acorn Media, I have one copy of Midsomer Murders Village Case Files to giveaway!  To enter, just leave a comment stating a mystery you would recommend.  It can be a book or a TV series or even a film.  Make sure your email address is in your comment or profile (if you have a blog) so that I can contact you.  Open only to the U.S.  Enter by Oct. 20.

Disclaimer:  I received a review copy and a giveaway copy of Midsomer Murders Village Case Files from Acorn Media

Final Verdict for Midsomer Murders Village Case Files:  Five Gherkins, for being a cosy look at an idyllic British countryside . . . if you can overlook all the dead bodies!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Riddle me this

As a rabid Londonphile, I'm always thrilled to find a book which centers on weird or unknown facts about the city.  I was very exited to receive a copy of the beautiful little book London Quiz by Travis Elborough and Nick Rennison to browse through.

This compact little book is just packed with interesting stuff!  It is arranged into 20 chapters, each covering an area of London life or history.  Some of the chapters are:

Crime and Punishment
Royal London
London Transport
London Firsts
The London Dead
Literary London
London Buildings

and so on.  There are also 20 questions in each chapter (I'm sensing a pattern here!) followed by three possible answers.  Here is an example of a question from the Shops & Shopping chapter:

In 1907, how did William Whiteley, founder of the famous Whiteleys department store in Bayswater, die?
a. He tripped and fell from a window on the third floor of his store
b. He was shot dead in his office by a man claiming to be his illegitimate son
c. He contracted fatal food poisoning after eating shellfish in the restaurant of his store

To make cheating more difficult (it's as if this book were made for me!) the answers are to be found in the back of the book.  The table of contents gives both the page number of each chapter, as well as the page number where the answers can be found.  The questions and possible answers are all fascinating and lead to a desire to find out even more about some of these people and events.  (Poor Mr. Whiteley was done in by his alleged illegitimate son, by the way.)

The book is also beautifully illustrated by Kerry Lee.  There is an illustration in the style of the map on the cover at the start of every chapter.  The illustrations alone are very colorful and entertaining!

This book is a delight from cover to cover.  In the introduction to the book, the authors state that the questions are not easy, but are rather intended to "provide entry points into the fascinating history of the city."  I can say that they have succeeded admirably with that goal!

Disclaimer: I received a review copy of London Quiz from The Little Bookroom

Final verdict for London Quiz:  Five Gherkins, for being a delightful look at some unusual aspects of a wonderful city

Monday, October 4, 2010

Who is benefitting?

This book manages to be scary, depressing and heartbreaking all at the same time.  Ankarlo visited the US-Mexico border area to get a clearer impression of the people who are involved in all illegal immigration: migrants, coyotes who traffic them, border enforcement agents, residents, and “volunteer” border guards.  He notes that the majority of people who enter the US illegally come here for a better life, but most of them end up in poverty.  The journey itself to get into the country is fraught with horrors.  Not only must migrants pay (generally multiple people) to “help” transport them, they also risk kidnapping by armed extortion gangs (aided by corrupt Mexican police).  Female immigrants are nearly always raped on the journey, and this is a known and accepted part of the price that is paid.  Ankarlo also discovers a growing movement in the Latino community to take back the American southwest states, which were “illegally” taken from Mexico.  He also looks at who is benefitting from this situation.  He fears a growing tide of division in the U.S. if the situation isn’t addressed.  At the end of the book, he offers over 30 possible solutions to this difficult and divisive issue.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Get it in gear with Top Gear!


Top Gear: Complete Season 13
The BBC series Top Gear has just released its 13th season of automotive fun on DVD.  Hosts Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May enter a terrifying French ice race in low cost rear-wheel-drive coupés and James travels to America to spend a day with stunt-driving legend Ken Block. The boys are no less ambitious this season as Richard and James challenge the logistical might of Britain’s mail service by racing the new Porsche Panamera versus a stamped envelope across the British Isles and Richard stages the world’s first-ever race between the 1000 horsepower Bugatti Veyron, McLaren F1 and Lamborghini Murcielago SV in Abu Dhabi.

