Thursday, July 24, 2014

25 Free Things to do in London

When you're planning a trip to London, the sheer number of things to see and do can be somewhat overwhelming. The helpful people at NeoMam Studios have created this gorgeous infographic of some of the more popular options for things to see while in London. It will make it easy to narrow down your choices and help you make a plan of action! I've been to some of the attractions listed below, but not all of them, so I've definitely added some for my next trip!


Tuesday, July 22, 2014

I was blubbing like Andy Murray

My friends and family would probably say that I'm slightly obsessed with London, and they would be wrong:  I'm totally obsessed!  For those long, arid stretches of time between trips, I try to read as much as possible about my favorite city.  The book Bizarre London: Discover the Capital's Secrets and Surprises is just the sort of book that I can't get enough of.

Of course a city with such a long and illustrious history as London is filled with locations and stories that are well-known to most people, whether they are particularly interested in London or not.  But this book is filled with tons of interesting facts, presented in unusual categories, which make for fascinating reading.

The chapters of the book contain both straightforward topics (Royal London, Working London, and Sporting London, to name a few) as well as some you might not expect (Eccentrics' London or Gruesome London).  Each chapter has many interesting lists included, covering things such as Famous Buildings with Secret Histories, Underground Oddities, Worst Business Decisions Ever Made, and London's Weirdest Wills.  There are also plenty of interesting lists, such as the 108 Livery companies, London's Oldest Shops, and 20th Century Traitors.   And what modern book about London would be complete without a delightful selection of quotes from the inimitable mayor, Boris Johnson?

In short, each page features a fascinating story or character that will keep you reading until, suddenly and with a shock, you realize you're already at the end!  I really loved all the strange and new information and the black and white illustrations were a perfect fit.  If you have any interest in London, history, or just random/unusual trivia, this is a great book for you!

Final Verdict for Bizarre London:  Five Gherkins, for being a beautiful little volume that's packed full of interesting stuff!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Well, the cover is nice

I really do like the cover of I Am Having So Much Fun Here Without You by Courtney Maum.  The stamp and postmark and the familiar (well, to those of us who have/had foreign pen-pals) red, white and blue airmail envelope colors along the edges of the book made me think this would be a lovely story involving travel.  While there was some travel (and letter-writing) involved, the main story was somewhat of a disappointment.

Richard Haddon is a British artist living in Paris with his beautiful and successful French wife Anne and daughter Camille.  He would seem to have it all, but no, he has to go and start an affair because (from what I can gather) he was just a bit bored.  He ends up falling madly in love with the American Lisa, who breaks things off with him to move to London and get married.  Richard, who was beginning to toy with the idea of leaving his wife for Lisa, is desperately depressed by the break-up.  At the same time, some paintings he's done (but is not very enthusiastic about) have had a successful showing, but have left him feeling as if he's sold out.

For some unfathomable reason, the departed Lisa has decided that she wants to keep in contact with Richard by writing to him, but he never writes her back.  To keep the wife from finding out, the letters are delivered to the art dealer who shows Richard's work.  Richard keeps the letters and obsesses over them.  When the family goes to visit Anne's parents, naturally Richard takes the letters along.  Shocker, his wife discovers them and throws him out.  Naturally, once he's in danger of losing his marriage, Richard decides to turn his efforts into winning back his wife.

There is a lot of back and forth with Richard and Anne and their arguments (he's really, really sorry; she can never trust him again, etc.) that gets rather tedious.  Unfortunately, thrown into this domestic chaos is a long, long discussion of Richard's latest "project" -- getting an American washing machine and a British washing machine and having people bring things they want to "wash clean" -- using gasoline.  It all ties in with a long discussion of the Iraq war and how the US and Britain were guilty of war crimes.  The story contained lots of pretentious talk about "art" (some of it tongue-in-cheek, to be sure) and the people who make and view it.

It was just really hard to get behind Richard or care much about what happened to him.  He was wishy-washy in all areas of his life and tended to discard or ignore anything good (his wife, his successful paintings, etc.).  The resolution of the story was also a bit abrupt -- a decision was made out of the blue and didn't seem to make much sense given what came before.  I also wondered about who was buying the art "piece" consisting of two washing machines and a clothesline full of gasoline soaked items.

