Thursday, December 15, 2011

Thanks to everyone who entered to win the BBC America Shop Holiday prize pack. The lucky winner, chosen by Random.org, was:

mar200


The winner has been notified.  Thanks to BBC America Shop for providing the wonderful selection of gifts for the prize pack. 

You still have a few days to win a $500 gift card for yourself, plus a $500 gift card for someone else on your gift list!  Enter here until Dec. 18:  https://bitly.com/BBC_Sweeps (Valid toward your purchases on the BBCAmericaShop.com).

Good luck and happy holidays!

Good luck!


Friday, December 2, 2011

This Holiday season discover the perfect gift at the BBCAmericaShop.com!

Find DVDs and official merchandise from your favorite BBC shows including Doctor Who, Planet Earth, Top Gear and more.  Also, find traditional holiday decorations from the United Kingdom including ornaments and nutcrackers: http://bit.ly/BBC_Gifts

Plus, it’s back! The annual BBC America Shop Sweepstakes giving you a chance to win two $500 Gift Cards for you and a friend: https://bitly.com/BBC_Sweeps (Valid toward your purchases on the BBCAmericaShop.com).

Oh, my, I'd love to win the $500 gift card.  Not only do I have plenty of ideas on what to spend it on, but I have loads of suggestions for my friend (who would get the other card)! 

Enter to win a BBC prize pack!!!

Thanks to BBC, I have an amazing prize pack to award to one lucky winner!  There's such a great variety of items here, that you can find a gift for everyone on your list if you win these fantastic prizes!

Here's what's up for grabs:













Planet Earth: Special Edition
You'll be filled with awe and amazement every time you watch this stunning BBC series about our planet's best-loved, wildest and most elusive creatures, captured on breathtaking, high-definition film in the Earth's most extreme habitats. Forty cameramen and hundreds of producers, scientists and guides spent four years and $25 million to bring you this God's-eye-view of rare action and intimate moments in impossible locations.

Laughs and holiday cheer abound in these eight hilarious BBC Christmas specials. Catch the festive spirit with the residents of Dibley as they put on a pageant or with the Goods and the Leadbetters of Good Neighbors as their Christmas celebrations go terribly awry. Featuring specials from Are You Being Served, Good Neighbors, To the Manor Born, Allo Allo, Last of the Summer Wine, Keeping Up Appearances, Blackadder, and The Vicar of Dibley, this collection is a must have for any fan of British comedy!
Share the magic of a mother-daughter day trip as you walk past the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace, through the Whispering Gallery at St. Paul's Cathedral, and on to the amazing jewels at the Tower of London-learning fascinating facts as you go. See if you can spot the royal family's car, and ride a ferry on the River Thames. A fun children's book you'll both enjoy. Hardcover; 34 color pages, plus panoramic foldout.
While Annie the ghost waits in purgatory to learn her fate, her supernatural friends- Mitchell the vampire and werewolves George and Nina-settle into their new home in Wales, hoping for a fresh start at living normal lives. Brace yourself for out-of-this-world adventure when Mitchell decides to rescue Annie. All eight new episodes in the hit BBC series, starring Aidan Turner, Russell Tovey and Lenora Crichlow. Many extras.
Romola Garai, Dominic West and Ben Whishaw star in The Hour, a thrilling six-part drama set in 1950s London when the BBC is about to launch an entirely new way of presenting the news. The dynamic Bel (Garai) is chosen to produce the new program, to be called "The Hour," with handsome and well connected Hector (West) set to become the anchor, much to the annoyance of Freddie (Whishaw), a brilliant and outspoken journalist, whose passion continually lands him in trouble. Over the six episodes, the interplay of intense ambitions between our rising news team play out against the backdrop of a mysterious murder and Freddie's controversial and dangerous investigation.
The delightful star of Eric Hill's beloved children's books joins his friends as they embark on a special magical ride to help find Santa's special Christmas sleigh-before it's too late. As a reward for his help, Spot finds a big surprise under the tree on Christmas morning! Bonus episode: Spot's Winter Sports, featuring Haley Joel Osment (The Sixth Sense), plus two games.
The trio is back in Gear for their latest supercharged season. Whether they're torturing a Jaguar, Mercedes, Bentley, Ferrari, Porsche, BMW or Audi or chatting up a "Star in a Reasonably Priced Car," the guys never fail to deliver their irreverent wit and nearly slanderous honesty. Six episodes, highlighted by the "Middle East Special," a seasonal road trip recreating a famous journey across the Middle East to Bethlehem.
For good luck in warmer weather, top your day with the appliqu├ęd shamrock on your Guinness baseball cap. Easily adjustable Velcro headband. One size fits most.

Wow! All these great gifts are up for grabs for one lucky winner!  To enter, just leave a comment on this post stating what you most want Santa to bring you for Christmas.  Be sure to include your email address so that I can contact you.  Due to shipping costs, this contest is only open to US residents.  Last day to enter is Dec. 14. Good luck!

Disclaimer:  I was provided with the prize pack to giveaway by BBC. I received no compensation for hosting this contest.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

This holiday season celebrate with The Office Collection Special Edition available on November 22.  Written and created by Golden Globe winners Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant, the DVD Special Edition features the complete, original UK series plus all new bonus features.

BBC AMERICA first introduced U.S. audiences to the comedy genius of Ricky and Stephen when it premiered the show in 2003.  At its launch The New York Times called it “pretty much the funniest show ever” while Newsweek declared it the “best comedy on television.”  It went on to win two Golden Globes, inspire the U.S. version on NBC and continues to influence the tone and look of everything from television comedy and movies to commercials and pop culture at large. 

The Special Edition DVD has all 12 episodes and the 2-part Holiday Special with bonus features including:

·         The original pilot

·         Six specially recorded introductions of every episode  from Season 1 by Ricky and Stephen

·         An exclusive documentary  Comedy Connections: The Office which traces the history of the show

·         Interviews with the original cast including Ricky, Stephen, Lucy Davies, Mackenzie Crook, Martin Freeman and Ewen Macintosh as well as celebrity fans Ben Stiller, Christopher Guest, Matthew Perry, Richard Curtis and David Baddiel.

