Sunday, December 30, 2012

Ruth Rendell's novels written under her Barbara Vine pen name are always something of a challenge for me.  Although she's one of my favorite authors, I can rarely finish the Vine books.  The style of them is hard to follow.  There might be frequent references to "the awful event" from page one, which I suppose are designed to reel in the reader, but just serve to exasperate me. The "event" is generally not revealed until the very end of the novel, by which time I've long since ceased to care.  So I was a bit wary when I saw that there is a new Barbara Vine book out, The Child's Child

This book concerns two themes: homosexuality and single motherhood and how the two issues have become more socially acceptable.  There is also the device of a novel-within-a-novel at play here. 

The story begins with college lecturer Grace being given an unpublished novel, The Child's Child, which was written by a fairly well-known deceased author.  The author's son wants her opinion as to whether or not the novel could interest a publisher.  Grace has recently moved into her deceased grandmother's large house with her brother Andrew.  The house is so large that they can live independently of each other if they wish.  Andrew soon moves in his attractive, but somewhat prickly boyfriend James.  Grace puts the novel aside as she works on her thesis, which deals with the idea of illegitimacy and single motherhood in Victorian fiction.  She gets into some rather heated discussions with James, who says that male homosexuals faced a much more difficult life during that time, as homosexuality was illegal and anyone found guilty of the crime could be sentenced to hard labor. 

While society may have softened its views on both homosexuality and single motherhood in modern times, James and Andrew experience the continuing hostility that gay men face when they witness one of their friends being murdered as they leave a gay club one evening.  They are both potential witnesses at the trial, a possibility which causes James to become severely depressed.  In this state, he and Grace experience a new dimension to their relationship.

At this point, the modern story takes a pause while we are given the full text of the novel "The Child's Child" which Grace has agreed to read.  This story begins in 1929.  John is a teacher at a school in London, and is involved in a highly passionate, but illegal relationship with the flighty Bertie.  He decides to move to a rural school to get away from the temptations of London, and plans to devote himself to a life of celibacy.  A visit home to his parents at this time reveals that his teen aged sister, Maud, is pregnant and unmarried.  Her horrified parents plan to send her to a home for unwed mothers and have the baby adopted.  John quickly takes charge and proposes a solution that will change every one's lives.

The Child's Child part of the book is the main chunk of the story.  None of the characters is particularly likable:  the ungrateful, selfish Maud; the opportunistic, violent Bertie; and the spineless, weak John.  A murder happens, but most people seem rather indifferent to it.  Eventually, the crime is solved, and things go on pretty much as before.  Undeserving people are rewarded and unreasonable demands are inexplicably met without much resistance. 

We eventually swing back to the modern story where there is a bit of unrealistic drama and an ending that sort of fizzles out.  It is interesting how the social problems are contrasted between the modern and distant characters.  A single woman becoming pregnant in 1929, which was seen as the end of the world, is today accepted as the norm.  States are passing same sex marriage laws, when homosexuality was a crime in Britain until, unbelievably, 1967.  The book does make the reader marvel at the societal changes that have taken place over the last century, but the characters in the book are not very likable, either in the present or the past.  There's not really anyone to root for.

On the bright side, I did manage to get through this Barbara Vine novel, so perhaps I'm mellowing in my old age!

Final Verdict for The Child's Child:   Three Gherkins, for being a thought-provoking look at modern social changes

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Most people tend to think of London as being an ancient city full of history.  Surprisingly, most of London is not really that old.  Little remains from the Roman era, and a series of disasters (the Great Fire of 1666, German bombing during WWII, misguided attempts at modernization) has removed many of the landmarks and buildings that would have been familiar to London residents over the previous centuries.  Lost London: An A-Z of Forgotten Landmarks and Lost Traditions by Richard Guard singles out some notable nearly forgotten aspects of London that have been lost to the march of time.

There are buildings which have been lost, but also occupations, among them Crossing Sweepers, Death Hunters (early sensationalist journalists) and Dog Finders (although I have a feeling "dog-napping" might still be a lucrative, if not very popular, occupation!).  The Frost Fairs, held on the ice on the rare occasions when the River Thames froze over, are also mentioned, along with the years, starting in 1150, when they were held. 

Some of the lost things are not missed, such as plague pits.  It was interesting to read that still today when new construction is begun, excavations frequently turn up large numbers of human bones.  Must make the life of the London construction worker a bit more lively than those who work elsewhere!  The old horrific Fleet Prison, so vividly described by Charles Dickens, is also better off being relegated to the pages of history, as is the appropriately named Execution Dock.

I would have liked to have seen some of the locations built strictly for entertainment, though.  The Colosseum in Regents Park, described as having a dome larger than that of St. Paul's Cathedral, must have been a sight to see.

The book is packed with many interesting facts and contains many beautiful black and white drawings which help to give the book a feeling of historical charm.  All in all, this book gives the reader an appreciation of the older parts of London that managed to survive at all!

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of Lost London from the publisher in exchange for this review.