Disclaimer:  I received a copy of I Am Having So Much Fun Here Without You from the publisher in exchange for this review. 

Sunday, July 13, 2014

How not to suck as a husband

Doug Fields admits right up front that his book 7 Ways to Be Her Hero was originally going to be titled "How to Get All the Sex You Want" but that he thought that title might be somewhat off-putting to the women who were the likely buyers of his book (for their husbands, of course!).  The book begins with reminders to husbands to stop chasing things (success, women, excitement, etc.) and turn their energies into becoming the best husbands they can be.  He uses Biblical principles and ideas to emphasize the point that once married, husbands and wives form one heart and should try to treat each other with more respect and thoughtfulness, since what harms one harms the other as well.

The seven ways are each given their own chapters, with information and examples to explain each idea.  Among the ideas that are explored are "Don't say everything you think" and "Put your pride aside."  I really liked the way the author presented his ideas with reasons to back them up.  For instance, he gives examples of situations in which the first temptation might be to say something which will be hurtful, or cause tensions to rise and how things like this might be better handled.  Of course, it's easy to sit and read (and plan to act on) advice like this when not in the heat of the moment!  Still, I think the ideas about being more thoughtful in our interactions is good advice.

Many of the chapters have a "B" section following. These sections deal with what to do when you (as the husband) feel that you are not the one with the problem that was discussed in the previous chapter.  Sometimes, while not in the wrong, the way of dealing with character flaws in your spouse in such a way that won't exacerbate the situation.  I enjoyed the way the book attempted to give men concrete ways to be more "heroic" to their wives, but also gave reasons as to why these actions will also be helpful to the men themselves in the long run.

Disclaimer:  I received a copy of 7 Ways to Be Her Hero from BookLook Bloggers in exchange for this review

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Come out of your shell and network already!

The rise in social networking tools like Facebook and LinkedIn have made it very easy for individuals to make contact with others in their field.  Many people, however, are still reluctant to reach out on anything other than a superficial level to others, especially those who might hold a higher position than they do.  In the book Never Eat Alone, author Keith Perrazzi stresses the importance of creating a large network of people who can help and be helped by you.  By having contacts across many different areas, he argues that you will be creating opportunities for generosity which will ultimately benefit you in ways that might not at first be apparent.

The book begins with attempting to overcome the reluctance to reach out that many people have.  The author mentions many times that he offered to help people newly starting out in their fields with job interviews, introductions or internships, only to be rebuffed because the recipients of his generosity didn't want to feel indebted to him.  He goes on to stress the importance of creating connections precisely so that you will be able to help those who need it when you seen an opportunity to do so -- without "keeping score."  Although he does also frequently mention how he "keeps up" with how young people he's helped are doing in their careers . . .

Once you have accepted that you need to increase your personal and/or professional network, strategies are offered that will help achieve this.  He advises how to "do your homework" to make connections as well as keep a list of "aspirational names" of business leaders that you hope to meet one day.  He also gives advice on how to make the dreaded "cold call" to make connections and how to get around gatekeepers that are employed precisely to protect their bosses from people like us!  This new edition of the book has also been updated to include information on how to network, market yourself and gain followers on the newer social platforms.

One thing I found amusing was the chapter titled, "Never Give in to Hubris," because on nearly every page there is reference to the awards the author's been given, the celebrities he's worked with, the many young people who are clamoring for his knowledge, and generally how important he is.  It felt like a lot of bragging and name-dropping and honestly took away from the message of the book.  He should re-read his anti-hubris chapter before the next edition comes out!  If you can overlook all the self-congratulation, there are some good messages to take from the book about building connections and helping yourself by helping others.

Disclaimer:  I received this book for free from Blogging for Books for this review.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Why so glum?

The European drama series is currently a very popular entry into the mystery genre due to several recognizable characteristics.  The new Welsh series Hinterland is no exception.  Brooding lead detective with some personal baggage? Check. Gorgeous scenery? Check.  Gruesome crimes? Check.  All of which add up to an entirely enjoyable and intriguing drama.