Check out the official site.

Here is a clip of Ricky Gervais, as David Brent, "cheering up" an employee on his 30th birthday:



Ricky Gervais shines as slimy, clueless boss David Brent in the "docusoap" series The Office. The premise of the show is that a documentary film crew is recording the daily goings-on of the paper company Wernham Hogg in lovely industrial Slough.  The title credits show a gray, boring, office in the middle of a gray, boring town.  David Brent is the Managing Director of the company, but he never seems to do much work beyond annoying employees and making them feel uncomfortable.  He is never shy about addressing the viewer directly and imparting his vast wisdom on how to motivate employees to get the best out of them, while at the same time lightening the mood all round by being an "entertainer."  The David Brent character does become a more sympathetic character as the series evolves and his odd behavior catches up to him.

This Special Edition collection of the program consists of 4 disks which include both seasons of the series, as well as the series finale, a 2-part Christmas episode shown in 2003. One disk contains the original pilot episode, with actors who didn't continue on to the main series.  It is interesting to see David Brent in all his original glory, when the principle actors had no idea that this project would evolve into a series!  This disk also includes an interesting documentary with an interview with creators Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant discussing how the program came to be, and how unenthused the-powers-that-be at the BBC were at the beginning.

The first season's episodes are all introduced by Stephen Merchant and Ricky Gervais discussing various aspects of the show, illustrated by clips from the series.   The very first episode also features short clips of various well-known actors, including Ben Stiller, Christopher Guest and Matthew Perry discussing their admiration for the innovative and influential show.  It was a little difficult for me at times to figure out when the reminiscences had ended and the actual episode began, though!

Some of the other actors who appear in the series have also become famous since the airing of the show.  Martin Freeman (Dr. Watson and soon to be Bilbo Baggins) plays Tim, who seems to be the only person interested in doing any actual work at Wernham Hogg.  He is constantly thwarted in his efforts to concentrate by his annoying cubicle-mate (although they are unfortunately missing the walls which might have made the situation bearable) Gareth, played by Mackenzie Crook, best know for his role as a somewhat ramshackle pirate in the Pirates of the Caribbean films.  The other main character is the receptionist Dawn, who is part of a love-triangle between the mild-mannered Tim and her tough boyfriend Lee.  Lucy Davis (known for coaching her fellow survivors on how to play zombie in Shaun of the Dead) plays the conflicted Dawn.

The disk containing the final episodes of the series also contains the documentary Closed for Business, where Gervais and Merchant and the various actors discuss why they decided to end the show at that point.  The Christmas episodes were intended to be the series finale, so there are no cliffhangers that never get resolved or other annoying plot holes.

New and old fans will enjoy this full series of the iconic British series.  Fans of the American version of The Office will enjoy seeing where it all began! 

On a side note, I was very pleased to note the Eastenders reference in the first episode (Rickaaay!). Just one iconic show paying tribute to another!

Disclaimer:  I was provided a review copy of The Office Collection Special Edition by BBC.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

I'm a huge fan of Ruth Rendell, so I was thrilled to find her latest novel, Tigerlily's Orchids, at my local library.  Although she has stopped writing about Inspector Wexford, her "one off" novels have always also been quite enjoyable.

The latest novel takes place in a block of flats in London.  The gorgeous and spoiled Stuart Font has used an inheritance from an aunt to purchase a flat and also to avoid getting a job.  He decides to throw himself a housewarming party and invite the other residents of the building.  Stuart is having an affair with a married woman, Claudia, who has a violently unstable husband.  The other residents of the building all have their own problems and secrets. Olwen, an older lady who just wants to be left in peace so that she can drink herself to death, naturally attends the party for the free alcohol on offer.  Rose and Marius are two aging "hippies" who once had a one-night stand, but are now just neighbors.  Michael Constantine, a doctor who is in trouble for writing facually incorrect medical articles, attends with his wife Katie.  The three single girls sharing a flat also wouldn't miss a party, and the cleaning lady Richenda and her caretaker husband Wally also show up (although they weren't exactly invited).  Not long after the party starts, Claudia's jealous husband Freddy shows up, and the party breaks up when Freddy attacks Stuart.  Stuart ends up with a broken arm.

Adding to this cast of characters is Duncan, a retired mechanic who lives across the street.  Duncan observes the comings and goings of the residents of Stuart's building, as well as the odd events in the house next door.  It is occupied by what appears to be a family of Chinese immigrants.  Duncan doesn't have any contact with them.  Oddly, his house is always sweltering, even on the warmest days.

One day, Stuart is in a shop when he spots the most beautiful girl he's ever seen.  He doesn't speak to her, but continues to watch for her.  Not suprisingly, at this point his relationship with Claudia begins to fizzle out (although Claudia isn't too happy about this).  Eventually, he learns that the beautiful girl is part of the "family" that live across the street, next to Duncan. He is able to speak with the girl (whom he calls "Tigerlily") and asks her to meet him.  She doesn't speak much English, but agrees to meet him.  On their "date," she asks Stuart to help her get a passport.  Her "family" is very strict, and she must hide her meetings with Stuart from them.

In the meantime, one of the party girls, Molly, has fallen madly in love with Stuart and decided that she will take on the job of cleaning his flat for him since he is injured.  Stuart barely acknowledges her existence.

Stuart has arranged another meeting with Tigerlily in a park.  The next day, he is found murdered in the park, and there's no shortage of possible suspects.  The first to come to mind is the enraged Freddy, but there's also Tigerlily's "dad," who doesn't like her talking to strange men.  Or could there be someone else with a grudge against Stuart??

In amongst all this activity are woven different social issues:  illegal immigration, drug trafficking, modern day slavery, substance abuse, even pedophilia!  I do love Ruth Rendell, but this book might have benefitted from about half the number of characters and issues that were included!

Final verdict for Tigerlily's Orchids Three gherkins, for a page-turning but ultimately too busy story

Monday, November 7, 2011

Thanks to everyone who entered my contest to win a copy of "The Rise and Fall of Margaret Thatcher."

The lucky winner is:

Mysharona

Congratulations and happy watching!  Watch this space for future giveaways!

