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 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 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

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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4gherkinsb Good, innit?

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