This series has been called a Welsh version of The Killing.  Having only seen the US version of that program, I have to say that I'm not seeing the similarities.  Hinterland features the investigation of 4 distinct crimes, although they take place within a relatively small area, but there's no "who killed Rosie Larsen" story line running throughout the whole thing.  There is a slight connection between several of the episodes, but it's only vaguely alluded to.  Still, it's an engaging drama in its own right.

DCI Tom Mathias (Richard Harrington) comes to Aberystwyth to head up the investigation unit of the local police force.  He's clearly had some sort of personal upheaval -- his letters to "Meg" are returned unopened and he is constantly looking mournfully at a photo of two small girls.  His living situation is also a bit bleak.  He's living in a caravan (trailer to us US folks) in the middle of a beautiful but desolate area.  Still, it's a good place to get in his frequent jogs.

The first episode of the series, "Devil's Bridge," begins with a horrific scene.  An elderly woman is missing from her home, but there is blood everywhere, suggesting she was either killed or very seriously injured.  In the course of their investigations, the team finds out that the woman ran a children's home for many years.  The building is now a hotel, although since it's in a rather remote location, guests are somewhat infrequent.  While looking around the grounds of the school, Mathias finds the old lady's body in a river.  Mathias becomes convinced that a former resident of the home is responsible for the crime, but since the home operated for decades, it will be a challenge to trace all the now-adult residents.

"Night Music," the second episode, once again concerns violence done to an elderly person in his own home.  Solitary Idris Williams is found beaten to death in the kitchen of his farmhouse.  Although he lives in the house on his late father's farm, it soon emerges that Williams doesn't own the farm:  his father left it to "the Guild" -- a local organization of prominent men who allow him to live in the house.  The investigation leads all the way back to events that took place in World War II, so once again, the list of suspects is long.

A close-knit community hides its secrets well in the third episode, "Penwyllt."  Divers discover a body in a local pond.  The body had been weighted down with a large tire, so while suicide is considered as a cause of death, it doesn't seem likely.  The dead man turns out to be a teacher whose van broke down in the town the previous year.  He had to wait around for parts to be delivered to fix the van, so apparently he made at least one enemy while there.  It's up to Mathias to sort out the culprit from a mass of shady characters.  His task isn't made any easier when another suspicious death occurs in the village.

Finally, the last episode, "The Girl in the Water," starts with two boys finding a beautiful young woman in a red dress dead in their field.  She was posed in an odd position, leading Mathias to wonder at the significance of her appearance.  The victim, Alys Thomas, was a student at the local university.  Could one of her professors have had a relationship with her?  While investigating, Mathias embarks on a relationship of his own, but, being something of a misery-guts, you just know things won't run smoothly for him . . .

It would be interesting to know if Welsh law differs significantly from the laws of other countries that we've come to know from detective shows.  For instance, although this is the "badge-flashingist" bunch of cops I've ever seen, they have no hesitation to break in to any suspect's home and start rifling through their belongings.  There's never a mention of any sort of warrant, so I wonder if it's not needed in Wales?  The suspects often turn up as their belongings are being searched, and no one seems to raise a fuss.  Odd.  Also, Mathias is inordinately fond of his flashlight, using it even when it seems a flick of a light switch would serve him better.  Then again, who am I to question the methods of the great detectives?

There are also tons of bonus features on the final disk which demonstrate the amazing amount of work that went into this production.  The series was filmed in both English and Welsh -- at the same time.  So one shot was set up and filmed in English, and immediately re-done in Welsh (or vice versa).  There are several interviews with the producer of the series, who speaks in Welsh (with subtitles, thank goodness!).  The beautiful landscape also presented its own share of filming difficulties.

Overall, I found the series to be quite intriguing.  Both Mathias and his second-in-command, DI Mared Rhys, seem to be suffering from personal difficulties brought on by too much time spent on the job.  In addition, their boss, the dour Chief Supt. Brian Prosser, seems to have a suspect picked out for every crime, before the investigation even begins.  We don't get much of a glimpse into what makes Mathias so morose, but it looks like there will be another series of Hinterland next year, so maybe we'll get some clarification then!
Disclaimer:  I received a copy of Hinterland from Acorn Media in exchange for this review

Final Verdict for Hinterland: Four Gherkins, for being an exciting and atmospheric detective series set in a breathtaking landscape

Friday, June 27, 2014

Your deeds will come back to haunt you

Most mystery readers were probably quite familiar with the works of Anne Perry when, in 1994, it was revealed that she had served time for murder as a teenager in New Zealand in the 1950s.  Her identity was revealed when the film Heavenly Creatures revived interest in the case.  The book Anne Perry and the Murder of the Century takes a comprehensive look at the crime, the trial, and the lives of the main players in the story today.