 

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Margaret Thatcher certainly played a vital part in the history of the United Kingdom.  As Prime Minister all throughout the 1980s, she steered Britain toward a more conservative course.  Gain insight into the life of the controversial and inspiring woman who led the United Kingdom for more than ten years. The BBC released The Rise and Fall of Margaret Thatcher on DVD October 18.  Here is a synopsis of the program:

Synopsis:
Gain insight into the life of the controversial and inspiring woman who led the United Kingdom for more than ten years as the BBC releases The Rise and Fall of Margaret Thatcher on DVD this October. Featuring three outstanding productions - The Long Walk to Finchley, The Falkland’s Play and Margaret - on two discs, this fascinating collection follows the political career of the former Prime Minister. Andrea Riseborough (Made in Dagenham, Happy Go Lucky), Patricia Hodge (The Legacy of Reginald Perrin, Miranda) and Lindsay Duncan (Doctor Who, Rome) respectively tackle the role of the Iron Lady in these films. Arriving at retail on October 18, The Rise and Fall of Margaret Thatcher is a must-own DVD set for all history buffs and Anglophiles alike.
Riseborough’s portrayal of a young Margaret Roberts in The Long Walk to Finchley, was hailed as “breathtaking, giving Thatcher humor, drive and real sex appeal” by the London Evening Standard. The intriguing film reveals her steely determination as an ambitious twenty-something research chemist on the first rungs of the ladder to Parliament.  Eager to speak her mind and be selected to a “winnable” Tory seat in the 1950s, The Long Walk to Finchley imagines what might have gone on behind the scenes during Thatcher’s ten-year struggle to gain a seat in Parliament.


Lauded by The Guardian as, “a thrilling piece of drama which challenged prejudices and preconceptions,” The Falkland’s Play chronicles the backroom story of Margaret Thatcher’s war. Once deemed too controversial to produce, this compelling production depicts a gripping account of how the leaders at 10 Downing Street faced one of their biggest crises in foreign affairs.

Finally, Margaret examines the downfall of the Prime Minister after her election to a third term. One of the most formidable figures in British politics, the film ultimately reveals that the very aspects of her character that helped her secure power were also the ones that ensured her decline. The Daily Express praised the film as “riveting viewing…Lindsay Duncan plays her as sharp as a ferret, with the eyes of a lynx and the manner of an aged, furious tiger.

One of the defining crises of Thatcher's tenure occurred during the Falklands crisis. Here is a video showing some "behind the scenes" discussions just as the action was beginning to heat up:

Check out the Official Site and then Own it on Blu-ray!

I have one copy of the DVD of The Rise and Fall of Margaret Thatcher to give awayTo enter, just leave me a comment telling me your favorite leader of all time -- doesn't have to be the leader of a country, just someone who is a strong and inspirational leader!  Be sure and leave your email address so I'll have a way to contact you if you should be the winner.  I'll choose the winner randomly using random.org on Nov. 4.  The winner will have 72 hours to get back to me with their mailing address, or I'll have to choose another winner.  Due to mailing restrictions, the giveaway is only valid for US entries.

Good luck!

Disclaimer:  I was provided a giveaway copy of The Rise and Fall of Margaret Thatcher.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Although I've never written a book, I am well-aware of the difficulties new writers have in attracting the attention of publishers. The 3rd edition of How to Write a Book Proposal by Michael Larsen offers many great tips and examples to help new writers stand out from the crowd and gain the attention of publishers.  The book is extremely thorough and gives plenty of advice on how to make the proposal stand out from the crowd.  The chapters in the book include such topics as how to create a "hook," how to plan a promotion and marketing campaign and how to create an outline.  There is also a style guide included to help focus the attention of the writer onto "action" words and active voice constructions that will help make the proposal more dynamic.  The appendices in the back of the book are helpful, if somewhat intimidating.  The examples of proposals seem to be almost as long and involved as the books themselves!  For instance, a sample proposal includes a table of contents, an overview of the work, outlines of chapters and selections from the proposed book.  The proposals also include suggested markets for the work, overviews of competing book, a mission statement and suggestions for future "spin-offs."  I really had no idea that so much had to be included on a proposal, or that the finished product was so involved!  One thing I liked about the book was that each chapter began with a "Golden Rule" which offered a short snippet of advice from the chapter, and each chapter has relevant "Hot Tips" scattered throughout.  One thing I found odd with the book is that in several places cartoons were described in detail (including where it appeared and who the author was) -- why not just include the cartoon itself?  But that's a minor quibble!  Overall the book was packed with advice and the examples of proposals included will give budding writers an extremely detailed model to follow when preparing their own proposals.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

OK, this is a weird one.  I am, as I think most right-thinking individuals are, a huge Robson Green fan.  So I frequently browse Netflix to see if there are any new films featuring him that I haven't seen yet.  I was intrigued to see the "thriller" Take Me listed.  I wasn't really sure what to expect, so I was intrigued to see the series open with Mr. Green and another man in tuxedos in the middle of the woods digging what appears to be a grave.  Hmm, this could be interesting . . .

Unfortunately, no.  The series consists of 6 45-minute episodes, and it really doesn't need to be that long.  The story begins (after the grave-digging scene) with Jack and Kay Chambers moving into a huge newly built house.  It soon comes to light that Kay has been having an affair, and the move to the new house is part of a new beginning for the couple and their two children.

Jack and Kay soon make the acquaintance of their neighbors across the street, the exotically beautiful Andrea and her somewhat slimy husband Doug (who works as a crime scene photographer).  Another neighbor, Lilian, has supposedly gone away on a long vacation to New Zealand.  For various reasons, Jack begins to suspect that perhaps she has actually been killed, and that Doug had something to do with it.  Of course, when he voices his suspicions to his wife Kay, she is dismissive and impatient.  If the story had stuck to this formula (perhaps with more suspicious disappearances being somehow linked to Doug), I think the series could have been interesting.