Final Verdict for Lost London Four Gherkins, for being a fascinating look at a vanished past

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Most couples, at some point in their relationships, will experience disagreements and possible resentments over money.  While the conventional wisdom has always been that having a budget and sticking to it will solve the financial problems in a marriage, this isn't always the case.  The book The 5 Money Personalities: Speaking the Same Love and Money Language by Scott & Bethany Palmer instead focuses on the different beliefs and attitudes about money that each partner brings into the marriage.  Until you and your partner understand your own unique Money Personalities, it is unlikely that any money disagreements can be solved.

While nearly everyone is familiar with the statistic that 50% of all marriages end in divorce, I was surprised to find that among couples who do end up going through a divorce, 70% of them blame money issues for the failure of their marriages.  The authors of this book, who work in financial planning, recount their experiences in working out detailed financial plans for their clients, only to have the clients come in at a later date and announce their separation over some financial aspect of their lives.  This gave them the unique insight that budgets and financial plans will not solve money problems unless each person realizes and takes responsibility for his or her own Money Personality. 

The five Money Personalities are: Saver, Spender, Risk Taker, Security Seeker and Flyer.  Not only that, but most people are a combination of several of these personalities.  Talk about being challenging in coming to a financial consensus!  There are examples of each category given in the book to help you work out your primary and secondary type.  Additionally, there are negative aspects of each type given to show how the resulting behavior might impact your spouse.  If you're still unsure, you can take an online quiz to determine your Money Personality.

I enjoyed the insights that were pointed out in this book.  For instance, many small decisions you make during the day can have a negative impact on your relationship.  If you and your spouse are trying to save money, but one has a Starbucks habit or leaves the cap off the toothpaste so that it dries out and half the tube has to be thrown away, that can enrage the other partner who may feel it is unfair that he or she is putting more effort into following the plan.  "Make it Happen" suggestions at the end of the chapters to help you more fully explore your attitudes toward money.  There are also suggestions on how to negotiate and "fight fair" if you happen to be married to someone with a different attitude to money than you have. 

Disclaimer:  I received a copy of this book from BookSneeze for the purpose of writing this review.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Any visit to London would not be complete without stopping by the venerable Fortnum & Mason store in Piccadilly.  Serving customers since 1707, the dealer in luxury goods is especially known and admired for its food selection.  The new book Fortnum & Mason: Honey and Preserves offers a delightful look at the process of making preserves and honey, and also plenty of recipes using both substances to make a wide variety of delicious dishes.

The book begins with a lovely overview of both Fortnum & Masons, and the history of preserves.  Known since the middle ages, when it was called "stuff," preserves have been used to liven up an otherwise bland diet.  Still, it was difficult to keep any food fresh for very long, until 1809, when the Frenchman Nicolas Appert won a prize from the French government for his discovery of how to preserve food to keep it fresh for transport and storage.

Fortnum and Mason has been selling different types of jams, jellies, chutneys, pickles and honeys for over 300 years.  In the mid 19th century, they began selling their own range of preserves.  The history of the company is very much tied in with the history of the British empire.  Travellers to exotic foreign lands brought back a variety of new spices, fruits and flavors that quickly became sought-after in general society.  Fortnum & Mason incorporated these new tastes into numerous popular new creations.  Everything was going quite well until the war-time rationing of sugar (and the frequent torpedoing of ships carrying fruit) meant that supplies for creating the jams and other delicacies were in short supply.  The creative folks at Fortnum & Mason just continued on with what they had, creating jams using cheaper fruits (such as apples and plums) and using such things as raisins for sweeteners.  In the first decade of the 21st century, the idea of rooftop bees was put into place, with a palatial hive built to exacting specifications.  After dallying with some inferior foreign bees, it was decided that the hardy and industrious Welsh Black bees should be used instead, and they have not disappointed.  However, the honey is only harvested two times per year, so it is not easy to secure a batch before it's sold out.  You can watch the activity of the bees on one of two "beecams" on the website (although they weren't working when I checked.  Maybe the bees' lack of activity in the wintertime necessitates a camera hiatus until spring!).

The majority of the book is taken up with delicious recipes, many accompanied by lovely color photos of the dish involved.  The recipes are divided into Light Bites & Starters, Main Courses, Puddings, Bakes and Preserves.  Some of the recipes included are Lemon and Lime Cheesecake, Beef and Stout Puff Pastry Pie, and Warm New Potato and Spinach Salad.  Yummy!  Most, but not all, of the recipes include a specific Fortnum & Mason product.  I can't wait to try some of them out, even if some of the recipe instructions are a bit puzzlings.  In one, for instance, we are instructed to "gradd the remaining milk."  Is that a mis-print, or some new word that means (I think) "gradually add"??  I was also puzzled as to what a "marrow" is, but it seems to be a generic squash.  It's interesting to read the recipes, although I'm sure my own versions won't be nearly as pretty as the ones in the illustrations!

I found the book to be lovely and quite informative.  If you've ever wondered about jams, jellies, mustards and piccalillis, and how they came to be on our tables, you will enjoy this little gem!

Disclaimer:  I received a review copy of the book from the publisher, Trafalgar Square Publishing.

