Friday, November 21, 2014

Snobs by Julian Fellowes

Before Downton Abbey Julian Fellowes had written other screenplays (Gosford Park) and true to his theme of British class comparisons, his novel Snobs is a modern day look at class conscious England. The book shows a present day look at nobility and titled Brits and their upper class "club" along with many little insights.

For instance:
When you don't know someone brought up in conversation you say "I've met them once but they probably won't remember me."
This is an acceptable lie as the person you are speaking to knows immediately that you have never met the person being discussed.

When seated at a dining table you speak first to the person on your left. When the courses change you turn to the person on your right.

Never gush over someone's wealth although when observing something amazing and expensive it's acceptable to say "How simply lovely."

When three Englishmen meet, it doesn't take them long to devise a rule where a fourth person can't be included in their "club."

From the Cover:
Edith Lavery, an English blond with large eyes and nice manners, is the daughter of an accountant and his social-climbing wife. When Charles, the Earl Broughton, falls in love with her, Edith accepts his proposal of marriage. But is she in love with Charles - or with his wealth, his position and all that goes with it?


Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Standard Time

Image result for clock imageIt was on November 18, 1883 that all U.S. railroads set their clocks to use the same standard time. Before then each railroad set their clocks to the time of the railroad's major city. There may have been a difference of over 20 minutes between these and getting connections was frustrating for passengers. Travelling in a train from New York might mean you would arrive at 1:55, but the 2 o'clock train from another part of the country might actually leave at 2:20 New York time. To avoid confusion with a.m. and p.m. a 24 hour clock was eventually adopted.
Time Zones before 1883 were not used and even within the same state there could be 2 minutes or more difference between towns.

The International Meridian Conference at Washington DC, USA, adopted a proposal in October 1884. The proposal stated that the prime meridian for longitude and timekeeping should be one that passes through the centre of the transit instrument at the Greenwich Observatory in the United Kingdom (UK). The conference therefore established the Greenwich Meridian as the prime meridian and Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) as the world’s time standard.  The international 24-hour time-zone system grew from this, in which all zones referred back to GMT on the prime meridian.
The main factors that favored Greenwich as the site of the prime meridian were:
  • Britain had more shipping and ships using the Greenwich Meridian than the rest of the world put together (at the time). The British Nautical Almanac started these charts in 1767.
  • The Greenwich Observatory produced data of the highest quality for a long time.

Friday, November 14, 2014

The Golden Egg by Donna Leon

Donna Leon is one of my favorite writers which in part is because we both share a love of Venice. In her books she unravels the mysteries and corruption of the local government, murder and betrayal, but none of this can take away from the way of life and beauty of Venice described in her books.
In The Golden Egg, Commissario Guido Brunetti looks into the death of a young man whom both he and his wife had come into contact with over the years. He worked at a local dry cleaner and was obviously handicapped. But when Brunetti starts his research, he is surprised that there is nothing to find: no birth certificate, identification or official records. It was as if the man hadn't existed. Neither Brunetti nor his wife can understand why someone would want this man dead.

My thoughts: I have enjoyed each of Donna Leon's books and this one didn't disappoint either. She has lived in Venice for over 30 years and can describe in detail Commissario Brunetti's daily life and the obstacles he comes across. Although he isn't convinced the man's death is no more than an accident Brunetti is determined to find out who he was and why there were no official records. In his search he is met with silence and closed doors, but that doesn't dissuade him from finding out the truth.

Friday, November 7, 2014

The Door by Mary Roberts Rinehart

The first time I heard of the mystery writer, Mary Roberts Rinehart was when our cruise ship stopped in Bar Harbor, Maine. After a tour of Cadillac Mountain, we stopped at a lovely tea room which was once part of the home where Mary Roberts Rinehard lived in the 1930s. Her 40th book, The Wall, was written there. It wasn't until we stopped at a book shop in Galveston many years later that I found one of her books.
The Door is a mystery that will keep you guessing until the very end. There are lots of suspects and twists and turns, but there is also a lot of repetition and I found the story moved slowly. Mary Roberts Rinehart has been compared to Agatha Christie who wrote during the same time period.

From the cover:
How little you know about the people who are closest to you . . . This is what ran through Elizabeth Bell's ind on the night of April 18th. Sarah Gittings, the family nurse, had just been brutally murdered, and all thoughts of a homicidal maniac running amok were banished when the evidence revealed that Sarah had known and trusted her murderer . . .

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Tower of London Poppies

When the Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red tribute is finished on November 11 (Remembrance Day), 888,246 ceramic poppies will be surrounding the Tower of London. Each poppy has been hand made and with the help of over 8,000 volunteers were placed around the Tower of London over the past four months. The poppies will be washed and sold after they are uprooted on November 12 and will be sent to people who have purchased them in honor of family members who died during World War I (It's the 100 year anniversary this year). Orders have been received for all the poppies and they are expected to raise over 11 million pounds which will be shared over six charities. The poppies represent the number of British military fatal casualties of the Great War.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Murder in the Mystery Suite by Ellery Adams

Murder in the Mystery Suite by Ellery Adams is the first in a new series. The hills of western Virginia is a great setting for both a resort (Storyton Hall) and a mystery.

From the cover:
Jane Steward has decided to host a Murder and Mayhem Week so that fans of the mystery genre can gather together for some role-playing and fantasy crime solving. When the winner of the scavenger hunt is found dead in the Mystery Suite, and the valuable book he won as his prize is missing, Jane realizes one of her guests is an actual murderer.