Instead, it veered off into strange territory.  Soon after moving in to their new house, Jack and Kay are invited to a party at Andrea and Doug's house.  The party is very crowded, and it soon becomes apparent that the purpose of the party is for everyone to engage in a little wife-swapping.  Jack and Kay are surprised and quickly make their getaway, laughing about the whole thing.  Soon afterwards, Jack is driving his daughter home from school when they happen to glimpse Kay leaving a hotel with Jack's best friend.  So what is the fallout of the discovery of this betrayal?  Jack demands that they attend more wife-swapping parties and participate, and Kay agrees to go along with it. SAY WHAT??

So then we are treated to the somewhat ridiculous spectacle of the two of them attending parties where people are quickly, randomly paired off, then retreat to bedrooms with their new partners.  We're never actually shown what Kay gets up to, but Jack doesn't seem to be interested in participating in the activities, even though he does go along with it.  When Jack and Kay are together, they are both unhappy and depressed.  But they keep going to the parties.

Throw into the mix Jack's relationship with his estranged father, who moves in with the family and then suffers serious health problems.  There's also some confusing information about Jack's job, which is very well-paid and apparently involves buying out local, family-owned companies for very little money, and then selling them to large corporations which dismantle the companies and fire everyone.  It was all very confusing.  Jack's job was on the line (so his boss glowering told him many times), but that didn't stop him from creating public scenes in front of clients and behaving in other irrational and totally unbelievable ways.

Fast forward to, oh, the last 15 minutes or so, which are, to give the writers credit, somewhat action packed, if illogical.  After all the mysteries are solved and the loose ends tied up, there is one final twist which, I'm sure, was supposed to leave the audience gasping.  Yawning, more like.

I guess every actor has a few inexplicable choices on his or her resume, and this seems to be one of those misfires.  Still, the scenery was lovely (both shots of the countryside/houses and Mr. Green), so it wasn't a total loss!

Final verdict for Take Me:   Two gherkins, for a promising start, but too many illogical plot twists to have a satisfying outcome

Friday, August 5, 2011

Summer is over, so that means it's time for our annual in-service meetings at work.  It's always great to see everyone, especially those who work at other sites that I hardly ever get to see.  This year the first day of our meetings was held at the lovely Benham School House Inn in Benham, KY.  We've had meetings there before, so that's why I was startled to see this sign in the parking lot:




Luckily, no bears made an appearance.  It must have been due to the heat.  When I got back to my car in the afternoon, I was greeted with this alarming sight:



I'm already looking forward to the cooler fall weather, even though that also means it will be football time in Tennessee, and therefore an inescapable orange frenzy for the rest of the year. 


Thursday, August 4, 2011

Congratulations to the winners of my Dr. Who, Series 6, Part 1 giveaway! The lucky winners were:

April

Erica C.

canneryrowdoc

The winners have been notified.  Thanks to everyone who entered. 

Watch for more giveaways soon!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Congratulations to the winners of my Top Gear:The Complete First Season giveaway!  They were:

mar


gene


rachel


The winners have been notified.  Thanks to everyone who entered!

Watch this space for other upcoming giveaways!


Thursday, July 28, 2011

I'm often bemoaning to anyone who will listen that there are no good travel writers besides Bill Bryson.  His mix of humor and personal disaster is hard to replicate, apparently.  That's why I was thrilled to read the new collection of essays More Postcards from across The Pond: Dispatches from an Accidental Expat by Michael Harling.  Harling explores his life as an American transported to Britain with a mix of humor and affection for his adopted land that makes for a thoroughly enjoyable read.

Much like his previous book Postcards from Across the Pond, the day to day difficulties of adjusting to life in a foreign (if mostly familiar) country are explored.  It's also very interesting that, as an "outsider" (even one with newly-minted dual citizenship), Harling is able to notice how quickly Britain is changing, and not always for the better.  Not only can you now find Krispy Kremes without too much difficulty (great for the taste buds if not for the waistline), but American holidays such as Thanksgiving and Halloween are frequently celebrated (if not fully comprehended) in modern Britain. 

This book contains some humorous examples of Harling's travels with his wife on vacation (as well as for work) that don't always go smoothly.  A beach side holiday on the island of Fuerteventura proves that early visitors to the isle weren't kidding when they christened it "Great Wind."  Although the temperature was balmy, swimming and even sleeping turned out to be impossible due to the constant gale-force winds.  The accommodations also required a great deal of minor repairs -- done by the guests -- to make the stay possible. 

Not only does Harling have to deal with holiday DIY disasters, but his flat in Britain (described as being "constructed at the close of the Boer War") also requires occasional updating.  This proves to be easier said than done when it comes to actually contacting the landlord and actually scheduling appointments for repairs.

Even everyday commutes are not without problems, as buses keep somewhat, er, flexible schedules, train timetables leave just seconds for connections to be made, and taxi drivers cannot comprehend an American accent.

It's very interesting to note the things that Harling already misses from his early years in Britain, among them plain scones (which are apparently being overtaken by the raisin and cheese varieties), the multi-culturalism of his neighbors (now nearly all young families from the same country, India), and the demise of the traditional pub.  There is also a tide of "modernization" sweeping the country in terms of the availability of goods (well, American goods at least), wide availability of things such as air conditioning and dishwashing machines, and relaxed pub opening hours (when you can find a pub).

I really enjoy reading these "postcards" for their look at everyday life in a changing Britain. I'm already looking forward to "Even More Postcards from Across the Pond" from Mr. Harling! (hint, hint!)

Disclaimer: I received a copy of More Postcards from Across the Pond from the author

Final Verdict for More Postcards from Across the Pond Five Gherkins, for being a very funny look at daily life across the pond

Thursday, July 21, 2011

One of the most beloved British TV series is out with a new edition on DVD! On July 19, the first part of the new acclaimed season of Doctor Who: Series 6, Part 1.

About the DVD:

Doctor Who: Series 6, Part 1, a two-disc DVD and Blu-ray set, contains the first seven episodes along with two Monster files, “The Gangers” and “The Silence,” two of the Doctor’s most challenging opponents.
In the season opener, “The Impossible Astronaut,” four envelopes are received, numbered 2, 3 and 4, each containing a date, time and map reference, unsigned, but in TARDIS blue. Who sent them? And who received the missing number one? This strange summons reunites the Doctor (Smith), Amy (Gillan), Rory (Darvill) and River Song (Kingston) in the middle of the Utah desert and unveils a terrible secret the Doctor's friends must never reveal to him. ‘Space 1969’ is their only clue, as their quest lands them - quite literally - in the Oval Office, where they are enlisted by President Nixon himself to assist enigmatic former-FBI agent Canton (Mark Sheppard) in saving a terrified little girl from a mysterious spaceman.