Final verdict for Fortnum & Mason: Honey and Preserves Four Gherkins, for being a delicious look at how condiments came to play such an important role in our lives

Friday, November 30, 2012

While I've been to England many times, my trips have generally centered around the London area. I'm hoping to one day have the time and resources to explore the rest of the country.  In the meantime, I'm always thrilled to be able to learn more about England.  The new DVD Cornwall with Caroline Quentin will certainly give you travel fever to explore that beautiful and unique part of the country.

Cornwall is located in the extreme south-west corner of the country. Here is a visual representation, courtesy of Wikipedia, that shows what part of the island we're talking about:

In this series, the talented actress Caroline Quentin visits Cornwall and takes in its breathtaking beauty as she gets to know some of the locals.  The program consists of 8 episodes on 2 discs, as well as a small companion booklet Viewer's Guide.

Because Cornwall is mostly surrounded by the sea, many of the people who are featured work or are in some way connected to the ocean.  We get to go along on a fishing boat, visit a restaurant and beach-side food stand which specialize in seafood, see rowing competitions and experience Pirate Day celebrations.

In each activity, the lovely scenery is always a beautiful backdrop to the story.  The dramatic coastal landscapes and gorgeous blue water help to show what a magnificent part of the country this is.

Some of the people Caroline meets include a family who are, against all expectations, running the successful Camel Valley Vineyard in Cornwall; a fisher-woman who also runs a teashop; and a man who gets to dress up in pirate gear to participate in the annual Pirate Day on  the island of St. Michael's Mount.  There is a joyful spirit and happy enthusiasm that shines through from the people of Cornwall.  Of course, having a camera turned on you would probably make most people perk up, but you get the feeling that the people who live in this part of the world are genuinely content with their lives.

There are also plenty of humorous moments, such as the regatta run by oddly costumed characters in questionable boats who "haven't a hope" of winning.  Everyone seems to be having a great time with the thrill of the race.

We also get a bit of history thrown in, such as the fact that over half of the world's tin used to be mined in Cornwall.  Along the coast, engine houses sprout up and give testament to the former industry that employed so many people in this area.

The mines also gave rise to that great Cornish delicacy, the pasty, which was an efficient way for miners to eat their dinner without having to take too much time over cleaning up (the crimped pastry around the edge could be held by grubby fingers and tossed away after the filling had been consumed).  Also saved on the washing up!

The series was made even more delightful by the cheerful enthusiasm of the presenter, Caroline Quentin.  She is full of excitement and wonder as she greets each new person and experience.  I wouldn't be surprised to learn that she bought one of the Unique Homes featured in this series!

All in all, this was a wonderful introduction to Cornwall and its people.  I am now itching to put Cornwall on the itinerary for my next trip to the UK!

Disclaimer: I received a copy of Cornwall with Caroline Quentin from Acorn Media in exchange for this review.

Final Verdict for Cornwall with Caroline Quentin Four Gherkins, for being a delightful visit to a charming part of the world

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

As we get older, we all begin to take stock of our lives and try to figure out where we've been and where we're going.  Many people, taking inspiration from the film of the same name, assemble their own personal "bucket lists" of things they want to do before it's too late.  In the book More Than a Bucket List, author Toni Birdsong gives advice on how to assemble your own list, and ties many of her suggestions to Biblical passages.  Conveniently, the back of the book contains blank pages for the reader to work on his or her own list.

While many of the ideas listed sound fun or inspirational ("Pay the tab of the person behind you," "Visit Ground Zero," etc.), others are just plain strange.  For instance, there's the suggestion that you should "Live long enough for Willard Scott to show your face on a jelly jar."  I had no idea that living to be 100 was something we all could do if we just put our minds to it.  Other suggestions sound downright illegal, such as "Walk through Disneyland after hours."  Of course, there are no directions included as to how to accomplish that, so whether you should hide somewhere until after closing, or just break in is not stated -- I guess it's your Bucket List, so do whatever suits you!

There are also an awful lot of  suggestions that begin "take the day off," "skip work," "leave work early" and so on.  This coupled with extravagantly expensive travel-related suggestions ("Visit the 1200 islands of Maldives," "Summit Everest," "Raft the Zambezi," etc.) makes you wonder how anyone can follow many of the ideas and remain employed for long.

The sections sprinkled throughout the book labeled "Real-Life Challenges" are more practical and involve suggestions such as volunteering at a homeless shelter and asking advice from people you admire.  While I realize that the book is a sort of wish list, I would have enjoyed it a bit more if it had leaned more toward the practical, or achievable for the average person.

Disclaimer:  I received a copy of this book from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com book review bloggers program. 

Friday, November 2, 2012

Oh happy day!  A new novel featuring Mma Ramotswe, Mr. JLB Matekoni and Mma Makutsi (Dip. Sec. 97%) is always a cause for celebration.  The latest exploits of the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency are chronicled in The Limpopo Academy of Private Detection.  Once again we are drawn back to the dusty streets of Gabarone and find out what our beloved friends have been up to since we last met.

Strangely for such calm people living in such a beautiful place, there are many conflicts in this book.  While a number of conflicts in the previous books have dealt with our two female detectives trying to get to the bottom of various cases, in this book the problems are all personal.