Elsewhere, Jeremy and James attempt to understand what makes a great Volkswagen advertisement – and then try to film one of their own. Plus, Jeremy gets chased by the British Army in some of its latest and most deadly toys and in a long-awaited television-first, the mysterious Stig takes off his helmet to reveal just who he really is.

The ongoing hit “Star in the Reasonably Priced Car” segment continues with Jay Leno, Olympic Gold Medal Sprinter Usain Bolt, Sienna Miller, AC/DC Singer Brian Johnson and more getting behind the wheel on the test track.

To whet your appetite, here is a clip of the three hosts engaging in one of their popular races:  steam train vs. car vs. motorcycle.  Which will reach the destination first? 

TOP GEAR 13 BONUS FEATURES

• Stig POV
• Spitfire Magic
• Ken Block: Slow Motion
• Extended Brian Johnson Interview
• Extended Jenson Button Interview
• Lamborghini Murcielago LP670-4-SV 200 mph Run in   Abu Dhabi
• Train Race Sequence with JC

Top Gear Season 13 Blu-ray/DVD is available for purchase starting on Sept. 28. 

**Win!  Thanks to Bridget at Warner Bros. I have one TWO copies of Top Gear Season 13 to giveaway!  To enter, just leave a comment stating what car you would like to test drive if given a chance.  Make sure your email address is either in your Blogger profile (if you have one) or in your message so that I can contact you if you win!  The contest closes on Oct. 8, 2010.  Open to the US and Canada.  Good luck!**

The hosts are so engaging and the features are so over the top and unexpected that even non "gear heads" will get a kick out of watching!  While you're waiting to find out if you're the winner, be sure to check out new episodes of Top Gear on BBCAmerica.

Get the inside scoop on WB movie & DVD releases! http://www.wbreelnews.com/

Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of the DVD to giveaway.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Don't flaunt your ignorance

As a huge fan of Stephen Fry, I was excited to discover the QI TV series.  I was also thrilled to discover that the creators of the program have also published a number of books related to the show.  I was excited to read QI: Book of General Ignorance: The Noticeably Stouter Edition. The book begins with a humorous forward by Mr. Fry himself, a completely useless attempt at humor by Alan Davies (in the "look at me, aren't I clever?" vein he employs in the show) and a forward by the author John Lloyd.
The book format consists of a question, followed by an in-depth explanation of the answer.  Many of the questions could be considered "trick" questions, as one of the purposes of the authors is to question widely accepted, but incorrect information.  An example:

How many wives did Henry VIII have?  Most Americans would probably have to go look that one up, but the generally accepted answer is six (two beheaded, two divorced, one died and one survived).  The answer to the question is: it varies according to source.  Since Henry's marriage to Anne of Cleves was annulled, it never really happened, so that one doesn't count.  The Pope refused to recognize Henry's second marriage, because the Pope stated that Henry was still married to his first wife at the time.  And so on. 


There are questions about everything from animals (What's the most dangerous animal that ever lived?), to science (What's in an atom?) and history (Who was Britain's first Prime Minister?) and many other topics.  Whether you like trivia or just need some interesting facts to astound your friends (the country of Bhutan banned tobacco sales in 2004), this is the book for you!

Final Verdict for QI: Book of General Ignorance: Four Gerkins, for being an enlightening and entertaining look at some facts you only think you know

Thursday, September 23, 2010

I'm in no hurry . . .

Turning up by the Duck Pond during rush hour yesterday, I (along with dozens of other motorists) was annoyed to find my journey delayed by a herd of geese who decided to cross the street vvveeeerrrry slowly. They seemed to enjoy tormenting people. I'd never seen anything like it. Lead goose would slowly lift one leg, hesitate for a while, then slowly put it back down. The others were worse. There were about 6-8 other geese on the right-hand side of the street who kept darting into the road, then back to the side, then hesitantly standing by the side of the street looking as if they were going to step out in front of cars any second. Finally one of the frustrated motorists got out and shooed across the geese who were, at that moment, in the street. I was expecting them to have just used this as a ploy to draw us out of our cars for a good savaging, but they docilely scurried on across. I hope all drivers are as patient as these were!