Following the two-parter, the Doctor, Amy and Rory journey on the high seas of 1696 aboard Avery’s (Bonneville) pirate ship to solve the mystery of the Siren (Cole). In a bubble universe at the very edge of reality, the Doctor meets an old friend with a new face, and in a monastery on a remote island in the near future, an industrial accident takes on a terrible human shape. And waiting for them, at the end of all this, is the battle of Demon's Run, and the Doctor's darkest hour. Can even the truth about River Song save the Time Lord's soul? Only two things are certain. Silence will fall. And a good man is going to die...

To whet your appetite for these new episodes, here is a clip with an inside look at one of the episodes from the DVD:






Thanks to BBC, I have 3 copies of Dr. Who: Series 6, Part 1 to giveaway! To enter, just leave a comment stating how long you've been a Dr. Who fan. If you're a new or potential fan, that's OK, too! Please be sure that your email address is in your comment or on your profile so I can contact you. Open to the U.S. only. On Aug. 2, I will use random.org to choose the 3 winners. The winners will have 72 hours to respond to my email with their addresses, or I will have to choose another winner! Good luck!

Disclaimer: I was provided 3 copies of Dr. Who, Series 6, Part 1 by BBC for this giveaway

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Top Gear fans, rejoice!!  On July 19, the DVD for the first season of the U.S. version of the smash British series Top Gear was released!  Thanks to BBC, I have 3 copies of this great DVD to giveaway.

About the series:

Top Gear races across the pond with the first season of the U.S. version of the world’s most popular car entertainment show. Coming to DVD this July, Top Gear: The Complete First Season, produced by BBC Worldwide Productions, includes all 10 episodes and exclusive DVD extras. The debut 3-disc DVD set features comedian Adam Ferrara, champion rally car and drift racer Tanner Foust and racing analyst Rutledge Wood. The intrepid trio packs the first season with super-cars, extreme stunts and challenges, car reviews, celebrity interviews and, of course, the Stig, Top Gear’s silent and mysterious racing driver. The show is chock-full of high-adrenaline action entertainment as it tracks the colorful history of the automobile as well as the eccentric adventures of its hosts with Top Gear’s customary wit and humor.

In this series, Ferrara, Foust and Wood take on extreme challenges including a moonshine run along a Prohibition route in the Deep South, teaching a blind man to drift a Nissan 370Z and racing a HALO jumper in a Hennessey VelociRaptor across the Arizona desert. The Stig also appears to set definitive “Power Laps” and the team tests some of the world’s fastest cars including a Dodge Viper SRT10 ACR, a Porsche Panamera Turbo, an Aston Martin V12 Vantage and more.

Celebrity guests take the wheel in the “Big Star, Small Car” segment including astronaut Buzz Aldrin, actors Ty Burrell (Modern Family) and Dominic Monaghan (Lost), musician Bret Michaels and skateboarder Tony Hawk. Arriving in stores on July 19, Top Gear: The Complete First Season is fully loaded with special features including audio commentary, webisodes and more.

Here is a clip from the DVD:





Check out the official Top Gear site!

To enter to win one of the 3 copies of this great series, just leave a comment letting me know what was your first car?  That's it!  Be sure to include your email address either in the comments section or your profile so that I can contact you.  Open only to the U.S.  The winner will be chosen on Aug. 1 by random.org and will be contacted by email for a mailing address.  If I don't hear back from you within 72 hours, I'll have to choose another winner. 

Good luck!

Disclaimer:  I was provided 3 copies of Top Gear: The Complete First Season by BBC for this giveaway.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Moms of small children have tough enough jobs just keeping up with day to day life.  Imagine how much more difficult it would be to balance your hectic family life when you are always looking over your shoulder for murderous assassins from your past.  This is the situation that faces Lucy Hamilton, former spy for the USAWMD (United States Agency for Weapons of Mass Destruction) in the novel Original Sin by Beth McMullen.

When the story begins, Lucy (not her real name, but we're never told her real name) is a stay-at-home mom to 4 year old Theo.  She and her family (including husband Will) live in San Francisco.  She retired (although no one can ever officially "retire") from the USAWMD when she decided to marry and settle down.  Her husband has no idea that she was formerly a spy.

Lucy goes about her days of play dates and visits to the park while always keeping one eye open for possible trouble from her past.  It doesn't take long for problems to surface in this novel as her former boss Simon shows up asking for her help.  A rouge agent, Ian Blackford, who was presumed dead, has re-surfaced and is up to no good.  Since Blackford had previously kidnapped Lucy (known then by her secret agent name of Sally Sin) without actually killing her, Simon assumes that Lucy can be used to lure out Blackford.  Lucy really has no interest in participating, but she does eventually decide to try to figure out what Blackford is up to.  In the meantime, she has to keep her spy skills and background secret from her husband.

This book is obviously meant to be the first in a series of books about Lucy/Sally.  Many things are mentioned but not really followed up on.  For instance, Lucy has early childhood memories of speaking Russian, her "parents" were mysteriously killed and she was sent to live with "relatives" but has no connection to anyone, a mysterious man visited her parents and discussed her while she was a child, etc.  I'm sure more things will be revealed in subsequent books.

Lucy/Sally is portrayed as somewhat of a slacker who had no special talent or direction in college, but miraculously after taking a "test" it was discovered that she could instantly speak any foreign language.  She is also (naturally) a weapons and marital arts expert.  Of course the story is very far-fetched, but it's an interesting enough story to keep your interest.  I will probably check out the next installment in the series to see what Lucy is up to!

Final verdict for Original Sin Three Gherkins, for being an amusing look at the day to day life of a former spy

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

If the Casey Anthony trial has been the "trial of the year" so far, in 1927 that title certainly went to the Ruth Snyder/Judd Gray murder trial.  In the book A Wild Surge of Guilty Passion, author Ron Hansen takes a close (although somewhat fictionalized) look at the crime and aftermath of this sensational case.