First of all, Mma Potokwane, the head of the Orphan Farm, is being relieved of her duties.  Mma Ramotswe is totally dismayed by this information, not only because she doesn't want her friend to lose her job, but also because she knows how hard Mma Potokwane works on behalf of the orphans.  Who else will bribe tradesmen with fruit cake to get goods and services for free?  And why would the board of the orphan farm want to replace such a dedicated leader as Mma Potokwane? 

Next, Fanwell, the somewhat reserved apprentice of Mr. JLB Matekoni, is arrested and charged with dealing in stolen cars.  Everyone, including the occasionally prickly Mma Makutsi, is sure of his innocence, but how to prove it?  Especially when no one is able to afford a good attorney to represent him in court and the one he can afford is not exactly on top of things.

Finally, Mma Makutsi and her new husband Phuti Radiphuti are in the process of  building their new house.   They excitedly discuss where and how they want it built and furnished, but the builder is not only disrespectful to Mma Makutsi, he's also shifty and overbearing.  It's enough to cause poor Phuti to start stuttering again.

Fortunately, into all this chaos wanders a real celebrity -- at least within the halls of the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency.  The exalted personage does seem to be somewhat lacking in expertise (in his own estimation), but this does not dim the adoration of the two lady detectives who are awed by his presence.  His advice does eventually help them to resolve their problems.

As always, the people are kind, their interactions humorous and the results are satisfying.  I did feel that in this book everything was tied up a bit too quickly and tidily.  Perhaps only one or two crises per book with more complex solutions would be in order next time.  But the overall effect was a pleasant time spent with old friends, and we can all use more of that!

Final Verdict for The Limpopo Academy of Private Detection Four Gherkins, for being another lovely visit to our hardworking tea-drinking friends in Botswana

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

DCI Vera Stanhope can be difficult to like.  We gain a little more insight into what makes her so prickly in Vera: Set 2, a collection of 4 new episodes featuring the wonderful Brenda Blethyn as the tough female cop.  DCI Stanhope is joined in her sleuthing by her hunky DS Joe Ashworth (played by David Leon) who is married and has some domestic strife of his own.

Vera Stanhope is a single woman living alone in the remote house of her deceased father.  She tends to drink too much, snap at her subordinates at the police station, and rely far too much on DS Ashworth (much to the displeasure of his long-suffering wife, Celine).  The series is filmed in Northumberland and the scenery is beautiful.  The episodes in this collection feature:

1. The Ghost Position:  Vera's first superior officer has been injured while rescuing his daughter from their burning house after it has been firebombed.  Soon after this, another inexplicable tragedy occurs. Vera learns some shocking things about her former colleague as she attempts to sort out what happened.

2. Silent Voices:  A beloved social worker is murdered while swimming in a local beauty spot.  Since her computer was stolen shortly before she died, could the killer have been trying to stop the publication of a book about an infamous child killer?  Vera and Joe look into the social worker's private and professional life to get to the truth.

3.  Sandancers:  A local army base is the site of an apparent suicide that turns out to be murder.  The victim and his unit had recently returned from a tragic tour of Afghanistan where one of their members was killed by an IED.  Was this wartime death an unfortunate accident, the result of negligence, or something more sinister? 

4.  A Certain Samaritan:  A girl passing by a bridge on a night bus thinks she sees someone being pushed over the edge of the bridge.  The police respond, but where's the body?  When an unidentified body does turn up, miles away, it's up to Vera to figure out who the victim is and how he got so far away from the site of the crime.

There are several other recurring characters who make Vera very enjoyable.  Poor Kenny, an apparently competent officer, is given all the unpleasant and thankless tasks around the station.  Billy, the medical examiner, fancies himself as something of a ladies' man and is always ready with a joke.  The young female detectives, Holly and Bethany, try to avoid Vera's sharp tongue while being part of the team.

I found the series very entertaining.  Vera is such a complex character -- prickly and explosive one minute, vulnerable and compassionate the next.  I really like that she is so unpredictable.  We also get some idea as to why she is the way she is (some hints about a former relationship and her difficult relationship with her father) as well as some possible things that might be revealed in the upcoming season 3 (a previously unknown family member, perhaps?).

All in all, Vera is a wonderful series with enjoyable characters.  I look forward to spending more time in Northumberland!

Disclaimer:  I received a review copy of Vera: Set 2 from Acorn Media

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Dancing and attending balls feature prominently in all of Jane Austen's novels.  The characters use these social occasions to advertise their availability, meet prospective mates, show off the latest fashions and observe strict social codes of behavior.  It can all be a bit perplexing to modern readers.  The delightful book A Dance with Jane Austen: How a Novelist and Her Characters Went to the Ball by Susannah Fullerton helps to sort it all out.  Using letters Jane wrote to her sister Cassandra, as well as drawing heavily from the novels themselves, the author examines all aspects of the ball and the huge importance it held in early nineteenth century society.

