Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The website is a wonderful resource for information on all things British. There are news headlines, forums, entertainment and wonderful travel advice. Now, the most useful travel advice about London has been gathered into a downloadable book called 101 London Travel Tips.

The book is divided into extremely useful sections covering such topics as Travel Planning & Advice, Lodging, Food and Health & Safety. Jonathan Thomas and his wife Jackie, who wrote the guide together, do a wonderful job of providing advice that will be useful to both the first-time visitor to London, as well as tips that will enhance a repeat visit. A very useful aspect of the guide is that it is written by Americans, so there is a lot of information about what might be unexpected or different for American visitors. I especially appreciated the advice on how to order in pubs and how to deal with tipping! There's also a great section with an explanation of common British slang which will be invaluable to those of us on this side of the pond who travel to London with the sometimes mistaken belief that we speak the same language!

Although the title is 101 London Travel Tips, there are actually many more tips included. Many of the tips consist of lists such as "6 Fun Things to do in London at Night," "The Top 5 iPhone Apps," "5 Must See London Shows" and so on.

Anyone who loves London will greatly enjoy reading this guide! Not only can you come up with some great ideas for your next trip, but you can also benefit from the experience of someone who has a great fondness for his subject! You can download a copy of 101 London Travel Tips for only $10 at While you're there, be sure and browse the site. You'll be amazed at all the information to be found there!

Disclaimer: I received a review copy of 101 London Travel Tips

Final Verdict for 100 London Travel Tips: Five Gherkins, for being a wonderful guide for London travellers!

Friday, June 25, 2010

I've always been a fan of the writings of Bill Bryson since I discovered his book "Neither Here Nor There" while living in Sweden, and he presented the hilarious idea that he expected to see Swedes walking down the street in miner's helmets, with lamps illuminated. This was in response to the preposterous notion of all cars in Sweden having their headlights come on automatically, even during bright summer days. I had often thought it was somewhat ridiculous for cars have their headlights on at all times, too, so the notion that this would somehow apply to people as well was just hilariously appropriate. Sadly, I don't think the miner's helmets have caught on among the pedestrians, yet, but I expect to see it eventually . . .

I'm always thrilled when there is a new book out by Bill Bryson, and it's even better to listen to him reading his works as audio books. I was therefore thrilled to discover a TV program he did in the late 1990s called Notes from a Small Island (based on his book of the same name). At the time of the filming, Bryson and his family had moved back to the US after living in Britain for over 20 years. He decided to write about all the things he loved and would miss about Britain (although he subsequently moved back to Britain and continues to live there today).

The series is divided into six episodes where he discusses things such as sports (including those little known contests such as pipe smoking), disused underground stations, British inventions and London cabbies. There are occasional appearances by celebrities such as Stephen Fry and Alexei Sayle, although they just tend to pop in and out without much introduction or fanfare. And that's really appropriate, since the focus here is on Britain and what makes it great. My favorite episode had to be the one where Bryson tried to figure out why the British are so fond of traveling to freezing, windy, miserable seaside resorts, only to sit stubbornly on chairs on the beach for the duration of their visits.

As a fellow American who also appreciates all things British, I can totally appreciate Bryson's enthusiasm and wonder. I just wish there had been more time spent on some of the topics. The visits to each area and subject are quite brief, but overall the program does a good job of showcasing different aspects of the British landscape and character. I for one am happy that Bryson was able to return to the country he loves, although I do wish he would get out more and write some more travel memoirs.
Final Verdict for Notes from a Small Island TV Series: Four Gherkins, for being an affectionate and interesting portrait of a beautiful part of the world

Friday, June 11, 2010

I had a late night last night finishing The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest by Stieg Larsson. I had been anxiously awaiting the final installment in the Lisbeth Salander story, and while I would have preferred to wait for the audio book, I was delighted to get the book not long after its release from my local library. It was with some sadness that I started this book, knowing that it would be my final meeting with the anti-social, spunky and totally unique Salander.

The story begins right after the events of the previous book, The Girl Who Played With Fire (which I believe was overall the strongest of the 3 books in the Millennium series). Salander is in the hospital, being treated for horrific injuries, and is still a suspect in several murders. The journalist Mikael Blomkvist is once more in her corner as he attempts to unravel the conspiracy that has led to this tragic point in Salander's life.

There are quite a few problems with this book, so far as it concerns American readers. First of all, there are SO MANY characters -- doctors, policemen, journalists, government officials, secret police, etc. Add to it that some are part of a conspiracy while others are working to expose the conspiracy, and all of those characters also have varying degrees of knowledge about what is going on. It's really hard to keep up with, not only a character's role, but also how much he or she knows and whether they are pro- or anti-Salander.

The other major problem is that the book concerns a number of people and events from the last 50 years of Swedish history. Some people are mentioned with an asterisk following their names, which indicates there is a short explanatory note at the end of the book. Other things are just mentioned without any sort of explanation what so ever. The first 1/4 or so of the book is also tedious when it DOES explain the long and tangled history of the Swedish intelligence service.

It was also a bit disappointing that Salander, injured and without her computer, has a somewhat limited role in the events in the story. Although she is central to the action of the story, most of the work has to be done by others on her behalf. The book does pick up as she recovers and events move toward her trial. Once the trial opens, the cross-examination by her lawyer of some of her old enemies is truly page-turning. There is also a side story involving Blomkvist's former boss/sometime lover Erika Berger and the difficulities she encounters in her new job as editor of a major newspaper.