Ruth Snyder was a fun-loving, attractive woman who was married to an older, somewhat boring man who was an editor at Motor Boating magazine.  She was flirty and had many male admirers, but when she met the mild mannered corset salesman Judd Gray, sparks really flew.  Gray was several inches shorter than Ruth, wore thick spectacles, and was also married.  Nothing could stand in the way of their passionate affair.

Since Gray travelled often in his corset selling job, he was able to arrange many illicit trysts with his lover.  The lovers were both stuck in dull, disappointing marriages, but Ruth soon began joking about how much easier their lives would be if her husband, Albert Snyder, were to suddenly die.  Before long, she claimed that she had tried on several occasions to kill him -- by shutting him in a garage with a running car, by turning on the gas and leaving the house with her husband sleeping, by knocking a ladder out from under him as he trimmed tree branches, etc.  Since none of these projects had been successful, she convinced Judd Gray that he had to help her kill her husband.  Gray, frantic at the thought of losing her, reluctantly went along.

Unfortunately for the lovers, after the murder, the police were quickly able to tear their carefully rehearsed stories to shreds.  It certainly didn't help matters when it was discovered that Ruth had taken out a hefty insurance policy on her husband (without his knowledge, of course) that paid double indemnity for an "accidental death."

Although Ruth protested her innocence in the murder scheme from the beginning (claiming she was knocked out and remained unconscious for four hours), neither the police or the jury at her trial believed her.  Judd Gray quickly confessed and implicated Ruth in the plot.  Both Ruth Snyder and Judd Gray penned books in jail which attempted to explain the events that landed them there.

While looking up information about the case online, I was interested to learn that the author James M. Cain based his books The Postman Always Rings Twice and Double Indemnity on this case.  The case also became famous when a reporter snuck a hidden camera into the prison and was able to snap a blurry photo of Ruth Snyder at the moment of her execution. 

Although this book is a work of fiction, the author has relied on contemporary newspaper accounts of the events, as well as books that have been written about the case.  It certainly reads like a "true crime novel."  I had heard of the case before, but this book was a more in depth look at what must have been going through the minds of the main characters as they hatched their murder plot.

Final Verdict for A Wild Surge of Guilty Passion Four Gherkins, for being an evocative look at a roaring twenties murder case

Friday, June 10, 2011

I remember the first time I ever heard of Bill Hicks.  I was watching one of those countdown shows about the 100 greatest stand-up comedians of all time.  As the numbers counted down, I found myself speculating who would be #1.  I figured it had to be Richard Pryor.  He was #2.  I sat there perplexed, wondering who in the world would be considered greater than Pryor.  When #1 was revealed to be Bill Hicks, I sat there stunned and asked, "Who?"

Unfortunately, I was not the only one who was unaware of Hicks' genius.  This week the BBC released the documentary American: The Bill Hicks Story.  It is a story of the life and career of a comic that many consider to be the best ever.

Bill Hicks grew up the youngest child of a close-knit family in Houston, Texas.  He was greatly influenced by seeing a performance of Woody Allen doing a stand-up routine on TV and decided to make that his life's work.  As a teenager, he began sneaking out of his parents' house at night to perform onstage at a new comedy club in town.  The DVD contains clips of some of these touching early performances, which mostly centered around his parents, their strict Southern Baptist views, and life at school.  Even though the patrons of the club were much older than he was, he quickly gained a following.

Once he graduated from high school, Hicks headed to Los Angeles to try his luck in the entertainment business.  He convinced a friend, Dwight Slade, to come with him.  Hicks performed at the Comedy Store, where many other comedy greats began their careers, but his main focus during this time was writing a screenplay.  He and Slade presented the screenplay to an agent at the prestigious William Morris agency, who told them the ending needed a little work, but that he was interested in seeing more from them.  Even though this would be encouraging to most people, for Hicks it was an indication that his career as a screenwriter was a dismal failure.  He refused to continue working on the screenplay, and entered into a creative lull.  Eventually, he moved back to Texas.  He was around age 20 at the time.

After returning to Texas, the formerly clean-cut Hicks began to experiment with drugs and alcohol.  Although he continued performing, he was often impaired onstage.  His contemporaries were amazed at the bitterness and freedom that his lowered inhibitions unleashed -- he said what he felt needed to be said, and no longer worried about what others thought.  This continued for several years until he gave up drugs and alcohol altogether and moved to New York.

When the newly sober Hicks decided to dive back into comedy, he performed at the Just for Laughs Festival in Montreal.  This is when he really began to attract attention.  His performance was filmed and shown in the UK, where Hicks became something of an overnight sensation. He performed to great acclaim at the Edinburgh Comedy Festival, and taped a live performance in front of an adoring crowd (which was released as "Revelations").  For the first time, Hicks felt as if an audience "got" what he was trying to say, and his confidence increased exponentially.

Unfortunately, when he came back to the U.S., it was to be greeted by the same indifference he had experienced before.  Although he appeared on the David Letterman show multiple times, he just could not attract the same following in the U.S. that he had overseas.  Still, he was enthusiastic about his career when disaster struck:  Hicks was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.  He threw himself into many creative projects:  working on screenplays, recording albums, and doing more live performances. He was very proud of his final appearance on the David Letterman show, only to be devastated when his appearance was cut before the program aired (it was finally shown on Jan. 30, 2009).  Hicks died on Feb. 26, 1994.  He was only 32.

The DVD is a wonderful tribute to Hicks.  His family and friends provide commentary about his life, and many photos of Hicks are shown in animated sequences that help to illustrate the sometimes frenetic pace which marked Hicks' life.  There are actually two DVDs in this set.  The first contains the film and extended interviews while the second has more interviews, deleted scenes, rare clips, and Hicks' audio journal entries, among other things.  There is also a booklet included about the making of the film.

Here is a clip from the DVD:



This DVD collection is a wonderful tribute to a comedian who, unfortunately, remains largely unknown in his own country.  The great reverence and respect with which other comedians hold  him shows that his legacy won't be forgotten any time soon.  If you haven't heard of this remarkable man yet, this is a great opportunity for you to learn!

