Friday, November 1, 2019

Businesses have always had to deal with competition, whether their customers are buying services, products, or even ideas.  In these days of social media, it can be even more difficult to gain attention in a crowded marketplace.  Add to that the fact that it is very easy (and potentially devastating) for disgruntled customers to share their bad experiences with the world.  Given all these factors, how can businesses hope to stand out, gain lifelong customers and head off a viral online disaster?  The book Purple Goldfish 2.0  by Stan Phelps and Evan Carroll shows 10 ways to attract raving customers and provides dozens of examples of businesses that "get it" and go the extra mile.

One question that probably occurs to everyone right off the bat: what's with the purple goldfish title?  The authors explain that the goldfish part of the title represents the humble little fish:  while most of the specimens that people are familiar with are roughly the size of your thumb, when unfettered by constraints such as a limited environment (small bowl) and competition for food (many other fish fighting for the limited resources), goldfish can grow to be much larger.  While many factors are outside the control of most businesses (they are unlikely to be able to influence the state of the national or world economy, for instance), the factors that can be controlled can help to set a company apart from the many competitors.  The purple part of the title is a nod to New Orleans and the Mardi Gras colors (purple, gold, and green).  New Orleans embodies the spirit of lagniappe, giving something extra at the time of purchase.  So the Purple Goldfish concept is: giving your customers something extra and unexpected which will help your company to stand out among the competition while also creating a sense of delight and loyalty in (hopefully repeat) customers.

The book is divided into three sections: the why, the what, and the how.  The middle section, the what, is the largest and also my favorite part of the book.  It shows many examples of companies that are providing Purple Goldfish moments for their customers.  These examples are sometimes well-known ('s free shipping both ways and 365-day return policy), while others are a little more unusual (Kimpton Hotels used to offer lonesome guests the opportunity to check out a goldfish companion during their stay).  Many of the examples were collected when Stan Phelps asked for 1001 examples on his blog.  The stories are divided into two categories: value (including sampling, throw-ins, and guarantees) and maintenance (showcasing such features as a convenience, handling mistakes, and follow-up).  While some of the options were definitely aimed at the "high roller" crowd (complimentary spa services and an indoor driving range at the Lexus dealership), many of the examples cited show that every company can go the extra mile to stand out by committing to customer service and finding a niche way to stand out.  The final section of the book goes over the I.D.E.A. Process whereby companies can Inquire, Design, Evaluate, and Advance their own Purple Goldfish.

Minor quibbles: The text had some formatting issues.  When an example was provided, the text would be introduced and the example indented.  After the example, there would be some discussion of the concept, but this "non-quote" would remain indented.  It was therefore sometimes difficult to tell where the quote stopped and the commentary began. Also, there were many URLs provided as footnotes, and nearly all of them were in a teeny, tiny font size. Sometimes there were multiple footnotes at the bottom of the page, and therefore it might have been necessary for the type to be small, but most of the time there was plenty of room to make the font at least legible.

Overall, the book was a very interesting and inspiring look at how some companies "get" customer service and the concept that it is more profitable to keep the existing customers happy than to spend the effort to attract new ones. 

Disclaimer:  I received a copy of Purple Goldfish 2.0 from the author in exchange for this review

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

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Jenny and Cecilia are two respectable, married women with nearly grown children who are looking forward to secure retirements in a few years.  When circumstances threaten their orderly plans, they decide to do something radical in the delightful Swedish series The Simple Heist, now available from Acorn TV.

Jenny has new found money worries.  A high school math teacher is never highly paid, but she and her husband Gunnar are comfortably off.  Then she has an affair with a younger chemistry teacher at her school (not a physics teacher, as everyone seems to think) and Gunnar files for divorce.  Even this upheaval doesn't worry Jenny too much -- until she discovers there's a long-forgotten prenuptial agreement that effectively cuts her out of the family assets.  With no home and a limited income, her future prospects are also looking bleak.

Cecilia works as a gastroenterologist and shouldn't have to worry about finances.  Her husband, Jan, has left all the (boring) money issues for Cecilia to sort out.  Meanwhile, he has been searching for their dream retirement house in Provence.  Now that he's found it, he's anxious to put in a bid so that they can
make their dreams a reality.   The only problem is that Cecilia has invested their life savings into some risky stocks, which have recently crashed. Since she never bothered to mention this investment to Jan, he has no idea that they have no money at all to fund their retirement, let alone buy a French hideaway.

At this time, one of Cecilia's patients is told that his cancer treatments are no longer working and he has very little time left.  He's very disappointed because he's worked out the perfect crime.  Since he won't be around to carry it out, he asks if Cecilia would like to take it over instead?  She becomes intrigued and learns that her patient has worked out an "easy" bank to rob.  He knows that their security hasn't been updated, and unlike many banks in Sweden, it still gets regular deliveries of large sums of cash.  He even has blueprints for the layout of the inside of the bank.  At first, Cecilia and Jenny laugh off the suggestion, but as they contemplate their various financial problems, it begins to seem like a more attractive proposition.

While they work out their plans for the robbery, there are many issues to consider.  Cecilia thinks they need a gun to look like authentic robbers, but Jenny isn't so sure.  They must arrange disguises and the getaway car.  The bank is also in Stockholm, which is not where they live, so they must also come up with excuses to miss work.

In the meantime, they also have personal problems that keep intruding.  Jenny's daughter Harriett has boyfriend problems and keep showing up unexpectedly.  The chemistry teacher who caused Jenny's divorce is also interested in continuing their relationship, but Jenny has more pressing matters to attend to.  Cecilia feels overlooked and under appreciated at her job.  Her application to be chief of staff was laughed off and her supervisor is tracking her arrivals and departures from work to the minute.

While worry about their immediate financial problems is the main catalyst for the robbery, the women are also upset at being viewed as no longer important by society.  They feel invisible as older women and therefore think (as does the dying patient who told them about the robbery) that they are the perfect people to pull off the heist since they are the least likely suspects.

As someone who watches a lot of programs from Sweden, I was excited to recognize Jenny (Lotta Tejle) from "Thirty Degrees in February" and the Swedish pop star Lena Philipsson as the somewhat testy hospital supervisor. I enjoyed seeing all the planning that went into pulling off the robbery and all of the suspense as they put their plan into action.  The cover of the DVD says, "Series 1" so I wonder what sort of "master criminals" Cecilia and Jenny will turn out to be in future adventures!

Disclaimer: I received a copy of The Simple Heist from Acorn Media 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?

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