Although it has been rumored that author Stieg Larsson left outlines for a total of 10 books in the series at his death in 2004, this book ends with most loose ends tied up, so it's a fitting end. I'm anxious to see the other two films in the series. Hope they are released in the US soon!
Final Verdict for The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest: Four Gherkins, for a slow start, but a page-turning ending!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

The winners of the Howard Goodall CD "The Seasons" are:

Melissa B.



The winners have been notified by email. Congrats, and thanks to everyone who entered! Watch this space for more giveaways in the future!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

A while ago I found a copy of Beyond Belief: The Moors Murderers: The Story of Ian Brady and Myra Hindley by Emlyn Williams in a second hand bookstore. I picked it up the other day and started reading. It was published in 1968, so most of the information in the book, while "fresh" at the time the murders took place in the early 1960s, has somewhat outdated. The book looked at the murders at a time when Hindley and Brady had only confessed to 3 murders. In the late 1980s, they admitted to a further two.

While the book does a good job of setting out the crimes and their aftermath, the writing style is somewhat annoying. Williams seemed to have some sort of aversion to quotation marks, so he would be describing a scene, and then immediately launch into what someone said without following the grammatical written convention of clearly identifying the speaker and using quotation marks to indicate when they started and stopped speaking. It was very annoying. He also "imagined" a great deal of what must have been going on in Hindley's mind during the events.

Recently, Carol Ann Lee has published One of Your Own: The Life and Death of Myra Hindley. This book has the benefit of both being up to date, as well as including the words from the killers themselves. The author had access to Myra Hindley's unpublished autobiography as well as Ian Brady's own words from his book about serial killer motivation called The Gates of Janus. Naturally, there is a great deal of contradiction that the reader is left to interpret. Before her death in 2002, Myra Hindley had tried for years to be released on parole. Her main arguments were that most killers sentenced to life terms had been released after serving much less time than she had, and also that she had become a deeply religious Catholic while in prison and was a changed person.

Williams believed that Hindley was obsessed with Brady to the point of being willing to do anything he asked of her so long as he would agree to maintain a relationship with her. She did keep a diary during the time when she first met Brady, and she recorded her frequent frustration with his treatment of her. For weeks he would ignore her, only to be nice to her and get her hopes up the next. When he finally did ask her out, she was completely infatuated with him.

The Lee book takes a similar tack, but gives Myra much more blame for participating in the murders. While both authors agree that Brady was the main architect behind the crimes, there has always been debate about to what extent Myra participated. In Lee's book, she quotes Myra as saying that Brady was extremely abusive to her. In addition to frequent sexual assaults and beatings, he also threatened to harm her family if she didn't go along with his plans. At the beginning, before there were any murders, she stated she wanted to go to the police, but nothing had been done yet and she feared for her safety. Later, she claimed that she did feel remorse for participating in the crimes by luring the victims into her car. She maintained, however, that she never actually participated in the murders. This statement is contradicted by Brady's statements (which have been refuted by forensic evidence for the most part), as well as the horrible tape recording the pair made while abusing and murdering a little girl. So the degree to which Hindley was a willing participant in murder is still not crystal clear in this book. Some people who met her over the years found her cold, sullen and calculating, while others described her as warm, open and genuine. There's no doubt that she presented different aspects of herself to people based on their perceived abilities to get her positive publicity in her bid to gain parole.

The thing that really amazed me about the whole thing was that, even today, Hindley seems to be the much more hated figure of the two killers. The crimes were shocking and horrible, but clearly Brady was the one who wanted to experiment with murder, who was sexually attracted to children, and did the raping and (most if not all of) the killing. Lee's book, however, begins with Hindley being taken to a hospital suffering from the pneumonia which would soon claim her life. After her death, the room in which she stayed was completely gutted -- everything was taken out and burned. No funeral home in the area wanted to handle her funeral. The book also states that after her arrest, the name Myra virtually disappeared as a girl's name in Britain. But the crimes didn't stop people from naming their sons Ian, did it?

I was also amazed at the extent to which the families of the killers were targeted for abuse. I suppose that since people were unable to get their hands on the murderers, they opted for the next best thing. It was really distressing that Hindley's brother-in-law, David Smith, who went to the police and stopped the murders, was repeatedly attacked and harassed, to the extent that he eventually went to prison for retaliating against a tormentor.

All in all, the two books presented fascinating, if conflicting pictures of this hated figure.
Final Verdict for Beyond Belief: Two Gherkins, for a detailed, if speculative look at the killer's motives
Final Verdict for One of Your Own: Four Gherkins, for being a very well researched and heavily footnoted look at one of the most despised people of the last century

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

This Friday, June 4, US audiences will get to see the new Russell Brand/Jonah Hill film Get Him to the Greek. Brand resurrects his character Aldous Snow, the dissolute rock star from the film Forgetting Sarah Marshall.

The film opens on June 25 in the UK, and UK fans can find out how to enter to see a preview screening of the film. Love that rock band Infant Sorrow? Are you Aldous Snow’s number 1 fan? Well if you fancy seeing him at a preview screening of Get Him to the Greek, then why not call him up and find out how…

07585 064258*

*Charges are based on the caller's standard cost of a call from a fixed or mobile line. The cost of calling will vary depending on your standard calling charges to mobiles and it is your responsibility to check charges before calling. Callers must have the bill payer's permission before calling. For full terms and conditions visit

Good luck to those in the UK who make the call! Here in the US, I'll just have to queue up and buy a ticket with the rest of the mob!

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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