Thursday, October 24, 2019

If you're anything like me, no trip abroad is complete without some shopping.  If (also like me) you're unable to travel abroad as often as you'd like, there is a new shopping destination designed to bring all the best shops from Britain to direct to your door. allows users to browse and shop more than 120 UK online stores.  They also provide links to all sales (up to 70% off!) and nearly all have free or affordable shipping to US customers.

Using the Explore Current Deals button, you will be connected to the latest sales across all stores.  You can browse by deals such as Free Shipping, Discount Codes and Coupons, and Store Specific Sales.  Just now, some of the featured deals include 25% off at the Royal Albert shop (for all your tea drinking needs!), up to 60% off at Kath Kidston, and free worldwide delivery at M&Co.  You can also check out the blog for the most up-to-date news about deals and sales.

Being able to shop and find good deals from the UK will reduce the sting of not being able to browse the shops in person!  With Christmas coming up soon, this site will help you get the most out of your shopping budget.

Even though people tend to get murdered at a much higher rate than the national average, the villages in Midsomer county really get into the Christmas spirit in the charming Holiday Pop-Up episode A Christmas Haunting (originally shown in 2013).

DCI John Barnaby is having a hard time getting into the Christmas spirit.  His long-time partner Ben Jones has moved to Brighton to take up a position as a Detective Inspector.  This leaves Barnaby feeling somewhat adrift and not very enthusiastic about meeting Jones's replacement, DS Charlie Nelson.  Nelson has no time to settle in before he is called out to his first (although surely not his last!) murder.

Ghosts never take a day off in the village of Morton Shallows, given its status as the Most Haunted Village in all of England 2003 (I wonder what the ghostly inhabitants of the Tower of London have to say about that?).  Most of the paranormal activity in the area is centered around the legend of Rose Wilton.  The story goes that 127 years ago, the young girl Rose brought a holiday offering to the local manor house, but was tossed out into the cold.  Seeking refuge in a nearby cave, she froze to death.  Her spirit is said to haunt the manor house, the local pub (which was her father's blacksmith shop during her lifetime) and the cave where she died.  All three locations are hosting ghost hunting activities in the hopes of recording some proof of spirit activities.

The manor house is currently owned by Simon Fergus-Johnson, who recently inherited it after the death of his father.  He lives there with his alcoholic, unimpressed wife Tabby and somewhat neglected daughter Pippa.  Pippa and her boyfriend Dev are university students who are attempting to record the ghostly activities as part of Dev's Ph.D. coursework.  On the first Fright Night attempt to record the ghost, one of the villagers is stabbed to death in the manor house, by a sword made by the tragic Rose's blacksmith father.

In investigating the death, Barnaby and Nelson encounter the usual not-very-well-kept village secrets:  affairs, money problems, alcoholism, betrayals, etc.  How to sort out which of these motives was enough to kill for?  As the villagers of Morton Shallows are desperate for tourists, they don't let an unsolved murder stand in their way of trying to drum up publicity for the town.  They go on with further scheduled ghost hunts at the local pub and caves, with predictably unpleasant results.

Sarah Barnaby, John's wife, is getting into the Christmas spirit and decorating the house (and Sykes the dog) while expecting the couple's first child.  She is also taking a keen interest in DS Nelson and is perplexed that Barnaby is unable to answer the most basic questions on his new partner's background, appearance and housing situation!

It is always a joy to visit the villages of Midsomer and see what the Barnabys are up to.  This pop-up edition DVD contains only the one episode, but it does provide a cheerful 3D image of Barnaby and a festive Sykes.  An additional feature is an interview with Gwilym Lee, who plays newly arrived DS Nelson.  This is one of three holiday pop-up collectibles from Acorn which were released on October 15.  The other two are feature Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries and The Brokenwood Mysteries.  They are designed to be displayed together for an attractive holiday scene that any Anglophile would be proud of!

Disclaimer:  I received a copy of Midsomer Murders: Holiday Pop-Up Collectible from Acorn in exchange for this review

Friday, October 11, 2019

Augusten Burroughs reveals rather soon in the book that he is a witch, descended from a long line of witches.  As anyone who read his previous books will know, his mother (from whom he inherited this trait) was not exactly the most stable or reliable person in his life.  Therefore, it has mostly been up to him to develop this aspect of his life. 

The book mostly relates the journey he and his husband Christopher undertake as they attempt to move from a cramped apartment in New York City to a larger house out in the countryside.  Throughout this experience, there are many "premonitions" that come true . . . but others that don't.  There are times when Augusten is driven to do something odd (such as buy a bag and see if certain valuables will all fit into it) that later prove to have meaning after all.  He also performs various spells and incantations to get things moving the way he wants, but how the process of how he comes up with these particular chants isn't really revealed.

The times when things work or his premonitions come true -- well, that's proof that he's a witch.  When that doesn't happen -- well, that's because he was never taught the knowledge that should have been passed down from his mother.

While I wasn't completely convinced of the author's ability to cast spells and see the future, I did enjoy his engaging style of writing and the amusing events that happen as the city dwellers move to the sticks.

Disclaimer:  I received an advance readers' edition of Toil & Trouble from the publisher in exchange for this review

Thursday, October 10, 2019

The #MeToo movement has exposed many instances of sexual abuse by those in power.  My Dark Vanessa, scheduled for release in January, takes a look at the issue when a student is abused by a teacher.

Vanessa Wye is a bright 15-year-old girl who manages to get a scholarship to attend an exclusive private boarding school, Browick.  Vanessa feels inferior to the other students due to not coming from a wealthy family.  She also suffers from insecurities about not being smart enough to compete with the other students at the school.  When the book begins, she is starting her sophomore year at Browick, and has a single room after a falling out with her roommate and former best friend, Jenny.

So Vanessa is nervous, isolated, socially and academically adrift.  Her literature teacher, Jacob Strane, seems to take an interest in her, especially when she joins the creative writing club, which he sponsors.  The book takes an interesting look at how the middle-aged Strane grooms Vanessa into an inappropriate relationship.  She is at first confused and fearful by his attentions, but soon he convinces her that she is special and has all the power in their relationship.

The book alternates between events of Vanessa's school years, in the early 2000s, and the Vanessa of today, who is working at a low-paying job and seems to still lack any direction.  Certainly, the current Vanessa seems to be suffering from PTSD and is still conflicted and confused about what happened to her at school.  She experiences a range of emotions and the characteristics she exhibited as a student (even before being abused by the teacher) are still in evidence: lack of motivation, slovenliness, etc.  The current Vanessa is still in touch with Strane, although he is reluctant for their relationship to be revealed, even though she is now an adult.

The story was interesting in that it showed the terrible effects that can result when abuse occurs in a situation like this.  The young girl wants to feel special and noticed, but the attentions of the teacher and mentor quickly turn into something much darker.  The only problem that I had was that the book really seemed to drag in the more modern parts of the book when Vanessa is just floundering around, not really doing much of anything.  Otherwise, I enjoyed reading about how a predator can manipulate a victim into a relationship.

Disclaimer:  I received an advanced reader's copy of My Dark Vanessa from the publisher in exchange for this review

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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The Gherkin Scale

5gherkinsb Brilliant!

4gherkinsb Good, innit?

3gherkinsb Fair to middlin'

2gherkinsb Has some good points

1gherkin Oi! Wot you playin' at?

0gherkins3Don't be givin' me evils!

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