There were many aspects to consider when preparing for a ball.  First of all, it was assumed that everyone knew how to dance the most popular dances.  This was achieved by having a "dancing master" come to homes for private lessons.  This was made even more economical by inviting friends and family in the area with young people at home to come over and share in the lessons.  Once the instruction was over, there were more practical matters to contend with.  For instance, how are we to get to the ball?  Well-off families had their own carriages, but unfortunately, many young unmarried ladies (including Jane Austen herself) had to wait for an invitation to either travel with someone or else stay over with them in order to attend a ball.  Even if you were able to secure transportation TO the festivities, getting home was sometimes an entirely different matter.  If you could afford it, you could also be carried in a sedan chair -- although since these were left outside in all weather, the inside would likely be damp and generally unpleasant, somewhat negating all the careful preparation in getting ready!

All images courtesy of Frances Lincoln Publishers, Ltd.
and Susannah Fullerton
After the practicalities were taken care of, it was time to get dressed.  This was, of course, a very complex and intricate operation.  Ladies who were advertising their availability as marriage prospects wanted to look their best.  As well as a fashionable dress, the young lady also had to consider her hair (a complicated, elaborate hair-do likely involving feathers or jewels as decoration), dancing slippers (including "shoe roses"), gloves and fans.  Fans were put to many uses including cooling off an overheated dancer, being used as a flirtatious device, hiding a reluctant maiden's eyes from unwanted suitors, and (more practically) being pressed into service as an impromptu note-taking device! Men were expected to wear knee breeches, silk stockings, frock coats and white gloves -- unless they were soldiers, of course, in which case their formal uniform would do.

The different types of balls are also described (who knew there were so many?).  There were the private balls, requiring a formal invitation and RSVP.  Invitations were highly sought-after, since the balls were likely to be held in homes of high social stature.  Another less-formal type of get-together was an informal ball, when rugs were rolled up and furniture pushed aside to provide room for dancing.  In Bath, there were assembly balls held in public buildings.  These often required tickets to be purchased, and eventually they allowed for the infiltration of all levels of society (even servants -- shudder!) into what had previously been an entertainment reserved for the better-off members of society.  The last, and most exclusive, type of ball was the court ball.  These were generally held at the Royal Palace of St. James to celebrate a royal birthday, and were stuffy and formal affairs.

All images courtesy of Frances Lincoln Publishers, Ltd.
and Susannah Fullerton
The book is beautifully illustrated with both contemporary drawings and paintings and more modern scenes from recent films.  Included in the book are also historical sketches of real people who had an influence on the social history of dance, including Thomas Wilson, a dancing master who published over 15 dance manuals in the nineteenth century, and Beau Nash.  Beau Nash was a "Master of Ceremonies" at the assembly rooms in Bath who set the rules for conduct and dress in the ballroom.  Some of his "Rules to be Observ'd at Bath" (written in 1706) included such admonitions as "gentlemen do not ask ladies to dance until they've been formally introduced" and "a lady must accept an invitation to dance, or spend the rest of the evening sitting out all the dances."  These rules were still scrupulously followed in Jane Austen's time, so having her characters behave in ways that didn't adhere to these rules allowed her to give readers all sorts of information about just what sort of people we were dealing with.  For instance, Marianne in Sense and Sensibility violates another steadfast rule by dancing almost exclusively with Willoughby, rather than obeying her social duties to mingle and dance with others.  This caused her to be not only the subject of gossip among her fellow ball-goers, but also shows the reader that Marianne is allowing her heart to overrule her common sense (which will surely lead her into serious trouble, as we soon see).

I really enjoyed learning all these aspects of balls and what great importance they had in society during Jane Austen's time.  The book does a wonderful job of showing how the characters are constrained by all the "rules" they must follow. By using examples from all of Jane Austen's works, we can better understand the social customs which everyone was expected to obey.

Susannah Fullerton is President of the Jane Austen Society of Australia and has lectured extensively around the world on Jane Austen’s life and novels. She is the author of Jane Austen and Crime, a book described by Claire Tomalin as “essential reading for every Janeite.”

Disclaimer:  I received a review copy of A Dance with Jane Austen from Frances Lincoln Publishers in exchange for this review.

Final verdict for A Dance with Jane Austen Four Gherkins, for being a delightful look at the manners and customs that influenced Jane Austen's work

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Those lovable lads from UCOS (Unsolved Crime and Open Case) are once again wrangled into service by Detective Superintendent Sandra Pullman (Amanda Redman) in the eighth season of the beloved series New Tricks.  The three retired detectives take a look at old and unsolved cases with a view to finding a resolution.  The stylish boss superintendent Pullman gives orders and suffers no fools as the team reviews files, interviews suspects and hunts down killers in this charming and long-running series.

This set includes all 10 episodes from Season Eight, which was originally broadcast in the summer of 2011 (Season Nine is currently running on the BBC).  These are the unedited UK editions, showing an additional six minutes per episode than was broadcast by PBS stations in the US.  There are plenty of contemporary touches and modern events that help to keep the series fresh.  The three detectives are also amusing as they attempt to solve cases and sort out their personal lives at the same time.  The three detectives are:  Jack Halford (very refined and dapper), Brian Lane (full of facts no one is interested in) and Gerry Standing (always with an eye out for the ladies).