Disclaimer:  I received a review copy of American: The Bill Hicks Story from BBC
Final verdict for American: The Bill Hicks StoryFive Gherkins, for being an in-depth look at an influential and much-loved figure in American comedy

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Noted director Mike Leigh's latest film, the critically acclaimed Another Year, will be released on DVD and Blu-Ray on Tuesday, June 7.  The film revolves around the lives of the couple Tom and Gerri (played by Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen) as they go about their daily lives and interact with friends whose lives aren't as settled.

SYNOPSIS: 

From seven-time Oscar® nominee Mike Leigh comes this critically acclaimed slice of life starring Academy Award® winner Jim Broadbent (Best Supporting Actor, Iris, 2001), Lesley Manville and Ruth Sheen. A happy couple for over thirty years, Tom (Broadbent) and Gerri (Sheen) act as a steady anchor to their unmarried circle of family and friends. But as the seasons change and another year passes, Tom and Gerri’s support is put to the test in this masterful look at life, love and the meaning of friendship.

Here is the trailer for the film:



Special Features on the DVD Include:

- Commentary with Director Mike Leigh & Actress Lesley Manville

- The Making of Another Year

- The Mike Leigh Method

Don't miss your opportunity to own this film which is sure to become a classic!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

According to news reports, nearly 23 million people in the U.S. set their alarm clocks to get up early and watch the Royal Wedding last month.  If (as happened to me) work schedules made viewing the entire spectacle difficult, now you can own the DVD of the ceremony and catch up on anything you might have missed!

You can purchase your own copy of the DVD for only $7.98 at the BBCAmerica Shop

The BBCAmerica shop gives this overview:

The royal wedding of Prince William to Kate Middleton was the event of a lifetime. BBC Video is making available this beautiful, commemorative DVD of the event on sale on May 24th! This wonderful keepsake will capture all of the pomp and pageantry of the historic occasion like no other memento.  The DVD will include the complete ceremony plus highlights from the official BBC pre- and post-wedding coverage.  Also included is the special bonus program, “William and Kate: A Royal Engagement,” presenting the story of William and Kate’s relationship via interviews with colleagues, friends and family.  Lovers of the crown will want to own this special, commemorative DVD of this most delightful of events, the Royal Wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton.

I really loved watching the whole ceremony again.  The excited crowds, the lovely (and unusual) ensembles the ladies were wearing, the gorgeously decorated church:  it's all here to savor again and again!  If you simply *must* have your own copy of Princess Beatrice's hat, you can freeze the picture until you're able to note all the details! 


I'm still amazed at the poise and grace shown by the new Duchess of Cambridge.  She displayed absolutely no trace of nerves, just a serene and calm presence which I'm sure greatly influenced the other members of the wedding party.  The carriage ride the couple took back to Buckingham Palace was also exhilarating.  The horse drawn carriages added to the fairy-tale splendor of the day.  It was wonderful to see so many excited, happy people lining the streets to offer their best wishes to the newly married couple.

Of course, everyone was waiting for the big moment when the newlyweds would share a kiss on the balcony:


I'm very happy that such a wonderful DVD is available at such an affordable price!  The royal watchers can enjoy the ceremony and join in the celebration of the marriage of a beautiful young couple.

Disclaimer:  I was provided with a review copy of The Royal Wedding by the BBC

Final Verdict for The Royal WeddingFive Gherkins, for being a magical look at a fairytale wedding!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Congratulations to the three winners of my "The Human Planet" giveaway!  They were:


Susan M.


Elsie


devotus

All the winners have been contacted and the prizes have been sent.  Thanks to everyone who entered, and watch for the next giveaway!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Once again the BBC has produced an amazing series with stunning camera work and compelling stories! From the highest, coldest mountain peaks to the hot, dry tropics, this series takes a look at how humans live on this varied planet.  Human Planet arrived on DVD and Blu-ray April 26, just two days following the broadcast conclusion.

Here is a synopsis of the series:

Human Planet is the first BBC/Discovery Channel co-production to focus solely on human behavior. Since premiering in the UK, the series has received overwhelming critical acclaim including The Telegraph proclaiming, "it’s like nothing you’ve ever seen before" and The Sun stating that it’s "visually stunning and utterly fascinating, this is seriously impressive stuff." From the makers of Planet Earth, Life and Blue Planet, Human Planet focuses on humanities amazing, complex and profound relationship with nature. It weaves together 80 stories, many never told before, to illuminate humanity’s uncanny ability to adapt and live in every corner of our diverse world. Each episode centers on a particular habitat, and by using innovative and cutting edge filming techniques, reveals how its people have created astonishing solutions in the face of extreme adversity.

The Discovery Channel version will be presented by Charles Parnell and consists of six episodes that will take viewers to the farthest reaches of the globe culminating with, Life at the Extremes, a "best of" episode. The Human Planet DVD and Blu-ray will include all eight episodes from the original UK broadcast version, presented by John Hurt, extending the home viewing experience with three hours of footage not seen in the North American broadcast. It will include the episode, Cities, which will be exclusive to the DVD and Blu-ray. Additionally, the DVD and Blu-ray will take viewers deeper into the heart of Human Planet with its set of ten Behind the Lens "making of" bonus features, and, exclusive to Blu-ray, a further "making of" feature called, Zanskar, accessible via BD-Live. Zanskar showcases the astonishing life struggles of a resilient group of people living at the edge of the Himalayas.

Here is a preview of some of the amazing video you can see in this series:



Visit Human Planet on Facebook!

Thanks to BBC, I have 3 copies of this gorgeous DVD series to give away!  To enter, just leave a comment with the most amazing place you've ever visited.  That's it!  The giveaway will end on May 13.  Please be sure that your email address is listed in your comment or your Blogger profile so I can contact you.  Open to residents of the USA and Canada.  I will choose the winners with random.org and the winners will have 3 days to contact me with their addresses, or I will have to choose alternate winners.

Good luck!