A big thanks to Mason over at Thoughts in Progress for offering the book I received in a giveaway.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

National Novel Writing Month

NaNoWriMoIf you're thinking about writing a novel, November is the month to start. NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) began with 21 college students in 1999 in the Bay area and has now developed into a worldwide experience with over 300,000 novelists and would-be-novelists participating in 2013. The idea is to write a 50,000 word novel from November 1 to November 30. So start thinking about a plot and a story. On November 1 (you can begin at 12:01) put pen to paper or fingers on the keyboard. Make sure you sign up to participate, you will get lots of encouraging e-mails, you can find friends and track their progress and have a fun month doing something that's perhaps been on your bucket list for years. And who knows you may end up with a best seller. By the way, plan to write 1,667 words a day to reach 50,000 words in 30 days.

Note: There are no fees associated with joining, but it's nice to donate a few dollars to keep the site up and running. They are doing a lot to help young writers.

Sites for plot ideas:
Post Secret
Overheard in New York
Plot Ideas from NaNoWriMo
Plot a Story
Plot Ideas to Run With

Note: Once you have an idea for a plot and have made some notes, don't spend a lot of time on developing it when November 1 gets here. The idea of NaNoWriMo is to just write and let your subconscious do the work. You can edit later. Don't look back over what you have written, just keep writing and writing and writing.

Trafalgar Tours Italian Scene Review Day 10 - Florence

Tour Day 10 -
We met with a local tour guide in Florence for an walking tour past the The Cathedral of Santa Maria dei Fiori and ending at The Basilica of Santa Croce. The dome of the Cathedral has an interesting story and was designed by a goldsmith. Florence is renowned for its gold jewelry and leather products and after a visit to a jewelry store, we were led to the Peruzzi leather factory and showroom. With a couple of hours free time, we wandered around the Santa Croce Piazza and some of the group toured the Basilica where Michaelangelo is buried.
Back in Rome there was an optional dinner, but we chose instead to walk to a restaurant close to Raganelli Hotel (I think it was called Benditos).

In summary I thought this was a great tour, and I was fortunate that the group was a lot of fun and looked out for each other. No one intentionally turned up late at meeting places and were prompt when we had stops for lunch or restrooms. Our tour guide was also very entertaining and efficient at keeping things running smoothly. The hotels were all adequate. This was a cost saver tour so the hotels were usually away from the main cities, but I found them all clean and comfortable. The buffet breakfasts were good (although many complained about the coffee). There was a rush in the places we stopped and not nearly enough time to take in the sights, but we did cover a lot of Italy in a short period of time.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Trafalgar Tours Italian Scene Review Day 9 Lake Como, Pisa, Florence

Trafalgar Tours Italian Scene - Day 9
We took the optional tour to Bellagio on Lake Como which was beautiful (37 euro). Unfortunately, because of the noise from the boat we were unable to hear the guide. We spent time walking around the small town and found a restaurant for our gelato/restroom stop. The part of the group that stayed behind said there wasn't much to do or see in the town where we left the bus. After boarding the bus, we traveled to Pisa for a brief visit before heading to Florence. Pisa was another tourist trap full of market stalls and vendors. We took a few pictures and then ate at McDonalds (mainly so that we could use the restroom).
Arriving in Florence around 3:00 we had time to explore, but the Novotel Hotel was not near the city center (5 miles). There was an optional dinner in the Tuscan Hills (61 euro). We opted to take a taxi into Florence which was quite expensive (26 euro each way). I'm glad we took the time to go into the city because the following day was rushed and it gave us a chance to explore and have a nice quiet dinner in a local square. Like other places we have visited on this trip, I would have liked much more time to explore. One place that Pitti Palace just a short distance from the Ponte Vecchio. A big influence in Florence was the Medici Family, many of whom although not of royal descent, went on to marry kings of other countries.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Venice, Italy

Venice is my favorite place in the world to visit. With the narrow twisting lanes and canals, there's something magical about it. We were fortunate to arrive the day before George Clooney's wedding and it was very crowded, but I expect the following day would have been worse. Our day started with a tour of a glass factory on Giudecca Island. Glass factories were banned from the main island in the 13th century due to fire risk. They also make gondolas on the island and we were told that these were once painted in bright colors, but black became the predominant color when gondolas were used to carry plague victims to their final resting place.  Next, we took the boat to San Marco Square where we had intended to climb the stairs of the Campanile but the lines were long and we had a limited amount of time as we were with a tour group. Instead we chose to visit the Santa Maria della Salute church. On our way to find the bridge crossing the Grand Canal we came across another church that had been turned into a museum (Arte Musica Venezia).

Verdi's beautiful music played in the background. Every corner you turn there seems to be someone playing a musical instrument or even music from glasses.
Santa Maria della Salute was built after prayers to God to stop the 17th century plague were answered and is an impressive church. Rather than walking back to the bridge we stopped at a Traghetto crossing which is a ferry to take you across the canal by gondola (it's basically a shared taxi).
After meeting up with our group, we rode out to Burano island which is famous for its lace. The houses are all painted cheerful colors (and boats are painted to match the homes). It's a very peaceful place and the locals are very friendly. There are lots of little shops along the canal.

On the journey out to Burano island, our guide pointed out low islands that had been man made to limit the high tides that constantly flood Venice (Acqua Alta). While we were there, water bubbled up from drains around St. Mark's square and the front of the basilica had wooden elevated platforms for people to walk over the flooded entrance of the basilica. There is now an extensive undertaking called The Moses Project which will provide barriers (similar to the Thames Barrier in London).