There are some lovely shots of London as the team travels around searching for clues and witnesses.  The stories unfold in beautiful and bustling locations like Borough Market, the Natural History Museum, and the London Zoo. Some of the cases that are tackled include the murder of an Albanian translator, a noted scientist and antiques dealers, bringing the investigators into contact with a variety of different aspects of society.

It's also fun to see the occasional famous face pop up from time to time.  Some of the actors making guest appearances include Peter Davison, Keith Allen, Rebecca Front, Shaun Williamson and Sally Phillips (among others).

There is also a 20 minute extra feature on how the soundtrack for the series is put together.  It's really fascinating and shows just how much work goes into something most people take for granted.  There's a discussion of how the sound effects (walking, doors closing, bicycle wheels turning, etc.) are added after filming, and a fascinating interview with the father and son team responsible for creating the music for each episode.  I was surprised to learn that Dennis Waterman really does sing the "feem tune!"

The series has already been renewed for a tenth season, so it looks as if the UCOS team will be solving mysteries for a while to come!

Disclaimer: I received a copy of New Tricks: Season Eight by Acorn Media in exchange for this review

Final verdict for New Tricks Season Eight:   Four Gherkins, for being a light-hearted look at a beloved crime solving crew

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Wisdom Meets Passion is a book that offers vocational guidance for those who might be looking for a first job or for someone who might be looking for a more fulfilling career.  The author, Dan Miller, is the creator of the popular book and website 48 Days to the Work You Love.  Jared Angaza is his son, who has lived his life based on many of the ideas that are advocated in this book.  The chapters are written mostly by Dan, with occasional comments inserted by Jared.  The main point of the book is that if you combine your wisdom with something you are passionate about, you will be able to find fulfilling, meaningful work that will be more rewarding to you than any high-paying job could ever be.  There are chapters on things like making a difference, discovering why you're here, and sharing the wealth.

While this book does have some good points, I felt that overall it was impractical.  It's all very well and good to tell someone that they need to find fulfilling work and that volunteering and internships are the way to go, but the very practical matters seem to be glossed over.  The author mentions such admirable figures as Bono, Mother Teresa and Angelina Jolie as people who have done marvelous things with their humanitarian works, but I doubt any of those people had to worry about keeping a roof over their heads or where their next meal was coming from.  The father is very proud of his non-conformist son, who picked up and moved to Africa, but the son himself talked of having a "big network of friends and family to take care of us."  The author also seems to have somewhat negative views of traditional education and useless college degrees.  While it might be true that there are many people who graduate with high student debt and no clear career path, it seems somewhat irresponsible to counsel people to "identify 30 or 40 companies" you'd like to work for, contact them 3 times each, and "God will provide a job." 
He does state numerous times that people should have a plan and take definite steps to put the plan into motion, but there is an awful lot of suggestion that if you "do something you love" that money will just miraculously show up.  I'm really surprised that the practical Dave Ramsey endorses this book and philosophy so highly!
While this book might be useful to someone who is financially stable and suffering from a career crisis, I don't think any desperate, unemployed person will receive much practical advice from it.  For more information about the book, please visit the Wisdom Meets Passion product page.

Disclaimer:  BookSneeze® provided me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my review.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

As a long-time fan of all things James Herriot, I was thrilled to see that there was a new program about his years as a veterinary student in Glasgow. All Creatures books, there were frequent mentions of his student days, so it is wonderful to have a program dedicated to those early years, when James was just learning the basics of being a vet.   His love for animals was already long established, so it was natural that James would be drawn to a career as a vet.

Young James Herriot is a 3 episode series starting when James first arrives at the school and through to the end of his first year.  In Episode One, James meets his classmates, makes a bad first impression on one of his professors, and learns that the room he had reserved in advance is no longer available.  Not a very auspicious start!  During this first episode we are introduced to James's two female classmates:  the outspoken feminist Whirley and the upper class beauty Jenny.  Both will continue to have a major impact on him as he becomes accustomed to student life.  In the first episode, James encounters a man with a young son whose livelihood depends on an ill horse.  James takes it upon himself to help the horse, but since (as his instructors constantly point out) he has no background in science and it's his first week at vet school, will he be more of a danger than a help?

In the second episode, James and his fellow students are sent out to gain practical experience when a local vet is taken ill.  James and his classmate, the lazy but likable McAloon, get the job of assisting a pet sheep that has been hit with a bicycle (even though they'd hoped for something more juicy).  In another instance, James inserts himself into a situation where a farmer's cows are losing their calves too early, and again whether he was a help or a hindrance is in question.

James finds love in the third episode -- both in his personal and professional life.  He begins dating the aristocratic Jenny and is thrilled to be offered a job in her family's kennels.  Not so thrilling is the number of unpleasant truths that James discovers upon closer interactions with Jenny and her family.   This episode also reveals the results of the end of the first year exams.  Will James be able to pull it off, with all his dating, kennel work and other assorted diversions?