Juliet Hulme (as Anne Perry was then known) and Pauline Parker became very close while attending a girls' school in New Zealand.  Juliet's father was a well-respected scientist who had moved the family from England to take up a position as leader of Canterbury University College.  Juliet was very intelligent, but had suffered from a variety of health problems from a young age.  These problems meant that she was frequently separated from her parents.  She was sent away several times "to convalesce," always away from her parents.  This caused a lack of parental attachment which the author, Peter Graham, claims helped to shape her personality.  Still, her family was quite well-off and cultured compared with the family of her new friend, Pauline.  Pauline's parents, Herbert and Honora Rieper, turned out not to have ever married, which meant that when charges were eventually filed against her, she was listed under her mother's maiden name of Parker.

The Rieper family lived in a less-affluent neighborhood (not even a pony!) and took in boarders to make ends meet.  Pauline's father was a manager at a restaurant, which caused her to be referred to in the press as "the fish shop girl."  Pauline had also had health problems as a child.  This meant that Juliet and Pauline were the only two girls who were exempt from sports.  During sports classes at school, the two girls sat together and developed a friendship.  Eventually, they began to share their mutual love of books, films, and music, and even to collaborate on their own poetry and novels.  They also acted out their works.

As Graham relates it, at first, the haughty Juliet insisted on being the center of attention and ordering the somewhat awe-struck Pauline around.  However, the girls eventually developed such a close, exclusive relationship that the headmistress of their school warned their parents that their relationship was not healthy.

Since Anne Perry did eventually become a popular writer, it's interesting to think about what might have happened if the girls had been allowed to continue their odd and intense friendship.  No doubt, it would have burned itself out in time as they developed other interests.  Juliet was certainly university material, while Pauline had already dropped out of school.

A crisis developed which radically altered the lives of everyone involved.  Juliet's mother had developed her own career as a family "relationship counselor," hosting a popular radio program.  This didn't stop her from having an affair with a man named Bill Perry.  Perry eventually even moved in with the family, further highlighting the odd interpersonal relationships in the Hulme household.

Juliet's father, while a brilliant scientist, was less than successful as a college administrator, and he was informed that his contract would not be renewed.  Faced with the loss of his job and his wife, he decided to return to England.  On the way, he planned to stop by South Africa and once again deposit Juliet with relatives.  The girls were frantic at the thought of being separated.  No doubt to avoid a scene, Juliet's parents seemed to encourage the idea that Pauline could go to South Africa with Juliet.  They never had any intention of allowing this, however.  Pauline's mother was adamantly against the idea, refusing to even consider it.  Since she was the (apparently) only obstacle to the plan, the girls decided she had to die.

Both girls kept diaries detailing their plans.  After the murder, Juliet's mother was able to destroy her writings before the police started searching the house, but Pauline's journal made for interesting reading.   The girls apparently thought they could bash Pauline's mother on the head with a brick in a sock once, which would cause her to instantly fall down and die.  When that didn't happen, they resorted to a brutal attack, both alternating between holding her down and hitting her.  Their story of the mother falling and hitting her head wasn't believed for an instant.

The girls were convicted and sent to separate prisons.  Since they were juveniles, they only served 5 years before being released and given new names.   The author is able to trace where they went after being released.  Since Anne Perry was already somewhat in the public eye, she has given some interviews about her past.  Hillary Nathan, as Pauline is now known, has been much more private and reclusive.

The book was very interesting, especially if you are somewhat familiar with the case or have seen Heavenly Creatures.  The only part I didn't like was when the author went too in-depth into the writings of the school girls.  It did go to show their state of mind at the time, but it made for some tedious reading!  Other than that, the book was a really fascinating look at an unusual true crime case.

Final Verdict for Anne Perry and the Crime of the Century: Four Gherkins, for being a detailed look at the lead-up and aftermath of a horrific crime