Disclaimer:  I received 3 copies of Human Planet from BBC to use as prizes in this giveaway.
Thanks to everyone who entered to win the Upstairs Downstairs DVD giveaway!  The winner, chosen by random.org was:

mummytotwoboys


Congratulations!  Thanks again to BBC for providing the prize.

Watch for more giveaways coming soon!

Friday, April 29, 2011

Jane Austen was quite the tea fancier.  Her novels and personal letters are filled with references to her love for the drink.  In the beautiful book Tea with Jane Austen, author Kim Wilson gives us an inside view of the rituals and routines associated with this most British beverage.

Because tea is so associated with Britain, it's interesting to note that it was unknown in Queen Elizabeth I's time.  A few hundred years later, however, it was definitely a status symbol to be able to offer your guests tea.  This book describes how tea was such a valued commodity in Jane Austen's home that it was kept under lock and key.  Not only was the beverage itself an important part of social calls, but elaborate tea sets and tables were also necessary to impress the guests.

Chapters in the book deal with such important matters as the time of day when tea was consumed, how tea was purchased, the effects of tea on health, and taking tea away from home.  Sprinkled throughout the text are lovely excerpts from Jane's books and private letters relating to tea.  She was apparently in charge of tea operations in her family's household, and took her duties very seriously.

The book also features many recipes that would have been familiar to people in Austen's day, including Hot Bath Cakes, Barley Water, Plum Cake and China Orange Jelly.  There are also plenty of illustrations throughout the book which help to set the mood.  Luckily for me, the final chapter of the book concerns "Making the Perfect Cup of Tea."  This chapter includes advice on the correct water temperature based on the type of tea you're using, how to correctly use and steep loose tea, and the proper accessories needed to get the most enjoyment out of your cuppa (a beautiful pot and cup, plus a Jane Austen novel, of course!).

I found this book to be very informative and delightful.  I truly felt the importance of tea and its place in society during Jane Austen's life!

Disclaimer:  I received a review copy of Tea with Jane Austen from Frances Lincoln Publishers

Final verdict for Tea with Jane Austen:   Four Gherkins, for being a thorough look at that most delightful of British customs

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Gardens figure prominently in the works and life of Jane Austen.  The lovely book In the Garden with Jane Austen by Kim Wilson looks at all aspects of gardening as it relates to the writer and her characters.

This little gem of a book looks at how gardens that Jane knew and loved look today.  The gardens are even divided up into Cottage Gardens, Mansion & Manor House Gardens, City Gardens and Public Gardens & Parks.  The final chapter contains advice on how would-be gardeners can re-create Jane's gardens (including flower and vegetable varieties) for themselves!  The book also features a listing of gardens that were shown in screen adaptations of Austen's works. It's rather interesting how frequently films and TV programs are made from her novels. 

The book is filled with beautiful illustrations, as well as information about visiting the locations that are open for tours.  There are also plenty of quotes from Jane Austen's works as well as from her personal correspondence.  I especially enjoyed the aspects of gardens which might not be considered by modern readers.  For instance, one inescapable feature of every garden was the outhouse.  The book gives some interesting details about how people tried to disguise them (plants in front and vines to obscure) and how the paths to the outhouses were suggested to be circular, so "it would not be obvious to the casual observer what the stroller's purpose was in choosing that particular path."  You have to wonder if modern gardeners know how easy they have it!

Another interesting feature of the book is recipes from the period when Austen lived, including how to make Bee's Wax Lip Salve, Pot Pourri and "Mrs. Norris's Dried Roses."  Well, Martha Stewart had to get her ideas from somewhere!

This book is gorgeous and packed with information.  Fans of Jane Austen, gardening or flowers will be enchanted!

Disclaimer:  I received a review copy of the book from Frances Lincoln Publishers

Final verdict for In the Garden with Jane AustenFive Gherkins, for being a beautiful look at the world that Jane Austen inhabited

Thursday, April 21, 2011

British TV fans in the US were overjoyed this year when we found out that the wonderful TV series "Upstairs Downstairs" had been updated and was going to be shown on PBS's Masterpiece Classic.

Synopsis: One of the most beloved television series of all time is brought back to life in a sumptuous new production with a fresh new cast.  It's 1936 and six years since parlormaid Rose  (Jean Marsh, Sense & Sensibility) left 165 Eaton Place. Fate brings her back as housekeeper to its new owners, Sir Hallam  Holland (Ed Stoppard, The Pianist, Brideshead Revisited), his wife Lady Agnes (Keeley Hawes, MI-5, Ashes to Ashes), and his mother, Lady Maud Holland (Eileen Atkins, Cranford, Gosford Park). Rose soon finds she has her work cut out for her as she recruits a new “downstairs” family to help run the elegance and finery of the “upstairs” world. Both upstairs and downstairs, it soon becomes apparent there lies a labyrinth of secrets, lies and scandal.  Set against the historical backdrop of a pre-World War II Britain with a new King on the throne, with Fascism on the rise on the continent, and with sexual, social and political tensions at 165 Eaton Place, this new series provides an evocative take on the master-servant relationship. 

Available on DVD:       April 26th

Official Site URL:         http://www.bbcamericashop.com/

Anyone who was captivated by the original series, which ran for 5 seasons in the 1970s will be happy to be back among familiar surroundings.  Times are changing, but the social lines are still drawn.  The interactions between the members of staff and the upper-class people they serve prove that there is more going on than meets the eye.

Here is a clip from the new series:



Thanks to BBC, I have one copy of the new DVD series of Upstairs Downstairs to give away!  To enter, just leave a comment answering the following question:  if your finances would stretch far enough to allow you to hire one servant, which one would you hire and why?  I'd have to go for Cook.  Cook always seems to be a sort of no-nonsense person, and I'm sure she'd be able to whip up all the traditional English dishes!

Please remember to leave your email address in your comment if it's not visible in your profile.  The contest is only open to US Residents due to postal costs.  Leave your entry by May 1.  The winner will be drawn on May 2 and notified by email.  If I don't hear back from you within 3 days, a new winner will be chosen.

Good luck on winning this wonderful DVD!

Disclaimer:  I received a copy of Upstairs Downstairs to offer in this giveaway from BBC.  I was not compensated for this post.

About Me

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

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