The disc also contains a 21 minute bonus feature, The Making of Young James Herriot, a photo gallery and a James Herriot biography.  The bonus feature offers a fascinating look at how the veterinary college set was reconstructed, since the street where the college was no longer exists. There are also short interviews with the stars and also James Herriot's son, Jim Wight.
I greatly enjoyed spending time with one of my all-time favorite people, James Herriot, but I had a few quibbles with this series.  Since this wasn't taken directly from a book written by James Herriot, the creators of the current series had to piece it together using old diaries, case notes and other information (including a great deal of "poetic license," I'm sure).  There were some things that therefore just didn't seem to ring true to me.  For instance, James is awfully assertive and assured of his veterinary abilities, even from his first day at the veterinary college.  What's even more strange is that people tend to take him at his word with no questions asked.  He was a stranger and not at all qualified to be dispensing advice, yet many of the farmers and other workers seemed to defer to him.  In his books, quite the opposite frequently occurred, even when he was a fully qualified and experienced vet!
Another strange thing was that at one point, James despairs of ever being able to finish school and contemplates returning home.  McAloon says something like, "You'll always remember your time in the big city," as if James was from some distant country town.  But "James Herriot" was from Glasgow.  I don't know why they needed to make him seem enthralled with the city he'd lived in his whole life!
Other than that, though, it was very comforting and exciting to be back in the company of such a beloved character and to see how he got his start in the career he loved!
Disclaimer:  I received a review copy of Young James Herriot from Acorn Media.
Final Verdict for Young James Herriot Four Gherkins, for being a delightful visit with a beloved character who's been away from our screens for too long! 
Thanks everyone who entered my giveaway to win two boxes of Paisley Tea from Paisley Tea Co.  The two winners chosen by were:

Cindy Merrill
 Congrats!!! The two winners have been contacted and will soon be enjoying some delicious tea.
Thanks to the Paisley Tea Co. for donating the prizes for this giveaway.  Watch for more giveaways soon!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Original London Walks
As we are “inbetween games”- the main Olympics are over and the Paralympics is about to start, that’s an opportunity to explore parts of London other than the Olympic Park. I know that a lot of tourists and visitors to the capital like to do their sightseeing from the comfort of an air-conditioned coach, or from the tops of an open top bus, but for me you’re always be missing something.

Walking is the best way to explore London, and to get up close and personal with some of the well-known, and many of the not so well known, buildings, sites, people and views. There are scores of companies and even individuals offering regular walking tours of London, and many of these go “off the beaten track” and away from the traditional walks, revealing parts of London you didn’t know even existed. Not only will you hear interesting information about what you are walking by, but there are some brilliant photo opportunities. All the walks mentioned can be searched on the Internet to get details of times and bookings (although for many you just show up!)

London Walks do a number of interesting walks over and above the usual ”Jack the Ripper” tours. One that I’ve been on was called 500 years of Black London. I didn’t know that London’s black community actually began in earnest in the 1500s, and continued right the way through to the 1950s, when the post-war shortage of workers tempted thousands to come over from the Caribbean.  

If you’re a fan of Victorian Gothic design, there’s a great walk that explores the iconic structure of St Pancras station, including access to parts of the station normally closed to the public. You can marvel at the clock tower and the abundance of spires, and the large statue of Britannia. Moreover the area boasts the oldest church in Christendom Britain plus an extraordinary churchyard), all capped off with a stunning roof-top view. I used up a whole 4MB disk of digital photos on this one walk!
Britain has had as love affair with the High Seas since Henry VIII built up a navy that rules the waves for the next 450 years. One of the most famous ships was Sir Francis Drake’s Golden Hinde. You can join actors dressed in period costumes on board an exact replica at St Mary Overie Dock to discover what life might have been like sailing around the world. The most shocking thing for me was the size of the boat. It was minute- only slightly larger than a London double-decker bus! Must have been cramped spending the best part of three years on board in all weathers and in all seas from 1577 to 1580. This floating museum is open all year round.
If you like your walks weird and wonderful, you can’t do any worse than join the Quirky London Tour. Highlights include (and brace yourself for this…) streetlamps fuelled by sewage, men chopping off their penises in public… a ballroom turned into a Venetian canal, Britain’s only street where cars drive on the right and Britain’s smallest police station. If you like the baroque, the bizarre and the frankly bonkers, then this is a great tour.

As a regular user of London’s underground transport system, I’ve always been fascinated by the closed and abandoned tube stations, structures and tunnels across London. There are a number of walks that take in some of these.
If violence and crime is you bag, then I recommend Smithfield: Murders, Monasteries and Martyrs. Starting off at Barbican tube station, this walk encompasses executions, bodysnatchers and a plague pit. The painter, Hogarth, the adviser to Henry the 8th, Sir Thomas More, and the Peasants’ Revolt leader, Wat Tyler are all mentioned. The painting here is of Wat getting the chop!
Finally you can just wander around London yourself- only yesterday I noticed some stunning photos to be had around Elephant & Castle where massive 1960s housing blocks have all been mothballed awaiting demolition as part of the area’s regeneration.
That’s just a taster of the many organised walks across London that you can join. Don’t forget to take your camera with you, if you don’t have one or want to upgrade, take a look at take a look at this selection of cameras- you’ll get some great pictures and have a tale to tell behind each one.

Disclaimer: This is a sponsored guest post!
Great news!  The generous folks at Paisley Tea Co. have offered two of my readers the opportunity to each win 2 boxes of their delicious tea!

To enter, just leave a comment on this post stating your favorite summertime drink.  I'll choose the winners on Sept. 4 and they'll be contacted to let me know their mailing addresses.  Sorry, due to postage costs, this giveaway is only open to the US.

Also, for everyone who orders tea from the Paisley Tea Co.'s website the code "angloaddict" will give you 20 percent off boxes of Paisley! The code is good through Sept. 16, 2012.  Don't miss this opportunity to save on this delicious, all organic, fair trade English style tea!  Once you try it, you'll be hooked!

Thanks to the Paisley Tea Co. for offering this great prize, and good luck!

Monday, August 13, 2012

Much like a recent starring Jim Carey, the author in the book To Be Perfectly Honest decides to tell only the truth.  He keeps a diary of his experiences in order to chart his progress.  The author, Phil Callaway, is also a minister and draws frequent inspiration and examples from Biblical passages.

During his truth-telling experiment, the author comes upon several questions which might not have been apparent at first.  One is: does he volunteer the truth when doing so would be hurtful or embarrassing to the person involved.  I would think that telling the truth would involve only direct questions, but an example he gives is when he offers his wife unsolicited negative comments on dinner.  If he found the food unappetizing (and it was only one portion of the meal, not the entire thing), it seems to me as if discretion would have trumped the need to "always tell the truth" -- especially when no one had asked his opinion!

Another dilemma that he confronts:  does God condone lying in the Bible?  He cites numerous instances where lying is forbidden, but also has some examples where lives were spared and other good deeds accomplished by lying.  I think this is an issue that most people struggle with:  will it do more harm than good to tell the truth?

Although the author speaks almost constantly of his faith, he is reassuringly human, wishing all manner of painful and unpleasant punishments on those who wrong him (and it seems as if quite a large number of people do this).  He also seems to be somewhat enamored of his own gifts, relating stories about how women throw themselves at him (but he valiantly resists temptation!), how people he counsels "can't stop thanking him" and how he generously offers free copies of his books (to people who haven't exactly been begging for copies!).

I enjoyed reading about the author's experiences and his struggles.  The book has a section of Discussion Questions in the back that help to delve deeper into some of the issues that cropped up during the year of truth telling.

To learn more about he book and author, check out these links:

Disclaimer: I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Now that July is coming to an end, I hope that everyone was able to see the final two episodes of the wonderful series, Queen and Country

On Sunday, July 15, The Queen's Possessions took a look at some of the more unusual things that the queen owns.  Items belonging to the queen include the Royal Swans, the Tower of London and the Royal Collection of portraits. 

This episode begins by following a session of "swan upping," the annual census of the swans along the River Thames. The swans are rounded up, counted and marked with a ring around one leg.  The Swan Marker and his crew wear traditional red coats and the Swan Marker himself sports a jaunty swan feather in his cap.  The ceremony takes 5 days to complete and draws crowds who line the banks to watch the activity.

While we all learned recently that the Queen is a good sport, she has participated in intricate media events before.  We get to see the process which created the 3D hologram of the queen which is currently on display in the Tudor Great Hall at Mont Orguiel Castle on the island of Jersey.  The creation of the work involved taking over 10,000 images of the queen over two sessions.  The finished product is an amazingly intricate portrait of the queen.

The final episode of the series, Traveler, debuted on Sunday, July 22 and covers the many trips that the queen has embarked upon since beginning her reign 60 years ago.  The most poignant was in 1952, when then Princess Elizabeth embarked on a 36,000 mile visit to the Commonwealth.  Her parents came to see her off, and she said goodbye, not knowing it would be the last time she would see her father.  King George VI died only one week after the start of the trip, and Elizabeth was called home from
From 1954 until 1997, the Royal Yacht Britannia served as the Queen's home at sea.  It covered over 1 million miles and hosted a variety of events and guests.  Eventually, it was deemed too expensive to maintain and was sent to Edinburgh to become a tourist attraction.  Queen Elizabeth is currently the head of 16 realms and 54 countries of the Commonwealth.  I was surprised to learn that there are still countries being added to the Commonwealth, the latest being Cameroon (which joined in 1995).

During her reign, the queen has made 325 visits to 150 countries.  Her longest trip was a 5 month tour which included a stop in Australia, where she was greeted by enormous crowds. During her travels, she has visited all the Commonwealth countries (except for that new member, Cameroon!).  She has also been an occasional visitor to the United States, and addressed the United Nations on several occasions.

I was sad to see the series come to an end, but it was so fascinating to get a closer look into so many aspects of the Queen's life.  Certainly, any future rulers will have a difficult time matching her longevity on the throne and her varied and colorful experiences.  I hope she will continue to be a vibrant and beloved presence for many years to come!

Disclaimer: I received a copy of Queen and Country for the purpose of 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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